Cheese, Random Thoughts, Sandwich

In praise of Borough Market.

Previously, on The Upstart Kitchen: yours truly and husband roast a heritage chicken and prepare confit tomatoes in the dark, using a wood-fired brick oven and a long stick, without burning down a 500 year-old property in the south of France. Good times.

One five-hour drive to Barcelona, one French air traffic control strike, and one exceptionally inconvenient rush-hour Tube strike later, we arrived in central London, ready to take in the excellent British culinary scene. That’s not actually why we went to London – we were meeting up with my dad and then I was going to sit a panel on international economic crime at Cambridge late in the week – but still and all. If you’ve not been to Britain in the past twenty years, you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about. After all, it long ago established a reputation for humorously named mush like spotted dick, the gratuitous use of kidneys, and vegetables boiled beyond recognition. Well, that’s true. My first trips to Britain were memorable only in that I ate lots of jacket potatoes with butter because they were more appetizing than the alternative. My husband’s father, who was English until the day he died, apparently displayed great aptitude in the kitchen when Julia Child provided the inspiration, but was prone to boiling vegetables for days before serving and attempting to pass off kidneys as mushrooms in the steak pie – unsuccessfully, by the way, because, unlike mushrooms, kidneys taste like urine however long you soak them.

But times change, and Britain has changed. Welcome to the “Best of Britain” – the products that make hearty, wholesome, fresh-tasting synonymous with British food. In fairness, many of these items are nothing new. There’s British dairy – thick, faintly golden milk from Jersey, fine wheels of craft Stilton and Cheddar, Devon cream and delicate butter. For many years, if you knew where to look, you satisfied yourself with juicy, sage-scented Lincolnshire sausage and rich Melton Mowbray pork pies. In summer, the red currants, strawberries, and raspberries formed the basis for classic summer pudding and trifles. But in recent years, British pride in seasonal homegrown products has surged. The evidence abounds – fish pies lightly binding moist smoked haddock with garden peas and cream; proprietary bangers and buttery pureed potatoes; scotch eggs encased in venison sausage and encased in a light, crispy crumb.

Nowhere is this revival in more spectacular evidence than at Borough Market, on the southern bank of the Thames River in London. Borough has existed in its present location since 1756, after an act of Parliament declared it a public nuisance and mandated its closure. As a well-situated market by both London Bridge and the Thames, Borough plays host to a wholesale market every day, but its primary appeal for Londoners and tourists alike is the weekly public market on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. On those days, a staggering variety of British produce, local heritage meat and poultry, and artisanal food products cater to the crowds of food crazies toting eco-friendly canvas bags in one hand while feasting with the other.

Late summer's bounty at Borough

Pheasant and hare hang to age outside a meat stall

Primo meat.

Every year, when I visit London, I do the circuit – late summer fruit to eat during the week; cold smoked haddock from the Orkneys, pint of cider, check out the seeds, why not a pork pie. The lineup changes somewhat from year to year, and although some of the change is down to consumer demand, other changes have provoked controversy. We’re seeing more prepared food, like grilled cheese sandwiches and Cumberland sausage, and less fresh product. In fact, a number of fruit and vegetable merchangs are suing the Borough Market trustees, claiming that the trustees are attempting to force them out, whereas the trustees counter that the addition of more prepared food stalls merely reflects the changes in consumer demand. Earlier, the proposed construction of the certain upgrades to Network Rail, partly in preparation for the 2012 Olympics in London and partly to ease existing congestion, led to concerns about the market’s viability.

But anyway – the market’s still around, and when we went in September – twice! – it was completely packed with happy gluttons. Fruit and veg stands, as well as the meat and fish guys, were all in evidence. If you’re in London at the end of a week, go to Borough.

Diver scallops, cooked à la minute.

Grilled cheese sandwich, à la Kappacasein

I know what you’re thinking – Really? A grilled cheese sandwich? All I can say is that you need to try this particular sandwich before getting all judgmental about my recipe choices. I recommend you go to Borough Market and have one from the Kappacasein stand (if you can resist the raclette potatoes), but airfare to London being what it is even in the low season, this is the next best thing.

Kappacasein doesn’t keep the makeup of their sandwiches any big secret. In fact, the ingredients are marked off on a chalkboard right in front of their stand. As with so many other things, technique makes a simple dish extraordinary. The Neal’s Yard Montgomery Cheddar (perhaps from the shop right across the street) is grated into large shreds that melt evenly; the poilâne sourdough bread is just tart enough to be interesting, not overpowering; and the addition of browned onion, leek, and garlic add a note of sweetness and savor to the sandwich. Don’t stint on the butter. That would just be dumb, since the sandwich isn’t diet food in the first place.

I was excited to make this the other day when, on a walk with my husband through Washington, I stopped at Cowgirl Creamery and discovered they have Neal’s Yard Montgomery Cheddar. You say you can’t get Neal’s Yard cheeses or artisanal poilâne where you are? Improvise, using the finest Cheddar and rustic, crusty bread you can manage. Even at the Safeway you can find fine loaves of crusty bread resembling pain de campagne and mature Cheddar from Vermont and Wisconsin.

Grilled cheese, à la Kappacasein

one loaf of poilâne or another rustic white sourdough like pain de campagne or a levain, not too sour, sliced 1/2″
6-8 oz mature Cheddar, such as Neal’s Yard Montgomery Cheddar or Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
one small red onion, peeled and diced 1/4″
one leek, white and light green only, washed very well and diced 1/4″
one clove garlic, mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt
unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
olive oil

Grate the cheese, using the large holes on a grater. Set aside.

Place a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. When hot, add a knob of butter and a little olive oil if necessary. Add the leeks and onion and sauté until golden and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook several minutes more, taking care that the garlic does not brown and become acrid. Remove from heat, cool, and when cool, toss with the grated cheese.

Leek and onion.

Butter each slice of bread on the outside only. Put about 1.5 to 2 oz grated cheese (a decent handful) between the slices to form sandwiches (buttered side out). Place a large skillet or griddle over medium heat and, when hot, add the sandwiches. Press down with a grill press if you have one; otherwise, press from time to time with a spatula. Flip the sandwiches over when deep golden brown and crisp on one side; repeat. [Note: if you have a sandwich press or panino grill, you can use that.] Any cheese that oozes or falls out of the sandwich onto the pan and turns bubbly and brown is good stuff; make sure to scoop it onto the sandwich.

To pretend you’re at Borough, wrap the sandwich in waxed paper and enjoy with a pint of cider. Otherwise, slice in half and enjoy with some pickles (and your beverage of choice).

Cheese bounty at Neal's Yard Dairy.

Baking, Holidays, Pastry, Potatoes, Q&A, Random Thoughts, Southeast Asian, Squash, Vegetables


A reader asks for a vegetarian appetizer suitable for a Halloween-themed party. Learn why a jack o’ lantern isn’t your best pie pumpkin, and check out three vegetarian appetizers, on the Great Pumpkin page.

Beef, Lamb., Leftover Recycling, Pasta, Quick Meals

Mystery meat.

One of the risks of digging around the freezer for leftovers to recycle is that sometimes you think you’re getting one thing when actually you’re getting quite another. This risk increases significantly if the packets of frozen food aren’t labeled. As is sometimes the case in our freezer.

One morning last week, before leaving for the office, I rummaged around the plastic tubs in the reach in looking for something I could recycle quickly in the evening. Our recent eatdown has been fairly successful – we’ve used up most of the scrap short rib and had some terrific pork belly earlier in the week – and pickings are getting slimmer. The problem is that many frozen, vacuum packed, unlabeled packets of leftover meat look the same, and when we returned home that evening, I puzzled about the lumpy brown contents before deciding to make something else. What were they?

The answer came the next night when, after a bad commute back from DC, I decided it was time to use the mystery meat. Whatever it was, I’d work something out. Sealed within thick plastic, it looked like giant soy crumbles, but it couldn’t have been, since we don’t eat that stuff. I sliced the packet open, and the contents rolled free. Koftes! Of course. I made the koftes – among other things – for my mother in law’s 75th birthday party after someone facetiously suggested I buy a couple of bags of Swedish meatballs from IKEA and heat them in a crockpot with some Kraft barbecue sauce. Well, I wasn’t going to do that. But I liked the idea of a meatball – something easy to prepare for 50-60 people, easy to eat while sipping a glass of wine. And I really liked the idea of these meatballs – spiced with cumin and coriander, and dressed with both sweet-tart pomegranate molasses and a savory, garlic-spiked yoghurt sauce, and a little different from the conventional meatball. I like them hot, but my husband likes the cold. It’s up to you.

Perhaps you only eat half of the koftes one night. Recycle the remainder as I did, by tossing them with pasta and yoghurt to emphasize their Levantine flavors.

rigatoni/kofte/beet green/coriander

Rigatoni, koftes, beet greens, coriander

Unlike me, you probably won’t just find these koftes in your freezer, so start from the beginning. For a lighter, less fatty meatball, use ground bison instead of some of the lamb or beef. Because these contain no filler, do not use preground beef and do not overwork the meat. Preground beef tends to be overemulsified and will form hard, tough meatballs. If you plan to serve these as a hors d’oeuvre rather than as part of this dish, garnish with yoghurt-garlic sauce and pomegranate molasses.

Sumac powder is an essential in Middle Eastern cooking and comes from the drupe fruits of the Rhus genus. It lends a slightly tart, almost smoked-fruit flavor. Although some describe the taste as “lemony,” I disagree.


1 lb lamb shoulder or beef chuck, ground
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic confit
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 c minced parsley
2 tbsp mint, chiffonade
olive oil

Saute the onion and garlic confit in a small quantity of olive oil, until soft and translucent, and lightly golden. Add the spices and saute a minute more. Combine in a bowl with the ground meat, parsley, and mint, and add the salt. Make a test meatball, cook it, and taste – adjust seasoning if necessary.

Form meatballs – 1 inch more or less – by pinching off a small amount and rolling until it just holds. Do not overwork. Place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add olive oil. Fry the meatballs, in batches, on all sides until cooked through.

If making the pasta dish, prepare koftes and:

1/2 lb rigatoni
greens from a bunch of beets, both leaves and stems (omit the stems if using red beets as the result is quite lurid), sliced thinly. If not using beet root for another purpose, you may substitute chard
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 tsp hot paprika
olive oil
1/2 c greek yoghurt, or 4 tbsp each plain yoghurt and sour cream, plus a little extra if necessary
sumac powder
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta.

While the rigatoni cooks, place a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add olive oil. Add the garlic and, when fragrant, add the shredded beet greens and stems, the Aleppo pepper, and the coriander. Saute until tender and add the koftes. You might not use them all – my husband believes they make an excellent cold snack, so bear that in mind (and consider the yoghurt-garlic sauce below).

Drain the cooked pasta and reserve a little cooking water. Add the pasta to the greens-kofte mixture over low heat. Add the yoghurt (or yoghurt-sour cream mixture) and salt to taste. Toss well to coat, adding a little pasta water if necessary to keep the mixture moist.

Plate and season with sumac powder.

If serving with yoghurt-garlic sauce:

1 cup greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
Pomegranate molasses

Combine the yoghurt, garlic, and salt to taste. Set aside in the refrigerator, covered, until you have cooked the koftes and are ready to serve.

Drizzle the koftes with pomegranate molasses. Serve with the yoghurt-garlic sauce.