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Notes from the kitchen | Weekend dispatches

17 June 2018

World Cup fever is burning high in the house and our life has plunged deep down the four-matches-a-day group-stage viewing tunnel. Lunches are grabbed haphazardly at half-time, we must just remember to feed the toddler. Pedestrian activities such as sitting around a table for a meal will have to wait until July.

Unprepared, though I should have been. Distracted, by the sudden abundance ushered in by the season. There is a glut of fruit and vegetables languishing in the kitchen.

So let the mind wander between games, drifting casually between the kitchen and the tv, and perchance an idea will materialize. The opportunity to finally make Marcella Hazan’s famous genius tomato sauce for the first time (!) because I have a weird relationship to tomatoes. An outsized deference. I rarely buy them before mid-July, and then usually the heirloom kind, whose only true calling is to be eaten in a salad. But things have changed, thanks to decent early summer tomatoes from the Isle of Wight. And I am overindulging. I have that aforementioned kilo and a half shrivelling in my kitchen. It is the right moment, in my life, and before Croatia / Nigeria.

Most will already know this technique, but for anyone who’d like a reminder:

Marcella Hazan’s genius tomato sauce recipe
1 kilo fresh tomatoes (or canned)
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
5 Tbsps butter

‘Blanch’ tomatoes for one minute in boiling water to help with peeling. Once cool enough to handle, peel and chop the tomatoes.

In a saucepan, toss the chopped tomatoes with the onion halves, the butter, and a generous sprinkling of salt. Cook at a low but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until ‘the fat floats free from the tomato.’ Basta. Genius.


And jam.

Strawberries, the other near victims of a disrupted weekend. But here my gluttonous lack of restraint paid off, because I had gooseberries on hand for my favorite early summer pairing. The recipe is already here.

Disassembled fool

8 June 2018

The best companion for these almond macaroons is rhubarb compote and a spoonful of cream. In winter, apple sauce. But today I have strawberries, and that’s good too.

It is often the case that I don’t plan for dessert. Then, as the day ambles on and friends start to arrive I begin to panic. Clearly ‘live and learn’ doesn’t apply to my chronic lack of dessert preparedness.

Last week’s almond macaroons have solved my problem. With summer berries or a fruit compote, like a sort of unassembled almond Eton mess, in an instant I have a pretty acceptable ‘I completely forgot about dessert’ dessert. No one need know. (Though I always tell.)

Disassembled fool

Almond macaroons — find the recipe here
Depending on the season: rhubarb compote, strawberries, mixed berries, apple sauce …
Good cream or thick yogurt

Almond macaroons

31 May 2018

I was bracing for a tortuous journey, recipe testing my way back to a niggling childhood memory: the almond macaroons from the health food shop close to our school in Sussex — seriously — in that faraway decade before I was even a teenager. I remember their sweetness and texture, it was practically like eating marzipan, with a  compulsive chewiness from lightly caramelized rims. And in my memory, they were enormous.

I’d planned the macaroon journey before, some years ago. I made one improvised attempt that was actually quite good, if I remember well. And that was that.

This time I perused all of my books. I found a recipe in Alice Medrich’s cookie bible Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy. And that is that. I have found another perfect macaroon. Not, as I’d intended, by patient trial and error, incremental recreation, milligram by milligram of sugar. I haven’t the patience, there is no time. These days, when it comes to cooking, I shoot from the hip.

So these are not the macaroons of my childhood, but perhaps some memories are best left unperturbed.

Almond macaroon recipe by Alice Medrich
I’ve changed the quantities slightly and I like to use whole almonds rather than blanched

250g almonds (whole or blanched)
330g sugar
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
3 to 4 large egg whites (to be added progressively)

Process the almonds (either whole or blanched depending on taste and practicality) and the sugar together in a food processor until very fine and starting to pack together on the sides, at least 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the almond extract and 2 of the egg whites. Process briefly, for a few seconds, until the mixture starts to form a lump around the blade.

Continue to add egg white little by little, until the dough, as Alice Medrich so perfectly describes it ‘has the consistency of very thick, sticky mashed potatoes.’

Drop spoonfuls of batter 2 inches (5 cm) apart onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Alice Medrich suggests heaped teaspoons, I like to use tablespoons for bigger cookies.

Let the cookies stand for 30 minutes before baking (if pressed for time it is ok to skip this resting period).

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes until they just begin to turn brown on the edges.

Let cool completely before removing from the baking sheet.

If you can manage, don’t eat them immediately, like all things almond they improve overnight and will keep for up to 4 days in an airtight container (after which they start to lose chewiness and flavour).

Pasta with pesto, shrimp, and garlic

15 May 2018

We make this often, and it barely warrants a recipe. It belongs to the ‘dinner in a minute’ ‘good idea’ ‘pantry meals’ category — a family of dishes which is always useful to have and expand upon.

We aim to always have pesto in the fridge. I’ll admit I rarely make my own (except occasionally ramp pesto). So I buy it in large quantities at a good local Italian deli. It keeps very well, always under a thin layer of olive oil, and can also be frozen.

Shrimp is a difficult proposition when one is attached to local and sustainable, and I confess that it is one exception I have been willing to make. So I buy frozen shrimp, where it is easily available to me, from a company that seems to have ethical standards (I hope! — And so it claims).

Pasta and garlic should, of course, always be on hand.

And hunks of Parmigiano, which no self-respecting Italian would ever grate over a bowl of shrimp. But I am blissfully free from cultural tyranny.

Pasta with pesto, shrimp, and garlic
The key to this simple recipe is in the proper order and timing

Quantities for 2 to be adapted accordingly
300g shrimp, frozen or fresh
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsps pesto (also very good with ramp pesto)
200g pasta

Prepare a pot of cold water large enough for the amount of pasta, with a small handful of coarse sea salt. Bring to a boil.

If using frozen shrimp, take them out of the freezer, in a colander, and put them under flowing cold water for half a minute. Place on a plate to de-freeze. If using fresh, just peel the shrimp.

Finely slice the garlic. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan large enough to comfortably hold all the shrimp (crucially, the shrimp mustn’t be crowded or they will stew rather than turn golden and crisp). Fry the garlic until just golden brown (beware, it goes very fast!). Remove immediately and reserve.

Place the pasta into the boiling water and let cook for about 10 to 12 minutes until al dente.

Pour a little more olive oil into the frying pan and fry the shrimp over high heat, turning them over once. They should become deep-hued and golden, but this takes just a few minutes, be careful not to overcook.

Strain the pasta, mix in the pesto, and serve in bowls with the shrimp and garlic, and freshly grated Parmigiano if desired.

A path of least resistance lamb shoulder

9 March 2018


It took me less than twenty minutes of hands-on preparation, I timed it. This could even have been brought down to 15, had I used ready-ground spices, but, as many corners as I opted to cut here, pre-ground spices was one step I was not willing to take. So it took me 20 minutes, including grinding the spices. This being said, the spice call is everyone’s to make. The point here is the path of least resistance.

We need these types of dishes. I don’t mean the 10-minute weeknight dinner of frozen peas and fried egg, devoured alone, somewhat smugly and a tad self-consciously, under harsh kitchen lights. That’s indispensable too. But I am speaking of another kind, a spectacular feast worthy of any guest (incidentally, here, enough to nourish at least six), that doesn’t require a week’s preparation. A meal that lithely slinks through the cracks of everyday life. Twenty minutes of work — and a day of foresight. Let time work its magic.


The recipe evolved gradually to become the most hands-off possible.

First, choose a boned lamb shoulder. I ask the butcher to give me the bones on the side, which I scatter around the dish while it simmers. But I want a boneless cut. For this meal, I can’t be bothered with carving the meat around the bone. That is how stress-free I intend it to be.

There is no browning of meat or onions. The ingredients, blithely cut, peeled, and chopped, are all tossed into the dish together with the meat, spices, and aromatics. The low, slow metamorphosis will happen undisturbed. Meanwhile, watch a film, learn the piano, fold the laundry — whatever suits your hobby.

A couple of hours later the meat is cooked. But resist touching it yet, it will have to cool, spend a while in the fridge, and wait for tomorrow until those guests arrive.


Lamb shoulder recipe
Must be made at least half a day ahead

One boneless lamb shoulder, approx. 1.7kg (optionally with bones on the side)
4 or 5 onions
5 or 6 garlic cloves
A large piece of fresh ginger (or 1 Tbsp ground ginger)
2 lemons
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp and a generous sprinkling sea salt
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp ground turmeric
1 Tbsp olive oil
Green castelvetrano olives
Prunes for a sweet touch (optional)

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Peel and slice the onions. Peel the garlic cloves. Peel and slice the ginger. Grate ribbons of lemon peel, then juice the lemons (reserve).

** If you have 10 minutes to spare, by all means take the time to brown the onions. It will only deepen the flavors. But it is fine, and more tagine-like, not to.**

Arrange the onions, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, and bay leaves at the bottom of a dutch oven (or deep oven pan) large enough to hold the lamb shoulder. Sprinke generously with salt. Place the shoulder on top (and bones if using).

Grind the cumin and fennel seeds. Stir into a paste together with the turmeric, salt, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Rub the spice mixture over the lamb shoulder. Pour a little water at the bottom of the pan (about half an inch/ 1 cm).

Slide into the oven and cook, firmly covered (use aluminum foil of the pan has no lid), for 2 1/2 hours.

Remove the dish from the oven, let it cool, and, once cool, place it — still covered — in the refridgerator overnight (or for a few hours at least).

Take the lamb shoulder out of the fridge approximately 2 hours before serving. Turn the oven on to 175°C (350°F). Scoop off the layer of fat that will have congealed and let the shoulder come to room temperature for about 1/2 hour. Sprinkle a handful of almonds and a handful of olives (and a handful of prunes, if using) over the lamb and slide into the oven for about 1 hour.

Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.


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