11 June 2005: Pizzas

Pizza for dinner tonight, made using the old quick pizza dough recipe. It's not bad, but I think next time I'll experiment with a different dough - maybe Dave's.

Basic preparation: crank up the oven to the maximum temperature, and put the baking stone in there to get hot, at least half an hour before starting to cook. Roll out the first pizza, transfer it to a piece of baking paper, and brush the pizza with olive oil right to the edge (or at least around the edge, where the dough won't be covered by topping).

The first pizza: thin layer of tomato sauce (olive oil, garlic, tin of chopped tomatoes, pack of passata, simmered for an hour), then torn buffalo mozzarella, then thinly sliced chestnut mushrooms, strewn with fresh thyme leaves and a small handful of finely grated parmesan. Slide onto the baking stone and cook for 8-12 minutes, until the toppings are bubbling and the crust is golden. Sprinkle with a little more fresh thyme and eat while the second pizza is in the oven.

Second pizza: tomato sauce and mozzarella as before, then top with artichoke hearts and thin slices of aubergine which have been salted for half an hour, rinsed, then fried or grilled. Sprinkle with parmesan and bake as before. This one would have been good with some basil, I think.

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10 June 2005: Organic veggie box

There are a few brilliant greengrocers in Dublin, but some, like the Temple Bar markets, are only around once a week, and others, like the Oriental Emporium, are on the other side of the river from where we work and live. I found that through pure laziness we were gradually eating fewer and fewer fresh vegetables, which is a crime in spring, so decided to experiment with getting a box of organic vegetables delivered once a week.

Behold the contents of this week's Ultimate box from Absolutely Organic! We've got aubergines, peppers, fennel, mushrooms, avocados, lettuce, scallions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower and carrots. Last week's box was quite similar, but included onions, zucchini and... two other things I can't now remember, instead of cauliflower, scallions, lettuce and fennel. We pay them an extra euro or two to swap something different in for potatoes, but I'm still feeling a bit swamped with carrots. I've tried using them in morrocan carrot salad, carrot soup with lime and coriander, grated in salads, roasted with lentils, and still they fill our crisper. Any suggested uses for carrots, in the comments please!

But otherwise it is working out brilliantly so far. Yesterday and today we ate unaesthetic but filling and healthy salads of lettuce, chunks of cucumber, tomatoes, scallions, slivers of pepper, slices of avocado and big pieces of jarred tuna steak. Last week the veggies contributed to half a dozen meals, including a mushroom, cabbage and barley soup, some of the roast peppers with oregano and hazelnuts I am so obsessed with, and pasta with zucchini, garlic, chickpeas, mint and lemon.

Leftovers of various vegetable dishes were then packed up for lunches along with the best whole-grainy concoction I've come up with for a while: spelt berries, cooked till tender in dilute stock, then drained and mixed with a dash each of olive oil, walnut oil and sherry vinegar, chopped flat-leaf parsley and scallions, and toasted pine nuts. So perfect, I think I could eat a bowl of that all by itself.

For the remains of this week's box, I'm thinking of some of the aubergines and mushrooms on pizzas, cooking up the remaining mushrooms for breakfast beside a poached egg,and trying two recipes from the Paradiso Seasons cookbook: a cabbage, tomato and fennel stew, and a cauliflower and green peppercorn soup. And several somethings with the carrots, no doubt, if only inspiration will come.

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9 June 2005: Double tomato risotto

This risotto isn't subtle, but it's delicious. It's flavoured with passata in the stock, and finished off with roast baby plum tomatoes (which I'll stir through next time, rather than strewing unartistically over the top as in the photo). Steamed asparagus provides a perfect contrast of flavour, texture and colour.

a dozen cherry or baby plum tomatoes
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.5 litres vegetable stock
200 ml tomato passata
olive oil and/or butter
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
300 g risotto rice
1 glass light red wine
a handful grated parmesan
small bunch of basil,leaves torn

Heat the oven to about 100 C. Cut each tomato in half lengthwise, and place them in a baking dish or on a biscuit tray lined with alfoil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss all together with your hands so the tomatoes are well coated. Set them all to rights again, cut sides facing up, and bake for an hour or two, until they are wrinkling, and caramelising around the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside.

When you're ready to make the risotto, mix together the stock and the passata and bring to a simmer in a medium saucepan.

Heat a knob of butter and a dash of olive oil in a large saucepan, the add the onion and cook over medium heat until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook a further minute or two, then add the rice and cook, stirring, until it is toasted and coated with oil: at least one minute, preferably two.

Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add the wine. Stir until it is completely absorbed, then add a ladle of stock and continue to stir. Add another ladle once the first is absorbed, and continue in this way for about 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still just slightly al dente in the centre. Add the parmesan, most of the basil, the roasted tomatoes, and a final ladle of stock, stir through, and remove from the heat at once. Put the lid on the saucepan and leave the risotto to rest for two minutes.

Stir once more and serve, with a little additional basil sprinkled over. Serves 3-4.

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08 June 2005: Good times, no time

I have been living a life of fierce dissipation lately - working hard but packing lots of fun into most evenings and weekends. There have been wholesome activities, like running the Dublin women's mini-marathon this weekend just gone, and wandering the gardens of stately homes in Wicklow, and being taught how to roast a chicken by Alicia when she visited to inaugurate our Official Spare Room. On the other hand, I haven't got this pot belly by just thinking about spending long enjoyable nights in pubs drinking Guinness, you know.

So amongst all this gaiety there hasn't been an awful lot of cooking, and what cooking there has been remains largely unblogged. I am hoping to catch up soon, but before I do I have to assuage my guilt by at least referring to, if not properly writing up, the UK food bloggers' lunch I went to - ahem - almost a month ago.

This fantastic event was organised by Johanna of The Passionate Cook and Jeanne of Cook Sister!, held at Johanna's house in Twickenham, and also attended by Andrew of Spittoon, Jenni of Pertelote, Cecile of English Patis, and Keiko of Nordljus. All of these lovely people (a) blogged the lunch within a week or so of its occurrence, (b) took photos of at least some of the food, and (c) hence have provided far better summaries than I now can!

However, even at a month's distance, the food and wines served stand out in my mind, which is a testament I think to how super-fantastic the whole experience was. Highlights included:

* the tasty and ultra-photogenic cherry tomato, basil and bocconcini skewers
* morcilla sausages from Brindisa (How? How can a sausage made of blood and spices be so utterly delicious?)
* blanched asparagus wrapped in tissues of parma ham (I could never really imagine the point of this when I was a vegetarian - why add to the perfection of fresh asparagus? - but I see that it really does work)
* marinated mushrooms
* chickpeas with tuna, roast peppers and smoked paprika (I made this myself the week after the bloggers' lunch and it is now on permanent rotation in my summer menu)
* empanadas of chicken, pork, raisins and egg
* the very, very best creme brulee I have ever tasted, seen, or heard tell of
* and several excellent bottles of wine. Favourites (of mine) were a 2004 Matahiwi Estate Wairapa Sauvignon Blanc (I've had the pinot noir from here too and it's not bad, though not a stunner like the SB), and three Spanish wines (all generously donated by Decanter Wines): a 2003 Burgans Albarino, a 2003 Farina Colegiatea Rosado, and a 1999 Bercial Reserva (see Andrew's and Jeanne's tasting notes).

I loved this lunch, and if you are a food blogger anywhere within reach of London I would highly recommend putting aside all other commitments to go to the next edition, on July 2nd, at Henley. I am trying hard to convince myself that I can afford the plane ticket - you lot on the same land mass have no excuse not to attend!

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