Roots

As a (mostly) vegetarian who tries to source as much of his food from the UK as possible, this time of the year offers rather slim pickings.  This was, of course, true for our ancestors as Ruth Goodman et al have made clear over recent years – though they (the ancestors) didn’t have the option of buying strawberries flown in from countries as yet undiscovered by Europeans.

Fruit is more-or-less limited to cooking apples, with an occasional and very welcome sighting of forced rhubarb arriving from candle-lit sheds in the shadow of the M62.  For vegetables, you can find brassicas though I refuse to eat sprouts and find cabbage too insipid in both flavour and colour to buy (oddly, as a child I also rejected cabbage but then for its excess of undesirable flavour).  Kale is available and has both taste and colour, but has become rather fashionable of late – and I do try and avoid soi-disant super-foods (or foods as I call them) as a matter of principle (obviously, any food clad only in lycra and sporting a cape would be an exception – especially if it were also airborne).  This only really leaves root vegetables as a local option in a normal year.  This year, being far from normal, I can still obtain locally grown peppers, courgettes and aubergines as they have yet to face a real frost – which makes for a rare treat (or is this a taste of climatic things to come?).

Generally, in this country the root vegetable is considered (at best) as a side dish and  often good only to feed to animals – though admittedly, even I have yet to try a mangel wurzel in my home cooking (not that I’m not tempted, I just don’t know where to source one).  I have made some use of carrots, parsnips and even celeriac over recent years, though usually only in modest amounts – but it is only recently that I have perfected the luxurious dish for which I believe they were born (grown?  bred?).  This is my take on a winter ratatouille – inspired by 10 Greek Street followed up by significant web research and a lot of experimentation in my underground bunker.

Please tell us this wonder recipe, I hear you cry (or was that just the voices in my head, as per usual?).  Well, as you asked so nicely, and it’s been a while since the last recipe published on GofaDM, here goes:

Take selection  of root vegetables (I used carrots, parsnips, celeriac and swede) and slice or dice them into smallish chunks.  My experience is that the swede should be in the smallest chunks – or it can remain stubbornly hard after cooking.  Coat in oil and roast for a while – at least 30 minutes and perhaps a little more (yesterday they had nearer 50) – at a high temperature (I used 200°C).  Once your root vegetables have roasted, roughly chop a clove (or two) of garlic and an onion (I used a red one) and gently fry in oil (I used rapeseed) for a few minutes to soften.  Then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, the roasted vegetables and seasoning to the pan and cook through for a few minutes to let all the flavours suffuse.  Meanwhile, grill some slices of a rinded goat’s cheese (I’ve been using Kidderton Ash).  Serve the ratatouille garnished with the grilled cheese and prepare your taste buds for the time of their lives!  Well, I really like it, frankly it almost makes winter worthwhile on its own.

It is also a dish made of pretty cheap ingredients – which must be a boon in these austere times.  It reminds me of advice I was given by the redoubtable Katherine Whitehorn when I started university (in a book you understand, she was not my personal advisor when I was a student – if only).  She wrote then that if meat was 70p/lb it was cheap while if vegetables were 70p/lb they were expensive: so eat more vegetables (I paraphrase).  Whilst the prices (and units) may have changed somewhat since the mid-80s, I think the advice is still essentially sound.

Meat Roulette

News over the last few weeks has made the carnivorous lifestyle appear a rather more adventurous, even risky, option than might have hitherto been imagined.

Either you don’t know what you are eating and are inadvertently enjoying a facet of la vie Française or you do and are now doomed to an early grave (please note that I use the word “or” in its logical or Boolean sense, i.e. you could be doing both).  This leaves those of us living a (mostly) vegetarian lifestyle feeling even more smug than usual – which is not directly a life limiting condition, but could precipitate violence if not suitable masked.

Bacon, now identified as only slightly less deadly than the eponymous nightshade, is oft cited as the one item the newbie veggie finds hardest to eliminate from the diet – though, I can’t say that its lack has been an issue in my life.  However, I bring a message of hope to any wannabe vegetarians out there, as I believe I have found an alternative.  On a recent trip to 10 Greek Street I partook of a dish, which as part of its delicious whole contained capers which had been fried in brown butter.  I have never found capers particularly appealing or interesting in the past, but in this form they become one of the tastiest things I have ever had the pleasure to eat: they were like perfectly fried bacon only better (like the quintessence of the brown stuff you scrape from the pan after frying the bacon).  I have now come to believe fried bacon is but a pale shadow of its Platonic ideal: the brown-butter fried caper.  I would not want my readers to go away thinking this is necessarily a healthy option – well not for the eater, though it is rather healthier for the pig – but it does offer a vegetarian (though not vegan) alternative to the morning rasher.

Another recent 10GS discovery is the marvel that is roasted celeriac – a completely different animal to its boiled version and even more scrumptious (if only I had discovered this earlier in the season).  As I type this post, my first experiment in celeriac roasting is underway in the crypt of Fish Towers – it will then be crumbed, mixed with ricotta, chopped parsley and one egg (to bind it, in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie) and formed into patties and shallow fried.  I shall probably serve it with mushrooms and something green (a seasick mariner perhaps?).  I have high hopes for this experiment in biochemistry, but there are always risks in experimenting on one’s self, so if you don’t hear from me again then know I took one for the team and another will have to continue my vital work.

Still, I am not anticipating an early meeting with the Grim Reaper as this last week has already seen a new cooking triumph.  I have finally produced a properly decent risotto (well, speltetto if I’m honest as I use pearled spelt in lieu of rice) with the assistance of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who provided the basic recipe around which I riffed (10GS should also receive a credit as I’ve watched them make risotto and have become much bolder in my method as a result).  It may be the best use I’ve ever made of a leak and a couple of handfuls of kale.

So, come over to the (mostly) green side, it’s a lot more fun than most vegetarians would have you believe!

Delivery Day

Muted celebrations today at Fish Towers as the world marks the anniversary of our hero being brought forth into existence.  It seems hard to believe (for anyone who has seen my youthful visage, or read the somewhat childish nature of this blog) that I have made it through the last 140 years single-handed (a number base “joke” for you there).

Despite my advanced age, I did managed to fit in a whole new experience today.  For the first time I have tasted the hypocotyl of the celeriac (also known, more amusingly, as knob celery).  No looker the celeriac – definitely not the Helen of the root vegetable world (I struggle to imagine carrots launching ships to recover it from marauding parsnips) – but perfectly edible and, perhaps to no-one’s surprise but my own, tasting of celery (though not, so far as I know, of knob).

Otherwise, I have largely ignored any special significance that might attach to the day – I have seen the earth arrive at roughly the same relative point in its peregrinations around the sun quite a few times before, and the novelty value is starting to wear off.

In what might best be considered as a coincidence this blog has also just passed 1000 page views (and here we are safely back in Base 10).  I can’t help but wonder if I should worry about this – but I like to think I am (in some modest way) slowly educating the world.  So, as this blog seems to have become a calling, I rather fear it will continue – despite the unfathomable (or should that be un-metre-able in SI units?) viewing patterns of its readership.