I’ve recently returned to Bristol after a restorative and relaxing break visiting my parents in the countryside of Devon and Cornwall. The silence and peace that being a good twenty minutes from the nearest major road affords was much needed. It was lovely to spend time with family, and in my mind, there is too much talk of Christmas being about stuff, rather than people. That being said, carefully chosen presents are always appreciated. My stocking seemed to mostly contain food and food related items, including, of all things, smoked garlic. It was heavily wrapped in newspaper, so as to stop the pungent aroma permeating everything around it. I’m sure this is the modern, Ottolenghi version of a satsuma.
Another memorable part of my Chirstmas was visiting my uncle and his family on Boxing Day. We turned up at 5pm, at which point there had been a good three hours of alcohol consumption already. My Mum and I proceeded to neck back the Prosecco at quite a rate, in a feeble (and futile) effort to catch up. When the general level of inebriation reached its peak, there was a particularly hilarious incident that stemmed from the suggestion of karaoke. It was then decided that we didn’t have a microphone, and so must find the requisite stand-in. This led to my uncle foraging through the salad drawer of the fridge to find suitable phallic-shaped vegetables to use as microphones. This included a parsnip, a carrot, a courgette, and, in a moment of desperation, a Romaine lettuce leaf. These were laid out on a tray for the unwitting karaoke performers to make their selection from. There was “Rocking around the Christmas tree” sung into a parsnip, and my personal favourite, ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” with the help of a long red pepper.
Lots of food writers talk about how food can evoke memories. Diana Henry, for example, enthuses about how gooey cow’s milk cheeses take her back to snowy seasons in the Swiss Alps, scraping the cheese off slates with spoons whilst sitting by a roaring fire. The connection between the vegetable karaoke and this soup is slightly more tenuous, but I still had to suppress a chuckle as I was peeling the parsnips. The creaminess of the parsnips works well with the pungent hit of smoked garlic. If you can’t get smoked garlic (find your nearest fancy deli and it should have it), just use regular garlic. I think this recipe sums up my Christmas break rather well: wonderfully foodie stocking presents and parsnip microphones.
Cauliflower has never held much of an appeal for me: the boiled, bland florets often taste of nothing much. But Ottolenghi, the God that he is, has revolutionized the vegetable for me via the simple suggestion of roasting it. The gently charred edges give the cauliflower a delicious smokiness that makes them take on a completely different taste than when they’re cooked in any other way. Ottolenghi combines roasted cauliflower with pomegranate seeds, celery and all manner of interesting embellishments in his salads, but I’ve gone for a more simple approach.
Romanesco is the Italian cousin of the common cauliflower, yet much more exciting. It’s vibrant green spikes mean that it barely looks edible, but is in fact delicious. This is a laughably simple recipe. Given the Italian origin of Romanesco, I stuck to a broadly Italian theme, combining it with punchy garlic, lemon and crunchy hazelnuts. The garlic and lemon are added at the end, letting the heat of the roasting tin cook them slightly, but not too much, so they retain a bit of a punch.
1 head of Romanesco cauliflower
60g whole hazelnuts
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C. Divide the Romanesco into florets and put in a roasting dish. Drizzle over 1 tbsp olive oil, a splash of water and some salt and pepper. Roast for half an hour. Put the whole hazelnuts onto a baking sheet and toast in the top shelf of the oven for 8 minutes, until the skins are starting to crack and peel away. Rub off the skins by rolling the nuts in a clean tea towel. Roughly crush them in a pestle and mortar, then mix into the cauliflower. Whisk together the lemon juice and zest and crushed garlic with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil. Pour over the cauliflower and stir, allowing the heat of the roasting tin to cook the garlic slightly.
At the moment, I’m loving the chill in the air that signals early Autumn. The leaves are starting to turn, the days are drawing in and there’s already a sense of anticipation about the ‘C’ word. I also want to eat nothing but orange vegetables. Carrots, sweet potato and butternut squash become a staple of my weekly trip to the greengrocers. Most often I roast them with spices such as cumin and cinnamon, but also enjoy them simply boiled and mashed with lots of butter and salt.
Sweet potato is so versatile, being equally at home in sweet and savoury recipes. The unassuming knobbly vegetable lends itself really well to being baked into cakes. Vegetables in cakes is nothing new – if you go beyond the undeniable cliché of carrot cake there’s a whole new world out there. I’ve got a whole cookbook dedicated to cakes which contain all manner of vegetables, from courgette and lemon cakes to aubergine in brownies (yes, really).
My friend Clare and I thought that some gentle Sunday afternoon baking was in order. So we decided to use the sweet potato to make some savoury muffins, utilising the natural sweetness of the vegetable to combine with the sour goats cheese. We used a combination of wholemeal, plain and polenta flour in this recipe, giving the muffins a slightly grainy texture and a more full flavour. But if you don’t want to faff around with this just use plain or wholemeal. The general muffin method is to mix together all the dry and all the wet ingredients and fold one into the other. The highlight for me of making these muffins was mashing the boiled sweet potato together with a frankly obscene amount of butter into a gooey puddle, then eating a sneaky spoonful (or three).
I’ve recently had two of my housemates from university come to visit. Food is one of the things that cements our friendship, having run a student food blog together (www.chocolatebudget.wordpress.com, if you’re interested). We had something of a dip extravaganza, making several different ones including baba ganoush, guacamole and this butternut squash one. All accompanied by pitta bread, olives and a great deal of reminiscing.
This spread is something of a revelation. It’s from one of my favourite cookbooks – ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. If you haven’t heard of Ottolenghi then please get to know him. Amy first introduced his recipes to me while we were at uni, and I promptly bought a copy of ‘Ottolenghi: The Cookbook’ for myself and several others. His first cookbook details the salads, pastries and other amazing things sold at his London based delis, incorporating his influences from all over the world. Whereas Jerusalem does what you’d expect: focuses on Middle Eastern food. I’d recommend getting both.
One of the things that pops up a lot in Ottolenghi’s recipes is date syrup. Although it’s usually quite expensive, I’ve found a cheap source of it in my local Middle Eastern food shop. Other delights that they stock include massive tubs of tahini, pomegranate molasses, fig jam and dried sour cherries. The date syrup is not essential for this dish, but makes it a sublime experience, rather than merely an intensely pleasurable one.
There is a lengthy description about how this dip should be served, something about spreading it onto a plate, making swirls in it with your knife and drizzling over the date syrup. The suggested amount is 2 teaspoons, bearing in mind that the dip is already very sweet just from the squash, but I found it difficult to be so restrained and drenched the whole lot in something approaching 2 tablespoons.
I have recently upped from the sticks and moved to Bristol. Having lived in a small, and I mean really tiny, village for the past year and a half, living in a city again is exciting. The fact that I can walk to one of many bars just around the corner, have a couple of pints, then walk home again, is a novelty that I’m still getting used to (i.e. doing at every opportunity).
One of my favourite things about exploring a new city is working out all the options when it comes to shopping for food. Luckily, I live near a fantastic road (Gloucester Road, for those in the know), with plenty of brilliant veg shops, butchers, delicatessens and wholefood shops. All you could ever need really. Living near shops is another novelty for a country bumpkin like me, as my nearest shop in Devon is a 15- minute drive away.
It was on one such trip to the veg shop that I found some of this lovely kale. I promptly bought a bag stuffed full of it, and set off home feeling a little smug. I love kale. My love for it preceded the Californian-superfood-make-a-breakfast- smoothie-out-of-it craze. My favourite way to cook it is like this – simply stir-fried with garlic and seasoned with soy sauce. The addition of walnuts is optional – you could use another nut or seed, such as almonds or sunflower seeds, or leave them out entirely. It was just my attempt at making this more of a ‘dish’.
At the risk of sounding very middle class, I have to confess that we have a gardener. A gardener who grows broad beans, strawberries and tomatoes in large numbers. Depending on the time of year, he brings over bucketfuls of whichever one he has surplus. So now we are in to tomato season, albeit a polytunnel-induced one.
The wonderful little red and yellow cherry tomatoes are amazingly sweet and always disappear quickly. They have the same addictive qualities as grapes – that is, they are sweet, juicy and there are lots of them. As lovely as they are fresh, I wanted some way of making them last for longer.
So as I was pondering (a terribly middle class word) what to do with them, I stumbled upon a recipe for drying tomatoes in the oven. Even though oven-dried tomatoes are the less poetic cousin to sun-dried tomatoes, I hope the effect will be the same.
I found this recipe in a wonderful cookbook called Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry, all about preserving fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. This recipe was in the ‘under oil’ chapter, along with such mouthwatering things as spiced feta in olive oil and Persian marinated olives. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly, as I am using cherry tomatoes, and I opted to keep the tomatoes in just oil, rather than oil and vinegar, as I didn’t think (correctly) that they would stick around for four weeks.
The other day a customer came into the café accompanied by a rather large marrow. When I enquired as to what prompted his coming into the café with said vegetable, he replied that one of the nearby residents was giving them away for free, in desperate attempt to get rid of her bountiful harvest.
When I think of a marrow glut, the word that comes to mind is ‘chutney’. Marrow chutney seems like the last resort, when you’ve exhausted all the stuffing and pretending they’re courgettes that you can. The only option remaining is years upon years of marrow chutney with every meal.
With the troublesome connotations of chutney, I decided to call this ‘relish’. The word alludes to a spontaneous creation, and is more satisfying to say. Relish can be eaten straight away, rather than leaving to mature for months, which suits impatient people like myself. This recipe uses balsamic vinegar, which is one of my favourite things, as it goes well with the red onions. This relish works well with goats’ cheese, in a burger, with cheese on toast, or just eaten right out of the jar (and I’m speaking from experience).