How I cook by Skye Gyngell is a really nice book, but like Nigella Lawson's Kitchen there's a bit too much of a focus on meat for it to become a collection of recipes that I'll turn to again and again. One dish, however, that grabbed my attention on the first flick through was a white bean gratin in which the beans are cooked with creme fraiche and garlic. I thought it sounded delicious and resolved to give it a try on the basis that autumn's arrival warrants something a bit more ribsticking than a side order of mange tout.
For the beans
250g dried flageolet beans
Big sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
A whole fresh red chili, pierced all over
For the gratin
300ml of double cream
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely grated
Sprig of thyme, leaves stripped from the stalk and finely chopped
50g freshly grated parmesan
50g white breadcrumbs
20g unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
On the day before you want to cook the gratin soak the flageolet beans in plenty of cold water. Leave overnight.
The following day, drain and rinse the beans. Put in a heavy based pan. Tie up the rosemary and bay leaves in a piece of muslin and add to the pan with the garlic cloves and the chilli. Cover the beans with cold water and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum that appears. Turn down the heat and cook for two hours, or until the beans are tender. You will need to add more water during the cooking time so keep an eye on the beans. Drain once they are cooked.
When you are ready to cook the gratin pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
Mix together the cream, grated garlic cloves, and thyme. Season very well with salt - when you taste the cream mixture it should seem over-salted, but remember that the beans have not been salted during their cooking time (to prevent the skins from becoming tough). Add the beans to the cream mixture, and then pour into an ovenproof dish. Cover the top with parmesan and breadcrumbs, and dot with butter. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until golden on top.
I served this just with some steamed broccoli on the side, but I think it would be good with ham or gammon for the carnivores amongst you.
The division of labour is pretty equal in my house: when one person cooks supper the other person has to clean up. We have a small dishwasher (and no, that's not a euphemism for Mr. F) and my policy is to put all crockery in it, to get it really clean. If there's no room in the dishwasher, I'll just neatly stack the dirty plates on the side. Mr. F's approach is to wash everything up and then position stuff haphazardly on the drainer. The other day he did this with a 1930's sandwich plate that was an heirloom from a great aunt. Needless to say, as soon as another item on the drainer was nudged my plate met a sticky end: a great big chunk was gouged out of it. I consequently spent the next few days scanning ebay for a replacement, and found not one, but several (six to be precise).
I have a bit of a thing for vintage crockery and have, over the years, amassed a modest collection of odds and end. The pictures below are some of my most favourite acquisitions.
I bought two of these "Ferndale" Meakin pudding bowls as part of the latest ebay haul. I'm in love with them.
Vintage Heaven on Columbia Road is a treasure trove of gorgeous crockery. I bought these 1950s glasses there a few months ago.
This pretty lidded dish was a present from a dear friend. It's almost too lovely.
Another one from the ebay haul, and dating from the 1920s. Wouldn't breakfast on that just make your day?
I bought this jug at a jumble sale on Haverstock Hill about seven years ago. It's got a gigantic crack in it which renders it useless as a jug, but's just too beautiful to part with.
This sandwich plate is the replacement for the one that was injured.
Another sandwich plate off ebay. (Manicure: Particuliere by Chanel.)
Mr. F's always going on at me about how I should tailor this blog to make it more east London-centric, concentrating on all the amazing eateries that there are in our area. The thing is, whilst he's right about the wondrousness of lots of them (special mentions going out to Pizza East, Cay Tre, and the new Busaba Eathai on Old Street), I think that most people know that you can get a decent Vietnamese meal on Kingsland Road, and are also aware that New Tayyabs and Lahore Kebab House serve up delicious tandoori lamb cutlets, great dry meat (a term of art, not a slur) and fresh, fluffy naan. I'm not sure how much light I can shed on this already well illuminated patch of London.
In fact, when pressed, I can only think of two places which would genuinely seem to be a bit "undiscovered" to those who live in all but the closest proximity. The first is Cafe 338 on Bethnal Green Road, which was, I think, formerly called "First Choice". It's under new management and has been spruced up, but still serves caff staples like all day breakfasts, toasted sandwiches and jacket potatoes. I had an absolutely delicious cheese omelette there one day when I was suffering from a swingeing combination of hangover and jet lag. I honestly thinked it saved me. The service is sweet and efficient, and you can breakfast like a king for under £5, including a capuccino topped with a luxuriant amount of billowy foam.
The second place which is a firm favourite with Mr. F and me is Maida, located on Bethnal Green Road close to the top of Brick Lane. This restaurant unassumingly serves up authentic north Indian cuisine and unlike many (all) of the Brick Lane curry houses doesn't rely on touts or free pints to get you through the door. In fact, it doesn't serve alcohol, and nor can you bring your own. But who needs booze when the food is fresh and carefully, if powerfully, spiced? There is an emphasis on fish and meat cooked on the grill or in the tandoor, and the smell and sound of food sizzling on charcoal will have you salivating as soon as you've taken your seat. Being constrained by Mr. F's dietary limitations means that I am more familiar with the vegetable subjis on offer. My top pick is, and will always be, the lasooni saag, a dish of fresh spinach cooked simply with aromatics and garnished with fresh ginger slivers and coriander. Eating this with a roomali roti, a huge, thin and stretchy bread, is pretty much my idea of heaven. The daal makhani is also wonderfully fragrant and comforting, although it's not without a fiery kick. The pilau rice is a minefield of cardamom pods, peppercorns and cloves and is all the better for it. And for those for whom the maxim "a moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips" doesn't apply, there are the infamous chocolate bar milkshakes which I imagine would be an efficient way of cooling the mouth and rounding off the meal.
So, that's it: my two favourite places on the Bethnal Green Road. Other east London recommendations, be they restos, cafes or emporia, all gratefully received.
A little while ago I posted a recipe for pappardelle with peas and beans, but was unable to remember the brand of pasta that I had used to create this particularly delectable dish. Well, I was in Waitrose, I mean the John Lewis Foodhall, the other day and saw an elegant box of Filotea pappardelle, which is the brand that I deployed so successfully. I reckon it'd be great with a homemade pesto or with a meaty ragu. It's a available here.
Thinking about how I would incorporate that information on to the blog got me thinking about the store cupboard/fridge essentials that I wouldn't or couldn't be without. Here they are:
1. Expensive jars of marinated artichokes.
I remember when I was a student seeing people buying these in Sainsbury's on Sidney Street and thinking: "What on earth! FOUR QUID for a jar of preserved vegetables! Get OUT OF TOWN!" But then I got a job and started buying them. Now I use them in pasta dishes (with roasted aubergines, diced fresh tomato, pine nuts and basil), on pizza, and as an alternative to olives with an aperitif. The other day I also added a few chopped up preserved artichokes to peas that I was braising with garlic, white wine and vegetable stock. They were delicious.
Folk who are able to do meat cookery will probably have cause to use fresh breadcrumbs more often than I do because they'll use them in stuffings and that. I use toasted breadcrumbs to scatter over pasta dishes, and coat fish- and bean-cakes with dried breadcrumbs (NOT the gross out yellow crumbs that are clearly nothing to do with bread).
3. Frozen spinach
Oh my! Frozen spinach is one of my favourite things! Not to eat plain and unadorned you understand, but to have in my freezer. When I've got a stash in I know I am going to be able to create such wondrous things as saag paneer, spinach and feta pie, and cannelloni. I'm sure I should defrost the spinach before I use it, but, truth be told, I never do. It seems to withstand the extra cooking that is necessary to ensure that the excess water cooks off.
To make my spinach pie I fry two big cloves of garlic, grated, in a lot of olive oil, before adding the frozen spinach (about 400g, weighed frozen), a good grating of fresh nutmeg and a bunch of salt. I cover and let cook for about 10 minutes. After the spinach is all melted, I uncover to let the water evaporate off (about 10 minutes more). I then roll out a block of shop-bought puff pastry into a square that's about 0.5mm thick. I place it in a square baking tin (measuring about 17cm by 17cm - the pastry will be way too big, but that's fine) and pile the cooked spinach in. I cover with about 100g of feta cheese, a good glug of olive oil and a bit of chopped dilll. Then I fold the edges of the pie up, brush the top with egg yolk, and bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes. This is delicious served with a simple, thick tomato sauce.
Need I say more? Anyone who associates with vegetarians is going to appreciate the need for an umami kick when chowing down on yet another supper based on chickpeas.
5. Plain yoghurt
If you've got plain yoghurt in the house you'll always have a quick sauce or raita available to you. I used to think that Greek yoghurt was the only yoghurt that I could palate, but then I gained 20 pounds and realised that I needed to back off things that were more than 10% fat. So now I use Yeo Valley natural yoghurt, which is mild and tart, without being distressingly acidic. I use yoghurt in everything, including baking. It's really great in pastry (see the plum tart recipe here) and in scones and pancake batters.