Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dinner with Nigel Slater

Toast, UK food writer Nigel Slater’s autobiography, is one of the finest food memoirs ever. My gardening friend Ali loves his books, his gardens and his food.  He's the complete opposite of shouty show-off Gordon Ramsay.
       A while ago she discovered that the BBC had turned Toast into a film. When it screened in Britain last year, it was watched by over 6 million people. Needless to say, it wasn’t picked up by free-to-air TV here. So when she found it on DVD in her local library, she came up with a brilliant plan: Ali, Lesley and I would put together a dinner using Nigel Slater’s recipes, and then we would watch Toast. So on Friday night, that’s what we did.
       First, Lesley served a superbly flavoured entrée with thin slices of aubergine, grilled and dressed with red wine vinegar, olive oil and mint, and served with feta cheese and olives (not a great photo, sorry), along with Ali’s homemade foccacia (she used a special organic flour this time, so it was wonderfully crisp, golden and chewy).

For the main course (recipes below), I made Nigel’s thyme and garlic sticky chicken wings, as well as bulghur wheat cooked with bacon, onions, garlic and mushrooms. Lesley contributed beautiful baked tomatoes.

Ali’s dessert came in two parts. First we had moist, gingery ginger cake (it has stem ginger in it) and her home-grown rhubarb roasted in orange juice and honey, with creamy Zany Zeus yoghurt. 

Then came the, er, climax: Walnut Whips.  Ali had tracked them down in a store selling English goodies. Toast is piled high with confectionery, but Walnut Whips reign supreme - they get two whole chapters named after them. The culmination comes in the scene where Nigel's father discovers the sea of Walnut Whip wrappers. Sadly this was left out of the BBC version, so you'll have to read the book to understand why they're so significant - a bit like the English equivalent of Proust's madeleines...

Thyme and garlic chicken wings
Nigel Slater in the Guardian – “Sweet and sticky, and as good cold as hot.”

Serves 3-4, depending on the size of your wings. You need to marinade the chicken at least four hours ahead of cooking it.

thyme about 12 bushy stems
garlic 2 cloves
thick honey 4 tbsp
dried chillies a couple of good pinches
lemon 1 large
chicken wings 1 kg (this mixture was enough to coat 10 full wings – it would do more of the small “chicken nibbles” size)
lemon 1, to serve

Pull the leaves and flowers from the thyme branches, measure 2 lightly heaped tablespoons, and put into the bowl of a food processor. (If you are making your marinade by hand, then put the thyme into a mortar.) Retain extra leaves and discard the stems.
Peel the garlic and drop the cloves into the thyme together with a generous grinding of black pepper, the honey and the pinches of chillies. Grate the zest of the lemon into the mixture, then squeeze in all of the juice. Blitz for a few seconds till the ingredients become a sloppy paste (by hand, pound with the pestle).
Transfer the paste to a nonstick roasting tin and add the chicken wings and reserved thyme, turning them over in the marinade so they are thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or even overnight. Turn from time to time, so the wings stay in contact with the marinade.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Season the wings with salt, then roast them for 40 minutes, or until they are deep, golden brown and the marinade has turned dark golden brown. If there is a lot of liquid in the tin then cook for a further few minutes until dark and sticky. Cut the lemon in thick segments and squeeze over the chicken wings as you eat.

Bulghur wheat and bacon
“I sometimes spoon a little seasoned yoghurt – salt, pepper, paprika – over this at the table, stirring it into the grains. But mostly, I leave the pilaf as it is, enjoying the warm, homely grains and juicy nuggets of mushroom.”

smoked streaky bacon 200g
onions 2, medium
olive oil
garlic 2 cloves
small mushrooms 250g
bulghur wheat, medium fine 250g 

(I found this was an awful lot of wheat – unless you want to pad it out for a hungry horde. For a side dish I think it would be better with half as much, 125-130g, and half the boiling water, 200ml)
boiling water from the kettle 400ml
sprigs of parsley 3 or 4
dill 6 sprigs
butter 60g (with less wheat, 30g is enough)

Cut the bacon rashers into short thick pieces. Peel the onions and slice them thinly. Warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large, shallow pan over a low heat, add the sliced bacon and stir occasionally till the fat has turned pale gold. Peel and finely chop the garlic.
Add the onions and garlic to the pan and leave till soft, golden and translucent, stirring from time to time. Quarter the mushrooms and add them to the softening onions. Leave them to cook for 5 minutes or so with the occasional stir.

 Add the bulgur with a pinch of salt (easy to forget this bit!). Pour in the boiling water, cover tightly, switch off the heat, and leave for 15 minutes. Roughly chop the parsley leaves and the dill. Lift the lid from the pan, stir in the butter, herbs and a little salt and pepper. Stir till the grains are glossy with butter, and serve.

The ginger cake recipe is from the Observer, here. If you don't already own at least one Nigel Slater food book - they do tend to be large and pricey - you can find a good selection of his Guardian columns and recipes online here.


Domestic Executive said...

I am a total Nigel nut. It was his cookbooks that finally got my husband cooking with confidence. He is such brilliant writer and his every recipe evokes the senses before you even start cooking. He has just broadcast a documentary on sweets on the BBC (we watch on Iplayer and use proxy server) and it was part memoire and very reminiscent of Toast. He's also had a number of wonderful series cooking if you can get your hands on the DVDs are a brilliant too.

AnneE said...

You describe his writing so well! I'll try to find the cooking DVDs and the sweets doco - it may have been partly based on his book Eating for England, which had a lot of sweets in it. Good on your husband! Harvey's garden memoir, This Piece of Earth, had a lot about him cooking for us both, with recipes, and quite a few men told us they'd started cooking after they read that.

lillyanne said...

I love Nigel AND his recipes! The Observer is just now doing a new series of recipe cards from him and last night I cooked a terrific chicken and whole wheat casserole with lemon juice - actually I used farro, and added preserved lemon and onions, but that's the thing about his recipes, they're easy and relaxed and so they encourage you to do your own thing with them.
Also, I want to say - I never have commented on either of your blogs before - how much I enjoy them both.

AnneE said...

Really good to hear from you, Lillyanne. That casserole sounds great. I tried preserving lemons this year, but then I left them too long in the pantry and they went off - I'll know next time!

Mary McCallum said...

OMG - walnut whip!! fantastic - loved those things....