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Swede recipes

18 Nov

Swede: humble, hearty and, to lots of people, a bit boring. For many years, my sole experience was neeps on Burns Night, or as part of a triumvirate of mashes, school dinner-style. But these two-tone beauties, vibrant purple and off-white, so often reached over for more easygoing parsnips or sweet potatoes, are worth your attention in their own right. They roast as well as they mash and pair brilliantly with spice, especially those with a smoky undertone – smoked paprika, chipotle, cumin, black pepper – which stand up to its sweet backnotes. Cut into batons and roasted, it makes a great alternative to chips, too. Here are two recipes that I cook on repeat.

A smoky swede carbonara
This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an authentic carbonara, but I use the word to give you an idea of what it will look like: crisp-edged morsels of smoky swede offset the instant silky sauce of eggs and parmesan coating the pasta. Follow the method carefully to make sure you don’t scramble the eggs. I use smoked salt here – it’s easy to find in supermarkets, but use regular sea salt if you prefer.

Prep 5 min
Cook 12 min
Serves 4

Olive oil
300g swede, peeled and cut into 1cm x 3cm batons
Smoked salt or flaky salt
3 eggs
3 tbsp grated parmesan (I use a vegetarian one)
Black pepper
400g spaghetti

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and add the swede, season well with the smoked salt and add a couple of tablespoons of water: leave the swede to simmer until the water is all gone, then continue to cook until it is golden brown and crisp-edged all over but soft in the middle. Turn the heat right down and keep warm.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a good grinding (about one teaspoon) of black pepper and the parmesan, and mix well.

Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Once the pasta is perfectly al dente, use tongs to lift it out of the water and straight into the frying pan with the swede, along with a little of the cooking water – this will cool the pan a little, stop the eggs from scrambling and help the sauce emulsify.

Toss the pasta and the swede together and, once the pan has cooled enough that you don’t hear any sizzling, add the egg mixture. Toss again until all the pasta is coated in sauce – if you need to, add a little more of the cooking water. The eggs and parmesan should come together to coat the pasta in a creamy, silky sauce. Serve immediately with more parmesan and black pepper.

Maple and black pepper roasted swede
I find myself making this again and again. This is very simple, but the flavours work brilliantly. To turn it into a meal, serve on cooked puy lentils alongside wilted greens. Be sure to peel your swede until the green layer under the skin is gone.

Prep 5 min
Cook 45 min
Serves 4

1kg swede, (about 2 swedes), peeled and cut into 2cm thick wedges
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1 pinch dried chilli flakes
A few sprigs of rosemary, thyme or sage, leaves picked and roughly chopped
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Put the swede wedges on to a baking tray and drizzle over some olive oil, season well with salt and pepper and add the chilli and herbs. Toss to coat everything, then put into the hot oven to roast for 35-40 minutes until the edges are golden.

When they look good, take them out of the oven and tumble into a bowl, douse with the vinegar and stir. Leave for a couple of minutes to let the vinegar absorb, then add the maple syrup and mix again, and check for seasoning.

Easy recipe for brussels sprout gratin with fennel salami

20 Oct

When it has been this cold and grey for so long, it’s hard to shake yourself from the winter torpor. Thank goodness, then, for the optimism of the pagans: Imbolc, or St Brigid’s Day, is a Gaelic festival at the start of February, halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. It’s a celebration of the first signs of spring, and milk-based dishes traditionally mark the occasion. In keeping with that, here’s a creamy-rich gratin studded with salami. Perfect fodder to spoil yourself, and to welcome the lengthening days.

Brussels sprout gratin with finocchiona salami, fennel seeds and breadcrumbs
Brussels sprouts as you never knew them: sweet, tender and with a twist of fennel echoed in the delicious Tuscan salami – you should be able to get that in any Italian deli worth its salt.

Prep 20-25 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4-6

1kg brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
350ml double cream
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
30g butter
70g finocchiona salami, slices cut into thick strips
Salt and black pepper
½ tbsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp demerara sugar
4 tbsp olive oil
100g soft white breadcrumbs
50g parmesan (or pecorino), grated

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas mark 4. Bring a pan of well salted water to a boil and blanch the sprouts for three to four minutes (depending on size), until just tender, then drain.

Put the cream, two garlic cloves and the bay leaf in a saucepan on a medium-low heat, bring to a simmer and cook gently for five minutes, until the cream has reduced a little.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the salami for 30 seconds, just until it starts to release its fat. Stir in the sprouts, season and toss in the hot, buttery fat for a minute. Stir in the infused cream (discard the garli, which has now done its job), then tip the lot into a small baking dish into which the mix fits snugly.

Put the remaining garlic clove, the fennel seeds, sugar and a couple of pinches of salt in a mortar and grind to a paste. Stir in half the oil, then transfer to a bowl and stir in the breadcrumbs and cheese. Toss to combine, then sprinkle on to the gratin. Drizzle the remaining oil over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden. Leave to rest and cool slightly before serving.

And for the rest of the week…
Saute shavings of leftover salami with savoy cabbage, then drizzle with black butter (butter melted and cooked until nutty and brown) and a grating of parmesan for a tasty and quick lunch (the salami also works well with green beans in summer: cut it into batons and dress in a simple vinaigrette). Sprouts are great in veggie curries, whether Indian or Thai: they add real body and keep their shape.

Should you cook with Coolio, Sheryl Crow or Kelis

19 Jul

835The photographer from the Guardian is wearing a curious expression, in which a slightly strained smile does its best to conceal a look of disappointment. It is unmistakably the face of a woman attempting to spare someone’s feelings by pretending to enjoy a black bean quesadilla that she really isn’t enjoying much. “No, it’s nice,” she says, clearly in no great rush to eat any more. Besides, I know it isn’t nice, because I’ve tried one myself. The filling has a bizarre texture: somehow crumbly and claggy at the same time.

The reason I’m cooking black bean quesadillas while a Guardian photographer looks on is because they come with a recommendation from acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist. They are one of the recipes in a book she co-authored with chef Adrienne Amato called Pleasures, which details what Feist and her band ate during the making of her 2017 album of the same name. Every track on it has a lunch, dinner and dessert attached to it. And the reason I’m cooking a recipe from Pleasures is because I’m investigating cookbooks written by rock and pop stars. There has been a constant stream of them over the last few years. Rappers, cerebral indie musicians, country music legends and R&B divas alike have felt impelled to share their culinary secrets with the world. What can a music fan and cook of limited abilities learn from them?

The first thing is that their authors have quite a mix of cooking abilities. They range from artists who have trained as chefs – R&B star Kelis is a graduate of the prestigious Cordon Bleu cookery school – to artists who have buddied up with chefs to co-write their books, to artists whose interest seems slightly questionable. Something about the cover of Cookin’ with Coolio – a badly-Photoshopped shot of the rapper apparently flambéing bacon and eggs – which even I know is probably not the best technique – suggests that his enthusiasm for the kitchen might have more to do with prolonging his reality TV career than a lifelong passion for cuisine.

There are books that claim they’ll improve your wellbeing (Sheryl Crow’s If it Makes You Healthy) and books that look like they could kill you. Rapper Action Bronson’s Fuck, That’s Delicious is by some distance the best-written and most entertaining pop cookbook I come across, bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm. But its author is visibly not a man at home to the ascetic health-giving delights of, say, Crow’s brown basmati rice with soy-sage sausage. Put it this way, there’s a photo of him in Japan, shirtless beside some sumo wrestlers and by comparison, the sumo wrestlers look like the “after” photo in a Special K advert. His recipe for “a butcher sandwich the way a guy like me would eat it” contains half a pound of rib-eye steak and involves both buttering the bread and frying it in steak fat, his method for making “the chicken of all fucking chickens” requires three litres of oil, one of his “incredible pairings” reads simply “ten tubs of ice cream and depression”.

Keen to avoid both a physique like Action Bronson’s and/or a visit to the cardiology department, I opt to cook something a little lighter. He claims his two-minute tomato sauce is “the best I ever had”. It’s certainly easy to make – garlic, chillies, basil, tinned tomatoes, salt and pepper – and the end result is fine. If it doesn’t quite live up to its advance billing, perhaps that’s something to do with rappers’ inbuilt capacity for braggadocio. That said, for the purposes of comparison, I make Frank Sinatra’s marinara sauce, from The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook, and it’s definitely an improvement on that; more garlicky, more flavoursome. Action Bronson 1, Chairman of the Board 0.

I confess to abandoning two of the books without cooking anything from them. I just don’t buy Coolio as a gourmet. There’s no USP to the book, beyond a load of really boring recipes spiced up with the odd “mofo” and “pimpin’” in the method descriptions. Loretta Lynn’s 2006 work You’re Cookin’ it Country, meanwhile, deals in a specific kind of old-fashioned, downhome US cooking that either involves ingredients I can’t find – hominy, catfish – or just sounds, to put it politely, not to my taste. There’s a lot of making casseroles by pouring cream of mushroom soup over minced beef or tinned tuna, and some dewy-eyed reminiscences of Lynn’s childhood in rural Kentucky that make mince floating about in mushroom soup seem like haute cuisine: “Possum is a different-tasting meat, but Daddy loved it.”

I approach Feist’s book with caution, partly because when I open it I’m confronted by a recipe that involves a soup containing halloumi cheese – I love halloumi, but boiling it in soup seems so wrong – and partly because many of the meals are vegan, and veganism and I have previous. I tried a plant-based diet last year, lured by its health benefits, and abandoned it almost immediately, after an ill-starred dalliance with the cookbooks of blogger Deliciously Ella. The taste of one of her dishes in particular, involving roast sweet potato and tahini-dressed avocado, haunted me for weeks. Every time I thought of it, I went off the idea of eating full stop. Keen to avoid a rerun, I opt for the black bean quesadillas in the hope that Mexican spicing will override the lack of dairy.

They are easy enough to knock together, and the song that was apparently recorded fuelled by them – Lost Dreams – is lovely, but the end result is about as far away from the unctuousness of a non-vegan quesadilla as you can get: the only lubrication suggested for the mashed black bean filling is a spritz of lime juice.

I have better luck on the vegan front the following day, with a recipe from Sheryl Crow’s book written by the singer and her chef Chuck White after she beat breast cancer. The book is filled with radiant testimony to the antioxidant and immune-system-boosting qualities of the meals within and, less lovably, terrible posed photos of the singer smiling broadly while stirring saucepans and chopping salad. I make the hot and sour miso soup with tofu and bok choi considerably less healthy by frying the tofu rather than boiling it and slathering it with sriracha. The result is good, a decent midweek supper.

Ants in your pans – can I get the bug for eating insects

15 Feb

Shortly before his Super Bowl performance on Sunday, Justin Timberlake held a listening party for Man of the Woods, his new forest-themed album. As journalists listened to songs about flannel, they were served woodsy canapes, including grasshoppers and fried ants. The caterer was Noma founder René Redzepi, king of the weird and foraged, who had been hauled out of his kitchen – Noma 2 opens this month in Copenhagen – to frighten the music industry.

Does the return of Noma suggest that edible ants are back? Promoted as part of the sustainable-food drive, insects are often discussed, but rarely eaten. Ants suffer particularly short shrift, probably because they are small, bitter and viewed as a novelty for events such as expensive album launches. They contain protein, but in the meritocracy of sustainability they pale in comparison to the I’m a Celebrity classic, the witchetty grub, which is high in protein and vitamin C and tastes like almonds.

The main issue with eating insects has been marketing – a problem that is coupled with a misguided ethnocentric feeling of revulsion at eating something we usually associate with filth and decay. But the idea of eating these leaf-dwellers shouldn’t gross us out – 2 billion people around the world regularly eat insects. So, should I join them?

I ordered a bag of wild black ants from the internet, and got stuck in, first following a cheese biscuit recipe from the website Crunchy Critters, and then adding them to a gin and tonic, as suggested by the chefs at Noma. The bitter, vaguely acrid flavour of the ants took me back to the late 1980s and the construction of my first ant tower. It was a considerable feat of engineering, given that I was four, but one that quickly descended into genocide when I decided to eat the ants. Then, as now, my main takeaways were that ants are sharp and lemony, something that owes, perhaps, to the varying levels of formic acid they contain.

For domestic consumption, you can simply hoover them up from your ruined picnic using a clean car hoover, freeze them, pick out unwanted twigs and dry them on a low heat in the oven. Dried ants are best served dipped in melted chocolate.

Redzepi did not invent the ant-as-snack, but through Noma they have enjoyed a robust if niche success as a garnish. Noma popups from London to Japan have seen ants sprinkled atop creme fraiche, placed on lettuce leaves and seasoning still-moving prawns.

At the listening party, they came doused with a blend of black garlic, rose oil and Timberlake lumbersexuality. Alas, this multisensory experience went largely undocumented, as everyone’s phone had been confiscated.