Ribollita – robust vegetable soup

Ribollita ready for freezing

Ribollita is really just a robust vegetable soup, but the Italian name gives it an air of the exotic that plain old mixed veg doesn’t have. And it’s quite a plain thing, and even boring if not done carefully.

The essential elements are:

  • Onions, carrots and celery – a standard  soup or stock base, although I wouldn’t worry if you don’t have celery in the house.
  • Beans of some sort – a white bean like cannellini usually, but I have also subbed chickpeas in the past
  • Kale – usually cavolo nero, also called dinosaur kale which has long narrow green-black spears. You could instead use chard, regular kale, spinach, Brussels tops.
  • Even more starch – traditionally toasted bread is layered with the soupy part to make an almost sliceable bake. Skye Gingell’s innovation is to use farro (spelt), making it much more reheatable. You could probably use pearled barley to similar effect
  • Water

And that’s it. You may be thinking that this doesn’t sound very tasty so far, and I have some sympathy with that. Combined without care, it can be very dull. To make this work you need some patience and attention – not something I can always be relied on to provide. The vegetables need to be softened to extract and develop flavour before being swamped with water; you need a good amount of salt to season it properly, and some umami. Umami is the taste of savoury. It’s the flavour of glutamate, a type of amino acid, that is found in grilled meat, porcini mushrooms, parmesan, ketchup, soy sauce – almost anything that is used a condiment.

To get the umami flavour into the soup, using good stock helps, or just a stock cube, which are fully of precisely this flavour. Parmesan rinds (they freeze really well) cooked with the soup are very useful – the whole thing starts to smell of faintly of melted cheese, which can’t be a bad thing.

This soup, with perhaps a slice of bread, is a really filling lunch, freezes well and clears out pretty much your entire vegetable drawer in one go. What more could you want?

Ribollita

(adapted mainly from Skye Gingell’s ‘My Favourite Ingredients‘)

  • olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • large pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 4-5 sage leaves, finely sliced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • about 150g farro, rinsed
  • 1 can peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 can cannellini beans (drained) – I used chickpeas because it was what i had in the house, but I think the creamy texture of the beans would have worked better
  • Chicken stock or water, around a litre
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero (or kale), thick stalks removed and roughly chopped
  • parmesan rinds (optional)

Heat olive oil in a casserole or large saucepan. Soften the onions over a medium heat. Add the carrots and celery, and fry gently for a few more minutes. (I tend to chop the onions before heating the pan, then just chop each vegetable as I go, adding to the pot, then moving on to chop the next one.) Add the garlic, sage and chilli and stir to fry and make fragrant. Add the potatoes, and farro, stir and heat again. Add the tomatoes and their juice, then add chicken stock or water to just cover the vegetables, and the parmesan rind, if using. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the potato and farro are cooked. Add the beans and the cavolo nero, and simmer for about another hour. Then either serve, or cool down, divide into portions and freeze.

Stewing in the snow

We’ve just emerged from more than a week of snow and ice. This is unheard of for the UK – a cold snap that has the newspapers reaching back into the archives for tales of ‘the worst winter since I were a lad’.
I’m suddenly feeling kinship for big sections of the world – Scandinavia, the North-Eastern US – that have to deal with this stuff every year.
It focuses your mind on thick, warming dishes – soups with beans or potatoes in, stews, mashed potatoes.
I started out aiming for a beef and Guinness pie, but when the snow came down, and there was no Guinness in the house, I realised that this was a slap-your-forehead moment. A beef stew is adaptable and forgiving, so going out to buy special ingredients, in the snow, when I could do it all with what was in the house was a very special example of foodie blindness.
All we really need for decent beef stew are a few basic elements:
The beef – fortunately I’d got this in earlier in the week – 1 kg of cubed beef shoulder from my favourite butcher (they’re really so nice, and not intimidating at all). Not really optional this part. I like the shoulder because it has plenty of fat in (did you know that if you remove the fat completely from meat, you can’t taste the difference between pork, lamb and beef? Flavour is all in the fat).
Flavourings – onions, leeks, carrots, herbs, celery all add lots of flavour to the stew. You also need to make sure the beef gets nice and brown at some point, to give you lots of really beefy flavour (browning breaks the long beef proteins into shorter aminos and polypeptides – shorter molecules are where you get all the flavour).
Liquid – I originally shot for Guinness, until I realised I have a cupboard full of red wine. Beer also works well. Stock is also good – adds more meaty flavour.
Thickener – not an absolute, but stops it from being a broth. Flour works well, and can be added to coat the meat before it is cooked, or stirred into the fat before you add the liquid. Irish stew uses potatoes. Gelatin is also important.  One of the reasons for choosing beef shoulder over other cuts is that it also has some bits of connective tissue – silverskin, tendons, cartilage – which doesn’t usually sound like a good thing, but these are all substances that when cooked slowly in liquid will dissolve and become gelatin. And gelatin is what makes stock wobble (and jelly for that matter) so it helps to thicken the gravy, without you having too add too much flour. Adding stock as a liquid (at least homemade stock) adds some more gelatin too.
Time – for all of the flavour to work its magic, and to allow the gelatin to emerge, you need to cook it slowly (which means barely simmering) and for a long time (3 hours plus).
The recipe below is what I did on this occasion. Having set out the principles above, can I trust you to guess that you can substitute all you want here? Bacon is fine instead of pancetta. I had chicken stock in the freezer, so used that – stock from concentrate or one of those little jellied pods is fine too – in fact, beef better than chicken. Just keep an eye on the salt if you use one of those.
Rich Beef Stew
——
1kg beef shoulder, cubed
4 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper, in a ziplock bag.
Shake the meat, a batch at a time, in the bag to coat it.
Heat a casserole. Add a good layer of vegetable oil (don’t worry too much about the amount – you can pour off the excess later).
Take each batch out, and shake off the excess flour.
Brown the meat a batch at a time. Flour the next batch while you’re waiting for the first to brown.
Once all the meat is browned and set aside, pour most of the fat out of the pan and into a small heatproof bowl or jar.
1 packet cubetti di pancetta (100g)
Add to the hot casserole on a low heat, and start to melt the fat, as well as scraping at the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
1 onion, chopped small
Add the onion once the fat is flowing, with a little olive oil if there doesn’t seem to be quite enough fat. Cook slowly with the bacon until the onion is translucent, using the liquid given off by the onion to help you scrape up and dissolve the brown bits from the beef.
2 small leeks, sliced into thin rings, and washed well
1 large carrot, chopped small
2 sticks of celery, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme (it was too snowy to go out and get fresh)
Add the rest of the vegetables, and continue to fry gently and stir until they are all softened. Turn up the heat as the cold vegetables go in, and back down once everything is sizzling gently again.
350ml pinot noir
Add the wine and simmer just for a few minutes to reduce a little and boil off some of the alcohol.
2 bay leaves
400 ml chicken stock
Add the stock and bay leaves and bring back to the boil before adding the browned beef back in. Once it’s all simmering again, put on the lid, and place in a 130C oven for about 2 hours.
Chestnut (crimini) mushrooms
2 large field mushrooms
Quarter the chestnut mushrooms and chop the field mushrooms into slices, then across into small pieces. Heat a fresh frying pan over medium heat, then add olive oil and butter, and toss the mushrooms in. Fry until they are starting to brown in places, keeping the heat fairly high. It will take a few minutes, as the mushrooms need to give up their water and shrink before they will brown.
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp Marsala
Add the garlic, and a splash of Marsala and continue to cook for a couple more minutes. Turn off the heat and leave in the pan.
1 large carrot, sliced
After the stew has had 2 hours, remove from the oven, and taste. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, and add in the carrot and mushrooms. Return to the oven for a further hour.
Serve with mashed potatoes.

We’ve just emerged from more than a week of snow and ice. This is unheard of for the UK – a cold snap that has the newspapers reaching back into the archives for tales of ‘the worst winter since I were a lad’. I’m suddenly feeling kinship for big sections of the world – Scandinavia, the North-Eastern US – that have to deal with this stuff every year.It focuses your mind on thick, warming dishes – soups with beans or potatoes in, stews, mashed potatoes.
I started out aiming for a beef and Guinness pie, but when the snow came down, and there was no Guinness in the house, I realised that this was a slap-your-forehead moment. A beef stew is adaptable and forgiving, so going out to buy special ingredients, in the snow, when I could do it all with what was in the house was a very special example of foodie blindness.
All we really need for decent beef stew are a few basic elements:
The beef – fortunately I’d got this in earlier in the week – 1 kg of cubed beef shoulder from my favourite butcher (they’re really so nice, and not intimidating at all). Not really optional this part. I like the shoulder because it has plenty of fat in (did you know that if you remove the fat completely from meat, you can’t taste the difference between pork, lamb and beef? Flavour is all in the fat).
Flavourings – onions, leeks, carrots, herbs, celery all add lots of flavour to the stew. You also need to make sure the beef gets nice and brown at some point, to give you lots of really beefy flavour (browning breaks the long beef proteins into shorter aminos and polypeptides – shorter molecules are where you get all the flavour).
Liquid – I originally shot for Guinness, until I realised I have a cupboard full of red wine. Beer also works well. Stock is also good – adds more meaty flavour.
Thickener – not an absolute, but stops it from being a broth. Flour works well, and can be added to coat the meat before it is cooked, or stirred into the fat before you add the liquid. Irish stew uses potatoes. Gelatin is also important.  One of the reasons for choosing beef shoulder over other cuts is that it also has some bits of connective tissue – silverskin, tendons, cartilage – which doesn’t usually sound like a good thing, but these are all substances that when cooked slowly in liquid will dissolve and become gelatin. And gelatin is what makes stock wobble (and jelly for that matter) so it helps to thicken the gravy, without you having too add too much flour. Adding stock as a liquid (at least homemade stock) adds some more gelatin too.
Time – for all of the flavour to work its magic, and to allow the gelatin to emerge, you need to cook it slowly (which means barely simmering) and for a long time (3 hours plus).
The recipe below is what I did on this occasion. Having set out the principles above, can I trust you to guess that you can substitute all you want here? Bacon is fine instead of pancetta. I had chicken stock in the freezer, so used that – stock from concentrate or one of those little jellied pods is fine too – in fact, beef better than chicken. Just keep an eye on the salt if you use one of those.
Recipe——1kg beef shoulder, cubed4 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper, in a ziplock bag. Shake the meat, a batch at a time, in the bag to coat it. Heat a casserole. Add a good layer of vegetable oil (don’t worry too much about the amount – you can pour off the excess later). Take each batch out, and shake off the excess flour. Brown the meat a batch at a time. Flour the next batch while you’re waiting for the first to brown.
Once all the meat is browned and set aside, pour most of the fat out of the pan and into a small heatproof bowl or jar.
1 packet cubetti di pancetta (100g) Add to the hot casserole on a low heat, and start to melt the fat, as well as scraping at the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
1 onion, chopped small Add the onion once the fat is flowing, with a little olive oil if there doesn’t seem to be quite enough fat. Cook slowly with the bacon until the onion is translucent, using the liquid given off by the onion to help you scrape up and dissolve the brown bits from the beef.
2 small leeks, sliced into thin rings, and washed well1 large carrot, chopped small2 sticks of celery, chopped small2 cloves garlic, minced1 tsp dried thyme (it was too snowy to go out and get fresh) Add the rest of the vegetables, and continue to fry gently and stir until they are all softened. Turn up the heat as the cold vegetables go in, and back down once everything is sizzling gently again.
350ml pinot noir  Add the wine and simmer a little to reduce and boil off some of the alcohol.2 bay leaves400 ml chicken stock Add the stock and bring back to the boil before adding the browned beef back in. Once it’s all simmering again, put on the lid, and place in a 130C oven for about 2 hours.Chestnut (crimini) mushrooms2 large field mushrooms Quarter the chestnut mushrooms and chop the field mushrooms into slices, then across into small pieces. Heat a fresh frying pan over medium heat, then add olive oil and butter, and toss the mushrooms in. Fry until they are starting to brown in places, keeping the heat fairly high. It will take a few minutes, as the mushrooms need to give up their water and shrink before they will brown. 1 clove garlic, minced3 tbsp Marsala Add the garlic, and a splash of Marsala and continue to toss around. Turn off the heat and leave in the pan.1 large carrot, sliced After the stew has had 2 hours, remove from the oven, and taste. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, and add in the carrot and mushrooms. Return to the oven for a further hour.Serve with mashed potatoes.

Basic Beef Stew

In the cold weather of February, a stew is the perfect antidote. But a stew is also a great answer to a week’s worth of cooking from a cheap cut of meat. A slowly braised pot of beef can be: stew with potatoes; then pie, with a pastry lid; and finally, the last morsels of meat, shredded, with the remaining gravy can dress pasta. And while I’m not often keen on eating the same thing night after night, you can coax such flavour from this, that I’m happy to return. And if it becomes too much, simply freeze it – and then re-heat when the weather gets colder again.

The basic elements of a stew are repeated in every recipe you come across. Understanding the components gives you licence to adapt and adjust as you go.

Meat – the substance of the stew, essential flavouring.
Plenty of fat gives flavour, and can be skimmed from the top by chilling the stew overnight before eating (which also helps the flavour). Collagen and fibres will melt, given long, slow cooking, into gelatin, which will thicken the gravy. Cuts with bones and fibres will need much longer cooking than, for example, cubed braising steak, but will give up much more in flavour and gelatin. In Waitrose today, I notice that they are now selling oxtail, ox cheeks, scrag end of lamb and other cheap cuts ideal for stewing.

Thickener – stock, flour.
Gelatin on it’s own is rarely enough (although a jellied stock will help too) to give a silky gravy. A little flour will provide you with enough thickening to allow the sauce to smoothly coat the meat.

Vegetables – more layers of flavour.
Traditionally: carrots, celery, onions – a balance of sweet and savoury flavours. Cut into small pieces if you just want the flavour. Leave in larger chunks to eat them with the stew. I sometimes chop extra, and freeze in little bags, in the ratio of 2 onion :  1 carrot :  1 celery. You can also use leeks, parsnips, celery leaves, swede.

Liquid – stock, wine, beer. Stock gives body and extra meaty flavour – but just use water rather than an oversalted stock. Beer is good, as is Guinness. Wine could be good, but go for something fruity rather than robust – too much tannin can skew the flavours.

Flavours – herbs.
Woody herbs (thyme, rosemary) do well with long cooking. Parsley, chives – do better sprinkled over at the end.
—–
I made this version a couple of weeks ago with braising steak from the butcher. I prefer to leave it to bubble in the oven, rather than on the stove, as it requires less attention, but either works.

Beef and Guinness Stew

Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Steak, Guinness and cheese pie with a puff pastry lid in ‘Jamie at Home
[This is a great book, with lots of little tips for growing veg – and I positively covet his pizza oven]

  • 500g braising steak, in 2cm cubes

–> season with salt and pepper and set aside

  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 leek
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

–> chop all the vegetables into pieces.

Heat a large casserole.
Add olive oil, and fry the vegetables to soften them, giving them a little colour.
Start with the onions & leeks, then carrots and celery, finally garlic.
Remove the veg onto a plate.
Turn up the heat, and fry the beef in a couple of batches.
Leave alone to colour, turn over to brown the other side, then take out.

  • 4 large mushrooms, sliced across

–> With the heat still high, fry the mushrooms until they release their liquid and colour a little.

  • 2 tbsp flour

–> Pile the meat back in, and add the flour. Stir around to cook it for a minute or so.

  • 1/2 bottle of Guinness

–> Stir in the Guinness, a little at a time, scraping the bottom to dissolve the flour and browned bits. Bring to a simmer.

  • Thyme sprigs
  • Parsley
  • salt & pepper
  • Rosemary, finely chopped

–> Add the herbs, and season.
–> Put on the lid, and simmer very slowly for 2-4 hours, checking periodically to see whether the meat is tender. Alternatively, put into an oven at 140C.

Stew is always better cooked, cooled, put into the fridge overnight, and then reheated the next day. If you want to make a pie, put the cold stew into a pie dish and cover with a sheet of shortcrust or puff pastry. Glaze with beaten egg or milk, and cut a couple of holes in the top before baking at 200C for 30-45 minutes.

Fast food: pizza

I am not a fan of Domino’s pizza (unlike my husband) and will go to some lengths to avoid it. So when I feel the urge for pizza at the end of a hot day, and have some energy in reserve, I go ahead and make  it at home. The only tiresome part about this is the production line nature of it – I tend to make small ones, which means a tantalising wait between mouthfuls as we wait for the next one to bake.

Tomato sauce:

  • 1 can tinned tomatoes
  • 1/2 jar passata
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 15g butter
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme

This is loosely based on Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce recipe. Simply put everything in a saucepan together and simmer slowly for about 30 minutes. Make the dough first, and then pull this together while it rises.
Pizza dough

I have been using this recipe from a Guardian cutting for years. You can make it, put it into an oiled plastic bag in the fridge and just take portions out and bake pizzas all week long. Or you can take the leftover dough and shape it into rolls or foccacia and bake it as bread.

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 200 g/ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 packet (7g) instant yeast

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix until there is a single shaggy mass. If this doesn’t happen, add more water until it does – if it’s too sticky, add a little more flour. Knead for a few minutes until the surface of the dough becomes very smooth. (I use my KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook for this – by hand is fine, or you can also use a food processor). Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about an hour (perhaps longer if it’s cold).

Divide the dough into anything between 4 and 8 pieces (depending on how large you like your pizza), and roll each piece into a little round ball. Set aside again, covered with a tea towel, for 15 or 20 minutes while you prepare the toppings (grate cheese, slice veg, etc.). Preheat the oven as high as you can get it, with a thick baking sheet in the bottom of the oven.

When you’re ready to go, remove one ball at a time, flour a worktop and roll out firmly with a rolling pin, picking the dough up and rotating it between rolls, to make sure it doesn’t stick. Try and get it as thin as you can. Spread with a spoonful of tomato sauce, your toppings and finish with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Use a flat baking sheet (or anything else heatproof without a rim), sprinkled with a little polenta, to slide the pizza into the hot oven and onto the pre-heated baking sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until it looks ready.

Repeat with each subsequent ball of dough until you’re so full you can’t move. 🙂

Salade Tiede – Warm Salad

Two things have provoked me into breaking my blogging silence:

  1. my attendance of a booksigning for Clotilde’s new book ‘Chocolate and Zucchini’
  2. the appearance of my first French beans from my very first vegetable garden

Clotilde gave a wonderful performance at the booksigning – a few words over the signing of the book and a lovely speech about the genesis of the book and her food-writing career (she has what Americans might describe as ‘the cutest little accent – French-Californian). There was also food, cooked from recipes in the book by her British publisher, Catheryn.

Having nibbled on Tomato, Pistachio and Chorizo loaf and Very Chocolate Cookies at the book event, I didn’t feel in need of a vast meal when I got home, but I definitely had french food on the brain. This, combined with my green beans waiting in the garden led me to a warm salad.

My schooling at Tante Marie’s taught me some useful rules of thumb regarding salads:

  • choose 2 or 3 ingredients (apart from the leaves) – more than that and it gets too complicated
  • for a warm salad, dress everything over the heat, and toss in the leaves at the last minute
  • pick ingredients that have a balance of flavours – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savoury

I feel pretty good about this combination – the pancetta (supplied in neat little pre-cut cubes) gives salt and savoury, and also provides the warm dressing with some of the fat, plus some vinegar. The tomatoes give the sweetness and the beans a nice crunch and that clean, vegetal flavour. I suspect I will return to this format with beans again, looking at the number of them on the plants, and they will definitely lend themselves to a nut oil and toasted nut combination as well (walnuts? sesame seeds?). Batavia is useful for this (apart from being what I had in the fridge) – it is crisp but also bitter and robust enough to stand up to a warm salad. Curly endive is a good alternative. Quantities are for one, ‘cos it was just me, but can easily be scaled up.

Warm Salad of Green Beans, Oven-dried tomatoes and Pancetta

Warm salad

  • small handful green beans (haricots verts)
  • 1/2 packet cubetti di pancetta (from Waitrose or Sainsburys)
  • 5-6 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 head Batavia lettuce
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Optional: oven dry the tomatoes. I did this because I had two tubs that needed using up, but it’s fine to use them fresh. Half the tomatoes, and spread on a baking tray, cut side up. Drizzle with oilive oil, sprinkle with thinly sliced garlic, salt and pepper, and bake for 2-3 hours at 160C (140C fan). This can also be done fors a shorter time at a higher temperature, or a longer time (even overnight) at a low one. It changes the texture, but the concentration of sugars and flavour is pretty similar.

Fry the pancetta gently in the olive oil, untill slightly browned. Meanwhile, trim the beans and steam for 4-5 minutes. Once the bacon is done, remove it to a metal bowl with a slotted spoon, along with some of the bacon fat. Toss in the beans and tomatoes until coated, then add the vinegar and season and taste a bean. Adjust the fat, vinegar and seasoning until it tastes good, then toss in the lettuce leaves, and taste again. Places the leaves on the plate first, and top with the other ingredients (which is the way it works anyway – the leaves will work to the top and the rest to the bottom while you’re doing the dressing).

Parsnip Risotto with Parsnip crisps


Parsnip-risotto.JPG
Originally uploaded by louise_marston.

I quite like making stock; when I’ve paid £13 for a chicken, it makes me feel considerably more virtuous to know that not a drop of chickeny-goodness has gone to waste. However, although I diligently make, strain, reduce and store my stock, I’m often at a loss for the best way to show it off. It seems a waste of all that effort to just bung it into a curry or sauce. Which is why I find myself turning to risotto again and again when I have chicken stock in the house.

I’ve seen copies of Jamie’s Italy in various people’s houses over the past few months and have resisted buying, even though it looks very good, as I already own Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking and Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy: Food and Stories. Browsing through other people’s copies, however, (and I am certainly not above this – if I’m in your house, no cookbook is safe) a couple of unusual recipes struck me, namely recipes for a parsnip risotto and an artichoke one. The parsnip one particularly intrigued me; the idea of the savoury stock and the sweet, earthy parsnips seemed particularly appealing. Although I didn’t have the echt Jamie version to work from, I used my usual risotto tactics, following along with Giorgio to make sure I got the technique right. The parsnip crisps occurred to me at the last minute; I’ve been buying rather a lot of them in Pret recently.

Parsnip Risotto with Parsnip Crisps

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 small parsnips
1 tbsp butter plus 1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 glass white wine
500 ml chicken stock
1/2 cup risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano)
1/2 tsp thyme
2-3 tbsp grated parmesan

Finely slice half of one of the parsnips, and finely dice the rest. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan or saute pan and soften the onions. Once the onions have started to go translucent, add the diced parsnips and cook together with the onions until their almost browning. Stir in the rice, and fry for 2-3 minutes to toast the rice. Add the white wine and stir until it’s all absorbed, then start to add the chicken stock a little at a time. Stir between additions, and start to taste the rice after about 10-15 minutes. When the grains only have a little hardness left, add the chopped thyme, then keep adding stock and stirring until the grains yield all the way through. In between the stirring, heat a small frying pan and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (not the good stuff). Add the sliced parsnip and fry until they are brown and crisp. Remove to a plate lined with kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil, and sprinkle with a little salt.
Once the risotto is done, take the pan off the heat and let stand while you slice off another piece of cold butter and grate the parmesan. Stir these in then serve, with a little extra grated parmesan, the parsnip crisps and a little more thyme on top.

Cook’s notes: I used the gravy from making Muriel’s chicken as well as the stock for this. As this was already flavoured with thyme, lemon and garlic, it was a little too much for the dish, and just the plain chicken stock would have been better. The dish could also have stood a little more wine to add a bit of acidity to the earthiness and sweetness of the parsnips.

January Cooking

In the reading time afforded by the Christmas holidays, I have been composing a list of recipes to tackle in the next few weeks. This started out at a mental list, but then I committed it to post-it, and now I’m posting it for the world to see – in the hope that it will help me actually tackle them all.

Lentil & Chestnut Soup from Feast: Food That Celebrates Life by Nigella Lawson
I made this a couple of years ago, and spent ages trying to remember where I got the recipe from. All I remembered that it had chestnuts, and was the best, most wintry soup I made that year. This one I accomplished this afternoon – there’s no picture, because it’s not the most exciting soup to look at, as you might expect from the ingredients list.

Rudolph Pie also from Feast
This is to use up the cold venison I have in my fridge from Boxing Day at my parents house. Going to do this tomorrow.

Marmalade
The Blood Orange Marmalade I made last year is nearly out, so time to make some more as soon as Seville Oranges are in the shops. This year I will either use the recipe from my new copy of the The Cranks Bible or from MFK Fisher’s description of her family recipe in With Bold Knife and Fork. This one sounds like it could be wonderful, but includes no very specific quantities and requires 3 days!

Pumpkin & Mango Chutney Parcels
Pasta stuffed with the butternut squash I’ve got sitting in the vegetable box.

Ginger Cake
Ginger cake always goes down well in our house – it lasts ages, and goes very well with tea. Dan Lepard’s recipe in the Guardian a few weeks ago looks like a good one.

Chips
Jeffrey Steingarten’s article on the perfect French Fry in The Man Who Ate Everything includes a description of how to make chips at home following Joel Robuchon’s home method. The idea is apparently to put the cold cut-up potatoes into cold oil and heat the whole thing up together, thereby giving them the first cooler cooking followed by the hotter second frying, all in one go.

Buffet food

This is a special post in response to Sam’s heartfelt plea over at Becks & Posh. She wants recipe suggestions for her Mum to make for her own retirement party. As it happens, waaaaay back in February, I made a brunch buffet for a load of people, and the stand-out winner was the frittata. I wanted to make eggs (because you can’t really call it brunch unless I have eggs) but I also wanted as much of the buffet as possible to be done in advance. So I made a baked frittata, assembled from various sources (including an Australian Women’s Weekly book, and epicurious.com, if I remember rightly). It’s a very forgiving recipe that lends itself to including leftovers, and can be cut into as small pieces as you need.

Breakfast Frittata
To fill one 30cm x 21cm (roughly 8″ x 12″) tin, cut into 12 large triangles.

6-8 charlotte potatoes, boiled until tender & cooled
3 onions, halved and roasted in the over for around 1 hr until caramelised
1.5 – 2 cups frozen peas
120g crumbled lancashire cheese
8 eggs
284ml carton double cream
lots of salt & pepper

Chop the potatoes and onions into roughly pea-sized pieces. Crumble in the cheese. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and pour over the vegetables with the cream. Mix around and pour into the foil-lined tin.
Bake at 140C for around 40 minutes, or until just set in the middle. (Keeping the temperature low helps keep the texture creamy).
Leave to cool, then store in the fridge. Unmould and cut into pieces while cold, then leave for an hour or so to come to room temperature before serving.

Broad bean crostini


Broad bean crostini
Originally uploaded by louise_marston.

Lunchtime rolls around and I have the following at my disposal:

  • Half a frozen foccacia
  • the end of a piece of St Chevrier Ash – a creamy, tangy goat’s cheese
  • 2 bags of broad beans (fava beans) from Hammersmith farmer’s market on Thursday
  • Seems like a no-brainer, so I put the foccacia into the oven to defrost for 5 or 10 mintes.

    Half an hour later, I have half a foccacia crispbread (you can see it in the background of the photo).

    Well, at least it’s not burnt, and sliced thinly the centre is still chewy and the edges crisp. I pod and blanch the broad beans and pop them out of their little grey skins. Half go into the fridge for tea, and half get ‘bashed’ in my mortar, Jamie Oliver-style, with salt, lemon juice, olive oil and a little grating of parmesan. I spread the St Chevrier on the thin foccacia slices, and top with the broad bean mush. It all turned out much better than those inauspicious beginnings.

    Turkish Delights

    bazaar

    Stall at Spice Bazaar
    Originally uploaded by louise_marston.

    I have just come back from a long weekend in Istanbul. Everyone told me before we went that it was an incredible city, and I wasn’t disappointed. We heard the muezzins calling people to prayer at lunchtime while overlooking the Suleyman Mosque. We cruised along the Bosphorus and had a special performance from one of Turkey’s foremost belly dancers (apparently – I mean, how would we know?!). We watched the red moon rise over the city from a restaurant in the hills. We saw the inside of the Haghia Sophia, a sight so awe-inspiring that it caused both a Roman Emperor (Justinian) and an Ottoman Sultan to prostrate themselves and thank their respective Gods the first time they saw it.

    I also (inevitably) visited the Spice Bazaar in the Old Town, where Istanbullus still come to buy their supplies for the week. I looked around at the spice stalls, shops selling fresh feta and other cheeses, stalls with Turkish Delight, ropes made of dates, baklava and all types of nuts and dried fruit. I settled for buying some spices and pomegranate molasses from a kind looking man in one of the hidden-away spice stalls. He was quite bemused that I would want the molasses – not something he sees many Europeans buying, I suspect. I also bought some Turkish coffee from Mehmet Effendi’s stall – freshly roast and ground that morning. It smelled too good not to.

    Sumac
    This is a dark red berry that is coarsely ground and used in Turkish cooking. It has a sour, lemony taste and is often sprinkled on meat (such as kebabs) or fish just before serving.

    Pomegranate Molasses
    This is a dark, syrupy liquid made by boiling down the juice from the sour pomegranate (rather than the sweet pomegranate whcih is usually used for juice). It is sour, as you might expect, but also has a slight sweetness which makes for a very interesting flavour.

    I used my brand-new pomegranate molasses to make one of Claudia Roden’s recipes (which also appears in her new book, Arabesque), Muhammara, a walnut and pomegranate paste.

    muhammara

    Muhammara
    Originally uploaded by louise_marston.

    Muhammara
    100g walnut pieces
    2 small slices of white bread, stale
    1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1/4 tsp chilli flake
    3 tbsp olive oil
    4 tbsp water

    Soak the bread briefly in water and then squeeze it out. Grind the walnuts in the food processor, then add the rest of the ingredients and puree, adding a little more water if it’s too stiff.

    This was much tastier than I had anticipated – bitter from the walnuts and pomegranate but with a little sweetness from the molasses. Next time I would add a little more chilli (Claudia also suggests stirring in some harissa), and maybe toasting the walnuts and cumin to bring out their flavours more.

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