September 21, 2007
Hailing from land-locked Derbyshire I’ve never developed a strong attachment to the sea. Coastal towns make me a little nervous, partly, I think, because the sea cuts down your escape options. From wherever I’m standing I like to be able to move quickly in any direction, just in case.
Nonetheless, Mopsa’s mussel-foraging expeditions on the Cornish coast do have me feeling a tad jealous of his coastal lifestyle. London has a surprising amount of wild food, but unfortunately there’s no shellfish to be found clinging to the arches of Tower Bridge.
So here in the city we have to make do with what the veg box man brings. Last night was the first evening for a while that Maths Chick and I managed to sit down and have a meal together, and I cooked up a homely frittata from Marcella Hazan to mark the occasion.
Potato and Onion Frittata for two
1. Cut four or five small potatoes into 1cm cubes. Shallow fry in medium-hot oil (enough to come 1cm up the side of the pan) until cooked through and golden brown all over. Drain on kitchen paper.
2. Slice an onion finely and add to the oil. Continue to fry, on a lower heat, until soft and golden.
3. Whisk up 5 eggs in a bowl, season well and add the fried potatoes and onions. Add a good grating of parmesan at this stage if you like.
4. Heat some butter in a deep frying pan until it froths a little. Pour in the eggy mixture and turn the heat down to low straight away.
5. Cook slowly until mostly set through. Flash under the grill for a few minutes to finish off the top of the frittata if need be.
I served it with julienned cabbage and carrots, steamed then dressed with butter and fresh parsley and tarragon.
June 16, 2007
So what happened to the (predicted) hottest summer since records began? Here I sit at the kitchen table on a wet Saturday afternoon, looking out into a damp, bedraggled, snooker-table-sized London back garden. A short, crackling thunderstorm has just passed over, and everything is still.
Maths chick is spending her weekends marking GCSE exams online, and so I’m left to my own devices again, which normally involves me staring at the wall, rocking backwards and forwards in a semi-catatonic state. But at the moment I’m reflecting back on an eventful week.
The Facebook phenomenon has hit my social group with a vengeance. Me and MC were introduced to this social networking site last weekend at a party, and within the space of three or four days almost everyone I know has registered on the site and become instantly, shamefully, addicted.
Yesterday as I walked through the offices I’m currently freelancing in I noticed every second or third person surreptitiously checking their profile to see how many new Facebook friends they’d acquired in the last 10 minutes. As a site, it’s better looking and more usable than mySpace, less blatantly self-serving than LinkdIn, less nostalgic than Friends Reunited. The site promises to arrange your entire social life for you, while keeping the psychotic or predatory at arm’s length.
The impact of these social networking sites on your life can be hard to predict. Already I’ve met up with a long-lost school friend who I’d hardly seen since he dropped out of the 6th form and dissappeared into the Madchester club scene during the second summer of love in 1989. He’s now re-surfaced as an IT project manager in the City by day, a keyboard player with the legendary Manchester band ACR by night, and an all round good bloke. He had some great stories to tell, impressing me most by the fact he’d been personally given the nickname ‘Acid House Pixie’ by one of my personal heroes, the great Mark e Smith.
In between squabbling over who had the most Facebook friends, the MC and me managed to squeeze in a pasta-making session on Tuesday night. I’d had a go at making linguine on Monday night and it had ended up a large, globby mess, drowned in a flash flood of aubergine and ricotta sauce. This time we tried to keep it simple, in conception if not execution – we decided to make ricotta ravioli.
The MC worried this was too ambitious for a Tuesday night, and that we wouldn’t be sitting down to eat until the early hours of Thursday morning. In the end, with the two of us working in blissful harmony, we managed to crank out a couple of servings of misshapen but deliciously melting ravioli in about 40 minutes.
The filling was very simple – Ricotta, drained of excess moisture, seasoned well with nutmeg, salt, pepper and parmesan. Although they’d have been great served just with butter and parmesan, we decided to serve them with thinly sliced cabbage fried with fatty cubes of bacon, which turned out to be a good contrast between the subtle, velvety ravioli and the salty, crisp accompaniment.
I wouldn’t even start trying to describe how you make ravioli. The instructions in the Marcella Hazan book we used run to at least four pages. It’s a black art, but well worth the effort, if you can tear yourself away from Facebook for long enough. Otherwise, just open a tin of the old 70’s school canteen ravioli in the sickly sweet red sauce and see if you can track down that well-endowed lass you used to lust after in double French.
March 31, 2007
A friend of the family who has recently bought a small holding in Wales gave us four duck eggs the other day. About half again the size of a large hen egg, they had wonderful pale-blue and cream coloured shells, still covered in farmyard gunk.
We tried poaching one, but, perhaps being a little past it’s prime, the whites spiralled away and disintegrated, leaving a lonely, naked yolk. Frying suited them better – and gave the rich, generous, deep-orange yolks the chance to take centre-stage.
According to E David, duck eggs are not suitable for pickling in vinegar. Gutted.
March 25, 2007
I’m really enjoying the generous bags of purple sprouting we’ve been receiving over the past few weeks. This evening, as the MC hurtles down the A1 on her way back from a (mercifully) flying visit to Sleaford, Lincs, I downed this combo of steamed sprouting, poached egg, croutons, parmesan, and melted butter.
As the footie commentary blurbled away in the background (England 0, Israel 0, yawn), it occured to me that P Sprouting is 3 veggies in one – chunky stalk, smooth strong leaves and squidgy flower. Each element of the threesome brings its particular quality to the mix – the stalk provides texture, the leaves taste, and the flower makes it all look purdy. It’s like the Three Degrees or the Charlie’s Angels of the vegetable kingdom.
November 6, 2006
Gravy is in my genes, being a Yorkshireman by birth. Up there we slap it on willy-nilly. Chips, pie, mash, sausage. Pour it out the gravy-boat by the gallon. Drown the plate and all its contents in a gooey, viscous flood. Mop it up with white sliced bread, then lick the plate.
My mum always had a bottle of ancient (pre-1970s) Gravy Browning in the cupboard. A drop or two of this vile potion would turn a pan of pale, tasteless, floury veg-water into a glistening, mahogany-coloured pan of tasteless, floury veg water.
In memory of my culinary roots, here’s a fancy way of preparing eggs from French Provincial Cookery. Elizabeth D calls it something like ‘Ouefs en cocotte avec jus’. That’ll be eggs in a pot with gravy, then.
1. Bring an inch or so of water to the boil. For each person, put in a ramekin, with a small knob of butter.
2.When the butter has melted, slide in an egg. Put a lid over and allow the eggs to steam for 3 or 4 minutes. The whites should be just set, the yolks still a little soft. This can be quite tricky to get right, the yolks tending to be ready while the whites are still a little wobbly.
3. Into each ramekin pour a couple of tablespoons of good rich gravy. If it’s a little insipid, reduce it first. We were lucky enough to have some good juices left-over from a chicken Sunday roast.
4. Eat while reading Geoffrey Boycott’s biography, listening to the Arctic Monkeys and wearing an Owls scarf. Tastes better with Sheffield cutlery, too.
November 2, 2006
I agree with Spinning Jenni’s comment on a previous post that Romanesco has a better flavour than the common or garden cauliflower. It’s also got a firmer texture and a brighter colour. To my mind it’s definitely an upgrade on the basic version. A kind of Veg 2.0.
This evening we made an Italian frittata with it, adding onions, parmesan and the last of the serrano ham Maths chick brought back from Essex-on-the-Med (otherwise known as the Costa Blanca).
Frittata with Romanesco, onions and serrano ham
- Slice the onions thinly and saute gently until very soft in olive oil
- Cut the romanesco into individual fractals and steam until just tender
- Whisk together 5 or 6 eggs. Add a good handful of grated parmesan, seasoning and, if you’ve got any, some slivers of Serrano or Parma ham
- Mix the egg, onion and cauliflower together
- Heat a deepish frying pan on a low heat, add a knob of butter and, once it’s started foaming, add the egg mixture
- Cook very slowly for about 15 minutes until just set. Flash under a hot grill to finish cooking the top surface.
My friend Jos is always claiming that life is too short to stuff a mushroom. While cooking this frittata I started thinking of dishes that, good as they may be, I just can’t imagine ever being bothered to attempt at home. Here’s my list-in-progress…
- Puff pastry
- Scotch eggs
- Pork pie
- Any dish that needs to be started more than 24 hours in advance
- Any recipe that requires over 12 ingredients
And maths chick looked up from her marking long enough to chip in with these additions…
- My broad bean pod puree
- Anything deep-fried (huh?)
Mind you, it only takes 5 minutes to stuff a mushroom. Life’s not that short.
September 16, 2006
Brunch is a wonderful concept. Breakfast for layabouts. An excuse to start the day with such gastro-oddities as devilled kidneys, hot-smoked fish, muffins and hollandaise sauce, perhaps even cold curry.
Brunch seems to conjure up bygone times. The indian summer of the Empire. Lazy Edwardian mornings, playing crouquet on obsessively manicured lawns. Punting down the Isis. Jolly japes and pin-stripe slacks. That kind of malarkey.
Today we celebrated the arrival of the weekend with a brunch of sweet, creamy coffee and tomato omelette, cooked Lizzy David-style.
1. For two people, take 3 or 4 tomatoes. Skin them. Chop them into small pieces. Stew slowly in butter, with plent of seasoning and a touch of white sugar. You want a thickish sauce. Add fresh herbs such as parsley or marjoram if you’ve got any in the fridge or garden.
2. Whisk together four eggs. Season. Add a gulp of butter to your usual omelette or pancake pan and place over a medium heat. When the butter starts to froth, add half the beaten eggs.
3. Straight away, as the eggs begin to set, use a spatula to pull an edge of the omelette towards the centre. Tip the pan to allow the egg mixture to pour round, filling the gap. Do this a couple of times.
4. When the omelette still has some soft egg on the surface, add a tablespoon or so of the tomato mixture in a line down the centre. If you like, sprinkle with some grated parmesan.
5. Roll the omelette over the tomato, and slide on to a plate.
Best consumed with crusty bread and the Guardian Sports section; with the Archers omnibus harmlessly burbling along in the background, anticipation of Arsenal v Man U building.