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Farinata Genovese

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Having just enjoyed this simple and savory snack in the streets of Portovenere, I wanted to enjoy this at home. It’s easier than pizza, but seems to hit the same spot quite effectively. We had this today with asparagus soup.

Ingredients:

1 C chickpea flour

1 1/2 C cold water

3/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 an onion or a whole large shallot

Rosemary

Black Pepper

Olive Oil

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220C

Place chickpea flour and salt in a bowl. Slowly add the water, whisking as you go to avoid lumps. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, cover, and let sit for a few hours. Consider one hour the minimum, but it does seem to get better with a bit more rest. I’d recommend 3 hours and up to 12 or so.

Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a cast iron skillet on a medium flame. When the oil is hot add the onion and cook until it just begins to colour. Pour in the batter and sprinkle the top with rosemary and black pepper.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until it is firm and is pulling away from the sides of the pan. Turn the broiler on towards the end so that it will become nicely golden brown. Remove to a cutting board and slice. Serve it straight away – it is best fresh.

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Currant Scones

Currant scones with salted butter, homemade blackcurrant jelly, and scrambled eggs

The key to a great scone is handling the dough as little as possible. The more it is handled, the tougher and drier it will become. Scones become stones, as it were.

I used Corinthian currants from Vostizza, which are highly flavoured and juicy, and they invite snacking. They are made from tiny, richly purple black grapes.

Ingredients:

2 C plain flour

2 T sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

60g cold chunks of unsalted butter

1/2 C dried currants

1 large egg

1/2 brimming cup of milk

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220C.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Either rub in or cut in the butter until the whole attains a coarse texture. Stir in the currants, then mix in the egg and milk, stopping the very instant the dough just comes together.

On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough out into a slab the size of a small dinner plate. Either cut into rounds or divide into six wedges (I am lazy, and therefore make scones into wedges).

Place the scones on a greased baking sheet and brush the tops with milk. Bake for 15 minutes until golden. Serve warm with salted butter and/or jam.

Zucchini Bread

Fresh, hot, and naughty

Now, if you’re sensitive and a bit conservative about things, then please stop reading right now – because this recipe is quite simply naughty and inappropriate.

So let’s you and me just wait a moment while the prudes leave the room.

… OK?

First of all there’s the simple matter of the zucchini. The British, with their characteristic reserve (no sex please, we’re British), refer to the zucchini as a courgette, as though a soft consonant and a diminutive ‘ette’ suffix will gloss over the fact that the zucchini – with its racy z and two c’s plumped up like bums or breasts – is quite simply the most carnal of vegetables. Linger at the greengrocer’s  and exchange meaningful glances with passersby near the zucchini and you’ll see what I mean. They’re, how shall we say, longer than they are wide in a most useful way.* So please don’t call it a courgette. Give yourself up to the pleasure of the zucchini.

It’s not just the less-than-innocent zucchini that makes this recipe inappropriate, though. Zucchini bread, that staple of the Methodist bake sale, is generally a polite, restrained and penitential enough baked good to express proper Protestant virtue. It simply doesn’t taste voluptuous enough or provide enough moisture to lead you down that broad, easy road to hell. Well this one does. This is a zucchini bread that wants to be cake. And it wants you to eat it.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 C plain flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp mace (or nutmeg if you have no mace)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 C sugar

1 C vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 T pure vanilla extract (yes, that’s a tablespoon)

2 tsp lemon zest (and there’s that racy z again)

2 C coarsely grated zucchini (about one well-endowed zucchini)

1 C walnuts, crumbled and toasted

Method:

Preheat oven to 170C/325F. Butter and flour two 8x4x2 1/2 metal loaf pans.

Whisk flour, cinnamon, allspice, mace, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend and set aside. Whisk sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and lemon peel in a large bowl to blend. Whisk in the flour mixture. Mix in the zucchini and walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake breads until tester inserted into centre comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Turn breads out onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

This stores fairly well, though generally it doesn’t last long. I usually freeze one loaf and eat the other. It might be tempting to add dried fruit such as raisins or apricots, but they will just sink to the bottom.

*12 August 2012: Just as if to prove a point, my neighbour Lucy, who is a transsexual prostitute, dropped in today. When she saw the pile of zucchini I’d brought in from the farmer’s market, she pointed and said, “You know what those are good for, don’t you?” I doubt Lucy has ever actually eaten a zucchini.

Pancakes, Griddle Cakes, Flapjacks

Pancakes all began in about the same way on two sides of the Atlantic: thin cakes cooked on a hot stone or griddle that make a pleasing and amusing ‘flap’ sound when turned. How the name ‘flapjack’ came, in the UK, to be applied to the sticky, oaty golden syrup bar cookie that must be pressed messily into a pan to bake is anybody’s guess. It certainly doesn’t live up to the onomatopoeia. There’s really nothing more unflappable than English flapjacks. It is really only the combination of carbohydrates and lots and lots of sugar that may be meaningfully compared between the two. Well, perhaps also that they’re both tasty. This recipe is for the classic American pancake, which should be slathered with salted butter, doused with Maple syrup, and served with crisp, smoky bacon for the flavour counterpoint it provides.

When cooking these pancakes the batter should be poured from the tip of a spoon onto a hot, seasoned griddle – about a 1/4 C of batter will do. If no griddle is available, a skillet (but not non-stick) will do, very lightly greased with butter. The butter in the batter itself is enough to lubricate the cakes in the pan. To test if the griddle is hot enough, a drop of water should dance in the pan. If it spreads and boils, the pan is too cool. When bubbles begin to form on the surface of the pancake, take a peek underneath. If the cake is coppery in tone, then it’s time to flip (flap) it. It will take half the time to cook the other side, and it never cooks as evenly as the first side.

 

Ingredients:

1 1/2 C plain flour

1 tsp salt

3 T sugar

2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

3 T melted unsalted butter

1 C milk

 

Method:

Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs and add them with the milk and the melted butter. Stir the batter only until the ingredients are just barely incorporated. Don’t worry about lumps. Test the griddle and bake.

 

NB: I have recently seen small plastic jugs for sale with dry mix for pancakes in a pitiful layer at the bottom. The wet ingredients are added and the whole is shaken. Please bear in mind that the dry ingredients for pancakes are flour, baking powder, salt and sugar (that’s IT!), and that shipping vast quantities of packaged air across the globe – and then paying the price for it – is quite simply idiotic.

Banana Bread

Those two blackened and forlorn bananas lurking in the fruit bowl are actually underdogs ready for glory. Banana bread toasted and dripping with salted butter is just such a good thing.

 

Preheat oven to 350F/175C

Cream together:

2/3 C sugar

75g (1/3 C) unsalted butter

Then mash in:

2 overripe bananas

And beat in:

2 eggs

Then mix in the dry ingredients:

1 1/2 C plain flour

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

You can stop there, or you can add:

1/2 C coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are nice)

and/or:

1/4 C chopped dried fruit (apricots, currants, sultanas, prunes, you name it)

and/or:

1 tsp cinnamon

Pour the batter into a buttered bread pan and bake for 45 mins to an hour until a tester inserted comes out clean. Cool, remove from pan, and slice when needed.

 

Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel

It’s a cold, wet morning in London, so I need little excuse to fire up the oven and bake a rich, decadent coffee cake. This recipe skimps on nothing – it is full of butter and is generous on the streusel. It also uses lots of vanilla extract (not essence), so it’s absolutely crucial that real vanilla rather than imitation is used. If you have only imitation vanilla, use only half the amount, then pour the rest down the drain and buy real vanilla next time you’re at the shop.

 

Preheat oven to 175C/350F

Have ingredients at room temperature

 

Mix:

2 C plain flour

3/4 C sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

 

Rub or cut in:

1/2 C (110g) unsalted butter

 

Break into a measuring cup:

1 egg. Beat, fill to 1 C with milk and add to dry ingredients with 2 tsp pure vanilla extract.

 

Pour into a greased spring-form pan and cover with the streusel topping – see below.

 

Streusel

Combine:

4 Tbsp plain flour

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 C packed light brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

 

Blend these ingredients with the back of a spoon until they crumble and add:

1/2 C chopped pecans

 

Sprinkle evenly over the cake batter and bake for approximately 25 minutes until a tester inserted comes out clean. Serve warm. Unlike many coffee cakes, this will keep for a day or two and remains delicious and succulent.