Back in London, we're sliding gently into autumn. The nights are visibly drawing in and there's a nip in the air in morning and evening. Later, the bedspread will be replaced with the duvet: it's nearly the time to snuggle up on long evenings.
In such circumstances, the first soup of the season was welcome. After our return home last weekend, I spent quite a bit of Monday busily defrosting and cleaning the fridge and freezer. It was a chore I'd set for myself some time ago and, having let the contents decrease, I'd got down to the last two pots of stock. Both survived the defrosting process in a chiller bag, but both were used in the days that followed – one for boulangerie potatoes with pork sausages cooked on top and the other for a mushroom risotto.
So this weekend was always going to mean roast chicken and stock making. That in turn means celery – but as I'm a bit stymied at present in terms of muching on such food, a celery soup seemed the perfect way to use the rest of a big head that I found on Broadway Market this morning.
It was partly a case of mixing ideas. After softening onion and celery in oil and butter, I added just enough stock (out of a bottle, I'm afraid) to cover, and left to simmer for a while. Then I puréed the whole lot, but didn't strain it, so I was still left with some texture. Adding a little cream was all that was required then – although I also blitzed some parsley, garlic cloves and a few pine nuts, adding them to a squeeze of lemon juice and some virgin oil, to make a sort of pistou-style garnish for the soup, which gave it an extra zing and worked really rather well.
One of the things I did in Collioure, on the morning we began our journey back, was to buy a tablecloth – the first tablecloth I've ever owned. This might sounds like a pretty irrelevant thing to do, but it was perhaps oddly crucial to part of my plan to really bring back some Continental habits to little old Hackney. And however daft it sounds, transforming our kitchen in London with little touches from France increases the incentive to go and sit in there to eat instead of in front of the telly.
Last Monday then, I cleared away all our mutual modeling equipment and spread the table for the first time. It looks nice; the cloth is a bright yellow with a design of lavender and olives – a perfect reminder of the kitchen table in Collioure that we sat around most evenings.
Tomorrow night is going to be a Portuguese-style fish stew (basic recipe thanks to George). This starts with onion and some garlic, then stock, potatoes, carrots and some chorizo, the Spanish paprika sausage. Later, you add tinned chick peas and sliced leek late on, and top with a piece of white fish for the last 15 minutes. Easy, cheap, nutritious and tasty. And perfect comfort food for the autumn.
I'm making a couple of tweaks this time.
To start with, since I've made a point of getting some cod in today and salting it, I'm going to use some of that for this dish. And I'm going to garnish it with the remains of the pistou-style mix I mentioned earlier (I might try aioli another time, but the other is already made). I'm also not going to put potatoes in, because we'll have bread instead: Sundays are now another market day, so I go very French and get a fresh baguette tomorrow as well as today.
Indeed, bread is the biggest difficulty that exists in trying to do French-style (or even Mediterranean-style) eating (apart from tomatoes). The best bread I've found over here doesn't compare to what I was eating daily over there. But you do the best you can, and it's not impossible to avoid the tons of sliced factory bread that dominate shop shelves in the UK.
I'll also use Cannellini beans instead of chick peas, partly because the skins on the latter are a bit awkward for me at present. And I'll pop some black pudding in instead of the chorizo, because The Other Half would prefer that.
So, the Portuguese-style stew will become a sort of French-style dish – there are versions of black pudding all over the place and the Catalans do a very nice one. What's interesting from a personal point of view is that I'm increasingly thinking like this – adapting rather than being wedded to specific recipes. It's an enormously enjoyable thing to do.
Otherwise this weekend, it was with great pleasure that my scheme to get a local supplier of Banyuls appears set to work. I brought home miniatures of the lovely stuff – one for Stephane, the co-owner of L'eau a La Bouche, our French deli on Broadway Market – and one for Ed, a young man who works there and who has developed into a real food friend.
Both were delighted – Stephane was frankly astonished and promised to get a supply of Banyuls in. He asked if we'd actually been to Banyuls-sur-Mer and I was able to reply that we had last year, briefly. When I added that, for three summers now, we've stayed in Collioure, his expression – almost one of religious awe – said it all. I assured him that, in the five years since the deli opened – it was its fifth birthday this week – it has helped to revolutionise my eating habits and thus my life, so the present was entirely appropriate. He seemed utterly delighted.
Finally today, something a bit more serious. I frequently mention seasonality: I know I've done so from the point of view of taste countless times here, but I have also mentioned the issue of sustainability and the environment.
Here's a story on the damage being done in Peru by the production of asparagus for all-year-round eating elsewhere in the world.
Growing a crop that needs constant irrigation in a desert area – utterly bonkers. As completely insane as growing carnations, a flower that requires vast amounts of water – in Kenya.