Thursday, August 30, 2007

Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Anchovy, Prosciutto and Parsley

You simply can't visit North Wales without enjoying at least one meal involving the finest of Welsh lamb (unless you are a vegetarian of course). Driving up to Abersoch, through the mountains of Snowdonia National Park gives you a taste of what awaits. As you drive along the the perilous mountain roads, clattering over cattle grids and marvelling at the fabulous views you see literally thousands of sheep. In fact, you must take care not to hit them as you take in the scenery - they make a point of standing right in the road and refusing to move until you are literally inches away.

As a child, travelling up at Easter and seeing the many gambolling lambs, I used to balk slightly when Larry the lamb was dished up on Easter Sunday. Fortunately the delicious flavour soon made me forget my sensitivities.

After the six hour drive last week I was delighted to be greeted by wonderful lamb chops cooked by my mother and served with leeks in cheese sauce - heaven!

The meat came from Abersoch's excellent butcher - it has been run by the same family for years and everyone is on first name terms. During August, there is a permanent queue snaking out of the door onto the street as holiday-makers stock up on the good pre-marinated barbecue meats, homemade sausages and prime cuts of beef and lamb.

On Sunday I organised a barbecue for family to celebrate my birthday. I ordered a butterflied leg of lamb - so much easier to get it ready-boned from a good butcher. I probably paid a little extra for it but I was a) on holiday and was b) celebrating my birthday. A little laziness never hurt!

I prepared a delicious stuffing of anchovy, prosciutto and parsley - a strange sounding mixture, but one that works really well with the lamb and stands up well to the barbecue. This recipe comes from a book called 'Barbecue' by Eric Treuille and Birgit Erath. This really is a superb book for anyone who wants to venture beyond the 'burger and banger' type of barbecue. It is well illustrated with clear instructions and inspiring ideas.

Don't be put off by the anchovy if you don't like it. It doesn't taste of anchovy at all. The anchovies just give a deeply savoury flavour to the meat. Wonderful.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

2kg leg of lamb, butterflied

60g prosciutto
6 anchovy fillets
1 handful flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (plus 2tbsp extra for drizzling)

Also need 2 long, flat metal skewers

1. Place the prosciutto, anchovies, parsley and 1tbsp vinegar in a blender and pulse to a smooth paste.

2. Place lamb skin side down. With a sharp knife cut deep slits across the lamb, about 5cm apart. Stuff the paste right into the slits.

3. Insert skewers diagonally from opposite corers through butterflied lamb.

4. Grill over medium-hot coals, turning once, for 15 minutes each side for medium rare (longer for medium), drizzling over balsamic vinegar on both sides during cooking.

5. Once cooked, allow meat to rest, covered in foil, for 10 minutes. Slice and season with salt and pepper.

Notes -

I have made this recipe twice. The first time the lamb cooked perfectly - I did have to cover it with a lid. On this occasion I was impatient and put it on the grill too early, the fat caused the BBQ to flame too much so I place foil underneath the joint. It was a HUGE piece of meat (as you will see from the photo) and was taking ages to cook so in the end I threw it in a hot oven for 20 minutes. It was perfect!

The skewers help keep the meat together and make it easier to turn the meat over on the grill.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Summer Berry Clafoutis

I have just returned from a most wonderful week in North Wales where it was not in fact wet (much) but gloriously sunny and sparkly. Leaving this morning on yet another sunny day was a real wrench, relieved in part by the spectacular high-altitude drive through the mountains.

Plenty of food news from the holiday including those longed-for mackerel, where to find the best bara brith in North Wales (I've conducted extensive research!), my impressions of a birthday meal at the Porth Tocyn Hotel and some seriously good barbecued lamb. But firstly, just to ease myself back in gently, a quick pudding that I have made twice over the past fortnight which is a doddle to whip up and which those fond of comforting puddings will love.

Clafoutis has always appealed although there has been one major snag. I don't like cherries. No. Really. I don't. The almondy batter? Yes please. The cherries? Definitely not. Then one day when I was strolling around Waitrose (as one does), I picked up a recipe card for a raspberry version. Perfect. Why hadn't I thought of that?

In the end, I lost the aforementioned recipe card, but found a similar recipe on BBC Good Food's wonderful recipe resource. Here is the recipe, written my way. Follow the link for the original (plus a rather better photo!).

Ingredients (serves 6)

400g mixed fruit (I used raspberries and strawberries. Next time I might mix in some blackberries too. Cherries are the traditional choice)

50g ground almonds
2 tbsp plain flour
100g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
250ml double cream

1. Pre-heat oven to 190C. Grease a 23cm round (or similar size) gratin dish or flan tin with a fixed, not loose, base.

2. Sprinkle the fruit into the prepared tin. Whizz together all the other ingredients and pour the batter over the fruit.

3. Bake for 25 minutes - until golden and just set.

Notes - I found I needed to cook this for a little longer than the recipe. If there is any left over (unlikely), it is delicious eaten cold the next day!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Getting wet in Wales...

A quick post to apologise in advance for the lack of blog action over the next week or so. In an hour I shall be jumping in the car for the long drive to North Wales for the annual family pilgrimage to the seaside village of Abersoch. It is set to be cold and wet so the jumpers and wellies are already packed but I'm optimistic and the swimsuit and suncream are in there too.

Unlikely I will have access to the internet, but I've lots to report on so if it is particularly rainy, I may be able to post. We'll see.

I'm looking forward to really good bara brith, fishing for and eating fresh mackerel, some good Welsh lamb, Welsh cakes, a slice of birthday cake next Sunday (Happy Birthday to me!), the feeling of salt on my skin, the view from Rhiw (go on, click the link - it is stunning), windswept walks at Hell's Mouth, the sound of the seagulls, a drink in the yacht club and the feeling of space.

Back on the 29th with lots of food to share....

Happy Holidays!

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Famous Four Meme

I was delighted recently to discover excellent food blog, The Tracing Paper. Within this pleasingly laid-out blog, Nick reports on the origins of our food with a strong focus on seasonal produce. A great resource for any interested foodie. He also has a great directory of UK-based food blogs.

Anyway, I was surprised on firing up the laptop yesterday to discover that Nick had tagged me for a blog meme called 'the famous four'. I've not done one of these before, but have enjoyed reading fellow bloggers responses, so thought I would give it a go. Like Nick, I'm sticking broadly with the foodie theme. If you are not interested, I apologise. Check back soon for last night's delicious fish cakes and a rather good summer berry clafoutis!

4 Jobs I've Had

1. Tour guide for Champagne Mercier in Epernay - a great place to live and work for four months, though it passed in something of a bubbly blur!

2. Waitress in 'Tiffins of Cowes'. The only place to by your sandwiches if you are going sailing from Cowes. They will even heat-seal them to stop the water getting in!

3. Translator/bibliography compiler for a writer.

4. Organiser and host of wine tastings and wine-related events (currently).

4 Places I've Lived

1. Cowes, Isle of Wight. Best restaurant by a mile is Café Mozart. Best/only deli is Prime Foods (where I also worked, slicing cheese, one Christmas!).

2. Edinburgh. Valvona and Crolla. Need I say more? (Other than this simply IS the most amazing city in the world. I defy any city to even come close!).

3. Paris. I lived on the corner of the wonderful rue Cler, a really wonderful Parisian street market that pulses with life and delights the senses with a glorious array of produce.

4. Battersea, London. My current abode.

4 Places I've Holidayed

1. Alsace

A gastronomic paradise for food and wine lovers which is thoroughly beautiful. I've been twice and shall certainly go again! Read more about some of the food and wine I enjoyed on my recent trip here and also here.

2. Abersoch, North Wales. All childhood summers were spent in this seaside village on the Llyn Peninsula. It will always hold great, magical memories for me.

3. Tresco, Scilly Isles. A great new discovery. A natural paradise reached by helicopter from Penzance. Another good foodie destination too - lots of deliciously fresh fish. Eat at the Island Hotel for an upmarket dinner with a great view, or try the one and only pub, The New Inn which serves excellent, informal fare. The fish and chips is to die for.

4. New Zealand. Another natural paradise - so varied in terms of landscape. Wonderful meat.

4 Favourite Foods

This is an impossible question for a food blogger, no? I'll give it a go...

1. Really good lemon curd.

2. Well-made fish pie with a side order of peas.

3. Game - hard to narrow it down. I love all game whether feathered or four-legged.

4. Fondant au chocolat.

4 Places I'd Rather Be

1. Abersoch, North Wales, with my extended family. I join them tomorrow.

2. Trailing down the Northcote Road, shopping for food and flowers, basket in hand.

3. Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye. Claire MacDonald's highland home. A wonderful hotel and cookery school with superb breakfasts (and dinners) in beautiful surroundings.

4. Burgh Island.

4 Bloggers to Tag

1. Wendy at A Wee Bit of Cooking.

2. Lynn at Lynn's Cooking Blog

3. Patricia at Technicolour Kitchen

4. Margaret at Kitchen Delights

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bara Brith

Whilst browsing on one of my favourite food blogs, The Passionate Cook, I came across a food blogging event which appealed. Having a very sweet tooth, I couldn't resist the temptation of partaking in 'sugar high fridays', an event created by Jennifer at The Domestic Goddess. The idea being to make something sweet and delicious around a theme of the host's choosing.

This month, the idea is to re-create a local speciality. Hmmm. Well. I live in Battersea. London. A veritable melting pot no less, but hardly the scene for a truly local, regional speciality. So, I decided to cheat a little. Since I was tiny, I have spent time every August in a certain seaside village in North Wales. I have so many food memories associated with long, hazy summer holidays in Abersoch. Freshly caught mackerel fried in Welsh butter for breakfast (really), sandy sandwiches and pork pies on the beach, delicious local lamb, Welsh cakes for tea, orange and lemon sparkle ice lollies... But probably my favourite speciality is... Bara Brith.

Bara Brith translates as 'speckled bread'. It is a type of traditional tea-bread speckled with dried fruits. It is delicious spread with good Welsh butter for a treat at breakfast and particularly good when toasted!

The high number of excellent bakeries around my holiday destination mean that I have never attempted to make this gorgeously spicy bread, but I have always craved it from time to time on returning home. You just don't see it here. I'd never even given much thought as to how it was made. Until now. The 'nudge' I needed to give it a go.

The deliberate mistake....
Ah. Yes. Well, post bara-brith-baking and pre-posting, I returned to the Sugar High Friday post and discovered that I am supposed to be making a dessert of some kind. Ooops. This is a teabread. Not a dessert. Though it makes an excellent bread and butter pudding! I am hoping that Johanna will let me through all the same, it being my first attempt at this event (and considering the 'bara brith journey' I have been on since starting on this project)!

Step One - What makes the perfect Bara Brith?

Google. 'Bara Brith Recipe'. That should do it. How wrong could I be?Little did I know that there were so many versions of this fruity bread. Some used yeast, some used baking soda. Some soaked the fruit in tea overnight, some added it dry. Some had many ingredients. Some had just a few.

I had serious decisions to make. What to me were the essential components of Bara Brith?

1) To me, it is definitely more of a 'bread' than a 'cake'. Apparently, in North Wales, the 'bread' approach is favoured, whilst in the South, baking soda is used as the raising agent. As my affinity is with North Wales, I feel duty-bound to reproduce the yeasted version. Besides, you can't toast a cake, and that is my favourite way to eat it.

2) Tea. In my mind, tea is essential. Not only should the fruit be soaked overnight in black tea, but that tea should be incorporated into the loaf for flavour and colour.

3) Spice. The loaf should be quite spicy.
Seems quite simple, huh? Well, that is where you would be wrong. I was unable to find a recipe that involved soaking the fruit in tea AND using yeast. It was either/or. Baffled, I decided to e-mail a Welsh bakery, Popty Pen Uchaf. There I'd get the definitive answer. Thank you to Eleri for the following answer -

'Dear Antonia
Hello ,thanks for the e mail regarding bara brith recipes, At my bakery I use a traditional family recipe which contains fruit ,demerara sugar, soaked in black tea overnight, and then I add this mixture to S R flour to which a small amount of butter has been rubbed in ,and finally free range eggs are mixed in before putting in the tins. I have made some using yeast but I found out they did not keep so well but they were really nice toasted ,the recipe with tea will not toast ,good luck with your research!
Regards Eleri'

Useful. But still appeared to be either/or. I wanted BOTH. No compromise. So, I bravely decided to go it alone (drum roll, please). This was an interesting idea considering that I am not the bread-baking sort. At all. I have, on occasion baked bread. And enjoyed it. I might even go so far as to say that I have found it to be therapeutic. But I've never been entirely thrilled with the result. Rather, it has been good, but nothing like as good as freshly baked bread from my local bakery; The Lighthouse Bakery. Horribly upsetting, however, I learn that the bakery had recently re-located. So perhaps it is time to learn...

Step Two - The Recipe
I decided that the most reliable source was probably Delia. Having spent her childhood in Wales and being the reliable sort, I felt confident that she would know best, despite no mention of the black tea. Her recipe states that yeast makes the best bara brith for toasting (hoorah) and that the bread should be very spicy (double hoorah).
I decided to follow her recipe with a few subtle alterations. I would soak the fruit over night in hot black tea (one bag of Earl Grey and one of Breakfast Tea for argument's sake) and use luke warm tea in place of the milk in her recipe.
Step Three - Biting the bullet and making the bread...
I won't repeat the recipe here as you can go straight to her site (and this post is already an epic). I followed it to the tee, kneading the dough until soft and elastic...
I then left it to rise for nearly two hours. Despite my kitchen being quite warm, it didn't seem to double in size. I tried twice, on two consecutive nights. It just didn't seem to rise quite enough. Better on night two though, so I persevered. I knocked back the dough and added in the nicely plumped-up fruit.
Problem. Yes. The fruit was very moist, plumped up with all that tea. Kneading it into the dough was incredibly sticky and tricky. What a mess! I had to add more flour. And it was hard to impregnated the elastic dough with the fruit. Next time I'd add the fruit in the initial mixing stage.
I popped the dough into the tin to prove...

It rose. But again, not as much as I would have expected. But the dough sprung back slowly when pressed lightly - the sign of a risen dough.

I popped it in the oven for half an hour, then covered with foil for the remaining half hour. The flat filled with the most glorious smell. No doubt the neighbours thought I was mad - by the time I took the loaf out, it was midnight. A strange time to be baking!

The worst part was having to wait until morning to sample the wonderful looking and smelling bread.

Early this morning, I sliced into the (quite firm) loaf. The fruit was not as well distributed as I would have liked and it was a little dense and yeasty. But it was pretty delicious, I have to say. Even better toasted... Fruity and spicy... Not bad for a first attempt.

Step Four - You live and learn. What I'd do differently next time...

1) I think there maybe the yeast I used wasn't at its best. I'll buy new next time.

2) I'll squeeze some of the tea from the soaked fruit and mix it in in the initial mixing stage and add slightly less liquid to make a drier dough.

3) I'll add more mixed spice - I like it really spicy.

4) I'll use muscovado sugar for a deeper flavour and colour.

5) I might try lapsang souchong tea for a slight smoky flavour.

6) I'll try the no yeast recipes and stop being so prejudiced!

If anyone has any suggestions for improvements, I'd be only to happy to hear. As I mentioned, I am not a bread-baker (more of a cake baker) and so could use the advice!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Oriental Duck Salad

Last birthday I was given a year's subscription to BBC Good Food Magazine. Each month I look forward to the magazine dropping through the letter box as it is one of my favourite sources of new recipes and ideas. Tonight I decided to sample the Oriental Duck Salad from the September edition. It was absolutely superb - a great mix of flavours. Simple and quick to assemble yet extremely tasty.

Here is the recipe, written my way. I halved the recipe for myself, using a little over half the dressing, and it worked perfectly. Though the recipe is fairly generous in terms of tomatoes, rocket and spring onion. I had an avocado lurking around that needed eating and threw that in too. A good decision.

Ingredients (serves 2)

2 duck breasts, skin on
100g bag of rocket and watercress salad
small bunch of spring onion (salad onions)


1 garlic clove, grated
1 tsp fresh root ginger, grated
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp runny honey

1. Heat oven to 200C. Score the skin of the duck breasts and season.

2. Heat a non-stick frying pan over a high heat, add the duck skin-side down and cook until skin is crisp (around 4 minutes). Turn over and quickly brown the underside then transfer to a baking tray.

3. Mix the dressing ingredients together and drizzle all but 2 tablespoons of it over the duck. Place in oven for 10 minutes for pink (longer if you like it well-done).

4. Meanwhile, slice spring onions on the diagonal and chop tomatoes in half. Toss together with the rocket and watercress.

5. Remove duck from oven and rest for 4 minutes. Slice into strips and toss into salad. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve whilst still warm.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bad baking comes in threes/Holidays

So after the floppy flapjacks and the not-so-brilliant brownies, it was not surprising that my first attempt at making the wonderful Welsh tea bread 'bara brith' went badly too. I was inspired to make this bread when I read about blogging event, Sugar High Fridays, which is being hosted this month by Johanna from The Passionate Cook. This month the theme is 'going local'. Whilst I actually live in South-West London, I have spent a great deal of time in North Wales. Every summer, as a child, we would de-camp to our house up there and remain for the whole of August. As I have yet to come across any specialities peculiar to Battersea, I decided that North Wales would be a better bet. Plus I have lots of great food memories associated with the area - for me, eating bara brith is akin to Proust with his Madeleine.

Anyway, I shall say no more on this as I will post fully on my baking experience once complete. Attempt number one was going perfectly well until my dough totally failed to rise despite last night's warmth. Grrr. I threw it away, thinking that I had probably killed the yeast by adding it to liquid that was slightly to warm. Of course, when I looked in the bin this morning, it was beautifully puffed and risen. Typical! Bad things always come in threes (although, there is also the saying 'third time lucky'), so I have every confidence that my next bara brith attempt will work well (!)

This spate of baking bad luck is unusual - normally, baking is my strong point in the kitchen. Clearly I need a holiday. Ah - as luck would have it, I have a mini holiday coming up. I'm off to the Isle of Wight this evening, where my parents live, to take in the tail end of the world's most famous sailing regatta; Cowes Week. All the family will be there (brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces) plus lots of friends, so it should be a jolly weekend. I'll be quiet on the blogging front though until next week (when I'll be posting about the best bara brith ever eaten). Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Diary of a slightly disappointing (yet delicious) brownie

When reading other food blogs, I often wonder - do these people ever have any culinary failures? Their food always looks and sounds so perfectly wonderful, I begin to think that they never cook food they are not 100% happy with.

Then the (vaguely) rational part of my brain kicks in. Of course they must make some mistakes. Otherwise how would they learn to be such great cooks. Perhaps they just choose not to include the less appetising creations. Or perhaps, they really are perfect cooks. I take heart from Julia from brilliant blog, A Slice of Cherry Pie who posted yesterday about some gorgeous-looking strawberry and apple ice lollies. She described the way they were tricky to extract from the moulds and mentioned that whilst they were delicious, she'd make them slightly differently next time (less apple, no seeds). For me, part of the joy of cooking has to be the element of 'trial and error'. If I didn't experiment, risk failure, then I would never improve.

Like Julia, I have been having difficulty extracting things from their containers this week. On Sunday night, I threw away a whole tray of flapjacks in disgust. I had lost my usual recipe (which is, I have to say, pretty close to perfect) and decided to try another which looked similar as I couldn't quite recall the quantities. The result was a slightly burnt, yet oddly unset and sticky goo that simply would not cut into squares and was liable to pull all your teeth out. Very strange.

On Monday, I decided to whip up some brownies to take into work on Tuesday. I decided to follow my mother's recipe, which was an odd decision as I have used it once before and it didn't seem to work that well on that occasion (so much for learning from mistakes). She assured me that it always worked for her though, so I prepared to give it another go. I was initially concerned by the relatively small amount of chocolate in the recipe, but the resultant brownies were perfectly chocolaty. I am not a fan of 'bits' in brownies, especially nuts which I do not particularly like with chocolate (we are all different, after all). I therefore decided to add a dimension by using half Green and Black's Maya Gold chocolate which has a hint of orange, spices and vanilla.

Whilst cooking, the brownies filled the kitchen with a gorgeous chocolaty fug. Promising. On extraction from the oven, the top was suitably crisp and the interior gloriously damp and squishy.

The difficulty lay in extracting the brownies from the pan. Ok. Ok. I can hear you. I should have used non-stick. You are right, I am sure. However, I still think it would have been a struggle - they were so soft in the middle, they just would not hold a shape. I decided to pop them back in the oven a little longer - wary that I did not want to overcook the beauties. This made virtually no difference whatsoever. Hungry and frustrated, I scooped out 'some' brownie (as opposed to 'a' brownie). It tasted good, so that was something at least. It was late, I decided to cover the brownies and leave overnight and look at the situation afresh in the morning, once they were totally cool.

Tuesday morning, 6.45 am. I took a deep breath and tackled the brownies again. Not much improvement, but I succeeded in scooping out some square-ish shapes, though a fair bit of brownie was left in the pan...

...Wednesday pm. I return home and take a look at the brownies. A look, did I say? More like a great big bite. Or two. Or possibly three. Mmm. These are very delicious brownies. An odd shape, slightly too soft rather than chewy but very good all the same. There is definitely room for improvement though. I shall have to make a study of where I went wrong. Work I am only too happy to undertake...!

I have other recipes for brownies, of course, and shall be sure to try another soon. But I publish this one here (origin unknown as it is from my mother) - perhaps you can tell me where I went wrong?!


2oz good quality dark chocolate

4oz butter

21/2oz plain flour

8oz caster sugar (vanilla sugar, if you like)

2 eggs

(Walnuts - optional)

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Melt chocolate and butter over a pan of simmering water. Allow to cool.

2. Add 8 oz sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix well after each addition.

3. Add flour (and nuts if using). Mix together lightly.

4. Pour into a buttered 8 by 8 inch tin (or 7 by 11).

5. Bake for 30-40 minutes until knife comes out almost clean.

6. Leave in tin to cool for ten minutes, they will firm up (no they won't - ed!). Cut into small squares and cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Seriously simple summer berry brulées

I'm sitting at the desk with an excellent glass of Coteaux de Giennois from Domaine de Villargeau, enjoying a touch of peace and quiet following the departure of my 19-month old nephew who has been staying for the weekend. Food at the weekend was speedy and simple, the focus being on trips to the swings and the zoo. I made some especially tasty burgers last night for a friend, which we enjoyed in the garden (first time since April - hoorah for the sunshine). Rather annoyingly, they were so good that we had devoured them before I remembered to take a photo. There are two spares in the fridge though so perhaps I'll cook and photograph them tomorrow night.

Anyway, a spot of pudding was needed on Friday night. I had some berries lurking about - raspberries and blackberries. Summer fruits have been disappointing this year due to the weather. I have yet to taste any really sweet, flavoursome berries from this year's crop. The weather has hardly been suitable. (There is an exception though. My sister planted some strawberry plants earlier in the year - we tasted the only four berries produced at lunch today. They were extremely delicious - somewhat pricey though when you consider the cost per plant versus the yield!).

The berries lurking in the kitchen were lacking sweetness but were reasonably flavoursome. I didn't really fancy eating them on their own. Instead, I just popped them in ramekins, dolloped over some yoghurt mixed with a teaspoon of really good lemon curd, sprinkled them with demarara sugar and popped them under a hot grill (though a blow-torch would have done a better job).

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Courgette, leek and pea frittata

I was working from home yesterday, a joy as I usually have a two hour commute, plus I find it easier to concentrate in the quiet of my home and end up being more productive. One of the best things about working from home though, is that I can whip myself up a proper lunch. I get SO sick of sandwiches - there are no decent lunch places around my office and I am not nearly efficient enough to make my own lunch to take in each day, so I basically have to work my way through the various flavours of Marks and Spencer sarnies which I grab 'en route' at the station.

Don't get me wrong, I M&S make decent sandwiches. I just get a little bored of them.

So yesterday, I took a look in the kitchen around one, and was rewarded with three eggs, some leeks, a couple of potatoes and a red onion. Perfect for a frittata, I thought. As a child, 'Spanish Omelette' was a Sunday night favourite, made with whatever ingredients were lying around. My mother's version usually included bacon, red peppers, tomatoes, onions and potato. I haven't named this 'Spanish Omelette' as I feel I might upset the purists! No doubt a tortilla espagnol has fairly precise ingredients (usually just onion and potato, I think).

Anyway, this was speedy and delicious and I would happily serve it to friends with a salad for a summery lunch.

Ingredients (serves 2 hungry)
1 large potato (or two small)
1 red onion (or white would do)
1 medium courgette
1 medium leek
Handful of peas (fresh or frozen)
4 eggs (though 3 will do)
Pinch of herbs, if you have them
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Grated cheese of choice

1. Boil the potatoes until just tender (do not over boil as you need them to hold their shape when sliced). Drain and slice into 1/2 cm thick slices.

2. Chop the courgette - I like it chopped into semi-circles. Again, about 1/2 cm thick. Chop the leek too, same thickness.

3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non stick pan (one that fits in your oven). Meanwhile, pre-heat the grill to high.

4. Sweat the leeks for a couple of minutes and then add the courgettes. Fry until tender (al dente). Boil the peas for a few minutes.

5. Tip the sliced potatoes into the pan with all the other veg. Season and add herbs if wished.

6. Lightly beat the eggs and then pour over the filling, swirling round until everything is coated. Cook on medium heat until the bottom half is just set.

7. Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and place under the grill -

8. Grill until nicely browned and the egg is just set. Watch it carefully to avoid overcooking - the frittata will take on a rather rubbery texture.

9. Enjoy with a nice salad!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Easy-Peasy Pasta Nights (Pasta Amatriciana)

It is hard to imagine life without pasta, isn't it? The first recorded use of pasta in this country is found in a 14th century recipe book from Charles II's household. In the 17th century, macaroni made its way to Britain, but it is only relatively recently that pasta has become a popular staple in so many UK households. For me, it is hard to imagine a week where pasta does not feature as the basis of at least one meal.

For me, pasta nights are those when I am tired, don't want to spend too long in the kitchen, can't bring myself to head to the shops and want to use up some bits and bobs in the fridge. For that reason, I very rarely make the same pasta dish twice. It always depends what is hanging around. I should probably treat pasta with a little more respect, putting a little more effort into creating more special dishes, but it is just so quick and easy this way. Pasta nights for me are lazy nights. But don't get me wrong. They are invariably delicious. There is no skimping on flavour.

I try always to keep the cupboards stocked at all times with the following: tinned tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, tinned tuna, dried chilli flakes.

And the vegetable rack invariably contains onions of some form, courgettes and garlic.

The freezer ALWAYS contains frozen peas.

And, as for the fridge, I try to ensure there is always something lightly creamy with which to enrich sauces. Usually low-fat creme fraiche or cream cheese. Often there will also be some fresh pesto and some smoked bacon.

With these essentials, I have endless scope for easy-peasy pasta nights.

I make no apology for the fact that my pasta creations have virtually nothing to do with traditional Italian recipes. I love proper authentic dishes, but that is not the point of easy-peasy pasta nights. The point is making something satisfying and nourishing out of (virtually) nothing.

The most common dish I throw together is 'green pasta'. It entails a good dollop of fresh pesto and any mixture of green vegetables that I have around. Usually, courgettes fried in a little olive oil with a touch of garlic, sliced leeks and peas.

A recent triumph was created when I used up some chicken and combined with sun-dried tomatoes, courgettes and peas (of course) and a little Boursin cheese.

Last night was another variation on a theme. Good old tomato and basil sauce with a kick of chilli and a little smoked bacon. So, pasta amatriciana really.Made in the following way and thoroughly recommended -

Pasta Amatriciana

Ingredients (for 2)

1 large onion

1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes

1 clove garlic2

rashers smoked bacon or pancetta

a good pinch of dried chilli flakes (or fresh, if you have it to hand)

pinch of brown sugar

small handful fresh basil

a little chicken stock (quarter of a pint approx.)

Olive oil

Pinch dried herbs

Salt and pepper

Pasta of choice

1. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add chopped onions and chopped garlic and fry until translucent.

2. Chop the bacon into small pieces, add to pan a lightly fry until just cooked (but not brown or crispy). If using fresh chilli, finely chop and de-seed and add to pan.

3. Pour over the tinned tomatoes and mix well. Add the pinch of sugar (this softens the acidity of the tomatoes somewhat), a few dried herbs if you wish (basil, thyme, oregano), or fresh if you have them. Add the chilli, if dried. Add a little of the stock and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add more stock as necessary to 'loosen' the mixture as it reduces, but go carefully as you do not want too runny a sauce.

4. Meanwhile cook the pasta.

5. Season the sauce - go easy on the salt as the bacon is quite salty. Be sure to taste! At this point you may want to add a little creme fraiche or a tablespoon of soft cheese if you want a slightly richer sauce (I did, on this occasion). It only needs a little though. Throw in some torn up basil.

6. Now this is important. Drain the pasta and ADD THE PASTA TO THE SAUCE. It has taken me years to learn this simple and obvious fact. The sauce coats the pasta so much better if you add the pasta to the sauce in the warm pan. Never add the sauce to the pasta - it simply sits on top! You probably all know this, but I am just a little slow.

Notes - pasta is horrible to photograph. So apologies if these photos don't look entirely appealing. You'll just have to trust me when I say it was delicious!

No bacon? Try tuna. Or roasted vegetables.

Wine Notes - Tomato-based dishes can be challenging as tomatoes are very high in acidity. To match you need a wine with similar acidity. Italian wines work best with Italian-style food (they make their wines to match their cuisine, after all). Here I would probably go with a nice Barbera.