Category Archives: rachel eats London

blue book

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The first thing I made was the slow-cooked lamb shanks. It was 1996 and I was studying in Chalk Farm and living on Haverstock Hill, not quite opposite the Sir Richard Steele Pub, in a flat above a kebab shop. Not that we went to the Sir Richard Steele Pub. The grubby Fiddlers Elbow was the place in which we drowned our bruised or inflated egos each night after a day at The Drama Centre.

A couple of weeks previously I’d been for lunch at The River Cafe. A lunch that had spun an otherwise hopeless date into a spectacular (if futureless) one.  A char-grilled peppers with anchovies, deep-fried zucchini flower, linguine with crab, grilled sea bass, chocolate nemesis lunch that had left my date with an enormous hole in his pocket and me with both architectural and gastronomic goosebumps and the need to evangelise about a restaurant on Thames Wharf, Rainville road, London W6.

The day after lunch, knowing I would probably never have the good fortune – or indeed fortune – to eat there again, I bought a blue book with bold white font: The River Cafe Cook Book.  I spent the afternoon sitting on Primrose Hill (in the days when it wasn’t quite so fashionable) bookmarking everything before walking up and over the hill, skirting Regents Park and cutting down Parkway into Camden town to get 6 small lamb shanks, 6 red onions, red peppers, rosemary and a bottle of plonk and heading back to Haverstock Hill. I seem to remember the shanks were a tad on the dry side – a case of cooks at the cooking wine – but tasty nonetheless. The marinated grilled peppers however were superb. Which was everything to do with the recipe and very little to do with the (boozing) cooks. I made those peppers more times than I care to remember, as I did the bean soup, grilled squid, mussel soup, bread soup, raw fennel salad…..

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My copy of The River Cafe Cook Book has been sitting on my mum’s kitchen bookshelf for nearly nine years now, ever since I absconded to Italy with nothing more than the clothes I stood up in. I’ve been thumbing though it these last couple of weeks while here on a holiday of sorts. It remains – in my opinion –   along with Elizabeth David’s Italian Food, the English book that best captures the spirit and soul of Italian ingredients and cooking. It still looks as sharp and uncompromisingly good as it did 17 years ago. I still want to make everything.

Assisted by a post-it, the book fell open at page 172 and a recipe for something Rose and Ruth call Inzimonio di Ceci or Chickpeas with Swiss chard. As much as I like a nice food picture it is not usually the thing that inspires me to cook. Quite the opposite in fact. Pictures, especially if too pretty, styled or framed with incongruous bits of this and that, leave me cool.  On this occasion the picture, unstyled and unframed, made me eager to cook and eat. A women in a white apron is holding a platter on which there is a pile of glistening chickpeas and chard flecked with tiny nubs of carrot, red onion, parsley and chili sitting in generous, golden puddle of extra virgin olive oil.

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Having soaked the dried chickpeas overnight, you cook them until tender. If you have forgotten to soak your chickpeas: you open two tins. I forgot. You blanch your chard or greens in a large pan of fast boiling well-salted water, drain and then chop them coarsely. You sauté diced carrot and onion until soft in lots of olive oil before adding crumbled chili, white wine, tomato and letting everything bubble vigorously for a minute or two before adding the chickpeas and greens.

Another 10 minutes over a gentle flame with the occasional stir, a handful of parsley and the juice of half a lemon and lunch is nearly ready. Nearly. As is almost always the case with dishes like this, a rest in which the flavours can settle is wise. My mum has a large white plate with a little lip just like the one in the picture which was pleasing. She also has a white apron, but I resisted dressing up.

And to think I used to consider chickpeas the good Samaritan of the store cupboard, worthy but weary making hard work. No more. After pasta e ceci this is maybe my new preferred way to eat them. The combination of chickpeas, soft greens – offering as Fergus Henderson would say structural weave – sweet and tender nubs of carrot and onion, given heat by chilli and depth by the wine and tomato is a full and delicious one. Wholesome but generous. We had our chickpeas and greens with ricotta and bread.

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Chickpeas with greens

Adapted (slightly) from The River Cafe Cook Book.

serves 6

  • 800 g greens (ideally chard but spring greens work well)
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 dried chili, crumbled
  • 250 ml / 8 fl oz white wine
  • 2 tbsp of tomato sauce or passata or 1 tbsp concentrate
  • 400 g cooked chickpeas
  • a generous handful of chopped parsley
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • more extra virgin olive oil to serve

In a large pan of well salted fast boiling water, blanch the greens briefly. Drain them and then once they are cool enough to handle, chop them coarsely and set aside.

Warm the oil in a heavy based saute pan, add the onion, carrot and a pinch of salt and cook them slowly for 15 minutes or until they are tender. Season with a little more salt, pepper and the crumbled chili.

Add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away until it has almost completely reduced. Add the tomato sauce or concentrate, greens and chickpeas, stir and cook, stirring every couple of minutes for 10 minutes.

Add 3/4 of the chopped parsley and the lemon juice to the pan, stir, turn off the heat and allow the pan to sit for 10 minutes.

Transfer to a large platter or serving  plate, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and a little more extra virgin olive oil and serve.

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I’m not about about to deprive my Mum, so I have bought another blue book with bold white font to take back to Italy with me. Which says it all really. Now if you will excuse me, I really should go and pack, our flight is at 3.

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Filed under Beans and pulses, olive oil, parsley, rachel eats London, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, ricotta, summer food, vegetables

On avoiding and cherries

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At eight years old I thought the height of sophistication was a Snowball in a champagne saucer topped with a cocktail cherry. I’d sit up at the bar sipping my frothy yellow drink, my feet swinging limply from the high stool, my shoulders twitching in time with the jukebox. I knew full well my cocktail had barely a wiff of alcohol – just enough Advocaat to tinge the lemonade pale-yolk-yellow – that I’d be whisked off to bed just as soon as the pub got busy. But that didn’t bridle my joy at sitting up at the bar, Snowball in one hand, cheese and onion crisp in the other listening to the Kinks.

My granny ran a pub on Durham street in Oldham called the Gardeners Arms, a traditional free house serving Robinson’s ale, bitter and stout. It was an almost handsome, heavy-set place, with patterned carpets, brass topped tables and a curved wooden bar. Two or three times a year we’d surge – my parents and three small children – up the M1 motorway to Oldham. Arriving late, besieged by over-tiredness and over-excitement, there was invariably whining and weeping. So my dad would scoop us out of the car, whisk us through the bar, up the stairs and straight into bed above the pub. We’d resist sleep with all our might, before falling deeply, the faint pulse of the jukebox below, the smell of clean sheets not quite masking that of park drive cigarettes, Robinson’s bitter and my grannies Lancôme face cream faint on our just kissed cheeks.

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The next morning we’d charge down the stairs. The air thick with Brasso and the howl of the Hoover, my aunty May and granny – all slippers and house coats – would already be hard at work. While barrels of beer rolled off the brewery lorry, down the hatch and into the beer cellar, and crates of stout and Schweppes were brought clinking-in to replenish the shelves, we’d eat bacon butties with Uncle Colin. Thick slices of white cottage loaf and best back bacon. The trick was to squash the sandwich between both palms to make it manageable. Then we’d run, like excited terriers, around the pub, brandishing pool cues, pestering for jukebox coins.

In the days before continual everything, English pubs would open for lunch and then from 7 until 11 20 with last orders at 11. When the Gardener’s Arms opened it’s doors at 11, my brother, sister and I would scramble up onto bar stools and pummel our fists, as thirsty regulars do, on the bar. Until the age of ten I thought anything in an individual bottle was exciting. Add a straw and it was even better. Add cocktail cherry on a stick and I was beside myself. So we would sit, Rosie with orange, Ben with Cola and me with my Schweppes ginger ale, our bottles spouting straws, umbrellas and sticks on which flourescent cherries were impaled. We’d slurp and crunch, we’d put another coin in the jukebox and sing along to songs we didn’t really understand.

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Although I’m still partial to a cocktail cherry or three – ideally the real thing but I’ll happily gobble a luminous one for old times sake – these days I prefer my cherries warm from my friends tree, straight from the brown paper bag on the way home from the market or chilled until they’re so cold and taut they burst between your teeth. Then once I’ve had my fill of cherries hand to mouth, I poach a few, soak a few in alcohol and make some jam.

Given the choice between boxes and jam, I’ll take the jam. I am also genetically opposed to moving house in an organised fashion. Rogue packing fueled by anxiety and too much caffeine is more my style. Also I’d run out of jam and was eating chestnut honey on toast. Which was fine for a day or two, but by the third day breakfast was disappointing, which isn’t a good start.

Satisfyingly simple jam. Having washed, stalked and stoned your cherries, you leave them to macerate with sugar and curls of lemon peel for a few hours. You then bring the fruit to the boil, skim away the purple tinged froth – that reminds me of my aunty May’s purple rinse, then lower the heat and leave the deep purple jam to bubble and burp quietly for just over an hour. Your jam is ready when it is thick, clinging to the back of the spoon and decidedly sticky. We had it for breakfast, on toast primed with almost white butter made with cream I really can’t afford. Dark, intensely cherry-sweet and lemon edged, we were not disappointed.

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Then seeking further avoidance, I made a cherry jam tart or Crostata di ciliegie. My granny Alice was not only a good landlady, one who kept an immaculate beer cellar and pulled a good pint while looking rather lovely, she was also a deft pastry maker. Cold hands, cold butter and iced water she would remind me. I can picture her cold, clean hands with neat well-scrubbed nails rubbing the diced butter into the flour, the fine breadcrumbs spilling back through her fingers into the bowl. I can also picture her behind the bar, making pint pulling seem effortless – which it isn’t – her hair set and secured with lacquer, her girlish smile.

Back to Rome and my avoidance tart. I put barely any sugar in my pastry yesterday knowing the jam was sweet enough. After leaving it to rest for an hour in the fridge, I rolled the pastry thinly and then manoeuvred it into my tin pie plate. Which again made think of Alice, and in turn my Mum, both fond of a tin pie plates. Having spooned the jam into the case I then crisscrossed the top with pastry strips. Egg yolk glue and a firm hand ensured sure they stayed in place even in the oven.

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A tart like this needs 35 minutes or so in the oven. You need to keep an eagle eye on it, especially during the last five minutes. You also need to let the tart rest for 30 minutes or so, longer if possible, so it settles and slices neatly. Some very cold, thick cream would have been nice, but we ate it just so, the buttery scantly sweetened pastry at that nice point between crisp and flaky (but not crumbly, I’m not a fan of crumbly when it come to pastry) and contrasting nicely with the sticky, sweet, lemon-edged cherry jam. It was even better this morning.

Now I think I have well and truly run this to the wall, I have to be out of here the day after tomorrow, I haven’t even collected enough boxes and my removal man has disappeared again. It’s ridiculous, even for me! I am not sure what’s going to happen about the internet, I didn’t fully understand what the operator was saying, but it sounded complicated. Which means I can’t be sure when I will next be here. I could do with a snowball or a pint, but I’ll make do with another piece of tart.

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Marmalata di ciliegie  Cherry Jam

Adapted from the Silver Spoon

The addition of lemon peel gives the cherry jam a sharp-lemon edge which is reminiscent of sour cherries. I love this, you may not, in which case omit the lemon peel and be frugal with the lemon juice.

Makes 2 jars.

  • 1.5 kg cherries, washed with stalks and stones removed.
  • 750 g fine sugar
  • a unwaxed lemon

Put the washed, stoned and stalked cherries in a heavy-based pan suitable for jam. Pare away five thick strips of lemon peel with as little pith as possible attached. Add the strips of lemon peel to the pan. Cover the fruit with sugar, stir and leave to sit in a cool place for 3 hours.

Squeeze the lemon juice over the cherries. Stir and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the jam is thick, coating the back of the spoon and of an even consistency. I also do a saucer test to see if the jam has set. That is: put a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes, then put a spoonful of jam on the cold saucer, wait a minute and then run your finger through the jam. If the jam wrinkles, remains in two parts and doesn’t run back into a single puddle it is set.

Ladle the jam into warm sterilized jam while still hot. Screw on lids immediately and then leave the jars to cool upside down which creates a seal.

Crostata di ciliegie  cherry tart

Adapted from the Silver Spoon and inspired by Emiko

  • 200 g plain flour
  • 100 g cold butter, cold and cut into 1 cm dice
  • 20 g icing sugar (optional)
  • 1 small egg
  • a glass of iced water acidulated with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • pot of cherry jam
  • 1 egg yolk for sticking egg white for glazing

You will need a shallow 20 cm flan tin or pie plate.

Put the flour and cold, diced butter in a large bowl, With cold hands, using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sugar.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and add to the flour and butter breadcrumbs. Add the teaspoon of iced water. Using first a metal spoon and then your (cold) hands to bring the ingredients together into a smooth even dough. Add more iced water if nesseasry. Cover the dough with cling film and chill for at least an hour in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180°. Set aside a third of the pastry. Flour the work surface. Sprinkle the rolling-pin with flour. Roll the other two-thirds into a round just larger than the tin or pie plate. Use the rolling pint to lift the pastry over to the tin or plate. Leave a small overhang as the pastry will shrink. Spoon the jam into the pastry shell. Roll the remaining third of pastry out, then cut it into thick strips and criss-cross them across the tart painting the ends with egg yolk and pressing them firmly into the pastry case. Paint the criss-cross strips with egg white. Bake the tart for 30 – 40 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

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Filed under cherries, jams and preserves, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats London, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spring recipes, tarts

The same but different

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I feel lucky to have both: Italy and England, Rome and London. Of course there is the missing, the often exasperating toing and froing, the grass is greener and bouts of in-between when I’m not sure where I belong. But mostly I feel lucky and glad to have two countries, two cities and that in different ways I belong to both.

The day before I left I had my first Roman asparagus, long thin sprue, finer than a pencil, part boiled-part steamed under a tea towel turban until tender enough to bend but not flop with olive oil, lemon and parchment thin slivers of pecorino that swooned and wilted in the presence of such splendid warm spears. Then today, back at my parents house just outside London, I had my first English asparagus.

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As you can see they are plumpish spears, which needed just a little whittling with a peeler to remove the not-too-woody tougher end. We steamed them, sitting on a nifty implement that looks rather like a perforated metallic flower, in Mum’s largest lidded sauté pan. I tried and failed abysmally to make hollandaise sauce, so we settled for melted butter instead.

It was such a nice lunch: new potatoes: taut, waxy and flecked with snipped chives and tender asparagus spears – like sweet slightly sulphurous peas – fearlessly doused with melted butter. There were hard-boiled eggs too. Not too hard-boiled though, more like tender-boiled eggs and sourdough bread. There were things to celebrate so I had a glass of Hugel muscat. The same but different.

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Asparagus, new potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and melted butter.

This is hardly a recipe, more an assembly. Serves 3 and a quarter (Luca)

  • 2 bunches of asparagus
  • 4 good eggs
  • 8 new potatoes
  • a very fat slice of best butter
  • chives
  • salt and pepper.

Prepare the asparagus by either breaking off the tough woody end or using a peeler to carefully whittle it away. Scrub and boil the new potatoes in well salted water until tender. Hard boil the eggs. Cook the asparagus until tender enough to bend but not flop. Melt the butter.

Dress the potatoes with melted butter and snipped chives and the asparagus with the remaining melted butter. Give everyone a hard-boiled egg to peel and remind them to roll the asparagus and potatoes in the puddle of melted butter as they serve themselves. Obviously white wine and good bread wouldn’t go amiss.

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I’m back in Rome on Sunday so hope to be back here with plumper post late next week.

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Filed under asparagus, Eggs, rachel eats London, Rachel's Diary, spring recipes

Against the strain of modern life

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It’s time. Well almost. In late February one of the most beloved and revered varieties of Rome’s favorite vegetable: il carciofo romanesco* comes into her precocious, plump, perennial-thistle prime. Vincenzo, my fruttivendolo informed me as much – without unnecessary alliteration – while trimming with such dextrous speed I could barely discern what his hands or his knife were doing. Not that I needed to discern, I’ve had plenty of impromptu lessons in the art of artichoke trimming from Vincenzo over the last eight years. Plenty! For as in life, I’m enthusiastic but doubtful.

While Luca shouted ‘ball, ball, BALL‘ at anything round, which meant almost everything, we were, after all, standing beside a fruit and vegetable stall, and while Vincenzo trimmed ten artichokes for a stern signora in a fur coat, I chose my five from the crates stacked up against the side of the stall. There may well be a couple of weeks to go, but it’s hard to imagine more glorious globes: heavy in hand, intricate clusters of violet-stained leaves with coarse ribbed stems and silvery glaucous-green leaves. ‘Ball‘ Luca barked at the artichokes. Vincenzo chuckled, blasphemed and gave me an especially nice stem of mentuccia when I told him I was going to trim them myself.

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Vincenzo makes trimming artichokes of all varieties, shapes and sizes look elementary and effortless. Be it a long thorny spinoso, a tiny violet choke no larger than a walnut, a modest green globe or a princely romanesco he whittles away the tough inedible parts with artful and rapid skill. I, on the other hand, can claim no such art, skill or speed. I have however been taught well and practiced enthusiastically and can now trim an artichoke pleasantly enough.

That said, I am not about to proffer trimming advice here! Not yet at least. Rather I suggest you arm yourself with a short sharp knife, a lemon, five globes, a cooks perk (whatever that may be, mine’s a cooking sherry) and watch this. No whimsical folk music, wistful angles and aspirational seasoning in this video, just artichoke whittling advice from Nonna Adriana.

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Unsurprisingly Romans have countless ways of preparing and cooking their favourite vegetable. Inventive and imaginative ways evolved to bring out the best in every variety. When it comes to the prized carciofo romanesco – an almost rudely large but very tender globe that has no thorns or pesky, hairy choke in the center – two ways of cooking prevail. The first and my favourite is Carciofi alla giudia or artichokes Jewish style. A slightly less compact variety of romanesco is trimmed rigorously and then squashed so the leaves splay out in much the same way as a fully opened chrysanthemum. This splayed artichoke flower is then deep-fried until the leaves are deep golden brown, crisp, brittle and charred, the heart within soft and tender. Superb, just superb and best consumed with your fingers if not in prudish company.

The other way of cooking carciofo romanesco (and another large globe varieties) is alla romana, Roman style. Having carefully trimmed your chokes, you open up the central cavity with your thumbs and then fill this space with a mixture of very finely chopped mint, garlic and possibly parsley. The mint is fundamental, it pairs brilliantly with the soft, curiously metallic, elegant flavour of the artichoke. In Rome mentuccia is used but normal mint will suffice. Once stuffed, the artichokes are arranged flower downwards/ stem upwards in a pan (along with the rest of the stems if your pan is too shallow) and some olive oil, wine and water. The pan is then covered with a damp cloth and tight-fitting lid before the artichokes are cooked slowly – braised and steamed really – over a medium flame under the liquid has all but evaporated and the artichokes are aromatic and meltingly tender.

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At this time of year great platters of carciofi alla romana are to be found in most trattoria, they are a welcome and delightful sight, like wind inverted umberellas, their long upended stems (the best and most delectable part) pointing skywards. They are served as an antipasti or contorno at room temperature with either a little of the cooking liquid or raw extra virgin olive oil poured over. Bread is recommended for mopping up. They really are one of the joys of Roman trattoria in spring. They are an equally joyful and surprisingly straightforward dish to make at home. Really! Despite my doubtful and idle nature and my painfully slow trimming technique, I’m now dedicated to whittling, stuffing and simmering artichokes at home. Home in Rome that is, where artichokes are unquestionably good. But I hear you can find pretty wonderful artichokes in the UK and US now! Thoughts? Opinions?

And the title of the post: Against the strain of modern life or ‘Contro il logorio della vita moderna.‘ It’s an advertising slogan for Cynar a weirdly delicious bitter aperitif based on artichokes that I absolutely adore. Contro il logorio della vita moderna indeed! An impressive claim. But an entirely plausible one if you consider the virtues of artichokes: folic acid, wealth of minerals, fibre, diuretic and laxative properties (now really lets not be shy, these things matter) and not forgetting artichokes are an aphrodisiac. I repeat, an aphrodisiac.  Against the strain of modern life! Well I for one am a believer. So it seems is my son.

You can of course use a knife and fork, but I agree with Marco, fingers are best. Pull away the leaves one by one, making sure you drag them idly though the pool of oil on the way to your mouth. The stem is good if consumed as you might an asparagus spear. The heart, of course, is eaten last.

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Carciofi alla romana Artichokes Roman style

Inspired by the carciofi alla romana I have eaten in various Roman Trattorie with advice from Gillian Riley, Marcella Hazan, Rosa D’Acona, Nonna Adriana and Jane Grigson.

  • 5 large globe artichokes
  • a lemon or bowl of cold water with the juice of a lemon added
  • 2 tbsp very finely chopped parsley (optional)
  • 2 tbsp very finely chopped mint (ideally mentuccia)
  • 2 cloves garlic very finely chopped
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • glass of white wine

You will need a heavy-based pot with a tight-fitting lid tall enough to accommodate the artichokes which are to go in standing

Prepare the artichokes by first pulling away the darker tougher leaves, pulling them down towards the base of the artichoke and snapping them off just before the base. Then using sing a sharp knife, pare away the tough green flesh from the base of the artichokes and the stem. As you work rub the cut edges of the artichoke with a cut lemon or sit them in a bowl of acidulated water

In a bowl mix together the chopped parsley, mint and garlic, add a generous pinch of salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Using your thumbs open up the flower and then press 1/5 of the herb and garlic mixture into the hollow cavity.

Sit the artichokes, top downwards, stems upwards the pan. Add the olive oil, wine and enough water to come on third of the way up the leaves.

Cover the pot with a damp muslin or cotton cloth (or a piece of doubled over kitchen towel) and then put the lid over the cloth. Bring the edges of the cloth back over the top of the pan. Put the pan over a medium/low flame for 40 minutes – the liquid in the pan should bubble and steam purposefully but not aggressively. The artichokes are done when a fork easily pierces the thickest part of the stem near the heart.

When done, use a slotted spoon move the artichokes on to a serving plate – stems up. Allow them to cool to room temperature. Reserve the cooking juices and pour them over the artichokes just before serving. Eat.

* Artichokes are a seasonal crop. The variety I am talking about, il carciofo romanesco castellammare or mammola is cultivated in and around Cerveteri and Ladispoli. It is a winter crop and can be found from November until April. It’s at it’s best however – weather permitting – from the last week of February /first week of March up until the sagra di carciofi in early April. Most other varieties are found later in the spring.

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Filed under antipasti, artichokes, food, In praise of, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats London, Rachel's Diary, recipes, Roman food, spring recipes

Avoid embellishments

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Phyllis Roddy, my paternal grandma, a good and gentle woman we miss greatly, had much to do with my liking for celery.  For amongst the sandwiches, sharp cheese, pickled vegetables, fruit cakes and sweet tarts there would always be English celery when Phyllis made Tea.  Tea the meal that is, the one served at 5 30 on special days in lieu of supper. Yorkshire tea: good and simple and not to be mistaken for the posher, highly creamed afternoon tea.

The icy-white, deeply ribbed stalks with soft feathery leaves would stand in a jug of very cold water – Phyllis knew this was the best way to keep them crisp and lively.  In turn, the jug would stand in the middle of the starched linen cloth covering the dining table in my grandparents house in Cleveland Avenue. How can you not like celery?  I might have thought, as I snapped yet another stalk between my teeth: cool and savory, the perfect foil for the soft sandwiches, rudely-pink beetroot, crumbling Cheshire cheese and dark fruit cake.

Started by Phyllis and then nurtured by my mum – who never condemned celery with must or good for you and had the extraordinary knack of making a celery baton nearly as appealing as a biscuit – my liking for stringy stalks withstood the sneers and earned me favour with other mothers.  I was after all, the only child eating the token vegetable batons at the Birthday tea.  A tasty and smart move I might have thought as I accepted another slice of cake while the mother of the birthday child told my mother what a good eater I was.

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I’m writing this from my parents house near – but not near enough – to London.  I’ve been eating, drinking and flicking through my Mum’s cook books while my son plays with inappropriate and slightly dangerous objects.  A few days ago I read this in Jane Grigson’s Good Things.  “Put on the table two or three heads of celery, outside stalks removed, and the inner stalks separated, washed and chilled.  Have a dish of unsalted butter at spreading temperature, and some sea salt. Each person puts butter fairly thickly into the channel of his celery sticks, then sprinkles a thin line of seas salt along it.  Simple and delicious.   Avoid embellishments.  A good way to start a meal.”

I need little convincing to either eat celery –  I’m talking about the good stuff here, commonplace but juicy and flavoursome – or to’ put butter fairly thickly‘ on anything.  I am also completely enamoured with Jane Grigson so before you can say celery, butter and sea salt they were on the table.

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Now it may sound odd to the uninitiated but I assure you celery, butter and salt is delicious.  Truly delicious: the celery crisp, savory and just a little bitter contrasting with the soft fattiness of the butter and shards of granular salt.  It goes without saying the celery must be good, the unsalted butter excellent and the salt best quality, unadulterated and reeking of the sea.  Maldon is ideal.  Don’t be shy with the butter, imagine you are plastering a deep hole in a particularly important wall.  As with life, avoid embellishments.

As for those outer stems!  We made Jane Grigson’s celery soup from Good Things, a simple soup that tastes – as she promises – exceptionally good. Standard practice here, onion and chopped celery sautéed in plenty of butter and a dash of olive oil.  You add chopped potato for body and a litre of chicken stock before leaving the soup to simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  To finish you blast the soup with the immersion blender before adding a little heavy cream and freshly grated black pepper.

Simple, savory and tasting as it should, most resolutely of celery.  It felt like the perfect antidote the excess of the past weeks but didn’t for a second feel anything but generous and good.

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Celery soup

Adapted from Jane Grigson’s Good Things

  • 75 g / 3 oz butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g / 10 oz chopped celery
  • 100 g / 4 oz diced onion
  • 100 g / 4 oz diced potato
  • 1 litre /2 pints of light chicken/ turkey or ham stock
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • heavy or double cream

Stew the celery and onion gently in the butter and oil in a covered pan for 10 minutes.  Add the potato and stir to coat well with butter and oil.   Don’ let the vegetables brown.  Add the stock.  Bring the soup to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes or until the celery is very tender.  Blend or pass the soup through a mouli. If the celery is particulary stringy you might like to pass it through a seive.  Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper as you see fit.  Ladle the soup into warm bowls,  spoon over a little double cream, swirl and eat.

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Happy New Year and wishing you all ‘Good things.’  Thank you for reading and thank you for your thoughtful, affectionate, funny, wise, frivolous, critical and honest comments.  Rach

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Filed under celery, food, rachel eats London, soup

Peaches in white wine

My reward for assuming gardening duties while my parents are away hiking enthusiastically over Swiss mountains, is the little feast I’m entitled, that I’m positively urged – ‘Oh and Rachel last thing, please don’t forget the beans!‘ concludes every phone conversation -  to gather each day. I say gardening duties, that’s probably misleading, suggesting that I’m digging, planting, pruning or doing something vaguely green fingered or energetic! Which I’m not. Official waterer – a job which involves standing in the corner of the garden with an open hose pipe and pointing it in the direction of wilting plants, ideally with an alcoholic drink in the other hand – and sprinkler supervisor with deadheading duties, is probably a more accurate job description.

My reward this morning was pretty generous considering my slapdash work; about two pounds of runner beans, six rotund courgettes all with marvelous golden flowers – one of which, for some bizarre reason, reminded me of my secondary school counsellor Mrs Richards, a big handful of ruby chard, another of sultry dark green cavolo nero, three tomatoes (next week there will be three dozen), five figs and last but not least, the quintessential fruit of summer, seven blushing white peaches.

There were actually nine peaches ripe for picking this morning, but the first two were so soft and delicate they barely survived being twisted from the branch. I promptly ate them. Which turned out to be a luscious but rather messy process, so I leaned over the marigolds and the fragrant juice, sweet and reminiscent of roses, ran down my chin into the flower bed. Then I plonked myself on the wall, ate two figs, thought about how nice it was to be back in England and prepared myself for the next garden duty; cosmos and marigold dead heading. All quite charming until a formidably large bee, drunk on lavender, swerved in to see what was going on and I, in a slightly hysterical attempt to stop the striped chap landing on my sticky chin, also swerved, which meant I tripped and proceeded to fall over the sprinkler.

Damp, cursing the bloody sprinkler and nursing my first gardening injury, I abandoned my gardening duties for the day and read the newspaper under the fig tree. For a very late lunch/early dinner – a meal my batty friend calls lunner, she is convinced it is the new brunch – I made Pasta with courgettes followed by green romano beans dressed with salt and plenty of olive oil. To finish, an excellent Italian habit which is nicely and succinctly described by Elizabeth David in her book Italian Food.

Into your last glass of wine after lunch slice a (ripe) peeled yellow peach. Leave it a minute or two. Eat the peach and then drink the wine’

Delicious, the slices of peach become plump and heavy, the wine – in this case a pretty wonderful William Fèvre Chablis, another reward for gardening duties -  subtly infused with sweet and fragrant peach juice. So much nicer than any number of fussy puddings I thought – as you’ve probably noticed, I’m never very interested in fussy puddings – before turning my attention to the exhausting holiday dilemma that is;  should I doze in sun, read in the shade, attack the crossword or simply have another drink?

Vincenzo calls these pesche ubriache or drunk peaches, he prefers to slice his peach into red wine though. I’m very partial to white peaches in Prosecco too.

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Filed under fruit, rachel eats London, summer food