Friday 7 February 2014

Michelle and Eme and a Very UnBritish Stew

That's Eme at the end of the table, back for her fourth time. That's Michelle, second on the left. And that's the stew behind the salmon and under the salad. I know, awful shot.

This was largely a congregation of female neighbours, corralled by Eme and Michelle. I wanted to try out the Caponata I'd had in Sicily last year. They agreed. It's simple, one-pot, peasant cooking.

A real departure from my usual slow cooked British fare; this is anything but. Caponata shouldn't work for me, containing as it does many things I don't really like: aubergine, olives, capers, celery. But bizarrely, once combined in this simple tomato sweet and sour (agrodolce) sauce: frickin' loverly. The Italians insist on calling this a stew but you can't clump stew can you? Stew flows... or kludges.

I first tasted it in the Michelin starred La Madia in October 2014. It was a complete revelation. One of those dishes you wouldn't have if you knew the ingredients. But then, I am a little conservative in my food tastes. I know! I wish I could be one of those people who can throw capers on, say, spam and cherries, flash fry them and polish them off while pontificating eloquently and with style; people who can munch through bacon rind, gristle, apple cores. Can't be done.

I served my caponata with a simple piece of pan fried salmon and a dashing of red pepper vinegar. Oh, and that poxy basil leaf.

One of the big differences between cooks casual and keen is the hot pan. That should read HOT PAN. Many seem scared of heat. Lots of people ask me how I get the fish crispy on the outside and soft inside. The secret, you guessed, is the HOT PAN. You should feel the heat on your face. The oil/butter should be turning golden brown and hazing like a childhood summer afternoon. The fish skin should sssssssizzle when it hits the pan. three quarters of the time should be skin side down, then flip for maybe another minute to crisp and brown the other side. Serve quickly. The fish will continue to cook.

Caponata (Sweet & Sour Aubergine Stew)
This is my version of Carluccio's recipe.

Serves 6 as a main or maybe 10 as a starter
1 large onion, diced
4 celery stalks, including leaves, diced like the onion
5 tbsp olive oil
aubergines, diced into little regular, half inch chunks.
1 tbsp salted capers, soaked in water for 10 minutes, then drained
20 green olives, stoned
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
50g concentrated tomato paste
Blanche the onion and celery in lightly salted water for three minutes, then drain.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the aubergine chunks and fry until brown and tender. Add the onion, celery and all the remaining ingredients. Stir well, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes. No lid? Make a cartouche. Should the sauce look too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water during cooking. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Maybe add some more vinegar or sugar.

Better pics of the hosts. This is the main course: braised lamb with beetroot, kale and Yorkshires.

Sarah, a new neighbour, and actually from Yorkshire, said these were the best puddings she'd ever had.

How did the lamb go down?

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