Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Piedmont Peppers

piedmont pepper

We went to the Gate, Hammersmith a few days ago. I've given up writing reviews of restaurants because it's usually a social occasion that gets me out of the house and it's difficult to reconcile my natural enjoyment of being with friends and being a good guest with my (apparently) unrelenting standards when it comes to the food and ambience of the venues. My expectations of catering establishments are probably a bit higher than they should be, in other words, I'm really quite a picky food snob. So, let it go.

However, there wouldn't be a blog post without me expressing some sort of personal opinion and so it was that when I read the menu I was surprised to see the old stalwart of Piedmont peppers nestling in amongst the starters. These are inextricably linked with Delia Smith who popularised them on one of her early cookery programmes and I'm afraid they suffer as a consequence in my mind but actually it was the sainted Elizabeth David who is credited with bringing the recipe into the canon thirty years earlier than Ms. Smith so I suppose I should rein in my sniffs of disapproval.  Even so, it still seems like an odd choice for a modern restaurant.

Reader, I chose that starter, just to see if they'd put a twist on it - the original recipe contains anchovies so it had to have been modified for a vegetarian clientele. As far as I could tell, they'd replaced the fishy umami with a paste of tomato puree and sun dried tomatoes which gave a good solid stuffing to the peppers, albeit a little one paced, but I was disappointed that the cooked pepper itself was still rather crunchy and given the lusciously soft finish of the traditional dish seemed undercooked as a result.

A niggle is as good as a shove to the discontented, so I made some at home so that Mr. Stripey could enjoy them as they should be with me. (He'd had some sort of tempura artichoke while we were out, how I envied him.)

Piedmont Peppers for vegans.

serves 2

2 large red peppers, thick walled.
4-5 medium well flavoured tomatoes
Tomato purée if needed
Olive oil
Black pepper

Slice the peppers in half lengthways to make four pepper boats and arrange in a sturdy metal baking tray with sides to catch the juice (or face cleaning your oven later!)

Slip the skin off the tomatoes and remove any tough cores at the stem end. I've wondered about using good quality tinned tomatoes during the winter when fresh ones are so insipid. If you did try that pierce the fruit and allow them to drain for a bit before using otherwise they will be too wet. As it was I had fresh tomatoes and put half a teaspoon of tomato purée in the base of each pepper half before filling with the rest of the ingredients.

Slice the tomatoes into quarters or eighths if very large and use them to stuff the pepper halves, then arrange slivers of garlic, as much as you like, between the pieces of tomato. I used capers as an alternative to the anchovies but I can't see why some shreds of good black olives would be out of place. Season with freshly ground black pepper and then put a dessert spoonful of good olive oil into each filled pepper. Add it slowly so it fills the cavity and doesn't just run off over the sides.

Bake uncovered in a hot oven, about 200C, for an hour until everything is deliciously soft, starting to caramelise and the pepper's juices are mingling with the oil.

Serve warm or at room temperature with bread, or as we did with oven chips and green vegetables.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Run Rabbit Run Paella

First published Monday, 6th October 2008. We had paella as one of the dishes during the festive season, it was just like this and very good.


This morning I watched a rabbit haring across the yard. I'm guessing s/he was avoiding the hunters, out in force, well all the time it seems but certainly from sun up. The sun is just going down now and I can still hear shots. I'm rather hoping they're shooting at the rude mushroom pickers who invaded my patch an hour ago but that might just be a little too serendipitous.

Anyway, I was taught how to make paella, in Valencia, by locals and they positively searched out the boniest bits of rabbit and chicken to start their cooking because paella is a poor persons' dish and nothing but the scrawny bits of animal would give the right flavour apparently.

And what about the poor animal? A shrug. Animals are for eating, if you can get hold of one. However, they did concede, that if you were very poor (or mad) you could make a reasonable paella without the killing, because the really really essential parts of the meal were the rice, beans and saffron. The rice should be a shorter grain, the Spanish have their own rice which is ideal but risotto or even round rice will do. The saffron should be as liberal as you can afford.

In honour of my small friend Peter (or maybe Petra?) I decided to make paella for my dinner.

run rabbit run paella

It's the easiest thing in the world to make, ideal for sharing and great for picnics if you have a knack with a fire (or one of those handy gas rings).

For this one I fried off a small onion, some garlic, a handful of chopped pumpkin pieces, enough rice (a bit too much in fact for one, but it'll be fine for breakfast) and some rosemary, then added enough boiling water to cover. Give it all a stir.

Add some beans. I had fresh shelled haricot. If you need to use dried beans they'll need cooking before you get to this stage. Frozen ones are fine.

Chuck in the saffron. I never bother to soak it first, but you might if you wanted to. Make sure to put the soaking water in the pot too! Other herbs you might add are oregano or basil. I also popped in a little lemon thyme which was rather nice but don't overdo it.

Then to mimic the Spanish habit of including found food (like snails for example) in went half a dozen fresh chestnuts, peeled and chopped into quarters, a small handful of green nasturtium seeds and a couple of mild green chillies chopped up. A few mushrooms wouldn't go amiss in this autumnal selection but I didn't fancy them. Season with salt and pepper.

Let everything cook, stirring from time to time until the rice is tender and moisture nearly gone. You may have to add a little extra water during cooking if it's drying up too quickly. Five minutes before you estimate it will be done, add a couple of tomatoes cut in wedges and just before serving stir in a big handful of chopped parsley.

Serve with lemon wedges and eat with a spoon from the pan.

Friday, January 03, 2014

More of a ramble than a blog


It's proving harder than I expected to get back into this. On New Year's eve I planned a sumptuous three course meal but the arrival of welcome visitors at the last minute morphed it into several bottles of wine and a single course from the plan.  We took pictures, one of which is above, a West Indian inspired collation originally planned as a smaller plated starter. Filo (fillo, phyllo?) pastry tartlets filled with ackee, served with a hot and sweet red pepper sauce and salty black beans seasoned with toasted sesame oil on a bed of shredded cucumber.
Immediately revealed are two things that need improving. For a 'posh' dinner this has more of the presentation style of the 1980s than this century. Secondly, there isn't really a publishable recipe. All the individual components are very simple concoctions of a small range of pantry ingredients, out of the box cooking for ease and convenience. To meet my own expectations for the blog with satisfaction it's going to take a bit more dedication to detail which in turn has to be something is enjoyably inspirational for a blog post - a circular set of dependencies that's going to need a crank handle to get going.


Still, one of my presents has just that very thing. A spiral vegetable cutter which does just what it says it will do with the added bonus of amusingly shaped bits of leftover vegetable to give a puerile snigger at the end of work.

Not a new tool for many of course but it's fun to use and handled with restraint will add something novel to our meals. I'm looking forward to trying out some established techniques and seeing where else it can be applied.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Return of the wanderer

Pizza topped toast
Pizza topped toast from 2013
I've been AWOL, missing in action, lost at sea, any number of clichéd euphemisms for simply not being around but I thought with the new year just about to start it might be the right time to revamp the old place and make a fresh start with cooking in public.

A quick flick through the photo archives reveals almost no pictures of prepared food at all, as if food and I have been having a trial separation. We haven't but clearly my heart has been elsewhere.

For the moment all the old entries have been placed in limbo to be reviewed and republished if I feel they have enough merit and since this is a new year the resolution is to make at least one original posting a week. We'll see how it goes but I think I'm glad to be back.

latkes with vegan black pudding
My birthday dinner, latkes with vegan black pudding and apple sauce.