Elizabeth David's dream kitchen

In this exclusive extract from a new anthology of her uncollected articles, the woman who changed the way we eat allows fantasy to take hold (and we take the opportunity to publish some of her classic recipes for the very first time)
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So frequently do dream kitchens figure in newspaper competitions, in the pages of magazines and in department store advertising that one almost begins to believe women really do spend half their days dreaming about laminated work-tops, louvered cupboard doors and sheaves of gladioli standing on top of the dishwasher. Why of all rooms in the house does the kitchen have to be a dream? Is it because in the past kitchens have mostly been so underprivileged, so dingy and inconvenient? We don't for example, hear much of dream drawing-rooms, dream bedrooms, dream garages, dream boxrooms (I could do with a couple of those). No. It's a dream kitchen or nothing. My own kitchen is rather more of a nightmare than a dream, but I'm stuck with it. However, I'll stretch a point and make it a good dream for a change. Here goes.

So frequently do dream kitchens figure in newspaper competitions, in the pages of magazines and in department store advertising that one almost begins to believe women really do spend half their days dreaming about laminated work-tops, louvered cupboard doors and sheaves of gladioli standing on top of the dishwasher. Why of all rooms in the house does the kitchen have to be a dream? Is it because in the past kitchens have mostly been so underprivileged, so dingy and inconvenient? We don't for example, hear much of dream drawing-rooms, dream bedrooms, dream garages, dream boxrooms (I could do with a couple of those). No. It's a dream kitchen or nothing. My own kitchen is rather more of a nightmare than a dream, but I'm stuck with it. However, I'll stretch a point and make it a good dream for a change. Here goes.

This fantasy kitchen will be large, very light, very airy, calm and warm. There will be the minimum of paraphernalia in sight. It will start off and will remain rigorously orderly. That takes care of just a few desirable attributes my present kitchen doesn't have. Naturally there'll be, as now, a few of those implements in constant use - ladles, a sieve or two, whisks, tasting spoons - hanging by the cooker, essential knives accessible in a rack, and wooden spoons in a jar. But half a dozen would be enough, not thirty-five as there are now. Cookery writers are particularly vulnerable to the acquisition of unnecessary clutter. I'd love to rid myself of it.

The sink will be a double one, with a solid wooden draining-board on each side. It will be (in fact, is) set 760 mm (30 in) from the ground, about 152 mm (6 in) higher than usual. I'm tall, and I didn't want to be prematurely bent double as a result of leaning over a knee-high sink. Along the wall above the sink I envisage a continuous wooden plate rack designed to hold serving dishes as well as plates, cups and other crockery in normal use. This saves a great deal of space, and much time spent getting out and putting away. Talking of space, suspended from the ceiling would be a wooden rack or slatted shelves such as farmhouses and even quite small cottages in parts of Wales and the Midland counties used to have for storing bread or drying out oatcakes. Here would be the parking place for papers, notebooks, magazines - all the things that usually get piled on chairs when the table has to be cleared. The table itself is, of course, crucial. It's for writing at and for meals, as well as for kitchen tasks, so it has to have comfortable leg room. This time round I'd like it to be oval, one massive piece of scrubbable wood, on a central pedestal.

Outside the kitchen is my refrigerator and there it will stay. I keep it at the lowest temperature, about 4C (40F). I'm still amazed at the way so-called model kitchens have refrigerators next to the cooking stove. This seems to me almost as mad as having a wine rack above it. Then, failing a separate larder, there would be a second and fairly large refrigerator to be used for the cool storage of a variety of commodities such as coffee beans, spices, butter, cheese and eggs, which benefit from a constant temperature of say 10C (50F).

All the colours in the dream kitchen would be much as they are now, but fresher and cleaner - cool silver, grey-blue, aluminium, with the various browns of earthenware pots and a lot of white provided by the perfectly plain china. I recoil from coloured tiles and beflowered surfaces and I don't want a lot of things coloured avocado and tangerine. I'll just settle for the avocados and tangerines in a bowl on the dresser. In other words, if the food and the cooking pots don't provide enough visual interest and create their own changing patterns in a kitchen, then there's something wrong. And too much equipment is if anything worse than too little. I don't a bit covet the exotic gear dangling from hooks, the riot of clanking ironmongery, the serried rank of saute pans and all other carefully chosen symbols of culinary activity I see in so many photographs of chic kitchens. Pseuds corners, I'm afraid, many of them.

When it comes to the cooker I don't think I need anything very fancy. My cooking is mostly on a small scale and of the kind for intimate friends, so I'm happy enough with an ordinary four-burner gas stove. Its oven has to be a good size, though, and it has to have a drop-down door. Given the space I'd have a second, quite separate oven just for bread, and perhaps some sort of temperature-controlled cupboard for proving the dough. On the whole though it's probably best for cookery writers to use the same kind of domestic equipment as the majority of their readers.

It doesn't do to get too far away from the problems of everyday household cooking or take the easy way out with expensive gadgetry.

What it all amounts to is that for me the perfect kitchen would really be more like a painter's studio furnished with cooking equipment than anything conventionally accepted as a kitchen. (Article contributed to 'The Kitchen Book', 1977)

Adapted from 'Is There a Nutmeg in the House?', an anthology of uncollected writings by the late Elizabeth David, published this week by Michael Joseph (£20)

Poulet Robert This is a Norman chicken dish - one for a special treat for 2 or 3 people - and although it comes from only just across the Channel it has a wonderfully unfamiliar flavour.

For a roasting chicken weighing approximately 1.2kg (2 1/2lb), the other ingredients are 45g (1 1/2oz) butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 onion, 60g (2oz) ham, a teaspoon of chopped tarragon or celery leaves, 150ml (1/4 pint) of white table wine or medium dry still cider, a teaspoon of strong yellow mustard, salt, freshly milled pepper, and 4 tablespoons of Calvados. This last is the celebrated and potent Norman spirit distilled from cider, but our own native whisky can be used instead - it's a better substitute in this case than cognac.

In a heavy, cast-iron pot in which the chicken will fit neatly, heat the butter and oil and in it melt the sliced onion with the chopped ham. Add the neck, heart and gizzard and then the chicken, seasoned inside with salt, pepper and the tarragon or celery. Let it brown gently on both sides.

In a soup ladle or small saucepan, warm the Calvados or whisky and set then light to it. Pour it blazing over the chicken, at the same time turning up the heat and tilting the pot from side to side until the flames have burned out. Then add the wine or cider. Let it bubble for two or three minutes. Cover the pot with its lid. Simmer steadily, not too fast, for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over. Cook another 20 minutes. Remove the chicken. Extract the giblets. Let the remaining sauce boil fast while you quickly joint the bird.

Finally, having stirred the mustard into the sauce, pour it into a warmed serving dish, which should be about as deep as an old-fashioned soup plate - there isn't a lot of sauce but what there is has an intense and rich flavour - and put the pieces of chicken on top. Scatter a little parsley over it. The accompaniment to this dish should be either 2 dessert apples, peeled, cubed and fried in butter; or plain little new potatoes; or 250g (1/2lb) of small, sliced mushrooms cooked in butter. No green vegetables - but most decidedly a fresh, crisp, green salad.

If you have to keep the chicken waiting while a first course is being eaten, then place your dish, covered, over a saucepan of gently simmering water. This is a better system than putting it into the oven, where the sauce would go on cooking and the butter and liquid would separate, leaving rather a messy mixture. (Late 1960s)

Leilah's Yoghurt Soup Yogurt soup is well known in all Middle Eastern countries. Every region - probably every family - has a slightly different version.

This one came to me from a Turkish source. Quantities given here should provide four ample helpings.

For 750ml (1 1/2 pints) of clear chicken stock, the other ingredients are 30g (1oz of butter, 2 level tablespoons of flour, 1 whole egg, the juice of half a lemon, salt, cinnamon, cumin and dried mint, 300ml (1/2 pint of yogurt.

In a heavy saucepan melt the butter. Add the flour. Stir over gentle heat until the mixture is smooth. Add, gradually, the warmed stock, and cook until all trace of the floury taste has disappeared. Should the mixture turn lumpy, sieve it and return it to the rinsed-out saucepan. Let it get really hot.

Whisk together the egg and lemon juice. Add a little of the hot soup, whisk again, then incorporate this into the soup. Now add the yogurt. Keep the pan over the lowest possible heat - it must not boil - add salt if necessary, and a sprinkling of powdered cinnamon and cumin. Whisk once more. Lastly stir in a tablespoon of dried mint.

A good method of keeping egg-thickened soups hot, without boiling, is to transfer the saucepan, once the soup has reached the necessary temperature, to one of those electric hot plates, made especially for keeping coffee hot without boiling. It takes up little space and is invaluable for keeping sauces and soups hot for a short time.

(Unpublished, April 1973)

Fresh Tomato Sauce A perfect tomato sauce

1kg (2lb) ripe tomatoes, 30g (1oz) butter, salt, sugar, dried basil and, optionally, a tablespoon of port.

Chop the tomatoes, put them in a wide shallow saucepan or 25cm (10in) frying pan in which the butter is melting. Add a teaspoon each of salt and sugar and dried basil. Cook over a moderate heat until most of the moisture from the tomatoes has evaporated. Sieve, and return the resulting puree to the cleaned pan. Reheat, and just before serving add the port, which is not essential, but does have a softening and mellowing effect on the sauce.

Made in this simple fashion, without the thickening of flour, so often and mistakenly recommended by professional cooks and cookery teachers, tomato sauce is delicious, fresh, appetising in colour and of the correct consistence. It is the perfect sauce with fried food such as potato croquettes; good with grilled fish such as mackerel and grey mullet; and combined in various ways with eggs, cream and cheese makes some of the most delicious dishes ever invented.

(Unpublished, 1960s)

Making Ice Cream Some of the most delicious ice creams I have ever eaten were ones made by Suleiman, my Sudanese cook in Cairo. He used an ancient ice bucket borrowed from goodness knows where. It made a fearful clatter, as of tons of coal being flung into the kitchen, as he whirled the handle round.

It was of no consequence, because the old ice pail, in common with much other scarce kitchen equipment, went the rounds in war-time Cairo and nearly everybody was familiar with this characteristic background noise at dinner-parties.

We knew it heralded the appearance of some confection as delectable as any that ever came from Gunters of Berkeley Square or Florians in Venice, in the days when ice creams really were ice creams, and a special treat for parties and holidays rather than something you buy along with the groceries and detergents from the shop on the corner.

Brown Bread Ice Cream 450 ml (3/4 pint) of single cream or milk, the yolks of 3 large or 4 small eggs, 125 g (4 oz) of soft white sugar, the juice and grated peel of 1 large lemon.

Grate the peel of the lemon into the cream or milk. Pour over the egg yolks beaten with the sugar. Stir over low heat until you have a thin custard. Strain through a fine sieve and stir until half cooled.

When quite cold add the strained juice of half the lemon. Turn into the ice tray, cover with foil, and freeze at maximum freezing point for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Enough for 4, and a most refreshing and lovely ice. (1959)

Lemon Ice Cream In one form or another, recipes for brown bread ices have been appearing in print since about the mid-18th century. An early one was given by Emy, the French confectioner who published his elegant little book L'Art de bien faire les glaces d'office in 1768. His recipe called for rye bread, though today lemon ice cream is more usually made with wholemeal.

Popularised in England early in the 19th century perhaps by Gunters, the famous Berkeley Square confectioners who did the catering for fashionable balls and receptions, brown bread ice also became a speciality of the Winchester College shop, and was much loved by the scholars of that famous school.

Some twenty-five years ago, remembering the delicious brown bread ice sold by Gunters in the nineteen thirties - they delivered it by the bucketful for outdoor parties - I evolved my own version based on the recipe given by Alfred Jarrin, an early Gunter specialist, in The Italian Confectioner which first appeared in 1820, and published it in a magazine.

About a year later I was gratified to hear from a courteous reader that my ice, made by her Italian cook, had been joyously received by her husband, an ex-Winchester scholar. The recipe I now use, slightly modified since those days, is as follows:

For 600 ml (1 pint) of double cream, the other ingredients are 180 g (6 oz) of crustless wholemeal or dark rye bread, 200-250g (7-8 oz) of sugar.

First whisk the cream and 60 g (2 oz) of the sugar until it just starts to thicken. Do this by hand, in a chilled bowl. Take care not to overdo the whisking. Turn the cream into a metal or plastic box and set it to freeze.

Pull the bread into small pieces, put them on a baking sheet in a low oven. Let them toast until crisp, then crush them into coarse crumbs. This should be done by hand. A food grinder or chopper tends to make the crumbs too uniform and too fine, the crunchy and uneven texture of hand-pounded breadcrumbs being important to the success of the ice.

With the remaining sugar and the same amount of water make a thick syrup. Pour this, warm, over the breadcrumbs.

When the cream has frozen just enough to be firm, turn it out into a chilled bowl, whisk it for a few seconds, fold in the bread and syrup mixture. Before returning the cream to the freezer, taste it for sweetness. If too sweet add a little extra cream.

Take care not to serve the ice in an over-frozen condition. The crunchy crumbs contrasting with the soft smooth cream are the attributes which constitute the appeal of this very simple mixture.

(Unpublished, c1984)

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