Grilled mackerel

This week I started a part-time Masters in London Studies at Birkbeck College. At the tender age of 35 I find myself a student yet again. This is the fourth Masters course I’ve started, and hopefully, in 2 years time, it will be the third one I’ve finished.

The MA I dropped out of was in Modern British History at Hallam University, which I enrolled on back in ’95. At the end of the first term I was faced with the horrific prospect of writing a 3000 word essay on Britain’s pre-war tariff and trade policies. At that point I did the decent thing and fell on my academic sword, returning with relief to my job as second chef at Scottie’s Bistro.

My tutor on that course was a legendary climber, Paul Nunn, who died in a Himalayan avalanche the same year I quit. I only found out when I stumbled across his obituary in the paper. He was a lovely, funny, bearded northern bloke and I was very sad to hear the news. I hadn’t even known he was a climber. I learned later that he’d inspired an entire generation of British mountaineers, including Joe Simpson of Touching the Void fame.

So I am once again a slave to the reading list and the seminar schedule. The cash I save on cheap cinema tickets and 10% book discounts will go towards buying cartons of Bulgarian merlot and paying hefty library fines. After 6 cold hard years in the labour market, it’s good to be back in the warm fluffy bosom of academia. Whether I’ll have time to do much blogging over the coming months is another matter. I’ve already started another blog for recording my research ideas and course notes, but I can’t see that one crashing into Technorati’s Top 100 any time soon.

Which is a pretty long-winded way of introducing what I had for dinner tonight.

Grilled Mackerel with Swiss Chard and Carrot

This recipe came with the Riverford newsletter a few weeks ago, and I’ve made it several times since. It’s colourful, tasty, and makes you forget you’re eating carrots. Again.

1. Peel some carrots and slice thinly on an angle (about 3 carrots per person seems about right). Boil until al dente, then drain.

2. Take a big handful of chard per person and seperate the leaves from the stalks. Chop the stalks into 1 inch pieces and boil ’til tender. Drain. Now also boil the leaves and drain when cooked.

3. Chop a garlic clove or two and some red chilli finely. Heat some olive oil in a wok or saute pan and add the garlic and chilli. Stir a couple of times and add all the vegetables. Saute for a few minutes to let the flavours mingle. Season, and, if you like, dress with another glug of strong, peppery olive oil.

4. To serve with grilled mackerel: Get a nice plump shiny-eyed fish. Chop off ‘er head and gut ‘er. Make diagonal scores in both sides of the fish. Rub salt, pepper and oil into the scores, the skin and the cavity. Get the grill nice and hot and bung her under. 4 or 5 minutes each side should do the trick. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a learned article on the water supply in 16th century London to attend to.


A damp, grey-white pall once more hangs over London. The metropolis returns, perhaps with relief, to long sleeves and slacks, sensible shoes, fixed expressions. The heat-wave has passed, the flip-flops have been thrown back into the cupboard – will they be seen again this year? Who knows? Who cares? The sun’s always shining when you’ve got a Riverford veg box.

Like the seasoned Londoner, swiss chard seems a tough, adaptable kind of vegetable. I can imagine it jumping into a winter stew as much as gracing a summer quiche with its earthy presence.

But I suppose it will disappear from our boxes at some stage over the year. Will we miss it, or breathe a sigh of relief? Probably we won’t even notice. Veg box enthusiasts¬†are fickle creatures.

Taking a tip from newforestgrrrl I threw together a chard and parmesan omelette this evening. And mighty quick it was, too. No more than 5 minutes from opening the fridge door to stuffing my little face.

Swiss chard and parmesan omelette

For 1 (boo-bleedin’-hoo)

1. Wash and shred a couple of handfuls of leaf. Wilt down in olive oil in a pan, over medium heat. Season and squeeze the excess liquid out. Forgot to add the nutmeg, which would have been good.

2. Whisk a couple of eggs well. Season.

3. Put a phlapp of butter in your best omelette pan over a decent heat. When it froths, add the eggs.

4. Tip the pan slightly, pull back one edge of the omelette and let the liquid egg on top run round on to the base of the pan. Do this a couple of times.

5. Sprinkle on a tablespoon or two of parmesan cheese, and, optionally, spoon on a gloop of double cream.

6. Bung your cooked chard leaves on a line down the middle of the omelette and roll it up. Slip on to a plate.

Good with some kind of crusty bread. Or Mothers Pride sliced white. It all goes down the same way.

Maths chick has trotted off with her digital camera, so no food porn shots with this post. You’ll have to make do with this completely irrelevant shot of some blocks of flats in Walthamstow.

Wanstead Flats

Swiss chard gratin

August 1, 2006

Right. No waffle.You’re heading for veg box melt-down. All you’ve got in the kitchen is milk, butter, cheese, flour and bucket-loads of thick-stemmed Swiss chard, rapidly losing it’s squeak. I’ve got just the recipe, if you’ll step this way.

Swiss chard gratin

Put the oven on medium. Have a shallow gratin-dish of some sort on stand-by.

1. Make a thickish bechamel sauce. Make it properly for a change – add bay leaf, parsley stalks, perhaps an onion studded with cloves to the warmed milk. Stir it over a low heat for a good 20 minutes to get rid of the floury taste. Add a few tablespoons of thick cream at the end to make it gleam. If you like, you can follow this recipe.

Perhaps you’ll want to customise the sauce – I added a teaspoon of mustard and a small amount of grated cheddar.

2. Remove the stalks of the chards from the leaves. Chop the stalks into 2 inch lengths and blanch in boiling water until almost tender. Drain. Shred the remaining leaves and cook in the water that clings to them – when they wilt, add the stalks. Season and add some grated nutmeg, if that’s your bag. Drain well – too much liquid is the enemy of a good gratin.

3. Put a layer of sauce in the gratin dish, then plonk the swiss chard on top, and cover with the remaining sauce. Dot with butter. Bung in the oven and leave to cook until it has brown bubbling patches on top.

Eat with peasant bread and a glass of plonk.

Bob’s your uncle.

I love swiss chard because it’s a two-for-the-price-of-one veg. You get the stalks for gratins and stir-fries, and you get the leaves as a coarser, tougher spinach-substitute. And unlike spinach, it retains body when cooked. Chard appeals to my resourceful (tight-fisted?) Yorkshire nature. Riverford share my enthusiasm, judging from the frequency with which we receive bulging bags of this good, good stuff.

All recipes for Swiss Chard in Jane Grigson’s masterful Vegetable Book involve a combination with pork. It’s an absolutely natural combination. We’ve done this sausage and chard pie a couple of times recently. Fits perfectly in a cast-iron Le Creuset pan-lid.

Swiss chard and sausage pie

Sausage and Swiss Chard Pie
For 2

1. Make shortcrust pastry with 6oz flour and a little over 3oz butter. Bung in the fridge for a few minutes. Don’t know how to make pastry? Ask Delia.

Making pastry

2. Crumble several good pork sausages into a frying pan with a glob of butter. Cook a couple of minutes then add a crushed garlic clove and a generous amount of sliced chard leaves and stalk. Allow these to wilt, stirring, and season with salt, pepper and a grate or two off a whole nutmeg.

3. Line a small pie tin with half the pastry, fill with the chard mixture. Top the pie with the rest of the pastry and brush with milk or egg, to glaze. If you’re pastry skills are as basic as mine the pie will resemble a late Picasso at this stage. It doesn’t matter – rustic coarseness is the order of the day.

4. Bake in a medium oven for 30 minutes. Don’t turn on the grill instead of the oven like I did this evening. Maths chick spotted a rapidly blistering pie-lid and disaster was averted, in the nick of time.

Swiss chard and sausage pie

I hollowed out a couple of globe courgettes and roasted them in the same oven as the pie. Filled them with broad beans, boiled then sauted briefly with fresh sage and olive oil. Looked a bit daft, truth be told. I think a pie like this would be better paired with good-old-fashioned spuds and gravy.

All in all, a great antidote to those poxy veg box blues.