26 September 2005: Tuna and fennel spaghetti

Because I have been young Dr Slack and haven't cooked anything noteworthy for days, here is a retrospective: something we made last month, back when it was summer. Taken almost directly from the excellent La Cucina Eoliana e Siciliana, it's spaghetti with tuna, fennel and toasted breadcrumbs. The only real change I made to the original recipe was using a fennel bulb rather than fennel leaves, which I couldn't find at the greengrocer's that evening.

a hunk of stale bread
olive oil
200 g spaghetti
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
3 anchovy fillets
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 large ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
1 heaped tablespoon capers
1 handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 pinch saffron
150 g tuna from a jar

First make the toasted breadcrumbs. These last for ages in the fridge in a sealed container, so you might as well make more than you need for this recipe. Tear the bread into chunks, and pulse it in a food processor until you have rough breadcrumbs - don't let them get too fine. Heat a little olive oil in a pan over moderate heat, add the breadcrumbs, and cook, stirring, until they are toasted to a golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt, and cook the spaghetti.

While the spaghetti is cooking, heat a little olive oil in a pan over moderate heat, add the onion and fennel, and cook until they are softening and golden. Mash in the anchovy fillets, the add the garlic, chopped tomato, capers, parsley and saffron and cook for several minutes. Add the tuna to the sauce and continue to cook until it is heated through.

Drain the spaghetti when it is al dente, and add to the sauce. Mix until well incorporated. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and a little extra parsley and serve.

Serves 2.

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18 September 2005: Reddest thing ever

The last of yesterday's purchases: a fire-engine red teapot from Habitat. I almost bought this (or one very much like it) about a year ago, when we were living in Brighton. At the time I was an impoverished PhD student and, despite visiting the teapot in the store several times, finally decided I couldn't really justify the expense when I had a perfectly servicable teapot at home already. Now that I'm a postdoc, 16 euro seems an entirely reasonable price to pay for something so gorgeously red, redundancy be damned. Anyway, now I'm equipped to have at least 12 tea-drinkers over all at once. Hurrah for red teapots and the eventual fulfilling of desires!

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17 September 2005: First weekend of Autumn

Today when I was out and about I wore both a jumper and brown velvet jacket - the jacket was probably not strictly necessary, but it wasn't ludicrously excessive, either. Autumn is definitely here.

I was up early this morning to finish off some stuff for work, then since I was already at Trinity it was just a stroll down the road to go to the Temple Bar market and buy two big bags worth of veggies. I remembered later that I'm going to be out to dinner most nights this week, which puts a bit of a crimp in my cooking plans, but hopefully I will get through most of it before I head off to Paris (yippee!) at the end of the week.

Carrying all this good stuff home, I stopped in at Sheridan's to pick up some yoghurt, a St Marcellin and some sun-blush tomatoes, and the newsagent for the Saturday papers. Back in the (suddenly freezing) flat, I had a late snacky lunch of rye bread with some of the Marcellin and tomatoes, followed by a crisp, sweet apple from the market and a couple of bites of the bar of Valrhona dark chocolate I am veerrrrry slowly consuming.

And then I spent the rest of the afternoon swathed in a blanket on the couch, drinking tea, listening to El Diablo, Low, and Natalie Merchant, and reading the papers. There are a couple of good-looking recipes in the new food section in the Guardian magazine: autumn salads by Rose Elliot (stilton and cranberry salad with cinnamon dressing, and warm jerusalem artichoke and watercress salad), and a cobnut and plum tart by Dan Lepard.

Finally, around 8 o'clock, I wrestled my way out of the blanket and cushions and got off the couch to make an excellent dinner of spinach, sweet potato and feta tian - much more vegetable than egg, with chunks of warm soft feta scattered throughout, delicious.

Burp, yawn, bed.

Spinach, sweet potato and feta tian
1 largish orange sweet potato
olive oil
350 g fresh young (but not baby) spinach
200 g feta
5 eggs
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 150 C. Grease a tian dish or earthenware baking dish with a little olive oil.

Peel the sweet potato, and cut into chunks about 2 cm cubed. Put the pieces into a steamer basket and steam for about 15 minutes (time will depend on your sweet potato), until they are tender but not mushy - a knife should slide in easily. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Wash the spinach leaves in cold water, then stem them. Blot the leaves well between two tea-towels - drying them as much as possible now will save hassle later on. Chop the leaves. Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat, the add the chopped leaves. Cook, turning the leaves to stop sticking, until they are wilted and tender. Remove from heat, and drain out any liquid (there shouldn't be much if you dried the leaves well earlier).

Place the sweet potato and spinach in a mixing bowl. Crumble the feta into largish pieces, add to the bowl, and mix everything together. Crack the eggs into a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and whisk. Add this to the mixed vegetables and cheese, and mix gently but well.

Tip this into the baking dish, smooth the top with a spoon, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the egg is set and the top is becoming golden. Remove from the oven, leave to sit for at least 5 minutes, then eat warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

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16 September 2005: Blogging by Post

Don't forget you've got a few more days to sign up for the next edition of Euro Blogging by Post. Mystery food parcels in the mail! Autumnal theme! What's not to like?

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11 September 2005: Good weekend

Matt's just moved to Dublin, and yesterday, after a fry at Ranelagh, we went on an impromptu wandering tour of food shops (and pubs) round the centre of the city. We stuck our heads into the various greengrocers and delis along the road from Rathmines into the city, and I was made envious all over again of the diversity of food, cheap and otherwise, available just a couple of suburbs away. At the Temple Bar Market, sipping cups of hot appple cider with a shot of whiskey, we tried Corleggy seaweed cheese (lovely biting mature cheese, not much flavour of seaweed, though that's not necessarily a bad thing), bought a hefty chunk of parmesan from Sheridans, and picked up a couple of duck pies from the Gallic Kitchen stall. Then rambled home via La Maison des Gourmets on Castle St for a baguette and a raisin and walnut loaf, all carried home in our arms (only dropped once).

So last night we ate the duck pies - delicious - with easy sides of roast garlic mushrooms and blanched green beans with seed mustard, along with a couple of glasses of great Margrain pinot noir, unerringly recommended by Tess at Oddbins on Baggott St. This morning, I've had a couple of toasted slices of the walnut and raisin bread, and I'm now wondering whether I should roast those cherry tomatoes I've had ripening on the counter for the last few days for lunch, or whether they'd be better eaten raw - I think probably roasted, given the early nip of Autumn in the air recently. Maybe with some sweet potato tossed in pumpkin oil, and peppers with walnuts? Life is so hard.

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