Archive for the ‘pulses’ Category

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How to make a vegetarian smile, pt II

September 17, 2010

The last entirely vegetarian dinner party I cooked was a wintry little number, but very satisfying, with a few  nicely contrasting elements I think. The mainstay was a mushroom ragu served on creamy polenta, paired with a side dish of a punchy green salad with lentils & goat’s cheese.

There are a couple of things that made this work well. First, both the ragu and the lentils used  the roasted vegetable stock, as I described ages ago here. This time though, I took a leaf out of Skye Gyngell’s book – her secret flavour weapons often include tamari sauce and maple syrup, so I added a tablespoon of each to the reduced stock. I swear this little combo, while not leaping out as separate flavours, really gives a layered depth and complexity to the stock.

Next was the assortment of mushrooms. I used about 600g of combined chopped Portobello, field and Swiss brown mushrooms, and later added – importantly – a good tablespoon’s worth of dried porcinis to the mix. Again, this gives a big hit of rich flavour.

Mushroom ragu with creamy polenta

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 600g chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 1 x can peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup roasted vegetable stock
  • 10g dried porcini, rehydrated & chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • grated Parmesan, to serve
  1. Heat oil & add celery, carrot, onion, garlic and some sea salt, sauté until soft.
  2. Add a good big knob of butter & a little more oil, turn up the heat and – gradually, in batches – sauté the fresh mushrooms with the mirepoix over a high heat until the mushrooms lose most of their moisture and are nicely browned.
  3. Add wine, tomatoes, stock and herbs and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer.
  4. Add the chopped porcini and liquid to the sauce.
  5. Stir, then simmer uncovered for around 30 minutes (or even up to an hour),  till the sauce has reduced and thickened, adding another good slug of oil if it looks too watery. Add stock or water if at any stage it becomes too thick.
  6. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Not long before you’re ready to serve, make the creamy polenta – this is dead simple, as described here, but does take a little time. Just do the onion & milk bit ahead of time, and if you need to, have your guests chat with you in the kitchen while you stir.

Spoon the polenta into shallow pasta bowls, and top with a heap of the mushroom ragu (add a tiny swizzle of olive oil at the last second, if you dare), and sprinkle with Parmesan at the table.

Green salad with lentils & goat’s cheese

This zingy little salad can be made completely ahead of time and simply dressed & tossed just before you eat.

1. Sling half a cup of puy lentils into a pan of hot vegetable stock, and simmer for 20 minutes or till tender. Drain and return to the pan with a splash of olive oil till ready to assemble the salad.

2. Have some slow-roasted tomatoes (scroll down on the Essential Ingredients page) ready to go.

3. When you’re ready to serve, toss some good green salad leaves (specially good with some texturally springy ones, like curly endive and radicchio as well as soft lettuce) together with the scattered lentils and tomatoes in a bowl with a dressing of three-parts good extra-virgin oil to one-part best-quality balsamic vinegar. Then tear up some marinated goat’s cheese  (or even better, your homemade labneh!) and toss it into the salad in chunks. Serve in a bowl at the table.

Sweet ending

For dessert, I can’t recommend this whole orange cake highly enough – and because it’s made with almond meal instead of flour, it gives your guests another dose of good nutty protein. Serve it with some more yoghurt or cream on the side. Another almondy option is a frangipane tart, and although I haven’t made this particular one, there is a beautiful-sounding recipe here. Otherwise, I’d go for some other fruit-based dessert.

So there you have it – a simple but I think nicely varied vegetarian dinner menu for four, with heaps of punchy flavour and texture, and also providing a reasonably diverse mix of protein, dairy, carbohydrate and lots of other goodies.

I would love to hear comment from our vegetarian visitors about how this combination might be improved – and as well, keep your ideas for zingy vego dinner party dishes coming.

V

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You borlotti beauty

August 8, 2010

At the risk of having to rename this blog Purely Pulses, I have to tell you about my first encounter with fresh borlotti beans. I am a big fan of the dried variety – and the canned – but until now I’ve never tried cooking fresh ones. But the other day I spied some in the grocery and couldn’t resist their splotchy raspberry-swirl stockings.

Today I did a test run at lunch with buddies – and am happy to say they made the grade and I officially declare them my New Favourite Thing in the World for this week.

After podding (or shucking! can we say that about beans?) the borlottis from their slinky pink sleeves, I chucked them into boiling water for about 20 minutes and drained them. Then, while they were still hot, I bashed them about a bit with a wooden spoon and then tossed them into a pan in which I had just crisped some exceptionally good bacon, plus a good handful of finely chopped parsley and a clove of minced garlic.

Into a bowl they went, with a generous slurp of Moon Over Martinborough‘s  luscious extra virgin olive oil (which I bought online from NZ after reading this lovely post here and am absolutely loving sloshing around in every veg dish I can at the moment), loads of sea salt and juice of about half a lemon.

Seriously good result. The fresh beans have a much nicer texture than the canned ones, which can be a bit sludgy, and I reckon the freshies have a beautifully delicate colour too (the canned ones do tend toward a depressingly old-ladies’-underwear hue, don’t you think?).

And if you think the finished dish rather resembles a great many other legume side dishes you’ve seen on this blog, well – you’re right. But it can’t be helped – too much legume love is never enough round these parts.

Now, while I’m here, I wish to draw your attention  to the lovely folk at Feather & Bone, providers of the above-mentioned free range bacon and lots of other meaty goodies we chomp our way through in this house.

Ever since I bought our divine Christmas ham from them last year on the recommendation of Empress Clifford-Smith, Feather & Bone have basically become the guardians of my conscience when it comes to eating animals.

Until I turn vegetarian (will that day ever come, I wonder) I try to do the next best thing, and support farmers who treat their animals as humanely as possible, as well as doing all they can to care for the land in a sustainable way. And what with the whole free-range/organic labelling confusion and misinformation that goes on, the only way I know that I am really doing the best I can by the creatures is to buy from Laura and Grant at Feather & Bone. They do all the research, all the inspecting of the farms and the buying of produce from very carefully selected farmers, based not only on the ethical treatment of animals but just as importantly, the quality and flavour of the meat – and believe me,  they know their stuff. To boot, the glorious goodies are delivered to your door if you wish. What’s not to love?

But you don’t just have to take my word for it – the great news is that just this month, Feather & Bone have been named Delicious magazine’s Outstanding Supplier of the Year. So congratulations to Grant & Laura from me and all who have dined on your efforts in this house. For readers living in Sydney, I can’t recommend F&B highly enough. And we shall be celebrating tomorrow night by roasting a couple of delectable Feather & Bone chooks for Senor’s birthday dinner. Cheers!

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A bit on the side: roast cauli & chickpea salad

July 21, 2010

The other day, with a whole heap of folks coming to dinner, I had one of those crises of confidence in which you are suddenly convinced there won’t be enough food.

In our case this is almost always wrong (as indeed it turned out to be this time), but nevertheless the point came during the afternoon before a biggish gathering when Senor and I stood together peering into a huge pot (of Neil Perry’s cinnamon lamb) and asked each other, ‘Do you think there’ll be enough?’

Of course there was. But during that moment of doubt I recalled that in the fridge were a cauliflower and half a bunch of spinach, and the cupboard always has chickpeas. And I had for weeks wanted to try making a version of a delectable simple chickpea, silverbeet & cauliflower number I’d eaten twice now at Bodega (the Surry Hills tapas restaurant which I reckon must have some of the most blindingly delicious and original food in Sydney).

So I gave a version of this salad a try, as a little side dish to go with the tagine and the couscous, and it was not half bad. Next time I’d make the cauliflower florets larger as mine became a little too soft (and the Bodega cauli is deep-fried, I think, rather than roasted), but I have to say the flavour and texture was quite delicious. It’s a perfect quick side dish and chock full of goodness.

Roast cauliflower, spinach & chickpea salad

  • olive oil
  • ½ bunch English spinach, stems finely chopped & leaves roughly torn
  • ½ head cauliflower, broken into smallish florets
  • 1 cans chickpeas, very well drained
  • salt
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
  • tsp cumin
  • juice 1 lemon
  • few sprigs coriander, to garnish
  1. Break cauliflower into small florets, toss in a bowl with a good few glugs of olive oil till well coated, then spread over a baking tray and roast in a hot oven for around 30 mins or until golden brown.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over high heat and add drained chickpeas. Add salt & agitate in the pan until the chickpeas are well coated and begin to turn golden.
  3. Remove chickpeas with a slotted spoon to kitchen paper.
  4. Finely chop the spinach stems and add to the hot oil, fry till the pieces begin to crisp. Turn off the heat and add the leaves until they wilt.
  5. Gently mix the chickpeas, roasted cauliflower and spinach with the garlic  in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and cumin, adjusting to taste.
  6. Serve with a little chopped coriander to garnish.

And now, friends of the oyster, I am taking a fortnight away from blogging – am off to a writing retreat to try to finish my novel. See you soon!

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A paean to the pea

July 6, 2010

Regular visitors to this blog will know that I am an avid fan of the legume (see here, here, here and here, just for a few examples).

And those of us who love the legume have good reason. The Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition points out here that a diet high in legumes, indeed, is “the most protective dietary predictor of survival amongst the elderly, regardless of their ethnicity.”

This same study goes on to report that:

“the significance of legumes persisted even after controlling for age at enrolment (in 5-year intervals), gender, and smoking. Legumes have been associated with long-lived food cultures such as the Japanese (soy, tofu, natto, miso), the Swedes (brown beans, peas), and the Mediterranean people (lentils, chickpeas, white beans).”

Given all this and the fact that my (cough) birthday is around the corner, I think the time is right to declare my adoration for the humble frozen pea.

What’s not to love about this little green baby? It’s virtually instant food, packed with nutritional goodness (unlike soggy, sodden canned ones – ugh), and so versatile. Chuck half a cupful into soups and curries, mash them up with a little with olive oil and prawns in linguine,  puree with roasted garlic to serve under pan-fried fish, mix steamed peas with chopped bacon or pancetta,  mash peas with some pecorino and olive oil (and broad beans!) and pepper to serve on toast.

I know you legume-lovers must have your own ideas of pea perfection, so do share … Meanwhile, here is a very simple minted pea and lettuce soup I made on the weekend. The flavour is sweet and fresh, the texture velvety, the colour is gorgeous and (perhaps because the pea, I believe, is a complex carbohydrate?)  this soup is surprisingly filling.

Minted pea soup

Serves 4-6

  • olive oil
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 baby cos lettuce, thoroughly washed & roughly chopped
  • 400-500g frozen peas
  • pinch sugar
  • 1½ cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • ½ bunch mint
  • salt & pepper
  • dash cream, to serve
  1. Sauté leek &  garlic till soft.
  2. Add shredded lettuce & peas to the pan with sugar and a little of the stock.
  3. When lettuce and peas are soft, remove to a food processor and puree till smooth, adding mint and as much stock as needed for a smooth mixture.
  4. Return mixture to pan and gradually add the remainder of the stock until the soup is the thickness you like (as water if still too thick) and season to taste.
  5. To serve, add a spoonful of cream to the base of each bowl, then add the soup and swirl cream through.

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The incredible lightness of bean

February 10, 2010

The other night Senor and I went with Sister & Beau to the very good Da Gianni Trattoria in Annandale. Great food. And accompanying my delicious lamb was a very fine, very simple white bean & tomato number that I kept yearning for later on. As you know, round these parts we love anything with a pulse – but unlike lots of bean dishes this one was zingy, light and fresh. So I had a shot at replicating it a few days later, and while mine wasn’t exactly as good as the restaurant’s, it was near enough to get the compliments we kitchen kids secretly crave …

Happily, I was able to use some of the slow-roasted tomatoes I had already made (from the home-grown glut, you understand *preen*).  You could use canned cannellini beans but one of the best things about this dish was the only-just-tender, firm texture of the beans, and I reckon canned ones could go a bit slushy. So I say live dangerously, do the soaking thing and the result will be much better. I used whatever white dried beans were in the pantry (since I solved my bean dilemmas of yore I have given up caring what the difference may be between navy, cannellini, haricot & so on).

  • 1 cup dried white beans
  • 4 slow-roasted tomatoes (there’s a bit here on slow-roasting – easypeasy, but takes time)
  • 6 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • juice ½ lemon
  • 1 bunch chives, finely chopped (if you use garlic chives, skip the garlic above)
  • 4 basil leaves, cut into fine ribbons
  • 1 slug best quality olive oil
  • salt & pepper

1. Soak the beans overnight, drain and cook in boiling water until just tender. Drain & cool.

2. Chop the tomatoes as finely as possible without turning to mush.

3. Ditto with the anchovies.

4. Gently toss all ingredients together, adjusting the balance of oil, lemon & salt as you go. Done, and delicious.

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Lentil fortitude

January 30, 2010

This is one of those ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ dishes: lentil tabbouleh, from Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Saha book. In fact, this combo is so obvious, you all probably eat it five times a week, but it’s a delicious revelation to me.

While you could easily do this with canned lentils, I used dried Puy lentils as per the recipe and was reminded again how fantastic they are – they hold their shape so beautifully, and the ever-so-slightly-squeaky texture is a brilliant contrast to the soft moistness of the other ingredients.

My only tip is to add the tomatoes at the last minute before serving, as they start to lose their colour a little once mixed in.

100g Puy lentils

juice 1 lemon

1 cup mint leaves, chopped

1 cup parsley, chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

2 tomatoes, seeded & diced (this is one occasion where I actually do seed the tomatoes, to prevent sludginess)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground allspice

salt & pepper

I’m pretty sure you can figure out what to do now – cook the lentils in boiling water for 20 mins or so, till just tender; cool; chuck everything in!

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Taste, memory, chickpeas & Dorothy Porter

December 21, 2009

111. My Young Nose

Jerusalem has one delicious smell –

a fried chickpea
raucous savoury

cooked in tantalising mouthful balls
it sizzles aroma from grubby stalls

suffused with donkey and camel
my first taste of street falafel.

– From ‘Jerusalem‘, in The Bee Hut*

Dorothy Porter, the sassy, electrically vibrant poet and writer, died a little over a year ago. She was loved by many people; not just those who knew her, but her readers – and her students. I’m not sure if she taught regularly but many years ago, when she had just published a collection of poetry called Driving Too Fast, Dorothy Porter came to a university writing class of mine to give a one-hour workshop.

This was an important lesson for me as a young thing; not just about writing, but about sensitivity and compassion. I was in my early twenties, and most of the class were just out of school. But there was another woman, aged maybe about thirty-five or forty, in our class. I am ashamed to say she was pretty much routinely ignored by the younger people in the room. She was quiet, and seemed downcast much of the time.  There were occasional rumours about her being a junkie, and a single parent, but most of the time she was invisible to us. Except, that is, for the day Dot Porter came to class.

We did some writing exercise I now can’t remember, but it involved having to put some emotional truth on the page. Young people are not so equipped for emotional truth on the page, I recall from my own early writings and from much of what I’ve seen as a teacher. My own writing at that stage involved either still trying to protect myself from that kind of thing (truth, that is) and instead impress with my world-weariness or – sadly, I suspect, more often – I self-dramatised, exaggerating every workaday observation into Art, which at that age so often equated with Angst. Lyrical as hell, full of texture and colour and Beauteous Sensuous Detail but you know … lordy, I am weary just remembering it. Erk.

Anyway, we read our bits and pieces, desperate to impress Dorothy, who was kind and funny and sexy and generous. And then the woman we all ignored read; something simple – and if I had even paid it any attention, I would have presumed it dull – about loneliness. We rolled our eyes, if not directly at Dorothy, then at each other, or just in our own minds. And then I learned my lesson. Dorothy Porter rested her gaze – that powerful, thrilling gaze of hers – on this woman, and listened intently. Then she allowed a silence before praising the woman’s work. And then she said, looking coolly around the class at the rest of us, that throughout history artists had wrestled with the psychological and spiritual demons that this piece of writing – a truthful piece of writing – was showing us. And she turned her life-giving smile and warmth back to the woman and thanked her for her work.

A big, important, kick up the arse for young smartypantses, and I never forgot it.

From that day I was a huge fan of Dorothy’s, and was lucky enough to meet her a couple of times many years later, when I had published my own work. She was electric. Anybody who ever heard her read knows how the air crackled when Dorothy spoke. It’s what I remember most – the physical charge you felt fizzing through you when she read poetry.

A few weeks ago I went to the new Meanjin Dorothy Porter Prize announcement here in Sydney, where the writer Andrea Goldsmith, Dorothy’s beloved partner, spoke of ‘Dot’, as those close to her knew her, and read from her posthumously published new collection, The Bee Hut. This collection is pretty breathtaking. If you’ve sometimes felt shut out from poetry, as I occasionally do, buy this book. You will be drawn in and demolished by it.

The other day I heard Andrea Goldsmith (whose own novel Reunion is urgently on my must-read list)  talk about writing, about grief and about Dorothy, and read from The Bee Hut on The Book Show. The interview is riveting; her reading of Dorothy’s ‘The Ninth Hour’ is devastating.

Anyway – I thought of Dorothy Porter the other night, because I was making chickpeas for dinner. Not falafel – I tried that a few weeks ago and ended up with a miserable disaster as they repeatedly dissolved into a fizzy mess – but an easy chickpea fritter. It’s quite delicious, and holds together just fine. We gobbled up lots, and then froze the leftover mix for later.

Chick pea fritters – makes about 16 biggish fritters

  • 2 cans chickpeas, rinsed & drained
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1-2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 baby fennel bulbs, finely chopped
  • ½ bunch parsley / coriander, finely chopped
  • 3 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 3 tablespoons rice flour
  • salt & pepper
  • rice bran or vegetable oil


1. Gently fry onion, garlic, leek & fennel in a little olive oil with cumin & coriander for a few minutes.

2. While that’s cooking, roughly mash chickpeas with a potato masher.

3. Mix together chickpeas, onion mix, carrots & fennel and herbs till well combined.

4. Add eggs, then flour, and mix well, then season. Clump mixture into a ball – if it seems too loose, add another egg & a little more flour. Form mix into flattish fritters.

5. Heat a centimetre of rice bran or veg oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. When hot, cook fritters a few at a time, turning once. Drain well on kitchen paper.

Serve with salad and a dollop of yoghurt sauce: mix yoghurt with finely chopped dill or any other soft herb, a drip of honey and lots of sea salt.

* My thanks to Andrea Goldsmith for generously allowing the reproduction of Dorothy’s poem here.

Woops, forgot the Christmas Excess Antidote.

Try this one, which I found via stonesoup – food bloggers around the world do this nice thing each year,  called Menu for Hope, which raises money for the UN World Food Program. An excellent cause, I am sure you agree. Give it a shot – you can donate any small amount you wish, I think. I just did fifty bucks, which makes me rest a teensy bit easier about all the money our family is spending on lavish food this Christmas.


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Loaves and fishes: my list of miracle foods

December 15, 2009

Okay, I know Christmas isn’t strictly related to that particular miracle (reminds me of the time my heathen brother-in-law demanded of my mother what the hell Easter eggs had to do with Jesus being born in Bethlehem anyway…), but one of the things I really like Christmas & New Year holidays is the tendency toward spontaneous and sprawly gatherings over food.

You know the kind of thing, two people for lunch turns into ten, and an instant party ensues. But to make that kind of thing fun it’s gotta be stress free – so here’s my list of good stuff you can pull out at the last second for lunch or picknicky dinner, or take to a friend’s place to blast off their Christmas stress.

Some are old summer holiday faves, and some gleaned from these pages this year. Most of this stuff can be bought in advance and shoved in the fridge, freezer or pantry to pull our for miracle-working when requried…

  • Oysters – of course! Buy them unopened a few days before Christmas and keep in a bucket with a wet towel over them in a cool place – they keep for a couple of weeks.
  • Glazed ham – leftovers, for weeks. Mmmmm.
  • Chutneys & pickles – years ago the Empress introduced me to the killer recipe for Christine Manfield’s eggplant pickle.
  • Smoked salmon – or Virginia & Nigella’s cured salmon! – w creme fraiche and/or salmon roe & sourdough
  • Smoked trout –  keep a couple in the freezer and pull them out any old time
  • Cooked prawns, green salad, mayonnaise
  • Bread – keep a supply of sourdough in the freezer
  • Green salad, nicely dressed with good oil & vinegar
  • Chickpeas – of course! Chuck em in a bowl with bottled roasted capsicum & marinated feta or labneh, or try these ideas
  • Baba ganoush & Steph’s beetroot dip – plus packets and packets of rice crackers
  • Quinoa salad or citrus couscous (make a huge batch – both of these keep forever)
  • Lots of luscious, ripe avocado – buy a heap of those rock hard ones now to have softies on hand for later.
  • Lots and lots and lots of ripe tomatoes
  • Devils on horseback – everybody loves them! And you can keep sealed pancetta & pitted prunes on hand for months…
  • A couple of fillets of salmon in the freezer and a couple of spuds can yield a heap of salmon patties for a crowd.
  • Peas! I am never without a huge bag of frozen peas in the freezer. Actually there will be a new post on peas coming shortly…
  • Eggs – chuck a few halved, hard-boiled eggs in a green salad with some chunks of fresh, cured or smoked salmon and you have a delicious twist on nicoise.
  • Labneh – mmmm.
  • Quiche – if you have frozen shortcrust pastry in the freezer, a quiche takes about fifteen minutes to throw together and another twenty to cook. Fast and fab.

Okeydokes, that’s Santa’s (or Jesus’s?) list of magic expandable food for now – but you must have lots of things to add …

*Oh, and today’s Christmas Excess Antidote is courtesy of www.kiva.org– I absolutely love this site. At the click of a mouse you can provide a micro-loan (as little as $25) to someone in a developing country who’s making a go of things with very slim pickings indeed. I love it so much because your loan just keeps on giving – you can either get the money back (though what kind of a person …) or choose that it goes to someone else in the chain. Perfect!

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The platters that matter…

October 13, 2009

4candlesMenu for a 40th birthday lunch

My absence here over the past week has, till now, been almost entirely food-related. Well, celebration-related anyway – and in my family that means food. My sister’s 40th birthday on the weekend involved a bunch of us staying in houses on the coast just south of Sydney, and a few others popping down for the day. The main event was a birthday lunch for 25.

All our old family favourites (both human and culinary!) came to the table – a table groaning with platters of lovely food, it must be said, and as the last stayer at the coastal house I am the beneficiary of my sister’s generosity, still chomping my way through the leftovers.

Sadly I was too busy on the day to take pictures, which is a shame cos it looked beautiful. But nevertheless thought I’d share the menu with you here in case you ever need some stalwart standouts to cook for a crowd – everything on this menu is low-stress, almost all of it can be made ahead of time, every dish can be served warm or at room temperature, the platters set down a long table create an impression of great, colourful generosity and luscious diversity, and with a couple of vegetarians and one coeliac among our guests, this menu makes everyone happy. I’ll gradually add these recipes to the blog down the track – right now I’m still in culinary recovery – but let me know if any strike you as desperately urgent to have now.

  • Oysters – of course! – freshly shucked, with a squeeze of lemon
  • Rare rump of roast beef, according to Stephanie Alexander’s instructions
  • Poached whole salmon (with a horseradish cream for both this and the beef)
  • Zaatar chicken – from the fab Ottolenghi lads
  • Green beans braised in olive oil, garlic, tomato & dill
  • Roast carrot salad with mint & balsamic
  • Citrus couscous salad
  • Fennel, feta, tarragon & pomegranate salad – another Ottolenghi fave
  • Chickpea, roasted red pepper & marinated feta salad (all from jars & cans, but it looks and tastes fab)
  • Lentil, sundried tomato, parsley and Balsamic salad (ditto)
  • Crisp roast potatoes with minted creme fraiche dressing
  • Dessert, made by sweeter cooks than me, was an incredibly good chocolate and coffee birthday cake (Alice, we’ll have the recipe for that, please?) and the Manna from Heaven chocolate crunch made by Miss Jane; this is a lusciously dastardly version of the old fave hedgehog cake, updated into an utterly irresistible  death-by-chocolate experience.

Lunch went on for hours, the birthday girl looked a million bucks, the speeches were lovely, the wine flowed and the love goes on. Thanks Lou and J&B for a great weekend.

And thanks for the leftovers…

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Becoming broad-minded…

July 9, 2009

driedbroadbeansHaving got my dried bean anxieties off my chest, I am happy to report that I am now running my fingers through those slippery little beauties at every opportunity (thankyou Steph for the advice to get over myself …)

Once I remember to do the soaking – pretty easy, you must admit – the course is set, and it forces me to actually make the thing I had planned. And everything I’ve done – okay, two things (a repeat of the cassoulet, but with dried beans, and this one) – are tres simple and delicious (even without a pressure-cooker, Empress…)

A couple of years ago we stayed a fortnight in a rented house in Puglia, in the south of Italy, with some educated friends who knew that although Puglia was in the daggy, bogan bit of Italia, it also had the most spectacular coastline, beautiful towns and THE most incredible food. Anything we bought at the supermarket was astoundingly good quality, from chooks to calamari, and if we bought at an actual market market, even better.

Anyway, there are two things I remember very clearly from the menu of one restaurant we went to in the elegant town of Lecce (earlier researched by Italophile Jane, who speaks the language beautifully and knows her food): a rich, tender dark casserole of horse meat, which was meltingly delicious* and a smooth, delicate but complex broad bean puree for dipping stuff into – ditto.

So I was very pleased recently to see this recipe for Pugliese broad bean puree with chicory in Gourmet Traveller’s Italian edition, and made it today. It is the simplest thing in the world (and note to the confused, i.e. me, broad beans are fava beans, apparently) but creamy and delicately layered in flavour and silky in the mouth. I haven’t yet done the chicory and garlic oil bit, but plan to in the next day or two.

Go ahead, make it – basically it’s a broad bean version of hoummus. Lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt, whizzed up with the beans which are earlier cooked in chicken stock. Really good. And aren’t dried broad beans so beautiful to look at, apart from anything else?

*Before anyone freaks out about eating horse, I see no problem with it if, like me, you also eat pork, lamb, etc etc. Morally it’s entirely equivalent – which, I admit, means it is deeply complicated and basically indefensible. But the separating of some animals from others for purely cultural culinary reasons is ridiculous. Same with dogs, crickets, rat, whatever.  If you eat a clever, sensitive animal like a pig, you can’t judge anyone for eating a dog or a horse. And if you feel fine about eating animals of lower ‘intelligence’, why is that? Okay, lecture finished…. sigh. Enjoy the beans.