Monday 18 June 2012

Roasted red peppers - sunshine on a plate

Roasted sweet pepper

Asparagus frittata

Roasted sweet pepper

Asparagus frittata

Picnic in Archbishop's Park

Remember those fantastically glorious hot sunny days we had a few weeks ago - the parks were full almost to capacity. It was as though we all realised that we couldn't miss a moment, we gave ourselves up to that rarefied languid feeling of being hot and lazy - slowing down and letting the warm breeze and sultry sun kiss our skin. Alas, it already feels like a distant memory but sunshine is always available on a plate. 

Roasted sweet peppers are a delight to behold and tantalise the palate and a frittata is perfect picnic fare.

Roasted sweet peppers

Heat oven to 200C.
Halve, deseed and wash three peppers.
Mix together in a bowl 2 mozzarella chopped up, chopped fresh tomatoes - 12 cherry or less if using bigger variety, handful of fresh basil, tablespoon of capers, tablespoon of sultanas, 6 anchovies fillets chopped up. Dowse with olive oil, a little salt and pepper and a good splosh of balsamic vinegar.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a baking dish - lay the pepper halves top to tail so they fit snuggly and divide the mixture between them.

Cook for approx 15-20 mins or until peppers are cooked.

Asparagus frittata

Clean and slice asparagus lengthways - steam lightly.
Slice and fry left over new potatoes until just brown.
Beat 4 eggs, season with salt and pepper and some grated Parmesan.
Pour over potatoes and asparagus. Fry on a medium heat finish under grill.

Friday 8 June 2012

Apricot bastard flan

Apricot, almond, rum puff pastry flan

What do you call a pie that has spawned from three recipes and a dose of your own imagination? Certain chefs would brand it - My Self Satisfied Apricot Tart or Awesome Apricot Aphrodisiac - because superlatives and expedient alliteration are all part of the armoury of food writing. 

I love writing and I love food but I tire of the generic approaches - the fashionable fixations (see I'm doing it too!) of food writing. All has become about lifestyle and as we pile our way through cookbooks, blogs and TV shows we are presented with a highly manicured, manically mediated perfection. 

There are plenty of rough and ready scenes in bucolic surroundings. TV chefs seem to be endlessly on the road in an array of iconic motors, setting up field kitchens with little more than a primus stove or a camp fire to produce eye watering manifestations before our eyes. The film editing is so sophisticated that never for a moment do we feel that we have been duped and that the food stylist has stepped in and retossed that salad or replated that food - no dribbles, no mess - an antiseptic approach. It's like watching the card sharks on Oxford Street - a carefully rehearsed performance and we the unwitting public suck it up. In our desperate desire to make our small and often imperfect lives somehow closer to the primped concoctions offered up.

So I give you another recipe - not as an example of my far from perfect life but as a possibility, an opportunity, a token of conviviality. This is real food made in a modest kitchen but made with imagination, love and care and not a stylist in sight.

Apricot Bastard Flan

Roll out a sheet of puff pastry really thin - 3mm the pastry is there as a carrier for the flan.
Press into a loose bottom baking tin and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cream together 100g of butter and 100g caster sugar until white and fluffy.
Lightly beat 2 eggs in a jug and then add slowly to the butter and sugar.
Stir in 2 tablespoons of dark rum, 100g ground almonds and finally 20g of sifted plain flour.

Take the flan from the fridge and spread apricot jam all over the pastry.
Spoon and spread the almond cream over the jam.
Halve and destone the apricots (I used 11) and the lay cut side sown as close together as you can covering the cream.

Put in a preheated oven at 200 C for about 12 minutes and then turn oven down to 180 C until the top is golden brown approx 15 mins.

Remove from oven and allow to cool a little before removing from baking tin.
The pie was soft and moist with crispy pastry and served with Greek yoghurt.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Sardines - Pasta con le sarde

Fresh sardines from Deal in Kent

Gutted sardines from Deal in Kent

Prepared sardines for Pasta con le sarde
All images: Visual Athletics Club

Fresh sardines are something of a delicacy in central London - rarely available and usually more the size of a mackerel. A visit to the Kent coast yielded these wonderful specimens and all for the princely sum of £2.40. Somehow good ideas seem to become hackneyed stereotypes alarmingly quickly but fresh and local do seem to yield the best produce and often the cheapest.

Authenticity is also another complex issue as every individual seems to have their own take on what constitutes the truly authentic. Can an Italian recipe ever be authentic when it is made outside of Italy? Then there are degrees of Italianess - Sicilian, Palermitan - the classification gets smaller and the authenticity increases. Personally I find it all slightly tiresome and I think cooking is about developing your own taste - how spicy, sweet, salty, you like your food will dictate the finer nuances of your cooking and in turn your own personal style.

So recipes are a guide - adjust, adapt at will - do not be strangulated by the straight jacket of prescriptive ingredients but use them as a guide - try the recipe and then try your own thing. 

This is Franca Colonna Romano's recipe from Sicilia in Bocca, so as regards finding wild mountain fennel - good luck but I have seen wild fennel growing by the roadside in less urban areas - so go forage!

Pasta con le sarde fresche all palermitana by Franca Colonna Romano in Sicilia in Bocca
Palermitan pasta with fresh sardines 

It is a famous Palermitan recipe, known throughout Sicily although with some variations. We shall give the original version.
The indispensable ingredient for this very tasty dish is wild mountain fennel. It can also be prepared with cultivated fennel, but if we said the result is the same it would be a gross untruth.

Ingredients for 6 persons: 600-700 grams maccheroncini, 1 kilo fresh sardines, 1 big onion, 100 grams pine-seeds, 100 grams sultanas, a big bunch of wild fennel, the packet of zaphran [saffron], 1 glass of oil, salt.

Boil the wild fennel, strain well but do not throw away the water. Chop the fennel up on a board with the point of a knife. Fry lightly in a frying-pan a well chopped onion, add the sardines, cleaned and boned, and mix until you get a pulp. Add the wild fennel, the packet of zaphran, salt, pepper, the pine-seeds and sultanas and the sauce to acquire flavour.

In the meantime you will have cooked the maccheroncini in plenty of water diluted with the water of the fennel, taking care not to let them get too soft. Season the pasta with one part of the sauce.

Prepare a large baking-tin, grease with oil and put a layer first of pasta, then sauce, ending with a layer of sauce.

Put the tin in the oven on a moderate heat for a few minutes.
These maccheroni are delicious both hot and cold.