Friday, 25 March 2011


What a curious day. I lectured in the morning on William Morris, which I haven't done in a decade. About the pleasure of making things for other people. The exercise of labor outside the capitalist economy. We were covering Utopian Socialism the day before. And by sheer coincidence I woke up at 4:30 this morning to start baking. And also emptied the cave of salami that was definitely ready, and a cheese made a month ago. Sort of like provolone. And some pickled asparagus. All of it was perfect. And I brought all this to my food policy class. And this is what was left. Do you think one could possibly be happier? Only wish I had some homemade wine to bring too.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A Feast Inspired by The Borgias

So if you read any cooking magazines, you will have seen by now a flashy add for Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI in "The Borgias: The Original Crime Family." I have no doubt it will be a bodice-ripping, blood-splattered melodrama like The Tudors. But what caught my attention is a feast inspired by the series, with culinary luminaries like Marcus Samuelsson, Todd English, Nancy Silverton and Cat Cora.

In case you don't know the Borgias, Rodrigo was from Valencia and became pope Alexander VI in 1492, drew up the infamous Treatise of Tordesillas which divided the world between Spain and Portugal, among more infamous acts. So I guess that's why they were thinking New World ingredients. Chili sauce on shrimp, tomatoes in a cibreo, and a chocolate budino for dessert.

But of course the Borgias never ate any such things. Tomatoes and chilis don't show up in recipes until the late 17th century, and chocolate was drunk, not put into cakes until much later - and no European in the 15th century ever tasted chocolate anyway. OK, I know, they say "inspired by" but why? They could have used real dishes these people ate, taken directly from contemporary cookbooks. There are even Catalan recipes (that I a convinced come from Rupert of Nola) adapted in Martino of Como and published in Platina's De honesta voluptate. (Produced at the papal court for God's Sake!) In other words they had the real thing - and there are even modern editions. And they decided to fake it. What's the point? What do you learn about anything except the egos of these chefs. Drives me absolutely rabid! A real opportunity to taste culinary history and they make the whole thing up! (I now fling myself into the corner with my mouth foaming).

Wild Garlic Pesto, Soup, Bread etc etc etc

I got caught up in a verdant frenzy of foraging and cooking yesterday and where it came from I don't precisely know. Perhaps it was the passing of Ostara that got me in the mood, finally throwing off the shackles of a long, dreary, grey winter. Awaking an impetus, a burning desire within my soul to take to the surrounding fields and forests and seek new growth, new life, new beginnings. To dance across streams, to climb trees, to run with the stags, to awake the cuckoo, to rip my shirt off and smear badger shit all over my hairy chest and yell at the top of my lungs, "Aslan is back! Aslan is back!"

Or maybe it was because a lot of people were talking about wild garlic on Twitter (well @audreygillan and @everythingbut mostly) and my garden is teeming with the stuff.

Nevertheless, there is definitely something exciting about spring and when the ramson shoots appear around our cherry tree and start to broaden into pungent leaves of green, I do get slightly hysterical, grabbing fistfuls to smell and shovel in my gob. I kid you not. And this is regardless of the fact that our cats often spray their business in that area. Over the seasons though, I have to say that I don't really utilise our crop as much as I should. In the past I've snipped some into salads, scrambled eggs or steamed and wilted very quickly and used as accompaniment for salmon or chicken but more often than not I've given the stuff away to friends. With the intention of using this alturuistic act to bribe them for goods, services, favours etc at a later date. But like I said I got thoroughly stuck in yesterday making wild garlic pesto, soup (with nettles) and bread so as a further act of goodwill I thought I'd post the recipes. Being the kind of guy I am and all.*

Wild Garlic Pesto

A simple recipe and an absolute humdinger, an assault on the senses and quite frankly one that will make your breath stink so make sure your partner also indulges. My son Fin was watching me with eager eyes whilst I was blitzing this up in the food processor, constantly asking "what was are you doing?" and "can I have some?". I warned him that it might be a bit too strong for a little boy to taste but Fin was insistant. Cue minute tip of teaspoon being placed into his mouth followed by much spitting and wailing and running around. Like I said I did warn him. Strangely enough though when heated through with some pasta, the intensity of the pesto did temper somewhat and Fin managed his bowlful with no qualms at all.

1 large bunch of wild garlic, washed

1 small bunch of curly parsley, washed

60gms pine nuts, toasted

60gms parmesan cheese

150mls olive oil (I mixed half extra virgin, half normal)

squeeze of lemon juice

salt and pepper


Place all the ingredients into a food processor apart from the olive oil and blitz for a minute or two then slowly pour in the olive oil until blended. Use for pasta, mash, dipping etc etc

Wild Garlic and Nettle Soup

I got the inspiration for this vivid, fresh tasting, vitamin packed soup from the aforementioned @everythingbut (real name Claire) who also runs Shacklewell Nights supper club and writes Green Onions but changed a couple of ingredients with what I had to hand. Interestingly, did you know that after they've been picked, nettles do actually lose their sting before cooking? It's all to do with the fact that the flow of formic acid comes from the main stem of the plant, pluck the leaf off and the 'sting' dries up. So after washing you can use the leaves raw. Best leave the nettles overnight to test this theory though. In fact, don't hold me to this, I am giving you all this guff because some bloke from Cool Earth once told me I could do it. (And I did, just check my reaction on the video in this link). But I don't want to be held responsible for any incidents or get any phone calls from people saying "Dabby, I'th justh sbent ten hoursth upth the hosthpital coth of you, you bathsted".

2 onions, finely sliced

2 stalks of celery, finely sliced

3 potatoes, small dice

1 bay leaf

1 large carrier bag of wild garlic, washed

1 large carrier bag of young nettles, leaves picked and washed (wearing rubber gloves!)

2 litres water

pinch of nutmeg

a dollop or two of mascarpone

salt and pepper

large knob of butter

In a large stock pot, melt the butter and gently fry the onion and celery until soft, then add the potato and bay leaf and continue to heat and stir for a further 10 minutes or so. Pour in the water and bring to the boil and then add the nettle leaves. Bring back to a gentle simmer for 5 more minutes until the nettles have wilted and then throw in the wild garlic, which will wilt almost immediately. Take off the heat and blitz in a blender. Place back in the pot to reheat, stirring though the nutmeg, mascarpone and season to taste. Claire's suggestion of serving with grated boiled egg worked really well with this soup.

Wild Garlic Bread

Very simple. Just follow Dan Lepard's Easy Loaf recipe and at the stage when you have to pat the dough into an oval shape before rolling, just smear some of the wild garlic pesto over the surface. It helps to make some wild garlic pesto before this stage of course but this bread tastes amazing. No more frozen bagettes to be slammed into the oven 10 minutes before serving up your lasagne from now on. Yes this is slow food but also wild food. Luuurve food in fact......grrrowl.

*Obviously you have to find your own wild garlic though. Unless you can offer me a decent price.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Un Jour Pour Flaneurs

I've never considered posting from abroad. Not bringing a computer made that impossible this time, but upon return, why not? I found myself with a free day in Paris on Saturday. Among my favorite things in this world is a mindless mapless ramble without any particular goal. Of course if you know the city, you inevitably drift toward familiar haunts. In NY, it might be Balducci's or Chinatown. In Rome, the Campo dei Fiori, or even better the market in Prati. Always a matter of food, of course.

So how delightful that my internal gastronomic compass should direct toward Les Halles. Or at least the big stinking open pit, that even after being gone many years, still has magnetic force. Not the belly anymore, perhaps the bung? Adjacent is the old Jewish neighborhood in Marais. Most of the kosher butchers were closed. But there was Schwartz's, packed utterly to the gills and spiling into the street, or I would have tucked in for some pastrami.

Did stumble on a little market though, too early for oysters alas, sea urchins as well, but there were my favorite pine-honey candies. Still regretting not smuggling home cheeses though. A few little museums, some brightly colored marshmallows - apricot, mint, rose. And the whole day was spent. A dinner with gorgeous snails, rilettes, ruddy Chevergny - not to mention VERY frightening andouillettes. Do you know what I'm talking about here? Pigs intestines stuffed into pigs intestines. Smells like pig shit, otherwise very tasty. It's just the feeling of having intestines in intestines, in your intestines, that's philosophically perplexing.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Pickling Sunday

What a pleasant day for pickling. Someday I hope I'll be able to say I grew these and put up 100 pounds, but no. No chickens, no woodland for mushrooms, no verdant asparagus laden fens. But our local farmer's market did supply. 5 bucks for a big flat of brown eggs, 2.50 a bunch for fat local asparagus, and our own fungi finder provided these. Simple acid pickling. Not "canned" just hot brine and vinegar (50/50) with spices - saffron and lemons with the eggs, dill with the asparagus. Sealed and should be ready in a week or so. LOVE this stuff.

Walnut/Currant Bread

I think I threw everything in the house into the smoker yesterday - a cured brisket, sausages, a pork shoulder. So it was surprising at the end of the day that this bread was the most interesting thing that happened.
I'm not sure if this is how it's supposed to be done, but if you start with a regular levain dough, after 2 hours' rising, dump in walnuts, currants, sugar, butter. What could be bad about that? 12 hours rise in a bread pan. It makes a lovely breakfast, toasted. But what's that smokey smell? Ah, it's me.

Friday, 4 March 2011


Having breakfast at my desk in the morning means sitting adjacent to the storage shelves, and every now and then my nostrils are assailed by something pungent and odorific.
Today I sniffed with particular interest. OO doggy, OO dat? Ah, sardines. I forgot about them. A week ago, no two I think. At room temperature. In an escabetx. That means fried and doused in vinegar, olive oil, rosemary, pepper.
The surprise? It's remarkably mild. Dare I say even delicate? But it's not herring. Please, anyone knows where to find fresh herring, let me know. Pappa needs some seafoo.

Food Urchin Is Two Today

I very nearly forgot, today Food Urchin is two years old.

My where does the time go eh? I dunno. One minute there you are, sat on the sofa scratching around in your y-fronts with a great big orange stain on your string vest, thinking 'damn that spag bol was good, I really must write up the whole experience of cooking and eating this splendid dish and put it on the Internet for posterity.'

And then the next minute? Well you're still there, on the same sofa. Except it's actually two years down the line. You're still in the same grubby underwear, wearing the same string vest, albeit with a few more canteen medals on display. Still furiously tapping away in the vain hope that one day your dissenting voice will be heard out of a cast of thousands. I'll be honest here and say that's what motivates me to write. Well partly. The idea that one day, these aberrant, inane ramblings which focus on food will maybe lead to something else. Hopefully one day it will.

But like I said, that is only what partly motivates me to write. The flip side of this blogging malarky is that it gives me free rein to write tales of arsing about in the kitchen which is always fun. It also gives me impetus to try out different recipes and types of food, to go to new places, do unusual things, to eat, drink and be merry (like I need an excuse). But most important of all, it gives me the opportunity to meet new people. Two years have past and in that time I have met some great folk. Sure there's been the odd fly in the ointment but by and large it's all gravy. Better still, wonderful, firm friendships have been forged as a result of the blog. For instance, Mrs FU and I had a brilliant time last night at Bistro Bruno Loubert in the company of a couple from dearest Essex and I had lunch today at the excellent City Caphe with a certain babe from Burma. Food may be the medium but it's the conversation, the humour and the general good feel vibes that it cultivates, that's what I cherish above all. I may have lost the hair but beneath this shirt beats the fierce heart of a soppy, daffy, hippy. So given that, if Food Urchin only ever amounts to a hobby, a slightly crazy and obsessive one at that, it's one that I would be happy to continue for years to come.

Now I did have it in mind to make a film to commemorate the occasion but in true Food Urchin style, I didn't pull my finger out in time to get it done. So I thought a video of the twins who are also two (just) squishing out some bread dough would be adequate substitute.

So Happy Birthday

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Suddenly everyone is a wine expert

Sunday dinner is normally a convivial, family affair in our household. With a pair of little mouths to feed, proceedings leading up to the event can be stressful but more often than not either my parents or Mrs FU's parents come over to help, to take up the slack whilst we dish up. Hot plates are placed down, knifes and forks both metal and plastic plunge forth, hush descends. This silence is always brief though. Fits of giggles will erupt from one corner, usually from my daughter as she spots her brother modelling some of his dinner on the end of his nose, crossing his eyes. More laughter follows, this time coming from the grandparents before wet wipes and mild reprimands are dished out to both young and old. However, a cheeky grin peering out from underneath a mop of curly hair often snuffs out the rebuke and then it's smiles all round. Normal service resumes and the business of eating goes on with small talk and endless questions beginning "why does..?" in between mouthfuls. Before long, empty, clean plates are taken away and stacked in the sink and to great applause, the pudding bowls appear shortly afterwards. The contents of which get demolished in double quick time. Then comes the best part as the kids slip off their chairs and charge into the other room. The adults are left to sit around the table and idly chat, pat their collective belly's and sip the last of the wine as the remnants of the weekend slowly fade into dusk with a crash, bang, wallop of building blocks echoing in the background.

A couple of Sunday's ago, something different happened.

My wife's parents were over this time and at the end of our meal, I asked my father-in-law what he thought of the wine we had been drinking, a Mistral Chardonnay Reserve 2009 from Naked Wines. "Very nice" he replied. I then told him that it came from a mixed case that Naked Wines had sent me to review and that I needed some opinions as I've never really done this sort of thing before (sure I've buggered about with wine tasting before but to concentrate for once and try to give an informed opinion, well that's a different matter.) It was a shot in the dark as he is normally a real ale man and by my reckoning knows just as much as I do. But then he did something I've never seen him do before. With a delicate swish of the hand, he brought the glass to his nose and then in one swift movement poured the wine into his mouth. "Yes, very nice in fact, surprisingly sharp towards the end and good length too". 'Length?' I thought to myself, creasing my forehead. But before I could respond with one raised, hesitant finger, my mother-in-law countered with "you know, it's got a slightly deeper yellow to the usual light straw" holding the glass behind one of my credit card statements. Where she got it from I don't know. I always make an effort to shred them as soon as they pop unwelcomed onto the welcome mat, usually still in the sealed envelope. My mouth dropped and again before I could utter a word of exasperation, Mrs FU finished the last of her glass, licked her lips and said "hmm lovely tropical notes, it sounds bizarre but I'm getting banana for some reason". This left me totally bamboozled. 'Tropical notes? Yellow straw? Length? LENGTH? Where are they getting this from?'

Desperate to join in but lacking confidence, I headed straight for the one phrase of wine terminology that I always keep in store in the ol' memory bank.

"Yeah and it's got great legs" I shouted, over egging a careful, almost clinical examination of my wine glass.

"That's just a myth Dan, wine legs or 'tears' as the French might say, don't really tell you anything about the wine itself", sang Mrs FU.

"They do! They indicate the quality of the wine. Good legs, good wine. And it's down to the sugar in the grapes and the glycerin and er the noble rot". All of this was plucked out from the nether recesses of my mind, especially the last bit.

"Yes, if a wine doesn't have legs, it's not worth having and the legs are there to tell you how oaky the barrels are and er butter, they put butter in Chardonnay you know, to make it taste er buttery, hence the legs. They are in actual fact big, streaky, buttery legs of fat!"

By this point, I had raised my voice a little too far towards the ceiling attracting the attention of the twins who came galloping back into the room to see what the fuss what was about. Silence descended with all eyes on my person. Heads, including the kids, shook from side to side. I'd been caught out. So, slowly but surely, I stood up and clasped my glass in my hand, walked calmly out of the room, grabbing a generic wine guide from our bookcase along the way and headed straight for the bathroom. I locked the door and stayed in there for well over an hour, perched on the toilet seat perusing the dog eared tome, flicking from page to page. "I've got 5 more bottles to review yet", I muttered to myself. "I better start getting to grips with this or I'm going to look really stupid."

Let the education commence.