When I moved into my flat on the Peckham/Dulwich borders three years ago, I noticed a funny little shop round the corner on Wood Vale. Named Libretto & Daughters, it wasn’t immediately obvious to me what it was all about.

A mish-mash of a window display, plus a couple of derelict New-York yellow cabs in the forecourt, it could have been as easily a junk shop as a car repair shop.

Libretto & Daughter on Wood Vale, SE22

Libretto & Daughters on Wood Vale, SE22

What it is, in fact, is a fantastic, proper old-school butcher. Run by Kim Libretto (not sure where the daughter is) for the last 30-odd years, it causes a fair amount of debate in the locality. Some people think, because it isn’t neatly set out like a supermarket meat section, it must be a bit dodgy.

Others – ie those who know their rump from their shoulder – love it. I am in firmly in the second camp.

Entering the shop, you won’t find much on display in the chill cabinets, bar a couple of trays of Kim’s excellent homemade sausages. That’s because everything is kept out back, in the form of whole carcasses, ready to be cut to order.

As Kim hauls out entire lambs, pigs or venison, and sets to work cutting chops, fillets and joints, to each customer’s exact request, he’ll chat away, giving advice on the perfect gravy, which cut is best for the barbecue, and where exactly and by whom your venison was shot.

This, as you can imagine, takes time. Which is why you’ll often see a slow-moving queue in the shop. But Kim’s loyal customers love him for it, and it’s all part of the enjoyment of buying from him.

Last weekend, I went in for a joint of pork. I was thinking belly, for a long slow roast, with lots of lovely crispy crackling. When I asked him for this, Kim raised a finger and silently went out to the back room. He came back with an immaculately boned and prepared shoulder of pork.

A perfectly boned shoulder of pork, for a good roasting

A perfectly boned shoulder of pork, ready for a good roasting

It had been hung, he told me, so the skin was good and dry, making for perfect crackling. And the meat itself was so juicy and tender, there was no need for the three or four hours a pork shoulder often needs. Kim advised an hour and a half. And, as usual, Kim was right.

Fennel seeds, orange zest, thyme and garlic, to flavour the prok

Fennel seeds, orange zest, thyme and garlic, to flavour the pork

To flavour the pork, I bashed a few fennels seeds, mixed them with some orange zest and thyme, then smeared that over the skin with some salt and pepper and olive oil. I sliced up the rest of the orange, placed it in a baking tray with a couple of bay leaves and a few cloves of garlic, then plonked the pork on top.

The pork shoulder, ready for the oven

The pork shoulder, ready for the oven

A blast at the highest temperature in the oven for 20 minutes ensured the crackling would, well, crackle, then another hour and 15 minutes at a lower temperature resulted in a juicy, tender roast, full of good porky flavours. I chucked in a sliced leek for the last 20 minutes, which braised in the fat and juice of the pork. Some braised fennel and carrots and some creamy mashed potatoes finished off the Sunday treat.

Roast shoulder of pork

Roast shoulder of pork

 

 

After a rather long hiatus, I’m back, back, back. Over the next few weeks, as I try and settle myself back into UK living, I’ll be staying with various obliging friends around London. And, in return, I’ll be doing my best to cook some delicious meals for them. So, I’m kickstarting the blog again, by giving you a sample of my cooking using ingredients that are available in other people’s cupboards.

So, here I am at my friend Claire’s lovely house in Peckham. And oh boy, does she have a kitchen after my own heart. Huge five-burner cooker, double oven, well-stocked with Le Creuset and Sabatier, and, best of all, a great big dining table in the middle of the room. My dream set-up – you can cook for friends while they’re in close enough proximity to chat and drink with.

However, right now, I’ve got the place to myself, while Claire and her kids are on holiday, so my soft return to blogging is a dish for one. And, surprise surprise, it involves pork. (Yeah, something tells me it was never going to work, me living in Muslim country.)

Being a party of one on a Sunday is no reason, in my eyes, not to have a roast. And the small piece of pork tenderloin I found myself with is perfect for that. Because it’s small, it cooks very quickly, and a decent piece gives you a wee bit of leftovers for lunch the next day.

In the fridge were a few bags of herbs (remainders of a lamb shank dish I’d cooked the week before, but had too much red wine by the time I took photos of it, and they turned out to be far from bloggable quality…). I chopped up a big handful of rosemary, thyme, sage, fennel seeds, chilli and garlic, and rubbed it all over the tenderloin, along with a good glug of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.

One of the vegetables I missed most in Istanbul was fennel – you get the dried seeds very easily, but no one seemed to have heard of the fresh vegetable part of it. It’s something that seems to go with everything, but it tastes particularly good with pork. So, I quartered a bulb and chucked it into the roasting pan.

Into an oven of about 190ºC (gas mark 5) it went, for about 35 minutes (the two pieces pictured were about 150g each). It’s long been the belief that you have to blast the hell out of pork – not a hint of pinky-ness allowed. But after eating very rare pork in a Spanish tapas restaurant a few years ago, I have well and truly disabused myself of that notion. And, in fact, a report came out recently in the UK that said it was perfectly fine to cook pork to à point.

So that’s what I did with my tenderloin. A couple of boiled tatties and some peas on the side, and this was a very tasty return to a traditional(ish) Sunday lunch.

Good mornings…

February 5, 2011

My boyfriend is a barman. Which means most evenings I have to amuse myself in the kitchen. And, although we get to have breakfast together every day, there’s only so much you can do with an egg and a slice of toast – what with me not being much of a cornflake girl.

So, when Süleyman arrived back from his early-morning gym session the other day with a box of quails’ eggs, I was a little more excited than perhaps I ought to have been at the sight of a foodstuff. (One of his workout buddies gave them to him – a slightly odd gift, maybe, but one that was much appreciated, nonetheless.)

While looking online for ideas of how to incorporate them into our morning meal, I found a very pretty picture of poached quails’ eggs, so thought I’d give it a go too. And, as you can see from the photo below, I had some success… as well as some squidgy disasters.

I served them on toast with a good splash of olive oil, some pul biber, and a few of the usual Turkish breakfast accoutrements – olives, cheese, tomatoes and parsely. Simple enough, yes, but what really surprised me was just how tasty the wee things were – a flavour that was completely unproportional to their size.

Süleyman’s off the the gym again on Monday – and I’m just looking forward to what he’ll bring back next time!

One of my oldest and dearest friends was staying with me in Istanbul last week. We had lots of catching up to do, and as she is as much of a food-lover as I am, most of that catching up was done over meals of some kind or another – starting over the heaving breakfast table, continuing over lunches of köfte or kebaps with lots of bread, then topping it all off over afternoon teas of baklava, and dinners of a million kinds of meze plus grilled fish, chicken shish or lamb chops.

So, as I waddled home from saying goodbye to my friend at the airport on Sunday, I thought it might be a good idea to curb my eating habits for a few days. However, healthy eating, for me, still has to mean tasty eating – and the easiest way to inject some interest into a somewhat basic meal has to be with strong flavours, such as garlic, chilli, and, in this case, capers.

My weekly market shop was a few days away, so this was going to be a real ‘store-cupboard essentials’ meal. A quick fridge-check, and I saw I had potatoes, tomatoes and onions in abundance, plus some runner-like beans that were on their last legs (ahem, ‘scuse the dreadful pun). And tucked into the corner of the top shelf was a jar of long-forgotten capers. Good thing they keep forever, because, as soon as I saw them, I knew that was the flavour I was looking for.

I’ve often used capers in tomato sauces for pasta, and as I had a kind of potato/tomato-ey stew in mind for dinner, I saw no reason not to use them for this dish.

So, I roughly chopped an onion and a couple of garlic cloves, and fried them in some olive oil. When soft, I added a couple of potatoes cut into small cubes. After giving them a few minutes in the olive oil, I added a chopped tomato, some tomato purée, a couple of bay leaves, some of my ever-essential pul biber (a Turkish chilli, for those of you who haven’t yet come across my obsession with this spice), poured in enough water to just cover the potatoes, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and left it all on a low heat to bubble away.

For some strange reason, I always find potatoes take longer to cook if they are in anything other than plain salted water, and this dish was no different. Despite being in small chunks, it took almost half an hour to get the potato really soft – which was fine, as it gave the flavours in the stew a chance to really deepen. About halfway through cooking, I added a couple of spoons of chopped capers, and checked the seasoning.

And that, dear readers, was simply that. Some steamed beans on the side, and here was a healthy meal, making good use of some store-cupboard leftovers, and, most importantly, it was delicious.

Adventures in Antakya

January 15, 2011

I’m spending a few days in the south-eastern Turkish city of Antakya, very close to the border with Syria. I’ve come here because I’ve heard it’s very different from the rest of Turkey, not least because it was once part of Syria (from 1918 to 1938) when that country was under French rule.

For me, the clearest way to witness the cultural history of this fascinating place is in its food. So I was very excited to visit the city’s main food market today. Although many of the fruit and vegetables were similar to those I find in the markets in Istanbul, the thing that really sets it apart was the people selling the stuff.

The immediate difference, in my eyes, was that there were many many more women behind the stalls. I don’t know why, but you just don’t see women doing that kind of work at the Istanbul markets.

Anyway, I just wanted to show you some of the hard-working, well-worn faces I came across today. They all clearly lead very tough lives, and work very hard. But they were all so kind to me, and insisted I took a sample of whatever they were selling.

This couple (above) were selling the typical Antakyan salty yoghurt, the consistency of which was more like cream cheese, but much fresher and lighter in flavour. Delicious, of course. They also had the driest, wrinkliest black olives I’ve ever eaten – but surprisingly sweet.

As is often the case at this market in Antakya, people come and sell even very small amounts of produce from their smallholdings. This woman (above) came armed with a couple of pumpkins, some homemade cheese and a 2-litre bottle of fresh milk.

The herbs this woman was selling (above) were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. To be honest, at first glance they looked like the sort of thing you end up with after giving your garden a good prune. But absolutely everything in this mishmash was edible – and fantastically flavoursome. But don’t ask me what any of it was – I haven’t got the faintest idea!

This, believe it or not, is a radish (above). They don’t half like their radishes in Turkey. And when they are as sweet and peppery as this one, I can understand why.

My very first meal in Antakya included a black carrot stuffed with minced lamb, rice and spices. Several meals later, I still think that was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten here. I got very excited when I saw this pile of black carrots at the market (above), but sensibly came to the decision that I was not going to be able to stuff a couple of kilos of them in my suitcase to take home.

It seems to be the case in Turkey that the surrounding streets are completely taken over with people selling produce on market day. I like to think this woman has a veritable garden of paradise behind this house, which she heaves onto the street each Saturday. I doubt that’s even where she lives, but it’s a nice thought.

I don’t think Süleyman would mind me saying his taste in food is perhaps a little traditional. Traditionally Turkish, that is.

The Turks, I am discovering, are very protective of their customs – and cooking in particular. So, although this means you can go to pretty much any restaurant here in Istanbul – and most people’s homes, too – and get an amazing Turkish meal, it’s harder to find decent non-Turkish food.

And, as much as Süleyman loves his grub, he can sometime be a weeny bit suspicious of some of the dishes I cook – simply because it’s something he’s not familiar with.

So, when I pointed out some slices of vivid orange pumpkin at the market the other day, and asked if he liked it, I wasn’t surprised when he told me he’d only ever eaten it as a sweet – as that is the traditional Turkish way with pumpkin.

I resolved to change his view of this vegetable and bought some with the intention of making something savoury with it, but not really knowing what. When it came to using the pumpkin, I noticed I also had some jerusalem artichokes left, and it occurred to me that the two might go very well together.

I was, however, fully aware that it could result in a rather odd concoction – and if my tastebuds thought it odd, then god knows what Süleyman would make of it. Oh well, nothing ventured, I thought.

So, here’s what I did. I roughly chopped a red onion and sautéed it in olive oil along with a chopped clove of garlic. I wanted the flavours to be resolutely Mediterranean, so I added a couple of bay leaves, and a sprinkling of dried thyme and rosemary. Once the onion was soft, I added the jerusalem artichoke and pumpkin, both of which had been cut into smallish cubes. I added enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, seasoned well with salt and pepper, then left it all to simmer until cooked. (This actually took much longer than I thought it would – the pumpkin, in particular, I was surprised to find, took a good half an hour to become really soft and sweet.)

About ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, I added a chopped red pepper and a couple of skinned and chopped tomatoes. Finally, to make the dish a little more substantial, I made use of some minced beef I had left over. Here, the mince is very fine, in readiness for it being made into köfte. This means it’s very easy to squish together into tightly bound wee balls, with no need to add egg or breadcrumbs.

I rolled my mince into walnut-sized pieces and simply dropped them into the cooking juices of the pumpkin, artichokes, tomatoes etc. They took barely five minutes to cook through.

And what did this bizarre assortment of ingredients taste like? Well, the delicious earthiness of the jerusalem artichoke really permeated the whole dish, and, added to the sweetness of the pumpkin and a hefty hint of beefiness from the meatballs, it was a surpringly tasty combination.

And, luckily, even Süleyman thought so.

I fear I have been neglecting you recently.

Having spent a wonderful ten days relaxing in France with my lovely mother and her equally lovely kitchen – where I was able to do some serious cooking and blogging – I was then plunged into the chaos of bed-hopping and job-hopping in London for three weeks. I had so much fun catching up with friends and family (plus earning some much-needed money by freelancing at a couple of glamorous fashion magazines), but it barely left me time to breathe, never mind cook and blog.

So, here I am, back at a place I am very happy to now call home – in Istanbul, with my terrific Turk, Suleyman. And very eager to get back in the kitchen.

I arrived back yesterday, and despite waking up this morning to a couple of still-full suitcases and a mound of washing the size of Everest, what was the first thing I did? Throw on some clothes and drag poor Suleyman to the local market, of course.

It’s blummin’ cold here at the moment, and wet with it. So I knew I wanted to start off by cooking something cosy and comforting. As I was perusing the selection of vegetables on offer at Sultanahmet market, I suddenly remembered a recipe I used to cook a lot, but hadn’t made for a very long time. I can’t remember where I got it from, but it’s described as a Greek fish stew.

The important elements of the dish, as far as I could remember, were fish – obviously – courgettes, carrots, onions, garlic, plus a touch of chilli and a few peelings of orange zest. This, I thought, was just what I needed – Mediterranean comfort food.

A quick dash through icy rain to the fish market resulted in a bag of red mullet, a wee sea bass, some prawns, and a couple of dinky silver fish that I’ve eaten here before but couldn’t, for the life of me, tell you what they’re called.

After a warming glass of red wine (the heating’s not great in our flat, or, at least, that’s my excuse), I got to cooking. I chopped a couple of onions, a couple of cloves of garlic, a chilli and a carrot, and popped them in a wide, deep saucepan, along with two or three thick slices of orange zest and a couple of bay leaves. I poured in enough water to just cover the ingredients, added some salt, pepper and a good glug of olive oil, brought it all to a low simmer, then left it until the vegetables were just about soft (about six minutes). Then I added a diced courgette and one of those giant radish-y type things I’ve mentioned before. (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t in the original recipe, but I had one, and thought it would go quite well with the other ingredients.)

In the meantime, I cut the fish into equal-sized chunks (discarding heads and tails), cored and chopped a large tomato, juiced the remains of the orange and chopped up a big handful of fresh parsley.

Once the vegetables were cooked to an al-dente texture, I added the fish and chopped tomato. The fish took only four or five minutes to cook, and, with about a minute to go, I added the orange juice and parsley. Once I’d checked the seasoning and given it one last stir, I popped the lid on, turned off the heat, and let it sit for a couple of minutes.

So, there we had it. A steaming pan of slightly spicy, slightly zesty, totally yummy Greek fish stew, served with Turkish bread, Turkish wine and a great big helping of hungry gusto. Mmmm…

Ovens above!

November 14, 2010

I am with oven – finally! Unfortunately, it’s not my own. I’m staying with my mum in France for a week or so, and as is expected of the mother who taught me much of what I know, cooking-wise, her kitchen is well designed, fully stocked and an absolute joy to work in.

Now that I have an oven at my disposal, I’m certainly making the most of it, and reached for the ‘on’ switch almost as soon as I had walked through the door. (I tend to do most of the cooking when staying with Mum – something that gives pleasure to both of us.)

I never have to worry about there being a lack of fresh vegetables, herbs and all sorts of foodie extras at Mum’s, and I can usually find pretty much everything I need for a recipe, no matter what it is.

Mum had some chicken legs in the freezer that she wanted used up, so, after an inspection of her fridge, I found the perfect accompaniments – a large bulb of fennel (one of my favourite vegetables, and impossible to find in Istanbul), a bag of mushrooms and some red onions. Which, in my eyes, added up to baked chicken and fennel.

So, I thinly sliced the fennel, a red onion and a handful of the mushrooms, scattered them evenly in a largeish baking dish, then added a couple of sprigs of rosemary (from the garden), finely chopped, and a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic.

I poured over enough hot stock and some white wine to just cover the vegetables, seasoned with a little salt and a fair old grinding of black pepper, then popped it into an oven heated to about 220º for 15 minutes or so. I often find that vegetables take much longer than you’d imagine to soften in an oven, so thought I’d give the fennel et al a head start.

While the vegetables were beginning to cook, I browned the chicken legs – which I’d jointed, so they wouldn’t take quite so long to cook either. Then they were added to the now semi-cooked vegetables, and placed back in the oven for about half an hour at 180º.

Once the chicken was cooked, the skin beautifully crisp, and the fennel soft and sweet, all that was left to do was steam some broccoli, and spoon up. There was plenty of juice left – in fact, I’d probably put in a bit too much liquid to start with. But, never one to be wasteful, I simply used it to make a leek and mushroom soup the next day. Both were delicious.

Sounds meh, tastes mmm…

November 11, 2010

I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to Bare Cupboard & Claudia, after the Julie & Julia film. After all, I seem to be blogging my way through Claudia Roden’s The New Book Of Middle Eastern Food in much the same way that Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.

And today was no different…

I actually made this dish for the first time last week in Istanbul, when I found a bag of seriously softening carrots in the bottom of my fridge. I did what I always do in this situation, and that’s head for the index of a few cookbooks to see if I had enough other ingredients to make something interesting with whatever it is I want to use up.

In this case, I found a recipe that, I have to admit, sounded like something Nanny would have forced upon some sorry Dickensian school-children. Boiled carrot salad. But once I’d read the list of simple ingredients, I had a feeling it was going to taste much better than the name suggested.

Fortunately, I was right. Unfortunately, the photos I took made it look as though Nanny had had a punch-up with the mashed carrots – and lost. Best left for another time, I decided.

And the ‘other time’ presented itself to me today. I arrived at my mum’s in France yesterday, a stopover on my way back to London (only a visit – I haven’t fled Istanbul altogether!), and after a quick rummage in her well-stocked fridge, I found some similarly floppy carrots. Boiled carrot salad for lunch, then.

So, the first step is to, er, boil the carrots. In salted water, with a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic. Once the vegetables are super-soft, mash them with a hefty pinch of cumin seeds (I usually just crumble them between my fingertips, rather than grind them to a fine powder), a teaspoon of harissa paste (I used pul biber the first time I made it, and actually thought it tasted better), a splash of wine vinegar (either red or white will do), and a good glug of olive oil. I found that it also needed a bit more of a seasoning with salt and pepper. Don’t mix’n’mash too thoroughly, as it’s tastier when a bit chunky. Leave it to cool a little, then scatter with a few more cumin seeds, a little cayenne pepper (or, in my case, pul biber), and another glug of olive oil.

Mum and I ate it with an avocado salad, some crunchy baguette, and a glass of delicious Muscadet. We both agreed that it was very tasty, and could easily become rather addictive. Nanny would be proud…

Here comes the mushroom man

November 4, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, while wandering around Kumkapi market, I spotted a man sitting at the side of the road with a shoe box on his lap. The shoe box was full of wild mushrooms of all sizes, shapes, colours, and probably levels of edibility. Clearly mushroom season had started.

Being a huge fungi fan, I was sorely tempted to buy some, but something told me it perhaps wasn’t the most sensible thing to do. And I may well have been right – Suleyman later told me there are occasionally cases of people coming to sticky ends at this time of year, after consuming wild mushrooms that had been picked by someone who doesn’t know their Cantharellus cibarius from their Cortinarius rubellus.

So, I was delighted to see a stall at Fatih Pazar yesterday overflowing with what were clearly carefully selected mushrooms.

A halting conversation with the vendor resulted in the information that this was a selection of field and forest fungi from the region around the city of Bolu, about half-way between Istanbul and Ankara. It’s an area known for natural springs, high mountains and pine forests, so I was hoping its vegetation would reflect that unspoilt environment.

With prices starting at about £3 a kilo, I barely knew where to start. It would have been very easy to walk away with several kilos of mushrooms, but even the greediest of gourmands can consume only so much. So, after examining the fungi fare on offer, I went for what I think are saffron milk caps. (Unfortunately, my Turkish is nowhere near good enough to have come to that conclusion from my chat with the mushroom man, and I had to do some internet research instead – but if anyone knows different, please do tell me.)

My shopping companion, Mireille, and I decided to walk home from the market – which is a good hour away from home – so I had plenty of time to think about what I was going to do with my bag of goodies. By the time I got back, I was starving, and knew exactly what was going to become of my mushrooms – sautéed saffron milk caps with garlic, thyme and lemon juice, atop some toast.

The large meaty mushrooms were perfect for this. They held together well in the frying pan and were strong enough in flavour to take on the garlicky, herby aromas. A squeeze of lemon juice stopped the whole dish from becoming too heavy, but, nonetheless, the results were a hugely satisfying autumnal late lunch.