Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Picture this if you will

Typos: the bane of many office emails but sometimes rather useful. On Friday, the BSG emailed to say that he was off to Bodean’s (I hasten to add that this was not of his choosing), but that he wasn’t even remotely hungary.

At the very same moment in an office across London I was in fact ravenous, so this random error led me to a favourite Hungarian food-daydream, goulash, and the extraordinary version that Jamie Oliver does using a pork shoulder, cooked slowly in a lidded pot with a mountain of sliced peppers and paprika until it falls apart at a mere glance. Clouds of fluffy rice and sour cream are all this needs to complete it, and if you are feeding many, it is relatively cheap. I am sure that the recipe wouldn’t be hard to find on the internet and it is well worth looking.

Having met our very pregnant but completely relaxed friend for a convincing – yet thankfully not labour-inducing - curry at the brilliant Mirch Masala in Tooting last week, thoughts are turning to core-warming foods. Indeed, central heating is essential at this time of year, when the temperature can plummet or rise sharply in a matter of hours. And I don’t mean the skin-desiccating, global warming stuff – though that can be rather helpful too – I mean these kinds of soul-filling, oven-and-pot-cooked dishes that lead you away from the watery crunch of summer salads and into the deep stew-ladle of winter.

Arriving in Norfolk on Friday and faced with a cold, dark house, the only thing for it was a warm fix, pure and simple – spaghetti and meatballs. A blend of minced beef and pork (the insides of good sausages, we were in a hurry), they were squished in our hands and rolled together with some thyme, browned off in a pan and added to some chopped tomatoes, port and garlic, before we even took our coats off. Left to stew for about an hour their brownness seeped into the tomato sauce, reducing it to a wonderfully jammy consistency, into which we mixed our cooked linguine and feasted, each mouthful inching up the internal thermostat.

Trout, usually a fish I associate with summer, was the cameo in our yellow-curry-laksa-type-thing last week, and we were surprised that this sweet delicate flesh stood up amongst all the spices and ginger – we’ll definitely repeating that recipe, over thread-thin rice noodles.

They are a stalwart of the store-cupboard, unlimited by the seasons, but in our house puy lentils don’t really come out in the summer months – I can’t imagine why, these nutty green pulses are completely wonderful. With them, the BSG made us a great supper; they were boiled, tossed immediately with chopped roasted peppers, paper-thin sliced red onions, and cherry tomatoes. These were dressed with red wine vinegar, olive oil and parsley, and topped with pan fried mackerel fillets, though you could easily use cold tinned/jarred fillets and stir them through the warmth. It is a perfect one-dish supper full of vibrant colours and fresh salt-sweet flavours; there was plenty so we discussed taking some for lunch the next day. Unfortunately we chomped the lot in one sitting. I defy you not to.

This week I find myself without my camera, my trusty sidekick, so words without pictures will have to do. Tell me this: would Postman Pat ever leave Jess behind on Mrs Goggins’ Post Office counter? No. (I’m not sure he’d go on strike either, but that’s for another blog…) For this careless act, I am rather ashamed.

However, I blame a triumph of taste over all other senses, as usual.

You know that it’s autumn when weekend lunches with friends get later, flirting with the dusk, and the red wine is already open when you arrive and unwrap yourselves. Our host on Sunday had warned us that, as there was an imminent inspection at her school this week, we weren’t to expect too much. Knowing Anna as we do, we didn’t believe her – as a cook and general host (and teacher I don’t doubt) she is of the most generous and caring variety, every bit of the feast she laid on for us smacked of this kindness, from the beautifully constructed canapés of toasted bruschetta topped with variations of avocado, bacon, goats cheese, tomatoes and peppers, the delicious roasted chickens surrounded by salads of every kind, through to the cakes warm from the oven; banana and walnut, drizzled with chocolate, and a crisp-edged apple cake, unbelievable. Unable to choose between accompaniments, I have to confess that my end of the table might have had custard (Bird’s, naturally,) cream AND Ben & Jerry’s with ours. In a nutshell, Anna lovingly fed and wined us into blissful submission, the day disappeared, and my camera was forgotten (yes, forgotten) in the postprandial haze.

No matter I suppose, meatballs, albeit delicious ones, aren’t very photogenic…


  1. what a delicious culinary sojourn into the darker days. There's a Mirch Masala around the corner from me in Whitechapel, their dahl is truly life affirming stuff. Loved your goulash description...

  2. Thanks Gastrogeek. We must try the Whitechapel branch. The BSG loves daal!