leftovers (22.01.16)

22 Jan

soup and honey and bees

For a cheat’s pilaf: cook rice as usual, but with turmeric, a cinnamon stick, bay leaf and a knob of butter. Fry sliced onions in butter to brown, add chopped hazelnuts and barberries at the last minute. Toss with a portion of rice. Leftover rice (no onions) can be reheated with milk and a handful grated coconut for rice pudding-breakfast.

The above non-recipe was inspired by the Britannia, a Parsi restaurant in Mumbai. Since returning from India, I have been to a Persian cooking class (where I made these lamb and apricot meatballs) and am keen to learn more.

To begin with: Iran: the Land of Bread and Spice

Also reading about ozoni, Japanese New Year soup at Lucky Peach. My flatmate made us something similar on 1st January, a vegetable broth with leftover mint rice, lentils and roasted peppers from our NYE meal. She said it reminded her of her Chilean family, while for me it recalled New Year at the Japanese bakery.

Breakfast in Dhaka. Actually, all the breakfasts from around the world at Roads and Kingdoms.

Bees! Honey on the rooftops of Paris, and mead in its catacombs.

Dreaming about an invite to one of these secret Parisian parties…

…but I did get to eat at the very busy The Palomar in London: octopus with chickpeas; grilled cauliflower with labneh; and prawns on a bed of silky aubergines. Finished with a neatly disordered ‘Jerusalem Mess’ of labneh mousse, lemon cream, sorrel and strawberries.

And finally, I got lost marvelling at the incredible crumb on the breads from @instajorgen, the baker at Jane, in San Francisco.

tahini thumbprint cookies with a quick citrus marmalade

14 Jan

tahini marmalade cookies

It has been a quiet week at home. I have been baking to cure an undefinable ennui. (Sometimes I don’t want to know why I am sad, I just want to get my hands floury and bash some brioche dough into submission.)

This recipe was right at the back of Ottolenghi’s cult book, Jerusalem. And although it felt like sacrilege to mess with a master, I thought his simple tahini cookies could be made into thumbprints rather than flattened with a fork. And that a bitter, lemony marmalade to fill those thumbprints would complement the rich buttery, sesame flavour.  Also, pastry geekery, that a touch of cornstarch would make them more crumbly, shortbread-y. (Enough -y suffixes yet?)

Being right about all of those things (I am an I-told-you-so kind of person), and eating several cookies at once, made me feel instantly brighter. Give yourself a hit of butter, sugar, sesame and citrus in lieu of sunshine.

~~~

Tahini thumbprint cookies with quick citrus marmalade

Cookie recipe ever so slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, marmalade is mine. Use any citrus you like for the marmalade as long as it is relatively thin skinned (grapefruit would not work, for example). I have tried it with a tangerine and a bit of lemon, and with a whole lemon and half a tangerine. Depends how much you like bitter flavours! You can of course use a shop marmalade and mix the cookies by hand if you don’t have a food processor.

makes 30 

130g caster sugar

150g unsalted butter, room temperature

110g tahini

5g / 1 tsp fine salt

25 ml double cream / crème fraîche

250g plain flour

20g cornstarch

optional for decoration: sesame seeds

for the citrus marmalade:

150g citrus, including peel (eg 1 tangerine, 1/2 lemon)

150g sugar

Make the marmalade: halve the citrus fruits and pick out any pips. Then, in a food processor, blend citrus peel and all with the sugar, to a fine paste. Bring to the boil in a small saucepan, then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will thicken and start to leave tracks on the bottom of the pan.

Preheat oven to 180C.

Using the same food processor, no need to wash it (it will give the biscuits a lemony taste): blend sugar and butter until soft and creamy but not fluffy. Add tahini, cream and salt, mix to combine. Then add flour and cornstarch to form a dough. You may need to bring the dough together with your hands: knead once or twice to make a smooth ball. Roll small balls (about 20g each) to make 30 in total. Space them out on a baking tray (or two). Firmly press a thumb into each one to make a generous dent. (Optional: dip the top of the cookies in sesame seeds.) Bake for 15 minutes until golden.

Fill dents in the cookies with marmalade. Should keep well for 4-5 days in an airtight tin.

 

lamb, apricot and fennel meatballs

7 Jan

persian lamb apricot meatballs

These lamb and apricot meatballs are so delicious that I have made them three times in three weeks. They have a light texture with a touch of sweetness, complemented by earthy, toasted fennel seeds and fresh, chopped dill. Called koofteh in Iran, kofta or kefta elsewhere, the word means to punch or to pummel, which  is how you treat the mixture, squashing and punching the meat until the fibres all but dissolve, blending with the apricot and onion for a more airy result. The cooked meatballs are finished with a yoghurt sauce, a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and a handful more dill.

I learned the recipe at a cooking class in London with Sabrina Ghayour. Her food was a modern take on the traditional Iranian, fresher and lighter. One thing we learned was that Persian food often contrasts fruit with meat; she made an incredible lamb and quince stew too. You can read her writing in the Guardian, which has an alternative meatball recipe with dried cherries or cranberries instead of apricots.

Serve these koofteh as party snacks – with kebab sticks making them into ‘lollipops’ as Ghayour calls them – and they will disappear in minutes. Equally nice for a meal with rice (Persian-style with a crispy bottom layer, or tah dig) or with flatbread and a simple salad.

~~~

Persian lamb, apricot and fennel meatballs

from Sabrina Ghayour – her book Persiana is out now. She recommends using latex gloves for this recipe as you need to bring the mixture together by hand, and the turmeric can temporarily stain your fingers. And it seems like a lot of fennel seeds but it works!

makes 30-40 depending on size – serves 6 with other dishes alongside

500g minced lamb

1 small onion

150g dried apricots

50g fennel seeds

2 eggs

2 tsp turmeric

20g fresh dill, chopped

2 tsp flaky sea salt

ground black pepper

to serve: yoghurt, pomegranate molasses, nigella seeds/black sesame seeds, more chopped dill

If you have a food processor, use it to finely chop the onion and dried apricots. Otherwise, do so by hand. Toast the fennel seeds in a dry frying pan until golden and fragrant. Grind in a mortar and pestle (or my home equivalent, a thick mug and a rolling pin).

Tip all ingredients into a large bowl and squash together with one hand. (Use latex gloves if you have some.) Punch the mixture until the meat almost disintegrates. Taste to check the seasoning – add more salt and pepper if necessary. (You can fry or microwave a small amount if you don’t want to test raw meat.) Roll into even balls. At this point the meatballs can be refrigerated to fry up later.

Heat a large frying pan with enough olive oil to cover the pan. When a drop of water sizzles in the oil, add the meatballs, trying not to crowd them too much. Fry the meatballs to a nice brown on one side, flip them all carefully and carry on, shaking the pan once or twice so they cook evenly. Cut one open to see if fully cooked. If you are making a big batch, brown the meatballs and arrange on a baking tray to finish off in the oven.

To serve: thin some yoghurt down with some water or olive oil to the texture of thick cream. Arrange the meatballs on a platter and drizzle the yoghurt sauce on top. Follow with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses (or sweet tamarind sauce or even honey) then shower with chopped dill and nigella or sesame seeds for colour.

If serving as a snack, stick wooden kebab skewers or toothpicks in each one. If it is part of a meal, serve with a salad, flatbread and extra yoghurt sauce.

 

 

abrikossnitte (apricot-pecan twists)

30 Dec abrikossnitte coffee tangerine drawing

abrikossnitte coffee tangerine drawing

I spent most of Christmas Eve at our kitchen bench, drinking tea and reading the paper, watching my mother cook. It was a different kitchen, a different city, from where I grew up, but sitting at that old, scratched bench it felt like home. It was where I had breakfast and after school snacks, where I made Christmas cookies with friends, where I perched for a last cup of tea and piece of cake when the house was dark and quiet.

Open on the bench was a copy of The Cooking of Scandinavia, for the split-pea soup recipe. It is a borrowed family tradition: the Swedish have pea soup on a Thursday, we have it on Christmas Eve. A thick yellow soup, flavoured with ham, onion and a few cloves, always served with a dollop of sharp mustard in each bowl. It has nothing to do with Christmas except that it is whole and hearty, good preparation for the onslaught of rich food ahead.

Leafing through the book and laughing (not unkindly) at the old-school food styling, I remembered some of the Scandinavian Christmas traditions I have bumped into: one Christmas Eve with a friend’s family, we had Danish risalamande, or rice pudding with whipped cream and flaked almonds. The person who found the whole almond won a small marzipan pig. This year on 13th December, or Santa Lucia, a Swedish friend brought us gingerbread stars topped with a bit of blue cheese, a surprisingly delicious combination. I have also been following Fanny Zanotti’s dreamy photos and recipes from a snowy Christmas in Sweden.

Then I found a comprehensive section on Danish pastries, which the Danish actually call Wienerbrød, literally ‘bread from Vienna’, which is where flaky breakfast pastries actually originated. Hence viennoiserie in as a general term in France. The recipe is pretty similar to croissant-making, but with egg and milk and fragrant cardamom in the dough, and slightly different folds.

This variation, the abrikossnitte, translated as ‘apricot slips’ are little rectangles of dough – layered with apricot jam – that look like they have been twisted or plaited. I was curious to try the shape, much easier to make than it is to describe. Or draw: my original drawings made my mother laugh for how vulgar they looked. A laminated dough is not difficult, once you know how, but it does take time. (A good holiday project.) So I spent Christmas Eve alternating kneading, rolling, and reading while the dough rested. They were ready for breakfast the next day: flaky twists, sticky and sweet with a crunch from the pecans on top. Perfect with a pot of strong coffee.

abrikossnitte folds

Abrikossnitte (Apricot-pecan twists)

adapted from The Cooking of Scandinavia, by Dale Brown and Time-Life Books

Scandinavian buns are often flavoured with cardamom and may be filled with jam or almond paste as well. This variation look like little twisted rectangles, layered with apricot jam, but the dough can be used for many different shapes or flavours. Try with Nutella instead of jam, or even cheese and mustard.

The whole process will take a minimum of 6 hours (most of which is time in the fridge). Or it can be done over 48 hours, depending on your schedule: just leave the dough in the fridge between steps. If at any point the dough feels too soft or sticky to roll – pop it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to solidify the butter, then carry on. The dough can also be frozen at any point (up to a month) and defrosted overnight in the fridge, before continuing as before.

makes 8-10

260g plain flour

35g caster sugar

5g / 1 tsp salt

5g / 1 tsp fast-acting yeast

10 cardamom pods / ¼ tsp ground cardamom

100g milk

1 egg (50g)

125g butter, cold

100g apricot jam

to decorate: a little milk + coarse sugar + chopped pecans

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. (If using whole cardamom pods, remove seeds and grind them in a mortar and pestle.) Make a well in the centre, add the milk and egg and bring everything into a dough with one hand. Add a splash of milk if too dry or a touch of flour if very wet – although it should be a bit sticky at the beginning. Knead for 10 minutes on the counter until smooth and stretchy. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Prepare the butter slab: place butter in the middle of a large piece of baking paper. Fold it around the butter, like wrapping a present, to make a parcel about 15x20cm, A5 size. Tap butter with a rolling pin to soften, then roll out to fill the paper parcel, of an even thickness all over. Chill until firm.

With a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough to about 20x30cm. Carefully unwrap and place the cold butter on the top two thirds of the dough rectangle (see picture above). Fold over the bottom third, then the top third with the butter. Rotate the dough 90° (so that it looks ‘like a book’ with the seam on the side). Press down gently on each seam – top, bottom and side – with the rolling pin so the butter can’t escape.

Roll out lengthways to 40-50cm. Fold the narrow ends into the middle, then fold in half – this is a ‘double’, ‘wallet’ or ‘book’ fold. Chill for 30 minutes then repeat the double fold, making sure that it looks ‘like a book’ when you begin rolling.

Finally, roll out one more time, just long enough to fold the dough in half. Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight. (Or freeze the dough at this point for later.)

Roll out the dough block to a thin rectangle, about 20x45cm. Spread apricot jam on one long half (10x45cm) then fold over the bare half. Divide the long strip into 8 rectangles. Cut a slit in the middle of each rectangle, then tuck one end under and pull it through the cut, forming a twist effect (see picture below). Space the 8 twists out on a baking tray lined with paper. Loosely cover in plastic and allow to double in size at room temperature or in a gently warm place (no more than 25°C). Allow for at least an hour. OR refrigerate the tray overnight and carry on in the morning. OR freeze twists until later, then defrost when needed on a tray in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 200°C. When twists have doubled, brush gently with milk, sprinkle with coarse sugar and (optional extra) chopped pecans. Bake for 5 minutes at 200°C then lower the heat to 180°C for another 10-15 minutes, until they are nice and golden-brown all over and underneath. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before eating.

abrikossnitte cuts

notes from a food conference

9 Nov

notes from a food conference

Doodles from the notes I took at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking, 2015. I still need to re-read everything I wrote down – all the stories from ancient to modern, from Greece to Japan. I still smile at the line “old cookbooks were just lists of ingredients, no verbs” (and no photos, bien sûr) – we have come full circle with some modern cookbooks all neat info-graphics, no words at all.

macaroni and three cheeses

2 Nov

macaroni cheese, candles

Maybe you had a bad day. Maybe you came home tired and needed to take off your shoes and your smile. Maybe your day was fine, right up until someone asked, really asked, how was your day? and instead of saying, yes, fine, you cry unapologetically for an hour. Maybe you just wept while they reassured you, feeling selfish to be sad, but without the energy to protest. Maybe because you didn’t resist, their words washed over you and into you and made you cry again, but in relief.

By this time it is probably nearly ten o’clock, and you are tired and your cheeks are tight with salt tears, the opposite of a day at the beach. But something they said stuck with you, take care of yourself first. Make your own bed, serve yourself something you would cook for two.

If you are hungry now, or at least curious for food, you boil the kettle, heat a pot with water, salt. Stare at the water blankly. Then you look through the cupboards for something to eat – rice, potatoes, bulgur wheat. Is there any pasta? Please be pasta. Tip some elbow things, macaroni, into the boiling water, enough for one, two. Serve yourself something as nicely as if it were for someone else as well. There is just a tablespoon of butter, enough for a roux with a tablespoon of flour. Cook, stirring, in a small saucepan until nutty, then whisk in a cup of milk a little at a time. Maybe you spill some of the milk, but you don’t cry again.

There are odds and ends of cheese in the fridge from different adventures: stinky Epoisses, smoked Idiazabal, Cashel blue. You spend a minute grateful for your wanderings. Crumble or grate the cheese, and toast a few walnuts in the oven. By now the pasta is cooked, the béchamel thick, speckled with nutmeg and pepper. A bit lumpy, you don’t care. It all goes into a little baking dish – macaroni, cheese, sauce, walnuts – more grated cheese on top and into the still hot oven. You may still be tired, eyelids at half-mast, but your curiosity and appetite have been piqued. You might have made something truly delicious.

There is exactly one glass of red wine left from the night before. The pasta takes seven minutes to brown on top, which is all you need. Lettuce, dressing. By ten thirty you have dinner. Eat straight out of the baking dish, candles lit. Comfort food for company, for one.

plum and hazelnut financiers

27 Oct

autumn gourmet desserts

Working on recipes over the summer holidays, I made what was possibly the ugliest dessert of all time. It didn’t taste terrible but it looked a mess. It reminded me of being an apprentice, trying to cut corners to go faster and having to start again entirely. Short cuts take twice as long, I learned. And I could feel the ghost of our strict French chef breathing over my shoulder as I attempted to pipe this monstrosity.

My friend was polite about it: I’ll save half for breakfast! No, it was nice, honestly. But she was betrayed by her comparative enthusiasm for the second thing we made that day, these simple, little plum and hazelnut cakes. We made them in cupcake pans with sliced plums on top, and in little moulds the size of corks that we ate hot as soon as they came out of the oven, not even a mouthful.

The financier is a cousin to the madeleine, and a superior cousin at that (though I share a name with the latter). (I’m also the oldest cousin in my English family, so.) Both are little buttery snack-cakes, but financiers are made with browned butter, what the French call beurre noisette, so they already have a toasty aroma that is only enhanced by the ground nuts, in this case hazelnuts. They stay fresh for a few days too, unlike madeleines which are best eaten on the first day. Plums are a perfect autumn accompaniment, the thin slices turning jammy in the oven, with a few halved hazelnuts on top for crunch.

Apart from browning the butter, the preparation is pretty easy. Stir, chill, bake. Ideally the mixture should rest in the fridge for a few hours to properly chill for the perfect texture. It will keep for a few days refrigerated, so if you have more mixture than tins, you can make a second batch later on.

Plum and hazelnut financiers

adapted from Hugues Pouget in Fou de Pâtisserie 12. It is an easily customisable recipe – substitute almonds or walnuts; add spices, citrus zest, vanilla or even finely ground tea for different effects; use seasonal fruits like raspberries, apples, pears…

makes 20-24

80g plain flour

120g ground hazelnuts

200g caster sugar

200g butter

20g honey

215g egg whites (about 7-8)

grated nutmeg

pinch of salt

3-4 ripe plums

whole hazelnuts for decoration

Sift flour, hazelnuts and sugar into a large bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and keep going until it starts to foam and sizzle, then subside. After a couple of minutes, you should smell the milk solids in the butter toasting, similar to hazelnuts. This is easiest in a light coloured pan, as you can see them turn brown (but not black!). If you have a thermometer, cook the butter to 145C. Remove from the heat, add honey and allow to cool. Mix egg whites into flour/nuts/sugar, then stir in the cooled butter, nutmeg and pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to several days).

Grease cupcake moulds or line with papers. Fill each mould about 3/4 full. Finely slice plums and halve hazelnuts and arrange 2-3 slices of plum and 2-3 hazelnut halves on each financier. (This step can be done straightaway if preferred and then refrigerated in the pans).

Preheat oven to 170C and bake for 12-15 minutes. They should be golden all over and brown around the edges. Will keep for 2-3 days in airtight tin.

sweet, sweet corn

5 Oct

sweetcorn

There are some recipes that I do not need to re-write, because they already exist somewhere out there on the internet in their truest form. I might have made them over and over again at home, but I do not have anything more to add. Rachel’s peperonata is one of those. No tweaks or tips necessary.

Rarely, a totally new recipe floats into my head in the five minutes before I fall asleep, or on a long run. If I can remember the idea the next day, it takes several trials to pin it down properly. Which makes me feel like the BFG, mixing dreams and blowing bubbles.

While I work on one of those, which still frustratingly eludes me after four attempts – all delicious but not quite right – here are two recipes that seduced me exactly as they were written, both involving corn in one form or another:

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Vaghareli Makai, spicy Indian sweetcorn with peanuts, coriander and lime from Near and Far by Heidi Swanson (recipe via David Lebovitz). She has a knack for the fresh, healthy and addictively more-ish. Serve as a side dish in an Indian feast, with plain grilled fish or meat, or my personal favourite, a whole bowl with sliced hardboiled eggs on top. (Yep, the whole “four servings” all for me.) I often substituted cashews for the peanuts, as suggested, which was just as good if not better.

Perfect corn muffins from Smitten Kitchen. I had a craving for which I was pretty sure Smitten Kitchen would have (thrice-tested) answer: and of course, she had not one but two corn muffin recipes. The ‘perfect’ recipe has you make a quick porridge with half the cornmeal – or instant polenta in my case – making the muffins lovely and moist. The only change I made was to add cubes of leftover blue cheese in the centre of each muffin just before baking. Great with soup, or just a savoury afternoon snack.

~~

 

pasta e ceci, from rachel roddy’s “five quarters”

28 Sep

broccoli pasta

This rainy week in September, all I want to eat is pasta. Spaghetti, rigatoni, penne, macaroni. At first I thought it was early hibernation, resentment for the horizontal rain that struck me halfway home. Or a sense of habitual wanderlust: for four years during university, I spent each September in Italy, on language courses and then visiting friends. Rome, Florence, Perugia, Bari.

But the real reason I have been eating only pasta for a week is because I fell headfirst into the recipe book by my bed, Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome. It has everything I love from the original blog, rachel eatsclean, elegant writing, natural photos and a perfectly seasoned mix of stories from England and Italy.

Rachel Roddy’s recipes take me right back to those Italian kitchens I visited, waiting for the water to boil and snacking on scraps of parmesan if we ate late in the evening. People would drop by with wine, stories, chestnuts in the autumn, and there would always be enough for everyone, another handful of pasta. There, I mostly watched, chopped vegetables, set the table. I let the Italians salt the water, test the spaghetti to see if it was al dente.

The descriptions in Five Quarters perfectly capture that outsider’s gaze: an English woman in Rome for ten years, first starry-eyed, on holiday, and then, when she stayed, determined to master the peculiarities of Roman cooking.

Since each recipe, in true Italian style, only has a few ingredients, you know they have to be of good quality. When I picked up my burrata last week, I bought good spaghetti, pancetta and pecorino romano to start with the classic, spaghetti alla carbonara. Which, up until now, I had never actually made at home, intimidated by my Italian flatmate’s scorn at the French use of 1) cheap supermarket pasta 2) crème fraîche and lardons, instead of the proper egg and fatty pancetta or guanciale. The creamy sauce is all alchemy, no cream at all, just eggs whisked with finely grated cheese, tossed with the pasta and a little of the cooking water. If it gets too hot, it scrambles. Too cool or too much water, egg soup. I followed the instructions, and it worked, più o meno, more or less. There is always room for improvement. Italian food, Roman food, as Rachel explains, is all about la pratica, practice. I thoroughly appreciated her careful details, for steps as simple as how much water? how much salt?

So I practiced: I tried the pasta e ceci, a thick chickpea soup fragrant with rosemary, a fat anchovy for a kick of salt. I appreciated that there were two versions, for it is one of my favourite dishes. And a soup that is even better the next day. One lunchtime I spent a meditative hour boiling broccoli, then cooking it again with garlic, oil and chilli until it collapsed into a kind of pesto. That reminded me of waiting impatiently, in a Perugian kitchen, for a friend to do the same with a cauliflower. Nothing but time, oil and garlic, and again, that pasta water, to reduce it to its essence.

peperonata

Ever since I read about it on her blog, the red pepper stew or peperonata has been a staple in our house. I couldn’t resist making it again from the book.It goes with everything – meat, fish, piled on bread – hot or cold. Breakfast today was a fried egg on toast, rocket and a tangle of silky strands of peppers and onion. It is the tail end of the peach season, so I tried the recipe for pesche ripiene, baked in halves with a cap of buttery almond paste. (Equally good with large plums.) Could barely save one for breakfast the next day.

So much of Five Quarters has me fall down a rabbit hole of memories, that it feels like a kindred spirit: the pinzimonio di ceci I also tried at the River Café on my 25th birthday; the description of figs sandwiched with pizza bianca and prosciutto that just conjures Rome for me, figs so sweet they might have been dipped in honey. The caramelised oranges remind me of my granny.

It is one for quiet days at home, for simple, flavourful cooking with carefully chosen ingredients. Like the pasta e broccoli, the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. I have a mental list of the recipes I need to try: fettucine with butter and anchovies, a proper puttanesca,  and now that it is quince season again, cotogna in composta. And a growing list of places to visit and things to eat when I do go back to Rome – the restaurants, the market in Testaccio – to soak up that incredible atmosphere the book captures so well.

pasta jar, pencils

Pasta e ceci

adapted from Five Quarters  by Rachel Roddy. I hesitated at which recipe to write about, and since each one is beautifully detailed, I didn’t want to simplify or paraphrase. When I made the pasta e ceci, I used the ingredients from the first recipe and the method from the second, using tinned chickpeas and blending half because I like it thick. Hopefully it is up to scratch. Roddy recommends a “short tubular pasta, tubetti, ditalini or broken tagliatelle”. I used small penne – either way, it will be eaten with a spoon so choose accordingly!

serves 4

4 tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled

2 sprigs rosemary

2 large anchovies, in oil

2 tins chickpeas (400g each), drained

200g plum tomatoes (ripe, fresh ones, or good-quality tinned), chopped

200g pasta (see note above)

salt and pepper

In a large saucepan on a medium heat, heat the olive oil and gently cook the garlic cloves (crushed with the back of a knife), the whole sprigs of rosemary and the anchovies. When the garlic starts to go golden, remove it and the rosemary from the oil (or the garlic risks burning and the rosemary will fall apart leaving uncomfortable spines in your soup). By now the anchovies should have dissolved. Add the tomatoes and squash them gently. Cook for a few minutes, add chickpeas. Boil a kettle and pour 1 litre hot water into the pan. Bring to a boil.

[At this point I should have let the soup simmer for a while to thicken and deepen the flavours. But I was very hungry. And it was still good. At your discretion.]

Carefully remove about half the soup and blend. (Or blend roughly with a stick blender, careful not to splash the hot liquid, leaving plenty of chickpeas whole.) If you prefer a more brothy soup, like a minestrone, skip this step. Stir it all together again, with a generous pinch of salt, allow to boil and add the pasta. Stir every now and then. Taste to check the pasta is done at least two minutes before the packet says it will be. Keep tasting until al dente. Adjust seasoning. Serve warm. Add a little parsley if you like a bit of colour.

Excellent reheated the next day.

coffee cheesecake with a walnut crust and salted caramel ganache

21 Sep

cheesecake ingredients

Bringing a cheesecake to a party seems like cheating: pretty much everyone will love it. Forgive the fashion metaphor: after five years I finally caved and bought a black leather jacket, to match everyone else in Paris. And you know what? It makes everything else I wear instantly cooler. I have never looked cool before. Cute or quirky or colourful maybe. There is a reason that the French word for a leather jacket is un perfecto.

It feels like cheating because it is the same, simple recipe I have used forever, from the wife of my Italian tutor. Blend biscuit crumbs, whisk filling, pour into a tin, bake. Ice if you are fancy. I just adapt it to every occasion – with lemon zest and a poppy seed crust; kumquats and apricots; or Earl Grey tea – but keep the basic ratio the same. My trick is to bake it in a long loaf tin, which makes it less likely to crack or leak, and elegant and easy to slice later on. You can have the whole thing in the oven in about ten minutes. Leaving you lots of spare time to watch the Great British Bake Off and marvel at how complicated they make things for themselves.

Last time I tried another recipe, an involved one with several layers, a frozen ganache, extra bells and whistles, I was disappointed. My oven ended up covered in butter and chocolate. So I have gone back to my staple recipe. (It was high time I drew a new picture for cheesecake anyway.) Not too sweet, not too heavy. This version has a biscuit base of speculoos (cinnamon) biscuits as well as savoury crackers, and some ground coffee and walnuts for a grown-up edge. (Since I had some grapefruit marmalade lying around, I spread a little over the base too.) The mascarpone cream is flavoured with more coffee and rum, as well as a touch of grapefruit zest. On top, a bitter caramel white chocolate ganache and a few flakes of sea salt. No more decoration needed.

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Coffee cheesecake with a walnut crust and salted caramel ganache

Ganache topping borrowed from Dana Cree’s not nutter butters. Feel free to substitute cream cheese or Quark for mascarpone; change the biscuits; swap the walnuts for any other nuts/seeds; change the coffee flavouring to cinnamon, lemon or tea… For a lighter topping, just smooth over some crème fraîche or sour cream when cool. Use this recipe as a template for your favourite flavours!

makes enough for at least 8 generous slices

crust:

120g speculoos biscuits

55g TUC crackers

35g walnuts

1 tbs ground coffee

25g caster sugar

75g butter, melted

(optional: 2-3 tbs grapefruit marmalade)

cheesecake:

2 tsp instant coffee

1 tbs rum

450g mascarpone

150g caster sugar

4 eggs

zest of one grapefruit

caramel ganache:

20g water

50g caster sugar

75g whipping/heavy/single cream

20g butter

150g white chocolate

flaky sea salt to finish

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Grease and line a 24cm-long loaf tin with baking paper, with an extra few centimetres sticking up to make it easy to pull out of the tin later on.

Preheat oven to 170C.

Blend the biscuits, coffee and walnuts in a food processor to make fine crumbs. Add sugar and melted butter and blend again to combine evenly. Press the mixture into the bottom of the loaf tin firmly with the back of a spoon. Optional: carefully spread grapefruit marmalade over the crumb base.

Rinse out the food processor then blend instant coffee with rum to dissolve it. Mix in mascarpone, sugar, eggs and zest and blend until smooth. Pour into tin and bake for 45-50 minutes until puffed up, starting to crack slightly and a skewer inserted in the top comes out clean.

Let the cheesecake cool in the pan for at least half an hour before making ganache:

Finely chop white chocolate, put in a bowl with a sieve on top. Gently heat cream in a small pan or microwave. Measure out the butter. Heat sugar and water in a medium saucepan, without stirring, to make a very dark caramel. It should be just on the point of smoking, almost burnt, to balance out the sweetness of the white chocolate. Quickly take off the heat and slide in the butter. Let it melt before stirring it into the caramel. Add the warmed cream, stir again to combine. Strain the caramel sauce through the sieve into the white chocolate. Let it absorb the heat for 30 seconds then stir together to combine. If it starts to split or look a bit greasy, whisk in a teaspoon of hot cream or hot water and it should come back together. Carefully smooth onto the surface of the cheesecake. Refrigerate to set.

Just before serving, sprinkle some flaky salt over the cheesecake. Carefully lift out of the pan with the paper, cut into thick slices, cleaning your knife each time you cut it.

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