Saturday, November 26, 2011

Spaghetti with aubergine and harissa

The single portion in the picture contains a whole onion and a whole aubergine (a medium one). As you can see, the quantity is not excessive once the vegetables have cooked down.

I prepared the aubergines according to my newly discovered, saucepan method. The anchovy is there to add some depth of flavour, not to provide fishiness.

2tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
1 anchovy, drained
1 medium aubergine
1tsp harissa
125g spaghetti
Parmesan cheese, grated

Warm the oil in a heavy saucepan over a gentle heat. Throw in the garlic, and let it sizzle gently for 30 seconds or so. Add the onions, and cook for five minutes, or until they start to soften. Stir in the anchovy, and mash it up.

While the onion is cooking, cut the aubergine into small cubes. Tip them into the pan containing the onions, add the salt (to taste) and harissa, give everything a good stir, and put on the lid. Continue to cook, over a gentle heat and with the lid on the pan, stirring regularly. There should be enough liquid and steam from the onions to prevent the vegetables from sticking. The aubergines will be thoroughly soft in 15 to 20 minutes.

Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Drain, and toss with the vegetables. Serve with the cheese to sprinkle on top.

You could use dried, whizzed chillis instead of the harissa. Or some cayenne pepper. If you don't like hot things, you may need some other ingredient instead - a dstsp of tomato paste, say.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chocolate cake, refined

I have learned a little bit more about how cakes work from revising and expanding my cookbook, Don't Sweat the Aubergine, for a new edition to be published by Black Swan in the spring. It made me think again about Elizabeth David's simple and delicious chocolate cake, which is often somewhat compacted after a day or so. If the egg foam cannot sustain an airy texture for very long, would the cake not benefit if one creamed the butter and sugar as well? Indeed it would. I have added a note to the original recipe.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Faster beetroot

The other day, I cooked a very large beetroot. I gave it a quick wash, put it in a pan half filled with boiling, salted water, and part-boiled, part-steamed it with the lid on. It took the best part of two hours.

On Thursday, I read this recipe by Angela Hartnett in the Guardian. You wash the beetroot, cut it in quarters, and cook it in olive oil, thyme, vinegar and water. Hartnett suggests that quarters of a medium beetroot will cook in about 15 minutes.

The quicker you cook vegetables, the better, is the usual rule - certainly as far as nutritional value is concerned. My doubt here is the juice that leaks into the water through the cut surface of the beetroot. But perhaps plenty of juice leaks out during the longer cooking period anyway. (Baking beetroot wrapped in foil does not produce a notably juicier result, in my experience.)

I tried the Hartnett method. But my quartered beetroot was nowhere near cooked after 15 minutes; nor after 30 minutes. It occurred to me that the vinegar was the problem: acidity is a highly effective delayer of the softening process.

Eventually, I ran out of patience, and drained the beetroots while they were still quite firm. Angela Hartnett makes no mention of peeling, but I did peel mine, once they were cool.

The result was good. I'll certainly try this quartering method again, leaving out the vinegar, in the hope that the flavour did not depend on it.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Squash and tahini paste

This is an adaptation of a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in the Guardian. I spiced it with cumin rather than cinnamon; because we were eating it at lunchtime, I left out the garlic; and I didn't garnish it with sesame seeds, date syrup, and coriander. It was still delicious and, as Ottolenghi says, moreish.

Also, I didn't cut up the squash before baking it, figuring that I would waste less of the flesh if I were able to scoop it, softened, out of the shells. But it took a long time to cook. I gave it half an hour at gas mark 6/200C, with the roasting tin covered in foil; then I uncovered the tin, but turned down the oven to gas mark 3/160, and waited another 30 minutes; discovering that the flesh was still not tender, I covered the tin again, turned up the oven back to 200C, and waited for a further 30 minutes. That did it.

The two halves of squash in the picture are anointed with about a dstsp of olive oil, half a tsp of cumin seeds, and salt and pepper. I scooped the flesh into a small vegetable mill, and whizzed it. I added a tbsp of yoghurt, and whizzed again. I added a tbsp of tahini paste (it is easier to merge this thick paste with a substance that is already blended), and whizzed for a final time.