JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Lettice's mushroom sauce for pasta

Lettice made lunch yesterday, a delicious new pasta sauce adapted from Antonio Carluccio's Italian Feast, which she bought with her Christmas money a couple of years ago. It's the first time she's used it - but then, on Christmas Eve, Lucius finally let off the rocket he was given by Eleanor for Christmas 2005 (and, yes, it was worth the wait - it made a satisfyingly loud whoosh and went very high, and it is said to have taken an aerial photograph, but this has not yet been processed). This sauce is thickened with ground almonds, rather than cream or yoghurt.

Soak 10g dried mushrooms (porcini for choice) in 150ml water. After a quarter of an hour, squeeze them dry, and keep the liquid.

Fry a small chopped onion in a little olive oil until it is soft, but not browned. Add 300g sliced mushrooms (wild if possible, otherwise as interesting a mixture as you can buy). Fry for a couple of minutes, then stir in the soaking liquid, 6 tablespoons of milk, 25g ground almonds and a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley.

Add the sauce to pasta. AC's suggestion is open ravioli, using home-made pasta; we plan to do this one day soon, because making pasta is such fun, but in the meantime, we used this to dress bought pasta - those curly tubes, I think. Alfred refused to eat it. All the more for the rest of us.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Mulled wine for a Happy Christmas!

We had a party last night, for friends, neighbours, and relations. Twelve families, children of all ages, from five to 20-something, a few grandparents, parents getting away from last-minute chores. Lovely sound of happy chatter, the youngest children offering round things to eat - sausages, crisps, dips (I made a taramasalata, but it turned out too oniony for my taste), tiny baked potatoes, shavings of parmesan and of salami. And the whole house smelled of Christmas - spices from the mulled wine.

For each 75 cl bottle of wine (I used a merlot I bought from the Wine Society), add 75ml of sugar, 1 tsp of cloves, 1 cinammon stick broken into two or three pieces, the juice of one lemon and one orange (or, when it runs out, and you have to make more in a hurry, the juice of a couple of clementines). Stir until the sugar dissolves, then heat gently. In an ideal world, you should strain this into a jug - but we didn't have time.

Happy days!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Christmassy pilaf

We ate this with roast chicken the other night, and it was essence of Christmas - easy celebratory food with a hint of the exotic which is just right on a winter's night. And I got there by accident: normally, for this sort of dish I would use individual spices, probably cinnamon and clove, but I wanted to finish up what was left over from baking Christmas cakes last week, and the result was a much greater depth of flavour. The ingredients list says: cinnamon, coriander seed, caraway, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. No wonder.

Perfect to go with cold turkey on Boxing Day - five minute's effort, then 20 minutes to do something else before it's time to eat.

Chop and fry a large onion until golden in a little olive oil. Use a saucepan with lid. Add 100g pistachio nuts, & 100g of dried berries. I used a bought mixture of cranberries, blueberries and wild cherry, but any of those would do, or raisins if that's what was in the cupboard. Then add a couple of teaspoons of mixed spice. Stir all this round for a moment, add 500g basmati rice, and then add 750ml stock, bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes without lifting the lid.

When it's done, the rice will be at the bottom, everything else at the top. Mix it together and, if you are decanting it into a serving dish, scrape up the crunchy bits at the bottom and mix those in too.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Amazingly, I made marzipan yesterday. Not something I've ever done before. Quick, easy, and much much nicer than the stuff in the packet. It's extraordinary how we have let the supermarkets make us think they are improving our lives, when the smallest effort to cook from scratch proves the opposite.

You need 250g of ground almonds, 250g of icing sugar, and one medium egg. You mix them together in a large bowl. That's it.

My children all say that they don't like marzipan. I gave them a little piece of the freshly-made home-made version, and they all said it tasted of almonds, in the tone of voice that suggested that this was a revelation. And they liked it.

I've got a packet I bought last year and didn't use. This is what it contains: sugar, almonds (25%), glucose syrup, colour lutein. I've got no idea what colour lutein is (except that I know enough gardening latin to work out that it is probably yellow), and I wouldn't want to use it in my kitchen. What a lot of sugar - and the fact that there's so much makes me wonder about the quality of the almonds they have used. The use-by date is June 2007 - I think mine will be eaten up by the middle of next week.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A really good squash risotto

Finally, a pumpkin risotto to please Lucius, who doesn't like squash. Just as well, because I grew more pumpkins than ever this year, AND the veg box turns up one or two most weeks, so there's a bit of a pumpkin mountain in this house. If you don't much like the texture of pumpkin, which I think is the problem for many people, you can mash it into the rice. Lovely winter comfort food.

Making it is very simple, the usual risotto drill, using a lot of red wine, and adding baked pumpkin at the end.

Peel and chunk a pumpkin - mine was a lovely pale green one from the veg box. Roast in a hot oven for half an hour or so, until they begin to brown at the edges.

Gently fry some chopped onion in olive oil. Just as they are about to brown, add a little garlic. Add risotto rice, stir for a few moments, then bubble up a glass of red wine - put about twice what you'd normally use. Slowly add stock (I used a very rich pheasant stock flavoured with cloves, which almost certainly contributed to the success). When it's almost done, add the pumpkin, and some finely chopped rosemary (sage would be a good alternative here). You'll almost certainly need to add a little more stock, because this risotto is better for being pretty liquid. Stir in a little finely grated parmesan.

I planned to serve it with a little pesto-y mess made with the roasted pumpkin seeds, but they were too tough to eat, so we ate it unadorned. Next time.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Spicy squid stew

In yesterday's Times, there was a recipe by Lindsay Bareham for squid stew, in which she said that you could buy frozen squid in 1kg boxes in Waitrose. I've tried to do this before, egged on by Nigella, without success. So I thought I'd try again. No luck, but they did have some squid on the deli counter. I didn't use the Times recipe, except as the inspiration. This is what I did.

Chop a couple of onions and a stick of celery, and soften in olive oil. Add some garlic. At this point I crumbled in a dried chilli, which gave the finished dish a strong but not overpowering heat; Lucius and Horatio would have preferred it without, and that would be good too. Add half a glass of red wine and bubble up, then add a tin of tomatoes and some chunks of potato (I used a peeled floury potato, which I had to be careful not to overcook; waxy new potatoes would be better, but that's for next summer). Simmer for 10-15 minutes to make a rich stew.

Meanwhile, cut up a chorizo sausage into wedges, and fry them in a little olive oil. Pour the sausage and the oil into the stew.

Roughly cut 500g squid, leaving the tentacles intact, and add them to the mix. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until they are cooked.

Chop some herbs and strew over the finished dish. Serve with bread (the slow but simple white loaf would be ideal).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mushroom daube

This started when I consulted the blue River Cafe book because there were a lot of mushrooms in my veg box this week.

Fry a medium box of fresh sliced mushrooms in olive oil. Meanwhile soak a couple of handfuls of dried mushrooms in very hot water (you want to end up with less rehydrated mushrooms, so that they don't overwhelm the more delicate flavours of the fresh ones). When the fresh mushrooms are brown, put them in a shallow dish. Drain and reserve the water from the rehydrated mushrooms, and fry in a little more olive oil with some crushed garlic. When the garlic begins to brown, add the delicious mushroom water, and braise until most of the liquid has evaporated.

So far so River Cafe. It tasted so-so, so I added a little Marsala and boiled that down too. Much better.

Back to the recipe: stir the two mushrooms together, and add chopped herbs before serving.

Delicious, quick, and easy.

Slow but simple bread

This fabulous white loaf is a revelation - a beautiful ball of bread dusted with semolina, and with a light airy open texture that costs pounds in the supermarket. All for pennies, a couple of minute's work, no kneading - and eaten so fast that there was no time to take a photograph.

It came from a food blog I discovered this week, via the New York Times website. You have to sign in to the website, which is a bit of a bore, but once you get to the right page you'll find a little film of Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery explaining his method. The problem for UK cooks is that it's all in cup measures, so I've translated it into metric.

Put 360g of ordinary flour into a large bowl. I used my all-purpose flour, which is lovely soft Italian type "00" from Waitrose - the exact opposite of the strong flour you are "supposed" to use for breadmaking. Add 1/4 tsp of instant yeast and 1 1/4 tsp salt. Mix with 300ml warm water. It will be a shaggy, sticky mess. Cover the bowl (I used a plate) and leave in a warm place for at least 12 hours. Jim Lahey says 18-20 hours is best; I left mine for about 36hrs.

By this time the dough will look bubbled. Strew a little flour on a work surface and turn the dough out. Now fold it on itself a couple of times - this is a much gentler action than kneading. Cover with the upturned bowl and leave for 15 minutes.

Get a clean teacloth and strew it with a little polenta or semolina. Shape the dough into a ball, put it on one half of the cloth, and cover it with the other half. Leave this to rise for two hours.

Half an hour before it's fully risen, put a lidded casserole dish in a very hot oven - 230C if your oven will do it. The casserole can be metal, ceramic or glass; I used a small Le Creuset pan. You don't need to grease it, the bread won't stick. When it's really hot, and the dough is risen, take the pan out of the oven and turn the dough into it (don't worry too much what it looks like at this point), replace the lid and bake for half an hour. Then take off the lid and bake for 5-10 minutes more.

There are two reasons for the success of this slightly startling recipe - the first is that time replaces the need to knead; the second is that covering the dough in a hot pan is as close to a commercial steam oven as you can get in an ordinary domestic kitchen.

Timing is easy - mix the dough in the afternoon or evening, and bake in the morning.