I can’t believe how many years have gone by and I haven’t made this little beauty. The aubergine variety, yes, but this one is just as easy and just as tasty and as it’s summer, perfect for a light lunch or starter. 1/4 inch thick slices of courgette, salted to remove excess water, dried, then dipped in flour and fried in olive oil until golden and then layered between the tomato sauce, chopped mozzarella and finally topped with a good sprinkling on Parmigiano Reggiano. You’ll notice I don’t do recipes as I just find my way with dishes, sorry! There should be plenty of recipes out there but I just ain’t that kind of cook. My friend’s italian mother in law – Maria, was preparing an enormous oven tray of it the other day when I dropped by her place and it just looked so good. Some people prefer the “white” version, made with a bechamel sauce but I like a good, rich tomatoey one.
Hmm…. Bread. Simple isn’t it. I wish it was. As well as being able to wolf whistle properly, making good bread is up there with things I’ve wanted to learn to do. I’ve learnt to whistle – now comes the bread making. I don’t know why it’s always slightly scared me, some people manage to throw a loaf together in no time and it tastes fantastic, maybe it’s all the stages involved, I have an earth mother type friend who knocks up 2 loaves every week as part of her routine. Nothing pretentious, just good quality flour and those 2 loaves last the week for herself and her husband. I bought myself a machine a few years ago with the intention of getting going on my BMV ( bread making venture) but unfortunately it’s gone the way of most of the other kitchen gadgets – stuffed at the back of a dark cupboard. Ain’t quite the same as proper sourdough which takes the best part of a week to get going from the time the yeasty starter ferments to the actual baking. Quite a labour of love.
Asparagus are in the shops! Not in my garden unfortunately, space and neighbours cats have put paid to the idea of growing my own so I just have to content myself with buying someone else’s. I kind of niggles me that I’m not as self sufficient as I would want to be, as I have been in other lives. The luxury of picking something fresh from the garden means more to me than any fancily packaged item from Fortnum & Mason and I really do try to eat seasonally and locally if I can and if that means limited choice in the winter then, so be it. Now that Spring has sprung though, there’s a bit more choice and asparagus is one of my favourites. I’ve usually roasted or steamed them but, on a home made pizza base scattered with mozzarella or ricotta cheese, you can lay thin, raw strips of them ( peeled lengthways with a potato peeler) and scattered over very thinly sliced Speck ( cured ham from north east Italy). Add a drizzle of olive oil over the top before serving………
It struck me as I sheltered from the rain in Waterstones bookshop yesterday, how quietly excited (can you say that?) I felt. To be A. warm and out of the downpour and B. cocooned by thousands of beautifully bound new editions, especially the table display of food and cookery books right in front of the door. How could I miss it? Sorry to say that like a lot of people who love books, I don’t often actually go into bookshops, most of my reads are borrowed from friends or purchased off the internet so I was taken aback at how incredibly beautiful the cookbooks looked. Obviously designed to not only show us how to cook the delicious dishes in the artfully styled photos but to lure us into a fantasy lifestyle, to sell us a dream of what it could be like to stand in that cool, terracotta tiled floor kitchen listening to cicadas, breathing in exotic scented flowers in pots on the doorstep and then to step into the cooks shoes and become her for even a couple of hours. The Peruvian book shown here even has a 3D cover made to look like real kitchen wall tiles which seem slightly padded. Dunno… maybe a step too far but I definitely like the look of “The Bloomsbury cookbook – recipes for love, life and art” It features Charleston Farmhouse, home and retreat for many of the Bloomsbury set and just down the road from me here in Sussex. If I’m completely honest, I don’t read many recipe books, I’m not that kind of cook. I prefer to eat or see something which I think is tasty and recreate it in my own way, it usually works, I’m quite good at improvising, but I can see why the publishers are pulling out all the stops to make their books as alluring as possible – everyone wants to make a food book these days so the competition is incredible.
Now, I like pasta a lot. Red sauce, cream sauce, veggie style… to me it’s the perfect meal. You put the water on to boil the pasta and in the time it takes to cook it, you’ve prepared something on the side in which to later toss it in, flavoursome, garlicky maybe, in any case, I always end up eating a bigger portion than my stomach should accomodate. I spent several years in Italy eating it every day, sometimes both for lunch and supper – incredibly, I didn’t balloon to the size of a small house as snacking wasn’t an option, Italians don’t seem to do it. You sat down, had a proper meal at the table and that was that until the next meal. I can even own up to the gluttonous “Spaghettata di mezzanotte” a quickly thrown together, late night pasta dish, which was usually “Spaghetti aglio, olio, peperoncino” consisting of a couple of garlic cloves thinly sliced & fried in a few tablespoons of olive oil – a fresh chopped chilli or two tossed in and some chopped, fresh parsley. The cooked pasta then strained and poured into the pan mixing all the ingredients and finally served up with a generous grating of Parmigiano. Sounds pretty simple but it’s really good!
I was pretty pleased to see this in my local Tesco recently even if it does cost twice as much as it does in France. Blanquette de Limoux is a sparkling white from the Limoux area of southern France in the eastern Pyrenees and predates Champagne as the oldest sparkling wine in the world. I just used to buy it as a cheaper version of Champagne whenever the occasion called for something cold and fizzy without really knowing anything about it’s history but it’s a nifty little tipple in it’s own right.
When I was about twenty, I went to live in the south of France. A trip that was going to last at the most a year, a chance to learn to speak the language properly, to meet new people, maybe even find love? At the time I knew nothing of the Impressionists, the romantic poets and their fascination with Provence, it’s light, it’s blue sea and sky, so, with nothing but a ruck sack I boarded the train in London bound for Cannes and my new life. As the year unfolded, thanks to the wonderful people I stayed with – artists and ecologists – who worked the land just outside Grasse and who had a deep respect for the nature that they lived in, I was awakened to all that the Mediterranean had to offer. I ended up staying for 2 years and then moved across the border to Italy for eleven years so it’s magic spell was well and truly cast. The photo above is one of my favourite images taken by Jacques Henri Lartigue called simply “Mediterranean.” For me it evokes that first encounter with the heat and blue of the sea, the almost shock of it’s promise, the driver and his passenger just arrived from Paris and it’s grey skies, stopping to bow to it’s magnificence. Each time I look at the photo I’m reminded of myself as a girl arriving in the Cote D’Azur, with all of my life ahead and a feeling of anticipation…..
So, what has that got to do with food? One of the great inventions of Nicois cuisine, albeit a snack, is the Pan Bagnat. A great, big, picnic sandwich usually bought from a street vendor on the seafront or on a market stall, stuffed with what is basically a Salade Nicoise, a large, chewy focaccia type roll filled with tuna or anchovies, (or both) tomatoes, peppers, local shelled tiny broad beans, Nicois olives, olive oil and basil. This version is for the putrists although also tolerated is the inclusion of sliced raw onion, radishes and hard boiled egg. I could happily eat the lot and usually, the vendor shakes a bottle of ready made vinaigrette and squirts it into the made up roll. You have to roll up your sleeves to eat it as the olive oil drips down your arms if it’s made properly! I’d buy one of these on the seafront at Cannes then whizz off on my scooter to a quiet beach to feast!
It’s not supposed to rain on Easter Sunday. Not after days of warm, spring sunshine, a whole week of cushions scattered on the lawn and cream teas eaten in the garden shaded from the sun by straw hats, so today is a day to be in the kitchen preparing a delicious roast lunch and roast pork is on the menu! I’ve chosen a piece with a good thick layer of fat as we both like crackling and I’ve prepared it by rubbing in plenty of salt and fennel seeds which I feel go really well with it and some sliced chunks of fennel bulbs will go into the roasting tin at a later stage sliced into wedges to soak up some of the juices. We both veer towards gluttony so a ridiculous amount of roast potatoes are going in there too. Happy Easter!