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First one of the season.

An onion squash if I’m not mistaken.

Don’t know what I’ll do with it yet, but one of my favourites is to roast it in wedges in a hot oven with sage, salt & pepper, olive oil & cinnamon sticks. They’re super-versatile. Roasted, mashed, in warm salads with feta, makes a great soup, pickled, chutneyed, even pizza topping and, er, squashed? (sorry)

It came in our veg box from the lovely people at Leigh Court Farm along with a massive red cabbage & various other items. I like a veg box, my weekly dose of culinary challenge (I know, I need to get out more). But having no choice, and being given a selection of vegetables to cook makes me try things I wouldn’t usually, or at the least I have to get creative & try different dishes.

At the moment there’s a beetroot chutney to be made, I’m nearly sick of runner beans (and they’re beginning to get a little stringy), I’ve got loads of lovely red onions (very good on the bbq with yoghurt & zahtar, recipe to follow) and more potatoes than I know what to do with.

As the seasons change so does the produce. Autumn must be one of my favourite times of year for food. Sweetcorn, squashes, apples, beetroot, blackberries, the list goes on. In fact, when I was looking at my seasonal food list the other day September had the biggest number of foods available, across all the meat, fish, fruit & vegetables. Exciting times if you’re a cook.

No doubt in 3 months time, in the depths of winter I’ll be craving the runner beans and I’ll be sick of the squash!

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If you don’t know Jamie, where have you been? If you’re from the UK he’s quite difficult to avoid.

He has his critics out there (as anyone famous does) and he has his fans, I fall into the latter category.

He’s had a lot of stick over the years, partly I think it comes from this peculiar British behaviour that, because he’s doing well we cannot celebrate him, just berate him.  He does a lot to promote good food, good practice and his work with Fifteen I think is great. Aside from his campaign with Sainsbury’s which has set him up for life (and who can say they wouldn’t do the same?) he’s had a productive and creative career thus far. If you put aside his on-screen personality for a while (which some people can’t stand) and look at his other more charitable work there seems to be a man with a genuine love, and wish to improve the lives of  his fellow man.

He started a campaign in the UK not so long ago to raise the standard of food in schools in this country. I personally couldn’t applaud it enough. Raising standards of food quality goes hand in hand with increasing health at every level for children, as well as the crucial aspect of education which means they can carry it through to later life & pass it on. It also means job satisfaction for the people cooking, serving it, and for that matter the suppliers producing it (although some would argue many don’t care). It has a myriad of benefits.

Jamie recently won the TED prize. This was no small deal. In fact a  big deal. A very, very big deal.  This prize is awarded to people with a wish, and desire to change the world, for the better (“One wish big enough to change the world” is the strapline). This award has previously been given to physicists, medical professionals, scientists and other important academics.

This year it’s being awarded to a chef from Essex??? Just fantastic news, I can only wish him well and all the luck in world.

A link to his acceptance speech here from his site. Definitely worth watching. Yes it’s playing to the American audience a bit and it’s quite polished and set up, but I was surprised at how good and engaging a public speaker he is.

Sadly, like him I’m an idealist, maybe that’s why I like him and what he’s trying to do.

I wrote this a few week’s ago, so asparagus probably isn’t around any more (in fact it’s all gone from our shops, unless you want Peruvian) But I think it’s pretty adaptable to most firm vegetables (beans, peas, artichokes, fennel, cauliflower even)

While I’m at it I’ll start  the debate. Is it a true salad? Some would say no, I think so, even if it is warm:

A quick and easy dinner, a variation on a theme really. There’s a fair bit of asparagus about still (though not for long I think) I’m eating it when I can! I tend to forget how lucky I am living in the UK with this fantastic range of food, and how exciting the ingredients are as they change with the seasons. Late spring/early summer is one of my favourite times. New potatoes, asparagus, the first of the broad beans and peas, fantastic!

This is a salad that dresses itself.  The oil and tomatoes, as you stir them together, break up a bit & coat the warm potatoes. So you don’t need to make a salad dressing, maybe a squirt of lemon juice if you like, to add a bit of tartness.  You get this lovely, earthy, slightly burnt, bbq flavour from the tomatoes that complements the asparagus and potatoes. You don’t need hundreds of ingredients for this dish either. Simple food, making the best of the season. Serves well on its own, or would go well with some grilled fish or chicken, and obviously to make it vegetarian just leave out the bacon.

For 2 :

1 Bunch of asparagus

A couple of handfuls of new potatoes, scrubbed (ideally Jersey’s or local)

3-4 tbsp bacon lardons

4 Large, ripe tomatoes

A small handful of parsley, chives or any nice fresh soft herb, roughly chopped.

Good olive oil

Salt & pepper

  • Turn your grill to “hotter-than-the-sun” setting
  • If the spuds are large cut them in 1/2 and then drop them into a pan of cold water with a little salt. Bring to the boil & simmer until just tender. Drain, & keep to one side.
  • While they are cooking, put a pan of lightly salted water on to boil.
  • In a small frying pan gently fry the bacon lardons until browned. Leave to one side.
  • While the bacon’s cooking, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus. Drop them into the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain & run cold water over them to stop them cooking & to keep the colour vibrant.
  • Cut the tomatoes in 1/2, lay on a baking tray, dribble with olive oil, salt & pepper & put them under your (hopefully) incredibly hot grill. Roast them like crazy until they start to blacken a little. If the grill’s not hot enough they’ll just turn soft & mushy before they colour, and it’s the colour that really adds the flavour. Take them out before they turn to charcoal, but you want them nicely browned, a little blackened in places.
  • Pop all the ingredients in a suitable salad bowl & stir gently.
  • Check the seasoning & adjust if necessary (now’s the time for your optional lemon juice) serve & enjoy.

Strange things can happen when you’re camping in West Wales. Mostly some random cooking (although that’s not always restricted to camping in West Wales as far as I’m concerned!) Not the best, most amazing Cordon Bleu meal. But, good food cooked, where the atmosphere and location are some of the ingredients.

I like cooking away from home with limited resources. At home I can pick up an onion, meat, garlic, spices, potatoes, whatever I like really. And if I run out, I can pop down the road to Asda which is open 24hrs (don’t get me started on that one) When you’re camping, you either have to take everything with you, or buy it there. We took almost nothing with us.

We had with us: Lemons, limes, apples, oil, salt & pepper, a bbq, some applewood smoking chips (as you do) a gas stove and various cooking pots.

Now me being me, I decided we would only buy ingredients that were local and in season (as if resources weren’t restricted enough!) So for dinner we bought: Chicken thighs (2), beetroot (a very fresh bunch with leaves), potatoes (local, new, medium in size), peas (1st of the new English season) a butternut squash (spot the obvious unseasonal ingredient!) and a cauliflower. These ingredients could have gone many ways. For me it said baked beetroot & potatoes, smoked chicken and a pea & cauliflower salad. The vegetables were incredibly fresh. Leaves and stems on the beetroot standing proudly, and the peas the sweetest and freshest I’ve had in ages.

So I sparked up the bbq. Hot coals kept in the middle, potatoes and beetroot around the edge & lid on. If you haven’t ever tried a BBQ with a lid, I can highly recommend it. It’s changed my cooking life! A great outdoor oven, keeping the heat in and giving a lovely smoky flavour, whilst crisping up the food. Pretty easily controllable, and more versatile than you might imagine.

Camping BBQ’d dinner:

  • If you’ve got them, and I do recommend you give them a try, put a couple of handfuls of smoking chips in a container and cover with water.
  • Important to get the bbq hot and put the beetroot and potatoes on first. The beetroot and spuds will take anything from 45mins to 1 1/2 hrs. Planning is everything if you want to eat before the sun goes down when camping!
  • Put a pot of water on to boil and blanch the peas and cauliflower in batches. I like to use as much of the leaves of the cauli as well if I can. When they’re tender drop them into cold water to refresh, stop cooking and keep their colour. Drain.
  • Zest the lemon (I think I used a paring knife and then shredded it best I could!) and add to the peas and cauliflower. Season with olive oil, salt & pepper.
  • The squash can go on the bbq with the other veg now and a fistful of the smoking chips. As you can see, just 1/4 or 1/2 the squash, and obviously drain the chips!
  • Season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and olive oil. They’ll probably take 1/2 an hr 45mins ish. So put them on about the same time as the squash. They’ll more or less take the same time.
  • Put the lid on the bbq and turn the chicken, preferably only once. You want to keep in all the heat and smoky flavour.
  • Sit back and enjoy a well-earned glass of something cold, downwind!

Smokin! And why you need to be upwind.

I like it when my wife goes to the shops. She comes home with things I might not have bought myself.

Last night it was asparagus and fresh peas. Both English, both very in season. Pleasingly, as the asparagus season is getting later, its prices are mercifully coming down. The peas are the first we’ve had this year, very lovely and exciting. The psb (purple sprouting broccoli) is coming to the end of its season (sadly). This year I decided I was going to try to make myself sick of it. It’s one of our wonderful seasonal treats, and one I don’t eat enough of. We had some that needed using up, and it felt right to put them all together as a salad enjoyed in the warmth of our early evening garden.

The barbeque was lit and (for me at least) there was much anticipation. But then that’s often the case with me and BBQs generally. Sausages (of course) and a chicken breast (spiced with cumin, coriander & garlic)  that needed using up from the freezer, went on the literally smoking-hot grill.

A fresh, (and simple) early summer salad:

1 Bunch of asparagus

3 big handfuls of fresh peas, shelled

Purple sprouting broccoli, a small handful

Fresh herbs, 1-2 tbsp, chopped. Whatever you have to hand, but soft for preference. I used mint, lemon balm, marjoram & parsley.

Sherry vinegar (or balsamic if you don’t have it) a splash

Extra virgin olive oil, a big lug

  • Put a large pan of lightly salted water on to boil.
  • Snap the asparagus where it wants to, of its woody ends.
  • One by one, blanch each of the vegetables for 3 minutes in the boiling water. Let the water come back to the boil before you put the next in. Refresh them as you take them out, in cold water.
  • Drain and dress with the oil, salt & pepper.
  • If you happen to have a BBQ lit now’s the time to grill the asparagus. It gives a lovely colour and smoky flavour, that lends itself very well to the pointy green spears.
  • Cut the asparagus into 1-2 inch lengths, on the angle looks good.
  • Mix everything together with remaining ingredients & serve.

To be honest I would have liked more mint & parsley in the salad,as they work so well with the peas. And I meant to put some chive flowers in there too, but I forgot.

Other good things to BBQ;

  • Potatoes, cut very thick, boiled until just tender in their skins, drained & dressed with oil, salt & pepper.
  • Onions, red or white, treated the same way as the spuds.

Yum

On the eve of one of the most important elections in my lifetime this seems all the more fitting.

I have an enormous list of books I want to read. I’m currently reading Matthew Fort’s excellent “Eating up Italy”, in which he rides from the south end of Italy, to the north on a Vespa scooter. Quite mad and brilliant, and yes you guessed it, he spent his time eating. (The clue’s in the name folks)

Very well written, with some excellent recipes. His clearly decent command of the Italian language allowed him to get under the surface of Italy and talk to chefs, restaurateurs and food producers. Giving a fascinating, often unreported, and therefore unrivalled view of, what I believe to be, one of the food capitals of the world. We’re fed a steady diet of information and recipes about Italy through various media means. It’s always romantic, wonderful and foodie, but rarely the truth of multinationals, farming & the state of the economy. So I found it eye-opening and refreshing to read.

My rant today though, is the point he makes about Italian shops. They open to suit their customers, not the other way around. Opening early (you mean BEFORE we go to work?) They close in the afternoon from 1 to about 4 or 5 (while we’re STILL at work), and then they close fairly late at 7 or 8pm (on our way home from work). How very sensible. And he makes the point that, it’s no wonder the supermarkets have such an easy time of it in this country. Now admittedly one of the reasons for these hours is due to the climate and the heat in the middle of the day. Nevertheless it does make perfect sense.

It’s not rocket science is it? But then we’re not a nation known for our love of food and things are changing to be fair. But, why go home & cook ,when we can sit in front of the television, and laugh at our fellow man making fools of themselves, in the ridiculous numbers of “reality” shows we seem to have rammed down our throats? Eating some poor excuse for food out of the microwave, made with no love or respect for producers, food or the staff making it, or the staff selling it. Heaven forbid we should sit around a table and interact with each other.

I don’t live in an idealistic bubble (or at least I don’t think I do). And I’m guilty of watching some rubbish on telly too. As the election approaches, is it any wonder that we live in “broken Britain”?

Aah, the humble savoy cabbage.

Is it that humble, really? Simply steamed until just tender & dressed with salt, pepper & butter, maybe some caraway seeds it’s surely one of the best of the green leaves. It’s dark earthy flavour works with many different dishes. And the cup shape of the leaves is natural for stuffing.

But finely shredded I think it’s also a much under-used salad leaf. It can be a little bitter, but that’s part of the pleasure, and the middle, paler leaves tend to be much milder and slightly nutty. The other day, it was the best-looking thing in the fruit and veg shop. Absolutely spanking fresh, firm, very green, waiting to be eaten.

One of my favourite savoy salads is made with coarsley grated parmesan, anchovies, lemon juice & capers. A bold and gutsy dish. And easily made vegetarian by leaving out the anchovies.

The original inspiration comes from the River Cafe, who have a fantastic knack for making  ingredients quite exciting, and putting them together in truly creative ways. Food with the greatest simplicity where attention to quality is paramount. Rose Gray, one of the founders of this seminal restaurant sadly passed away early this year after a long battle with cancer. Their food and their influential style has done much,  if not more for the way we cook and eat than Elizabeth David in the 60s. Unique, distinctive books with writing and a restaurant that has influenced & started the careers of many fine cooks.

For 2:

1/2 a Medium Savoy Cabbage

50-100g Parmesan in the piece

2 Tbsp Capers, salted, in vinegar or brine

5-7 Anchovies

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Good Balsamic vinegar

Decent Olive oil

Freshly-ground black pepper

Remove any leaves you don’t like the look of and the tough outer ribs of the cabbage. Shred as finely as you can and wash. A really sharp knife’s pretty necessary here. Leave to dry in a colander or sieve.

Depending on which capers you have, rinse or soak them. If in vinegar/brine a quick wash is usually sufficient. If salted they may need to soak for a few hours. I like the big salted ones. Roughly chop them if they’re big, a bit of texture’s good. The tiny one’s pop pleasingly, so leave them whole.

Roughly chop the anchovies.

Transfer the cabbage to a serving bowl, chuck in the capers, anchovies, lemon juice and a good lug of Olive oil. Give it a good stir.

The original dish was made with Bresaola, delicious cured beef. I haven’t included it because I don’t have any usually! It also had shaved parmesan. But you can coarsely grate it too. The choice is yours, I like it both ways. The shavings adding a layer of savouriness that you can take or leave, and coarsely grated is a bit punchier.

Taste and adjust. More capers, anchovies, oil or lemon as you please. Because of the saltiness of the capers, parmesan and the anchovies it probably won’t need any salt, it will want much black pepper though. Dribble over a little balsamic and serve. If your balsamic vinegar is aged and a little sweet it’ll balance itself quite nicely in the dish.

We ate it with braised lentils and bacon. A warm and soft complement to the crunchy, punchy salad.

Not so eagle-eyed readers will spot a small peppery addition I quite liked.

Bizarrely I haven’t put up my recipe for lemon dressing yet. Bizarre because I could have sworn I did, and it’s a really, really versatile thing, quite delicious and dead easy to prepare. All good things I think you’ll agree. Not especially seasonal, but it’s good all year round, quite useful. We’ve much going on at home at the moment so posts are a little brief I’m afraid, I’ll be back to full speed in April (I hope!)

Once you try it I think you’ll find it sneaks it’s way into all sorts of dishes you didn’t think it would! Dressing salads, warm potatoes, dipping cooked things, bread, green beans, really whatever.

Store in the fridge and use within a week or so. The E.V may solidify  but it goes liquid pretty quick out of the fridge, give it a good shake!

Zest of 1 lemon, preferably unwaxed, very finely grated (or zested & chopped)

Juice of same

250ml good Extra Virgin olive oil

Warm the ingredients together in a small pan until it just boils. (80-90°c for those of you with a thermometer) If it does really boil it can get a bit messy, dressing all over the kitchen, bad thing.

Leave to cool and confuse (that’s infuse, but confuse sounds much better)

Transfer to suitable container with a lid (jam jar’s are good)

If you want an extra special dressing, roast a few cloves of garlic (in foil, 170°c 40-60 mins), puree (squeeze out of skin & push through a seive) & add to the dressing. Whisk very thoroughly into the dressing, roast garlic can be a bit lumpy to start with.

Really very good with grilled jerusalem artichokes, rocket, fennel and oven-dried tomatoes.

A dinner with my cousins in London, not quite sure how I ended up cooking! (probably because I offered, I can’t help myself) A little impromptu, but then some of life’s most pleasant experiences happen that way.

Not a true Coq Au Vin, for my money the chicken needs an overnight marinade in fresh herbs, wine & garlic & then to be finished with croutons. The overnight marinade makes the meat insanely richly flavoured & a pleasing dark red. And Elizabeth David & Keith Floyd (I know, neither of them French) will tell you to thicken the sauce with Beurre Manié or reduce it to achieve the correct consistency. If you’ve got time, you can strain & reduce the sauce, I didn’t. You can just add as much stock as you need to get the result you want, but reducing it obviously intensifies the flavour.

Serves 9, or at least that was the plan! Actually served a hungry 7 easily

Pancetta, 2 of those little square packets, (these were a bit bigger and I was reliably informed you can’t have too much)

2 Free-range Chickens, jointed, breasts & legs cut into 2

15-20 round Shallots, or as many as you can get someone else to peel!

6-8 Carrots, peeled & thickly sliced

Garlic, a whole head, peeled & chopped

1 Bottle of red wine

Mushrooms, 100g punnet, sliced

Dried Thyme, 1 tsp

Joint the chickens, ideally taking the breast meat off the bone and drop the carcass remains into a saucepan.

Cover the bones with water, add a couple of squashed garlic cloves, a bay leaf or 2, a carrot halved and a peeled & halved onion. Set over a medium heat & bring to a simmer, not a boil.

Once the stock is cooking, brown the pancetta in a large pan (big enough to hold everything, with a lid. Or 2 pans as I did) over a medium heat. It may need a touch of oil to get it started. Stir often & when it’s nicely brown, remove to a plate or bowl. The stock can just be left to it’s own devices until you need it, or even overnight in a very low oven.

Season the chicken pieces with salt & pepper & brown them in batches in the baconny fat. Too many chicken pieces in the pan and they won’t brown, the same goes for not enough heat, but I’m sure you know that already right? You may need to add more oil to the pan, but try not to, there’s probably plenty in the chicken & bacon.

Once all the chicken is nicely browned, remove them to a plate or bowl. Add a big splash of red wine to the pan & scrape off the sticky bits (deglaze). Pour out the wine and all the chicken/bacon flavours into the bacon or chicken bowl, wipe the pan with paper towel, put in a little fresh oil and a knob of butter & continue.

Turn down the heat a little & add the peeled onions. What you’re looking to do is lightly brown them and soften a little.

Now add all the remaining ingredients & the chicken & bacon to the pan. Cover & bring to a gently bubbling simmer. If it looks at though you haven’t enough liquid add some of the chicken stock, the chicken wants to be almost covered.

Cook for 20-30 minutes in a medium oven, check the chicken for doneness by cutting into one of the legs, to the bone.  Taste the sauce for seasoning & reduce or not as you wish. Serve with some sort of potato & green combo, we had jacket spuds & broccoli. So long as you’ve got something to mop up the sauce!

Ah yes, the leftovers.

This recipe works really well as a salad in it’s own right, clean & refreshing with or without the chicken. Just the thing after December’s excesses & antidote to the winter stews. You could serve this with some salad leaves (rocket, frisee or radichio) and make it into a more substantial dish. Or even stir in some cooked puy lentils. It’s a versatile dish.

Ridiculously simple, like the best food, and quick too! One of my favourite salads.

Untrimmed, but if you get it like this, shred the feathery leaves & use them too!

Serves 2 as a starter, or light lunch

1 bulb fennel, very thinly sliced, as thin as you can (I used the slicing blade on a box grater, but you can use a very sharp knife or a mandolin if you have one)

1 Orange, peeled, with the worst of the pith removed & segmented or sliced

Juice of 1/4 lemon

A handful of black olives (Moroccan for preference), stones removed

Extra Virgin olive oil

Salt & pepper

Rip as much of the chicken as you want or need into strips & season with the lemon juice, salt & pepper

Mix with the sliced fennel, olives, orange segments & dress with olive oil, salt & pepper.

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