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blog/ chilli/ Edinburgh/ eggs/ food/ Mexican/ peppers/ recipe/ tomatoes

Recipe: A brunch that’s “muy bien” – Huevos rancheros (rancher’s eggs)

Tasty huevos!

I like cooking. I wouldn’t be writing a food blog if I didn’t. Yet sometimes, no matter how well developed someone’s culinary skills might be, a hankering develops for a dish that is tasty whilst simultaneously requiring only the minimum of effort in the kitchen.

Breakfast is always one meal that I prefer to be flavoursome and simple, even at weekends, when I have a bit more time to prepare food. Saturday and Sunday morning staples at Scrumptious Scran Towers tend to consist of the likes of a decent bacon buttie (dry cure on sourdough, preferably), maybe scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms, or if I have the ingredients to hand, a ham and cheese omelette. Yet now and again I yearn for something a bit more adventurous that’s still easy to prepare and speedy to cook.

Bring on the toms & eggs…

So this Saturday I decided to rustle up a breakfast dish that certainly packs a flavour punch, is relatively healthy and, most importantly, is a cinch to prepare – my own particular take on huevos rancheros. A staple of rural Mexico, the literal translation of this delicacy is “rancher’s eggs”, as it was staple breakfast fare for those working the fields or tending livestock.

Traditionally, huevos rancheros combines a spicy, tomato-based sauce with fried eggs, maize tortillas, with a side of refried beans. But to be honest, this is a wee bit elaborate for me, especially if I’m cooking on a Sunday morning following a somewhat ‘lively’ Saturday night. So my recipe concentrates on an adapted version of the spicy sauce, which – when ready – is used to poach a couple of fresh eggs. This is all served with ample slices of crusty bread.

The recipe below serves two people generously, and I leave it entirely up to taste as to how spicy or otherwise the sauce is made (think of it as a sort of edible Bloody Mary mixture, but without the vodka). Of course, if you have house guests for breakfast it’s very straightforward to just double or triple the ingredients to ensure everyone is properly fed.

 ¡Buen provecho!


  • A good glug of olive oil (3-4 tbsp)
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • Half a dozen (or so) large chestnut mushrooms, wiped and sliced
  • A good pinch (dependent on how spicy, and the preferred level of heat) of dried chilli flakes
  • A 400g tin or carton of good quality chopped tomatoes
  • A generous squirt of tomato puree 
  • ½ tsp thyme leaves (preferably fresh, and chopped)
  • 1 bay leaf (again, fresh if available)
  • 2 large eggs – hen or duck
  • Salt and pepper, to taste.

Preparation and cooking

  1. In a medium sized frying pan heat the oil over a medium heat, until hot but not smoking. Add a pinch of salt followed by the onion and pepper. Fry until they begin to soften, stirring to ensure they don’t brown.
  2. Add the garlic, and chilli flakes, give a good stir and cook for a further minute.
  3. Now add the mushrooms and continue to cook for a couple of minutes until softened and just starting to take on some colour.
  4. Pour in the tomatoes, followed by the tomato puree, thyme and bay leaf. Give the ingredients a good mix and when bubbling turn down the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens. Check the seasoning.
  5. With the back of a tablespoon, make two indents in the tomato sauce and crack an egg into each of these. Place a lid or plate over the frying pan and cook until the eggs just set.
  6. Serve at once with lots of sliced bread, or tortillas and refried beans, depending on your mood…
blog/ Cod/ coley/ Edinburgh/ food/ preserve/ recipe/ salt/ Tim Hayward

Feature Article: A cure for cod – I hope…

Coley, awaiting more cure.

Hopefully, alchemy is currently occurring in the kitchen of Scrumptious Scran Towers. Fret not – no work units have been sacrificed in order to install a smelter that converts base metal to gold. The transformation occurring in the fridge is more subtle, but no less remarkable. It’s all because I have discovered a cure. And it’s for cod. Well for coley, if I am honest – it’s a more sustainable seafish.

I fear a little bit more contextualisation is called for. Back in July, a dear friend bought me a great cookbook as a birthday present. This was Tim Hayward’s Food DIY. His book is a veritable encyclopaedia of how to prepare food and drink many of us love, but few now make themselves. From corned beef and bacon, to smoked salmon and even gin – with no distilling required – it re-acquaints people with the techniques that enable such culinary staples and delights to be prepared at home.

Given my love of Spanish cuisine my attention was immediately drawn to salt cod – or bacalao. This preserved white fish is ubiquitous across the Iberian Peninsula, having originated as the favoured means of preserving the abundant catch captured in the Atlantic, in the days when refrigeration was not an option. Unlike Spain and Portugal, in Edinburgh there isn’t a market just round the corner offering this cured delicacy. I suppose I could buy some online, but how to guarantee the quality?

Well thanks to Food DIY I have no need to worry. I am making my own salt cod (coley), with three simple ingredients. Fish, sea salt and Prague powder #1. “Prague what?” you may ask. Well it’s an additive – to be used sparingly – that ensures that the curing process sees off even those bacteria that cause botulism, and with good reason. Trust me, I have no desire for my laughter lines to be static, let alone those muscles that keep my lungs bellowing, and blood circulating. And neither should you.

Cured, wrapped, now dry…

I am cooking for an smashing dinner party soon – watch out for further news on “lamb wars” – and have a dish in mind featuring salt cod. So, sprinkled in a kilo of cure, wrapped in cheesecloth, tied in string, two lovely fillets of white fish are now sat in my fridge having all their liquid content pulled from them. And there is some major osmosis going on. Hayward describes it as a “fierce cure”. Judging by how dry my hands feel merely rubbing the salt into the fish, he is not wrong.

Wrapped in their shrouds, and exuding inherent moisture, I want to keep peaking at the alchemy occurring to the fish in my fridge. I know I must just leave them to dehydrate – bar turning them over twice a day. If all goes well, soon the fillets will be as dry as biscuits and then I can rehydrate them again, in order to cook with my salt fish. Why go to this trouble, some of you might ask? You really just have to taste salt cod, to discover the answer…

Be sure to check back soon to see exactly what I cook with my salted fish.

chutney/ fig/ plum/ recipe

Recipe: Autumn in a jar – Spicy plum and fig chutney

Jar of plum and  fig chutney.
Chutney, ready for maturing.

OK, we shall get all the autumnal food writing/blogging clichés out of the way, right from the outset. The equinox is definitely marking the turn of the seasons. From the long, dry(ish) summer we move to the soft, mellow months of autumn (fall, as it is sometimes called). There is mist in the morning, a nip in the air of an evening, the crunch of fallen leaves under foot, and trees hang heavy with sweet, plump fruit…

Oh to hell with blinkin’ cliché avoidance, I love autumn! It’s that bit of the annual cycle when it almost seems like nature does home delivery. Around every corner things are ripening or coming back into season. For those who like to cook with seasonal food, the available larder undergoes a veritable explosion of flavoursome produce. Sweet, ozone-tinged native oysters, the subtly gamey flavour of the first roast pheasant of the season, and the sugary tartness of soft fruit, they all compete for the food-lover’s attention. Yeah, yeah that’s probably a complete middle-class foodie cliché, but…

Lovely home-grown plums
Smashing plums.

There is no denying this has been a bumper year for fruit of all kinds, especially the soft fruit that excels in Scotland. The delayed spring, followed by a pretty decent summer has resulted in a bumper crop of raspberries, brambles (blackberries), currants and plums. Ripe – clichéd pun intended – for cooking and preserving. Sadly, the drying green (wee patch of garden) to the rear of Scrumptious Scran Towers is not blessed with fruit trees. Yet I am fortunate that some friends of mine abandoned Edinburgh earlier this year, to renovate a property in the city’s rural hinterland. And in the lovely garden that adjoins their house are some impressive fruit trees. We are talking amazing plums!

So, how delighted was I to be offered a punnet – well actually a couple of kilos in a posh carrier bag – of lovely looking, fragrant fruit? “Very”, is the answer. They might have been of the “Victoria” variety, to be honest, I’m no expert. That they tasted “amazing” – yes, another cliché – is beyond argument. Lovely as the fruit was, there was too much for two of us to consume before the plums went past their best. Preservation was the answer. As I don’t have a very sweet tooth, plum jam really wasn’t in the running. A chutney, however, that would mature for a couple of months and be prefect to serve with cheese and cold cuts during the festive season. Oh, yes please.

Plum and figs stewing in vinegar and spices.
Cooking chutney.

So, combining the tasty plums with a few left over figs that I didn’t use in a pudding when my parents recently paid me a visit, I present to you my spicy plum and fig chutney. Mixing the fruit with sour sherry vinegar, Demerara sugar, a blend of spices typical of Spain and North Africa, together with a chilli zing and a good glug of rich Pedro Ximénez sherry, this is pickle has a smashing combination of flavours. Left for a couple of months to mature, the chutney will make an ideal accompaniment to cheese or cold cuts of meat. And by way of a thank you to the lovely friends who supplied the plums – a few jars will be winging their way to you soon.


  • 1.5kg plums
  • 500g fresh figs, chopped
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 200g of Demerara sugar
  • 1½  tablespoons sweet smoked paprika (pimentón)
  • A good thumb-sized piece of root ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 large red chilli, finely chopped (deseed if you want less of a kick)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 350ml sherry vinegar (of good quality)
  • 50ml cider vinegar
  • 200ml sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry (or port, as an alternative)

Preparation and Cooking

  1. Stone the plums (I slice around the natural indent of the plum and twist apart) and chop them.
  2. Place the coriander, cumin and fennel in a square of jam-making muslin and tie tightly.
  3. In a large pan, place the plums, figs, onions, garlic, chilli, ginger and sugar.  Mix the vinegars together and add 300ml to the pan, together with the smoked paprika and the muslin spice bag.
  4. Season the ingredients and bring to a simmer over a medium heat, in order to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Simmer for a further 30mins, stirring frequently, until the ingredients become tender.
  6. Add the remaining vinegar, together with the sherry, and continue to cook for a further 30 minutes (stirring frequently once again) until the mixture thickens.
  7. To tell if the chutney is ready pull the back of a tablespoon over the top of the mixture to create a shallow trough. If no liquid appears in the indent, it is ready, otherwise continue to cook for a further 15 minutes, or so.
  8. Transfer the hot chutney to sterilised jars and cool before sealing the jars.  
  9. The chutney should be left in a dry, cool place to mature for at least a month before it is ready to eat.  Place any opened jar in the fridge and consume the contents with 3-4 weeks.

José Pizarro/ recipe/ Spanish

Recipe: Crab and prawn croquetas

Picture of crab and prawn croquetas with lemon slice and a glass of beer.
Hot croquetas, warm day, cool beer, perfection!

A couple of posts ago on Scrumptious Scran, I reviewed José Pizarro’s excellent cookbook of Spanish cuisine, Spanish Flavours. Following on from the review, I really wanted to try one of the recipes from the book for the blog; proof of the pudding (or pagination) is, after all, in the eating. So packed is Spanish Flavours with alluring recipes, one might think my choice of what to cook would be a tricky one, but this wasn’t the case at all. Newly armed with my trusty deep fryer, I knew I was going to attempt my take on José’s recipe for crab and prawn croquetas.

Whenever I’m lucky enough to be in Spain, or in a decent Spanish restaurant in the UK, I always make a habit of sampling croquetas, where these are on offer. And to be frank, you would be hard pressed to find a Spanish bar or restaurant that doesn’t serve some version of this tasty little tapa, so ubiquitous is the dish throughout Spain. Crisp and golden on the outside, yet soft, moist and flavour-packed on the inside, the beauty of croquetas lies both in their simplicity and versatility. Fundamentally, all a croqueta consists of is a thick béchamel sauce with assorted ingredients added to flavour this. This mixture is then chilled, formed into lozenge shapes, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

They key to making decent croquetas is ensuring the béchamel sauce is suitably thick but silky smooth, and choosing an appropriately flavoursome additive to incorporate in this. And there are many such ingredients from which to choose. I’ve sampled delicious chicken croquetas in Barcelona, ones flavoursomely made with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, in Madrid, and a fantastically fishy variety containing bacaloa (salt cod), in Seville. To be honest, it’s possible – within reason – to enhance a croqueta with whatever flavouring ingredient takes one’s fancy. Also, every bar and kitchen will have its own tweaks for each basic croqueta variety, making for a joyful pastime that is bar hopping and trying to asses which serves the best.

Croquetas ready for breadcrumg coating, then frying.
“Lozenges” ready for breadcrumbs, then frying.

And speaking of tweaks, I slightly altered the recipe below from the one for crab and prawn croquetas featured in Spanish Flavours. I have include dill instead of parsley (I just happened to have some in the fridge at the time), and infused the milk with a bouquet garni consisting of a celery stalk with a couple of sprigs of thyme and a fresh bay leaf tied to it. I suppose that, if an even more intense seafood flavour was desired, the prawns could be substituted for brown shrimp, or even finely chopped, cooked mussels. The tastey possibilities are almost endless…

This recipe will make around 35 individual croquetas, which is enough to serve 6-8 in one sitting. However, once the béchamel has been formed into the croquetas lozenges, these can be frozen for a few weeks for defrosting and frying at a later date.


  • 500ml of whole milk (infused with a bouquet garni of herbs if desired)
  • 150ml of fresh chicken of vegetable stock
  • 85g butter
  • 115g plain flour
  • 125g fresh white crab meat (I used locally-caught, Scottish crab)
  • 100g of cooked peeled prawns, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of dill (or parsley) finely chopped
  • 2 large, free-range eggs
  • 200g breadcrumbs, made from stale, crustless white bread
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation and cooking

  1. Put the milk and stock in a large saucepan (together with the bouquet garni, if using) and bring to almost boiling. Melt the butter in another pan over a low heat, stir in the flour and cook gently for around 5 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break up the mixture as it cooks. Make sure the mixture doesn’t burn!
  2. Very gradually beat in the milk and stock mixture, giving a really good beating between each addition. The mixture should become silky smooth using this technique. Increase the heat very slightly and cook gently – stirring constantly – for about 5-7 minutes, in order to cook out the flour.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a minute or so before stirring in the crab meat, prawns and dill, together with a good amount of salt and (white) pepper, to taste. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish, spread out to form an even layer and press a sheet of clingfilm onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Allow to cool before chilling for two hours, or preferably overnight.
  4. Put the beaten eggs and breadcrumbs into separate, shallow dishes. Lightly oil the palms of your hands and roll 1½ tablespoons (around a 30g portion) of the chilled mixture into balls and then form them into zeppelin-shaped lozenges. Refrigerate your 35 or so croqueta bases for 15-30 minutes.
  5. Heat up oil in a deep fryer to 190°C. Dip the croquetas 4-5 at a time into the beaten egg and then the breadcrumbs and deep fry in batches for 2 minutes, until crisp and golden. Transfer briefly to plenty of kitchen paper to drain, whilst the remaining batches are cooked. Serve hot, accompanied by a slice of lemon.

Spanish Flavours, by José Pizarro, is published by Kyle Books, and is available in hardback at £19.99.

book/ José Pizarro/ recipe/ review/ Spanish

Book Review: ‘Spanish Flavours’ to savour

Jose Pizarro - Spanish Flavours.
An abundance of Spanish flavours under the cover.

Squinting through my sunglasses in Edinburgh this past weekend it was almost possible to imagine I was in the Mediterranean, as opposed to Scotland. Clear blue skies, glorious sunshine and – best of all – alfresco dining. Eating outside on a balmy summer’s day or evening is one of my favourite culinary pastimes – whether in the UK or somewhere more exotic, such as Italy or Spain. How appropriate then that I found myself sat in the green behind Scrumptious Scran Towers snacking on tapas whilst thumbing through Spanish Flavours, the latest book by Spanish-born and UK-based Chef, José Pizarro.

Growing up on a farm in the western Spanish region of Extremadura, it was whilst he was studying as a dental technician that Pizarro discovered his love for cooking. This lead to him attending cookery school, and ultimately a stint at Madrid’s award-winning restaurant Meson de Doña Filo where he cooked nuevacocina – the deconstructed approach to Spanish cuisine made famous by Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. Fourteen years ago Pizarro relocated to London in order to “try something different”. After achieving this as a key player behind London’s new wave of Spanish eateries such as Eyre Brothers, Gaudí and Brindisa he chose to open his own sherry and tapas bar José, closely followed by his restaurant Pizzaro. So much for the biography…

Regular readers will know that I love Spanish food, and in Spanish Flavours Pizarro demonstrates how well he knows his way around the mosaic-like cuisine which stem from what sometimes appears to be “…seventeen countries all rolled into one”. Identifying links between history and culture, climatic influences, and the use of common ingredients, the book examines in turn the recipes of Spain’s North, East, Centre, South and its Islands. And in doing so, in each chapter Pizarro provides a lyrical snapshot of the flavours, bars and restaurants, and dishes that make these regions so memorable.

As might be expected from an author grounded in nuevacocina, the recipes are not without a twist and turn, an invention that develops Spanish cooking in a slightly different direction. It’s subtle; the sort of tweaking that might traditionally have allowed one village to steal an edge over its neighbour when it came to claiming the best paella. Yet it’s an alchemy grounded in a mastery of really knowing how those ingredients exemplifying Spanish cooking truly work together.

Braised peas and jamón with eggs.
Braised peas and jamón with eggs.

To be frank, whilst having read the book from cover to cover, I’m still in the early stages of working my way through cooking the abundance of recipes in Spanish Flavours – these things should be enjoyed and not rushed – but already several dishes have caught my eye. Griddled scallops with cauliflower purée and chorizo oil sounds like a delicious starter. Roasted monkfish with Serrano ham, black olives and thyme is a great take on “surf and turf”. Oxtail with cinnamon, red wine, sherry vinegar and prunes sounds warming and quite literally “Moorish”. Almond and honey creams with lemon verbena peaches, a perfect pudding. As you will see from my next post, my initial venture into exploring Spanish Flavours involved my first foray into cooking “proper” croquetas – with crab and prawn in this instance – which were delicious, and a favourite tapa of mine.

So if you are looking for an introduction to the cooking of Spain, its origins, and where it might be heading next, do seek out a copy of Spanish Flavours. I, for one, am very glad that José Pizarro chose not to stick with a career in dentistry!

Credit should also go to Emma Lee for the great photographs that illustrate the culture of Spain, and the recipes contained in the book.

Spanish Flavours is published by Kyle Books, and is available in hardback at £19.99.

chips/ deep fryer/ Feature/ frying/ healthy/ recipe

Feature & Recipe – Frying delight: When the chips are down…

Really good looking chips (fries)
Golden, crispy & NO brown sauce!

I have a guilty secret. I’ve been coveting a piece of kitchen kit for a while, one that doesn’t always have the best reputation as far as healthy eating is concerned. Last weekend, I finally transformed my latent desire into a tangible possession, with the purchase of my first deep fryer. A bargain in the sales, of course.

Please try not to judge me, being – as I am – someone who is (usually) an exponent of eating healthily and sustainably. I’m not about to recommend we all gorge ourselves on deep-fried Mars bars at every meal. Ideally, deep fried food shouldn’t really be at the centre of anyone’s diet.

Yet there are certain recipes that simply cannot be realistically completed without resorting to immersing ingredients into boiling fat (or preferably oil). Not previously being the owner of a deep fryer has meant I have been missing out on cooking such delights as tempura, salt and pepper squid, croquetas, and “proper” chips (fries, to those of you who are west of the Atlantic).

Now before anyone butts in, I know it isn’t always necessary to have a dedicated appliance to deep fry food. But heating up oil in a big saucepan on a stove, and trying to guess how hot it is – with potential disastrous consequences – is not for me. Knowing exactly at what temperature you are frying food is really important in ensuring proper cooking, and also limits the degree of oil that will be absorbed. That’s why I am the proud owner of a shiny new frying device that allows fantastic cooking control, thanks to its nice big variable thermostat. So, having removed the packaging and given the components a good wash, my next task was to decide what I was going to fry first.

Picture of a deep fryer
Silver dream machine…

Chips! Well, it might have been an obvious choice, but these would not be just any old chips, oh no. To accompany the oxtail braised in Rioja that was at the centre of Sunday dinner, I wanted the sort of fries that came with this dish when I sampled it in Spain. They had to be golden brown and perfectly crisp on the outside, with an interior that was soft, fluffy and moist.

Now there are endless opinions on how to produce the perfect fried chip. Each favours a particular preference in relation to potato variety, frying medium, and the temperature and number of cycles involved in the cooking. Christopher Hirst’s article in The Independent about his efforts to achieve the gastronomic paragon that is the perfect chip – thankfully, without the suggested use of horse fat – provides an excellent background in relation to these.

So, having considered the options, I choose to “do a Heston” and thrice cook my chips – once par boiled in salted water and then twice fried in oil. Blumenthal’s recipe (from In Search of Perfection) is a bit involved, but it truly does produce amazing chips. I shall maybe use a little less salt in the water the next time I try it, as the blanching meant that my chunky fries certainly didn’t need any further seasoning, but that’s all part of the alchemy.

Of course, I won’t be attempting to refine the recipe for a while – health, health, health!

This recipe (thanks to Heston Blumenthal and Christopher Hirst) will make sufficient chips for 2-3 people. It is best to fry in small batches, especially if using a small fryer.

Peel, then chunkily chip 400-500g potatoes, washing them thoroughly.

  1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the chips and return to boil, immediately reducing to gentle simmer (no bubbles) for 8-10 minutes. Strain and leave in the pan to encourage any remaining water to evaporate.
  2. Transfer to cool on a cake rack. When cool, chill in fridge.
  3. Heat your oil (I used sunflower oil, which is ideal for deep frying) to 130C. Using mesh basket, fry chips for nine minutes.
  4. Remove the basket, shake, and allow to drain. Cool the chips on a cake rack, then chill in the fridge.
  5. Just before you are ready to eat, heat oil to 190C. Use a mesh basket to fry chips for a maximum of 2-3 minutes until golden. Cooking times can vary depending on the fryer and potato varieties so keep a close eye on the colour of chips. Drain the chips, then spread on double layer of kitchen paper. Serve immediately.
asparagus/ lemon/ parmesan/ pearl barley/ recipe/ risotto

Recipe: Cheering spears – Asparagus and pearl barley risotto

Asparagus & pearl barley risotto.
Flavoursome asparagus and barley.

Last Friday was a sad day for anyone who, like me, strives to cook with seasonal British vegetables. “How so?” you may ask. Well, it’s because 21 June marks the official end to the British asparagus season. I love cooking with, and eating, asparagus. In bunches, the bright green spears look almost like mini modernist sculptures rather than plants, and their sweet, earthy taste is completely unlike any other vegetable.

I always endeavour to make the utmost use of UK asparagus when it is available, as springtime recipe posts on Scrumptious Scran bare testament. At around two months, this vegetable’s season is akin to a culinary firework display – dazzling, but all too short. Maybe it’s pig-headedness on my part, but even though imported asparagus is now available year-round, my tendency is to avoid this. I simply don’t agree with flying food thousands of miles, just to ensure this is can be purchased when its UK equivalent is no longer in season. Plus, and I don’t think it is a psychosomatic bias on my part, but asparagus from South America just doesn’t seem to have the depth of flavour of that grown in Britain.

So, to mark the passing of the 2013 season, I decided to cook a dish that would be a celebration – or maybe a wake – for one of my favourite ingredients. My inspiration came from a dish I watched Suzanne O’Connor – Head Chef at The Scottish Café and Restaurant – prepare at the recent Slow Food event held at Edinburgh’s Summerhall. Suzanne cooked an original take on risotto, featuring peas, broad beans, mint and parmesan, but which substituted the quintessential Scottish ingredient of pearl barley, in place of rice.

So, behold my British asparagus and pearl barley “risotto”. The dish may appear quite simple, but I didn’t want anything to infringe upon the asparagus flavour its centre – rather the other constituents should complement this. So the creamy barley is cooked with home-made stock, and augmented with softened onion, a hint of citrus provided by lemon juice and zest, nutty savouriness from the addition of parmesan, and the grassy freshness of chopped parsley.

A fitting 2013 send off to this monarch of British vegetables, I trust you will agree. Roll on springtime 2014!

This recipe will easily feed four people for dinner.


  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped – I like to use sweet white onions in risotto
  • 275g pearl barley
  • A glass of dry white wine, 150-175ml
  • 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock – homemade if possible
  • 2 bunches of British asparagus – 400 to 500g in total
  • A good grating of parmesan – at least 40-50g
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • A bunch of parsley – a good handful – roughly chopped
  • A good grind of black pepper, and salt to taste (remember the parmesan will also impart salt to the dish)

Preparation and cooking

  1. Place a wide, not too high-sided, saucepan on a medium heat. Add the butter and melt until it begins to foam, before adding the onion. Fry until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally – this should take around 20 minutes, or so.
  2. Meanwhile, place the stock in a large saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Trim the ends off the asparagus and cut the spears into halves or thirds, depending on their length. Place these into the stock and blanch for 3-4 minutes until just tender.
  4. Remove and strain the asparagus, and place in a bowl of chilled water, to stop further cooking.
  5. Add the barley to the onion, and stir for a couple of minutes to ensure it is coated with the butter.
  6. Pour in the wine and stir until it is adsorbed by the barely – it will splutter and the evaporating alcohol may flare, so be careful!
  7. Add 1-2 ladles of stock to the barely, so the liquid just covers this. Simmer the mixture, stirring now and again, until nearly all the stock has been absorbed. It isn’t necessary to stir the barley quite as often as risotto rice, but do ensure it doesn’t catch on the pan bottom.
  8. Continue to add the stock a couple of ladles at a time. Nearly all the stock in the pan should be absorbed before adding the next batch of liquid. When practically all the stock has been added the barley should be creamy, but the grains still distinct and not broken down.
  9. Add the asparagus and stir into the mixture for 2-3 mins.
  10. Take the pan off the heat and then add the grated parmesan, lemon zest and juice and seasoning. Just before serving add the parsley and stir through.

Serve immediately, with extra parmesan available should diners wish to add a little extra.

ham hock/ recipe/ salad/ Simon Howie

Recipe: Get the hock out! – Smoked ham hock and summer vegetable salad

Tasty smoked ham hock salad.
Summery ham hock salad – keep the BBQ in the shed!

This is really pleasant. The sun is shining, which makes for a lovely evening, and as I write I’m sipping a chilled glass of white wine. It would appear that summer has finally arrived, albeit several months behind schedule. The smell of barbecues drifting through the open windows of Scrumptious Scran Towers confirms this.

Got to love a BBQ… Well yes and no. Done properly, they are great. Tastily marinated meat and fish, succulently cooked; chargrilled vegetable kebabs with squeaky haloumi cheese; and on the side, bowls of new potatoes coated in thick mayonnaise, chives and parsley. All shared by friends and family lounging around in a garden full of chat and laughter.

Enticing though this scene may seem, it isn’t always easily achieved. Forward planning is absolutely key to the success of a good barbecue. There’s the preparing of marinades, combined with the hours these take to work their wonder on the meat or fish of choice. Then there comes the stress of ensuring the charcoal is at just the right heat so that the fare that is on offer doesn’t get burnt to a crisp, or worse still, is revealed as being still raw in the middle when bitten into. Is it such a surprise then, that sometimes when the sun is shining I yearn for tasty, summery food this isn’t such high maintenance?

A great example of this is an appetising salad with smoked ham hock, and seasonal vegetables at its centre. The hock is cheap, and a good quality one – such as the one supplied by Simon Howie, which I used here – will provide all the smokey, meaty flavour you would normally expect from something cooked on a barbecue. All that has to be done to prepare the ham is pop it in a pan of simmering water for an hour and half and then shred the tender meat from the bone. Stress free lazing in the sunshine can ensue whilst this preparation takes place.

When ready, by mixing the hock with the salty-savouriness of green olives; the sweetness of tomatoes, beetroot and smokey, roast yellow pepper; and the spicy kick provided by radishes and red onion you will definitely achieve a winning taste combination. A salad isn’t a salad unless properly dressed, of course, and to accomplish this I douse the ingredients with a vinaigrette which mixes extra virgin olive oil with sherry and balsamic vinegar, and a good measure of grain mustard. Combining the two varieties of vinegar brings both acidity and sweetness to the dressing, which is then underlined by the gentle heat of the mustard grains.

The ham hock may take a little while to cook, but it can be left unattended once at a simmer, unlike meat on a barbecue, and the rest of the salad ingredients literally take a few minutes to prepare. What can be better than a great tasting, stress free dish that allows for plenty of lazing in the sunshine?

The recipe serves up to four people as a lunch or light supper dish.


  • 1 smoked ham hock, on the bone
  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, grilled until the skin chars, skin removed and de-seeded
  • 4 pre-cooked beetroot bulbs, roughly sliced
  • 4-6 radishes, finely sliced
  • 12 small tomatoes, halved
  • 12 pitted green olives, rinsed
  • 6-8 leaves of little gem lettuce, rinsed and roughly shredded
  • 1tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2tsp sherry vinegar
  • 3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½tsp grain mustard
  • Salt and pepper to season.

Preparation and cooking

  1. Place the ham hock in a large, lidded pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer, and skim off any foam that rises to the surface, with a slotted spoon. Turn down the heat to low, place the lid on the pan and cook for around an hour and a half until the meat is “fall off the bone” tender.
  2. When the ham hock is cooked, remove from the pan to a plate, and allow it to cool before removing the skin together with any excess surface fat. Pull the meat off the bone and chop into smaller segments if necessary.
  3. Whilst the meat is cooling, grill a whole yellow pepper until all the skin becomes charred. Place in a freezer bag for a few minutes, which will allow the skin to be peeled away. Remove the stalk and seeds, but be sure to retain any juice from the pepper to add to the salad. Roughly slice the pepper flesh and place in a large salad bowl.
  4. Add the sliced beetroot, onion, radishes, tomatoes to the salad bowl, together with the whole olives and pieces of ham hock.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegars, oil and mustard – together with pepper and a small amount of salt (the olives and hock will add salt to the salad) – to form a smooth vinaigrette.
  6. Pour 2/3 of the vinaigrette onto the salad ingredients and mix to coat them well.
  7. Place the lettuce leaves on the serving plates, and pile the other salad ingredients on top of these. Pour over the remaining dressing and serve.
almonds/ cinnamon/ citrus zest/ membrillo/ pudding/ recipe/ Spanish

Recipe: Flavour fiesta – Tarta de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago.
Tarta de Santiago – delicious with ice cream.

Now shocking though it might seem for someone writing a food blog, I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. Even as a child, I was never particularly mesmerised by bonbons, biscuits, or chocolate and this is a trait that has remained with me to this day. Don’t get me wrong, if I am out to dinner I will more often than not finish proceedings with a sweet of some variety, but this tends to be somewhat of an afterthought.

The upshot of my apparent sweet indifference is that I rarely tend to cook puddings unless I’m entertaining. But when I do, as was the case when cooking my Spanish-themed lunch for friends a couple of weeks ago, one of the sweets I frequently serve is based on the delicious recipe for Tarta de Santiago to be found in the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Moro – the cookbook.

Tarta de Santiago is a deceptively simple, yet incredibly appetising almond-based tart which originates from the Spanish region of Galicia. It literally translates as “St James Tart”, in honour of the patron saint of Spain, the remains of which are buried in the Galician capital city of Santiago de Compostela.

This particular version of the tart combines almonds, with intense citrus notes provided by lemon and orange zest, exotically aromatic cinnamon, and the nutty-fruity flavour that comes from a generous glug of oloroso sherry. The quince paste which is spread on the tart base also gives a fruity, slightly tart hint to the pudding.

Tarta de Santiago can be served either warm or cold and is great accompanied by yoghurt or crème fraiche. Personally, I like to pair it with the delicious ice cream made with vanilla, and raisins soaked in Pedro Ximénez sherry, but you will have to obtain your own copy of Moro – the cookbook, for that particular recipe.

Actually, having just realised how effusive I have been about how good this particular pudding is, maybe it’s the case that I’m not so averse to sweets after all…

Easily serves 6 people when accompanied by crème freche or ice cream.


1 x sweet pastry tart shell (sweet, short-crust pastry blind baked in a 21cm fluted flan tin with a removable base)

For the filling

  • 130g membrillo (quince paste)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 230g blanched almonds, ¼ processed to chunky, the rest medium
  • Finely grated zest of one small lemon and one small orange
  • 1 ½ small cinnamon sticks, finely ground
  • 40ml of oloroso sherry
  • 115g of unsalted butter, softened
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs

Preparation and cooking 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
  2. In a pan melt the membrillo with the water and lemon juice over a low heat so that it does not stick. Stir out any lumps and then spread evenly on the bottom of the cooled tart shell. Set aside.
  3. Mix the almonds, orange and lemon zest, cinnamon and sherry and leave for 5 minutes for the flavours to mingle.
  4. Beat the butter and the sugar together until pale, soft and fluffy, then add the eggs one by one. Don’t worry if the mixture appears lumpy and not emulsified.
  5. Add the almond mixture into the eggs and mix together, then ease into the pastry shell and spread out roughly.
  6. Bake the tart on a middle shelf of the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes, until a golden brown crust has formed.

Serve with yoghurt, crème fraiche, or ice cream.

lamb/ patatas bravas/ pimentón/ recipe/ Spanish

Recipe: Flavour fiesta – In praise of pimentón; slow roast, marinated shoulder of lamb, with patatas bravas

Slow roast marinated lamb shoulder.
Five hours in the oven – off for a rest.

Pimentón – that’s the answer! This flash of inspiration entered my head when thinking about how I was going to frame a piece about the main course of the Spanish-themed menu I recently cooked. If you have read my previous two posts on Scrummy Scran you will have learnt how I fell in love with Spanish cuisine, and about the Galician seafood soup that kicked off a recent lunch for friends involving the cuisine of Spain. So now to provide some insight into that meal’s main course – marinated, slow roast shoulder of lamb with patatas bravas – and the role pimentón plays in both these dishes.

Pimentón (or paprika, to give the spice its more common Slavic/Hungarian-derived name) is an essential constituent in a plethora of Spanish dishes. It adds a savoury, even earthy element to cooking, which can also be smokey and sometimes fiery. The spice is produced from various varieties of red peppers (Capsicum annuum) which were originally introduced to Spain from South America by Columbus. Grown in the Extremadura and Murcia regions of Spain, when ripe the peppers are harvested and then dried (frequently over oak fires, which give the spice a deep smokey note) before being stone ground to form a fine powder. Depending on the variety of red pepper used, the pimentón produced can be sweet, bittersweet, or picante (or hot, if a species of chilli is the predominant capsicum constituent). The smokey, earthy flavours of pimentón are essential to both my main course dishes, but work with these in different ways.

Firstly, the slow-roast lamb. This consists of a shoulder joint with the bone in (in this case purchased from Edinburgh’s excellent Crombie’s butchers) which is marinated overnight in a mixture of garlic, smoked pimentón, sherry vinegar, oregano and olive oil. When preparing this dish, I place the joint in a large, re-sealable freezer bag and pour in the marinade, before massaging it into the lamb, and placing in fridge. The several hours immersed in this mixture allows the vinegar and oil to carry the herb and spice flavours deep into the flesh, beautifully complementing the taste of the spring lamb. It is then slowly roast for at least four-six hours, which makes the meat both succulent and so tender it can be carved with forks, as opposed to knives.

Patatas bravas.
Patatas bravas – the pleasure of pimentón.

For the patas bravas, the pimentón is of the picante variety. This really provides a kick of heat to the
rich, slightly fruity, tomato and herb sauce that compliments the crispy roast potatoes. And before any traditionalists jump in, yes the potatoes are normally deep fried but I prefer coat them in olive oil and seasoning and then roast them in a ceramic dish. They are just as beautifully golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and you hear a satisfying bubbling from the sauce as it is poured on the spuds just after they emerge from the oven.

When preparing these recipes they work best when using a good quality pimentón – either pimentón de la Vera (which is smoked), or Pimentón de Murcia (which is not smoked). Both these have their authenticity protected, and come in the sweet, bitter-sweet, and picante varients.

The following recipes are my interpretations of those to be found in the excellent Moro: The Cookbook, which – as I have mentioned in previous posts – has been a big influence on my ventures into cooking Spanish cuisine. I would accompany the dishes with either steamed, new season broad beans, or the excellent chickpea, tomato and cucumber salad, which is also listed in the Moro cookbook.

The dishes will easily serve four people as a main course.


Marinated, slow-roast shoulder of lamb

  • 1 shoulder of lamb, between 1.5-2.5kg and as locally sourced as possible
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste with a little sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of sweet (dulce) smoked paprika (pimentón) – ensure it is good quality
  • 2 teaspoons of sherry vinegar – again, good quality
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh oregano leaves – use thyme as an alternative – finely chopped or pounded
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper, to season
  • A good glass of dry white wine

Patatas bravas

  • 1.5 kg potatoes – scrubbed but not peeled and cut into 2-3cm cubes.
  • 8 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 small dried red chilli, crumbled
  • 2 bay leaves – fresh if available
  • ½ teaspoon each of dried thyme and oregano
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped finely
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • ½ teaspoon of caster sugar
  • A generous teaspoon of hot, smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón)

Preparation and cooking

For the lamb

  1. Place the lamb in either a large, sealable freezer bag or shallow dish.
  2. Mix all the ingredients of the marinade, except the olive oil and rub all over the lamb (the olive oil can prevent the acidity of the vinegar penetrating the meat).
  3. When all the other ingredients are rubbed in well pour in the olive oil.
  4. Leave the meat to marinade in the fridge for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.
  5. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 degrees for a fan assisted oven)
  6. Place the lamb in a roasting tin and season well all over with salt and pepper.
  7. Cover the roasting tin loosely with either baking parchment or cooking foil.
  8. Place in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 155 degrees Celsius (140 degrees for a fan assisted oven).
  9. After around 30 minutes, pour in the glass of white wine.
  10. Cook for at least four hours, basting the meat every 45 minutes with the wine and pan juices. Add a glass of water if these begin to dry out.
  11. Remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest (loosely covered with foil) in a warm place for at least 20 minutes before serving. The meat should fall off the bone and the juices from the pan (reduced if desired) can be added when serving.

For the patatas bravas

  1. In a large bowl, coat the potato cubes with two tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper.
  2. Place in a preheated shallow ceramic dish or roasting tin and return this to the oven set to 200 degrees Celsius (180 degrees for a fan oven). Cook until the potatoes become golden and crispy – this should take about 40-45 minutes.
  3. Empty the tinned, chopped tomatoes into a bowl and ensure there are no obvious hard cores or pieces of skin present.
  4. Pour three tablespoons of olive oil into a large saucepan over a medium heat and fry the garlic until golden, but be sure not to let it burn.
  5. Add the tomatoes and herbs and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until most of the juice has evaporated – around 20 minutes, or so. Remove the pan from the heat.
  6. In another saucepan sauté the chopped onion and pepper in the remaining olive oil for around 20 minutes until soft, sweet and slightly caramelised.
  7. Add the white wine to the onion mixture and bring to the boil to evaporate the alcohol, and pour in the tomato mixture from the other pan.
  8. Stir in the paprika and sugar and then season with salt and pepper. Cook for a further five minutes, loosening the mixture with a little water if it becomes too thick. Set aside when cooked.
  9. When the potatoes are ready, remove from the oven and pour over the warmed sauce and sprinkle with a little extra paprika.
  10. I prefer to serve the patatas bravas unadorned, but sometimes in Spain a little alioli might be spooned on top of them.

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