“I dream a lot about recipe development,” the 31-year-old chef admits. “It’s not about particular dishes, but I’ll dream about combinations. I keep a notebook by my bedside, because quite often I’ll wake up with an idea and I’ll need to write it down, otherwise I’ll forget.”
Many of these combinations will be found in Mezcla, Belfrage’s first solo cookbook (she co-wrote Flavour in 2020 with mentor Yotam Ottolenghi).
Belfrage’s friend came up with the title, and it immediately felt right. “It’s the perfect word,” she says of ‘Mezcla’. “It means mix, blend or fusion [in Spanish], so it’s the perfect word to describe the recipes, and also my background, and me.”
Belfrage’s background and culinary influences are certainly eclectic.
Italian, Brazilian and Mexican flavours run through the book – along with other cuisines from all over the world – and are part of Belfrage’s efforts to reclaim the word ‘fusion’ in cooking. “I think people used to assume that when you say something is fusion, it was confused and lacked in focus, and the flavours were all over the place and didn’t make sense,” she muses.
“Maybe in the early-2000s or the late-Nineties, that might have been the case with chefs doing fusion cooking” – but she suggests that’s changed now.
“If you really think about it, most dishes were fusion before they became classics. For example, one of my favourite Brazilian dishes is moqueca [a seafood stew] – it’s a classic Brazilian dish but it’s actually a mix of West African, indigenous, Brazilian and Portuguese influences coming together. Even classic dishes were once probably a fusion of other things. When you think about it like that, it makes all the sense in the world.”
While Italian, Mexican and Brazilian cuisines might not have lots in common, what they do share, Belfrage indicates, is “big, bold flavours”. With plenty of Italian and Mexican chains on the high street, many of us have a relatively good grasp of the basics of each cuisine – but Brazilian might be a little bit more unknown.
Like the moqueca dish, Belfrage says: “Most Brazilian cuisine is a fusion of indigenous Brazilian, West African and Portuguese influences, because during the time of the slave trade it was colonised by Portugal, so they brought a lot of influence.” Due to the slave trade’s links to Brazil, she adds: “There’s so much African influence there, and so many incredible Brazilian dishes are full of African soul and ingredients.
“One of my favourite ingredients in the world is red palm oil, which is ubiquitous in Brazilian cuisine. I’m sure a lot of Brazilians assume it’s a Brazilian ingredient, but actually it’s from West Africa, and was brought over by the Portuguese.”
Why not try some of her favourite recipes?
Porcini ragu recipe
(Serves 2 as a main with leftovers, or 4 as a starter)
40g dried porcini
4tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
3 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped(not crushed!)
½tsp chilli flakes (or less if you prefer)
10g fresh parsley (stalks and leaves), finely chopped, plus extra to serve
⅓tsp fine salt
1½tbsp tomato puree/paste
About 50 twists of freshly ground black pepper
250g dried tagliatelle nests
40g Parmesan, very finely grated, plus extra to serve
3tbsp double cream
1. In a medium bowl, cover the porcini with boiling water and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 75ml of the soaking liquid. Very finely chop the porcini to mince consistency, then set aside.
2. Put the oil, garlic, chilli flakes, parsley and fine salt into a cold, large sauté pan on a medium-low heat. Very gently fry for five minutes until soft and lightly golden, turning the heat down if the garlic starts to brown.
3. Increase the heat to medium-high, then add the chopped porcini, tomato puree/paste and plenty of pepper. Stir-fry for three minutes, then set the pan aside while you boil the pasta.
4. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water for about six minutes, until al dente. Reserve 350ml of the pasta water, and drain.
5. Return the sauté pan with the porcini to a medium-high heat, then add the 350ml of pasta water and the reserved 75ml of porcini soaking liquid. Stir, and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, leave to bubble away for three minutes. Add half the Parmesan to the pan, stirring until it has melted before adding the rest. Lower the heat to medium, then stir in the cream, followed by the drained tagliatelle. Toss over the heat until the pasta and sauce have emulsified – about one-and-a-half minutes.
6. Remove from the heat and serve at once, finished with as much extra oil and Parmesan as your heart desires.
Chicken with pineapple and ‘nduja recipe
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, at room temperature
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
1 medium onion, halved and very thinly sliced on a mandolin
½ large, extra-ripe pineapple, peeled (300g)
4 sweet tangerines (or 2 oranges), squeezed to get 100g juice
100g chicken bone broth, stock or water
2tbsp double cream
5g fresh coriander
1 lime, cut into wedges
For the ’Nduja and chipotle paste:
50g ’nduja paste/spread
2tbsp olive oil
2tsp tomato puree/paste
½tsp chipotle flakes
¾tsp fine salt
About 20 twists of freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C.
2. Put all the ingredients for the paste into a large bowl and mix together. Add the chicken, garlic and three-quarters of the sliced onion and mix well so everything is coated evenly. Tip the onions and garlic into a 28cm ovenproof cast-iron skillet or similar-sized baking dish and spread out. Place the chicken thighs on top, skin side up and spaced apart.
3. Cut the pineapple into four rounds, then cut each round into quarters, removing the hard core (you should have about 300g). Add the pineapple to the bowl with the remnants of the paste, mix to coat with whatever’s left there, then arrange the pineapple around the chicken.
4. Pour the tangerine juice around the chicken (don’t get the skin wet), then bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour the stock or water into the pan around the chicken (again, don’t get the skin wet). Return to the oven for another 20–25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is browned and crispy. If you have a blowtorch, use it to char the pineapple a little.
5. Drizzle the cream into the sauce. Toss the coriander and the remaining sliced onions together with a tiny bit of oil and salt and arrange on top. Serve from the pan, with the lime wedges alongside.
Whipped yoghurt with roasted strawberries and peanut fudge sauce recipe
For the roasted strawberries:
300g frozen strawberries, defrosted (frozen strawberries will produce a redder syrup, but you can use fresh strawberries – stalks removed and roughly chopped – just make sure they’re extra ripe)
50g caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks, roughly broken
For the whipped yoghurt:
150g mascarpone, fridge-cold
200g yoghurt, fridge-cold
½tsp vanilla bean paste
1tbsp maple syrup
For the peanut fudge sauce:
50g smooth peanut butter (I use ManiLife)
1½tbsp cocoa powder
75g maple syrup
1tsp soy sauce (or tamari)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C fan/220°C.
2. For the roasted strawberries, place all the ingredients in an ovenproof dish just big enough to fit the strawberries in a single layer. They should be snug, but not piled on top of each other. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring halfway. Set aside to cool.
3. Place the mascarpone, yoghurt, vanilla paste and maple syrup in a large bowl and whisk together until completely smooth. Keep the bowl in the fridge until ready to serve.
4. For the fudge sauce, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth. You may need to add more water or maple syrup, depending on the thickness of your peanut butter. You’re looking for a smooth, thick but pourable consistency.
5. In individual glasses, layer the chilled yoghurt with the warm strawberries and the fudge sauce and serve.
Mezcla: Recipes To Excite by Ixta Belfrage is published by Ebury Press. Photography by Yuki Sugiura. Available now.