Friday, 22 March 2013

Imperfect Aubergine Parmigiana

So, the new-to-me camera doesn't much help my shakey hand
 & its clock has turned back time three years!
I was inspired by Felicity Cloake's advice about how to cook the perfect aubergine parmigiana to have a go myself. 'Brighten up your bleak February evenings with a touch of stodgy Mediterranean magic,' she said. Now it's supposed to be Spring, but the temps. remain brass monkeys.

I'm sure that you, like me, are an ardent fan of Charlie Hicks' brilliant monthly veg. market report,  produced primarily for the benefit of his lucky customers in restaurants across the South West. In Chazza's report for early March, he includes typically eccentric details of a Tilda Swinton aubergine-related brouhaha with the salient detail that Spanish aubergines are a washout this season and melanzane from Sicily are a better bet. Well, I've had to settle for a couple of the firmer-looking specimens from the selection offered by Olis of the Walworth Road.

There's no real need to salt aubergines - as any fool knows - so I don't. I slice my aubergines lengthways, about 8mm thick and, like Jamie Oliver, I griddle 'em. Unlike Jamie's - allegedly - my aubergine slices don't end up 'disappointingly dry' because I make sure they are well soaked with oil before they go on the griddle. I repeatedly baste one side of each slice with good, tasty olive oil and let it soak in before putting the slices onto the griddle, dry side down, so the heat draws the oil through the flesh of the aubergines.

I do like copious sauce. I picked up an economy bag of tomatoes, 10 for 99p, sweated them until their skins split, skinned and cooked 'em with sautéed onion and roasted garlic, plus a splash of red wine. I couldn't get fresh oregano and the dried stuff is indeed redolent of '1980s pizza', so I used thyme instead. Then, in a stroke of genius or insanity, I added the last few drops from the end of a bottle of Cajohn's Killer Chipotle Hot Sauce. It was bound to obliterate any herbiness, but what can I say? I am having a chipotle moment. (On which subject, much more TBA!) My sauce was spicy, but not sufficiently tomatoey, so I added a tin of chopped plum tomatoes and cooked it down further.

Apparently, no-one disputes that Parmesan cheese is 'the soul' of this dish, but it's expensive and I usually buy the similar but cheaper Grana Pradano instead. I'd have used the 'firm mozzarella used as a pizza topping' that supposedly works much better than good buffalo mozzarella, but Morrisons has severely restricted its range of cheeses in order to accommodate Indian & Caribbean specialities. So, I was obliged to go across the road to Marks & Sparks and they only do the posh stuff.

Only on top and, in this instance, out of a packet: Wroclaw breadcrumbs, from Poland! I know it seems wrong to be buying Polish breadcrumbs in a Turkish supermarket to make an Italian dish and by rights I should have had some home made bread going stale in the bin with which to make my own breadcrumbs, but my bread maker has been idle for weeks now because I have been taking advantage of the supermarkets' roll offers: four for a quid in Tesco, but Morrisons give you five!

The packet breadcrumbs took browning under the grill and their texture was too fine to provide much crunch; I probably used too much sauce, or not enough cheese, and the chilli was a mistake in this context; the cheeses were OK, but not stringy enough. It was pretty damn good, though, washed down with a glass of Merlot. As The Guardian's experts say, it was better warm rather than piping hot and also pretty damn good cold the next day with salad.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Miso Menavelins

'Minavelins' was one of my mother's words, a nautical term for the clutter in the corners of a ship's tack room that she took to mean 'leftovers'. Liverpudlians are nautical folk and both my grandfathers went to sea. And frugality was a virtue. The emblematic Liverpudlian stew, Scouse, is usually made from scrag end of lamb, whereas 'Lobscouse', my mother told me, is so-called when you lob whatever you can find into the pot. Webster's has three different explanations of the etymology, but I think you'll find that my mother was correct. She was always right. And in our house, stewed leftovers was 'Minavelins'.

It's still really cold and I have been cocooning in my kitchen, where the griddle on my stove top is permanently on instead of the central heating and a pan of heartiness is usually warming. It's been beany.

This pot of minavelins started with cooked cabbage, Brussels sprouts and griddled chicory left over from Sunday lunch, plus half a bowl of mashed potato. I also happened to have some butter beans that I'd soaked and skinned for another, forgotten purpose. So those went in as well.

I started, as ever, by sweating diced onion, carrot & celery; spicing with cumin & coriander, plus a few cloves of roasted garlic; then adding the butter beans, covering them with a litre of stock and simmering for ten minutes until they started to soften before adding the chopped leftover veggies. I wanted to finish the stew with miso, but didn't have any in and it was actually snowing today, so I didn't want to walk too far. So I went to Baldwins.

I'd run into Kevin, who works there, the other day and was saying, the reason we'd not met since the Bad Thing happened to me is that I can't afford to shop in Baldwins. He protested that they only charge the RRP but, as an independent business, they don't have the purchasing power to negotiate significant wholesale discounts. I was, like, whatever. Fare Shares is way cheaper, I find. But Fare Shares wasn't open and it was farking freezing. So I went to Baldwins and paid £5.59 for a packet of Clearspring brown rice miso.

At the checkout, I told Kevin about nearly falling for an online sales scam that would've bound me in to an agreement to keep buying an expensive mineral supplement that was basically seaweed. Google told me that the product was actually pretty decent, but the sales tactics were not. Kevin suggested I try the Clearspring sea salad, a 'ready-to-eat blend of three North Atlantic sea vegetables', so I did, for £4.79. That slickster sold me more than a tenner's worth of organic Japanese foodstuffs! And that's why its best not to visit Baldwins, if you are poor:-(

Back in my toasty kitchen, I thickened the stew with the leftover mashed potato, served myself a portion and stirred in a nubbin of the miso. You do not want to cook live miso, or you kill its goodness and waste the premium you've paid for it. The sea salad sprinkle that Kevin suggested proved the perfect garnish.
Like I told him at the till, living well is the best revenge.