Arcimboldo’s Summer

Arcimboldo’s Summer
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) was the master of these pre-surrealist paintings of figures formed of grouped objects (not always food).

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Edible Broccoli Shocker!

Public health advice on food and diet is as changeable as the wind. Remember when eggs were public enemy number one? Until the experts did a 180 degree policy turn on them. Or butter, which was considered lethal, and people were encouraged to eat cruddy industrial margarine instead. Similar reversals have been visited on coconut oil and palm oil.

The only consistent piece of advice, and one I trust, is that we should eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. And there does seem evidence that one particularly beneficial vegetable is broccoli. (When no less an authority than New Scientist recommends the stuff, I pay attention.)

The trouble is, I hated eating broccoli. It was difficult to chop the damn stuff up, it stunk the place out during cooking (even when I added a bay leaf to the boiling water I used to steam the broccoli) and unless it was absolutely fresh it could taste disgusting — sulphurous.

But then two things happened. I discovered tender stem broccoli (a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese Kale which involves no tedious chopping) and my ingenious brother James recommended eating the stuff raw. No troublesome cooking, no objectionable smell, and absolutely no loss of nutrients (even steaming must lose a few).

So now all I do is wash the stems, then use them to dip into humous. Delicious. And I'm getting my greens. My preferred broccoli is Tesco's Organic Tender Stems, but it's been out of stock recently so I've been eating the Waitrose version. Both are fine, though it may not shock you to learn that the Tesco's product is often more competitively price.

 (Image credits: the Tesco broccoli is from My Supermarket. The Waitrose image is from Ocado.)

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Sandwich of the Month

Okay, I admit that this is virtually identical to an earlier Meal of the Week post, right down to the manufacturer of the bread. But this time it's the Crosta & Mollica Focaccia Pugliese which I used for the base of this mozzarella-tomato-and-basil treat.

And, good lord, what a base it was. This gorgeous, spongy, salty bread easily outclassed its ciabatta stablemate. It's the perfect vehicle for this Italian style sandwich and might well be unbeatable.

Anyway, it was such a great sandwich I just want to eat it all over again, right now. Besides the bread upgrade, there were other differences, too, compared to the Meal of the Week version. I used a different mozzarella and olive oil this time. The cheese was Sainbsury's Basic, since I'd run out of my favourite Tesco mozza (for a discussion of the budget mozzarellas, see here).

But the oil was the most notable variation. This time I used a glorious organic olive oil which some Spanish friends gave me (Hi Joan! Hi Gemma!). It's called Baronia de Cabacés and, holy moley, it's delicious. Tear the basil leaves, slice the tomatoes, chop the mozzarella, stack on the (warmed and sliced through the middle) focaccia, grind on some black pepper — and drizzle that fantastic oil. No, on second thoughts don't drizzle. Pour it on.

The most intriguing thing about the Baronia de Cabacés oil is that I'd put it at the back of the cupboard to save for a special occasion. Then, when I finally pulled it out, I was mortified to discover that it was several month is past its "best before" date. So I opened it and sampled it with trepidation. And it's just glorious, with a fresh, green, fruity taste. Somehow citric with being acidic, very light and refreshing.

All this is in stark contrast with a certain famous big brand "fruity" oil which was still a few months within its best before date and basically tasted — to me — like liquid cardboard.

(Image credits: The bread is from Waitrose. The olive oil bottle label, which for some reason — brand update? — isn't quite the same as the one on my bottle, is from Agrícola Cabacés. The other, somewhat dodgy, photos are by my own fair hand.)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Beetroot Casserole

In last week's post I promised to provide you with my wonderful beetroot recipe. Well, here it is. Simple and delicious. Not to mention inexpensive.

Take a large casserole and pour some good quality extra virgin olive oil into it. Chop half a dozen spring onions (I call them green onions) into one centimetre lengths and sprinkle them into the casserole. Take an anchovy fillet in olive oil and chop it finely (I use kitchen scissors). Scatter that around the casserole, too.

Add a couple of grinds of black pepper. Slice 500g of cooked beetroot and layer over the top of the onions and anchovy. (The thinner you slice the beetroot the quicker it cooks.) Add some more olive oil. Do not cover the casserole. Bake at a high-ish temperature, about 170˚C, for around 45 minutes. But your nose will tell you when it's done. Don't overcook. Carbonised beetroot isn't fun.

Served as a side dish (it's excellent with cheese and sourdough bread) this is very tasty and will accommodate 2 or 3 people. Doubling the quantities won't do you any harm though. The leftovers will be tasty straight from the fridge.

(Image credit: I confess. This is not my recipe. In fact the photo is of layered beetroot used to cover a beef hotpot. It's pinched from an excellent site called A Glug of Oil.)