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potato, pumpkin and celeriac croquettes: the magic of breadcrumbs

The husband had a hankering for croquettes this week. We were debating the merits of various dishes on the M&S Dine in for £10 menu at the time. (For those of you who aren’t UK-based, Marks & Spencer – M&S or Marks and Sparks for short – is a UK institution best described as an upmarket supermarket in this case, currently offering a main, side and pudding for two, plus a bottle of wine for £10). In the event, the rosti won the day but it got me to thinking: why have I never made my own croquettes? What an oversight.

Even better, the freezer was brimful of odds and sods of bread and I had a bag of potatoes threatening to sprout any minute. I make no claim that this is in any way an authentic recipe. I haven’t researched it and, after tasting these babies, don’t intend to. This was the product of a wonderful Sunday afternoon pottering in the kitchen and they taste great to boot, even if I say so myself.

Makes: 12-16

6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

A knob of butter

Three eggs

A splash of milk

Plenty of salt and pepper

A selection of odds and sods of bread (I pop unwanted crusts, ends and stale rolls in the freezer for whenever I need breadcrumbs) Brown, white, seeded, it doesn’t matter. You’ll need the equivalent of about four slices

Five sage leaves

2 cloves of garlic

Flavours:

I made four varieties of croquette; flavour yours with a handful of any of the below – or whatever floats your boat – a croquette laced with manchego and those gorgeous chargrilled peppers you get in jars would be delicious.

Roasted squash or pumpkin

Mashed celeriac

Crispy bacon bits

Cheddar cheese

Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft enough to mash (15-20 minutes).

Meanwhile, pop your bread, sage leaves and garlic in a blender with a good sprinkle of salt and pepper and whizz into crumbs. Whisk two eggs in a bowl and spread your crumbs ready on a large dinner plate.

Mash with a knob of butter and a splash of milk, then crack in an egg and mash some more until you have smooth, golden mash. Prepare your flavour, whatever it may be – e.g. if cheese, chop into tiny chunks.

Once the mash is cool enough to handle, Stir in your chosen flavour. Pick up a small handful and form into a small lozenge shape by hand.

Dip your lozenge into the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Then repeat to ensure you get a lovely thick, even coating of breadcrumbs. Set aside on a greased baking tray and get rolling the next one!

Once all your croquettes are lined up on the tray, pop it in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, turning every 10, until golden and crisp on all sides.

Serve with quiche and salad, tapas or this.

purple power: aubergines big and small for bonfire night

You couldn’t dream up a more British celebration than Guy Fawkes night, or Bonfire night as it’s commonly known. The French have Bastille Day, the United States have July 4th. Both mark the day when the establishment was overthrown, the triumph of successful revolution. In England, we celebrate the failure of anarchy, a plot foiled. Admittedly Fawkes’ intentions weren’t exactly to steal from the rich to give to the poor, entrench human rights in a written constitution or usher in democracy, but still.

Still, dubious roots aside, Bonfire night has to be the most fantabulous celebration of the year. For a start, no one has really worked out how to flog stuff for it. It’s a marketing department’s nightmare; a whole celebration with no bottom line benefit. Ha! Sure, locked fireworks cabinets appear in supermarkets, garages (gas stations) probably shift a few more bags of logs and hawkers stock up on glow sticks to flog to the crowds but there is no ‘Happy Bonfire night’ card, no big gaudy display of tat you don’t need and aren’t even sure you want. The closest you’ll get is a BOGOF deal on bangers (sausages, my non-British friends). It’s just pure, unadulterated fun, free from Hallmark sabotage and phrases like ‘bottom line’. My beloved Bonfire night flies in the face of corporate bullshit and that is why it is so special. Oh, and did I mention the fireworks?

As for Bonfire night food, it’s a time of year to indulge your childhood campfire fantasies. Sausages, jacket potatoes and marshmallows, all cooked over the fire and it’s better than a barbecue because everyone expects it to be cold and damp.

This year, inspired by a recipe Adolfo and I improvised over the ‘summer’, I thought I’d try something a little different: aubergines (or eggplants as they are known across the pond). The advantage of this recipe is that you can make it with the tiniest fire and therefore the tiniest of gardens – a disposable barbecue would work. And for very little effort and even less skill, you get something that tastes exquisite. The flesh becomes a melt-in-the-mouth smokey sensation. An explosion of taste.

Serves: as many as you need to

A selection of aubergines (eggplant) – whatever shapes and sizes take your fancy: allow 1/2 a large or 3 baby aubergines per person

A good glug of good olive oil

A sprig of rosemary, leaves stripped from the stem

2 cloves garlic, chopped

A generous pinch of sea salt

chiminea: bonfire night aubergine

Lay the fire like a good girl guide (not that I would know, I was neither good nor a guide) with a pile of newspaper swirls, covered by a teepee of kindling with a log or two poised and ready over the top (or just cheat and use firelighters!).

Come on baby light my fire: aubergines

Light and nurse to get a good flame going then let it burn until you have a bed of red-hot embers and a steady, gentle flame licking around your logs.

Gently heat the olive oil, rosemary and garlic in a frying pan until the aromas start to rise and scent the room, then set aside to cool.

Prick all the aubergines with a knife or skewer. Tear off a large strip of foil and pop an aubergine or two in the centre – I did two big aubergines per piece, or a handful of the littlies.

Test the oil to check it’s cool enough to handle and spoon over the aubergines, making sure to include some of the rosemary and garlic on each sheet. Give each aubergine a good rub to make sure it’s completely coated in oil and then scrunch the foil up and over the aubergines to make a little parcel. Pop another layer of foil over your parcel—better safe than sorry!

aubergines cooked on a wood fire

Hopefully by the time you’ve done this, your fire will be well and truly on its way. Pop the foil parcels on the embers as close to the flames as you can get them without putting the fire out and/or burning yourself. This is what barbecue tongs were made for.

I’m afraid cooking times are a little sketchy on this one. It’s really a case of size matters: both in terms of the fire and the aubergine. You should be able to hear the oil start to sizzle, and then enjoy a natter and a glass of wine something-completely-responsible-and-appropriate-for-someone-who-is-tending-a-fire before you have to worry—but do have a little check once in a while —we’re talking a ballpark of 15-30 minutes. I’d say check every 10, turning the aubergines inside the parcel if needs be. The skin should wrinkle, the flesh soften, the structure collapse. Sprinkle over the salt and tuck in!

aubergines cooked on open fire

guacamole

 

The first time I tried proper guacamole I was 17. I was at my friend Emily’s house, her parents were out and we were entertaining her French exchange. By entertaining, I mean incessant giggling and the odd shot of tequila. Food was taken seriously in that house and I’ve never tasted a guacamole that tasted as good since. Until now.

I had no intention of sharing this recipe. I was just using up some odds and ends. But then the husband said that it tasted like something Paddy would make. This is the highest form of praise that can ever be uttered in our household. Our friend Paddy is an incredible cook – I don’t know how he makes everything so flavourful and just downright delicious, but he does.

Anyhoo, I passed Ridley Road market on Friday after work and was amazed to see some traders still there. Packing up, but still calling to the crowd advertising rock bottom prices in an attempt to shift the last of their stock. It was like an episode of The Apprentice only without the worn clichés and bad grammar.

I picked up four avocados, 10 nectarines, a bowl of cherries and a punnet of strawberries for £2. Awesome. After a weekend of determined scoffing, a heavenly breakfast of cherry and basil compote plus a concerted effort to palm some off on the boys at supper club, I still had two (slightly squidgy) nectarines and two avocados left.

Serves: 4

2 avocados (squidgy)

3 spring onions, as finely chopped as you can get them

1 very ripe nectarine, finely chopped

1 tsp of salsa picante verde de chile habanero

A generous pinch of salt

A handful of coriander leaves, chopped

The juice of one and a half limes

As I said, I was just using up some odds and ends. I was playing. I chucked the onions, the avocado and coriander in a bowl and squeezed over the juice from one lime. I squished it together and tasted. It needed a kick. I didn’t have any fresh chilli, so I reached into the cupboard where I have several bottles of weird and wonderful things stashed. This particular bottle of fire is from Casa Mexico on Winkley Street. It’s hot as hell. I sloshed some in. Phew, it certainly had a kick now. I needed some sweetness to offset the heat. I cursed myself for not having any mango. And then I saw the nectarine. I went for it. More lime, a generous sprinkle of Maldon salt et voilà, holy Guacamole was born.

 

I dearly wish I had an excess of courgettes (zucchini, my American friends, zucchini). I wish I had an excess of anything for that matter. Unfortunately, the blimming snails ate my two courgette plants right down to a tiny stump of stalk. And the weather was so diabolical that I didn’t even get a flower on my tomatoes. This year, no greenhouse = no fruit.

Still, this is a post for my dear friend Ms Jones, because her mother has been plying her with courgettes for weeks. Yes indeed, I am happy to take requests (actually I’m just happy that anyone is actually reading this regularly enough to make a request!).

I can’t think of anything more wonderful than an excess of courgettes. They are on a par with broccoli and morning glory on my all-time favourite vegetable list. They are so versatile, so delicious. I never tire of them.

When I was a student in Florence, we used to slice them finely, sauté in olive oil until golden brown and toss them through pasta with a drizzle of panna (cream) and lashings of parmesan. Quick. Simple. Delicious.

Then there’s another of my favourite dishes, one I am currently eating no less (I’m writing this on my lunch break), which is courgette and paneer curry. This is one of the first recipes I ever uploaded to this blog. I admit, it’s not all that photogenic, but it tastes goooooood. You’ll love it Jonesy.

Of course, another courgette recipe already covered in these pages is courgette and polenta bake.

layer cake courgette and polenta bake

Then there’s the stunning courgette salad that my stepmother makes in the summer. I think it’s from Skye Gyngell’s A Year in my Kitchen. Simply shave raw courgettes into paper thin strips using the cheese slicer setting on a grater and dress with lashings of lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper, and herbs – tarragon is great with this but basil works too. Fantastic with barbecued meat.

But perhaps one of my favourite ways to eat courgettes is heavily inspired by Angela Hartnett’s stuffed marrow recipe. It’s great and versatile — I’ve made it for a one-year old girl (no salt and pepper), a vegetarian (no chorizo) and some big strapping lads and they all loved it.

Serves: 4

4 large courgettes (perfect time of year for large courgettes – but tiny ones will work if you’re patient and capable of being delicate)

1 block feta cheese, diced

1 onion, finely chopped

Half a looped chorizo, diced (substitute for a finely chopped red pepper if catering for veggies)

2 slices bread, whizzed into breadcrumbs

Half a pack pinenuts

A small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

Olive oil (I like to use lemon oil or basil oil for this)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cut the courgettes in half, lengthways, then hollow out the centre by scooping out the insides. Chop the flesh finely and set aside. Rub oil into the courgette ‘boats’ inside and out and season generously, then line up on a baking tray ready to fill.

Fry the onions and chorizo chunks, add in the courgette centres, and sauté until softened. Remove from the heat, then stir in the pinenuts, parsley and half the feta. Fill the courgette boats with this mixture, then sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and remaining feta cubes. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the courgette shell is soft and the topping crispy and brown.

Serve with a crisp green salad, hummus and crusty bread.

If you have a slice leftover, chop it all up and run it through some cous cous with a sprinkle of lemon juice. Delicious.

 

banana bread Great British Bake Off

Serves: 8

Now, I’m not a baker by any means. For a start, I can never resist tinkering with a recipe, and baking instructions are supposed to be followed to the letter. Second, my temperament is not suited to anything fiddly or dainty and we’re surrounded on all sides by families with small children who could presumably do without a live demonstration of the fruitier words in the English language. And third, if you make a cake, you then have to eat it – and frankly, my waistline needs no further temptation.

Still, despite all of the above, I adore The Great British Bake Off. Mel and Sue, food porn and Mary Berry all in one show – what’s not to love?

What’s more, however much I fear the dark art of baking, I love any recipe that provides a neat solution to foodstuffs that are slightly past their best. So when one of the supper club boys bought a chunk of his mum’s banana cake round to share, and told us she’d just knocked it up one afternoon to save some squishy bananas going to waste, I had to have the recipe.

As I said, I can’t resist a tinker. I added some walnuts and rum into the mix… well why not?

1 overripe banana

100g caster sugar

100g margarine

150g self-raising flour

2 eggs

A handful chopped walnuts

A capful of rum

A handful of sultanas

1/2 tsp vanilla essence (note to self, do not pour onto spoon over bowl, or it may come flooding out! Oh well, still tasted great!)

Preheat oven to 175C

Mrs Marshall’s recipe read thus: mix all ingredients in bowl, pour into greased baking tin and bake in oven until a skewer comes out clean. And that is just what I did. There was an ‘OR’ and for those of you who are more method than madness, it reads thus:

Cream the margarine and sugar, gradually mix in the beaten eggs, add the banana, sift the flour, stir in, then add the vanilla essence and sultanas (you can add the rum and walnuts here too). Give it one last stir and pour into a greased baking tin.

It took just under 30 minutes – let’s call it 25 – for my skewer to come out clean, and the top of the loaf to turn a luscious golden brown. I think the best advice is to keep an eye on it and not, as I did, to wander off, get engrossed in the exciting new season of cookery shows that has started in earnest on every channel now the Olympics is over, and release a couple of expletives when your husband wonders aloud whether the cake is ready. Reader, I was lucky – it was perfectly cooked, but I had meant to check on the ****ing thing after 15 minutes. Told you – baking and me do not mix!

I served mine at Supper Club with mascarpone, simply because I had some left from yesterday’s pasta – crème fraîche would no doubt be delicious too.

quesadilla recipe, Mexican food

Our friend Paddy is an exceptional cook. And every time he makes quesadillas, I am blown away by just how delicious they are. I was even more amazed when he told me what was in his quesadillas: peppers and peaches? Who knew? I forgot to ask Paddy for the proper recipe, so I have just made it up based on a half-memory of the ingredients he divulged at our Mexican extravaganza on New Year’s Eve (okay, I admit, I was too drunk to write it down!). Mine were not as good as Paddy’s, but delicious nonetheless.

Serves: 8 as a starter

16 large flour tortillas (so easy to make, or use pre-prepared ones)

3 red peppers

Half a tin of peaches in juice (drained)

1 small red onion

1 bunch coriander

1 red chilli (seeds removed)

A generous heap of grated Applewood smoked cheddar (or other smoked cheese). I used a smoked Gouda, because my stepmother gave me one and I’m on a budget here people!

quesadilla recipe, Mexican food

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Roast the peppers until the flesh is soft and the skin is slightly charred. Remove from the oven and skin. Obviously they will be hot – if you don’t have hands made of asbestos, like me, drop them into a sandwich bag to cool and the skin will just slide off. Remove the stalk and seeds and throw into a blender. Peel the onion, chop into quarters, drain the peach slices and chuck into the blender with the peppers. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped, but not liquified.

Take a tortilla, spread with a layer of the peachy filling and sprinkle over cheese. top with a further tortilla and fry in a griddle pan until brown on each side. Cut into quarters and serve with guacamole.

 

 

elderflower and gooseberry sorbet

Remember my homemade Elderflower Cordial? I’ve mostly just been drinking it thus far, but as my original intention was to use it to cook with, I thought I’d better get a move on before it’s all gone. The weekend provided the perfect opportunity: gooseberries have made it to the market stall and they are cheap as chips right now.

I’ve always loved gooseberries; when I was a little girl I used them in my many potions (I was always a witch rather than a fairy). Their uncanny resemblance to eyeballs or frogspawn, not to mention the alluring green colour makes them particularly suitable for witch’s brews.

This is a decidedly more grown up potion (and edible to boot), but you still get to boil them up and squish them about… And don’t let anyone stop you from chanting ‘double, double, toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble’ as you stir away.

elderflower and gooseberry sorbet

Serves: 4

1 punnet of gooseberries

1/2 bottle elderflower cordial

Top and tail the gooseberries and chuck them into a saucepan with the elderflower cordial. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the gooseberries disintegrate.

Pass the mixture through a sieve and decant the liquid into a container. Allow to cool, then pop in the freezer. Check on it every couple of hours and give it a stir to break up the crystals so it freezes evenly.

Enjoy as a zingy palate cleanser or light and virtuous pudding (best not to tell anyone about the witch bit though, tends to put people off).

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