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Archive for the ‘ingredients’ Category

I mean this most sincerely, it’s not some cheap trick to lure porn-surfers to my food blog; why would I want to do that?  It’s wordplay on Pigs in Blankets but to satisfy those at the back, here’s an uncut image (for illustration purposes only, please) from the mind-boggling immeatchu blog.

Not sorry to disappoint, I’m referring to the sexiest pasta sauce of all, Puttanesca; a store-cupboard classic from Naples.   Puttana being Italian for whore, puttanesca means whore-style: naturally there is some debate about how it acquired this intriguingly salty name.  It’s all true no doubt, but as importantly it’s a delicious dish to give hunger a good seeing-to and a pushover to pull a few ingredients from fridge and cupboard for the laziest gal – or guy – in town.
raw puttanesca on olive oil dough

Or on a languorous afternoon, do as I did: put a bit of lead in the pencil of some elderly olive oil dough and wrap it around puttanesca’s uncooked ingredients for a putta nuda al forno: salaciously delicious – or deliciously salacious…just try twisting your tongue around that.

Putta Nuda al fornoputtanesca calzone

  • 2 salt-cured anchovies, filleted
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, sliced
  • 10 Niçoise olives, stoned
  • 1 TBS capers, drained
  • dried oregano
  • a fistful of olive oil dough

Shape, strew and scatter as in first pic, stretch the long edges of dough over the filling to meet in the middle and press to seal.  Bake in a hot oven about ½ an hour, basting beforehand and after 15 minutes with oil from the tomatoes.  Cool slightly, slice and serve.

Although there are acceptable variations to the cooked sauce, never have I encountered as total a travesty as at a certain trattoria in Vieux Nice, to which I not-entirely-ironically refer as Casa della Disasta: according to our waitress, their pasta puttanesca contained no olive, neither anchovy nor caper!  Incidentally, on top of that surprise, the line at the till was not for takeaways but disgruntled diners queuing to question the errors on their bills – all in the management’s favour, natch.  Make of that what you will.

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Gazpacho, Spanish summer soup
Sorry folks – no new posts for a short while as I’m off to a (we hope) quiet corner of the Balearics.  Following a bit of research on its gustatory specialities this is what I’m hoping to plunder:

  • hierba for the lady
  • gin for the gent
  • a whole ham for slicing
  • queso Mahón for dicing
  • sobrasada for the larder
  • wild fennel for fish & products porky – ubiquitous on Ibiza but Mr T threw out my fagot, damnit

and while I’m there I’m looking forward to eating ensaimadas, scoffing coca and tucking into tons of tasty tapas and if I have the time, finding a handsome leather belt (not for eating). 

I’m not lugging my laptop there and back – we’re on a charter flight for heaven’s sake – so comments will have to bide their time until my return.

In the hope that the sun shines brightly enough to make a lycopene boost imperative, I bring you my easy yet delicious version of:

Gazpacho
modified from Paula Wolfert’s version in her Mediterranean Cooking
(a terrific book now sadly out of print)Big Tom spiced tomato juice

  • 750 ml (1½ pints) tomato juice
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • ½ cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • ½ clove garlic, peeled & microplaned (or crushed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ice cubes, salt & pepper

Pour 250 ml tomato juice into a blender; add the rest of the vegetables and buzz at high speed until smooth.  Pour into a wide shallow (preferably Spanish earthenware) serving bowl and use the rest of the tomato juice to thin down the gazpacho if necessary.  If it’s overpoweringly tomoto-ey add a few ice cubes instead.  Stir in vinegar and oil, season lightly and chill for a couple of hours. 

Check and adjust seasoning and oil/vinegar balance.  Serve annointed with droplets of good olive oil and chopped green and/or chilli pepper, spring onion or chives or coriander, croûtons and/or fresh bread on the side.  If the weather’s really hot (fingers crossed!) extra ice cubes will be most welcome.

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Maldon salt flakesThe folks at Maldon have a lot to smile about.  Their sea salt was singled out as the best by Jamie Oliver, Angela Hartnett, Rowley Leigh and Sally Clarke in last week’s Guardian article Kitchen Confidential: inside the chefs’ larders, and was the most mentioned item by miles.  Pretty good salt, then.

The fragile, friable beauty of the pristine flakes of salt has really turned my head for finishing a dish, sel gris from Guerandealthough for cooking I remain loyal to the grimy Guérande sel gris: it comes by the kilo so I get to throw it around with gay abandon – and it’s full of briney flavour. Nevertheless, in place of two gauche grinders, a bowl of virginal white crystals and a black pepper lingam-alike now stand duty on our dining table.

Excuse the salacity but the sensuality of a pinch of Maldon salt flakes scattered over flatbreads before, and socca after, baking – or strewn across a raw tomato salad – can’t be beat.  Lovely stuff.  How could anyone improve on that?

Maldon smoked saltWell, here’s how: adding smoked salt to the repertoire, which is exactly what Maldon’s gone and done.  Very clever; and it’s my kind of oaky – smoky!  The fragrance explodes the moment it’s opened and I can’t wait to strew it over baked savouries for a wood-oven flavour, and use it in bread doughs for the same.

 

With the same flaky delicacy, an oaky hint and a caramel tint it’s going to be fantastic.

Maldon smoked sea salt
£1.95 for 125g

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tapas time

Aha! The sun’s back and that means it’s time for tapas.  Lovely summery little dishes: as I now have an enormous collection of the real deal terracotta, courtesy of Waitrose (again), plus a handy mini toaster oven, I make a batch, keep it in the fridge and portion it out in tapas or raciones as the mood and need arise. It’s not so hard with good ingredients on hand: 

Octopus and potato tapasA bag of frozen seafood, sliced potato and some garlic butter

 

tomatoes stuffed with rice and pesto

 

 home-made pesto and leftover rice stuffed inside Lidl’s bargain monster tomatoes

 

Hot spinach and artichoke dipfrozen artichokes and spinach baked with mozzarella, crême fraîche and a nugget of parmesan become a tasty hot dip 

 

 

 

Butterbean, tomato and anchovy tapabutterbeans, tomatoes and anchovies, all coaxed from their cans, make yet another another little snack

 

All that’s needed is a grating of garlic here and a pinch of pimentón there; parsley for greens, good bread and a jug of sangria.  Followed by a siesta – buen día!

a flask of sangria on a summer lawn

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Another confirmation of the wisdom of a locavore lifestyle arrives with the news in The Independent that MRSA may have entered the food chain in Europe.  If that doesn’t get us buying British bacon I don’t know what will, as if I wasn’t sufficiently peeved with my fellow consumers over porky products.

Save Our BaconThis might be a good opportunity to repeat the point that the UK has the highest welfare standards in pig rearing of all Europe and yes, that does make our pork products a little pricier than Dutch and Danish, but surely folks, you can taste the difference!  If you doubt, give it a taste test: buy a pack each of Danish and British streaky rashers.  Start them sizzling (separately) and breathe in through your nose; you’ll get a good idea of the relative qualities of piggy diet and environment from that alone.  Don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat bacon that smells and tastes of pork than of garbage and latrines – literally.

I see the June 2008 Waitrose Illustrated magazine carries a feature on the Save Our Bacon (i.e. save our pork farms) campaign with top chefs Fergus Henderson, Angela Hartnett, Tom Aikens and a couple of hairy bikers plus Jamie Oliver’s pig farmer friend Jimmy Doherty lending their clout:

It’s a crisis but it’s not too late.  Consumers need to demand British pork.  If it doesn’t say British on the label, don’t buy it.

Well, Jimmy would say that, wouldn’t he?  But he’s absolutely right: this Save Our Bacon idea is great, only last time I checked, Waitrose packs of dry-cured smoked streaky hailed from Denmark.  Perhaps Waitrose buyers share my own quibble with our pork industry: the prevalence of the wet cure in processing.  Just like the wretched Chorleywood Process for bread, the wet cure for bacon accelerates processing time and turns a hitherto quality product into a damp squib, but with a bigger-better-faster profit for the manufacturer, natch.

Worst of all wet cures is the saline injection: you can tell if the label states more than 100% pork.   What? this is when saline solution is injected into the meat (so prior to processing, there was more pork per 100g of product than there is afterwards) to cure it from within.  And that’s the vile white salty stuff bubbling up from your bacon.  Conversely, with the dry cure, salt surrounds the piece of meat, drawing moisture out, concentrating the meat fibres and flavours, making for densely crisp and tasty bacon.  And bacon needs to be crisp and tasty or it’s not really bacon, is it?

So, Waitrose, I add my wholehearted support to your campaign with this one proviso: insist your sources stop shooting the saline: quality pork requires quality processing.

Here is a short and far from comprehensive list of respectable online UK bacon suppliers:

 You can read about the issues involved and sign the pledge here or here and if nothing else, avoid imported pork; it’s no bargain.

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Do you ever buy delicious edibles in jars or tubs?  If so, you’ve no doubt acquired more than a few items preserved in olive oil.  Now this idea is so obvious perhaps I’m just a slow learner, but until recently, once the olives, or sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes or anchovies were gone I used to throw away the oil left behind.

And then it dawned on me: that way flies food waste and for a frugal hedonist that way lies madness too.

Food manufacturers go to some lengths to keep us buying the fancy “deli” stuff aimed at our sophisticated palates.  This usually means adding herbs and/or garlic to enhance the flavour of the main attraction, so while blithely using the contents of the jar, might it not be a really good idea to also make use of the olive oil it’s been swimming in to augment and deepen the flavours of your dish – or even the whole meal?
sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil

So if you’re cooking up beef daube with olives, brown the beef in oil from the olive jar (try anchovy for an authentic southern Rhône flavour) – or start your sofrito sizzling with sun-dried tomato oil for an Italian ragù.  Try frying the aubergines in artichoke oil next time you make caponata.  Kick off a pilaf with the same; add a few drops to plain couscous, a tablespoon or two to pizza dough…

rosemary branch in olive oilI have even been known to strain the oil into a decanter and poke in a couple of rosemary sprigs – hey presto, rosemary oil for focaccia!

Use in almost any recipe instead of your usual olive oil.  If you devote half a shelf in the fridge door to these almost empty jars and use them up quickly, not only is the extra depth of flavour well worth it, you’ll be able to save up your pennies for some really special olive oil.

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borage flowersAh, true sunny delight: the borage is in bloom.  Such pretty periwinkle blue flowers, all set to adorn a glass of Pimm’s® for whiling away an English summer afternoon.

Wood on willow, polite applause, chin-chin…you get the scene.  But there’s something wrong with this picture, surely?  Firstly it’s most likely raining and secondly, is not Pimm’s impossibly bland when made properly?  And possibly improper when not?  For truly it’s a merry devil of a drink, slipping down far too easily and bringing upright folk, even the odd marquee, down in its wake as stilettoes catch in turf and guy ropes do service as guard rails…

Try this recipe for the classic Pimm’s® Cup cocktail…
Over ice, pour:

  • 1 part Pimm’s® No.1
  • 2 to 3 parts clear, fizzy lemonade (eg Sprite®)
  • Infuse with borage flowers, fresh mint and slices of lemon, orange and apple.

..and you too can turn your garden party into The Wasteland.

But there’s more to borage than that; why not use the stems and leaves too?  With a delicate cucumber-like flavour they cook to a texture similar to that of chard leaves or beet greens, with which they are often prepared around the Mediterranean as a pasta stuffing or filling for pies and omelettes.  The flowers also make a delightful addition to salads and only the churlish could despise them as a garnish on any summery dish.

I’ll follow with a couple of tasty recipes once I have some pix to go with

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