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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Just so you know

The tomatoes in the post below look a bit tired don't they?  If you look closely you can see where they're beginning to wrinkle and pucker.  Nice. 

I should explain. We bought these baby plums a couple of weeks ago, at the Sunday market on Brick Lane.  I can only apologise for the fact that I was buying fresh tomatoes in deepest, darkest November: I think I must have been shocked into purchasing them by the fact that they were only a pound a bowl.  When I got them home I thought I would make a nice batch of fresh tomato sauce, but Mr. F begged me to leave them for his lunch boxes during the week.  He said they were his friends (yes, he literally said that).

So, I washed them and put them in the fridge, which I know is another controversial step.

And there they stayed.  Uneaten and unloved.  I don't think Mr. F touched them once.

I decided last Sunday night that something had to be done.  And here is what I did.

I cut all of the tomatoes in half, lengthways (I reckon there was probably a kilo and a bit of toms), and laid them cut side up on a couple of baking sheets.  Then I mixed together equal quantities of caster sugar and table salt (i.e. not Maldon sea salt flakes), making a combined quantity of about a third of a cup or 70g.  I added a pretty good grinding of pepper.  Then I sprinkled this over the tomatoes, and put them in a 50 degree oven overnight.  In the morning I just turned off the oven and left them there.

When I got back from work, I put the wizened, I mean dried, tomatoes into a kilner jar with a finely chopped clove of garlic and covered the whole lot with a mixture of sunflower and EV olive oil.  Who knows, they'll probably stay in the fridge for the next six months, following which they will be unceremoniously binned.  But I'm hoping that I'll make good use of them in an appetizing range of exotic dishes.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The things our parents teach us

 

When I was a teenager my father embarked on a cookery course.   In the years that followed he would routinely take responsibility for producing one of our family's weekend meals.  The kitchen became his exclusive domain for half a day and the recipes he relied on were big on process (think de-boned chicken stuffed with other birds and complicated stuffings).  He made a lot of fresh pasta which he would dry on our laundry rack.  A fine film of semolina would end up covering every surface.  His cooking was an event and his food very different from the excellent meals that my mother fed us each night. 

The difference between how men and women approach cooking is something that Rose Prince acknowledges in her latest book, Kitchenella.  In addition to being beautifully produced and brilliantly written, it contains recipes which are accessible but have just enough quirk to pique one's interest.  I read her recipe for tomato sauce the other day, and was gratified to see that she uses the same method as I do to de-metallicise tinned toms.

The one thing that was transmitted from father to daughter as a result of my father's flirtation with cooking was how to make a delicious tomato sauce, a plain one that can be used to dress pasta or annoint a pizza.  My father has also taught me a lot of other important things through the years (how to hold cutlery appropriately, to avoid using mobile phones on trains if at all possible and generally to be a bit of a snob), but making this tomato sauce always makes me think of him and the food he used to cook for us.

The quantities below make enough for about four servings and can be kept in the fridge in a covered bowl for four or five days.

To make the sauce
One 400g tin of chopped Italian tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, minced
Olive oil
1 tspn of sugar
Dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1 small knob of butter (optional)

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a low-ish heat.  Add the garlic and a pinch of salt.  Fry the garlic gently for a minute or so.  You want it to become fragrant and to cook without browning.  My father hates the taste of burnt garlic.  Add the tomatoes, sugar, oregano and seasoning to the garlic.  Turn up the heat to high.  Fill the empty tomato tin with cold water and add to the pan.  Bring the sauce to the boil, and then turn down the heat.  Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened to your liking.  Add the butter at the end of cooking - it lends a richness to the sauce which is nice if you're going to eat the sauce on its own with spaghetti.



Sunday, 14 November 2010

Winter vegetable pissaladiere


I love this time of year.  Even though the weather here in London has been unspeakably naff this weekend, there's something really special about hunkering down at home and spending quality time in the kitchen, big glass of wine in hand.  I braved yesterday's squalls to venture down to Broadway Market, where I picked up fruit,veg, fish, oysters and cheese (from the incomparable L'eau la Bouche).  My haul included some ruby chard and fennel bulbs, but I couldn't think of anything interesting to do with them other than serve them up alongside some protein.  But then, a flash of inspiration struck, and I decided to make a pissaladiere.

Pissaladiere, as the name suggests, is a Provencal version of pizza.  It generally comprises a puff pastry or bread-dough base topped with silky caramelized onions, anchovies and black olives.  My take on it added the chard and fennel to the onions, and also saw some soft goat's cheese strewn on top.  The finished article tasted highly satisfactory and the colours were redolent of this year's autumn.

To make a pissaladiere that serves four:

For the dough
250g strong white bread flour
1 tspn salt
1 tspn sugar (I'd go for granulated or caster)
1 tspn quick yeast (I use Doves Farm instant yeast.  Other brands may require more or less yeast for this proportion of flour, so check)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

For the topping 
Two large onions, cut into fine half moons
One fennel bulb, cut in half lengthways and then shaved into papery slices
300g of ruby chard, stalks separated from leaves
2 big sprigs of thyme
75g soft goat's cheese
2 tspns of capers
25g of pine nuts
8 anchovy fillets soaked in milk
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the dough, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together.  Gradually add enough tepid water to bring everything together to form a dough that's soft but which comes away from the bowl.  Tip it on to a floured surface and knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  It's ready to let prove when poking it with your finger leaves an indentation that doesn't bounce back.  (Alternatively, you can, as I did, put everything in your Kenwood Chef, dough-hook attached, and let it go about its business for 10 minutes or so.)

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm, and put in a warm place to let rise for about an hour.

Whilst the dough's doing its thing, start on the topping.  Heat a generous glug of oil in a wide-bottomed pan over a low heat.  Add the onions, seasoning and thyme leaves from one of the sprigs.  Stir, cover and let cook for between 30 and 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want the onions to be golden brown and soft.  Cook the shaved fennel in another pan in the same way, but for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Slice the chard stalks into inch-long pieces.  Heat more olive oil in a wok or frying pan over a medium flame.  Add the chard stalks, salt and pepper, and cover with a little water.  Cook until the water has evaporated off and the stalks are tender, about 10 minutes.  When they're cooked, add the chard leaves and allow to wilt.

Mix the cooked onions, fennel and chard together and add the pine nuts, capers, and remaining thyme leaves.  Check the seasoning, but remember that there will be anchovies and goat's cheese on top of the pissaladiere too.  Set the mixture to one side.  It should look something like this (i.e. well autumnal):


After an hour, remove the dough from the warm place in which it's been safely stowed.  Take an oiled baking tray, and shape and flatten the dough to fit on to it (you might be assisted by a rolling pin in this operation - I was).  Cover the dough with a clean tea towel and leave it to rise again in a warm place, probably for another 25 to 30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees centigrade.

When the dough's had its second rise, cover it with the vegetable mixture, leaving a one inch border.  Arrange the anchovies and spoonfuls of goats cheese over the top.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is deeply golden.  Eat whilst watching Harry Hill rip the p*** out of Nigella Kitchen.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Spiced pumpkin cheesecake

I'm pretty pleased with this recipe, even if I do say so myself.  Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the quality of the photographs that I have taken of the finished product.  Thing is, I'm getting back from work quite late these days, which means that I can't take snaps of the food I'm cooking with the beautifying benefit of natural daylight.

This has been the best that I could manage:


Yeah.  So, sorry about that.

But anyway, let me give you the lowdown on this recipe.  It's a baked cheesecake, which uses condensed milk as the sweetening agent, ricotta for the cheese element, and a magical trio of cinnamon, ginger and allspice to create a subtle yet distinctive fragrance.  With all this going on the pumpkin (or, more accurately, butternut squash) could get lost, but it doesn't.  Instead, it adds an almost imperceptible  vegetal quality.  In a good way. 

One thing that I would recommend is making the cheesecake one or preferably two days before you want to serve it.  This gives the flavours time to mature, and the cheesecake somehow seems to get creamier.

To make one cheesecake:

One 23 cm springform cake tin - a good one that doesn't leak

250g of digestive biscuits or gingernuts
75g unsalted butter
1 tspn of ground ginger (unnecessary if you're using gingernuts)

One large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 4cm-ish cubes
One 397g tin of condensed milk
250g of ricotta or cream cheese
100ml of double cream
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground ginger
1/2 tspn ground allspice
Finely grated zest of one lemon
4 eggs

Preheat your oven to 140 degrees.

Blitz the biscuits in the food processor until fine crumbs.  Tip into a mixing bowl.  Melt butter and add to the biscuit crumbs.  Mix well and then pour into your baking tin.  Press the crumbs down evenly to form the base.  Chill for ten minutes or so.

Steam the squash cubes until tender, which should take seven to ten minutes.   Whilst they're steaming, wash the bowl of the processor out thoroughly and dry.  When the squash is soft, transfer it to the food processor and process to a puree.  If you were going all out you could pass this puree through a sieve before adding the other ingredients.  I didn't and the cheesecake was still silky smooth.

Transfer the puree to a mixing bowl and add the ricotta, condensed milk and cream.  Attack the mixture with a whisk, and go at it until it's smooth.  Add the eggs, lemon zest and spices and beat well. 

Take the base out of the fridge.  Pour the mixture on to the base, and place in the oven.  My cheesecake took about one and a half hours to set, but I'd check after about an hour by giving it a light shove.  You want it to wobble - think creme brulee or other baked custards.

When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin before transferring to a plate, covering with clingfilm and chilling thoroughly.  Like I say, this is best eaten a couple of days after it's made.  Serve with lashings of creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Omelette Gordon Bennett

OK, OK.  I know that the eponymous omelette is named after Arnold Bennett, novelist, critic and, I suspect, fusspot.  The thing is, when you're forced to make it with smoked mackerel and some Elmlea that, by luck would have it, you happened across in the fridge, it feels like a bit too much of a liberty to bring it to table and declare it to be the very same dish offered up at the Savoy.  Having said that, the finished article turned out really well, and it was so quick to prepare that I thought it worth sharing.  Those of you who return home from work delirious with hunger will appreciate this one.

In other and unrelated news, I am VERY excited because I have just booked my ticket to go to Vegas (baby!) in April 2011, and have made a pact with my travelling companions to visit one of the restaurants there with three of them Michelin star wotsits.  Any recommendations on this front will be gratefully received.

But back to the task at hand: you will need a frying pan that is man enough to survive a five to ten minute blast under a medium hot grill for this dish.

For an omelette that will feed two to three people:

250g smoked mackerel (about three fillets), skinned and de-boned, and torn into flakes (I, probably like Arnold, am a bit funny about the bloody/fatty layer under the skin so tend to discard that too)
Six eggs, beaten
100ml double (heavy) cream
50g Parmesan
Zest of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
20g of butter

Pre-heat your grill on a medium heat.

Melt butter in the frying pan on a low to medium heat.  When it starts to foam gently, season the eggs with salt and pepper, and add to the pan.  Allow the eggs to set slightly, about one minute.  Add the mackerel pieces and cook for a minute more, gently pulling down the omelette from the side of the pan to allow the uncooked egg to run over and cook.  Pour over the cream and scatter over the Parmesan and lemon zest.  Put under the grill for three or four minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

I know that a lot of naff recipes say that a complete meal can be created by serving the dish in question with crusty bread and a salad.  Here, forget the bread, but do serve this with a green salad into which you've thrown a handful of fresh dill.  Dress with the juice of the half a lemon that you zested, olive oil, salt and pepper.


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