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Shakshuka

ImageHere is a very straightforward and filling egg dish that may be served for any meal of the day. Last night we had it for dinner with Persian barbari bread and a salad of pea shoots, watercress, and sliced radishes, followed by a heavily brandied macedoine of fruit. A vegetarian meal doesn’t always lead to satisfying groaning and a certain gravitational oneness with the upholstery, but this one certainly does.

 

Ingredients:

1/4 C olive oil

3 jalapenoes, stemmed, seeded, and diced small

1 small yellow onion, diced small

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp paprika

2 400g cans of chopped tomatoes

Coarse sea salt (such as Maldon salt) to taste

6-8 eggs

200g feta, crumbled

2 T chopped parsley (flat or curly – as you like it)

 

Method:

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Cook the chilies and onions until they just begin to brown and soften a bit. Add the garlic, cumin, and paprika and continue to cook until the spices are fragrant and the garlic is soft.

Add the tomatoes and simmer for about ten minutes.

Crack the eggs into the sauce so that they are regularly spaced. Drop each from a slight height so that they dent into the sauce (but not so high that the yolks break). Cover the pan and continue to cook until the whites are set. This should be no more than a few minutes. Sprinkle the top with the feta and parsley and serve forth with bread.

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Squash Jam

ImageNow here is a big-shouldered name for a small jar. ‘Squash Jam’ is aggressively named – like a mosh pit or like squeezing clowns into a vintage Mini. In Spanish it’s Dulce de Zapallo and in Italian Confettura di Zucca, and though both are euphonious titles, neither is as gleeful as the English in this case. The recipe here I’ve adapted from an Argentinian recipe, and there are many variations. I also need to disambiguate, as Dulce de Zapallo also refers to an Uruguayan delicacy of candied squash slices.  This is a jam-like spread that may be eaten as such or, like Dulce de Membrillo, with cheese.

The flavour is wonderfully lively, with a loopy freshness from the squash, the barest hint of spice, and gentle sweetness.

 

Ingredients:

1kg butternut squash, diced

500g sugar

400ml water (saved from boiling the squash)

Juice of an orange

Juice of a lemon

A dash each ground nutmeg and cinnamon

 

Method:

Just cover the diced squash in a medium-sized saucepan with water and boil. Stir frequently. When the squash is very soft, drain the water, saving back 500ml (an extra 100ml just in case). Add the squash water to the sugar in a separate saucepan and bring to a boil. The mixture will become slightly thick. Add the drained squash, mashing as you go just to break up the pieces a bit. Add the lemon and orange juice and the spices. Then cook slowly on medium to low heat until most of the water has evaporated. Don’t be alarmed if the mixture initially looks quite soupy – it will take time to cook down. Cook it down to the consistency of jam, stirring regularly with a paddle, as the gentle flavour will be spoiled if it scorches. Can in jars or simply refrigerate. It should keep for about two weeks once it is opened.

Waiting for Wine That Doesn’t Come (by Li Po)

Jade winejars tied in blue silk . . . .

What’s taking that wineseller so long?

 

Mountain flowers smiling, taunting me,

it’s the perfect time to sip some wine,

 

ladle it out beneath my east window

at dusk, wandering orioles back again.

 

Spring breezes and their drunken guest:

today, we were meant for each other.

 

Translated by David Hinton

Penne Pasta with White Beans and Tomatoes

This simple vegetarian dish is so fragrant with basil that it strongly piques the appetite. It makes an excellent primi piatti before a secondo of fried fish. Either red or white wine to accompany is appropriate. We drank a 2007 Jaboulet Côtes du Rhône, and ate the pasta simply with a side dish of watercress.

Ingredients

500g penne or tortiglione pasta

Olive oil

1 400g tin of cannellini or flageolet beans, drained and rinsed

1 large garlic clove, finely minced

500g ripe tomatoes, diced

a handful of pitted Kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise

1 small bunch fresh basil, julienned

salt and pepper

dry white wine

Method

This is a very quick sauce, so start it only a few minutes before your pasta is al dente. Heat a dash of olive oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and beans and, stirring, heat them through, adding a dash of white wine at the last. Add the tomatoes, olives, basil, salt and pepper, and leave the flame on only just long enough for the tomatoes to be lightly heated. Pour the sauce over the pasta, drizzle lightly with extra-virgin olive oil, and top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Serves four.

Caramelized Chicory (Belgian Endive) with Taleggio

This is an utterly delightful dish that makes frequent appearances at our dinner table. It is a recipe that originated with Yotam Ottolenghi, who is the source of so many exceedingly well balanced vegetarian recipes. Here rich Taleggio cheese, which melts into a fondue-like sauce, meets bitter chicory, crisp breadcrumbs, and a sprinkle of thyme. A light summer dinner might consist, as it did tonight, of a pan-European menu of thinly sliced French saucisson sec, a handful of sweet cherry tomatoes, an excellent Wachau Gruner Veltliner, and this fine dish.

Ottolenghi recommends removing the rind from Taleggio, but the ugly orange stuff, studded with mould, holds additional flavour that, if you’re not timid, marks the difference between beautiful and sublime.

Ingredients:

2 T unsalted butter

Maldon salt and cracked pepper

1/2 tsp sugar

6 chicories, halved lengthwise

1 tsp thyme

250g (or so) taleggio, one slice per chicory half

a fistful of fresh breadcrumbs

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200C, broiler on if you like.

Place a large skillet (I use a massive slab sided pan) on a medium heat. When it’s hot, add the butter and chicories, cut side down, in quick succession.Let them cook for a few minutes, then turn them over onto their round side and sprinkle the sugar onto them. Then turn them back over and cook until they begin to turn a deep golden brown. Turn off the flame and turn the chicories back over again. Lay a slice of Taleggio on each chicory and then sprinkle the whole lot with breadcrumbs. Broil in your nice hot oven until the cheese relaxes utterly and the breadcrumbs are nicely brown.

Note: if you have a plastic-handled skillet, don’t place it under the broiler. If you don’t have a plastic handled skillet, don’t buy one. Broiler heat is also hard on teflon. Life is hard for teflon in general, because it’s crap.

Pasta with Tuna and Capers

This is a quick dish that I use in emergencies or when I’m exhausted. It’s a very easy dish that’s hard to mess up if you’re very tired, and the lemon and capers have a refreshing effect.

Ingredients:

Pasta (any will do, though this is nice on linguine)

2 tins good quality tuna steak in either oil or water

2 T capers, with a tiny bit of brine

Juice of a lemon

Extra virgin olive oil

Grated Parmesan

Fresh grated black pepper

Method:

Cook the pasta in plenty of well salted water. Oil needs never to be included in pasta water and may even be detrimental.

Mix the tuna, capers, lemon, and a glug of olive oil in a bowl, taking care not to break up the tuna too much. Spoon this mixture over the top of the pasta (no, it doesn’t need to be heated) and sprinkle with Parmesan and pepper.

I often add fresh diced tomatoes and/or fresh chopped parsley to this.

Steamed Mussels with Cavolo Nero and Bacon

This time of year mussels aren’t at their best – but how can one do without them? This recipe allows a couple of other big ingredients to have their say alongside the mussels in a really meaningful way, so the very best mussels aren’t necessary. If you’ve got fantastic mussels Moules Mariniere is the appropriate treatment. When are mussels at their best? In autumn and winter when they are fat and sweet.

Ingredients:

1kg mussels, washed and debearded

250g bacon lardons

400g cavolo nero, very roughly chopped

1 small bunch of parsley, chopped

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

a glass of white wine

2 large shallots, thinly sliced

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

Method:

Fry the bacon until crisp in a large, deep stockpot. When the bacon is nearly finished, scatter in the garlic and allow it to brown and crisp just a bit. Remove promptly to a bowl and introduce the shallots, celery and wine. Once these come to the boil, throw in alternating handfuls of mussels, kale, and parsley, cover, and steam until the mussels have opened. At the last, add the garlic and bacon back to the pot and stir through.

Serve with plenty of good bread.

Crab Cakes

I have the best of all excuses for not having posted recently. I have had my kitchen refurbished and furnished with a powerful new range cooker and a wide and deep ceramic sink. I also have installed a kitchen table that seats four, very cozily, in our diminutive London flat. What a magnificent thing to sit around a table, especially after such a long withdrawal. The dust has settled enough now, though, to return to some serious cooking and an old favourite, crab cakes. These may also be made to exquisite and squidgy effect by substituting crab meat with drained canned clams. If only I could buy good canned clams in London. Anyone visiting from the States could pay their way with clams …

Ingredients and method can’t be separated for this recipe – one mustn’t break the flow.

Melt in a skillet:

2 T butter

Stir in and sweat:

1 lg very finely diced shallot

3 finely minced stalks of celery

Add this to a mixture of:

2 eggs, beaten

2 T whole milk or cream

200g white crab meat

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 T chopped parsley

1 tsp paprika

Either drop the mixture into a hot buttered skillet using a small portioning scoop (like an ice cream scoop, only smaller. They’re made for restaurants, available in restaurant supply, and are a worthy investment for the home kitchen) or chill for an hour or two and shape by hand into balls. Fry them hot and quick. They need little accompaniment. Any sauce is superfluous except perhaps to frighten the cakes with a lemon.