Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas is a Spanish tapas dish, of fried potato, with a spicy sauce.

Having decided to have a go at patatas bravas, I needed a recipe. Step forward Felicity Cloake and her How to cook the perfect… in the Guardian. I’m starting to think it’s probably worth buying a digital subscription. It would be worth it just for her column alone, let alone all the Yotam Ottolenghi and Anna Jones recipes too; it’s a great resource.

I followed the recipe, with a couple of changes. I don’t have any sherry vinegar for instance, so used red wine vinegar instead. I also hadn’t bothered to buy any chives. Other than that, it was straight down the line.

Having grown a few chillies this year, I decided to use one. I should’ve used more than one, as it turns out that they’re not as hot as last year. The tomato sauce had no heat to it what so ever. Which meant that it tasted very similar to the rich tomato sauce from The Geometry of Pasta.

Where the tomato sauce had been distinctly lacking any zing, the aioli had enough zing to raise the dead. It also made a lot. By a lot, I mean enough to slather on double the recipe and still feel like you’ve overdone it a bit.

This all made for a bit of a disappointing dish. Lacklustre tomato sauce, overly pokey and rich aioli, I was struggling to see why people rave about it.

Patatas Bravas, first attempt

In a twist of fate, I ended up having to buy another bag of Charlotte potatoes. So decided to have another crack at the recipe a few days later. I decided to change a few things.

Out when the homegrown chilli and in came homegrown chilli flakes, I know they’re hot. Rather than roasting the tatties at 200°C, I followed Yotam’s method for the potatoes in his Batata Harra recipe; so 240°C to get them good and crispy.

I also cooked the tomato sauce for longer, really reducing it to intensify the flavour and make it thicker. As I mentioned above, there was a lot of aioli left over, so I didn’t have to make any more of that.

This was almost a different dish. The heat and spiciness of the tomato sauce, the crunch of the tatties and the cool of the aioli. I can see why people rave about it.

I’ll definitely be making this again. Just have to think of a few other veggie tapas dishes to go with it…

Pommes Lyonnaise

Pommes Lyonnaise, or Lyonnaise potatoes are a French dish of sliced potatoes and onions, sautéed in butter and sprinkled with parsley.

I’d been trying to decide on what potato recipes to cook for myself, so I could buy the correct sort of potato. Having decided to cook patatas bravas, which require a waxy potato, I needed to find another recipe to use up the rest of the bag. Step forward Pommes Lyonnaise, mainly as I had the rest of the ingredients at home.

I par-boiled the potatoes for about ten minutes, then dumped them into a colander to drain. After sorting out the kids, I got on the rest of the dish, which didn’t take that long. For some inexplicable reason, I added some dark brown muscovado to the sautéed onion, evidently to help caramelise them. I should definitely have used a little caster sugar, rather than the muscovado, as that brought far too much flavour and sweetness to the end result.

While the onions were cooking, I sliced the potatoes. I threw away all the end bits, leaving only slices that had no skin on both sides. After removing the onions from the pan, I sautéed the potato slices in some more butter. This was done in two batches, as even our big skillet wasn’t big enough to fit all the slices in one go. Finally a bit of chopped parsley was sprinkled over the top, then the whole lot dumped onto a plate.

If I was to make it again, then I’d probably use a slightly bigger onion and definitely not add any muscovado. As a plate of food on its own, I’m not sure it really worked. I think it’s definitely in the side dish category and needs to be served as an accompaniment to something.

Rumbledethumps

Rumbledethumps is a traditional Scottish dish, made from left over tatties, cabbage and onions. It’s another one of those comfort dishes that can handle all the butter and pepper you can throw at it.

Rumbledethumps is essentially a variation of the Irish colcannon, or the English bubble and squeak. I can remember having plenty of bubble and squeak as a child, with Mum cooking leftover mashed tatties and cabbage in a frying pan. I can’t ever remember anyone calling it Rumbledethumps though, or cooking it in the oven.

I’ve tried in the past to make bubble and squeak in a similar fashion to how I remember Mum making it. We never seem to have leftovers in this house though, so it’s always been from scratch and ended up being a bit disappointing.

As I had some Charlotte potatoes leftover from making the Batata Harra, I decided to used those to make the mash. In a similar fashion to the Clapshot, I simmered the tatties with a bay leaf, a bunch of thyme and some garlic cloves.

Given the choice, I wouldn’t use this variety of tatties to make mash again, as the end result is far too gloopy. You’re much better off with floury tatties like King Edward to make your mash.

Mashing tatties with butter and pepper...

I also decided to use kale, rather than cabbage, mainly as we had a bit bag of it in the fridge, as my wife likes to juice it. Rather than sauté the kale with the onions in some butter, I steamed it over the simmering tatties. This only happened, as I’d totally forgotten about the onion, so ended up quickly frying off a shallot, while everything else sat there ready to go in the oven.

Some grated Red Leicester cheese sprinkled on top, and it was ready for the oven. It just so happened that we had a small amount of this cheese left, so it meant that I could use it all up. This felt a bit more in the spirit of the dish, rather than cracking open a new packet of Cheddar.

I thoroughly enjoyed eating every single last drop of this, even though it could easily have fed two; I was stuffed to the gunwales for hours afterwards. It’s a great comfort food, the tatties and kale go so well together, there’s nothing about it not to like.

North African Squash and Chickpea Stew

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I quite like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day book, it’s my kind of simple unfussy cooking. I’d been wanting to cook this North African Squash and Chickpea Stew recipe for a while, but the rest of the household had always vetoed the idea. We needed something hearty and warming one weekend though, as the weather was pretty dire, so I finally got my wish.

It was ridiculously easy to make, as everything went into the one pot. I also made some pitta breads to go along with it, shame I can’t remember whose pitta recipe I used. I thought it was really nice, but the kids found it a bit much, I think it was the teaspoon of ground black pepper that did it. Just a bit too much warming heat and spice…

As we had two portions left over, it meant that I could have it again at my leasure. So one evening last week, I took a tub of it out of the freezer and had it for my dinner. I paired it with some plain couscous that I stirred some of my homemade harissa into and it worked really well. It’s definitely something I want to make again, whether I’ll be allowed to or not, is another matter…

Entertaining

Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce

We had friends round for dinner last Saturday evening, which meant I got to do some cooking. It was just a shame that I was recovering from a bout of tonsillitis, so I’d not really been up for looking through recipe books, or even thinking about cooking for the previous week and a half. But since I needed to put something on the table, I had to break out the recipe books and try and put together a menu.

I originally thought about finally attempting some stuff out of the Terre à Terre cookbook, but realised that I wasn’t quite well enough for that level of forward planning. Which basically left it as a straight flight between Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Denis Cotter’s For The Love of Food. Since I didn’t want it to be too formal, or too demanding, I decided to go with some recipes from Plenty, not that I’m trying to say that Denis Cotter is to formal or demanding, he’s not. The starter was new, but the three things I’d picked for the main course were all recipes I’d cooked before, I was trying to make it a relatively easy and stress free day and go for more of a Mediterranean table covered in food affair.

I wasn’t sure about what to do for pudding though, but as I’d been flicking through Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian a lot recently, I decided to go with her Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake. I’d wanted to make it a couple of weekends previously, but something came up and I didn’t get the chance, so this was the perfect opportunity.

The notes below are mostly to jog my memory if I ever come to cook them again for entertaining people. If you find them useful then great!

Starter: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce
I followed the recipe to the letter, with the oven at 200°C, but after the stated 40 minute cooking time, the aubergine wasn’t really done enough. I wouldn’t say it was still raw, but it certainly wasn’t as soft as I was expecting. I’ll have to bare this in mind if I do it again and either leave them in for longer, or use a slightly higher temperature. The only other things I can comment on are that unless you absolutely drown the aubergines in the buttermilk sauce, you’ll have loads left over. Similarly with the pomegranate, you probably only need the seeds from half of one, unless you really want a massive pile on top.

Also just realised that I didn’t sprinkle any za’atar on top of the buttermilk sauce, not sure where my head was at that evening…

The recipe for this one is on the Guardian’s website.

Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Itamar’s Bulghar Pilaf
Nothing to be said about this one, it’s dead easy to prepare and tastes amazing. Really this is a just a note to myself to make sure that I have all the required ingredients before starting to prepare a dish, especially tomato purée. Then you don’t have to txt your guests and ask them to pop into the supermarket on their way over to pick you some up…
Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Leek Fritters
The recipe calls for chopping the leeks into 2cm thick slices and fry with the shallots for fifteen minutes. Two things, either stir the leeks more frequently so they don’t catch and cook for a bit longer so they are soft all the way through, or chop them slightly thinner so they don’t take quite as long to cook. I found that not all the leeks were soft all the way through when prepared according to the recipe. Also, don’t whisk the egg white before it’s required, otherwise it goes a bit manky if left to sit for a bit and re-whisking it doesn’t get it back to how it was.

Finally, you really need to leave them to cook for quite awhile on each side, if you try and flip them to early, they’ll just fall to bits and be rubbish. The base should be quite a dark brown before you attempt to flip them, then you know that the fritter is solid and will survive being turned over.

This recipe is also available on the Guardian’s website.

Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Smoky Frittata
This recipe calls for scamorza affumicata, which is a smoked mozzarella. I know you can buy it from the cheese shop in Cambridge, but they have to order it in and it might take a week, so you really need to plan in advance. I’m sure that the oak smoked cheddar that I use instead gives a totally different taste and has different melting characteristics. One of these days I really need to get my finger out and order the real thing. Also, when adding the smoked paprika, make sure you are whisking in a big enough bowl, as it has a tendency to clump together.

Yupo, yet another recipe that’s on the Guardian’s website.

Pudding: Maria Elia – Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake
The recipe just calls for a 20cm springform cake tin, just make sure the one you use is deep, as this is one big cake! I prepared a tin and the I just knew it wasn’t deep enough once all the ingredients had been mixed together. The picture in the book is top down, so gives no indication of depth, but the one I made was 5cm deep at the edges and 7cm deep in the middle. Also remember to put the cinnamon stick into the syrup when you’re making it, I’m sure that would have made it even more delicious.

The recipe says to cook for around an hour, until a skewer comes out clean, I ended up cooking mine for an hour and a quarter and the skewer wasn’t coming out clean from certain parts of the cake. In the end I just figured that it had had enough and took it out, I didn’t want to do my usual thing of over cooking everything.

Turns out this recipe is on the Daily Mail website.

Pudding: Maria Elia – Ginger Sorbet
Always leave a sorbet mix to cool completely, before putting it into an ice cream maker. Otherwise it’s just going to waste the ice block and instead of turning to sorbet, it’ll just cool down. I still can’t fathom why I poured hot sorbet mix into the ice cream maker, it defies all logic.

It also took longer than three hours to set, it was more of a granita than a sorbet after about five hours. Even the next day, it was still more of a granita than a sorbet, might just have been my idiocy though.

The recipe for this one is on some Australian website – LifeStyle FOOD.

Overall I was quite pleased with how things turned out. The bulghar pilaf was lovely and the leek fritters and their green sauce went wonderfully well with it. I think the smoky frittata would have been better on its own with the pilaf though, it just wasn’t on a par with the leek fritters and the flavours of those two, while they both went with the pilaf, don’t really work together for me. Maybe the pilaf and fritters with a side of some crushed beans, feta and za’atar with some flat breads would have been better, I might have to try that next time.

The Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake was absolutely delicious, even the kids were noshing their way through it the next day. I can see myself baking that one again and again. I’ll have to have another crack at the ginger sorbet too, but I’ll let it cool down before going in the ice cream maker next time.