Everything's going to be okay

Orecchiette with fava beans, guanciale, and walnuts

I know this probably makes me a bad person, but I hate you. Well not all of you, just those of you from the Northern Hemisphere. I don't hate you anymore, it was just for the last 3 months. And hate may be too strong a word — I envy you. You with your bright, gloabally-warmed summers, frolicking fancy-free under the same sun that has shunned me and my upside-down kin. Well well well, haven't the tables turned? Sure it might be raining outside here while you ease into a mild Autumn, but it's spring now and ain't no one gonna take that away from me.

Daylight savings has started, and thankfully no one told the spring produce about the dreary weather. This means two things. First, it means that more often than not I'll be eating dinner (and hence photographing dinner) while it's still light, making for brighter, more natural pictures. Secondly, not only will the photos be brighter, but the food itself will be brighter. Juicy tomatoes, mangoes, fresh basil, outdoor grilling, that kind of thing. It's going to be great.

All throughout winter I look forward to cooking broad beans in spring. It's silly because I'm actually rather indifferent towards fresh favas, but my affinity for them is symbolic. These days you can get tomatoes in June and strawberries year-round, but fresh broad beans are never available out of season — once they start appearing in the markets, I know warm weather is close behind and everything's going to be okay.

This dish has fava beans declaring spring has sprung, with walnuts, guanciale and a touch of cream providing shades of the colder weather that's lingering after winter. It's perfect for this time of year, and might I add quite a handsome-looking dish to boot.

One tip that I've found useful when serving and photographing this kind of pasta sauce is to cook off the larger ingredients separately and set them aside while you make the sauce. When ready eat, toss the pasta and sauce together with some of the reserved ingredients, then plate up and scatter with what remains. The ingredients don't become limp and waterlogged from simmering in the sauce (unless that's the idea) and they'll taste great and look pristine for your blog.

Orecchiette with fava beans, guanciale, & walnuts

Ingredients (makes 1 serve):

  • 80g of orecchiette
  • 1/2 cup of fava beans/broad beans, double-peeled1 and blanched
  • 2 quarter-inch thick slices of guanciale, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup of walnuts, quartered and roasted2
  • 1/2 a clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of cream
  • 1 tbsp of finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup of finely grated pecorio
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Cook the orecchiette in salted, boiling water according to the instructions on the packet. Meanwhile make the sauce.
2. Pu the guanciale in a cold pan and place the pan over a medium heat. Saute until it starts to become crispy around the outside, then remove to a bowl, leaving the rendered fat behind.
3. Add the garlic to the fat and cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes, then add the cream, parsley, and seasoning. Simmer for 2 minutes until it starts to thicken.
4. When ready to serve, toss together the sauce & pasta with most of the guanciale, broad beans, and walnuts over a medium heat until the sauce thickens and just coats the pasta.
5. Scatter over the remaining pecorino, guanciale, broad beans, and walnuts, and serve.

(1) Those who have cooked with anything but the youngest fresh fava beans will know what I mean. Broad beans grow inside a pod, but the individual beans are themselves inside a second skin that can be fibrous and unpalatable. To double-peel broad beans, first remove from their pods, blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, and cool under running cold water. They should now slip easily out of their skins.
(2) You can roast these in a dry pan, in a hot oven, or as I do under the oven grill (broiler), tossing every 30 seconds until they're done (about 2 minutes).

A lazy recipe writer's guide to moussaka


I've decided that it's more taxing to write a recipe for moussaka than it is to make the damn thing. Although the moussaka photo has been up on my flickr page for a few weeks now, I've been putting off writing the post because, ugh, who can be bothered? It's not that the recipe is even that complicated. Sure it is a multi-part recipe with grilling, bolognesing, béchamel saucing, and baking but you've done all of that before. What gets me is the futility of trying to perfect amounts. Your baking dish is bigger than mine, your eggplants are smaller than mine, but none of that matters. What this recipe boils down to is the following:


1. Cook some bolognese with cinnamon and cloves1, about 750 g of meat's worth.
2. Make a big batch of bechamel sauce, maybe 75 g of butter's worth2. Mix it with half to 1 whisked egg & a generous grating of nutmeg.
3. Season and grill a few layers worth of sliced eggplant.
4. Layering from the bottom up: Thin layer of bolognese, the eggplant, a sprinkling of dried Greek oregano, a thicker layer of bolognese, and the béchamel custard. Finally sprinkle with grated hard cheese, such as Greek kefalotiri (reggiano works fine, too).
5. Bake in a 175ºC/350ºF oven for an hour or until golden on top.

But is that enough? There has to come a point where a certain level of knowledge can be safely assumed, particularly with readers as talented as your fine selves. Are you flattered enough yet to forgive my laziness?

(1) I recommend my summer bolognese, adding 5 ground cloves and 1 whole stick of cinnamon at the beginning with the onions. A mixture of half lamb mince and half beef mince works well for this. Finish with a grating of nutmeg.
(2) We've made béchamel before, for macaroni cheese and tuna mornay. Make the sauce using butter, flour, milk, salt, and nutmeg, but unlike those recipes stop there and don't add cheese and such. Mario Batali, unsurprisingly, has also made it.

5 tips for a better burger

Burger with blue cheese & mushroom

It seems like every man — at least every man who's into cooking — will at one time in their life find themselves on a quest to create the perfect burger. There's always the option of buying pre-made burger mixes or simply grilling supermarket stock-standard mince, but if you're willing to get bogged down in meat:fat ratios and the like, delicious rewards await you. These days you don't even have to work empirically. I didn't have the time, tools, nor the stomach to eat dozens of burgers of variable quality in my search for perfection, but it's all been done before, allowing a simple literature review to substitute for original investigation.

Now when I talk about the perfect burger, I'm talking about the meat itself. The scope for toppings is unlimited and can vary on a whim, however when it comes to the meat I believe in the idea of the one true burger. Although I believe such a burger might exist, I'm okay with the idea that I might never eat it, and openly doubtful that I'll ever make it — a fact that I find rather freeing. Perfect is the enemy of good enough, and I there are a handful of simple techniques that can dramatically improve a burger, leaving the purists to fight over the long tail of diminishing returns.

Below are what I consider the most successful advances in burger technology:

  • No pre-ground meat: The problem with pre-ground is that the poor quality mince is made from scraps, and the 'premium' mince is too lean. Go for a braising cut such as chuck or brisket, which has a strong beefy flavour and the right fat content (25-30%), or experiment with mixtures. Grind it at home if you have the equipment, or select a cut and ask your butcher to do it. Persevere: I tried three butchers before I could find one that would do this for me — the rest claimed that their machines were too big to put through only 2 pounds of chuck.
  • Where's the beef? Some like to mix the minced beef with onions, herbs, or god forbid, bread crumbs, but that's what toppings are for. Let beef be beef.
  • Season well: Generously salt and pepper the outside of the raw burger just before it goes onto the heat. You'd be surprised at how much seasoning a burger can (and should) take.
  • Keep your cool: I keep the mince in the fridge right up until it's time to cook. This goes against all other advice for cooking meat, but with burgers a cool temperature will help the mince stay together and prevent too much fat melting away in the initial stages of cooking.
  • The Shake Shack Smash: As seen in this video, the shake shack smash is a thing and it really works. The key is to do it early — only 30 seconds into cooking — and to form your raw burgers a little thick so as to let the smash shape it to size. I used to always have a problem with perfectly-rolled-out burgers contracting into hockey pucks, but no longer. If you don't have Shake Shack's rigid metal spatulas, I find that pressing on a regular non-slotted spatula with a potato masher works nicely.

The above list is far from comprehensive (there are entire blogs dedicated to burgers alone), but those five simple tips have transformed burgerdom in the second pancake household.

As I was saying, the kinds of toppings are endless. The above burger was a good one so I thought I'd share: Baby spinach, blue brie (Kind Island Dairy), grilled portabello mushroom, and quick onion jam (onions, sugar, salt, worchestershire sauce, and tomato ketchup). Winner.