Food cravings to rave about
Donal Skehan: Most people hanker after a childhood treat; some are sweet, these are somewhat exotic
Tomato and mozzarella foccacia bread: feel free to add toppings of your choice beyond cheese and tomato sauce.
Food cravings are something that can be quite polarising, whether it’s a cheese-and-onion crisp sandwich slathered in butter or smoked salmon on brown bread, it’s a case of each to their own. The discussion of food cravings has been on my mind recently and so this week I’m sharing a few of my favourites.
I’d love to tell you that the giant ciabatta-pizza mash-up here was inspired by a trip to Italy but in fact it’s from a little closer to home. When I was growing up, a real treat after swimming lessons was a stop to Il Fornaio, an Italian bakery in Baldoyle, close to our house. While my mom took a well-deserved coffee break, I would tuck into mini focaccia breads topped with a rich tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. If I was lucky, she would buy a second one that would make a lunchbox treat for school the following day. I’m not sure they make them anymore but I still crave this childhood treat, a good excuse to recreate them here. The home-made version is just as satisfying.
Many good cooks will know that the secret to the best spare ribs is to boil them before they are baked in the oven. The process results in tender ribs with meat that just slips off the bone. There are plenty of ways to treat your ribs once they are at this point, a char siu glaze like the one used in the chicken drumsticks works beautifully or a sticky and smokey marinade like the one I have suggested takes them to a whole new level of taste and texture.
Most of my cravings revolve around Asian foods. I put this down to all the Irish stews and fish pies I grew up with which seemed to spark a rebellion and a desire to explore the foods of the Orient. Bar the local Chinese takeaway, my experience was limited and so this mutinous behaviour resulted in experimenting from Asian cookbooks. My mom wouldn’t bat an eye, when I would take over the kitchen, trickling beaten egg into silky strands for a home-made chicken and sweet corn soup, making my own fortune cookies or trying my hand at proper fried rice. Once I cleaned up after myself and the leftovers could be used for dinner, everyone was happy. I’m still drawn to those altogether foreign flavours and the sticky char siu glazed chicken drumsticks are a perfect excuse to try something a little different in the kitchen.
Three recipes that will hopefully satisfy your cravings!
Tomato & mozzarella foccacia bread
This basic bread dough is one to cut out and use again as it will work for dinner rolls, loaves or even rolled thinly for pizza bases. The topping here is basic but an ode to those wonderful mini focaccia pizza breads I had growing up. Feel free to add toppings of your choice beyond cheese and tomato sauce. The bread can also be transformed with slices of red onion pushed into the dough or a garlic and herb mixture spread across the top before it’s baked.
Makes 2 focaccia loaves
750g bread flour
2 teaspoons of salt
450ml of lukewarm water
1 x 7g sachet of dry yeast
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
For the topping:
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, very finely minced
1 tsp red chilli flakes
500g mozzarella cheese, grated
A good handful of basil, leaves torn
Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and with the back of a spoon make a well. Pour the water into the well with the oil. Slowly combine the wet ingredients with the flour, incorporating in small amounts at a time, until a dough forms.
Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead for six-eight minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic and bounces back when pressed with finger tips.
Oil the mixing bowl, place the dough back in, cover and allow to rise for 45 minutes to an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
Once rise, punch down the dough and knead for a further two-three minutes.
Form the dough into a large flat rectangular bread, place into a 50x40cm (or two smaller trays) large, oiled baking tray.
Mix the garlic with the olive oil and spread over the surface of the bread dough. Poke parts of the dough with your thumb and then sprinkle generously with sea salt. Place in an oven at 220/425 degrees/gas mark 7 for 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and spread generously with passata, sprinkle with chilli flakes and mozzarella cheese and basil leaves.
Place back in the oven and continue to cook for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and just about to turn golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Tender & sticky spare ribs
The sticky marinade used for these ribs is a perfect BBQ sauce for many grilled meats and is particularly delicious used to glaze sausages cooked over a hot barbeque.
For the ribs:
3kg pork baby back ribs
2 onions, peeled and sliced in half
1 bulb of garlic, unpeeled and top sliced off
Pinch of sea salt
For the barbecue sauce:
60g demerara sugar
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
4 tbsp honey
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp dried English mustard
2 tsp Tabasco sauce
Cut the strips of ribs into manageable pieces with about three–four ribs to each piece then put the ribs in a large saucepan with the onions, garlic, a generous pinch of salt and enough cold water to cover. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1–1½ hours or until the meat is tender.
Preheat the oven to 200/400 degrees/gas mark 6 or light the barbecue. Whisk all the ingredients for the barbecue sauce together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for about five minutes until you have a thick sauce.
Remove the ribs from the pan and discard the water, onion and garlic. Place the ribs in a large baking dish or roasting tin, pat dry with kitchen paper and coat with half the barbecue sauce. Place in the oven to cook for 20 minutes or place on the barbecue for five minutes on each side and then serve with the rest of the barbecue sauce and devour.
Sticky char siu chicken drumsticks
The char siu marinade for this recipe is wonderful with any type of meat and can also be used to glaze vegetables cooked on a hot griddle pan.
1kg chicken drumsticks
6 spring onions, finely sliced
3 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
For the marinade:
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp five spice powder
½ tsp white pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
In a bowl mix together all the ingredients for the marinade. Add the chicken drumsticks and toss to coat. Cover and leave to marinate over night in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Place the chicken on a large baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes until cooked all the way through.
Once cooked, garnish with spring onions and sesame seeds and serve.