Monday, April 23, 2007

And this week ... I bought

It was good to go back to Borough on Saturday - the sun was shining, we were early and the crowds had not yet arrived. Started, as always, at the Ginger Pig where they were selling sausages that Chris claimed were some that we had made at the sausage making class we'd done in the week. We ate so many last week and have 3 bags in the freezer for a sausage fest another time I wasn't tempted to buy them. Did buy a thick slice of prime rump, Saturday night supper and a sandwich for lunch on Sunday, a lovely piece of unsmoked gammon cooked with Asian spices for supper Monday night and lunchboxes through the week and some fresh eggs - £30

Next we saw the lovely Marie who was working her last day at Borough Olives - caught up on the gossip - I shall miss her now she's off to her new job. Vaheed will be back next week running the stall till he finds a new manager. Different gossip.

Bought some baby plum tomatoes from the Isle of Wight tomato man - first of the year and lovely shiny little bombs of flavour they are - for my lunches - £3.50

Apples for my man from Chegworth Valley more lunches- £1.20

Lots of fresh veg from Booths - onions, cucumber, beans stir-fried, spring onions, carrots, bananas, rhubarb breakfast with goats milk yoghurt, peppers - stir-fried with black beans, aubergine sea spiced for Chinesey dinner Tuesday night and cold for lunch on Wednesday - £9.20

A pork pie from Mrs Elizabeth King - to snack on - £4.50

Fresh coffee beans from Monmouth - £8.50

Milk and bread from Neals Yard - £6.50

Chocolate brownie for the man's afternoon tea as he now shares my almond croissant for breakfast - £3.50

A grand total of £66.90

Then it was a quick before I set off alone to the other side of the world to visit my family in Australia and left the man to fend for himself - a novel experience.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spaghetti with Nutmeg and Parmesan

We arrived back in London late Sunday afternoon after two weeks away to find that summer had arrived in our absence complete with clear blue skies and pasty people sunbathing on all available open grass. It was good to be back though there was nothing much in the way of edible in the house. After a so-so lunch many hours earlier at Pau airport we were hungry to go with too tired to go out anywhere too far and there's not a tempting array of options on Clapham Road Sunday nights. Could do Sunday roast at the Fentiman but they'd been serving since midday and I've never braved the delights of Chicken Cottage and wasn't about to start now. Don't mind the trip to the corner shop for fresh milk and butter but they don't really have much else I'd be serving up for supper.

It's difficult after time away to find something good to eat that is simple enough to prepare after what has likely been a long day but also fabulous enough to ward off disappointment and the slight lowering of spirits that comes with knowing it's back to work and routine and real life in the morning. I want it to be good to add the last pleasure to the holiday and that's a bit of a challenge with an empty larder. I always have various pastas in the cupboard and there is usually a lump of Parmesan in the fridge. With these two essentials and the addition of butter and grated nutmeg it is possible to make a brilliant bowl of food - delicate, pale, flecked with pepper and exuding a waft of warm spice. Tasting it delivers on these promises of pleasure - it is light enough to satisfy with a sufficiently complex flavour to cheer a tired soul.

Spaghetti with Nutmeg and Parmesan

250g/ 1/2lb spaghetti, thinnish if possible
50g/2oz butter
Big lump of Parmesan, coarsely grated
Nutmeg to grate
Salt and fresh black pepper

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When it is al dente scoop out cup of the cooking water before draining it into a colander. Return the pan to a low heat and melt the butter. Grate a generous amount of nutmeg into the foaming butter then add the cooked pasta, the grated Parmesan and seasoning. Stir to combine and melt the cheese, using the reserved cooking water to loosen the mix. Serve in large bowls with salad and crusty bread if you've got some to hand.

Later, there's only a pan, a grater and two bowls to wash. And they can wait till tomorrow when the holiday is over.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Baked Potatoes and Cream

We worked hard in France as we have finally commenced decoration of the house there - that was never going to be a quick process. Most days we ate out for lunch - when in France...! In the deeply engrained tradition of that country everyone stops at midday, eats together and returns again at 2pm. The relais in Montréal du Gers serves a four course lunch with bread and wine and water for E11.50 cooked daily by the woman who owns the place. Start with soup - possibly creamed vegetable or a delicate meaty broth, follow with a selection of salads and eggs either boiled and topped with mayonnaise or still warm as an omelette with a little ham or mushrooms, then a hot main course - roasted pork perhaps or thinly sliced steak very very rare topped with melted shallots and a side dish of sauté potatoes and ratatouille, then your choice of desserts, magnificent crème brulée or tarte au citron or flan normande. She caters to 20 or 30 people a day, truck drivers, businessman, family groups and sometimes ten firemen at a table tucking in with gusto. Everybody does lunch.

Evenings, exhausted, we mostly had bread and cheese and salads, easy stuff. Towards the end of the fortnight I had some soft cheese and some crème d'Isigny to use up because I couldn't bear to throw it out. Crème d'Isigny is a wonder of the dairy world. Since 1986 it has worn the AOC - Controlled Label of origin, the only cream to do so. For hundreds of years Isigny has been recognized for the very high quality of butter and the cream. From the 18th century butter made using this fabulous cream was exported round the known world. This cream is a greedy gift of nature, its taste of hazel nut and acidulous end note make it really irresistible, its texture a caress on the palate.

Simple is best with such ingredients and so I bought some ratte potatoes and began to experiment. Always use waxy potatoes to cook in gratin style dishes - floury ones will fall apart to create a pale puddle. Unappetising. Cream and nutmeg and garlic are a no-brainer really - the individual flavours weave around each other and together create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The thyme leaves in the second layer just add tiny spikes of freshness and a little change in texture in an occasional mouthful, a subtle variety. The cheese softens and melts to give an even greater depth of flavour, though the dish would work very well without. Being sometimes frugal I didn't want to have to throw it away just because we were leaving so in it went as well. Potatoes are deeply comforting in all their guises - served this way they restored our energies after a hard day up a ladder stripping wallpaper.

Baked Potatoes and Cream

250g ratte potatoes, or other waxy varieties like pink fir apple or charlottes
100g crème d'Isigny
100g soft cheese like a camembert or pie d'angeloy
Nutmeg freshly grated
4 sprigs of thyme
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
Salt and fresh black pepper
3 tbspns water or stock

Without peeling, thinly slice the potatoes. Butter a small casserole dish then cover the base with a layer of potato. Sprinkle with some chopped garlic, grate some nutmeg over, season generously then dollop cream and cheese on top. Repeat with a second layer of potatoes this time sprinkling with thyme leaves not nutmeg before adding cream and cheese. Top with a final layer of sliced potatoes dot with small pieces of cream and cheese then add the liquid. Bake in a moderate oven - 200C - for 50 - 60 minutes. Allow to settle briefly before serving with a crisp green salad.

A decadent reward at the end of a hard day.