Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beetroot bashing

I find the people’s adoration of beetroot utterly mystifying.

It tastes like earth, but not in a pleasant way, like oysters taste of the sea. I mean it tastes like soil, to me. Ground. With a little sugar added.


It gives everything else on your plate a reddish tinge (which inevitably reminds me of the Mercurochrome my mom used to dab on our scraped knees).

It also makes your pee go pink.

I don’t know. Maybe I suffered some sort of humiliation involving a beetroot in my formative years. I'll ask my mom when she starts returning my calls.

I am well aware you are probably very fond of beetroot, and I’m sorry I can’t share your enthusiasm for such culinary revelations as beetroot risotto… or beetroot mousse… or pickled beetroot... or beetroot salad.

I can’t think of a single beetroot dish that wouldn’t taste better substituted with some other ingredient, or isn't an attempt to make the taste of beetroot more palatable — as opposed to enhancing its natural (theoretical) sapidity.

All this is my way of saying that today’s recipe is 100% beetroot free. BUT, if you do like your pee an attractive shade of rosé, I hear that Labneh is really quite a lovely accompaniment to roasted beets.


It’s a rad kind of yoghurt cheese, easy peasy to make, super yummy and versatile. (Don't you think this pic looks like a fairy did its business on a dishtowel?)

Mostly it’s best just spread on toast with some ripe chopped tomato and onion or garlic and herbs, for example, or in a frittata, or sprinkled over a lovely lentil dish, such as this one.

I made an unseasonably summery dish with zucchini that I found on one of my favourite blogs, Taste of Beirut. I mean, it’s not going to win any awards for imagination, but it is a lovely little reminder of how something simple can also be something thrilling (okay, maybe I need to get out more).

It was delicious though.

You want about 500ml of good, thick, full-cream yoghurt. Mix in a tablespoon of Maldon salt (or ordinary salt, but, you know).
Place a sieve over a bowl and line the sieve with muslin cloth — or a dishtowel, I don’t care. Plonk the yoghurt into the sieve, tie up the corners of the muslin and twist so the yoghurt is naais and toit.
Place something heavy over the ball of yoghurt (I used a bag of dry beans) and leave in the fridge for between 12 and 24 hours.
Squeeze out any excess liquid and unravel your lovely ball of labneh.
To store, place it in a clean jar, cover in olive oil and store in the fridge. Add some dried herbs or paprika if you like.

Pasta with zucchini and labneh sauce
Serves 2

400g pasta (shells, penne, whatever you like really)
1 cup labneh
About 700g zucchini
4 cloves of garlic, mashed into a paste with some salt in a mortar
1 large handful each basil and parsley
Olive oil, as needed

1. Wash and dry the zucchini and slice.
2. Cook the pasta until nearly done, then add the zucchini to the cooking water. Cook for a minute, or until the pasta is cooked. You want to make sure the zucchini stays al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a bowl.
3. In the same pot, fry the garlic gently in a little olive oil, until fragrant. Add the labneh and warm it slightly so it mixes with the olive oil. Add the pasta and zucchini, and a little of the cooking water. Mix in the herbs, season with plenty of salt and black pepper, and serve.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Glory be: scrambled eggs with lentils and burnt sage butter

For us working stiffs, there is no indulgence more achingly longed for — and, when the time comes, languidly savoured — than the Saturday morning lie-in. Particularly in winter.

Ensconced in fluffy duvets, I open my crusty peepers (woken by natural light — what a luxury!), and then it washes over me: the realisation that I don’t have to get out of bed; that for the next 48 hours (if I’m lucky), my only obligation is to do whatever I bloody well feel like.

Usually, this means staying in bed. Between my laptop, a pile of Donna Hay and Observer magazines, and a good novel, I could quite easily spend the entire weekend in my jammies. (‘You’re going to get bed sores again,’ says the Guinea Pig, bless him.) If you can manipulate your bed mate to make you a cup of tea or coffee every half-hour, more power to you.

Naturally, my thoughts only turn to breakfast at about noon, and so commences the internal struggle: ‘Oooh some lovely buttery eggipeggs would be just the thing now... But oh, its so warm and toasty under the covers — you mean I’d have to get out of bed and get dressed? That’s crazy talk, woman.’

So I procrastinate by pondering all the rude things I’d like to do to eggs for breakfast, until I can’t stand it any more and find myself in the kitchen, clanging pots and pans, looking like an escaped mental patient.

This morning’s brekkie for two was the sum of the following equation:

½ tin lentils (bought by accident, I didn’t look at the label properly and thought they were chickpeas — use ordinary home-cooked lentils by all means)
4 large eggs, beaten until fluffy, with about 2 tbsp water added
2 slices toasted seed bread
1 handful sage leaves fried in butter until crispy (the butter should go brown and nutty)
Scrambled eggs with lentils and burnt sage butter

Just drain the lentils, add to the eggs and scramble, plonk on buttered toast and top with the sage leaves and a drizzle of the burnt butter. Best eaten in bed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Spaghetti recipe for retards

I love food. Love it.

‘Well duh,’ I hear you say, but bear with me.

The thing is, even though I own a teetering pile of cookbooks, and have perused hundreds, nay, thousands of online recipes over the years, I still draw a blank when considering what to have for dinner on week nights.

The only explanation I can come up with is that, at the end of a busy work day, my poor brain just balks at having to make one more decision, especially if my livelihood is not dependent on the outcome.

Even after discovering this fabulous list of easy meals in under 10 minutes on the New York Times website, I was still feeling uninspired last night, so I decided to ask the Oracle: Twitter.

The feedback was immediate, and immediately inspiring. I asked for an unusual spaghetti sauce and got the following: this rocket and anchovy pasta from @Dr_Rousseau; mascarpone, lemon zest and finely chopped mint from @SoniaCabano2; puttanesca from @fredhatman; prawns with spinach, garlic, lemon zest and chilli from @TheFoodRoom; and lemon zest, olive oil and garlic from Tara_L_B. Thank you all for coming to my rescue.

However, it was this suggestion from @Enigmeg that I decided on. I went to Woolies intent on buying mascarpone, lemons and mint, but realised I couldn’t stop thinking about oozy, unctuous grilled Camembert.

This, people, is an infallible pasta recipe. If you can boil pasta and operate the grill in your oven, you can make this. In 20 minutes.

It’s stupidly easy, gorgeously rich and silky, and tastes as good as it sounds. The only risk is that you might get arrested by Weight Watchers.

Spaghetti with roasted Camembert and cherry tomatoes

All you need, for two, is enough spaghetti (about 300g), Camembert (2 wheels, tops trimmed off and set in foil), cherry tomatoes (about 500g), and rosemary (about four sprigs, leaves picked and chopped).

Plonk the tomatoes and Camembert in an oven tray, sprinkle with rosemary, drizzle with olive oil and grill until the cheese is bubbling and the tomatoes are ever so slightly charred, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in lots of salted boiling water and drain, reserving a little of the cooking liquid. Return pasta to the pot, spoon over the molten Camembert and scrape over the rosemary and tomatoes. Season to taste.

Mix it all up, adding some of the cooking water to get it nice and silken, then stick a forkful in your mouth, and sigh.

Supper, sorted.