Sunday 6 July 2014

The Merchant House's stuffed courgettes

Someone on on the LYDS list asked me if I'd read Shaun Hill's book: The Merchant House. I hadn't. I have now and I wish I remembered who it was that recommended it. If you're reading this - shout out.

[EDIT: I've just learned that it was Samantha Hill. 'Any relation?' I asked, only half seriously. But yes, she's Shaun's daughter-in-law.]

I confess I'd not heard about Shaun Hill but the blurb excited me: a hugely experienced chef who decided to do something different and convert his Ludlow home into a restaurant staffed only by himself in the kitchen, his wife out the front and one waiter. Not only did he succeed in creating a much-in-demand restaurant, he was soon Michelin starred. One man, cooking on his own, in a kitchen smaller than mine, wins a star. It demonstrates what's possible!

What made the book so attractive was knowing that all the recipes had to be achievable by one person, albeit one vastly more accomplished and skilled than me, in a small space, in limited time. No brigade here, pushing all manner of food beauties to the pass, to be assembled by a head chef. It helps also that he writes so well... and with great humour. He has a healthy disdain for cheffy puffery, focussing on a limited menu of simple, delicious dishes. Which, obviously, is an aim I share in my own limited endeavours.

Shaun left the Merchant House in 2008 to go and run the Walnut Tree in Abergavenny. I've been there once (sadly post Franco) but now plan to go again.

Groups this weekend were my mate Sarah-Lou on Friday with her sizzle of Ealing mums. SL had meant to be one of my first diners in the third week, way back in 2012 but had been laid waste by leurgey en route. She's a TV writer, like me. Well, not like me. She's much busier and well liked.

Friday. Sarah Lou is at 3 o'clock. I thought this would be an interesting variation (I needed step ladders) but didn't consider than most of the shot would be table. I have just re-oiled it though. Not that you care.
 Saturday saw Jenny P (left) with her family; including a daughter visiting from Honk Konk. 

Both groups had given me an open spot for the starter so I thought I'd try one of Shaun's and settled on his Sicilian Stuffed Courgette. Why? The flavours seemed similar to the caponata that I've made many times; an unusual combination of everyday ingredients: olives, capers, oranges, breadcrumbs, onions and currants. A store-cupboard dish almost.

One caveat: no idea why he calls these 'stuffed'. The mix is piled on top and baked. 

I served them with Shaun's tomato and ginger sauce, which should maybe be better termed as ginger and tomato. (Just checked. It is. Oops.) This isn't an easy dish to make look like the sexy thing. This was my attempt.

My take on Shaun Hill's Sicilian stuffed courgette with ginger, garlic and tomato sauce.
Shaun Hill's Stuffed Courgette with Tomato and Ginger Sauce. This is enough for a main meal, especially if you add some chargrilled chicken, polenta or pork.

Serves 4.
Fry one finely chopped red onion in a good glug of olive oil until starting to colour. Add 90g of fresh breadcrumbs and fry until just golden. You might want to add more olive oil if it's all looking too dry. Season with salt and pepper. Now add 12 green olives, chopped (I mixed black and green), one tablespoon of small capers and two tablespoons each of pine nuts, currants and chopped parsley. (And bloody hell, why are pine nuts so expensive!? Anyone know where I can source good quality one cheaply that doesn't involve buying a skipful?)  Add the juice of a freshly squeezed orange (perhaps a touch of zest too), taste and season and set aside.

Why do recipes say 'freshly squeezed'? When did you last 'squeeze and leave'? Mind, the word 'fresh' is so misused on packaging; seeming only to reassure us that the foodstuff isn't actually off.

Anyway, boil four courgettes for two minutes and then refresh in ice water. Along with the mix, these can be kept until needed. Or thrown out... if you've changed your mind about the whole courgette thing and just fancy munching on the mix. I wouldn't advise this though.

Halve the courgettes, oil and season. Here I added a step and griddled my cut courgettes to give deep, dark grill lines. Pile the mix on top, brush with more oil and bake for 20 minutes at 200°C.

Shaun Hill's Fresh Ginger, Garlic and Tomato Sauce.
Skin (plunge into waters, boiling then cold) four good red, ripe tomatoes, quarter and deseed. Then chop small. Peel and finely chop a four inch knob of ginger, two shallots and two garlic cloves and a small red chilli (I omitted this). Sweat the above in a glug of oil, cooking gently for a couple of minutes. Add the diced tomato and a tablespoon of passata (God knows what you do with the rest. A Bloody Mary maybe?). Heat through. Season.

Just before serving, warm the sauce and beat in 25g of butter along with a couple of tablespoons of herbs. Shaun specified coriander and chives, I used coriander and dill, mainly because I don't believe anything less than a kilo of chives adds any flavour to a dish. Maybe chives were different once? Maybe they tasted of something?

The dish was well received  By this I mean clean plates and not just warm words. Even a couple of the men who confessed to pre meal concerns were won over.

And bugger! I've just realised, as my iPhone pinged the final result, that I've missed this year's Wimblybum men's final.

And look, I didn't even mention Jekyll & Hyde.

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