The Musette: honey baked feta cheese

This is the third and last of Marcus Waring’s recipes which I’m trying from his New Classics cookery book this month. Of course, it won’t be the last recipe of his that I try. I have all of his cookery books and they’re big favourites of mine.

This is a very versatile vegetarian dish. You could serve this as a starter, lunch-time main course or before dessert – we are in France – for a different take on the cheese course. However you decide to serve it, this simple dish of creamy, tangy feta grilled until melting and slightly crisp is transformed thanks to heady, fragrant lavender and fresh thyme. The homemade rye crisps served alongside are great for dipping and scooping into the melted cheese, and are incredibly simple to make – all you need is half a loaf of rye bread and a garlic clove!

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a cheese course or starter)

  • 200g (7oz) feta cheese
  • 1/2 loaf rye bread
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 fat garlic clove, halved
  • 2 tbsp runny lavender honey
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, take off leaves
  • 2 lavender sprigs, or 1/2 tsp dried lavender
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/(400°F)/gas mark 6.

2. Cover the feta with kitchen paper and leave at room temperature for at least an hour to absorb all the excess moisture.

3. Cut the bread into very thin slices. Place them in a single layer on 2 baking trays. Brush with the olive oil and rub each slice with a halved garlic clove.

4. Bake the bread in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes until lightly golden and crisp.

5. Remove the bread, keeping it warm, and turn the oven to its grill setting.

6. Remove the kitchen paper from the cheese and place the feta in an ovenproof dish just large enough for it to fit snugly. Drizzle the honey on top, then add the thyme and lavender. Season well with salt and pepper and grill for 5–10 minutes until golden and bubbling.

7. Remove the cheese from the grill. Serve the feta immediately with the bread crisps.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. The feta is the star of the show. Buy it from a cheese shop rather than packaged from a supermarket. I’ve tried both and it does make a difference.

2. Marcus’s recipe calls for rye bread and I understand why; it’s got a closed tight texture. I’ve tried it with spelt and sour dough, both were fine though it does help if the bread’s not fresh. Or you could use store-bought rye crackers.

3. Marcus’s recipe uses 4 tbsp of honey which we found to be too much and I’ve reduced it to 2 tbsp.

4. Don’t overdo the lavender or the cheese will taste soapy – not ideal!

5. You do need to use fresh thyme, dried won’t cut it here.

The Musette: harissa marinated lamb

Here’s the second recipe from this month’s Great British Chefs Cookbooks Challenge and it’s another one from Michelin starred chef Marcus Waring’s book New Classics. All the recipes are (thankfully) much geared towards the home cook  – you won’t need any Michelin stars to attempt them – while still containing all the incredible flavours and textures that made Marcus such a superstar chef.

This lamb recipe is a stunning main which celebrates Middle Eastern flavours of spicy harissa, crushed pistachios and spiced yoghurt. But what elevates this dish from good to great is the brining of the meat before cooking. This makes it more tender, while the harissa marinade ensures it has bags of flavour.

Ingredients (enough for 4 cyclists)

Marinated lamb

  • 4 pieces of lamb, around 200g (7oz) each
  • 2 tsp harissa
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 30g (1oz) pistachio nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Lamb  brine

  • 140g (5oz) table salt
  • 1 ltr (4 cups) filtered water
  • 1/2 tsp white peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

Fresh mint chutney

  • 6 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch mint, leaves separated and finely chopped

Yoghurt dressing

  • 150g (5oz) Greek yoghurt
  • 1/4 cucumber, finely grated and drained
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds , toasted and crushed
  • 1 tsp harissa
  • sea salt to taste

Method

1. For the brine, place all the ingredients in a saucepan with 500ml (2 cups) filtered warm water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes then remove from the heat and add 500ml filtered cold water. Allow to cool completely.

2. Add the lamb to the brine and place in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

3. Mix the harissa paste with the olive oil. Rinse the brined lamb under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Rub the harissa mixture over the lamb rumps, cover or place them in a container and chill for at least 6 hours (or overnight).

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/(400°F)/gas mark 6.

5.  To make the fresh mint chutney, heat the vinegar in a small saucepan, add the sugar and dissolve over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the shallots. When cool, add the oil and set aside until ready to use.

6. To make the yoghurt dressing, mix all ingredients together in a bowl and season to taste.

7. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. When hot, place the lamb in the pan, if relevant fat-side down first. Cook for 5–8 minutes, until the fat begins to render and turn a lovely golden brown.

8. Turn the lamb over and seal on all the other sides for a further 5 minutes, then place on a foil-lined dish in the oven. Bake for 5–10 minutes, depending on how pink you like your lamb. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave somewhere warm to rest for 5 minutes.

 

9.  Finish the mint chutney by adding the chopped fresh mint. Serve the lamb with the mint chutney and yoghurt dressing, sprinkled with the pistachio nuts. Eat with a large green salad, roasted vegetables or couscous.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Again, I have tweaked the recipe a bit. I used lamb leg steaks rather than rump of lamb, but I think any cut of lamb would work. You just need to adjust the cooking times.

2. Do make the mint chutney and yoghurt dressing, they add a lot to the dish.

3. This is the first time I’ve brined lamb though I’ve previously done so with chicken and pork. It really added something to the dish and while it takes some time, it’s so worth it.

4. If you don’t have any Greek yoghurt, strain natural yoghurt in a sieve lined with kitchen paper.

Header image: Spring Lamb© Alistair Cunningham

The Musette: aubergine, buckwheat and cashew tangine

This month’s recipes from the Great British Chef’s Cook Book belong to Marcus Waring and come from his recently published cookery book New Classics. When I lived in London, I was fortunate to eat in some of his restaurants  – divine! I have all of his previous cookery books which contain some of my “most cooked” recipes and, even though they are very much geared towards the home cook, they still contain incredible depth of flavours and textures. I frequently dip into them when I want to impress my French friends and prove that the English can cook. Of course, Marcus is probably now better known for his role on MasterChef: The Professionals.

This is one of three recipes from New Classics and my beloved is certainly hoping (and praying) I’ll cook all three of them. But I’ve started with this vegan take on a tagine which includes an incredible homemade spice mix that gives real depth of and layers of flavour to the dish. Marcus’s recipe uses freekeh, a type of ancient wheat grain with a nutty taste, which I’ve substituted with buckwheat because it’s what I had in the cupboard and it has a similarly satisfyingly chewy texture, plus it goes perfectly with the crunchy cashews and soft, yielding aubergine. It’s a great, healthy dish that ticks all the boxes in terms of flavour and texture and was even better reheated the following day!

Ingredients (enough for 4 hungry cyclists)

Tagine

  • 100g (1 cup) cashew nuts
  • 200g (2 cups) buckwheat, freekeh or quinoa
  • 4 tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
  • 3 medium onions (approx. 250g/9 oz), finely chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 thumb-sized knob fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 400ml (1 2/3 cup) passata, or a 400g (14 oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 250ml (1 cup) vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses or black treacle
  • 50g (1/2 cup) raisins or currants
  • 2 tsp saffron strands, soaked in 1 tbsp of warm water for 10 minutes
  • 2 aubergines (approx. 500g/1 lb), cut into 2cm dice
  • 1 bunch coriander, chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Spice mix

  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/(400°F)/gas mark 6.

2. Put the cashew nuts on a roasting tray and bake for 5 minutes until golden. Remove, leave to cool, then chop roughly. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/140°C fan/(325°F)/gas mark 3.

3. Cook the buckwheat/freekeh/quinoa for half of the time stated on the packet instructions, then drain and leave to cool.

4. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large casserole dish over medium heat. Add the onions, season with sea salt and pepper and sauté for about 10 minutes until they are soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and ginger for the last 3–4 minutes, then add the tomato purée, the passata or chopped tomatoes, stock, vinegar, molasses or treacle, raisins or currants and saffron to the casserole and remove from the heat.

5. Heat a dry large frying pan over high heat and, when hot, add the spices for the spice mix and stir them for 3–4 minutes until fragrant. Transfer the spices to a mortar and crush with the pestle. Mix with the flour and table salt in a large plastic bag or bowl.

6. Add 1 tbsp oil to the frying pan and place back on the heat. Season the diced aubergine generously with the spiced flour and fry it in the oil, in 3 batches, until golden, adding 1 tbsp oil to each subsequent batch.

7. Add half of the chopped coriander to the casserole,  the part-cooked buckwheat/freekeh/quinoa and the spiced aubergine. Sprinkle with three-quarters of the chopped cashew nuts.

8. Bring to the boil, cover with a circle of greaseproof paper, put on the the lid and transfer to the oven for around an hour until the buckwheat/freekeh/quinoa is tender and the sauce thickened. Serve sprinkled with the remaining coriander and cashew nuts.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. I’ve played a bit fast and loose with Marcus’s recipe yet it still tasted wonderful.

2. If you don’t have some of the ingredients in your cupboard think about what might be an appropriate substitution. That said, I think the aubergines are pretty central to the dish. However, I believe you could successfully substitute the cashew nuts with hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts.

3. I used buckwheat instead of freekeh but equally you could use quinoa, farro or barley. You need something with a bit of bite.

4. I had all of the spices but if you don’t have cumin or coriander seeds, substitute with the ground spice.

5. I had a tin of black treacle but couldn’t be bothered to open a new tin for just a tsp so instead used pomegranate molasses.

6. Always use a timer when roasting nuts in the oven because it’s so easy to leave them for too long and burn them!