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A HANDY TART FOR THE SUMMER…WHAT SUMMER?

Onion and Thyme tart

In this less than summery weather we are having, I always think things like quiches and tarts are useful to have in your repertoire. If it’s cold and grey (as per London as I write this) they can be eaten with new potatoes and a vegetable and if (by some miracle), we have sun and warmth, you can make them early in the day while it’s cool and eat them at room temperature with salad. I was extolling their virtues amongst a group of friends recently and I was a bit taken aback when one said, somewhat accusingly, “well I suppose you’re bl**** WonderWoman and always make your own pastry”. Ha, if only….no, I don’t.

It isn’t my favourite kitchen activity and if I didn’t have a Magimix, I am not sure I would ever make pastry. I nearly always have some ready made pastry tucked away in the freezer and my favourite is the French brand Marie La Pâte Feuilletée Ready Rolled Puff Pastry (no, I am not being paid to mention this). Rather conveniently the ready rolled round perfectly fits a 24cm flan tin so given that I nearly always have the other ingredients to hand for a tart or quiche, this cuts out the (for me) tedious part of the recipe. I’ll be honest and say that I used this by mistake the first time – I overlooked the fact that it was puff pastry but now I actually prefer it for this recipe.

This recipe owes its genesis to Sybil Kapoor’s Onion Tart in her book ‘Simply Veg” published by Pavilion (and I urge you to buy it – fabulous recipes that always work). As is my habit, however, I have tweaked and experimented – not least by using puff pastry – to make something that fits our personal tastes and sometimes, just uses what I have. This version is, however, the one we prefer and appears regularly, warm or cold. It puffs up massively while cooking and then when cold, sinks back to something that almost looks slightly disappointing. Do ignore this little failing, as the flavour is deeply savoury and rewarding; it also travels well for picnics or packed lunches.

I like to use a well flavoured olive oil for this as it is reflected in the final flavour and I have been getting good results recently with the Greek brand Charisma which even Edoardo admits is a very good oil. If the budget runs to it, the French Roscoff pink onions are superb in this recipe – their subtle flavour really shines through but use what you have or can source well.

If you want to use shortcrust pastry, please do – and if you want to make your own, well that’s good too!

ONION AND THYME TART

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 packet Marie La Pâte Feuilletée Ready Rolled Puff Pastry or 170g shortcrust or puff pastry
  • 60ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large or 3 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with sea salt salt under the blade of a knife
  • 2 tbsp thyme leaves, stripped from the branches (yes, I know it’s a pain but it’s worth it)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium eggs, well beaten
  • 200 ml creme frâiche or soured cream
  • 60g finely grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

1

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C fan and set a baking tray to heat

2

Line a 23/24cm flan tin with your chosen pastry

3

Prick the base and then line with baking parchment or greaseproof paper

4

Fill with baking beans and put on the heated baking tray to bake blind for 15 minutes

5

Remove the beans and paper and return to the oven for a further 5 - 7 minutes until the pastry is golden brown

6

While all this is going on in the oven, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a low to medium heat

7

Add the onions and garlic and fry gently for about 20 minutes; some colour is fine but we’re not looking for a high degree of browning here which would impair the fresh flavour

8

Add the thyme leaves and stir around to distribute evenly amongst the onions and garlic

9

Remove from the heat and seasonTransfer to the pastry case, spreading them evenly

10

Add the creme frâiche or soured cream to the beaten eggs, season well with freshly ground black pepper and add to the onions in the pastry case

11

I don’t add salt here as the Parmesan gives enough for our tastes

12

Gently mix it into the onion mixture being careful not to pierce the pastry which your not - so -Watchful Cook has done on one occasion

13

Sprinkle with the cheese and return to the oven, on the baking tray, for 25 minutes until puffed up and golden brown

Notes

Eat this warm (but not hot) or cold with salt or vegetables, depending on the weather!

Courses/ Desserts & Savouries/ Food People/ Summer/ Tips & Techniques/ Uncategorized

PUDDING FROM PIEMONTE

Amaretti Stuffed Peach served with single cream and a glass of Moscato

My recent trip to Turin for the 2017 Turin Epicurean Conference included an amazing evening at www.quibitorino.it which is a space in Turin under the guidance of the lovely Margherita Frari. The vision for this place is as a restaurant, meeting place and exhibition space, all to encourage the integration of the increasingly multicultural city of Turin. It also serves as a food collection point for customers of local producers rather in the way that www.foodassembly.com does.

During our evening there we were fortunate to be under the expert tuition of Margerita and also Marco Giachello, one of Piedmont’s most well known and charismatic chefs. He works to conserve Piedmont dishes, products and methods and actively seeks to promote those things beyond Piedmont, so that we non-Piedmontese can learn how to create their wonderful dishes in our own homes. Sometimes it’s difficult to do that as the Piedmontese have the advantage of fabulous ingredients, produced relatively locally and in some cases, very locally!

I will probably post about everything we created that evening but am starting (perversely) with the pudding, given that peaches are in season right now. Do please try to buy Italian peaches for this as it does make a difference to the flavour, although Spanish ones can be flavoursome too. It will make life much easier for you if you can get freestone peaches; I have to admit that the first time I made this when I came back to the UK, I had made the mistake of unwittingly buying clingstone peaches. It was only with the help of a very sharp, very narrow knife that this didn’t end up as peach purée, so do check.

This is an easy summer dessert that can be served warm or at room temperature but don’t serve it chilled; it will kill the flavours stone dead. Roero, by the way, is an area of Piedmont to the south of Turin and famous for fruit (especially peaches, pears and strawberries) not to mention some wonderful wine.

I’ve given the option of using either cocoa or coffee as I am not that keen on chocolate, but the original recipe uses cocoa. Ditto with the choice of rum or brandy; I dislike rum so tend to use brandy but again, the original, as I was taught, was with rum.

Amaretti Stuffed Peaches

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 - 8 depending on appetite! Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh freestone peaches (it is helpful if they are still quite firm but not unripe)
  • 200g amaretti biscuits (preferably not the soft ones but they will do if it’s all you have)
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten well
  • 2 tsp caster sugar (optional - I tend not to use it as I find the biscuits sweet enough)
  • 3 tbsp rum or brandy
  • cocoa powder or very finely ground (espresso grind) coffee
  • icing sugar
  • butter
  • extra caster or Demerara sugar

Instructions

1

Set the oven to 180 deg C

2

Line a baking tray with baking parchment (not essential - just helps with the washing up!)

3

Slit the peaches through their “seams” with a sharp knife and twist to separate the two parts

4

(This is where you discover if you really have bought freestone peaches

5

If you haven’t, take a long, thin and very sharp knife - a fish filleting knife is ideal - and gradually work it around behind the pitt until the two parts of the peach come apart

6

This won’t be as elegant a dish as it could be but the flavour will still be wonderful)

7

Slightly enlarge the cavities using a teaspoon; ensure you leave plenty of peach intact ; reserve the extracted flesh

8

Put the peach halves on the baking tray and turn your attention to the filling

9

Bash up the amaretti biscuits until they are crumbs (I put them in a bowl and thump away with the end of my rolling pin)

10

I like a mixture of crumb size but nothing bigger than about 2 ml in diameter

11

Add the peach flesh and mix well

12

Add the caster sugar, if you want to use it and mix well

13

Add 2 - 3 tsp cocoa powder or coffee and again, mix well

14

Add a couple of tablespoons of your chosen spirit, adding a little more if the mixture is too dry

15

Add as much beaten egg as will achieve a firm mixture

16

Taste and add more of whatever you think is lacking but try to avoid the mixture becoming sloppy

17

Fill the peach cavities with the mixture, heaping it up well; I like to cover the entire peach

18

Add a few flecks of butter over the top and sprinkle with Demerara sugar; this will create a slightly crackly top to the finished dish

19

Bake for about 25 minutes until they are bubbling and smelling wonderful

20

Leave to become warm or room temperature (but please don’t serve them from the fridge)

21

I like to then sprinkle them with a mixture of cocoa or coffee and icing sugar

Notes

They are wonderful if served warm with a scoop of good ice cream to match either the cocoa or coffee, or vanilla Good also with creme frâiche but I tend to find double cream a bit too rich

 

Courses/ In My Kitchen/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Techniques/ Uncategorized

CHICKEN À LA CHLORINE

You might reasonably expect this post to provide a couple of chicken recipes. No, sorry, no recipes. Instead I am talking about something that concerns me deeply and about which I am alternately enraged and anxious.

How does the idea of eating chlorine-washed chicken appeal to you? How do you like the idea of not being able to identify that the chicken you’re about to buy for Sunday lunch has been treated in that way? To immediately allay your fears, if you are presently buying said chicken in an EU country, you won’t be eating chicken à la chlorine.

Once the UK has left the EU and is possibly left without the protection of its highly developed Food Safety and Animal Welfare regulations, it is likely that a trade treaty will be entered into with the USA. For many items, that may well be good but food? Not so much. Animal Welfare and Food Safety Regulations in the USA are remarkably less protective than in the EU. That is good for neither man nor beast and my absolute number one concern is American – produced chicken.

I must state that United States Department of Agriculture organically reared and certified chicken is honourably excepted from the remarks below, as indeed are EU certified organic birds.

Chicken not produced under that certification are reared in sheds of up to 30,000 flocks from a few days old to the ripe old age of 42 days. The sheds are not cleaned during that time so the creatures live on increasing layers of ammonia which burns the animals and renders human breathing so compromised that it is almost impossible to enter the sheds safely. At 42 days they are either slaughtered for the food chain or ground up alive and made into fertiliser. During their short, miserable lives those creatures will have been routinely fed antibiotics and inorganic arsenic (this latter is NOT legal in the EU) in order to prevent disease and give the illusion of a healthy bird. They have also been pumped full of growth hormones to accelerate their development process and produce an anatomically deformed creature that has huge breasts and spindly little legs (any relation to Barbie dolls is unintentional), that disposition of flesh apparently being what the consumer wants.

At this point – if you are still with me – I must say that this equally applies to intensively reared chicken in the EU, too. Nothing in the paragraph above is illegal in the EU (except the inorganic arsenic part), shocking though those conditions are.

What is however, strictly outlawed in the EU and with good reason, is the washing in a chlorine solution of chickens. In the USA, once the bird is slaughtered and eviscerated, they are routinely washed in a chlorine solution approximating the concentration used in public swimming baths. This is alleged to diminish the risk of E.coli and Salmonella being present in the bird. Some processors shower the birds, others literally bathe them so the water is cross contaminated by being used for multiple birds, which release particles of blood and faeces into the bath. There is no reliable evidence that this process reduces the possibility of the consumer contracting either E.Coli or Salmonella. It is the rearing process which protects against that; chlorine bathing is shutting the henhouse door after the chicken has flown.

The UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP has been quoted as saying that “Americans have been eating it safely for years”. Really? Is America a healthy country? I’m happy to leave you to make that judgement but my own experience of watchful cooks and consumers in the USA is that they only buy and eat organic chicken and eat it less frequently in order to balance their budgets. They avoid commercially processed food and only buy with full traceability. To not take these precautions exposes them to birds raised and chlorine treated as described above.

So this worrying situation may be coming to the UK sometime after 2019. Even worse, any repealing of Animal Welfare and Food Legislation originating in the EU could leave unscrupulous producers in the UK open to utilising chlorine washing as a so-called safety measure. So there is now every possibility that the quality of food in this country will diminish; industrial producers, who have the loudest voices, deepest pockets and the ear of the politicians will rub their hands in glee at the prospect of spending less on rearing and production, thus compromising animal welfare and – let’s not forget this – flavour.

Not only the chickens will suffer: we will too. I do not want antibiotics that aren’t prescribed by my GP, nor do I want to support a hellish industrial process that plays on my conscience. I am happy to eat less chicken but pay more for an organically reared bird. I am happy to buy a whole bird and use all of it, right down to the bones. The more of us that do the, the smaller the market for the industrialists and bigger the opportunities for organic farmers.

I for one, have no intention of chicken à la chlorine with a side order of inorganic arsenic being on my table any time soon.

Autumn/ Books & Blogs/ Equipment/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

HOW IT ALL STARTED

When I married in 1978 (stupidly young and it didn’t last….), I knew kitchens existed but wasn’t entirely sure what went on in them. I knew food emerged but had no idea how it happened. Didn’t do “Domestic Science” at school as I was in the stream that did Latin and French, both of which I have to say, have been remarkably useful. It now enrages me to think that learning to cook was (and might still be in some schools) regarded as less demanding than learning languages.  Better I don’t get started on that one; it is probably a whole other post.

Shortly after becoming engaged my wise mother, fearing that my husband would have to live on toast, bought me the Delia Smith Complete Cookery Course, which in those days came in three paperback volumes. In truth, I wasn’t terribly impressed with that as an engagement present (what an ungrateful creature I was) but when I finally opened the first volume, something in me blossomed and food became an enduring passion. I am also terribly attached to some of the books and equipment that I bought or was given in those early days. I still have (see picture) the very first wooden spoon I was given and the casserole in the same picture is now over 35 years old and.

In some quarters, it is now fashionable to decry Delia and whilst I no longer cook from her books, she did teach me the basics, allowed me to start cooking edible meals (and then good meals) and for me, best of all, that edition included a Bibliography! One of my other passions is books and reading (to the point that when I met Edoardo, we realised that consolidating our homes would mean accommodating over 5,000 books), so pointing me to other writers and cooks was just bliss.

Now, for me, this is where a deep, enduring love of food, cooking and its social and political history started. The first person I investigated from Delia’s bibliography was Elizabeth David and for me, this was when I really began to understand flavours, textures and the simple joy of good food eaten seasonally with minimal interference. I think I was a little in awe of her in the way I never was with Delia, but I as grew older and matured myself, Mrs David’s (never, just never Elizabeth) approach to much in life resonated with me.

The second aspect of Mrs David’s writing that spoke to me was the sheer poetry of it. Should you doubt this, may I refer you to the first two paragraphs of her chapter on Fish in “Italian Food”. The description of the Rialto fish market takes me straight back there every time I read it. She makes me not just see it but smell and hear it, too.

It has probably also taken me some years to understand how brave Mrs David was to publish her first book in 1950 post war Britain, when food was still rationed and olive oil was something requested in the chemist’s to sort out wax in one’s ears. Can you imagine the reaction of people being asked to cook with something they regarded as medicinal? I also have huge sympathy for the early brave devotees of Mrs David – I cannot begin to think what it must be like to cook without olive oil, lemons, garlic, spices and fresh herbs; for those intrepid cooks, the frustration must have been enormous.
That first book, “A Book of Mediterranean Food” is still amongst my most referred to and certainly takes the prize for the most bespattered pages (none of my foods books is pristine – if I come across one it usually means it was rubbish and, no, am NOT naming names!). It is a continual source of inspiration, not dogmatically but as a jumping off point for interpreting her recipes.

There are points upon which I depart from her advice; for example, adding oil to water for cooking pasta is nonsense. It will just float there on top while the water boils away, doing its job and ignoring the oil. You are therefore wasting precious oil and thus money. I know there are people who swear by this, but I have never come across an Italian who does it and when I enquired, was met with a sigh of resignation indicating that the craziness of the British in the kitchen should never be underestimated. She also says pasta can take up to 20 minutes to cook. Nope, not unless you like wallpaper paste.

When she speaks of meat and fish, however, she remains for me definitive and whilst I have adjusted her recipes to suit my taste, her basic advice and method remain unaltered. As we approach the cooler months of the year, I’d like to share with you my version of her Daube de boeuf provencale. It is easy, if not cheap, but does serve 6, or fewer with left overs and smells utterly divine while cooking. It is a recipe that denotes for me the arrival of autumn, as I always seem to make it in September after the lighter foods of summer.

Daube de boeuf provencale

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 2.5 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 kg top rump of beef, cut into squares about 7/8cm and 8mm thick (I always buy the beef in the piece and cut it myself to get the right sized pieces)
  • 175g unsmoked streaky bacon or pancetta, sliced into strips
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
  • 2 medium onions sliced into half moon slices
  • 2 tomatoes, skinned and sliced (you can use tinned and then use the rest to make soup as a first course)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed under the blade of your knife
  • bouquet garni (I use a piece of celery with a bay leaf, a generous amount of thyme and parsley and if possible, a large slice of orange peel, sans pith, tied up with kitchen string and anchored to the handle of the casserole)
  • a (very) generous glass of red wine, French if possible, but use what you have
  • salt and freshly milled ground pepper

Instructions

1

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C/130 fan

2

In the bottom of a thick based, heat retaining pot (I use an ancient and much loved le Creuset casserole) pour in the olive oil, the bacon or pancetta, then the vegetables and then layer the meat slices, overlapping them slightly. Bury the garlic and bouquet garni in the centre.

3

Season and with an uncovered pan, start cooking over a moderate flame for about ten minutes

4

In a separate pan, heat the wine until at a lively boil and set it alight

5

Once the flames have died down, pour the bubbling wine over the meat mixture

6

Cover VERY tightly (I add a layer of tightly clamped tin foil before the casserole lid) and out in the oven for about 2.5 hours

7

I like to add pitted, black olives about half an hour before the end of the cooking time

8

It might not seem that you start with much liquid here, which is true, but long, slow cooking will produce a fragrant, delicious dish for so very little effort.

9

Although I am usually all for saving on the washing up, I do like to serve this in the traditional way on a wide shallow platter, having extracted the bouquet garni, poured the sauce around the meat and garnished with persillade of finely chopped garlic and parsley, or a few capers and a couple of chopped anchovies

10

This goes well with wild red rice or plain boiled potatoes

Notes

As there is no pre-browning of the meat, this is wonderful for a slow cooker, but do try to find time to flame the wine. I have to confess that I have on occasions made do with just heating the wine, as I am not always at my brightest before my first cup of coffee in the early morning. Flames in my kitchen prior to coffee is a tad alarming for me. Anyway, the upshot is that it is subtly different without the flaming trick, but not worse. Just different.