Readers will understand that we’re quite obsessed with eating. We take our food section very seriously here and yes, I’m the one who cooks at home.
But I’ll be honest: whilst I’ve written about food for many years I’m no professional chef, so this new column – imaginatively entitled The Kentishtowner Kitchen – is more humble diary than manual; a way to collate dishes that are a little rough-around-the-edges, but simple to prepare and packed with flavour. It’s also a starting point for you to offer your tips and secrets (if you wish).
Like most of us, I believe in cooking every meal from scratch. There are the times when I’m constantly falling back on the same handful of dishes, often pasta-based with cupboard Sicilian flavours (things like sardines with pine nuts and raisins); and the weeks where the recipe books are open before every meal, particularly on the rare occasions we get to stay at Fisherman’s Cottage.
But this first column is about everyday eating: both these recipes are quick and easy, and could be served as either a side or a main. The photos are simple iPhone snaps – so please forgive their rather basic qualities; put it this way, absolutely no food stylists were involved.
We grow most herbs on our roof terrace, and one that has flourished in the rain (and occasional sun) is sage. The other day, sighing at a bare cupboard, the skies grey, I wondered if it would work with anchovy. I discovered that Italians call this combination il tartufo di pescatore (fisherman’s truffle) and was curious: we all know what adding anchovy to lamb (or almost anything) can do, after all. And the combination was a revelation: a deep umami flavour juxtaposed with the crispness of the light batter.
1. Lazy Anchovy & Sage Fritters (Serves 2 as a light lunch)
one tin of good quality anchovies
24 sage leaves
1 beaten egg
roasted garlic (to add to mayonnaise)
Lay the anchovy fillets between two leaves (making a ‘sandwich’) and dunk each in a beaten egg and seasoned flour. Once the oil in the pan is sizzling fry each until golden. Delicious served with a low-budget salad (carrot, spring onion, leaves, a mustardy dressing) and a dip of home-made garlic mayonnaise – in a ray of evening sun.
You could also enjoy the little fritters as a starter or sharing plate before a summery risotto. My risotto obsession stems back to the days when I worked on an aborted cookbook with a Michelin-starred head chef, his passion for the dish deeply tangible (read an extract here). You make it with love, or not at all, he’d say. No two will ever come out the same. It needs nurturing, attention, an exact level of cooking (17 minutes once the rice is in).
Soft and loose or a bit stiffer? Only one key ingredient? No more than seven? Everyone has their method, but don’t forget the mantecatura (beating in the cold diced butter and parmesan at the end).
There are many favourite risottos in this household but, a smoked mackerel kedgeree-style one aside, most are basically vegetarian. The one essential for us carnivores is to use fresh chicken stock (sorry veggies). Happily I had some on hand made after a rather unseasonal roast.
Risotto in winter is unctuous, comforting, an easy luxury made with just cauliflower and parmesan. In summer, it has to be lighter. We love it zingy with courgette, lemon zest and mint (easy on the butter).
2. Courgette & lemon risotto (Serves 2 as main)
200 g Arborio rice
1.25 litres of home-made chicken stock
palmful of lemon zest
2 decent size courgettes
1 red onion
mint leaves to scatter
25 g butter
glass of wine
Let your chopped onion grown translucent in the butter, silky rather than coloured. Stir in the rice (known in Italy as the tostatura or toasting) and add the wine, letting it evaporate.
Now comes the 17 or so minutes of ladling in hot stock, adding no more than one at a time until it’s absorbed. Add the diced courgette after five or so minutes. Whilst this is going on, griddle the other courgette to add texture to the finished dish.
Once the rice is al dente add the lemon zest, let it cool for a minute, and then add the cold butter if you wish. Garnish with mint leaves and a little more zest.
Eat without delay, preferably on a terrace as the sun sets. Chilled glass of Albarino a must.
Next time: some posher grub for a weekend dinner.
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms