Spring Greens

Spring is springing vivaciously, verdantly, vividly.

I love Spring, almost as much as I love Autumn; its all about the edges of things for me. The edge of Winter as it graciously gives way to the bounding, lively greenness of Spring. Those crisp mornings where you can smell the life around you shaking off the frost and stretching towards the sun.

As I have rather a lot of time on my hands at the moment I have taken to rambling about the countryside with the dog, searching (as I do any time I go for a wander to be honest) for edible treats along the way. Much of what I’m hoping to find falls into the ‘Spring Greens’ category, things like Wild Garlic, Three-cornered Leeks, Dandelions and new growth Nettles.

Trug Full of Love

Trug Full of Love

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Sailing with the Gael

Sooo, the last few weeks have been a little manic. My season with the boat in France came to a close as the weather cooled and the boat shut down for the winter. I thought, lovely, two weeks off to enjoy some autumness in the UK before heading to Malta at the end of October. Oh no! After just two days I got a call from the OH to say I was welcome to join his boat for the last three weeks of their season, taking her from Cagliari down to Malta and then cruising about a bit for two weeks. And so my boaty cooking got an extension, with some lovely new guests to cook for, and two boys that appreciate not having to eat crisp wraps (ahem…) because they’re too busy to cook!

This post is especially for those lovely guests, with a collection of recipes that were requested after they were enjoyed on board. To start we have the hearty cous cous salad, then a big, beefy lasagne and the perfect plum crumble.

Hearty, family food - for families with heart

Hearty, family food – for families with heart

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Thrifty Cooking

Thrifty cooking is something that has always been close to my heart. Not just from the budget point of view but also as a method of reducing waste. I hate wasting food, even the tops and tails of veg aren’t wasted when I’m cooking at home, they make excellent stock.

Thrifty cooking starts with thrifty shopping. Before you even go to the shop, start with a weekly menu plan. I plan out roughly what I want to cook for the week, work out who I’m going to be cooking for and whether there is anything they don’t eat or anything they love that I haven’t cooked for awhile. From this menu I can make a shopping list of things I need based on what I already have in the cupboard. For me, as a cook on a boat, this is essential. It means I can let the crew know what’s planned for the week and anyone can raise objections before I go shopping rather than after I’ve cooked the dinner. It also means that when I come to cook the meal, I know I have everything in stock. There is nothing worse than wanting to cook something and realising you’re missing the main ingredients (like on Sunday when I desperately wanted to make brownies but there was no butter and ALL the shops were shut because this is France…).

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Toma(i)toes, Toma(r)toes

Inspired by a #pantrychat on Twitter I have decided to collate a few of my favourite recipes with this delectable, and highly versatile vegetable (fruit if you’re a pedant). Tomatoes are something I always have in the galley. I have to keep them in the fridge as they tend to get too ripe too quickly in 35 degree heat! It is best, if you can, to keep them at room temperature but if you are keeping them in the fridge, bring them out a while before serving so they can warm up a little as they taste best at room temperature. There are thousands of varieties, all with their own strengths and here in the South of France I am particularly lucky with the wide selection available. I also use a lot of tinned tomatoes, the best type for me is the whole plum tomatoes without skin on as they cook down to make a wonderful thick and concentrated sauce. They are a store cupboard staple, especially with an Italian on board!

Raw Tomato Pasta

Big red tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, Parmesan, pasta, olive oil, black pepper, salt, balsamic vinegar

Gently fry the onions and the garlic in lots of olive oil (I mean loads, so that its kind of like a sauce). Cook the pasta as per the instructions. As I’ve said before, it is best to cook it fairly al dente and then drain (keeping some of the cooking water back), because when you mix it with the sauce it will continue to cook and there is nothing worse than soggy, over soft pasta (especially if you are cooking for Italians…). Once the onions and garlic are soft and fragrant add a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and season. Chop the tomatoes roughly. Put the drained pasta into the frying pan with the garlic and onions then chuck the tomatoes in. Add a little cooking water as it makes the pasta and olive oil all silky. Rip up loads of basil and stir it all in. Serve with more olive oil, Parmesan shavings and more black pepper. Very quick, very easy.

Cooked Tomato Pasta

Tinned plum tomatoes 800g, 3 onions, carrot, olive oil, salt, pepper.

This recipe is my bosses favourite and comes from his chef in Geneva. I have been taught it so that the boss doesn’t have to bring tupperware boxes of it with him in his luggage all the way to Ibiza…

Chop the onions and the carrot very finely, pop in a big sauce pan with lots of olive oil. Fry until soft and sweet. Add the tinned tomatoes, squashing them in your hands to make lumps – don’t chop. Reserve all the juice, you don’t need it in this recipe so put it in the fridge in a clean jar – its fantastic for making curry sauce or adding to tomato soups. Season and add a lot of olive oil, I’m talking half a litre to 800g of tinned tomatoes. A lot. Cook until all the liquid is evaporated off. It freezes well so make twice as much as you need, 800g of tomatoes will make enough to serve 7-8 people. Fantastic for defrosting should you get mobbed and need a quick lunch.

Simply scrumptious super simple

Simply scrumptious, super simple

Roast Tomato Soup

A good selection of different tomatoes that are as ripe as possible, carrot, celery, leek, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar.

Stick the tomatoes in a roasting tray with lots of olive oil, a glug of balsamic and a sprinkling of brown sugar, cut a garlic bulb (not clove, whole bulb!) in half horizontally and put cut side up in the tray with them. Roast for 30 minutes at about 180 degrees, you want them to be a little blackened on the outside so perhaps 200 degrees towards the end will help. Meanwhile, make a sort of veg stock. Chop the carrot, celery, leak and onion into small pieces, cover with water and simmer until the carrot is soft. Once the tomatoes are done, add them to the veg mix in the saucepan, scoop out the soft roasted garlic too and then blend into a smooth puree. You could add some cream at this point if you like. Serve with croutons (chop up bread, fry in olive oil – or lightly toast in the oven if you’re after something healthier…fry it its so much better), extra black pepper and a swirl of EVOO.

*EVOO is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for those that haven’t twigged it yet. It took me awhile.

Bruschetta

Bruschetta bread (or slices of french bread), mix of ripe tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, red onion.

For the best bruschetta dressing, make this an hour before you need it. Chop the tomatoes roughly, chop the red onion finely and mix with a good glug of EVOO, balsamic, rock salt and black pepper. Cover and leave on the counter, not in the fridge, for an hour. The tomato juices will leak out and make the most amazing liquor with the oil and vinegar. Mmmmm! Rub the slices of bread with the cut side of a garlic clove and then toast/grill/griddle. Drizzle them with olive oil. Load with the tomato mix and top with a basil leaf. Serve as a snack before dinner (nibble nibble), or as a lunch. Good with crisp white wine.

Late Addition!

Squid in Tomato Sauce

Last night I cooked this and we all sat down and had a ‘family’ meal with the owner too. It is based on a recipe his daughter gave me while we were away in Ibiza and it really is delicious. I was skeptical at first as squid can be a bit tricky, going chewy and tough if its over cooked. However, long slow cooking leaves it just as tender as short, hot cooking – its somewhere in between where it all goes wrong! Little squid are more tender and soft so best to get the smaller ones when buying from the fishmonger.

1kg cleaned squid, two tins tomatoes (plum without skin), garlic, onion, glass white wine, seasoning

Fry onions and garlic until soft and sweet then add the glass of wine. Simmer until reduced by a third and then add the tomatoes, squishing the whole plums between your fingers as they go in. Cook for ten minutes then add the sliced squid, legs and all. Pop the lid on and allow to simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve with rice, green salad and a crusty loaf. So, so simple, and really, really tasty 🙂

Squiddly Diddlies

Squiddly Diddlies

Can you cook seven different things?

At the moment I am looking for work on the super yachts. It is a massively competitive industry and so along with the basic qualifications I have had to get for safety reasons, I have also been maximising any other skills I have to make myself look really useful, and therefore employable. One thing I hope to achieve is landing a job that allows me to cook for people. Be it crew or guests, food is the most important thing in my opinion. The guests are going to enjoy their holiday a lot more if the food is exciting and varied, while the meals the crew are eating are what keep them going the long hours expected of them. And, with only one person in the kitchen in many cases, that person needs to have a good repertoire of recipes to keep things exciting, and healthy, especially if there are long stretches between time ashore. So when someone asked me, can you cook seven different meals each week, it made me think, well can I?

Of course I can, I thought. I then started to think about all the things I can cook and realised my habits tend to fluctuate between certain styles. At the moment, I find myself cooking lots of different types of pasta, however before I came to Italy I used to avoid eating pasta more than once a week. So what did I used to cook that I have stopped cooking since coming here? I like to write things down (obviously…) and as a result I have a Moleskine recipe notebook in which all my favourite recipes are noted down, and looking through this I have re-discovered some things that just six months ago I couldn’t get enough of. One of these recipes is dhal. A lentil curry which is actually one of my father’s favourite curries (however much his Pakistani mother-in-law hates cooking what is considered ‘poor’ food for him when he visits). Dhal varies from place to place and tends to depend on what spices one has to hand at the time. The following recipe is a fairly simple one, and isn’t a particularly traditional one by all accounts, however it is delicious and is a really cheap comfort food that I was fond of on dark, cold evenings in the UK.

Dhal

Onion, garlic, chilli, turmeric, cumin, fresh coriander, lentils and spinach.

Put lentils in a pan with enough water to cover them and bring to the boil. Add turmeric and a pinch of salt then reduce the heat. Cook the lentils until soft and porridgey. Take the lentils off the heat and add a handful of spinach leaves, pop a lid on and allow the heat to wilt the spinach. Dry toast the cumin seeds and chilli then add a little oil and the chopped onions and garlic. Sweat the onions until soft and transparent, don’t allow them to colour. This process can be aided with a little splash of water in the pan – a trick I learnt from the father of the children I look after here in Italy. Stir the onions into the lentils and spinach, leave for a few minutes covered over for the flavours to mingle, dress with chopped coriander and then serve with some hot naan bread. This is a fairly healthy meal and caters to vegetarian/vegan/gluten free/lactose free (you get the point) diets as well and so is a good one to have in one’s collection.

Another meal I haven’t eaten in a while is fish and chips. Again, not the traditional battered fish and soggy chips you might find in Plymouth on the sea front in the rain but rather a delicious fillet of smoked haddock, lightly coated in seasoned flour and fried in butter served with home-made skinny chips and a thick, creamy sage sauce. Sage works incredibly well with smoked fish and the sauce is simply cream heated with fresh, chopped sage and lots of black pepper and then left to thicken as it cools. Reheat just before serving and then pour over the top of the fish, avoiding the chips so they don’t end up too soggy. Not so healthy but extremely tasty and an excellent answer to fish Friday.

Or how about stronganoff, delicious with punchy, dried porcini mushrooms which smell amazing.

Another is griddled pork, certainly one of my favourites, served with a salsa made from sliced, preserved peppers, balsamic vinegar, half a tsp of basil pesto and olive oil, seasoned with lots of black pepper and a pinch of rock salt.

I love fish so another way I have it is baked in tinfoil with a little white wine and then served over quinoa and fresh tomato salad; a recipe adapted from one of Jamie Oliver’s recipe books.

Spiced aubergine has been a firm favourite in the past, and deserves a come back thinking about it as there are the most amazing aubergines for sale in the market at the moment! This is made with tomato, red onion, aubergine and lots of cumin and chilli. Fry the red onion and seeded, chopped tomatoes until they look a bit stewy (good technical term there…), in another pan fry the cubed aubergine until its got a nice bit of colour, then add it to the tomato mix. Dry fry the chilli and cumin then stir that into the mix too. Loosen the sauce a little with some red wine and a splash of balsamic vinegar then serve with rice, chickpeas, cous cous or quinoa.

And finally, for number seven a pasta dish I can’t resist. A recipe taken from the River Cottage Veg book (aka the best cook book of all time). Mushroom and kale lasagna made with goats cheese and tons of parmesan. It is divine, go eat it, right now!!

So how many things can you cook? And if its not at least seven, go and read a cook book and try something new!