Monday 25 July 2011

My Brawn evening - a review

Brawn restaurant
One of the good things about being a member of the Slow Food movement* is being able to go to events where you may taste amazing food, learn how to make them, find out the provenance of their ingredients, and meet interesting and like- minded people. But the Slow Food movement is not only about going out on restaurant trips. They are also involved in educational projects, in which they promote the Slow Food way of life at a local level. Part of the work is trying to reconnect people with the places their food comes from and how it is produced, so they can understand the consequences of their choices. As the Slow Food UK explains: “We encourage people to choose nutritious food, from sustainable, local sources which tastes great”.

Our local group organizes events in London twice a month. Last Tuesday we went to the recently opened Brawn restaurant, in Columbia Rd, Bethnal Green. Brawn is a sister restaurant of Terroir, in Charing Cross. The white walled pleasant space reminds me slightly of one of my other favourite restaurants, St John.

Terroir and Brawn are different in appearance but the wine list is the same, according to Shane Hollander, the Slow Food London group leader. They share the same philosophy: Great food and great wine sourced with an eager eye for provenance”. Both restaurants are owned by wine merchants that specialize in organic wines made from bio-dynamically grown grapes. The wines are unfiltered with no added sugar, sulphur or acid. I had the medium bodied red 2010 Cuvée des Galets,Vignerons D’Estézargues, Rhône - ripe and juicy flavour with a scent of raspberries. Delicious!

The food is served in French “tapas” style or small plates of rustic French food. They source most of their ingredients locally. The beautiful and tasty sourdough is from E5 bakehouse (I could have gone through the evening eating baskets of it with butter), and the cheeses from Androuet in Spitalfields.

Our set menu:

Anchoïade, Fennel  & Breakfast Radishes (a plate of fresh good looking radishes with an anchovy and fennel dip). Healthy and elegant.
Salame Toscano (Carlo Pieri, Tuscany)
Pork Rillette (slow cooked pork meat served like ice-cream scoops)When the meat is falling apart, it is then shredded and turned into a paste with the fat. You can easily share this starter. You can have it on its own - it melts in your mouth - or spread on the sourdough. Rich and delish.
The Seasonal vegetable of the month. Artichoke served with aioli. Yummy. 
Smoked sprats with horseradish and creme fraiche sauce (very good, fatty and smoky).
Dorset Clams, Chilli, Coriander & Spring Onions (it was ok. It didn’t taste much of anything, although there was a bit of a kick from the chilli).
Cantabrian Tuna with beans in olive oil (good quality Spanish Tuna. Lovely taste with a good kick from the chilli).
Vitello Tonnato (cold sliced veal served with a a creamy tuna flavoured sauce. Good).
English Pea & Mousseron Risotto with girolles mushroom (unfortunately, on the salty side). 
Boudin Noir & Summer Vegetables (black pudding sausage made with pigs’ blood, tripe, fat, spices, cream etc. Appearances can be deceiving, not a good looking plate. It is not for the fainthearted but it is the dish definitely worth going there for. The vegetables and broth were exquisite). Yummy!
Fig & Almond tart (a very good frangipane tart made with figs and a dollop of fresh cream. But it was the last drop on the ocean. I couldn’t finish it).

Overall, I would definitely recommend and go back to Brawn on any opportunity (living on the other side of town makes a regular visit a tad difficult). The place has a great vibe. It’s informal, has good tasty food and a nice selection of wines.

The lovely people I met - Jane and Richard, Martine, Helen, Shane, Claire, Cecille and 6 others whose name I didn’t catch -: it was great meeting you and sharing our passion for good food.

To the staff of Brawn, who offered us a generous set menu, merci beaucoup! Prices varies from £3 to £14.

The healthy benefits of the menu?

Plenty. Vitamin D from the animal fat, the essential fatty acids from the sardines, the carbs and B vitamins from the sourdough, the antioxidants from the red wine, the fibre, vitamins and minerals from the vegetables.

It was a rich and healthy evening (calories from good food), perhaps a little more indulgent than usual, but the good choice of ingredients (their provenance couldn’t be better), the biodynamic wine, the company and the enjoyable chat around a big table makes eating a pleasure - which is good for the soul…

*If you would like more information about Slow Food UK, click here 

Till next week!


Monday 18 July 2011

What's in my picnic basket

Hampstead Heath, our favourite picnic spot (when the sun is out!)

Although it seems that Summer is nearly over, without having really arrived, the idea of a picnic in the park always lifts our mood. In the middle of the week, I had it all planned in my mind.  One of the highlights in the picnic basket was going to be a mini frittata. But on Friday night I learnt that it would rain the whole weekend.  How frustrating, a Summer that longs for the sun!

Having cooked mini frittatas many times before, I decided to make them on Saturday anyway, and instead of a picnic in the park we had a picnic on the rug (so to speak). This dish is like a little ray of sunshine on a plate.

The ingredients minus spring onion
fill the muffin cases with the egg mixture
the baked mini frittatas
My mini frittata resting on a rocket nest.

Pea, feta and potato muffin fritatta

They are the perfect size for any situation. If you want a small lunch, you can have them with a side salad; if you have an unexpected guest, they are also a great solution.  It’s a good snack alternative, packed with protein and omega 3.

How I made it

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line your muffin tins with muffin cases.

I boiled 500g new potatoes with skins. When they were ready, I mashed them roughly. Then I beat together 6 eggs and mixed the potatoes, 100g peas, 1 spring onion sliced finely, 150g grated parmesan cheese (I also use feta cheese when available), a handful of shredded mint leaves (you can also use dried mixed herbs instead). Season with sea salt and pepper.

With a ladle, pour the mixture into the muffin cases, add a cherry tomato to each case, if you wish, and bake them for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.

Serve hot or cold with a salad

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Egg: is a fantastic and inexpensive source of protein. It contains Lecithin which helps the body to break down fat and cholesterol. Lecithin is also a source of the B vitamin-like, Choline which is necessary for the brain development, at pregnancy, and also a necessary nutrient in preventing fatty liver (Choline is an important neurotransmitter involved in many functions including memory and muscle control). It contains also Biotin, another B vitamin-like, which is very important for the digestion of fat and protein and essential for the health of hair, skin and nails.

Egg also contains an antioxidant called Glutathione which prevents the formation of free radicals. It is very rich in Omega-3 fats, which prevents diabetes, obesity and depression. Contains vitamin A and E, Folic acid and Lutein (an antioxidant in the carotenoid family that helps keep the eyes healthy and safe from oxidative stress).

Parmesan cheese: is an excellent source of protein, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, vitamins A, B2 and B12 and D. Parmesan cheese is high in sodium (so, careful with the amount of salt you add in your meals when cooking with it). Studies have shown that Parmesan cheese has the ability to promote the development of the "good" bacteria Bacillus Bifidus, which is responsible for the good maintenance of a healthy gut. Therefore pParmesan cheese is easy to digest. It doesn't contain lactose and so some people who are intolerant to dairy cheeses may be able to tolerate Parmesan cheese. Parmesan cheese is not only nutritious but a very enjoyable food. 

Peas (Pisum sativum): It is a source of protein, carbohydrate and fat. It is a mildly laxative. Strengths the splees-pancreas and stomach and harmonizes digestion. Peas contain B vitamins, Vitamin C magnesium, Vitamin K, potassium, iron and carotenes.

Potato (Solanum tuberosum): is mildly diuretic, lubricates the intestines, tones the pancreas. Potato reduces inflammation, relieving arthritis and rheumatism. It is a good source of vitamin C, minerals and enzymes. It is a great accompaniment to meat, as its rich potassium content balances out the high sodium content of the meat.

Till next week!

Sunday 10 July 2011

A Slow Pizza

                              The brick oven at Franco Manca       photo by Patrick Carpenter

Last week I had a double whammy with the Slow Food UK. On Friday, I worked as volunteer at the Big Feastival helping kids and adults to think about food (you won’t believe the amount of adults who mistake broccoli for asparagus, peas and strawberry for pomegranate or watermelon, oh dear). I had a fantastic time.

On Tuesday night, I went to a dough demonstration in one of the best pizza places in London. Franco Manca is my kind of pizzeria! The owner Giuseppie Mascoli is from Positano, Italy, and he opened his first pizza restaurant with his partner Bridget Hugo in Brixton, in 2008. Giuseppe takes his pizza very seriously and is obsessed with dough. Before opening Franco Manca, he and his partner spent months trying to perfect the recipe.

The pizza is made from slow-rising sourdough, with a starter culture which Giuseppe and Bridget were given by a friend who stole it from a bakery in Ischia (a small island off the coast of Naples). He claims that this starter dates back from at least the 1730s! You have to love it! Shame I didn’t have a container to bring home some of that starter, but I will be back!

The pizza is baked in a wood-burning brick oven made by a specialised artisan in Naples. This oven produces a heat of about 500°C and the pizza is done in 40 seconds.

I was lucky enough to learn from the master how he makes the dough for his famous and delicious pizza (I must say, it’s one of the best pizzas, if not the best, I’ve ever tried in this country). The dough was elastic with a dense consistency and the crust had a beautiful charred woody/smoky flavour.

Giuseppe and his partner source their produce with great care and it shows when you see and taste his food. The mozzarella is made especially for Franco Manca at the organic farm Alham Wood (see on my directory list); the sheep’s cheese is from Wootton organic dairy in Somerset; organic extra virgin olive oil comes from Sicily; flour from Molino Caputo, Naples; organic tomatoes from Salerno, picked when they are on season; organic olives and organic chorizo are from a producer in Spain; and the organic wine, from Piedmont. Some of the ingredients change due to seasonality.

What I love about their pizza it is its simplicity and taste. The flavours are all balanced out by the good ingredients they choose.

There are just six pizzas on the menu (see below) and every single one is mouth watering.

I met lovely people at Franco Manca’s, all members of the Slow Food UK and interested in good food: Kat, the PR for Slow Food; Ben, an enthusiastic foodie; John, a future artisan baker; Gerrard, a friendly German, the Japanese food teacher and her husband (whose names I forgot, sorry!); and other people who I didn’t have the chance to talk to. It was a very pleasant evening, and Giuseppe and his team spoiled us with their delicious organic wine and food. Grazie!

Welcome drinks. The organic wine from Piedmont and the
house lemonade that is made with Amalfi lemons
the "18th century" starter from Ischia
Giuseppe demonstrating how to make the dough
adding the starter to the flour
and kneading it for about 10 mins
the pizzaiolo preparing the pizza
it takes 6 months to learn how to manouvre  
the pizza onto the peel
Ready to bake
this brick oven has a temperature of 500°C

Sourdough  for pizza (a recipe developed by Giuseppe Mascoli and Marco Parente) 


1 litre of water
1.7kg flour

30g starter culture or 1g dried yeast or 3g fresh yeast*

3 Tbsp salt

*If using dried yeast or fresh yeast, mix it in tepid water, and, once mixed with flour, leave it proofing overnight.

A small starter culture is mixed with the water until dissolved. Add this mixture and the salt to the flour, working it until you have a soft dough. Knead it for about 10 minutes, cover and let it rest overnight for approximately 20 hours, in a warmish room.

After resting, roll out the dough, knead a bit more and let it rest for 30 min more. Then, shape the dough into individual balls of 270g. Leave them proofing for 1 hour and then they will be ready to be made into pizzas. This dough is very elastic so be gentle when flattening it to create your pizza base, but don’t worry if it doesn’t look like a masterpiece. It takes about 6 months for a pizzaiolo to 

master the right moves to make a nice looking pizza base.

Choose the best toppings you can find (i.e. a good tomato sauce, olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, wild broccoli, oregano, capers, garlic, pecorino cheese etc) or see Franco Manca’s menu to get inspired.

home cured organic ham, mozzarela, 
buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms
tomato, cured organic chorizo and mozzarela

Is pizza healthy? Some diet dictocrats and health radicals may not think so, but I beg to differ, and my answer is: it depends on how the dough is made, what you have on it and what lifestyle you lead! It depends how balance your diet is - and that goes for any food you I go again, it's about balance!

If you can, choose pizzas that are made with good quality flour, even better if it's wholemeal (it contain complex carbohydrates). Olive oil can reduce bad cholesterol; a good tomato base is high in the antioxidant lycopene; garlic contains vitamins C and B6, selenium and sulphur; basil contains flavonoids and vitamin K. Here is just an example of the usual toppings you find. 

Pizza is pretty much part of a Mediterranean diet, rich in fibre, olive oil, flour, fruits, vegetables etc. Dr Silvano Gallus conducted a study at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmaceutical research in Milan and claims that eating pizza regularly can provide significant protection against tumors and reduce the risk of developing oesophageal cancer by 59%, colon cancer by 26% and mouth cancer by 34%. It seems that the tomato sauce with its high levels of lycopene could offer protection against certain tumors.

These findings could be interpreted as good news for the pizza-lovers among you, but, hold on people!, this should not be seen as a go ahead for indulging in margherittas everyday. Balance and common sense, right?

Till next week!   



Monday 4 July 2011

Easy peasy and a lemon squeezy!

Some weeks, I run like a headless chicken and all I don’t want is to make elaborate meals because I can’t find the time. However, one thing I like to make sure I have at hand is a good and nutritious snack to reach for in between meals to help balancing sugar level and sugar cravings.  Here it is, a recipe with few ingredients and a very quick cooking time. 

The ingredients minus garlic and seasoning
whizz them all in a food processor 
My broad beans hummus served on a charcoal biscuit
Broad beans hummus

A snack which is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, protein and fibre to help you avoid those tempting salty crisps or sugary biscuits in the afternoon.

Get 400g of fresh shelled broad beans, cook them for 7 minutes, whizz them in a food processor with 1 garlic clove, and process to a thick puree. With the food processor still on, add approximately 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a juice of 1 lemon, a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. If you think the puree is still too thick, add a bit  more olive oil. Now, stir in a small sprig of chopped dill, adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice. And that is all! This a great snack option served on pitta bread/toast,  biscuits, on a chicory leaf or even warm as a side dish.

A healthy note: Broad beans or Fava beans (Vicia faba):  provide good levels of folic acid, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and potassium.  Because of their high fibre content, they prevent blood sugar levels from rising rapidly. Beans in general are a very good meal choice for people who suffer from diabetes or hypoglycemia. Broad beans help lower the “bad” cholesterol.  They fortify the spleen and pancreas.  In the Mediterranean they’re used traditionally to treat swelling. According to Paul Pitchford
(Healing With Whole Foods), broad bean juice* can help cure diarrhea.

*Simmer one cup of broad beans in five cups of water for an hour. When cooked, remove some of the juice. Take ½ cup of juice half an hour before meals.

Olive Oil: previously mentioned here

Till next week!
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