Random Recipe #1

By way of an intro…

Over the years I have collected many cookbooks. Bought new ones from cooks that I admire, or made random purchases from charity shops or received them as gifts. Whatever way they have entered my home they have all been dutifully kept on the shelves that I’ve been lucky enough to have in my kitchen. Which is often where they have stayed. Relatively untouched, unthumbed and unsearched. But not, perhaps unbelievably, unloved. They are a comfort to me that also wraps me with borrowed ability by association. Simply being in their presence inspires and makes me feel confident and capable in the kitchen. I do sometimes flick through a cuisine highlighted on a particular books’ pages for some backdrop inspiration or refer to the cooking times and suggestions outlined in my all time favourite book ‘How to Eat’ by the multi faceted glory that is also known as Nigella Lawson. But follow a full recipe…? Hell no. Not because I’m so bloody marvellous in the kitchen – quite the opposite. It’s just been a case of I’m always looking at them last minute and I’ve never got the right ingredients casually lying about. Recipes need planning to have the instructions followed exactly. Also, I learned to cook through necessity. The urge to eat, and especially the urge to eat nice things, drove me into the kitchen. Here, where at the time there were no cookbooks, I hotched and I potched and I’m certain largely botched until I emerged triumphant with edible fare. Yay!

So, on to the reason for this new set of posts…

I realise that I have a lot of books that I never look at all any more. Year after year I pass over their wares which they display lovingly on their spines. Not because I eschew them but because…hmmm…actually, why do I ignore their calls…?! If I’m not going to access their inner treasures then why do I bother housing them on by precious kitchen shelf space?! Chuck ‘em out and make space I hear you cry!! Pass them on to others!! I can’t! Don’t make me!! Their presence is a stable element in my chaotic kitchen. I cannot cast them out like broken toys. It’s too emotionally traumatic for me. Such a drama queen…where’s the eye rolling emoji when I need it…

Okay, so if I’m not willing to chuck them out then it strikes me it’s about time I delved into them and explored their jewels and created some of their offerings. But where shall I start ?!? With literally hundreds to choose from how can I decide where this new adventure should begin?

So, I asked a friend for a random number (she gave me 47) and I asked another friend for another random number (he gave me 22 and then changed his mind and said 122!!! Fool!!!) and followed these two and they let me to this – book 47:

And page 122 offered this recipe:

As the glorious ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ character said ‘with one small aubergine’ … well, this is with a couple of small aubergines! This sounds like the most simple yet delicious recipe. I think Aubergines (eggplants as our American cousins like to say) are a much maligned item. Many folk I know pull that one-size-covers-all kinda face when I mention it. A irritating combo of grimace and sympathy (I presume for liking them?!?) which only makes me want to prune them from my life rather than educate them. It’s the kind of food item that prepared badly creates a lifetime of hatred. As Ms MH says, ‘ Aubergine is a vegetable that can spring surprises, not all of them agreeable. The flavour can swing from bitterness to cloying blandness.’ She’s not wrong! Boo. But I do know that the mouth-feel, as ‘they’ like to say these days, isn’t for all but anyhoo…this might well be the type of recipe that changes that! Hoorah!

Ms MH doesn’t mention what the best onion to use is and I do have a feeling it’s not the ubiquitous red onion that is now the go-to choice. I suspect it’s the brown or white but I only have a red one so I have to go with that. Also, I don’t have a yellow pepper – I have an orange one! Oh sweet Jesus this is already going to hell…

Dunno about you all but I always scan recipes ahead because invariably there’ll some element that requires forward planning like marinating, pre-soaking or some such element that I haven’t factored the time for. Note to any cookery writers a strap line announcing the pre-preparation needed would definitely benefit a last minute inspiration grabber last minute cooking Larry like me! Ha. Oh…it’s just me then #awkward…

Moving swiftly on… scan, scan, scan and SEE…?!?! ‘Steep for at least 45 minutes’ – at least is also a curve ball. No cutting corners here then and the question begs what shall I do for that 45 minutes? Perhaps the intermediate prep and cooking will take 45 mins…? Perhaps not…? How can I possibly know..? ARGH! Another note to cookery writers if these ‘meanwhile’ activities will take up the required 45 mins steeping time, then a quick mention? It would allay my fears!

I’m starting to come across like a hysterical spaniel…

So, first aubergines…(which I realised I needed to buy, obvs as I didn’t have any casually lying about, so the chaos continues…)

Ms MH says: ‘Cut away the aubergines’ green tops, wash them in cold water, and split them lengthways in half. If there is a large quantity of seeds, and particularly if these are dark, cut the aubergine halves lengthwise in half again and scoop out the seeds, leaving about 1  to 1 1/2 inches of flesh next to the skin. If there are only a few, small, pale seeds, leave them. Set the colander over a shallow bowl, place the aubergine pieces inside the colander, sprinkle with salt, toss them, and let them steep for at least 45 minutes to discharge their bitter liquid.’

Done, kind of. I ended up cutting mine in weird wedge slab shapes which I’m not certain is the way Ms MH describes but I just went my own way especially as I don’t have any seeds in mine. Next time I’d cut them into smaller pieces – in fact, to the size I’d like them in the finished dish – as this would increase the surface area for the salt to react with…but then reduce the salt mentioned later in balance. I think…

Steep, steep little starlings…

Right, on with the show. The next instructions are: ‘Split the pepper in half, scoop out the pith-like core and seeds, and use a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to skin the pepper. Cut it lengthways into thin strips.’ I broke ranks here and peeled the pepper first. I know! Rebel me. Actually I’d never peeled a pepper before in my life. It had never even entered my head to do such a thing. I’m going with it now as I’m obeying Ms MH but it might end up in the file marked ‘Things to never do again!’ It does seems like one of those extra steps that restaurants do for aesthetics and that ubiquitous mouth-feel (argh sounds too porny for me – I’m gonna stop saying it!) It was actually very quick and simple and meant no pepper skin in the final product, of course. But, again, this is one of those personal things and I think at home I’m happy to not be peeling a pepper or steaming tomatoes to peel them either. I’m not reaching for any culinary accolade and it uses vital cocktail time, frankly.


Next instruction : ‘Put the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic, and chilli pepper into a 10 inch frying pan and turn on the heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, just until the garlic’s scent begins to rise, but do not let it become coloured.’

My frying pan is not only not actually a frying pan (it’s a sauté, wok kinda vibe thingie…?!) but it’s also 12 inches obvs (oo-er vicar…!) so this might be vital…! (It literally won’t be, but I like being dramatic and Ms MH doesn’t offer any alternatives as an option – but I know it’ll be sound as the proverbial pound).

The repetition of the word ‘very’ concerning the thinness of the garlic slices is not lost on my eyes and brain but completely lost on my porky fingers and knife skills – ‘shrugs’ – but, regardless, is there anything more delish than the fragrant smell of simmering garlic? Mmmmm love it.


Next : ‘Add the parsley leaves, stir 2 to 3 times, then add the onion and turn the heat down to low. Cook the onion, turning it over occasionally, until it has become very soft.’

I love that Ms MH is so specific and says ‘stir 2 to 3 times’. No more, no less! I did it more and I don’t care who knows it! What she gonna do…?! Huh…? Actually she is dead so she might smack me up side the head from the grave so I best behave. Plus she’s an actual legend so no disrespect intended. Anyhoo…


Next : ‘Add the pepper strips, and sprinkle with salt. Cook, turning the ingredients over occasionally, until the pepper has become somewhat tender. Add the aubergine, the tomatoes, the wine, basil, olives and capers. Turn over all the ingredients 2 or 3 times to coat them well.’

Another ‘2 or 3 times’ instruction! I might have done it more than that…! Argh. I’ll go to Hell.

Next : ‘Put a lid on the pan and cook at a steady, but gentle simmer for about 40 minutes. If, while sauce is simmering, you should find that the cooking juices have dried up and there is danger of the vegetables sticking to the pan, add 4 tablespoons of water. Do not add too much water too often, or the vegetables will steam cook rather than stew, and bear in mind that there should be no water left at the end.’

‘Cook and drain the pasta, toss it immediately and thoroughly with the sauce, swirling into it 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Serve promptly.’

‘Ahead of time note : The sauce may be prepared several hours in advance or even overnight.Reheat gently, but thoroughly, adding a tablespoon or two of water if needed.’

I made mine the day before I used it and, like so many of these kind of dishes, I think the flavours really benefitted from the over night chance to mingle a lot more!

Compared to some modern cookbooks which are rammed with visuals and enticing photographs, of what you hope your version ends up looking like, Ms MH’s book is very word heavy and picture shy. Relying on the descriptions and recipes themselves to create lovely food. This recipe certainly delivers! I’ll definitely get the book down from the shelf a bit more often! Thank you Ms Marcella Hazan!!