I’ve always quite fancied the idea of doing an underground restaurant. Unfortunately, my studio flat is so small that I’d only be able to fit in about six people, and two of those would have to perch on my bed with the food on their laps.

So, when my friend Lea asked if I’d help her do a charity dinner party at her house, to raise funds for her sons’ primary school playground, I didn’t need to be asked twice. In fact, I said, instead of me just helping her, I’d cook the whole meal.

And that’s how I found myself preparing a squid and aubergine stew at 7am on Saturday morning. (As you are well aware, I love my food – but I’ll freely admit, even I struggled with squid at that hour in the morning!)

I’d suggested to Lea that I do a kind of Turkish/Middle Eastern-themed meal, which she was very happy with. So, we started with a spicy Turkish lentil soup, which I learned to make at a cookery course I did last summer in Istanbul, and which gave me the opportunity to convert a few more people to my essential Turkish ingredient, pul biber. To go with the soup, Lea bought a couple of loaves of fantastic Turkish bread from a local bakery.

For the main course, alongside the aforementioned squid and aubergine stew, I made another Turkish dish called turlu turlu  – a recipe I got from the Moro cookbook. This is one of those dishes that belies its simple ingredients. A tray of aubergines, courgettes, baby turnips and potatoes is seasoned with allspice and coriander, and roasted for about an hour. Then, once cooked, a combination of tomato passata and chickpeas is poured over the top, and the whole lot is garnished with plenty of fresh parsley and coriander. The last dish of the main-course triumvirate was saffron rice.

Finally, for pudding, I turned to a recipe by Dan Lepard that I cut out of The Guardian – a peach saffron cake, which I served with some plain yoghurt.

Some very satisfied customers waddled home late that night, and Lea raised more than £100 for the school playground, which is fantastic. I had a lot of fun cooking the meal, and can’t wait to do something like this again. Now I just need to find someone else willing to lend me their kitchen and dining room.

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This, I believe, may be one of my slightly odder recipe reinterpretations. I know there are many dishes out there that combine squid and chorizo – it seems to be a very of-the-moment combination – but for some reason, last night, I decided the one thing in my fridge that would go perfectly with it was a crunchy bunch of brussel tops.

My assumption was based on a Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall recipe I’ve made once or twice, involving a cheat’s home-made chorizo, clams and purple sprouting broccoli. I didn’t have the clams or sprouting broccoli, and my chorizo was shop-bought, but, I thought, the basic concept should still stand.

The brussel tops were thinly shredded and steamed for a few minutes, until cooked but still with a bite. Meanwhile, I quickly browned some chopped chorizo, and added a sliced clove of garlic, plus a pinch of ground fennel seeds and paprika. Then, once it was all lovely and fragrant, I added the squid, and cooked for barely a minute or so. Some chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon and a little seasoning of salt and pepper, and it was ready to spoon over the cooked brussel tops.

It may seem an unlikely combination, but the sweetness of the greens and the squid was a perfect foil to the full-flavoured smokiness of the chorizo. A hearty yet healthy winter supper, I reckon.

Fishing for compliments…

January 25, 2010

This weekend, my shopping at Borough Market was all about fish. I’d recently noticed a new-ish stall and, yesterday, took a closer look. It was selling a small but perfectly fresh selection of fish that had come direct from some Devon boats, and when I checked the prices, it was significantly cheaper than some of the other more established fish stalls in the market.

A box of shiny silvery-black mackerel caught my eye, so I asked for one, plus a small-ish squid. Then, as I was about to pay the whopping £3 for the two items, I saw two large roe sacks.

“What fish is that from?” I asked. “Sea bass,” the guy informed me. “You can have it, and your other bits, for a fiver.” Now, in my books, that’s an offer you don’t refuse!

The mackerel has gone in the freezer for later in the week, and I’ll have the squid tonight, but last night I decided to eat the roe while it was super-fresh.

Some online research led me to discover that bass roe is something of a delicacy in the States, where it’s cooked simply by poaching in some stock. So that’s what I did. Although, me being me, I had to add something else – and this time it was a lemon and chive sauce.

Once cooked, the roe resembled a fishy boudin, but the tiny eggs gave it a very smooth texture. It was quite mild in taste, with just a hint of sea-saltiness – but it was very rich, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to eat the whole thing.

I’m not sure it’s something I would bother buying if I saw it again, but hey, you have to try these things once in a while…