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Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli, Rosemary & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

I found myself down an unfamiliar January cul de sac yesterday evening. Already in the midst of a Spring clean (my hoarding demands it) and with my eyes and mind firmly planted on a tin of pork sausages confit in goose fat in my cupboard, I found myself wander as I cleaned, towards the bag of kale in the fridge.

I love kale, I find it fiercely underrated and viewed as the cheap relation to the swisher (and also delicious but more expensive) cavolo nero. However, I had determined that after the horror of spring cleaning I wanted indulgence. Goose fat preserved sausages seemed more my thing. I went with the kale though, to kill the craving, I was beginning to obsess. The cleaning had demanded freshness and vibrance instead.

Spaghetti is frowned upon by dieters but ponder this: (good) pasta cooked al dente is low GI. When I say good, I mean pasta that is made with great flour that is high in protein, made properly using bronze dies and not teflon so that the pasta has roughness and grip and clings to the sauce.

The best comes from Gragnano in Italy, and I prefer Pastificcio dei Campi. In itself it is an indulgence, but once you start using it, it is hard to turn back, as my last two years of pasta eating testify. It is often assumed that fresh pasta is superior, this is not the case. Great fresh pasta is, but there is poor fresh pasta too (I am looking at you supermarket chillers).

Back to my kale. I am obsessed with crispy kale too, making it at least weekly if not several times each week. I finished this pasta with some crispy kale on top, to add texture and further deliciousness. (Looking for alternatives to the word delicious, please).

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

This is simple, the flavours are strong, fresh and restorative. You can substitute some things, which I have indicated in the recipe e.g. Calabrian chilli is wonderful (and highly recommended) but if you can’t get it, a normal red chilli will do.

RECIPE: Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli, Rosemary & Kale

Ingredients

(for two)

200g spaghetti
2 generous handfuls of shredded kale, leaves removed from the stem (most supermarkets sell it like this already)
1 dried Calabrian chilli, finely chopped (or a normal red chilli)
2 cloves smoked garlic (normal garlic will do), peeled and finely chopped
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stem fresh rosemary, pines removed from the branch and finely chopped (optional – gives an extra layer of flavour, but not essential)
1 tin good chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (cider vinegar will do too)
sea salt to taste
light oil for frying
extra virgin olive oil for crispy kale

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.

Sauté the red onion over a medium heat in a tbsp of light oil until soft but not brown. About 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, chilli and rosemary for a minute.

Add the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, bring to the boil, and reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes.

Place one handful of the (washed and dried) kale in a shallow tray in one layer. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Toast until crispy, 8-10 minutes. Leave to the side.

While the sauce is simmering and the kale crisping, cook your spaghetti until al dente, according to packet instructions.

When the pasta is almost done, add the remaining handful of kale to the tomato sauce and cook for a minute or so. Season to taste.

Add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss, ensuring that the pasta is coated with sauce.

Serve immediately with a sprinkling of crispy kale on top.

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Recipe: Courgette and Truffle Carbonara

Courgette & Truffle Carbonara

I have a really bad habit of going food shopping on a whim and being charmed by the glistening ingredients which I can’t resist. I pop them in my trolley gleefully, only to review when I go home and wonder, so how does all of this fit together, and when exactly amd I going to get time to eat it all? Eating it all is never really a worry, although it has worrying effects of late. It does prompt some creative cooking, driven by what I am in the mood for, and what I have nabbed en route home.

I was faced with one such dilemna last night. All I knew is that I wanted to eat something rich, comforting and light, and it had to contain some pasta. Not just any pasta, I was eyeing up my box of Pastificio dei Campi linguine, the grand cru pasta (as declared in Italian food magazine Gambero Rosso) from Gragnano which I have been covetting. I never need an excuse to eat pasta, I love the stuff and frankly am in awe of anyone that can cut out carbs. I just don’t know why you would do that to yourself. However,if you need one, and you just might, good pasta like this cooked al dente is low GI my friends. Eat your fill.

Gragnano is to pasta what Parma is to ham. A town dedicated to artisan pasta making using traditional techniques. The Pastificio dei Campi pasta is finished by hand and gently passed through bronze dies before being slow dried at low temperatures creating pasta with superior flavour and texture, unlike anything you get at your local supermarket. This really is top of the range stuff.

The bronze die lends it a rough outer texture which allows it to grip the sauce eagerly. Interestingly in this age where so many cultures are disconnected from the origins of their food, every box of pasta can be traced back to the day that batch of wheat was sown, the field it was grown in and when it was harvested, directly linking the sourcing of the best limited supply grain back to the farmers. A human connection and real food. Regular readers will know me well enough to realise that quality and sourcing drives my cooking, so it won’t surprise you that this is my primary source of pasta now.

Back to dinner. It was late and I was hungry. I wanted something creamy and rich but not too intense. It is summer after all. My eyes fell upon the new season courgettes, medium sized and shiny, my favourite blue Old Cotswold Legbar eggs with their large golden yolks, some rich aged Grana Padano cheese and some luscious bulbs of garlic. The cupboard yielded some Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa. I knew what I was going to have. A truffle and courgette carbonara.

Odd combination? Perhaps. Although courgette goes very well with rich hard cheeses like Grana Padano, and courgettes love eggs. Truffles love eggs even more, and we all love pasta. Courgettes would ease and comfort the intensity of the truffle, adding a sweetness and some moisture and texture. Like those couples you see with one noisy one and one nice calm one.  You know what I mean, it just works, doesn’t it?

Before I go further, carbonara needs no cream. Just egg yolks and cheese. A lick of garlic on the pan, you can finely chop it, or just cut it in half and fry it briefly to flavour some oil. Egg yolks are so rich and intense and a perfect sauce for the linguine.

Notes on ingredients: you can get the Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa at Harvey Nichols in London, or substitute with grated fresh truffle or some jarred black truffle from the supermarket. Some truffle oil would lend some flavour too. The Pasificio dei Campi linguine is available from Food in the City online UK and internationally, or at Harvey Nichols.

Note on the photograph: the linguine shown in the photo isn’t quite al dente as I gobbled mine up, and photographed a cold portion after, whih had continued to cook as it cooled down. I didn’t waste it though – don’t fear. It makes a tasty leftover dish when fried.

Courgette & Truffle Carbonara

Serves 2

Ingredients:

200g linguine
2 egg yolks
2tbsp Grana Padano (or parmesan)
1 fat clove of garlic cut in half
1 heaped tsp Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa
3 medium courgettes, quatrered lengthways and sliced finely
grated Grana Padano to serve
S&P
Olive oil

Method:

The pasta should take 10 minutes so get that on first.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a moderate heat and add the cove of garlic until starting to brown, discard. You’ve got the garlic flavour now and that’s all you need.
Add the courgettes and cook over a gentle heat for 5/6 minutes until tender.
Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and stir in the cheese. Season with S&P.
When the pasta is almost dente, add the truffle to to the courgette and stir through.
Drain the pasta and add to the truffle/courgette mixture.
Add the pasta mixture to the bowl of eggs and stir quickly preserving the creamyness of the egg yolks and cheese and not allowing it to scramble (really, it never does as long as you’re quick).
Taste & season. Add some more Grana Padano to taste.

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Recipe: Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot Shards, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Some of my favourite dishes are happy culinary accidents. You have a plan, it seems perfect and then for some reason something doesn’t work. Frustrating, but somehow, the solution offers up an alternative that you might not have thought of, so instead of one new dish, sometimes you have two.

I found myself in that situation this morning. I have declared May a month of health, of vibrant lunches full of flavour, and of new dishes. I was making it last night, and had some enormous beetroots that I bought at the farmers market on the boil for well over an hour and a half, but they were still hard. I left them in the hot water overnight, hoping that they might cook a little as it cooled down, but they didn’t. I guess they were really very big! So, I was left with some semi-cooked, but still mostly raw beetroots which wouldn’t fit in with my original recipe idea.

What to do with them?

One thing was for sure, I was bringing lunch in, so I needed to figure out an alternative. I surveyed the scene in my kitchen at 7am this morning. I had already cooked my Israeli cous cous, and it was waiting patiently with some finely sliced red onions in olive oil. In olive oil, as I wanted to remove the sharp acidic tang that they have, and didn’t want to use lemon as it wouldn’t go with the dressing I had in mind.  I was using a fresh cheese, again from the farmer’s market. I wanted to make my own but they had sold out of their raw buffalo milk. What to do?

I know – grate them! Cue, rumbling in boxes for 10 minutes trying to source the grater (I have just moved house) to no avail. I did find my vegetable peeler so proceeded to peel slices from the peeled semi-raw beetroots, which I then sliced into smaller shards. They were slightly sweet, still firm and had a great texture, one that’s lost to cooked beetroot normally. Perfect!

I had intended to avoid balsamic in the dressing preferring something fruitier and livelier but couldn’t resist adding a 10 year aged balsamic that I found in my rummaging. Balsamic vinegar and beetroot are perfect partners. This worked especially well as the beetroot was only slightly sweet as it was very undercooked and the rich vinegar complemented it. I am going through a smoked sea salt phase, so used this to season with black pepper and it was delicious. It’s worth seeking out – Halen Mon or Maldon both sell it. Pea shoots added colour and texture, and a nice delicate flavour. Mint would work very well here too though, maybe even better.

Where can you get Israeli cous cous? Look in the kosher section of large supermarkets, or seek out Jewish delis. An alternative, which is a bigger bouncier and equally delicious version is mograbiah which you can find in Turkish shops.

I am presenting the recipe here as I did it, but really, you can just finely grate the beetroot too, it will be just as nice and certainly very healthy. Also, you can substitute the fresh buffalo cheese with any fresh cheese, goat’s curd or young goat’s cheese e.g. caprinhia.

Enjoy!

Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Israeli Cous Cous, Beetroot Shards, Fresh Buffalo Cheese & Pea Shoots

Ingredients:

1 beetroot (normal size will work fine!), whole
100g Israeli cous cous
1 small red onion, halved and finely sliced
100g fresh cheese or chevre, crumbled
A handful of fresh pea shoots
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
S&P

Method:

Cook the Israeli cous cous according to packet instructions. Cool under a cold tap and leave to the site with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Peel & grate your beetroot OR boil for 20 minutes, then peel & slice with a vegetable slicer as I have.

Combine the cous cous, beetroot and red onion and dress with 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp vinegar. Adjust to taste. Season with S&P and add half of the pea shoots. Stir through. Place the other half on top and around the salad.

Et voila! Enjoy.

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Recipe: To Dal, Daal, Dhal, or Dahl, that is the question

I hate confusing spellings and names. Why the world can’t agree to spell and name everything the way I do, I just don’t know. University was a high point of this, not only can’t the US and UK agree on spellings, they give the same thing different words at times: adrenaline meet epinephrine. Oh! We look the same? Well, you are the same. The very same, but people like to call you different things.  Gah!

It haunts me still in my world of cookery. Sichuan or Szechuan? I’ve seen both in print from reputable sources. What’s haunting me today is the most perplexing of all: Dal, Daal, Dhal, or Dahl? Again, all are online and in print. These last two we can only blame ourselves for. We can’t seem to agree how these words should appear in English. I want someone to tell me! Do you know?

For now, I am sticking with dal, I’ve been told that the correct pronunciation is with a long a. So daaaal could be our new spelling. However you spell it, it’s a great dish. Pulses are so very underrated, and when you add spices and other accoutrements, they absolutely come to life and sing. It’s a fantastic budget dish too and a great illustration of what can be produced with a little time, effort and a lot of love.

There are many versions, and most cooks have their own. I traditionally make a Tarka (also called Tadka) Dal where the pulses are cooked with turmeric with some tempered spices added at the end (these are the tarka). This is a delicious way to do it, the spice flavours are really bold and fresh and the dish is really zingy. Sometimes, when I prefer something a bit more gentle, I add the spices at the start and cook the lentils with them, adding other items like tomatoes and fresh coriander with some lemon at the end. I also like to put a few eggs in for the last ten minutes and serve the dal hot over halved peeled boiled eggs.

Gorgeous blossoms in the garden

Gorgeous blossoms in the garden

A vegetarian friend was visiting in advance of her move to India. We were going to eat in the sunny back garden and I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to cook. Golden yellow dal with sunny egg yolks peeping out from behind chunks of red tomato and flecks of green coriander, begging to be eaten, as we basked in the sun under the lovely blossoms.

Recipe notes: The chana dal can also be bought as yellow split peas. They’re my favourite for dal as they have a lovely texture and retain their shape. Some people soak them, but there’s no need, unlike other pulses they won’t poison you, they will just take longer to cook (about 35/40 minutes, depending on their freshness). I added the tomatoes before the end as I had spashed out on some delicious English heritage tomatoes that were big, juicy and meaty, and I wanted to retain that flavour & texture in the dal, and not have them become mushy with longer cooking. If you can’t get tomatoes like this, I would recommend getting some small juicy tomatoes, if you can only get water bombs, add them earlier but try not to use them – they’re awful.

A note on the spices. You get much superior flavour from fresh whole spices that you toast and then grind. It seems like a lot of effort, but it’s not really and the return for that little bit of time and effort in flavour makes it a great trade. Try it – I am sure that you will agree.

Gorgeous blossoms in the garden

Gorgeous blossoms in the garden

Dal Recipe – makes enough for 4

Ingredients

500g Chana Dal
2 red chillis, finely chopped (enough for a bit of a kick – use one if you want mild)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seed
I tbsp turmeric
2 big tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped or a handful of small ones, diced
1 tbsp red pepper flakes (optional)
a handful of coriander leaves, chopped (best to chop jyst before you serve for colour and freshness)
a fresh lemon
one egg per person – the best you can afford, I like Old Cotswold Legbar which have a gorgeous big yolk. Burford Browns are good too.
sea salt

Method:

Dry roast the coriander and cumin seeds for 30 seconds or so over a high heat in a dry frying pan to release the oils and therefore the flavours. Once you can smell the spices, they’re ready to grind, take care not to burn them. Grind them to a powder using a pestle and mortar (my preference) otr electric spice grinder.

Fry the garlic, chilli and ginger in some light oil (groundnut or sunflower work) for a minute or so, taking care not to burn the garlic as it will become bitter. Add the ground spices and fry for a further minute.

Add the chana dal, turmeric, red pepper if you’re using it and enough water to cover the chana dal with an inch to spare. Bring to the boil and cook for 25 minutes at a lower heat ensuring that it cooks at that tenperature but doesn’t explode all over your hob! Add water if it looks like it’s getting dry.

Add the tomatoes and your eggs and cook for a further ten minutes. If the dal is cooked it will be tender, it may need another few minutes if it’s a little old.

Add the coriander and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. Serve the dal over the boiled eggs, shelled and halved.

Enjoy!

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Beetroot, Tomato & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets with Mint

Every now and then I make something on a whim, expecting it to be nice, and I am pleasantly surprised when it tastes even better and becomes an instant favourite. Enter beetroot, tomato & goat’s cheese tartlets with mint.

Last week at the market I was really stretched for time and sadly had no opportunity to make a vegetarian option. This was noted by a number of people, and I felt dreadful as some had come down especially for the tarts that I had made before, so I promised to make it up to them and did this week with tartlets.

I don’t have a precise recipe as I was making them in bulk and on the hoof, however, they’re really straightforward. I used little tartlet cases but you could use a bigger tart tin. Line the greased/buttered tart base with homemade butter shortcrust pastry, it really is far superior to shop bought, and is very quick too. I had a fear of it for a long time after my Home Economics teacher, horrified at my efforts, yelled: it’s pastry you’re making, not leather! I also have very warm hands. However, when making it, I do my best not to touch it, using very cold butter and binding the pastry with a knife, putting it straight in the fridge to chill, and then rolling in as much of a hands off way that I can manage. It seems to work well.

Start building the tart with a layer of mascarpone, just enough to cover, and spread some shredded mint sparingly. Layer boiled or roasted, peeled and sliced beetroot, for tartlets about 3/4 slices with 2 slices of tomato wedged between. For a bigger tart arrange beetroot and tomato slices overlapping so that the mascarpone is covered. Add some goats cheese, I used a soft goat’s cheese from Somerset, but chevre or similar would work well too. Don’t cover it, just enough to taste. Finish with a light and fine grating of parmesan. Bake for 10-15 mins at 200 deg celsius until the pastry is browned.

Reading this it could do with a step by step picture guide, I’ll do one soon, maybe for next week’s market. Hopefully you get the picture (boom, boom!). It really is very easy, and really delicious. The sweetness of the beetroot and tomato, the tart goat’s cheese, the freshness of the mint, and the creamy mascarpone nestled in the butter shortcrust base is a real delight. It’s on the favourites list now, and I’ll be making it for veggie friends when they visit.

Here’s the pastry recipe. A note on the eggs: they’re not essential but give it a lovely richness. Use the best you can afford, I love the pretty blue Old Cotswold Legbars or Burford Browns. At the very least free range, if you can.

Homemade Butter Shortcrust Pastry Recipe

(enough for two large tarts or many little ones – this is the amount that uses exactly one packet of butter)

Ingredients:

250g chilled butter

500g plain flour

2 beaten eggs, and the equivalent amount of cold water

Method:

Sift the flour. Add the butter in cubes and mix with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the water and eggs a little at a time, blending in with a knife until it starts to take shape. Don’t let it get too wet, it’s fine if it’s a little crumbly (wet pastry, like a wet gizmo, makes a gremlin ;). Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll on a floured surface to your desired thickness, taking care not to overwork it.

And, that’s it! Not so scary, eh?

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Burnt aubergine with sweet peppers and red onion

I have a confession to make! I published this post last weekend, and a few hours later a trusted friend queried my photograph, thinking that it didn’t do the dish justice. I took a look, and sure enough, they were right. It was like going out to work hungover and slightly frazzled wearing something that you think looks ok, and realising slowly that it was a horrible choice, ill fitting, and irritating for the rest of the day. So I took it down. I made the dish again today, same recipe, and here’s the post. In my defence, I made this dish for a friend and drank lots of wine as I was cooking (as did they!). So, lesson learned, don’t take food photographs drunk, and don’t rush blog posts!

One of my indulgences is cookbooks, I love them, and I have a ridiculous amount. Some are  very well thumbed with weakening spines, others are neglected, bought out of curiosity and never properly investigated. I love concocting my own food and creating recipes, but I also love to cook from cookbooks, entering the culinary head of another, and seeing how they do things.

A lot of the cookbooks that I have been buying in the last few years are from restaurants and cafes that I really like. Often they’re not as impressive as the restaurant they are associated with, but as always, there are exceptions. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook is one.

I was very excited about this one. I worked reasonably close to the Islington branch for a number of years and would occasionally treat myself to a delicious lunch. When Yotam Ottolenghi started writing recipes in the Guardian I was always enthralled with his approach and combinations. Coming from Israel with a Palestinian business partner, there are some wonderful influences from that region. The first time I used orange blossom water was when I made an Ottolenghi salad and it was a revelation. He uses colour and flavour wonderfully, I remember reading sovewhere that if a dish doesn’t look great, it doesn’t matter how great it tastes, you won’t get it at Ottolenghi.

I’ve had the cookbook since it was published and I really don’t use it enough. I frequently dip in, for inspiration or just a good read, and a flick through the gorgeous pictures. I decided I really should start, and I can safely say after just one recipe, the book is well and truly broken in with splatters and thumb prints all over the page. Ah well.

Burnt aubergine is a gorgeous, intensely savoury flavour. It’s fantastic in a vegetarian dish as it confers a depth that could otherwise be difficult to achieve. I flicked through the book and came across a lovely recipe for a salad including this, so I endeavoured to adapt and try it with the ingredients I had.

aubergine

Burning an aubergine is as easy as it sounds. Rest the aubergine on a gas flame and burn it, turning it as each side is done until complete. Don’t worry if the skin splits, it happens a lot. Let it cool a little and peel the skin off, or scoop out the inside after cutting it in two. Drain in a colander for an hour or so then chop.

The rest of the salad is very straight forward, a simple dressing, some delicate spicing (cumin). This would be wonderful for a BBQ or similar summer event with the sweetness of the peppers and tartness of the tomatoes.

I altered the proportions of the recipe with two different colour peppers and a little less aubergine and tomatoes. I really liked it, and am very much looking forward to trying more of his recipes, and eating there again.

Ingredients:

1 large aubergine, burnt as described above, drained and chopped
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
a handful of small fruity cherry tomatoes or similar, halved
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Dressing:

5 tbsp sunflower oil or similar
3 tbsp cider vinegar
3 tsp fresh cumin, toasted and ground or 3 tsp ground cumin (the first option is infinitely preferable)

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method:

First, make the dressing and check the taste and adjust if necessary.
Mix the other ingredients and add the dressing. Season with S&P to taste and serve.

This is really nice with khobez, pittas or similar.

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

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This is not mushroom soup

Picture the scene. Sore tum. Poor abandoned house guest. Need for healthy food, and need to feed a vegetarian. Vitamin B sounds like a good plan, good for the nerves, good for the metabolism and enhances the immune system. Sounds like everything I need in my current fragile state. Afflicted with an angry tum which won’t accept any food without severe complaining and, forgive the detail, swift ejection.

The underrated mushroom offers bountiful Vitamin B and I just happen to have lots of them in my fridge. Large flat portebellini mushrooms, their gills exposed to the stars, and small coquettish button mushrooms, less bolshy in flavour, and bright white in complexion. I wanted lots of flavour, and lots of elusive umami in a vegetarian soup. I also wanted it to have a bright summer flavour, so decided I would serve it with some chive cream.

The mushrooms had to be as intense as they could possibly be, so I roasted 5oog of the portebellini, with a liberal splash of extra virgin olive oil, some chives and some good sea salt for about half an hour at 180 degrees celsius. Then I sauteed 200g  button mushrooms in butter with a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, added the roasted mushrooms and 500ml of a nice vegetable stock. This smelled intensely of mushroom, almost meaty, I was very happy. I whipped some double cream and added lots of chopped chives. I shredded a bunch of spring onions (green bits and white) and added them to the soup, to preserve that summer flavour amongst the rich deep mushroom one.

I tasted the soup, it was ready, and it was delicious. Some good bread was just toasted in the oven, rubbed with fresh garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. It was crisp and fragrant.I reached for the blender and…

BOOM! The power went.

How annoying is that? It’s extra annoying as I am especially useless in these situations. I approached the fuse box cautiously flicking switches on and off, figuring it must have been the trip switch, which for the life of me I could not find. For those of you not in the know it is not a big red button labelled TRIP SWITCH – FIX EVERYTHING WITH THIS.

Damn!

Sigh. I called my flatmate, left her a voicemail, sent her a message, then went to appeal to twitter. But, no internet either. ARGH!

Headless chicken much? Just as I had reached the end of my rope, it came back on. It was a power cut.

But I had already given up hope, and had converted my soup to a rich mushroom bruschetta with chive cream. And it was very nice. So, the few hours I edged off the end of my life aside, it was a good result.

I’ll try the soup again another day.

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Wild Garlic, Cream Cheese & Roast Tomato Pate on Toast

Wild Garlic, Cream Cheese & Roast Tomato Pate on Toast

Seasonal eating is all the more fun and exciting, when you can forage and get the food for free. The ultimate bargain, and usually something that’s quite hard to find to buy. Wild Garlic is the perfect example of this. I’ve not had time to go to any food markets, and had no idea where I could forage it. I’ve looked around the local parks to no avail, and tried on twitter, coaxing friends and followers to reveal their secret stash with the promise that I would not tell anyone. I got some tips  but there was no time to investigate. I was resigned to a wild garlic free week, when fellow blooger Danny (@fooodurchin on twitter and blogging at food urchin) revealed that his garden was teeming with it, and offered to bring me in my very own wild garlic plant.

Excitement! I couldn’t wait. I popped down to Borough to meet him, we had a great chat, and I left with a large blossoming and lovely plant. I couldn’t resist devouring a leaf or two there and then, although I am not sure I would advise this as it’s a little astringent raw. I enjoyed it but will not be responsible for this should you try it.

Wild Garlic Plant

What to do with it? Well, to start try and keep it alive, so far so good. The flowers are delicious and gorgeous in salads, the leaves great in pestos and mayonnaise, soups and salads. I had a vegetarian friend over for dinner and thought it might be nice to start with something quick and light, that could be done in minutes and free up time for chatting and wine, the most important part of the evening after all!

Wild Garlic can be a little sour, so I wanted to balance it with something sweet, and smooth out the flavour with something light. I decided on tomatoes and cream cheese with a little chilli to lift the flavours. So, I blanched about eight wild garlic leaves for 20 seconds or so, rosted some nice tomatoes from Borough market with a little balsamic vinegar for about 20 minutes at 180 degrees celsius, chopped a dried red chilli very finely, and mixed these with about 4 tablespoons of cream cheese. I griddled some good fresh bread, lightly brushed with some olive oil and liberally spread the veggie pate. It was fragrant and light and a nice little stop gap. I’ll be adding it to my repertoire for future quick dishes!

butternut squash curry
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Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

This has been a great couple of weeks for festivities. Diwali, Halloween, Day of the Dead last week, and Guy Fawkes coming up. It certainly takes the bite out of the impending Winter!

I always like to celebrate anything like this with food if I can, hey, I don’t need an excuse I know, even if it’s just for me, or, better again with friends. Last week was busy but I did sneak in a dish that would in some way cover Diwali and Halloween, well, kind of.

Diwali being a Hindu festival is all about vegetarian food, particularly curry, snacks and sweets. As for Halloween, well, Halloween is about spooks and scary things, but also pumpkins, so I thought, why not make a veggie curry with pumpkin in? Or, in this case, butternut squash.

I had an ulterior motive, I felt I needed a few veggie days, or veggie meals at least. I usually have quite a balanced diet but lately I’ve been buying lunch out alot more than usual, and as I work so near to delicious Brindisa, my diet has been leaning heavily on the meat side. So, beans, veg, tomato and coconut seemed like a good alternative to a chorizo stew!

It’s very easy and very light. I made this on a weekday evening and it was absolutely manageable. The measurements are loose as always, feel free to experiment, it’s more about the spices and the flavours in the sauce. I used a small butternut squash about 6-8 inches high. The spice blend is very basic. I just used what I had in my cupboard. It works, though!

This will serve 4. I served it with steamed basmati rice. It keeps well, indeed like most tomato based dishes, tastes better the next day.[Read more]

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Sweetcorn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa

Sweetcorn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa

I went to a friends yesterday for dinner and she made the most beautiful sweetcorn and roast red pepper fritters with salsa. I had to try and recreate something similar tonight and I am very happy with the results, so unusually, I am happy to blog immediately and encourage you to try them.

Sweetcorn fritters remind me fondly of a holiday in Australia a couple of years ago when I had them for breakfast and had one of those – why haven’t I had these for brekfast before! – revelations. They also remind me of my vegetarian years, when, not a fan of meat substitutes, I instead indulged in sweetcorn fingers and fritters and the like. The texture is wonderful, and each piece of sweetcorn is just bursting with flavour. With a side of avocado and tomato salsa, I challenge anyone to dislike this quick and nutritious evening staple.

I kept these simple, the fritter batter contains only sweetcorn, shallots and fresh coriander with a vibrant and flavoursome salsa of heirloom tomatoes and hass avocado on the side. I used frozen sweetcorn as this was really last minute and I didn’t have time to seek out fresh, but fresh sweetcorn would be wonderful in this recipe, if you have it. I used a wonderful heirloom tomato for the salsa but you can substitute with a beef tomato, 2 plum tomatoes, or some cherry tomatoes. I used shallots but you could substitiute spring onions or red onion. Can’t have dairy? Substitute soya milk or coconut milk – both work really well. If adding the coconut milk, I’d add some green chilli to the batter too and maybe some lime. I sverved some extra heirloom tomato on the side, it was too good not to!

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The taste of summer – Israeli cous cous and feta salad

Apologies to anyone who comes to my online kitchen looking for some recipes, I have been very remiss of late. There’s a few reasons for this:

  • I have relocated to Battersea, this is the year of being topsy turvy and moving frequently, it seems.
  • Shortly after relocating, some mice came to visit. Some big mice. That liked to run along the worktop. I hate mice, apart from them being unsanitary, they completely freak me out. There is no logic to this whatsoever, I know they’re smaller than me and I can do them more harm than they can me. It must be a phobia, I completely freeze when I see them and I wish I could say scream, but it’s more of a panicky croak. In summary, I steered clear of the kicthen for a couple of weeks.

I started to miss my lunches. I am used to bringing in something tasty and healthy but, whilst my house became the mouse house, I started to use the company canteen again. Our company canteen could desperately do with a Jamie style overhaul. It offers: hot things in bad sauces, pasta that’s been cooked for (I would estimate) an hour in bad or weird sauces, cold fish fingers in the salad section (YES: salad section) and random bits and bobs. It’s saving grace is the said salad section with the likes of grated carrot but that gets tired very quickly, say 3 days. Let’s just say, the company canteen is not my favourite indulgence.

So, I braved the kitchen – be very proud of me. For 2 weeks, if anything brushed off my skin, I immediately thought MOUSE and jumped or ran. I scanned the counter, peeked behind the door, opened the cupboard and peered in expecting to be face to face with a fat grey mouse. But, there was none there. So, I proceeded to concoct something, fresh, flavourful and quick for work. Something to match this lovely weather and to satiate my lunch time appetite. I made a delicious salad with israeli cous cous, feta, tomato, black olives, parsley and pine nuts with some lemon to lift the flavours.

The recipe is very simple and quick. I think it will become a picnic favourite. This made one large lunch.[Read more]