Vaguely inspired by Felicity Cloake’s cacciatore recipe, I’ve dug out this perennial favourite, which has arrived by way of a stained and crumpled scrap of paper, tucked into my copy of The Encyclopaedia of Italian Cooking.
It’s neither one thing nor the other, but quite tasty and quite easy. To serve four you’ll need a larg frying pan, and into it chuck:
- 75g pancetta, cubed, frying gently until the fat has rendered and the bacon has gone crunchy
- 500g boned skinned chicken thighs, halved down the middle – do these on a high heat, until they’re lightly coloured on the outside, rescue with a slotted spoon and set aside (the middles of the chicken pieces will be raw but don’t worry, we’ll fix that shortly)
- 500g total diced celery, carrot and onion (or whatever aromatics you have to hand) plus four smashed cloves garlic, reduce heat, fry until soft and colouring, you might need a splodge of vegetable oil if there wasn’t enough in the bacon and chicken
- add 125mL white wine, and stir like mad, to incorporate any of the built up yumminess on the bottom of the pan, and then return everything else
- add enough boiled water to cover, plus one 450g tin chopped toms, drained of their juice
- on top of that, four sprigs of rosemary, around two dozen kalamata olives (stones in), and a generous grind of pepper
- bring to the boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 mins (45 if you’re using whole thighs with bones in)
- remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon
- turn up the heat and reduce by half (you could stir in a tablespoon of crème fraîche at this point)
- serve with polenta or rice
- this will be improved by an overnight stay in the fridge
Let’s take slow lamb over to the other side of the Mediterranean. This isn’t quite perfected, but it’s jolly good nonetheless. Line a roasting tin with a piece of foil large enough to wrap up over and seal, and into it place the following:
- 1kg lamb neck fillet, chopped up into one inch lengths, try and get this into a single layer
- the juice of 2 lemons
- a whole head of garlic, peeled and bashed up a bit, but no need to separate
- 1 tbsp of dried chilli flakes
- 6 whole dried chillies
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 12 whole cloves
- 12 cardamom pods
- 1 tsp of sea salt (sea salt crystals are quite large, so much less if you’re using table salt)
- 20 whole black peppercorns
- a cinnamon stick broken into 2 or 3 pieces
Pack the head of garlic in with the lamb, tuck in the cinnamon sticks, and just sprinkle everything else over the top evenly. Wrap up foil, and crimp, so it’s properly sealed.
Three hours in the oven at 150°C should do. Serve with couscous.
Despite the relatively heavy use of spices, it’s mild and aromatic, rather than viciously hot, as the whole spices seem to preserve more aroma. If you need to use ground spices, then halve the quantities. You could also add a pinch of ground spices if you want to add kick. Don’t bully your guests with too much chilli, instead, just serve with harissa on the side.
The Major detests couscous and declares it to be fluffed cardboard. He has a point: unadorned, without the juices of a nice lamb stew seeping through, it’s about as exciting as pasta without sauce. (Which is exactly what it is.)
Here’s one way to enliven it. You will need:
- 500g couscous
- two large onions
- 1/2 tsp each of cumin, turmeric, ground cinnamon, plus four cloves and six (shelled) cardamom pods
- a generous pinch of salt
- one 450g tin chopped tomatoes
- one 450g tin cooked chickpeas (no need to drain)
- 150g plain (a.k.a. “Greek”) yoghurt
Finely slice and fry the onions in a large pot with a generous splash of vegetable oil. They need to get light brown and crunchy, as though you were making pilao rice, so expect this to take around 10 minutes.
Add the salt and spices, fry for around a minute, before dumping in the tomatoes, chickpeas and yoghurt. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.
In the meantime, boil the kettle, put the couscous in a bowl, and pour over enough boiled water to cover, which is probably less than would be recommended on the packet. Give it a good stir until the grains start to swell and absorb all the water, then hoik it into the pot with everything else. Turn off the heat, cover, and leave for ten minutes.
The Major ate all the couscous I set before him.
Posted in Recipes
There are zillions of variations – this particular one is what I serve alongside a vigorous curry.
- a small cucumber, or half a large one – about 200g
- 150g of plain (a.k.a. “Greek”) yoghurt
- a pinch of dried mint
- a pinch of salt
- a pinch of mustard seeds – not essential
Cut the cucumber lengthways into four, and trim off the inner section with the seeds, as this will exude too much water. No need to peel the cucumber. Dice this flesh finely, and add to the yoghurt, mint and salt.
If you have some mustard seeds on the premises, lightly crush a pinch of these and add.
Posted in Recipes
Tagged curry, sides
Huzzah for the British Summer, even in its belated and erratic form.
Some strawberries in the fridge had passed their prime and were a bit icky, but quite tasty, so time for some ice cream. It’s time consuming but requires very little effort, so best as a background task.
I used 300g of the finest (hint!) ready made shop custard to 200g of strawberries.
- pop custard into a mixing bowl and into the freezer
- wait 30 minutes
- retrieve custard and beat with an electric whisk, then return to the freezer – use a soft rubber spatula to push the edges down, otherwise they’ll freeze solid
- wait 30 minutes
- retrieve custard and beat again – at this point it will show a little resistance, and you may need a metal spoon to dislodge the edges – again, use a spatula to scrape down the side of the bowl into the middle and return to the freezer
- wait 30 minutes – it should be starting to get seriously cold now
- retrieve, beat, and return
- wait 30 minutes, and in the meantime wash, dry and hull the strawberries and then squish them vigorously with a potato masher (I haven’t added them earlier as I want obvious bits of strawberry in the finished product)
- retrieve the ice cream which should be stiffening up, beat, add the strawberries, 15mL of Cointreau, beat again, and then return to the freezer
- wait 30 minutes
- retrieve and beat once more more before returning to the freezer for a couple of hours, covering the surface with cling film, to avoid ice crystals on the surface
- as this has a fair amount of water in it from the fruit, it will set hard, so pop it in the fridge for an hour or so before serving (or nuke for five seconds)
Job done. Blah blah homemade custard blah blah life too short blah blah.
Only thing better is getting a South African to say “ice cream”. (They’re getting wise to this one, now, so you will need to be subtle.)
Posted in Recipes
Tagged fruit, pudding
However you might feel about British food, you cannot deny this island produces some of the best strawberries on the planet. I’m given to understand that this is because they’re still grown in the ground, whilst the rest of the civilised world have taken to growing them hydroponically, which maximises the yield, but at the expense of texture and flavour.
That said, they can occasionally disappoint, and my box of new season’s strawbs are pleasant, but without the richness that they’ll have in June. Here’s how to improve them, quantities below for five greedy people:
- 500g strawberries
- 250g Mascarpone
- 300mL double cream
- quarter cup icing sugar
- 60mL Marsala
Lever the mascarpone out of its tub, and into a large mixing bowl. Sift the icing sugar over it. You need to combine the cream and Marsala, but if you add them all at once, you’ll just be chasing a lump of mascarpone around the bowl with a spoon. So start by adding a quarter of the cream and use a pair of metal spoons to break up the mascarpone and combine, after that it shouldn’t be too hard to add the rest. You want a smooth mix.
Retain a few of the most attractive strawberries for topping; hull and quarter the rest. In each bowl, place a dollop of the cream/mascarpone mix, a portion of strawberries, the remainder of the cream/mascarpone, and top with a single strawberry.
Leave in the fridge for an hour or two to set, and serve chilled.
You could use single cream, but you’ll need to sift in half a teaspoon of cornflour with the icing sugar to give it some stability. A chilled double espresso will add a certain kick to the mix, and you could also try a different alcohol. You could also sprinkle the strawberries with booze and allow them to sit for a while.
Tomorrow night’s dinner is now entirely prepared:
- we start with antipasti – some salami, prosciutto, olives, &c. – all of which simply get turfed out of the containers in which they were purchased
- the slow lamb and pommes boulangères are sitting in the fridge and will simply be put in the oven the moment I get home from work
- a hermetically sealed bag of pre-prepped spinach will be steamed just before mains are dished
- tinned baby figs will be served with mascarpone for pudding
- some port and stilton seems unseasonal but it’s TOO DARNED COLD not to seek solace in these trusted things.
Just a simple Friday night supper with The Major and Him What Knows in attendance. Since The Major might have been delayed, mains was a large pot of minestrone, biding its time on the hob, whilst we waited and devoured olives and schinkenspeck. The latter is as tasty as Parma ham, and about half the price.
I sweated 150g pancetta until crunchy and rendered; about fifteen minutes. Added 400g diced aromatics (onions and carrots), a knob of butter, salt and pepper, and then continued to sweat until the veg were soft and starting to caramelise. Another half hour – I wasn’t timing as I was doing the washing up. One 450g tin of chopped tomatoes, an equal amount of water, and a 450g tin of cannellini beans were added, the whole lot brought to the boil and then reduced to a simmer. A teaspoon of dried oregano and a bay leaf dropped in.
Secret ingredient time! Right now, you can get baby white cabbages in the shops, only slightly larger than your fist, which are full of flavour, and none of the unpleasant side effects of their larger brethren. I took one of these, only around 400g, peeled off the outer couple of leaves, and then sliced into segments, with a bit of stalk attached to each to hold the leaves together. Soup topped up with a bit of hot water from the kettle as it was getting gluggy, and the cabbage dropped gently on top. Another hour’s simmering, and a handful of cooked macaroni tossed in before serving with plenty of bread and grana.
Posted in Recipes
Tagged soup, Winter
Still here. Just about. Normal service will resume. Just as soon as I’ve sorted out those accursed boxes.
In the meantime, don’t forget that the first of this season’s Seville oranges are now in the shops.
Sorry about the silence. Have been moving house. Normal service will resume once I’ve unpacked the kitchen.
So many boxes.