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cured lemons

My pickling and preserving ambitions have now exceeded the limitations of my fridge.

There are jars of dilly pickled carrots. Homemade limoncello. Seville marmalade, of various sorts and peel stripes (grapefruit, lime, blood orange – oh my!). The old bars of my fridge shelves are sagging under the weight. And I can’t stop. There are too many things to make.

One of my favourites, which has been out of commission for a while, are the cured lemons from The Palomar Cookbook, gifted to me a few Christmases ago by my brother and his girlfriend.

The Palomar itself is a restaurant in London serving the food of modern Jerusalem, by way of North Africa, Spain and the Levant. And the book – a labour of love, with input, recipes, and techniques from different members of the team – is a collection of some of the restaurant’s great dishes. Some you might recognise, like labneh and fattoush, others you might not, but you’ll soon clamour to make, like the scallop carpaccio with “Thai-bouleh” (which swaps out lemon for lime and bulgur for cashews in the traditional tabbouleh salad).

The cured lemons, meanwhile, are the first recipe in the book – it’s a bold opening. And it’s quickly followed by a recipe for a spicy paste made with them, packed with chilli, paprika and cumin, which makes an argument for whipping up a batch of cured lemons using the original proportions (it calls for 10 lemons).

But for my purposes (not being a commercial kitchen, and having the aforementioned lack of space), I’ve adjusted the recipe to make a smaller amount, but it still makes one generous jarful – and a delicious one, to boot. I’ll include the original proportions at the end, if you want to make a bumper batch.

While the slices are wonderful in place of any preserved lemon requested by a recipe, I’m particularly partial to a few slices simply chopped up and eaten on their own. Tart and salty, they make a wonderful apéro snack, especially when accompanied by some earthy nuts and a few slices of salami. They cut through the wide taste of the fat, waking up your taste buds and giving you that toe-tapping taste sensation.

Of course, not everyone has my love of sharp, zingy things, but they’re still an invaluable addition to the fridge larder. The lemons themselves have the obvious uses, from pilafs to tagines, but the salty, lemony oil that the slices are preserved in make delicious salad dressings. It’s a particularly great addition to tzatziki, adding an extra dimension to the creamy, fresh, herb-packed dip.

You need unwaxed lemons for this as you’ll be eating the rind. But in a pinch, you can buy waxed ones and give them a good scrub under warm running water to get rid of the coating. But my advice would just be to wait until you can buy some lovely-looking unwaxed ones, if you can, and save yourself the extra work.

cured lemons
adapted from “The Palomar Cookbook”

4 unwaxed lemons
24g Maldon salt
80ml light olive oil
70ml extra-virgin olive oil

Sterilise a large glass jar. For tips on how to do this, read this article.

Cut the lemons into slices of about 5mm (or about the thickness of a pound coin).

Place a layer of lemon slices (or as best you can, depending on the width of the jar) in the jar, then sprinkle on some of the salt. Repeat until all the slices and all the salt is in the jar.

Using one measuring jug, measure both kinds of oil and pour them over.

Seal the jar, and put in the fridge. The slices will be ready to eat in three days, and will keep for up to a month in the fridge.

Notes:

  • The original calls for 10 unwaxed lemons, 60g salt, 200ml rapeseed oil and 175ml olive oil.
  • Keep these in the fridge to get the most bang for your buck, but if you can find a cool, dry spot (out of sunlight!), then they’ll last around a week.
  • The oil measurement is a guideline – in fact, so are the lemons. Much will depend on the size of jar you choose. So, slice up the lemons, layer them in, sprinkle the salt, pour over the oil, and you’ll probably be alright. But just make sure, whatever proportions you use, that the lemon slices stay covered in oil. Add a bit more if necessary.
  • To keep these delicious for as long as possible, remember to fish them out of the jar with a clean utensil (or a pickle fork – incidentally, mine’s an ornate silver one, a gift from my parents, which looks, fabulously and, I believe unintentionally, like someone giving the finger) so as not to contaminate the lemons and their oil.

creamy pumpkin rigatoni

At this time of year, I invariably have odd half cups of pumpkin puree leftover from making pancakes, waffles, and the like. This year I even played around with a pumpkin pie ice cream, which was, in the end, really rather tasty. So a pumpkin overflow isn’t exactly the worst problem to have. In fact, come lunchtime, it’s often the best ingredient for a fast, seasonal and, most importantly (at least on cold, dreary days), warming meal.

This takes about as long as your pasta takes to cook. While it bubbles away, you can hover near the stove assembling and stirring the sauce, and enjoying the balmy heat of the kitchen (a boon when your flat refuses to acknowledge that the heat is on full whack).

You’ll notice that much of this is “to taste” – from the amount of nutmeg to the parmesan. Embrace that. Grab a spoon and taste as you go. After all, the oven’s on and it’s a nice warm place to be. Maybe you want your pasta extra cheesy today? Or maybe you’d like a bigger hit of nutmeg because you’re feeling the seasonal spirit. Go with what tastes right to you. That’s part of the fun.

By the way, while this does have bacon in it (as many of the best things do), it’s easy enough to remove and make this dish vegetarian.

Right now, the sky is dark, the grass is damp, and there’s a wonderful whip to the wind as it whistles round my flat, tucked within a lovely rusty-red brick building. It’s mid-morning, and the world is telling me to stay in, keep warm, and make a big bowl of creamy, spicy, rich pasta. And you know what? I’m good with that.

creamy pumpkin rigatoni
serves two

250g rigatoni (or any other pasta of your choice)
1 tbsp butter/1 tsp mild olive oil (or any other neutral oil)
3 rashers of smokey, streaky bacon (or a small pack of lardons/pancetta)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup of pumpkin puree
1/4 cup double cream
Nutmeg, cayenne, parmesan, and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. You want to do this first because the starchy cooking water is an ingredient in an early stage of the sauce.

Warm the butter and oil (the oil will stop the butter burning) in a decent sized frying pan over a medium heat and add the bacon, if using. When golden, but not crisp, add the crushed garlic and quickly stir through before adding the pumpkin puree. You don’t want the garlic to brown or burn here, otherwise it will taint the otherwise smooth, rich taste of the sauce.

Turn the heat down low under the sauce and stir. Add a 1/3 cup (about 80ml) of the starchy pasta cooking water and leave it alone for a bit. The final stages (seasoning and cream) will happen when the pasta is basically cooked, so just keep an eye on the sauce, and if it looks like it’s getting dry, add a bit more cooking water.

When your pasta’s al dente, remove at least half a cup of cooking water. This is your pasta safety net, you might not actually use it, but there is nothing worse than dry pasta, especially when it can be so easily rescued with just a splash of this magical liquid, which can turn even the most reluctant sauce into something smooth and luscious.

Taste the sauce, then grate in a small amount of fresh nutmeg and add a pinch of cayenne, to give it a little heat. If you like things spicy, by all means, up the cayenne quotient. Then grate in a generous shower of fresh parmesan. Stir together and pour in the double cream.

Taste the sauce again and grind in some fresh pepper. Unless you’re a serious salt fiend, I doubt you’ll need to add any as both the bacon and the parmesan offer salinity. But if you’ve removed the bacon, you might want to add a pinch here.

Drain the pasta and either add it to the sauce, if you’ve got room in the pan, or return it to the pasta-cooking pan and pour over the sauce. Basically, you’ll need a good amount of space to properly stir the sauce and pasta together (otherwise it’ll end up all over your hob) to distribute all the bright orange, pumpkin-y goodness. That’s why rigatoni’s so good here – there are so many places for the sauce to wind and wrap itself around.

For the next bit, go by eye – the sauce is creamy but thick, so if you think it could use it, add a little of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen and make it a little more silky. I almost always add about a tablespoon of liquid at this stage.

Then dish the pasta up and serve it with an extra grating of fresh parmesan and a little more freshly-ground pepper. For the full cosy effect, grab a blanket, and head over to the couch with your seasonal spoils, and watch some TV as you munch.

duck and bulgur salad with feta

Packed full of herbs, earthy from the bulgur, with a slow sharp slap of creamy zing from the feta, this is a memorable salad that’s just right for this time of year. It’s been, as the Scots say, dreich for days now. Low grey skies and clumps of wet leaves as far as the eye can see. But I love this kind of weather. It smells good outside, fresh, like everything’s getting a good scrub. Getting right to the quick.

Finding myself in need of a lunch for one, and a break from work, which was causing me not a little amount of stress, I decided to bring together a few ingredients for a nourishing meal. To take a proper break to make something that would taste good and make me feel great. The result is an autumnal meal, slightly nutty from the fine brown bulgur, and rich from the duck, but one that’s light and fresh nonetheless. A meal that makes the rest of your day feel full of promise.

I don’t recommend cooking the duck from scratch for this – instead, it’s the perfect way to use up leftovers. After all, part of the delight of duck is the crispy skin and that would be wasted here (it’s better sneaked off in fatty shards while no one’s looking). So, cook yourself some duck – a roast, a Peking duck to have with pancakes – and enjoy it in its hot meaty splendour one night (or buy it ready-cooked), and rest assured that your leftovers tomorrow will be likewise as tasty. Or substitute lamb, if that’s what you’ve got; it would also be beautiful here. For a veggie version, some roasted and cooled aubergine would be great.

This makes a generous bowlful for one (eke it out for two as a side, just omitting the duck, or double the quantities to spread the love). It doesn’t feel heavy, hefty, or ‘too much’ – no, it’s a Goldilocks bowl of goodness to sate and satisfy the soul on a grey day. Enjoy.

duck and bulgur salad with feta
for the salad

1/4 cup of fine brown bulgur wheat
1/2 cup of boiling water (plus 1/4 tsp fine salt)
2 slim spring onions
small chunk of cucumber (8 cms or so if you want to be precise), finely diced
1 tbsp dried barberries (soaked for a few minutes in 2 tbsp boiling water, then drained)
leaves from 4-5 sprigs of mints, sliced or chopped
leaves from 4-5 spring of flat leaf parsley, sliced or chopped
30-40g of duck meat (e.g. roughly the amount from a well-looked-after duck leg)
50g feta
salt and pepper, to taste

for the dressing

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1/8 tsp each of ground cumin, coriander, and ginger*
small pinch of cinnamon, small pinch of salt

*basically, a generous pinch of each

Pour the salted boiling water over the bulgur in a heatproof bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest and absorb while you assemble the rest of the salad (10-15 minutes, roughly).

Make the dressing in a generous mixing bowl (one that you’d feel comfortable tossing all the ingredients in) – adding all the dressing ingredients and giving it a brisk whisk. Then pour the boiling water over the barberries in a small separate bowl so they get a little more hydrated. This doesn’t need to be for long (a few minutes), just so they’re plumper, and not tight little nubbins.

Finely slice the white (and a little of the light green) parts of the spring onions, pull the meat off the duck bones, dice the cucumber, and gently slice the herbs. To do the later, I tend to lightly bundle them together (like a cigar) and slice in a very rough approximation of a chiffonade. Leave these on your chopping board for now.

After 10-15 minutes, check that your bulgur wheat has absorbed all the water. Give it a fluff through with a fork to separate the grains. Add the ingredients on your chopping board (springs onions, duck, cucumber, herbs) and toss through with your fork.

Tumble the contents of the bulgur bowl into the larger bowl with the dressing. Gently toss everything together (the dressing is not excessive – each morsel is lightly dressed, not drenched so don’t rush this). Top with crumbled feta, devour.

tahini toast with apple and cinnamon

This is one of my perfect autumn breakfasts. And although I’m writing about it here, it’s hardly a recipe. More of a suggestion of how to assemble a pretty cracking piece of toast.

Basically, spread some good sourdough toast thickly with tahini, layer on some thin (thin) slices of fresh apple, and then sprinkle it all with ground cinnamon and crunchy Maldon salt.

Eat with a hot cup of coffee alongside and just wait – everything in the universe will align in that bite, and everything will feel good, and warm, and autumnally-suffused with spice.

This is a simple dish, and as such, you will taste all the elements involved. That’s kind of the magic. You get the crunch from the bread, and the savoury pop from the snowy flakes of good salt (hello, Maldon, you delicious beast). The warm freshness of the apple balanced by the smooth nuttiness of the tahini. And then cinnamon wrapping it all in scent and spice.

So, pay attention to what you use. Starting with the bread: I would recommend sourdough, and homemade if you can stretch to it (I’m a convert); it makes fantastic toast. But really, any kind of toast will do – as long as it stays crunchy. Basically, you don’t want anything that might go soggy under the tahini, and your average supermarket loaf will do that. If you don’t have ready access to sourdough, try a cob or country loaf.

And the other thing is to use the best quality tahini you can find. Now, this does not mean expensive. Actually, I’ve found that the average stuff found in supermarkets in small glass jars is more pricey. And worse yet, it’s claggy and, more often than not, bitter. No, just find yourself a good international supermarket/grocery shop and get yourself a tub of the good stuff. I particularly like the Lebanese brand, Cortas, which is silky smooth and fabulously nutty. It’s so good that part of the fun of making this breakfast (aside from actually eating it) is licking the tahini spoon mid-assembly… But if you can’t find it near you, they stock it on Sous Chef, along with Al Taj, which is another good brand.

So, there you have it, kind of. This is an autumnal breakfast that requires very little effort, but packs a wonderful flavour punch.

A few final things:

  • If you were wondering how much of the cinnamon and salt, I’d say a decent pinch of each, but it does come down to personal taste. Just don’t go crazy on the cinnamon – a gentle sprinkle will give you all the flavour you want, without the oddly floury effect that an excess of ground powder has.
  • A mandoline is great for getting thin slices of apple, but a sharp knife will do just fine. Leave the apple whole and slice on one side until you can near the core, then start on the opposite side of the apple and repeat. That way you get lovely round slices of apple. That’s what I like to do anyway!
  • If you’re not a fan of fresh apple, try it with a crisp pear instead. Also delicious.

chapter 5: a seasonal shift

Hello, autumn, and hello to –

sharing a plate of pumpkin cinnamon rolls with family, hot from the oven and drizzled with cream cheese icing – sticky, sugary, good

soup, made with hearty grains and meats, more brothy, light – it’s not winter yet

the heady scent of cinnamon – a pinch in a pot of coffee before it’s brewed, imparting mellow, memory-rich spice

lighting candles for a breakfast of yeasted waffles with cinnamon-sugar-roasted figs and vanilla-olive-oil yoghurt – stolen moments before the day really starts

conker spotting – kicking leaves – digging out woolens – buying soft socks

being wrapped in a heavy dressing gown on chilly mornings, padding over to the boiler in soft socked feet to flick the heat on – not yet necessary, but nice

new stoneware mugs, perfect for petite cups of steaming hot coffee – held lovingly by hands wrapped in warm Dijon-coloured fingerless gloves

the crisp bluster of Glasgow air and soft pink-blue sunsets, best seen from the top of the Lighthouse or the viewpoint at Queen’s Park – colourful and clear

baking bread to warm the kitchen, sending a soft yeasty smell through the flat, lending warmth to drafty corners – and the knowledge of a treat to come, crackling and soft, thickly spread with butter and a sprinkle of Maldon salt

filling shopping baskets with squashes of all shapes, sizes, and colours and lugging them home – dotting some around the kitchen, stuffing and roasting others

reaching for thyme, rosemary, and sage – a darker resin-richness for cooler nights

the perfect golden autumn light on walks through the park – wrapped in a hat, scarf, gloves to keep off the bracing whirl of wind

a season of mulberry – gold – brown – russet

and, here’s hoping, a season of good things.

– Giv

 

 

 

summer pea, pancetta, and parsley soup

This dish will henceforth be known as the “three ps soup” in my house, both because it seems fitting, and because it’s a sister dish to my “four ps pasta”. But the latter does require a little explanation, if you’ll allow for a small detour from soup to pasta.

The four ps pasta is one of the most memorable foods from my childhood. My mum would make it, without a recipe (although I do believe it originally started with Claudia Roden), seeming to conjure happiness out of a few fridge and storecupboard ingredients. To my hungry eyes, it seemed like my mum was in possession of the most entrancing kitchen magic as the house would fill with savoury-scented clouds of sizzling bacon, the hug-like fug of simmering chicken broth.

Served in big bowls, with a little bit of brothy sauce, it has all the charm and healing powers of chicken soup, but with pancetta. Yum. Peas give it sweetness. Parsley a little earthy grassiness. And the fourth p? Well, that’s parmesan – unleash a few soft curls on top and it wraps the whole bowl in salty, umami-rich goodness. Yes, there’s a historic leaning to my adoration, I’ve been a fan for what is now almost three decades, but I can tell you, it’s one of the best things to eat.

Pasta is all-year-round, any-day-of-the-week goodness so you might wonder why I decided to transmogrify what’s already pretty perfect. But sometimes you just want soup. And, in the spirit of honesty, it was an accident. I didn’t really realise what I was on my way to making, until I leaned over the pot and breathed it in. There it was, the scent of home. All it needed was a verdant drenching in parsley and we’d have culinary lift off. I was a very happy Giv that night.

Soup’s fantastic, even in the summer. If the weather’s hot, there’s gazpacho to cool your down. But if it’s dreich (which it is), you want something warming, comforting and packed with the vibrancy of summer to counteract the drizzly day. Incidentally, dreich is one of the best words I’ve learned since moving to Scotland. It perfectly captures a day that’s slightly gloomy, maybe a bit wet, meaning “dreary” or “bleak”. So, yeah, today. And yesterday.

At its most basic, you could call this ham and pea soup. But where many recipes would have you add cream, this just uses the blended peas to add thickness. And the richness comes from the rendered pancetta nubbins that are cooked in a little bit of butter. So it’s deeply satisfying, but light and vibrant. And deliciously quick to cook, probably 10 minutes all told, making this a serious contender for work-night supper. Or when you just need a taste of home.

summer pea, pancetta, and parsley soup
serves two as a main, four as a starter

100g pancetta
200g frozen peas
small handful of parsley (5-7g)
1 leek (white parts sliced)
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp unsalted butter and 1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Slice the white part of the leek into thin rounds while you heat oil and butter together in a small soup pot (the light olive oil, or other neutral oil, will keep the butter from burning).

Lightly saute the pancetta and leek in the pot with a small pinch of salt. Be conservative with the salt at this stage as the pancetta itself is salty – you just want a bit to encourage the leek to start to soften, rather than brown.

Fry the mixture until the pancetta’s cooked, but not crispy, and the leek’s are softened – about 3-5 minutes. Stir frequently so the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Pour over the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Once it’s bubbling, add the peas, chopped parsley (a few stalks are fine with the leaves here because it’ll all get blitzed), and a healthy grinding of fresh pepper.

Once the peas are cooked through and tender, switch off the heat and blitz the entire mixture. An immersion blender works well, as would a blender. But if you’re using the latter, let the soup cool down a bit before you whizz.

Once the soup’s blended, bring back up to the boil, taste for seasoning and serve.

Note: A swirl of grassy green extra virgin olive oil would be lovely here, as would some crusty white bread and perhaps some snowy white goat’s cheese. And if you want to make it a bit more substantial, you can always slip in some cooked small pasta shapes – like ditalini – at the end, perhaps with a small splash of the pasta cooking liquid. But whatever your additional food stuffs, I can vouch for enjoying it all with a glass of chilled pale pink rosé.

buttermilk beignets

It’s my birthday this week, and it falls on a Sunday. First, this is incredibly exciting – I love my birthday. I love other people’s birthdays. I love them all. A day to celebrate the people you love with food and presents? And then a day to get food, presents, and love? What’s not to excitedly bounce up and down in anticipation of about that? But argument could be made that Sundays are also my favourite days. So it’s a double whammy. They speak of pjs and papers. Hot coffee and pottering about the house in socked feet. Brunch and, more specifically, beignets.

Making beignets has been a revelation, born out of my recent obsession with the food of the American South. You make a dough the night before and the next morning, after a little oil heating and dough rolling, you’re in for crispy, fluffy, sugary perfection with your Sunday morning.

 

J and I have been known to make a platter of these, liberally snowed with icing sugar and plonked down on the coffee table. Maybe next to some fruit, for respectability’s sake. What happens next is anyone’s guess. That’s the riot part. It’s not like you can see how many the other person eats behind those broadsheets, after all. Or how far the sugary snow travels on your person. (These are literally finger-licking, sugary-face-smudging good). The resulting sugar and coffee high? Well, that’s another story.

You’ll want a thermometer for this; if the oil temperature’s too high, the beignets will stay raw in the middle while they get golden on the outside; too low, and they’ll absorb more of the oil than you’d like, rendering them claggy, rather than crisp. And if you’ve got a cast iron pot, use it. It might not be the first pot you’d reach for, but trust me, it’s great for deep frying – it keeps the temp up.

 

Beignets are the perfect weekend food, too. Exert a little diligence the night before, while you’ve still got energy and you’re making over-ambitious plans for your weekend, everything from tackling the ironing pile to cleaning the oven. You know, the things that pile up in the corners of your mind during the week. And then ignore them all. Because you work hard – you deserve a Sunday off. Because these are really that good. Because… well, do you really need a reason to make yourself hot, sugary, delightful doughnuts? If you do, you can think of it as your birthday present to me. Treat yourself. When you wake up on Sunday morning, your beignets will ready and raring to go. Just put on a pot of coffee, fling open the curtains to let the light in, blast some of your favourite tunes and get rolling – beignets await.

buttermilk beignets
From Southern Living’s Around the Southern Table

1/2 pack active dry yeast (3.5g/1.25 tsp approx.)
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar (divided)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp salt*
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp butter*
3 1/4 cup bread flour
vegetable oil (for deep frying, and a little bit to grease the proving bowl)
icing sugar (for dusting)

*Note on the butter and salt. Preferably, use unsalted butter, in which case add the 1/2 tsp salt. However, if you’re using salted butter, omit the additional salt.

** This will feed four hungry people, with leftovers, depending on size. Or two greedy people over two generous mornings of hot, sugary beignets. Make the dough on a Friday night, and you’re basically set for the best weekend ever.

Measure out the sugar and place in a small bowl. Take 1 tsp of it and put it in a large bowl (big enough to mix the dough together in) with the yeast and warm water. Mix and leave it alone for 5-10 minutes.

While the yeast mixture is resting, melt the butter, letting it cool slightly.

Add the milk, buttermilk, remaining sugar, salt (if you’re using – see the above note) and egg to the yeast mixture. Pour in the melted, slightly-cooled butter and stir to combine; a little whisk wouldn’t go amiss here to bring it all together.

Gradually add the flour, stirring briskly as you go. Add flour, stir. Add more, stir. If you have a machine, you’re set – add the flour all at once and let the machine bring the mixture together into a smooth ball of dough. If not and you’re doing this by hand (like me), once all the flour has been added and the mixture is starting to come together as a dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for 3-5 minutes. You’re looking for a smooth, slightly sticky dough.

Put the ball of dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl (that’s bigger than the dough ball is now because it doubles in size), cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight (minimum of six hours).

The next morning (or whenever your dough is ready), lightly flour your work surface and turn out the dough.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thickness of a 1/4 inch. Then cut into squares (a sharp knife or a pizza cutter are the best tools for this) that are roughly 2.5 inches, or thereabouts, the measurements aren’t set in stone. FYI: I found it’s easier to lightly score the dough first (keeps the dough from hitching too much on my knife when I make the proper cuts). And having little oddly-shaped ones, cut from the corners, are also absolutely fine too! They’ll taste great whatever the shape.

Pour vegetable oil into a small cast iron pan (cast iron is great for deep frying as it helps keep the temperature consistent). You need at least 2 inches to fry the beignets. Heat to 190C.

Slide the squares of dough into the pre-heated oil and fry for 2-3 minutes, turning them over from time to time. Fry them in batches of two or three so you don’t crowd the pan. They’ll puff up like magic – you can tell when they’re done because they’ll be golden brown.

A word on temperature: a few degrees fluctuation in temperature is okay, but keep an eye on it – too high and the outside will cook before the middles, leaving the inside raw.

Scoop out of the hot oil and drain on a wire rack. Then dust generously with icing sugar et voila! Brunch is served…

Eat with hot coffee, good friends, and the Sunday papers.

almond, manchego, and green olive bites

There are few food rituals I love more than aperitivo. Cocktail hour. It’s the in-between time. The day is ending, the night is beginning. It’s a time for talk. For laughter. For food. Whether it’s a stiff G&T and peanuts in an English garden on a sunny evening, or a vibrantly-coloured Aperol Spritz and a few olives on a cobbled street in Bologna as the lights twinkle on, you can’t really go wrong.

J and I have reproduced this ritual many a time. It’s a treasured holiday tradition, and an elegant everyday treat. We’ve enjoyed it with our families. In far-flung places. Sitting in a sunny patch on our living room floor, like cats stretching out in a puddle of sunshine. It’s not fancy – that’s kind of the point. You don’t need much to throw together a pleasing nibble feast. You need a good drink, something you love. Some radishes. A small bowl of nuts. Some rosy, languorous lengths of proscuitto. A few olives. And, in my opinion, these compelling little bites.

bite 2

They’re ridiculously easy to throw together – you just blitz all the ingredients in the food processor, chill the resulting dough, and then shape and bake the bites for 8-12 minutes. I like to make a batch this size, baking some the first night, and mini batches over the next few. They keep fine in an air-tight jar, but you can’t beat the combination of a ice-cold glass of something and a few freshly-baked bites, warm from the oven. Kept chilled in the fridge the dough will be fine for a few days, so your aperitivo snack is ready to go. It couldn’t be easier.

These bites go wonderfully with a glass of rosé. Sherry, too. And they’re great with a Negroni (anchovies and Campari are a match made in heaven). But those are just a few of the drinks we’ve tried them with. I imagine they’d be equally as good with a cold beer. I mean, they’re pretty good on their own, if you just have a hankering.

bite

A word on the dough. You’ll need to rest it at least 30 mins in the fridge when you first make it, but it responds really well to a bit longer than that if you have a patience (an hour or two would be great). While you can roll it out with a rolling pin, the process is sticky and quite frankly more effort than it’s worth. I prefer to just pull off little nubs of dough, roll them like meatballs, and press them down with the pad of my thumb. That way you get little bite-sized morsels. I like them small (they get nice and crispy), but size will come down to personal preference. Just bear in mind that the bigger they are, the longer they’ll need to bake.

The number you’ll get from this batch will depend on the size of the bites. Let me put it this way, if you’re enjoying a few nights of aperitivo with a friend or a loved one (e.g. one other person), this batch will keep you going for at least 3 or 4 nights of fun. You can make different sizes and shapes every night if you so wish, until you find the shape you like best. That’s what aperitivo is all about. Your favourite people. Your favourite drink. And some delicious nibbles – made just the way you like them.

Almond, manchego, and green olive bites

Ingredients

1/2 cup whole almonds (or a mix 75-25 almonds and pecans also works nicely)
1/2 cup green olives
1 cup plain flour
115g unsalted butter
50g tin of anchovy fillets (in oil, drained)
65g manchego (this can be very rough – just a good-sized chunk)
1/2 tsp pepper and a scant pinch of salt
3/4 tsp smoked paprika

Toast the almonds in a dry pan for a few minutes, shaking them so they don’t catch. Set aside to cool slightly (you don’t want to add them to the rest of the ingredients while they’re hot, otherwise they’re likely to melt the butter and mess with the mixture).

Put all the ingredients into a food processor. Blitz until a dough forms.

Remove dough from the food processor, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Pull off little nubs from the big ball of dough. Roll them between your hands to form small balls, then press down with the pad of your thumb to form a bite-sized disc. Almost like an orecchiette (“small ear” shaped pasta).

Lay each bite on the prepared sheet, then bake for 8-12 minutes.

Once slightly cooled, enjoy with your favourite drink.

lime and chicken rainbow salad

I‘d like to say I’m the kind of cook that never feels like ordering a takeaway. That fresh, nourishing (if indulgent) food is the name of the game in my kitchen. But that would be… an untruth.

Having had a surplus of tired evenings when my brain was wrung out and rewards were necessary, the takeaway drivers of South Glasgow were indeed summoned to my door bearing hot, naughty aluminium- and cardboard-encased dishes from far and near. And, let it be said, I have no regrets.

salad in progress.jpeg

I toyed with adding cherry tomatoes to the dressing – a tasty variation, if you fancy

However, in the bright light of day, I’ve been craving something that sets the balance to rights. It’s all very well and good to yield to temptation on occasion (and doesn’t it just feel great?), but the body wants it wants. And mine wanted zing. That mouth-puckering freshness that comes from citrus. The cleansing crunch of fresh veggies. And chicken because, well, who doesn’t love chicken?

Having some leftover Zuni roast chicken and an overflowing citrus bowl that boasted a whole host of gleaming globes – including limes – my mind turned, as it is wont to do, to a past tried-and-true recipe. Originally hailing from Nigella Bites by the estimable Ms Lawson, the Vietnamese chicken salad seemed like just the thing. Especially since I had work to do and a reprieve of 10 minutes was to be mine while I made the dressing. The 30 minutes the dressing needed to let the flavours blend would give me just enough time to wrap up my tasks, at which point I’d return to the kitchen, hungrier, to slice carrots and rip apart the chicken. Hunger, indeed, makes little monsters of us all.

notebook view.jpeg

notebook view – playing around with the dressing, before leaving well enough alone!

Which is to say that, with a little bit of prep, this is a quick recipe to knock together, even if you’re not fueled by mid-morning monster munchies. And you should feel free to play around with whatever raw veggies you have lying around. For example, some mange tout or sugar snaps would be great in this. As would ribbons of courgette. Or some julienned cucumber and chopped cherry tomatoes. I’ve even added some freshly podded peas for an extra burst of colour and crunch. Same goes for the herbs. Parsley and basil would be lovely as a substitute for mint, if that’s what you’ve got in the garden/window sill/fridge. Or coriander; after all, this salad loves its aromatics. Need to make this vegetarian? Try substituting pan-seared tofu for the chicken or adding some noodles to the dish. Want a final bit of crunch? Go nuts and sprinkle over a few crushed peanuts. Go on, make it yours. This recipe will generously serve two, with leftovers.

Lime and chicken rainbow salad
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s “Nigella Bites”

Ingredients

Dressing
1 chilli, sliced/diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice (or to taste – I like it very tangy and add the juice of about one whole lime)
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium white onion (or 1 shallot), sliced into thin half moons

Salad
100g red cabbage
3-4 finely sliced radishes (or a small handful of your choice of crunchy veg)
1 carrot, peeled and julienned or grated (or sliced into ribbons with a veg peeler)
100-200g cooked and shredded chicken (up to you, this is a substantial salad even without the meat)
Small bunch of mint (basil and parsley, or coriander makes a nice variation)
Black pepper

With regards to the cabbage and chicken in this dish, I tend to eyeball it. There’s no need to obsessively measure lumps of cabbage. A 1/4 head of cabbage will be more than enough to serve two, as would the meat from one or two chicken drumsticks, for example.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, along with a hearty grinding of black pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes to let the flavours come together. (It’ll be fine if you leave it a bit longer than this, don’t worry).

Mix together the salad ingredients, pour over the dressing, and toss gently but thoroughly to make sure everything is coated.

Eat. Be happy.

peanut butter crisscrosses

Peanut butter is a fairly new discovery for me. We’d circled each other warily for years. I’d seen jars of the stuff swirled with jelly and wanted to like it. Heard about the PB&J but just couldn’t get on board. But then, seemingly through sheer force of will, I started to like it. Now? Can’t get enough of the stuff. My favourite way to eat it: liberally spread in the crevasse of a celery stick and doused with hot sauce.

I have been informed that this is something of a peculiarity of mine. An aquired taste, if you will.

Happily, these cookies are not. They’re crowdpleasers if ever there were ones. Softly crispy, with a pleasing chew, and a really moreish mix of sweet and salty. While they won’t be as crispy on day 2 (cookies are always going to be best the day you bake them), as long as you keep them in an airtight container, the soft chew remains, and they won’t change much beyond that. Yum.

The recipe is adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. An American recipe book, it delves into the world of cookies, from chocolate chipped beauties to Italian biscotti. To say it’s comprehensive is an understatement. Obviously there will be more cookies from this tome in due course…

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion – makes 24

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (or butter)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar (or dark brown)
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1 1/2 cups plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. I can fit 12 per sheet (just about), which means I do two batches, one after the other. Make sure to leave a little room around each cookie – they will grow slightly as they cook.

Cream together the shortening and the sugars. Add the egg and beat to combine, followed by the vanilla essence, bicarb of soda, salt and peanut butter.

You should now have a creamy mixture. Stir in the flour.

Using a tablespoon measure, take little scoops and drop them on the prepared baking tray.

Make the cookie’s namesake crisscrosses by pressing the tines of a fork into the middle of the ball of dough twice, making a tic-tac-toe pattern. You don’t need to be precise here, I like that the resulting cookie is a bit shaggy. Just don’t press down too hard (e.g. to the bottom of the pan), just enough to make a good pattern.

Bake the cookies for 10 minutes (or until they’re slightly brown). When you take them out of the oven, leave them on the tray for a minute or two before moving them onto the wire rack to cool completely. They’re pretty delicate at this stage so be gentle – they’ll firm up properly as they cool.