I have a massive food writing boner for Elisabeth Luard. Oh, the purple prose is saturated all up the spectrum, but the way she writes about food just hits me where I live. She gets it.
For my favourite of her books, European Peasant Cookery, she basically bummed around Europe for a few years, bothering people in cottages. The result is a vast (if occasionally austere) compendium of stews, broths, salads, and thrift food.
Some of the recipes you can use verbatim; some benefit from a tweak. This simple lamb stew is one I’ve mucked about with, but the core concept is delightful – melting, slow-cooked lamb, a shiver of citrus through it. This is the good stuff, and it works just a well on a lazy spring evening as for winter comfort.
I love making starters, particularly fussy little pastry contrivances. But Christmas dinner can be an all-out onslaught on the digestion, so something lighter seemed necessary. After an hour or so spent building a fort out of recipe books and looking for something that fit the bill, I failed completely and settled upon caponata. It’s vegetarian, certainly. But it is not light.
Caponata is a rich stew of aubergines and tomatoes, with handfuls of capers and olives. It’s what you’d get to if you spent months trying to re-engineer tapenade into a casserole. It has a sweet and sour edge, and looks lovely – like a rougher aubergine caviar, and just as richly savoury.
So obviously I put goats’ cheese on it. Obviously.