24 December, 2016

Jerusalem artichoke velouté

Many years ago, we grew some Jerusalem artichokes. I loved the flavour, but the knobbly little roots were such a pain to scrub and peel that it was a one-off experiment. But the other day I was shopping for Christmas in the wonderful covered market in Narbonne. Apparently progress has been made in selective breeding of Jerusalem artichokes. One stall had a box of oval pink topinambours about the size of new potatoes. No lumps and bumps! A plan was formed, and I bought half a dozen.

With my idea in mind I had a quick browse on Marmiton.org and picked this simple recipe for its overwhelmingly favourable reviews; everyone who tried it gave it 5/5. An excellent choice: easy to do, and the flavour was exactly what I hoped for. I’m serving it in shot glasses garnished with small cubes of foie gras, as an amuse-bouche on Christmas day. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can garnish with shreds of crisp-fried prosciutto, Iberico ham, or bacon; shavings of truffle; or just a drizzle of truffle oil.
Recipe for Jerusalem artichoke velouté »

21 November, 2015

Cheat’s hummus

This isn’t really hummus, because it doesn’t have oil or tahini in it. But if you’re trying to cut down on fat intake, it’s not a bad substitute, and it is very quick and easy to make using a jar of chickpeas and a few other ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. It’s part of our campaign for healthier nibbles to eat with aperos; we have it with raw carrot sticks, but you can use other vehicles of your choice, including pitta bread of course.

Words of advice:

  • Use a Spanish brand of chickpeas if you possibly can, they are just better. Jars are generally better than cans for some reason.
  • Lack of tahini and oil means you have to really ramp up the spices and garlic to stop it being bland. Don’t take my quantities as gospel — taste and adjust as you like.
  • This makes a lot; I hope it freezes well because that’s what I’ve done with half of it. It will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Recipe for Cheat’s hummus »

22 September, 2015

What to do with overgrown courgettes

A vexed question. This one was so overgrown it qualified as a marrow. We’d already done the standard stuffed marrow with half of it, and still had enough left for another meal. A bit of googling turned up something called “savoury marrow bake” at AllRecipes. I glanced at it half-heartedly and then realised it wasn’t stuffed marrow but a kind of frittata/crustless quiche for which we had all the ingredients. So we took the idea and ran with it, changing quantities to make a lighter, more slimmer-friendly dish. Of course you could add or substitute other veg if you wanted.

We were very pleasantly surprised by the result. The flour and baking powder give it a smooth yet light texture quite different from frittata. You can eat it warm or cold; we had it with a tomato sauce, but chilli jam would be excellent too. Good picnic or buffet fare, cut into small squares. Or use it as a side dish with anything that has a sauce. Definitely a keeper. Now I just need to think of a name for it.
Recipe for What to do with overgrown courgettes »

16 July, 2012

Salade Savoyarde

Poor neglected blog! Summer is a busy season; I just have time to post a recipe for this lovely salad from Savoie. It makes an excellent fuss-free starter when you are having a substantial main course; or you could eat it as a light lunch. Non-vegetarians can add strips of prosciutto or serrano ham, or crisply fried bacon bits. You can prepare all the ingredients in advance, adding the dressing and croutons at the last minute. This amount will serve about four people.
Recipe for Salade Savoyarde »

19 July, 2011

Avocado, orange, and roasted pepper salad

orange, avocado, and roasted pepper salad

This recipe was inspired by a tapa in an Andalusian bar, in a village surrounded by thousands of avocado trees. The dressing is a version of a recipe I learned from Jim Fisher at Cook in France. There, we used grain mustard and served it on a salad of blanched spring vegetables and poached eggs. I toned it down a little here so as not to overwhelm the avocados. I like this colourful salad so much I’m already imagining variations: crumbled feta cheese on top, for example.
Recipe for Avocado, orange, and roasted pepper salad »

8 July, 2011

Tortilla de patatas

Tortilla de patatas

There’s an art to making a good tortilla, and I’m not sure I’ve cracked it yet (although I’ve cracked plenty of eggs trying). It’s the sort of thing where even the most detailed recipe is no substitute for being able to sense when you’ve got it right. Even if they aren’t up to the standards of the average Spanish tapas bar (can I do those rounded edges? Can I hell!), I have been pretty satisfied with my last couple of attempts.

The key points are a) the correct ratio of eggs to potatoes, and b) the right sized, heavy frying pan. I reckon you need about one medium potato per egg, but really you need to look at the mixture and know whether to add another egg. It should be neither too eggy (it won’t hold together) nor too packed with potato (too stodgy). The mixture should fill the pan to a depth of between 1 and 1 1/2 inches — thin tortillas are hopeless, and if it’s too thick it will scorch before it’s set in the middle.

Some people slice the potatoes, others cube them. I’m in the “slice them” camp at the moment, but I may change my mind. The onion is essential — it will be too bland without. The end result should be firm enough when cold to cut into wedges or squares and eat with your hands. At the same time it’s not nice if it’s so overcooked it’s gone leathery (another reason not to do a thin tortilla).
Recipe for Tortilla de patatas »

20 March, 2011

Moroccan carrot salad

A carrot salad might sound a bit dull, but this Ottolenghi recipe is really lovely. It reminds me of the delicious carrots I had as a side dish at a Lebanese restaurant in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain. I tweaked it a bit for French tastes (no chillis!). It’s very versatile — it can be served warm or at room temperature, as a dish in its own right, as one of a selection of hors d’oeuvres, or as a side dish. You can of course vary the spices according to taste.
Recipe for Moroccan carrot salad »

21 December, 2010

Vintage feasts: Josceline Dimbleby

rabbit liver pate

I hadn’t originally planned to include Josceline in my celebration of 1980s-and-older cookbooks. But then I was reminded of her by Maggie. It made me realise that apart from one of my favourite old standbys, her fusion of blanquette and goulash, I hadn’t cooked any of her recipes for absolutely ages. Maggie says “Thirty years ago, way before Nigella, we had a ‘posh’ cook in the guise of Josceline Dimbleby. She is a great, innovative cook and I can’t understand why she isn’t more widely known and more highly regarded”.

Me neither! I first encountered her via a book picked up in a second hand shop for 50p, entitled Taste of Dreams. It was a good introduction, highlighting her creative, unusual approach, with dishes that are often titivated to within an inch of their lives presentation-wise (the water-lily timbale is a shocker, a flat cake of carrots and avocado wrapped in spinach and surrounded by chicory leaves like petals ). Maybe we can blame the 1980s for that. But she often shows real flair in combinations of ingredients and, especially, textures; Middle-Eastern influences are omnipresent since she spent part of her youth there.

Later, I occasionally picked up the little 50p cookbooks with my shopping in Sainsbury’s, and the most tattered and food-stained one I have is Josceline’s A Traveller’s Tastes. Nearly every recipe in this book is a winner, but for this vintage feast I decided to give myself maximum flexibility by using The Josceline Dimbleby Collection, a Sainsbury’s omnibus of recipes from several of those little books. And it turns out that my choice of author is apposite after all, because after a long break, during which all of her books have gone out of print, she has very recently published a new book: Orchards in the Oasis: Travels, Food and Memories.

I think the dishes I chose for this meal are fairly representative, if short on the Middle-Eastern element. Josceline does tend towards “posh dinner party” food, but there are some family-friendly recipes too. Browsing through the book, I realised that I’d never actually made my own chicken liver pâté, so that seemed a good choice as a starter, especially her “mild” version with orange juice, cream, and chopped almonds in it. I was somewhat peeved, then, to discover that the supermarket was clean out of chicken livers, but recovered by buying a tub of rabbit livers instead. This could only improve it; rabbit liver is gorgeous. My confidence was well-placed; it was delicious served with thin, crispy toast, and so easy to make that I will definitely do it again as an easy dinner-party starter; see recipe below.

I continued the bunny theme with a “rabbit in the orchard” pie; classic flavours of rabbit, cider, mustard and cream, with apples, mushrooms, and tarragon added. The recipe has a Josceline signature to it: no onions. I think she must have an onion-hater in the family, because a lot of her recipes lack them where you would expect to see them. It’s ages since I made one of these very English meat-and-sauce filled pies. Despite my care in decorating the pastry, it looked terrible when it was dished up; the runny beige sauce looked really unappetising. It did taste good though, and we liked the way the juices had soaked into the bottom of the thick pastry lid; yum!

Josceline is very fond of fancy desserts. I chose one featuring one of her favourite ingredients, dried apricots. Here, they are poached and then covered with a “caramel cloud” of vanilla cheesecake and a brûlée topping. I had a bit of a problem with the topping; she suggests sprinkling sugar over the top of the cheesecake, caramelising it under the grill, and then putting it in the fridge for several hours. Surefire recipe for soggy caramel. It seemed to me that sprinkling sugar on the uneven top and trying to burn it wasn’t going to work that well anyway. So I ended up making caramel in a pan and pouring it over the cheesecake once it had been chilled. This worked, although it was a bit thick in places. But it was another dish that looked a total mess when served. Definitely a candidate for small individual dishes. But the taste wasn’t exceptional, so I wouldn’t make it again. I find you do have to be selective with Josceline Dimbleby recipes; sometimes she’s too creative for her own good, and they certainly aren’t foolproof the way Delia Smith ones are. But when she gets it right (as in the paprika-flavoured blanquette), they work really well.
Recipe for Vintage feasts: Josceline Dimbleby »

24 August, 2010

Tartare de tomates

OK, this is just tomato salad presented in a trendy form. But draining and marinating the tomatoes really concentrates the flavour. Assuming your tomatoes have flavour in the first place. If all you’ve got are Dutch hothouse tomatoes, don’t bother.

This is good served with mild fresh goat or sheep cheese. But I think it would go well with fish too. Or thinly sliced raw vegetables (fennel, baby artichokes…). Maybe even roasted garlic. Note that you need to start preparing it at least 8 hours before you want to eat it.

I had a photo, but I deleted it! Oh well.
Recipe for Tartare de tomates »

6 February, 2010

Vintage feasts: Spices, salts and aromatics in the English kitchen

Elizabeth David: Spices, salts and aromatics in the English kitchen

After last month’s blandfest, it seemed apposite to turn to Elizabeth David’s Spices, Salts and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, published in 1970, for this month’s cookbook challenge. She points out that England has a long history in the spice trade, reflected in cooking from the Middle Ages onwards: “we took to spiced food with an enthusiasm which seems to have been almost equal to that shown by the Romans at the height of their preoccupation with the luxuries of living. A study of English recipes of the fifteenth century leaves one with the impression that to the cook the spices were a good deal more important than the food itself.”

First a word about the book. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth David, no matter how unfashionable she has become, and practically every modern British cookery writer owes a debt to her (often uncknowledged). Her French Provincial Cooking is required reading for any English speaker who wants to learn to cook classic French food. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and she happily assumes intelligence and competence on the part of her readers. But Spices, Salt and Aromatics… is not one of her best books. It’s bitty, parts of it cobbled together from a number of previously published articles, and not very coherent as a result. It’s hard to figure out, for example, what a recipe for paella is doing in a book ostensibly about English food! But that being said, this is Elizabeth David. Of course there are good things here, and masses of interesting snippets of information. The chapter on spices and condiments is inimitable David: a combination of the academic and the personal. Using old recipe books as sources, she dragged many worthwhile recipes from oblivion and played her part in making people realise that English food was not without its own merits. Like all her books, it’s one you can read for pleasure as well as cook from.

Oh, and the cover art is gorgeous! The back cover tells us:

De Heem’s painting shows a seventeenth-century version of a Lombard crustade or pie, a survival from the fourteenth century, when such pies were common to the tables of the rich in Italy, France, England, the Low Countries, and Germany. This one, as the artist made plain by placing a dish of prawns in the foreground of his composition, was a fish day pie. The medley of dried and fresh fruit, almonds and pine kernels, probably concealed the main filling of fish, perhaps salmon and eel, or haddock and codling, ground to a paste with apples and pears, and ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mace.

When the pie was baked the top crust was lifted, a mixture of cream and egg yolks, or for fish days a cream of almonds, was poured in. The cover was then replaced and, surmounted with its decorative cluster of pears, cored, filled with sugar and sweet spices, the pie was returned to the oven until the custard or cream had thickened.

Recipes for Lombard or “lumber” pies survived in English cookery books, virtually unchanged, until well into the eighteenth century.

Everything about these paragraphs, the precision, the careful use of phrasing and detail, the casual erudition, tells me they were written by Elizabeth David herself, not some Penguin editor.
Recipe for Vintage feasts: Spices, salts and aromatics in the English kitchen »

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