Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Watercress Pesto with Fireplace Cooked T-Bone Steak and Polenta Chips
We spent an idyllic week in September eating fresh figs, amazing cheese and indecent prosciutto in Italy’s Le Marche region. Our swish villa came with a communal veggie patch which generously yielded the tastiest tomatoes that have ever entered my mouth – they made the extortionately priced Swedish tomatoes I’ve tried to avoid for the last year and a half taste of gravel by comparison. Mini aubergines, sweet little peppers and not so sweet chillies were there for us to tuck into as well.
But best of all was an orchard full of cherries, damsons, and most thrillingly, fig trees. Ripe, sticky, swollen figs seemed to make it into every meal: wrapped in prosciutto, baked with honey and doused in goats’ curd – each one, more delicious than the last. Fresh eggs from the very free range chickens kept our coats nice and glossy and super thin pizza from the wood fired oven was spectacular. It was a rustically gastronomic week of cooking for ourselves that featured a classic caponata and back to back evenings of chargrilled turbot on one night and barbecued sea bass the next – all served with the freshest salads imaginable.
If you are looking for an idyllic and quiet spot for a relaxing Italian break, look no further than Casal dei Fichi where Ian and Bob will look after you like rock stars and even hook you up with gastronomic events where you can make your own olive oil or go truffle hunting.
When we went back to Cowie’s parents’ house in Somerset, we wanted to continue our Italian adventure, but with local produce. We visited Kimbers' excellent Farm Shop where a fabulous T-Bone steak gave me the eye from the chiller cabinet. When you find yourself flirting with a piece of meat, you know it’s going to be good.
We then went to John Hurd’s Watercress farm in nearby Hill Deverill. They don’t normally deal with walk in customers and tend to sell their organic watercress direct to Waitrose by the lorry load. But Simon Hurd, very kindly, gave us a tour of the farm and told us all about the ins and outs of watercress farming. It was great to meet such a passionate chap, who was so knowledgeable and proud about his produce. I loved the fact he sprays his watercress with garlic solution which keeps the bugs at bay and that the peppery mustard oil taste is nature’s way of protecting itself from being eaten. Amazingly it contains more calcium than milk and more Vitamin C than oranges.
We left with a box of watercress, Simon’s infectious enthusiasm coursing through our veins and a recipe booklet that was full of fun suggestions, including the idea of making watercress pesto which sounded like the ideal accompaniment to our steak.
We kept things simple and decided to cook the Kimbers' T-Bone steak over the fire place and to serve it with polenta chips and an emerald green watercress pesto - as a way of rekindling our Italian memories.
T Bone steak
Rock salt and pepper
Watercress pesto ingredients adapted from John Hurd’s recipe book:
1 bag of watercress
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon of toasted walnuts
50-75ml olive oil
50g finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and black pepper
Make the watercress peso first. In a large bowl, blitz the watercress with a hand blender, then add the toasted nuts and garlic and blend them too. Add the olive oil and continue to blend into a luscious green paste. Add salt and pepper and then the parmesan. Mix together and taste for seasoning. Pour into a sterilised jar and store in the fridge until you need it.
For the polenta chips, simply make some polenta following the on pack instructions and let it cook until it has formed a creamy sludge. At this stage mix through some chopped rosemary. Pour this into a baking tray and allow to cool and set. When this has happened cut the polenta into chip sized chunks, douse in seasoning and olive oil and roast in a hot oven until crispy.
Season the steak handsomely with rock salt. A Brazilian friend (hey Marco) taught me to coat the meat extravagantly with salt when cooking it over a flame. It helps to form a crust and guarantees an amazingly tasty steak - just make sure you bash the salt off before serving. Grind over some pepper and get your fire nice and hot. We decided to cook the steak over Cowie’s open fireplace which has the benefit of getting super hot, and a built in extractor fan, otherwise known as a chimney.
Once the flames have died down, simply grill the meat over the coals until rare on the fillet side and medium rare on the sirloin side and leave to rest.
Carve the steak so you get a nice piece of sirloin and fillet and serve with watercress pesto, polenta chips and a watercress salad. The watercress pesto has a strong, peppery tang that marries perfectly with the bloody steak.