Monday, 27 September 2010

What do we really want from our food?

It was a wet, windy, drizzly day yesterday, and Mr G and I were feeling somewhat lazy. In a rare event, we had a nice long sleep-in, a prolonged brunch, and sometime in the mid-afternoon wandered down to our local pub for a friendly pint. It's such a wonderful luxury to have an excellent pub at the end of your street. We don't avail ourselves of it anywhere near as much as we fell we ought but we enjoy going and want to patronise it so it keeps going. This pub has an endlessly changing list of two guest ales. The one we chose was hoppy, crisp and refreshing.

While we were enjoying our pints, a man came around offering everyone a lovely, steaming hot roast potato - it was Sunday afternoon, after all! The potatoes were delicious - crispy and golden on the outside and fluffy on the inside - and went really well with the ale, but something troubled me about them. Then it hit me.

All of the potatoes were exactly the same size. They came from potatoes that had been mercilessly graded, then cut in half and prepared. This was how I knew that they'd come out of a packet, rather than straight out of someone's field. Nothing like my roasties, which are made with whatever potatoes are in the top of the sack and can involve sizes from giant to quite small. I cut them to an even size, which leaves them a variety of interesting shapes.

It's yet another example of how people have been educated to believe that what they want is consistency, when really we'd all be much happier if we chose our produce with the primary concern being taste.

As an addendum, I'd like to say that we did get some stuff done with the rest of our day! It was a bread baking day, and there was quite a bit of sorting, cleaning and cooking achieved with the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Seasonal eating: zucchini and parmesan soup with garlic ciabatta

We've been on holiday lately and came home to 10 kilograms of zucchini in the allotment. I've managed to give a lot away, but wanted to use some fresh for some wholesome soup. Mr. G isn't really a soup fan, but I think I won him over with this. This is delicious, tasty, wholesome and satisfying, and if you choose your chilli right it's spicy too. I ought to make vegetable stock but I rarely think of it in time, so happily use a good quality vegetable stock cube.

No photos, because it all got gobbled up in short order, so you'll have to believe me it's pretty.

Zucchini and parmesan soup
Serves two. Easily expands to serve more, or have some for freezing.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic and one chilli, finely chopped together
15 leaves basil, torn
2 small-medium zucchini, or two large ones (about 200g), chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1 vegetable stock cube
2-3 cups water
1 tsp soya sauce
1/4 cup (about 30g) finely grated fresh parmesan, reserving a little for the garlic bread (if you have a parmesan rind use it in the soup too)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion for 2-3 minutes. Then add the basil, garlic, chilli and zucchini and fry for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring to ensure they don't stick, until the zucchini start to brown. Add the water, stock cube, parmesan rind if using and soya sauce, bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and remove parmesan rind. Blend either in the pot with a stick blender or use a normal blender. Return pot to the heat, add parmesan and cook for 5 minutes more, or until required consistency. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve in bowls with a grinding of black pepper and the parsley scattered over, with the garlic bread on the side.

Garlic ciabatta
Makes two. Make this while the soup is boiling.

1/2 small ciabatta, cut in half horizontally as though for a sandwich
2-3 cloves garlic
1 pinch coarse salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp parmesan (optional)

Pound the garlic and salt together in a mortar and pestle, or alternatively chop the garlic finely and crush the garlic and salt together on the chopping board with the flat of a knife. Add the olive oil and stir to blend. Let these sit for a few minutes so the flavours can permeate. Spread this garlic oil over the cut surface of the ciabatta: I use a pastry brush for this. Sprinkle the parmesan over if using. Bake in a 180C oven for 10 minutes or under a grill for 5 minutes, until the bread is toasty and the garlic and cheese are golden.