Cook Book Challenge

One of my new year’s resolutions was to cook more from the many wonderful books I own. Sam is doing it too, and he made brilliant polenta gnocchi with tomato sauce last week from Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd’s Plats du Jour. 

My first cook book meal was the result of a failure of another. I bought 3 pigs trotters from the ultra-branded-yet-actually-good butcher near my house for 50p each to make Elizabeth David’s grilled pig’s trotters as set out in French Provincial Cooking. I was really really excited about it – I could almost taste the rich piggy meat topped with golden breadcrumbs and the acidic bite of tartare sauce, with which David suggests it is served. However, I left them a day too long, and by the time I opened the bag, they smelled like hell on earth. I had a tantrum and got pretty upset, threw them away then took the bin out. Then I marched out to the nearby shops on Sunday scowling hard, sure that there would be NOTHING I wanted to cook. 

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I was actually wrong. Out of indecision and a desperate desire to fill the hole in my cooking ambition left by the rotten trotters I ended up making four dishes after grabbing anything that seemed to have potential from the expensive and exciting shop round the corner, General Store. I bought Calçots, a seasonal Catalan onion grown in the area of Valls; bright pink forced rhubarb from Yorkshire; some vanilla pods; some organic milk; some extravagantly priced Ortiz anchovies in oil; and a head of the bitter Italian Dandelion relative, Treviso.

The first dish I made was anchovy fillets on buttered fingers of sourdough toast, a dish after my friend Anna Tobias, head chef at Rochelle Canteen. We delighted in several rounds of these, with beer. These anchovies have a flavour so deep, meaty and savoury it’s practically rude – thank God for the toast.

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Then I made a recipe from Patience Gray’s incredible book published by Prospect books called Honey from a Weed. I have gone on about it on here before, but it really is superb. Gray wrote it over 20 years as she travelled round Italy and the mediterranean countries with her husband, the sculptor Norman Mommens.

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Her recipe is to boil the Treviso in salted water for 20 minutes, then toss it with a small amount of browned pancetta slices and its cooking fat and season with a splash of red wine vinegar. I served it on toast, which was very good. This was an exceptional recipe, and one I will make a lot.The Treviso takes on a taste almost like artichokes after boiling and the small amount of pancetta and vinegar add delicate and mouthwatering spikes of salt and acid. 

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Then, I turned the grill on high and charred the Calçots after washing thoroughly and made a Romesco sauce, their traditional accompaniment, to a recipe by Caroline Conran in her brilliant book Sud de France: The Food and Cooking of the Languedoc, again, written over a long duration by a woman who has spent years in the region. The sweet, soft juicy onions burst out from the charred outer when eating them, dipped in the garlicky Romesco that is given texture with almonds. They may just be onions, but they are a real treat eaten in this way. In Catalonia, there are festivals called ‘Calcotada’ where people gather and cook Calçots over charcoal and eat them with Romesco and lots of wine. 

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Finally (well actually I made this first as it had to chill, but y’know, pudding comes last) I made a vanilla flavoured crème anglaise and chilled it, and served it with chilled roasted rhubarb that I cut into 2 inch lengths and baked  for 12 minutes in the oven with a sprinkle of sugar over, before chilling in the fridge. It was pretty and delicious. 

Now to decide what book to cook from next week. Determined to make trotters once I’ve recovered from smelling the last lot after they’d gone off…

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