Wednesday, 22 November 2017


I was sad to hear recently of the passing of Antonio Carluccio. Many years ago I used to visit his Neal Street deli whenever I could and met the man himself there a few times. His respect and enthusiasm for quality ingredients and simple but intensely flavoured dishes were a significant influence on me. For instance, I didn't realise just how good Parmesan cheese could be until he scooped a piece from a wheel and handed it to me and I might never have tried to make risotto if he hadn't told me to stop worrying and just get on with it. He was a great ambassador for Italian food and I for one will always be grateful to him.
Antonio Carluccio's Italian Cooking
Although I use quite a few Italian recipes I haven't posted many here. The fact is that when I started this blog it seemed to me that the world really didn't need me to add to the mountain of recipes for Italian food. There were just so many blogs already specialising in Italian dishes and so many Italian restaurants down here in Surrey that if you threw grissini out of any window they would probably land in someone's arrabiata sauce. But it seems like a good time now to get around to recording just a few of the (inauthentic) Italian recipes that I use.

I think caponata is simply one of the most adaptable, versatile and useful dishes that I know (Italian or otherwise). It's made in advance and is easy to put together, although it does take a while. It's perfect for serving at room temperature as a relaxed starter, for taking on picnics, for feeding large gatherings or even heating up as a main course with pasta, rice or baked potato. (I know that heating caponata as a sauce might be frowned on by some but let's not worry about them.) More often than not I simply serve this with some good bread. My version is not very different from many other recipes for caponata that you might come across but it's what works for me. (It's not Antonio Carluccio's recipe by the way, but you can find his here if you'd like to try it).
This will make at least 4 generous portions but the dish scales up very nicely for a larger or very hungry group. Don't worry too much about being exact with amounts; the dish will adapt very well to individual tastes and to what you have in the cupboard and veg rack. You definitely need a decent olive oil but it doesn't have to be a really expensive one.

3 medium aubergines, cut into 2 - 3 cm chunks (you don't need to be too precise)
1 large (or 2 medium) courgette, cut into roughly 2 - 3 cm chunks as above
60 ml (or thereabouts) olive oil
2 shallots (or 1 onion), peeled and thinly sliced
Small pinch of chilli flakes
A generous pinch of dried oregano or about 1 tsp of fresh, roughly chopped oregano
1 can peeled plum tomatoes (400 g)
2 tbsp capers (I use brined capers, rinsed and well-drained)
50 g pitted green olives, roughly chopped
60 g mix of sultanas and raisins
1½ tbsp caster sugar
150 ml red wine vinegar
1 small (or ½ large) jar roasted peppers, drained  and roughly chopped (or grill and peel your own if you can spare the time)

To serve (these are optional but very desirable extras and you can omit if you’re really pressed for time):
2 small handfuls of pine nuts
A few leaves of basil

If you've got some fresh and firm aubergines then you don't really need to salt them but many of the aubergines I buy in supermarkets seem to produce a lot of water and so I do bother with the salting palaver. Coat the aubergine pieces lightly in salt and allow them to drain for an hour or so in a colander. Clean off the salt and pat the aubergine chunks dry. There's no advantage to salting the courgette unless it's more like a marrow than a courgette.

Brush both the aubergine and courgette chunks with some of the olive oil, place on separate lined baking sheets and roast in the oven at 180ºC until they're soft and have taken on a little colour at the edges. Chances are that the courgette will take a little longer than the aubergine, but 20 - 30 minutes should usually be enough.

Put the remainder of the olive oil (around 2 - 3 tbsp but don't worry if you don't have enough left, just add a bit more if you're in doubt) in a large pan and fry the shallots gently until soft (don't rush this). Pour in the tinned tomatoes and their juice and stir around to start breaking them up. Add the capers, olives, sultanas and raisins, sugar, vinegar, oregano and chilli flakes. Bring to simmering point, then add the roasted vegetables. Add a few turns of pepper and the roasted peppers, turn the heat down, cover and simmer gently for around 90 minutes. Stir every now and then and make sure that the mixture doesn't dry out. (Add a little water or passata if it seems too dry).

Allow to cool and store in the fridge. It should keep for a few days but it will also freeze well at this stage. In my opinion (and I'm not alone), this is definitely best served at room temperature so remember to take it out of the fridge for an hour or so before serving.

If you have the time before serving, toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry frying pan (watch carefully because they burn very easily), allow to cool and either stir them into the caponata or sprinkle on the top. Immediately before serving chop or tear some basil leaves and stir them in as well.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Ossau-Iraty, Smoked Duck and Peppers

A lot of the recipes on this blog are pretty easy, but they really don't get much easier than this. Not too long ago I was wandering around a local supermarket in my usual bemused manner and I stumbled across some particularly fine produce: Lamuyo peppers from Spain, smoked duck breast from Scotland and, one of my favourite cheeses, Ossau-Iraty from the southwest of France. Then from some particularly murky corner of my mind I remembered that these were just the kind of ingredients that Guy Martin put together on one of his TV programmes.

Thanks to Google I've realised that the name Guy Martin often seems to refer to a bloke that rides motorbikes mystifyingly fast. I definitely don't mean him. I mean the chef of Le Grand Véfour in Paris. (Please be careful if you're tempted to peruse the prices at Le Grand Véfour - you may need to have someone nearby to administer strong drink to aid your recovery). Mr Martin intended this combination of ingredients to celebrate the wonderful flavours of the south west of France. I'd be the first to agree that the flavours of that beautiful region are well worth celebrating but Spanish peppers and Scottish smoked duck breast are worth getting excited about as well. Just to complete the European mixture, I served them on a fine English muffin. There was a period not long ago when the English muffin had become a sad, industrial product, but there are some excellent artisan versions around these days.
Ossau-Iraty Smoked Duck and Peppers
I put this together from memory and so it's not faithful to Mr Martin's recipe, but it's in the right spirit. The only real cooking required is a simple bit of preparation of the peppers but, despite the simplicity, it's a lovely combination. Well, of course it is – Guy Martin knows his flavours.

This will serve 2 as a light lunch or can be the star of a larger salad. Really easy and really delicious.

2 large red peppers (I used Spanish lamuyo)
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp honey
2 English muffins
4 – 8 slices smoked duck breast
4 – 8 shavings (not too thin) Ossau-Iraty (shave these at the last minute)
A few small basil leaves (optional)

Cut out the core of the peppers, deseed and slice them into quarters. Grill until nicely blackened. Place the peppers in a bowl, cover and, once cooled, peel off and discard the skin. Chop the pepper flesh quite finely and place in a saucepan (make sure you include all the pepper juices) with the olive oil and honey. Season and let this mixture cook very gently over a low heat, stirring frequently until the peppers are almost, but not quite, falling apart. Chill until needed. You can make this the day before you want to serve it; in fact, I think it tastes a little better if you do.

The rest of the “recipe” is pretty much a simple assembly job. Split the muffins and toast them lightly. Place a layer of the peppers on each of the muffin halves and cover with one or two slices of duck breast. Finally top with one or two freshly shaved slivers of Ossau-Iraty and decorate with a couple of small basil leaves if you fancy.