Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas things - salt cod, barley pudding, sprouts, chestnuts

I have done an encore in the New Statesman (where I used to write a food column): a piece about Christmas food. It includes a couple of recipes. The first is a brandade of salt cod (it's a rather luxurious way of eating something associated with asceticism on Christmas Eve); the second, an Armenian pudding consisting of sweetened pearl barley.

A brandade is a good deal easier to make now we have food processors. I had a culinary disaster when I tried to follow Richard Olney's recipe in his otherwise marvellous Simple French Food, beating the fish with olive oil in a saucepan over high heat. All that happened was that the flesh firmed up and fried.

Two further Christmas tips.

Sprouts

Perhaps one wants sprouts with the Christmas dinner simply to be steamed or boiled, and tossed in a little butter. But, if the rest of the meal were not so rich, I should recommend steaming (or boiling) them for just a couple of minutes, slicing them, and sauteing them in sunflower oil, with garlic. Stir in a little soy sauce at the end. Some people say that you should not cook them in water at all, but simply shred and fry them.

Chestnuts

Peeling chestnuts is a bit fiddly, but manageable, and worth it - the flavour beats that of chestnut puree. Slit the shells with a knife, and drop the chestnuts in boiling water; turn off the heat, cover, and leave for five minutes. Remove the chestnuts and peel them one-by-one - they will not be impossible to handle. Yesterday, I stuffed some cabbage leaves with sausage meat mixed with chestnuts whizzed with a clove of garlic, and the grated zest of a lemon.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crackling at high heat

My first entry on this blog, back in 2006, boasted about how I had achieved the perfect combination of tender belly pork and crisp crackling. I should have been mindful that cookery is like tennis or golf: claiming that you have perfected some technique is foolhardy, and likely to be punished. My record with crackling since then has been patchy.

Two recent Guardian recipes have offered conflicting advice. Yotam Ottolenghi's suggests cooking your pork belly at the highest oven temperature for an hour, before turning down the dial. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's, for shoulder of pork, tells you to wrap the meat in foil and to cook it slowly, before slicing off the crackling and crisping it at a high temperature. It is the Fearnley-Whittingstall method that has usually gone wrong for me: the crackling goes from rubbery to burned, without passing through an intermediate stage of crunchiness.

So I decided to try Ottolenghi's advice, though nervous of cooking meat at such a high temperature (and puzzled that he should surround it with liquid - surely the steam will compromise the crackling?) I had prepared the crackling by leaving out the pork, uncovered, for several hours before cooking; and by sprinkling it with salt, allowing it to sweat, and patting it dry with a paper towel.

My piece of pork was a kilo smaller than his, and was very brown on top after 45 minutes; that was when I turned down the dial, to gas mark 1/150C, and cooked the joint for a further hour and a quarter.

The crackling was not quite crisp. I sliced it off, and returned it to the oven (meanwhile resting the meat, which I covered in foil), at gas mark 7/220C, for another 30 minutes.

It worked very well. The belly pork, being a forgiving cut, remained tender in spite of the blasting; and the crackling was crisp. Perhaps it is the first phase of cooking that is crucial.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cannellini beans, onion, and harissa

Recipes usually tell you to drain and rinse tinned beans before cooking them; but that seems a bit fussy. You might as well warm them in their briny, slightly slimy liquid, and drain them when warm.

Last night, making a side dish to go with sausages, I gently fried an onion and a chopped clove of garlic in some olive oil and butter. Meanwhile, I warmed through a tin of cannellini beans in their liquid. When the onions were golden, I drained the beans, and stirred them into the onions with a tsp of harissa. (It's easier to warm the beans in liquid than to drain them first and then cook them, dry, with the onions.)

Nigella Lawson's idea, of adding lemon zest to the beans, is probably good. They need a vivid flavour to perk them up.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Cottage pie

As I have mentioned, I am not using much flour in my cooking at the moment. I find that it is quite possible - indeed, an improvement - to leave flour out of many recipes, including ones for which it is often considered indispensable. For example, in Shepherd's (or cottage) pie, in which it is supposed to help the sauce and mince cohere; as in a Bolognese, well-cooked vegetables (in this case, onions) and a slow reduction of the liquid do the job just as well. And the bonus is that you're dispensing with a flavour-deadening ingredient.

For 3 to 4.

200g pork mince
200g beef mince
2 medium onions, chopped
Sunflower oil, butter
2 bay leaves
150ml chicken stock (I used half a stock cube and water)
1tbsp tomato ketchup
Few shakes soy sauce
5 medium potatoes
35g butter

In a heavy pan, and over a gentle heat, fry the onions in just enough oil and butter to prevent their catching, stirring occasionally. Let them become golden brown. This may take 30 to 40 minutes.

The easiest way to brown the mince is to form it into patties (about eight), and to cook them on a hot grill pan for about a minute each side. Transfer to a bowl. Pour some of the stock into the pan, let it bubble and take up the sediments, and pour it into the bowl with the mince.

When the onions are ready, tip in the mince and juice, and add the bay, ketchup and soy. Bring to a very gentle simmer, breaking up the patties with a wooden spoon. Cook, uncovered, until the stew is thickened - moist, but not runny. Check the seasoning.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, cut them up (you could cut a medium potato into eight pieces), cover them with cold, lightly salted water, and simmer until soft. Drain, and allow them to dry, perhaps in the hot pan. Mash. If they seem too powdery, add a little warm milk (according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the Guardian recently, cold milk causes mash to turn gluey) - just enough to cause them to cohere.

Tip the mince into a warm oven dish. Spread the potato on top. Rather than mixing the potato with the butter, you can cut the butter into slivers and scatter it over the surface, to brown.

Cook at gas mark 6/200C for 30 minutes, or until brown on top.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Schama's Bolognese

Here is Simon Schama's article from the Guardian about the perfect Bolognese sauce. There are two questionable details: Schama tells you to add the wine after the stock, a procedure that might result in too winey a sauce; and he does not tell you whether to leave the pan covered or not. The Elizabeth David version, at the foot of the piece, tells you to cover the pan: I think that her sauce will be too runny. I like Marcella Hazan's, immediately below the Schama piece: you add milk, and let it evaporate; then wine, and let that evaporate; and then tomatoes, and let the sauce reduce again (with the pan uncovered all the while).

On Saturday, Hugh Feanley-Whittingstall's sauce, to be included in a lasagne, was similar to the Hazan version.

Monday, November 24, 2008

No-bake lemon and lime cheesecake

A return to a subject that at one time was threatening to be an obsession, but that I haven't tackled for a while. There is a similar recipe to this one in my book, but with digestive biscuits. I reckon that this 3:1 biscuit:butter ratio works as well, or better, than the 2:1 I have recommended previously.

You need a 20cm flan dish or tin. Serves 6 to 8.

150g ginger biscuits
50g butter
227ml double cream (that is the size of the Yeo Valley pot)
200g cream cheese (a standard pack)
397g condensed milk (a standard tin)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 lime, zest and juice

Whizz the biscuits to crumbs in a food processor. Melt the butter over a low heat in a small saucepan. Tip in the crumbs, stir until thoroughly coated. Grease your dish or tin, and tip in the biscuit mixture, spreading it over the surface and compacting it with the back of a spoon. Put the dish into the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.

Whip the cream until it stands in soft peaks. You have to be careful to stop as soon as it gets to this stage: from there, it moves rapidly to complete stiffness.

In a separate bowl, whip together the cream cheese and condensed milk. Some recipes suggest you can thicken the milk by whipping: that does not work for me, perhaps because I am lazy or impatient. No matter. Mix in the lemon and lime zest and juice.

Fold the cream into the cheese/milk/citrus mixture. Pour the filling on to the frozen (or very cold) base, cover, and return to the fridge for at least a couple of hours before serving.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sauce without flour

My wife has developed, or become aware of, a gluten intolerance. That means no pasta, obviously; no breadcrumbs; and no flour-thickened sauces. The last constraint is good for stews, I think. But sometimes, in other recipes, you want an ingredient to bind things together.

Last night, I made some spinach with cream and cheese. Normally, I would use a bechamel sauce. This time, I put about 150ml of creme fraiche into a saucepan, and simmered it until thick. Meanwhile, I cooked a bagful of spinach, drained it, and squeezed out as much liquid as I could. I stirred about three heaped tbsps of Gruyere into the cream, and tipped in the spinach.

The sauce turned runny. Perfectly pleasant, but not what I had aimed for.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Boeuf Bourguignon notes

Sometimes, I give a recipe without explaining what's going on. It's a habit that I sometimes find irritating in others, so I thought I'd revisit last week's beef Bourguignon, and give a few notes about what I did.

Marinating. Sometimes, marinades do not have much effect. But this one should do, because of the acid in the wine. And sugars in the wine caramelise on the surface of the meat when you brown it - so you get two effects that enhance the flavour of the dish.

Browning the onions. See this entry.

Browning the meat. See this entry (but you don't need the oil this time).

Deglazing. The liquid picks up the flavoursome, stuck bits from the pan; and, as it bubbles furiously, it loses a good part of its alcohol. Raw spirit in the dish would of course be overpowering.

Covering the meat with the liquid. In theory, the liquid will help to keep the meat tender. The gently bubbling sauce cannot get hotter than 100C; whereas exposed meat within a covered casserole may be subjected to a higher temperature. However, unless you want a thin, runny sauce, you'll need to reduce it later.

Cooking the mushrooms apart. They are the "garnish", and should be distinctive, rather than part of the stew.

In his comment below, Elwyn suggests lifting the fat from the chilled stew the following day. That would be healthier, certainly; but it also involves discarding something very flavoursome. I am inclined to leave the fat, but to serve the stew with a plain accompaniment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon is one of those dishes you assume to be sacrosanct. In Floyd on France (now out of print), Keith Floyd insists that you follow his Bourguignon recipe "with no deviation". But I think that home cooks can recognise that this is a provincial stew, permitting any number of adaptations. The essential point is that the beef is marinated in red wine (I used an inauthentic, but roughly appropriate, Costieres de Nimes), and then simmered in the marinade.

I simmered my stew on the hob, uncovered, allowing the sauce to evaporate and concentrate. The meat was not as tender as it might have been. A better method would have been the one I suggest below.

The pig's trotter, costing 50p, lifted the dish, giving it a rich, unctuous savouriness.

Serves about eight.

1.7kg chuck steak, cubed
1 bottle red wine (Burgundy or Rhone)
20 peppercorns
3 bay leaves
Several pinches of grated nutmeg
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
50ml brandy
1 pig's trotter
4 more onions, sliced
150g butter
Salt
250g mushrooms, sliced
30g more butter

Marinate the beef, overnight if possible, in the wine with the peppercorns, bay, nutmeg, onions and garlic.

In a large, heavy casserole, melt the 150g butter and cook the (4 more) onions in it, over a low flame, until brown. This may take 45 minutes to an hour. Do not be tempted to hurry the process, because bits of onion will catch and burn if you do. Add more butter if necessary.

Drain the beef, reserving the marinade. Pick off the marinade ingredients that stick to the meat - this is a pain. Brown the meat in batches on a ridged grill pan, over a medium heat. The wine should help the surfaces to caramelise, and the browning should take not much more than a minute on each side. Transfer the meat as it is cooked to a plate, reserving the juices that come from it.

When you are finished with the meat, deglaze the pan with the brandy, scraping at the stuck bits. Reserve this liquid too. (I found that almost all of it evaporated.)

When the onions are brown, add the meat and its juices (and the deglazing liquid, if you have any) to the casserole. Put in the pig's trotter. Pour in enough of the strained marinade to come to a level with the top of the meat. You can put the bay leaves in there as well, and salt to taste.

Cook, covered, in a low oven, until the stew has simmered very gently for about two hours and the meat is tender. (You may find that you can have the oven as low as gas mark S/130C, although if you are in a hurry to get the stew simmering you may want to start at a higher temperature.)

When the stew is nearly ready, cook the mushrooms in butter, until the liquid they throw off has evaporated. Turn off the heat and cover the pan.

Remove the meat from the casserole, perhaps by tipping it into a colander over a saucepan. Return the meat and onions to the casserole, without the trotter (which has done its job); put the casserole back, covered again, into the low oven.

Boil the sauce to reduce it by about half. Stir it back into the meat, with the mushrooms.

This stew, you may have noticed, is rich. Plain rice is the ideal accompaniment.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Squash and couscous

A good many squashes will arrive in the vegetable box over the next few months. Although some recipes specify boiling, I almost always bake them - either in halves, and then scooping out the flesh for a soup; or peeled and cubed.

Peeling them is a pain. The skin is tough, and hard to peel away neatly. I cut the squash into quarters first. The flesh is quite tough too: it can take cubed, fork-sized pieces of squash 45 minutes to soften in a gas mark 5/180C oven.

I toss squash for stirring into couscous in oil - olive or sunflower - and a generous portion (about 2tsps) of cumin seeds. I like toasted pine kernels in there. The dish needs colour to relieve the beige: the other night, I added sun-dried tomatoes and raisins (which I had softened for 20 minutes in hot water), along with garlic fried in olive oil for a minute, and harissa.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Chicken with garlic and lemon

When I cook something that works well, I tend to go back to the recipe - or a version of it - shortly after. So this chicken with garlic and lemon is a version of the chicken and mushroom dish from last week.

4 chicken thighs
4 drumsticks
Salt
1dstsp butter
1dstsp olive oil (or vegetable, if you prefer)
150ml chicken stock
1 lemon, quartered
1 head garlic, separated into cloves
Sprig rosemary

In a casserole (if it can contain the chicken in one layer) or large saute pan, gently brown the chicken, salted, in the butter and oil.

Add the stock, lemon, garlic, and rosemary. Cover, and simmer over a low flame for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan, and allow the sauce to reduce until it is syrupy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Basic fish stew

You don't have to include all the trimmings - pastis, orange zest, stock, saffron - to make an acceptable fish stew for supper. A straightforward tomato sauce, along the lines of the one in a chicken Basquaise, will do. I have to admit that the fish I used was (no doubt unsustainable) haddock from my local Tesco. For 2. (Here is a more elaborate recipe.)

1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
2tbsp olive oil
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
1 tin tomatoes
2 fish fillets, cut into fork-sized pieces
Salt

In a wide saute pan, soften the onion and garlic over a low to medium heat for about five minutes, until the onion starts to turn golden. (Add more oil if it threatens to catch.) Throw in the peppers, and cook for a further five minutes. Tip in the tomatoes, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Add salt to taste.

Add the fish to the stew. It will take no more than a few minutes to cook.

Flat-leaf parsley would be a nice garnish. I stirred a tsp of harissa into my portion.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chicken with cream, mustard and mushrooms

I made this for three people, with three thighs and three drumsticks. My oval Le Creuset just accommodated them in one layer. For the quantity below, you probably need a 28cm saute pan, with a lid.

4 chicken thighs
4 drumsticks
Salt
1dstsp butter
1dstsp olive oil (or vegetable, if you prefer)
70ml water
Half a chicken stock cube (optional)
More butter
150g button mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
150ml double cream
1tsp Dijon mustard

Fry the chicken, salted, gently in the oil and butter. You may need less fat than I have suggested, because the chicken exudes its own. The oil helps to prevent the butter from burning.

When the thighs and drumsticks are golden (after about 15 to 20 minutes), pour in the water, and the half stock cube if using. (Some people don't like the taste of cubes; I think that, used cautiously, they add savouriness. Of course, proper stock would be better.) Cover the pan, and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms and the garlic, with a little more salt, in the butter (I'd use about 25g) over a low to medium heat. If they exude a lot of liquid, turn up the heat to evaporate it. I usually judge them to be ready when the liquid has gone. Turn off the heat, and cover the pan.

Uncover the chicken. You may find that there is now quite a lot of liquid. Continue to simmer, gently, until the liquid is syrupy.

Pour in the cream and add the mustard, and allow the sauce to bubble and thicken for a minute or two. When you have the consistency you like, stir in the mushrooms, allowing them to warm through if necessary. Particularly if you have used a cube, you should not need more salt.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Where Jamie and Hugh cut little ice

I have been a bit busy recently, helping set up a new website called BookBrunch, so I just have time today to make an observation. My local Tesco Express, on Seven Sisters Road, experimented for a while with stocking some organic chicken and pork. But I haven't seen these items there for a while. Now the Lidl up the road is advertising free range chicken; it will be interesting to see whether that lasts. In some areas, and during a credit crunch, the influence of Jamie and Hugh is weak.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Improvised lemon cake

Is it possible to make a cake as I make most of the savoury dishes on this blog: by assembling ingredients according to general principles rather than precise recipes? That is what I asked myself yesterday, when I fancied making a lemon cake (sometimes one gets these particular urges), but could find only recipes that were more complicated than appealed, and that involved ingredients I did not have.

Butter, sugar, eggs, flour: these are the basic ingredients. So: I creamed 50g of butter and 50g of golden caster sugar. I beat in three eggs, and added the zest and juice of a lemon, as well as a tsp of vanilla essence. I have noticed that some lemon cake recipes include cornflour, so I added a few dstsps of that. Then I added self-raising flour, dstsp by dstsp, until I arrived at that gloopy, "dropping" consistency. I poured the mixture into a buttered loaf tin, and baked it for half an hour.

It wasn't bad. It had risen in the centre, and cracked; and the consistency was somewhat dense, though not unpleasantly so. Perhaps I should have separated the eggs, beat the whites, and folded them into the mixture. Or perhaps a spot of baking powder would have helped. The cake was not moist and sticky, as the best ones are (thanks often to lemon curd, I believe).

If things are not right with savoury dishes, I usually know why. But I don't understand baking nearly as well.

Monday, October 13, 2008

(Tinned) tuna salad

I make many variations on this Delia-type (the Delia of How To Cheat at Cooking, I mean) salad, as an easy lunch for 4. It might include rice, artichoke hearts, lettuce - any number of ingredients.

2 tins tuna (in spring water, or brine)
1 tin butter beans, drained and rinsed
20 black olives, stoned (I like Crespo "Greek-style")
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
12 sun-dried tomatoes, each cut into 3
1tbsp mayonnaise
Salt (you won't need much), pepper

Mix the ingredients. That's it. If the sun-dried tomatoes come in oil, and you include it in the salad, so much the better.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pepper, tomatoes and chick peas

My wife has developed a mild intolerance to gluten. I don't share it; but it has made me more aware that wheat products can sit heavily on the stomach. Coming home late, one is tempted to cook a quick and simple pasta dish, ending up with a slightly bloated feeling. Now, I usually have rice instead, probably with a more substantial sauce than I would serve with, say, spaghetti.

This is what I made for myself last night.

1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
I green pepper, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
2 tomatoes, plunged into boiling water for 20 seconds, skinned and chopped
5tbsp tinned chick peas
1tsp harissa
2tbsp creme fraiche
Salt, to taste

Soften the garlic in the olive oil. Throw in all the other ingredients, and simmer until thickened. Reducing the sauce to a rich consistency may take a good 20 minutes: the tomatoes and pepper will cause it to be very liquid at first. So you have time to cook the rice while that's happening.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Chard gratin

I should have weighed the chard before I cooked it. All I can tell you is that it was an organic bagful. The creme fraiche (Rachel's Organic) came in a tub with the quantity given by weight rather than by volume. Serves 2 to 3. The sauce may be a little runny, and need mopping up with bread or rice.

Bagful of chard
100g creme fraiche
4 heaped tbsp Gruyere
Scrapings of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to gas mark 6/200C. Warm a gratin dish.

Wash the chard, and strip off the leaves. Cook them as you would spinach, tipping them (wet) into a saucepan, covering it, putting it on a high heat, giving the leaves a minute or so to start wilting, and then stirring them until they are all wilted. Drain immediately.

Chop the stalks into fork-size lengths. I put them in a saucepan with a little water (about 50ml) and a knob of butter, cover the pan, cook for five minutes, and then cook uncovered until the stalks have a buttery glaze. Some, thick-stalked chard requires longer cooking than this: I have known stalks take 20 minutes to become tender.

Squeeze the liquid from the chard leaves, chop them, and put them into the pan with the stalks. Add the creme fraiche (you could use ordinary cream, of course), cheese, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste (remember the saltiness of the cheese), and mix.

Tip the mixture into the warmed gratin dish, and bake for five to 10 minutes, until bubbling.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Another way with basmati

Cooking rice, an apparently simple matter, has been something of an obsession, as previous posts have shown. (The trail of experiments starts here.)

If you have trouble with the absorption method, and if you do not want to boil the rice in a large quantity of water, try this. The measurement and timing work for all the brands I have found.

Allow 75g of rice as a generous quantity for each person. Tip it into a measuring jug, check its volume, and tip it into a sieve.
(I have some measuring cups, one of which holds exactly one portion, and the other, two portions.) Give it a rinse under the cold tap. Now measure four times its volume of water, bring it to a boil in a saucepan (with a little salt if you like), tip in the rice, return to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes are up (I usually count from the moment when the water has returned to a simmer), the water will probably be just above the level of the rice. Drain what is left. If you need to hold the rice, return it to the pan, put a paper towel on top, and the lid on top of that.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Beef bindaloo

My latest New Statesman column is my last for the magazine. It contains, unusually, quite a detailed recipe, though a simple one, for beef "bindaloo".

The only mistake you can make is not to cook the curry powder with the fried onions for a good 10 minutes. It will be powdery otherwise -- "snuffy" was the term that a Victorian writer used.

This quantity of powder may not be appropriate for all commercially available brands. I might have used less of the one I had bought -- White Pearl, the pungent odour of which lingered in the house for a while.

I have not yet had a chance to read my copy of The Road to Vindaloo, which has just arrived. All I can say is that if I picked up this attractive history of Anglo-Indian cookery in a bookshop, I would instantly decide that it was an ideal present for any curry enthusiast.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tzatziki

I fancied grating my cucumber, rather than chopping it, for my cucumber and yoghurt salad yesterday. The cucumber would be a refreshing component of the texture of the dish, rather than a distinct, crunchy contrast to the yoghurt.

The problem is that grating releases a good deal of water -- and water is a huge percentage of what a cucumber is. Salting will encourage it to disgorge more water; but then how do you get it dry? Squeezing it in a clean dishcloth or in paper towels will leave bits of it stuck all over the place. Wringing it in your hands is messy too.

I tried the manual method. But the cucumber still diluted my yoghurt to an unsatisfactory extent.

I realise now that I should have scooped out the seeds first.

When chopping the cucumber, I usually salt the pieces, which are easier to dry. In Keep It Simple (now out of print), Alastair Little and Richard Whittington recommend another method: you immerse the chopped pieces for a few seconds in boiling, salted water.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lamb, bean and leek stew

A variation on this stew. It is quite rich: you do not need as much meat (for 4) as I recommended in the earlier version.

650g lamb neck fillet, cut into medallions
2 onions, chopped
I large leek, sliced and soaked (to wash away the grit)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 ladleful stock (I used chicken)
Salt
2 tins cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3tbsp double cream
Sunflower oil
Olive oil

In a heavy casserole, warm a couple of tbsps of olive oil over a gentle heat, and sweat the onions and garlic in it, adding more oil if the vegetables threaten to catch. When they are softened, throw in the (drained) leeks, and stir to coat them in oil. (Soup and stew recipes always tell you to do that: whether the coating in fat makes any difference to the ultimate flavour must be open to question.)

I have written before that I like to brown meat on a ridged grill pan. I now coat it first with a little oil, which I think promotes browning. Toss the medallions of lamb with just a tsp or two of sunflower or groundnut oil (which have higher smoking points than olive oil). Place the pan on a medium to high heat, give it a couple of minutes to get hot, and brown the meat in batches; the process should take no more than a minute on each side. (If it takes longer, the lamb may dry out. Transfer the lamb as it browns to a plate.)

Tip the lamb into the casserole with the vegetables, and add the whole garlic, rosemary, bay, stock, and salt to taste. Transfer to an oven at gas mark 2/150C.

Check every so often to see that the stew is gently simmering; adjust the temperature accordingly. Because not much was happening to my stew after 30 minutes or so, I raised the dial to gas mark 4/180C for 20 minutes, before turning it back down to 1/140C. That low temperature was quite sufficient to maintain a simmer.

After 90 minutes, tip in the cannellini beans. Return the casserole to the oven for a further 30 minutes, before transferring it to a low light on the hob. You can squeeze the whole garlic cloves from their husks into the sauce if you like. Stir in the cream, warm through for a minute, and serve.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Welsh rarebit

The problem with Welsh rarebit recipes is that the mixture, containing beer, is quite liquid. You spread it on the toast, only to find that it oozes like lava over the sides once under the grill.

Anne O'Connell's Early Vegetarian Recipes, just out from Prospect Books, may have the answer. You warm your cheese mixture in a pan, and simply pour it over the toast. The recipe, from Mrs C S Peel's Dishes Made without Meat (Constable, 1907), states: "Slice down some good, rich cheese rather thinly, into a delicately clean stewpan, with some morsels of butter, and 2 or 3 spoonfuls of porter, good ale, or new milk as you please, according to the quantity of the cheese [early recipe books tended to assume that their readers could judge quantities]; flavour to taste with freshly ground black pepper and English mustard. Stir it all till thoroughly melted, (and) pour it over hot buttered toast."

But how do you get a browned topping? "With a hot shovel," is Mrs Peel's recommendation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Plum crumble

Yesterday, I made a crumble with buckwheat flour. I wouldn't recommend it. The crumble was perfectly pleasant, but somewhat powdery -- which is not the quality you want. But the plums -- a blue-black variety called Swenson's -- were good. I cut them in half, stoned them, and placed them in my oven dish, before sprinkling them with a dstsp of caster sugar and vanilla essence. (Vanilla essence is not an easy substance to sprinkle; but I did my best.)

There were only two of us. I used in all 12 plums, 70g of flour, 30g of butter, 2dstsps of sugar, 2tsps of vanilla essence, and more butter for the top of the crumble. I cut the butter into small pieces, and put it back into the fridge for 30 minutes before whizzing it in the food processor just until it and the flour had combined. I stirred in my second dstsp of caster sugar, scattered the crumble mixture on top of the plums, and distributed slivers of butter on top. I baked the crumble for 35 minutes at gas mark 5/190C.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sun-dried tomato paste

The vogue for sun-dried tomatoes has long passed its peak, as we realised that most of them were tough, and that many were flavourless. But the best brands, used with other ingredients, still have a place.

One nice way of using them, if you have a small electric whizzer, is as a paste. Put them in the whizzer with a little of their oil, some seasoning (be careful with the salt), and some chopped garlic. Last night I baked slices of aubergine until tender, spread my sun-dried tomato paste on top, placed slices of Gruyere on top of that, and put these assemblies back into the oven for a further five minutes. The paste also makes a decent alternative to tinned tomato puree.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Courgettes with egg and cheese

The late Arto der Haroutunian, whose Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East is another winning reissue from Grub Street, describes this dish as an omelette. One might also call it a kind of souffle.

These quantities are slightly different from Haroutunian's. I should also have adapted his instructions for the courgettes, which dilute the consistency. Though not a fan of pre-salting when it comes to aubergines, I recommend it here.

Serves 2 to 3 as a main course, with rice.

2 courgettes, grated on a course mesh
50g butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
110g mushrooms, sliced
1tbsp plain flour
250ml milk
3tbsp Cheddar, grated
2tbsp chopped parsley (which I did not have)
3 eggs, separated (the recipe states 4 -- that seemed a bit much for two of us)
Salt and pepper

Put the grated courgettes in a colander, sprinkling over salt as you go. After 30 minutes, squeeze out the water.

Sweat the onion in the butter until softened. Tip in the mushrooms, and cook until the liquid they have thrown off has evaporated (you do not want it diluting the sauce later). Stir in the flour, and cook for a minute or two (you have to be careful that it does not catch, because the vegetables will have taken up some of the butter with which it should merge), before adding the milk, portion by portion, as you would when making a bechamel. Stop when you have a bubbling, thick sauce. Take it off the heat. Stir in the cheese, the parsley (if you have it), the egg yolks, and the courgettes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk the egg whites until standing in peaks, then fold them into the courgette mixture (using a turning, rather than beating, motion).

Lightly butter a gratin dish, and pour in the mixture, covering it with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan if you like. Bake at gas mark 4/180C until risen and bubbling. It takes about 35 to 45 minutes.

Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Roast new potatoes

When you roast maincrop potatoes, it is worth parboiling them until the surfaces are soft and can be roughed up, and placing them in hot fat to ensure crispiness. (There are further thoughts about roast potatoes in various postings, including this one.) Waxy varieties do not require this treatment.

I still like to parboil them, but only briefly, to remove some of the surface starch and to stop them sticking to the roasting tin. (Non-parboiled roast potatoes tend to have tough coatings.) I slice them, crosswise or lengthways, into pieces about the thickness of two £1 coins. I put them in cold water, bring them to the boil, and allow them to simmer for just a minute or so. I drain them and let them steam, before tossing them in olive oil (straight from the bottle) and roasting them. Usually, gas mark 6/200C for one hour, with a turn of the potatoes half way through, works fine; but it is always worth checking to see whether they are browning too quickly.

The Charlotte potatoes I buy in France respond particularly well to this treatment. The more thinly sliced ones emerge from the oven with the texture and flavour of high-class crisps.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Stuffed aubergines

I got the idea to stuff some aubergines from looking through one of my favourite cookbooks, Ghillie Basan's Classic Turkish Cookery. But what I cooked bore little relationship to her recipe.

First, Basan tells you to use torpedo-shaped aubergines, which of course I had little chance of buying. Next, she recommends deep frying them in sunflower oil before stuffing them. That no doubt produces a delicious result, but quite an oily one. Instead, I baked my aubergines, for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, having first pricked them with the tip of a knife to stop them exploding.

Basan's stuffing is raw lamb mince, mixed with tomatoes, garlic, onion and spices, and manipulated by hand until it is pasty. This mixture would be ideal as a stuffing, because easy to manipulate. Nevertheless, I cooked the simple stew from this moussaka recipe -- but without the onion and with the addition of a couple of tbsps of pine nuts that I had toasted in a dry pan over a gentle heat.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the aubergines were softened enough, but not tender. I slit them from the stem ends to the bases, cutting through most of the way. I grated over a little salt, and drizzled about a tsp of olive oil into each. Then I put them into a roasting tin and shoved the stew into the cavities, packing it in as snugly as I could.

I had four aubergines, and soon realised that my stew (consisting of 400g of mince) would overflow. So I cut a red pepper in half, deseeded it, and stuffed that too.

I wanted the stuffed vegetables to steam. I poured a layer of boiling water round them, covered the tin with foil, and put it into the oven at gas mark 4/180C for an hour.

We ate the stuffed vegetables at room temperature. The only flaw was that the aubergines were a little watery. I cannot see an easy way to solve that problem: one could cut them in half and salt them for the initial baking, but then one would not be able to reassemble them as a package for the stuffing. Still, this was a great dish for a warm, late summer evening.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Potatoes, cheese and bacon gratin

There is an obvious solution to the problem that I described in this post from July. If you put cheese with the sliced potatoes in a creamy gratin, I wrote, the acidity in the cheese delays the softening of the potatoes. The solution is to add the cheese later.

The other night, I put sliced potatoes, pancetta cubes, and chopped garlic into a buttered gratin dish, with a little salt. (The dish would have benefited from some nutmeg). I poured over about 150ml of double cream (there were enough potatoes for two), stirred everything about, covered the dish with foil, and put it into a gas mark 5/190C oven.

The potatoes were tender after about 50 minutes. I gently stirred through about 110g of grated Gruyere, covered the dish again, and put it back into the oven, turned down to gas mark S/130C -- I needed only to melt the cheese. I gave it another five minutes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chicken in yoghurt

Recipes for grilled, marinated meats generally tell you to scrape off the marinade before placing the meat on the barbecue or griddle. Discarding that flavoursome stuff seems a shame. That is why I prefer to cook dishes involving yoghurt marinades in the oven. You can simply bung the whole lot into a roasting dish.

The following recipe is one I cooked just for myself. Yes, it is very self-indulgent, in quantity and in heat. But I should point out that most chillis (unless they are Scotch Bonnets), even seeded ones, are not unbearable hot; and that my 10 free-range chicken wings cost just £1.70.

10 chicken wings
1 regular tub Greek yoghurt
1/2tsp coriander seeds
1/2tsp cumin seeds
1/3tsp black peppercorns
1 clove garlic, chopped
Salt
1/2tsp turmeric
1/3tsp cayenne pepper
6 green chillis, stalks cut off, whizzed in a small vegetable mill, or chopped

Warm the coriander, cumin and pepper in a small saucepan (dry) over a gentle heat until they give off a toasted aroma. Grind them in a mortar. Add a little salt, and grind the garlic with them too. Tip the yoghurt into a bowl, and stir in the spice and garlic mixture with the other ingredients. Throw in the chicken wings, turning to coat them in the spicy yoghurt. It is worth doing this several hours in advance of cooking -- the spicy yoghurt does penetrate the meat.

I tipped my chicken into a roasting tin, which I put into a gas mark 6/200C oven for 30 minutes, by which time the yoghurt had become a kind of glaze. Bits of the marinade were catching, so I turned the oven right down, to gas mark S/130C, allowing another 20 minutes.

The chicken was wonderfully tender, and, as you may imagine, headily spicy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Artichoke

The large artichokes on sale in Normandy markets in August are probably best suited to boiling whole. You strip off the leaves, dip them in vinaigrette or butter, and suck out the fleshy bits. Once you have done that, you discard the hairy choke, and eat the heart.

Nice enough, but a bit boring. I thought that I would pare away the leaves and cook the heart. There were two problems: I should have started with a smaller, more compact artichoke; and I have always had difficulty in understanding cookery writers' instructions on how to do the preparation. I found it impossible to snap off the leaves while leaving behind the fleshy parts, and I wasted a fair amount of decent vegetable.

Nevertheless, the hearts, eaten in a salad, were a rare, if expensive, treat.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chicken gratin

This is a rather posh description of a dish using up leftovers. I apologise for the vagueness of the quantities, my only excuse being that it's in the spirit of an improvised recipe. For 4.

4 portions cold chicken
About 56g butter
I clove garlic, chopped
2tbsp flour
About 600ml chicken stock
2tbsp creme fraiche or double cream
1tsp Dijon mustard
Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Arrange the chicken in a gratin dish.

Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Soften the garlic in it for a minute or so, and then stir in the flour, allowing it to cook for a minute. Add more butter if the roux seems thick: it should be the consistency of loose, wet sand. (My general rule in recipes involving a roux-based sauce is to allow as much as will be thickened by a dstsp of flour for each person.) It does not matter if this roux -- unlike the one for a bechamel -- takes on a little colour.

Turn up the heat and add the stock, portion by portion, incorporating each one until the lumps disappear before adding the next. Stop when you have a pourable, coating consistency, not too thick. Stir in the cream, mustard, and parsley; allow the sauce to bubble for a minute or so, stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the sauce over the chicken. (You might like to cover everything with a layer of breadcrumbs, or Parmesan.) Bake in a gas mark 5/190C oven for about 15 minutes, or until bubbling and warmed through.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Aubergine and courgette gratin

This gratin, simpler than this one or this one, was particularly delicious because of the quality of the ingredients, which came from a French market. The aubergine, with its rich and creamy flesh, made me realise that most of the ones I buy at home are poor relations.

Baking aubergine slices is the easiest way to cook them. But I usually saute courgettes, which need cooking only until the white flesh turns translucent -- they taste fresher that way. At home, I would have passed my tomato sauce through a vegetable mill; not having one here, I poured it through a sieve, stirring it through with a wooden spoon until only gunk remained. (Quite a bit of sauce needs to be scraped from the underside of the sieve.)

Serves 2.

1 aubergine
1 or 2 courgettes (mine was a large one -- normally large ones are dull, but this wasn't)
1 clove garlic
2 large tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt
Breadcrumbs

Cut the aubergine into rounds the thickness of two £1 coins. Pour some olive oil into a saucer, and coat the aubergine slices with it using the back of the tines of a fork. Lay the slices on a baking sheet. Season with salt, and pepper if you like. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, until soft.

Slice the courgette(s) thinly. In a little more olive oil, saute them on a medium heat. Salting them will encourage them to give up some of their liquid, which should evaporate.

Chop the garlic, and soften it in a little more olive oil. Roughly chop the tomatoes, and add them to the pan, again with a little salt. Simmer this sauce on a low to medium heat until thick. (The tomatoes will have broken down.) Pass it through a vegetable mill or sieve.

Mix the aubergines, courgettes and tomato sauce in a gratin dish (you could layer the ingredients if you like). Scatter a layer of breadcrumbs on top. Bake at gas mark 6/200C until the breadcrumbs have browned (about 15 minutes -- but keep checking). Serve hot, tepid, or at room temperature. (I like it tepid.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mackerel on the barbecue

I have written before about my insecurity concerning barbecues. One of my worries concerns when to decide that the coals are in their optimum state to be spread out, before I place the rack on top and start grilling. I suspect that I always go too soon, fearing that the temperature will fall. The problem then is that drops of fat cause the coals to flare up, charring the food.

Reading my entry on grilled mackerel from last year, I get the impression that it was a simple, untroubled processs. Not this time. I exacerbated the problem of flaring coals by coating the fish in a little oil, and by placing sprigs of rosemary in the breast cavities. Both encouraged ignition. It was crazy to oil mackerel, which is an oily fish; but here in France, I do not have the fish-shaped basket that protects the skin from sticking on the rack. The skin stuck anyway.

As soon as I put the fish on the rack, there was a conflagration. I moved the mackerel to the side of the rack until the flames died down. I moved it back; more flames. So I may have given it less time than it needed.

The largest mackerel was still a little undercooked. Still, all the cooked fish was delicious.

One is inclined to feel that it's essential to tart up food before cooking it. But all a grilled mackerel requires is the fish, with, when it's ready, perhaps a little lemon, salt, and pepper.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Split custard

I may have remarked before that factory creme fraiche always splits when I cook it. Creme fraiche fermiere never does. Unfortunately, the first kind was the only one available when I shopped yesterday, and I took a risk with it -- with the usual result. The following recipe -- a variation of this one -- would have worked perfectly otherwise.

I used a delicious, lemony honey that was a birthday present from my sister in law. It has the exotic provenance of Rotherhithe. There is more about it here, on the Pure London Honey website.

Whole eggs give a lighter texture than egg yolks. If you prefer the richness of yolks alone, use 5 or 6, depending on size.

Serves 5 to 6 (in small portions -- but it is rich).

4 whole eggs
400ml creme fraiche (fermiere) or double cream
100ml milk
1tsp vanilla essence (a vanilla pod would be better -- see this recipe)
3 dstsp honey
A little butter

Grease the oven dish with the butter. Heat the oven to gas mark 2/150C.

Beat the eggs.

In a saucepan, warm the creme fraiche, milk, vanilla, and honey. When bubbles appear, pour a little of the liquid on to the eggs; then a little more; then the rest. (If you pour on all the hot liquid at once, you risk curdling some of the egg.) Pour the mixture into the oven dish.

Put the oven dish inside a roasting tin or other receptacle, and pour in boiling water (not into the cream and egg mixture) to come half way up the sides of the dish. Put the tin into the oven, and bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the top of the custard is set and wobbly.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Banger to rights

My latest New Statesman column (the headline above is the NS's) concerns sausages, commenting on ideas in this entry and in this one. To summarise: I still believe that the best way to cook sausages is in a heavy frying pan over a low heat, allowing 30 minutes or more. Even in these conditions, some sausages might split. I do not think that pricking them -- a heretical action, in the view of some aficionados -- will make much difference to the consistency of the meat when fully cooked.

Here in France, most butchers sell merguez sausages -- red, spicy ones, made usually with lamb but sometimes with a mixture of lamb and beef. I fry them in the same way, unless there are enough to make it worthwhile to set up the barbecue. Like chorizos, though to a lesser extent, they release spicy oil, which one must not waste. I poured it over crushed new potatoes.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A battered roasting tin

One of the mysteries of cooking is how apparently poor equipment can sometimes work particularly well. In Simple French Food, Richard Olney recalls how the doyenne of the beurre blanc -- a tricky sauce to get right -- used to operate in a tiny kitchen with a battered enamel saucepan. Here in France, we have hopeless, worn, thin roasting tins; yet somehow they produce excellent roast potatoes, which never stick.

The ingredients must have something to do with it. The potatoes, red-skinned, are waxy and flavoursome. Also, this time, I did blanche them, bringing them to the boil in a pan of water and allowing them to bubble for a minute. The purpose was not to soften them or to roughen the edges, but simply to remove the surface starch. Then, with an hour's cooking time to go, I removed the chicken from the tin, tipped in the potatoes and stirred them round with a little more olive oil, and put the chicken back on top. As in the previous recipes, I removed the chicken when done, allowed it to rest, and returned the potatoes to the top shelf of the oven at full heat until they had absorbed the sauce and had browned. They did not stick.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Spare ribs, slow roasted

We had spare ribs on Saturday. A 750g rack provided enough for three people.

There are marinade recipes here and here. This time, I used about 3tbsps of tomato ketchup, a dstsp of soy sauce, a tbsp of sunflower oil, two cloves of garlic crushed with salt, and the juice of half a lemon. I spooned the marinade over the meat, which I left out in a roasting tin covered with foil for a couple of hours.

As I have written before, this cut of pork benefits from slow cooking. It remains juicy; and there is the additional benefit that the marinade does not burn.

I put the roasting tin -- foil removed -- on the lowest shelf of the oven, set at gas mark S/130C, and left it for three and a half hours, turning the meat a few times. I let the meat rest out of the oven for 10 minutes before carving it into separate ribs.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Potatoes, cream and cheese

This is a version of gratin dauphinois. The cheese transforms it into a -- very rich -- main course. It also introduces acidity to the dish. Simmering in milk and cream, potatoes soften quickly, but with cheese there as well they can retain their crunch for a long time. Even if you slice them thinly, you may find that you need to cook the dish for a good hour and a half. For 4.

Small knob of butter
700g Charlotte or similar new potatoes
1 clove garlic, chopped
150g Gruyere or other hard cheese
250ml double cream
Pinch of nutmeg

Butter a gratin dish. Scrape or peel the potatoes, according to taste, and slice them thinly. Layer them in the dish with the cheese and the chopped garlic. (Add salt if you like, but remember that the cheese is salty.) Pour over the cream, and grate over a little nutmeg.

Bake in the oven, starting at gas mark 4/180C and turning down the heat after 30 minutes or so if you think that the dish is bubbling too vigorously.

You may think, before you put the dish in the oven, that it does not contain enough liquid and that the top potatoes are not submerged. Wait until it starts simmering. You will probably find that more liquid has materialised. If not, pour over a little milk.

Cook until the potatoes are soft, and sitting in thickened liquid.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chicken and vinegar

Another chicken recipe -- a version of this one. I think I liked it even better. The sauce, while given piquancy by the vinegar, is not as sharp as the one containing tomatoes, and it gets a glossy richness from the butter. The chicken tenderises through slow cooking in the liquid, even though the pan is uncovered. For 4.

4 chicken thighs and 4 drumsticks
Salt
1tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
150ml red or white wine vinegar
200ml chicken stock
Rosemary and/or bay (optional)
20g butter, cut into cubes and kept in the fridge

Warm the olive oil in a heavy casserole or frying pan, large enough to contain the chicken in one layer, over a gentle heat. (Do not use a seasoned frying pan, because the vinegar will de-season it.) Sprinkle the chicken pieces with a little salt, and brown them slowly, starting skin side down, for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Throw in the garlic, and when it has softened a little in the fat, pour in the vinegar, scraping at any stuck bits of chicken. Throw in the herbs, if using. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the vinegar has almost all evaporated. (Timings will vary -- the process took about 30 minutes when I did it.) Pour in the stock, and carry on simmering the stew gently, turning the chicken occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by about half. Check the seasoning.

Remove from the heat, and transfer a thigh and a drumstick to each of four warmed plates. Stir the chilled butter into the sauce, and spoon the sauce over the chicken.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Late night chicken sandwich

The times when you are most grateful for store-cupboard standbys are when you get home at 9 p.m. after a few drinks.

My local Turkish supermarket stocks Turkish brands of grilled vegetables, such as aubergines and courgettes, in sunflower oil. I also had some leftover chicken, from the spatchcocked recipe. I spread each of two slices of bread with a tsp of harissa and a tsp of mayonnaise on top, making a kind of rouille. I scattered over the chicken, and then slices of grilled aubergine. Two open sandwiches. They hit the spot.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spatchcocked chicken

Spatchcocking a chicken enables you to lay it flat on a barbecue. There is less point in the procedure if you are going to cook the bird in the oven; but it's nice to introduce a bit of variety from time to time.

I usually ask my butcher to do the spatchcocking (or to joint a chicken), because I am so rubbish at it. Yesterday, I managed it myself, without serious mishap. You cut along both sides of the backbone with poultry shears or a very sharp knife, and remove it. Then you lay the chicken breast side up, and flatten it out with your hand. I marinated my chicken: I scattered over it (both sides) three cloves of garlic that I had crushed with some salt; I squeezed over the juice of a lime, added a few glugs of olive oil, grated over some more salt, and threw over a couple of sprigs of rosemary. (I would have added pepper, and perhaps chilli, had I not foreseen objections.) I left the chicken for a few hours in the roasting tin, covered with foil.

I scraped and sliced some new potatoes about 0.5cms thick, and transferred them to a bowl of cold water.

As spatchcocked chicken is designed to be grilled (at quite a fierce heat), I roasted it at a higher setting than I use for roast chicken. I pre-heated the oven to gas mark 9/240C, drained the potatoes, transferred the chicken to a plate, tipped the potatoes into the tin and stirred them with some more olive oil, put back the chicken on top, and put the tin into the oven, which I turned down to 7/220C. After 30 minutes, I turned down the oven to 4/180C, basted the chicken, and cooked it for a further 45 minutes (it was a 1.75kg bird). The risk in using this high temperature is drying out the breast; but I got away with it.

I took out the chicken, and allowed it to rest for 20 minutes on a plate sitting in the grill section above my oven. Meanwhile, I stirred the potatoes, returning them to the oven to crisp at gas mark 8/230C. (I had cooked the chicken on the middle shelf, which I moved up a level for the potatoes.)

Potatoes that have not been blanched or parboiled before roasting are inclined to stick. If you like crispy scrapings, you might consider this a bonus.

I have written this recipe in response to a request for dishes using non-battery chickens from Kate on A Merrier World. My chicken was a Label Anglais, about which you can read more information here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Plantain

All sorts of exotic fruit and vegetables have come into fashion in the past 20 years. But not plantain. You do not see it on the menus of trendy restaurants or gastropubs. Probably it has failed to make the breakthrough because it is a little one-dimensional: perfectly pleasant, but less interesting than a banana. However, fried and served with chilli sauce and rice, it offers a decent lunch from time to time.

Plantains look unappetising in the shops, because with their blackened skins they appear to be overripe. (Many of my local shops sell bananas in that state too.) But you find when you peel them that the flesh is unharmed. Blackened skin indicates readiness. (The ones in the picture would need to be kept for a bit.)

Having written recently about couscous, I decided to fry my plantains in a couscous coating rather than in breadcrumbs. Naively, I thought that because the couscous was pre-cooked, I would not have to do anything to it before frying. That was a mistake.

I cut each plantain into three crosswise, and cut each portion lengthwise into three slices. I had a plate of flour, a shallow bowl of beaten egg, and a plate of couscous, and I coated the plantains in the usual way: roll them in the flour, roll them in the egg, roll them in the couscous (or breadcrumbs). The couscous (or breadcrumbs) soon turns soggy: one needs to refresh it with a new, dry batch. Because of sticky fingers, one cannot get the slices uniformly coated: it does not matter. I laid them on plates, and put them in the fridge for half an hour to allow the coating to firm up.

I poured about two-thirds of a bottle of sunflower oil into a saucepan, to a depth of about 5cms, and heated it gently, until a little cube of bread sizzled in it. I fried my plantains in batches, and kept the cooked ones on kitchen towels on a plate in a heated but switched-off oven.

They were somewhat crunchy. Not unpleasant; but next time I shall soak the couscous first.

Monday, July 07, 2008

La graine and le mulet

My latest New Statesman column was prompted by the film Couscous (La graine and le mulet), a vivid and affecting study of an Algerian family living in the French port of Sete. The point I try to make is that couscous, meaning both the grains and the feast, resonates as a film title in a way that few other food names would.

Most of the couscous we buy is, unlike the grains Souad prepares in the film, pre-cooked. We do not have to steam it for an hour or so, but simply to soak it. What I used to do was put it into an oven dish, pour over boiling water to moisten but not to drown the grains, cover the dish, and transfer it to the oven for five minutes (at any temperature). A few weeks ago, I checked the instructions on a Ferrero packet, and discovered a method I now prefer.

You put your couscous (about 75g for each person is a decent amount) into a measuring jug. Check the level. Tip the couscous back into a bowl. Pour water into the jug to the same level; transfer the water to a saucepan with a little salt and about a tbsp of olive oil for each 150g of grains; bring the contents of the pan to the boil; tip in the couscous and make sure all the grains are soaked; cover and leave for five minutes. Stir through the couscous with a fork.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Carrots and cumin

Carrots continue to arrive in the vegetable box, demanding summery recipes. I am not particularly keen on grated carrot in salads, and am far happier with spicy dishes, such as this one or the following.

5 carrots
1tbsp olive oil
1tsp cumin seeds
Cayenne pepper, to taste
A little salt

Put the cumin into a small saucepan over a gentle flame, and cook until toasted. Grind in a mortar or electric mill.

Cut the carrots into batons. Put water into a saucepan to a depth of 0.5cms, bring to the boil, and throw in the carrots with the oil, cumin, cayenne, and salt. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until just tender, adding a little more water from time to time if necessary. Uncover the pan, turn up the heat, and cook until the liquid has evaporated; you will need to stir the contents at the end, as the carrots are left with a coating of spicy oil.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Asparagus, olive and cheese frittata

I must conduct an experiment sometime to test the truth of the frequent assertion that green vegetables, if they are to retain their colour, should be cooked in plenty of boiling water in an uncovered pan. The theory is good: acidity is what turns asparagus, broccoli and the rest an unappetising khaki, and acidity increases in a covered pan. Chefs also advise you to plunge the cooked vegetables into iced water, to "fix" the colour. But both these procedures -- boiling in a copious quantity of water, and refreshing the vegetables -- lose more nutrients than would steaming. Maybe it is better to put up with grey-green vegetables. We are trying to feed ourselves, not win Michelin stars.

For this frittata, for three, I used six eggs. But I think it would have been better to follow my previous advice and use five. The longer the frittata cooks, the tougher it will be. I also threw on the cheese towards the end -- and that was an improvement. It needs only to melt, rather than to cook with the egg.

5 eggs, lightly beaten
Knob of butter
60g hard cheese (I used Cheddar)
Bunch of asparagus
Handful of pitted black olives (I like the Crespo Greek-style ones)

Melt the butter over a very gentle heat to coat a heavy, 28cm frying pan. Pour in the eggs.

Meanwhile, bring a pan with an inch or so of water to the boil. Cut off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus, throw the stalks into the pan, and simmer for a couple of minutes, until tender when pierced by a knife. Drain, and cut into fork-sized pieces. Stone the olives, if necessary.

When the bottom of the omelette is set, but with a runny surface, scatter over the cheese, asparagus, and olives. Finish cooking for a minute or so under a low grill.

Cut into wedges, and serve hot or cold.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer lamb stew

The butcher has good cuts of stewing lamb at the moment, offputting only if you imagine a thick winter stew with flour and rich stock. This one has a light sauce, made by the meat and vegetables. For 4.

800g lamb neck fillet
1tbsp white wine vinegar
8 cloves garlic
3 onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
2tbsp olive oil
Salt
2 tins cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Cut the lamb into rounds. On a medium to high heat, brown the pieces on a ridged grill pan, in batches. Transfer them to a heavy casserole. Pour the vinegar on to the pan, allow it to bubble until reduced to about 1 dstsp, and pour it and the pan scrapings on to the meat. (If your pan is very hot, you'll find that the vinegar evaporates to nothing almost immediately.)

Throw in the garlic, onion and herbs, and stir in the oil. Season to taste. Put the casserole into a gas mark 2/150C oven for an hour. If the contents of the pan are bubbling, you can turn the oven down to gas mark S/130C. Cook for a further two hours. Half an hour before the end, stir in the beans.





Monday, June 23, 2008

Harissa 2

If you use the most widely available small, dried chillis (such as the Rajah brand) for my previous harissa recipe, you get a searingly hot concoction. Only when I saw this recipe, by Yotam Ottolenghi, did I realise that it was possible to temper the chillis with other ingredients. This is the version I made.

1 red pepper
2tsp dried chillis (for a milder version, but still with some kick, 1tsp would be fine)
1tsp of a mixture, according to taste, of cumin, caraway and coriander seeds
1 clove garlic, chopped
A little salt

Bake the pepper in a gas mark 6/200C oven for 30 minutes, or until the skin blisters.

Pour boiling water over the chillis in a bowl.

In a small saucepan, and over a gentle heat, cook the spices until they give off a toasty aroma. Grind them in a mortar (or in the machine you use to make the harissa).

When the pepper is cool enough to handle, skin and deseed it. Drain the chillis.

You could grind together these ingredients by hand; but it would be hard work. I use a small, electric mill (Moulinex). Throw in all the ingredients, and pulse until smooth.

Decant into a glass jar, and cover with oil. If the harissa remains submerged, it should keep in the fridge for three weeks to a month.

This harissa was looser in texture than the stuff you buy in tins and tubes. After making it, I looked again at Ottolenghi's recipe, and saw that he included tomato paste. I shall try that next time -- although I wonder whether it might contribute a somewhat artificial flavour. I might also try adding fried onion and garlic, while being mindful that it is impossible to get a red onion "dark and smoky" after six to eight minutes' frying.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

More about moussaka

You might prefer to fry the aubergines, rather than to bake them, for a moussaka. In which case, you might be tempted to salt them first -- not because they are bitter, but because according to some writers they will absorb less oil if treated in that way. Salting is not necessary. Treat the aubergines as you would if you were baking them, by brushing them with oil. Lay them in a heavy-bottomed pan, over a low-to-medium heat, and season them. As they cook, they will of course lose the moisture that an initial salting was intended to remove. In other words, you get the same result.

Browning mince is another procedure about which most cookbooks are misleading. The process takes a long time if you throw 400g of mince into a pan and stir it around: first, the mince throws off its moisture, in which it stews; eventually, the moisture evaporates, and the mince starts to brown; bits of the mince start catching on the pan. If I want to brown mince (perhaps for shepherd's pie), I form it into patties, which I flash-fry or place on a hot grill pan. For the stews in spaghetti Bolognese or moussaka, I don't bother -- and I am not sure that I notice the difference. (More about this subject here.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Moussaka

Moussaka, prepared properly, is a time-consuming dish. The version I made yesterday was not proper. My use of pork and beef mince, rather than lamb, was just one of the inauthentic touches. For 4. (Or, in our case, 3.)

2 medium-to-large aubergines, cut into rounds the thickness of 2 £1 coins
Olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
200g beef mince
200g pork mince
1 bay leaf
1/2 chicken stock cube
2tsp tomato puree
3dstsp plain flour
35g butter, or enough to make a roux with the flour
300ml milk
1 egg, beaten
2tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino

Pour some olive oil into a saucer. Dip in a fork, and brush the aubergine rounds with the back of it. Place them in a roasting tin or on a baking sheet. Season with salt, and with pepper if you like. (You may, as I did, need a second tin or sheet; place it in the oven below the first one, and transfer it to the top shelf when the first batch is ready.) Bake at gas mark 6/200C for 20 to 30 minutes, until soft. (This is a far easier method of cooking aubergines than frying.)

Make a simple stew. Soften the onions and garlic in about 2tbsps of olive oil, over a gentle heat, for a few minutes. Throw in the beef and pork mince, and keep stirring. It will separate as it sheds moisture and the fat runs. Add the bay leaf, the half stock cube (I use Knorr), and the tomato puree. (I also added a drop of fish sauce, and a few splashes of soy sauce -- as I said, the recipe was inauthentic.) Season, and cook for about 10 more minutes. The meat should have produced enough liquid to stop it sticking.

I do not add any more liquid. Here (and in a lasagne), I like the stew to be moist but not runny. If I had been cooking for adults only, I would have been tempted to pour in about 200mls of red wine, and to cook the stew very gently until most of the liquid had evaporated. If there had been stock in the fridge, I would have used that instead of the cube: again, gently cooking it to evaporate it and concentrate the flavour.

Make a thick bechamel. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the flour, and stir it in. The roux should have the consistency of wet sand. Cook it for a minute. Pour in the milk gradually, stirring to incorporate each portion before adding the next. Let the sauce bubble for a minute or two, stirring constantly, then turn off the heat. You want a thick, almost pasty consistency. When the sauce has cooled a little, stir in the egg. (After baking, the sauce should puff up.) You could season the bechamel with nutmeg as well as salt.

Assemble the moussaka in a gratin dish. I started with a layer of stew, followed by aubergines, followed by the rest of the stew, followed by the rest of the aubergines; I poured the sauce on top, and scattered over the Parmesan. Bake at gas mark 6/200C for 30 minutes, or until the top is brown and everything is bubbling.

Moussaka is delicious if served warm, rather than piping hot. Here is a vegetarian version.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cheese omelette

My omelette pan is thin, old, and bashed-about. It may once have been non-stick; now the surface is patchy and grimy. You cannot rest the pan flat. It has only one use, for which it is ideal. Omelettes slide about on it, and never get stuck.

It is 20cms, a good size for a two-egg omelette.

The two important points in cooking a tender omelette are to beat the eggs only lightly, and to cook the omelette quickly -- in no more than a minute. Have your grated cheese (no more than a couple of tbsps) and your beaten eggs, seasoned at the last minute (apparently salt does something to the texture) ready.

Warm the pan for 30 seconds on a medium heat, and throw in a knob of butter, which should foam, but not turn brown. (Throughout this process, you may have to move the pan on and off the heat, to regulate the temperature.) When the pan is coated, pour in the eggs. Swirl them around, and with a spatula draw the edges of the omelette as it sets towards the centre of the pan, so that runny egg can fill the place. Keep doing this, to set the omelette as quickly as possible. (You need a very slick pan.)

When you have just a film of runny egg on the surface of the omelette, turn the heat right down, and scatter over the cheese. You do not want too much, or it will get in your way as you try to roll the omelette. This is the bit I am not very good at; but I am getting better. Tip the pan away from you (there should still be a hint of runniness, because the omelette will carry on cooking), and coax the near edge of the omelette to roll over. Keep encouraging it, with a mixture of tipping and pushing. As the omelette falls towards the far edge of the pan, complete the process by turning the pan almost upright to tip the omelette on to a waiting, warm plate.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Store cupboard essentials

My latest New Statesman column is about store cupboard standbys. I wrote it in response to an Observer Food Monthly feature on the subject.

A favourite quick lunch is rice with several of these items, and others, stirred in. On Saturday, the ingredients were a handful of olives, half a dozen sun-dried tomatoes each sliced into about four pieces, two handfuls of halved cherry tomatoes, and cubes of Gruyere. I had mine with a splash or two of Encona. Instead of the cheese, there might be fried cubes of pancetta, or tinned tuna, or tinned sardines. Artichokes, spring onions, peppers, and pine kernels are among the many other possible ingredients.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

New potatoes, Gruyere and onion pie

This is a variation on Nigel Slater's blue cheese and potato pie. It works particularly well at this time of the year, because the new potato skins add interest to the texture. Any hard cheese would suit -- as would any blue one. A generous portion for two.

600g new potatoes, scraped
4 onions, each cut in half then cut into chunks
Olive oil
150g Gruyere, grated
Salt, pepper

Put the potatoes into cold water in a saucepan, bring slowly to the boil, and simmer gently until tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, fry the onions in enough oil to prevent their catching on the pan, until soft and golden. About 20 minutes.

Roughly mash the potatoes with a fork, leaving them slightly lumpy. Stir in the onions and cheese. Add a little salt (the cheese is salty), and pepper according to taste. You could grate over a little nutmeg if you like.

Tip into a warm gratin dish, and bake in a gas mark 6/200C oven for about 15 minutes.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Spinach and pea risotto

This was a very rich, indulgent risotto for a Friday night. The combination of cream, Gruyere, and green vegetables -- tanginess, richness, and freshness -- worked perfectly.

The basic risotto technique is here. In brief: soften an onion, slowly and thoroughly, in a little butter, adding water if it threatens to catch; meanwhile, heat stock in another pan; tip the rice on to the onions, and stir until the grains are coated and hot; add stock, a ladleful at a time, keeping the contents of the pan at a gentle simmer and adding more stock when the previous addition has been absorbed; stop cooking when the rice is plump but still ad dente.

This time, I had 300g of arborio rice, a bag of spinach from the vegetable box, three handfuls of frozen peas, 150g of grated Gruyere, and about 125ml of cream. I washed the spinach and removed the stalks, and cooked it in my usual way: shoved wet into a pan, covered and cooked at full heat, stirred round after a minute or so until it has all wilted, and drained. When it was cool, I squeezed out some of the water (it seems as if you could go on extracting water from it for ever; I give up after a while), and chopped it. I cooked the peas in a little of the stock.

You (perhaps I mean I) want risotto that is moist but not fluid, so the trick is to get it to that state just as the rice is perfectly cooked. At this point I added the cream; there seemed to be rather a lot, and I turned up the heat to thicken it. But the risotto threatened to catch on the bottom of the pan. So I turned down the heat, tipped in the spinach and peas, gave them a quick stir, turned off the heat, and stirred in the Gruyere. I need not have worried: it all thickened up nicely. It served three greedy people.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Pork, aubergines and rice

I am pretty confident that no Chinese chef has ever cooked the ingredients for a stir-fry in the oven. But I do not like frying aubergines: cubed ones, in particular, are reluctant to soften, and tend to stick to even well-seasoned pans. Once I had tossed my aubergines in oil, seasoned them, and put them in the oven, I realised that I did not need another pan for my other ingredients (leftover belly pork, cubed; sliced spring onions; chopped garlic). After 25 minutes, I threw them into the roasting tin with the aubergines, stirred them about with a little more oil (groundnut), turned down the oven (from gas mark 6/200C) to gas mark 2/150C, and gave everything a further 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I cooked the rice (the link on the right takes you to various agonised posts on this subject), tipped it into the roasting tin, and mixed everything up with some soy sauce, nam pla, and rice vinegar. (There is a more detailed recipe, for another inauthentic pork stir fry, here.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Simple chicken again

My latest New Statesman column is about how I am not always principled enough to do the ethical, ecological thing; and about how I am not always sure what the ethical thing is. Someone who is sure, on the subject of Israeli potatoes, has made a comment here.

I bought a much better batch of Jerseys at the weekend. I did not use them, though, on a version of this recipe, which I made with a particularly flavoursome Label Anglais chicken. The French potatoes were ideal, retaining their shape and their waxy texture.

This is an example of a dish that might not pass the highest culinary examination, but that is nevertheless home cooking at its best. The potatoes, not having lost their surface starch through parboiling, have a slimy quality -- in this context, delicious. Also, they have soaked up the chicken juices, as well as oil, garlic (I put whole cloves in the chicken cavity), and lemon (squeezed over the bird, and then placed inside the cavity).

To summarise: rub chicken with olive oil, season, squirt with lemon juice, stuff cavity with lemon hulls and unpeeled garlic cloves, and roast at gas mark 6/200C for 30 minutes; turn down heat to gas mark 2/150C, and roast for a further 90 minutes. (My chicken was 2kg.) Scrape and slice potatoes, transfer to bowl of water. Drain, and tip into the roasting tin, around and under the chicken, when there are 45 minutes to go. At the end of the two hours cooking time, transfer chicken to a plate, and allow to rest. Turn up oven to full heat, and cook potatoes, turning them if necessary, until they are brown and have absorbed most of the liquid -- about 20 to 30 minutes. The chicken should still be pretty hot; if it is lukewarm, no matter.

This version has some variations on my earlier one, largely because of the different oven temperatures here and in France. Also, I did not bother trying to remove some of the potato starch with paper towels. Why had I been so fussy?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mackerel and potato salad

My first Jersey Royals (80p a pound) from the greengrocer were disappointing, perhaps compromised by the terrible weather in April. At Tesco this week, the Jerseys were £2.45 for a small bag; I bought organic new potatoes, of an unnamed variety and from Israel, instead. Some might say that buying Israeli potatoes from Tesco is unsound for three reasons (political, ecological, and societal); but I go only so far as an ethical shopper. Israeli farmers have a right to earn a living, I think.

I used them for a Delia Smith-style cheats' dinner: ready-prepared smoked mackerel fillets, flaked (I like their oiliness); half a bottle of artichoke hearts, drained; half a bottle of "Greek-style" black olives, stoned; one bottled pepper, sliced. Once the potatoes (about 10 of them, sliced) had cooled, I stirred everything together with two dstsps of mayonnaise -- which I had made. Plenty for two.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Falafels - der Haroutunian

I love falafels, but until last week I had not succeeded in making decent ones. There is a good deal of variation between recipes. One I have seen suggests concocting the mixture by grounding up raw chick peas. Several contain grated onions, which, in my experience, make the patties or balls too soft: they absorb a huge amount of oil. Other efforts have fallen to bits. Recipe writers disagree over whether the falafels should be bound by flour, or by breadcrumbs and egg.

At last, I have had success, thanks to the ever-excellent Grub Street's reissue of Vegetarian Dishes of the Middle East by the late Arto der Haroutunian. (The company's website was not working when I checked.) What follows is an adaptation of his recipe: I used the quantity of chick peas that came in a jar rather than the 450g in his version, and I upped the cumin content. If you have a tin (standard drained weight: 225g) or two tins, you can adjust the quantities accordingly.

400g cooked chick peas
Salt, to taste (bottled or tinned chick peas may already be salty)
1/2tsp black pepper
1/2tsp turmeric
1tsp cumin, toasted over a gentle heat in a dry saucepan and ground
1/4tsp cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed with a little salt
1tbsp tahini or olive oil
50g white breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
Flour
Sunflower oil, for deep frying

Whizz the chick peas in a food processor. Scrape the sides of the jug, and keep whizzing until you have a paste, which does not have to be completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in all the other ingredients except the flour and sunflower oil. You want a thick, sticky mass. If it won't cohere, add a little water.

Heat the oil -- you may need about a litre -- in a saucepan over a medium flame.

Form the chick pea mixture into balls or patties of whatever size you like. I went for eight patties. Roll them in flour.

Test the oil by dropping in a little piece of bread. If it sizzles, add the falafels -- I cooked them four at a time. You want them to take about five minutes to brown (so that they cook through), so adjust the flame accordingly. When they are ready, lift them from the oil with a slotted spoon on to paper towels. Then put them on to a plate in a very low oven while you cook the next batch.

We ate them with Greek yoghurt. Mine had minced garlic and chillis (fresh) stirred in.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Aubergine, courgette and bean gratin

I made a version of this gratin the other night, but as a one-pot meal, including courgettes and dried beans as well.

Instead of cooking the courgettes (I had three small ones) separately, I thought: why not simply tip them into the tomato sauce and let them simmer for a few minutes? Then I could add the beans (I used alubia beans, from a jar), warm them too, and pour the whole mixture into a gratin dish. At the moment when I was adding the sliced courgettes, I saw the potential problem: vegetables do not soften in an acid environment. (Do not ever try to cook potatoes in tomato sauce -- unless they are cooked already, in which case they should retain their shape.) But I got away with it. The courgettes were slightly crunchy, but not unpleasantly so.

I topped this mixture of tomato sauce, courgettes and beans with slices of aubergine, and poured my sauce on top of that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tardy Jersey Royals

My latest New Statesman column is about Jersey Royals -- which I have not tasted yet this year. My greengrocer says that they are still too expensive. The crop is down, as the Jersey Royal Company told me; I should guess that the supermarkets have taken a large share of it.

So we had some new potatoes from France: not bad, but definitely second best. I was not as clear as I might have been in the column when I wrote that I did not like to assemble the potatoes with lots of other ingredients; what I meant to say was that I did not like preparing them with ingredients that masked their flavour. Yesterday, we had a big mixed salad: potatoes; roast belly pork; roasted peppers; rocket; a few tomatoes. I made a vinaigrette with 1tbsp of vinegar, half a tsp of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, 2tbsp of olive oil, 1tbsp of sesame oil, and 1dstsp of soy sauce.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Rocket and cheese salad

Greens are appearing in the vegetable box again. At last, I am doing something about the realisation that green salads are tedious, no matter how varied the leaves. They are fine with another, assertive ingredient -- particularly cheese, I think.

Yesterday, for lunch (for 2), I toasted 2tbsp of pine nuts in a small saucepan over a gentle heat. I cubed 100g of Gruyere. I made
a sauce with 1dstsp of white wine vinegar, 3dstsp of olive oil, a little salt, and a lot of pepper. I tossed the nuts and cheese in the sauce with washed rocket from a bag. A dull and chewy leaf tasting only of pepper, rocket complements the other ingredients here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A different kind of tortilla

I large potato
5 eggs
80g grated cheese, such as Gruyere or Cheddar

Peel the potato, cut it into equal-sized pieces, put them into cold water, bring to a simmer, and cook until soft. Drain. Then -- this is the different bit -- mash them.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs lightly. Mix them with the cheese and potato, and a little salt if you like.

Melt a large knob of butter in a heavy, 28cm frying pan over the lowest possible heat. Pour in the egg mixture. Cook until there is a decent amount of set egg on the bottom -- about 10 minutes. Put the pan under a low grill for a minute or so, to set the top.

I got this idea from Allegra McEvedy's column in the Guardian. I am sure that her spicy version would be delicious. I am less sure about baking it -- the egg would be more likely to toughen, I think. I certainly would not entrust the mixture to my Pyrex dish: it would stick. However, one of the effects of the mash seems to be to give a more tender result.

My tortilla would have benefited from a couple of sliced Spanish onions, fried very gently and tipped into the egg mixture before being returned to the pan.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Red pepper hummus

This is the hummus I made with my tahini. It was lighter, less pasty, than versions I have made with tahini from a jar. The pepper helped to loosen the texture too.

1 tin chickpeas, rinsed in a sieve
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped
2tbsp tahini
1 red pepper (from a Cypressa jar -- or fresh and roasted)
A little salt (the chickpeas have been sitting in brine)
Pinch cayenne
1dstsp olive oil

Put all the ingredients, expect the oil, in a food processor, and whizz. You may need to interrupt the whizzing to scrape the mixture from the sides of the bowl. Pour a little water through the spout if the hummus seems too thick.

You do not need to add a lot more oil to a mixture that already contains the oily tahini. In my experience, olive oil whizzed in a processor loses its fruitiness; I prefer to stir it in at the end.