North African flavours add spice to squash and feta
Kristjan Bigland and Alexis John are well-known faces on the Bristol food scene thanks to their popular Mi Casa events but today (March 1) sees the launch of a slightly more permanent pop-up as they embark on a three-month residency at the Big Chill Bar in Small Street.
Mi Casa Cantina will see the couple taking over the kitchens at the Big Chill Bar and serving food six days a week until the end of May.
Canadian-born chef Alexis, who used to work at Papadeli in Clifton, says she will be drawing inspiration and experience from her North American roots to create a menu focused on diner-style dishes, including hot sandwiches, salads and soups.
The menu, which can be eaten in the Big Chill Bar or taken away, includes Reuben sandwiches filled with salt beef, sauerkraut, Comte cheese and Thousand Island dressing; grilled cheese sourdough sandwiches served with a cup of creamy tomato soup and Poutine (a Canadian bar snack comprising hand-cut fries, peppercorn gravy and cheese curds) and plenty of seasonal salads.
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Alexis says: "I have had, for as long as I can remember, a love affair with salads.
"I am not talking about those ice-cold, brown lettuce and tasteless tomato abominations with salad cream on the side. For me, salads are works of art. They are never one colour, dimension or flavour, they have to be perfectly balanced in sweet, sour, spice, texture and temperature.
"In the winter I crave warm, Moorish salads with big earthy flavours, lots of fresh herbs and zingy dressings.
"The spring and summer are the time to take advantage of all our glorious homegrown vegetables, and create fresh and invigorating salads."
A favourite salad on the menu at Mi Casa Cantina is one featuring slow roast butternut squash, feta, mint and pomegranate molasses.
Alexis says: "The caramelised sweetness of the butternut squash, works well with the salty feta and the coolness of the mint.
"However, the pomegranate molasses is the pièce de résistance as it holds the key to the perfect balance of sweet and sour, and is indescribable when added to food. The golden nuttiness of the toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds finish it off nicely with a buttery crunch."
Mi Casa Cantina launches at The Big Chill Bar, Small Street, today and runs for three months. The opening hours are Monday to Thursday 11am-7pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-9pm.
For more information call 07972 160510 or follow them on Twitter @micasapopup.
This can be a perfectly balanced light lunch with a bit of peppery rocket, or a great accomplice to za'tar-rubbed roast chicken for supper.
1 large or 2 small peeled butternut squash, cut in half and deseeded
2 medium red onions
1 bulb of garlic
6 sprigs of mint picked off the stalk
2 teaspoons of fennel seeds
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/2 a block of the best quality Greek feta you can find
30g pine nuts
30g pumpkin seeds
Cabernet sauvignon vinegar, or the best red wine vinegar you can find
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Light olive oil, to cook with
Extra virgin olive oil (a nice fruity olive oil would be best as this is your dressing oil)
Preheat your oven to 200C. Cut the squash into about 1.5cm pieces, in a bowl toss with the fennel seeds, chilli flakes, olive oil and salt and pepper.
Break up the bulb of garlic, removing the papery skin, and add the loose cloves to the butternut squash.
Place on a large baking sheet evenly spaced out so as not to steam but slow roast.
Put in the oven, keeping an eye on the squash so it doesn't colour too much, for about 30-35 minutes. A little bit of caramelisation is OK as it only adds a bit more flavour.
Peel the red onions, cut in half and chop each half into 2cm wedges.
Place them on another flat baking sheet with some light olive oil, salt and pepper. Put them in the oven for about 12-15 minutes. Once they are soft, remove them and while they are still hot add a good splash of vinegar. This will be the vinegar base to your dressing and leave your red onions a gorgeous purple colour.
Once the butternut is soft, remove and let cool slightly. I like to layer this kind of warm salad, otherwise all the lighter ingredients just end up on the bottom and the presentation isn't as beautiful.
Simple white platters are the best for layering and presentation.
First add your butternut, then the onion, nuts and seeds, feta and mint.
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses, the fruity olive oil, and repeat.