What do the composer of the William Tell Overture and a Liverpool charcutier trained in South West France have in common? A love of Cotechino. No, not the name of some cynical Juventus centre back but the most amazing poaching sausage I’ve left it far too long to discover.
Bel Canto maestro Gioachino Rossini was forever ordering this speciality of Modena in his native Italy, along with its culinary cousin, the sausage-stuffed pig’s trotter called Zampone. Both winter seasonal delicacies are based on the uncompromisingly porkiest bits – real nose to tail stuff. Modena, not short of World Heritage recognition for its buildings, was also assigned Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Cotechino Modena in 1999.
I ordered my debut Cotechino nearer home from North by Sud-Ouest Charcuterie, its bits sourced from free range rare breed pigs on the Wirral. It arrived as part of a £40 ‘Large Selection Box’ showcasing the pork-curing talents of one Andrew Holding.
Also in the pack, weighing in at over a kilo, were sliced selections of coppa (cured pork collar), cured pork loin and goula, the jowl bacon called guanciale in Italy; the spreading sausage nduja, two whole saucisses sec, lardons of Ventrêche (which formed a bacony base for a Coq au Vin) and whole, chunky, grey Cotechino bulging out of its natural casing.
If Andrew follows the traditional recipe, it is made from high fat content meat from cheek, neck, shoulder, fatback, and lots of pork rind, seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and coriander. Made fresh in Modena, it would traditionally take hours to poach in simmering water until the rind softened to give the characteristic melting texture. The essence of Slow Food.
Here, pre-prepared and vacuum packed, it took just 20 minutes to warm through.
These days most North Italians would do the same. They would also serve it, as I did, with lentils and mostarda di Cremona. For my Cotechino e Lenticchie I used the French Le Puy variety because they are incomparable; the mostarda, a mustardy candied fruit preserve, came (via Alexander’s Mediterranean Pantry on Todmorden Market) from its Cremona heartland, 90 minutes north west of Modena.
Lockdown had me creating many pickle and relishes from scratch but life really is too short (again). I was put off mostarda making by my mentor in most things hardcore Italian, Jacob Kenedy, chef patron of Soho’s Bocca di Lupo. In his Bocca Cookbook (Bloomsbury, £30) he writes: “The day you are satisfied that the fruit is candied and the syrup thick enough, procure some essential oil of mustard. This may not be easy to find and should be handled like TNT. Rubber gloves must be worn, wear some glasses too and the bottle shouldn’t be sniffed directly. This may sound over-cautious – but it is a dangerous and irritant substance before dilution in the mostarda.
Jacob, London-born and Cambridge educated so hardly a peasant, also crafts his Cotechino from scratch. Caveats here include the necessity of sourcing skin-on pig’s cheeks. Worth it because “lots of glands and gnarly bits in the jowl give an incredible roundness of flavour”. Pigskin is tough, used for making shoes, so Jacob advises it might be worth asking your already obliging butcher to mince meat and skin together through a 4.5mm plate. When the spiced mince mixture is finally encased there’s a lot of sausage hanging to be done.
Better to buy one from North by Sud-Ouest or alternatively from Coombeshead Farm a restaurant with rooms featured in the recent Rick Stein’s Cornwall BBC series.
Best of all, when travel restrictions are lifted, head for the Emilia Romagna region at New Year, where they put into practice the old maxim ‘del maiale non si butta via niente’ (pigs are used till the last bit), with cotechino and zampone the centrepiece of celebrations. The lentil accompaniment to the former is believed to bring luck in the year ahead. If the mustard oil hasn’t blasted you first!
Why have I allowed an invasive native of the Yucatan peninsula into my kitchen? The immediate answer is the thunderstorm outside. It’s freaking out our chihuahua (fellow Mexican), who is cowering in a corner, while I’m equally frightened our new Chaya plant (also known as Tree Spinach) will be devastated if left out in the deluge in its flimsy pot.
When it hits maturity as a 12ft tall rival to Japanese knotweed the Chaya will hold its own but, as a stripling freshly arrived from a Lincolnshire herb nursery, we’re giving it shelter. And that kind act is causing ructions all of its own. Because I have briefed the rest of the household on the pluses and minuses of harbouring such a nutritious plant.
So already I’ve slipped in its major selling point. Chaya has high levels of protein, calcium and iron, while the leaves are also crammed with carotene, potassium and vitamin C, putting normal spinach or Chinese cabbage in the shade. Superfood status? This is a hype-free zone.
All this nutritional benefit is for the future, of course, when my plant grows enough foliage to cook with.
You could just juice it or, like our spinach, stew it in butter, one minute minimum. I’ll start with legendary food writer Diana Kennedy’s Tamales de Chaya and then proceed to Grilled Coronado Fillets with Piña and Chaya from Eric Werner and Mia Henry’s Hartwood restaurant between the jungle and the sea in the hippest stretch of Yucatan (if you can’t get there their cookbook is highly recommended).
Culinary bucket list logged but let’s first fit in the downside, which is causing some domestic consternation. As a major convert to indigenous Mexican regional cuisine during lockdown I hunt down authentic ingredients zealously, but some do come with a health warning. Not all the insects surprisingly. Cue Chaya. When mature, the leaves can be tough with microscopic stinging hairs, which can irritate the skin for days, so handle with latex gloves when cleaning. Unless very young, best not to eat it raw since, like spinach or almonds, it contains a toxic compound, a form of hydrogen cyanide. That’s easily sorted, I’m telling my wary nearest and dearest, simply by boiling, frying or drying the leaves.
I will be charting my progress – in the garden and the kitchen – with this vigorous perennial, which I’ve been slow to catch on to. A decade ago Guardian gardening correspondent Alys Fowler vividly described the beauty of the Tree Spinach Chenopodium giganteum or Magenta Spreen Lambsquarter in her garden: “The tree spinach is a brilliant bright green with each new set of leaves blushed a shocking magenta.”
Attractive, but Alys warns: “It will reappear everywhere. It is not exactly a thug, but if you’re not prepared to eat it, that’s an awful lot of weeding. If you sow it as seed, consider sowing it in modules or seed trays and planting it out as this will give you more control as to where to grow it. If you want full-height plants, it needs to go at the back of the border.”
Maybe it needs a WALL.
TOP FOODIE DOCUMENTARY TIP
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy (available to rent on Amazon Prime for £3.49) tracks the now 98-year-old expat Brit to her lair deep in the Mexican forests. This fiery, formidable cookery writer is the foremost champion of authentic Mexican cuisine and Elizabeth Carroll’s inspiring warts and all profile does her proud.
Norma, Ben Tish’s love letter to Sicilian food in Fitzrovia, reopened on May 17. This restaurant hosted the last meal I ate in London before lockdown. It was in the company of a dear friend and former colleague, Sarah Hughes, who died this April from the cancer she had endured for so long. We shared so many meals over the years. This review, which couldn’t appear at the time, is in tribute to a great writer. A charitable trust set up in her name has reached its £30,000 target.
They don’t appear to serve a Bellini at Norma, the restaurant that shares the name of that opera composer’s most famous heroine. I’m sure they’d rustle you one up, though this Venetian Prosecco creation is at odds with a cocktail list kicking off with a Saracen.
There’s a whole North Africa meets Sicily vibe going on here in both decor and menu – in synch with the chef’s last cookbook, Moorish. That he’s no swarthy son of backstreet Palermo but a clean-cut Lincolnshire lad adds to a sense of cultural appropriation about this latest arrival in London’s old boho haunt, Fitzrovia.
Yet there are precedents for English chefs falling in love with food styles from Milan via Malaga to Marrakesh and making them their own. Witness Sam and Sam Clark at Moro or Jacob Kenedy at Bocca di Lupo. In Manchester Yorkshireman Simon Shaw has conquered Spain with El Gato Negro and skirmished into Portugal (Canto) with a Levantine foray, Habas on Brown Street his latest offering.
By chance Ben, above, was due shortly to appear at our own Northern Restaurant Bar trade show, postponed because of Covid (the influential event is scheduled to return to Manchester Central in March 2022).
At the NRB there would have been a chance to quiz Signor Tish on how he became besotted with the food of Sicily and the culinary tendrils that bind it to Africa’s Barbary Coast – notably through ingredients such as citrus and saffron, pine nuts and almonds, nutmeg and cinnamon. All were in evidence at that Norma dinner.
Pasta alla Norma we had to try. Sicilian in origin, its sharp topping combines tomatoes, aubergine and salted ricotta. The pasta used is negotiable; it’s chunky rigatoni at Norma, which gets its name from this dish, not the tragic opera with its cast of druids in Ancient Gaul.
In concept the restaurant is a slightly oddball side project of the Stafford Hotel in St James’s. They hired Ben, once of Salt’s Yard, to cook at their exquisite in-house Game Larder and are now indulging his real food passions.
These were obvious from the first dishes that issued from Norma’s downstairs raw bar, central to the dining experience in this three-storey Georgian townhouse (the top floor is for private dining).
We were already nibbling crisp yet fluffy focaccia (£2 apiece) and chickpea panelle (£4.50) – similar to Nice’s socca but with salsa verde – when the wild sea bream crudo (£10) arrived, freshest of fillets doused in a peppery olive oil, a hint of saline bottarga in there, scattered with pomegranate arils.
Creamy saltmarsh lamb crudo (£12) was equally enticing, served with lamb fat crostini and toasted pine nuts. It’s the kind of food I’d yearned for around Palermo’s frenetic Ballarò Market and been disappointed. Instead in the old country we had tackled both Pani ca’ Meusa, a sandwich of lard-fried spleen and ricotta, and grilled skewers of tough cow spleen, lung, and trachea that stink of mortality. Thankfully the Tish Sicily fixation doesn’t go that nitty gritty.
The reputation of the red prawns meant they were a must-order. At £16 for four a substantial investment but worth it, dense-fleshed divas, singing of rosemary and orange. They partner surprisingly well a duo of violet artichokes (£12), halved and seared into a deep caramelisation. Alongside a scoop of pine-nut puree for dipping.
A pretty dish, as is Norma’s take on the ubiquitous burrata (£13) that comes in a tangle of red chicory, blood orange croutons and coriander seeds, dressed with fruity vinegar and olive oil. Somewhere along the way we also hoovered up a bowl of frittered spaghettini under a snowstorm of parmesan with more of the cheese and olive oil as a dip. Norma is big on dips.
It seems madness in retrospect that my guest Sarah and I ignored the cannoli option but no regrets about the house sundae for £8.50 – a homely homage to the in-season blood orange, gelato and caramelised, with whipped orange blossom ricotta and biscotta.
It perhaps needed a Negroni to partner it, but we’d shared a bottle of Cerasuolo di Vittoria red (£42) from high profile Sicilian producer Planeta. It’s blend of Nero d’Avola and the fruitier Frappato. The name comes from the local dialect word for cherry but there’s exotic pomegranate flavours too that so match the food menu.
Voluptuous is the word for the fit-out, all marble and tiles, rich fabrics and intimate lighting, but avoiding the harem look. Downstairs at least. We explored no further, so engrossed were we in the parade of small plates. They do some obvious mains but this is the better way to explore Sicily. If ultimately the food felt more moreish than truly Moorish who cares? I wish we had its like in Manchester.
Norma, 8 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2LS, 020 3995 6224.The prices are as of March 2020.
One of my early lockdown treats, my alternative to baking banana bread and sourdough (or hoarding more loo rolls than my neighbours) was to order a small sample of English truffle from The Wiltshire Truffle Company, shaving the precious tuber into scrambled eggs, its heady aroma permeating the kitchen.
Since when I’ve moved onto more and more arcane foodie explorations – bottarga, colatura d’alici, mostarda di cremona, cottechino. There’s an Italian theme developing here, so if I want to resume my truffle fixation I should really hang on until next autumn when the white truffles of Alba in Piedmont make their seasonal bow.
Not that seasons are crucial in our global society. The Wiltshire suppliers don’t just confine themselves to Italy, France and the ‘full English’ they’ve done so much to promote. Their latest mail-out trumpets the arrival of Australian winter truffle, akin to Périgord truffles from South West France – “widely considered by leading chefs to be the best black truffles on the planet”. Big claims and you could compare these Aussie beauts with the company’s regular shipments of Italian summer truffles from hunters in the Tuscan and Umbrian hills. If your funds run to it. Truffles are wallet-busters. At auction the most prized varieties could cost you over £5,000 per kilo.
A local truffle trader on the streets of Alba
The most exciting and affordable way to encounter them is to visit Alba at peak Truffle Festival Time. OK, it hosts auctions flogging the most perfect specimens to connoisseurs and entrepreneurs across the world, but even the smallest cafes offer affordable menus showing their pride in the product. I know I’ve been there. And also, cutting out the middle men, I’ve trekked with hunters in the ancient forests as they unearth secret truffle patches with their specially trained dogs. Ditto in Oregon, USA, where I was invited to an altogether more academic Truffle Festival…
• There’s a documentary in cinemas, The Truffle Hunters, which is set around Alba and another UK online truffle merchant called TruffleHunter, which has a fine reputation. They’ll also sell you a professional standard truffle shaver. I’m wary of much that passes as truffle oil; truffle butter can be a better bet for a cheaper option to the real tuber.
But first, what exactly makes the white truffle so special?
Truffles are the fruiting body of a subterranean fungus usually found in close association with the roots of trees, their spores dispersed through fungivores (animals that eat fungi). Hence it was traditionally pigs that were trained to hunt these coveted delicacies. These days it’s more likely to be dogs. White truffles are more highly prized than the black. Growing symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar and beech and fruiting in autumn, they can reach 12 cm diameter and 500g, though they are usually much smaller, between 30g and 110g. The flesh is pale cream or brown with white marbling which releases their powerful scents, not appreciated by everyone (let’s call it olefactory Marmite). There are an estimated 200,000 regular truffle gatherers in Italy, with the sector worth around €400 million a year.
Fresh truffles should be consumed more or less immediately although they will last for up to seven days in a domestic fridge.
Once upon a time in Alba
I’d never associated hedonism with tramping through thick forest undergrowth in the dusk. Peering to see if a lean setter-cross has found the ideal tree root to dig frantically under. I am not alone here in the heart of Alba truffle country in an October unseasonally warm. Around me 15 other paid-up ‘Hedonistic Hikers’, cameras at the ready, also await a tuber epiphany.
Our guides, trading under the name Hedonistic Hiking, are proud to include an authentic white truffle hunt in season as part of their ‘Jewels of Piedmont’ (Piemonte) walking tour. It’s not everyone’s idea of holiday heaven but it sets serious foodies salivating. Those who know what the fuss is all about when the autumn mists that give their name to the famous local grape variety, Nebbiolo vines coat the valleys of North West Italy’s Langhe region and the autumn wine harvest is nearly over. It’s now Truffle Time, all the way to Christmas.
The following day we’ll indulge in an early evening aperitivo and do the ‘passeggiata’, strolling around the truffle-scented squares and alleys of regional capital Alba, where the annual Truffle Fair is on to celebrate – and auction off – this lucrative delicacy.
Still for the moment, at the gourmet equivalent of the coalface, there’s work to be done.
Our truffle hunter, Marco Varaldo, expresses faith in his rookie hound, Laika, so new she doesn’t feature in his publicity material. Marco has a day job, but hunting for the lucrative truffles, with their intoxicating, almost aphrodisiac scent, is his passion.
The white variety, the ‘tartufo bianco’, rarer and more expensive than the black and found mostly famously in this corner of Italy, is revered the world over by gastronomes (and expensive restaurants). Admiration isn’t universal – their earthy assertiveness nauseates some sensitive palates. I’m not in that camp.
The white truffle can’t be artificially cultivated. This is part of its unique appeal. They are sought for in certain jealously guarded locations, hidden at the base of oak, beech and hazel trees. You train your dog to recognise the pungent aroma and then snuffle them out of the soil and leaf mould. It all seems a mite random as Laika zips and zig-zags around, scattering leaf mould, but then…
I don’t know what the Piemontese for Eureka is, but it is time to yell it. The pooch apprentice has struck gold – ‘white gold’. Marco quickly straddles Laika, snatching a knobbly clay-covered lump from her jaws, pocketing it and rewarding the dog with a far less expensive treat. We clamber to see what the fuss is about. Marco delicately brushes the muck off the white truffle and we all commune with its pervasive perfume.
Over the next couple of hours we collect further specimens and, later, part of the haul, assiduously shaved over the local tajarin pasta, will be the centrepiece of our supper at a little local restaurant called Mange. When truffles are abundant, near the source, they can be a surprisingly democratic treat. Just a few slices elevate a local beef dish, below.
We were staying in La Morra, which follows the pattern of all the settlements in the Langhe, which recently attained World Heritage Status. They sit on a hilltop above the vines, dominated by a castle, a church, usually both, and offer ample opportunity to taste the wines that have made this corner of Piemonte famous – Dolcetto, Barbera, Barbaresco (in one small enclave) and, above all, Barolo.
One of of our walks, from our hotel, the Corte Gondina, to Barolo village itself, took in the family-run winery of GD Vajra at Vergne. I’ve been there before in the early summer to taste their excellent wines and, now the harvest complete, was welcomed back like an old family friend. Piemonte’s like this. It doesn’t feel like some calculating tourist honeypot. You meet it on its own terms. Just like the truffle.
Oregon’s wine country is also home to truffles (and another festival)
The Willamette Valley, just south of Portland, is the epicentre of Oregon wine, notable for Pinot Noir that can arguably rival Burgundy’s silkiest reds. And where there’s great wine there’s usually a thriving food culture. Yet until I was invited to join the The Oregon Truffle Festival I had no idea the rolling hills around McMinnville are also home to both black and white varieties plus four Oregon natives. 2021 pandemic strictures meant it has gone virtual (you can pick up goodies via an online marketplace – truffle stout anyone?).
All this is obviously off a normal tourist’s radar, but rolling Willamette Country’s wineries and fine restaurants aren’t. McMinnville makes a fine base for exploring. Stay in its red brick historic district, perhaps at the oddball Hotel Oregon, which has a rooftop bar and is decorated with relics of the building’s 115-year history and the town’s famous 1950 UFO sighting. You might also run into the ghost of a former resident, nicknamed John.
As in all the towns along the route, I grabbed a craft beer, this time at the convivial Golden Valley Brewery and Tap before sampling a festival special truffle vodka and local wine at the Elizabeth Chambers Cellars, one of many tasting rooms in the town.
You’ll probably find it more fun to drive out to one of the country wineries to do your sampling. It sounds boringly generic but Willamette Valley Vineyards offers exceptional quality. Wine and truffles – the perfect marriage either side of the pond.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/White-truffle-at-Cicchetti-Mancheter-copy-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1366&ssl=113662048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-06-29 10:44:392022-03-25 21:36:40Truffles aren’t to be trifled with – my transatlantic quest
Yucatán or Oaxaca? Oaxaca or Yucatán? It’s a heavyweight contest. Celebrations of particular cuisines don’t come more comprehensive – and gloriously well illustrated – than two monumental, magisterial love letters to regional Mexico by David Sterling and Diana Kennedy.
Sterling’s Yucatán: Recipes From A Culinary Expedition and Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy together weigh in at over 5kg. Both are published by the University of Texas, from a state that likes to think big. They’re beautiful too and immaculately researched.
Essex-born Diana, based in Mexico since 1957, is the doyenne of writers on Mexican cuisine. Even the Mexican government recognise her championing of their culinary traditions, often sadly debased – they gave her their highest honour for a foreigner, The Order of the Aztec Eagle. Oaxaca, her magnum opus, won Cookbook of the Year in the 2011 James Beard Awards. Similar US top table recognition for Yucatán arrived four years later; within a year its author was dead at the age of 65.
Originally from Oklahoma, Dvid Sterling had a mega career as a designer before his chef talents saw him found, in the heart of the Yucatán, Mérida’s Los Dos – lauded as one of the world’s top 10 cookery school. That designer’ visual sense permeates a book that, like Kennedy’s, is the result of a lifetime’s intense research. Both could be seen as coffee table books but are so much more. I bought hers first and then found the courage to stump up the £48 for his.
The books became my lockdown lifeline. I dream one day of flying into Mérida, gateway to the beaches of Cancun and Turum but also a portal to visit the ruins that evoke the Mayan civilisation that flourished hereabouts. Or will Oaxaca 800 miles to the South West live up to DH Lawrence’s prose in Mornings in Mexico and the musings of Anthony Bourdain in Netflix’s Parts Unknown, where he encountered classic Zapotec (ie pre-Hispanic) cooking?
Pandemic restrictions gave me time and space to foster an interest in the regional cuisines of Mexico, as varied a those of Italy, say. It has resulted in a wooden box hosting 20 different types of dried chillies, a spice cupboard boasting epazote, Mexican oregano and achiote, a giant chaya plant prospering in a garden tub and a bright red tortilla press with bags of blue corn masa at the ready. Yes, I am also a devotee of Netflix’s Tacos Chronicles.
The watershed moment? The documentary Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy (available to rent on Amazon Prime for £3.49) tracks the now 98-year-old expat to her lair deep in the Mexican forests. This fiery, formidable cookery writer is the foremost champion of authentic Mexican cuisine and Elizabeth Carroll’s inspiring warts and all profile does her proud.
For over 50 years she has travelled the length and breadth of the country. The resulting books are light on illustration and design; the best the travelogue My Mexico: A Culinary Odyssey with Recipes. All that low key presentation is rectified by Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy.
Let’s be honest. Its sheer authenticity makes it hard to replicate dishes. There’s little chance I’ll be rustling up an iguana in a black mole sauce any time soon. For the uninitiated a mole is a rich chilli sauce with chocolate and nuts, not a wee underground critter.
Techniques cited too are equally intimidating. Her recipe for mole negro oaxaqueño calls not only for a specific type of clay pot (“it has to have a round base and a ‘collar’ around the top to hold in the heat”), but also for this pot to be cooked on a charcoal brazier. All this and I’m still trying to source an iguana (ready skinned).
Kennedy’s ringing endorsement is on the dust jacket of Sterling’s Yucatán: “I know of no other book in print today, or in the past for that matter, that explains so meticulously the ingredients and history of the foods of Yucatán.”
She herself had not given her full attention to this tropical peninsula, isolated from the rest of Mexico. Sterling makes up for it big time, exploring the three states it comprises – Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. The food is a melting pot of many traditions, Mayan, Spanish, Lebanese, French and more, all fuelled by remarkable abundance of raw produce. All these are catalogued in full colour at the start of Yucatán.
Chapters divide the book by geography — the market, the urban matrix, the fertile shores, the pueblos, as well as sections devoted to “pantry staples” and “kitchen technique.”
At the heart of Yucatecán cuisine are the spice mixes called recardos, some powdered, some in paste form, which you’ll find heaped up in every market. There’s no shame in using these essentially home-made bases for every recipe. Alas here you’ll have to make your own. Or travel to Yucatán. It’s on my post-pandemic bucket list.
It just pips Oaxaca because of a contemporary culinary cuckoo. In ultra-hip Tulum, south of suntan city Cancun, is Hartwood, New York exiles Eric Werner and Mia Henry’s restaurant between the jungle and the sea. Each provides the freshest wild ingredients to be transformed by the wood-burning oven that dominates the outdoor kitchen (I expect I’d pack insect repellent before visiting).
The food served at Hartwood is “addictive,” says Noma chef Rene Redzepi, adding, “It’s the reason people line up for hours every single day to eat there, even though their vacation time is precious.”
How do I know about it? I read the cookbook, of course,
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/market.jpg?fit=1200%2C803&ssl=18031200Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-06-21 19:21:002021-08-02 14:21:09Yucatán is going to be my ultimate foodie hideaway. Read all about it!
Unless I’ve missed it previously, Zhug is making a Manchester debut on the menu of Simon Shaw’s eagerly anticipated third restaurant in the city, Habas, which opened in early June in the former Panama Hatty’s site on Brown Street.
Brought by Jews from the Yemen a century ago, Zhug is the Israeli national chilli paste, mixing parsley, coriander, and assorted spices. I first discovered this fiery condiment on the counter of Soho’s vibrant Palomar restaurant and in the pages of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. I slather it over shawarma; at Habas it accompanies homemade garlic and herb flatbread with hummus.
Other dishes feel very Ottolenghi, the Guardian Weekend readers’ passport to Levantine dinner party heaven. So familiar that maybe it lessens the excitement of Habas. Still what’s not to like about small plates such as Middle Eastern raw slaw with pomegranate molasses; batata harra – spicy fried potatoes with dill sour cream; beetroot hummus with Greek yoghurt and dill (main image); feta cheese, wilted spinach and sunblush tomato filo cigars; spiced lamb ‘jackets’ – fried potato skins filled with spiced lamb, served with mint yoghurt.
But is it a culinary game changer? One Manchester Confidential reviewer, of Persian heritage, accused it of ‘culinary appropriation’. Fair comment? There may be a certain residual bias against a classically trained Yorkshire chef’s temerity in tackling cuisines not ‘his own’. Certainly Habas is a lurch east from his twist on Shaw’s ‘Iberian-influenced’ food at El Gato Negro (Spanish) and Canto (Portuguese).
Shaw is very much aware he is surfing a certain ‘Zhug Zeitgeist’, telling me, a friend and supporter from El Gato’ first stirrings in the Pennine village of Ripponden: “It’s phenomenal just how much people’s appetites have evolved over recent years.
“Back in the late Nineties you’d have struggled to have found Middle Eastern restaurants outside London. Even there, they existed largely to feed the local community, people from those countries living in the city.
“Times have changed and there’s a whole new wave coming through. It’s an amazing style of food, simplistic but with a real depth of flavour. It’s what excited me about it as a chef and I think it will have really broad appeal.”
Like El Gato Negro and Canto, the menu centres around a generous number of small plates, coupled with larger dishes and feasting platters.
“Middle Eastern cuisine has many influences and Habas is a fusion of all,” says Shaw.
“It’s about ingredients. There are lots of connections to Spanish food, the Syrian lentils, lamb meatballs and spiced aubergine dishes enjoyed at El Gato Negro all lean towards the style of cuisine. I suppose part of my mind was already on it.”
Habas means fava (broad) bean) in Spanish and also is the name of a settlement in the Yemen, where zhug is the relish of choice, no doubt.
Habas, 43a Brown Street, Manchester M2 2JJ. 0161 470 9375. Opening hours Thursday-Sunday 12pm to late (food service until 10pm, after which we’d recommend continuing with suitably-themed cocktails). Expect opening hours to be extended when the industry’s current staffing issues are resolved.
https://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.png00Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-06-18 07:10:002021-08-02 14:25:24Habas – A Yorkshireman goes East (and we don’t mean Hull)