Archive | dinner RSS feed for this section

NOPI’s burrata with peaches and coriander seeds

15 Sep

peaches, burrata, nopi

Being grown-up means eating Coco Pops whenever you want. It means buying unfashionable clothes for comfort. It starts with a desire to move to the countryside.

Being grown-up seems to mean more responsibilities, more spreadsheets. Except that when we were children, we didn’t dream of more chores, but more choices.

I have been canvassing friends for their opinion on adulting, whether they consider themselves to have reached adulthood yet or not. I got silly and sensible answers, each with a ring of truth. Mostly they didn’t revolve around the obvious milestones – marriage, children, graduation – they were instead more intangible realities. Like being in a position to teach an intern, to explain an illness, to create a new life in a new country. Not feeling guilty about not finishing projects. The freedom to drink a beer in your own garden.

At least this last week, my idea of being an adult has included:

Going out to dinner at my favourite restaurant in London, Ottolenghi’s NOPI. I had been once before, with friends and family, for my 22nd birthday. This time I paid, and it was worth every penny. We had polenta truffle chips, blackened aubergine with basil, one shortrib with caramelised horseradish, the lightest courgette fritters, and of course, the burrata, with peaches and coriander seeds. Going home with the recipe book, gilt-edged, like a precious manuscript.

Spending an afternoon in the Luxembourg gardens with ice cream, talking about adulthood, memories, the initial sparks of a friendship. A second ice cream on the same day, as a treat for an excitable three-and-a-half year old, and for us as well, because why not? This involved waving at metros (and the driver waving back!) and making ourselves moustaches out of the black sesame ice cream.

Taking the time to queue at the Italian delicatessen, to buy pancetta, pecorino, scamorza, delivered fresh from Italy the day before. Buying extra burrata, knowing that we would be having it on Sunday anyway. Not taking the time to sit down to eat it, tearing it apart while standing up in the kitchen with my flatmate. (We both rate burrata as our number favourite cheese of all time. If you have never had it before, it is like a generous mozzarella with an extra creamy centre. If you have never had it before, we may not be able to be friends with you. True friendship, as previously defined in our household: allowing the other person to eat more than half the burrata.)

Cooking nicely presented meals for one, spaghetti cacio e pepe, with a neat green salad.

The film Youth, by Paolo Sorrentino. Trampolining as a sport. A sculpture class. Speeding through Paris on a bike, and noticing a dozen things from my new perspective.

A meeting of the Grape Leaves Club, leaning on the kitchen counters, glass of white wine in hand, as we sterilised jars, simmered plums and sugar, and ladled jam into jars. Teaching the above almost-four year old to say JAM for confiture. Sitting down to supper and nearly weeping with laughter at some inanity. A moment of quiet as we each took a bite of our first course, burrata again, seasoned with dukkah, and served with sliced peaches à la Ottolenghi.

In summary, adulthood for me seems to mean mostly… dairy products? So the last word to my wisest friend of three and three-quarters: “no-one knows the difference between a kid and a grown-up,” but the latter “seems to have a lot of difficult things to do.”


Burrata with peaches and coriander seeds

A simplified version of the recipe from NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (no lavender oil). If you can’t find fresh burrata, buy the best mozzarella you can get your hands on. And if you have some dukkah on hand, it makes for a wonderful, toasted, spicy crunch on top. Otherwise coriander seeds, as in the original recipe, are great.

serves 4-6 as a starter

2 fresh burrata, 300g each

2 peaches

olive oil, lemon juice, salt

2 tsp coriander seeds OR 2 tsp dukkah

Boil a kettle. Gently score the peach skin as if you were about to cut the peaches in quarters. Place in a bowl. Pour the hot water over the whole peaches to cover. After thirty seconds, test to see if the skin slips off. Run peaches under cold water, peel and slice thinly. Toss the slices in a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt, to taste. Toast the coriander seeds in a small frying pan until fragrant. (No need to toast dukkah as it has been toasted already.) Gently tear the burrata in half/thirds and place a piece on each plate, sprinkling the coriander or dukkah on top. Add peach slices.


To buy burrata in Paris: Cooperativa Latte Cisternino – 108 rue St Maur, 11ème / 37 rue Godot de Mouroy, 10ème/ 46 Rue du fbg Poissonière, 9ème / 17 rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, 5ème. Delivery from Italy on Thursdays.

greek caper-potato spread

19 Jul

greek potato caper dip, devilled eggs, carrot salad

C-O-P-C-M … Copka-mmm? Carrots, olives, potatoes, capers, what was the m? Mustard?

Little cousin and I were trying to make a mnemonic to recall the shopping list we were too lazy to write down. The greengrocer had everything, capers, olives, even the mustard. We almost forgot the bulgur wheat though, since we missed the second B in B-B-O-W-T – blueberries, bulgur, oats, walnuts, tomatoes – an essential ingredient in the grape leaf parcels the dinner was themed around.

The Grape Leaves Club was celebrating more than a year of cooking evenings (ravioli, sashimi, paupiettes de poulet….) with a summer fiesta, vaguely Mediterranean themed. A bit of Spanish-French-Italo-American-Greek (SFIAG?): ajo blanco, white almond soup and soubressade spicy sausage from Marie; oeufs mimosa, devilled eggs with homemade mayonnaise  from Jen, with her own foccacia; and grape leaves with lemon and mint, of course. Peeling carrots as the other two rolled up the leaves, talking and then not talking, listening to my little cousin hanging bunting in the other room in fits of laughter, I realised once again that the party preparation is my favourite moment. Inviting people over was a necessary (pleasant) function of liking to cook together, producing too much to eat on our own, as a three.

I was inspired by the ‘Mostly Vegetarian Greek Feast’ eaten at the Oxford Symposium* the other week: long tables lined with tarama, pita, black-eyed bean salad with tomatoes and crispy crumbs. My favourite dishes were a kind of caper spread, with the soft fluffy texture of mashed potatoes; and a carrot and olive salad, the carrot discs just cooked, crunchy, lemony, with pops of salt from the olives. The architect of the feast, Aglaia Kremezi, explained how important the right spices are for (mostly) vegetarian food. And as simple as the main ingredients were, it was the best meal of the weekend, because everything was so well-seasoned, spiced, balanced.

I haven’t bought the book (yet) but really wanted to try the caper-potato combination at home. Even though I don’t normally like capers, something about the squeaky texture. But blended with parsley and swirled into potatoes with olive oil, the sum was so much more than the (four!) parts. Tangy, salty, fresh. It is thicker than a dip, more like mashed potatoes, and could be served as a side dish, a snack, a spread. If everything else on our table hadn’t been so delectable, I would’ve just eaten it by the spoonful. Because she is a genius, Marie suggested piling it into crisp brick pastry with an egg, and frying the parcel until golden and the egg yolk is still runny.

Seriously, try it. This will be your easiest and best summer dish to take to picnics, or to eat absentmindedly from the fridge late at night, when the city finally cools down.


*The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking left me with pages of notes I haven’t yet written up: on the Gourmet in popular Japanese manga, on tattoos in the kitchen, on banquet scenes in medieval paintings. I will, soon. I loved pretending to be a student in lectures again, this time surrounded by people as obsessively keen as I am about food. And quite a few recipe ideas, including Greek spoon-sweets: preserved orange rind in syrup, offered to us by a pair of artists that collected the fruit from trees in different neighbourhoods of Athens.


Greek potato-caper spread

inspired by Aglaia Kremezi’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts – obviously you can be creative, add garlic, lemon, other herbs as well, but it is pretty amazing with just these four ingredients. 

makes a generous bowlful but still not enough!

600g potatoes

125g capers

generous handful of fresh parsley

a couple of glugs olive oil

Peel, boil and mash the potatoes. Drain the capers (reserve the brine) and blend with parsley and olive oil to make a rough paste. Mash the caper mix into the potatoes by hand: do not put potatoes in the blender or they will turn gluey. Add more olive oil and some of the brine to achieve required consistency – like loose mashed potatoes. Serve with more olive oil and chopped parsley on top.


diana henry’s japanese garlic and ginger chicken with smashed cucumber

31 Mar

Scan 5

More cookbooks! Disaster. The latest addition to my collection has not yet been added to the shelf. It lives on my sofa and I open it at random for inspiration. Let’s see:

“Beluga lentil, roast grape and red chicory salad.” Intriguing, roast grapes. An Autumn recipe in hues of violet and red. Let’s aim for Spring:

“Butterflied leg of lamb with sekenjabin.” With what? Oooh, a “Persian mint syrup.” Best with flatbread or couscous and broadbeans. Mmm. Turn the page:

“Chocolate and rosemary sorbet” on the same leaf as “Grapefruit and mint sorbet.” All of my favourite flavours!

A Change of Appetite: where healthy meets delicious is an adventure in flavour, an exploration of healthy food without austerity or preaching. It is a fresh and beautiful cookbook. There are whole seasons full of recipes, with intermittent pages of musings on grains, proper lunches, the Japanese philosophy in food. I’m afraid to say the piece on calories rang unfortunately true: eat 500 calories chocolate, skip dinner. Works out even right? Not really.

As a pastry chef, I find it hard to condone dieting. (I’d be out of a job.) And I don’t believe abstention or detoxes work long-term. But too much sugar does have an effect on my body and my mood.

Henry doesn’t ask you to diet either. Just to take a little more care, add a few more green leaves and prepare meals with tons of flavour, inspired by Japan or Iran or Bulgaria. The healthy aspect works because the recipes really pique my appetite. And Ottolenghi’s apparently; his stamp of approval is on the front cover.

The ginger and garlic chicken I served at a dinner the other day was sharp and savoury and mouthwatering. Even with the chicken all eaten, the sauce was so good my guests took more wild rice just to soak it up. The cucumber with ginger has real character too, the rare occasion when cucumber has a starring role. It was all light and fresh and just enough. Satisfying.

I have to admit that we did have a first course of eggs and spinach, and later a cheese course with three cheeses and fresh salted butter then dessert. But, France. We had modest portions of each and still didn’t feel like we had to roll home afterwards.

The garlic-ginger chicken is going into regular rotation. (Using the grated and frozen ginger leftover from my homemade ginger juice.) In fact I am going to marinate individual portions in zip-lock bags and freeze them. Then in the morning I can defrost one bag or several in the fridge, ready to bake at suppertime. Virtuous ready-meals!

Next on the list: “Spelt and oat porridge with pomegranates and pistachios.” Wish it was breakfast time already.


Diana Henry’s Japanese Garlic and Ginger Chicken with smashed cucumber

from A Change of Appetite

serves 4

8 chicken thighs (bone-in) or 4 whole chicken legs

3 1/2 tbs soy sauce

3 tbs sake or dry sherry (or in a pinch, white wine)

3 tbs dark brown sugar

1/2 tbs brown/red miso

60g fresh ginger, peeled and grated

4 garlic cloves, crushed or grated

1 tsp togarashi seasoning (or 1/2 tsp chili powder)

Smashed cucumber:

500g cucumber

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tsp sea salt

2 tbs pink pickled ginger, finely chopped

handful of shiso leaves, torn up (or mint)

Mix together marinade ingredients. If baking that day, preheat oven to 200C, arrange chicken in a baking dish in a single layer and pour over marinade. Let sit for at least 20 minutes while oven preheats (or a few hours in the fridge). If not, put chicken pieces in a zip-lock bag (or several), divide the marinade between them and freeze.

Bake chicken for 30-40 minutes depending on size of pieces, basting with marinade halfway. To check if the chicken legs are fully cooked, stab with a sharp knife and see if the juices run clear. If they are a little pink, carry on cooking.

Meanwhile, peel and de-seed the cucumber. Chop roughly. Put cucumber, garlic and salt in a zip-lock bag and bash it a few times with a rolling pin. This step can be done on a chopping board but is much more messy. Refrigerate until chicken is ready. Drain of any liquid and serve the cucumber topped with finely sliced pickled ginger and shiso (or mint).

jennifer mclagan’s radicchio pie

17 Feb

radicchio pie

Bitter is a recurrent theme here: grapefruit, endive, caramel… The other day in fact I took a jar of grapefruit juice, hot water and honey onto the metro: handwarmer and homemade cold cure. So I was overjoyed to receive the book ‘Bitter‘ for Christmas, with its elegant grey cardoon leaves on the cover. (I also love grey: poppy seeds, black sesame desserts…) Jennifer McLagan peppers her cookbook with poetry, quotations and thoughtful essays on taste and flavour. I especially liked her discussion on the word itself, bitter, one that doesn’t have enough synonyms when it comes to writing about food. The Japanese word, shibui,she writes, means a kind of tangy bitterness. A quick thesaurus search in English gives ‘harsh, sour, acid, astringent, tart’ in that order, none particularly appetising except perhaps the last. (Yesterday I had to teach French flatmate that it was acceptable ‘to get tarted up’ but not to be a tart. In French the quiche gets the dubious honour of comestible-used-as-an-insult. Etre une quiche means to be an idiot.)

radicchio leaves

I have bookmarked the Seville orange and whiskey marmalade and the homemade tonic water; I approved of the grapefruit and Campari sorbet (one of my favourite cocktails). I was intrigued by the beer jelly, made in ice-cube trays to serve a piece or two with rich, fatty starters like smoked pepper mackerel. And straightaway, I bought some radicchio for her savoury tart with prosciutto, fontina and a hint of ginger. It should have had lard in the pie-crust but in typical French fashion the butchers at the market first asked about our intentions, and then refused to sell it to us since it was the wrong kind for pastry. And no, we couldn’t try it anyway. A substitute of butter and a little duck fat, always on hand in the south of France, was more than acceptable. The pie was delicious straight out of the oven, a complex bitter taste, the wilted radicchio with melted cheese and crisp pastry. (Served with a salad of Belgian endives, of course.) And it was even better the next day as a snack by the fire, with a glass of Campari and apple juice.

radicchio half

Jennifer McLagan’s Radicchio Pie

serves 4 as a light lunch with salad

250g plain flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

125g cold butter or leaf lard

75ml cold water


75g fatty prosciutto or pancetta

400g radicchio

1 leek

1 tbs balsamic vinegar

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 tsp salt

a few generous grinds pepper

125g Fontina or mozzarella cheese, grated

1 egg

2 tbs fine breadcrumbs

Dice the cold fat (butter or lard) and rub it into the flour, baking powder and salt until the flakes of butter are no bigger than peas. (You can do this step in the food processor.) Stir in the cold water and bring the pastry together into a ball with your hands. Wrap in clingfilm, flatten into a square and chill, in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or in the freezer for 10.

Roughly chop the prosciutto or pancetta and cook in a large frying pan for 2 minutes while you chop the radicchio and leek. Add them to the pan and cook on high heat for 3-5 minutes to wilt the vegetables. Stir in the grated ginger, salt, pepper and balsamic and tip out onto a plate or tray to cool.

Preheat oven to 180C.

Roll the pastry out into a large rectangle, approx 30x40cm. Slice in half, but so that one rectangle is slightly wider than the other (approx 19 and 21cm). Place smaller rectangle on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and brush some egg around the pastry in a 2cm border. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the pastry apart from the egg.

Gently squeeze any extra liquid out of the cooled radicchio. Stir in the grated cheese. Spread the radicchio over the breadcrumbs, then carefully roll the second rectangle of pastry over the top. Press down around the edges with your fingertips, then use a fork to mark the border. If you have any scraps of pastry, cut out some leaves or designs to go on top. Egg wash all over and prick the top a few times with a sharp knife to let out any steam.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until nice and golden, crisp and shiny. Serve warm – also great reheated the next day.

thoran (keralan cabbage and coconut with turmeric and mustard seeds)

27 Jan


I wrote every day in India. I kept a mental list of images, faces, phrases until I could scribble them down at night or on the train. Reading them back makes me feel a little dizzy, but grateful for the sketches that unlock past hours and days.

The diary entry from 11th January 2014 – more than a year ago already! – is marked ‘Kochi’ and ‘Cooking Class with Leelu’. There are recipes: Traditional Keralan Fish Curry, Masala Tea, Pumpkin Curry, Aubergine Curry, Thoran and Chapatis. And I wrote down all of the asides as well as cooking instructions. “You are sweating? I am sweating, see. Hot!”

It was hot: eight of us crowded into Mrs Leelu’s kitchen. She was perched on a stool, explaining ‘masala’ (a mix of spices); showing us the powerful Indian wet-dry grinder; letting us taste shredded fresh coconut. She made three curries and let us each roll and cook a chapati until black and blistered. She told us about her son’s wedding, Protestant, no alcohol. One thousand people had been invited; she had ordered 1200 meals to be sure. “If I will be in the kitchen, how will I enjoy?” She learned cooking after her marriage, from listening to her mother instruct the servants. (My diary entry for the Mattancherry Palace tells me that Kerala is a matrilocal society: the wife stays with her family after marriage and the family name and property is passed down through the mother. Which meant that historically, women were more likely to be educated, to learn Sanskrit) Mrs Leelu was jovial and lively, her eyes full of fun. And her cooking efficient and bold. The other English couple in the room raised their eyes at the amount of salt that went into one of the curries and asked questions like, “Ooh I don’t know if you can find coriander powder in England?” and “Can you substitute lemon for tamarind?” (Of course you can. But it would be a different dish. And I am all for substitutions and inventions – after trying the original once. Maybe buy some of the spices before you leave, there’s an idea. I didn’t say any of that. Just wrote everything down for posterity.)

When we sat down to eat, still hot but with a happy anticipation of the feast before us, we each had to reclaim our own chapati, some rounder than others. Mrs Leelu asked us to pick a favourite dish: mine was unquestionably the thoran, a finely grated cabbage dish tempered with fresh coconut and ginger. It is like a refreshing slaw, only cooked for five minutes to take away the raw bite. Warmed up with turmeric and cumin, it is nevertheless a mild side dish to serve alongside a fiery curry. The carrot in the mix adds colour, the mustard seeds a decorative speckle like vanilla in desserts.

Later, back at the hotel, when we had packed – it was our last night as a four before I went north – we shared the quarter-bottle of white wine saved from the plane on arrival. It had been a mostly alcohol-free holiday, more tea and trains and sunburn than anything else. We toasted its success. (Then I was delegated to kill the cockroaches in the bathroom before we went to sleep.)

I would happily do the two weeks in Kerala all over again, to the letter: Wayanad, Alappuzha, Munnar, Kochi. Mrs Leelu’s class was in the latter, in the heart of the old city. It is mostly demonstration, but you get to eat everything at the end. And she is very entertaining.


Thoran (Keralan cabbage and coconut with turmeric and mustard seeds)

serves 5-6 as a side-dish

Can apparently be made with all kinds of vegetables: carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, unripe plaintain, potato, courgette. So use whatever you have on hand. Adjust cooking time and quantity of water accordingly: more for potatoes, less for courgettes.

100g carrot (one large)

300g cabbage

1 small red onion

15g ginger (piece roughly the size of top joint of thumb)

1 small chili (depending on what kind – I used 2 tiny bird’s eye chilis)

1/2 – 1 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 – 1 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt or to taste

100g (roughly 1 cup) shredded fresh coconut

OR 80g dessicated coconut + 60ml coconut milk

60ml (1/4 cup) water

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp coconut oil

If fresh coconut is unavailable, use dessicated (unsweetened coconut milk) and soak it for 20 minutes in coconut milk to rehydrate it.

Peel carrot, onion and ginger. Using a food processor, finely grate them with the cabbage and chili. Heat the grated mixture, turmeric, cumin salt and coconut in a large saucepan for 5-10 minutes. Taste: it should be nicely warmed through and no longer taste raw. Add extra spices or salt if necessary. In a small saucepan, heat the coconut oil and mustard seeds until they start to pop, then tip onto thoran and mix in. Serve warm as a side. Also nice cold the next day as a salad.


21 Dec

coriander jar

The recipe has been in my diary since the summer, when I re-read Laurie Colwin’s “More Home Cooking”. Her food is down-to-earth and her stories gently funny; I liked the one on what to feed a jetlagged friend (something salty so they drink lots of water). The image that really stuck with me though was that of her sister (maybe? the book is still in the south of France) caught guiltily eating this spice mix, dukkah, out of the jar with a spoon.

Now eating Nutella by the spoonful, that I understand. But a mix of nuts and seeds, cumin, coriander and cinnamon? Surely that would be too dry, too strong?

Talking with a friend the other day – she is on the kitchen stool with a glass of wine, I am testing the recipe, blending the toasted spices and nuts, stopping and starting around the conversation – we realise that much as ex-smokers tend to be the most vehemently anti-smoking, people that have had issues with eating disorders tend to be largely impatient  with others’ dietary requirements, intolerances, particular preferences. She says she is gluten-free now, last week it was lactose. He only ate half the piece of cheesecake, claimed he was getting love handles. Obviously I know that there are medically diagnosed problems, food allergies. I know that. She knows that. Nonetheless as if we are trying to distance ourselves from our past, our obsessions, we are the most judgemental.

Smell that. I open the lid of the food processor, releasing a toasty cinnamon air. Good right?

But when walls are broken down, when someone admits to suffering, to have suffered from disordered eating, it is amazing how quickly others will respond with me too! Without that kinship, it would be admitting to weakness, to vanity, to a preoccupation with the self in a world of much more tangible problems.

We each dip a finger to taste the crumbly rubble, not quite a powder. Oooh.  We taste it again. It is like earth and fire, full of warmth.

cinnamon, cumin and pepper jars

It isn’t about being thin or pretty but feeling full or empty. From the beginning of university until not so long ago, I struggled with food. Push and pull. I ate my feelings, as everyone does occasionally. It went from once a month to almost every day, when I could count the ‘good days’ (tuna and rye crackers) one hand in that month.

We try it on some sourdough, spread with honey and goat’s cheese and topped with a baker’s pinch of dukkah (all fingers at once, not just finger and thumb). That will be breakfast and snacks for the next two days until the loaf runs out.

And then, slowly, sometime in the last year and a half it faded towards the horizon. It stopped being ‘I am’ this thing, this disorder that defines me, and became ‘I have’ and ‘I used to have’. I can feel its imprint on bad days, a worn pathway, a feeling of too much too full too frantic. Asked to describe it once, I said that when anxious I felt a balloon inflating in my chest and the only way to remove it was to fill myself up until I was a sack of concrete.

Now I remember how to feel physically hungry, not just emotionally empty. My feelings are not always in check – nor should they be – and sometimes it surprises me the forged link of hunger/sadness. Two days ago I finished class in a terribe mood, sure that everyone hated me, inexplicably miserable. Then, wait, I realised, I had been too busy to eat lunch. All I needed to right my self-esteem was a quick sandwich of baguette, cured ham and salad, with a sprinkle of more dukkah. (I ‘borrowed’ some from the jar in my handbag I was giving away as a gift. Sorry Jen!)

Where am I going with this? For one, more people than you would think will own up to those moments in the kitchen at midnight, guiltily nursing that spoon, if only you know how to ask the question. It is a relief to say, me too. Hopefully this does not read as melodramatic or self-centred. I just know that a few years ago I would have loved to know someone with the same experience, someone who made it out the other side. I would have felt less ashamed.

And secondly, this spice mix, dip, topping, whichever, is my favourite thing I have made all year. It is redolent with spices, savoury and sweet, salty. Hot with black pepper but tempered with the hazelnuts and sesame seeds, so that it can be used in generous spoonfuls rather than pinches. Of course, when I googled it I discovered it has been fashionable in the food world for at least a decade now, in all of my favourite blogs: 101 Cookbooks, Smitten Kitchen and now in David Lebovitz’s new book. And more importantly, in Egypt for centuries: street vendors serve cones of dukkah, or duqqa, with bread and olive oil for dipping. I cannot wait to serve it over boiled eggs, potatoes, soups, avocado toast… My flatmate makes home-made fermented-milk yoghurt which is incredible with dukkah and honey. I think Laurie Colwin would approve.

hazelnuts sesame and salt


Friends and family in the near vicinity, you may be getting a jar of this for Christmas. For those of you far away, I won’t risk posting sachets of mysterious powder, so you will have to make your own. This makes a generous quantity, three jam jars full, or many spice jars (save empty ones from the supermarket for your presents). You won’t regret making a big batch, especially if you go to the trouble of buying coriander and cumin seeds, might as well use them. Adjust to taste: add more nuts for a milder flavour, more pepper for more heat. Enjoy on everything.

115g ( 1 cup) hazelnuts

150g (1 cup) sesame seeds

15g (3 tbs) cumin seeds

20g (1/4 cup) coriander seeds

15g (1 1/2 tbs) black peppercorns

15g (1 tbs + 1 tsp) coarse sea salt

12g (2 tbs) ground cinnamon

Toast the nuts / seeds / spices one kind at a time in a dry frying pan. Shake it every now and then to cook evenly. When they smell toasty, tip into food processor and do the next lot. (If you want to skin hazelnuts, tip them still hot into a tea towel and rub firmly to remove skins.) Add the salt and cinnamon, no need to toast, and blend everything to a rubble, not too fine a powder. My food processor does not do very well with the peppercorns so I crush them roughly first with a makeshift mortar and pestle: rolling pin and mug.)

Divide into jars. Eat on everything.

jen’s magic mushrooms

17 Dec

jens mushrooms

In Lisbon, we learned the art of sharing – the scant prices always tricked us into ordering too much. One main course was largely sufficient for two, especially as we had already eaten the olives, brown bread and queijo fresco brought as a cover charge.

In Madrid, we learned about small bites at the Mercado San Miguel – a cone of jamon iberico from one stall, two stuffed olives from another, a few croquetas, a pinxto with salt cod and caviar and one with octopus.

At home, I have been trying to learn that less is more. Instead of worrying about three courses when friends come over, now I offer soup and baguette and cheese. For dessert, a bowl of tangerines, maybe some sesame shortbread and yoghurt. A few flavours at a time, and really good ingredients.

Last night, we had a vernissage at home. (Which means varnishing day, literally, the day before the exhibition when the artist adds the finishing touches to the hanging pictures and their friends come over to chat and criticise and drink champagne.) I wanted a few snacks, inspired by the Iberian peninsula. There was a simple potato tortilla with coarse salt on top. Three red peppers, roasted whole, peeled and marinated in olive oil. Bread and liver paté. And after eating some incredible cepes at Botin, the ‘oldest restaurant in the world’, these stuffed mushrooms.

This is the perfect party dish for the holidays, since the effect outweighs the effort ten times over. It could have a myriad of additions, herbs, truffle salt, pistachios… but in the spirit of simplicity, the mushrooms are perfect as they are. Since you only need two ingredients, you can buy them on the way to a party and make them on arrival. Good for vegetarians too! I can’t take any of the credit though: they come from Jen, founding member of the Grape Leaf Club and Thanksgiving host extraordinaire.

Jen’s Magic Mushrooms

makes a plateful

500g white mushrooms (champignons de Paris)

150g Boursin cheese with garlic and herbs

black pepper

Snap all the stems out of the mushrooms, keep them for something else. Brush any dirt off the mushroom caps then fill the holes with Boursin. Grind black pepper generously over the top.

Bake for 10 minutes at 200C. Serve warm.

egg and spinach cocottes

1 Apr

egg and spinach cocottes

My mother got cross when I admitted to using frozen spinach. (But she is a purist that thinks nothing of growing her own vegetables and herbs.) What can I say? I know the fresh stuff is delicious and cheap and in season. I just always feel cheated, bringing home an enormous bag from the market, washing it, sauteing it only to find a miserly heap of green, a tenth of the original volume. My expectations are lower for the frozen stuff.

And sometimes you are standing in line at the Paris Store, the Chinese supermarket, at the end of a long day at work and you decide you need a first course because the chicken legs look too skinny. And you aren’t queuing up again, or buying anything else, because the plastic bags are carving grooves into your fingers. But you do want to impress your guests. And you did buy 30 eggs for baking. And there is spinach in the freezer.

These cocottes – or oeufs en cocotte – to give them their proper French name only take a few minutes to make but in their individual dishes they look fancy and taste better. The sesame oil and miso paste add an extra kick without overpowering the spinach. It tastes more complex than it is, with all the umami of salmon. The egg yolk should be runny for dipping your bread, the spinach neatly coated in cream, tangy and salty. It somehow surpasses the sum of its parts. Works equally as a starter for a dinner party or jealously guarded for a solo dinner (I can eat at least two).


Egg and Spinach Cocottes

serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light supper

4 eggs

300g frozen spinach (preferably leaves, no finely chopped)

1 tsp sesame oil

2 small shallots, or 2 spring onions

1 tsp miso paste

50g creme fraiche (or 50g cream + squeeze of lemon)

salt and pepper

For individual portions, you will need 4 small ramekins (8-10cm wide). Or else one oven-proof baking dish (approx 16cm) to bake them all at once.

Heat oven to 180C. Gently heat frozen spinach in a saucepan until it defrosts. Add the sesame oil. Chop the shallots/spring onions finely and add to the pan, saute until soft. Then stir in the miso and cream and cook for a minute, just to heat through.

Divide the spinach between the four dishes and hollow out a hole in the mixture. Crack an egg into the hole. Sprinkle over some salt and pepper. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the white is no longer translucent but the yolk is still runny.

Serve immediately with a baguette tradition or thin slices of toasted sourdough.


apple and cheese soufflés, and cheat’s ratatouille

10 Mar

apple cheese souffles 1

There is a magnificent sunset outside, swathes of pink on a clear, blue sky. From the bridge at the end of my road, it is criss-crossed with black wires hung over the train lines. I like the contrast. Walking back home, along a route I never take, I look up and see a classic silhouette behind a skyscraper, the dome and tower of the Sacré-Coeur. Normally I never go that way, normally I go inwards to the centre of Paris’ clock-face. But Paris extra-muros is being steadily smartened and I had been to visit the new Ciné-Cité on the outskirts, pristine and echoing still. I shouldn’t be surprised that there is more to discover, that a different road will yield such different results. The day before a long run took me past a British telephone box stranded in the Paris suburbs, fully functional with a dial tone and everything. It is a tiny city sometimes, and sometimes even after three and a half years I don’t know it at all.

Talk about leaving my comfort zone in increments. I curl up on the sofa with a pile of cookbooks the afternoon of the dinner party with the will to make something new… And what really leaps out out at me are the soufflés. The way I open a menu and instantly know I must have that  or I will be disappointed. But I already wrote about soufflés three posts ago. And I will make them with goat’s cheese, which has been so over-done the Guardian has been panicking about a desperate shortage of the stuff. What’s more, the recipe comes from my mother’s cookbook.

apple cheese souffles 3

What can I say? Everyone has food phases, cravings, repetitive habits – see also, the Croutons for Breakfast period circa 1998 – and though they may be a la mode, I can’t resist making more soufflés. Their craggy puff, their splendour as they arrive at the table – and above all, their relative ease. Granted, I can only make four at a time because of my little oven, but I only need ingredients lying around the kitchen – cheese, milk, butter, eggs and in this case, an apple – and a good whisk. As simple as an omelette, but more spectacular.

A couple of hours before dinner, I fried an apple in butter, then made a simple béchamel sauce. When it was thick and creamy, I added egg yolks, goat’s cheese and apple. That was it. The egg whites waited on one side for the last minute.

cheat's ratatouille 2

Meanwhile, the oven did all the work for the laziest (best) ratatouille I have ever tried. One large aubergine, one courgette and one red pepper were roasted whole until blackened and collapsing in on themselves. (The aubergine gave up the ghost first, the courgette was made of tougher stuff.) Once baked soft, they need all of ten seconds to chop roughly – can be done with kitchen scissors, even. All I had to do was gently saute a clove or two of garlic in some olive oil, add a tomato and done. Stir them all together, season. Best of all, no squeaky aubergine: too often ratatouille has cubes of polystyrene eggplant swimming in watery sauce because it takes so long to cook each vegetable to the proper consistency. This oven-roasted version was silky, meltingly tender and took less effort than reading this paragraph.

So after half an hour’s actual work, I was done. Wash up, go back to the sofa for more tea. Pretend to be the consummate hostess when my guests arrive. When they do, when they begin to look hungry despite the crisps and crackers, all that needs doing is preheating the oven, whisking the egg whites and gently folding in the rich béchamel. The soufflés were over enthusiastic, bursting from their dishes. Even better. Brown around the edges, fluffy in the middle, with the subtle tang of apple balancing the goat’s cheese: they were comforting and ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary. Just right for a Wednesday.

cheat's ratatouille 1

Apple and cheese soufflés

from Victoria O’Neill’s Seasonal Secrets –  she suggests using blue cheese (in which case omit the salt). Her version is also twice baked, which means you bake them, let them cool for 20 minutes then turn them out of the ramekins onto a baking tray and reheat for 10 minutes when needed. This reduces last minute preparation, and leads to a slightly more crisp texture – but I like the pomp of a freshly baked soufflé. Serve with salad and toasted walnuts for a starter, or with ratatouille, some steamed potatoes and bread for a filling main course.

makes 8 starter size or 4 main course size

100g butter, divided into 30/70g

1 large apple (160g)

50g plain flour

300ml milk

100g cheese – mild goat’s cheese or strong blue, according to taste

(3/4 tsp salt – omit if using blue cheese!)


4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites

You will need some ramekins or little straight-sided dishes so that the soufflés rise properly. For the small, starter size they should be about 8cm across, for the larger 11-12cm.

Melt 30g butter in a small saucepan; peel and finely chop the apple. Cook the apple in butter, covered, for 5 minutes or until soft and golden. Tip into a bowl. In the same saucepan, melt the rest of the butter. Using a pastry brush, thoroughly coat the inside of your ramekins with butter. Dust them with a little flour, rolling them around so the flour covers the sides and bottom. Set aside.

Add the flour to the melted butter and stir well to make a roux. Let it cook for a minute or two until it smells slightly nutty, so that the flour loses its raw taste. Off the heat, add the milk a little at a time, whisking in between to remove lumps. Return to the heat and cook until thick and creamy and just starts to bubble. Decant into the bowl with the apples. Crumble in the cheese, add salt (if using) and pepper and finally the egg yolks. Stir. Clingfilm the surface so it doesn’t form a skin. Have the egg whites in a separate, large, clean bowl – also with clingfilm over it to stop any contamination. Whites whisk best at room temperature.

(All of the above can be prepared in advance. If it is more than a couple of hours beforehand, refrigerate the béchamel and whites and bring to room temperature before using. Alternatively, bake the soufflés straightaway as below. Then when they have cooled – 20 minutes or so – ease them out of their ramekins with a palette knife and turn onto a baking tray. Reheat when needed.)

Preheat the oven to 200C and whisk the whites to stiff peaks. Stir a quarter into the béchamel sauce to lighten it, then tip it all into the whites and fold together, careful not to lose the air. Fill ramekins to the brim, smooth the tops. Run a knife around the edge to help them rise up evenly. Turn the oven down to 180C and bake for 25 minutes, until they have puffed up, turned golden-brown and feel reasonably firm to the touch.

Serve immediately.

apple cheese souffles 2

Cheat’s Ratatouille

serves 4 as a side dish

1 large aubergine

1 large red pepper

1 large or 2 small courgettes

1 large or 2 small tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

Heat oven to 250C. Line a baking tray with foil. Stab the aubergine and pepper several times with a fork. If using a large courgette, slice in half, otherwise leave everything whole. Bake for 20 minutes or so until the vegetables have collapsed and, for the pepper, blackened around the edges. Remove any vegetables that cook quicker – my courgette needed an extra ten minutes to really soften. Meanwhile, peel and smash the garlic cloves with the back of a knife; cook in the olive oil until soft but not brown. Roughly chop the tomato and sauté for a couple of minutes until it breaks down. Chop the roasted vegetables with knife or kitchen scissors (remove stalk and seeds from pepper) and pour away any liquid that seeps out. Add to tomato, garlic, and heat through. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Serve.

spring supper

2 Mar

spring, cherry blossoms

Two days in bed with a bad cold and my brain went to mush. The extremely nice flatmate brought me tisanes and yoghurt and pretended to understand my French. (“No, he wasn’t telling the truth, he was telling candles. Wait, what?”) Eventually she judged me well enough for a short walk into the outside world. We went to the canal, as always, over the cobbles. The sky wasn’t quite blue, a typical Paris grey with a bright edge to it.

A very few cherry blossoms decorated some bare black branches. Slim daffodils surrounded the trees down the avenue. “It’s the first of March! Pinch and a punch!” I demonstrated, twice, to teach her the English phrase. We squeezed into the busy Ten Belles for cappuccinos with foam hearts, and a cookie. Bought a bag of fresh-ground Belleville Brulerie coffee for home, to go in our matching Moka pots. (Tasting notes: chocolate and forest fruits.) Then we walked and talked and walked some more.

Once home again, to celebrate my new ability to stand upright, I made a batch of the best cookies in the world. (Though Ten Belles’ version was pretty damn good: thin, crisp and chocolaty.) The recipe that uses nearly 600g dark chocolate, enough to fill a chopping board and spill over the edges.

spring, chocolate chip cookie

Three things I have learned since I first wrote about them: 1) to soften the butter, sandwich it between grease-proof paper and beat it with a rolling pin, v. satisfying; 2) to stop brown sugar from drying into a hard clump, peel a lemon with a vegetable peeler and stick a strip or two in the bag; 3) my oven will only bake 4 cookies at once (restraint) but I am not immune to eating frozen, raw cookie dough (total absence of self-discipline). Now there are thirty-something cookie balls in the freezer for me and the chocolate-obsessed flatmate, with control-freak cooking instructions posted on the door.


For the perfect spring supper then: start with an afternoon of fresh air. Take frequent gulps. Then go home to a warm apartment. Have a friend or two come over with a fresh baguette and some Tomme de Savoie cheese. Slice a crisp apple. Alternate bites of bread, cheese and apple. Throw together a slapdash version of Ottolenghi’s pea and yoghurt pasta, miraculously made of items in cupboard and freezer. Boil some water, salt it. Have your friend or flatmate chop some almonds while you blend frozen peas, yoghurt, olive oil and garlic. Toast the almonds with more olive oil and chili flakes. Cook spaghetti. (Keep sneaking bread, cheese, apple.)

spring, ottolenghi pea and yoghurt pasta

Toss everything together: pasta, peas, yoghurt sauce, mint, spicy oil and nuts and serve with some mâche (“lamb’s lettuce,” a nutty soft salad leaf) and a squeeze of lemon. Grate any cheese you haven’t eaten on top. Preheat the oven while you eat and admire the bright green meal. It has all the comfort of winter carbohydrates without the heft, a creamy sauce that isn’t rich, and a serving of spring-y vegetables without tasting smugly virtuous. The flavours were so clear and well-rounded that the cheese was almost superfluous. (I wouldn’t even add bacon, which normally improves everything.) It is the kind of vegetarian food where you forget there is a meat alternative, the reason Ottolenghi was such a success in his New Vegetarian column.

When you have scraped your plates, bake a ball of cookie dough each for exactly 17 minutes. By which time, your appetite will be just about piqued again. And a warm cookie on a paper napkin will be the right way to finish the meal. (Really it is a disc of melted chocolate with a thin cookie shell as a disguise.)

Be happy you can taste fresh air and pasta and cookies again, and look forward to the day when you can have exactly the same supper but outside, legs dangling over the canal.

spring, obsessive cookie instructions

Ottolenghi’s pea and yoghurt pasta

makes enough for 2 hungry people or very 3 polite ones

The original version calls for fresh garlic, pinenuts, basil and feta, none of which I had in the house. Orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) collects the sauce better, but spaghetti is no less delicious. The beauty of this recipe is that it adapts well to whatever you have in your cupboards or freezer. I suggest freezing a bunch of mint for later use, for though it doesn’t look as pretty when defrosted it is useful in a hunger-emergency.

250g frozen peas (divided into 50g/200g)

250g plain natural yoghurt

2 tsp garlic-ginger paste

75ml olive oil (divided into 45ml/30ml)

30g whole almonds

scant 1 tsp chili flakes

250g spaghetti, or favourite pasta

handful mint leaves, roughly torn

salt and pepper

50g-100g mild cheese, grated (Tomme de Savoie)

half a lemon

(optional: several handfuls mâche, or lamb’s lettuce)

Put a large saucepan of water on to boil. (Or boil kettle, faster.) Blend 50g peas with yoghurt, garlic paste and 45ml olive oil until smooth. Tip into large serving bowl. Generously salt boiling water and add pasta. Heat remaining 30ml olive oil with chili flakes in a small frying pan. Roughly chop almonds and toast in the oil until golden-brown. Remove from heat. When pasta is nearly ready, add remaining frozen peas for a minute or two. Drain well. Toss half of pasta in sauce to coat well, then mix in the rest as well as the mint. Salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle chili-oil and almonds over the top. Serve with grated cheese and a squeeze of lemon, a handful of mâche on the side of each plate.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,554 other followers

%d bloggers like this: