Pane di Como, or Italian country bread

Food & drink
Como bread, traditional Italian country bread from Lake Como.

Most of the bread I bake follows a fairly standard pattern. I’ve got a couple of staple recipes, one for an everyday loaf that works well for white or whole grain and any variation in between and a couple of ways with sourdough, too.

The everyday loaf is the most versatile, and it can easily and quickly become a pizza base, a foccacia, a ciabatta or anything of that ilk. It’s good to have a recipe like that in the bag, something that you know and understand well, to the point when you can just make it without thinking. That’s what makes you a baker and not just somebody who makes bread every now and again, that moment when you tip over from just following a recipe to making a loaf by feel and touch.

There’s always something else, though.

This is an Italian loaf characteristic of the area around Lake Como. It has a wide, open texture in common with many other Italian breads, and a developed, subtle flavour. The structure comes from the fact that the dough is very wet, and quite sticky and difficult to handle – it’s the water that causes the open texture, and it’s worth persevering and working carefully with the dough to get it right. The spring in the oven, the amount that the dough bounces into life when it hits the fierce heat, is quite exceptional in this loaf.

There are two stages in making Como bread – a pre-ferment and a bulk fermentation.

Essentially, that means that a small amount of dough is made ahead of time and allowed to develop and mature before being used as the base for the actual loaf. This technique of long, slow fermentation is very successful, and provides a complexity that’s entirely missing from loaves made in one go from start to finish, good as they are. One little trick to catch a small part of this extra flavour is to save a golf ball sized piece of dough every time you bake and keep it in the fridge. The next time, work the old dough into the new, and you’ll add an extra layer of complexity to the new loaf’s flavour.

The initial dough is called a biga in Italian. The difference between a biga and a normal sourdough starter is that a biga normally has commercial yeast in it, but the same principles apply when handling the two types of starter.



The dawn of the supermarket meat counter

Food politics

“In his way, the meat cutter is an artist”.

Here’s a wonderful little American promotional film from the Fifties, that walks through the process of butchering a side of beef into cuts suitable for selling shrink-wrapped in those new-fangled supermarkets. Just look at the marbling on that beef.

Try to ignore the naïve sexism about packaged beef being ‘what the housewife wants’, etc, etc …

That sort of stupidity might sound old-fashioned in a period film like this, but is it any different from the rubbish written on the bag of charcoal I bought today, which encouraged men to ‘give mum the day off’ by barbecuing, implying that a) only men can barbecue and, b) that men only cook at all when there’s fire involved?

Credit to David Lishman, of the frankly superb Lishman’s butchers in Ilkley for posting this on facebook, from where I nicked it.


Chicken Chukka

Food & drink
Chicken chukka – chicken curry, made with coconut and spices

On the way home on Saturday, I stopped off at an Asian supermarket close to where we live.

It’s a ramshackle, haphazard kind of place, piled high with a huge range of things. There are sacks of rice piled high, fruit and vegetables – big bunches of coriander, five for a quid, coconuts, curry leaves, chillies, small aubergines, and – this time – crates and crates of watermelons for £1.50 each. There are racks full of spices, in big, heavy bags for pennies, everything from cumin, to paprika, mustard seeds, coriander seed, cinnamon, turmeric … absolutely everything under the sun.

I never tire of these places. They’re exciting and vibrant. They’re the places that make Bradford a great place, and they’re a great resource for anybody who cooks. There’s absolutely no need to pay a supermarket an exorbitant amount of money for small and mean jars of past-it spices when there are places where you can buy far, far better spices for a fraction of the price. I’d bet that a tenner spent in one of Bradford’s many Asian supermarkets would establish a very fine store cupboard of spices, enough to make pretty much any curry you fancied.

This time, I bought one of those watermelons with the sole aim of decanting a bottle of vodka into it through a funnel (I know, I know … ), a big bunch of coriander and a bag of spices to make this curry. It’s a basic chicken curry, but one that has a deceptive depth of flavour. There’s a lot going on in there, but it’s very easy to make.

The backbone of this curry is desiccated coconut, that’s been gently roasted in a dry frying pan until it turns a golden brown. The coconut’s natural nuttiness starts to shine through when coconut is toasted like this, but it’s a dangerous game – a second’s distraction can mean that your coconut burns, so keep an eye on it. Toast about 50g in total, and set it aside in a bowl when it’s done.



Aegean Flavours, by Didem Şenol Tiryakioğlu

Aegean Flavours, by Didem Şenol Tiryakioğlu – book review

There are a lot of cookbooks emerging at the moment that concentrate on Eastern Mediterranean food.

It’s a broad and interesting cuisine, shaped in large part by geography and the region’s position as the buffer between East and West. Nowhere is this more acute than in Turkey, whose largest city straddles continents, a foot in the east, a foot in the west, a place that is both distinctly Mediterranean and Middle Eastern at the same time, shaped by trade and tradition.

But Turkey is a large and diverse country, and the parts of the country that face the Mediterranean have a rich food tradition that shares much in common with Greece, just across the Aegean Sea. There’s a preponderance of lamb, a dependence on olive oil instead of butter, lots of tomatoes … Mediterranean food with the creeping influence of the Levant, wonderful combinations of flavours and methods, based on good, local ingredients and simple preparation.

Didem Şenol Tiryakioğlu’s book, Aegean Flavours, is a jaunt around eleven of the Aegean region’s best markets, showcasing the best food each has to offer. Part travelogue, part recipe book, Şenol’s book is a vibrant collection of regional recipes, many originating from her own restaurant and experience as a chef in both Turkey and the U.S. Her food is accessible and exciting, challenging and warming.

There are recipes here for things as unusual as lamb’s brain alongside many other, more expected recipes for other parts of the same animal. The recipe that really caught my eye was one for octopus, cooked gently until tender, then quickly sautéed in chilli and fresh oregano, served on sourdough toast, a dish so essentially Mediterranean and yet exotic and demanding.


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How to make pulled pork

Food & drink
How to make easy pulled pork in a slow cooker

I’m one of those people who take photos of  food to post on Instagram. I make no apologies for this – it’s what Instagram is made for, but sometimes the application of a vintage filter on a perfectly normal photograph makes it look a little … different.

Just take a second to look at the picture a little further down this page. Can you see a head? A grisly, charred, malevolent head?  Horrific, isn’t it? Something, as one joker put it, out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Be assured that it’s only a chunk of pork shoulder. There’s no need for an investigation or anything like that. It’s just a trick of the light, but as somebody on Instagram noted, it’s enough to turn you vegetarian, and whilst I’m never going to actually turn vegetarian, I see her point.

That piece of pork was rapidly torn apart with a couple of forks to form pulled pork, that oh-so-of-the-moment American dish that everybody, everywhere seems to be cooking and serving these days. It’s like lamb shanks for the twenty-teens.

It’s a trend when the butchers in Kirkgate Market in Leeds have taken to writing little signs to stick into certain joints of meat saying ‘USE THIS FOR PULLED PORK’.

There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about pulled pork, but do it right, and it’s very good indeed. Soft, tender, very tasty, perfect in a white bread role with a lot of spicy barbecue sauce and some token salad.

‘Doing it right’ is a matter of some conjecture, and the method I’m going to show you here will be seen as heretical by an awful lot of people because it doesn’t use a barbecue. More…