Monday, May 25, 2009

Greek-style potato, courgette and feta bake

I bought a kilo of courgettes at the weekend and, thinking of different ways to use them, remembered this easy Greek-style bake I invented a couple of years ago. I only had salad potatoes (Anyas) whereas I'd normally use a bigger waxy potato like a Desirée but they worked perfectly well.

Serves 3/4
4 medium sized potatoes (about 600g), peeled
Half a bunch of spring onions (about 4) or 1 medium onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 medium to large courgettes (salted if large*)
200g feta cheese
4 sprigs of mint
2 tbsp olive oil
300ml vegetable stock made with 1 rounded tsp vegetable bouillon powder or 1/2 a vegetable stock cube
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5. Trim the roots and the top half of the green leaves off the spring onions. Cut them lengthways into quarters then across into three. Halve and finely slice the potatoes. Cut the ends off each courgette and slice the rest finely. Pull the leaves off the mint and chop roughly. Pour 1 tbsp of olive oil into a large baking dish and smear it round the base and sides of the dish. Put a layer of potatoes over the bottom of the dish (about one third of the sliced potato) top with half the onions, half the sliced courgettes and half the feta, evenly crumbled over the courgettes. Scatter over half the mint and season with freshly ground black pepper. Repeat with another layer of potato, onion, courgette, feta and mint then finish with a layer of potato. Pour the stock over the vegetables then trickle the remaining olive oil over the top of the dish. Bake for an hour to an hour and a quarter or until the potatoes are completely tender (you should be able to stick a knife through them easily) and the top is brown and crispy. (About half way through the cooking time tilt the pan and spoon a little of the juices over the potatoes.) Nice on its own but even better with a tomato salad.

* If the courgettes are rather large and threaten to be watery I'd salt them lightly and leave them to drain half an hour. Rinse and pat them dry before using them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My new cheese book

I've just been reading through the proofs of my new cheese book which comes out this October. It's called - rather intimidatingly - Fiona Beckett's Cheese Course and it looks amazing.

It's a standing joke in our family that whenever someone picks up one of my books they say "What beautiful photos!" Of course, that's the worst thing you can say to a writer - a bit like saying to a photographer "Great captions!" The author is the person who comes up with the whole structure of the book, painstakingly researches it and creates the recipes and yet it's the photographer and the art director who ultimately bring it to life.

I can't feel resentful though. Steve Painter of Ryland Peters & Small, who I've worked with on several of my books, is a genius and says himself it's his best book yet!

What is it all about? Well, it's a bit different from most cheese books on the market in that it's not an encyclopaedia of the worlds' cheeses, more a guide on how to enjoy and serve cheese to best effect. It's got some genuinely new ideas for entertaining with cheese (the cheese and wine party re-invented), lots of cheese and drink pairings (not just wine) and some really good new recipes (though I immodestly say so myself) including a terrific macaroni cheese.

The publishing timetable for full-colour books is weird. I finished it way back last autumn and I now won't see it again till September. It's almost like looking at it with new eyes, as if it's been written by someone else. Finishing a book is always a bit of an anti-climax. I always inclined to feel it didn't quite live up to the ideas I was carrying about in my head. Seeing it again makes me feel that actually it's pretty good. I hope you agree when you see it!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Swedish cheese

I don't know if you've noticed but Nordic is becoming the new Mediterranean. Chefs like Trina Hahnemann and Rene Redzepi, whose restaurant Noma was voted the third best in the world in the recent 50 best restaurants awards, have hit the international foodie radar. Nordic shops and food companies like Scandinavian Kitchen and Malmo Nordic Dining are springing up in London. So it was only a matter of time before the spotlight fell on Scandinavian cheese.

I tried four Swedish cheeses at the Real Food Festival in London yesterday, all of which are very much better than anything I've tasted before. Two - Herrgard and Präst reminded me of a medium and strong cheddar respectively (apparently there are whisky and vodka washed versions of the latter, according to Wikipedia)

I preferred Svecia which had a lovely crystalline texture and Grevé, a Swedish version of Emmental - with holes but more tangy and less waxy. I'm not sure where you could find them in London - possibly Scandinavian Kitchen - but it's worth asking more established cheese suppliers like Paxton and Whitfield or Selfridges for them as they'll probably stock them if they think there's a demand.