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.

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

Fiadone (Corsican Cheesecake)

Fiadone with fresh cherries doused in eau de vie.

A small, inset picture in an article in Waitrose’s magazine – but unaccompanied with instructions – inspired me to look for this recipe. The texture is grainier than a cheesecake made with cream cheese, but it is also more juicy and succulent. Lemon zest gives it fragrance and lift. This is a very quick and simple recipe. In Corsica it is made with Brocciu cheese, a fresh sheep cheese, but Ricotta can be substituted. If anyone tries it with soft sheep or goat cheese, please let me know how it turns out (unless I beat you to it). Also the lemon zest may be replaced with orange zest or orange flower water.

To make a lighter Fiadone, it is possible to separate the whites from the yolks of the eggs and beat them until stiff separately before adding them back into the mix.

 

Ingredients:

500g fresh Brocciu cheese (or Ricotta)

5 eggs

200g sugar

zest of half an unwaxed lemon

one shot of eau de vie (I used kirschwasser)

a knob of butter (‘une noix de beurre’)

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180C

In a bowl, whip the eggs with the sugar and lemon zest until foamy, then add the cheese bit by bit, continue to whip briskly as you go. When the cheese is thoroughly worked into the mixture, beat in a shot of eau de vie.

Pour the batter into a buttered pie dish or springform pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Despite the eggs, this cake will rise only very slightly and collapse again after being removed from the oven. Serve cool.

Caramelized Chicory (Belgian Endive / Witloof)

This recipe comes from Sophie Grigson. Here the fresh bitterness of chicory is exquisitely counterbalanced with orange and honey. There is a hint of smokiness that comes through the mix, which makes this dish hit so many lush notes that, for such a simple recipe, it’s like a one-man band sounding like a full orchestra. Amazingly delicious.

Ingredients:

25g unsalted butter

3 or 4 heads of chicory, halved lengthwise

2 tsp or so honey

Juice of one orange (preferably a tart one of medium size)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a large baking dish, then pack the chicory halves in a single layer into the dish. Pour the orange juice over along with a drizzle of the honey. Dot the remaining butter over the surface and season with salt and pepper.

Roast uncovered for an hour or so, turning the chicory every 15 minutes. Watch the progress at the end. There should be a thick syrup in the dish that you can baste the chicory with, but it shouldn’t be allowed to stick and burn. Serve immediately.

NB: Don’t use packaged orange juice of any sort. The flavours are concentrated in this dish, and bad orange juice will just taste extra bad. There is simply no packaged orange juice that is any way a substitute for fresh squeezed.

New Potatoes with Raclette

Haiku for Corva Korax

Melt Raclette on top

of hot halved new potatoes

and serve with white wine

Roasted Beets with Skordalia

Skordalia, coyly posing with some of its raw ingredients

Skordalia, draped like velvet over richly roasted beets

This is quite simply one of my very favourite foods. Starchy, oily, garlicky skordalia crowning sweetly concentrated roasted beets. Skordalia, to be absolutely traditional, should be a quite white paste made with potatoes or bread with the crusts removed. Mine is non-traditional. I like to leave the crusts on the bread I use. The stale bread for skordalia is also commonly soaked in water to soften it up beforehand, but I like to soak mine in dry white wine.

To roast the beets, wrap them in foil individually, or place them in a covered crock, and put them in a medium-hot oven for an hour or so. Once cool, their skins should schlup right off. Slice and serve.

 

Ingredients:

Stale bread

Dry white wine

Extra-virgin olive oil

Garlic

Salt

 

Method:

The proportions are pretty rough, but for a large batch you might use 10 oz. bread to 1 cup olive oil and 6-8 cloves of garlic. Soften up the bread beforehand by sprinkling it with wine. You don’t want puddles, just moistness. Chop the garlic and toss it in the blender, followed by the bread and the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Add more olive oil or wine if it appears too thick. Pour and/or scrape it into a bowl. That’s it!

Strawberry Jam

My biggest issue with strawberry jam is that mine never sets properly. My old edition of Joy of Cooking warns not to cook ‘Red Red Strawberry Jam’ for more than 15 minutes. It evens warns me to set a timer. This must be in order not to lose the luscious ruby pink of fresh strawberries, which will darken and brown slightly with cooking. It might also ensure that the aroma stays fresh. The sacrifice is in the set, though I suppose I could use bottled pectin if I wanted to, but there is that strain of puritanical thought that restrains me. So every year I make runny, but delicious strawberry jam. It may be that mine is a textbook example anyway, as I would imagine that those few detestable individuals who make pert, globbable strawberry jam are in a tiny, isolated minority. The lemon juice is important because it does contain a bit of pectin and it prevents the jam from becoming cloyingly sweet – like those goody-two-shoes who make blobby jam.

Ingredients:

1kg ripe strawberries

750g sugar (jam sugar if you can find it)

Juice of one lemon

Method:

Hull the strawberries and mash them into a pulp with the lemon juice and the sugar in a heavy pan.

Boil the jam for no more than 15 minutes. Refrain from stirring except to check for sticking. Check the setting point by dribbling the jam on a cold saucer. If the jam wrinkles when it is nudged with a dry finger, then it will set properly. Good luck ever getting it to this stage. Mine never wrinkles.

While the jam cooks, sanitize the jars and lids by filling them with boiling water or by baking them in the oven.

Turn off the heat and skim the jam. Pour into the jars, cover with a disc of waxed paper and seal. Once they’re cool, label and store them. This recipe made almost five 350g jars this year.

The ‘skimmings’ are edible, so don’t toss them away! Kids especially love the pink, foamy sweet stuff on toast. I ate this year’s skimmings on crumpets. Yum.

You can use fancy jars or gingham covers if you’re one of those kind of people. If you are, you probably get your jam to set as well. Don’t bring me any. I don’t want to know you.

Asparagus and Blue Cheese Pasta Salad

Image

I make this salad every year when the asparagus is at its most plentiful. It makes a large batch, but it doesn’t last long. Asparagus and blue cheese are really made for each other – the salty tang of the cheese perfectly counterbalancing the fresh green crunch of the young shoots. This is an ideal and very simple early summer salad.

Ingredients:

500g mezze penne or penne pasta

3 bunches slender asparagus (about 750g), cut in segments the same length as the pasta

1 small red onion, diced

150g Danish blue cheese, crumbled

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Optional: 1 small bunch chives, thinly sliced, and/or 1 small bunch parsley, chopped

Method:

Cook pasta in a large pot of well-salted water. When the pasta is nearly al dente (about 9 mins depending upon the brand of pasta), add the asparagus to the same pot, and cook 3-4 minutes until just done. Drain the whole lot in a colander and cool quickly under running cold water so that it doesn’t cook further. I then transfer the whole lot back to the pot to mix it all up. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together.

Served fresh, the flavours are sprightly and the onions strong. The onions will mellow on the next day, as will the lemon flavour. From the salad’s second day of life, serve it up with a wedge of lemon to restore its bright citrus character.

Zucchini, Rice, and Feta Cakes

ImageMy partner hates rice pudding, so in our household, leftover rice has a way of making it into patties of various types and soups. Consider this recipe as a base – you can always vary the quantities to suit the amount of leftover rice you have. This makes a healthy plateful of patties.

Ingredients:

2 Zucchini (about 350g), grated

2 C cooked rice

200g feta, grated

Juice of 1/2 lemon

4 spring onions, finely sliced

1/2 C plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs, beaten

1 T olive oil

Method:

Mix all ingredients together. Drop into a hot pan containing a light sheen of olive oil. Fry on each side until nicely browned.