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Fridays.

End of the week, in the time of COVID-19.

Shopping expeditions curtailed. Really only one: Saturdays.

What to do for lunch and dinner?

NO EGGS!

Baskets, trays and bowls almost empty.

Raining.

Oven on the blink.

No wish to budge….

Thinking cap.

Remember red and yellow peppers that have been in the fridge for some time and cross fingers. Discover that they are well preserved–as is a forgotten small green one. The three juicy-looking tomatoes that need using weigh the perfect pound.

My Ratatouille comes to mind from my new cookbook–a last hurrah for Summer.

It’ll bring a splash of colour and cheer onto the kitchen table on a grey day.

Things are looking up!

Remembered the pumpkin soup that’s been waiting in the fridge, which will make for a light supper with some chèvre and crackers– and the remaining half of the fine bottle of Côte de Rhône, kindly brought over last Sunday by our neighbours.

Starting to enjoy this!

Adding a bit of black olive tapenade.

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Autumn has come tumbling in, heralded by lashings of wind and rain. It’s quite a turn around.

The stallholders were rubbing their shoulders–“‘brrrring’–il fait frais ce matinearly at the market on Saturday.

The change in seasons is starting to be reflected on their stalls.

First bunches of broccoli and root vegetables edging out the tomatoes, while stubborn aubergines and courgettes are refusing to budge.”

Excuse me– it ain’t even October yet, mate!”

The last of our tomatoes hit the pot yesterday as one of the two main ingredients of Slow-Cooked Green Beans with Feta, from my 4th cookbook Robin Ellis’ Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking. (Simple to cook and delicious–we had it last night for supper.)

Published (at last!) in the States TOMORROW September 29th!

Roll up, Roll up!

The recipe is in the Autumn section of this seasonally-arranged cookbook–but has been on the table often this summer. Lovely green beans span the seasons and we never have enough of them.

I love marking the seasons and here, in this year of so much discombobulation, they are timing themselves to perfection.

Mother Nature’s little joke.

I’m ready for broccoli and pumpkins and the wrap-around warmth they promise.

So–Au revoir to a summer like no other we have known.

We’ve had brilliant weather but been becalmed socially–bereft of the usual comings and goings.

(Surprising how little we have minded!)

Zoom meet-ups and the occasional small lunches.

No Garlic festival so no Garlic festival lunch.

Virtual book launches–something new–have proved rather good–and not so exhausting to organize, with attendees checking in from Mexico to Massachusetts, the Isle of Sky to the foothills of the Pyrenees in SW France.

Eating vegetarian might feel a challenge at first–and a full-on conversion is not something that has happened in our household–although my attention to compiling this book over the last four years has resulted in Meredith and me eating vegetarian far more regularly than before.

During this time I have lost a stone (14 pounds). “Don’t lose any more weight, Robin” my good doctor Michel Woitiez said to me a few weeks back.

Peter Berkman, a doctor friend in the USA, sent me this article recently.

It headlines Vegan but the article encompasses both Vegetarian and Vegan as effective ways of eating to control diabetes and in particular, one’s weight–one of the keys to controlling the condition. This last rang a eureka bell in my head.

Then Holly Brady, Meredith’s sister in Palo Alto, forwarded an email from Medicare claiming  “1 in 3 people with Medicare has diabetes. 

 
Holly writes that there are 44 million people on Medicare in the US.

I like to think this book of simple-to-cook veggie recipes might help to counter this chilling statistic.

Here’s the Greek Green Bean and Feta recipe I have been banging on about!

 Greek Green Beans with tomato,  cumin and feta   

A nifty lunch this with, if you fancy, a poached egg on top.

Cooking the beans longer maybe anathema to some–but they hold their own in the combination of ingredients in spite of that.

  • 1 medium onion—roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic—chopped
  • 4 tbs olive oil
  • 450gms/1lb fresh ripe tomatoes—cored, skinned and roughly chopped
  • 250gms/8oz green beans, topped
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne powder or half small fresh chili—chopped
  • A bay leaf and a sprig of fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • Feta—crumbled or cut into small cubes

 

Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a medium pan and add the onions.

Turn over in the oil and cook on a lowish heat.

After a couple of minutes mix in the garlic.

Gently continue cooking until the onion has softened nicely.

Add half the tomatoes, the cumin, thyme and bay and the chili.

Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Lay the beans out to cover the tomatoes.

Then cover the beans with the rest of the tomatoes and season lightly again.

Sprinkle over the fourth tablespoon of olive oil.

Cover the pan and bring up to the boil.

Turn the heat down to low and cook covered for twenty minutes.

Uncover and cook on for another twenty minutes.

Serve with feta on top–and a lightly poached egg if that suits.

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My fourth cookbook–Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking— is due to be published in the USA this Tuesday, September 29th.

(Available from Amazon.com and autographed copies from the Evanston bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings.)

This has reminded me of an incident–almost a Happening* (remember those?) four years ago, around the time my previous book (Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics) was published.

In March 2016, I bought a T-shirt at the vast food emporium, Eataly, on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. It was inexpensive–$8, I think–and had the same logo, back and front, in Italian and English:

La vita è troppo breve per mangiare male.

Translated as the slightly different:

Life is too short not to eat well!

Both the price and the sentiments persuaded me to buy it.

 

The simple message seemed to chime with what I’d been doing for the past five years (and three books published): Trying to persuade people that cooking is NOT rocket science–so get in the kitchen before it is too late!

The cookbooks are aimed at everyone who likes to eat WELLand/or wants to avoid eating badly–written with my perspective–having Type 2 diabetes.

We were a little nervous that Sunday in Manhattan 2016, because Meredith had put the word out we’d be present in this extraordinary big top Barnum-and- Bailey circus ring of Italian cooking for a “pop-up book launch of my third book:

“Roll up! roll-up! Bring your books to be signed by the author–unique opportunity!”

BUT…we hadn’t asked permission from the store–because we were pretty certain it would be refused!

Eataly is a scrum at the best of times, but Sunday lunch is like a rush-hour subway carriage on its way to Wall Street–standing room only!’

As one o’clock approached, the crowd around the cheese section started to swell with people showing no particular interest in cheese, but waving copies of a familiar book (NOT available in this store!).

We were showing some brass neck**– but, hey, this is America–right?!

A small queue had formed and I started to sign, clutching each eagerly-offered book in my left hand, while grabbing a piece of cheese from the plate we’d bought as a cover–trying to stay upright, put the cheese–not the pen–in my mouth–and write something meaningful on the title page of the book.

At that moment, like a scene from a Broadway farce, an unwelcome presence loomed, threatening to upset the cheese trolley….

“Excuse me sir, what are you doing?”

“Signing a few copies of my book for friends, while enjoying your wonderful Italian cheeses.”

“Strictly forbidden–and I must ask you to leave; you are blocking access to the cheese counter.”

There was still half the queue patiently waiting for a signature (and now being treated to a bit of theatre!).

From somewhere, I found my inner Brass Neck and heard myself suggesting, politely, to the manager, that far from blocking access, I was bringing customers into the Emporium–introducing people who might not think of patronizing Eataly on a busy Sunday brunch morning in Midtown. Furthermore, we were about to buy several large round plates of his delicious cheeses for the queue (which we did!).

After a pause, he relented–and I kicked myself for not having a spare copy of my book on hand to give him, in gratitude for his willingness to bend the rules (with the suggestion that if he liked it, to pop it on his shelves).

But perhaps that would have been sticking out my brass neck troppo lontano!

Fresh pasta being made at the pasta station. Eataly encompasses several restaurants as well as food and cookbooks for sale–and we make a point of visiting every trip to NYC. Excellent cappuccino and gelato bar too! But they still don’t stock my cookbooks!

*A “happening” is a performance, event, or situation art; The term was first used by Allan Kaprow during the 1950s to describe a range of art-related events.
** If someone is described as having a “brass neck” it means they are confident, and say or do whatever they want–but don’t understand that their behaviour might be unacceptable to others (!!).
 

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Ridiculous, I know, but I’m excited today because I spotted the first blush of colour on a tomato in the new vegetable patch–planted a month ago on our old compost heap.

How long from first blush to first bite?

I’m counting the days.

Depends in part on the weather.

Hot days are forecast–so perhaps not so long to wait.

Bit like opening an advent calendar, day-to-day, waiting for Christmas–agony, I remember.

And it’s not only tomatoes that are keeping me enthralled. We just ate our first  cucumber–the short stubby kind–that can be bitter, or sweet as can be.

Julien, who helps us with the garden and grows vegetables for a living, told us:

“If you pick them in the morning, they are less likely to be bitter. The unpleasantness builds up during the day.”

I’m looking for the second little beauty to mature, to test the theory.

He also advises cleaning the knife used to cut away infected leaves before moving on to the next tomato, courgette or cucumber plant.

Makes sense.

And water tomatoes rarely, he says–this encourages their roots to delve deeper and it increases the intensity of the taste. And pick them late in day when they’ve absorbed all the sunshine.

One of the courgette plants was given to us by our neighbour, Tom, and is a different variety from the other three. It resembles the lighter ridged zucchini our friend Helen uses for her courgette pasta at Boggioli, their olive farm in Tuscany.

I think it yields  a creamier sauce.

(See the AUTUMN section of my new cook book Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking, p. 158.)

Julian, normally a genial, droll character, said darkly before departing:

“I may have to pour vinegar on the plot–I’m so jealous!”.

Echoes of the film, Manon des Sources?

 

 

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Castres‘ Saturday morning market is a major event.

It attracts locals–alarmingly known as Castraises–and weekend visitors, among them the occasional cluster of rugby fans from Angleterre visiting for the match against erstwhile national champions Castres Olympic.

As well as offering a stunning source of local, fresh produce, it serves as a chance to meet friends, share a coffee or apéro [apéritif] in one of the bars that surround Place Jean Jaurès in centre ville.

It’s teeming by 10am with slow-moving crowds, greeting friends in the traditional French fashion of shaking hands or kissing on both cheeks (sometimes twice) in normal times–but these are NOT normal times.

After a 10-week absence in lockdown due to the virus threat, I’m back, wearing a mask.

I still get there early to bag the best, and move more freely from stall to stall.

There has been some rearranging of stalls to aid social distancing–but relative location has been more or less respected–important for punters to find their favourites.

Our great friend and neighbour, Flo, is an unlucky exception.  She and her marvelous spice stall have been radically re-located.

She is not happy about it.

Flo at her spice stand in happier times

Not everyone is masked now—though most traders are and shoppers must point to the courgette they fancy rather than sort through the pile.

I locate all my usual vendors and favor a few new ones.

There’s a seasonal limit to the vegetables on offer–summer’s bounty is some weeks off. Courgettes are featuring strongly and aubergines are making their shiny black presence felt for the first time since late autumn.

I’m hoping for broad beans next week and young artichokes so I can make Vignerola–the marvelous Roman vegetable stew–which features in my new book: Robin Ellis’ Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking, published on 25th June (and available for pre-order now via various booksellers*).

The atmosphere is convivial, despite everyone looking slightly confused and discombobulated.

Queues run differently, stalls face the opposite direction than B.C. (Before Coronavirus!), voices are muffled.

All that said–it is good to have a little of the old life impose itself on the new.
Nevertheless…
“My kingdom for a ripe tomato!

*The new cookbook can be pre-ordered at any of these booksellers–and for those not in the UK, free worldwide delivery via The Book Depository/.

Amazon

Blackwell’s

Foyles

Hive

Waterstones

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It’s currently 94F degrees in Lautrec and set to go to 103F this afternoon–so I’ve made Ma’s Gazpacho this morning with the first of summer’s tomatoes, peppers, spring onions and cucumber.

It is ridiculously simple.

I wasn’t sure it would be worth it with the vegetables available–not enough sun in them yet.

First taste after the food processor–just the pulverised vegetables–encouraging!

I stirred in the vinegar and oil, seasoned and popped the big bowl in the fridge.

Four hours will be enough–though overnight is better.

Thanks again, dear Molly!

Her recipe features in my second cookbook–Healthy Eating for Life and–as tribute to Molly in my upcoming book: Robin Ellis’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking (which is with the publisher, and due out next year).

Here’s my original posting from July 2011 with the recipe written out on a yellowing envelope in my mother’s handwriting:

It’s a fair bet my Mother first tasted this traditional summer soup from Andalusia in 1953–when my parents took brother Peter and me to the Costa Brava for a two week holiday. (Dad worked for British Railways and got a certain amount of concessionary travel in Europe.)

There were five hotels at that time in Lloret del Mar. Five hundred plus now!

We stayed in one with a pretty courtyard–yards from the beach.

I don’t remember the gazpacho–but the egg fried in olive oil I can taste to this day!

Franco’s military police, patrolling the beach in funny hats and holding not-so-funny machine guns, also made an impression. No such thing at on the sands at Woolacombe!

About a kilo collected this morning–a little more than the recipe.

Molly Ellis’ Recipe (slightly adapted!)

Chop the tomatoes roughly–and put them in the food processor.

Chop up half a large, peeled cucumber and half a large,  red pepper–seeded–(she calls them pimentoes) and add them to the processor.

I add a couple of spring onions (scallions)–chopped. (Ma adds a yellow onion–which I’ll try next time).

Mash up 3 cloves of garlic, as she does, with a little salt–and add them to the processor.

Pulse the contents–not too smooth a finish.

Empty this already tasty mix into a bowl and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Stir in 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and two tablespoons of olive oil.

A few drops of Tabasco–as she suggests–a matter of taste.

(At lunch today I added an ice cube to each served bowl.)

Chill for a couple or more hours.

We found one ladleful each is enough–with a whirl of olive oil to finish.

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Our neighbor and friend, Joan, dropped by this week with a bag of broad beans (also known as fava beans)–a big bag.

The chore with broad beans is that they have to be shelled before you cook them.

And often de-podded too.

As they mature the outer skin becomes tough and the true delicate taste is missed.

Handy to have guests around in the broad bean season.

“Anything I can do?”

“Well funny you should mention it…”

If you are lucky and have a generous neighbor with green fingers, you could, like us, be gifted with beans so fresh and young that they only require shelling not de-podding too.

Joan is doubly generous; the beans she gave us were picked that day, fully-shelled and ready to cook.

Joan and Meredith went walking round the lake this morning and the beans came up–so to speak.

How was I proposing to cook them?

Joan is eating vegan at the moment, so a favorite way chez nous–broad beans with shallot and bacon–is not possible chez elle.

For lunch today I forgot about the bacon and gently softened a shallot in a tablespoon of olive oil.

Then added 8oz of the ready-to-cook beans*, two tablespoons of water, some fresh mint leaves and salt. I covered the pan and cooked the beans to just tender–about 10 minutes**. I added a little more water along the way, but not too much–as the delicate taste risks being dissipated.

You could–if you are not eating vegan–crumble some feta over the cooking beans, which melts nicely into the water to form a little sauce.

But watch out that the feta doesn’t make the bean too salty.

Thank you, Joan!

Our doubly seasonal lunch included these asparagus roasted with flakes of pecorino and olive oil

 

*I cooked the beans from the freezer where I had stored them in 8oz baggies, immediately on receiving them. Straight into the pan on a gentle heat.

** Since the beans today were coming from the freezer, they took a bit longer to cook. If you’re working with fresh, it’s more like 7-8 minutes–but you need to watch over them and test.

 

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I am sitting in the courtyard and two turtle doves are–well–courting–in morse code.

It is perfectly still with a suggestion of a spring breeze–quite sharp.

Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out…

DOT DOT DOT (OVERHEAD)Dot dot dot (is the answer a little futher off).

Now the dots are fading–a meeting perhaps, behind the church!

I’ve been waiting for the “cuckoo morse”–longer and softer as a call.

At last–yesterday afternoon–there it was–a brief, but unmistakeable COO-coooo.

A sign that things are moving on.

There are others.

Our neighbor–farmer Pierre, passed earlier on his tractor.

He’s been busy.

Some of his fields are showing garlic, looking proud–about six weeks to harvest.

Others are pale green with wheat and barley–shifting in the breeze.

Into this patchwork of greens and looking out of place are empty fields of brown–finely tilled–waiting to show….

My guess is sunflowers.

Last week the markets were struggling to offer anything new–but today, it changed.

Small artichokes tightly packed and bunched in fours, peas and broad beans have joined the upstanding green and white asparagus.

It is a relief to see some action.

Dill, tarragon and chives joining the parsley this week and large spring onions.

I have been busy too; making Vignarole–a vegetarian spring speciality in Roman trattorias.

The same artichokes, peas, broad beans and spring onions with a shredded lettuce.

The preparation is labour intensive–but the cooking is the simplest imaginable.

The eating as I remember is sublime.

We’ll see if it gets the DING from Meredith ce soir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A report came out recently–another report, I know!

It said a more effective way to keep our weight stable is by taking care with the way we eat–not be stuck counting the calories.

The recipe below is an example of how one can eat simply, healthily, deliciously and inexpensively.

Each to his/her own, of course, but for me, the dish would be COLD before I’d finished counting calories–and that’s assuming I could figure out HOW to count them.

Caulis are looking handsome at the moment with their big, open faces urging you to take them home.

When I checked the price, I didn’t need any persuading and bought a large organic one for just under three euros.

It stretched over two nights.

A simple gratin with juicy black olives one night…

Not much left!

and this equally simple soup with leeks, the next.

I had steamed the florets for the gratin–but hadn’t used them all. So I only had to soften the leeks before adding the cauliflower and the stock. (If you’re starting the soup from scratch, just add the raw cauliflower florets.)

Meredith was on a long internet conference call, so this made a perfect light supper for her in front of the computer.

She grew up thinking that cauliflower was the biggest DUD vegetable of all. Fortunately, she has had a conversion!

Cauliflower happens to be good for us–like its close relatives, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage.

According to Mr. Google, one serving contains 77 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. It’s also a good source of vitamin Kproteinthiamin, riboflavinniacin, magnesiumphosphorusfiber, vitamin B6, folatepantothenic acidpotassium and manganese.

So there!

We eat it because we LIKE it!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cauliflower–florets separated into medium sized bits
  • 3 leeks–outer parts removed, cleared of dirt and sliced thinly
  • 1 oz butter
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 liter organic vegetable stock (I use stock cubes.)
  • salt & pepper

Melt the butter and oil in a large saucepan.

Add the leeks and sweat them gently, covered, until soft.

Add the cauliflower and bay leaves and mix well.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then turn the temperature down.

Simmer until cauliflower is tender–not much more than ten minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lift out a few small florets and liquidize the rest.

Drop a few of the whole florets in each bowl when you serve the soup.

 

 

 

 

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First question–before I even sit down in my doctor’s office to discuss my annual comprehensive test results:

“What did you do with that turnip?”

Shows where my priorities lie!

Flashback: We’d bumped into each other at the vegetable stall in Lautrec a few days earlier.

I’d not seen Michel there before. Usually he’s on the road doing his rounds at that hour, making house calls.

He had bought a single medium size turnip–the beautiful purple and cream variety.

It was the singularity of the purchase that intrigued.

And turnips were on my mind.

The day after the Lautrec meeting, a stall-holder in Castres market had tucked two black turnips into the brown paper bag holding my other purchases from him.

Cadeau!” he’d said [Gift!]–a generous gesture, as I hadn’t spent more than five euros.

Ungenerously, I could speculate that this variety is be more difficult to sell on its looks.

Nonetheless, an encouragement to return the following week to his excellent stall.


Michel, the GP–bucked by the way our rendezvous had kicked off–and delighted by the diversion from yet another routine examination, launches into a detailed account of what he did with his beautiful cousin of my navet noire [black turnip].

The test results are shoved firmly onto the back burner–while he regales me with how he made his ravishing poisson au sauce de navet” [fish with turnip sauce]. (!!!)

A pause, while we both metaphorically digest this delicacy.

We then both get up– as a gesture to getting on with the real purpose of the visit–and edge towards the examination couch.

The turnips will not lie down though.

Happy for further delay, I ask Michel about what to do with my navet noire.

The upshot being not too different from what to do with his purple-cheeked cousin.

As he finally gets to listen to the interior workings of my chest through his stethoscope, I mention that to describe someone as a turnip in England is not polite.

Oui, it has other less-than-complimentary meanings in French too,” he says.

Then he chuckles as he indicates the weighing machine.

“Natalie [his wife] will be amused when she hears about our meeting–be sure to tell Meredith, too!”

We resume our seats at his desk and he writes out my quarterly prescription; leafing through my results, he gives me the thumbs up.

Just before I leave he says:

“You bought a cabbage last Friday. I love cabbage. What did you do with it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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