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Showing posts from October, 2011

GREAT STORE-CUPBOARD FINDS No. 10: BLACK GARLIC

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Black garlic is the new foodie trend to hit the supermarket shelves (I found it in my local Tesco), though it has been a staple of Asian cuisine. It will either be short-lived, and will disappear as mysteriously as it appeared, once the furore has stilled, or it will become as ubiquitous as sun-dried tomatoes and preserved lemons, now crucial components of any good cook's store-cupboard.

Black garlic is made by fermentation and the process results in molasses-black garlic cloves which have a deep balsamic sweetness while retaining the tangy flavour of garlic. The fermentation process leaves the cloves soft and melt-in-the mouth, rather like dried fruit. In health terms, it has twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic, and in Taoism is said to grant immortality. A thoroughly good ingredient, then.

In cooking, it lends depth and pungency to a stew. I chucked a clove into my Chicken Cacciatura last Saturday, and the friend who came to dinner spotted it - or rather he noticed an inte…

MONDAY SUPPER: NORTH AFRICAN LAMB WITH CHILLI, GINGER & CHICKPEAS

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This recipe for a warming, fragrant lamb stew, comes from Jamie Oliver's very first cookbook The Naked Chef. He looks incredibly young on the cover, but a quick check of the copyright page confirms that this book was published in 1999, when Jamie was but a lad, and had just burst onto the scene with his first tv series. I remember enjoying it very much: he was refreshingly laid back yet entirely enthusiastic about food and cooking and I loved the simplicity of his recipes. I still do, and regularly return them - because they work. And they are easy to make!

I still have a lot of time for Jamie, though I got a bit tired of seeing his gurning face on the Sainsbury's adverts (he seems to have severed his relationship with the supermarket to concentrate on other projects), because I feel he truly believes in what he does, with passionate commitment. And his recipes remaining interesting, tasty and easy to construct.

This lamb stew is redolent of a tagine where ingredients are coo…

TORTA VERDE

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Literally, "green tart", this is a regional speciality of Liguria (my current foodie obsession), where it is sometimes also called Torta Pasqualina, or Easter tart. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the Greek spinach and feta pie spinakopitta.


The mountainous landscape of Liguria does not lend itself easily to cultivation and so this tasty vegetable tart tends to be made with whatever is available at the time. I've eaten it made with spinach or chard, potatoes, onions, and leeks. In the village of Molini di Triora, where I have stayed each time I've visited Liguria, you can buy a slab of freshly made torta verde for breakfast, or enjoy it as a canape (stuzzichini) with an early evening aperitif. It has a thin, crisp pastry and a layer of vegetable filling within. The pastry is very simple, just plain flour, olive oil and water, and the trick is to keep the whole ensemble thin - about 2 cms including filling and pastry.

Here's a rough recipe: you can of …

FOCACCIA

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The Great British Bake Off on BBC2 has proved a surprising culinary hit, it appears, with viewing figures the highest for any cookery programme in recent memory, outstripping the pneumatic Nigella and the comely, doe-eyed Sophie. Certainly, I have enjoyed the few episodes I have caught. Maybe it is the cosiness of the subject - baking - that makes it so popular. We can almost smell the aroma of bread baking or a banana loaf straight from the oven. The presenters, Mel and Sue, are engaging and entertaining, with a nice gentle tongue-in-cheek take on the proceedings. I'm less keen on the judge Paul Hollywood who can be cutting and harsh in his comments, and who seems rather impatient with a bunch of (mostly) women with floury hands trying to turn out perfect petit fours to please him.

I happened to catch the bread episode a few weeks ago as this is probably the element of baking that interests me the most (I'm not a great cake or patisserie maker). When I stopped full-time work …

LONG WEEKEND IN LIGURIA

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A welcome return to a favourite place, Molini di Triora, a "miniature Bethlehem" which clings to the side of a mountain some 20 miles inland from Sanremo and the Italian Riviera.
The road from Taggia, on the coast, snakes up the Valle d'Argentina in a series of hairpins and unnervingly blind corners (especially if you meet the Triora-Sanremo bus coming the other way!), through hamlets, villages and small towns, past olive groves and terraces growing almonds, walnuts, beans, tomatoes. There's no room for traditional pastures in this mountainous landscape and so the locals make do, growing fruit and veg wherever they can. Almost every garden has sunflowers, bean canes, zucchini and tomatoes, while the woods offer good "wild food": mushrooms, rabbit, boar and deer.
The region is famous for its food - and rightly so. Its capital, Genoa, is the city of pesto, that slick pungent green sauce made from pounded basil, sharp pecorino cheese and pine nuts. On the way up…