Creating Slow Cooked

by Miss South on October 19, 2014

book cover

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this before now or anything, but I’ve written a book! You’ll have to forgive me getting meta and writing about writing a book but I’m still in post book writing withdrawal and indulging myself with as many blog posts as possible before Slow Cooked comes out on November 6th.

After people congratulated me on the book deal (and believe me, nothing gets people more excited than a proper paper book even in these days of blogs and e-readers), they generally wanted to know two things. Firstly, how do you get published and secondly, how do you actually write a book from scratch?

Getting published is as personal as what you are writing and every path will be different. Mine involved using North/South Food to develop my writing and recipe testing skills and shaping my style into something people paid attention to. In many ways, it’s the epitome of practise making perfect. From there came the Observer Food Monthly and then the attention of publishers.

By the time I was talking to Ebury about writing a book, I’d teamed up with my fantastic agent at Hardman Swainson who helped me negotiate the practicalities of a book contract, held my hand emotionally and answered a multitude of questions about publishing in general. Along with my fantastic editor, their encouragement and enthusiasm got me to the place where a slow cooker book could happen.

I’ve been a huge fan of the slow cooker for ages as its low energy style of cooking (both electricity and exertion wise) is perfect for my spoonie lifestyle, but I’d never found the inspiration I needed to take it beyond the ubiquitous stews. Most stuff I read about it seemed to be about simply fuelling yourself with stuff warmed up in the slow cooker rather than experimenting with ingredients, techniques and the genuine enjoyment of food. This is what I wanted from my slow cooker so I thought that rather than wait for someone else to do it, that was the book I would write.

With the idea at the back of my mind that Slow Cooked would be aimed at all the people the other books weren’t, like the retirees who are too busy all day to be chained to the stove, the students who don’t have great kitchen facilities, the 50 something men who’ve never really cooked before, the young couples with hectic lives and the people like me who can’t reliably use a standard kitchen all the time, the book started to take shape in both my mind and my Evernote folders.

Every spare minute in between writing Recipes from Brixton Village went on research, which is a fancy way of saying I curled up in my pyjamas with a pile of books and my laptop and I read every single piece of information on slow cookers I could. I trawled through book reviews of the ones already out there, read a surprising amount of Mormon mommy blogs and awarded myself a large number of biscuit shaped awards for reading ALL the comments below the line I could find.slow cooker book pileI had the notion that planning a book from start to finish before I’d written a word of it was incredibly difficult and anytime I tried to imagine the completed project, I felt myself getting panicky. So I applied a cook’s logic to it and concentrated on the individual ingredients rather than the finished dish, narrowing down around 400 ideas to 250 recipes within loose chapter structures. I was going to eat this elephant one bite at a time.

And oddly enough, the eating was the trickiest bit. I had 4 months to test those 250 recipes and see which ones made the grade. That meant that many of them were going to need to be tested several times. I needed people to eat the food I was cooking and strangely enough I couldn’t find enough volunteers nearby. Unlike usual recipe testing, the need for a slow cooker prevented me outsourcing a lot of it and so I needed people to taste what I made. For months I didn’t go anywhere without a bag of takeaway containers crammed with food, all to be exchanged for feedback on it. I even took the food to the traders I had bought the ingredients from and they ate what I’d bought the day before.

My life revolved round two deadlines everyday. Shopping and washing up. The shopping was easy. I took my Hawaiian print shopping trolley and hit up the local shops in Brixton almost daily. I bought so much meat on certain weeks the butchers at Dombey’s enquired in all seriousness if I was doing Atkins. My local shop gave me a bulk price on eggs. And for all the in between bits I got to know my local Sainsbury’s delivery drivers by name. It did lead to me feeling a bit like a Fifties housewife, albeit without a pesky husband or kids to have to take time out to look after.

I did wish I had someone to help with the washing up though. By now I had six slow cookers on the go, often cooking two recipes a day in each. That’s a lot of slow cooker crock scrubbing, before you even get to all the things you need to measure out ingredients. If I’d had 6 pairs of measuring spoons and 12 spatulas to hand, it still wouldn’t have been enough. I was determined to simplify slow cooking anyway, but it became imperative to know when to sear meat or add steps into recipes when you’re working in that volume. I’ve tested to an inch of my life and you can do any of my recipes easily, with a minimum of washing up, probably while wearing still wearing your Marigolds and bleary eyed at the start or end of the day.

Once I’d counted my crocks in and out of the sink like a collection of baby birds, it was time for the easy bit: the writing. Sitting down at the laptop for a few hours of words was bliss. I applied the same one bite at a time mentality to the recipe writing as the rest of the book. I drafted up individual pieces one at a time and then once all of them were written, I went back and shuffled them into order and checked I hadn’t repeated myself.

My oracle was the whiteboard. Propped up in the living room, it listed everything I needed to do each day and each week. I started off with lists on pieces of paper but kept accidentally recycling them in fits of procrastination fuelled tidying up. Even I can’t lose a whiteboard no matter how hard I try. Last thing before bed each night, I ticked off what I’d achieved. I’m sure all those coloured pens and their reminder of GCSE revision timetables took years off me at a time that could have been quite stressful…

testing list

Between the start of November 2013 and the middle of March 2014, I cooked 250 dishes, many several times each, blazed through 10 pairs of rubber gloves, kept 6 slow cookers on the go all day, wrote over 100,000 words, sent inumerable tweets, received untold support and had the time of my life. I’ve got a beautiful book to show for it all and can’t wait to hear what you all think. As soon as I’d finished it, I wanted to do it all over again. Here’s hoping!



Slow Cooker Pig Cheek Ragu

by Miss South on October 12, 2014

pig cheek raguThere is always room in my life for pig on a plate. From bacon, just crisping round the edges to slabs of Christmas ham in Coke or a grilled glistening chop or chorizo jam, I love pork in all its forms. It was of course, the one thing that tempted me from vegetarianism in all those five years and I still feel no qualms about the bacon sandwich eaten late at night up one of the Mourne Mountains after a long day’s walking on my Duke of Edinburgh Silver expedition. I went back to instant couscous the next day and avoided porcine temptations for years more.

But when a rare steak lured me back to omnivorousness once again, it was pig that kept me there. Just around the time Babe hit cinema screens, I was incapable of cooking anything with pork in it without gleefully exclaiming that ‘pork is a nice sweet meat‘ like a demented CGI mouse. More than anything else I eat, I am most able to separate the cuteness of piglets from their taste and texture and the only thing I feel guilty about is my inability to feel guilt about it all.

At first the attraction was that pork is pretty easy to cook. Compare grilling a pork chop to getting a steak just right and you’ll see what I mean. I wasn’t a confident cook at all (if you’d told the 19 year old me that I end up writing two cookbooks, I’d have laughed myself inside out) and meals that were easy to make really appealed. Pork is also often lower in fat which as someone who had just had their gallbladder removed was crucial and combining all these factors with the fact pork is the most affordable meat for free range or higher welfare standards, I’ve cooked it a lot over the years.

We all know that you can eat everything on a pig except the oink and I find it a good way to keep expanding my horizons. Black pudding is a borderline North/South Food obsession and I’ve certainly been won over to the taste if not the texture of trotters, so it was inevitable that pig’s cheeks would call to me. Technically classed as offal as they come from the head, they are in fact pure muscle and perfect for low slow cooking to help the meat fall apart in a tender tangle. Very inexpensive at around £2 for 4, they’ll easily feed 4 people cooked well.

I get mine in Morrisons or Waitrose (and yes, that £2 price is correct for Waitrose as part of their Forgotten Cuts range) and tend to make a massive batch of this ragu in the slow cooker before portioning it up and freezing it until needed. It makes a lasagne of such beauty it’s hard not lick your lips as you describe it. It also goes well with either baked potatoes or as a porky version of cottage pie with cauliflower and potato mash on top. I served it simply here on top of some rigatoni with a hearty sprinkle of parmesan for the first properly autumnal day here in London.

It’s a slow cooker dream and makes a nice change from the ubiquitous pulled pork. I’ve made it without onions as I don’t eat them and I suggest you leave them out too. They bully the soft sweetness of the meat into something less soothing.

Slow Cooker Pig Cheek Ragu (serves 4)

  • 4 pig cheeks, left whole but excess fat trimmed if needed
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 1 x 400ml tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 2 anchovies
  • 100ml red wine
  • 2 star anise pods
  • salt and pepper

This is a very simple recipe but when I say slow cooked, I mean slow cooked. It needs at least 12 hours to achieve its full potential. I tend to make it early on a Saturday evening, giving me the excuse to open a bottle of red wine and then leave it to cook overnight until I get up on a Sunday, which is very rarely that early.

Put the pig cheeks into the slow cooker crock along with the diced carrot and celery. Don’t sear them first or it toughens the fibres and prevents them being as tender or flavoursome. It also saves washing up and effort which I like just as much.

Add the chopped tomatoes along with any juice. Use the best you can afford here. I usually keep an eye of for the thicker branded ones when they are on offer and keep a few cans in the house for recipes like this where the tomatoeyness matters. Otherwise I’m quite happy with own brand most of the time. Stir in the puree.

Drop the anchovies in whole. They will dissolve into the tomatoes as it all cooks and you won’t get a fishy flavour from them but a really deep savoury backnote. Still season the dish well with salt and pepper. I always think tomatoes need extra salt to come to life. Add the star anise in and pour the red wine into it all. Don’t be tempted to add more than this. Slow cookers don’t allow liquid to evaporate so a little, especially with alcohol, goes a long way.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 12 hours. If you end up leaving it for 14 or 15 hours, it won’t take any harm, but don’t try to rush it. When you lift the lid at the end of the cooking time, the tomatoes will have darkened and intensified and it will all need stirred together. Fish the star anise pods out and use two forks to pull the cheeks apart into strands of soft meat that further thickens the sauce.

Serve as needed or put into freezer bags before flattening them out on a baking tray so you end up with a thin flat portion you can defrost easily after work if you aren’t with it enough to lift stuff out in the mornings. Everything about this dish will get you ready to love your slow cooker with less than a month to go before Slow Cooked is published on November 6th!

This post is part of Farmersgirl Kitchen‘s Slow Cooker Challenge where I can indulge my obsession with the subject.

It’s also a great way for me to join the famous Credit Crunch Munch run by Helen and Camilla but hosted this month by Hannah.





Brixton Boxty

by Miss South on October 5, 2014

boxty 2I have to admit that boxty wasn’t something I ate as a child. Popular in Monaghan and Leitrim, it’s a type of potato pancake made from grated potato, but it was so alien to me as kid, I basically thought it was made up until I was older. I first saw it as a real thing in my beloved potato bible The Humble Spud and I’ve been meaning to make it for years, but I disappeared down the tangent of rosti instead and forgot to back up until recently.

Half of you are probably lost by now. Isn’t a potato pancake just a potato pancake I hear you cry? Well, no, rosti are made with semi cooked grated potato with a high starch content, mixed with onion and fried on each side in butter and is eaten as a savoury side dish. Boxty uses raw grated potato before being fried and can be sweet or savoury. Potato farls are made with mashed potato before being cooked on a griddle and then often fried until golden. And I’ve never yet made a latke, but I’ll bring you breaking news about them when I do…

Some recipes for boxty use mashed potato in with the grated spuds but I thought I’d some pureed fresh corn instead since I have tonnes left over from a recent Brixton Bugle recipe. Combining corn and potato gives a autumnal feel and a taste of Brixton which I thought I’d enhance by adding some chopped Scotch Bonnets, fresh coriander and lime. I then served it with some grilled tomatoes for a really good brunch.

Brixton Boxty (serves 2)

  • 300g potato, grated
  • 1 ear fresh corn or 100g thawed frozen sweetcorn
  • 1/2 Scotch Bonnet pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lime, zested
  • 2 tablespoons plain or spelt flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 100ml milk
  • salt and pepper
  • 150g cherry tomatoes to serve

Begin by preparing your potato. Grate it on the widest hole of a box grater into a clean tea towel. Gather the sides of the tea towel up and twist it tightly to squeeze out the excess liquid and starch. The potato will begin to discolour almost instantly, but don’t worry. Squeeze the potato as dry as possible and leave to sit for a few minutes in the tea towel.

If using fresh corn, pull the green husks and the white silks away from the kernels of corn. Cut the top and the bottom of the ear of corn off and then run a very sharp knife down each side to strip the kernels away. Put them in a dish or bowl and puree with a handblender until loose in texture. Leave a bit of texture if you can.

Put the potato and the pureed corn into a bowl together and use the blender again to carefull chop your Scotch Bonnet chilli. These squat little peppers are very hot and if you touch them with your bare hands, bits of you will tingle so the blender is the best bet here. Add the chopped chilli into the corn and potato along with the lime zest and chopped coriander.

Stir in the flour and the baking powder. Spelt or gluten free flour works fine here if you need it. Bring it all together into a loose batter with the milk. Non dairy ones would be fine but I used good old semi skimmed. Season well. Heat the the oil in a pan on a medium low heat and add a heaped dessertspoonful of the batter to the pan. Flatten out slightly and cook on each side for about 2 minutes until golden brown. Repeat until all the batter is used.

Serve the boxty in a stack with some grilled tomatoes on top and a drizzle of the juice from the zested lime and a bit more chopped coriander if you have it (I’d run out.) The corn makes the pancakes slightly sweet and goes well with the chilli and the slightly crunchy potato and these were really good. I ended up having them for both breakfast and dinner as the batter goes a long way and I enjoyed them both times. I think I have a new potato based dish in to add to my already extensive collection.



Pork, Plums and Fodmaps

by Miss South on September 21, 2014

pork fillet & plumsI have a notoriously delicate constitution. My innards tend to react like an angry toddler needing its bedtime over all kinds of things. Some of it is because I am an expert maker of gallstones (despite having my gallbladder removed when I was 18) leading to my digestive system reacting like angrily to say the least. I’ve done a lot of exclusion diets in my time.

There was the post cholecystectomy low fat diet that meant all I could safely eat without a trip to A&E was bread and jam which in turn meant having to do a candida exclusion diet. Not only am I prone to yeast issues in my gut but because it was the mid 90s and it was the current solve all your internal ills idea at the time. I also dabbled with wheat and dairy free for a while and didn’t achieve much effect apart from sending myself gently bonkers around food. I’m sure I’d have excluded gluten too if I’d heard of it then.

I thought I’d just have to put up with feeling terrible all the time and existing on a heavy routine of peppermint oil capsules and mint tea and then I saw a new and wonderful gastroenterologist about some other gallbladder related issues you don’t want to read about over breakfast. While not denying I had a problem, he mentioned that about 80% of his current caseload is down to three things: poor gut flora, Chorleywood bread and Fodmaps.

The first, I know well. The second makes sense since it relies on underproving yeasts and gluten and making bread much harder to digest. The third? I had no earthly idea what he was on about. But I trusted him (I should, he swears like a sailor on shore leave, keeps a sourdough starter in his office for patients and is Michael Mosley approved, all on the NHS no less) so I went off and looked these Fodmaps up.

Discovered by Monash University in Australia, it identifies that there are certain sugars and carbohydrates that the human body finds hard to digest leading to problems. These are the Fermentable, Oligo, Di and Mono Saccharides and Polyols the diet is named for. Often confusing for people because many healthy foods are an issue, it’s a complicated diet that should only ever be undertaken with the help of a trained medical professional, hopefully via the NHS these days,

However it’s worth looking into doing it if you find you have issues after eating wheat or rye, all dairy products not just lactose based ones, certain fruits and vegetables, especially onions and garlic or pulses beyond the normal response to large amounts. Meat substitutes like Quorn can only be a big Fodmap trigger. People are further confused by Fodmaps because everyone’s tolerance is different. I am absolutely fine with wheat (and other members of the galactan family) and have no issue with lactose.

Yet give me a fructan in the shape of an onion or garlic especially and I am utterly miserable. My problems are compounded by the fact I am also fructose intolerant so react terribly to high fructose fruit, any kind of fruit juice and anything like agave syrup that’s high in it. It’s best to only consume fructose when it comes with the natural fibre of the fruit to prevent overloading your system but for fructose malabsorbers like me, any amount is difficult. A glass of orange juice or a whole apple will be both cause my mouth to swell and break me out in a sweat and itchiness. I suspect many people have this issue these days but have simply never heard of it. Innocent times. Literally,

I have to be incredibly careful in what I eat so that I don’t end up lying down feeling faint and bloated at best or triggering off my more intense bowel issues. Fruit and pulses are occasional treats for me (which is why I become murderously annoyed when people tell me how great lentils are when you are poor) and alliums are to be eaten only when I can’t avoid them and can be alone soon after. I will never eat a Jerusalem artichoke or chicory root or take a prebiotic again as they contain inulin, a form of indigestable fibre that is problematic for everyone but triggers debilitating biliary pain for me.

I’m particularly careful of so called health foods such as ‘good bacteria’ yoghurts and seed mixes or granolas (yes, The Food Doctor I’m looking at you) which contain chicory inulin for its prebiotic qualities and increased fibre. For non Fodmap people, this is good for one’s digestive transit. For me, it makes me pray for death to take me. I’m a careful label reader these days and also help myself by not eating packaged food very much. Dried onion and garlic powder are my nemesis and are everywhere these days. I also have to adapt recipes to be able to eat things and enjoy them. I never ever eat onions or garlic at home now. I can manage them when out thanks to the swanky probiotics I take daily which have given me some extra coping skills digestion wise.

(Just to clarify: probiotics are the actual gut flora you need for a heathy bowel. Prebiotics are different and they simply create a welcoming environment for your probiotics to thrive. As I can’t have the latter, I have to take the former daily and as I have no gallbladder, I need posh bile tolerant ones that feel like they cost a fortune but are actually much cheaper than of Yakult or Actimel would be since they survive past the stomach and have billions more bacteria to boot. They are also multi strain for ease of absorption and thus less likely to stop working than the single strain drinks. Tl,dr: buy decent pills, not the wee drinks. They don’t do anything if you already have decent gut flora.)

My main Fodmap weapon is slow cooker caramelised onions. I cut up huge batches of onions and slow cook them until they are golden and sweet and absolutely teeming with fructans. Then I bag them up and freeze them until I need to find non Fodmappers. I cook my meal without alliums and serve my portion, then I add the slow cooked onions to the rest and it tastes like nothing is missing for those who can’t imagine life with onions (or lucky bastards as I call them…)

The rest of the time I eat stuff that looks so unhealthy to other people. White bread all the way, very little fruit and only certain veg. I really struggled with the NHS booklets that accompanied my Fodmap exclusion diet as it was full of pre made food rather than ways to adapt your own cooking. A useful blog to consult is On the Fold of the Fodmap if you prefer to cook from scratch.

The one useful suggestion from the booklets was that preparing things certain ways helps especially with fruit which is where this dish came about. Inspired by Diana Henry in the Telegraph last week, it made use of some perfect plums I couldn’t resist buying in the market despite knowing they are something I shouldn’t really eat.

I find cooked fruit much easier to deal with so they went into the pot along with some outdoor reared pork fillet I got at Waitrose which was only £2.38 for a whole fillet that would feed four. I skipped the honey as it’s high fructose and added some sourness with tamarind instead. It all went into the oven for 30 minutes and was served with rice and cucumber salad (seeds removed for Fodmap free fun.) A perfect quick, cheap autumnal dinner.

Spiced Pork and Plums (serves 4)

  • 390g (approx) pork fillet or tenderloin
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 plums, halved and stoned
  • 1/2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • 2cm piece fresh ginger
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 teaspoon five spice powder (check for garlic powder just in case)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 blade mace (optional)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
  • 200ml stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped red chilli to serve (optional)

Take the pork fillet out of the wrapping and swaddle it in a clean tea towel for a few minutes to dry it off. Then cut it in half and put it in a ziploc bag with the vinegar and the soy sauce. Seal and swoosh it all around to coat the pork and pop in the fridge to marinate overnight or while you are out at work.

Preheat the oven to 200℃ and take the pork out of the fridge. Cut the two halves into 1.5 inch medallions and place in a heavy dish with a lid. My Le Creuset was perfect and excited to be used instead of the trusty slow cooker. Allow the pork to come to room temperature while you halve the plums and scatter the spices and flavourings over it all. Dissolve the tamarind in the warm stock and pour it all over. Season it all generously and put the lid on. Roast for 30 minutes.

While the pork cooks, cook some brown rice and prepare a simple cucumber salad. Halve your cuke, scoop the seeds out and slice into a bowl. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of rice vinegar, a scant teaspoon of brown sugar, a shake or two of fish sauce and heapss of black pepper and sea salt. Allow to sit for half an hour and scatter with a few sesame seeds if you have them.

Serve the pork, plums and spiced juices over the brown rice and with the cucumber on the side. I love my slow cooker, but it was wonderful to have a casserole style meal on the table in 45 minutes or less which was so simple and economical to make. Although it did remind me that my oven door is borked and I spent the rest of the evening happily replete, shopping for a new cooker on the internet…



Crispy Caper and Polenta Salad

by Miss South on September 14, 2014

fig saladOk, let’s get the humour about Northern Irish and Scottish people not quite understanding salad out of the way. This one does contain fried things, but what do you think those lovely croutons in your Caesar salad are, huh? So let’s carry on with what is really a perfect early autumn lunch instead and celebrate crispy crunchy fried things in style.

This salad is built round polenta which is the other Italian staple carbohydrate in town.  Made from cornmeal cooked into a thick porridge, British people have never quite taken it to their hearts like they have with pasta. This is partly because we have little connection with eating corn in this country beyond the odd tin of Green Giant and partly because polenta can be quite bland.

In fact, the first time I had polenta as a child, I was actually quite repelled by its blandness. Almost offensive in its nothingness, it kept me away from eating it for years. Then I realised you should never ever buy precooked polenta and that like all the best foods on earth, it needs a liberal hand with the butter. Now I’m a regular polenta eater.

However, I’m not an authentic polenta maker. Firstly I usually make it in the slow cooker rather than stand around stirring slowly to make it smooth and creamy the old fashioned and energetic way and secondly, I add stock to mine. This is near sacrilege to a friend whose family are Northern Italian, but it’s the only way I can add enough flavour without bunging an entire block of Kerrygold in there and missing the point of peasant food.

polenta cubesI tend to make a big batch of polenta and eat half like a thick porridge to soak up ragus or stews (also usually done in the slow cooker) and then allow the other half to cool into blocks and eat it almost like a springier version of cornbread. This cooled polenta is especially good cubed and fried until crispy round the edges. Here I’ve scattered it over a salad but it works well as a breakfast dish with scrambled eggs and tomatoes too for a filling and gluten free start to the day.

Crispy Polenta, Caper and Fig Salad (serves 2 as a main meal)

  • 250g cooked polenta (see below)
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 1 romaine lettuce, finely shredded
  • 1 head broccoli, lightly blanched
  • 2 fresh figs, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 tablespoon fig relish (see page 133 of Recipes from Brixton Village)
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 25g parmesan, shaved
  • 1 red chilli, chopped

Slow Cooker Polenta (serves 4)

  • 175g coarse cornmeal
  • 850ml boiling water or stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 50g butter
  • 50g parmesan (optional)

Start with your slow cooker polenta. I make this the day before and have the salad as a leftovers based lunch. Polenta is often labelled ‘coarse cornmeal’ as well which tends to have the effect of reducing the price by at least half in supermarkets. Look out for Dunn’s River in the red bags in the World Foods section rather than someone like Merchant Gourmet in the Italian aisle.

Pour the dry cornmeal into the slow cooker crock and add the water or stock. Make sure it is as close to boiling as possible. I usually use chicken stock, but veg stock would be lovely here too. Season it all well with salt and pepper and then add a bit more to counteract any blandness.

Put the lid on the slow cooker. Cook the polenta on low for 6-7 hours or high for 3-4. The polenta will thickened and become creamy textured after this time, but don’t be surprised if there is a little water on top of it all and it looks slightly separated when you take the lid off. This is quite normal and all it needs is a good stir. Add the butter and parmesan at this stage.

Serve now if using with a stew (I’ve got a pig cheek number to share with you soon) or pour into a well lined baking tray and smooth the top down evenly. Allow to set overnight before cutting into 3cm cubes the next day.

Heat a frying pan with the olive oil and make sure it gets almost spitting hot before dropping a few of the polenta cubes in at a time. They have an annoying tendency to stick if you don’t heat the oil well, but be careful as it will make a bit of a mess now as they fry. The cubes need about 2 minutes either side, flipping half way. Drain them onto kitchen roll and repeat until they are all cooked.

Prepare your broccoli by steaming it for a few minutes. I usually do this in a covered bowl in the microwave as I don’t have a steamer. Allow to cool slightly and set aside. Finely shred your lettuce and place in a large salad bowl. Toss the broccoli in. Halve the figs and carefully peel the purply green skin back to expose just the white pith and jewel like seeds. Quarter them and set aside.

Make the dressing by placing a heaped tablespoon of the fig relish into a jam jar and adding the balsamic vinegar. Screw the lid on and shake well until you have a pouring consistency. You might need to add a drop or two of water to it as well. If you don’t have any fig relish, just add a little splash of honey to the balsamic vinegar instead.

Dress the lettuce and broccoli with the figgy dressing and add the quartered figs. Drop the drained capers into the remaining hot oil and fry for 2 minutes until they are crispy and sizzling. Scatter them and the still hot polenta croutons over the salad. Garnish with the chopped red chilli and parmesan shavings and eat promptly. This makes an excellent alternative to the ubiquitous Caesar salad and will convert anyone to polenta in no time.