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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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An attempt at improvising le Café Anglais’ legendary menu item had me feeling like Midas with a golden pond at sunset gilding each ramekin, but we found a custard richer than Croesus made a heavy hors d’oeuvre.  Mind you, I was using all-double cream, whereas surprisingly, Mr Leigh advises a lean – almost mean – half milk/half single blend.

Parmesan custard, anchovy toast, Stilton cream
So, with budget and midriff in mind I gladly followed his recipe to the letter, although being disinclined to faff I can’t say the same for the anchovy toast and fell in with anchovy infantrymen instead.

Although Rowley’s recipe worked well enough, a touch of cornflour would have seen off all splitting and a dose of double cream will undoubtedly up its unctuousness.  After all, if you’re going to the trouble of making this at home it might as well feel like a little luxury.

Gastroplod’s Parmesan custards & anchovy infantrymen

(with thanks to Rowley Leigh for providing my template)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 300ml full fat milk or single cream
  • 100g finely grated Parmesan
  • 4 egg yolks
  • a scant tablespoon cornflour
  • pepper, nutmeg
  • sliced wholemeal sandwich bread
  • anchoïade/anchovy paste/Gentlemen’s Relish

Lightly butter six ramekins. Scald the cream and milk in a heavy based pan then whisk in the Parmesan, keeping back a tablespoon or two for gratinating the tops, and stir to melt thoroughly.  Leave to cool as rapidly as you can.

Set the oven to 150C.  Whisk the egg yolks with the cornflour, making sure there are no lumps and everything is well blended, then whisk the yolk mixture into the cream/milk with a good grinding of pepper and grating of nutmeg.

Place the ramekins in a bain-marieand bake for 20 minutes, until just set.  Remove from the oven and turn on the grill to medium-high.  Take the ramekins from the water bath to arrest cooking and sprinkle the custards with the reserved Parmesan, then place under a hot grill for just a couple of minutes to burnish.

Toast some brown bread, scrape lightly with anchoïade, anchovy paste or Gentlemen’s Relish (Patum Peperium) and cut into soldiers for dunking into the custard; serve immediately or your warriors may turn into wimps…

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A spicy, meaty, totally convenient-y version of my stuffed olive oil bread.  Make a batch of pulled pork, freeze it on trays then bag for use later.  Pulled pork is a Southern U.S. barbecue classic, yet amenable to countless variations and interpretations by those unfettered by the shackles of tradition (did I say bigotry?).  Here’s the basic recipe:

Pulled Pork

Get hold of a 1 or 2 kg boneless pork shoulder joint and make a dry spice rub, for example:olive oil dough stuffed with pulled pork

  • 4 TBS cumin seeds
  • 2 TBS muscovado
  • 6 TBS pimentón
  • 1 TBS dried thyme
  • 2 TBS sea salt
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

Grind the cumin and mix it together with the other ingredients.  If your pork is tied up, untie it to expose maximum surface area and roll the meat around in the spice mix, rubbing in well so that the whole lot sticks.

If you have a slow cooker it will really come into its own now: pack the pork within – no need to tie up again as you’ll be shredding not slicing – and cook at low for several hours or even overnight.  Sufficient moisture should emerge from the pork itself to make adding extra unnecessary.

If you lack a slow cooker put the pork in an ovenproof dish and place in a hot oven (200C plus).  Turn the oven down immediately to 120C and cook for 3 or 4 hours or more, placing a lid on the dish after 2 hours if it looks like it might dry out.  If it dried out before you got to it, pour over a very little wine, stock or water just to keep everything moist – but not wet – and replace the lid.  Do make sure you’re cooking it long and slow or the meat fibres will toughen and make shredding impossible.

Remove from oven, reserving and refrigerating any excess liquid in case you need it later (skim off fat before using); let rest and cool slightly for around 15 minutes.  Separate the joint into manageable pieces and shred the meat with two forks along its muscle fibres, discarding any large hunks of fat, although most will have melted away.

If freezing, spread the shredded pork out on baking trays – covered with greaseproof or silicon paper so it doesn’t stick and place in the freezer overnight or until solid, then working quickly, break into chunks and throw them into a large resealable bag to dip into for use later.  It works brilliantly baked from frozen inside the olive oil dough; just make sure you freeze it in small enough clumps.

If eating straight away, the traditional manner is to add a slurp of barbecue sauce and stuff it in a burger bun to eat with coleslaw but it also goes fantastically well over rice (loosened with any leftover liquid), on a baked potato or in a burrito, and, of course, baked inside olive oil dough to make a perfect picnic or packed lunch – in slices, even party food.

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parmesan custard with anchovy toastOh joy! Today’s FT features Rowley Leigh sharing his wit, wisdom and, best of all, the recipe for this hot hors d’oeuvre, the talk of London town since the opening of his raved-over restaurant Le Café Anglais, which, I see, now has a visit-worthy website.
Touching to read Rowley got his inspiration for this dish from watching Rick Stein on TV; so much joy in one little weekend.

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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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Sometimes I just don’t have the guts to deal with whole fish.  I’ve never wholly regained my bravado since the Saturday in 2002 when my kind and thoughtful brother, on the way home from his job delivering spanking fresh fish to temples of gastronomy The River Café, J. Sheekey, Moro, Gordon Ramsay, The Ivy et al, dropped off a sackful of spare sardines.  Ruth & Rosie’s over-orders were my manna from heaven, except this day was a hot one and I was out being a chef myself until late afternoon …

…so by the time I returned home the piscine contents of the black bin liner had settled on my doorstep and dripped a disconcertingly fishy – in every sense – trail of blood into the house and across the floor.  With hindsight, continuing that trail straight out the back door and into the wastebin might have been wise but instead, Mr T and I, thrilled by the sight of such bounty, seized a filleting knife and set to our very own kitchen sink mattanza.  And as with all gore-fests, somewhere around the 23rd gutted sardine, queasy from the carnage and unable to meet the gaze of any more bloodshot eyes, we lost our mutual appetite, decided to double-wrap it up and dispose of the entire bundle where it should have gone in the first place, feigning nonchalance as net curtains twitched.

Ever since I’ve been happy to pay a professional to clean, cut and cook their delicious little bodies on my behalf.  Until just last week that is, when awaiting my turn at the Sainsbury’s what should I spy gliding atop the neighbouring checkout but a neat little package of eight headless and gutted Cornish somethings beginning with s.  At £1.89 a pop I went for it and they turned out pretty good, in a land-lubber kind of way.
sardines from Sainsbury\'s
I hesitate to call this a recipe as all I did was grind a tablespoon or so of fennel seeds with a couple of chilli peppers, zest half a lemon and toss the sardines with them all in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil to lubricate.  Set that lot aside while the barbecue warmed up and then grilled for 5 minutes each side.  I might have stuffed them with fennel or some such, but this time we enjoyed them with just a wedge of lemon – don’t want to overdo it…
Sardines grilled with chilli, fennel and lemon zest

Of course they weren’t a patch on fresh from the sea, but you don’t get those every day…

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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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One (mental) escape from the enforced trogloditism (yes that’s my word) of this year’s Whitsun Bank Holiday might be via a 2 minute video in The Times travel section: that suavely sincere and sincerely suave Raymond Blanc tucked into a pink bib while explaining and demonstrating that classic and exclusive Mediterranean dish, bouillabaisse, in a location just to the east of Nice on the Côte d’Azur.

If Raymond himself fails to delight (hardly likely), pay a cyber-visit to his venue – the fabulous Coco Beach restaurant – for a quick fix of Riviera deluxe.  No wonder he’s smiling.

It’s such an old saw that bouillabaisse can be made only with local rockfish that I shan’t labour the point here.  Mind you, with French fisherman stunt pulling once more I’ve a good mind to hire myself a speedboat and raid their waters of every loup, lotte, rouget and rascasse I can find.  Just need a bit of marine diesel…

Until such time, I am willing to share my delightful version using chicken in place (no pun intended) of fish:

Pouillabaisse™ aka Chicken BouillabaisseHenri Bardouin pastis
serves 4

  • 8 boneless chicken thighs, skinned and cut in large chunks
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 bulbs fennel, chunked – keep fronds for garnish
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced fine
  • generous pinch of saffron
  • a sprig of thyme, 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tin of tomatoes (whole or chopped, whatever is on hand)
  • generous slug of pastis
  • 1 litre or so chicken stock
  • 500g waxy or new potatoes, peeled and chunked
  • olive oil

We want to keep the flavours pure and clear, so in a large cast iron casserole and over a medium heat, soften the onion and fennel in 2 tablespoons olive oil.  After about 5 minutes add the garlic, saffron, thyme and bay leaves then pop the chicken pieces on top.

Sprinkle over the pastis then add half of the tomatoes with their juice (break them up with your wooden spoon if using whole).  Add the potatoes and pour over sufficient chicken stock to almost cover the chicken and vegetables, then decide whether to add the rest of the tomatoes.  We’re making a bouillabaisse here, and with the price of fennel and saffron we’re in polite company, so mustn’t allow the tomato to shout down the other flavours.  Think visually – more yellow than red.  If you think the tomato is in danger of taking over the party, top up with chicken stock.  If not, add the rest of the tomatoes and top up with stock to barely cover.

Bring to the gentlest simmer, cover and cook for between 30 minutes and an hour until chicken and potatoes are cooked through.  There should be plenty of liquid, so serve in shallow bowls, sprinkled with a dash of good olive oil and the chopped fennel fronds.

A homemade rouille sets it off perfectly.  Recipe coming soon…

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Buma shimeji
No, that’s not a random collection of vowels and consonants: while meandering along the vegetable aisle in Waitrose I spied these exotic Buna shimeji, also known as Brown Beech mushrooms, at a delightfully exotic discount. Nothing boosts my culinary confidence like finding a food bargain, and with the summery weather in mind I fancied trying them as an antipasto: turns out it’s the easiest thing in the world and to have such a luxurious treat on hand makes me want to dance a little jig.

Mushroom antipasto, or funghi sott’olio*

    Buna shimeji

  • 2 packs Buna Shimeji mushrooms
  • 100 ml white wine vinegar plus 200 ml water
  • tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced fine
  • 1 chilli (fresh or dried – whatever you have to hand)
  • 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme
  • olive oil to cover

First cut away the solid base holding them together, then break off the individual mushrooms with your fingers; rinse and drain.  Bring the vinegar and water to boil in a non-reactive pan, add the salt, garlic, chilli (crumbled or sliced or not – depending on your tastebuds and your chilli!), bay leaves and thyme, then tip in the mushrooms.  Simmer gently for about 5 minutes.  Test one for texture after just a couple of minutes as they shouldn’t overcook; al dente, per favore.

Drain and spread them out to dry on a clean tea towel, giving it a little shake every now and then to coax things along, but don’t squeeze or press.  Tip them with the flavourings into a sterilised jar which they just about fill and cover with a little olive oil (*sott’olio is Italian for “under oil”).  Keep in the fridge and serve at room temperature with a scattering of parsley – if you have it – and good crusty bread: I wouldn’t expect these to keep more than a week, but they’ll be finished long before that, no doubt.

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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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