In a jam? Put gin in it

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Elderflower cordial, elderflower and gin granita and gooseberry, elderflower and gin jam

THE fact that gooseberries and elderflowers ripen and blossom at the same time is God’s way of giving us a nudge to use them together: think jams, think granita, think cordials.

But, sticking to the religious theme, there’s another ingredient in your cocktail cabinet which can make this a sort of holy trinity. Gin.

This last couple of days I have been using all three to great effect, taste and, equally to the point, for little expense (I’m assuming you already have the gin).

Gooseberries are a much underrated fruit. They are at their best in a gooseberry fool, which you can read how to make here. I picked a couple of pounds of berries from the bushes on Sheffield’s Ponderosa Park inside half an hour on a lovely sunny day and on my way back to the car stopped at an elderflower bush and snapped off a dozen creamy flower heads the size of saucers.

First I made the cordial. Recipes advise you to pick on a dry day and use within a couple of hours before the perfume fades. But give the blossom a good sniff first as some varieties can smell of cat pee. The best have a vanilla – cream soda aroma.

Recipes also advise you to give the flower heads a good shaking to remove any insects. Now this blog gives it to you straight: you will never get rid of them all. I shook the flowers onto a sheet of white paper and was amazed to see lots of tiny specks. I did it again. More specks. And some of them were moving. Ah well, I could always strain them out.

I boiled up a litre of water, poured it into a pot and stirred in 750g of sugar to dissolve, then dunked in the elderflowers. You also need the juice and pith of three large lemons. If you’re lazy, simply slice them. Stir, cover with a tea towel and leave for 24 hours. Strain well (I did mine through a sieve lined with two layers of muslin). There were a few specks in the cloth but none in the cordial.

Bottle and keep in the fridge. I had some left over so mixed it with a slug of gin (Gordon’s will do), put it in a shallow plastic box to a depth of no more than an inch and freeze. Take it out after about four hours and stir. The alcohol stops it freezing too hard. It makes a lovely snowy white water ice and smells floral.

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Close up on the granita

Finally I made the jam. I had previously washed and topped and tailed the berries. It’s a mind numbing but pleasant occupation so put your brain into neutral. My Marguerite Patten recipe stipulates one pound of berries to one pound of sugar and between three tablespoons to half a pint of water, depending how hard they are. These were hard. As I intended on making gooseberry and elderflower jam I used the elderflower cordial, which is why I made that first. Otherwise throw in a few flower heads (but remember those specks!). There’s enough natural pectin but a squeeze of lemon does not go amiss.

I simmered the berries until soft and only then put in the sugar (otherwise the fruit will not soften). I but kept back two ounces of sugar as there was plenty in the cordial.

Then I gave it a hard boil and five minutes later it had gently set. It made enough for three jars totalling about one and a half pounds.

So there you have it: jam, granita and cordial for half an hour’s picking, a bag of sugar and a couple of lemons. Time now, I think, for a glass of that cordial with some ice . . . and a slug of gin. Breakfast will be toast and jam. Gooseberry, naturally.

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Murray turns up the heat!

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Lee (left) drains his veg while Clare plates up. Murray’s on the mike

TO be honest there wasn’t that much cheffy action for the audience. On the left was chef Lee Stocks standing there most of the time with a finger pressing down a fillet of salmon in a pan and doing little else. On the right colleague Clare Hutchinson was gently frying off a couple of lamb cutlets.

So perhaps that was why compere Murray Chapman decided to try and raise the temperature of the proceedings.

“I’m worried about the lack of heat from your pan,” he told Lee. Lee looked unperturbed. He didn’t want the flesh cooked before the skin, he said afterwards.

“Will the skin be crispy?” Murray looked doubtful. Lee looked confident. And then, later: “So this is poached salmon?” asked Murray. “No, lightly fried,” countered Lee.

And I thought I was judging the first of the friendly cook-offs at this year’s Sheffield Food Festival! Murray had one more go as Lee finished off the vegetable accompaniment in a separate pan. He turned up the heat with some wicked banter. “Now if that was me I would have cooked it off in the salmon pan, to be honest.” Lee kept his temperature down as low as that in his pan.

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Lee’s salmon

So was the salmon skin crispy? It was. There’s nowt worse than flabby fish skin. And how was the fish? Murray likes his salmon translucent in the middle and he couldn’t see translucent. Nor could I but I can like mine just past that stage. It was on the cusp but very tasty.

So why did I give the honours to Clare and her cutlets? Well, for a start I prefer lamb to salmon, even if it was from Loch Duart, and the latter did all that was asked. It was accompanied by good saute potatoes and some sprightly beetroot slices.

Clare had bravely stepped in at the last minute when the original contestant dropped out. It was nerve-wracking since Clare, head chef at True North’s Crown and Anchor at Barugh, Barnsley, was up against her boss. Lee, is regional head chef for True North’s ten pubs.

Since the food festival persists in giving chefs different ingredients to cook with there’s not really a level playing field so I was treating it as a little bit of fun. Both dishes were of equal merit.

And Clare was cooking against her gaffer while Lee was cooking against Murray!

*The chefs also had some fresh ingredients picked that morning from allotments run by SAGE Green Fingers based in Burngreave. SAGE stands for Support Arts Gardening Education, which runs therapeutic activities for vulnerable people. Lee used some of the herbs for a salsa verde with the salmon.

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Clare’s cutlets

Take cover – it’s a panzarotti!

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Lorraine and Saverio at Urban-Ita

MY wife takes a knife to cut the panzarotti – a sort of deep-fried Italian calzoni which looks like a pregnant Cornish pasty – on our sharing plate at the new Italian Urban-Ita cafe on Sheffield’s Abbeydale Road. She’s aiming to cut it precisely in two.

Unbeknown to her the little blighter, its insides bubbling hot with tomato and cheese, is also taking aim in a desperate rearguard action.

As she cuts a jet of sauce shoots out towards her from one end. Luckily it misses. Well, mostly.

This is cucina with attitude and what’s more it tastes good as well. You feel that if you could swap the view of Abbeydale Road for owner Saverio’s native Sorrento the food would be the same.

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The panzarotti is at the front

“We get a lot of Italians here,” says his missus Lorraine Dixon, bringing us cups of excellent crema-topped coffee after our meal. In that case it has to be good.

I’ve met them both before. The first occasion was reporting on a Slimming World Italian evening for the Sheffield Star at their old restaurant Dino on London Road some years since.

The second time was a couple of years ago when daughter Kym opened the Italian takeaway Italia Uno on Ecclesall Road. I recall being tickled pink hearing she turned vegan after wearing bearskins and butchering a deer for the Channel 5 series 10,000BC.

Urban-Ita makes a thing about offering veggie, vegan and gluten-free dishes (it’s not hard to be a Italian veggie if you don’t dodge dairy) but meat eaters needn’t feel excluded. There’s plenty for them. As it was, most our lunch turned out to be veggie or vegan but that was more by accident than design.

The premises used to be Bardwell’s, an electrical shop for half a century, but you wouldn’t know it. Saverio, who also runs a small building company when he’s not cooking or designing menus for other restaurants, converted it himself. I’m impressed.

The wooden floor has been cleaned up, walls stripped back to reveal wood cladding, an alcove constructed, a bar designed, kitchen and toilet installed and decking built for tables outside. It looks like it’s been that way for years instead of three months.

There’s also a tiny deli section and a mini library of cookery and travel books.

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Melanzani Parmigiano

We shared a plate of nibbles (buono misto, £10.50) across the menu for starters, the highlights being that panzarotti and a spinach and chickpea polpette, full of flavour. The focaccia (and flatbreads) is homemade here. I was a little surprised it came toasted with chilli jam but we soon got oil to dip it in.

My last meal on earth would probably include melanzane parmigiana ( £5.95) and if I had it here I wouldn’t feel cheated. It looked a little rustic but the aubergine was silkily good, bathed in rich tomato and mozzarella. My wife’s calamari special (£5.50) was light and crispy.

We ended with cake and coffee and one of Saverio’s homemade cakes, a moist Victoria sponge.

When they sold Dino Lorraine said no more restaurants but here they are again. It’s really more of a cafe, opening for breakfasts and lunch and now running through until 9.30pm with a trattoria-style slate of pizza, pasta, chicken and salmon. It’s not licensed but if you feel you need a drink with your pasta then BYO is £2.

I recommend the panzarotti but stand well back!

288 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1FL. Tel: 07305 181 890. Web: www.urban-ita.co.uk

*This blog settled the bill in full.

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The café on Abbeydale Road

Jamon, ham on! I’m pigging out

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Omar Allibhoy looks good in a hat

 

I WALK into Tapas Revolution at Meadowhall and someone gives me a Spanish straw hat to wear. I hesitate. In these Politically Correct days I might be accused of cultural appropriation or some such codswallop. Besides, such hats tend to make me look like Pedro the donkey troubler. I try it on. It does.

One man the hat suits right down to the ground is Omar Allibhoy, chef-patron and originator of this small but simply scrumptious chain of tapas bars. He’s the right nationality and he’s got the looks – a touch of a young, bearded Paul McCartney.

We are here to celebrate his Tapas Revolution’s (shouldn’t that be Revolución?) second anniversary at Meadowhall, the launch of a new menu and, in the words of a Press release, “a beautiful, al-fresco style terrace usually found in Las Ramblas in Barcelona . . . bringing an authentic feel of Spain to the heart of Sheffield.”

Well shake my maracas. To me it looks like a bit of wooden trellis with some plastic hanging plants. “Rustic timber,” says the hyperbolic Press release. To Omar it is the answer to a senor’s prayers. It seems people have mistaken the bar for the public seating, wandered straight through the restaurant and, worse, gone out the other end.

Now I could no more walk through here without wanting to eat the entire menu than turn down a free holiday in Madrid. For this place serves the tastiest food in Meadowhall.

I know you’ll be thinking here’s a blogger with a free meal inside him but just listen to Omar explain how he puts the juiciness into his range of sangrias. As his barmen can’t reach out and pluck an orange from a tree every time they make a jug of Spain’s national drink ”the fruit is cooked and matured for two weeks to extract all the essence.”

I try a carafe of tradicional (£16 for 75cl) made with red wine, pineapple, orange, strawberry and Heaven knows what else) and you feel you are drinking sunshine or, at least, the essence of Spain.

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Crispy calamari

The tapas start coming and with the Jamon Iberico de belota Montenevado, dry aged for at least two years from acorn-fed pigs I feel I am eating essence of pig. So thinly carved you can almost see through it, it is salty, tangy and exquisitely porky. It is ham to die for, or at least the pigs did.

Omar passes by and I enthuse about his ham. His eyes light up as he tells me to look out for something even better. “We have found ham from North East Spain where the free range pigs are fed on chestnuts. They can’t call it organic because, being free range, they don’t know what else the pigs eat.”

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The Spanish version of cheese on toast

Almost all the tapas are first class but I‘ll mention just a couple in detail. If you thought cheese on toast was just cheese on toast then you’ve never had Pan Mallorquin. This is grilled bread spread with fiery chorizo paste topped with melted, gutsy Manchego cheese dribbled with honey. It makes the prospect of Welsh rarebit as enticing as a wet Sunday in Pontypridd.

The croquetas, deep-fried balls of chorizo and Bechamel, oozed flavour while I loved the lemony, honeyed chicken wings (Alitas de pollo a la miel y limón) and, a star turn, Chorizo a la sidra (spiced Asturian sausage roasted in cider).

Omar keeps a close eye on Meadowhall, as he does all his seven restaurants, visiting them regularly. He is still passionate and enthusiastic about his food, insisting on the best ingredients and it shows on every plate.

I plan to be back but they won’t make me wear that hat.

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The décor at Tapas Revolution

Poppabombs and the curry philanthropist

kashmir curry centre

Long gone but not forgotten – the Kashmir

The first in an occasional series on former Sheffield restaurants and personalities.

THERE was lino on the floor, the three dining rooms were filled with mismatching Formica-topped tables and, so popular legend had it, a notice on the wall had declared ‘Today’s special: chicken curry’ for the last 20 years.

Apart from the twinkling fairy lights in the window looking onto Spital Hill, Sheffield, this could be the Asian equivalent of Butlers Dining Rooms, the ethnic Sheffield workman’s café par excellence across the city on Brook Hill.

The Kashmir Curry Centre, one of Sheffield’s oldest curry houses – restaurant is too strong a term for what was essentially a caff with great food – closed in November 2010 after 36 years. Such was its reputation that some people thought they’d been there when all they’d done was read about it, as one writer ruefully admitted.

Behind a counter sat the owner Bsharath Hussain, who’d worked there from the start, as a boy of 14, in the business started by his Mirpuri-born father. Bsharath was affectionately known as Paul by his customers and by me when reviewing until the time he told me apologetically that the elders in his mosque had asked him to use his proper name.

The clientele was mostly white, very often wimmin from Walkley, at least on our visits. “If you can get past the Guardian reading clientele and the woefully outdated decor, there’s an excellent curry waiting for you,” said one contributor to a local website. The Harden’s Guide echoed that: “Great cooking if you don’t mind the bare tables.”

I remember the breads, wonderfully light. “The plain naan is unlike any other – in colour and texture somewhere between leavened bread and Yorkshire Pudding,” said one currylovers’ blog. Others praised the Kashmiri lamb, the “near sublime samosas,” the vegetable thalis and the fact that the food was not overladen with ghee.

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It was also inexpensive. Well, you weren’t paying for the surroundings or the waiters. With two cooks in the kitchen Bsharath, who avoured traditional dress, did most of the front of house himself. A carafe of water went on the table when you arrived and if you wanted something stronger you could bring it yourself from Morrissey’s East House pub across the way. Incidentally, the upper room of this pub once housed the city’s first Japanese-style restaurant.

Bsharath, who whiled away the quieter restaurant moments reading a copy of Vikram Seth‘s almost 600,000 word novel A Suitable Boy which a customer had recommended, had a good sense of humour. He styled himself the Curry Philanthropist because prices were so low. In 2008 starters seldom topped £2 and mains a fiver. But that didn’t help profits.

Around 2006 the place got a makeover. There were pictures on the walls and each Formica table was covered with identical plastic gingham tablecloths. “After 30 years I realised that if you buy some plastic it all looks the same,” he said dryly.

The menu was also jazzed up. South Indian dishes such as idli and dhoka made an appearance as did his famous ‘poppabombs,’ golgappa or pani puri, crisp little spheres of semolina flour stuffed with chutney and tamarind. It was quite possibly the first appearance of this Indian street food in the Sheffield.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough and he and his wife made the decision to close in 2010. It all happened rather suddenly. Bshareth, then 49, could no longer afford to, in effect, subsidise his customers’ dining.

The Kashmir was the nearest thing Sheffield had to the stripped-down curry houses that Bradford is famous for. Almost ten years later it is still missed.

Why they all like ‘Uncle’ Chris

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Chris Wong serves up a jian bing

THE Chinese students called him uncle, Da Shu, when they queued up for their egg tarts and jian bing – traditional Chinese filled pancakes – so Chris Wong reckoned that was a good enough name for his new café and bakery on Furnival Gate, Sheffield.

If you’ve missed your fix of pastéis de nata, those Portuguese egg tarts so loved by the Chinese on your visits to The Moor Market, you can find them at the new place. Chris closed his market stall a month ago to concentrate on the business.

DaShu has a bright, airy shop, 30-seater café upstairs and a bakery in the basement, making those those tarts and other pastries. “Not bad for a business which started out selling street food,” says Chris happily as he serves.

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Portuguese egg tart and coffee

 

His trade so far is mostly from Chinese students. He points out how near he is to blocks of student flats and Sheffield Hallam University. They’re the ones who love the jian bing, Chinese for fried pancake, a traditional breakfast back home. Here Chris doesn’t open until 11am so they eat it for lunch and tea.

It’s a large crepe made with mung bean flour. “Chinese people recognise the smell,” he says as he breaks and spreads an egg over it. Then he flips the crepe to form a lacy omelette exterior. Traditionally the crepe is filled with a hot dog, crispy wanton, onion, herbs and lettuce. Chris liberally squirts his special sweet chiili sauce over then folds and wraps the crepe. The interest is as much between the contrasts in textures as the taste. A traditional crepe costs £3.50.

“English people like it with chicken so I do a jiang bing UK (£4.50) for them,” says Chris. There is a wide variety of other crepes on offer.

He’s an engineer by training but credits the inspiration to his wife, a baker, whom he won’t name because he says she is a very private person. It was she who suggested he make the Portuguese egg tart. Chinese people first came across it in the former colony of Macau, from where it spread to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

It is the reverse of an English egg custard. The pastry is flaky rather than short crust. Where an English custard is wobbly, rather like a crème caramel, the Portuguese version is stiffer, somewhat similar to a curd tart, flecked with characteristic caramelisation marks.

It’s his own special recipe which he and his wife spent three weeks getting right. Don’t expect it to be a dead ringer of the version eaten in Lisbon. “Chinese people don’t like things too sweet so there’s less sugar and the pastry is flakier,” he explains.

Chris is using the shop to sell other lines new to Sheffield but not to the students, such as Korean grilled noodles. I haven’t tried that yet – I was too full of egg tart and jian bing!

*DaShu, 30 Furnival Gate, Sheffield S1 4QP. Tel 07919 340 341.

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The ugly Bengali fruit that tastes divine

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Lamb Shatkora at the PrithiRaj

NOW you wouldn’t want to eat it raw but when cooked it makes food taste like the stuff they must serve up in Heaven. Your starter for ten if you can guess what it is.

It’s an ugly, pointy-looking fruit which is green and nobbly and looks a little like an oversized lime but is called a wild orange. It’s as sour as a Seville but has a touch of the grapefruit about it. But the taste belies its looks. If you knew this is the shatkora you must be from Bangladesh because that is where it grows.

I’ve never seen on in the flesh, so to speak, but I have tasted it three times in curries at the PrithRaj on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, and on each occasion my tastebuds have gasped with delight.

I reckon the shatkora is the Bengali answer to the truffle. Its flavour pervades and enhances a dish. In the curries at the PrithiRaj it has a polite sort of tang which sidles across your tastebuds, not harsh and rasping, with a touch of lemon or lime. And there’s an unexpected, momentary little burst of sweetness right at the end. Flavours are vivid. The sauces are rich and grainy and the meat tender, even when it’s lamb, because this is a curry which must be cooked for a long time to get the most out of the fruit.

Celebrity chef Rick Stein discovered it on his TV travels in India but when he got back to Cornwall to cook it had to make do with a grapefruit.BanglaLemon-5602[1]

Green and nobbly but don’t overlook the shatkora

I first came across it in 2012 when reviewing the newly opened restaurant, which had been revamped from the long-established Ayesha’s, for the Sheffield Star. I was bowled over. Dining there with friends earlier this year I ordered the lamb version again, wondering if it would be as good. It was. But because I was too busy talking I couldn’t give it my full attention. I resolved to come back again on a quieter evening.

This time I tried the chicken version with my companion, Colin Drury, who also reviewed restaurants on Saturdays during his time at The Star, for whom a curry isn’t a curry unless it’s a karai.

Now this isn’t the only place in Sheffield where you can get a shatkora – try other places run by Bengali rather than Kashmiri kitchens – but it is the only one cooked by head chef and joint owner Sobuj Miah. And, at £10.50, it is probably the most expensive. The menu at PrithiRaj (which means Beautiful Princess or whatever the waiter you ask decides) is as long as the River Ganges but you’ll find it on the specials.

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Chef Sobuj Miah

I’m told only the peel is used – the pulp is so bitter it usually get thrown away – but I understood Sobuj to say he used the whole fruit. Whatever, he only needs to use a little bit in each dish. It seems its popularity comes in fits and starts. “We’ve sold about 10 or 12 in recent weeks,” he told us.

Now PrithiRaj, which once had a waiter called Elvis, is an upmarket kind of place and the cooking is beautifully judged and easily on a par with any middle market Anglo venture. And like any chef, Sobuj likes to do the odd twiddle and twirl: As with the dainty spiced-up miniature samosa, whispy onion bhajis and little meat ‘lollipops’ we were treated to.

Look the ingredient up on the menu the next time you go out for an Indian ­– it’ll be on the specials and is not limited to meat, it also goes well with fish and other seafood – and you should find you’ll like it.

407 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PG. Web: http://www.prithirajrestaurant.com

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