June 26, 2012 by ronfluff
A while ago I came across a great recipe book in one of those staffroom book sales. Off Duty: The World’s Best Greatest Cook At Home soon became my favourite, despite a misleading title (I doubt very much that even the brilliant Marcus Wareing goes home after a long day’s service and cooks up a quick starter of Crab and Lobster Tian with Guacamole, Cocktail Sauce and Oscietra Cavier, as good as it sounds). Indeed, despite some of the rather rich and complicated recipes, it has often been my go-to book to find something different to adapt for an occasion, and last month I had just such an occasion to pull it off the shelf for inspiration.
A kind supporter of my cooking, my good friend Kirsty Almeida, Manchester singer, songwriter and artist extraordinaire, in a remarkable example of blind faith, commissioned me to devise and cook a 3-course meal for her Secret Gig, which took place in a 16th century school in Middleton. In the end this became a huge undertaking, with 50 guests (only confirmed that week), a makeshift kitchen and, let’s be honest, me being devoid of any serious catering experience.
My first task was to devise a menu with a vague ‘Old English Eccentricities’ brief. Being a Yorkshireman back in Lancashire, and wishing to use seasonal and local ingredients as much as possible, I used the aforementioned book and adapted a Brian Turner recipe for Yorkshire Hotpot. Cooked in cake tins, I could slowly pre-roast the lamb, and prepare most of the veg in advance. More importantly, I could use local organic Cheshire lamb shoulder from W.H.Frost’s Butchers in Chorlton, which gave such amazing flavour and made the dish, and I could then call it a Trans-Penine Hotpot! With this my War of the Roses menu took shape.
With a cold plated starter of Lancashire Beetroot with Lancashire Cheese, I needed to balance the East-West divide with a Yorkshire dessert, and here again Off Duty gave inspiration, as I adapted a Chris Staines recipe for Spicy Roast Pinapple with Vanilla Ice Cream and Black Pepper, replacing the pinapple with Yorkshire Rhubarb. The idea of milling black pepper was new to me, but with the beautifully spicy sweet syrup it brought everything together. And while the catering experience was both exhausting and chaotic, it was a pleasure to see almost every plate come back clean. What’s more, the recipe for the syrup (the easiest thing to make on the menu) made enough to last for many drizzles over yoghurt, cake and ice-cream over the following days of recouperation!
Spicy Roast Yorkshire Rhubarb with Vanilla Ice Cream and Black Pepper
Adapted from a recipe by Chris Staines in Off Duty – The World’s Greatest Chefs Cook at Home (HarperCollins, 2005)
Serves 4600g caster sugar 4 vanilla pods 2 bananas, sliced 1 dried chilli 90g fresh ginger, chopped 5 1/2 tablespoons dark rum 1 litre water 400g young Yorkshire rhubarb (no other county will do!!), trimmed and cut into 4cm batons vanilla ice-cream, to serve sprigs of mint, to decorate freshly ground black pepper
If possible, make the syrup for the rhubarb 24 hours in advance, to allow the flavours to fully infuse, although this can be done the same day if time is tight.
Place the sugar in a large, heavy based pan over a medium heat and stir occasionally so it melts evenly. Continue to cook until it turns a light brown caramel (or, apparently according to Mr Staines, 165°C/329°F on a sugar thermometer – I don’t posses one, do you?!) Slit the vanilla pods open lengthways, scrape out the seeds and add both the pods and seeds to the caramel. Then add the ginger, chilli and bananas and turn the heat down to let the caramel penetrate these ingredients. Add the rum and water and bring back to the boil.
Ideally leave to cool and refrigerate overnight. Blend in a liquidizer and then strain through a sieve to leave you with a smooth, spicy and delicious syrup.
When it’s dessert time, wash and trim the rhubarb into 4cm (1 3/4 inch) batons. Place these in a shallow roasting dish, cover with a thin layer of syrup and place in an oven preheated to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Cook for 8-10 minutes, but be aware that the rhubarb will continue to cook in the syrup in the dish when you take out of the oven (something I failed to take into account when serving multiple portions…)
Share the rhubarb batons between individual plates, top with a scoop of ice-cream and a sprig of mint. turn the top of your pepper mill to the loosest setting and mill one oven twist of pepper over each ball of ice-cream. Drizzle a small amount of syrup over and around each portion and serve.