Monday, 18 October 2010

It wasn't all bad

Despite the best efforts of those wretched tarts to leave me feeling that the weekend was a culinary disaster, it was far from all bad.

There were two small tuna steaks in the fridge that had been bought in midweek but then remained unused. They needed eating, so I decided to try something a little different.

Using the basic idea from a recipe in Gordon Ramsay’s A Passion for Flavour, I decanted goose fat into a small pan, heated that and then added the tuna. There was just enough fat to cover. Phew!

You then allow the fish to cook for around seven minutes. In the meantime, I’d taken three large but getting-past-it tomatoes, and skinned, de-seeded and diced them for a concasse.

But on a day that, for the first time this autumn genuinely required the adjective ‘cold’ rather than simply ‘cool’ or ‘chilly’, raw tomato was not really on the menu, so I heated it gently with a little olive oil and some Maldon sea salt, making sure that it's held its shape and texture.

Served simply with bread and a dollop of the confit de thyme that I’d bought from the cheese stall in Collioure – made, as it turned out, by a British ex-pat who had gone to Roussillon to make a new life – it proved a very tasty lunch. The confit de thyme is a clear jelly, with a light taste – rather like apple, I thought. It sometimes seems to me that confit is a word that's used in all sorts of ways, making it really rather confusing: but whatever the etymology, it tasted jolly nice.

As I said, the day was cold. It had started brightly, with the cats all determined that we should get up as soon as it was light so that they could spend some time outside. This involves a concerted effort by all three girls – almost working together – which is never repeated on the following morning. It seems that on Sundays, our felines kindly allow us a lie in.

Given the declining temperature, it seemed entirely appropriate to contemplate the first erwtensoep of the season – a Dutch pea and ham soup, in effect.

As I've become more and more of a foodie, I've started finding it utterly fascinating how different countries have similar dishes. I know it's hardly rocket science when they're similar in terms of climate and produce, but it still intrigues me.

The UK of course has pea and ham soup, the Germans have erbsensuppe: the latter was made as erbswurst during the Franco-Prussian War; one of the very first instant food, invented by Johann Heinrich Grüneberg in 1867. Knorr still make it. Take that, Napoleon III and your infernal margarine!

In a similar vein, the Dutch have a dish called stamppot, which is based around mashed potatoes. Which makes me think of British bubble and squeak or the Irish colcannon. But let's get back to erwtensoep.

There’s actually three sorts of meat in the recipe I’ve got, but since there are only two of us, I skipped the pork chops.

After leaving some dried split peas to soak for a couple of hours, I rinsed them and plopped the lot in a large pot with some water to cover. It’s crucial at that stage to add the water, because the next thing you want to put in is a peeled, diced celeriac, and unless that goes straight into liquid, it’ll start discolouring very quickly.

Add a couple of peeled, diced carrots, some bacon you’ve cut into bite-size pieces and bring slowly to a boil. Then simmer gently for an hour and a quarter. You need to give it a stir occasionally or else the split peas, once they really start turning into mush, will stick to the bottom of the pan and make one hell of a mess.

At that point, add a couple of chopped leeks and some frankfurters that you’ve chopped into bite-size pieces. Leave for 15 minutes and there you have it.

Erwtensoep is wonderful cold-weather food – we almost lived off bowls of the stuff and glasses of gluhwein at New Year in Amsterdam nearly two years ago. With temperatures dipping well below freezing, it finally made me realise the point of mulled wine!

As for the soup itself, it’s traditionally served with an accompaniment of rye bread spread with mustard and topped with smoked bacon. The picture above was taken on that Amsterdam trip.

And after that little effort, there was enough in the pot to ensure an easy lunch for both of us yesterday too.

Which left last night's dinner. In keeping with the sense of darkening, cooler days, I made the first kidney turbigo of the season, crammed full of gorgeous kidney loveliness.

In other words, in spite of the best efforts of those delinquent tarts, it was actually not a bad foodie weekend at all.


  1. The confit of Thyme sounds amazing . . . I shall ahve to look out for it . . .

    Another delicious serving Syb - thank you! :) ॐ