Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has, in Veg Every day, something he calls a “vegiflette toastie”. It’s veg-filled cheese on toast, loosely inspired by tartiflette. Funnily enough, a heap of stuff, fried and baked with cheese and potatoes, loosely inspired by tartiflette is one of my own staples.
I like to fry potatoes and onions, plus something else that’s lying around (often bacon), then sprinkle over flour, let out with milk, and melt in a fuckload of taleggio. Once it’s amalgamated, you bake it for a bit to finish. It’s tasty, and non-trivially indulgent.
Hugh suggests chicory in his version, which isn’t something I cook with much, so I tried it. The chicory was added towards the end, to just soften a little and cover in sauce. In with the potatoes and onions I fried leftover cauliflower and loads of thyme and garlic. The cheese happened to be manchego.
It works as well as any other variant on the cheesy potato bake theme. The chicory gives off quite a bit of water as it wilts, so this one was a little sloppy. It also has a bitter, astringent tang that works well with the rich sauce, but some may find off-putting.
Another recipe riffing on Jerusalem, I’m afraid. Near the beginning of the book, there’s a roasted cauliflower salad with handfuls of herbs and hazelnuts. It looks great, but I’m no huge fan of hazelnuts, and wanted something rather more substantial. So I dicked about with it:
This eats well enough either partly cooled after roasting or chilled later, and if you want to give it a kick, you can toss some harissa through it. It would also take chorizo if you felt meat was required.
Last week I made the turkey and courgette meatballs from Jerusalem. They were not an unqualified success. Partly this is my fault – I forgot the spring onions, and still couldn’t find sumac, so abandoned the sauce. Both would definitely have helped matters.
Swiss Chard is like the surly, unloved offspring of a furtive tryst between celery and choy-sum. It’s slender and leafy, savoury, kind of stringy, and has a bold enough flavour to carry a dish largely on its own. Most of the recipes I looked at used only the stalks. The books advised keeping the leaves for making a soup or cooking as greens, and then never went so far as to actually offer the corresponding recipe.
Don’t let this make you suspicious – the leaves will cook like turnip tops, or a robust spring green. Or you can just shred them in with the stalks. It works just fine.
Most of the recipes I saw were either tossed through pasta with a strong cheese, or in a creamy sauce. There were plenty of gratins, and actually the odd suggestion for steaming or frying the leaves. I opted to combine some of the cream/gratin ideas and make a quick gnocchi bake with cheese.
When I was growing up, we had a phrase, an often-repeated piece of kitchen folk wisdom as trite and fundamentally meaningless as any other: we eat all our disasters.
What can I say? It’s nicer than “shut up and eat it, because there isn’t anything else” – the solidarity of gallows humour for burnt stews and sunken cakes. I’m yet to hear any piece of folk wisdom or street smarts that didn’t reduce either to meaning nothing or just being a memorably pithy example of a logical fallacy. But this one has stuck somehow.
We eat all our disasters. My mother said it a lot, jokingly in the main, as she very rarely miscalculated in the kitchen. She would probably have known better than to attempt yesterday’s lunch.
All of which is a floridly round-about way of saying that I fucked this up but ate it anyway.
It’s a pseudo-quiche of fennel and mozzarella, and it went a little askew. Oh, the flavours worked well enough, I just failed to anticipate quite how much water is locked up in fresh fennel and inexpensive mozzarella.
I grew up in the north East of England. Bits of it are lovely. There is gorgeous moorland, there are lakes, the odd vibrant city, or historic cathedral town.
Then there’s Middlesbrough.
It has a population of around 130,000, a fairly mundane 19th century industrial centre, and a credible modern art museum featuring a very large Claues Oldenberg sculpture. It was the birthplace of the explorer James Cook, and is about as pleasant to spend time in as an industrial wood-chipper.
In fact, it is one of the very few places I less enjoy spending time than my nearby home town of Darlington.
But where Darlington has made precisely no contribution to the culinary field, Middlesbrough has, in an odd way, distinguished itself. For Middlesbrough has given us the Parmo.
Think of it as a gnarled and diseased branch of the Parmigiana family tree; one that’s moved up north in some nameless disgrace, and opened a takeaway. It’s some of the dirtiest fast food you can hope to put in your face, and this weekend I have been re-creating this regional delicacy for some of the good folk of Cambridge and Ely.
Ok, so, there’s not a lot to see here – it’s just more in the genre of “put roughly three savoury things over pasta”.
One of the things I brought back from Rome was a decent-sized chunk of prosciutto. It was bloody delicious, and it wasn’t even one of the better bits in the shop. No, the chap in Volpetti managed to up-sell me on an end piece, after I’d obviously betrayed my pork lusts and stocked up on salami.
I am glad he did.
Casting about for something to do with it, I ended up just slicing it thin-ish and tossing it over pasta with ricotta and wilted spinach and rocket. On the one hand that’s barely a recipe; on the other, it was one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Seriously. The prosciutto wasn’t overpoweringly salty, the fat was rich and creamy, and that cured, rich, piggy taste was fucking close to perfect.
I should probably lay off cribbing from the River Cottage Veg Every Day book, but it’s full of tasty, tasty things. Many of them, like the spring onion galette on p220, are very simple tasty things. As such they merit cooking as-is, but they also make a great starting point for a spot of extemporization.
In this case, that involves some courgettes and pesto; nothing too flash:
Happening to have emmental, gnocchi, and Portobello mushrooms lying around probably marks me out as if not first against the wall when the revolution comes, then not too far behind people with small wheelie luggage, or those twats who call themselves “creative” without further elaboration.
But have them lying around I did, so I cooked them.
Again, there’s no real recipe here. I just sweated down the mushrooms in some oil with a little garlic, and melted in the cheese with a splash of milk, then tossed it all over gnocchi: