Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Green, mean, linguine

One of the things I love most about this time of year is the appearance of fancy members of the cabbage family in our greengrocers. My particular favourites are kale and cavolo nero, kings of the cabbages. They both remind me of one of my favourite Portuguese dishes, caldo verde, a simple potato soup with finely shredded greens, topped with chourico and fruity, peppery olive oil. As a kid, I would crave for that rich, seaweedy, green taste but it was only ever to be had on holidays to Portugal.

I like my nice greens braised with garlic and chilli, Tuscan style. I like them in plain meals, where their sheer greenness is able to take centre stage. I recently made the greenest and meanest spaghetti with cavolo nero and it was totally delicious.

What you need (for 3 mains or 4 starters):
Big bunch of cavolo nero
4 cloves of garlic
300g spaghetti
Lots of extra virgin olive oil
Maybe some truffle oil if yr fancy

First, trim the leaves from cavolo nero and discard those woody stalks. Peel the cloves of garlic. Have a saucepan of water on the boil and blanch the cavolo nero and the garlic for four minutes, before draining and squeezing dry. Get the spaghetti boiling.

Transfer the cavolo nero and garlic to a food processor or, failing that, into whatever you use a handheld blender in, pour in some EVOO, and blend blend blend. When it has the texture of a firm pesto, season with salt and pepper and mix with the cooked and drained spaghetti until it's like a pan of bright green worms. If you are feeling flush, drizzle with some truffle oil.

Plate up, sprinkle generously with parmesan, and crack over some black pepper.

Mmm...healthy and delicious. It really works and tastes super fresh.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

A hop over to Berlin

Between finishing my last job and starting the new one, I paid Elizabeth in Berlin a quick visit. Eliz and I moved to Berlin about the same time in 2005 and got to know each other through our love of music and the music blogs we both wrote, commenting on the indie scene in Berlin. I moved back to London after a year to finish my studies, but Eliz stayed on and has a super Berlin life and a super Berlin dog, Pip.

When I lived in Berlin I was an Erasmus student, living off a tidy EU stipend and a London level student loan, going to classes at Humboldt university by day and gigs, bars and restaurants with friends almost every evening. As students, we were most interested in good cheap eats and honed in on a handful of dependable restaurants - a 3€ Thai in Prenzlauer Berg, the "punk" pizzeria at Senefelder platz and many of Berlin's ubiquitous kebab shops. Treatsies was at Gugelhof, an informal but exsquisite restaurant specialising in the food and wine of Alsace. It was here that Chancellor Schroeder took Bill Clinton for dinner when he was in Berlin, don't you know!

With a few exceptions, eating out in Berlin back then was good but not super amazing. But now a foodie revolution is happening and Berlin's eating out offer is better than ever. I stayed with Eliz in Kreuzberg, and within 5 minutes walk there are Mexican taqueira offering what American friends are calling "the best Mexican food I've had outside north America", amazing cafes serving innovative twists on brunch. Supper clubs are popping up and some lovely neighbourhood tratorria have opened. Berlin really has it all!

The meal we had at Maria Peligro on Skalitzerstr was definitely one of the best Mexican meals I'd ever had. We started with margaritas, some of the most luscious guacamole ever and Sikil Pa´k, which is a dip made of pumpkin seeds and habanero chillis. It was super hot, with a sweet, sour and earthy taste.

For a main I had Tacos de Cochinita Pibil, which was shredded pork braised in sour achiote sauce and topped with pickled red onions. Big on the sours, the pork was so tender and the corn tortillas were substantial and soft and definitely homemade. Way, way beyond your run of the mill tex mex that's for sure. Other punters were also very happy with their selections. There are two other restaurants by the same owners in Berlin, but each one comes from a different angle on Mexican cuisine. Just take a butchers at the menu and try not to salivate.

A Vietnamese lunch in Neukoelln with Zara was also super, piled high with fresh ingredients and zingy and spicy. At €5, it gave Monsieur Voung, it's more upmarket rival in Mitte, a run for its money. With just three dishes on the menu for lunch, it was definitely quality over quantity.

But a trip to Berlin ain't complete without some bratwurst, and after a surprisingly unsuccessful trip to Mauer Park fleamarket, we tucked into some warming sausage while we enjoyed the bizarre cult spectacle of stadium-scale outdoor karaoke, munching and swaying along to 80s power ballads sung by Spanish students. Super.

But when I'm in Berlin, it's all about Elizabeth's home cooking. Brunch is a favourite and Eliz makes the best scrambled eggs. I reckon it's all down to the slow-cooking of whole garlic cloves before the eggs even get a look in. Followed by pear-filled mini pancakes, that's you properly set up for the day.

Homeburgers on my first night before a marathon night dancing til 6.30am at White Trash Fast Food were delicious and had Pip sniffing the air jealously as the grown ups tucked in.

Thanks Elizabeth for a super Berlintime. If any readers are going to Berlin and want any further recommendations, just drop me a line!