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A couple of days ago I announced that I was thinking of making fennel soup for supper (we need a photograph of it for the new book).

“You should use all those veggies in the crisper,” said Meredith, in practical mood.

After years of taking a moment to understand what “crisper” meant, I now know it’s the bottom drawer of the fridge where salad and (forgotten) vegetables are stored.

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It still sounds odd to me–crisp and vegetable?

“Any road”–as Aunt Mary used to say–I found a treasure trove of useable vegetables.

MINESTRONE!

So…

I chopped into small dice:

2 carrots

2 small celery sticks

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

and sweated these over a low heat for a good half hour or longer in

3 tbsp olive oil

I then added:

2 fennel bulbs–outer casings removed and chopped into larger dice

more celery–similarly chopped

more carrots–similarly chopped

a handful of mini onions–peeled and halved

some cauliflower florets

Then I spooned in 3 tbsp cooked white beans, from a jar preferably (I prefer them to tinned/canned),

tucked in a small bouquet of parsley and bay and a piece of parmesan rind (I happened to have one to hand!)

I poured in 1 1/2 pints of stock–in this case made from organic vegetable cubes,

and seasoned well with freshly ground black pepper and a teaspoon of salt.

Brought this up to the boil, turned down the heat to low and simmered it for an hour.

Then I added a handful of green beans–escapees that were loitering in the crisper–snapped in half–and 2 medium courgettes–the last from the garden, sliced.

Cooked all this on until these last were tender.

Served it with a swirl of best olive oil and grated parmesan.

(The crisper promoter showed her approval by having thirds.)

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Recipe-sharing has been on hold for a while. This is a “relaunch”.

My excuse? I’ve been busy and distracted: putting on wigs, trying to remember my lines, running a cooking workshop, demonstrating no-potato fishcakes at a literary festival*, preparing a third cook book, worrying about the sale of the adjacent church for a private residence…

I’ve missed finding new recipes, cooking them and writing them up.

So here goes….

(Could be a hostage to fortune!)

Early Saturday morning at Castres market, I spied a pile of green beans on the small display table.

I was surprised.

These are the last,”  said the local grower, who also had some promising looking cherry tomatoes laid out.

I bought a pound of each and here they combine to make the simple vegetable dish from Delicious Dishes for Diabetics.

I’ll sprinkle over some feta and a few juicy black olives to make a light lunch.

It’s warm enough to eat al fresco in the courtyard–the SUN is refusing to retire and is out every day–a delayed summer (July and August didn’t deliver.)

Warm enough to ripen the fruit that normally we enjoy weeks earlier–even our figs are finally showing signs of ripening.

We are not complaining.

250gms/8oz green beans

250gms/8oz cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic–thinly sliced

2oz  feta cheese  (optional)

half a dozen juicy black olives  (optional)

First make the tomato sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan and add the garlic slivers.

Cook for a minute or two to soften.

Add the tomatoes and cook on a low-ish heat for 15 minutes, stirring and gently squashing them occasionally.

You should end up with a viscous sauce–the tomatoes retaining some of their shape.

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Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the beans in boiling, salted water until just tender.

Drain and lay them on a pretty plate.

Spoon the sauce over the beans.

Add olives and/or feta (optional).

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*Festival Litteraire de Parisot

Parisot is a delightful, hilltop village in the Tarn-and-Garonne department, a little to the north of us.

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This was the second year of their book festival and it was a triumph.

Brilliantly organized over a three-day weekend, events ran parallel in French and English, serving the two communities simultaneously.

A grand sweep over the literary landscape included a writing Masterclass, talks by first-time and established novelists, a workshop given by an expert in Arab calligraphy, a talk on organized crime in France, a superb analysis of the causes of the first world war by Clive Ponting and much more–including a light-hearted account of my acting career, given while cooking pumpkin soup and no-potato fishcakes.

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We had the best of times!

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Washington DC; Philadelphia; Naples, Florida; North East, Maryland and Whitstable, England

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East Coast folk from both sides of the “Pond” came together in South West France, where the sun shone for us every day.

It even managed a mackerel sky to match Friday lunch–spanking fresh fillets of this tasty fish.

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We peeled and chopped–worked hard and chuckled a lot.

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We made chickpea pancakes to stuff…

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French omelettes….

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Italian frittatas too, to compare….

I  forgot the grated parmesan for the frittatas–had to retrieve them from the stove and mix again!

Julia Child and her inspirational insouciance was kindly invoked by the Bravehearts: “Never mind, nobody knows but us!”

Over coffee, we talked of Cabbages and Kings and the Mediterranean way of cooking.

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All our lunches taken al fresco, with a backdrop Leonardo would have been tempted to paint between mouthfuls.

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Our neighbor Celine even taught us how to clean and braid garlic. Some, like Leslie, were naturals….

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Others, try as they may…

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will never master it…

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What a lovely lot!

(Even the gatecrashers!)

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(Shows it was just picked from the garden!)

Here’s to us!

Who’s like us?

Damned few!

…Well roughly 29 (Bravehearts!) at the latest count!

 

 


 

 

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Jerome Carayol has a small stand at Lautrec market on Fridays selling garlic, eggs and the odd duck and chicken–his mother supplies the pigeons.

He tells me this morning, picking three garlic bulbs from a small pile as a gift, that he’ll begin lifting his pink garlic  (l’ail rose de Lautrec) tomorrow or Monday.

For the last three weeks, starting early before the sun gets a hold, small teams–mainly youngsters–are employed in the fields working slowly along the rows of garlic, picking the scopes (the stem that develop into a flower) off the top of each plant.

Back-breaking work–but necessary to allow the plant to concentrate its final surge of energy on the bulb.

Now the farmers are beginning the harvest.

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Garlic gath’rers pass,

Leaving the scent in the air;  

It’s that time again.

Judy Bach asked for recipes on Facebook.

Here’s one, adapted from Skye Gyngell’s version in her book,  How I Cook :

New season courgettes, cooked slow with the new garlic and mint–mushily delicious with a little kick from the chili.

This is  for 4 

1 lb courgettes/zucchini--sliced thin

garlic cloves–sliced thin

1 small dried red chili–chopped

a handful of mint (if you have it)-chopped

salt and pepper

1 tblsp olive oil

  • In a medium pan, gently soften the garlic and chili in the oil.

  • Add the sliced courgettes/zucchini and turn them over in the oil to coat them thoroughly.
  • Season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Turn again to distribute the seasoning.
  • Cover the pan and cook for forty minutes on a very low heat.
  • Uncover and fold in the mint, if you have it–which we have, but I forgot it!
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Looks better with the mint!

 

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“Supper?”

“Sorted–it’s in the bag!”

It’s a while since I have cooked salmon this way.

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Can’t think why.

And it’s a cinch for busy people who come home tired from work.

The whoosh of scented steam as the parcel is unwrapped is an added treat–but watch your nose doesn’t get scalded!

The red peppercorns add to the beauty of the dish–are crunchy soft–and disintegrate when bitten into.

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This is adapted from a recipe in Jenny Baker’s comprehensive Simply Fish.

for 2

2 salmon fillets–about 170gms each

2 tsp red peppercorns–optional

1 lemon

fresh herbs such as dill, tarragon, mint

olive oil

salt and pepper

2 large pieces of foil of equal size–large enough to envelop the salmon pieces and leave them enough space to “breath”

Preheat the oven to 200c/400F

  • Lay the two large pieces of foil on a flat surface.
  • Lay a salmon fillet on each piece of foil and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Drizzle some olive oil over each fillet.
  • Sprinkle a teaspoonful of the red peppercorns on each fillet.
  • Slice off 4 thin slices from the lemon and place them–two/three–on each fillet.
  • Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon over the fillets and add the herbs you favor.

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I’ve used fresh tarragon and dill here.

  • Wrap up the parcels–leaving that breathing space for the steam to do its work cooking the fillets.

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  • Place them on an oven tray and slide into the middle of the oven for about fifteen minutes.
  • The cooking time depends on the size of the fillets–take a peek after 15 minutes.

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  • This got a “ding” from Meredith, who liked the taste the red peppercorns.
  • We had brown basmati rice with a sauce of tomato and courgette slices (1 large tomato and 1 courgette) spooned over and  tzatziki sauce (yogurt and cucumber), on the side.
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This is tasty and colorful–a refreshing early summer salad.

From the isle of Sicily apparently–with the colours of another beautiful isle, Ireland , in there.

It cuts nicely something rich, like mackerel or pork..

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a cucumber

A few radishes

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1 orange

mint–a few torn leaves

3 tbs olive oil

1 tbs juice from an orange

1 tsp each white wine vinegar and lemon juice

salt and pepper

Peel the cucumber, slice it as thinly as possible (a food processor’s disc does this perfectly).
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Put the slices in a colander or sieve and sprinkle some salt over and leave to drain for a half hour.
Dry them on kitchen paper.
Peel the orange down to the flesh–no white pith–and slice it thin.
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Build the salad prettily–a white dish sets off the colors!
Whisk the orange juice, vinegar, lemon juice and seasoning together and pour it over the salad.
Turn it all over and serve.

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I favor small red/yellow peppers for this.

Four of these on a plate and you have a light lunch or supper.

(Two would be good as a starter–on a small bed of rocket (arugula).

We added some simple broccoli with garlic to the plate last night.

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A pretty picture.

This is adapted from a Marcella Hazan recipe.

for 2/3

3 smallish red peppers

40z/100gms small courgettes–sliced thin (a food processor’s disc is helpful for this)

1 clove garlic–chopped fine

2 oz/50gms grated Emmental cheese (We like the creamy taste of the emmental, but you could try substituting other cheeses, such as parmesan)

1 oz/25gms breadcrumbs (I use organic wholewheat or rye.)

4 tbs olive oil

2 tbs parsley–chopped

salt and pepper

 

  • set the oven to 400F/200C
  • Peel the peppers carefully with a hand peeler (easier than expected); halve them and then halve them again to form cargo carrying boats.
  • Remove the seeds.
  • Slice the courgettes as thinly as you can.
  • In a large bowl mix the courgettes, cheese, parsley, garlic and breadcrumbs with two tablespoons of the olive oil and season to taste.
  • Load the pepper boats generously with the courgette cargo.

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  •  Oil a piece of foil on an oven tray and moor the boats on it.
  • “How apt” Meredith says ” …these  boats being so “moorish”!

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  •  Sprinkle over the fourth tablespoon of oil.
  • Thirty minutes in the top half of the oven should do it.

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