Thursday, 30 July 2009

Octopus and broccoli

In the supermarket this evening while looking for cake ingredients a little box of tinned octopus caught my eye. I had been looking at the tinned sardines, with their beautiful retro patterned boxes but having never cooked octopus, tinned or otherwise, I decided to buy some.

Lately I have been eating far to many chips and various other stodgy beige foodstuffs and am in desperate need of vegetables so the half broccoli in my fridge was also called into service. Fried broccoli sounds odd but if you chop it finely enough and use sufficent oil so that it doesn't burn it give off a wonderful smell, that is a purer, cleaner version of normal broccoli-odour.

So I fried it in oil with a sprinkle of smoked paprika which I thought would complement the octopus. I would have added garlic but didn't have any; it would have been better if I had. Once the broccoli was bright green and slightly softened I threw in the pretty, pinky-purple pieces of octopus and let it all fester on a low heat until it had warmed through (read: until I couldn't wait any longer). Finally I poured in the juice of half a lemon, some more olive oil and a chopped teaspoonful of the pickled chillies I made last week.

The combination of the slighly scorched bits of broccoli ends, the firmer stalks and the slightly chewy octopus worked really well together, and the oil and lemon juice mixed with the paprika to create a sharp, smoky brick-red dressing. I'm falling in love with pickled chillies in a serious way, and finding a reason to include them in everything at the moment.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Weekend breakfast

Saturday morning: coffee, toast and apricot jam, newspapers and the soothing tones of Sandi Toksvig on Radio 4. Bliss.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Pickled chillies

The market on Battersea High Street was selling huge bowls of red and green chillies on Saturday. They were so beautiful I was tempted to buy some and string them on to thread and hang them around the kitchen. Instead (thinking my housemates might object to living in a chilli grotto) I decided to pickle them.

One of my favourite kebab shops Taza, on Bayswater Road, always has a bowl of pale green pickled chillies on the counter to poke into your pitta or to nibble whilst waiting for your food. They are juicy, salty and sour, and somehow manage to taste spicy and cool at the same time.

A lot of the recipes I looked at called for peppers, bayleaves or other additions but I wanted pure, unadulterated chillies.

  • 500g chillies

  • 1 pint malt vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 2 tablespoons salt

    Wash the chillies and put them in a large jar. They fit better if you put half of them in upside down, as they are snuggled together top-to-tail. At this point you are supposed to pour the salt on top, although I forgot and added it after the vinegar. Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil in a small pan. Take off the heat to cool for a moment then pour over the chillies. Allow to cool then seal the jar.

    I tasted mine the next day, and although they were a bit hotter than I had hoped for, they were still good. Not quite as good as Taza's, but nearly.
  • Monday, 13 July 2009

    Broccoli, feta and carrot salad

    This is my current favourite salad. I saw something similar in the window of Ottolenghi in Notting Hill that included broccoli, something orange, possibly butternut squash, feta and seeds of some sort. For me this salad is perfect summer food: refreshing, with a pleasing balance between sweet carrot, salty feta, vinegary dressing and crunchy seeds or nuts.

    I tend to use recipes as loose guidelines at best, and with salads this applies even more so. Today I wanted something strong and spicy so added spring onion and red and green chillis. On other occasions I've added a teaspoon of pesto to the dressing or used cashew nuts instead of seeds.

    For about three servings, although it depends whether you're eating this on its own (this would be delicious alongside grilled mackerel) I used a small head of broccoli, three carrots, half a packet of feta, two spring onions and two halves of chillies.

    Cook the broccoli until it's tender. Meanwhile mix some dressing in a large bowl. I like dressing best made with red wine vinegar. Sometimes I think I'm the only person in the world who doesn't understand the fuss about balsamic. I think it's alright on its own but overpowers anything it's paired with.

    So, red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt, a drop of mustard and olive oil, stirred together. Add the broccoli while it's hot so it soaks up the dressing. Leave to cool for a bit then throw in the feta, spring onion/chilli/other, some seeds or chopped nuts and some carrots roasted in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.

    Best eaten straight out the bowl, in the garden on a hot day. It also makes a damn fine packed lunch.

    Saturday, 11 July 2009

    Cherry clafoutis

    I was asked to bring a pudding along to dinner at a friend's house on Saturday. To take advantage of their short season I wanted to make something involving cherries. I was tempted by the cherry brown butter bars I'd seen on on the addictive site Smitten Kitchen but I was running out of time and, to be honest, got a bit scared by the idea of making pastry and brown butter for one pudding.

    And then I remembered cherry clafoutis. A clafoutis is a billowy, almost custardy batter studded with fruit. Traditionally it should be made with sour cherries but they're difficult to get hold of in London, and the market near me was selling enormous bowls of normal cherries for £2.50.

    This was incredibly quick and easy to make. I was lazy and made the batter using a hand blender, but even with a whisk or a fork it wouldn't have taken long. I wondered if it would be a bit flat because I didn't whisk the batter but it puffed up impressively in the oven. (I forgot to take the photo of it until it had been standing for about half an hour - I promise it was higher that it looks there!)

    Cherry clafoutis - serves four

  • Two handfuls of cherries, or enough to cover the bottom of a 20cm deep-sided cake tin

  • A small lump of butter

  • 65g plain flour

  • 50g sugar

  • 400 ml of full-fat milk or single cream (I used 200ml of double cream because I had some that needed using up, mixed with 200ml of semi-skimmed)

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Stone the cherries; I discovered a cherry stoner in the back of a drawer but it's actually just as easy to squash them and take the stone out.

    Either whisk the flour, sugar, eggs and milk/cream in a bowl until it's smooth.

    Put the butter in the tin and put in the oven for a minute or two to melt. Add the cherries to the tin and pour the batter over the top. Bake for about 35 minutes until the edges are puffed up and browned and the centre is golden and looks set.

    I had a little bit of batter left over. I'd had a disaster last week with too much cake mixture in too small a pan and was anxious to avoid a repeat. Because the mixture was just a batter with cream in it I thought I'd try making a pancake with the remains. It was slightly softer than a normal pancake but good nonetheless.

    At that point I was getting overexcited and made a cherry sauce/topping by heating a small hanful of stoned cherries, a tablespoon of fruity red wine, two of sugar and a splash of water in a small pan for five minutes.

    Thursday, 9 July 2009


    Aubergines - for several reasons. They're currently my favourite vegetable, although that will probably change by the autumn. I feel a red cabbage lust coming on soon. They are included, in American, in the title of one of my favourite essays on food, Laurie Colwin's 'Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant'.

    Like her I found myself living alone, in a tiny studio flat in the south of France, the sort where it was nearly possible to reach the bathroom sink, the desk and the two hobs that constituted the kitchen all from my bed. Actually I was in a better position than Colwin. I had a kitchen sink so didn't have to do the washing up in the bath.

    I didn't have an oven, but didn't mind. I lived in the south of France so was utterly spoiled by the markets nearby, and quickly discovered that a lot of the food I liked cooking and eating best was vegetable based one-pot concoctions: ratatouille in the summer when I arrived, which gave way to mushroomy things, root vegetable soups, and the odd stew in winter, braised broad beans or petit pois à la française in spring, and then just before I left the ratatouille made a reappearance.

    Later on I lived alone again, this time in an even smaller windowless studio in Brussels. Brussels was wonderful for markets (although not as good Aix in France), cheese shops and butchers, and had some fantastic Middle Eastern corner shops and an Aladdin's cave of an oriental supermarket. Once again aubergines featured heavily, although along with new obsessions: I also came to realise how good a dinner bread, cheese and wine can be. Shamefully I especially liked eating that in bed.

    In honour of this new blog I have plans to make smoked aubergine puree this weekend, or possibly grilled aubergine with miso. I also have plans involving cake.