Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Two Vegetable Purées or How I Got It Wrong In The 1980s

I stopped making vegetable purées for many years because back in the 1980s it was common practice to purée anything you could lay your hands on, especially if it was brightly coloured. It just got a bit too much like baby food. But I shouldn't have been so hasty. Vegetable purées are easy to make, they can be prepared in advance and reheated when required and, if you choose the right type of vegetable, the colour definitely can't be ignored on the plate. That's probably why purées not unlike these two seem to turn up quite regularly in slightly too expensive restaurants.

You could rub these purées through a fine sieve if you want a guaranteed smooth result, although I usually prefer a little texture. Both of these purées will serve 2 or 4 people - 2 if it's for a midweek meal and you're hungry or 4 if you're planning delicate dollops arranged artistically on plates at a dinner party. (Do people still have dinner parties? I'm not entirely sure.)

Red Cabbage Purée

This purée is a variation on the usual braised red cabbage and will sit very happily alongside ham, game, lamb or just about anything else you might fancy. The more crème fraîche that you add at the end of the recipe then the pinker the result will be. Many years ago I met a man in Brittany who told me that he'd cooked his wife a Valentine's day meal in which all three courses consisted entirely of pink food. To this day I'm still not sure what I think of that.

I've admitted to a bit of an obsession with pomegranate molasses in the past but my source of all things that are good in Turkish cooking Ozlem of Ozlem’s Turkish Table pointed out some years ago that it complements red cabbage really well. She's absolutely right, of course, and I've added it ever since.
Red Cabbage Purée
If you're feeling really cheffy then you can prepare a green cabbage purée as well to contrast with the red and deeply impress your guests.

1 small onion, finely chopped
½ a red cabbage (ideally this will be roughly 450 - 475 g prepared weight)
1 small to medium cooking or sharp eating apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
300 ml light chicken stock (use a veg stock if you prefer, but the chicken does add flavour)
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses (use a mix of lemon and apple juice or some balsamic vinegar as an alternative)
crème fraîche (a low fat version will work if you'd prefer)

In a large frying pan, gently soften the onion in a little butter or oil. While that's happening, remove and discard the core of the red cabbage and chop or slice the remainder quite finely. Once the onion has started to soften, add the red cabbage to the pan and fry gently for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring to ensure that the cabbage doesn’t stick together. Add the apple and season with salt and pepper.

Pour over the stock and pomegranate molasses, cover the pan leaving a bit of a gap for some of the steam to escape and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer until the cabbage is tender (or, at least, reasonably tender) - this could take anything from 30 to 60 minutes. Stir now and then and add a little extra water if it threatens to dry out. At the end of this time the cabbage should still be nicely moist but most of the liquid should have disappeared. If you still have some liquid left, then drain the cabbage before the next stage.

Purée the cabbage mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth (or as smooth as you'd like it to be). Season with more salt and pepper if it needs it and add a little honey if it's not sweet enough. You could also add more pomegranate molasses at this stage if you feel like it. To serve, stir in as much crème fraîche as you fancy and reheat gently.

Parsnip Purée

Parsnip purées often use cream to produce quite a rich result but this is a bit lighter in style. There's not much point in trying to compete with the powerful flavour of parsnips but I’ve used some Aperol liqueur and a few other bits and pieces to add a bit of contrast and complexity to the end result. The idea for this recipe came from watching a chef braise some parsnips in Pineau de Charentes and that's not a bad alternative if Aperol isn't to your taste. Alternatively, you could use some Campari for a more astringent flavour if that's what appeals to you.
Parsnip Purée
I think this purée works well alongside pork or beef but it's possibly even better with game.

350 g parsnips, prepared weight
1 apple, preferably a firm eating apple
300 ml vegetable stock
4 tbsp Aperol
Zest of ½ a large orange
A sprig or 2 of thyme
1 or 2 tsp lemon juice

Top, tail, peel and quarter the parsnips. If the parsnips aren't young and tender, then cut out any woody centres. Peel and core the apple and cut into 6 or 8 pieces. Add the parsnips and apple to a pan that's wide enough to accommodate them in one layer. Add the orange zest and pour over the stock and Aperol. Tuck in the thyme sprigs.

Put the pan on a medium heat and bring to simmering point. Lower the heat and simmer until the parsnips are very tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrup that's coating the parsnips and apple. (If the dish threatens to dry out before the parsnips are ready, than add a little more stock or water).

Take the pan off the heat, discard the thyme and reduce the contents to a purée in a food processor or  blender. Season with salt and pepper and reheat to serve. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice (the amount of lemon juice you add will vary according to taste and the sweetness of the parsnips).

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Navette Albigeoise

Years ago I posted a recipe for Navettes from Marseille on this blog and, although they're an interesting and unusual local delicacy, I have to admit that they're a bit of an acquired taste for many people.  I thought about that original recipe recently and I felt that it was only right that I should finally get around to admitting that the Marseille navette is not the only navette in the south of France. Here's an alternative that might be a little less alarming.
Navette Albigeoise

This recipe is based on a navette from the region around the town of Albi in the Tarn. There's no raising agent in the recipe so don't expect a delicate sponge cake but it's lighter and less challenging than the drier Marseille version. Think of it as a little treat to sit alongside or even dip into a coffee or tea. Better still, imagine it with a local Gaillac Doux wine as you sit bathed in the light of the setting sun outside a café in Cordes-sur-Ciel. (Sorry, I got a bit carried away there). Sweet Gaillac can be hard to find unless you're in the area but other sweet wines will do the job. I'm a bit of a fan of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh from a little to the west of Gaillac and that might be a bit easier to find.

Strictly speaking this cake should really be made in a diamond-shaped tin with sloping sides. This is said to echo the shape of the shuttle (navette) used in traditional weaving, which is a symbol associated locally with the Cathars. I'm not going to pretend that I know that this recipe dates back to the Albigensian Crusade but you never know. Since I don't have the real thing, I used a simple 20 cm square tin but, whatever tin you use, make sure that you butter it thoroughly. 

Recipes for the Navette Albigeoise vary a lot and don't expect this to be an entirely authentic version. If you come across the real thing, you'll possibly find whole almonds on the top of the cake (I prefer smaller pieces), dried or confit orange inside it and maybe less butter in the mix. You might also find a flavouring of orange flower water or rum but I've used some Cointreau instead. 

120 g caster sugar (preferably golden)
1 additional tbsp caster sugar for the tin and (optionally) ½ tbsp for the top of the cake
2 eggs
180 g plain flour
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 tbsp cointreau (or triple sec, or rum, or orange juice)
110 g butter, thoroughly softened, plus a little extra for the tin
30 - 40 g almonds - I used blanched, whole almonds but use unblanched if you prefer

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. Butter the baking tin generously and sprinkle with 1 tbsp caster sugar. I used a 20 cm square tin but use a genuine navette tin if you can find one.

Whisk together the eggs and the sugar for a couple of minutes until the mixture has increased in volume and looks very pale. Stir in the softened butter, the flour, lemon and orange zests and your chosen alcohol or juice. Mix together thoroughly, but don't overwork the dough.

Add to the prepared tin and even out the top - the dough should be roughly between 3 and 4 cm deep. Place the almonds on the top of the dough. I break them up and add them randomly but arrange whole almonds in a regular pattern if you prefer. Optionally sprinkle the additional ½ tbsp caster sugar over the top of the dough. Adding the sugar gives the cake an all-round light sweet crust but makes the top a little more flaky and liable to leave residue in your drink if you're intending to dip.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the top is golden and a knife point comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a rack. Cut into small squares or diamonds (I cut mine into 12 pieces) and serve with your chosen beverage.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Fegatini Di Pollo in Swinging London

This is part two of my very short series of the Italian recipes that I felt I finally needed to write down. Like the caponata recipe I'm afraid it's probably a little elegiac in tone. I suppose that's what happens when you're as ancient as me. Never mind, it's the food that matters.

Alvaro Maccioni was one of the food celebrities in Britain through the 1960s and 70s. It's generally accepted wisdom that food in England was rubbish during that period but I'm not completely convinced. I admit there were certainly some highly questionable and eccentric restaurants around at the time but Maccioni's La Famiglia just off the King's Road definitely wasn't one of them. It tended to attract a celebrity crowd and hard up, scruffy people like me didn't necessarily eat there often - well, OK I did once or twice. Maccioni was a great advocate of authentic, delicious and often quite simple Tuscan food. Ahead of his time in many ways and hugely influential, he sadly left us in 2013, although La Famiglia is still there and carrying on the tradition if you'd care to visit.

This dish reminds me of Maccioni because I first came across a version of it in one of his books. Admittedly, this is my interpretation and not his recipe and probably not similar to the food served back then. Oddly, I've just realised that I have a signed copy of one of his books on my shelf but how I ended up with it is one of life's mysteries. My memory's not what it was and my excuse is that I was around in the 60s. At least I think I was.

This is easy to make, very delicious and is often claimed to be the inspiration for all French pâté. Well, maybe. This should serve 4 - 6 as a starter or as part of a simple lunch.
Fegatini Di Pollo

1 medium leek, finely chopped (don't use the tougher green bits)
1 or 2 sticks of celery, very finely chopped
½ medium carrot, very finely chopped
250 g chicken livers, prepared (in other words cleaned and with any nasty-tasting bits removed)
3 tbsp olive oil (this doesn't need to be your best extra virgin)
150 ml white wine
2 tbsp capers, washed, drained and chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp finely chopped chives
1 or 2 generous squeezes of lemon juice
Baguette or other suitable bread to serve

Fry the leek, celery and carrot in the 3 tbsp of olive oil until softened. It's best to do this on a low to medium heat and take your time over it. You want to soften the veg and not colour it. If the livers are on the large size, then chop them into 2 or 3 pieces and add to the pan. Continue to fry, stirring a lot, until the livers have taken on an even colour all over. Add the wine, increase the heat a little and keep cooking and stirring until the wine has reduced by about half. Add the capers and season with a generous amount of black pepper. (Don't add salt at this stage since the capers are likely to be quite salty). Continue cooking and stirring until the wine has almost gone.

At this point anyone with a deep respect for tradition will tell you to take the livers out of the pan and chop them thoroughly by hand. To be honest, I use an electric hand blender and whizz until smooth (or as smooth as you'd like it to be). Either way, return the liver mixture to the pan and stir in the tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. (You could also add a little butter at this stage if you fancy a richer result). 

Reheat the mixture gently. If it seems very firm then stir in a little water - it should be thick and creamy but not solid. Immediately before serving stir in the parsley, chives and lemon juice. Check the seasoning.

Serve while still hot (or at least warm) by spreading a generous dollop onto toasted slices of baguette, or whatever bread you fancy. You could rub the bread with a peeled and halved clove of garlic before adding the liver mixture if the mood takes you.

Just over a year ago we lost Peter Sarstedt who had a song that always makes me think of those very old days. If anyone wants me I'll be in Roger's old Jag driving round swinging London.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Lemon And Orange Guinea Fowl

I've just noticed that it's 2018. I know I should be reviewing last year or predicting the trends for the months to come but it's as cold and grey as any self-respecting January should be and so here's a summery sort of recipe for cheering up dismal days. I've been told that guinea fowl is at its best in the depths of winter and so that's the perfect excuse for making it now. (Of course, I might have been misled - I frequently am).

There's a traditional way of cooking guinea fowl with lemon in the Roussillon and this recipe probably owes its origins to that tradition, but it's more directly inspired by dishes that turned up fairly often in England back in the 1980s and early 1990s in some of the better, unpretentious restaurants of those long-lost days.

These days I don't often use cream in sauces (or any recipes for that matter) but I make an exception here because it works so well. You could use chicken in this recipe if that's what you have and it would still be very delicious but the deeper, richer flavour of the guinea fowl is worth seeking out now and then.
Lemon & Orange Guinea Fowl
This will serve 2 -3.

1 guinea fowl
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp sugar
200 ml white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ medium orange
1 lemon (untreated), sliced fairly thinly
1 sprig of thyme
300 - 500 ml light chicken or guinea fowl stock (the amount will vary according to the size of your pan)
4 tbsp double cream

Joint the guinea fowl. You can divide the bird up as you'd like but, at very least, use the two legs and two breasts. If you're thoroughly organised you could use the remaining bones and meat of the guinea fowl as the basis of the stock that you need for this dish.

Use a reasonably generous, lidded pan that will hold all the guinea fowl pieces in one layer. Season the guinea fowl lightly and sauté in a little olive oil over a medium heat until lightly golden on all sides. Remove the pieces from the pan and set aside. Add the chopped shallot to the pan and fry gently for around 5 minutes without letting it colour. Increase the heat, add the sugar and stir for about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine and the juice of the lemon and orange. Bring to the boil and allow the liquid to reduce by about a third.

Lower the heat and put the guinea fowl pieces back into the pan together with the sliced lemon and the thyme. Pour in enough stock to almost cover the guinea fowl. Put the lid on the pan and simmer gently for 30 - 35 minutes. Turn the guinea fowl pieces once or twice during this time.

Remove the guinea fowl from the pan and set aside somewhere warm. Pour the remaining contents of the pan through a sieve, reserving the liquid but discarding the solids, although I tend to keep a slice or two of the cooked lemon for decoration (and to prove that I used real lemons, I suppose). Put the cooking liquid into a pan and reduce over a high heat. The amount that you reduce the liquid will depend on how much sauce you'd like in the final dish but reduce it by at least ½ and, I think, preferably by ¾. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream. Adjust the seasoning and add a little sugar if the sauce seems a bit too sharp.

I serve the guinea fowl with simple green veg and steamed or sautéed potatoes (the purple potatoes in the picture are pure affectation and the result of an ill-advised attempt to impress). Pour on as much or as little of the sauce as you fancy. I like quite a lot of sauce because I soak it up with slices of baguette but that's just my uncouth way.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Pithiviers Fondant

I know it's that time of year and all good food bloggers should be presenting their Christmas cakes, mince pies and puddings but I'm afraid I don't really do the classic Christmas stuff anymore. So here's the closest thing to a festive cake that I've made recently. I hope it makes up for the lack of Yuletide baking. It may not be traditional, but I like it a lot.

The French town of Pithiviers has become famous for the puff pastry concoction that shares its name. They can be delightful but they're a newfangled invention dating back no earlier than the 18th century. By that time Pithiviers had long been renowned for this gâteau.

So forget all about those pastry newcomers, this is one of those meltingly soft (well, fondant) almond cakes that has probably been around since the middle ages, although some people even claim that it originated with the Roman invasion of Gaul. It's a bit like a cross between a Gâteau Nantais and a Tarta de Santiago in my opinion. (Sorry, my irritating baking nerd persona got the better of me there.)

Never mind the history, though, it's a delicious cake that makes a fine dessert or afternoon treat. The cake is normally iced but tastes fine without if that's what you prefer. It's also usually decorated with glacé cherries and angelica. I've just used some little jellies instead and there are two reasons for this: first, I don't really like glacé cherries and angelica and second, I have no class.
Pithivier Fondant
This really is very straightforward to make, especially if you use a decent electric mixer. You can add some extra flavouring to the cake, although that's optional. A few drops of almond extract or a little vanilla extract will both work well. Alternatively, some bakers add a dash of booze such as dark rum, kirsch or almond liqueur instead. The cake keeps very well in an airtight tin.

200 g caster sugar (I prefer golden caster sugar, but it’s not crucial)
4 eggs
140 g unsalted butter, melted and allowed to cool a little
200 g ground almonds
Additional flavouring – this is optional, see above

To finish:
Around 200 g icing sugar and your chosen bits of decoration

Butter and line a 20 cm cake tin. (A loose bottom or springform tin would be best, if you have one). Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.

Whisk the sugar and eggs together thoroughly. Whisk in the melted butter and any flavouring you want to add. Gently but thoroughly whisk in the ground almonds.

Pour into the prepared tin, smooth out the surface of the mixture and bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the top is a nice golden brown and a knife blade inserted into the cake comes out clean. Don't worry if there seems to be a lot of mixture for the tin compared with, say, a classic sponge cake because this cake won't rise very much during cooking. The cake should remain soft and moist and so be careful to avoid baking for too long.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin a little before turning out onto a rack to cool completely. Be careful when removing the cake from the tin because it will remain quite soft and fragile. (It is a fondant, after all). Once completely cold, you can ice and decorate the cake.

Gradually add a little water to the sieved icing sugar until you get a spreadable consistency and cover the top and sides of the cooled cake evenly. If you want it to look like an authentic, classy Pithiviers Fondant then take a lot of time and care over this stage. Personally I'm a bit too busy to worry about perfection and, as I admitted earlier, I have no class. If you have the time and inclination, embellish with suitable cake decorations arranged in an attractive pattern.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


I was sad to hear recently of the passing of Antonio Carluccio. Many years ago I used to visit his Neal Street deli whenever I could and met the man himself there a few times. His respect and enthusiasm for quality ingredients and simple but intensely flavoured dishes were a significant influence on me. For instance, I didn't realise just how good Parmesan cheese could be until he scooped a piece from a wheel and handed it to me and I might never have tried to make risotto if he hadn't told me to stop worrying and just get on with it. He was a great ambassador for Italian food and I for one will always be grateful to him.
Antonio Carluccio's Italian Cooking
Although I use quite a few Italian recipes I haven't posted many here. The fact is that when I started this blog it seemed to me that the world really didn't need me to add to the mountain of recipes for Italian food. There were just so many blogs already specialising in Italian dishes and so many Italian restaurants down here in Surrey that if you threw grissini out of any window they would probably land in someone's arrabiata sauce. But it seems like a good time now to get around to recording just a few of the (inauthentic) Italian recipes that I use.

I think caponata is simply one of the most adaptable, versatile and useful dishes that I know (Italian or otherwise). It's made in advance and is easy to put together, although it does take a while. It's perfect for serving at room temperature as a relaxed starter, for taking on picnics, for feeding large gatherings or even heating up as a main course with pasta, rice or baked potato. (I know that heating caponata as a sauce might be frowned on by some but let's not worry about them.) More often than not I simply serve this with some good bread. My version is not very different from many other recipes for caponata that you might come across but it's what works for me. (It's not Antonio Carluccio's recipe by the way, but you can find his here if you'd like to try it).
This will make at least 4 generous portions but the dish scales up very nicely for a larger or very hungry group. Don't worry too much about being exact with amounts; the dish will adapt very well to individual tastes and to what you have in the cupboard and veg rack. You definitely need a decent olive oil but it doesn't have to be a really expensive one.

3 medium aubergines, cut into 2 - 3 cm chunks (you don't need to be too precise)
1 large (or 2 medium) courgette, cut into roughly 2 - 3 cm chunks as above
60 ml (or thereabouts) olive oil
2 shallots (or 1 onion), peeled and thinly sliced
Small pinch of chilli flakes
A generous pinch of dried oregano or about 1 tsp of fresh, roughly chopped oregano
1 can peeled plum tomatoes (400 g)
2 tbsp capers (I use brined capers, rinsed and well-drained)
50 g pitted green olives, roughly chopped
60 g mix of sultanas and raisins
1½ tbsp caster sugar
150 ml red wine vinegar
1 small (or ½ large) jar roasted peppers, drained  and roughly chopped (or grill and peel your own if you can spare the time)

To serve (these are optional but very desirable extras and you can omit if you’re really pressed for time):
2 small handfuls of pine nuts
A few leaves of basil

If you've got some fresh and firm aubergines then you don't really need to salt them but many of the aubergines I buy in supermarkets seem to produce a lot of water and so I do bother with the salting palaver. Coat the aubergine pieces lightly in salt and allow them to drain for an hour or so in a colander. Clean off the salt and pat the aubergine chunks dry. There's no advantage to salting the courgette unless it's more like a marrow than a courgette.

Brush both the aubergine and courgette chunks with some of the olive oil, place on separate lined baking sheets and roast in the oven at 180ºC until they're soft and have taken on a little colour at the edges. Chances are that the courgette will take a little longer than the aubergine, but 20 - 30 minutes should usually be enough.

Put the remainder of the olive oil (around 2 - 3 tbsp but don't worry if you don't have enough left, just add a bit more if you're in doubt) in a large pan and fry the shallots gently until soft (don't rush this). Pour in the tinned tomatoes and their juice and stir around to start breaking them up. Add the capers, olives, sultanas and raisins, sugar, vinegar, oregano and chilli flakes. Bring to simmering point, then add the roasted vegetables. Add a few turns of pepper and the roasted peppers, turn the heat down, cover and simmer gently for around 90 minutes. Stir every now and then and make sure that the mixture doesn't dry out. (Add a little water or passata if it seems too dry).

Allow to cool and store in the fridge. It should keep for a few days but it will also freeze well at this stage. In my opinion (and I'm not alone), this is definitely best served at room temperature so remember to take it out of the fridge for an hour or so before serving.

If you have the time before serving, toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry frying pan (watch carefully because they burn very easily), allow to cool and either stir them into the caponata or sprinkle on the top. Immediately before serving chop or tear some basil leaves and stir them in as well.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Ossau-Iraty, Smoked Duck and Peppers

A lot of the recipes on this blog are pretty easy, but they really don't get much easier than this. Not too long ago I was wandering around a local supermarket in my usual bemused manner and I stumbled across some particularly fine produce: Lamuyo peppers from Spain, smoked duck breast from Scotland and, one of my favourite cheeses, Ossau-Iraty from the southwest of France. Then from some particularly murky corner of my mind I remembered that these were just the kind of ingredients that Guy Martin put together on one of his TV programmes.

Thanks to Google I've realised that the name Guy Martin often seems to refer to a bloke that rides motorbikes mystifyingly fast. I definitely don't mean him. I mean the chef of Le Grand Véfour in Paris. (Please be careful if you're tempted to peruse the prices at Le Grand Véfour - you may need to have someone nearby to administer strong drink to aid your recovery). Mr Martin intended this combination of ingredients to celebrate the wonderful flavours of the south west of France. I'd be the first to agree that the flavours of that beautiful region are well worth celebrating but Spanish peppers and Scottish smoked duck breast are worth getting excited about as well. Just to complete the European mixture, I served them on a fine English muffin. There was a period not long ago when the English muffin had become a sad, industrial product, but there are some excellent artisan versions around these days.
Ossau-Iraty Smoked Duck and Peppers
I put this together from memory and so it's not faithful to Mr Martin's recipe, but it's in the right spirit. The only real cooking required is a simple bit of preparation of the peppers but, despite the simplicity, it's a lovely combination. Well, of course it is – Guy Martin knows his flavours.

This will serve 2 as a light lunch or can be the star of a larger salad. Really easy and really delicious.

2 large red peppers (I used Spanish lamuyo)
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp honey
2 English muffins
4 – 8 slices smoked duck breast
4 – 8 shavings (not too thin) Ossau-Iraty (shave these at the last minute)
A few small basil leaves (optional)

Cut out the core of the peppers, deseed and slice them into quarters. Grill until nicely blackened. Place the peppers in a bowl, cover and, once cooled, peel off and discard the skin. Chop the pepper flesh quite finely and place in a saucepan (make sure you include all the pepper juices) with the olive oil and honey. Season and let this mixture cook very gently over a low heat, stirring frequently until the peppers are almost, but not quite, falling apart. Chill until needed. You can make this the day before you want to serve it; in fact, I think it tastes a little better if you do.

The rest of the “recipe” is pretty much a simple assembly job. Split the muffins and toast them lightly. Place a layer of the peppers on each of the muffin halves and cover with one or two slices of duck breast. Finally top with one or two freshly shaved slivers of Ossau-Iraty and decorate with a couple of small basil leaves if you fancy.