Sunday, 13 July 2008

Courgette and Mint Salad

I had a lovely afternoon wandering around the chocolate shops and patisseries in the sixth arrondisement yesterday afternoon. I meant to take photos, really I did. I was sure I'd brought me camera with me. So sure, in fact, that when it wasn't I panicked and reported it to the police as stolen, which made me feel very foolish when I came home to find it lying on the table. Foolish, but also relieved.

In the morning I had dragged myself out of bed, and to the market downstairs. It really tarts itself up for Saturdays, with flower stalls, more butchers, a lovely little cheese place and a stall heaving with olives that I meant to return to but forgot. Also it was packed, I presume in preparation for Bastille day on Monday, and there was a roaring trade in artichokes, asparagus and cherries. The stall that sells mainly herbs and salad had some lovely little courgettes, so I joined the elderly women to slyly sift through to find the smallest, most delicate ones. With a big bunch of mint and a bulb of garlic that was me set for supper.

I can't claim to have invented this, indeed a very good friend once cooked it as one of a number of warm dishes to eat over Sunday lunch, soaking up the sunshine and wine. It was, and is, simply brilliant. A lovely, light and very interesting dish which banishes all horrible childhood memories of courgettes cooked to oblivion.

I say salad, but really it could act as a side vegetable to some lovely fish, on its own or with a number of little plates to pick at as we did. I like it best warm, but it needn't be hot, and you shouldn't worry about it coming to room temperature over the course of the meal, or indeed as you cook the courgettes. In fact it is far more important to fry the courgettes in small batches in order to get the right texture to them, than to make sure its piping hot.

garlic (about one clove per person)
olive oil

Slice the courgettes lengthwise about half a centimetre thick. Heat the olive oil (be generous) and when it is sizzling lay the courgettes in the pan, spread out so that they do not overlap. If you put in too many, they will take too long to cook, and will turn out limp and insipid. Brown one side on a medium to high heat, then flip them and brown the other. You want a nicely coloured exterior, but not to cook them for too long: they should still have some bite. Cook them in batches, and as you near the end of the last batch, throw in the garlic finely chopped. You want it to cook, in order to take some of the fierceness out of it, but you don't want it black. Pour the garlic and olive oil over the cooked courgettes, season with salt and pepper, and liberally scatter with chopped mint.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Macaroni with Fennel and Lardons

My idea of comfort food is pasta in any kind of creamy sauce. Be it a plain carbonara, mushrooms with garlic, parsley, or petit pois and bacon, liberal cream takes the worries of the world away. The market below my apartment had the sweetest diminutive fennel: two nestled in the palm of my hand and seemed an appropriate supper for one. Indeed it almost seemed a shame to slice them: if it were not the middle of summer I would have been tempted to braise them whole in cream, butter and parmesan as my father used to as a side dish for roast pork or chicken when I was a child. As it was the sweet aniseed of the fennel complemented the crisp lardons perfectly, and made what is usually a heavy dish lighter.

creme fraiche
bay leaf

While the water for the pasta was boiling I fried a little pancetta until crisp with a bay leaf and some thyme, then added the thinly cut fennel. Into the boiling water (well salted) went the pasta, and when this was done, the fennel was cooked. A few liberal spoons of creme fraiche and some grated comte went in with the fennel, and then the sauce was ready for the pasta.