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Sowing the Seeds

nigella bookWatching the ghastly events at Isleworth Court this week, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion I’d be Team Nigella since it would take a lot for me to back a man who throttled his wife. But it was also because Nigella has probably been the biggest influence on my cooking career of anyone.

It was her columns in Vogue in the very late 90s that turned me from being able to make food to being able to cook and understanding the power of writing and talking about food. Prior to that, most of my food influence had been from family or watching people like Keith Floyd on TV, but Nigella introduced me to food writing. Her columns seemed incredibly grown up and very cosmopolitan. I felt so very adult cooking things she wrote about while friends made baked potatoes and Old El Paso kits when we went round for dinner before a big night out.

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Stuffed Squid…

I don’t think Shirley Conran and I would get along. She thinks life is too short to stuff a mushroom and I seem to have a fascination with stuffing just about any food I can get my hands on. Stuffed cabbage leaves are a winter staple in my house, I loved my recent dalliance with a stuffed marrow and last Saturday I feasted on these amazing garlicky stuffed tomatoes as suggested by Nigel Slater. Having exhausted all the vegetables I can think of stuffing, I needed a new challenge…

And what better than nature’s very own windsock in the shape of a whole squid? Inspired by another Nigel Slater recipe from last week’s Observer Food Monthly and some stunning looking squid on my local fishmonger’s counter, I couldn’t resist.

After getting the fishmonger to clean the squid, my eye was caught by the last of the beautiful rainbow hued Bright Lights chard in the garden and I decided to base the stuffing around this. I also dug out the last of the wonderful breadcrumbs from the freezer from a stunning rye loaf from the Tebay farm shop to add a nutty hint of flavour to it all. A pinch of mace, a slug of olive oil and some lemon zest followed suit. But the crowning glory was the rest of the tin of smoked anchovies Mister North gave me for my birthday. These add a stunning depth of rich complexity to the already amazing umami taste of these fabulous little fish.

I combined everything and stuffed the squid as full as I could get it without ripping the beautiful soft flesh. The excess stuffing went round them and tentacles and I dotted them with the very last few Tumbler tomatoes from the garden before covering them in a rich tomato sauce made with the leftover oil from the anchovies and a few home grown chillies for a kick. Add in a splash of vegetable stock and it was ready to go in the oven for around 45 minutes.

It looked majestic when I opened the casserole dish. The tomatoes had intensified in the colour to a deep ruby red flecked with a hint of emerald from the chard and the milky white squid bathed in it like a less malevolent Moby Dick. It was so soft and tender from the long slow cooking that it was quite difficult to lift out of the dish without it falling apart. I served it with some of the Shetland Blue potatoes from the garden and well anointed with the silky soft tomato sauce and it was fantastic.

The squid cut beautifully and was delightfully tender with just enough of a bite to keep it interesting. The stuffing was umami and iron rich and the tomato sauce was sweet and tasted of the summer we didn’t really have. It was great with the potatoes to soak it up, but even with that, I had a lot of sauce leftover. I froze this to eat with pasta some night or to form the base of a quick fish stew.

I can’t think of a single flaw with this dish. Easy to make, perfect for using up odd and sods in the fridge in the sauce or stuffing and stylish enough to serve at a dinner party or as a Friday night treat at the end of a hard week. Try it with baby squid to cut the cooking time, because this dish is so good you’ll be driven to distraction waiting to taste it!

Marmalade Cake

I haven’t thought much about marmalade for years, despite a fondness for Paddington himself, but I was given some for Christmas last year and have been pondering what to do with it since I don’t like oranges. Inspired by Oliver Thring’s recent piece on this traditional preserve in The Guardian I decided to try baking with it in place of using lemon.

A marmalade loving little bird told me that Nigel Slater had the ultimate recipe for marmalade cake and thanks to the power of online archives, I soon had my little hands on it. It had a simple list of ingredients and was part of an article about easy straightforward baking. What could go wrong? Read more

Invisible Food Walks

Mister North isn’t the only one doing a bit of foraging this spring. I have been attending the fascinating Invisible Food Walks around the Loughborough Estate in Lambeth for the past few months and learning what a wealth of foods can be foraged even in this urban environment…

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