Thursday, 28 June 2012


Balzano's has been transformed.  It's still a great Italian deli, just the place for a few slices of prosciutto for lunch or a panettone for Christmas. The main counter is crammed with salumi, cheeses and various sweet confections; elsewhere, you can pick up some own-brand honey or jam, or wander past yards (metres?) of variously shaped and coloured pasta; shelves overflow with amaretti biscuits, wine and other Italian specialities.  What more could anyone want?
Well, these days, the answer to that is clear the second you walk in. The back of the deli has been knocked through to extend into a light and airy cafe; there is a courtyard to one side as well for the sunnier days of summer. Food shopping has suddenly got a lot more relaxing.

Dropping by for some lasagne sheets, we are drawn in by this bright, new space with its elegant wallpaper and attractive globe light fittings.  Seduced by the ambiance and the smells of good things cooking, we settle at one of the scrubbed pine tables and share an artfully constructed yellow and red pepper tart.  The coffee is good too.  
And now Balzano's been transformed again, if only temporarily: it proves to be the perfect setting for the recent inaugural meeting of the Plate Lickers Supper Club, Jo (Afternoon Tease) and Ivana (Missigs)'s Polish and Bosnian five-courser.  Interestingly unusual food (such as Chestnut with Speck Soup and Polish Pierogi) is served up in a great space, and the supper club is graced by Becky and Rocco Balzano themselves. Exciting times on Cherry Hinton Road.

The Plate Lickers Supper Club, 19th May 2012.
 Balzano's is at 204, Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge. You can often park the Alfa Romeo giulietta just outside.

Monday, 25 June 2012


Maybe it's the rain in Spain that makes their renowned habas or broad beans grow so well.  So perhaps the wet weather we have been enjoying this summer has brought on our bumper crop in the allotment, a flood of plump, green beans in fleece-lined pods.

Over the years, we have worked our way through a considerable amount of habas con morcilla, often for breakfast in La Boqueria, the fantastic food market in the centre of Barcelona. Soft, bittersweet beans and salty, spicy morcilla: they complement each other perfectly.
La Boqueria, Barcelona
This version isn't especially original, nor is it tricky to make. But when a classic dish is this good, simple cooking with fresh ingredients is all it takes.
We already have plenty of beans, so when some real Spanish morcilla comes along, the decision is simple.  Morcilla is to blood pudding what chorizo is to the standard, pale-pink, bland, value-pack English sausage; it is rich in garlic, paprika and various other spices, with pearls of fat that melt into the sauce creating a velvety texture and strong, intense flavours.

First pick your beans; make sure they are as fresh as possible, for they coarsen very quickly once off the stem.  Ideally, each individual bean will be no larger than the size of a thumbnail. 

1kg         freshly picked broad beans (= approx 500g podded beans)
150g       morcilla
1tbs        olive oil
2 cloves  garlic chopped finely
2 tsps     fennel seeds lightly bruised to release flavour
1 tsp       dried chilli flakes
 3tbs       stock (or water)
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon
chopped mint and parsley to garnish

Chop the morcilla into thickish slices and fry gently, turning once, until cooked through (10 mins).  While this is cooking, pod the beans, separating the larger beans from the smaller ones. It is better to use only the smaller beans, as all the flavour is then kept in the pan; larger beans have such coarse skins that it detracts from the final dish, so pre-cooking is advisable.
Boil the larger beans in salted water until cooked (5 mins) and then drain, keeping a small amount of the water to add to the stock if needed. Run them under water until cool.  Slip them out of their skins.
Put the cooked morcilla to one side and pour off most of the fat, trying to keep any paprika-rich goo at the bottom of the pan. 
Put the chopped garlic and fennel seeds into the pan and allow to cook for a minute or two over a low heat (take care not to burn the garlic, as this creates a bitter flavour). Then add the small beans and stock / water.  Let this simmer for about 5 mins, or until the beans are cooked but not too soft. If it dries out too much add some of the reserved bean water.
Add the cooked, skinned beans, chilli flakes, lemon zest and juice; stir until hot.  Add the morcilla and allow this to warm for a few minutes. Some people like to stir the morcilla vigorously, so it breaks up; other prefer to keep the slices whole, if so stir only gently.

Serve with chopped parsley and mint and with a slice of sourdough bread or toast.  
A glass of fino or San Miguel goes well with this. Or do what the Spaniards do for breakfast and chase it down with a shot of Soberano brandy.

Sunday, 10 June 2012


Entrepot: French, from Middle French entrepost, from entreposer to put between, from entre- inter- + poser to pose...

Hackney Downs is the favoured location for directors seeking urban grit: gangs, drug deals, stabbings, gun crime (the recent TV series Top Boy was shot here). It's not hard to see why as you emerge from the station, walk under the railway bridge along the pavement bespattered with pigeon droppings, pass a lamppost garlanded with sellotaped bouquets - a family commemorating the shooting of their teenager a year ago. Turn left and opposite 'Jerk Corner' (don't go there if you value your arteries) RIP is scrawled along the wall - oh yes,  this remembers the 14 year old who bled to death at 2am in the morning, stabbed by gang members. 
So it's a brave enterprise that opens here; this may be East London but it is a far cry from the hipster haunts of Shoreditch and Hoxton. L'entrepot is that brave enterprise, an outlet for Borough Wines, which has fashioned a wine bar from a very unpromising space next to Tesco Metro, an old engineers' shed for the nearby railway.

There are, however, hipster habitats even here, from whence they  emerge, blinking in the sunlight donning the Raybans. Here they can sit back and enjoy the interesting wines, sample broad bean and mint bruschetta or the cheese plate and forget about the horrors that have passed a few hundred yards from here...

L'entrepot is at 230 Dalston Lane, next to Hackney Downs Railway station and Tesco Metro.