I had started with the intention of making a dip. It turned into a pasta sauce. And that is not a bad thing when that pasta sauce becomes an instant favourite; we've had it three times in the last two weeks, not least because a jar of it from the fridge made an excellent emergency supper when an underfloor gas leak one evening this week has led to the hob being disconnected.We are left, temporarily with a two ring burner for our cooking. So it's basic meals for the next week, I don't think a barbecue every night is an option, we're not Australian for God's sake.This does also make an excellent dip, served slightly warm with fresh flatbreads, so make enough, store in sterilised jars for up to five days and you'll have a few options. You can omit the chilli if you want to feed it to the children, but the kick you get really lifts the sauce. I'd suggest training them to love chilli instead...Ingredients2 large aubergines2 Romano peppers (just increase the bell peppers if you can't get these)1 red bell pepper1tbsp ground cumin1tbsp ground corianderA lot of olive oil, this dish really needs it for richness and depth1 dried red Scotch bonnet chilli or habanero1 good quality tin of plum tomatoes10 or so cherry tomatoes2 large cloves of garlicSalt and pepper to seasonMethodHeat the oven to 180cSlice the aubergines and peppers put them in a roasting ray with the cherry tomatoes.Blitz the remaining ingredients in a blender and pour over the peppers and aubergine. Season well and add a little more olive oil for fun. It really should have an indecent amount.Cook for 45 minutes until soft and 'done' then leave to cool.Blend roughly and serve hot with fusili. Or Malluredos, but that is next to difficult to find.This weekRead:The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Mudoch. Very funny, sublime and evocative. The main character is a self-obsessed pomposity of a man and a joy to read.Watched:The final series of Episodes. I'm glad it's over, but I'll miss it. I loved the ending, never saw it coming, but it was blindingly obvious when it did.Listened:Suanne Sundfor's new album, Norwegian interestingnessEat:Awful and boring the worst of England bland and mediocre, loveless pub food in our favourite East Sussex village. And it cost an arm and a leg each night of our stay too. The worst of this country's attitude to food.
White asparagus with salsa verde. toasted chilli almonds, Parmesan and lemon zestI blame the Ancient Egyptians. What did they ever do for us? Cat worship lead to domestication and ultimately to them sneaking into my back garden overnight where I’ve left the paddling pool out, because I thought I’d put it away another time, and trampling all over it with their claws and leaving tiny, impossible to find holes in an absurd variety of places.Every small success, every patch glued over an excitedly-discovered hole led me to believe it would stay inflated. This time. And half an hour later, sagging sadly and listlessly to one side, the water started pouring out. Again. I sagged sadly and listlessly to one side.But now the bank holiday weekend is over, and we are not prone at the feet of the sun god, we have a paddling pool that is more puncture repair patches than paddling pool (I don’t know where the pool ends and the patches begin). I have folded it away and put it in the garage. And ordered a new one. It seems even garden leisure goods can teach you a lesson about not doing just half the job.But all this does show that we have been spending a lot of time outside, which is a good thing. I have used the barbecue more times in the last month than I have in the past year, even lighting it last week after picking the children up from school to make them pizzas, using it succesfully as a makeshift pizza oven.And as the sun is still shining, today’s lunch was light, quick and zingy. While people rend their clothes and cry tears over how fantastic British asparagus is when in season, the white variety is just not as popular here. But it is delicious and tender, and somewhat striking. If you see some, snap it up, snap off the ends and cook it in some butter, lemon juice and water and serve it with salsa verde. Toasted almond flakes add a little crunch and lemon zest a little highlight and lunch is ready to eat sat outside with some shades on and bandana tied around your head ready to point the hose at any cat that comes near the garden. I’m also sure one is trying to bury poo in the rosemary. Remind me of that next time I cut some to marinade the chicken in for another barbecue.Ingredients10-12 white asaparagus spears, peeled and the tough part of the stem snapped offA handful of basil leavesA bigger handful of parsleyFronds from a few dill sprigs1tsp capers1tsp Dijon mustardA small hadful of flaked almonds1tsp smoked chipotle chilli flakes (or standard red chilli flakes)A few shavings per person of Parmesan or Grana PadanoZest of a small lemonOlive oilButter and lemon juice for the asparagus waterMethodBring a pan of water (enough to cover the asparagus) to the boil and add a tablespoon or two of butter and the juice of a lemon.Cook the asparagus in this for about five minutes, depending on the thickness of the stems. Drain and plunge into cold water to stop them cooking any further.Blend the herbs, capers and mustard together with enough olive oil to make a pourable sauce.Toast the almonds with the chilli flakes until the nuts are turning golden and remove from the heat. Don’t walk away from them or they will burn and you’ll have to start again, which is a pain.Divide the asparagus between two plates, spoon over the salsa verde and sprinkle on the chilli almond flakes.Top with some shavings of cheese and some pared lemon zest and serve immediately.This week:Read:India, by V.S. Naipaul. A fascinating and engagingly written insight into an enigmatic and enormous country. Bonkers and beautiful.Watched:Episodes; the first 20 minutes of 'Hampstead'; the first half of 'The Florida Project'; and painfully continuing with 'The Woman in White'. Excellent; clichéd and tedious; Good but got bored of watching a six year old be a six year old even though the film has its merits, just not when we're tired; and oh God when will this tedium of a series end but it's too late to give up now.Eat:Gosh we have been loading the barbecue with marinated chicken, aubergines, sausages and the rest. We've had tomato salads, carrot salads, green salads. I puréed green chillies and coriander and garlic and smothered it over a chicken which I split grilled then poured over a quick coconut, chilli garlic and ginger sauce and served with homemade naan. We've had Fried chicken and tacos at an American style bar in Shoreditch because we are so trendy and much more. It's been a good week.Listened:Radio 4s Book at Bedtime, 'The Valley at the Centre of the World' by Malachi Tallack. We miss the excellent telly programme 'Shetland' so this has come at a good time. It was even read by Steven Robertson who plays Sandy and has the most fantastic accent.
I was in a hotel in Paris for some of last week, eating unusually. The family had gathered in the 15ème from around Europe and America for Aunty Suzy's funeral, she was 100. An achievement, especially as she smoked comme une cheminée until she was at least 80.She was buried among illustrious company in the Montparnasse cemetery. Grumpy, ugly singers, Irish playwrights probably still waiting, existentialist philosophers, artists and grands fromages from history share the cold ground. I may not be able to see her anymore, but there is a place I can go to visit. Her apartment block will always be there, but new people will occupy it, more lives being lived. I'll not see those rooms again. God knows they're in for a surprise when they see the decoration that hasn't changed since she moved in.The local boulangerie furnished me with two ficelles a day, the tiny Carrefour express two minutes away kept me in supplied with ham, paté and cheese and I went to the Monoprix around the corner just to look at the food on display like a drooling window shopper. Being at the mercy of restaurants for each meal is not for me, merci. So a bag on the hotel balcony in the chilly November air served as an impromptu fridge to store my supplies.This kept me from being grumpy, like a local, and when you're dealing with 20 family members and trying to organise group meals, you need to fortify yourself. It's like herding cats, so pre-emptive snacks are a must.We went out for cous cous, it's a family tradition. Merguez and I have a long and happy history, but don't get to be together much anymore. It's a long-distance relationship, but we're always pleased to see each other. Much of my family grew up in Tripoli where the Ghirlando Brothers shipping company was based so this food is a reminder of their childhood and all of them together is like the good old days.I raided the patisserie on the Rue de Lourmel – canelé and pear tarts every day. The occasional palmier, petite beurre and chocolate barquette may have fallen into my bag. And creme brulée and tart tatin were shoveled down my trou gateau at the nearest opportunity. I clearly can't be trusted in Paris where even the smell of the Metro is like a meal to me. I also had steak tartare with salad and proper french frites. It's what she would have wanted.This clearly and sadly can't go on. But that doesn't mean I have to return to a life of pottage. How gruel that would be. So with the simplest of ingredients I made a feast to liven up a cold London lunchtime. Cherry tomatoes, slowly cooked in garlic, herbs and oil until bursting have at least doubled in flavour. And the aubergine, first charred and burnt on the gas flame was roasted until soft then blitzed with garlic, onion and thyme compote that I'd slowly and softly melted down under a paper cartouche, the flame beneath barely stronger than a match.I made some pitta breads, soft and a little blackened in parts from the griddle, to mop up all the juices and we sat, contently and quietly eating. To cut through the richness there was a salad of thinly sliced red onion, sliced baby cucumber, crumbled feta cheese from the new Turkish shop round the corner and a sprinkle of dried Sicilian oregano. It was finished off with a simple dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar (I had no red wine vinegar) and some black pepper.All of this can be made in advance, perhaps the night before while making supper. The tomatoes can stay out on the kitchen worktop, but take the aubergine purée out of the fridge an hour before eating. If it's too cold its flavour will be as non-existent as Jean-Paul Sartre's afterlife.IngredientsHere is the pitta bread recipeFor the confit tomatoA punnet of cherry tomatoesGood olive oil to cover1tbsp fennel seeds1tbsp coriander seeds1tsp peppercorns4-6 cloves of garlicA pinch of saltFor the aubergine dip1 very large aubergine2 cloves of garlicSome olive oilSalt and pepper to seasonFor the onion compote1 large white onion1 sprig of thyme1 clove of garlic, slicedSalt and pepperFor the salad1/2 Feta cheese, crumbled1 small red onion, thinly sliced2 baby cucumbers, thinly sliced1tbsp dried oreganoOlive oilCider vinegarSalt and pepper to seasonMethodBurn the aubergine all over on a gas flame or with a blowtorch. You can also do this under a grill if you have access to neither. Roast in a hot oven until soft then leave to cool a little.Blend the aubergine with its skin in a food processor, adding the garlic and enough olive oil to form a fairly loose purée. Add a few tablespoons of the onion compote if you are making that and blend well. Season to taste.Add all the confit tomato ingredients to a heavy-based saucepan, making sure the olive oil covers the tomatoes and bring to a gentle heat. Cook low and slowly until the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape. Leave to cool in the oil. You can even put these in a sterilised jar to store for up to three days in the fridge if you like.The onion compote takes the longest so if you haven't made this yet, I'd start an hour ago.Finely slice the onion and add to a heavy sauté pan. Add a good glug of olive oil, a few thyme sprigs, the garlic and salt and pepper. Bring to a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down as low as you can and cover the onions with a circle of parchment paper. Put a lid on the top too if you have one. Cook slowly for about an hour until the onions are meltingly soft. Stir occasionally during cooking and don't let them brown.Toss the salad ingredients together about 20 minutes before you want to eat it to allow the flavours to mellow. All these dishes taste best if you leave them a little while to mature.Serve everything with fresh, warm pitta bread.This weekRead: Can you believe it? I finished Middlemarch. I'd like to thank Bee for the recommendation and can now put that book firmly back on the shelf. It feels like a blessed relief to be reading 'Quand sort la recluse' a 'Policier' by Fred Vargas. Trashy, murdery fun.Watched: Very little. Blue planet and Howard's End. And a little bit of a French shopping channel on Saturday Morning.Listened: I went deep into the Les Misérables soundtrack on youtube the other day. And The Stamboul Train by Graham Greene on the BBC iPlayerEat: Before I went away I cooked some red split lentils until very soft with turmeric and cumin. On top of that there were some quickly sautéed courgette cubes with garlic and seared lamb neck fillets, pink in the middle, a little dense and chewy for some, but I enjoyed them.
The sky was yellow, a Saharan dust covering London. A strange light and a weak red sun poking through. Perhaps this was a new and rather full-on marketing push for the new Bladerunner film, or maybe we are hurtling toward apocalypse now. I met a friend for supper that evening and the gloom meant we all scuttled indoors a little quicker than usual. We eat steak tartare, prepared tableside by a crisp black and white linen-ed and desiccated waiter then hurried back to our homes.Summer is now well on it's way to the other side of the world and autumn has properly pulled the duvet over us. Soon, the woolly hats and gloves will be on and we can be justified in not leaving the house until March.It's a strange feeling, the desire to go to bed at six in the evening and the sure mistake of the alarm going off at what seems like the middle of the night. The clocks will soon change, giving us a little more light in the early morning for about a week before we sink ankle deep into winter. I hope the farmers are grateful as we all finish our afternoons with night vision goggles on, stepping over the bodies of run-over school children.There are still some green leaves clinging desperately onto the branches of the tree today as I look outside the sitting room window. Most of the other branches around are bare and I swear I just saw a pigeon with a scarf on. But as civilisation comes to an end around us and turnips are the only thing that will still grow, I still insist on serving a green salad at almost every meal. The children have a bowl of it tossed with mustardy vinaigrette to eat before I give them their supper. We don't live in an American restaurant, it just keeps them quiet for a bit and they wolf it down. I should stop wearing a frilly apron and serving them bottomless mugs of coffee though.This week saw me grate half a clove of garlic into my usual dressing. This is what is passing for excitement in our house at the moment. We are all pretty tired now, and half term hasn't come soon enough. The children need a rest and we are grateful for the change of pace it brings. Although we now find ourselves, with unbelievable inconvenience, having to feed them three meals a day plus occasional snacks and seek out entertainment.This Sunday morning though, the children let us sleep until quarter to nine before waking us up to complain of hunger. They then retired to their room to tidy their drawers for two hours, as if possessed by Mary Poppins. Ours was not to reason why, so I read the paper alone in peace while Bee read her book in bed drinking tea. Unsettling.But by the time evenings come around and the children are in bed, supper sometimes seems a huge effort. It's more often than not something I can throw into one pan and leave to do it's thing, such as the hearty haricot and chorizo stew we had early in the week. or a tray of chipped sweet potato, sprinkled liberally with garam masala and chilli flakes, roasted in the oven with a couple of bream, olive oil, fat garlic cloves and cherry tomatoes that had started to explode in the heat.One night, I found a bag of figs, now perfectly ripe (one overly so and destined for the bin), some very ripe Rocamadour goat's cheese that you could smell from France and some slices of a sourdough loaf. A little honey, olive oil, salt and pepper and a pinch of fresh parsley was enough to satisfy the evening hunger. Simple, good ingredients made something far more than the some of their parts and figs, well they are practically the flavour of Christmas aren't they?This week:Watched: Finally getting around to Fargo season three. Perfectly wintery, and the Minnesota accent is so great.Read: Still reading Middlemarch. And I fear I shall be for some time yet. Lincoln in the Bardo sits on my bedside table and the pile of books I want to read is growing longer than there are years left to read them.Listened to: The Omen on Radio 4 iPlayer. A perfect example of an epic child's tantrum.Eat: Steak Tartare in 1980s Toremolinos, or rather La Barca, Lower Marsh. Methi chicken at Lahore Karahi in Tooting. Pakistani canteen food better than most, quick, friendly and a great place to top up the spice levels. They promise a "genuine spicy taste", so you'd hope they deliver. And they do.
Just as we've recovered from our trip to Legoland, it's time for the school summer fair. I found myself flipping burgers and sausages for four hours with Mike on a hot Saturday after volunteering to help. I'm sure there must have been some form of mind control involved, or perhaps he asked me when Maya was pulling my nose and Noah was falling off his scooter at speed. However it happened, he must have caught me at a weak moment.But now the meat sweats have calmed down, and I no longer smell like a forest fire and can face eating again it's been little but salads this week, or ham and egg on toast. Simple and quick things that don't require much thought or time.So in light of not a great deal going on in the kitchen for the past few days, here is a selection of things I find essential and interestingly useful from my bulging shelves.La isla bonito:dried and fermented smoked tuna is a surprisingly delicious addition to many seafood dishes and stocks. I particularly like to add it to the pasta when I'm making spaghetti alle vongole. And I occasionally just like smelling the jar for that strange almost fish food smell.We bought a yuzu:I'll often use this in dressings instead of lemon juice to give a slightly different citrus tang or in sorbets and lemon tarts.Yeast today, once more:Usually I make the weekly bread using my sourdough starter, but when I want a quicker loaf, pitta breads, ciabbattas or the like, I'll use this fresh yeast from Sweden (via Ocado or the internet). It's tangy, I much prefer fresh than the dried powdery stuff and I like the packaging.Tarragon with the wind:Not many days pass in this house without a salad and our house vinaigrette. Cider vinegar that has had a small bunch of tarragon steeping in it is key to this. Aniseed and apple flavours make this vinaigrette stand out.Fungi to be around:Dried porcini mushrooms, ground to a powder (or for that matter, dried mushrooms of most kinds) make an excellent seasoning for steak, or beef. I also add it to my mushroom pasta and many other dishes where I want that deep umami hit.Oil be seeing you, in all the old familiar places:I have a standard olive oil to cook with and I have a few special ones to dress with. Food that is, I don't need oil on hand when putting clothes on. Just spending a little more on a really good quality olive oil makes such a difference to finishing dishes or for making dressings or just to dip good bread in.Sitting on the dock of the Old Bay:First of all, I love the packaging. Second, no fish taco in this house is complete without Old Bay seasoning. Easy.Pepper the conversation:Japanese pepper is slightly fruity and lemony, so is great on seafood or with meringues and strawberries. I use it a lot when I want an extra kick without too much pepper flavourAil be seeing you, in all those old familiar faces:A house without garlic is a sad house.Cutting the mustard:Maille is my preferred brand of Dijon mustard. I use it in vinagrettes and it's a must(ard) with roast chicken.Chilli in here:I like chilli heat, we have a variety of hot chilli sauces on the shelves too. And one of my favourite uses for them is hot green chilli sliced onto scrambled eggs. Hot green chillies probably would improve most dishes in my opinion.Herb Salt:A mix of rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley, this salt will turn your morning fried eggs into delicious morning fried eggs. And there are plenty more uses for it than that too. Seasoning chicken skin before the bird goes in the oven, sprinkling over flaky white fish or seasoning, even curing salmon, this salt is just a little bit more than the usual. All you need is a spice grinder and it keeps for a long, long while.
I may be the only person in our house that likes gnocchi. I'll find out for sure on the weekend when I feed the ones left over from today's lunch to the children on the weekend. Perhaps I'll sneak them into a tomato sauce with sausage chunks and see what happens.I'm a fan of the soft squidginess of them, the slight bite and the comforting blandness. I'm not a fan of the shop bought ones that more often that not are like trying to chew through a squash ball. But these ones, soft and light but with a little resistance are actually squash balls. Butternut squash.It's been hanging around long enough. And to avoid peeling it, I unsheathed my longest and heaviest knife, and smote it, cleaving it clean in two. That is how it happened in my mind. The reality may have been a little different, but what I ended up with was two long halves ready for a roast in the oven while I used the saved time to stare out the window and drink coffee.Well, it makes a change from potatoes in the gnocchi. Potatoes and flour does seem a little bit of overkill, and these are bright orange, slightly sweet and the perfect comfort food when the weather outside has turned from sunny skies into having to use the shipping forecast as a guide to leaving the house.The recipe makes enough for four people. If the other three aren't interested you can blanch the gnocchi quickly in boiling water, then plunge them into cold water, drain and toss through with a little olive oil. Then you can freeze them and use for lonely suppers when your other half has gone out for a fun-filled evening leaving you alone with your worthy subtitled black and white films they never want to watch.Ingredients1 butternut squash, medium size220g strong flour, plus extra for shaping.1 egg, beatenA handful of fresh sage leaves40g hazelnuts, toasted in a frying pan then choppedChilli oil to serve, or olive oil and chilli flakesZest of an orangeSalt and pepper to seasonMethodHeat the oven to 200c/gas 8.Cut the butternut in half lengthways, being careful to not sever your hand.Scoop out the seeds and throw them away. You can spend the next hour trying to separate them from the fibrous strands they are attached to for roasting or toasting, but surely life is too short. They can go in the compost.Drizzle the squash with olive oil, season well and roast for about an hour.Leave to cool, scoop the flesh out into a bowl and blitz to a pulp. Season and taste then beat in the egg and incorporate the flour until you have a sticky dough.Pour a pile of flour onto the kitchen bench and take a tablespoon of the dough. Drop it into the flour roll it into a little cylinder. Squish a dent in it with your thumb and set aside while you repeat with the rest of the dough until finished.Cook the gnocchi in boiling, well salted water for about three to four minutes then drain, drizzle with olive oil and keep warm.Heat a small pan with about a centimetre of olive oil then fry the sage leaves in batches for about five seconds until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.Serve the hot gnocchi with a scattering of sage leaves, the orange zest, a sprinkle of hazelnuts and a good hand with the seasoning. Finish with the chilli oil.By all means add Parmesan; and if you really fancied it, you could melt some butter, add some chopped sage to it, cook gently for a few minutes before pouring it over with a squeeze of the orange juice.
The grey and dreary London streets are now exploding with wispy and bedraggled underfunded Christmas lights wrapped around flickering streetlamps. Apart from the showpiece Regent Street lights, most of the decorations elsewhere seem to have been found at the back of a cupboard from the '70s. Still, not one to complain about Christmas cheer, it is now permissible to talk about celebrating it and to start making plans.Two days ago I had my first mince pie of the year. And I had it for breakfast. That's how rock and roll I am. I also managed to burn it slightly, so really it turned into dark pastry holding mincemeat at a temperature approaching that of Krakatoa in full flow. But all this aside, I have also been cooking plenty of festive food for the various shoots I've been involved in over the past fortnight. And to be honest, I need a break from ham, turkey, filo parcels, prawn canapés and the like. And with all this extra cooking, sometimes the only energy I can summon at mealtimes will last the length of time it takes to make an omelette, bake a potato or cook a quick pasta dish.That doesn't mean it should be bleak though. Simplicity is beautiful and the best ingredients don't need a lot doing to them to make something delicious. So this classic pasta dish (usually made with spaghetti, but I prefer linguine) is spot on. And this is where it's worth having great quality pasta and special olive oil. Not the stuff you'd cook with, but the secret, small 250ml bottle you keep on the shelf hidden behind the unappealing tin of mixed beans you kid yourself you'll use one day. Be generous, this is its moment.Ingredients for two200g linguine (use spaghetti if you must)2 cloves of garlicHalf a mild red chilliExcellent quality olive oilSalt and pepperGrated fresh Parmesan to serveMethodBring a huge pan of water to the boil and throw in more salt than the doctor would be happy with.Add the pasta, return to the boil and stir occasionally until cooked al dente. Drain, but not quite fully - it's better if you keep back a tablespoon or two of the starchy cooking water - and return to the pan.While the pasta is boiling grate or mince the garlic, finely slice the chilli and add the olive oil to a saucepan. Heat until the garlic starts to fizz and bubble a little then season and remove from the heat.Add the pasta to the oil, or the other way round if you haven't enough space and mix so all the linguine is coated and silky with oil.Serve immediately with a blizzard of cheese, black pepper and some more of that excellent oil.
I Tarocchi is a bar in the small Ligurian hilltop town of Apricale. It was the week before Valentine's Day, about a thousand years ago before we had children and Bee and I had gone to live in the cold Italian winter for a week's break.The old stone house we had rented was charming and a little damp downstairs, probably rather like the old man who sat dressed in black outside his front door up the street watching very little passing by. We relaxed on either a sofa made from rocks or a single balcony chair and wondered if there was anyone anywhere, or whether we'd come to the end of civilisation. It was very quiet. However, and unsurprisingly given the Italians' love of food, there were plenty of eating opportunities around even if it felt like even the ghosts had left town.As we ventured out for the first evening, fully dressed for an Arctic expedition for fear of catching a mal aria, a few locals were gainfully employed trying to string red paper hearts and bunting around the town square. Only one restaurant was closed, to open for the 'season' the week after we left, which of course made it seem from last year's weathered menu the best restaurant in Italy.We passed a small village shop, nothing special, but still full of food that would shame an expensive London deli. This was to serve us for basic needs. There was also a grocer round the corner which was more like a few shelves the farmer was in charge of making beautiful and here we bought our veg. But it was I Tarocchi which captured our valentine hearts.Glued to the hill's edge and illuminated by the peculiar Italian love for strip lights, it looked more like a bad youth club than a place to eat. Tinny music played from cheap speakers and no expense was spent on decoration. We sat outside like lunatics, just for the view and ordered a plate of antipasti. The food was brilliant. Here we discovered that a simple tomato pasta can be the greatest dish in the world, and I've based my recipe on theirs ever since. And there, antipasti reached great heights. It included melanzane sott'olio. This wasn't the first time for me, I'd had it before but sort of forgotten about it and it took a little while to remember what it was.Piled on top of the salumi, Parma ham, artichokes and Ligurian olives were strings of matchstick thin aubergine. Garlicky and herbal they tasted rich, decadent and luxurious. Simple, classic Italian and a superb way to use this king of vegetables. I made some immediately upon our return, eat them and promptly forgot about them again. It was only at Crystal Palace food market last weekend, where I saw the wonderful striped aubergines that they firmly bounced back into my mind. They're well worth making if you have a few aubergines lying around (don't we all), and well worth remembering too.Ingredients2 aubergines, sliced thinly and cut into long matchsticks2 cloves of garlic, peeled1tbsp dried oreganoA handful of fine sea saltOlive oil to cover2tbsp white wine vinegarMethodPlace the aubergine in a colander and toss through the salt, mixing well. Cover and leave for about 12 hours.Rinse the aubergines gently and squeeze dry, as dry as possible.Put in a sterilised jar with the garlic, oregano and vinegar then cover in olive oil. Leave for a few days in the fridge before eating and keep for up to a week, if it lasts that long.
And the nights are drawing in. Summer's almost gone, before we know it we shall be wearing makeup and knocking on neighbours doors demanding sweets. Even if you don't have children, this is great fun. I'd even suggest doing it mid-July if you fancy a laugh.But before then, it's my favourite time of year. The leaves turn gold and orange, the crisp, blue mornings with their low sun skies turn the walk to school into a show of colour and misty breath, wrapped up against the coming winter. It's the time to eat comforting food that's not quite long slow-braised beef shin stews, thick, rich and brown, but bridges the seasons.Cooking the pasta in the pan with everything else gives it real depth and reminds me of some of the meal in a bowl soups my mum used to make for us. There's so much going on, but really takes very little effort to make. Fresh bay leaves from the tree make the difference here, but use dried if you must. And don't bother doing your own peppers, just buy a good jar of them. There are some things that just aren't worth the fuss.Ingredients for four4 skin on chicken supremes4 garlic cloves, peeled1 red onion, cut into wedges1tbsp dried oregano2 bay leaves1 jar of roast red peppers, drainedA handful of good black olives250g orzo1tsp bouillon powderBoiling water to coverOlive oilSalt and pepper to seasonMethodHeat some oil in a large, lidded, heavy and shallow pan. Fry the chicken, seasoned, skin-side down until golden then turn and cook for a couple of minutes.Add the garlic and onions and cook for a minute longer.Throw in the peppers, olives, bay, bouillon, and orzo then just cover with boiling water. Sprinkle over the oregano and cover with the lid.Cook gently for about ten minutes, until the orzo is soft, but with a little bite.Serve from the pan at the table.
When I think of Jersey, instead of potatoes and cream, I think of Bergerac and John Nettles. And Hasselback obviously sounds like Hasselhoff, so this recipe should be extraordinarily good at fighting crime.A good Maris Piper potato salad, dressed lightly with mayonnaise and chives, or new potatoes gently robed with a zingy vinaigrette always sit well on the summer table. Warm Anyas, butter melting and pooling around and tossed through with parsley, salt and pepper as well is a perfect side-dish with a barbecued and charred rib-eye steak or some grilled sea bass with a herby oil.This potato salad has the crisp salty crunch of delicious jacket potaoes. The ridges absorb all the flavours and juices. Let it sit a while before dressing so it cools down.The gribiche sauce is a classic normally served with veal's head. It's a kind of cross between egg mayo and tartar sauce. While that may not sound instantly appealing to some, it really is delicious and gives this dish a little twist.So the only crime worth fighting here is probably going to be the British summer. Oh well, maybe I'll have a Magnum anyway.Ingredients500g Jersey RoyalsOlive oilSalt to seasonFor the gribiche:2 egg yolksSalt to season2 cooled hard-boiled eggs (about eight minutes)5 cornichons1tbsp capers1 small shallot2tsp Dijon mustard1 small red chilli (optional)Olive oilRapeseed oilSome parsleyMethodHeat the oven to 180c.Score the tops of the potatoes all the way across the top a millimetre apart slicing down just a little so they look stripy.Put them on an oven tray and roll them about in olive oil and salt then roast for 45 minutes.While the potatoes are cooking, make the gribiche.Whisk the egg yolks, mustard, hard boiled egg yolks (keeping the cooked whites aside) and some salt together in a bowl then gently drizzle in the olive oil, drip by drip at first, whisking all the while until it starts to form a thick emulsion. If you have a mini food processor, by all means use it for this stage.Now switch to the rapeseed oil and continue until you have a nice pot of mayonnaise. Thin it down with a little water or lemon juice if you like.Finely chop the parsley, shallots, cornichons and chilli then lightly run your knife through the capers and dice the cooked egg whites.Add all of this to the mayonnaise then mix well. Taste and season more if you like.Let the potatoes cool just a little then stir through the sauce and serve.
The more food I eat, and I do so with every passing day, the more I love the simple things. Last night we had spaghetti al pomodoro, using a jar of beautiful Italian plum tomatoes cooked with long softened onion, garlic, some good olive oil and a snowstorm of Parmesan. The key was the tomatoes. It's only May here, so we're not likely to have great ones, and while you can get pretty good tinned ones (I use Cirio as my storecupboard tins) it's worth every now and then splashing out on a really good jar of Italian ones and Antica Enotria are brilliant. If your dish is this simple, you really need great ingredients. It's as simple as that.We had salad on the table every day growing up, and I try and keep that going. I'm not a great fan of salad as the main meal, but I love it as an accompaniment. Summer tomato salads with chopped shallot, balsamic and oil; a little chicory, pear and walnut; fennel and orange; cucumber and dill. They bring colour and freshness to the table. But my salad of choice you probably couldn't even call a salad. It's just gem lettuce and a good mustardy vinaigrette. You can't get much simpler than that. Maybe it's the dressing I love and use the leaves as a healthy and edible spoon to scoop it into my mouth. You can add a touch of garlic to this if you like, but be careful to not put too much in. Even half a clove can be a bit much.This dressing keeps for about a week in the fridge and should stay emulsified if you've made it well. It's also great mixed through some warm new potatoes and sprinkled with chives.Ingredients1 tbsp Dijon mustardA pinch of Maldon salt (or kosher salt if you're in America)50ml tarragon cider vinegar. (Basically a bottle of cider vinegar you've stuck some sprigs of fresh tarragon in and left to infuse for a few days)150ml olive oil50ml rapeseed oilMethodPut the mustard and salt in a bowl and mix in the vinegar.Slowly, as if making mayonnaise, whisk in the oil, drop by drop at first until it starts to thicken and emulsify. Continue until it's all in and you have a thick dressing.Taste, and if you prefer it sharper, add a splash more vinegar. Or oil if you prefer it less acidic. I like mine on the poky side. Loosen it a little with a splash of cold water and pour it into a dressing bottle to store in the fridge.
On Thursday night we went out for my birthday supper at Olivio Carne, the sister to what is pretty much my favourite restaurant in London (Olivio near Victoria station) and I had pasta for the first time in nearly two months. My new rule is that food like that has to be worth it. And it was. A beautiful wild boar pappardelle. I also had plenty of Kate's duck ragù just to help her out.I've been wondering how to recreate one of my favourite dishes, ravioli con burro e salvia without pasta while I've been avoiding carbs. My new rules are that it's fine to occasionally eat what you want, and to not make sugar and wheat part of my daily diet. There seemed, after thinking about it, little point in trying to recreate ravioli, so here's a new dish based on those flavours.Leek is nature's cannelloni. And with this, instead of the traditional sage infused butter, a creamy sauce seemed a good idea. And to keep it dairy and wheat free meant almond milk and tapioca starch, so it's also gluten free. And vegan. And paleo. And Whole 30. It also dances the can-can for you while singing the Nessun Dorma. This should win awards for the most inclusive dish in the world. Unless you are allergic to nuts. Leave them out if you are. Unless you like risk.It's quite straightforward to make, once you get everything together. Just try not to spill double the amount of tapioca you need into the saucepan. This is very upsetting and can lead to a bit of a strop.Ingredients for two people as a starterFor the filling:420g roast butternut squash or pumpkin, diced40g almonds, skin on, chopped a little1 large clove of garlic, smashedA few young thyme sprigs1tbsp shiitake mushroom powder (optional)Pinch of chilli flakesA big squeeze of lemon juicesalt and pepperOlive oilFor the sauce:1 leek, light green part, pushed into tubesA large handful of sage leaves, shredded3tbsp Olive oilThin bits of middle of the leek, finely sliced300ml Almond milk1 1/2tbsp Tapioca starchSaltShredded sage leaves, chopped toasted almonds and dried borage flowers to serve, if you have them on the shelf in a jar and keep wondering what to do with them.MethodRoast the filling ingredients (apart from the lemon juice) at 200c for 25-30 mins, until soft and golden then leave to cool before adding the lemon juice and blitzing until smooth (but not too smooth) in a food processor then put in a bowl. Taste it and adjust the lemon juice and seasoning if necessary.Cut the dark green and white parts off the leek and use for stock. Or, do what I did and forget about them in the back of the fridge then throw them away.Push out the inner tubes of the leek, leaving you with about six of the large outer tubes. Slice the inner ones then sauté them until soft in good olive oil, with sage and then season and transfer to a bowl. Add the almond milk and tapioca to the pan, heat and whisk until you have an emulsion as thick as double cream. Add the leek and sage mixture and leave to infuse for ten minutes before removing the sage stalks and blitzing the sauce in the food processor. If you prefer, you can leave it unblitzed, but I prefer it smooth.Stuff the leek tubes with the filling and cook gently in a little olive oil until soft. Turning occasionally and carefully. Chop some toasted almonds and get the sauce warmed.Put the sauce on plates, top with the leek then sprinkle over the almonds, sage leaves and borage flowers if using. Blowtorch the leek if you're feeling fancy. Finish with a drizzle of excellent olive oil and serve.