I gave peas a chance

EARLIER this year I found a packet of Hodmedods dried peas I bought on a whim at least ten years ago but forgot about. They were well past their sell-by date but I find Nature doesn’t set much store by officialdom.

I soaked a couple of handfuls, boiled them up (it took a while), added salt vinegar and mint and they made an earthy, mealy dish of mushy peas.

I still had a lot of peas left so I planted some in a couple of plastic boxes and put them on a windowsill. I thought I could have some peashoots for salads.

To my delight, most of them grew although the shoots, or tendrils, turned out to be a little too stringy. Perhaps it’s the variety.

I transplanted them into the garden to grow as snap peas but they were just too fibrous (I reckon it is this particular variety) so let the pods swell with peas. They were sweet and fresh enough to enjoy but I had my eye on the pods. Around this time of year I love to make pea pod soup.

Here’s a slight different version. It’s simple to make. Just roughly chop the pods (you’re going to strain the soup later) and add anything else which is green. In my case it was a couple of sticks of celery and leaves, some broccoli and stalks, outer lettuce leaves, frozen peas and handfuls of soft green herbs: mint, marjoram and a couple of bay leaves.

Nor did I bother with onions as I wanted the green vegetables to shine. If I had had some spring ( green ) onions I would have added those. I wanted a nice thin soup but a cooked potato would have given me some body if I wanted it.

I gently fried the lot in a little oil (not even garlic but you could add that) until it wilted before adding a pint or so of vegetable stock – a cube – and simmered for about 20 minutes.

All that was left was to strain (it left behind a lot of fibre) and after a little adjustment to the seasoning and a bit of chopped mint I had myself a vibrant tasting soup. And all the better from being partly made from leftovers and waste.

I finished the soup off in the bowl with a little wild garlic oil I made and bottled earlier in the year.

You could, of course, do all this with any dried peas, cheaper than a packet from a garden centre. But I certainly gave these peas a chance!


Goodbye to Pigadilly Circus

ONE of my favourite butcher’s shops closed today after almost 86 years. I’d shopped the previous week and everything looked normal. But the liquidators were called in before the following weekend.

It’s an all too familiar story, not enough customers prepared to drop in, select a chop or two or a joint and perhaps some eggs, so Roneys lost business to online shopping. It’s the click-click-click of death for the independent trader.

Roneys, on the corner of Sharrowvale and Hickmott Roads, at what it liked to call Pigadilly Circus, had been trading since 1936. When I moved into the area almost 40 years ago it was one of four or five butchers shops within a few hundred yards of each other. Now just one is left.

It’s the second such shop to close under me. The first was Kempka’s on Abbeydale Road, although that was through retirement, and, like Roneys it was primarily a pork butchers.

At Roneys I weekly bought bacon, eggs, ham, sausages, Barnsley chops and the occasional pork hock although I like to spread my favours and bought joints and mince and the Christmas turkey elsewhere. At lunchtime local workmen would queue for a bespoke filled breadcake or something hot, for Roneys was also the home of the “legendary pork sandwich.”

It had put that boast on its facia for years. Before the present owner, Craig Bell, the business had been run by a butcher who was Jewish. Despite being a journalist, I was so used to the place that the incongruity never really struck me.

That is until he decided to get married and in a quiet moment told me a little story. “I have to go to the rabbi and he asks me what I do for a living. I tell him I’m a butcher. He doesn’t ask the next question . . .”

It suddenly dawned on me that this would make a great story for my Diary column in the Sheffield Star: “Is this the only Jewish pork butcher in Britain?” (probably not is the answer) and I was mildly surprised he agreed.

A little while later I got a phone call. He had obviously had a chat with his intended and family and they were dead against it. Would I please not run the story?

Now I could have said bugger that and gone ahead regardless. But a local journalist has to think of the ramifications of what he writes and I didn’t want to upset a marriage at its outset. Besides, what would I do for pork chops?

The facia was full of VIctorian-type advertisements. Legendry and fame were no stranger to this business. “Roneys famous sausages: Warning, contains real meat,” said one. Another hailed the award-winning qualities of its bacon. In the end it did it little good.

Roneys closure has taken locals by surprise. “It always looked busy,” said one. “We had good weeks and bad weeks but lately there were more bad weeks than good,” said the lady assistant taking my last order, half a dozen eggs and some of their lovely ham.

In recent years Roneys had taken to displaying some of its meats in ready wrapped packages, perhaps to imitate supermarkets, but I like my butchers shops to look like one and guide the assistant’s cleaver poised over the joint – “left a bit more” to get exactly what I want.

Over the years as a journalist I have reported on the closure of at least half a dozen such shops. I recall one on London Road which shut its doors after the owner could find no one in the family, or anywhere else, to take on the business.

He and I toured the premises together, admiring a stack of pork pie moulds, and not a week goes by without my regretting I didn’t try and buy one off him.

Sharrowvale has had a mini-spate of closures in recent weeks. Otto’s, a lovely neighbourhood restaurant, is currently being gutted and refitted as a new Mediterranean-type eatery, and the materials shop Ish has also gone.

There is, of course, an obvious moral in all this: If you want local shops to survive then use them not idly click to order online. Those delivery vans gliding up in your street on a daily basis have already killed our city centre – what is Sheffield with John Lewis and Debenhams? They’re coming for the suburbs now.

Greasing up for the sunflower shortage

THERE is alarm in the nation’s kitchens and supermarket aisles over the impending shortage and rise in the price of sunflower oil. It is already being  rationed to two bottles per customer.

It’s yet another oil shortage.

I shall not be worried. While sunflower is a component of very many foods there are other oils to cook with, vegetable (mostly soy), rapeseed and good old olive oil – although undoubtedly there will be knock-on increase in price due to demand.

It’s been triggered by the disgusting Russian invasion of the Ukraine, which produces much of the world’s sunflower oil, and is likely to last several years.

There are alternatives.

For a start we can all eke out our supplies by following the Chinese practice of saving leftover oil from frying and filtering it back into a separate bottle. Waste not, want not.

If you are frying bacon cut off the rinds, or the fat at the edge of your rashers, and put them in a warm pan to render enough grease in which to fry.

Then there is lard. It’s cheap and acts exactly the same as oil for most purposes when heated. Or duck fat. I keep mine in a jar in the fridge. It’s amazing how much you get from a duck.

I also save any fats obtained from cooking processes – bacon, dripping from roasts, renderings from duck or chicken skin, grease from chops etc – in a pot. After all  it’s what our great geandmothers did in the last war. There is a war on now you know.

If you make your own stocks – and everyone should – you’ll get more than enough fat solidifying on top to use.

It will need to be clarified to rid it of impurities but that’s done easily enough. There are plenty of videos on YouTube like this one: https://youtu.be/yWdvbGd-gqg

This fat, which will turn snowy white on solidifying, can be used exactly the same as cooking oils. Well almost, sunflower’s smoke point of 450F is twice that of lard. But enough for us.

It may take a little time and effort but it’s one in the eye for Putin.

I’m always up for a duck!

WHENEVER I buy a whole duck I know what I’m having for lunch pretty soon: duck livers on toast. Beats chicken livers any day.

While you rarely find a butchers or supermarket chicken with its giblets (“removed for your convenience,” inconvenience more like) with ducks you do.

So after some basic butchery – the breasts to be pan-fried, the legs to make ragu, the carcase, neck and wings for stock, leftover meat scraps for a small pie, the skin for fat and crispy scratchings – I’m left with the liver.

I fried off some onion, bacon lardons and mushroom in duck fat with garlic and sage, added the chopped liver, then a shake of balsamic, a spoonful of duck stock and a little creme freche.

A few grapes ( so I can call this Veronique), a sprinkle of chives and voila! it’s piled on toast. A bit naughty but I fried that in duck fat, too.

So quick, so simple, a bistro lunch in minutes.

North Town is right up my street

YOU have to duck under a washing line of pink cycling vests to enter a small back room. One wall is plastered with pages from Italian sporting papers, the ceiling looks as if it is going to fall down any minute and old coffee sacks are curtains at the window.

There are three long benches, seating six at a friendly pinch, and some high stools. On the back wall, on the way to the toilet, is a cartoon of a cardinal wth a speech bubble saying “Holy cannoli,” a slogan copied on waiting staff shirts. This place looks like fun.

Food arrives on white tin camping plates with blue rims placed on brown paper serving mats, bread is deliivered in brown paper bags and hot coffee in glasses without a handle.

There’s music playing, happy chatter and a waiter in a flat cap is bringing round a tray of cakes to tempt you with that coffee. One thing North Town has got in bucketfuls is atmosphere.

We’ve all heard or dreamed about such places, maybe even been to one, tucked away down some unassuming back street in a hot Italian town or city, and come back with travellers tales of great nights out.

But you don’t have to go as far as Naples or Milan. There’s one on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield.

The oddly named North Town (don’t ask, it’s a long story, about taking over a previous business, even odder because the last thing it sounds is Italian and it’s on the south side of town), opened up pre-pandemic but I’ve only just got round to visiting. Silly me.

It’s the concept of Gian Bohan, one half of the gastro duo with Maurizio Mori who brought us Nonna’s on Ecclesall Road, who wanted to recreate that experience. “You can find them down little out of the way streets,” he says.

This time his partner is Pasquale Pollio,the chap in the hat, and we meet him twice, once at lunchtime and then again when we return for a more substantial tea.

The decor looks spot on – minimum money spent for the maximum effect, including the ceiling. “that’s how we found it when redecorating. This is used to be a guitar shop,” adds Gian.

The heart of North Town is its bakery, which powers much of the menu. mainly ciabattas for a range of sandwiches, to eat in or take away, as well as a Puglian rosemary and rock salt bread. “We bake three, sometimes four times a day,” says Pasquale.

There are pizzas, of course, but the ovens are so busy baking the breads they are available only at certain times.

At lunch we have a meatball panino (£7.50) and a classico – prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella (£6), both excellent, generous and tasty. The meat is lamb with preserved lemon, mint, chilli and ground almond for extra flavour, and it comes with melted taleggio.

We come back on St Patrick’s Day, wondering whether Gian will be sporting a shamrock (he is half-Irish, once running an Irish cafe further up the road nearer town) but he’s away in New York.

This time we’re here for the pasta: a gutsy lasagne (£9.50) with a ragu of pork, beef and sausage, and paccheri scoglio (£12), pasta with seafood, the mere mention of which makes our waitress screw up her face with delight. I expect she does this with all the dishes but she’s right.

The pasta, thick, slightly rubbery rings, are partnered with mussels and clams and finished with pangrattato, basically fried herby garlic breadcrumbs as an Italian ‘poverty kitchen’ subsitute for pesto because the parmesan was too expensive. It’s so convincing I have to tell myself it’s not the real thing.

It’s this and the broth, which I soaked up with a saved slice of bread (although they provide a spoon) which helps makes this dish for while the clams are good the mussels are nothing to write home about.

The cannoli certainly are. Even if you didn’t know you could tell they weren’t made in a factory: crisper, irregular and generously filled. Coupled with a glass of hot coffee you can’t go wrong. This place is right up my street.

North Town re-opens on Wednesday after a short holiday. Normal opening, Wed-Sun.

North Town is at 699 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7. Tel: 0114 255 1242. web http://www.northtown.store

Chinese Fadeaways

THERE were tears, there were hugs and there were last orders of king prawns and fried rice – then a much loved Chinese takeaway was calling it a day.

The New Hing Lung on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, was full of customers and Thank You cards last Sunday (February 27) as the family, headed by matriarch Xue, decided to finish for good on her retirement, aged 66. It’s been sold on.

Customer Howard Greaves, who with his wife Elsa has been a customer for over 20 years, was one of those saying goodbye. “The standard has always been very high and the prices incredible low,” he enthused.

Although he recommended it to friends they shuddered because the appearance outside belied the food inside.

The humble little takeaway is the latest in a line of well-known Chinese eateries to disappear recently. So has the red fronted Dim Sum on London Road, run by brother and sister Sang and Tina Wan. This was a place noted for its dim sum dishes as well as a conventional menu.

They opened the place, previously Mr Yun’s tiny sandwich shop, in 2003 and later expanded into neighbouring premises.

Sang arrived from Hong Kong aged 14 and was sent to High Storrs School, where, he says, the teachers simply ignored him. He left a year later and gained his education in a leading Manchester Chinese restaurant.

I was sorry to have missed a last meal there although knew the Wans were looking for a buyer. Sang, seeing the rise of New Era Square, had long predicted the demise of Chinese restaurants on the London Road axis.

Also gone, and I can’t tell you when, is the famous Zing Vaa restaurant on The Moor. The tiny entrance, now boarded up, led down some stairs to a large basement restaurant. We went a couple of years ago but the cavernous restaurant was cold, bare and empty so we left before ordering.

It was quite the place in its heyday. Founded by Sheffield-born Harry Yun in 1958, whose family ran the Yun Bun Laundry in Heeley, the restaurant had a long-standing rivalry with the Golden Dragon (now the Wong Ting) round the corner in Matilda Street.

Harry, who had a pronounced Sheffield accent, liked to stand at the foot of the stairs and surprise guests by saying, seemingly incongruously, “Oreyt owd lad?”

Times change. People move on. But all three of these premises were held in affection by local people. Most of the time they just disappear from local history without a fanfare. So this, in its way, is a last goodbye.

Would you have the neck to cook this?

Neck on the block

YEAH I know, it’s not a looker. But would you eat this turkey neck? I did.

You’ll find one in your Christmas turkey, that is if you buy a bird with giblets. We had beef not turkey last year but we knew someone who did.

Someone who shuddered with disgust at the plastic wrapped innards and was not going to make giblet gravy so I volunteered to take them. I am all in favour of ‘nose to tail’ eating and that must include the neck.

I bunged them in the freezer for a few weeks before getting round to cooking them.

I only had vague ideas, possibly a soup, but when I opened the two bags what a lot I got. One contained the neck, the other two hearts and two glossy, juicy livers but no gizzard.

Now turkey liver is much too good to throw away on soup and had been well cleaned so just needed slicing, frying off with onions, thyme and garlic, and finishing with sherry, mustard, creme fraiche and the odd grape – liver Veronique. Served on toast.

And very good it was too. The flavour is much more pronounced than chicken livers.

I wasn’t so sure about the neck. Googling recipes came up with a Jamaican mock ‘oxtail stew’ from which I took a cue, if not the spicing. It might have been better if I had.

Oxtail requires long, slow cooking so after whacking the neck into segments I did the same thing. After searing the meat I added onion, celery, carrots, bay and thyme. Then as an afterthought I threw in a few no-soak pinto beans. The cooking liquor was a chicken stock cube. I included the sliced hearts for good measure.

Three or four hours later it was ready, the meat falling off the bones. But this was no rich, thick, vibrant dish, more a muddy, earthy tasting gloop. I don’t think the beans helped here.

I tried to improve things slightly with soy sauce and my home made elderberry Pontack Sauce) but . . .

It wasn’t unpalatable but not, I think a wiñner. I ate slightly more than half of it, telling myself it was what the Italians call cusina poverta, poverty cooking. But you wouldn’t get an Italian eating this!

In future, I’ll leave turkey necks for giblet gravy but the livers are an extra special treat.

A pint of prawns, a bowl of soup

Prawn bits and crab ready for the pot

ONE of the perks of being a journalist, at least when I did it for a living, was going on a a holiday, hopefully overseas, disguised as a working trip. We called them ‘freebies,’

If you were lucky you took your spouse or partner. Sometimes you went with a group of random journos. Either way you had a good time,

Back in the Nineties I managed to wangle the same trip for at least four years to Calais, organised by the port’s local chamber of commerce.

The idea was to write a story convincing at least some of the holidaymakers who passed through on their way to their various destinations to tarry awhile, perhaps at local attractions, wineshops or restaurants and spend some money.

I don’t know whether it worked but every year I came back with a brightly coloured ‘Via Calais’ tea tray and memories of a meal at the Hotel Atlantic.

It was always the same: heaps of pink, glistening shell-on prawns, crisp baguettes, garlic butter and glasses of crisp white wine. I am a sucker for shelling a pint of prawns, slowly, leisurely, for a hour or so. I can do it in my sleep: twist off the head, pull the tail and shuck off the legs with a thumb.

I like to have it at home, too, perhaps a couple of times a year. Buying the prawns is no problem, finding a decent baguette is impossible.

On the boil

Not only is it an enjoyable tea but I can look forwards to a fish soup. For the prawn carcases make an ideal stock. Just cover them with water, bring to boil, swim off the scum, add a few vegetables and, voila, the basis for a soup in 30 minutes. These days I usually add the shell of a crab.

Strained, it goes in the freezer to join various bits of fish, usually offcuts from portions I have bought earlier. When I have enough I make fish soup.

There isn’t really a recipe. The ingredients are whatever you have, onions, carrots, celery and potatoes, some garlic, loads of herbs, a grated tomato or two, bay leaf, tomato puree, Thai fish sauce and a spoonful of paprika, seasoning and a squeeze of lemon.When all is cooked add your fish.

It’s the ultimate in waste not- want not cooking, using up scraps to make something delicious. I’ve just had some. It was lovely. Now I am already planning the next prawn tea.

The finished soup

Native: Funky fish and classy crumpets

FISH restaurants in Sheffield are like buses: you wait for ages then two come along at once.

So now we have, at opposite sides of the city like boxers in a ring, Neon Fish at Millhouses and Native, on Gibraltar Street. And they couldn’t look more different.

Whereas Neon Fish is glitzy and twinkly, Native – next door to a tattoo parlour – is gutsy and gritty, with a wooden floor, weather-beaten tables, exposed brick walls and Sunday School chairs.

Native sits on the end of the street, overlooking the ring road and an empty lot, and while there’s a welcoming whiff of garlic and seafood as we open the door, the decor is not particularly maritime. It’s more funky than fishy.

There is a trio of surfboards on the wall, opposite the small open kitchen, and a statuette of a prawn on a stick.

It will, sadly, be the only one we will see this Friday lunchtime as the kitchen is right out of them, as it is mussels, so that rather depletes the starters we had hoped to graze from in the absence of a light midday menu.

Aside from the olives and bread, you won’t pay less than a tenner for a starter and around the mid twenties for a blackboard main but we like it and we like it a lot.

I was quite tempted by the oysters, after all the restaurant takes its name from the eponymous mollusc, but I can get them cheaper at owner Christian Szurko’s sit down and eat wet fish shop on Sharrowvale Road.

Incidentally I recommend eating there if you don’t mind perching on a stool under the glassy-eyed stare of a monkfish on ice.

So I have the hand dived roast scallops (£13.50) in their shell, three beautifully cooked and sweet under discs of garlic, herbs, parmesan and breadcrumbs.

But you need bread to soak up the fragrant juices and the only bread available is that with my wife’s smoky mackerel pate, two generous quenelles, two small pieces of toast.

We call for more of the toasted sodabread. Why not have it there there in the first place, I ask our friendly waiter? Waste, he shrugs. It’s easy to ask for more.

With only four people in during our stay it was easier to catch his eye than on a crowded evening. And you might want to note that Native charges extra (£3) for remedying shortchanging customers on bread.

But I don’t want to grumble too much because my wife’s seemingly routine smoked salmon crumpet was superb. And I’m talking about the superior, tasty spongy crumpet made in-house, like the excellent bread, by the resident pastrychef.

It was competing with salmon, brown shrimps, a poached egg and a tarragon bearnaise and didn’t come second.

I had a blackboard main at £24 to see what the kitchen could do when spreading its wings.

Two good pieces of monkfish perched on a bed of soft giant couscous, flavoured with chunks of diced lamb breast, aubergine melting to a ‘caviar’ and, giving your tastebuds a zingy, crunchy send-off, bright red pomegranate seeds. In a word, funky.

We ate our meal with a couple of small glasses of decent Muscadet (£5 each) and finished with so-so coffee and wonderful madeleines – that pastrychef again.

It’s taken us a while to sample Native, which opened last year, but this blog doesn’t do a lot of ligging and has to pay its way. Boss Szurko has taken me to task for describing the prices as ‘minty’ but our lunchtime bill was £81.50 and we didn’t push the boat far out to sea.

There’s a lot to like here with an appealing atmosphere and precise cooking. Perhaps you can’t do much about the price of fish but Native could be more generous with the bread.

After all, haven’t bread and fish gone together since Biblical times? And as I remember there was enough to go round.

Native is at 169 Gibraltar Street, Sheffield. Web: http://www.nativejhmann.co.uk

Popping up in Totley

YOU CAN tell a great deal from reading a menu but not everything. For a start it helps to know who the chef is.

But let’s keep you guessing for a moment.

We’ve shelled out £50 a head for a pop up night at the bijoux Rendezvous cafe, all bricks and blackboards, on Baslow Road, Sheffield, and are busy reading the no-choice menu.

We open with garlic mushrooms on toast, very bistro, very Seventies, although it would not have been sourdough back then.

Then on to gin-cured salmon (it’s Loxley), a dish which everyone – even me – is doing although I doubt many end up like tonight’s offering, half-cousin to a plate of sushi, the flesh like jelly in texture with the tang of juniper.

Then rump of lamb with, a nice touch, gnocchi and creamed leeks, the meat lifted by a whiff of intriguing smokiness. Smoke powder? Nah.

Only later do we learn the chef had seared the joint on the barbecue in his back garden, before finishing it off in the oven of the Rendezvous’ cramped kitchen.

You’ll gather we like our meal so time for the Parade du Chef!

It is Jamie Bosworth, who first set Rafters on the road to glory ( with his late brother Wayne) and who has long been lost to the city’s restaurant scene for the family-friendly world of development kitchens.

But not entirely. His monthly pop-up supper club “helps to keep my hand in,” he says, doing a tour of the tables afterwards.

Missing restaurant life Jamie? “When I drive by Rafters I think it would be good to have another restaurant but at the end of service here I’ve changed my mind,” he grins.

It’s good stuff

After an amuse bouche which is a sort of mac n cheese arancini served with a sweetish black garlic sauce, now beloved by regulars, we’re on to the garlic mushrooms.

These, too, have a cheesy ring to them and come with a smooth home made Henderson’s Relish-type chutney, made by blitzing the sauce ingredients.

But it’s the salmon that’s a knock-out. It fairly quivers, being only very biefly cured (under an hour, I think), then poached in water at 60 degrees to finish up trembling to the touch like a maiden’s bosom. It’s set off by a gribiche (hard boiled egg and mustard) mayonnaise.

While the dish is as salmony as you could want, it’s the texture which scores most, soft and slithery on the tongue.

From the subtle to the punchy. Barbecuing in Jamie’s back yard saved time in the kitchen, where wife Jayne stands at the oven and just has enough space to put things in and take out.

We end with caramelised pear served with a pink peppercorn shortbread.

Pop-ups are fun. It means things are more relaxed in the kitchen while out front diners are only to be happy to enjoy what’s on offer.

As it’s BYO with no corkage and coffee and sparkling water is thrown in for free, it’s a win, win, win situation all round: for the Rendezvous, Jamie and the guests.

Check out his Facebook page or the Rendezvous for the next event.

PS: The poor pictures are mine, the rest I nicked from Jamie.