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similes / empanadas

16 Aug

empanadas, drawing

“Imagine you are holding something in the palm of your hand. A cup of tea. Now tip it out onto the grass.”

“What? Why would I do that?”

“It’s not good tea… PG Tips? No, Lipton. And it’s cold, tip it out. Now pretend it’s a sponge, squeeze it out. Good. As you extend your arm, turn your hand and squeeze the sponge at the last minute. Imagine there is a leaf between your elbow and your side. Actually,” he chose the largest vine leaves from the terrace, “here. Keep it close to your body, as long as possible.”

As my flatmate Emma had requested, my brother was teaching us karate, starting with a basic punch.

“Now step forward at the same time. Good.”

Our vine leaves floated down to the ground, over and over. Step. Step. The grass under my bare feet was slightly damp in the evening air.

~~~

My mother had a project for us too, also for late afternoon when the sun was low over the fields. She roped us into building an outdoor bread oven, following a rough recipe. Reluctant to surface from my summer reading list, I soon discovered that it wasn’t so much hard labour as child’s play: making sandcastles and mud pies. With the same satisfaction of constructing a perfect dome of lemon cream over a lemon tart, we made a smooth dome of wet sand, then plastered it with damp newspapers (pictures of Wills and Kate, also “en vacances dans le Gers!” the local paper was excited to announce).

building bread oven, drawing

Then the mud and straw from the nearby field had to be stamped with water and more sand to make it pliable. Like grapes for wine, tougher. We started with garden clogs on, but it turned out to be easier to do so without, the mud squishing between our toes as it softened. My mother and I stamped and stomped and squished around in little circles. Finally the hard rubble (interspersed with dangerous pieces of terracotta roof tile) became smooth, the same plasticity as a butter slab beaten and moulded into shape for croissant dough. My brother supervised the construction of the clay layer, built up in balls squashed into a rough wall.

“About the size of cricket balls,” my mother said.

“Not a cultural reference I know,” Emma replied, a smile in her voice.

The cricket balls spiralled up and around, covering the English royal family and more local news of cows and tractors and shooting stars. When smooth, the dome looked like an old fashioned beehive. It reminded me of trying out wattle and daub on a school trip, ancient building techniques. The first layer complete, the mud now covered my hands and feet and stomach, somehow. Better than a spa, an exfoliating mud mask.

“We should sell this as an expensive retreat, mindfulness and oven building!”

The sun was almost gone by then, and we had empanadas to prepare. So we left the second layer and the carving out of the door for another day, and rinsed off the mud.

~~~

The empanadas were Emma’s idea. She wanted to make a nice gesture, a thank-you, on her last evening. All the more so since we accidentally told her what my mother had said about house guests.

“Like fish, after three days, they start to go off.”

My brother tried to make it better by adding, “but you are family really, more like Christmas cake. You can stick around for a month.”

She thought it was funny, I think, since she knows my anti-social tendencies. And because, equivalent to the cricket ball remark, in France, the bûche de Noël stays fresh for a day or two at best.

empanadas, drawing 2

Her father sent us a picture of a faded newspaper cutting, their family recipe. Her mother was from Chile; she and her sister have spent time there and in Argentina, both of which make empanadas of varying sizes and fillings. She deciphered the sparse instructions for me, a cup of this, a small spoon that, mix, rest, roll. I made the pastry, unsure if the cold butter and warm milk would cancel each other out. But,

“It smells right,” Emma said. She was frying onions and finely diced beef, grilling red peppers, before adding cumin and chilli, a homegrown tomato, a handful of raisins. Then I rolled out the dough, stamped out handspan circles with a small, white bowl, while she added the filling, folded the rounds into half moons and crimped the edges, from the corners first, fold, press, fold, press. My brother brushed the little parcels with beaten egg. They could have been miniature Cornish pasties, or enormous gyoza. Choose your own cultural reference. Half were roasted pumpkin (from the garden) and a strong, melty goat’s cheese, the other half beef and peppers and a slice of boiled egg, The latter had sun’s rays drawn out with a knife point, in the manner of a galette des rois.

We ate our baked empanadas on the terrace, under the vines, next to the half finished mud oven. There was a meaty red wine from the Gers to mimic an Argentinian one and no need for cutlery.

~~~

N.B. No recipe today, because I don’t consider myself an expert yet. I wanted to tell the story anyway, to make a list of all of the imagery we used across our lessons and constructions. So much of recipe writing is hitting on the right simile / metaphor that will ring true for the reader. Not to be poetic, but to be explicitly clear. It looks like, smells like, feels like this.

We did compare a few recipes on line to see if they were similar to Emma’s family one. They were the same, and subtly different, in the way that everyone’s Chilean grandmother has her own special method. And yet they were not so difficult, especially with company. I highly recommend having a go. The fillings can be improvised according to your fridge or garden. The roast pumpkin and goat’s cheese (nothing more than that) was particularly good. And they reheated nicely for lunches and snacks later on.

 

white asparagus with miso butter and boiled eggs

9 Jun

asparagus, miso butter

(I wanted to called it miso-mimosa? misomosa? mimosimo? but any portmanteau sounds too much like mumbling.)

It has been a good season so far for all the asparagi: I have had green asparagus dipped in miso-butter at KOYA in London (and wished there was bread to scrape up the leftover sauce). Wild asparagus from a market in Strasbourg, the thin stems like ears of wheat, sweet enough to snap off and eat then and there like mange-tout peas. Those were cooked briefly in oil and butter, as per the forager’s suggestion, to become like green spaghetti. And last week at Le Casse Noix in Paris, my new favourite bistro (where they offer you a mousse-like chicken liver pâté while you struggle to decide on the menu!) my starter was white asparagus and poached egg, all drowned in a very French sauce made of cream and a richly meaty stock. I was sad to run out of bread, again, when Jen pointed out that they gave me a spoon for a reason.

Since then, I have put miso and butter on many things. Other vegetables. Inside flaky, savoury croissant twists. I have been out for ramen with miso broth and butter, a classic combination. Most often I have used it as a last-minute pasta sauce, the way the Italians eat spaghetti all’olio-aglio-peperoncino when there is nothing else in the fridge. The same principle of fat-flavour-heat: I toss the cooked pasta with a big spoonful each of butter and white miso, add sriracha. Then probably eat the whole bowl in bed, because that is the kind of comfort food it sets out to be. Salty and rich and full of umami. Dare I say it, better and easier than a cheese sauce. Or just as good considering you already ate all the cheese earlier as a snack.

And today, we had an abundance of fat, white asparagus from the morning’s market, since our favourite vendor threw in a bunch of broken stalks for free. For a slightly more elegant supper this evening – using a table mat and everything – I combined the best of the above meals.

First I boiled some eggs. And in the meantime, I peeled and sliced the white asparagus.  As soon as the eggs were done, the asparagus went in some salted water to fully cook through. (It doesn’t like to be as squeaky and snappy as the green kind.) Eggs peeled. Drained the asparagus stalks and swirled butter, olive oil and miso in the hot pan. Then tossed the asparagus in the miso sauce, serving it piled on a plate with the eggs grated on top. Miso-mimosa. We had some fresh basil, also from the market man, growing roots in a glass jar. Torn leaves of basil, black pepper. It looks very springlike, shades of yellow and white and green, but it could be dressed up further with toasted seeds, croutons, any number of things. It definitely needs bread to clean up those last bits of egg yolk and miso left on the plate.

asparagus, miso butter 1

P.S. Could my brand of miso BE any cuter? The characters even have names: Megumi-chan and Dai-san are SO excited about soup. But not just soup: a spoonful of miso works for sautéed mushrooms, in mashed potatoes, anything that needs a kick of flavour. The vegan equivalent of a rich, meaty stock, and one that I used a lot at Freegan Pony, without the extra butter of course. Oishii desu ne!

~~~

White asparagus with miso butter and boiled eggs

Obviously this would be good with other asparagus, green or wild, so adjust cooking times accordingly. Miso brands differ too, so taste as you go and add extra if you like it as much as I do! Add more butter too, for more dipping at the end. This is just the roughest guide.

serves 2

large bunch of white asparagus (500-600g)

2-4 eggs depending on hunger

2 tbs unsalted butter

1 tbs olive oil

1-2 tbs white miso paste (the mildest kind)

fresh herbs eg. basil

salt and pepper

Bring a medium pan of water to the boil, then gently add eggs and cook for 10 minutes. Lift them out and place in cold water. Meanwhile, peel the white asparagus as the skin is much tougher than the green kind. Snap off the hard ends. Cut any very fat stalks in half lengthways. Boil the asparagus in salted water for 8-10 minutes. Taste to check, they should be just soft. Drain into a colander. Add butter, oil and miso to the empty, hot pan, stir to melt and combine, and then toss in the asparagus. Mix, taste and add more miso, butter or salt as preferred.

Arrange asparagus stalks on plates. Grate boiled eggs on the large holes of a cheese grater, or finely chop. Sprinkle over asparagus. Add lots of black pepper, some salt and torn fresh herbs if desired. Serve warm.

 

recipes of note

17 May

market, rhubarb, turnips, blood oranges

Pictured, from our Friday market: rhubarb stalks, limes, blood oranges, baby turnips and their leaves. Not pictured: cauliflower, kohlrabi, cooked beetroot, leeks, carrots, celery, and a bunch of coriander tossed in for free.

The leek tops went in the freezer for later on. Tender cauliflower leaves and turnip greens were sautéed with garlic and made into lunch with sriracha, lentils and a fried egg. The rhubarb I cut up and tossed with lemon juice and sugar, then let it sit in the fridge in its baking dish to release its juices and form a syrup, to be roasted later. It will make a beautifully sharp-sweet compote without turning to mush.

~~~

For the last couple of months, I have been helping out at Freegan Pony (silly name, great concept): a restaurant supplied by donations of fruit and veg from Paris’ central market, produce that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of day. Perfectly good food, that might be a little bruised, or have one brown leaf. A team of volunteers turns out a three course meal – vegetarian or vegan, for 80-100 people – in an abandoned warehouse space under the périphérique (Paris’ ring road). Filled with old sofas, mismatched chairs and tables, it feels like an enormous living room. It is a lot of fun, and a good lesson not to waste food. (They are currently being threatened with eviction – the petition to save the space is here if you’d like to add your name.)

In the morning, you receive the list of produce from that morning’s market and have a couple of hours to imagine a menu to make that afternoon. I find it a satisfying form of stress to come up with something balanced, colourful, mostly based on vegetables, easy to prepare for a crowd AND still delicious. Here are some of the recipes I have successfully borrowed:

  • Gjelina’s mojo de ajo – a garlicky citrus sauce that should be used to liven up any combination of vegetables, fresh or roasted (via 101 cookbooks)
  • Smitten Kitchen’s carrot, tahini and roast chickpea salad as well as her easy flatbread
  • Sprouted Kitchen’s crunchy tofu chopped salad (Adapted to use up some red cabbage, apple, carrot and celeriac. Even people that don’t like tofu couldn’t stop stealing pieces once it was fried in sesame oil.)
  • Aglaia Kremezi’s potato-caper dip (but patted into burger-sized cakes, coated in polenta and fried)
  • Ottolenghi’s rosewater malabi (milk pudding) made with coconut milk and topped with pomegranate seeds
  • A moist, spiced banana bread that is surprisingly vegan
  • …and a simple sliced fennel and orange salad with a mustardy vinaigrette (no recipe needed!)

Once I had scaled the recipes up to feed a hundred people, I packed my bag with some essential tools, condiments, ingredients to add some punch to vegetarian cooking:

  • a good zester (microplane) and lemons or limes
  • bunches of coriander, mint, parsley
  • sesame oil, rice vinegar, miso
  • harissa or sriracha
  • preserved lemons, capers
  • garlic, lots of garlic
  • mustard
  • stale breadcrumbs (the poor man’s parmesan – or a good substitute for toasted nuts)
  • coconut milk
  • toasted sesame seeds

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:

~~

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.

~~

 

common and garden variety pizzas: butternut and cherry tomato; courgette and pesto

3 Sep

homemade garden pizza

Once upon a time, four Parisians and a cat escaped to the south of France for a rural holiday, in a little yellow house with a large garden. They talked and read and lazed in deck-chairs. When they played pétanque, the cat raced up to each ball, like a referee judging distance. There was a jazz festival and a meteor shower. When it rained they sat around a fire with books, stirring only for tea and bread and jam. If they were too lazy to go the market, they only had to walk through the long grass to the vegetable patch. There were spaghetti squash (steamed, tossed with basil pesto, also from the garden) and beefheart tomatoes (sliced with salt and oil)  and long stalks of chard that were starting to go brown. (The chard went into everything – baked eggs, courgette soup, sauteed with chili and orange as a side dish.)

The menu started to look like an achingly hip farm-to-table restaurant, from the fresh sourdough – parmesan and black pepper – to the homemade jam – apricot and ginger – not forgetting the handmade mayonnaise to go on the local chicken salad. With chives from the pot next to the outside tap. They made lists of meals, and lists of Things Googled. (Why is Judy Garland a gay icon? Can zombies swim? Etymology of condom? What is the French for knuckles? Answer: They don’t have any. They have finger joints. So no knuckle sandwiches in France.)

They recycled all the leftovers into more meals – the chicken stock into soup, the bread into croutons. They ate duck and more duck. Ethiopian bread with its hint of vinegar, spread with duck rillettes and fig jam. Magret de canard with lentils. One restaurant served an incredible beef tartare, briefly seared top, with toasted hazelnuts and a generous slab of foie gras on top. They ate too much. But they only made it halfway through the enormous marrow. You can only eat so much marrow.

These recipes came from a wet morning, and a roasted butternut that needed a purpose. Perfect for using up the end of summer overload of squash, tomatoes, courgettes. They were some of the best pizzas ever made in that little yellow house.

pumpkin butternut

Butternut and cherry tomato pizza; courgette and pesto pizza

serves two, hungry

Make your favourite pizza base, enough for 2. For example: mix 250g bread flour, 150g sourdough leaven*, 120g lukewarm water, 20g olive oil, 5g instant dried yeast, 5g salt. Adjust water if necessary – but it should be initially sticky rather than dry and tough. Knead for 10 minutes or so until the dough can be stretched as thin and translucent as the surface of a balloon. Shape into a ball, allow to rest in a oiled bowl, covered, for an hour or so at room temperature until doubled in size. Halve, shape into two balls, rest 10 minutes. Roll out with a little flour to desired size/thickness.

*instead of leaven, make a starter by mixing 75g bread flour, 75g water and a pinch of dry yeast 12 hours before; or skip it altogether, just add the extra flour/water directly to the mix

~~

(The day before.) Roast one butternut squash, whole, until soft.

Finely slice one small onion and a clove of garlic, sauté in olive oil until soft. Peel and mash about half the squash into the onion with a potato masher, or a fork. Add a large dollop of crème fraîche. Flavour with salt, pepper, paprika, chilli powder, lemon juice, chopped thyme. Stir in a splash of water if too thick.

Spread over pizza base. Halve some cherry tomatoes, tear up some ham and fresh mozzarella and scatter it all over the top. Add some extra thyme too.

Bake at 250C until the crust is nicely browned.

~~

Very finely slice a large courgette, enough to cover a whole baking tray without overlapping, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 250C until golden-brown. Leave the oven on for the pizzas.

Blend large handfuls of basil with a handful of grated parmesan, some toasted pinenuts or almonds and a few generous glugs of olive oil to make a rough paste. Taste and add salt, lemon juice, and/or a garlic clove if desired. Spread pesto over pizza base, cover with roasted courgette circles, then fresh mozzarella and a little more olive oil. Add herbs – basil, oregano – if desired, before and/or after baking.

Bake at 250C until the crust is nicely browned. Serve with chopped parsley or rocket on top.

a picnic fit for a prince

15 Aug

chantilly castle

Less than an hour away from Paris – 30 minutes on the train and a short walk – is the Chantilly castle with its enormous, pristine grounds. Designed by Le Nôtre, the landscape architect for Versailles, the place feels virtually empty in comparison. Perfect setting for a picnic. Or two picnics, for the truly serious outing/eating.

We had several cheeses, three kinds of bread, including my favourite nuage tressé (plaited sourdough with crème fraîche), salami, Tyrrells crisps, peaches, hummus with preserved lemon, aubergine dip, and roasted aubergines. Cubed and baked with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and whole coriander seeds, packed in more oil, they were silky and delicious piled onto baguettes with extra aubergine dip.

It was gloriously hot as we followed the shade around the ‘jardin anglais’ (the English section of the garden is supposed to be more wild, sauvage, than the manicured geometry of the French half). We said hi to the sheep and donkeys then cooled off in the château, admiring the gilt trimmings and the crooked nose of the prince that lived there, the duc d’Orléans. (The main castle is actually a reconstruction of the original destroyed in the French Revolution.)

Between us we polished off a dish of real chantilly cream – as I learned at pastry school, whipped cream sweetened with 10% sugar and flavoured naturally. And then, when tired of culture, we picnicked again in the hameau (not a hammock, sadly, but the hamlet that was the inspiration for Marie-Antoinette’s ‘little farm’), eating the leftover chocolate choux puffs and wondering lazily if the enclos de kangourous at the end of the park had real kangaroos in it, or if it was a euphemism. We took naps instead, under the loosely waving branches.

~~~

To get to the castle: catch a train to Chantilly-Gouvieux from the Gare du Nord, then follow the signs to the Château, past the Hippodrome. About a 20 minute walk. You can buy tickets just for the grounds, or for the castle as well. (Includes Horse Museum, which we did not visit.) Highly recommended as a peaceful alternative to Versailles, as is Vaux-Le-Vicomte, at Melun on the RER D; or Chamarande on the RER C: less grand, but with beautiful grounds.

guillaume’s gazpacho

25 Apr

gazpacho

My favourite kinds of recipes are the ones that are handwritten, folded neatly into squares and maybe lost at the bottom of a handbag for a while. Or written in a travel notebook to be made on returning, to bring a bit of the holiday sunshine home.

Even though it was a grey, cool Sunday, I really wanted to make the gazpacho recipe I have been carrying around, neatly written out on French graph paper. I had been warned that it needed at least 12 hours if not 24 to marinate, and was curious to see what difference that made. And we were going to have a long, rich, foie gras filled lunch out. So in the morning, I roughly chopped all of the ingredients and left them in the fridge to soften and meld and intensify. It looked remarkably like panzanella, one of my favourite summer dishes – tomatoes, bread, herbs, oil and vinegar, bread to soak up all the juices – that I wondered if I would blend it after all. The ingredients are so simple that you will have to trust me, the way I trusted my colleague Guillaume, that the sum is greater than its parts.

Most important are good tomatoes, which are popping up at the markets again. The ones that seem to be barely held in their own skins, they are so juicy. The final stall at the end of my street market had the most attractive coeur de boeuf, with those satiny grooves in their flesh. We had jugs of herbs – one euro for three bunches – decorating our new yellow kitchen. And there is always at least half a baguette going stale on the second shelf, just out of reach of the cat. (She will eat everything she can get her claws into, anything we forget to guard for a minute or two, including hummus, brioche and macarons. Sometimes she just likes to puncture bags of flour to watch it stream out and pool on the floor.) Everything ready for a gazpacho.

After a day in the fridge, after blending, the garlic lost its bite, the bread absorbed the oil and tomato juice. The fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumber kept the spark and verve of almost-summer. For a cold soup, it had real body. And yet it was remarkably comforting, easy to eat at the end of a long day, even if not boiling hot outside. And a few simple, crunchy toppings – garlic croutons, herbs, cucumber – allow people to customise their own gazpacho bowl.

~~~

Guillaume’s Gazpacho

Do buy the nicest, ripest tomatoes you can find. Coeur de boeuf, or beef heartare full of flavour. The recipe is minimal effort, maximum patience: chop everything and then let marinate for up to 24 hours. Trust that your evening self will be grateful for your preparation the previous night, or morning. If I am making a half-batch for one or two people, everything just fits into the food processor bowl which goes in the fridge. One less bowl to wash up.

makes enough for 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter

4 large beefheart tomatoes (about 800g)

2 large red peppers

1 large cucumber

2 fat cloves garlic

half a stale baguette (or 150g white bread)

80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil

40ml (2 1/2 tbs) balsamic vinegar

salt, pepper

(optional: generous handful of fresh herbs like basil or parsley)

to serve:

more stale bread / olive oil / garlic clove

seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)

cucumber / avocado

fresh herbs

Peel the cucumber, and roughly chop it and the tomatoes and peppers. Cut or tear the bread into cubes. Finely mince the garlic. Toss it all with the oil, vinegar and herbs. Season with the salt and pepper. Leave to rest for 12-24 hours in the fridge.

Blend in batches with a food processor or blender, adding a little water to thin it out – between 125-250ml (1/2 – 1 cup). If you want it really cold on a hot day, you can add ice cubes instead. Check the seasoning and consistency as you go: some like a very smooth soup, I like a little texture.

For the toppings: cube any leftover stale bread and gently fry in olive oil with a whole clove of garlic until crisp and brown. Or toast some seeds with oil and some chilli pepper. Dice some cucumber and/or avocado. Finely chop some herbs (parsley, chives, coriander) or tear up some basil.

Ladle the gazpacho into bowls and add a drizzle of olive oil on top. Serve with a selection of toppings in little dishes so that everyone can add their own.

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

Filling:

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

thoran

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.

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.

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