Pasta Mont’ e Mare

Or ‘Malfadine with Oyster Mushrooms and Samphire’ 😉
Usually, pasta mare e monti – sea and mountains, contains prawns and wild mushrooms, or sometimes artichokes or asparagus, depending on the season and the region of Italy it comes from – this recipe uses oyster mushrooms and samphire, (which is also known as sea asparagus) mainly because I like the wordplay, hence why I’ve switched the words around. I used Malfadine pasta (which is like tagliatelle with frilly edges) because it reminds me of ribbons of seaweed on the beach.
This recipe uses the same pasta bianca sauce method as Pasta Primavera.

Ingredients serves 2
250g Malfadine or pasta of choice.
50g oyster mushrooms
50g samphire, washed, picked over and any tough bits near the base discarded. You could use a seaweed like hijiki, if you don’t live somewhere that has samphire.
2 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
1-2 tablespoon olive oil or a knob of butter
10g plain flour added to
200ml cold water (this is about a scant level tablespoon of flour in a hi-ball glass of water)
Salt
Optional – 2 tablespoons soaking water from rehydrating wild mushrooms (I was soaking some Chinese black mushrooms for the next day so this is what I used), or 1 teaspoon mushroom bouillon powder – Totole, a Chinese American brand is the best I’ve found and widely available – or a small pinch from the corner of a porcini mushroom stock cube, Star brand from Italy is widely available in the UK – they are very concentrated and salty so I do mean just a pinch.

Method
Cook the pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water as per the instructions on the packet until al dente. Meanwhile, tear the oyster mushrooms into strips down the length of the gills, and sauté in a little oil with a pinch of salt. Lift out of the pan and reserve. Make a paste with the flour and a little water until smooth, then add the remaining water and mix well. Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan and add the garlic, cook until fragrant (30 seconds), then add the flour and water and the mushroom stock, stirring continually for 4-5 minutes until the sauce slightly clears and thickens, (it should be an ivory colour and it will begin to bubble up and rise in the pan), check that the ‘raw flour’ taste has completely disappeared.
30 seconds before you drain the pasta, add the samphire to the cooking water to heat through. Strain, and fold in the oyster mushrooms and the sauce.
Oyster mushrooms have a certain peppery-ness and the samphire is naturally salty as it thrives by the coast, so you will probably need little, if any extra seasoning. You could also substitute a mixture of fresh and dried wild mushrooms.
50g of both oyster mushrooms and samphire equates to a large handful.
Please remember this was for a slightly posh birthday dinner – still only cost about 60-70p each.
So this is what we had for our main course – pudding was elderflower sorbet.

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Brockwell Park Salad

There’s a great park in South London called Brockwell Park, and it has amazing community gardens based around the old greenhouses (it dates back to 1811, so there used to be gardeners on site raising bedding plants for displays). Anyway, some years ago, when the community space was first set up, I was invited to go and help cook the produce at their open day (it was part of my job at the time, working on local food projects – I’m not trying to make out I’m famous). Such a beautiful idyll in the middle of the city.
Anyway, this below is what we made, it was all there was to harvest that day, but happily it was a pretty perfect combination. I always think of it as Brockwell Park Salad – I make it as soon as there’s an excess of nasturtium leaves in the garden…sadly, I haven’t been on the ball enough to grow everything for myself this year, but there were enough new potatoes in the left over dinner I was given, and I have some broad beans in the freezer. The leaves and the onions came from our community garden here in Limehouse.

Ingredients
For every 500 g of potatoes (new or salad potatoes – I like Anya or Pink Fir Apple, ‘cos they’re so dense and nutty)
2-3 generous handfuls of broad beans, fresh young ones or frozen, slipped out of their little white jackets
2-3 spring onions
½ red onion
Rocket leaves – wild or cultivated
Baby nasturtium leaves – if you haven’t got any, you could use watercress, as they come from the same family and taste similar.
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt, preferably flakes or coarsely ground
Coarsely ground black pepper – optional, as the leaves are peppery.

Method
Boil the potatoes in their skins. Placing the broadbeans in a sieve, immerse them in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then remove and set aside.
Meanwhile, finely slice the red onion, and chop the spring onions at an angle, into 1cm lengths. Gently heat the oil, and sweat the spring onions for a couple of minutes so they just lose their oniony bite.
Drain the potatoes, and gently squash them to crack their skins – you may need to cut up some of the larger ones. Add the oil, spring onions and the salt, mix through and set aside to cool down a little – it’s fine if you serve it warm, but the leaves will wilt too much if the spuds are too hot.
When cooled a bit, add everything else and fold in. If you’ve got some nasturtium flowers (mine aren’t in bloom yet) you could use a few on the top, but I quite like it yellowy cream and bright green with a hint of crimson from the red onion.

Tuppence ha’penny Tomato soup

I want to create a new name for this month – I’m torn between Jucember and Juvember… 😉

This recipe is cheap but cheery, to make you feel summery even though you’re still wearing a cardigan.tuppenceha'pennytom

The best value, and best flavoured tomatoes on the market at the moment are little thin skinned cherry toms – there were about 100 in the bowl I bought for £1, and very toothsome they are too. The recipe below can be made even cheaper/more cheaply by leaving out the fresh tomatoes and just using (a little more) puree, but then you might want to add a pinch of dried oregano or mixed herbs – still tasty with a chunk of bread and a salad for a quick lunch, and better than a packet.

I made mine in the rice cooker, because I was running out of gas, but it should be cooked over a medium heat.

Ingredients – makes 2 large bowls or 3 small ones

2 tablespoons oil, preferably olive
2 heaped tablespoons tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
20 cherry tomatoes, washed or 3-4 normal tomatoes, deseeded and chopped.
1 level tablespoon plain flour
600ml water
½ teaspoon sugar, or to taste
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

Method

Mix the flour in a little water in a glass, then top up with the rest of the water, so it’s ready.
Over a medium heat, fry the puree in the oil for a couple of minutes, stirring until the oil turns red and the puree darkens. Add the garlic, stir until fragrant, then add the tomatoes and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the skin begins to split on one or two tomatoes. Add the water and flour mix, bring to a boil, then simmer until the mixture thickens slightly and the flour taste has cooked out. Remove tomatoes and roughly mash/chop with scissors.(At this point, you could pass them through a sieve, but I like some texture) – and return them to the soup. If you want to blitz your tomatoes in a machine, do so with just a ladleful of the soup…you do get a deeper colour if you do it by hand.
Add salt, taste and adjust with sugar, if needed.

هريسة – Hurray for Harissa!

It’s Sunday, so I’m making sauces and condiments again – probably because I get all ‘in the kitchen mood’ whenever I listen to the ‘Food Programme’ on BBC Radio 4.

I got this recipe from my friend’s mum in Tunisia. Um Habib is possibly the hardest working woman I have ever met. She not only cares for a severally disabled daughter, cooks, cleans, washes laundry by hand etc etc for a family of six, she makes everything from scratch: her own rose water, orange flower water, jasmine water, even her own couscous from flour and semolina. This, she does two or three times a week. It’s a very smoothing process to watch, but it takes a lot of care and patience. She’s an absolutely amazing cook, making pot after pot of delicious food, the key ingredient being love.

Anyway, as with so many things, there are lots of different recipes for harissa, but two main styles; one using fresh peppers, both chilli and sweet, which is commonly known as Harissa Nablia, from Nabeul in Tunisia, and this one, based on dry chillies. As well as being an ingredient in other recipes, in Tunisia it is often served on a plate with extra olive oil, that you dip bread into, sometimes accompanied with olives and a salad, at the beginning of a meal – as a way to both get your gastric juices going, and fill you up before the more expensive main course.

Ingredients
100g dried chillies
4 cloves of garlic (use less if you like, I just love garlic, and the more you use, the more sauce-like it becomes)
½ tablespoon caraway seeds
½ tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ tablespoon dried mint – if I’ve run out of home dried mint, I’ve been known to use the contents of a peppermint tea tea bag
½ teaspoon salt
50ml olive oil

Method
Break off any chilli stalks, and twizzle between your fingers to remove most of the chilli seeds – this sauce is quite fiery enough. As with the chilli bean paste recipe, you may want to wear gloves for this bit.
Cover in boiling water and leave to soak for 30 mintutes. Meanwhile, dry fry the spice seeds until fragrant – if you’re using a small pan, stir, so they heat evenly. In a coffee grinder or a pestle and mortar, coarsely grind the spices.
Strain the chillies, and roughly chop (I use scissors to snip them) and ditto the garlic. Add all the solid ingredients and ¼ of the oil in a whizzy machine and blitz on a pulse, adding the rest of the oil in splurts as it comes together.
To store, make sure it is always covered with a layer of oil.

It will probably not surprise you to hear that Um Habib does all this by hand.

I have heard lots of people,(including Nigella) state knowledgably that Harissa is a tomato and chilli paste, but I’ve never seen or tasted such a mix….it may well be nice, just not harissa. I have read such recipes, but usually on websites that use canned chickpeas for hummous and falafel. Miao. Zorry, zorry, zorry…I am such a foodsnob.

Olives and olive oil – top tip

I love olives, especially the black slightly crinkly one with stones – they are the ripest (stoned black olives in brine are actually semi ripe, otherwise they couldn’t be pitted mechanically, and then dyed black – they do have their uses, but you have to know the name of a good brand, ‘cos they often taste like chipboard) – however, I don’t eat them every day, or even every week – and they end up drying out or getting a slightly winey fermented flavour – I’m sure this happens to lots of people.
On the other hand, who can afford the really expensive fruity olive oil that you keep just for salads (the too good to cook with kind) anymore?
So, next time you buy olives in a pack, take a clean jar with a lid, place olives inside and cover with ordinary olive oil – your olives will last for months and months and the olive oil will become fruity and olivey and taste considerably posher than it did straight from the bottle. My jar is about 10 months old and still as fresh as a daisy.

The cheapest and best olives in Whitechapel are sold in £1 bags from the Algerian stalls on Whitechapel market – otherwise try Turkish/Moroccan/Algerian shops where they’re sold loose or in packs – all good quality. The cheapest and actually award winning olive oil is in Lidls – Primadonna brand, £2.19 -£2.80 for 750ml, depending if they’ve got it on special offer, which seems to be quite often.

Butterbean salad for supper-last tuesday week!

Ok, got some catching up to do…I am going to get on top of this and get disciplined…so

I used some wild garlic (Ransom) leaves – roughly torn by hand and then gently wilted in olive oil for 30 seconds and marjoram in mine.
This is a really good main course salad for when salad greens are expensive and imported. It’s also about 50% out of the store cupboard, and depending on what you add to it, can be made to travel well for work/picnics – nothing worse than slimy lettuce leaves that have got a bit warm, eh?
The way you assemble it may seem weird, but it ensures that the beans soak up flavour from the vinegar, without making the bread go pappy and soggy.

Ingredients – serves 2 as a main course, 15mins
Core ingredients –
1 can butterbeans
1 small red onion, finely sliced
8-10 cherry tomatoes left whole, or 2 tomatoes, cubed, if you’re going to eat it straight away.
Handful (about 5-6 per person) black olives, the shiny, slightly wrinkly kind.
1-2 slices stale bread, toasted
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Black pepper
Mean pinch of salt to taste – you won’t need as much as you think, because of the olives.
Herb of choice

Optional ingredients if you’re eating it straight away
10 cm length of cucumber, cubed or 1 small Lebanese cucumber, cubed
Handful of baby spinach leaves
Basil
Rocket

Optional ingredients if you’re making it for later
Lightly cooked green beans, cut into 2cm lengths
Roasted red pepper, torn into shreds
Sweet marjoram, thyme or rosemary

Method
Lightly toast bread, and leave it in the toaster or under the turned off grill.
Rinse butter beans, and add to a bowl with the onion and a healthy twist of coarse black pepper – mix by hand and gently squeeze – you want the beans to keep their shape, but some of their skins to slightly break so the flavours get in. Add vinegar and mix again.

Re-toast bread (you want it to be completely dry without it burning) and rub the garlic clove over both sides, then tear into smallish chunks or cut into cubes. In a separate bowl, combine oil and bread. If you’ve only got white sliced, and you’re making this salad for later, it is worth gently frying your toasted cubes in the oil like croutons.

Add tomatoes, olives, salt, herb of choice and anything else you’re using to the beans and mix. If you’re eating it straight away, you can mix in the bread as well, if not, lay it on top of the salad and mix when you come to eat it….it doesn’t matter if some of the oil gets into the salad – in fact that’s a good thing, but you don’t want the bread to sit in the vinegar too long before you chow down.