November’s well under way, the “C” word’s already in the air, and I’m still writing about October: I’m late to the party, and I feel I owe you an apology. I should be fretting over presents and office party outfits, but the grumpy Grinch in me just can’t cope with anything Christmas until mid-December. My mind’s more comfortably wired to the past, than to the inescapable run-up for shopping sprees, flights back home, and family celebrations. Plus, I have a few more “untimely” posts in line: when I told you that my backlog is huge, I wasn’t joking at all.
Given how fast days seem to fly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the time to write this month’s recipe roundup caught me completely unprepared. However, most of October’s culinary experiments were so worthwhile, it’d be unfair to not share them with you before moving on.
1. Heather Christo’s Cherry Tomato Crostata
This single dish is enough to raise the bar of your expectations for next month: once you’ll have tasted it, you’ll feel compelled to tell everyone just how great it is. I’m particularly fond of it, because it reminds me of the flavours of Italy. It’s always good to eat something that tastes like home, in a country where a lot of people associate the word “Italian” with Pizza Express, and the counterfeit, murky coffee of high street chain cafes.
Even if you’re used to cooking with dried herbs, this crostata (Italian name for “tart”) totally deserves the effort of sourcing fresh basil leaves – the real flavour enhancer in the filling. You don’t need much more to assemble your tart: just a tub of ricotta, a handful cherry tomatoes, and five minutes of your time. Then sit back, relax, and let the oven do its job. Even though the smell coming out of the kitchen is a temptation in itself, you won’t regret a second of that 25-minute wait.
2. Jack Monroe’s Aubergine and Chickpea Curry
The reason why I never order vegetarian curry at the restaurant can be summed up with one word: fussiness. Although my eating habits have changed a lot since I entered my twenties, the remnants of my childhood and teenage reluctance to eat my veg still linger on. Vague mentions of “mixed vegetables” in the menu just won’t do: sneak one single, tiny piece of green beans or broccoli in my plate, and I swear I’ll scream. Loud.
This aubergine and chickpea curry is a completely different story: cooking it from scratch means I know exactly what’s into it. Aubergines and chickpeas are among my favourite meatless foods, and combine very well with the mild flavours of chopped tomatoes and plain yoghurt, only slightly spiced by a touch of cumin and chilli. The first thing I did after making it was emailing my mum, who considers the day I first ate vegetables as one of her greatest parenting achievements to date. I bet you a million pounds that she’ll fake surprise: “since when do you cook vegetarian food?”. Hilarious, Ma. I love you too.
3. Bev Cooks’s Smoked Chorizo and White Bean Soup
Soup’s one of my favourite comfort foods; one of the few I haven’t yet made at home, given I only bought my first blender recently. This recipe, however, is proof that good soup doesn’t necessarily need any fancy equipment. If you’re part of the category “too lazy to even look up blenders on Amazon, fancy cooking and washing up”, you’ll welcome it as great news, as you can make it with just one pot.
There’s little that a handful of chorizo can’t make better, and this white bean soup is no exception. I suggest indulging in toasted bread on the side, to make the most of the “comfort food” effect. One hearty portion is guaranteed to warm you up on the bleakest of British autumn nights, and heaven knows we all need that, with the cold, unforgiving winter ahead.
4. Food Wishes’s Cottage Fries
You’ve got to give it to my partner: when it comes to balancing his junk food cravings with my wariness of everything fried, he’s incredibly patient. The day he suggested we try making cottage fries, in an attempt to find a compromise between my preference for baked potatoes and his appetite for chips, I felt immensely proud. Getting my other half to spontaneously look up recipes has to be a food blogger achievement, right?
These oven-baked potato slices are meant to be soft on the inside and firm on the outside: just like real chips, without all the grease and frying oil. The recipe, however, is not as foolproof as it may seem: you have to get thickness exactly right. It’s easy to fall into the trap of cutting a big heap of paper thin slices, but all this gimmick leads to is far too many more charred potatoes than you’d like in your plate. I wouldn’t put it past me to use a ruler when I next make them: such a guilt and fuss-free recipe deserves a second chance, and I look forward to savouring perfect chips without upsetting my Healthy Eater Conscience.