Food corner

"To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day."

Somerset Maugham

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Be there in five - olive tapenade

If you have ever bought this in a jar from the supermarket, then please pause for a moment before doing so next time and reconsider. It really does only take 5 minutes to make it yourself (well, 10 if you are pitting the olives) and the result is oh, so much better!

I usually make a batch of it and keep it in the fridge for sandwiches or bruschetta-style toasts, e.g. with roast tomato or Portobello mushrooms. It is great with soft white cheeses, such as goats cheese, feta or cream cheese. It also works quite well with lamb dishes, so long as you don’t use too much; it has a very strong flavour, so can overpower a dish if too much is added.

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Ray's meatballs, inspired by Jamie Oliver


Let's get a few things straight before I start this recipe.

I am in the camp of people who find Jamie Oliver a rather annoying personality (the pseudo-geezer thing), but who appreciate what he has done for food in Britain (example). I like his early books (I only got as far as the first two), but I sit firmly with the Italians when it comes to 'Jamie's Italy'. Basically, if Italy is, as he says, his biggest inspiration ("I should have been Italian"), then why can’t he respect the time-honoured recipes developed over generations instead of coming in and throwing all manner of herbs and spices into dishes that traditionally would have been made up of a few ingredients, cooked simply and allowed to shine. In the words of Angela Hartnett,

Nonna taught me to understand what great Italian cooking is all about: start with the very best raw ingredients and do very little to them; just let them speak for themselves, and make the best of their natural flavours and textures.

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Sunday lunch at The Drapers Arms

A rather unappealing and geeky habit of mine is buying the latest good food guides, reading them cover to cover and marking venues according to how much I want to try them out. It all started out quite casually with my marking a venue of interest with a small asterisk, but I soon had so many asterisks that they became meaningless and I had to invest in a more rigorous marking system:

  • A star with a circle around – absolutely must go, life depends on it
  • A star – may self harm if miss out
  • An asterisks – yes but no but
  • A dot – not going to lose any sleep over it
  • Nothing – does this really have any place in the guide?

I now apply this to all my guides, although to save some face I should say that I have only got as far as reading and marking the North and Central London parts of the Which? Good Food Guide 2010 (it covers the whole of the UK, I am not that sad!) and the corresponding chapters in the Michelin London Restaurants and Hotels 2010.

This is the first year that I have bought the Michelin, always having assumed them to err on the side of pretentious and pricey, so I was pleasantly surprised to see so many entries for gastropubs. One such pub is The Drapers Arms, a recommendation corroborated by the Good Food Guide and further substantiated by a star with a circle round in both books (consistent starring and circling on different occasions with no memory of having done so equals extra credibility).

So it was that when my Mum and I found ourselves at the end of a very long line for a table at Ottolenghi, we said a collective “blow this” and headed to The Drapers.

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Elizabeth David’s Piedmont roast peppers (via Delia Smith)

I have come backwards to arrive at this post; normally when writing about someone else’s recipe I would test it and then discuss how it worked. In this case I made the dish first and then went in search of the recipe. Perhaps I should explain...

Last year I went for dinner at the house of some family friends who live nearby. As the starter, Lynne served a selection of antipasti which included the most delicious roast peppers I had ever tasted; they were so good that I cannot remember any of the other antipasti, and this coming from someone who annoys people (read the boyfriend and previously the ex-boyfriend) by describing a restaurant not by where it was or what it looked like, but by what they and I each had for starters, mains and dessert.

I had made many a roast pepper in my time, but none matched up to these.

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Vinaigrettes - here’s one that I prepared earlier

I have two core vinaigrettes that I make up in jars and always have ready in the fridge to use as salad dressing. They keep for ages, the only fresh ingredient (garlic) being preserved by the vinegar and oil. Since I will refer to these a lot in my recipes I thought I should do a separate post on them, so as not to continually be repeating myself.

Just a little point of trivia – always one to err on the side of caution, I was doing some research to ensure this was the correct use of the term ‘vinaigrette’. I was concerned that in order to fit the definition, the preparation must involve the slow pouring and whisking of oil into vinegar to create a creamy emulsion. As it turns out, this is just a style of making vinaigrette, but by no means a definition.

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