Potato and Onion Frittata

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.



Penne with tomato sauce

September 18, 2007

Penne with tomato sauce

I guess posting a recipe for pasta with tom sauce is liking writing a recipe for a cheese sarnie – it’s a patronising statement of the bleedin’ obvious.

My excuse is I wanted to show off a recent addition to my gadget collection – a food mill. Being a luddite I’m suspicious of all things electrical in the kitchen (including my oven) and prefer the reliability and control of grinding, slicing, whipping-up and mushing by hand. I also like the shiny gleaming curves of the mill, and its exuberant handle, which looks like the gear stick on the old Renault 4 my mum had when I was a kid. It’s a bugger to clean, mind.

I guess most people have their own favourite way of preparing tom sauce for pasta, even if it’s just opening a jar of Dolmio. Another excuse for including mine here is that it’s also a way of using up any stray carrots cowering in the shadowy recesses of your veg tray. I like my tom sauce sweet and simple, without herbs, occasionally without even garlic, but always enriched and sweetened at the end with butter.

Tomato sauce for penne

1. Finely dice an onion, a carrot and a couple of sticks of celery. Slowly saute them in butter or olive oil (not extra virgin). After these have started to soften, mash a garlic clove and stir that in.

2. Add a tin of Italian tomatoes (or skinned ripe fresh toms if you’re lucky enough to have a supply) and season well. Cook over a high heat, stirring regularly, for a good 15 or 20 minutes until the toms have broken down and the veg are soft.

3. Pass the sauce through the food mill, using a medium-holed attachment. Put it back in the pan and, if too thick, loosen with a splash of water. Check the seasoning.

4. Add the penne (cooked al dente, natch) to the pan, a good schlep of butter and a grating of parmesan. Mix it all up well and serve immediately. Good olive oil, extra grated parmesan and pepper should be out on the table for everyone to help themselves to.

Penne with tomato sauce

Lazy pommes boulanger

September 10, 2007

Lamb and Potatoes

Here’s a tip the next time you’re doing a roast. Slice a few peeled spuds and onions thinly, season well and add some fresh herbs (e.g. sage with pork, rosemary with lamb or chicken). Toss them in a little oil and spread them out in the roasting tray or pan, pour over a small glass of white wine. Cook the joint on a rack above the veggies.

By the time the meat has finished roasting, the spuds and onions have soaked up the fat and juices from the joint and gone gooey and soft on the bottom, crisp and brown on top. A rib-sticking alternative to the traditional roasties.

Gooey potato mush

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…

  1. Gnocchi
  2. Puff pastry
  3. Scotch eggs
  4. Consomme
  5. Pork pie
  6. Any dish that needs to be started more than 24 hours in advance
  7. Any recipe that requires over 12 ingredients

Maths chick marking

And maths chick looked up from her marking long enough to chip in with these additions…

  1. My broad bean pod puree
  2. Anything deep-fried (huh?)
  3. Meringues

Mind you, it only takes 5 minutes to stuff a mushroom. Life’s not that short.

French Onion Tart

October 18, 2006

Onion tart ingredients

An old uni friend of mine used to curse a housemate of his who, he claimed, ate nothing but beige food. For him, this was the sign of many things – intellectual and social deficiency, a lack of masculinity, a general spinelessness. I remember his angry tirades against beige food whenever I tuck into a bowl of humus, and I feel a slight pang of shame.

Maths chick is off to a swanky hotel on the Dorset coast with her fellow teachers tomorrow (who says teachers don’t get perks?) so I’m cooking her a tatty-bye meal. And to be honest, it’s looking quite beige at the moment. Many shades of beige – creamy beige, golden beige, pasty beige – but still, unmistakably beige.

It’s a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for years, and it features large amounts of five of my favouritest things – butter, thick cream, cheese, egg yolks and onions. It’s such a fine idea, I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve attempted it.

When I’ve thought about making it in the past, I’ve always lacked either the means or the excuse. The arrival with this week’s veg box of a 2kg bag of onions and a carton of devonian cream gave me the means; Maths chick’s tax-payer funded jolly to Sand Banks gave me the excuse. So thank you, Mr(s) Secretary of State for Education, whoever you are these days.

Onion tart in the oven

French Onion Tart

I’ve nicked this from Fearnley-Walthamstow’s River Cottage Year Book. He nicked it from (who else?) Elizabeth David. No doubt she nicked it from a ruddy-faced farmer’s wife in Normandy.

1. For the pastry case. Rub together 200g plain flour and 100g butter. Add just enough water to bind. Press the pastry into a 20-23cm flan dish. Bake blind (lined with greaseproof paper and dried beans) in a 200C oven for about 15 minutes. Lift out the paper and cook another 5 minutes.

2. For the filling. Finely slice 1kg of onions and saute them very gently in a good schlop of butter for at least half an hour, until soft and golden, but not browned. Season, and grate in a small amount of nutmeg. Stir together 3 egg yolks, 200ml of double cream and 100g of parmesan, gruyere or cheddar cheese. Mix with the eggy cream and pour in to the pastry case.

3. Final cooking: about half an hour in a 190C oven. If your oven is as inconsistent as mine, it’s a good idea to keep turning the flan to achieve an evenly browned surface.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a fare-thee-well feast to attend to.

Completely pickled

October 1, 2006

Squash and pickling onions

Our kitchen this weekend has been glowing with autumn colours. The rich hues of the red kabacha squash, the pale brittle orange of pickling onions. The tang of bubbling vinegar has been tickling the back of our noses; mounds of soft dark sugar have been slowly settling in the weighing scales. The temperamental weekend weather has provided the perfect excuse to abandon our previous plans (cementing, self-improvement) in favour of an extended pickling session.

Pickling spices

Between the thundery showers we set off on a spice-buying mission to Martyn’s, an old-fashioned grocery on Muswell Hill Broadway. Entering the dimly-lit interior is like walking into the well-stocked larder of an Edwardian stately home. There’s floor-to-ceiling jars of preserves and pickles, tins of loose tea, kitsch biscuit boxes, fruit curds, bags of broken walnuts. The walls are lined with dark wood panelling, a coffee roaster spins slowly in the corner. Crates of wrinkled apricots and prunes sit primly in the window, looking as if they’ve been there since the days of powdered eggs and rationing. You pay for your groceries through a small hatch in the wall, like in an old drug dispensary. Here, shopping becomes a form of time travel.

We re-emerged into the 21st century clutching little sachets of allspice, juniper berries, cinammon sticks and blades of mace. Tiny dry grenades of exotic flavour.

I love the process of pickling. The slow preparation of the ingredients – peeling, soaking, slicing, marinading. The careful weighing and measuring of the vinegar and sugar. The rattle as you throw spoonfuls of cloves and peppercorns in the pan. I also love the paraphernalia – the long-handled wooden spoons, the giant preserving pan, the random collection of rescued jars warming in the oven. I like the build up to the critical moment when you add the sugar to the simmering mixture of vinegar and vegetables, whacking up the heat to full, transforming the pan into a volcanic crater of bubbling, sweet-sour lava.

Pickled onions

This burst of enthusiastic pickling was prompted by the arrival of a 1kilo bag of small onions with this week’s box, and the discovery of a couple of left-over mangos in the fridge. Riverford had usefully thrown detailed pickling instructions into the bag of onions. The first step was to soak the little critters in salted water for 24 hours. A reminder that this preserving malarkey suits those of a patient disposition and plenty of spare time. And then, even after everything is cooked and bottled, you need to wait weeks before you can open the first jar and sample the good sticky stuff inside. An exercise in willpower and deferred gratification.

Mango Chutney

Mango chutney

In an ideal world, all chutney recipes would be treasured family heirlooms, handed down directly from grannie to grandchild, missing out the middle generation (who are too busy ruling the family with an iron-fist to indulge in something as trivial as pickling). However, in the real world, it’s useful to have one of those 1000 Recipes for Jams and Pickles-type books, probably published in the 1970’s by Good Housekeeping or Countrylife. Terrible photos, reliable recipes. Mango Chutney may be the best thing to come out of the British empire – with kedgeree second, the Ashes cricket series third, and Cliff Richard fourth.

You need…
2 tsp pickling spice (we used a mix of allspice, bay leaves, cinnamon, mace, cloves and peppercorns)
12 oz onion, chopped small
2lb mangoes, peeled and cut in largish chunks
1lb cooking apples
2 tsp ginger
1 pint vinegar, we used malt, but I think white wine or cider would produce a better colour.
1 1/4 lb soft brown sugar

1. Tie the spices in a bag.
2. Put all the ingredients except the vinegar and sugar in a pan. Add a small amount of the vinegar.
3. Simmer gently until soft, adding the vinegar a little at a time.
4. Remove the bag of spices.
5. Add the sugar and boil until thick.
6. Turn into dry, hot jars and seal when cold.

Wait… for a month… or two… hmmmm… er… game of scrabble, anyone..?

Friday night is curry night. Saturday or Sunday is good too. It takes time to cook, and is best enjoyed at leisure, in front of an Alan Partridge DVD or Match of the Day.

Curry Friday

Curry is great for using up old veg – an entire cuisine designed to hide the flavour of gently rotting produce.

This is my all-purpose curry recipe for when I can’t be bothered to wade through Madhur Jaffrey to find an authentic korma or jalfrezi recipe:

Chop a couple of big onions, a few cloves of garlic and a big lump of ginger into small bits. Fry slowly in a big saucepan with several gulps of sunflower oil and/or ghee. When the onion is transparent, blitz with a hand-blender. Now, make a paste of water with a teaspoon or two of ground turmeric, paprika, cumin and coriander. Cook in the onion paste for a good 10-15 minutes. It should be starting to resemble a curry now. Maybe add a couple of chopped tomates at this point. Or not. Season well.

Now add whatever veg you have left-over. Par-cook if using root veg. Just bung in other stuff – cabbage, spinach, peppers, courgettes. Whatever you fancy. Pretty much anything goes in a curry. Towards the end, after maybe 1 or 2 hours of slow cooking, add a flat tablespoon or so of garam masala. This adds a strong fragrant spiciness to the final taste.

Serve with your favourite curry accompaniments. For me it’s got to be minty yoghurt, mango chutney, naan or chapattis (a speciality of her-indoors), dhal. Maybe rice cooked with a couple of cardamon pods and some lemon zest. And a couple of cans of luke-warm bitter.

Then my favourite bit – cold curry for breakfast. Slobby, spicy, oily bliss.