Every time I cut open a blood orange, I marvel at its strange, dark beauty. The best blood oranges are grown on the volcanic plain surrounding Mount Etna in Sicily, where the soil and the fluctuation of temperature between day and night cause pigments called anthocyanins (which are high in antioxidants), to develop. So it isn’t just the evocative names of the varieties: Moro, Tarocco and Sanguinello to tempt me, the fruit is a superfood too.
The ruby red seeds of pomegranates, also cultivated in Sicily and probably introduced by the Arabs, have a high anthocyanin content due to the same blood-red pigmentation. Fortunately both of these wonderful fruit varieties overlap seasonally, so around this time of year, my fruit basket is filled with these two exotic and health giving ingredients.
They’re the beating heart of a kitchen, the ideal bed partner for many ingredients, and breed endless possibilities for the curious cook. Yet eggs are strangely undervalued. With the launch of my book, EGG, in the U.S. it feels like the right time to give eggs the praise they deserve.
Eggs are magical things. These beautiful ovoid forms are one of the greatest gifts nature ever gave to the cook. No other ingredient can perform in such a complex way. They are simple and yet protean, indispensable but taken for granted, sometimes treated harshly and misunderstood, and yet continue to be the cornerstone of cookery.
Underneath the shell – that perfect vessel both to store and protect it – the egg gives us not one, but two ingredients: yolk and white. These parts can be separated and used either individually or together, both of which offer unique elements that perform in completely different ways. Yolks can emulsify to make thick, creamy sauces, while egg whites can be whipped into a foam and grow into great clouds. Whole eggs can be poached, fried, boiled, baked; or beaten together to give body and lightness to cakes.
Hand made gifts often mean more than anything bought. It’s not just the thought they require, it’s the time taken too. Last Christmas my sister gave me a basket full of jams and preserves she had made with fruit grown in her garden, and special ingredients foraged from the Cornish hedgerows where she lives. Every time I open a jar to scoop out some green tomato chutney or some rowanberry jelly, I think of her and the flavours transport me to rural Cornwall.
The experience of food can be a hugely evocative thing; taste and memory are so closely intertwined and many memories are of dishes cooked for us, or eaten with, our mothers: the restorative vegetable soup she made when I was ill; her English muffins baked fresh for breakfast with homemade marmalade; roast lamb for Sunday lunch. These are not just memories of the taste and texture of the food, they bring back the experience of the table where we ate; the room; the light and the emotions.
This year I spent Christmas in Marrakech, staying in a traditional riad the heart of the medina – the old city. Our friends and hosts were great cooks and enthusiastic entertainers and the next few days would be a celebration of Morocco’s extraordinary and exotic food.
Outside the thick, clay walls of the riad, a tangle of narrow alleys led onto the main square, Djemaa el Fna, where the hawkers, market stalls and performers tempt, hassle and entertain. At night, rows of street food vendors cook Moroccan delicacies over burning coals, and the air is filled with smoke and the scent of spices.
These darker, colder days call for warming sustenance and where better to turn than to the fragrant spices of Middle Eastern cooking? Harira is a soup I love to make when the weather turns, a traditional Moroccan dish which uses vegetables, spices, chickpeas and can include lamb for extra nourishment. Everything is cooked slowly to bring out the maximum flavour and if you make a big batch, it will keep for a few days in the fridge so you can warm up a bowlful for a fast and healthy meal.
A good terrine can be one of the greatest pleasures of the kitchen, both in the making and the eating. It may take a bit of time to prepare, but it lasts well too; if you don’t eat it all in the first sitting, it is a welcome dish to discover in the fridge; an instant and satisfying lunch. It also makes an impressive and hassle free starter if you’re entertaining.
I love the process of putting all the parts together; it something you can really build, both in terms of structure and flavour.
Getting married meant moving into a new house. A house that already belonged to my husband, but was a place in which we needed to create a new home together. This can be challenging, especially when little superficially needs to be changed; it was fully furnished, nothing needed redecorating and even the garden was well established. The kitchen soon became my first place to settle in: I filled the shelves with my cookbooks and I hung my favourite pots over the cooker, but still there was a rootedness which I lacked. It was then that I started to look outside.
The new garden in full bloom