Notes from the kitchen | Salmon with boiled potatoes and a chard and fava bean stew

3 July 2018

Tonight for dinner I’m looking into my freezer. We are nearing the holidays and it’s time to clean house. I see a dozen chicken sausages and have lentils in mind, but in a crate near the fridge some new potatoes have caught my eye. Immediately my thoughts wander towards the frozen salmon, and I imagine those potatoes boiled until soft and tossed with loads of butter and a handful of torn basil. Suddenly I am raiding the fridge — a bouquet of chard; the fava beans which I received as substitution for a kilo of peas last weekend, accepted, and, predictably, haven’t yet known to use. A quick chard and fava stew.

Prep time 30 min —
Take the salmon out of the freezer.
Peel the potatoes, cut into similar sized pieces, and place in a large bowl of cold water until ready to boil.
Trim off the ends and coarsely chop the chard. Wash and spin dry.
Pod the fava beans, then blanch them in an inch of lightly salted boiling water for about 1 minutes. Drain and immediately cover with cold water. It is now easy to remove the  outer skin. Poke a small incision into the side and squeeze out the bean.

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Cooking time 35 minutes —
To cook the potatoes, place them in a pot, submerged with cold salted water (as salty as seawater), and bring to a boil. Let them boil for about 20 to 25 minutes until an inserted knife encounters no resistance at the center. Drain the water, throw a large pat of butter over the potatoes, and immediately close the lid over the pot. Prepare the basil leaves to be added just before serving.

Once the potatoes are cooked and steaming in their pot, start cooking the rest.

In a cast-iron skillet, heat a generous drizzle of olive oil, throw in the chard, season with salt and the squeezed juice of one lemon. Toss the chard a few times as it ‘melts’ (it will reduce drammatically!) so the leaves underneath don’t burn. Once the chard is cooked (this takes just a few minutes!), add the peeled fava beans. They need only be warmed through with the residual heat from the skillet. Remove the chard and favas and place in a bowl, covered to stay warm.

Turn the heat up under the skillet, add another generous drizzle of olive oil, and once the pan is very hot, place the salmon fillets skin side down. You will be able to see the salmon cooking from the bottom up: after 3 to 5 minutes, once the heat has reached through to about one third, flip the fillets over, leave for 30 seconds and turn off the heat. The salmon will continue to cook just enough while the rest of the food is plated. It should be rare in the middle.

A very decent weeknight family meal, which we then ate in front of the tv watching England beat Columbia in an historic penalty shootout.

Weekend dispatches from the kitchen

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
Salt

‘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.

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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
Parmigiano

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.


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