Tag Archives: main course

Praise and a Side of Curry

30 Oct

A confession: I spend an embarrassing amount of time every day reading about food, mainly on Twitter and on blogs. I’m not going to give you an exact number, because if I write it down, I will be forced take my laptop and throw it off my fourth-floor balcony onto the footpath below my building. And I don’t want to kill some poor, innocent pedestrian because I can’t cope with my internet habit.

But anyway. With the sheer volume of food-related information being produced on the web these days, sometimes it’s a little hard to get excited about the latest hamburger joint in Soho or the best pizza in Queens. But there are a few blogs where I always perk up when I see a new post. One of them is Eat Like a Girl, written by Niamh Shields.

Eat Like a Girl is largely a recipe blog, with restaurant reviews and travel writing mixed in here and there. The prose is evocative without being florid, and she writes recipes clearly and logically. She also has similar tastes to me – big flavours and influences from around the world. And even though she has an undying love for all things piggy, I can still read those recipes and appreciate her joy in experimenting with new combinations, even if I can’t partake in the results. I’m booked on to a class with her to learn to make different kinds of candy, and I’m sure I will come away with both good understanding and some very tasty treats!

So I was sold on her butternut squash-chickpea-spinach curry before I even made it. Butternut squash is a special favourite of mine at this time of year – it’s just so sweet and tender and ORANGE. It also takes especially well to spicy, bold flavours, which this curry has in spades. The cumin and coriander seeds especially give it serious oomph. The method is straightforward as for all relatives of stew and soup: sauté aromatics, add solids, add liquids, simmer until reduced and/or tender. And as with stew, it’s better after some aging time in the fridge.

The end result! And a bonus hand.

My only change this time around was to use a red chili in place of green, because that’s what my greengrocer had. It’s milder with a red chili, but you lose that herbal, citrusy note that green ones give. Next time I also might tinker with the spices and try it with some fennel or brown mustard seeds.

(You can find the recipe on Eat Like a Girl. Niamh also has a terrific cookbook called Comfort and Spice, which you should also check out!)


28 Oct

One of the few pleasures of unemployment is always having time. Time to read. Time to go for very long walks, dallying in front of shop windows, meandering down untrodden paths. And if you’re me, time to cook a Bolognese sauce that takes over four hours, start to finish.

Now, I can see some of you furrowing your brows, with a fairly distant memory poking up its head. Yes, I’ve already got a recipe for spag bol in this blog. A mighty fine one it is, too. But I was feeling the urge to make something long and labour-intensive, and I had a copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking languishing on my shelf.  And why not try the be-all and end-all recipe for something which is a standard in any cook’s repertoire?

And so I went off on a long walk, down the market, along the canal, through Victoria Park. I dawdled on the park’s paths, inhaling the autumn aromas of earth and smoke, watched the magpies and wood pigeons dig in the ground. When I got to south Hackney, I bought mince from the Ginger Pig, wine from Bottle Apostle, carrots and onion from the greengrocer, proper Italian tinned tomatoes from the posh deli.

When I got home, I put on some opera and set about my vegetables. Twenty minutes later (yes, I’m slow, but how quickly can you chop three sticks of celery and four carrots into small pieces?), they and the mince fried in the pan, then simmered with white wine, milk, and a little nutmeg . The tomatoes joined them shortly afterwards, and they all settled down for their three-hour simmer. I added water every 30 minutes to keep everything buoyant.  

And the result? It was good, and I imagine it’ll be even better after a day or two in the fridge. But was it worth all the effort? I’m not sure. It’s possible I’m so used to lashings of herbs and garlic in my food that I can’t appreciate something more subtle. But I also think that if I ever take three hours over pasta sauce again, I’ll use a cut of beef that benefits more from slower cooking, like shin.  The mince on its own doesn’t give enough depth – there’s a reason I put beef stock into my faster recipe.  I’d also cut the vegetables smaller than I did, as even after three hours of cooking they remained a little al dente.

But despite my mixed feelings, I did learn some new tricks for my own recipe. I preferred the white wine in the sauce over the red I’d used before, and simmering the meat and vegetables in milk first did a lot to balance the acidity from the tomatoes and wine.

So it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Though these days, I have so much time that a mildly successful cooking project seems a valid way to spend it.

P.S. I just had the leftovers for lunch today, and it tasted so much better. So if you’re going to make this, I would suggest brewing it up a day or two ahead.


Lazy Day Pasta

15 Mar

But there are days when I am some combination of deathly tired, morbidly lazy, or very hungry. Those are the times when I look in the refrigerator once every minute, sigh, and shut the door. When working and waiting for an hour for a meal has all the appeal of a brisk hike in the Sahara. For moments like this, I have spaghetti alla puttanesca.

Lazy day deliciousness.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca has 3 things going for it:

1. It goes from zero to table in 20 minutes flat. The only prep required is chopping garlic and anchovies, plus opening some containers.

2. Said containers keep very well in your fridge and cupboard. If you’ve done it right, you should be able to make this dish without leaving your house.

3. It is a flavour-packed, lip-smacking bowl of deliciousness.

I lived on puttanesca in my last year of undergrad, and it’s still one of my favourite dishes of all time. Unfortunately, I rarely make it now, blessed as I am with a partner who thinks that anchovies, olives, or any combination thereof are the devil’s work. It’s become a rather sneaky pleasure, eaten at home alone while watching dumb romantic comedies.

This recipe reflects my abiding love of all things salty and pickled, but you can adjust the quantities of all the sauce ingredients (except the tomatoes) to your taste if you’re not quite as keen. It makes enough sauce for two people; so if you’re dining à deux, just double the amount of pasta.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Makes one big, saucy bowlful

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 50g/2oz tin anchovies, drained and chopped
0.5 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 400g tin/14oz can chopped/diced tomatoes
10-12 Kalamata olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers
freshly ground pepper
100g/3.5oz dried whole wheat spaghetti

Warm the olive oil, garlic, anchovies, chili, and oregano in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Start stirring when the oil begins to sizzle. When the anchovies have mostly dissolved and the garlic is turning golden, add the tomatoes, olives, capers and pepper. Bring the sauce up to a simmer, then leave to bubble while you cook the pasta.

Bring a pot of salted water up to the boil, then add the spaghetti. Cook according to the package instructions – I find mine take about 10 minutes to reach the right texture. When it’s done, drain briefly, then add to the sauce.

Serve up in a bowl, without Parmesan (the anchovies provide all the umami this needs).

Having a Butcher’s

12 Mar

Everyone has someone in their lives for whom it is difficult to buy presents. They seem to already have everything, and nothing gets your creative juices flowing.

I am not one of those people. If you get me something food-related, I will be a happy camper. But my excellent boyfriend went above and beyond the call of duty for my last birthday, and made me the most joyful of the all the outdoorswomen. He bought me a voucher for a butchery class at the Ginger Pig at their shop in Marylebone.

Best birthday present ever!

I won’t write a play-by-play description of the class because I think you should experience it for yourselves. But I will say that if you like to cook meat, and want a much better understanding of what quality and cut of meat to look for, this class is for you. I now know the difference between wet-aged and dry-aged beef, and the parts of the cow from which come sirloin, ribeyes, and fillet steaks.

Some highlights from the class:

– I just barely learned how to tie butcher’s knots! I never got my knot-tying badge during my short-lived period as a Girl Scout, and tying three knots took me about ten minutes of alternating tongue-sticking-out concentration with choice words questioning the knots’ intelligence, parentage, and sexual preferences.

– I also won a steak by lifting 35kg of beef and holding it out with my arms straight for four seconds. The prize-winning effort sounded like this:

Butcher: 1!

Me: OWW.

B: 2!


B: 3!


B: 4!


– At the end of the class, my classmates and I were given an amazing dinner of rib roast, potatoes dauphinoise (AKA kiss your healthy-eating streak goodbye), salad, and chocolate-laced bread-and-butter pudding for dessert. Delicious, but definitely oof-inducing.

After the class, I toddled home with my steak and the standing rib roast I’d learned to prepare.

Sexy beast.

Rib roast in the raw. Love the purples and reds!

It made a fantastic dinner for a group of friends with blanched purple sprouting broccoli, T’s heavenly Yorkshire puddings, and carrot cake for dessert (of which more tomorrow!)

Dinner is served!

Joints of beef like this one exemplify the idea that the more money you spend on a cut, the less time and effort required to make it tasty. While stewing steak takes a long simmer in a flavourful braise to reach optimum deliciousness, all a standing rib roast needs is to be rubbed with a little neutral oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and after a quick sear, to be roasted for 15 minutes per kilogram, plus an extra 15 minutes at the end, in a 180C/350C oven.

My 2.5kg roast (which fed 5) took 90 minutes to cook. After roasting it, I wrapped it in foil and left it to rest for half an hour. You will be tempted by the delicious smell of hot roast meat to cut in right away, but if you do so, you’ll lose all the meat juices and get dry roast beef. Even if your meat is no longer piping-hot when you serve it, it’s worth it for its tenderness and juiciness.

Well-rested roast beef.

Members of the Society for the Appreciation of Roast Beef.

You can find further information on Ginger Pig’s butchery classes on this website. They offer lamb, sausage-making, and pork courses too.