Feeling Souper

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So I’ve had flu. That’s boring.

Being sick is like staying in a hotel, a really bad hotel where the room is airless, the bed contrives to be both too hot and too cold, the sheets are abominably scratchy despite what the lying bastard label might say about thread count. And nothing on the room service menu tempts, not even the gin and that never happens.

The thing about staying in hotels, even the very, very good ones, is that after about three days I miss cooking. I miss sniffing melons, squeezing avocados, chopping herbs, sautéing onions, simmering stock. Wandering around markets becomes almost unbearable – all that lovely produce and not a pot to put it in.

So on about Day Five of channelling of a consumptive Brontë on the sofa, I just couldn’t stand it. I needed to wash vegetables, fry stuff, stir things, season to taste. This soupy recipe sounded about right. Really very easy. Cook for two hours. Sprinkle with fried onions. Except my kofteh collapsed. You don’t brown them, just roll and poach in the soup. Perhaps I didn’t get the texture of the minced mixture fine enough, but they ended up like lamby crumbs surrounded by creamy, tomatoey, rice. Not so bad. In fact, pretty good for a sick girl.

Eat on a tray in front of an old movie, preferably Mildred Pierce. Blanket and gently snoring dog optional but beneficial. Repeat as necessary.

Kofteh Sholleh
Soft rice meat dumplings

This recipe is from Margaret Shaida’s superlative The Legendary Cuisine of Persia and it was given to her by Mrs Pouran Ataie from Azarbaijan. In her recipe, Mrs Shaida uses 6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, but I hate peeling tomatoes at the best of times and I didn’t have any and I’m sick so I used a tin of chopped tomatoes. They’re Italian. And good. She also uses 30g dried oregano. I had one whole pot. That’s 5g. I can’t really imagine what adding another five pots would have tasted like and I admit I’m still a bit tastebud-challenged, so I stuck with my paltry, westernised, wimpy sick girl 5g and it tasted great.

Serves six to eight

300g short grain pudding rice
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsps groundnut or sunflower oil
2 litres chicken stock
1x400g chopped tomatoes, or 6 tomatoes, peeled and diced
3 tbsps tomato purée
5g dried oregano, or 30g if you’re being authentic
1 tsp paprika or ½ tsp red chilli powder
500g lean lamb or veal, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnish:
1 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
Finely chopped parsley

Soak the rice in cold water for a few minutes.

Warm the oil over a medium-low heat, add the onions and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring from time to time, until soft and beginning to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Drain the rice and stir in with the onions. Add enough water to cover, raise the temperature and boil gently, covered, until the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove about 3tbsps of rice and set aside.

Add the stock to the rice along with the tomatoes, tomato purée, half the oregano and paprika, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently.

Chop the meat together with the reserved rice, remaining oregano and paprika, salt and pepper. Using wet hands, mould into about 10 evenly-sized meatballs. Carefully lower them into the slowly simmering soup. Cook very gently, partially covered, for two hours, stirring occasionally, especially during the last half hour when the dumplings and rice can stick to the bottom if you’re not careful (and even if you are).

While the soup’s cooking, prepare the onions. Warm the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat and sauté the onions until crisp and deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper while you finish the soup.

Serve the meat dumplings in warmed bowls with the soup ladled over the top and garnished with the parsley and the onions.

Silver linings

Pork with apricots
In June, you don’t expect the sky over Agde to be as dark as the sombre basalt slabs that form its pathways and quayside. The grey stones undulate like ripples on the Hérault river, worn smooth by centuries of footsteps and pockmarked with ancient volcanic bubbles.
No matter. We’re holed up behind the heavy wooden door of our rented house with books and food and cheap rosé and coffee. Beyond the courtyard door, I can hear the clip clip clip of the gypsy women’s heels and the chatter of their clouds of children as they walk from the rue Haute to the rue du Quatre Septembre. Inside, I’m lost in Bury Me Standing, Isabel Fonseca’s dazzling history of European gypsies.
One of the good things about stormy weather (If you have spent more than five minutes on this blog, you may have noticed I am the Queen of the Silver Lining) is that it gives me a chance to make the kinds of warming, cosy dishes I rarely cook during our summers here, when we live on salads and grilled fish and fruit.
The other day it was cold. Windows and doors rattled and strained against the wind. Shutters creaked. The air filled with the shrieks of seagulls, their wings the only bright flashes in the basalt sky as they circled overhead. It was also my lovely dad’s birthday, so I asked him what he would like for dinner, even though I knew he would say pork. When asked he always says pork, even though he greets everything I put in front of him as though it’s exactly what he wants to eat at that very moment. Sometimes even the least demanding souls should have exactly what they want, especially on their birthdays.
Pork with apricots

I found a great recipe for rôti de porc aux groseilles in the May-June edition of Elle à Table, but I didn’t have redcurrants, or several other ingredients listed in the recipe. So I made my own version, using apricots, and then, a second time, cherries, both of which worked well. At least the birthday boy didn’t complain. But then, he wouldn’t.
1 boneless, rolled pork loin or shoulder
2 tablespoons olive oil
A couple of bay leaves
A sprig or two of thyme
250g apricots (halved and stoned), cherries (stoned) or redcurrants
10 sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 biggish glass of rosé, white wine or cider
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Season the pork well with salt and pepper. Warm the olive oil over a medium high heat in a large casserole and brown the meat all over, then remove it from the pan and set it aside. Reduce the heat, add the onions with the bay leaves and thyme and sauté until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another couple of minutes, then add the sage, honey, soy sauce, balsamic and wine or cider. Give it all a good stir, then tip in the fruit and return the pork to the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover with a tightly fitting lid and cook gently over a low heat for about an hour and a quarter. Keep an eye on it. You might need to splash in a little more booze or water halfway through, though I didn’t. Serve the pork cut in thin slices with the sauce spooned over. The pork is also excellent the next day, cold, and sliced into salads or sandwiches.

Pork belly, and a very British competition…

Slow roast pork belly from Canteen: Great British Food Slow roast pork belly from Canteen: Great British Food

You could be forgiven for thinking that the clocks haven’t just gone forward an hour, but leapt, galloped, sprinted forward several months, given today’s rather autumnal offering of roast belly pork with apples and red cabbage.

But it was a chilly, overcast sort of day on Friday and I had lots of work to catch up on, so that most forgiving, delicious and inexpensive of cuts, pork belly, ticked all kinds of boxes for our supper for six that evening.

I’d been sent Great British Food, the first (and, I sincerely hope, not last) cookbook by Cass Titcombe, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton-Malone, the trio behind the four Canteen restaurants dotted around London serving classic British dishes such as steak and kidney pie, Lancashire hotpot and apple brandy syllabub to the gratefully, nostalgically nourished masses. Their Slow-roast pork belly with apples was calling my name…

My grease stained copy I’ve already managed to get a grease spot on the spine.
It’s love, see.

Lots of lovely pictures too It’s filled with impossible-to-resist deliciousness.

I love this book. I’m going to cook from it a lot. It will become spattered, battered, creased and stained in the Licked Spoon kitchen. Pencil marks will blemish its artfully designed pages. I like the feel of it in my hands, with its brown cover and reassuringly sturdy typeface. Inside are 120 recipes for everything from spicy mutton pie, bubble and squeak, devils on horseback and coronation chicken to steamed syrup pudding, marmalade and piccalilli. I have no doubt it will become a modern classic. So… drum roll… I want to share it. If this is your kind of food, I have an extra copy to give away. Leave a comment below about what your favourite British dish is and why and I’ll announce my favourite response here next Saturday, 3 April.*

We had a lively dinner. Howard brought white roses and French cheeses, Lady de B  brought two kinds of chilly treat, home made mango ice cream and mango and lime sorbet, Victoria and Helder brought delicious wine and even more delicious gossip. I can’t think of a better way to launch a weekend.

* If you register a profile before leaving your comment, this will make it easier for me to get in touch with you, but it’s not essential. Just check in next Saturday to discover the winner, and I’ll work out a way of getting it to you if you’re the lucky person. This competition is open to readers outside of the UK too, so get commenting!

Slow roast pork belly with apples

The recipe calls for pork belly on the bone, but my pork shopper in chief, Séan, came back from the butcher with a boned piece. It worked really well too.

Slow roast pork belly with apples

Serves 6-8.

1 piece of pork belly, weighing about 2.5kg (on the bone)
1 tsp ground fennel
1 garlic bulb, separated into cloves
20g fresh sage leaves
500ml dry cider
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 Cox’s apples
50g butter
Ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 150˚C/300˚F/Gas mark 2. With a sharp knife, score the belly across the skin at 2cm intervals (or get the butcher to do it for you). Season the meaty side of the belly with the ground fennel, 1 tsp salt and some black pepper.

Fennel Fennel, in the mortar

Sage & garlic Sage and garlic

Yum, seasoned pork Seasoned pork, how could it not be delicious?

Bash the unpeeled garlic cloves and place them in a metal roasting tin with the sage. Set the pork belly on top. Pour over the cider and sprinkle the surface of the belly with 1 tsp of salt. Cover tightly with foil and roast for two hours. Remove from the oven and turn the oven up to 200˚C/400˚F/gas mark 6.

Drain the liquid out of the tin into a pan. Put the pork belly back into the tin and return to the oven, uncovered, and roast for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour until the skin is crisp. If I doesn’t become crisp enough, remove the pork from the oven, cut off the skin and put it back into the oven to continue cooking until it resembles proper crackling. Meanwhile, cover the pork and keep it warm.

Meanwhile, prepare the apples. Cut them in half and remove the cores. Butter a metal baking tray and place the apples in it cut-side down. Dab a little butter on top of each and sprinkle with a little allspice Put in the oven with the pork and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Transfer the pork belly to a carving board, placing it fat-side down. Slide a knife under the rib bones and cut them off, keeping the knife against the bone. Set aside the meat and bones in a warm place.

Skim off any fat from the cooking liquid, then bring to the boil.

Cut the pork into thick slices and serve with the baked apples, the cooking juices and the ribs.

An independent sort of lunch

Spring Spring is here.

On Sunday, I arranged to meet Katy at the flower market at 11 and I’d invited a few friends to join us for lunch afterwards. I needed an independent sort of recipe, one that would allow me maximum bouquet bothering time, something I could nudge into being with a little light prep and then bung in the oven to become lunch all on its own.

Seven hour leg of lamb is a good candidate on such occasions. I’ve been wanting to try the one from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook for ages. (I have a weakness for a bad boy with a batterie de cuisine and he has to be the very best of that genre.)

The ingredients

Now if you try this recipe, don’t do what I did and buy a joint so big it won’t fit in your largest pot, thus requiring your husband to go around to the neighbours’ to borrow a hacksaw. ‘You doing a bit of DIY?’ asked Kev. ‘No, sawing through bones,’ said Séan. ‘Oh right, we’ve got plenty of black bags if you need any later.’ I love living next door to a very, very dry Scot.

Along with the lamb, I needed a side dish with an equally self-sufficient spirit. Step forward, AB’s gratin dauphinoise. The oven time is shortened because he simmers his potatoes in cream to part cook them first, so all I had to do when we got back from the market was pop the potatoes simmered in cream (it makes me happy just typing those four words) into the oven with the lamb while we sipped chilly glasses of fizz, nibbled olives, salami and roast cauliflower, read the papers and swapped gossip.

Mel Mel asks ‘Just how big is the leg of lamb?’

Judy Judy, surrounded by the papers.

Tom, Beth & Richard Tom, Beth and Richard

Cauliflower Roast cauliflower

Salami Salami

Barney Barney sat on Stuart’s lap to make sure he didn’t miss anything.

Tom checks his iPhone Tom and Stuart

PS A huge, huge thank you to those of you who sent me first anniversary good wishes. I had no idea when I began my blog how much fun it would be. Pressing ‘publish’ for the first time was a strange feeling, much stranger than seeing my work in a magazine or newspaper. More intimate, somehow, and much more personal. But I’ve loved it. I love the quirky imperfection of it. And I love it most of all when you share your own stories, too.

Gigot de sept heures

Gigot de sept heures Plated up

Look, it’s not going to win any beauty contests but it’s tender, intensely flavoured and delicious.

Serves 8

1 leg of lamb, about 2.7kg/7lbs
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, plus 20 whole garlic cloves
55ml/1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 small onions, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled
1 bouquet garni
250ml/1 cup dry white wine
225g/1 cup plain flour
250ml/1 cup water, though I think you need less (see below)

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas mark 2. Using a paring knife, make many small incisions around the leg. Place a sliver of garlic into each of the incisions. Rub the lamb well with olive oil and season it all over with salt and pepper. Place it in a Dutch oven or large casserole and add the onions, carrots, bouquet garni, unpeeled garlic cloves and wine. Put the lid on the Dutch oven.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and water to for a rough ‘bread dough’, mixing it well with a wooden spoon. Now, Anthony B suggests an equal amount of flour and water which was a bit too sloppy to stick to my pot. Just add enough water to make a rough paste – don’t worry you’re not going to eat it. Use the dough like grout or caulking material to seal the lid onto the pot so no moisture can escape. Put the pot in the oven and cook for 7 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven, break off the dough seal and breathe. It’s intoxicating. At this point, you will be able to carve the lamb with a spoon – not for nothing do the French sometimes call this dish ‘gigot d’agneau à la cuillière’.

Gratin dauphinoise

I must have made hundreds of dauphinoises in my life, but never one like this, where you simmer the potatoes in the cream before putting them in the dish. I rather like it – great if you’d like to do all the chopping and simmering ahead and just slip it into the oven an hour before lunch. I added the Gruyère, as instructed, and though it was good I think I prefer it in its naked, unadorned, uncheesy state. Obviously, leaving out that 115g of Gruyère almost makes it into health food.

Serves 4 – so I doubled the quantities here.

8 Yukon gold potatoes (I couldn’t get hold of these so I used Desiree), peeled and cut into 6mm/1/4 inch slices
500ml/2 cups double cream
5 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
Salt and white pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg (go easy)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
115g grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Place the potatoes in a large pot and add the cream, 4 of the garlic cloves and the herbs. Season with salt, white pepper and a little nutmeg. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. After 10 minutes of simmering, remove from the heat and discard the garlic and herbs.

Use the remaining garlic clove to rub around the inside of the gratin dish. Butter the inside of the dish as well so that is evenly coated. Transfer the potatoes and cream to the gratin dish and sprinkle the top with the cheese. Place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes, or until the mixture is brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Stay at home soup

Ready to eat...

I wanted to make soup to go with my khacahpuri so, casting my Georgian bread in the role of posh grilled cheese sandwich, what else could I choose but tomato soup?

In the middle of winter, fat, juicy tomatoes just begging to slip from their skins and transform themselves into soup are as elusive as the all-over tan. Buying these poor, flavourless January specimens is about as tempting (and likely) as getting my legs waxed. So I rely on tinned tomatoes to give me my lycopene fix. All the better because they, and the rest of the ingredients in this soup, are always to be found in my cupboards so I don’t even have to venture out into the dreich afternoon. More fireside time, always a plus.

At this time of year, I seldom team tomatoes with their constant summertime companion, basil. I want the earthy, warming flavours of cumin and paprika, a bit of heat to warm me from the inside out. This combination will keep me going until trotting along to the shops, market basket tucked into the crook of my arm, is a pleasure not a chore and the tomatoes on offer are more fragrant than the packaging that contains them.

Tomato and red lentil soup

Tomato and red lentil soup

1tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp sweet paprika
1 ½ tbsp concentrated tomato puree
1x400g tin of chopped tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
600ml chicken or vegetable stock
140g red lentils
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Yoghurt and dill or coriander to serve

Serves four.

Warm the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium-low heat; add the onions and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring from time to time, until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic , cumin, paprika and tomato puree and stir for a couple of minutes. Tip the tomatoes, sugar and stock into the pan and simmer for 10 minutes, then pour in the lentils, season and simmer for 25 minutes, partially covered. Adjust the seasoning and puree until smooth in a food processor or with a stick blender.

Adding the lentils

Blending

Return the soup to the pan, cleaned if you’re feeling very virtuous, add more stock or water if it seems a little thick, and warm through. Ladle into warmed bowls, dot a little yoghurt over the top and sprinkle on your herbs. I was swept away on a cloud of Russian nostalgia so I used dill, but coriander would be equally good.

Flipping snow the bird

Ready to eat

Look, I’m not even going to mention the ‘s’ word. It’s not so much the snow (oh, how quickly those January resolutions vanish) I mind, nor the cold, nor the wet, but now, after the first few postcard-y weeks, it’s the absence of colour that’s doing me in. I’m enveloped in a gloomy new palette that runs the gamut from smoke, to mouse, lead pipe and speculum (A lifetime ago when I worked for an interiors magazine, I ordered two litres of emulsion for a shoot in a stylish grey, called ‘speculum’ on the paint chart. I kid you not. Very Dead Ringers). It requires a more subtle level of connoisseurship than I posses to appreciate.

Colourful spices

So I retreat to the comfort of my kitchen Crayola box, more specifically to my spice drawer, and its soul-feeding riot of reds, yellows and rich ochres. I had a brace of pheasant that needed using up and combining the bounty from a chilly Scottish moor with the heat of far away spice markets seemed like the perfect two finger salute to slush, ice and grimy, gritty pavements.

Pheasant chitarnee

Pheasant chitarnee

This recipe is from The Game Cookbook  by Johnny Scott and the entirely life-enhancing, gloom-banishing Clarissa Dickson Wright, only very slightly adapted by me (I had no fresh ginger so used dried, and I added some mustard seeds and saffron, just for the sunniness of it). I’m sure it would be delicious with chicken too.

6 onions, finely chopped
3 tbsps olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsps fresh coriander, chopped
6 green cardamom pods
1-2 red chillies, finely chopped
Pinch of saffron
2 pheasants, cut into serving portions
1x400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve: basmati rice, yoghurt, more coriander

Warm the oil over a medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Cook the onions gently in the oil until they are golden. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, mustard seeds, coriander, cardamom, chillies and saffron and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Add the pieces of pheasant to the pan and sauté, turning occasionally for about 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and vinegar and cook for 30 minutes until the pheasant is well coated with the thickened sauce. If the dish is a little too sharp, add a pinch of sugar. Serve with basmati rice with yoghurt and coriander over the top.

A bowl of cheerfulness

Lentil Soup
I spent a wonderful, woolly-jumpered day yesterday planting my tulips (fiery orange Ballerina and deepest purple Queen of Night for the back garden and pretty, stripy Spring Green for the front), lots of pom-pomy purple alliums and a huge basketful of Cheerfulness, that most appropriately named of daffodils.

And, thrillingly – to me, at least – I dug over beds, tugged out tough old roots and bits of rubble to make spaces for my new fruit bushes, Malling Jewel raspberries, Ben Lomond blackcurrants and Versailles Blanche whitecurrants. I could plant them for their names alone. I know, I know, it’s the horticultural equivalent of picking a horse because you like its name or the colours of the jockey’s silks, but I’ve funded many a day at the races that way (much to my form-following friends’ annoyance) so I hope this little experiment will prove just as successful.

It’s been a blustery old weekend so I retreated to the kitchen often, covered in muck and virtue, to warm up a bit and give my soup a stir.

Trolling the aisles of Waitrose the other day, I found an intriguing bag of pulses, Cerreto’s Organic Minestrone with Kamut Soup mixture. I love beans and pulses, not just for their beautiful names – adzuki, borlotti, cannellini, flageolet, haricot (cf plants, horses) – but for the way they look like tiny, brightly-coloured sea-washed pebbles while soaking in their bowl of water; their toothsome texture in soups and salads and the amiable way in which they take on the flavours of their culinary companions. They’re perfect for winter soups like this one…

Winter minestrone

Lentil Soup - Spooned

I hate to throw anything out until I’ve squeezed the last glimmer of possibility out of it. When I’ve grated Parmesan down to the rind, I bag the rind up and pop it in the freezer to add flavour to soups later on. And I’m afraid my thrift doesn’t end there – when I’ve fished it out of the soup, I dry it out and cut it into tiny morsels which become Barney’s favourite treat ever, even better, I’m afraid to say, than Doggy Breath Bones.

You need to start this soup the day before, by soaking the beans and pulses, but after that it’s simplicity itself.

Serves 6.

1 tbsp olive oil
3 slices of unsmoked bacon or pancetta cut into 2cm pieces
2 onions, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, halved and finely sliced
1 500g packet of Cerreto Organic Minestrone with Kamut Soup mixture (or your own favourite combination of dried peas, barley, lentils, red lentils, kamut, chickpeas, black beans, green adzuki beans, cannellini beans, haricot beans, red kidney beans) soaked in plenty of cold water for 12 hours
1 bouquet garni – a few stalks of parsley and some sprigs of thyme tied together with a bay leaf
2.25 l good chicken or vegetable stock
Parmesan – a rind for seasoning if possible, some more for grating over the top
A handful of parsley leaves, tough stalks removed and finely chopped
Some fruity extra virgin olive oil for trickling over the top
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and fry until they just begin to take on some colour. Remove it from the pan and set aside while you sauté the vegetables in the oil and bacony fat. Lower the temperature a bit and add the onions. Cook them very gently until they’re soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Drain the beans and add to the pot with the bacon or pancetta, bouquet garni, stock and Parmesan rind if using. Simmer very gently, partially covered, for 2 hours. Stir the soup from time to time and top up with a little boiling water from the kettle if it looks a bit dry. The beans should be very tender. Remove the Parmesan rind and bouquet garni. Stir in the parsley and season well with salt and lots of black pepper. Ladle into warmed bowls, grate over some Parmesan and trickle on a little good olive oil.