Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A SMOKY DIP


I claim complete authorship of the following recipe, and in an entirely immodest way. It came about somewhat accidentally: with the recent heatwave, I have been cooking in the garden, on the barbecue. I love cooking and eating outside, enjoying a chilled glass of something while the food sizzles on the grill (and I'm a purist about barbecues: I have a Weber kettle barbecue and cook over charcoal). On the evening of the first day of the heatwave, I spatchcocked a chicken and immersed it in a Turkish-style marinade for a few hours before committing it to the coals. I served it with saksuka, a Turkish cooked salad of aubergine, red pepper, garlic and tomatoes, Ottolenghi's yoghurt sauce (see separate post) and couscous with sweet onions. Sadly, by Monday evening the weather was on the turn and I shivered in the cooling breeze, a Margarita in one hand, as I cooked tuna and prawn kebabs. I put a sweet potato wrapped in tin foil in the bottom of the barbecue and forgot about it. I was going to serve it with the tuna and prawn kebabs, but made an avocado salsa instead. So the sweet potato rested in the barbecue as it cooled and it was only when I hung the washing out this morning, that I saw it and remembered..... and had an idea for a dish.....

SMOKED SWEET POTATO & HARISSA DIP

1 large sweet potato, wrapped in foil and baked in a hot oven or on the barbecue until soft
1 tbsps Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche
Pinch of salt, or to taste
A good lug of olive oil
1 tsp Belazu smoked harissa paste
1 large clove of garlic, crushed

Put everything in the food processor and whizz to a smooth paste. Check for seasoning. If you have roasted the potato in the oven, you might want to use some Spanish smoked paprika to enhance the smoked flavour. Serve with pitta bread or similar.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

JACKY'S SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA


The origins of this recipe are obscure and there are many urban legends associated with it. Some say it was made for Italian charcoal-makers, others that it was devised for American soldiers stationed in Italy during the war, who demanded a pasta dish with bacon and eggs. Whatever its origins, it's a tasty and simple dish, but like so many tasty and simple dishes, it is important to make it properly. There are a number of variants too: some recipes call for the use of cream, others for egg yolks only, the inclusion of mushrooms, peas or broccoli.

This is my friend Jacky's version. She includes a little chilli, which gives the sauce a nice kick. I like to serve it with a handful of rocket and a drizzle of chilli oil. And, of course, lots of freshly grated Parmesan. The sauce should not be runny: it should just coat the strands of pasta with its golden eggy-ness.

Approx 225g of dried pasta (spaghetti is not obligatory: I like to make this with big Penne)
150g smoked pancetta, bacon, or lardons
1 large egg, beaten
About 1 tbsp grated fresh Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
About 1 tsbp fresh chilli, finely chopped, or chilli flakes (bottled or dried)

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water. Meanwhile, fry the bacon until it's crisp. Just before it's done, add the chilli. Mix the beaten egg with the cheese. Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pan and immediately add the bacon and then the egg mixture. Stir to ensure the pasta is well-coated with sauce. Serve with plenty of freshly grated cheese.

WHAT THE GIRLS ATE ON TUESDAY....


The recipe in this post is unashamedly and unapologetically lifted from the Waitrose website. I am including it because it is totally delicious, not least because I ate it for a lunch with Best Girlfriends, sitting outside in the warm May sunshine, on Northcote Road in Clapham, deep in the throbbing heart of Nappy Valley. While waiting for Lucy to complete our trio of lunching ladies, Sarah and I, up from the leafy 'burbs, did some girls' twitching: that is, looking at the other women cruising along the street to see what they were wearing. Comments ranged from "OMG look how many pregnant women there are round here!" (we were in Nappy Valley, after all!) or "There's a lot of blonde women!" or "Nice shoes!". One thing we were all agreed on: there were an awful lot of trendy baby buggies.....

We had lunch at Brew, a rather chic little cafe on Northcote Road. Its extensive menu includes scrummy things like portobello mushrooms in balsamic vinegar on sourdough toast with fresh pesto or asparagus and roasted vegetables tart, eggs benedict and avocado with lemon. Each time I eat at Brew, I go home with a new light lunch recipe in my head. The sweetcorn fritters with apple chutney, guacamole, lime aioli and maple crisp bacon was another excellent choice. We ate it with Diet Coke, served in those lovely retro bottles, with straws. It was sunny, summery food, pleasantly filling, but not the sort of meal that sits in the bottom of your stomach for the rest of the day.

100g Self-raising Flour
150ml semi-skimmed milk
2 eggs, separated
Pinch Organic Chilli Flakes (optional)
½ x 20g pack fresh curly parsley, finely chopped
½ x 500g bag frozen Sweetcorn, thawed
4 rashers Free Range Smoked Dry Cure Back Bacon
4 tsp organic sunflower oil, for frying
Tub of good-quality commercial guacamole
Optional extra: good-quality bought mayonnaise

  1. Sift the flour with a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl. Pour the milk into a jug then add the egg yolks, chilli flakes if using, and parsley. Mix well. Gradually add the egg mixture to the flour, whisking until smooth. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then fold into the batter along with the sweetcorn. Leave the batter to stand while you make the guacamole.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a frying pan. Ladle spoonfuls of the batter into the pan to make individual fritters about 10cm in diameter. Cook in batches of 3.
  3. Fry the fritters for 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown, then keep warm while you cook the remaining batches. Cut the bacon rashers in half and sandwich between 3 fritters, to make a stack, then repeat. Serve topped with a generous dollop of guacamole. If you can find a good apple or fruit chutney, add a spoonful of that, plus aioli....
  4. Any leftover fritters can be frozen.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

OTTOLENGHI'S YOGHURT SAUCE



This is one of those delicious, easy-to-make accompaniments that once tried you will want to make all the time. It is from one of my favourite recipe books, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, which is full of interesting and unusual dishes based on the food served in the eponymous cafes in Notting Hill, Kensington and trendy Islington. I haven't actually eaten at an Ottolenghi cafe - yet - but I have walked past the cafe on Ledbury Road, W11 quite a few times. If you have heard of Ottolenghi, it's probably because of the giant meringues which they make and display in the window, great balls of sweetness piled up on elegant glass cake-stands. Yoram Ottolenghi, the owner, is Israeli and the food is most definitely inspired by the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, the kind of food which I love: full of spices, piquant flavours, and fresh herbs like coriander and dill.

In the recipe book, this yoghurt sauce should accompany Chickpeas and Spinach with Honeyed Sweet Potato, a vegetarian dish which is comforting and tasty. The yoghurt sauce, which is spiked with lemon zest, cuts through the sweetness of the honeyed sweet potato. I love this sauce and now make it all the time, usually the accompany grilled meat or kebabs. It works particularly well with lamb and chicken and is great as an accompaniment for barbecued food. I also like it slathered over fried Halloumi cheese, another great ingredient from the eastern Mediterranean. Once made, it keeps quite well in the fridge for a couple of days, if covered with cling film, and can easily be augmented with chopped fresh herbs or harissa paste.

100g Greek yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
juice & grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried mint

Whisk together all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, 10 May 2010

PENNE GIARDINERA

OK, so spring is nearly over and summer is supposed to be a'cumen' in - except it ain't. We had a brief taste of summer sun in April when the volcanic ash cloud closed the airports and us Londoners who live beneath the flight path to Heathrow enjoyed a weekend of silent, deep blue skies. It felt like returning to an earlier, simpler time....

But I digress. Back to the food. This is ripped off from a dish I eat regularly at Carluccios cafe in Bentalls, Kingston. The cafe, one of a chain of many, is conveniently located in the heart of ladies' fashions, a quick dash in kitten heels from Max Mara, LK Bennett, Hugo Boss and Phase 8. I meet my best friend, and companion in shopping crime, here so often that the staff know us. In fact, Sarah goes there so frequently that the staff have her Americano with hot milk on the side brewing as she sashays through the door.

Today, I hotfooted it (not easy in high-heeled black patent wedge peep toes) from Notting Hill where I had spent a couple of hours keeping My Old Man in Kensington happy, and met Sarah for lunch and shopping. We started off being very good, requesting only water to have with our food, but we weakened and ended up drinking two glasses of Prosecco each, and then cruising the 20% off rails of Phase 8. Kerching.

Today, to ring the changes, I had Spaghetti alla Vongole, another pasta dish on the Carluccios menu which I find delicious. This is tricky to get right: you need to make sure the sauce (made from olive oil, white wine, chili and garlic) is right so that it clings slickly to the strands of spaghetti. It should never be runny or watery. And by the way, no Italian would ever have cheese with this dish!

Penne Giardinera is light and fresh, an easy supper dish and a good one to fling at vegetarians who may darken your door (not suitable for vegans though, because of the cheese/egg content). This evening, because I had already had pasta for lunch, I eschewed the penne and just had the rest of the ingredients, which were perfect. The grated courgettes, sprinkled with fresh parmesan, could also be used as a topping for bruschetta.

You don't have to use penne: I use a pasta called Elicoidali from Waitrose, which is bigger than penne. This dish does need fairly large pasta shapes. It is not suitable for spaghetti or linguine. You don't have to include the deep-fried spinach balls, but they are really scrummy and definitely 'make' this dish! You could also just make the spinach balls and serve them as a canape.... I do use my deep-fat fryer for making these because it's easier, but you could use a wok or saucepan. Remove the spinach balls from the fat with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Serves 4

For the spinach balls:
700g raw spinach (about 250g when cooked)
half a clove of garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
a tiny pinch of nutmeg
45g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
70g dry breadcrumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
olive oil for shallow frying

Pasta:
500g Penne Regine (large artisan penne from Puglia) or similar pasta shapes
80g butter
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
20g red chillies, finely chopped
2 medium courgettes, coarsely grated
240g Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

To make 28 spinach balls (7 per person):
Boil, but don’t overcook, the spinach in lightly salted water. Press it dry, and then chop roughly. In a bowl, mix together the spinach, garlic, egg, nutmeg and Parmesan. Add about half of the breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Roll one ball and fry it, to test for consistency and taste. (If the mixture is too wet, the ball will fall apart during cooking, but too much bread content will lessen the spinach flavour.) Add some more breadcrumbs or seasoning if needed. Fry until golden and crisp on the outside, then set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

For the courgette sauce, lightly fry the grated courgette with the garlic and chillies. Season with salt & pepper. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water. When done, drain and transfer to serving plates. Add the courgette mixture, then top off with the spinach balls and sprinkle with fresh parmesan.

Delicioso!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

LOVABLE JAMIE


Jamie Oliver! Dontcha just love him, the mockney geezer, sporting a rakish straw cockle-seller's hat in his latest series.

Actually, I've got a lot a time for Lovable Jamie. Not so much for all the worthy and admirable things he's done, like his campaigns to improve school dinners, or to get more men cooking, or his Fifteen restaurants. I like him because he loves food, he positively oozes enthusiasm like the innards of a well-ripened Brie, and because his recipes are always tasty, easy to prepare and imaginative.

I remember when he was first on telly, as The Naked Chef, "stripping food back to the bare essentials". He was a little ill-at-ease with the camera to start with, but you could see he was confident around food, and the end results were always mouth-watering. I bought a Smeg range oven just like his, and made my own pasta, and watched every episode of the cheeky chappy with increasing enjoyment. I have most of his cookbooks. My, how young and slim he looks on the cover of The Naked Chef! He has grown to love the media spot-light, and, as a clearly happy family man, grown chubby with contentment and home cooking.

I wasn't going to watch his latest series, Jamie Does..... because I was growing a little tired of cookery shows where the nation tuned in, salivating wildly, while tucking into a ready-meal, an ersatz version of liver and bacon or slow-cooked lamb shanks. Over on the Beeb, The Delicious Miss Dahl is doing a creditable impression of a young Nigella, all suggestive licking of fingers and pouty lips. Meanwhile, Heston is up to his usual kitchen pyrotechnics, turning food and eating into a ridiculous circus act.

I caught part of the programme where Jamie Did..... Sweden - and within a few minutes, I was hooked. Again. Transfixed by him making beetroot Gravadlax, where the resulting salmon slices are the most beautiful rose pink. I remembered how much I enjoyed his cheery banter, or how his idea of tossing a salad was simply to throw the ingredients up in the air and let them fall from his fingers. The food looked delicious. My mouth watered. I bought the latest book.....

I have two groaning shelves in my kitchen which house some of my recipe books, the ones I use most regularly. The more esoteric titles are upstairs, along with back issues of Jamie's very own magazine (called Jamie, no less!) and Waitrose Food Illustrated (which has recently undergone a complete facelift and now features the Sainted Delia and the aforementioned Ring Master of Food, Heston). It seems foolhardy to add to my growing collection of recipes books, but I just can't help myself. I suspect psychologists have a name for this condition.

In praise of Jamie, here is a selection of my favourite of his recipes, with the title of the book from which they appear:

from The Naked Chef (his first book)
  • Recipe for fresh pasta
  • Skate wings with Prosciutto, Radicchio, Capers & Lemon
  • North African Lamb with Chilli, Ginger, Chickpeas & Couscous
  • Spiced Slow-cooked Lamb Shanks
  • Perfect Roast Chicken
  • Borlotti Bean, Pancetta & Rosemary Risotto
from The Return of the Naked Chef
  • Pukkolla (muesli)
  • Smashed Spiced Chickpeas
  • Pappardelle, Spicy Sausage and Mixed Wild Mushrooms
  • Salmon Fillet Wrapped in Prosciutto with Herby Lentils, Spinach & Yoghurt
  • Braised Five Hour Lamb With Wne, Veg and All That
  • Peter's Lamb Curry
  • Baked Carrots with Cumin, Thyme, Butter & Chardonnay
  • Party Cake
from Happy Days With The Naked Che
  • Favourite Curry Sauce
  • Pancakes USA Stylie
  • Chicken Breast Baked in A Bag With Mushrooms, Butter, White Wine & Thyme
  • Parsnip & Pancetta Tagliatelle
  • World's Best Baked Onions
from Jamie's Italy
  • Caponata
  • Costolette di Maiale con Salvia
  • Spiedini di Involtini di Agnello e Funghi
There are more, of course, but these are recipes which I return to regularly - and still enjoy cooking.