Monthly Archives: July 2015

Porchetta – The famous Italian pork

A year or so ago we saw porchetta on one of the Italian cooking programmes (Not sure if was Jamie, Gino, Gennaro….). It looked delicious but quite complex and I wasn’t sure if my skills were up to the test.

A very rainy Sunday, a little bit of confidence and the desire for a roast spurred me on. 

Porchetta is an Italian roast pork dish stuffed with herbs.  Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale (“traditional agricultural-alimentary product”, one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance).

I’m sure that they wouldn’t approve the authenticity of my recipe!

I’m led to believe that there are many regional and international  variations of this dish. Many of the recipes available online are designed to feed 8-10 people. As there were only 2 of us for dinner today, this wouldn’t work and I couldn’t be bothered with the maths to scale them down. 

Waitrose had a recipe that served 4. Perfect for leftovers (apparantly very good in a crusty roll with garlic mayonnaise.) 

The meat

The recipe calls for a rolled joint of pork belly (1kg). 

After scouring the shops, I could only find a flat pork belly joint. When I got towards the middle of the recipe I understood why this joint was important. 

It worked out ok in the end but I wish I’d been able to get the rolled joint. 

Preparing the stuffing

The stuffing for the pork belly was slow cooked onions and fennel, orange and lemon juice, garlic, breadcrumbs, herbs, raisins and pinenuts. 

Slice the onion and fennel very finely and cook slowly in olive oil until soft and caramlised. A top tip from my Italian cookery lessons is to start with a cold pan and cover the veg with a pan lid to get a perfect, soft onion mix. 

  

When the onions and fennel are ready, add the garlic and herbs and cook for a few more minutes. 

Then add the pinenuts, breadcrumbs, orange and lemon juice and raisins.

  
Leave to cool completely. 

Citrus fennel salt

Before stuffing the pork, you need to coat the flesh with a citrus fennel salt. This is an interesting touch but I can understand how it might help tenderise the meat. 

  
Crush 2 tablespoons of fennel seeds with half a teaspon of Maldon sea salt in a pestle and mortar. Add the grated zest of half a lemon and half an orange and leave for a few minutes for the flavours to combine. 

Stuffing the meat

Once the stuffing has cooled, lay out the pork on a board and press the citrus fennel salt into the flesh and then place the stuffing on top of the salt leaving a 2cm boarder all the way around. 

  
Now, this is where I went wrong with the cut of meat. The rolled joint would give you an idea of how much ‘roll’ you have. I found that the flat belly pork joint would only fold over once. 

I ran a boning knife between the skin and the flesh to allow more ‘give’ and managed a full roll. 

It’s important to tie it properly and after a quick tutorial online, I was able to tie butchers knots all the way along the joint. 

  
Roasting the joint

Roughly chop 2 carrots, 3 sticks of celery and an onion and place in the bottom of a roasting tin. 

Place the meat on top and add a quartered apple and a bulb of garlic halved lengthways. 

Put 250mls of dry white wine and juice of half a lemon and half an orange into the pan and roast at 150c (140c fan) for 2 and a half hours. 

  
Gravy

Remove the meat to rest for 15 – 20 minutes and strain off the fat from the roasting pan. 

Add a tablespoon of flour to the meat juices and cook over a medium hob heat for 2 – 3 minutes until the juices reduce. 

Add 500ml of chicken stock and boild rapidly until halved and then strain into a clean saucepan and cook for 10 minutes. 

Slice the meat and serve with the gravy, veg and mash. 

Buon appetito!


                 

Our holiday in Scotland – Part 2 

After our fabulous day on the Isle of Mull and the excitement of the ferry trip we decided another ‘at home’ day was in order. 

Sleeping late was impossible because of the lack of darkness and we were up and ready, as usual, by 8.30am. 

The Knapdale Forest and the pretty harbour village of Tayvallich were a couple of miles down the road. 

Guess what, we found a TARDIS – in the middle of nowhere. 

  
The views were beautiful and it was a perfect, misty Scottish morning. 

  
The nearest town to Crinan is Lochgilphead. The only place to pick up supplies with a small selection of local shops and a small supermarket (Co-op).

Earlier in the week I’d eyed up Murray Smoked Products and their beautiful display of fresh fish and seafood. A bag of prawns with heads and tails later and I was set for a dinner that evening!  

Now I’m not good on a boat. I’d very seriously taken my Kwells on Monday for the trip to Mull and they’d worked like a dream. It worked and I was done. 

We knew that there was some beautiful scenery to be enjoyed around Crinan. But only accessible by small, fast boats. I’d opted out early on in the planning process but I wouldn’t begrudge @jbboardman the opportunity.

He booked an afternoon trip with Venture West to see the beautiful Corryvreckan Whirlpool and a close up of the nearby islands of Jura and Scarba. 

It was amazing apparently. Much wildlife was spotted including porpoises, mountain goats, a golden eagle and plenty of seals. 5 star reviews for Venture West from us. 

  
  
In the meantime, I had a lovely glass of wine at the hotel and watched Royal Ascot on the tv….. Bliss. 

Now, back to those prawns. De-shelled and de-veined, I cooked off the shells with shallots, garlic and white wine. Strained, added cream, seasoning and and parsley and served with the prawns, a little bit of crab meat, linguine and a handful of parsley. It was beautiful and exactly how I wanted to be eating in Scotland. 

  
  
Wednesday was a big day – huge in fact. 

We were well aware of just how much there was to see and we’d planned a big drive. Getting as many miles under our belt as possible.

We started on the road north to Oban and then onwards to to Castle Stalker. Setting to a Monty Python film.  

Further north took me into a world of childhood memories. 

The Glenfinnan Monument was just as I’d remembered. Alleged to be the place that Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the Royal Standard and claimed the Scottish and English thrones in the name of his father, it didn’t let us down. 

A bonus was being a member of The National Trust. They have a reciprocal agreement with The Scottish National Trust and this saved us a fortune on parking and entrance fees. 

The railway line from Fort William to Mallaig stops at Glenfinnan and was on the wish list but sadly time did not permit. It’s frequently referred to as one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world. One of the highlights of this journey is passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter movies as the route to Hogwart’s. 

I’ve never seen any of the films but I’m assured by @jbboardman that this is the spot. 

  
The further north we travelled, the better the views became and we were blown away by the view from the Royal Marine Commando monument at Spean Bridge. A small village north of Fort William, Spean Bridge was the heart of the Commando training ground just before the Second World War. 
The views over Ben Nevis were stunning – snow in June!!

   
 After a hearty lunch of soup and Irn Bru (Scottish national drink – not good), we headed towards Glencoe. 

We had a bit of an agenda here. I’m not a movie lover but @jbboardman is a huge James Bond fan and had tracked down the location of the scene where Bond and M take a pause before the final approach to Skyfall. After a lengthy Google Earth research project, the location was found and off we went. 

Glencoe was as stunning as I remembered but was sadly shrouded in cloud so were weren’t able to appreciate the true beauty. 

A long drive down a single track lane and we found the spot. It’s a long time since I’ve seen that man so happy!

Apparently we got the staging a little wrong and not quite the Aston Martin but who cares….

  
Homeward bound and an evening with a bottle of wine and some venison purchased en-route. We’d driven 240 miles but achieved everything we wanted. 

We woke up on the last day to a little bit of rain and overwhelming exhaustion. We’d planned a bike ride along the canal but sadly this was not to be. 

A quick trip into nearby Lochgilphead for some fresh crab and a bottle of Sancerre and we were satisfied with the day. It never really got cold enough for a fire but we were determined to light the beautiful log burner (with the windows open!). 

  
Three hours later we awoke from our seafood and wine induced slumber and decided to head over to the hotel for a final evening at the seafood restaurant. 

Arborath Smokies were amazing and I wish they were a little more accessible in the ‘South’. 

We were sad to be spending our last night in Crinan but ready for a good sleep before the trip home. 

  
Friday didn’t start well. We were a bit grumpy. Loading the car didn’t go well either. After a lovely harmonious week we put it down to tiredness. 

It was only 30 miles down the road when we realised that we were a bit teary and very, very sad to be going home. 

On the last night I had a nice chat with a local resident. “Do you like it here?” he said. “Yes – Very much” I replied. “You won’t tell anyone about it will you?”. “No – of course not”.

  
  
  
  

Our holiday in Scotland – Part 1

There’s been very little time since we returned from Scotland to blog, and this may give you an idea as to why this holiday was so important. 

In addition to this, I’ve been (we’ve been) missing my (our) holiday so much that it’s almost been too emotional to write about it.

Nervous and excited, we set off after work on a hot Thursday evening to drive the 280 miles to Glasgow. 

Traffic was a problem until we passed Manchester but the rest of the journey was glorious. The setting sun over the Lake District and Cumbria was stunning. 

We approached Glasgow and for what remained of the evening was spent in a Premier Inn with a take away McDonalds for dinner. Not quite what I had in mind…..

Friday

Determined not to wake up too early, the day didn’t start too late and we left the Premier Inn just after the Glasgow rush hour traffic had cleared. 

A quick visit to the supermarket to stock up on essentials left us slightly red faced together with a new understanding for Scottish law. You can’t buy wine before 10am. (Of course wine is an essential!) The cashier was terribly understanding and held our trolley for 10 minutes until it was time to buy. 

The journey through Glasgow was easy and we were soon on the road to Loch Lomand and beyond and the sort of views we were hoping for. 

  
A quick lunch stop in Inverary (What a castle! – see below) and a visit to the fabulous Loch Fyne shop to pick up some treats, we were full of anticipation to see where we’d be spending the week.

 
We’d spent a lot of time looking at Google Maps to see where we were going to be staying but nothing could quite prepare us for how beautiful Crinan really was. 

The weather was fabulous and as we pulled into the car park, the famous Clyde Puffer was just arriving into the sea lock. 

 
Bags were unceremoniously dumped in the garden and we began what would become a week off boat spotting and other important nautical business. 

Seaview Cottage in the beautiful and tiny village of Crinan had been on our minds since January. We’d poured over reviews and photographs and convinced ourselves that we’d made the right decision. We weren’t wrong. 

   
   
Cosy, comfortable, warm, beautifully furnished and our own lighthouse – must I go on?

Tired and over-excited it was an early night in readiness for the week. 

Saturday

Did we sleep well? Oh yes. 

Did we get up in the middle of the night to make sure the sea was still there? Yes. 

Saturday morning saw us on a small drive to explore the area and to see what was on our doorstep. The problem with this area of Scotland is that 28 miles takes an hour to drive. 

First stop was the fascinating and slightly spooky island of Easdale. A fascinating place that used to be one of the most important slate mines in the country. Flooded in the 19th Century, the industry declined and now the car free island is home to just 60 residents.

You hail the council run ferry with a claxon from the mainland and you’re there in less than 5 minutes. Well worth the visit. It’s a long and winding road but stick with it. 

  
 When we booked the holiday, we planned a comprehensive (transport-wise) day trip to Islay, one of the Whisky producing islands in the inner-Hebrides. After a lot of tutting and teeth sucking from the locals we soon realised that this was a bad idea. “Too risky for a day”, “too far”, “you need to stay at least 2 nights”. 

After our boat trip tp Easdale we took a trip to Oban and fell instantly in love with the Cal Mac ferry that was going over to the Isle of Mull. 

  
That was going to be our boat day out!!!

One of the things that appealed to me most about Scotland was the fabulous seafood. We’d read that the hotel across the canal (The Crinan Hotel) served amazing seafood and best of all, it was landed at 5pm every day at the end of our garden!

True to their word, chef was waiting in anticipation and took the catch ashore at 5pm every day. (Excuse the quality of the photo. 

  
They (whoever they were) weren’t wrong. It was amazing!

  
Sunday

A day off! Or at least a day ‘at home’ in Crinan and the cottage. 

Another beautiful sunny day and we took a walk and a trip to the supermarket to buy Sunday lunch stuff. 

The weather was spectacular and towards early evening we spotted a fabulous ship coming in. The new birthday binoculars were proving to be a godsend. 

  

It was a Dutch charter which spent the majority of the summer sailing around Scotland and the Islands. 

After safely seeing it into the lock,  single handedly of course – we were experts by now, it was a pleasure to meet the captain and have him into the garden for a nip of whisky. 

  
He announced that Crinan was where he intended to retire. “The most beatiful place in the United Kingdom” – we agreed. 

The sunset over Jura, Scarba and Mull was amazing that night – just as the books had said. 

   
   
Monday

Up early – today was the big boat trip. Much excitement. 

Cal Mac ferries make it so easy. We were foot passengers so a quick ticket purchase and a Wetherspoon’s bacon sandwich (yes really – very good indeed) and we were onboard for the minimal sum of less than £5 each.
 
It was a busy ferry but plenty of room and we spent the short journey on deck. A bit of porpoise spotting later and we were there. 

We took the local bus to Tobermory (Ballamory to those of you with children). A beautiful little harbour town. The usual craft shops and distillery but worth a visit. A lovely place. 

  
A friend of ours said recently that the sign of a really good holiday is when you stop caring what other people think you look like and relax. This was certainly true by day 3. 

  
Part 2 to follow.