Monday, May 24, 2010

From the recipe graveyard, behold: Anchovy and walnut sauce

Quick, who's your favourite chef?

Not such an easy question to answer, is it?

My immediate response would usually be Jamie Oliver. Mostly, I think, because when I first started to get excited about cooking, it was his cooking. But time has passed and my cookbook collection has expanded (modestly), and I've made room in my heart for a few others...

The River Café. Sophia Loren. Giorgio Locatelli. (Hm, I'm sensing a bit of a theme here...) Julia Child. Skye Gyngell. What's more, the way a cookbook is written has begun to appeal to me more than the pretty pictures.

Sometimes I just sit and look at the spines, wondering if I'll ever get around to cooking even a quarter of the dishes between those covers.

I also have a scrap book packed with recipes printed out from various blogs and websites over the years. (You too? I think we print-out kleptos should form a support group.) I've begun to refer to it affectionately as the 'recipe graveyard'. Most of the pages are loose, jammed in there haphazardly with the thought (more of a prayer, really) that one day I will actually sit down, order them and stick their asses down.

But yesterday was not that day.

In fact, I'm wretchedly grateful I hadn't got round to sorting that hellish mess of paper print-outs, because then I probably wouldn't have discovered this recipe for another five or ten... okay, fine: probably never.

I was reaching for another book entirely when the recipe graveyard went tumbling to the floor. Miraculously, only one piece of paper escaped, and on it was the recipe you see below.

Anchovy and walnut sauce. Let's just think about that... Anchovy. And Walnut. Sauce. I'm not particlarly religious, but in that moment I felt I was being called upon by a higher power to create something divine.

And now I'm going to spread the word.

Anchovy and walnut sauce by Skye Gyngell
Makes enough for 6

This sauce is best made on the day it is to be eaten.

2 good-quality anchovies
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
A handful of shelled walnuts, finely chopped
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

Pound all the ingredients except the oil in a pestle and mortar until smooth, then pour in the oil and stir well to combine. Spoon over any lightly cooked green vegetable, such as broccoli, spinach or chard.

[I spooned the sauce over lightly steamed broccoli and zucchini, but I can’t wait to try it on fish, crusty bread and even chicken.]

Pssst, by the way, I've created a recipe index, which you may have noticed, on the right, beneath my prattle about myself. I hope it'll make our lives easier.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Breaking the rules (and Jamie Oliver's summer chickpea salad)

Sometimes you need to break your own rules in order to remind yourself why you have them in the first place...

There are a few that I will never, ever breach. For example, rule no. 7: Don't squash simmering whole cherry tomatoes with the back of a spoon — unless you enjoy a visit to your local ICU. But, sometimes, in my enthusiasm, I just forget.

And so recently I found myself trying out a recipe for a dinner party that — what you are about to hear is a true story ladies and gentlemen — I had never tried before. It's just one of those rules I have, because it simply N.E.V.E.R fails to end in disaster.

On this particular occasion, friends had invited me and the Guinea Pig over for dinner. Takeout pizza, in fact, at their place, because they are new parents and were just too worn out to bother with the cooking and cleaning that goes with a dinner party.

But I wouldn't hear of it. No, no, I absolutely insisted on coming over and cooking dinner for them — and if they raised so much as one word of protest, I would consider it a personal affront.

So that was that. Now... what was I going to cook? Then it hit me: of course. I'll make a dish I've only ever looked at in recipes books and thought, 'That seems easy enough...'.

When I arrived at said friends' house and began to extrude the ingredients for grilled sole with leeks and potato gratin from the shopping bags, I got an inkling that I hadn't quite thought this through. For starters, I don't know how their oven works — I'm used to my oven, treacherous, schizophrenic time bomb that it is — and my tools and my pots and pans.

It was a disaster. The potato slices did not cook through, even though I added an hour to the cooking time (during which the top charred to the appealing consistency of tar), and the sole and leeks melted into watery, tasteless mush

My friends, of course, were unfailingly polite, which made the whole ordeal much, much worse.

'Under-cooked?' one of them said, pushing a piece of glassy, too-solid potato around her plate. 'Not at all! This is the way we normally eat, uh... What did you say this was called?' 

'Look, I'm sorry,' I said, 'this really isn't one of my best meals... Pizza would've been a much better idea!'

'Nonsense!' they cooed. 'We love it!'

But, of course, at the end of the evening, a plate of cold food that's only been nibbled at never lies.

'Who could possibly screw up a gratin?' you might be thinking — I know, I know, it's up there with botching 2-minute noodles.

That is why we all have our little rules (which need to be broken now and then, so we are reminded why we have them in the first place).

The following is a dish I should have made that evening. It's quick, fool-proof and just delicious, winter or summer. God bless Jamie. I added two chopped celery stalks because I like the crunch...

Jamie Oliver's summer chickpea salad
Serves 4

1 small red onion, peeled
1–2 fresh red chillies, deseeded
2 handfuls of ripe red or yellow tomatoes
2 lemons
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 x 410g jar or tin of chickpeas, drained, or around 4 large handfuls of soaked and cooked chickpeas
a handful of fresh mint, chopped
a handful of fresh green or purple basil, finely ripped
200g feta cheese

First of all, finely slice your red onion. Once that's done, finely slice your chillies then roughly chop your tomatoes, mixing them in with the onion and chillies. Scrape all of this, and the juice, into a bowl and dress with the juice of 1½ lemons and about 3 times as much good extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste. Heat the chickpeas in a pan, then add 90 per cent of them to the bowl. Mush up the remaining chickpeas and add these as well – they will give a nice creamy consistency. Allow to marinate for a little while and serve at room temperature.

Just as you're ready to serve, give the salad a final dress with the fresh mint and basil. Taste one last time for seasoning – you may want to add the juice from your remaining lemon half at this point. Place on a nice serving dish and crumble over the feta cheese.

Follow my blog with bloglovin

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ode to autumn: Cauliflower fritters

There's something about the light in autumn... It's less harsh than high summer light, which has a seering, bleaching quality. Autmun light is softer, more illuminating. It makes everything somehow sad and beautiful.

(I'm a poet trapped inside a writer's body — I don't care what my first-year lecturer said.)

And so it was that on the glorious autumn afternoon of this Saturday past, I decided to make these  cauliflower fritters. I'd just received my copy of Taste in the post and came apon Bill Granger's recipe therein.

There's something so essentially autumnal about this dish — I'm not sure if it's the colour, or the comforting, mildly spicy taste, but it's just so appropriate for this time of year. Served with garlicky yoghurt, thin slivers of crunchy red onion, a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt and a squeeze of lime juice... Gosh, I'm salivating as I type. Do try it — it's easy as pie and, if you're a veggie lover like me, dangerously addictive.

Cauliflower fritters
Serves 4

1 couliflower (about 600g), cut into florets
3 free range eggs, separated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup cornflower
1/2 cup water
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
olive oil, for frying
red onion, finely sliced, for serving

For the garlic-yoghurt sauce, combine:
1/2 cup thick plain yoghurt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Blanch the cauliflower florets in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, or until tender. Refresh under cold water, then roughly chop. Whisk the egg yolks and season to taste.
2. Add the cornflower, a little at a time, alternating with a little water, and whisk continually until the cornflower and water have been incorporated. Stir through the onion, cauliflower, spices and coriander, and set aside.
3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites through the batter mixture, in two batches, using a metal spoon.
4. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Drop 2 tbsp of batter at a time into the pan, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crisp. Remove and drain on paper towel.
5. To serve: Arrange the fritters on a platter. Drizzle with garlicky yoghurt, season to taste and serve with red onion slices.