an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Sunday, 27 March 2011

Whore’s spaghetti

Puttanesca, the ultimate, big-personality punchy pasta sauce.  Named for prostitutes, what’s not to love?

According to Wikipedia, it is a typical southern Italian dish, invented sometime in the mid 20th century, probably in the Bay of Naples region. I think that the reason why it is so, pardon the pun, saucy, is that the dish is made of store-cupboard ingredients, and extremely quick to assemble, and so very convenient for a lady of the night, or perhaps anyone who is too busy having a good time to go to Sainsburys.  I am not convinced that said ladies actually ate this.  While pasta is a slow releasing carbohydrate and great for stamina, the strong and garlicky sauce probably doesn’t leave your breath that sexy…but maybe some people are in to that, who am I to judge?? And it probably did protect them from horny Italian vampires.  Yeah I really did just say that, clearly I have been watching far too much True Blood.

Difficulty 2/5 time 15-25 mins taste 4/5  serves 2

1 can chopped tomatoes
4-5 anchovy fillets
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 dried, crumbled Birdseye chilli or a pinch of dried chilli flakes (you can shake some of the seeds or of the chilli)
big handful black olives, chopped a bit
handful capers
olive oil

in a large frying pan with a lid, fry the garlic in olive oil.  When starting to colour, add the anchovies and chilli.  When the anchovies start to disintegrate, add the chopped tomatoes, olives, capers and parsley.  Simmer for at least 10 mins, the sauce will get richer the longer you give it.  Cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted water (as salty as the Mediterranean) until al-dente.  A good trick for getting the perfect pasta is to cook it for 1 minute less than it says on the packet, and then add it to the hot sauce for the remaining minute, with a spoonful of the cooking water. 

Etiquette dictates that if onions are added to the sauce it is American, and it should not served with cheese.  If you want a cheesey element, try serving this as I did, with a salad of fresh spinach, oranges, pumpkin seeds and fresh mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

La Dame aux Camelias 1896 - Alphonse Mucha

A hotpot of sausage and apples

Difficulty 3/5 time 1 hr Taste 5/5 feeds about 4

This goes back to the old themes of comfort food.  The only advice I can really give is to make sure you have a big pot, it is very difficult to get the sausages browned properly and the flour amalgamated without one.  This was where I slipped up a little bit.  It was still really really tasty, but it would have been even better if I had a bigger pot.  This recipe is taken from Tender vol. 2 – a cook’s guide to the fruit garden, which is one of my absolutely favourite books to read.  This is actually the first recipe that I have made from it.

·     250g dried flageolet or haricot beans (I used about 1 ¼ cans of cannellini beans)
·     Chicken thighs (skin off, bone in) I added these in for bulk and variation, and I’m sure that the bones further enriched the sauce. I’m sure that it would be delicious without them, I just didn’t have enough sausages for all the people I needed to feed!
·     3 onions
·     2 tbsp olive oil
·     3 large garlic cloves
·     2 small pinches fennel seeds
·     2 bay leaves
·     8 sausages (Nigel Slater specified nicely seasoned pork sausages, I used lamb ones.  It is up to you what kind you use, but obviously makes sure that it is not a conflicting flavour.  I think that the lamb added a lovely depth of flavour, working exceptionally well with the beans and apple (I wouldn’t recommend using chicken sausages, but that’s just because I don’t like them).Veggie sausages would also work well.
·     2 large dessert apples.  As I had increased the quantities slightly, I used 2 ½ red apples, and 1 bramley.  This was a nice combination as the dessert apples keep their shape and are lovely and sweet, while the cooker disintegrated completely, adding thickness to the sauce and a tart background note).
·     2 tbsp plain flour
·     1 glass Madeira or medium dry sherry (I used pear cider, as it was what I had.  Looking back, it totally did not need the extra sweetness).
·     1 litre stock (I used a mixture of onion and chicken soup mix, about 2 parts onion, 1 part chicken).
·     2 tbsp grain mustard (I only used 1, as I forgot to put in the second, it was still delicious and may have been a little too mustardy with the second).

(I will leave out the section about cooking the beans).  Peel the onions, cut in half, and then cut each half into 6 or so thick segments.  Warm the oil in a large casserole over a low/ medium heat.  Put onions in pan and leave to colour slightly but make sure they don’t stick or burn.
Whilst the onions are cooking, peel and slice the garlic, then add to the onions with the fennel and bay.  Push the mixture to one side of the pan (or if the pan is small, remove them).  Cut the sausages into short lengths, add them to the pan and brown on all sides.  If using chicken, brown the chicken as well.
Meanwhile, peel core and quarter the apples.  You can cut them smaller, but obviously the bigger the pieces, the more likely they are to stay together.  When the sausages are reasonably crispy (this was my main problem – see above), add into the pan the onions, apples and flour.  Cook for 5 mins or so, and then gradually pour in the Madeira/ sherry and stock, stirring continuously.  Add half the mustard, season and leave to simmer for 25 mins. 
Add the beans, check the seasoning and simmer gently for another 20-25 mins.  It is ready when the meat is cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Add the rest of the mustard and cook for a minute or 2 longer.

Simultaneously, I made a vegan version using cauldron brand marinated tofu, which also worked very well, but tasted a little sweeter as it did not have the richness of the meat off-setting the apples.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A chicken pie to unify and lead the Jewish people

My first foray into the world of Evelyn Rose

I was going to write something quite negative about Evelyn’s style of writing, but apparently I could get sued for that kind of thing.  Needless to say, it was not an enjoyable experience for me.  Her books seem to be a bible for a whole generation, so maybe I shouldn’t s**t all over them.  I think ill stick to Claudia Roden...or Nigella.

ANYWAY, this is an excellent way of using up leftover cooked chicken.  One of my least favourite things is reheated cooked chicken, served the same way.  Of course you cant really beat an overstuffed chicken sandwich or chicken salad, but there is something so nostalgic and comforting about a pie.  During the aforementioned trip to Morocco, I phoned home to check in and my mum asked me what I wanted for dinner when I returned home, and this chicken pie is what I requested.  I am 25 and as this blog hopefully shows, pretty self-sufficient, but there is still this omnipresent sense of ‘eat bubala’ whenever I come home.  And I definitely make the most of it. 

When I was little and in the tiny tots service at our synagogue every Saturday, we used to sing ‘david melech yisroel chai chai chicken pie.’ I have no idea why we sung chicken pie instead of vekayam, it doesn’t even rhyme.  The song means ‘David king of Israel lives and exists’ somehow in our 2-4 year old minds, chicken pie was an inherent part of remembering this famous king of Israel, known not so much as a philosopher or scholar, but as a musician, lover and fighter; one can only assume that must have enjoyed his food too.  And according to legend he was a ginger.  If the famous King of Israel could unite the Jewish people, maybe there is more to this chicken pie??

This recipe is adapted from Evelyn Rose’s Complete International Jewish Cookbook.  This is not a book I own, but the kind I will need to buy for myself one day.  According to my mum she is like the Jewish Delia (boring but essential and foolproof).  Well I must be a fool.  Reading through the recipe I found it incredibly confusing.  It may just be my own snobbery regarding cookbooks from the 70s and 80s, but it is very hard to follow.  And of course, back in the day it might have been ok to fry with however many ounces of chicken fat, but its really not now.  Also newer cookbooks tend not to refer to the oil/butter/margarine as fat, maybe its just a nation in denial.  Sorry folks.

I have to admit that I didn’t actually cook this.  It was my intention to, but I have had such a bad cold I thought it probably wasn’t the best idea, I’m sure that our dinner guests were very grateful.  I did however observe very closely and was allowed to stir occasionally.

Time: prep 20 mins, cooking 20 mins, ease: 3/5 taste: 5/5 you will need a shallow pie dish, like the size of a large dinner plate.

For the filling -
1 onion, finely diced
Mushrooms, chopped up – about a heaped handful
Handful chopped parsley (I cook a lot with fresh herbs, and try to avoid using dried ones at all costs. The best places to buy them are asda, or from your local greengrocer, you can buy big bunches very cheaply.  Parsley freezes very well, just make sure you wash it first).
Heaped tbsp plain flour
200ml stock or chicken gravy equivalent – you can always add more liquid later is it looks a bit too dry.  We used the solidified goo left over from roasting the chicken.  What’s good is that the fat rises to the top and hardens, and can be scraped off and thrown away.  Essentially its like fat-free essence of chicken, and can be frozen! As the chicken in question was cooked in a red, herby sauce, the finished sauce had a lovely reddish colour.
Cooked chicken, cut into bite sized pieces – approx. ½ a chicken.

For the pastry - (The recipe called for ready-made puff pastry, but the version my mum makes uses the ‘quick flaky pastry’ recipe instead.
82g firm margarine
160g plain flour
50mls boiling water

First make the pastry.  Cut the butter into small pieces and put into bowl.  Pour over boiling water and stir until the butter is melted and amalgamated – you may need to give it a blast in the microwave.  Add the flour, mix into a dough and chill, covered in clingfilm, for at least half an hour.  Yes it really is that simple.  When the dough is made and covered in the clingfilm, it will feel warm and soft, kind of like a hamster.  After it has been in the fridge it will harden up considerably.

Preheat the oven to 230 c.
Fry the onions in cooking oil/olive oil in a large frying pan, and when mostly done (10 mins or so) add the mushrooms.  When done add the flour, and stir until all the veggies are coated – don’t worry it will look quite dry.
Add the stock/gravy, bring to the boil, and then simmer for a few minutes until it thickens, stirring all the time.  Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper – Evelyn also adds in a bit of nutmeg, but this would depend on what kind of flavouring you had already added – some dried sage might be nice too.  Turn the heat off and allow to go cold, and empty into the pie dish.

Here is a fantastic tip for rolling pastry – instead of flouring the board and rolling pin (or empty wine 
bottle) put the dough between 2 pieces of clingfilm.  Incredibly easy, and stops the dough getting too floury. Roll out to cover the dish with a small amount of overhang.  Don’t worry about it looking perfect, it should be crinkly and rustic, allowing for little bits of the sauce to bubble up the sides and crisp up.  Score some lines into the pasty to allow for the steam to escape, and bake for 20 minutes.