Thursday, 28 April 2011

Bread and cabbage soup

It's really hard when you have a baby and none of your friends do, to not be a massive arsehole about it. I mean doing that thing where when they say something like "I was in the shower the other day..." and you respond with "A SHOWER!!!!! I haven't washed since 1978!!! You can't when you've got a BABY YOU KNOW. WHEN YOU HAVE A BABY YOU'LL UNDERSTAND!!!!"

Or similar responses to tales of mini-breaks, lie-ins or trips to the cinema.

I'm mostly pretty sanguine about stuff like that. Whatevs. I chose to have a baby. And I'm pleased about it - mostly because I'm bored with mini-breaks and trips to the cinema. And Kitty sleeps now so I get to have my lie-in. I mean, until 7am.

But the other day someone suggested that they might come round for lunch. Not that they might bring round lunch for us all, but they might come round for lunch. That I would make for them to sit down and eat.

Lunch. Now lunch is something I haven't cooked and eaten in my own home for a long, long time. I've got other shit to do. Even on the weekend. And that's fine - I've always thought lunch was boring as hell. Now I eat cheese sandwiches at 12.45pm and very happy I am with it, too. But the suggestion that I am going to cook, on a weekend, lunch for other people? Are you. Fucking. Out. Of. Your. Mind?

I did not say this. I kept it to myself. They don't understand - and that's okay. One day they will understand and by then Kitty will be about 10 and making ME fucking lunch and mixing me gins and tonic and I'll laugh until I'm sick.

But, as I said, Kitty sleeps now and goes to bed at 7pm sharp. So dinner - now dinner is a thing that we're getting back on track. (I mean, not for other people - one step at a time, pal.) And the other night, in my ongoing obsession with cabbage, (I do not understand it, but it is a fact), I made Jamie Oliver's Italian cabbage soup and it was out of this world. Really, really amazing - I can't recommend it highly enough.

I did this for 2, so the quantities are quite small, but don't fret too much about exact amounts if you are doing this for more people, because it's only a soup for god's sake

Jamie's Italian cabbage soup, for 2

6 savoy cabbage leaves - not the horrid leathery outer ones, stalks removed and roughly chopped
2 handfuls of curley kale or cavolo nero
5 or 6 slices of 1in-thick sourdough - or you could use ciabatta. Is that sourdough? I'm never sure
1 large clove garlic
4 rashers bacon or pancetta, chopped
4 anchovies - please, picky eaters, do not leave these out. It won't taste like fish I PROMISE, it'll just taste savoury
2 pints chicken stock - you really need actual chicken stock here
2 handfuls parmesan
2 handfuls pecorino - Jamie's recipe specified fontina but Waitrose didn't have it so I used pecorino and it was very nice
1 stalk rosemary, leaves picked
3 sage leaves
some olive oil
salt and pepper

1 Bring the chicken stock to a simmer and cook the greens until soft - about 3 mins. Then remove to a bowl, leaving the chicken stock in the pan.

2 In a casserole dish heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then fry the bacon and anchovies until the bacon is coloured, then add the rosemary leaves and the sage and cook for another 2 minutes

3 Then put back in the greens, toss them about and then put back in the bowl

4 Lightly toast your sourdough and then rub one side of each with the cut face of the garlic

5 To assemble your soup, put 1 or 2 slices of bread on the base of the casserole pan, then some cabbage, salt and pepper, some of each cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Then repeat until all your bread, cabbage and cheese is gone - finishing off with bread sprinkled over with cheese.

6 To finish pour your stock in and shove in a 180C oven for 30 mins. I did 15 mins with lid on and then 15 mins with lid off because I didn't want the top to burn and it worked out really well.

Just don't expect me to make it for you for lunch.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Auntie Hannah's Courgette Thing

DON'T say anything, okay? We only had an iPhone to snap it with

It all started back in January when my husband was invited to the last dinner at El Bulli before it closes down forever.

"Do you want to go?" He said. "It's 52 courses."
"Thanks, I won't," I said, thinking about all the babyweight I was going to have to be losing once April rolled around. I told him to take X, my brother-in-law instead - a roaringly good eater of food, swiller of wine and maker of jokes. Just the fellow.

Some phone calls were made and plans were hatched. Then my phone rang.

"What the FUCK do you think you're doing?!" screamed my sister down the phone. "Why did you tell Giles to take X to Spain? Do you think it's FUN being alone with three children under 4? You fucking, fucking, fucking bitch. You'd better get your fat fucking useless arse down here and help me, as it's YOUR fault I'm on my own."

Okay, so she didn't say that. But I could tell it was what she wanted to say to me when she suggested that, as my husband and her husband were out of town, I might like to spend Sunday night with her in her house in Oxford. She can say a thousand words just with her tone of voice, my sister - all of them quite threatening. But unless you've lived with her for 18 years, to talk to her she's charming.

So I drove down on Sunday morning at 4,000 miles an hour in our brand new diesel family estate with Kitty illegally strapped into the front passenger seat (airbag) and arrived at about 9am.

I found the 4 year-old dressed as a spaceman standing in a patch of dead daffoils, the 2 year-old in the hallway chewing a battery and the 9 month-old sitting quietly in the kitchen, humming to himself.

"Don't want to," said the 2 year-old.
"Don't want to what?" I said.
"Don't... wannnn... tooo," he said and sidled away with his battery.

Anyway, the weekend continued like that for a while and then on Sunday night after we'd both stopped banging our heads against the kitchen table - having put 4 children under 4 to bed -and drunk 2 litres of Tio Pepe and tonic water apiece, my sister decided that she was going to make courgette pasta for supper.

I have heard positive things about courgette pasta but have never believed it could possibly be much good. But it is! The courgettes add a kind of subtle, crunchy freshness. At least, I think they do, we put so much cream and parmesan cheese all over it that the courgettes may have got a little bit lost.

I'm writing about this, despite believing strongly that no-one ever needs to be told what to do with pasta, just because the addition of mint made quite an interesting twist. This is, to my mind, a very chic thing to have with a salad as a spring lunch for a lot of people.

Courgette pasta
for 2

As much pasta - linguine or spaghetti I'd say - as you want
1 courgette
100mls cream - any sort
1 large handful of parmesan and a smaller handful for sprinkling
a small bunch of mint, chopped
salt and pepper
1/2 a lemon
some olive oil
30g butter

1 Grate the courgette on a big-holed grater.

2 Boil the pasta and dress with some olive oil

3 Add all the other ingredients and stir.

This is why I don't really suggest pasta recipes.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Stuffed cabbage or Golabki

I'm always most thrilled by recipes that transform dull things into exciting things. Culinary alchemy - that's what I'm on the hunt for. I don't need to know what to do with caviar, or salmon, or fillet steak, or really fresh egg pasta. You just eat it. I want to know what to do with 1 kg of slightly past-it tomatoes, or a really old bunch of coriander, or an entire celeriac.

Or, for example, a savoy cabbage that's seen better days and some beef mince that's going to go off TODAY!!! if we don't eat it.

The answer is stuffed cabbage. Or, as they say in Poland, golabki. I don't think it's pronounced "gol-ab-kee" because it is written with all manner of flourishes and flounces on the letters. It is probably, in fact, pronounced "dumplings". Anyway, I just love this; it presses all my buttons - it is incredibly cheap, tasty and resourceful. It's not very spring/summer, I admit, but as I've said before, that's all for massive losers. There's nothing more comforting on a chilly spring evening that's followed an unseasonably warm spring day, than a bowl of golabki. Sorry, I meant dumplings.

Fans of Mamgu's Sausage and Cabbage Hotpot will not be disappointed.

This was made for me by my husband the other day, by way of an apology for coming home drunk, falling asleep and snoring, then becoming irritated when I scuppered his crapulent quest to urinate in my wardrobe at 1am.

He sourced the recipe from a book, which enjoys something of a cult status among aged North London Trots, called Old Polish Traditions in the Kitchen and at the Table. As well as golabki, there is also a recipe in there for "Ox Tongue in Grey Sauce", which just between you and me, I won't be trying - but it's the kind of thing that dusty old Commies do so love.

Okay, so the principle of this is that you use the smaller, daintier cabbage leaves (as opposed to the giant leathery outer leaves) to wrap parcels of meat-and-rice mixture in like a kind of Soviet dim sum.

Really, one ought to use pork mince but we didn't have any, so this is with beef mince. If you're going shopping specially for this, probably get pork mince - why not? We also used brown rice for this, when the recipe specifies white. I mean personally I just can't get enough of camargue rice, but if you want to use white, do.

Golabki with rice and mushrooms
For 4

You will need:

1 Savoy cabbage
1 packet of beef or pork mince - the ones at Waitrose usually come in at about 500g
Some dried mushrooms - about three tablespoons dried measurement
100g rice
1 large or two small-ish onions or shallots or whatever you've got knocking about, chopped
some stock - about 1/2 pint... actual stock rather than something out of a cube is probably essential here, and you know how slapdash I am about things like that
salt and pepper

1 Cut out the cabbage stump and then simmer the whole thing for 15 mins. Set aside to cool.

2 Boil and drain the rice. The good thing about this recipe is that you can be the world's shittest cooker of rice (like me) and it doesn't matter.

3 Sautee the chopped onions for a while - a good 10 minutes I'd say. Also rehydrate the dried mushrooms in about 300ml of boiling water. When rehydrated sieve the mushrooms (reserve the rehydration water) and chop.

4 In a bowl combine the mince, onion, mushrooms, rice, salt and pepper. Here feel free to add other things if you're feeling racy. Some chorizo, maybe - or a few herbs. Chillies? A dash of Lea & Perrins?

5 Line a casserole dish with the scraggy outer leaves of the cabbage. Then use the smaller inner leaves like wrapping paper, putting a ping-pong ball sized amount of the stuffing in the centre of the cabbage and parcelling it up, then place in the casserole dish on top of the scraggy leaves. My husband is very good at stuff like this, so it's possibly fiddlier than he made it seem. Anyway, it looked fun from where I was standing.

6 Once you've used up all your stuffing mixture, pour in the mushroom water and top up with some stock. It's not an exact science, you just want there to be liquid coming up about a third or a half up the sides of the golabki.

7 Bake in a 170C oven for 2 hours. It's one of those things that's very nice when re-heated.

Family conference

Monday, 11 April 2011

Aunty Shura's Courgette Thing

It doesn't look much, but it's really very nice

You know how there are those people in your life who are good for only one thing? Like the friend who is excellent value only when you are at a party, or the one who is only good at deeply-felt heart-to-hearts, or the one who is only good for a massive bitch about a mutual acquaintance (you literally cannot find anything else in common to talk about). Or the one who is willing to be friends with you when you're single and depressed but once you're married and happy, forget it... and don't expect so much as a fucking CARD if you go and have a BABY!!!!!

I mean, for example.

The courgette is the one-trick-pony-friend of the the vegetable world. They are really only good for a couple of things and this recipe is one of them. It was brought into my life by a woman called Shura, who has been helping me out with the baby. And when I say helping me out, I mean she has been hammering Kitty into a routine that would be the envy of ghetto-born Russian ballerinas and Japanese piano-playing prodigies, while simultaneously preventing me from committing suicide.

Her gift is to acknowledge that both Kitty and I are only babies. "Chile," she'll say to me, "you've got yourself overtired. It's time to go to bed now."

And you know, she's always right.

She taught me how to cook this thing, which is really one of the only 1 or 2 interesting ways in the world to treat courgettes. It's very easy and is a really fantastic accompaniment to chicken or fish. It's also very nice on toast.

Aunty Shura's Courgette Thing

For 2 people (with some left over for spreading on toast)

4 courgettes
a LOT of olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed - do not, please, freak out at this mammoth quantity... yes it is quite garlicky, but it's all cooked so it's aromatic rather than scary.

1 Chop up the courgettes into pieces about the size of a 5p piece. However you want to do this is okay by me. I chop mine in half lengthways, then each half in half again and then chop along the lengths so you get little quarters

2 Dump into a saucepan and cover with olive oil. What you're looking for here is all the bits of courgette to be coated with oil and for there to be a small pool - or rather, actually, a thin layer - of oil along the bottom. The courgettes will give out a lot of water during cooking, so they don't need to be drenched, just robustly slathered.

3 Sprinkle over a very large pinch of salt and about 6 turns of the pepper grinder.

4 Throw in the crushed garlic and then cook this over a low heat for 1 hour with the lid on at a jaunty angle. That really is all there is to it.

Back in May. Ish.