Archive for the ‘At the market’ Category

All summer long ratatouille

11 July 2022

All these years and I’ve been making ratatouille backwards. For as long as I can remember, I’ve started with the aubergines and finished with the tomatoes. I don’t know why and it should (obviously!) be the other way around.

There are many ways to make ratatouille. Some profess each vegetable should be cooked separately to preserve its individual taste before all are combined and left to confit together very slowly. This sounds terribly delicious. On the other hand, the more distant origin of the word ratatouille — from the Occitan ‘ratatolha‘ — is that of a coarse (bad?) stew. And while there is nothing bad about my ratatouille (even the backwards one that was my habit!) I like its humbler origin — an effortless dish for life in summer.

The whole point of ratatouille is simplicity. Its preparation — cutting vegetables, just agree on the approximate size — can enlist anyone idling around. It is easily made in large batches for imprecise, extended, friends and family meals. It should, in fact, be made in enormous quantities because cold leftover ratatouille is even better. And in any case it keeps for a few days. It goes equally well with grilled fish, roast chicken, meat on the barbecue, as a lunchtime ‘salad,’ or stirred into a mess of eggs for a ratatouille frittata.

It is the quintessential summer dish.

Right-way-around ratatouille recipe

The quantities are suggestions only, for approximate ratio. I usually make a much larger batch.
The size and shape (cubes vs slices) into which the vegetables are prepared depends on my mood or who is cutting. The important thing is that all the vegetables follow the same principle and are roughly the same size.

Onions (3 medium)
Olive oil
Salt (I like to use coarse grey sea salt)
Garlic (4 cloves)
Red or green peppers (one)
Tomatoes (3 or 4)
Aubergine/eggplant (1 medium)
Courgettes/zucchini (5 or 6 smallish ones)
Bay leaves
Fresh rosemary, thyme, Summer savory (one or all of these)
Good wine vinegar (For this I like to make use of my small bottle of moscatel vinegar, which is slightly sweet, but any good wine vinegar is fine)

Peel the onions and cut them into large dice (or half moons).

Pour enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of a heavy-bottomed saucepan, turn on the heat (medium to low). When the oil is hot, after a brief minute, put int the cut onions, stir, salt with a good pinch, and let the onions brown, lid on (keeping an eye and stirring occasionally so they don’t burn), while prepapring the garlic and peppers.

Squish the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, remove the husk, and cut coarsely.

Wash, deseed, and cut the pepper into small cubes (or thin slices).

Once the onions are starting to turn golden, add the garlic and peppers, stir, close the lid, and let stew while preparing the tomatoes.

Wash and cut the tomatoes into chunks (or thin wedges). Add them to the pot with another good pinch of salt.

Let the onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes cook until they start melding and resembling a sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the vegetables: Wash, remove the stem, and cut the aubergines (eggplant) into slices, then each slice into cubes. Wash, remove the end, and cut the courgettes (zucchini) into slices or cubes.

When the vegetables in the pot begin to ressemble a tomato-y sauce, add the aubergines and courgettes with another generous pinch of salt. Add the herbs, any mix as strikes your fancy. I think bay leaf is indispensable.

Cook for at least an hour, perhaps an hour an a half, over low heat, until all the vegetables have softened completely.

Stir in one or two tablespoons of vinegar, just enough to tease out the acidity.

Eat hot or at room temperature or cold out of the fridge the next day.

Almond & buckwheat pound cake with a flume of rhubarb

21 May 2022

Sometimes a bowl of rhubarb compote in the fridge inspires cake, and so the other day.

A quatre-quart — ‘four-quarters’ as the French call a pound cake — is often my basis for a quick cake improvisation; a ‘snacking cake’ — such a perfect denomination. The term was recently popularised by Yossy Arefi thanks to her book ‘Snacking Cakes: Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings,’ which she describes as ‘a single layer cake, probably square, covered with a simple icing—or nothing at all—and it must be truly easy to make.’ Though I don’t own the book, the term immediately imprinted itself. I now often think of a cake I’m about to make as a ‘snacking cake.’ This is the perfect example.

The basis is a simple pound cake — equal weights of eggs, butter, sugar, and flour. But I’ve lowered the sugar slightly, as usual, and divided the flour ratio into three (unequal) parts: white spelt, almond, and buckwheat. I’ve noticed buckwheat flour appear in recipes more and more often recently and its popularity is well deserved. It adds depth and is a great addition to many cakes. I started using it some years ago when I began spending most of my summers in Brittany, where buckwheat is the local flour. As it doesn’t keep for very long I often have an open packet that needs using. I find using little is often best.

Almond & buckwheat pound cake with a flume of rhubarb

250g unsalted butter, left out to become very soft
210g sugar
4 eggs
150g white spelt flour
30g buckwheat flour
70g almond flour
1 mounded tsp baking powder
Zest from one lemon
1 tsp salt
Rhubarb compote

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Line a 30 x 10cm (12 x 4 in) — or equivalent capacity — cake tin with parchment paper and butter the paper generously.

Beat the butter and sugar vigorously until very soft and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating well. Stir in the flours, the baking powder, the lemon zest, and salt. The batter should ideally feel mousse-like.

Scoop half of the batter into the tin, then a generous layer of rhubarb compote, and finally the rest of the batter.

Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Wait for the cake to cool completely before cutting, if you can.

Green asparagus with spring onions

10 June 2021

Some dishes are ideas more than recipes, they creep into our lives unawares.

I have had a few favourite asparagus recipes, and written about them, each time touting their priviledged status and every time I was completely sincere. And here I am, with yet another ‘favourite’. Seasons and appetites change, new preferences do not preclude lasting affections.

I made this simple dish last year, probably guided by the entrails of our fridge: asparagus and spring onions being (again this year) our spring staples. It remained etched in the margins of my cook’s memory. This year, it’s all I’ve wanted to do with asparagus.

Perfect company for an easy barbecue, it could also be cooked on the fire, but our balcony-intended cast-iron grill is too small and barely fits steak for six, so I make it in a skillet on the stove.

Asparagus with spring onions recipe

A rule of thumb for quantities is one third spring onions to two thirds asparagus

Asparagus (see note on quantities above)
Spring onion (see note on quantities above)
Olive oil
Soya sauce
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim the tough ends of the asparagus stalks; rinse in cold water.

Trim the roots and leaf tips of the spring onions (I like to also remove one layer if it’s starting to wilt). Rinse the onions to remove any grit. With the blunt side of a wide knife, flatten (crush) the spring onions lengthwise.

In a large bowl, combine the asparagus and spring onions with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a discreet splash of soya sauce, pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper. Toss to ‘dress’ the vegetables.

If using a barbecue, grill the vegetables / if using a skillet, add a bit of olive oil and fry over high heat for 5 to 7 minutes until the vegetables are nicely coloured and still firm.


Pear and apple butter

19 February 2021

Or food like therapy.

I like to think I’m an optimist, try to see the upside, focus on the good bits. I hate to wallow or complain, I have little reason to. This year has tested that.

And, the other day, I sank as far to that bottom as I ever will. I felt very sorry for myself. The UK seemed to be drifting away from the world even farther, with travel restrictions tougher, multiple mandatory tests imposed, hotel quarantines looming, all of which put the possibility of just crossing the water to go ‘home’ — always a basic reassuring given — more and more in question.

When, serendipitously, a friend left a bag with three kilos or pears on our doorstep.

It took me a couple of days to decide what to make of it, until the option presented itself as self-evident: pear and apple butter (I always have lots of apples on hand). I had never made it. I’m not sure I had ever had it. In fact, I sort of thought I was making something else: Apelstroop — or thick apple syrup, which I now realise is something different, made just with apple juice rather than purée.

Making apple butter is at once very easy and very time consuming. It is exactly the type of project to undertake at that moment when there is absolutely nothing to do, and no place to go. It is mindless. Meditative. And smells extremely good.

It was a bit of a springboard. Thanks, Claire!

Pear and apple butter barely adapted from Do Preserve by Anja Dunk, Jen Goss, and Mimi Beaven

2kg pears (it is also possible to use only apples, if that’s what you have)
1.6 kg apples
18 cloves
250ml (1 cup) water
60g sugar
120ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
Juice from 1 lemon

Wash the fruit and chop it all up into medium chunks, peel, core, and all.

Place the chunks of fruit in a large saucepan with 250ml of water and the cloves. Cook until completely soft, about half an hour, stirring occasionally all the way to the bottom of the pan.

Pass through a food mill to obtain a soft purée.

Return the purée to wide pot, add the sugar, maple syrup, and lemon juice, and cook over low heat, stirring nearly continuously, especially as the purée thickens, For.A.Good.Long.While. A few hours probably, for that quantity, until the purée has become a dark brick spreadable ‘butter’.

Store in sterilised jars and keep in the fridge (Or process the jars for long conservation).

Chard gratin

8 October 2020

October 8th. I’ve developed quite a crush on this dish since this August, when our friends brought us a big bunch of chard from their garden. I made a gratin, Louise had SIX helpings, which echoed what everyone was feeling, though we were perhaps not as quick. It has now settled into our regular weeknights.

Chard gratin

750g chard
75g butter
3 Tbsps flour (I usually use spelt though a traditional béchamel would be with wheat, and white or wholemeal depending on my mood)
500ml milk
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 garlic clove
A little olive oil or butter for the pan
Grated cheese, preferably gruyère

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Trim the rough ends of the stalks and any bits of damaged leaves, chop the chard into roughly 2cm (3/4 inch) strips, wash in cold water, and dry thoroughly ( I use a salad spinner).

To make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the flour and butter lump together and create a mass. Continue cooking briefly, then add the milk, one large splosh at a time, stirring continuously, until all the milk is used up. If the béchamel still looks quite thick, add some water until the consistency is edging towards runny.

Now season the béchamel with a generous pinch of salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg. Taste and adjust.

Rub an ovenproof dish with the garlic clove and grease the dish with a very little bit of olive oil (or butter). Add all the chard, it should seem as if it’s too much => It will reduce a lot while it cooks. Pour the béchamel over the chard as evenly as possible so everything is covered. Now sprinkle enough grated cheese to cover the whole gratin in a thin layer.

Slide into the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden.

Goes well with good sausages or a sturdy fish such as salmon.


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