Saturday, 2 February 2019

A handsome dinner

Once again, Joan Aiken has some wonderful descriptions of food in “Go Saddle the Sea”. Set in Spain, it tells of the adventures of Felix who describes being treated to a handsome dinner consisting of “meat cooked with tomatoes, and chicory salad, bread sprinkled with salt, and a tart of apples, which grow very plentifully in this region”. With just a few words, with sparse details, she conveys something far more interesting and appealing than one of those phoney descriptions one gets on a plastic-coated menu.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

John's brandy butter

A saturated solution of brandy and butter. With sugar. Slightly granular on the tongue. Icing sugar. Served in a silver christening goblet.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Pan Bagnat

I have huge sympathy for Elizabeth David's disgust at inauthenticity: I am reminded of her remarks about so-called Quiche Lorraine every time I spot a revolting cheese-laden variety in supermarkets that really should know better. There is a case to be made for requiring chefs and supermarkets not to use the names of classic dishes for something (usually) inferior and always fundamentally different.

That said, I am guilty of the same thing. My Aloo Chat bears no relation to the dish, says my friend Nina. And nor, I suspect, does my Pan Bagnat. Pan Bagnat, in the Provençal dialect of Niçard, means “wet bread”. However, the first word is often misspelled “pain" - correct French, but incorrect Niçard. Traditionally, it is supposed to consist of raw vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies and/or tuna, olive oil, salt and pepper (never mayonnaise) and sometimes a little vinegar, in a day old pain de campagne. Coming from Niçe, it is, I suppose, a Salade Niçoise in bread.

My version is far from traditional and I fear Elizabeth David would have called it an abomination: I use baguette rather than pain de campagne; inside, there are no fish to be found, no raw vegetables. The bread filling probably comes closer to another local dish, Ratatouille, than to Salade Niçoise. Perhaps all that can be said is that at least the bread is, in accordance with its name, wet or bathed: these are not crisp salad vegetables but cooked, cooled and soaked in olive oil. This is perfect beach food. The bread is moistened by the olive oil and tomato juices. As lunch, it lacks the dryness of the saucisson to which I became accustomed as a child and which perhaps curbed some of my more carnivorous instincts.

4 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 red peppers, thinly sliced
2 large onions, thinly sliced
Clove of garlic, crushed
Olive oil - for cooking and for making the sandwich.
Sea salt.
Possibly some herbes de Provence. But not essential.
Day old baguette.

Heat olive oil slowly in a frying pan. Add the onions. Soften. Add the peppers and the tomatoes and allow to cook very very slowly on the lowest possible heat. Add a whisper of herbes de Provence and some sea salt. Add more oil and maybe a tiny amount of water if you are in danger of drying up. You should end up with little liquid. Allow to cool. Split the baguette, drizzle olive oil from its head to its toe and fill with the cooked vegetables. Then wrap in cling film and weigh down in the fridge. Cut and eat.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Another favourite sandwich

I discovered one of my favourite sandwiches in a little shop in Crouch End. I worked nearby, throughout the summer of 1992. I had an enlightened boss called Julian Santos, who told us that he expected all hands to the pump when there was work to be done: but when there wasn’t, we did not have to pretend to be busy; instead, we were welcome to do anything we wanted: making personal telephone calls; using the computers. I learned to touch type that summer. There was always plenty of time for lunch. The sandwich I discovered had four ingredients: white bread, mayonnaise, just fried bacon and ripe avocado. A sublime combination.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Lawyers who lunch

At last one of my recipes has made it into print, in SA Law's Food for Thought (Volume 4). My recipe is to be found on page 8 and will be familiar to readers of this blog who recall my bacon casserole with flageolets. What is more, there is even a Wine Suggestion next to my recipe - apparently "the velvety fruity notes of a syrah ... including Chateauneuf du Pape" would go well with it. And there are a number of other appealing recipes to be found in the book, including Turkish Eggs, Cod Loin with Creamed Leeks, Tomato and Brown Shrimp Butter and Cinnamon Ice Cream...

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Greasy spoon

I am lucky enough to live a few seconds walk from what deserves the title of best greasy spoon in London: the Regency Café. It is curious that the term “greasy spoon” is no insult but a term of endearment, indeed high compliment. It makes it plain that the place in question is unpretentious, sensibly priced and, above all, offers a tasty breakfast. Indeed, you can guarantee salty food, not bland food.

So what is it about the Regency that makes even it stand out? Well, it has featured in a film for a start. Pride, the one about the unlikely alliance between the miners and gay and lesbian activists during the miners’ strike. (Not such an unlikely alliance in fact, as the film draws out: minorities under pressure from the establishment.)

But cinematic fame aside. Gingham curtains. Ceramic tiles. Brown chairs. Plain formica tables. A large sugar shaker, salt, pepper, brown sauce, ketchup, vinegar and mustard on each. None of those silly packets that are so difficult to tear. A queue often extending through the doorway. Signs  warning you not to sit down until you have ordered your food. Framed photographs and pictures on the wall.

Then there is The Voice. Behind the counter most days is a charming, gentle-faced woman who takes your order quietly. But when it is ready, it is as though she is replaced. A stentorian “Ham egg and chips coming up” is bellowed, prompting the relevant customer to return to the counter to collect it. You can hear her from my bedroom.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Sweet William

I associate this with coming down in the morning after a dinner party the night before: a dinner party to which my brother and I were not invited. But the great thing about dinner parties was: the leftovers. And one of my mother’s signature dishes in the nineteen seventies was a pudding she called Sweet William. Chocolate chip cookies, each dipped in sherry, and then sandwiched to another with whipped cream, gradually forming a creamy circle around the edge of the serving plate.