Sunday, 25 July 2010

courgette, mint and feta fritters

i have a nasty habit. you could almost call it an addiction. it’s not too bad if i am distracted by other things but, left to my own devices and with no one to keep an eye on me, it quickly spirals out of control.

it’s called uk tv food.

actually it’s called something else now but i can never remember what – that’s how successful their rebranding was. and - i know, i should be ashamed of myself. there must be better ways to spend an evening than watching ace of cakes and rick stein’s food odyssey shouldn’t really be seen more than once.

but i’m a sucker for it. i think it’s ‘cos it is such benign telly: no one dies, whether for real or for pretend, and usually people are quite calm and happy. you can’t have unhappy people on cookery programs – they’re meant to convey enjoyment. there might be a bit of shouting from professional kitchens but you know that bit is edited to make it look worse than it probably is.

anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that i watched an episode (or two) of nigella’s forever summer.

as an aside, i normally dislike nigella a fair bit. initially i thought it was for the faux-sexiness but i actually don’t really mind that: if licking fingers and appearing on telly in her nightgown helps her sell stuff, good luck to her. personally, i’d rather have a morose nigel with that pinched face looking like he’s just eaten a lemon, or someone like delia, who has a relaxing, almost soporific effect on me (all is well with the world when delia is in charge).

then i thought i objected to the food she makes. a lot of the time you could hardly call it cooking and there is no way you should be feeding your children most of what she makes. this to me is prime nigella territory: or this: it’s not the fact that it is as far removed from the message of this blog as you can get. rather, it’s the total lack of sophistication - most of this stuff is just sugar and very little else.

however, i realise now that what i actually most hate about her is her use of language. same syntax every time. over the top adjective/s + either made up or unusual noun. guinness cake: damp blackness. trifle: cream-swathed berriness. i could go on – it’s in practically every recipe. it makes me want to go and slap the woman. with a copy of beckett, or something.

anyway, having said all that, the inspiration for these courgette cakes did come from watching nigella skipping around the kitchen jauntily. i did change a few things but the basic premise of courgettes, mint and feta is true to the original.

a few things to note: first, a food processor makes this really easy. it takes about 4 seconds to push two courgettes through a magimix. you can, of course, grate them but i always find that a bit of a pain. second, you really do need to drain the courgettes properly, so this is not one to make in a hurry. i left the grated ones in a colander, salted, for an hour at least and then i wrung them in a clean kitchen cloth. there is A LOT of water in a courgette – you’d be surprised. i’d also say you need to be a bit brave with adapting the basic recipe. much will depend on how big your courgette is and how much water you’ve managed to get out of it. it’s best to mix all the wet stuff first and then add the almond flour gradually. you want to get to the consistency where it’s still like wet batter but solid enough to spoon into the frying pan. finally, fry a small fritter first and check for seasoning. both the almonds and the courgettes and quite sweet and you might need to add some salt to help the feta cheese. (you can, of course, use normal flour if you want. same principles apply).

makes a lot of them.

2 large courgettes, grated or shredded in a blender
3 large eggs
a small handful of mint, finely chopped
100g of feta cheese, crumbled
about 1/2 cup of almond flour plus more
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
salt and pepper
olive oil for frying

whisk the eggs with the mint and add the crumbled cheese. next, add the grated, drained courgettes in. mix thoroughly and season. now, start adding the flour. half a cup is safe but you may well need more. keep adding until you think you have the right consistency. stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
heat some olive oil in a non-stick pan until medium hot and spoon the mixture into hot oil. don't overcrowd the pan - these will flatten as they cook. turn over after 2-3 minutes - you will see when the underside is getting golden brown. cook the other side. don't have the heat on too high as you want the inside the cook - you can of course eat courgettes raw but cooked is nicer.

eat with greek yoghurt, or tomato salad, or anything else you like.

duck breast with broccoli

for something that looks so good to eat, duck is not my favourite meat. (surely it’s not just me who looks at big fat birds lolling about riversides and thinks – dinner?). i like its feathery, plump-breasted friends of different shapes and sizes – i am quite partial to geese and all manner of small things like quails, pheasants and pigeons. i do love chinese crispy duck too but that takes us back to the deep frying thing: you could deep fry my (insert unattractive body part, in my case usually a foot) and it would be tasty. i guess duck to me is on a par with lamb – i like it but i would probably not order it in restaurants as i will always get more excited by pork or beef or even fish.

but sometimes, of an evening, you will find yourself with nothing to eat but a couple of frozen duck breasts. and sometimes, you just have to keep your husband happy.

we knew duck breast cooking would be like steak – get the heat up high, whack the meat on for a couple of minutes, and don’t procrastinate. but i was hoping there’d be something else to this dinner, basically something to offset the punch of the fatty meat.

so i did what i always do. i lean on the lounge doorway, standing on one leg, and leaf through cookery books while hoping the whole (ikea) bookshelf doesn’t collapse under their weight. or rather, i do, what my tutor at university once called citing milton, “a mouse hunt of an index”.

it’s amazing how different cookery book indices can be. some seem compiled by people who have clearly never cooked. others are specific to the point of obsession, breaking down foodstuffs into the smallest components you could think of. they’re my favourite. i like a bit of detail even if i myself am not very good at it. if there is no separate entry for red snapper and i have to search under fish, forget it. i want to see both. and “snapper, red”. there is a great pleasure to be derived from a good index and i don’t care how geeky that sounds.

i wasn’t doing very well with the duck though. i found one recipe which consisted of, more or less, telling you to fry it until it's cooked. eeer, thanks for that. and then – bingo. hidden in the giant tome that is locatelli’s taste of italy was a marvellous, tasty and quick recipe that had to be written down. and it really was lovely. i think it's the worcestershire sauce that makes it, as there is very little else to the whole thing.

for two

2 duck breasts
1 head of broccoli separated into florets
1 tbs worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
salt and pepper
olive oil

bring the duck breasts out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook them. preheat the oven to 220C.

when you're ready to start, blanch the florets in boiling salted water for about a minute, just to soften the broccoli. drain and keep on one side.

season the duck. get an ovenproof saute pan medium hot, then put in the duck, skin-side down (no oil - the duck is fatty enough), and cook until the skin turns golden. turn over, cook for one minute and then turn down the heat. take the duck out and keep in a warm place.

drain the fat from the pan, add the worcestershire sauce and about 2tbs of olive oil and stir to emulsify. turn off the heat. if it doesn't look like there'll be enough, add a bit more worcestershire sauce and a bit more oil.

heat a saute pan, add more olive oil and put in garlic and chilli, and cook without colouring for a few minutes. add the broccoli and saute until soft, again without allowing to colour.

put the duck into a roasting tray and put in the oven for two or three minutes - this should make it still pink and bloody so cook for longer if you don't like it.