Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but I think I’m right in saying that I don’t know anyone who actively dislikes garlic. Even the pickiest eaters amongst my acquaintance adore garlic bread, for example. But after reading this post on the beautiful Kitchenist blog, it’s come to my attention that some people actively avoid it (how??); or rather than doubling the quantity of garlic, as I often do, they’ll use just one clove maximum for everything. Most shocking of all, my friend Vicky told me this morning that her mum will open all windows and doors when Vicky’s cooking anything containing garlic. Isn’t that just all food?

Along with onions, garlic is one of the basics that I expect to use to start pretty much any savoury dish I cook. This tart from Ottolenghi’s Plenty really lets garlic take centre stage, and the sweet, caramelised cloves contrast well with the salty goat’s cheeses. It’s an impressive dinner-party centrepiece, and reheats well so you can make it in advance. Pair with a lemon-dressed green salad to cut through the delicious richness.

Caramelised garlic tart (adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

375g all-butter puff pastry
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
220ml water
¾ tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few whole sprigs to finish
120g soft, creamy goat’s cheese – a Welsh one would be lovely here
120g hard, mature goat’s cheese – there’s a Cornish one in Waitrose that is both vegetarian and delicious
2 free-range eggs
100ml double cream
100ml crème fraîche
salt and black pepper

  1. Roll out the puff pastry into a circle that will line the bottom and sides of a 28cm, loose-bottomed tart tin, plus a little extra to hang over the edges of the tin. Line the tin with the pastry. Place a large circle of crumpled greaseproof paper on the bottom and fill up with baking beans. Leave the tin to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Place the tart case in the oven and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and paper, then bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Set aside. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the tart case is baking, put the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover them with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch the cloves for 3 minutes, then drain well.
  4. Dry the saucepan, return the garlic cloves to it and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic on a high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and water and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme and ¼ teaspoon salt to the garlic in the pan. Continue simmering over a medium heat for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Set aside.
  6. To assemble the tart, crumble both types of goat’s cheese into pieces and scatter them over the bottom of the pastry case. Spoon the garlic cloves and their syrup evenly over the cheese – the deliciously caramelised garlic will try to stick together in clumps.
  7. In a jug, whisk together the eggs, creams, ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Pour this mixture over the tart filling to fill the gaps, making sure that you can still see the garlic and cheese peeping through.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/Gas Mark 3 and put the tart in the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. In my oven, this took almost an hour in total. If the tart’s golden and cooked on top but still wobbly, remove it from the oven and don’t worry – it will set as it cools. Leave the tart to cool a little.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, remove the tart from its tin, trimming and tidying the pastry edge if needed, lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm (but not burning hot) with a crisp salad.

Ahem. Please excuse that dreadful pun.

The more eagle-eyed among you might notice that it’s been a good few weeks since I last wrote an entry. I don’t have a good excuse, apart from being horrendously busy at work.

I did have an Ottolenghi-fest last week, but used up all my spare time cooking rather than writing about it. I did make the following, however: spiced red lentils with cucumber yoghurt; ratatouille; butternut, carrot, and goat’s cheese tart; burnt aubergine with tahini; and coconut rice with sambal and okra. The lentils were the simplest and thriftiest dish to prepare, and were really delicious with the yoghurt and some bread as a Kew Gardens picnic on Friday.

I’ve been hankering after Silvena Rowe’s new book since it was published, but have been acting with unusual restraint on the cookbook purchase front. Luckily, I’d saved the copy of the Observer Food Monthly containing a selection of recipes from the book, including my best dream: feta and caramelised leek borek. Here they are (they were delicious, and I kept scoffing the filling straight out of the bowl):

And that’s all for now.

In spite of loving Ladurée’s delectably jewel-coloured macaroons, it had never crossed my mind to attempt to emulate them at home until yesterday. But flicking through my trusty Ottolenghi cookbook with the aim of finding something suitably small and sweet to take along to a dinner, the lime and basil macaroon recipe jumped out at me. They seemed unusual and pretty enough to make an interesting contribution to the meal, but tiny enough not to overwhelm or impose. An enormous part of the appeal was the fact that I hadn’t promised to take anything, which removed pretty much all of the pressure when constructing the delicate morsels; if they went horribly wrong, I could just eat the mess at home and no-one would be any the wiser.

As it happened, they were fairly straightforward. I made the filling first: a simple buttercream with plenty of lime zest and juice beaten in, along with some finely chopped basil leaves. The biscuit mix was also quick and easy, especially with the help of an electric whisk: egg whites and caster sugar are whisked into a meringue mix, which is then folded into icing sugar and ground almonds, along with more lime zest and chopped basil. The only fiddly bit is creating similar-sized blobs of the mixture on the baking parchment-lined tray (I don’t get on well with piping bags, probably due to lack of practice, but a teaspoon did the job). After a 15-minute rest, they go into the oven for about 12 minutes (they needed 16 in my oven) before cooling, filling, and leaving to firm up.

I’d have to say, cautiously, that my first foray into macaroon-making was fairly successful… they seemed to go down well, even at the end of a long meal of many, many boozy courses. I particularly liked how zingy the buttercream filling was – it contained enough lime juice to make combining the ingredients a job for a powerful mixer (or a strong beating arm). Ottolenghi’s recipe gives you more buttercream than you need, so I’ve made a second half-batch of macaroons today. Somehow, this seems more acceptable than just eating the buttercream from the bowl.

Lime and basil macaroons (adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)

110g icing sugar
60g ground almonds
2 free-range egg whites
40 caster sugar
5 large basil leaves, finely chopped
finely grated zest of 1 lime

For the buttercream filling:
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
45g icing sugar
juice and finely grated zest of 1 lime
5 large basil leaves, finely chopped

1. Make the filling first: beat the butter and icing sugar together until pale and light. Beat in the lime juice and zest and the chopped basil until well mixed – it’ll seem like a lot of juice, but if you keep mixing it will go into the butter eventually. Cover the mixture with cling film and leave in a cool place (not in the fridge).

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Sieve the icing sugar and almonds together into a large, clean mixing bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and caster sugar together until you have a nice firm (but not dry) meringue. Fold this mixture gently into the icing sugar/almond mixture, a third at a time; make sure each batch is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next one. Continue until it’s all added and the mixture is smooth and glossy, then fold in the basil and lime zest.

4. Take a couple of large baking sheets, putting tiny blobs of the macaroon mixture here and there to stick down a piece of baking parchment on each tray. (Depending on the size of your trays and the efficiency of your oven, you’ll probably need to bake several batches of the macaroon.)

5. You can use a piping bag to create two-pound-coin-sized discs of the mixture on the baking parchment, but it’s easy enough to do this with a teaspoon. Try to keep the discs as uniform as possible; you’ll need to pair them up once they’re baked, which is far, far easier if you do this bit carefully. Leave plenty of space between the blobs to avoid unsightly merging in the oven.

6. Tap the underside of each tray once it’s covered with macaroon blobs – this will smooth them out and help them to spread. Leave the trays out, uncovered, for 15 minutes before baking.

7. Bake each tray of macaroons in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, but they might take a little longer (they took 16 minutes in my oven, for what it’s worth). They’re ready when they come off the paper easily with a palette knife, but don’t lift them off the paper altogether when they’re still warm, as this seems to make them collapse. Leave the biscuits to cool down completely.

8. Pair the macaroons up, and sandwich the pairs together with a blob of buttercream filling (squeeze them together as gently as possible). Leave them at room temperature to set. You can chill them to speed this up, but let them come to room temperature before serving.

 

Having recently landed my dream secondment – I’m now editing cookery books until the end of the summer – I’d hoped that I’d be more able than ever to indulge my food-related musings. How foolish. As much as I’m loving my new role, surrounded by cookbooks day and night (instead of just at night), I feel like I don’t have a spare moment to write. All my head space is taken up with indexes, jacket copy, serial commas, and recipe choosers, leaving very little for leisurely pondering. I’ve been cooking and thinking about food as much as ever, of course, and have been diligently taking photographs of restaurant dinners and home-baked cakes, always with the noble intention of writing about it ‘one day this week’… but there’s no excuse. I’ve definitely let my blog slip.

To get myself back on track, I think I need a new project. Inspired by Julie Powell’s plan to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I’ve come up with a more modern, less carniverous version. Any day now, my long-awaited copy of Ottolenghi’s Plenty will arrive, and I can think of no better aim for an Islington-based vegetarian but to attempt to cook my way through it. That’s the plan, so far – I imagine that I’ll create and rewrite rules for myself as I work my way through the book (not necessarily in order, and definitely interspersed with some sweet recipes from other books along the way – at heart, I’m a cakey sort of woman and I’ve no intention of repressing that urge).

Wish me luck…

In spite of my ever-increasing cookbook collection, there are recipes that I return to again and again. These include dishes that can be thrown together from the staples I can always find in the cupboard (like Jo Pratt’s spicy chickpea stew from In The Mood For Food), as well as those which are so reliably delicious that it’s always worth a special trip to the supermarket for the ingredients, like the Syrian fattoush from Moro East. On Tuesday night, I revisited two old favourites: Ottolenghi’s chickpeas and spinach with honeyed sweet potato, and Nigel Slater’s blueberry and pear cake (without the pears).

I’m a big fan of Ottolenghi’s inventive and tasty vegetarian recipes, and this is no exception. The sweet potato is cooked in honey, butter, and water until meltingly tender and sweet, just holding its shape, and is served on a chickpea, spinach and tomato stew spiced with coriander seeds and cumin. For me, what lifts Ottolenghi’s dishes above your everyday thrown-together post-work dinner is his use of sauces and herbs to add freshness and zing to even the richest of comfort foods. In this case, yoghurt is whisked together with olive oil, dried mint, crushed garlic, and the juice and zest of a lemon before being spooned over the finished dish and topped with fresh coriander leaves.

Nigel Slater’s cake recipe, based on a classic equal flour-butter-sugar mixture, is the perfect vehicle for almost any berries you might have. Quick to make (although requiring 55 minutes in the oven), the basic mixture can be whipped up in a matter of minutes before going into the oven, topped with the berries and 2 tbsp of caster sugar for a slightly crisp top. As Nigel says himself, “it’s hard to imagine a cake that is easier to make”. I’ve had the most luck with blueberries or cherries – strawberries were an unsuccessful experiment – and the cake could easily be served warm with cream for a proper pudding. I like it with some thick Greek yoghurt, ideally followed by some fresh mint tea and an early night.