Smoked tofu corn chowder

As a thickened fish stew, chowder is old as the hills. Practically every coastal community has at some point in its history thrown starch and vegetables at the simmering liquor of their fish of choice, adding a splash of dairy if there was a cow on hand. The word itself may track back to 16th century Cornwall, via much older French terms for stewpot. But it’s hard to be sure – chowder is one of those things that has just popped up all over the world, getting codified when we started writing recipes down more stringently.

Smoked Tofu Corn ChowderCullen Skink is a particular favourite, and you can see something like waterzooi in the history of what’s now pretty much the reference implementation: the New England clam chowder.

Personally, I like to make it with crab meat and sweetcorn, but I do love the smokiness you get in Cullen Skink. So for Veguary, I wondered if you could work up a milder but still silky-satisfying version using smoked tofu.

You basically can.

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Veguary, a retrospective

Veguary. 28 days (29 this year) sans creatureflesh. One truly cringe-inducing portmanteau.

Mushroom peposoWhy? Well, variety and a nagging ecological anxiety for starters. I waft at that in the first post I could find that mentions it, which amazed me by dating back to 2012.

It’s not particularly strict. I give myself some “don’t be a dickhead as a dinner guest” get-out clauses, and I’m certainly not trying anything as rigorous as “Veganuary”. The fun part is getting more innovative in the kitchen.

So this year I did it again. I’ve posted a couple of the recipes, and there are more to follow, but here’s a little overview of how it went.

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Devilled mushrooms

Basing a sauce on English mustard always makes me think of Stoppard’s Arcadia. Frankly, I’d recommend seeing it regardless of what you do or do not propose to do with the ground seeds of sinapis alba,  but in particular I remember Thomasina’s exhortation:

“When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas. But if you stir backwards, the jam will not come together again.”

Devilled mushroomsThis is an extraordinarily round-about way of saying that you can proper fuck up balance with mustard, and you won’t be able to stir it back out again. Too little and it’s mild heat and boredom. Too much, and it’s an acrid horrorshow, like a mouthful of hops and wasabi.

For all that, I love devilled kidneys. My dad used to make them as a breakfast treat, quick and dirty the way he picked up in the army. He’d thicken with breadcrumbs and dump in a bucket of ketchup. The sauce was pulpy and fiery, perfect for the savoury of the offal.

Veguary precludes that a bit, but here’s a fine brunch of spicy mushrooms.

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Cauliflower fritters with sage and parmesan

This was a quick Veguary lunch that got out of hand. The original idea was to start with a pakora recipe, and pack in the flavour of those big, heavy parmesan/anchovy/garlic meatballs from Kitchen Diaries. But the idea drifted a bit, and they came out lighter, more subtle. You get these wonderful little bursts of slightly astringent flavour where the cauliflower sears and the batter’s crispy, too.

Cauliflower parmesan frittersEven if they hadn’t shaken out gentle, I’ll wager it would have worked – gram flour is basically magic.

This is a bit of an off the cuff one, and you may want to experiment with it.

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Mushroom peposo

So, I’m doing “Veguary” again. It’s what it sounds like: a horrifying portmanteau, and 28 days off the meat. It’s great fun, more about shaking up my cooking habits than any kind of health-nut hand-wringing. I am, as a friend put it, “in it for the pies not the piety”.

Mushroom peposoAccordingly, I like to use Veguary to do two things: explore exciting vegetable flavours, and work up veggie hacks of meat dishes to see what I can get away with. This is the latter.

Peposo is a Tuscan beef stew I first had cooked from Jamie’s Italy years ago by a friend. It’s stuck with me – feisty and warming, and so satisfying. It takes balck pepper, and punches it up to curry levels of spicy impact.

But at its core, it’s a simple stew. You can do it with just wine, beef, pepper, and about four hours. There’s a pretty good recipe here. For the mushroom version, I’ve had to cheat a bit and nudge some flavors around for body.

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Radicchio pesto parcels

It’s the tail-end of Veguary – my annual flirtation with temporary vegetarianism – and I’ve not written much about the food that’s been involved. This is in no small part because my freezer is full of vegetable curry, and I’ve spent a frankly unreasonable amount of time trying to perfect a vegetable moussaka that doesn’t rely on lentils for bulk and body. More on that later, but if you’ve got any suggestions that take less then two hours, I’m listening.

These little puff pastry radicchio parcels are one of the successes from Veguary 2014, and pull off that neat trick of being quite impressive for almost no effort. Although the bitterness of the radicchio itself isn’t for all palates.

Radicchio pesto parcel

This is heavily adapted from Silver Spoon’s Radicchio en Croûte recipe (p.553). For that, you basically just grill small radicchio whole, and bake them in pastry with salt and pepper. It’s tasty if a little plain, and works best with very small heads of radicchio. If you’ve only got the large ones, you’re best slicing them in half.

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Jalfrezi style broccoli curry

A few weeks ago while working up a slightly off-beat achari recipe, I asserted that making restaurant-style curry at home was at best impractical, and at worst a lost cause. It turns out we’re living in the best case scenario, and the practicality of dishing up a Brit curry standard is directly proportional to your patience for boiling and puréeing industrial quantities of onions.

Yep, I’ve read The Curry Secret, and the secret is “use the LD50 of alliums”.

Broccoli jalfrezi, simmering

Inspired by the book, and the fact that I’m spending February vegetarian again this year (Veguary), here’s an adaptation of my favourite curry house classic for my favourite vegetable.

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Kale & garlic pizza with a green bean, carrot, & sesame salad

Last night I cooked dinner for some friends. This substantially involved re-cooking a couple of things from Veguary I’d been meaning to blog about for a while. Both are variants on dishes from the River Cottage Veg Every Day book that I’ve made a few tweaks to, and both work really rather well.

Kale & garlic sauce pizza, finished

The kale pizza is pretty much straight up from p186, with a base sauce of insanely thick roasted garlic béchamel sauce, and a spot of cumin. This has the benefit of tasting stupidly indulgent whilst not actually being all that bad for you. But I am not fucking about with the garlic; you were warned.

For the salad, I borrowed the dressing from Fearnley-Whittingstall’s
“Asian-inspired coleslaw” on p115, and whacked it over blanched beans and julienne carrots. It’s all about the sesame, and the dishes work together surprisingly well, although there’s a lot of very strong flavours sloshing about here.

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Pappardelle with green beans and pesto

I spent February vegetarian. There – I said it. I’m not ashamed, either, although I’m not exactly proud of the fact that I called it “Veguary”.

Given my near-sexual ecstasy at the prospect of rillettes and cassoulet, “why?” is a perfectly valid question.

It was largely an experiment, to be honest. But I do feel a bit iffy about the macroeconomics and ecology around the contemporary Western diet, and eating less meat (along with one or two other dietary shifts) seems like a decent enough first step. Mostly though, it was to make cooking more interesting.

I’ll write more about Veguary in future, I’m sure. But armed with the River Cottage Veg everyday book and a fair quantity of enthusiasm, I set about it, and I survived, and I learned a lot.

One of the main things I learned was how to make things I genuinely enjoy eating that take less than half an hour to cook. The less healthy lesson I picked up was that many of these dishes are basically just pasta with some kind of vegetable, and a metric fuck-tonne of goats’ cheese dumped over the whole thing.

One of the things I regret is not writing it down at the time. So I’m going to do it now – cook my way through the bits I remember, take pictures, and tell you about it. Continue reading Pappardelle with green beans and pesto