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Years ago we had lunch at a traditional brasserie in Toulouse and I chose as a starter a salad that sounded a little different.

It was an assembly of baby gem lettuce (called sucrine here– and they have a sweetness to them) small dollops of tapinade, parmesan shavings and quail eggs.

It looked beautiful: green and black with the yellow of the egg yolks and parmesan lifting it into the sublime.

It tasted good too–and joined my repertoire of Starters.

This version takes that recipe further, adding the smoky edge that a little light grilling gives the lettuce halves.

Grilling lettuce? Sounds odd but these tightly formed little gems keep their shape and and are transformed into the main players on the plate.

It helps to have some tapinade* already made, although a scattering of juicy black olives-chopped would do too.

I use the anchovy vinaigrette–also from my cook book–which goes well with these punchy little lettuces–but you could keep it simple and stick with the vinaigrette of your choice.

For 2

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  • 3 baby lettuce hearts–halved lengthwise
  • anchovy dressing* or vinaigrette of choice
  • some tapinade dip (or chopped black oils)
  • parmesan shavings
  • 4 poached eggs
  • a couple of anchovies–halved lengthwise and across (optional!)

Heat a grill pad (the kind that sits on the stove) to hot.

Brush the cut side of the lettuce halves with the dressing and a little more olive oil

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Grill for two or three minutes while lightly brushing the other sides of the lettuces with the dressing.

The grilling should take long enough to soften and color the lettuce without burning.

Turn them over and grill for a further two minutes or so….

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Plate them up and pour over a little more dressing.

Top with dollops of tapinade and some parmesan shavings.

Finish with thinly slice anchovy fillets (if you’re using them).

Add the eggs to the assembly.

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We ate these under the parasol in the courtyard.

Sublime…

 

* recipe in my new book, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics and on this blog; it is a handy dip in summer!

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The lovely green spears were in Realmont market today at reasonable prices.

I bought a kilo of straight ones for Friday dinner with our guests, arriving from the USA.

A second of less than perfect (less expensive too) specimens–asperges tordues (twisted)–to make this very simple frittata for lunch.

I have five eggs left in the pantry and a red onion. Add some cheese and seasoning–and there you have the ingredients!

Something different to do with this vegetable with a relatively short-lived season and a use for the cheaper spears with the less than perfect appearance.

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  • 450gms/80z asparagus spears–prepared weight–ie tough ends removed and sliced on the diagonal into smallish pieces
  • 1 red onion–peeled and halved and sliced
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 5 eggs–beaten

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  • 2oz grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper

Serves 2 to 4 people 

Soften the onion in the olive oil until it begins to caramelize a little–10 to 15 minutes

Add the asparagus pieces and mix in adding some salt and a twist or two of pepper.

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Cook the mix over a gentle heat until the asparagus begins to soften. I like them to retain a little bite–about 10 minutes.

Let this cool.

Then ease into the beaten egg mix.

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Fold in the cheese and check the seasoning.

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Heat a tablespoon of oil in a 10 inch pan to hot–and fold in the egg mix and spread it evenly.

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Immediately turn the heat down to the lowest and cook for 30 minutes.

There should be just a small pool of liquid left on top.

Finish it under a grill for 30 seconds.

 

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Be careful taking the pan out of the oven–it is very hot, as I was reminded when the pan touched the side of my hand by accident–ouch!

Loosen the frittata round the edges of the pan with a fish slice or spatula and ease it out onto a favorite platter.

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“High on the DING scale!” said Meredith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We returned last night from London.

Out of the car and into the kitchen to turn on the oven–180 C.

Lightly wash and brush the dust off a sweet potato.

Prick with a fork to avoid it bursting.

Then pop the potato into the pre-heated oven. It’ll take about an hour, depending on its size.

Sit down and have a cup of tea!

When revived a little make the simple Red bean chili, below from my new book Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

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Adapted from Rose Elliott’s The Bean Book this is a simple solution for people who don’t eat meat but like the look of chili–leave out the carne!

(Not just for vegetarians either–just as my cook book is not just for diabetics!) 

This recipe is my kind of fast food. Quickly done– tastes even better the next day (except we had no leftovers!).

Don’t forget the lemon!

For two weary home comers:

About 8 oz (a jar or tin [can]) of red beans–rinsed and drained

onion–chopped

1 clove of garlic–chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

8oz of tinned [canned] tomatoes–chopped, with the juice

1/2 tsp chili/cayenne powder (more if you like it really spicy)

juice of half a lemon–or more to taste

salt and pepper

  • Soften the onions and garlic gently in the oil–stirring often for about five minutes.
  • Add the chilli powder and the chopped tomatoes with their juice.
  • Mix together, blending in the tomatoes.
  • Add the beans.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bring gently to the simmer and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes.
  • Pour over the lemon juice and mix thoroughly.

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Halve the sweet potato (orange!)on the plate.

Spoon over the beans (red!).

It needed some greenbut couldn’t be bothered to make the Interesting Cabbage from Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics

Found three crisp little gem lettuces in the fridge–halved and quartered just one and shared it between the two plates.

Drizzled olive oil and balsamic on each quarter with a pinch of salt.

Orange, red and green–on the plate.

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Different colors, but back in the land of the Tricolour!

 

 

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Described as a Catalan omelette by Patience Gray in her beautiful cookbook Honey from a Weed, I am making this for lunch:

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It’s the morning after we return from the launch fortnight in the UK for my new cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics.

A predictably slow morning–I’m heavy-lidded and creaky.

It will thus be the lazy version–made with artichoke hearts from an Italian jar (bounty from a trip to Tuscany)–surprisingly good!

Patience Gray’s version uses fresh artichokes (a lot more work!).

It reminds me of lunches eaten over 40 years at la Sostanza in Florence–discovered by chance on a trip in 1978.

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I always order artichoke omelette–served flat–and a plate of white beans with olive oil.

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In a beauty contest, Sostanza’s omelette (tortino) wins…

Patience says the Catalan version is served folded.

Chose where you are having lunch–in Florence at Sostanza or a little restaurant on the Spanish Costa Brava (Wild Coast)–folded or flat–it is delicious.

I’m choosing Sostanza and making it as a single omelette to be divided in two.

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For the Look, I might try Patience’s version next time–i.e. folded!

Tasted good like this, though.

 

Serves 2

1 tin/jar cooked artichokes–drained and sliced on the vertical

2 tbs olive oil

2 tbs parmesan cheese–grated

4 eggs

salt and pepper

Gently fry the artichoke slices in the oil.

Season the egg mixture.

When the artichokes are nicely browned, turn up the heat and add the egg mixture.

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Push back the liquid from the rim of the pan, letting the liquid mixture run into the spaces.

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Sprinkle over the parmesan and slip the omelette out of the pan and onto a plate.

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MEDITERRANEAN COOKING for DIABETICS–Delicious dishes to control or avoid diabetes.

Published today in the UK–available from bookstores and on-line and as an ebook.

Here’s a visual tour of some of the recipes you’ll find to cook in the book.

All photos by Meredith Wheeler–(bar one, which she’s in—only fair!)

To know how to eat is to know enough….

~ Old Basque saying

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Robin Ellis Med Cooking 01

 

StuffedRedPeppers

 

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VeganPlate

 

SeafoodStew

SpinachTort

Spinach&RiceTorte

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Chicken

 

Gazpacho

 

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Bon appétit!

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“Big Ears” with Molly and Trike on the Heath Extension

It’s the summer of 1946, approaching 4pm one afternoon, in the kitchen of a house in Hampstead Garden Suburb, north London.

Molly Ellis (age 31) is coming to terms with life as a full-time housewife in post-war Britain, looking after her young son in a bigger house than she’s ever known.

She’s coping– but this afternoon her friend Rita, “Auntie Rita,” is coming to tea–and Molly is not happy about it.

“Just one more thing–the day isn’t long enough; wish Rita wasn’t coming today!”

The front door bell rang and four-year-old Big Ears, goes to open it while Molly takes the scones from the oven.

“Mummy doesn’t want YOU to come to tea today….”

We never saw Auntie Rita again!

*                     *                     *                     *                    *

It’s stressful cooking for a family–however much you enjoy it–and my mother enjoyed it.

She did this for a lifetime–for a family that grew to five.

With younger brother Peter and Jack (a babe in arms).

With younger brother Peter and Jack (a babe in arms).

No sign of pressure, no complaining–regular as clockwork.

(The Auntie Rita episode is the only time I can remember the pressure getting to her.  Maybe she really didn’t like Rita!)

Ma had staying power–the stamina of a professional.

Her duty is how she might have characterized it. Christmas cakes started in September, a little brandy added every month. Home-made marmalade with the bitter oranges from Seville bottled every February. The weekly roast on Sunday stretched ’til Wednesday–cold on Monday, minced on Tuesday. Good home husbandry! I was the admiring sous-chef, specializing in licking out the bowl.

I’m not cooking for a family–but I do cook twice a day.

Of course, I have the time–well usually–and the inclination (usually).

Many people have neither–or maybe one, but not the other.

Shame–they are missing out!

(Not how they might see it, perhaps–“better things to do….”)

As a Type 2 diabetic (my mother was Type 1 and had to inject insulin), cooking puts me in control of what I eat which is a huge advantage.

I like the “day-to-dayness” of it–the regularity.

Perhaps I thrive under the pressure.

Early days as an actor, usually on my way to the unemployment office known as the Labour Exchange, I often thought how much happier I’d be sitting behind a desk, answering the odd phone call–a rosy view of a 9-to-5 job! Or maybe gardening in the fresh air–honest toil.

Then the phone would ring–a job!

Now, I cook twice a day–lunch and dinner.

There’s my pressure.

Enough of this idle musing…

From my about-to-be-published third cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for DiabeticsDelicious dishes to control or avoid diabetes. (Launching TOMORROW, March 3rd)

Smoky cauliflower soup

Cauliflower is not everyone’s first choice as a vegetable–let alone as a soup.

But this soup usual wins over even the most doubtful….

We love it– and marvel that something SO delicious comes from such simple ingredients:

The key ingredient is smoky bacon.

1 large cauliflower--broken into florets

2 cloves of garlic–chopped

1 medium onion–chopped

2 oz smoked bacon–chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

bay leaves

1 litre/2 pints stock

salt and pepper

  • Gently heat the oil in a pan and sauté the bacon bits until they colour a bit.
  • Add the garlic and onion.
  • Cook the mix on for five minutes until the onion has softened.
  • While this happens break up the cauliflower into florets and add to a large saucepan.
  • When ready add the onion and bacon mix to the cauliflower pan with the bay leaves and the stock.
  • Cover and bring this mix up to the simmer and cook until the cauliflower is tender.
  • Lift a couple of tablespoons of the mix out of the pan and into a bowl with a slotted spoon letting the liquid fall back in the pan
  • Liquidise the contents of the pan and test the seasoning.
  • Use the set-aside florets to garnish the soup and serve hot.

 

Meredith asked, What is this? It’s so creamy? Does it have potatoes in it?”

Cauliflower soup,  I replied, somewhat sheepishly.

(Somehow cauliflower is not a vegetable that’s easy to own….)

It’s delicious!

 

 

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The winter version of the Courgette eggs recipe in my new cook book Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics (out March 3  in the UK).

And something NEW to do with the not-always-popular Brussels Sprout–poor little mites.

There are usually a few left in a brown paper bag in the fridge and just half a pound of them works well for two people.

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Forgot the parsley for the photo!

  • 250gm/8oz Brussels Sprouts–outer layers removed and sliced on the horizontal into thinnish slices
  • 1 medium onion–peeled and chopped
  • 1 oz smoky bacon–diced
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2oz parmesan–grated
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbs parsley–chopped (if you have some)
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a medium pan and fry the onion and the bacon until the onion softens.

Add the small discs of sprouts and mix the well in.

Cover the pan to allow the sprouts to soften up. Test them after 5 minutes. They need to be tender to match the scrambledness of the eggs.

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Whisk the eggs together and mix in the cheese.

Pour this into the sprout combo and stir constantly as the eggs begin to set over a lowish heat.

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Take care to keep scraping–as the eggs can quickly burn in the pan.

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Test for seasoning–(and fight the temptation to scoff the lot!)

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We had this for lunch today (sitting outside in the “spring” sunshine) with a simple salad.

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