Sunday, July 6, 2008

Slow Food for a Windy Day



Yesterday was surprisingly windy! As I stepped into the garden with a basket of washing under my arm, the wind wrenched the door roughly out of my hand and it leapt away on its hinges. I stumbled blindly towards the washing line with hair plastered across my face and pegged it out double quick, shivering all the while. A good day for washing, bright and cloudless with the kind of wind you could lean back on, but not a day to spend outside. Back indoors, Finley's eyebrows shot up with delight at the wild way the wind had styled my head and we turned back to the garden to watch the washing dance and fly about on the line. We decided to sit in the warmth of the conservatory, practice magic tricks and read novels. It was a slow food day, when the right thing to do is pop something into the warmth of the oven and let it transform into a melting comfort dish.

Slow summer food is different from the dark rooty stews and deeply flavoured meat of winter. Roasted summer vegetables have a vibrancy and sweetness that demands the counterpoint of a crisp salad or some steamed green beans. Roasting a pepper only seems to increase the sense of Mediterranean heat contained in that bright red body. Just the thing for a day that looks bright, but socks you in the chest like a quarterback if you venture into it.

Creating a stuffing for a pepper that doesn't include grains was an interesting dilemma. I didn't want to chuck too many nuts in there, because I was after something succulent and deeply flavoured, not stodgy. Squash is too sweet to stuff a pepper. Finally I decided that minced beef was the answer - not too heavy, but deeply flavourful. I chose the spices that say comfort to me, cinnamon and saffron with a touch of rosewater. A little hint of Persian warmth. These are flavours that nourish the spleen and lift the heart. Where you have saffron you need sweetness, so I caramelised some leek as a base and threw in some tart barberries as a counterpoint to all the richness. Of course this would also be delicious made with lamb, but be sure to get rid of some of the fat after frying the mince and be liberal with the lemon juice, or it will be very rich indeed!


Serve with something clean tasting and light, maybe shower the plate with pomegranate seeds as I did - to increase the tart contrast to the meat. Some chopped spring onions and fresh leaf coriander would be delicious here too. Pop a little wedge of lemon on the side of each plate so people can adjust the tartness to taste.

Fragrant Roasted Red Peppers (SCD) serves 4

2 enormous pointed red peppers or 4 smaller ones
1 medium leek
2 sticks of celery
1lb of lean minced beef (or lamb)
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
2 oz flaked almonds
small handful of black or green raisins
2 tbs of barberries (or tart currants)
large pinch of saffron threads
1 heaped tsp cinnamon
2 tsp rosewater
2 pinches of Himalayan salt (or sea salt)
2 oz ground almonds
Zest of a lemon and juice of half


Cut off the darker green parts of the leek and thoroughly clean the pale green and white part. Chop finely and sauté in a tsp of butter or duck fat until starting to look translucent. Chop the cleaned celery finely and add this too, keeping the heat low and stirring occasionally until the leek smells sweet and the celery is soft.

While the leeks are softening, weigh our the other ingredients. Grind up saffron and salt until fine in a pestle and mortar and stir in the rosewater - set aside.

Add the mince to the pan and fry on a medium heat until it is cooked through. Drain off any excess fat from the pan into a little jar for another time. Return to the heat and push everything out to the edges of the pan leaving a space in the centre. Scrape the chopped tomato into the centre of the pan and cook until the juices start to thicken a little before stirring everything together and turning off the heat under the pan.

Preheat your oven to 180C and oil a pan large enough to comfortably fit the peppers into.

Stir all the remaining ingredients into the meat and check for seasoning - more cinnamon? more lemon? more salt? When its right, cut tops of the peppers and pull out the seeds before evenly spooning the mixture into the cavity of each one and laying it down in the tray with its top pushed back on. Any mix left over can be popped in the oven in a loaf tin with foil on the top to warm through for the last half hour of cooking.

Drizzle some oil over the peppers and roast for 1 -1 1/2 hours until the skins are dark and puffed up and the peppers meltingly soft. Peel the skins off when you eat them.