Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Sicilian-style cauliflower, and a strudel

I'm a big fan of the intriguing way the Sicilians manage to blend sweet, sour and salty to produce unexpected and magnificent results. Take caponata, for example, which I posted about a while ago: aubergines, vinegar, sugar, raisins, capers. Sounds odd, tastes sublime. Similarly, pasta con le sarde features fennel, chilli, pine nuts, raisins, parsley, and sometimes anchovies, saffron and breadcrumbs. That topping is the inspiration for this recipe, which is also loosely based on a popular Italian pasta dish of broccoli with anchovies, garlic and breadcrumbs, usually served with orecchiette (meaning "little ears") pasta.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Blackberry and apple jam

There's something satisfying about making your own jam. I think it's the pride you can take in your own sheer organisation as you stack neatly labelled, hand-written jars in the larder, ready for numerous breakfasts to come. Or the notion that you have taken something that may have gone to waste, and turned it into something delicious. I once came home from a holiday in Nice to find two huge bowls of green figs on the kitchen table. My mum's boss had given them to her from his tree in the garden. Unfortunately, given that none of my family share my wild enthusiasm for figs, they had been left to fester. Some were beyond salvaging, and went in the compost (it was with a heavy heart that I put them in there). The rest were too far gone to be edible as they were. Desperate not to let such gastronomic potential go to waste, I jumped on my bike and rushed to Tesco to get some jam sugar. An hour later, and I had four jars of beautiful fig jam. 

Saturday, 25 September 2010

A spot of foraging up north

"Give you a reason on compulsion! If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion, I." ~ Henry IV, Part I

If there is an ideal place in which to celebrate autumn, and everything nature brings with it, then Yorkshire is perhaps it. There are forests in abundance that are impersonating traffic lights with their leaves, turning yellow around the edges with a rim of burnished red. The breeze that whips your face as you climb a steep hill covered in heather has a bite to it that you wouldn't have felt a few weeks ago. Best of all, the gastronomic evidence of autumn's arrival is on display wherever you go, from the butchers advertising a brace of grouse or local pigeon to the blackberries that adorn stretches of roadside for miles, glistening and begging for someone to brave their thorny garrisons and pick them. As Shakespeare observed, blackberries are indeed plentiful. It would be a shame not to succumb to the bushes' proffering, and to leave such a versatile ingredient untouched.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A duck salad, and more figs

This is one of those "put many of my favourite things in a bowl together, stir, and hope it tastes nice" recipes. Couscous, parsley, fresh mint, coriander, pomegranate seeds, chopped pistachios, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and then the shredded meat from roasted duck legs, tossed with more pomegranate molasses before adding it to the couscous. It's delicious. Sliced rare duck breast would work well too, as would lamb. 

Monday, 20 September 2010

Treacle tart

I believe there are some things that you should never attempt to reconstruct inside the domestic kitchen. Better to leave them on restaurant menus, or purchase them from bakeries to be enjoyed in blissful ignorance. Three such things are brownies, baklava and treacle tart. The reason being that once you have made them yourself, you will never again be able to eat them without feeling slightly sickened, now that you know precisely what goes into them. In the case of brownies, it's the sight of that bowl, placed above a pan of gently simmering water, into which you stir together a block of butter, a bar of chocolate and half a bag of sugar into one darkly sinful unctuous mass, that will dance before your eyes as you take one calorie-laden bite. In the case of baklava, it's the bowl of melted butter and the vat of bubbling syrup with which you drench the paper-thin pastry that come to mind as you crunch through those sugary layers. And in the case of treacle tart, as I discovered last night, it's the can and a half of golden syrup that you pour in folds of liquid gold over a bowl of breadcrumbs that sticks with you almost as effectively as the syrup sticks to your teeth when you take a bite.

Pistachio-crusted tuna with papaya salsa

You know that old rule about things never being there when you want them, and then suddenly three come along at once? I've heard it applied to both buses and men, and think I have found another application: food bargains. Following closely in the wake of the scallops, I discovered some half-price tuna steaks in M&S the other day. 

Sunday, 19 September 2010

"Reach, goddess humane, and freely taste..."

There are some theories that the "forbidden fruit" of the Garden of Eden refers to a fig, not an apple. Admittedly, there are also theories that it could have been a tomato, but let's ignore such crazy notions. I am convinced that it must have been a fig. The sheer delight of biting into a perfectly ripe fig is so good that it definitely borders on the sinful, and there is something decidedly evocative about the voluptuous curves of these satin-skinned orbs of joy.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Scallops with chorizo and tomato

I recall writing a post a while ago bemoaning the fact that I never manage to find good bargains in the supermarket reduced sections. I must now recant that outlandish statement, after finding possibly the best food bargain ever in Tesco the other day. Forgive the hyperbole, but it is undeniable. Scallops: a huge bag of them - at least twelve - for £3.50. Considering the fact that the last time I bought three scallops from the fishmonger it cost me £7, this is a rather significant moment in my gastronomic life and deserves celebration. 

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Apricot and wheatgerm loaf

I've made this a few times before, but not recently. I'd forgotten quite how good it is toasted for breakfast with lashings of butter - the apricots soften and become chewy, and there's a nicely contrasting crisp crust covered with sesame seeds. It's very simple to make too, though with a slightly unusual step that involves pouring hot water over some dates, blitzing them in a blender and mixing with yoghurt, and using this as the liquid in the bread dough. Apparently there was a study in Jordan which showed that adding mashed dates to a loaf makes it rise more and last longer, according to Dan Lepard. It seems to work, but I can't really say I've had an opportunity to test the longevity of this bread, because I normally consume the entire thing in about two days. Recipe is here.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A sugary autumnal delight

Something about the weather at the moment gives me a craving for both pears and crumble. I think it's because autumn has become a very real prospect as it gets to 8pm and I realise it is dark outside, and I am having to wear a jumper and socks to walk around the house. Pears, like apples and blackberries, go hand in hand with this sort of weather - summer is still a not-too-distant memory, but winter is a not-too-distant reality.

Aubergine cheesecake

Sounds bizarre, doesn't it? But when it comes from the pen (or rather, the keyboard, via the medium of Guardian Online) of the great Ottolenghi, one can't help but have faith. Faith did indeed pay off in this situation - the end result is delicious. A bit like a quiche, but without the pastry, and with the bonus of soft roasted aubergines and sharp tomatoes. 

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Pasta stuffed with courgette and feta

I think I've finally mastered the art of stuffed pasta. I attempted something novel this evening in that I cut little circles out of pasta to make circular ravioli instead of square. It means there's more stuffing and less overlap of pasta round the edges that tastes of nothing. Which is definitely a good thing. I also changed my pasta dough recipe by omitting the tablespoon of water I normally add: it means the dough is more difficult to pass through the machine at first (it crumbles a bit), but after that it is infinitely easier to work with, and doesn't stick together. The eggs I used were laid by my Dad's colleague's hens, and they turned the dough a rather startlingly bright orange. 

Sushi: a first attempt

Having recently developed a slight obsession with sushi, accompanied by a sinking feeling every time I hand over the best part of a fiver and receive a tiny box full of the stuff, I decided to try making my own. If one of the contestants on Junior Masterchef can do it, I figured, so can I. 

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Ottolenghi's "One-pan wonder"

I love this man. A rather outlandish statement, perhaps, seeing as the great Yotam and I have never met, but if one's cooking is an expression of one's personality, then I have reason to believe I would like him very much. This is delicious. Surprisingly so; I wasn't sure yoghurt and lemon juice on top of raw tahini and eggs would taste very nice. However, Ottolenghi's recipes have yet to let me down and this one was no exception. One problem though is that the raw potatoes take forever to cook in the pan, and by the time they are edible the onions are burnt. I would par-boil them first. Other than that - yum. I made some flatbread which I cooked on a griddle pan to go with it, but pitta bread or even a white baguette would go nicely as well - you need something to soak up all the lovely yoghurt, tomato and tahini mixture.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Pork and lemon meatballs

There are few things more satisfying than spaghetti with meatballs. The crispiness of the seared outside, the softness of the seasoned meat in the middle, all enveloped in a nest of pasta, tomato sauce and lashings of cheese. I prefer this version to the more traditional beef; pork mince is lighter than beef and, when coupled with lemon and parsley, produces something quite refreshing rather than something that will make you want to lie down immediately after finishing it. 

A late summer lunch

Ripe melon in the fruit bowl means parma ham. It just does. Pairing a ripe, fragrant, juicy melon with salty ham is the only way to fully appreciate its sweetness. Feta cheese would work equally well - for breakfast in Jordan I ate slices of watermelon with pieces of very salty sheep's cheese, and the combination was wonderful. 

Friday, 3 September 2010

Apricot and almond chicken

I think this recipe was originally a Waitrose one, but I've made it so many times that I've forgotten how I initially stumbled upon its glory. In fact, I am surprised it hasn't featured on my blog yet. It is quite honestly one of the most delicious things I have ever cooked and I insist that you all try it. It must be tasted to be believed. I cannot even put its sheer goodness into words, so the recipe will have to suffice:

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Pappa al pomodoro, and a fig cake

Who'd have thought that something containing only five ingredients could be so delicious? Roast some cherry tomatoes in the oven with olive oil, garlic and basil. Meanwhile, heat up more garlic and basil in a pan with some oil, add a tin of plum tomatoes, fill the tin with water and add that too, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add a couple of handfuls of stale bread torn into chunks and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add the tomatoes from the oven and their roasting juices, some more basil and olive oil, and voila. The very essence of an Italian summer, but warmed up to suit our chillier climes. I ate it with crusty bread and cheese - strong cheddar goes very well with it, though parmesan would be good too if you want to score authenticity points.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Middle (F)East

If New York is where one travels to shop, the Caribbean is where one travels to sunbathe, and South America is where one travels on one’s Gap Yah, then the Middle East is where one travels to eat. Or so I firmly believed when I set off there three weeks ago, and even more firmly believe having returned, undoubtedly fatter and with cravings for flatbread.