This recipe is the eventual outcome of an experiment that started with quite fancying chachouka, but having both some lamb to use, and a boyfriend whose fondness for pie borders on the obsessional. I usually make the chachouka from the River Cottage Veg book, (someone’s replicated the recipe here) but after all the tinkering, this has basically nothing in common with it. It’s definitely a pie, though. Look, you can see the pastry.
In fact, we get from there to here via the Braised eggs with lamb, tahini, and sumac recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, liberally crashed into spanakopita. The first iteration worked in pure flavour terms, but the textures were a wash out. So after a bit of work, this is what we end up with.
When going for curry, there are a few things I’ll order almost on auto-pilot, taking no shame in the cliché – jalfrezi, achari, and anything with spinach. Cooking any of them at home, however, is something I’ve more or less resisted. A lot of food writers have spent a lot of time and ink trying to help Britons synthesise caricature curry house dishes at home, and it’s rarely a success. If nothing else, it’s not very practical to make the industrial quantities of base sauces.
To try and duck that failure – and with zero claims to the remotest authenticity – this is a simplified mash up of some of my favourite curry flavours.
This recipe takes the basic spicy/sour pickle flavours of an achari curry, bolts it onto a standard onion-thickened base sauce, and then throws spinach at it. Because spinach. You can skip that part if you’re some kind of pervert.
A pun is not the best place to start when constructing a recipe. But once I’d had the idea for “tarte aux pommes(de terre)” I couldn’t get it out of my head until I’d made it. The first iteration looked the part – all prettily layered – but didn’t really work as a dish. There was something there, though, and the presentation was too good to let slide; so I did it again, and hit on something that works rather well.
Version one was a basic spinach tart with a potato hat on. There was dill in the mix, aping a spanakopita. But without the feta (I was cooking for my boyfriend, and he’s lactose intolerant) it just doesn’t cohere. Cheese, though, cheese – that’s the key.
Felicity Cloake is probably my favourite food columnist, and one of the food writers I’m currently enjoying most overall. Gastro-bookworm synthesist probably isn’t a broad demographic, but I’m in it and she hits it square on. Her ham croquetas recipe is no exception, and making it a couple of times taught me a worrying lesson: croquetas are easy enough to make that you can have them as snack/comfort food.
After all, a white sauce just doesn’t take that long, and you can cool it pretty fast by sticking the pan in a cold water bath. So yeah, you can bring croquetas in well under a hour and most of that will be waiting. This is bad – now I basically want them all the time.
It’s doubly bad if you’re, say, spending a month vegetarian out of perverse curiosity and cooking dinner for your lactose-intolerant boyfriend. Given croquetas are mostly milk and the body of the flavour is ham, that probably doesn’t fly. But I gave it a go anyway.
I’m ripping off recipe books left right, and centre this week, it seems. Today it’s the pea and parsley soup from the River Cottage Veg Every Day book. I made it thicker, upped the thyme, and added spinach. That’s basically it, so if you’ve got the book, off you go.
Still here? Fair enough. I wanted something thick and warming, and full of vegetables to help me get over a nasty cold, or at least make me feel better while doing so.
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.
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.
Some time ago at Restaurant22, I had a rather excellent dish of gnocchi with feta, wilted bitter leaves, and various kind of bean. My suspicion is that copying it would be harder than it sounds, but yesterday I was in the mood for similar flavours.
A quick Google yields a number of extemporizations around the theme of orecchiette with feta. There are recipes that simply add rocket, or spinach, there were those with roasted peppers, and a couple with shrimp or chicken. It seems to be some kind of combinatorial matrix: pick a leaf, pick a main vegetable, pick an optional supporting veg. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s what Silver Spoon makes most of Italian cooking feel like.
So I chose courgettes. Because I love them, and I am sceptical of shrimp.