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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category


Somewhere between ratatouille and caponata lies the Spanish Pisto Manchego, (pedestrian translation: slow cooked summer vegetables) cooked without hurrying to a lambent jamminess, in contrast to the toothsome integrity of each separately sauteed vegetable in a Provençal ratatoille nicoise or the pickle-icious unctuousness of the small dice caponata.

I use Elizabeth Luard’s recipe from The Food of Spain and Portugal: a regional celebration.  She notes:

The essential ingredients are the aubergine, the garlic and the olive oil – everything else is negotiable.

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Sorry for not being in touch lately – been hanging out and about in Nice.  Here’s my photo to prove it!

bluebeach

After a long, hot and frustrating trudge west along the Promenade des Anglais checking out various beachside establishments we descended on the Blue Beach Bar & Restaurant and were more than pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome.  Although our waiter resembled Peter Stringfellow‘s simple cousin he was adequately dressed (thank God) and brought us our reasonably priced, reasonably tasty food and wine in reasonable time: amazing, and in stark contrast to Lido Plage.  For me, the filets de rouget (red mullet) au thym:

rougets

et pour lui, les tagliatelles au basilic (do you really need a translation?), toothsome albeit tepid, which was actually ok on such a warm afternoon:

tagliatelle

plus, of course, the de rigeur bottle of Côtes de Provence rosé.  All at not-so-shocking-after-all prices, at least for the Côte d’Azur….

… and that old devil Nicolas Sarkozy lurking in the underground area only added to the charm of the afternoon.

sarkozyBlue Beach bar & restaurant, 31 Promenade des Anglais, Nice 06000 – opposite the Negresco

website

menu

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One of my all-time favourite dishes is brandade de morue – salt cod whipped up with olive oil and mashed potato plus a wee hint or more of garlic and a scatter of parsley.  Much as I adore the taste, though, I’m not about to pack in my suitcase a whiffy hunk of dried North Atlantic cod just so I can then rehydrate it under a running cold tap for a couple of days before cooking.

pureeAuthenticity be damned in this instance and come to think of it, I don’t remember when I last peeled a potato to make mash – certainly not since discovering this wonder-product from Lidl: 99p for a four-pouch box.  If you’ve ever read the ingredients list on a packet of Smash and its ilk, the relative purity of this product will come as some surprise, for it reads thus: Dehydrated potatoes (97%), salt, emulsifier (E471), nutmeg, spices, stabiliser (E450i), preservative: sodium metabisuphite (E223), antioxidant (E304), Acid (E330).  May contain traces of milk: that’s it. 

And before you start squealing in horror at the E numbers allow me to enlighten:

  • E330 = ascorbic acid = Vitamin C
  • E304 = ascorbic acid ester = Vitamin C+palmitic acid

The others are arguably possibly slightly dodgy, in that:

  • E223 can be an allergen, not recommended for consumption by children
  • E450i = disodium diphosphate, high intakes of which may upset the body’s calcium/phosphate equilibrium, so excessive use may lead to imbalance of mineral levels, which could potentially lead to damage to bone density and osteoporosis (drinking too much fizzy anything destroys your bones too)
  • E471 = mono and diglycerides of fatty acids; could be animal in origin or from genetically modified soya.

brandadefumee
I can live with that, especially when pretty much all you have to do is scald 250ml milk with 500ml water and sprinkle one sachet over the top for some pretty good pommes purées.  It’s definitely French-style though so don’t even think of using this stuff for fishcakes – for that you need the real McCoy! The consistency is purrrfect however, for a creamy brandade. I take a few fillets of smoked fish – here I was fortunate enough to have hot-smoked sea bass and cold-smoked haddock cruising around the freezer – and poach them in the milk & water with finely sliced garlic, a strip of lemon peel, bay leaf and a pinch of saffron.  I then remove the fillets, skin and flake them hot in the few minutes while the potato flakes do their magic in the hot liquid, then stir the fish back in with a fork to blend. Sometimes I shred them finely and actually whisk the mix to more closely approximate brandade but it’s not strictly necessary by any means.
smokyfishmash

Piled into a ceramic dish and finished off in a hot oven it’s a fantastically hearty meal for two on a cold night, accompanied by a woodcutter’s pile of steamed carrots and courgettes and a lightly oaked chardonnay.  Somehow winter doesn’t seem so bad after all…

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ratatouille1
Well hey, I’m not going to pay a visit to our place in Nice and swan about its perfect little kitchen, brave the snooty sales ladies at Alziari for a tin of their unctuous olive oil, fossick about the farmers’ stalls for vegetables and forage for fresh herbs on the Cours Saleya and NOT idle away an idyllic afternoon preparing the greatest Niçoise cliché of all, which also just happens to be one of my favourite vegetable dishes ever, now am I?  Its fall from fashion since its 80s heyday probably had much to do with the ghastly glutinous supermarket tinned travesties I remember not enjoying at all – and I only resurrected this recipe having enjoyed the real McCoy so much Chez Palmyre I had to recreate it myself at home. So delicious it could turn you vegetarian, ladies and gentlemen: I give you ratatouïlle.
vegetable market
Follow the correct principles using decent ingredients and you simply cannot go wrong.  I’ve never made the same one twice – vegetables vary in ripeness, juiciness, depth of flavour and the way they’re sliced or chopped makes a great deal of difference – but I’ve never made a bad one either.   Folk can get so precious about this sort of classic recipe but the fact is there is no one classic recipe.  In its home town nobody makes it the same as their neighbour, so why should you?  Just don’t undercook the vegetables nor stew them together without giving each its initial independent sauté – far less hassle than one might suppose. Oh – and don’t overdo the tomato.
rata2

Roughshod Ratatouïlle Niçoise

1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced fine
4 – 6 medium sized, tasty tomatoes, chopped
good olive oil

1 red & 1 green sweet pepper, in .5cm slices 5 cm or so long
1 aubergine, in .5cm dice (do not peel!)
4 small courgettes, in 1cm slices
thyme, salt, pepper + a sliver of orange peel if you have it

Preferably in a cocotte, but if not at least in a high sided saucepan, gently fry the sliced onion in a couple of tablespoons olive oil until softening, then slip in the garlic and sizzle briefly before adding the tomatoes.  Stir to mix, drop in the thyme (and orange peel if using) with a pinch of salt then leave to cook down steadily on a low heat while you sauté the other vegetables.

I think it a nonsense to use separate pans for each vegetable – although one must respect their individual characteristics and sauté them separately – so take a wide and heavy-based frying pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and toss in the peppers.  Cook over a medium heat for 5-odd minutes until softened then add them to the pan of onion and tomato; stir to combine and continue cooking down gently.

Same pan, two tablespoons of olive oil: heat and throw in the aubergines.  Cook fairly briskly, tossing the dice about so they don’t stick, for between 5 and 10 minutes until they are definitely cooked, then tip into the other pan.

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Same deal with the courgettes: perhaps a little less oil and a gentler heat needed here.  Do make sure they have really softened sufficiently before adding to the ratatouille pot as they will not cook much further and a crunchy courgette is not what is wanted.  Give the master pot a good stir and allow to simmer a very few minutes.

Taste, season; enjoy.  Ratatouille is good eating right away and even better once the flavours have had time to settle in with each other.  Hot, cold, tepid; it’s both a fine accompaniment and solitary dish: good crusty bread is its best friend, especially if your ratatouille is on the watery side (no bad thing, btw).

p1060132

Fab to come home to: comforting when reheated on a wintry day and refreshingly cool on a sultry evening.

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if it’s yellow let it mellow

Limoncello – what’s not to like?  For me it conjures up memories of a certain bijou hotel bar just off the Spanish Steps in Rome, we nuzzling and snuggling into the velvet sofa to the sound of our multi-talented and heavily-accented Italian crooner twiddling his Moog synthesizer while giving us his vocal stylings of Captain of her Heart, or fond reminiscence of a sweltering afternoon in Vieux Nice when the heavy-set fortune-telling proprietor of Chez Palmyre refilled our espresso cups with a dose of home brewed, brought up in a metal jug dripping cool from his cellar next door…

…so why oh why does my own homemade effort look like piss and taste worse?  I’m hoping for limpid and cloudy – lots of mouthfeel thank you very much – but instead it’s a screechy dose of acridity, more of a morning after than a night before and no matter how long I keep the damn stuff it just doesn’t get any better.

Considering I went to the trouble of heaving back a couple of kilos of organic lemons from Menton on the Côte d’Azur, scrubbed them well and used organic sugar I think I might be forgiven for expecting a better result.

My big mistake might have been using alcool pour fruits rather than voddy but seriously, do they use vodka in Sorrento?  I imagined this would make it all the more authentic but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

If anyone has managed to produce a classic pale yellow, opaque digestif from lemons, alcohol and sugar I sure would love to know how you did it.

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one fine day

With hot sunny weather forecast for Saturday all other plans went on hold so we could seize the chance to soak up every available ray of sunshine on the deck of our new penthouse apartment.  Thanks to the frankly not great British summer it was our first opportunity to bask under an open blue sky since moving in at the beginning of August, so in holiday mood I hauled out the deep fryer from deep storage and tossed in a shoal of whitebait for a nautical treat.

Resurrecting my darling porcelain fish platter was sheer delight, and as it received the rustling cascade of tiny crisp fishes I think I may even have seen it crack a smile: or was it the combination of French rosé and UV rays going to my head?  I think not.

Deep-fried Whitebait

454g frozen whitebait
200ml milk
4 TBS plain flour
1 tsp paprika pimentón
4 litres oil for deep frying

Defrost the whitebait in a bowl, with the milk poured over, overnight in the fridge. Drain well and discard the milk.   Heat the oil to 190C.  Mix together the flour and pimentón in a large bowl and toss in the whitebait. Shake the bowl about to coat the fish then transfer them to a colander and gently shake off excess flour. 

Tip the whitebait into the fryer basket, lower carefully into the oil and fry for two to three minutes.  They’re done when they float so keep a close eye and don’t cook them any longer than necessary.  Served with lemon quarters and green tabasco: briny heaven on a fish plate.

 

This bottle of Domaine Grand Milord organic rosé was a perfect accompaniment, made from 10% Syrah and 90% Caladoc.  It’s not every day I come across a grape variety I’d never heard of: a quick google reveals that Caladoc is a disease-resistant hybrid of Grenache and Cot, both respectable southern French varieties, and being deep coloured and with ageing potential a tasty choice for making into rosé: and organic to boot: cin cin!

Domaine Grand Milord organic rosé

Marks and Spencer  £5.99

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Servus interruptus

Gastroplod is in transit, so my apologies for any inconvenience.
Normal service will resume shortly,  once Mr T’s had a bit of rhinoplasty…

 

◊ transformation is the buzzword this year ◊

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