Food & Drink: Made with love

The best recipes, argues Jill Dupleix, are those which have been passed down from generation to generation and yet feel like personal discoveries. Here are some of her favourites from the last 2,000 years
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The start of a new century seems like a good time to spring-clean our recipes, our tools and our kitchen ways; a time to sort out what is worth taking with us into the future and what can be left behind. We have all cooked some perfectly fine recipes over the years that were good then, but which we never cooked again. We have also felt that sense of personal discovery and elation when we cook something that we know is going to stay with us forever, and become a true favourite. So let's work out what we value and dispense with the rest of the baggage. For me, good food is food that comes from somewhere, food that has a history. Food that links us to generations past, not fashionable miscellanea chosen for colour rather than flavour. It's a good bet that if a recipe has lasted a couple of hundred - or a couple of thousand - years, it's a damn good one. It has become a favourite, handed down like a precious baby blanket for the next generation to use. Our kitchens are full of the ghosts of people who have stood as we do, stirring, simmering and spicing, as we do. You hear them in the whistle of a kettle, the sound of a broom sweeping the floor. And every time you pick up a wooden spoon, you become part of a continuous human flow, at one with the residual wisdom that is generations old. This is why we should be looking for new ways with old recipes, so that our kitchen heritage stays with us. And in time, we will become the ghosts of future kitchens, guiding the hands of others.

KITCHEN WISDOM

Principles of a new kitchen awareness, based firmly on the old

2 Think of the hen that laid your egg

2 Clean out your pantry once a year and freshen up all spices and sauces

2 Aprons are not demeaning, they are there to keep your clothes clean

2 The ideal kitchen has room for cook books, music, paintings, and a computer. It is not always clean, tidy and spotless

2 Your home is not a restaurant. Don't compete with professional kitchens, million dollar equipment, and 14 apprentices. We can make the one thing they can't - good home cooking

2 Use brown sugar rather than white

2 Buy tea in leaves and coffee in beans

2 Always take one step back

2 Pod peas

2 Cook a whole fish

2 Use the power in your hands. The fewer machines you use, the better the food will be

2 Make friends with your shopkeepers

2 Tell them what you are going to cook. Give them feedback. Give them a hard time, if you have to

2 Hot food should be served hot and cold food should be served cold

2 A little butter is a wonderful thing

2 Preserve your heritage. Get the best three recipes out of your grandmother now

2 Something will always go wrong when you cook. It's not your fault. Keep going. Just don't kill anyone

2 Think twice before you chop everything up into little bits

2 Some things are beautiful when served whole

2 Parsley is a herb, not a garnish

2 Food that survives the ages is food that is good for us

2 Save your string

2 Re-use your plastic bags

2 Take a basket to the shops

2 Let your children watch you cook

2 Do not serve anything that involves celery and cream cheese

2 Never slave over a hot stove

2 Do the dishes as you go along

2 Cook your favourite food for your favourite people

2 Eat well

2 Lick your fingers

FENNEL SCHNITZEL

In Italy, sweet aniseedy fennel used to be served at the end of the meal, as refreshing as fresh fruit. Here, golden breadcrumbs give a crisp coating on zesty fennel, to be served with roast chicken or grilled fish, or just as part of an antipasto platter. This is also brilliant with thick slices of blanched celeriac.

Feeds 6

2 fennel bulbs

2 eggs

115g/4oz fine dry breadcrumbs

sea salt

black pepper

vegetable oil for frying

Trim the tops of each fennel bulb and cut off any nasty looking bits of outer skin. Cut down through the fennel bulbs into very thin, neat cross-sections. Rinse and pat dry.

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat them lightly. Place the breadcrumbs in a second bowl and season. Heat the oil, up to 2cm (34in) deep, in a heavy-based frying pan. Dip each fennel slice first in beaten egg, then in breadcrumbs and fry, a few slices at a time, until golden, turning once. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a little sea salt.

BEID HAMINE

You can forget your three-minute boiled egg. This ancient Moroccan technique is one of the slowest ways to cook eggs in the world, and yet one of the nic- est, sweetest and easiest. Simmered for hours, the eggs end up with a dusky brown colour, an indefinable fragrance, and a sweet, soft and creamy body.

Feeds 4

8 eggs

skins from 6 brown onions

1 tablespoon ground coffee

2 teaspoons sea salt flakes

I teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

12 a teaspoon sweet paprika

Place eggs, onion skins and ground coffee in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and fill with water. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to the lowest possible. Simmer gently for at least six hours. preferably eight, topping up the water if necessary. Remove eggs and cool to room temperature.

Mix the sea salt, coriander, cumin and paprika to taste. Serve the eggs with lightly grilled Turkish bread and a bowl of the spice mix, for dipping.

SWEET POTATO CRUMBLE

According to John Gerard's Herball of 1597, this orange tuber used to be eaten "roasted in the ashes" then dressed with oil, vinegar and salt: "They comfort, nourish and strengthen the body." If you tire of roasting them in the ashes, try this humble crumble with a crisp and buttery breadcrumb topping.

Feeds 4 as a side dish

3 large sweet potatoes

60g/2oz butter

12 a teaspoon grated nutmeg

50g/112 oz soft, fresh breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon very finely chopped parsley

Peel and roughly chop the potatoes. Cook in simmering salted water until tender. Drain and return to the heat for a moment with half the butter and the nutmeg, stirring. Season and blend in a processor or mash until smooth. Spoon into a medium ovenproof baking dish.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan, and add the breadcrumbs gradually, stopping when the butter has been fully absorbed. Add the parsley, stirring.

Top the potato with breadcrumbs. Bake at 400F/200C/Gas 6 for 20 to 30 minutes until golden.

INDIAN SPICED POTATOES

A charming, well-balanced Indian recipe, adapted from a recipe by the charming and well-balanced Madhur Jaffrey.

Feeds 4 as a side dish

12 cauliflower

3 medium potatoes, peeled

4 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon black mustard seeds

8 curry leaves

1 green chilli, chopped, or 12 a teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon each ground turmeric, ground coriander and ground cumin

1 teaspoon each salt and sugar

250ml/9fI oz water

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

Cut the cauliflower into small florets, cut the potatoes into small dice, and cook both in a large pot of simmering, salted water for two minutes. Drain.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the mustard seeds and stir while they pop, then add the curry leaves. Stir, then add the chilli, turmeric, coriander, cumin, salt and sugar. Cook, stirring, for a minute, add the drained vegetables and toss.

Add water and bring to the boil, stirring. Cover and lower heat. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring, or until the potatoes are tender and the dish is almost dry. Sprinkle with coriander. Serve with rice.

SILVERSIDE WITH SALSA VERDE

I've traded recipes for this good old Anglo silverside with supermarket millionaires and taxi drivers. I still cook it every time I come home from a long trip out of the country.

Feeds 6

1.5kg/3lb piece of brisket or silverside

3 onions, peeled

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 bay leaf

For the salsa verde:

3 heaped tablespoons flat-leafed parsley

3 heaped tablespoons fresh basil

3 heaped tablespoons mint leaves

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons tiny salted capers, rinsed

2 anchovies, rinsed

freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons or more extra virgin olive oil

Rinse the beef, place in a big pot with lots of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce to a bare simmer, skimming off any froth. Add the onions, carrots, celery and bay leaf and cook slowly, partly covered, for around two hours. Remove from the heat.

Wash the parsley, mint and basil, and shake dry. Combine the herbs in a food processor and chop until fine using the pulse action. Add the garlic, capers, and anchovies and chop until fine. Keep the motor running while you add the vinegar, and, more slowly, the olive oil. Taste for pepper, adjust accordingly and set aside, covered.

Reheat the beef gently. Remove from the broth, drain, slice and arrange on plates. Spoon the salsa on top and serve.

SALMON FISH FINGERS

My apologies to Bird's Eye, who invented the fish finger in 1946, for improving on their idea so dramatically.

Feeds 4

4 fillets of salmon, from the thickest part

3 eggs

115g/4oz plain flour

salt and freshly ground black pepper

115g/4oz fine dry breadcrumbs

finely grated rind of I lemon

30g/1oz butter

1 tablespoon light olive oil

extra lemon to serve

skin of 1 preserved lemon, rinsed

I tablespoon capers, rinsed

I tablespoon lemon juice

6 tablespoons home-made or good quality mayonnaise

Peel the skin from the fillets. Tweezer out any of the long fine bones inside. Cut two oblongs of fish from each fillet, about 7.5cm long by 2.5cm wide by 2.5 deep (3x1x1in) - you can use the trimmings for a salmon omelette tomorrow.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly. Place the flour, salt and pepper in a second bowl. Mix the breadcrumbs and the lemon rind in a third.

Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan until hot. Dip each salmon finger first in the flour, then the egg, then the bread-crumbs, and place in the oil. Cook gently, turning once, until lightly golden (no more than three or four minutes in all) until the salmon is cooked, but still pink and moist inside. Drain on a paper towel and serve on a bed of mash with lemon wedges and a rocket salad.

Cut the preserved lemon into tiny dice. Whisk this up with the capers and the lemon juice into mayonnaise, add salt and pepper if necessary, and serve in a separate bowl.

TUSCAN ROAST CHICKEN

Tuscan cooking was the essence of simplicity long before minimalism became such a fashion. Golden chicken and a nutty, creamy pea puree are linked with a ribbon of olive oil. Resist the impulse to add any garnish, sauce, or sun-dried tomatoes - leave this lily ungilded.

Feeds 4

1 free range chicken, jointed

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

sprigs of rosemary and sage

sea salt and pepper

For the split pea puree:

400g/14oz dried yellow split peas

1 litre/134 pints water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Wash and dry the chicken pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper to season and toss by hand until coated. Marinate for two hours.

Rinse the split peas, place in a pot with water and bring to the boil. Skim off any froth, reduce the heat and add the olive oil, onion and salt. Cover and simmer for one and a half to two hours without stirring, until a thick puree forms. Beat until a paste forms. Add salt and pepper to taste, and keep warm.

Heat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6. Pour the remaining marinade into a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Fry the chicken in two batches until golden and arrange in a baking pan. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes until the skin is golden and the meat is cooked.

Serve on a bed of split pea puree with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

GINGERBREAD

Gingerbread has been munched in France since the 11th century, when the Gingerbread Fair was first held in Paris. Queen Elizabeth ordered ginger cakes baked in the shapes of portraits of those she knew (the first gingerbread men).

Makes about 25 biscuits, or 12 men and 12 women

115g/4oz soft brown sugar

175ml/512fl oz golden syrup

90g/314oz butter

1 tablespoon each of ground ginger, ground cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

500g/1lb plain flour

2 eggs, beaten

Combine the sugar, butter, golden syrup, spices and ginger in a heavy- based pan over a low heat and melt, stirring. Remove from the heat and cool for two minutes, then quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda until light and fluffy.

Sift the flour with a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre, add the eggs and syrup and stir until you have a dough. Wrap in plastic and chill for an hour.

Heat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4 and roll out the dough thinly. Cut into whatever shape you fancy and place on trays lined with baking paper. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and cool for five minutes before removing from the tray to a wire rack. Cool there until quite hard and store in an airtight container.

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO CAKE

I first came across this recipe in Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, doubled the chocolate content and have been pathetically grateful ever since.

Feeds 6

200g/7oz dark, bitter chocolate (couverture), chopped

1 tablespoon strong espresso coffee

1 tablespoon rum or brandy

150g/514oz caster sugar

150g/514oz butter

100g/312oz ground almonds or hazelnuts

5 eggs, separated

icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Melt the chocolate, coffee, rum or brandy, sugar and butter in a bowl sitting in a pot of simmering water. Remove from the heat and stir until well mixed.

Add the almonds and mix well. Beat in the egg yolks, one by one. Beat the egg whites until stiff, and stir a couple of spoonfuls into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, before folding in the rest.

Turn into a buttered and floured 20cm (8in) round or square cake tin, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Leave to cool before removing from the tin. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

ANCIENT ROMAN BAKED CUSTARD

Just when you think civilisation has done a reasonable job of advancing itself, you discover a simple recipe recorded by Apicius roughly 2,000 years ago that is pretty similar to the baked custard you pulled from the oven last Sunday night. Sigh.

Feeds 4

500ml/18fI oz milk

100ml/312fI oz wild honey

5 eggs, beaten

freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 325F/160C/Gas 3. Heat the milk and honey in a saucepan, stirring, without allowing to boil, and cool for 10 minutes. Place the beaten eggs in a large bowl and slowly pour in the milk and honey, whisking until well mixed.

Strain into a heat-proof baking dish and place in a roasting tray or baking pan. Fill the pan with water until the level reaches halfway up the side of the dish. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until just set. Grind pepper on top, and serve.

BOOK OFFER

Jill Dupleix's Favourite Food (Conran Octopus, pounds 20) is available to IoS readers at the special price of pounds 17 (including p&p). Call 01933 443 863 with your credit card details, or send a cheque made out to Octopus Publishing Group to Conran Octopus Books Direct, 27 Sanders Road, Wellingborough, Northants NN8 4NL. Quote ref H431

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