Escalivada or Catalan roasted vegetables

Eating Escalivada reminds me of long holiday lunches while staying with my friend who has a flat by the beach in Llançà in Catalonia. It is so simple to make, yet the combination of roasted vegetables is just right, making a delicious starter, light lunch or a side dish that seems to go with everything.

Yesterday we had it with a dish of warm lentils, rocket salad and an oozingly ripe goat’s cheese. The only thing it demands is a bit of advance planning, as the vegetables need to cook quite slowly in the oven. This quantity serves 4 as a starter or part of a main course. It keeps well in the fridge, so it’s worth doing more than you need,  providing an instant hit of sunshine for supper later in the week.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 medium onion
1 aubergine
olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5 – though if you were cooking something else at 180ºC/Gas mark 4 that would be fine too; they would just take a bit longer to cook. Wash the peppers and aubergine. Cut out the stems of the peppers and pull out the fibrous inside and seeds. Slice off the top of the aubergine, and pierce it a few times with a knife (to avoid explosions in the oven). Cut the onion into two (or four if it is fat) – no need to peel it.

Put all the vegetables into an oven dish and rub them with olive oil (except for the onion skin). Sprinkle with a little salt and cover tightly with foil. If you prefer you can wrap the vegetables individually in foil, but this strikes me as more trouble than is necessary. Roast for an hour, then check how they are doing – you need to roast them until they are really soft and starting to collapse. They will probably need another 30 minutes, and I took the foil off for the last 15 minutes to speed things up.

When the vegetables are all really soft take them out of the oven and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Then peel the skin off the peppers and aubergine – it should just pull away really easily. Extract any remaining seeds or fibres from the peppers – the only remotely fiddly part of the recipe. Slice the vegetables into long pieces about 2-3 cm wide and arrange on a platter. Pull the pieces of onion out of their skin, cutting them away from the root, and slicing them in half lengthways if they are too large to fit on a fork. Add them to the platter. Drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar, and season to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Escalivada is a great accompaniment to fish or lamb or chicken, or you can simply eat it with some good bread and a glass of wine. And pretend you are by the sea in Catalonia…

Pistachio and Almond Cake

When Irene came home with a dinky little cake tin she had found in Hema (a shop that is a bit of a Dutch institution, now opening in the UK), I obviously had to bake a new cake to christen it. The tin is 15cm in diameter and 3.5cm deep, producing a little sponge that cuts into 4 or 6 elegant servings.

This pistachio and almond cake follows the classic French quatre quarts recipe (known as pound cake in the US), being made with the weight of eggs in butter, sugar and flour – or in this case ground nuts. Weighing the eggs makes it really easy to get the proportions right, especially if you buy eggs of mixed size as I do. You can, of course, multiply the quantities if you have a larger tin – double quantities would be about right for a 22cm tin. For a quatre quarts cake you normally separate the eggs and fold in the stiffly beaten whites at the end, giving a light cake, but I wanted it to be dense and moist so just added the beaten eggs as you would for a Victoria sponge.  I put some rosewater in, but it didn’t add much here (maybe overpowered by the amaretto – or maybe I need to get some new rosewater…) so I have omitted it from the recipe.

We had it first neat with morning coffee, and then with poached rhubarb and crème fraîche, which was particularly good. The cake improves with a day’s keeping (wrapped in foil or greaseproof paper) – useful if you want to bake ahead when entertaining.

2 medium eggs, total weight 70g
70g butter
70g caster sugar
35g blanched (or ground) almonds
35g shelled pistachios
2 tbsps plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp amaretto

Heat the oven to Fan 150° C/170° C. Grind the almonds and pistachios together until they are fairly fine crumbs. I used the small chopper attachment on my mixer for this. You can of course use ground almonds if you prefer – ground pistachios are harder to come by, and grinding them yourself gives a more interesting texture. Grease your cake tin and line the base.

Beat the butter and sugar together in the mixer until pale and creamy. Beat the eggs and add to the mixture in two or three batches, with a little flour each time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the remaining flour, baking powder and ground nuts. Finally, add the amaretto. You could substitute orange juice if you don’t have amaretto. If you wanted to try it with rosewater than you would only need ½ to 1 tsp for this quantity of mixture.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cake is golden, springy to touch and coming away from the sides of the tin. Allow to cool on the rack and when cool, if you can resist eating it, wrap in foil until the following day.


Eve’s pudding

img_2448I have always loved this traditional apple sponge pudding. The tangy, soft apples combine with the light sponge to form a delicious creamy layer where the two meet. It is a classic English pudding, comforting to eat but easier and quicker than many steamed puddings – and lighter too.

The first recipe I used was from the Revo Recipes cookbook  that came with the electric cooker my parents bought when they moved in to their first house (below, and see my post on rice pudding). Revo CookbookHowever, I have long used the recipe in Arabella Boxer’s recipe Sunday Times Cookbook (published in 1983), which has a lighter sponge and specifies butter rather than ‘fat’! Boxer suggested it as a pudding to follow Saddle of Lamb for an English lunch to serve to foreign visitors, since hot puddings like this are such a distinctive feature of British cooking (it is hard to type this without wincing in the current political climate).

I used to cook Eve’s pudding regularly when we had apple trees producing abundant crops of Bramley and (even better) Lane’s Prince Albert apples. Yesterday I cooked it for a dinner with friends and was surprised that some of them hadn’t come across it before, so thought it would be worth posting. It is a also a timely addition to one’s arsenal of comfort food to combat political angst – and remains an excellent choice when entertaining visitors of any nationality.

450g cooking apples
40g (1½ oz)sugar
85g (3oz) caster sugar
85g (3oz) butter at room temperature
115g (4oz) self-raising flour
2 eggs

Heat the oven to 175º C/Gas Mark 4 (I notice this is a bit lower than the 375º F specified in the Revo recipe and may experiment next time). Lightly butter an oven-dish that holds about a litre. Peel, core and slice the apples and put them in a pan with a little water and the 40g sugar (or to taste). Cook gently for about 15 minutes or until the apples are soft – this is important: having not made this in a while, I forgot and didn’t cook them quite long enough last night.

To prepare the sponge, cream the butter and sugar until soft and pale. Beat the eggs and add them to the mixture bit by bit alternately with the sifted flour – you can do this in a food processor or mixer, but it is perfectly easy to do by hand. Add a little milk if the mixture seems too firm.

If you’re entertaining, you can cook the apples, prepare the dish and cream the butter and sugar together in advance, then finish the sponge and pop it into the oven before you sit down to the main course (or the cheese if you are serving a cheese course before the pudding).

When the apples are ready turn them into the prepared dish, and spoon the sponge over to completely cover them. Bake for 30 minutes until well risen and golden brown. Serve hot with cream. And any left-overs are delicious eaten cold from the fridge in true Nigella style.


Poussin with peppers

img_2430This is an attempt to reproduce a recipe that Marlene cooks often though I don’t know how close it is to the original. It is ideal as an easy way of having a sort-of-roast dinner for one and is lighter and a lot quicker to make than full-on roast chicken. Roasting the poussin over peppers with stock keeps the poussin tender and moist, and gives you lots of  delicious vegetables and juice, best soaked up with basmati rice. The chilli and paprika give a welcome kick of heat to meat that can be a bit bland.

img_2432I cooked it for a solo Sunday lunch, with some lovely fresh cavolo nero and it fitted the bill perfectly.  The plump poussin I cooked made enough for two meals for me, but don’t count on having leftovers if you’re hungry !

1 poussin
1 tblsp olive oil
small onion
1 tsp paprika
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli
small red pepper
1 stick celery
2 sprigs thyme
2 tomatoes
½ lemon (optional)
100ml chicken or vegetable stock

An hour before you start cooking take the poussin out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Choose an ovenproof pan that is the right size to hold the vegetables with the poussin on top. Ideally, you want an oven dish which will go on top of the stove as well, but if not – mine didn’t – you’ll need a medium frying pan to start things off. Heat half the oil in your oven dish or frying pan, season the poussin and quickly brown it on all sides, then set aside.

Put the kettle on to boil and pop the tomatoes into a heatproof bowl. Roughly chop the onion, pepper (you can use yellow or green peppers if you prefer) and celery. Finely chop the chilli any garlic (adjust the amount of chilli according to what type you have and how hot you like your food – I used one medium fairly mild one). When the kettle boils cover the tomatoes with boiling water and leave for a couple of minutes. Fish them out, run under the cold tap, score the skin with a sharp knife and it should then come off easily. Cut out the cores, and chop the tomatoes roughly.

img_2427Add the rest of the oil to the frying pan, and fry the onions gently until they are soft, adding the paprika after a couple of minutes and cooking it out thoroughly. I used less than 1 tsp of paprika, and thought it needed more, but the strength of paprika can vary, so you may want to be more cautious. Add the red chilli and garlic, fry for a minute or two, then add the rest of the vegetables. Cook until they are all softened, stirring from time to time – a good 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

By now the oven should have reached temperature. If you have been using a frying pan, turn the vegetables into the oven dish. Add the thyme (and some celery leaves if you have them) to the bed of vegetables. Put the lemon half into the poussin and lay the poussin on the top. Moisten the layer of vegetables with stock – you may not need all of it – and put into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then check: add a little more stock if necessary and turn the bird if it is browning unevenly. Now is the time to start cooking the rice.

Roast the poussin for a further 15-20 minutes until the juices run clear. Take out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Cut the poussin in half and serve with the vegetables and rice, spooning the  juice over liberally. And to be totally authentic put some Sambal Badjak on the table for those who like to add a bit of extra heat!img_2434

Mushrooms with polenta and gorgonzola

img_2389It had been a long day, it was raining and I was in serious need of comfort food – and a supper that didn’t involve going shopping first. I had some kale, the end of a packet of Gorgonzola, and a packet of chestnut mushrooms in the fridge – not very inspiring.

As soon as I spotted this recipe for mushroom ragout with polenta I knew it fitted the bill, as I had polenta in the cupboard and, unusually, a few dried porcini mushrooms too. Although I had to adjust some of the ingredients – no flat mushrooms only chestnut ones, Marsala instead of red wine, and gorgonzola instead of taleggio – my version was still really tasty – and comforting. I found this quantity of polenta rather more than I could eat, so if you’re not ravenous you might want to cook less.

Solace for one wet, weary person

a few porcini mushrooms
a large knob of butter
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Leaves of 2 sprigs of thyme
175g mushrooms, sliced
good slug of Marsala
60ml vegetable stock
25g gorgonzola

125ml milk
125ml water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
60g instant polenta
12g butter
15g grated parmesan (or vegetarian alternative)

Start by putting the porcini in a small bowl, covering with 40ml of hot water and leaving to soak for 20 mins. Put the milk and water into a saucepan with the bay leaf and thyme, and heat to boiling point. Pull off the heat and leave to infuse while you get on with slicing the shallot and mushrooms. Measure out the polenta and make up the stock. I used a scant ½ tsp of Marigold bouillon with boiling water – it would be better still if you are organised enough to have cubes of home-made stock in your freezer – I’m not there yet!

Put a good knob of butter into a large-ish frying pan. When it sizzles add the chopped shallot and cook for a few minutes. Then add the garlic and thyme leaves and cook for another minute. Squeeze out the dried mushrooms, keeping their soaking water. Turn up the heat and add the porcini, then after a minute add the rest of the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring all the time so they don’t catch, until they are soft. Add a good slug of marsala (or red wine) and let it bubble up and reduce for a minute or so. Finally add the mushroom soaking water and stock, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and you have the consistency of a stew.

img_2385After the mushrooms have been simmering for 5 minutes or so put the grill on to heat and make the polenta (and if you’re having greens, which I recommend, now is the time to steam them). Heat the flavoured milk and water back to the boil and pour in the polenta in a thin, steady stream, stirring hard all the time. Let it cook for a minute or two, then stir in the butter and parmesan (this is not a recipe for those who are wary of butter!). Pour into an ovenproof dish and create a dip in the centre.

img_2387When the mushrooms are ready pile them on top of the polenta, dot the gorgonzola over the top and put under the grill for about 3 minutes or until the cheese has melted. I do think it is best served with a big pile of fresh greens to counteract the richness of the buttery, cheesy polenta. I think it would be a good vegetarian dish for a crowd too, as the mushrooms could be prepared ahead and gently reheated, so that only the polenta would need to be done at the last minute. It would look good served on a big platter so that everyone could dig in – just multiply the quantities up to suit.

Poulet au vinaigre

img_2371After a day walking in the countryside in glorious winter sunshine on Sunday we were ready for a proper dinner. I had noticed an interesting recipe for Poulet au Vinaigre in the Guardian’s Cook supplement – I am really enjoying the articles by Iranian-American Samin Nosrat in her residency.

As it is a classic French recipe I thought I’d have a look at other recipes too, only to find that none of my cookbooks included the dish, not even Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This may be a reflection of the fact that I have fewer classic French cookbooks than I thought (a good excuse for a trip to the bookshop?). Searching online led me to Diana Henry’s recipe in House and Garden magazine, and it was this that Irene used as a base (I was strictly sous-chef on this occasion).

These quantities are for two generous portions (don’t be fooled by the picture above – we had seconds!). We served it with parsnips rather than the boiled waxy potatoes that Diana Henry recommends, and some broccoli – a green salad afterwards would probably be a more authentic way of getting your greens. To start we had prawn and avocado salad – sounds posh but I had a few prawns left from making fish pie on Friday and half an avocado that needed eating – and berry and frangipane bake for dessert. A delicious end to a beautiful day.

10g butter
4 chicken joints
1 large or 2 small shallots
2 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
150ml dry white wine
2 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp brandy
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp tomato purée
2 tbsp double cream

Poulet au vinaigrePeel the shallot(s) and chop finely. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, which has a lid. Dry the chicken and cut away any excess skin or fat. Put the chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down first, and brown them on all sides. Add the shallots and garlic and cover the pan. Turn the heat right down and cook gently for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

After about 20 minutes put the oven on and heat to 130ºC/Fan 110ºC/Gas mark ½ – this is to keep the chicken warm while you’re finishing the sauce. Once the chicken is done, tranfer it to an oven-proof serving dish, loosely cover with foil and pop into the oven.

Pour the fat out of the pan but don’t wash it. Add the vinegar and stir to incorporate all the nice sticky bits from cooking the chicken. Boil quickly until you have about a third of the liquid left, then stir in the wine, stock, brandy, mustard and tomato purée, mixing well. Boil this until reduced to sauce consistency, then push it through a sieve into a clean saucepan, squashing the garlic cloves so that their soft flesh is added to the sauce. Add the cream and bring to the boil. Pour the sauce over the warm chicken in its dish and serve.

The original recipe finished the sauce with little cubes of cold butter whisked into the sauce (after  you’ve added the cream), but Irene decided that this would be a bit too rich for a Sunday supper – maybe something for a grander occasion. The dish is also supposed to have a garnish of a large plum tomato, skinned, de-seeded and cut into strips, but there were no tomatoes in the house on Sunday. It was nonetheless extremely tasty and satisfying, the tartness of the vinegar adding complexity and depth to the creamy sauce. Highly recommended.

Panna Cotta with Sloe Gin Jelly

img_2350This recipe caught my eye because my friend Sue had given me a bottle of her delicious – and beautifully bottled – home-made sloe gin. I rarely buy food magazines – on the grounds that the pile of recipes to try on my desk is already quite big enough – but succumbed to the Christmas edition of Delicious, and this was in their ‘Showstopper Puddings’ supplement. The combination of ruby jelly and snowy panna cotta seems special without being heavy, while the elegant presentation, though not essential, is striking and does make it look like you’ve made an effort.

Inevitably, I have tweaked the recipe (after following it faithfully the first time around) – I found their quantities made too much for my glasses, and instead of flavouring the jelly with a couple of rosemary sprigs I flavoured the panna cotta with geranium, inspired by Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking recipe for geranium cream. I have a sturdy lemon geranium plant which smells glorious, and so far has survived unscathed in a corner of my windy balcony. I also replaced some of the cream with yoghurt (as in this recipe for Yoghurt Panna Cotta), in a token nod to New Year resolutions, though I’m not sure this was an improvement. My caster sugar is effectively vanilla sugar as I store part-used vanilla pods in my sugar jar. This isn’t essential but if you don’t fancy or don’t have lemon geranium then flavour the cream with the seeds from a vanilla pod, as the original recipe did. My next experiment will be to try a different flavour of jelly – I think orange would taste great, and if you made it with blood oranges it would look spectacular too, so you can still make this dessert even if you aren’t lucky enough to have some sloe gin.

These quantities fit four 200ml glasses – I can’t serve it to more people as I only have four glasses that are the right size and shape! The quantities are easily multiplied if you are feeding more, and would of course taste just as good set in layers if you can’t be bothered with the (minor) faff of tilting the glasses – the main obstacle being making enough room in the fridge for four glasses plus their containers. You need to start this at least 6 hours before you want to eat it, so ideally in the morning or the night before – don’t skip the step of getting it out of the fridge for an hour before serving, particularly if it has been in the fridge all day, as this does improve the flavour and texture.

Panna cotta
2 gelatine leaves (I use Costa Fine Leaf)
400ml double cream (or 300ml double cream + 100ml Greek yoghurt
35g caster sugar (or about 2 rounded tbsps)
2 scented geranium leaves (or seed from 1/2 vanilla pod)

Sloe Gin Jelly
3 gelatine leaves
50g caster sugar
125ml sloe gin
2 rosemary sprigs (optional)

Start with the panna cotta: put the gelatine leaves in a bowl and cover with cold water. While they are soaking, gently heat the double cream, sugar and vanilla or geranium leaves in a large saucepan. Heat the cream until it is just steaming, not simmering, and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. (If you are using geranium and want a strong flavour leave the cream to stand for a while – though I found that it perfumed the cream without doing so. You will need to reheat the cream before before proceeding.) Remove the geranium leaves, then squeeze out the water from the gelatine leaves and stir them into the cream until dissolved. Add the yoghurt, if using, and leave to cool until it is just warm to the touch.

img_2349-1Now for the Blue Peter bit: find bowls in which you can support your glasses at an angle, using a nub of blue-tac to stop them shifting about. Once the panna cotta has cooled, pour or spoon it into the glasses to form a pristine ski slope of cream up to the rim of the glass. Carefully move to the fridge and leave to set – I left mine for a couple of hours.

When the panna cottas have almost set make the jelly. Put the gelatine leaves to soak in cold water, as before. Put 150ml of water and the caster sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the sloe gin (and the sprigs of rosemary if you are using them), and cook over low heat for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, squeeze out the gelatine and stir into the mixture, stirring until it is dissolved. Allow to cool until it is just warm to the touch and then spoon or pour into the glasses. You can either stand the glasses straight at this point (as I did) or set them at the opposite angle to create a slope of jelly. Leave to set for at least 3 hours. Take out of the fridge for about an hour before serving to bring them back to near room temperature.