The thing about all this seasonal food here in Istanbul is that sometimes it just gets a bit tedious. I know, I know, I really shouldn’t complain. But when you’ve eaten aubergine every bloody which way it is possible to eat aubergine, sometimes you just want something, well, that’s not aubergine.

And then, suddenly, it all changes. Of course. Because that’s what happens when the seasons change.

After a month of extreme heat (well, extreme to my delicate British sensibilities), the weather has quite suddenly turned. Although still nice and sunny, the temperature has dropped significantly, and long sleeves are the order of the day.

With that chill in the air has come a change in the food on offer in the markets, the most exciting of which is, for me, the arrival of anchovy season. Apparently it’s the cooler sea water that has them swimming in their thousands down the Bosphorus from the Black Sea.

And, all I have to say to that is, “Come to mummy!”

I love these little fishies – in tins, in olive oil, in salads, but best of all, fresh, dusted in seasoned flour and fried. And these ones I bought in Kumkapi market were small enough to eat whole – I, for one, cannot be bothered trying to gut tiny tiddlers like this.

In spite of their size, fresh anchovies pack quite a flavour punch, so I decided to have something quite simple and fresh-tasting with them. I’d bought some baby leeks, and at the back of my mind I remembered a recipe I’d seen in Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food (do I use any other cookbook?) for leeks with yoghurt sauce. Perfect, I thought.

So, while I steamed the baby leeks, I mixed together a tablespoon of olive oil, a couple of heaped tablespoons of yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, a grinding of pepper and salt, and a handful of chopped parsley. Claudia suggests first cooking the yoghurt with an egg white and some cornflour to stop it curdling, but I couldn’t really be bothered. And, luckily, the sauce pretty much held together fine as it was.

Once the leeks and yoghurt were ready, I simply rolled the anchovies in flour seasoned with salt and my store-cupboard essential, pul biber, then quickly fried them in a small amount of very hot olive oil. They crisped up well and were absolutely delicious with the fresh sweet leeks and tangy yoghurt sauce.

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A plaice in my heart

April 12, 2010

A couple of years ago, my mum and I did a fish cookery course down at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage in Dorset.

We were shown how to prep any number of different fish, from mackerel and sole to crab and oysters. Once we amateurs had done mauling these poor creatures about, they were taken off to the kitchen where the professionals cooked them up for us to eat.

It was a really fun day, but I have to say, I haven’t really used any of the skills I learned since then. However, when I bought this lovely, bright, fresh plaice at Devon Fish in Borough Market on Saturday, and the guy asked me if I wanted him to fillet it, I decided I really had to have a go myself. And, I don’t think I did too bad a job of it!

I reckon, as long as you have a really sharp little knife and take things slowly and carefully, a flat fish like plaice is the ideal thing to start your filleting with.

I’d bought the plaice to go with a recipe I recently discovered on The New York Times website for leeks with anchovy butter. I’d always thought I wasn’t very fond of leeks, but have recently come to the conclusion that what I didn’t like was leek and potato soup, so have been making up for lost leek-time recently.

I simply pan-fried the plaice fillets in some olive oil, with a little salt and pepper, and served the leeks on the side. I had substituted the shallots with red onion as I’d forgotten to buy the former. And, although the onions were slightly crunchier than they ought to have been, the dish was really delicious.

However, it was a little heavy on the butter for my taste, so I might try it with a mix of butter and olive oil next time. But there definitely will be a next time.

A perk of the job…

March 31, 2010

One of the most important parts of my job at the women’s magazine where I work is to suck up to the food editor. After all, he needs to know he has a Deputy Receiver Of Free Stuff he can trust!

Okay, so I’m not always the first person to get the freebies that land on his desk (he has this strange sense of fairness that means everything gets shared out equally in the office…), but last week he did hand me an interesting looking, British-made chorizo, from a company called The Bath Pig.

I left it in my fridge for a few days, because I knew, as soon as I opened the packet, it would be a matter of minutes before the whole thing was gone. And I was almost right.

I started off by adding some to a grilled pepper salad (pictured above), which I took to work for lunch yesterday. The chorizo had a very nice, strong, paprika flavour, but, in my opinion, needed to be slightly more oily. It was very dense, which is great, but just very slightly too dry.

Although, that certainly didn’t put me off making a determined effort to finish it last night.

For supper, I fried up some more slices alongside a clove of garlic and a few scallops, then put them on top of braised leeks, added a squeeze of lemon juice and a handful of chopped parsley, and mopped it all up with some lovely, warm, crusty white bread. Frying the chorizo made it very crispy, and a bit bacony, but this actually went really well with the soft sweetness of the scallops.

Despite my concerns about the texture of this chorizo, I did think the flavour was very authentic. I bought another British chorizo last year, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s online shop, and I have to say that The Bath Pig one was definitely better.

So, if you do come across it, why not give it a go.

If you have any interest in food, when you’re shopping, it’s always fascinating to see what other people are buying. And Borough Market is the perfect place to have a nose in random stranger’s baskets.

This morning, I found myself following people around, curious to know what they were going to cook with the things they were buying. Then, I suddenly thought, why not just ask!

So, here is the inaugural post of what I hope will become a regular feature on And The Cupboard Was Bare…, which I’ve titled What’s In Your Cupboard?

The kind couple who allowed me to poke around in their morning’s shopping had come up to Borough Market from Surrey. And their plans for the contents of their brightly coloured shopper sounded very tasty indeed.

The selection of field, shitake and girolle mushrooms were intended for a risotto, while the leeks were going to be an addition to their Sunday roast – chicken stuffed with the paprika-filled onion chorizo they’d bought from a small Spanish food stall at the market.

Using chorizo as a stuffing is not something I’ve come across before, but I have to admit, my mouth was watering as it was described to me.

It sounds absolutely delicious, and it’s just a shame they live all the way down in Surrey, or I’d be knocking on their door tomorrow lunchtime, asking to join them.

Baked eggs with leeks

March 13, 2010

The end of the week found my fridge in possession of a couple of eggs, a leek and some rather wrinkly cherry tomatoes.

Two eggs are not enough to make a tortilla, and I didn’t really fancy an omelette, so, after a few minutes of pondering, I came up with another of my childhood favourites – baked eggs.

It really is the perfect way to deal with leftover vegetables, because you can use pretty much anything as the basis of this dish.

I sautéed the leeks with some garlic until soft, then added a couple of spoonfuls of frozen peas. When they were cooked through, I mixed in the halved cherry tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and put the veg in an oiled, ovenproof dish.

Making a couple of little wells in the mixture, I broke the eggs into the leeks, and baked for about 10 minutes, so the yolks were still nice and runny. And a big hunk of crusty bread was the only addition needed to make the meal a particularly satisfying supper.

‘Scuse the delay in posting anything new since the weekend, but I was rather cooked out after the dinner party on Saturday night. (Now I definitely know I’m too old to be a professional cook, if I’m exhausted after one night of full-on cooking!)

Anyway, I managed to rustle up something vaguely interesting tonight, in the shape of tagliatelle with some leeks and courgettes, doused in plenty of lemon, garlic and parsley.

In a large non-stick frying pan, I fried slices of courgette in a little olive oil, until nicely browned on each side. Then I removed them to a plate, added the sliced leek to the same frying pan, and a couple of sliced cloves of garlic.

Once the leeks were soft, I put the courgettes back in the pan, added a good squeeze of lemon, some chopped fresh parsley and seasoned with salt and pepper.

The weather was noticeably warmer in London today, and my supper tonight really brought some spring flavours to mind. I just hope I’m not being a bit premature with thoughts of spring…

Last night, I wanted one of those super-quick suppers that involve very little thought or effort. Of course, omelettes fit that bill perfectly, and with a leek and some mushrooms in the fridge, I decided that would be my filling.

Until recently, it had never occurred to me to add spices to egg dishes, but they seem to go very well together. I also like adding soy sauce and sesame oil to the beaten eggs to make a Chinese-flavoured omelette, and I thought the leeks and mushrooms would work particularly well with this.

So, I gently fried the sliced leeks and mushrooms in a little vegetable oil, and added some grated ginger and garlic and a chopped red chilli. To two beaten eggs, I added about a dessertspoon of soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil, and when the vegetables were nice and soft, I poured over the eggs.

My intention was to let it cook through, rather like a tortilla, but it became clear very quickly that I would need more eggs to do this. And I’d just used my last ones. So, instead, I flipped it over into an omelette – which is why it looks a bit rough around the edges!

Anyway, it was a quick, filling, tasty supper – and that, really, was the point.

Last night, I took dinner round to my friend Nicky. After a week in hospital, she was in desperate need of feeding up, and I reckoned I was the person to do it!

I brought her a meal that I’d prepared the night before at home, so while she got her two extremely boisterous little children into bed, all I needed to do was put the dishes in the oven and sit down with a glass of wine. (Okay, so I’m a good friend when it comes to food, but not when it comes to helping out with the kids!)

First on the menu was leek, butter bean and potato gratin. I’d got these dinky little pie dishes when I recently made beef and oyster pies, and they were perfect for two individually sized gratins.

Into a mixing bowl I put a tin of drained butter beans and a sliced and washed leek, then seasoned it all with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or so of chopped fresh rosemary. I divided the mixture between the two pie dishes and added about 100ml of milk to each one.

I’d bought some pink fir apple potatoes at the market last Saturday, and used them to top the gratins. Often, recipes that have sliced potato toppings say to add them raw, but I find it takes an absolute age to cook like this. So, I sliced the potatoes and par-boiled them in some salted water before layering them on top of the butter beans and leeks.

A little grated cheese and some more black pepper was scattered over the potatoes, and then they were baked in an oven heated to gas mark 4, for about 50 minutes.

I did mean to add some chopped garlic, but forgot. And I think it would have made a difference, so in the recipe that I’ll post later, I’ll put the garlic in. I also decided that the dish would have been improved by a half-and-half mix of stock and milk, so again, I’ll change that in the recipe. But all in all it was a warming winter meal.

For pudding, I made a pear and cinnamon tart. When I cooked the beef and oyster pies last December, I had some of the rough puff pastry left, so stuck it in the freezer – where I discovered it after a good rootle round at the weekend. I also had a bag of pears that I’d bought for a mere 40p at a supermarket, which had, in fact, turned out to be utterly tasteless.

The thin slices of pear were simmered in a little water, with some soft brown sugar and cinnamon, until soft. Then I simply placed them in a nice pattern on the rolled out pastry in a tart tin, and baked in an oven heated to gas mark 4 for about 40 minutes.

Although the tart certainly did wonders for the flavour of the pears, the pastry, unfortunately, was a little soggy in the middle. I’m not sure if it needed to be cooked for longer or had just not lasted well in the freezer, but I’ll experiment with it a bit more and post the recipe if I am more successful next time.

Last night I used the remains of the weekend’s fishy purchases – the mackerel. I’m very fond of mackerel, but it is fairly oily so I like to cook it with something quite sharp, to offset the fatty taste (which I know is what a lot of people don’t like about it).

In among the vegetables I’d bought at Borough Market on Saturday was the first of this this year’s chicory. I love bitter salads, and this crispy leaf is definitely one of my faves. I usually eat it raw in salads, but it can be cooked too, and I thought its flavour would be perfect with the mackerel.

So I cooked the chicory in some olive oil, before adding a leek, for some sweetness, then flavoured the braise with some rosemary, a bay leaf and a splash of Balsamic vinegar. As a side dish to the mackerel it worked really well, but if you want to make it into a veggie main course, a tin of butter beans goes with it very nicely.

Clay-pot chicken

January 23, 2010

Quite often, if I’m home on my own on a Friday night, I’ll cook something a bit special for dinner. And, as yesterday was pay day (hurrah!), I thought I’d go the whole hog and roast a chicken.

I posted a while ago about my ancient clay pot for cooking chickens, which is what I used for my meal last night. I rubbed the chicken with a grated clove of garlic, a teaspoon of pul biber (the Turkish red pepper spice I’ve mentioned before), a teaspoon of ground cumin seeds and some olive oil.

If you must have crispy skin on your roast chicken, I wouldn’t bother with this clay-pot method. It may produce the most juicy, succulent meat, but it doesn’t do much for the skin. Which is why I often take off the lid and turn the oven up high for the last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking, so it has at least a little colour to it.

With the chicken, I had some braised leek and courgette, seasoned with more garlic and parsley, so that – in the spirit of this blog – I had an empty fridge, ready to be refilled this morning.