15 November 2014

Catalan Butifarra sausage pasta with chestnuts - thank you, Quiet Waters Farm

Wow.  These are by far and away the best sausages I have ever had the very great pleasure of sampling.  However, having said that, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.  As my Dad would say, "start at the beginning".

My lovely friend Marcus Bawdon, he of "Country Woodsmoke" blogging fame and a mean old barbecuing pal (if you've not been to his blog, do go - but be ready to salivate a LOT), has been singing the praises of Quiet Waters Farm and their produce, particularly the sausages, a fair amount just recently.  So when I spotted - on the Quiet Waters Farm Facebook page - a competition to win some of their sausages, I was quick to slip a late entry in and crossed my fingers.

Lo and behold - and much to my surprise - I trotted in as one of the runners up and won three packs of sausages!  Yay!  I even had a choice as to which sausages I would like and went for the Catalan Butifarra (a delicate balance of black pepper and sea salt in a pork sausage), the Toulouse (garlic and white wine) and the Siciliano (fennel, garlic and lemon).

Now because of Marcus' bigging them up on his blog, they had an awful lot to live up to.  However, I trust Marcus and know that if he says something is great - it's probably a little bit better than great.  So I was super excited to receive and try these sausages.

They arrived on the day they were supposed to, tightly packaged and still frozen inside a polystyrene box that made it very easy to put them straight into the freezer.  Because we'd arranged the day of delivery, I had been able to include them in this week's menu plan and had opted to try the Catalan Butifarra ones first.  Now I had also done a little research about the Butifarra/Botifarra sausage in general and discovered that there are a number of different kinds of Butifarra sausage that originate from different areas of the world - hence the slight difference in the spelling.  Having the "Catalan" bit there in the name enabled me to pinpoint the research and establish what the primary flavours were likely to be and what, generally, people put with them.  Of course, it goes without saying that whatever the general method of cooking and serving was, I would wind up doing something different.  However, I learned that these sausages are often eaten with broad (or fava) beans - so earthy type flavours - and did not necessarily require pan frying, as they were often simply placed into a stew type of dish and allowed to cook gently for a long time.

So, "earthy flavours" eh?  Immediately - and that'll be because of the time of year - my thoughts flew to chestnuts.  I adore chestnuts and so do piggies, so chestnuts were a definite.  Naturally, chestnut mushrooms were hot on their heels and would be just perfect, but I needed something that would give colour and sweetness whilst retaining that "close to the earth" theme.  Peas were no good, sweet yes but earthy?  No.  Butternut squash was the answer, but because it can be slightly bland I thought I'd roast it to gain that lovely intensity of flavour that roasting a butternut can bring.

So I'd got my main ingredients, but as of yet no sauce.  Pasta has to have sauce.  I also had no input from any herbs - and I love herbs.  The obvious choice for herbs was a pesto - and I debated red pesto versus green pesto versus home made herb pesto but with a nod towards the fact that I'd quite like you to be able to reproduce the recipe, I went with a common or garden basil and pine nut, green pesto.  The pesto would give the background herb flavour that I had in my imagination, whilst saucing the pasta - but I wanted more than just a potentially greasy pesto.

At this stage, I was still envisaging the contents of the sausage pan being mixed into the pasta prior to serving.  Right up until I had a flash of inspiration and considered saucing both the sausages and the pasta, but with different sauces that would combine sympathetically in the bowl.  Aha!  We're onto something now.  It was a simple matter of adding a small amount of quite intensely flavoured vegetable stock to the sausage mixture, which would deglaze the pan and gather all those lovely sausagey, savoury flavours that would otherwise be lost.  Then, serve the pesto pasta into the warm bowl and add the sausage component next, with its light sauce that would trickle through the pasta just perfectly.  A small sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley over the top to underline the freshness of the herb flavours and a light grating of parmesan for its umami and salt and I was there.

All this just totally relied upon the sausages being ace for pork flavour and not exceptionally fatty.  Now flavour is a subjective thing and all I could do was hope, however the fat content of the sausages I knew about, as in talking to Quiet Waters Farm on their Facebook page, I'd established that the fat ratio ran at around 75/25 percent lean to fat.  Well that sounded okay to me - I'd just keep an eye on the fat that was accumulating in the pan and use as little as possible to begin with, then prior to adding the stock, if there was too much I could easily remove some by spooning it off.  Perfect.

You see, I had thought about this recipe before attempting it.  Just a little bit.  *chuckle*

Oh my goodness - or ERMAGHERD! - it worked and it worked absolutely beautifully.

These Catalan Butifarra sausages are incredible.  There is a claim on the website that "we know you will not have tasted anything quite like them before" and they are absolutely right.  After I had tasted a piece during the cooking, I described them to hubby as having a porky flavour that is more roast pork than sausage pork and that they are quite intensely porky.  He got a bit concerned at that, as he hates (with a passion) sausages that taste of "old pork".  You know how pork can sometimes taste really "piggy" more than porky.  Well not these babies.  Having tasted their succulent gorgeousness, he declared himself both surprised and relieved at the cleanness of the flavour.  The black pepper is slow to rise to the surface, behind the gorgeous richness of the intense pork that is subtly supported by the sea salt.  However, when it does, the flavours just dance across your tongue.  The robustness of the sausage is everything you would hope it could be - even without their natural casings to contain them (which I removed), there's no falling apart, no mushiness (that'll be the lack of cereal, then!), just firm, succulent, tasty sausage.  Oh happy days.  Hubby even went so far as to declare that they were the best sausages he had ever sampled (and he's a sausage connoisseur, let me tell you) - and I agree.

Having done "the fancy thing" with the Catalan Butifarra, we both then had a terrible hankering for a couple of them, pan fried, in between two slabs of doorstep Farmhouse bread, with lashings of real butter, HP sauce and a huge mug of builders' tea.  Which, at some point, just HAS to be done. 

Now, having got all the superlatives out of the way, let's have a think about any "Cooks Notes" I might have for you.

Firstly, if you should invest in some of these wonderful sausages (whoops, another superlative slipped in), which I heartily recommend, then you can follow the recipe as written.  However, if you're intending on using another type of sausage, go for as high a percentage pork as you can afford.

Secondly, when cooking the shallots it is important not to think "the pan is a bit dry, I'll add more oil".  No, add a splash or two of water, so that the shallots steam for a while before returning to frying.  You can do this several times, without any fear of loss of flavour.  The most important thing is to keep the oil to a minimum.

Thirdly, as with the oil, you need to keep the salt to a minimum.  The sausages have a natural saltiness in their recipe and you have the potential to make the whole thing over salted if you take into account the stock, the salt in the pasta water, the salty pesto and lastly the saltiness of the grated parmesan - so you definitely don't need any additional salt.  Tie your hands behind your back of you think you're likely to over season!

If you fancy it, to up the gorgeousness, you could add some porcini mushrooms along with the chestnut mushrooms - and use their soaking water to make the vegetable stock mixture.  They would add another layer of earthy flavour along with making the recipe a little bit more special.

So there you have it!  I cannot recommend these sausages enough - do, please, to go the Quiet Waters Farm website (just click on the name) and check out their Farm Shop where you'll find the hundreds of different type of sausages that are on offer.  The next ones to cross my cooker will be the Toulouse - and I can't wait!


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil, split into 3 tsp
half a butternut squash (the thin end is best)
2 banana shallots, finely chopped
200ml warm water and 300ml warm water
1 pack of 6 Quiet Waters Farm Catalan Butifarra sausages, skinned and broken into small pieces
5 chestnut mushrooms
1 tsp vegetable stock base
250g pasta (spirali is good)
2 tbsp basil and pine nut pesto
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
parmesan cheese, for grating
sea salt and black pepper.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 220degC/425degF/Gas 7.

2.  Cut and peel the butternut squash, then slice into small bite sized cubes.  Put one tsp of olive oil into a bowl with the butternut pieces, add a touch of seasoning and stir until the pieces are all coated in the seasoned oil.

3.  Tip the butternut pieces out onto a baking tray and roast for 20-25 minutes.

4.  Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full with water, add a pinch of salt and place on to boil.

5.  In a large frying pan, add the last two tsp of olive oil and the finely chopped shallots.  Do not add any salt, as between the butternut and the sausages, you already have a fair amount of salt there.  Sweat the shallots down for 5-10 minutes or so, if you find the pan is a little dry, add 100ml of warm water to add a little steam which will hurry them along a bit, without the threat of excessive colour.

6.  Once the shallots are softened, but not coloured, add the broken sausage pieces.  Increase the heat to keep the pan going, otherwise the cold sausage pieces will reduce the heat in the pan and everything will just boil instead of fry.  

7.  Once the sausage pieces have started to colour, add the mushrooms to cook alongside.  Cook everything until the sausage pieces have changed colour and are just cooked through.

8.  Once the water in the saucepan has boiled, add the pasta and cook to manufacturer's instructions.

9.  Back to the sausages.  Add 300ml of warm water and the vegetable stock base.  Stir to combine and cover the pan.  Reduce the heat and simmer for as long as it takes for the pasta to cook, then remove the lid and stir.  If the contents are particularly wet, leave the lid off to evaporate some of the liquid while you deal with the pasta.  If there is just enough liquid to form a glossy sauce, replace the lid - you're ready to go.

10.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain it well and add the pesto.  Stir through.

11.  Serve the pasta into warmed bowls, then add the sausage mixture on top.  Then sprinkle on a tsp of chopped parsley and grate a little parmesan over the top.

12.  Sit, eat and enjoy.

Printable version

7 November 2014

Greek style gorgeousness - Chickaleekaka!

Well, what a thing of great beauty this recipe turned out to be!  I found it on Petit Chef, in a vegetarian version without the chicken (and other bits), here.  I really liked the combination of flavours and was intrigued by the use of the white wine.  However it didn't have enough "oomph" for my menfolk as a main course, yet seemed too heavy for a side dish.  So after a bit of mental juggling with a few protein sources such as ham (which I'm sure would be great, but good ham is hard to find for an affordable price), salmon, smoked haddock or sausage - I decided to continue the theme of delicate flavours and go with chicken.  After all, chicken and wine, chicken and leek, chicken and cheese, all go well together and it certainly isn't going to argue with eggs!

Just baked - and you can see the importance of the cheesy crust.
Yes, it takes a little bit of fiddling around as it's a three-stage dish where cooking and assembly is concerned, but if you start early and leave yourself a bit of time in which to give the ingredients the respect they deserve, it really isn't difficult at all.  I served mine with a tomato, spinach & red kidney bean salad (primarily for me!) and a few garlic butter doughballs (as a bit more carbohydrate for the menfolk).

Evaporating the wine.
This family all have a marked soft spot for a Greek recipe - there's something about the ingredients and the style of cooking that just hits the spot with us.  It must be the rich/healthy combination of a baked dish paired with a side salad, using indulgent ingredients like cheese and eggs, plus juicy tomatoes and healthy spinach.  Put it this way, not one person had an ounce of anything left on their plate, so it must have been good!

I was very interested to see how the wine infused itself into the chicken and suffused the leeks with a subtle but very much "there" flavour of sunshine and fruit which added the necessary acidity to cut through the richness of the Bechamel and cheese.  I added a small amount of thyme for an additional layer of flavour, which worked beautifully and didn't swamp the dill at all.

The additional mustard in the Bechamel was a great idea too, as it gave the mild, creamy sauce just that tiny edge which stopped it from becoming too much.

I can hear you wondering what cook's tips I might have for you about this one.  Well, as it happens, I do have a few!

Now you might wonder why I used skimmed milk, but added double cream.  Well, I wanted a richness through the sauce but not too much and considered that using semi-skimmed milk would mean I had to reduce the amount of cream I used.  Using the skimmed gave a perfect balance between milk and cream that didn't make the sauce too heavy.

However, the biggest tip I have for you is to make the Chickaleekaka (which, by the way, is a combination of "chicken", "leek" and "Moussaka-like-thing") in a dish which you've lined with non-stick silver foil, so that once cooked, you can lift it out of the dish and onto a chopping board.  From there, you can gently peel down the edges of the silver foil and the Chickaleekaka should stay, in one set piece, without collapse.  (The eggs are fundamental in this as they are what cause the lower layer to set).  You can then cut it into neat portions which helps to make it look that little bit more deliciously intriguing - and you don't lose those lovely crusty edges by leaving them in the dish!

A quick word about what size dish you choose might be in order, too.  You need to make the Chickaleekaka in a dish that is deep enough to give you a good 1-2cm of chicken & leek, with a nice deep layer of Bechamel on top.  Use too big a dish and it will be spread too sparsely.  Far better to go small - but deep - than too big and shallow.

My tomato/spinach/kidney bean/cress "hot plate" salad.
As for what would you serve alongside the Chickaleekaka, well I went for a "hot plate" salad, i.e. a salad that could be served on a hot plate.  This consists of items that can stand up to heat - so tomato, baby spinach, red kidney beans and cress were my choice on this occasion, but the possibilities are endless.  Just steer clear of things that wilt quickly like iceberg lettuce, if you're going to be serving it on a hot plate!

I know I'm going to be making this again very soon - and I'd really love to hear what you think of it, if you give it a go too.  So do leave me a message, if you try it!

CHICKALEEKAKA    (serves 4) 

Ingredients :

1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced small
500g leeks, sliced small
half a tsp white pepper
a tiny pinch of sea salt
half a tsp of dried thyme
100ml (or thereabouts) dry white wine
20g fresh dill, finely chopped
3 large eggs
250g mature cheddar cheese, grated.

For the Bechamel :
3 tbsp of salted butter
4 tbsp of plain flour
a generous pinch of white pepper
a tiny pinch of sea salt 
350ml of skimmed milk
2 tbsp double cream
half a tsp Dijon mustard
half a tsp of fresh grated nutmeg
20g parmesan cheese, grated
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated.

Method :

1.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and once hot, add the chicken.  Spread the chicken across the pan to cook evenly, as it won't take long, being such small pieces.  Toss the chicken a few times to make sure every side is coloured - but don't allow it to turn golden.

2.  Once the chicken is coloured but not cooked through, add the leeks and seasoning.  Continue to fry until the leeks are softened.  You will need to toss and stir regularly to prevent the pan contents from colouring further.

3.  Add the wine and continue to toss and stir until the wine has all but evaporated and the pan is almost dry.

4.  Decant the chicken & leeks into a large pyrex bowl  and set aside to cool for 5 minutes or so.

5.  Once cooled, add the dill, crack the eggs in and add the grated cheese.  Mix and stir until everything is evenly distributed.  Set aside, while you make the Bechamel sauce.

6.  In a medium pan, set the butter to melt and add the flour, salt and pepper.  Allow the flour to cook out gently for 3 or 4 minutes, but don't allow it to brown.

7.  Add a little of the milk and stir it through.  The mix will set up quickly, so take if off the heat and keep adding a little milk, then stirring - you will probably need to swap to a hand whisk - until you have a saucy textured mix which is somewhat wetter than you would require.  Add the cream, mustard and nutmeg and whisk them through, then put the pan back on the heat and keep stirring or whisking as it heats through to simmering point.  If the mix becomes too thick, add a little more milk - but not too much, or it will quickly become too thin.  You're after a consistency reminiscent of thick custard.

8.  Take your baking dish (I used a small roasting dish that I lined with non stick silver foil) and decant the chicken & leek mixture into it, making sure to push it into the corners and level off the top surface.

9.  Pour the Bechamel over the top and again, encourage it to form a smooth layer.

10.  Sprinkle first the parmesan, then the cheddar, over the top so that the surface is entirely coated.  This will form the gorgeous cheesy crust - too little cheese and the crust will be patchy at best.

11.  Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 for 30-35 minutes or until the top is a gorgeous golden brown.

12.  Remove from the oven and allow to settle for 5-10 minutes before serving with a side salad.

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