Oh divine pleasures of taste and smell, I salute you! This week’s recipe from Guardian Feast encapsulates the gloriousness of carefully thought-through vegetarian recipes. Every element of Yotam Ottolenghi’s dish delivers flavour, aroma and texture, culminating in a mouth-explosion of deliciousness. And, with a plant-based yoghurt instead of cow’s milk, it would be easy to veganise.
It’s been a bit wild in our household recently. We went hot foot from Covid self-isolation to my niece’s wedding in Suffolk. It was a heart-expanding weekend celebrating love, friendship, family, hope and the future. I am so glad we were there to witness my niece and her partner’s commitment to each other and to partake in the communal breaking of bread and raising of glasses that sealed the deal.
In truth, the journey back to full health post-Covid – even with a double vaccine – is not totally straightforward. Smell and taste are slovenly in returning as are full energy levels – particularly since I’ve now developed pleurisy. But I’m sick of being poorly so am ignoring my scratchy lung and weary body.
Grateful thanks to my friend Barbara for dropping off Issue No.190 of Guardian Feast which I missed out on because of all the wonderful wedding shenanigans.
Bring on roast cauliflower with yoghurt and red pepper sauce which The Husband dubs ‘a microcosm of all things Ottolenghi’.
Yotam has a magic touch when it comes to marrying sharp-sweet-crunch-soft-fragrant-umami. But, dear reader, the magic moment was harvesting and preparing the mint: oh, hallelujah! I could smell its joyous scent! Such sensory delight after weeks of stunted smell brought a tear to my eye.
As ever, Yotam has you frying, toasting, mixing, crushing – but, the brilliant thing is, it’s all easily doable and manageable in the 25 minutes the cauliflower takes to roast. Turkish pepper paste would perhaps have furnished the dish with a hint of sweetness not found in my substitute tomato paste. However, ‘mild Turkish pepper paste’ was not available in the local shops here in Berwick. Next time.
About five days into our Covid-ridden self-isolation, The Husband and I congratulate ourselves that we’re continuing to survive on garden produce, store cupboard items and what’s in the fridge – we haven’t even run out of milk yet. However, none of this really matters as two key elements of life have gone missing in action.
We asked friends to drop by a copy of yesterday’s paper. It’s as if Rachel Roddy is mocking us in her taste and scent-infused column in Guardian Feast Issue No.189 about pizzette fritte – little fried pizzas. She writes:
‘Frying dough – like grating lemons, opening a new packet of coffee or cheese snacks, chopping herbs or grinding spices – is one of the great smells.’
Rachel’s right, of course, the smell of toast, grilled bacon, sweet blackberries, toasted nuts and seeds, all up there too: mmmmmmmm… but the simple truth is, Covid has taken our olfactory sense. We can’t smell anything. De nada. No taste either.
The first time I really noticed the lack, was after a particularly robust fart. I know we all think our own gassy expulsions are either fragrant or odourless, but I’ve lived long enough with mine to know that they are vicious incendiary devices. However, The Husband brushed close by without his customary ‘Oh!’. And so began the listing of all the things we could not smell or taste: that’s everything. A sort of never-ending no-smell I-Spy. When you’ve been banged up together for a week, you get your kicks where you can.
It is all very weird and quite distressing. But also interesting.
We still get taste groups: sweet, sour/bitter, heat (spice), salt, but that’s it. We can taste the bitter back taste of coffee but not the pleasing aromatic beany earthiness; we get the spicy punch of our Thai prawn curry but no hint of the sea or richness of coconut.
What is scary is that you can’t do the sniff test on on-the-brink items in the fridge. You also can’t smell burning (as The Husband discovered when he burnt his potato waffles – he’s working his way through his crime-buys from Iceland). The aroma of your cooking is absent as is the taste-as-you-go option – no matter the deliciousness of the ingredients.
Of course, we are by no means alone in our unhappy state – and it’s a salutary reminder that many are permanently without their sense of smell and/or taste. The eldest stepson suggests it’s a good year to release an unsatolfactory cookbook – and I’m sure there are clever people who are already on the case.
The Husband and I agree we can’t live on crisps and jelly tots. But what to do with our zero powers of taste and smell?
Yotam Ottolenghi’s peanut butter cornflake brittle has several things in its favour: it’s crunchy, sweet, salty and it’s a great use of the desultory pile of cornflakes left by the departing grandchildren last week. The only substitutions are desiccated coconut instead of flakes and salted peanuts instead of unsalted – but that’s probably a positive in the circumstances.
This is a cracking granola-esque snack which would be nice crumbled on your morning fruit and yoghurt. It’s got a great crunch and very satisfying mouthfeel. It certainly brightened up our bitter coffee water. Very easy to make and definitely one for the cupboard in future.
By yesterday (Saturday) evening, all I could think about was Rachel’s little fried pizzas. The very idea of them made my mouth water. They had to be made: we have basil coming out of our ears, four ripe tomatoes, parmesan and plenty of flour. Yes, it would use some of our dwindling milk supply, but needs must! I set to.
All that tomato, olive oil, garlic and basil, you know it’s going to be good. And even if you can’t smell the dough frying or taste the full nuances of flavour with Covid palate (no basil or garlic zing), these are satisfying, fun-to-make bites. Rachel says the dough usually only puffs on one side – not mine – dough balls of delight! After juggling the unctuous sauce onto the first few, The Husband devised a press-and-plop method which worked well.
A bit like making Japanese gyozas (which we’re very fond of doing), these little darlings are a communal effort – particularly the tearing off of plum-size pieces of dough, flattening them and the sauce distribution – oh, and eating them while they’re piping hot with a glass in hand. Student Daughter has already put in her order for them when she’s allowed back home. Bring it on!
It’s 4.30pm on Saturday. Earlier, we waved goodbye to all our children and grandchildren after a truly brilliant week together. The first time we’ve gathered as a full group in two years.
Beds stripped, sheets and towels on the washing conveyor belt, broken Lego binned and forgotten drawings and toys gathered up. However, our true focus is the final prep for our annual Open Garden day – it’s on Sunday: tomorrow.
There are 17 gardens around Berwick opening to raise funds to support the beautifying and upkeep of our local parks here. It’s a great occasion – all the more so because we couldn’t do it last year – full of socialising and gardening knowledge-sharing.
I get a text. Not a Love Island text calling me to the firepit – although, when I read it, it feels a bit like we’re about to go up in smoke. We’ve been exposed to coronavirus. We’re back home from the local walk-through PCR testing station by 5.30pm. I’m beginning to feel a bit coldy and achy. The Husband says he’s fine, but I think that sniff of his is suspicious.
We have cakes defrosting, the makings of 40 bacon rolls, a friend’s jam and more cakes arriving on the Sunday morning. The garden’s not perfect (it’s been a bit neglected by us and rampaged by the grandchildren in the very best of ways!) but it’s still looking good. But what if we have coronavirus?
I take the decision to pull out of Open Gardens.
Our PCR tests come back positive on Sunday morning. We take stock of the mountain of cakes and bacon. We slump in front of the telly all day, catching up on Love Island, watching people stroll past our window in the sunshine clutching Open Gardens trail maps. We’re groggy, fluey and lethargic – and a tad sorry for ourselves. We eat cake and bacon rolls.
By Tuesday I’m not sure I can eat another piece of cake or another bacon roll (The Husband’s not so sure!). I flick listlessly through Guardian Feast Issue No.188, even though I honestly cba to keep up with my ridiculous plan to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Feast during 2021.
However Meera Sodha – angel Meera – catches my eye with her fennel and courgette pistou soup. It looks so green and healing. Just thinking about spooning it into my body makes me feel better. Plus I have courgettes growing in the garden and a total abundance of basil. Okay, so we don’t have fennel. And we can’t nip out and get any. I never quite got round to sorting home delivery from any of our local supermarkets. At the beginning of Lockdown 1 it was impossible to register, let alone place an actual order, so I gave up. I find some sad celery in the bottom of the fridge and fennel seeds in the cupboard which I decide will do.
I use our ‘compost bag’ plus a shrivelled carrot to make veg stock. I’m not going to say that my compromises delivered the perfect solution. Fennel is clearly a signature ingredient in this soup. Hey-ho – as I so often say – sometimes you just have to use what’s on offer.
Whatever I lacked in my store cupboard, Meera’s soup made up for in healing benevolence. The perfect food for feeding the coronavirus-ridden body and soothing the angst-ridden soul. As we slurped it down, The Husband and I gave grateful thanks that we are both double vaxed and that we are not suffering the full and awful impact of the illness that so many around the world have had to endure.
I’m often drawn to the ideas of Thomasina Miers’ The simple fix meals in Guardian Feast but seldom seem to cook them. I think it’s something to do with the fact that they look like something I might put together myself without the aid of a recipe.
This attitude has probably meant I’ve missed many a super meal. Thomasina is the queen of the unobtrusive finishing touch which turns simple into superlative. In the case of her peppers stuffed with olives and goat’s cheese it’s the transformative green sauce that steals the show.
We’ve arrived at Issue No.184 in my attempt to cook at least one recipe each week from Guardian Feast magazine.
The Husband announced that he’d bought pointy peppers from the supermarket shop so it was serendipity that Feast fell open at Thomasina’s recipe.
One of this recipe’s strengths is that you can pretty much get everything done while the potatoes cook and the pepper halves get their first 15-minute softening roast. In a sense, you’re creating a vegetarian potato hash to fill the peppers with – but the marriage of flavours in Thomasina’s Mexican inspired peppers stuffed with olives and goat’s cheese is truly sublime. The pickle-herb-heat riff rocks.
The Husband is still muttering under his breath about capers: ‘How could I let us run out? Running out of capers is practically a crime against humanity.’ Unfazed by this calamity, I used the handful of capers we had and upped the quantity of pitted green olives. We also only had three pointy peppers rather than the required five. One pepper is diced and used in the stuffing – fortunately I had a jar of roasted red peppers in stock and used one of those chopped in the hash mix.
No fresh oregano lurking in the recesses of the fridge or garden either – I used dried alongside the fresh tarragon and parsley.
While the peppers are taking their second roasting – this time fully stuffed – you have plenty of time to neck a glass of the tipple of your choice and make the green sauce. Who’d have thought that blitzing garlic, oil, capers (erm, olives), lemon juice and chilli would create the dream topping? Student Daughter declared she’d ‘happily eat this again’ – and she doesn’t even like tarragon.
Just one word of caution. This is, as billed, a simple recipe. However, it does use quite a lot of pots and implements in the creation – well worth it in my opinion but also worth knowing when you start the prep.
As for Thomasina’s suggestions for using up the leftover stuffing and sauce during the rest of the week… we wolfed the lot in one sitting!
There’s something in the air in Berwickland. It’s been hot for weeks. Our weekends have tumbled into our weekdays as muggy days roll into languid dreamy evenings. We’ve overdone it – working, gardening and, yes, eating and drinking.
So, Yotam Ottolenghi’s watermelon with pomegranate and mint sugar may sound cooling and seasonally appropriate, but it is the simple healing balm of Meera Sodha’s vegan tomato and turmeric kitchari that calls ‘eat me’ to us in Guardian Feast Issue No.183.
Kitchari is the perfect food for a Sunday soul slightly troubled by the memory of overindulgence the night before. And the fuel for a body wearied by hours of penitential garden strimming. Everything Meera says about this blend of rice, lentils, tomatoes, turmeric and cinnamon is spot on: cooking times, yoghurt and lime pickle accompaniments, suitable for all tastebuds.
‘Moroccan or Thai,’ asked The Husband as he cooked the prawns to go with my marinating peppers. I was on the phone to London daughter and gave her the choice. Thai it was. Perhaps not the obvious choice with vegan red peppers drenched in soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, sesame oil and topped with a cumin seed, pine nut and coriander crunch. The moral of the story: don’t consult someone who’s not there on your menu creation. Or, maybe, just don’t give options.
Fortunately, Yotam Ottolenghi’s sweet ‘n’ sour peppers with pine nut crumble from Guardian Feast Issue No.179 is so easy peasy and so darn delicious, you could serve them with old shoe leather and they’d still dazzle and dance around all your senses. These beauties made right pepper pigs of us!
And so my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues to surprise and delight.
I was right out of red romano peppers but Billy at Berwick market’s fruit and veg stall supplied me with some spot-on red peppers ordinaire. As there were just two of us, I halved the quantity of peppers to 500g (wish I hadn’t – so tasty!) but stuck to the same amount of nutty cuminy crumble (Yotam counsels to make double: he’s right, it’s a super crunchy, salty topping – a condiment as well as a crumble).
The only faff is peeling the roasted red peppers – but it’s worth the time. This easy vegan recipe punches above its ingredient and effort-weight in terms of flavour, aroma and prettiness.
Some weeks the urge to mix it up is irresistible. With our lockdown clan (The Husband, the two daughters and me) reunited for my birthday, this was just such a week.
We needed celebration. We needed snacking. We needed playful food. Enter Guardian Feast Issue No.178 the let me entertain you issue with Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly, Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas and Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls.
My challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues apace. This week it was lovely to have the return of the eldest daughter’s nimble fingers and strict kitchen protocol.
Read on for the usual useful insights into tackling unknown recipes and tempting mouthwatering deliciousness.
The photo of Ravneet’s beautiful pineapple and coconut jelly was simultaneously droolingly succulent and terrifying. I wanted to grab a spoon and plunge it into the photo but I wanted Ravneet to make it for me. However, part of my reason for tackling a recipe a week from Feast is to wrestle through recipes I would otherwise skip over. Here goes.
Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly
We only have one jelly mould in the house and I felt a tad offended that The Husband considered it ‘eccentric’ for the jelly in hand. I mean, it is ‘a great jelly mould’ as required by Ravneet, perhaps just not the one she had in mind (see below).
Since the coconut jelly (a delicious smooth, creamy panna cotta) must set before the pineapple wobble is poured on top of it, I made this over two days (I’m learning to read a recipe properly before I start it!). I used the gelatin powder I had in stock, rather than the recommended platinum leaves. It seemed fine. I ended up with more of both jellies than required – a small ramekin of the coconut and double pineapple and lime! My daughter was clearly right in her interpretation of the recipe: ‘400g pineapple, trimmed, peeled and cut into small chunks’ means the unpeeled and untrimmed weight. Oh well, double dibs on pineapple jelly? No one’s complaining.
If I were to make this gorgeous party centrepiece again – it’s a wibbly wobbly pina colada, why wouldn’t I? – I would clingfilm the surface of the coconut panna cotta to prevent it forming a slightly rubbery skin while it’s setting (although The Husband loved the ‘texture’).
The eldest daughter picked up the baton for Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls and Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas to create a welcome home feast for the youngest daughter.
Feleicity Cloake’s the perfect… cheese empanadas
The eldest daughter ordered in masarepa (pre-cooked cornmeal) specially to make these golden cheese toasty wraps.
The biggest challenge was (as Felicity hints) handling the corn pastry. Felicity counsels ‘handling it with wet hands at all times’. The issue for us was that the pastry tore and holed really easily. Wet hands helped but the biggest breakthrough was using extra masarepa and greaseproof paper in the envelope creation. That way you barely need to touch the empanadas with your hands.
Felicity suggests a range of acceptable extras to add to your cheesy filling. To be honest ours needed a bit of flavour-plumping – the blend of mozzarella and halloumi was not the most flavoursome. We all agreed that we’d add jalapeno peppers in the mix next time and probably change the cheese combo for something with a bit more oomph. We baked ours – although I can see the appeal of deep frying!
Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls
Like Ravneet’s jelly, Yotam’s vegan rice rolls look so pretty and appealing on the page. We couldn’t wait to recreate them. Yotam’s right to call them ‘zingy’. Bursting with pine nuts, sesame seeds, chestnuts, ginger, garlic and chilli, they have exactly the right balance of chew and crunch and zest and heat.
The eldest daughter took charge of prep while I got the shitake shrooms soaking and searched out the rest of the ingredients. Instead of adding the fried ingredients to the cold marinated tofu, we popped the tofu in the pan and let it warm through and soak up the soy saucy flavours. Other than that, we stuck to Yotam’s instructions. Bish bash bosh: top nosh.
It’s probably the same countrywide but I didn’t realise until we moved to Northumberland that many people judge a café purely on its scones. We’ve lived here nearly 11 years and I now know people who won’t enter the doors of certain establishments because of perceived scone quality.
Such people would surely celebrate were Yotam Ottolenghi to set up shop selling pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta on the corner of Marygate in Berwick-upon-Tweed. These gluten-free, veggie beauties are scones, Jim, but not as we know them.
My take on Ottolenghi’s pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta from Guardian Feast: they are scones, Jim, but not as we know them (in a good way)!
I’m six months into my epic challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), and the goodies just keep coming.
Some may take issue with a 16-ingredient scone. They’re wrong. But they’ve probably stopped reading already so they’ll never know. The only ingredient I couldn’t source here in Berwick was ‘powdered pectin’. After much consideration and a bit of Googling, I decided to eschew gelatin and agar agar and up the quantity of ‘finely grated lemon zest’ to a full lemon instead of 1/2 tsp. My square baking tin wasn’t quite the dimensions required by Yotam, but all was well with the end product.
My za’atar was what I’d term cupboard vintage – but it worked a treat.
Only two crisis points for me in the recipe:
Yotam says: ‘Pour in the cream mix, pulse again until the ‘crumbs’ are moist but not quite coming together’ – see picture below. Also, am I the only person who, when a recipe says ‘in a small bowl’, takes it literally and then has to upgrade to a bigger bowl? There was no way I could safely whisk my cream, yoghurt and egg in my chosen bowl.
Not sure what a ‘rough 15cm long rectangle’ looks like. I made a square – see below. The pile of cheese looked impossibly huge heaped on it, but it wrapped up just fine.
As Yotam promised, I ended up with nine scones and had 54g of dough left over rather than the predicted 80g – not bad!
The alchemy of Yotam’s scones is not only in magically making something gluten free feel light and fluffy (I know enough people with celiac disease to understand the sad hefty mouthfeel of many gluten free products), but also in the perfect balance of intense cheesy herbiness and floaty pastry.
I was inspired by an article in The Guardian Cook back in April (for recipes follow the link) about one pot of cannellini beans making four meals. I’m a great one for using tins of beans – particularly silky, creamy cannellini – but a bit lazy about soaking overnight etc. Since Rachel Roddy insists the flavour is better if you use dried beans and soak them, I went for it. Pretty delighted with the results – although my soupy-stew looks more like a gloopy stew, it tastes good. I left out the pancetta to keep it veggie but then caved in to a bit of crisped up organic chorizo on top from Peelham Farm here in the Borders. Job done!
Soup bubbling away nicely…
More ‘gloopy’ soup than soupy stew but well tasty even with the naughty addition of crispy chorizo!
Next on my list was to freeze some of the beans and cooking juice for another week (none of us is up to beans four days a week) and then on to ‘the quick dip’. I really love this dip – it’s nearly up to my absolute favourite beany dip cum meal from (you guessed it) Yotam Ottolenghi – ‘Butter bean puree with dukkah’ – which, if you’ve never made it, has to be done. However, Ms Roddy’s recipe is jolly quick and a very credible alternative.
Cannellini bean and lemon puree – creamy and dreamy.
My third meal will probably be the ‘Creamy cannellini beans with sage and sausages’ – so more sneaking away from the veggie – but once you’ve got the base bean dish I reckon you can take it just about anywhere you want to go – the world, as they say, is your oyster (mushroom oyster for vegetarians).
With thanks to Rachel Roddy for the inspiration – you’ll find her on Instagram @rachelaliceroddy.
Back in 1988 Rose Elliot told us that vegetarian eating was ‘Not just a load of old lentils’. She was right, of course. It’s Mars Bars and chips (cooked in vegetable oil, obvs) and rhubarb crumble. And, actually, it is quite a lot of beans and lentils too. But, amazingly, it’s easy to eat nice veggie food (I’m not talking vegan – that’s a step too far at the moment) – and to feel full after eating it. In fact, eating veggie two days a week has surprisingly proved to be one of the most easy and pleasurable of my five aims for 2015.
It is surprising because we are confirmed carnivores who salivate at the thought of a succulent piece of pork encased in crackling, we celebrate a plate of practically mooing steak, we crack into crustaceans with undignified lipsmacking delight and hoover up sushi as soon as it’s been sliced or rolled. Pleasurable because I have really enjoyed searching out vegetarian recipes and cooking them – and the Husband and 13-year-old have licked their plates clean. I’ve always adored vegetables but tended to think of them as accompaniments rather than the standalone star of a meal. My journey to meat-free meals has has not come out of the blue: I do believe our meat and fish should be grown and dispatched with love and respect. And sadly that’s just not the case. Most of us would be disgusted at the way the animals that grace our tables are treated.
Even without the indecent intensity of the meat business, a succulent tomato salad lavishly seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh basil and drizzled with top-notch olive oil would never be unwelcome on my table. I’m also most partial to Delia Smith’s peppers stuffed with tomatoes and anchovies from her ‘Summer Collection’ (Smith credits Elizabeth David with the original creation). The sweetness of the red peppers, tang of tomatoes, and saltiness of the anchovies delivers that wonderful umami punch that gives you the tingles from your tastebuds to your toes. I know the purists amongst you will already be screaming ‘anchovies! anchovies! They’re not vegetables’. True enough. You could always substitute capers for anchovies – they’re just not as delicious. And that is an issue. The tiny anchovy is such a brilliant seasoning – it is, I think, impossible to replace with a veggie alternative. If any vegetarian out there knows of an anchovy-alike fish/meat-free alternative – tell me, please!
Now then, the mere mention of one name in particular can set me all a-quiver… Yotam Ottolenghi. He is the main man when it comes to veggie eating IMHO. What that man can do with a sweet potato or a couple of aubergines, or some asparagus. *Sigh*. Of course, the drawback with Ottelenghi is that his recipes are not only ingredient rich (and often a little difficult to source for those of us not in big cities), they can also be pretty time-consuming to create – great for a dinner party but not always ideal for a family supper.
Spinach & ricotta cannelloni (see below) – glass of red optional!
Risottos and pasta have always featured in our family meals and that’s still the case. The 13-year-old was delighted with a recent mushroom risotto topped with roasted butternut squash and sprinkled with toasted sunflower seeds (a welcome addition to pretty much any salad, pasta or rice dish). And it’s always the season for pasta lavished with homemade pesto (I make mine with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper,a dash of sugar, and a splash of vinegar to keep the colour – I leave out Parmesan so people can add to their own taste). Finally, in no particular order, here are a few recipes I’ve stumbled across that we’ve enjoyed creating and are jolly tasty to boot. With thanks to the many people on the internet who take the time to post fab recipes.
This spicy and delicious little mouth warmer is not only sustaining it’s fabulously cheap to make. As well as the cilantro (fresh coriander) I like to stir in some spinach at the end of the cooking. Just yum. My personal favourite recipe so far.
What can I say? If you’ve never piped spinach and ricotta mix into cannelloni: get to it! It’s fabulously easy and the results from this recipe are tip-top – although careful not to overcook as it can get a bit dry.