The height of a very hot and unusually consistent summer means cooking has ground to a halt in this house. Almost. The sheer willpower needed to move takes away any enthusiasm we have for eating, let alone heating pans. A cold drink and perhaps a Cornetto seems about the limit of my ability.But life is dull without good food, so the simplest things are on the table. Prawns, quickly fried and doused in garlic butter is enough, as was a little spinach and ricotta tortellini in some chicken and vegetable stock for last night's supper. On the side, a pear, Gorgonzola and walnut salad, simply dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.We had friends round on the weekend, so I did have to grudgingly cook for them, the freeloaders. But a few chickens, jointed, browned and then chucked in the oven to slowly cook with tomatoes, bay leaves and cinnamon and left to cool to room temperature made an easy lunch with some flatbreads and salad. And pudding was a few caramelised bananas shoved under some ready-made puff pastry. A banana tatin with minimum effort. That was served with some cheap vanillia ice cream, which sometimes, is just the thing.So there is no need to miss out on meals when the the grass is scorched brown and the riverbeds are cracked drier than a Ryvita with no butter. Light and simple is the way to go and these blueberries are excellent on a plate with some anchovies or a little albacore tuna, gently cooked and preserved in olive oil the Italian way. Don't use cheap rubbish or it will taste like it. Throw a couple of rocket leaves or lamb's lettuce over the top and that should do it.Why you may ask, am I pickling soft fruit at the height of its season when everything should be simple and easy? Well, this is simple and easy, and a little jar of this in the fridge goes a long way. The effort is minimal, and besides which, have you seen what happens to soft fruit in this weather? It lasts about ten seconds. And besides, a little sharpness can be just the tonic in this heat.Ingredients400g blueberries120ml cider vinegar200g golden caster sugar1 long cinnamon stick1tsp cardamon seedsA pinch of chilli flakesA pinch of saffronMethodSlowly heat the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, cardamon, chilli and saffron in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to the boil and add the blueberries.Wait for a bit to let the heat come back and cook for 30 seconds. Remove to a plate or tray with a slotted spoon and let the pickling liquid cool and thicken.Put the cooled blueberries and liquid into a clean jar, seal and leave in the fridge for at least a day.This weekReadDipping in and out of Vasari's 'Lives of the Artists'. Reading it now, rather than back at Art College before we had the internet is such a different experience. Being able to see reproductions on the screen as you read illuminates the text in ways the author probably couldn't imagine. Although there is something to be said about a book that describes paintings, you tend to imagine what they look like from your perspective with all its experiences, influence and scars.WatchedSacred Games on Netflix. Indian cop drama set in Mumbai. Thoroughly engaging if a little lacking in living up to its potential, but there are supposedly more series to come so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. The baddy is so charasmatic and good looking and the good cop has enormous humanity and presence. It's gripping for those two alone.EatIce creamListened'The Sporkful', a food podcast by Dan Pashman is always a good listen. Apart from that, I had Tanita Tikaram's album 'Ancient Heart' on for the first time in years. That was a good blast from the past. (1988 if you were wondering. Cripes, it's 30 years old!)
It's a constant, if not full-time job to keep enough food in the house for the seemingly hollow children. And while bergamot curd may not be up on the list of household necessities, as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons...I had a box of bergamots hanging around as one does, and after trying palm them off here and there on unsuspecting family and friends, the remainder were destined for a slow and sad decline. I'd used some in a pasta dish with broccoli, garlic and Parmesan in place of lemon and I'd squeezed the juice into sparkling water for a touch of the bath bomb in my evening drink. I was considering using the rest for a lemon-style tart, but seeing as the children seem to have developed a new and mysterious love for lemon curd on toast I had my solution.And it's very nice. Perfumed but not like walking past a soap shop, it's citrussy and delicate. I know bergamots are not really the kind of thing you come across that often --it's almost exclusively grown in Calabria -- but if you do, this is a good use for it. And, as a bonus you can spoon it into little sweet pastry cases for a speedy little tart.This recipe works just as well with blood oranges, which is my next stop if I'm lost for curds.Makes: 2 jarsPrep time: 5 minutesCooking time: 10-15 minutesIngredients4 bergamots, juice and zest (giving up about 160ml juice)4 eggs1 egg yolk200g golden caster sugar100g unsalted butterMethodZest the bergamots into a heatproof bowl big enough to sit on top of a small saucepan. Halve the fruits and put them in a bowl. Microwave them for one minute. This will give you all the juice from them. An astonishing amount comes out. If you don't a microwave, roll them really hard on the bench before slicing open. It will help, but isn't as good as the micro.Put some water in the bottom of the pan and bring to the boil. Add the butter, sugar and juice to the bowl and stir well. Put on top of the pan, making sure it's not touching the water and reduce the heat to a simmer.Stir, dissolving the butter and melting the sugar.Lightly whisk the eggs and yolks and tip into the bowl. Whisk in well until incorporated and cook for about 10-15 minutes, very gently. Stir occasionally with a spatula until the whole thing is beautifully and gently set.Remove from the heat and put into jars. Leave to cool and store in the fridge.This weekWatched:Jiro dreams of sushi. I now want to retrain as a 90 year old Japanese sushi master, but I feel some ambitions are impossible.'Somebody feed Phil' on Netflix; another travel-food-ologue, but as usual, interesting and hosted by someone who seems genuinely enthusiastic and nice.Coco, from Pixar with the children. I didn't know where to look there was so much going on.Listened:Blind Melon: not listened to them for a long time. Uplifting in a melancholy way.Kodaline: thought I'd try them out, see what the youth of today are listening to. Or something like that. They probably aren't, it's more likely to be hairdressers in Newbury or somewhere that listen to this boring snorefest of a band. Ate:Dull Indian takeaway. Dull Italian food at Ecco, Clapham and a dull lunch at Franco Manca after the cinema. Followed by heavenly gelato from Odono's on Lordship Lane. Homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli with sage butter. Children hated it. Savages. Philistines. It's one of the world's finest dishes.A steak sandwich with anchovy, melted cheddar, watercress, salsa verde, chillies, radish, cucumber and gherkins. That was a sandwich alright. Nico dreams of sandwiches.Read:Death in Sardinia, '60s set Italian detective novel, lots of good food descriptions as well as the usual detective formulas.
There are some days when I am rather overambitious in bringing home more food than I really know what to do with. I've got better over the years, and now, if I am spending a day working on aubergine recipes, for example, I no longer end up with a grocer's shops-worth of them. I give them to my neighbours instead.And this was the case yesterday, as I returned from a shoot with rather more soft fruits than a person could need, even a person with a Maya in their family who probably would raze a raspberry field to the ground like a plague of sweet toothed locusts.Today, as the boxes of raspberries sat gently pooling into juice on the kitchen bench I decided to do as any 1950's housewife would and make jam. That way, I could keep the abundance of fruit in jars taking up exactly the same amount of space, but not rotting and then being thrown away. We really do need a bigger kitchen. Or a food storeroom.This is quick and easy - it took about ten minutes to make, then a good few hours cooling and setting - a great success for jam novices. Sterilise two jam jars just beforehand. It's best to put the hot jam into hot jars. That way you won't be smashing glass with thermal shock and putting the whole lot in the bin.Ingredients300g raspberries50g blueberries100g jam sugarMethodPut the fruit in a heavy-based pan with the sugar on top. Boil the fruit until soft then mash up a little, stirring in the sugar which will have warmed up quite a lot on top of the fruit.Bring back to the boil and using a pastry brush dipped in hot water brush around the inside of the pan where the sugar is sticking. This will stop the jam crystallising and being grainy.Boil gently for about ten minutes and try to resist stirring too much.If you have a sugar thermometer, it should reach about 104c. That's when it's ready. If not, put a plate in the fridge and after ten minutes, put a blob of jam on the plate and see if it sets. If it does, it's ready. If it doesn't, it's not.Pour into the jam jars and put the lids on. Leave to cool. They should keep for about a month.