Spaghetti with agrodolce carrots

Do you have any idea how long it takes you to grate a carrot?

It’s not a competition or anything, but it takes me about 40 seconds to peel and grate one large carrot by hand. If I’m using the grating attachment on my food processor, this task takes about about 15 seconds, but that does’t account for getting the machine set up (or cleaning it afterwards). Not bad eh?

I’ve been thinking deeply about grated carrot recently after seeing a tweet from a high-up in the horticultural world that said packaged grated carrot was ‘flying off the shelves’ in New Zealand supermarkets. You read that right. People apparently prefer to pay nearly four times as much for pre-grated carrot rather than spending less than two minutes doing it themselves at home. A 250g packet of grated carrot (wrapped in plastic) will cost you about $2 – the same as a kilo of whole carrots (that you can put straight into your non-plastic bag).

To me, this is a very bad sign. Is the ability to buy pre-grated carrot a new status symbol? 

I know we should be pleased that people are eating grated carrot (I suspect this is the Nadia Lim effect), but shouldn’t we also be concerned that priorities are getting seriously out of whack? I get that life can be full-on and fraught, but are you really ever too busy to grate a carrot? 

I might be old-fashioned but I believe that being able to operate a traditional box grater without shredding your knuckles is a key life skill for every member of your household. It’s a companionable task that can be done while chatting to the main cook, thereby assisting them to get on with the rest of the meal a bit faster. Who knows, it might even give you more time to chat over dinner later?

SPAGHETTI WITH AGRO-DOLCE CARROTS

Serves 4

Agrodolce might sound like a kind of pesticide, but it’s an Italian term that roughly translates as sweet and sour. If you’re using a food processor to grate the carrot, do yourself a favour and use it to chop the onion, garlic and parsley too.

  • 1 cup raisins
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4-5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • A large pinch of salt
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • A handful fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 450g dried spaghetti

Pour the vinegar over the raisins. Add a splash of boiling water, stir and set aside.

Heat 4Tbsp of the olive oil in a large, heavy pan. Add the onions, garlic and salt. Saute gently for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and starting to colour. Add the carrot and cook, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes. Add the raisins and their soaking liquid. Toss through and continue cooking until the carrots are soft (just another minute or two). Remove from the heat.

While the onions are cooking, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (about 9 minutes). Drain well, reserving about ⅓ cup of the cooking water. Return the carrots pan to the heat and add the spaghetti, the reserved cooking water and the parsley, tossing well to combine. Season well with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Divide between four warmed waiting bowls and serve immediately. Eat with freshly grated pecorino romano or another hard cheese (not pre-grated, if you please) as you wish.

Fancy more ways to utilise your newfound (or refound) grating skills? You might like this classic French Carrot Salad, or my Ultimate Carrot Cake.

Black Doris plum and coconut clafoutis

How familiar are you with the collected works of Enid Blyton? If you’re considering choosing the English writing powerhouse as a Mastermind topic, I’d think again. She churned out hundreds and hundreds of books, short stories and other pieces during her lifetime – that’s a lot of Faraway Trees, Naughtiest Girls and Famous Fives, among others. Wikipedia says she’s the seventh-best-selling fiction author of all time, with an estimated 600 million copies sold. (In case you still want to refresh your memory, the Enid Blyton Society should be able to answer your every query.)

Black Doris clafoutis

Many of her works seem hopelessly outdated now, reflecting the morals (and quite frankly, sexist and racist attitudes) of another time, but they still capture children’s imaginations with their adult-free adventures. Most recently I’ve been reacquainting myself with the boarding school stories (the St Clares’ and Malory Towers series’), in which midnight feasts, pranks and being sent to Coventry all feature frequently.

The midnight feasts all involve secret stashes of tinned goodies like condensed milk, pineapple and sardines (sometimes eaten together, such is the desperate creativity of the boarding school pupil) and bottles of ‘pop’. I’m not sure I could stay awake long enough for a midnight feast these days but if I was planning one based on tinned food I’d make sure to include Black Doris plums. Can’t you imagine slurping them down with a splash of condensed milk, perhaps with a slice of ginger cake from Janet’s aunt?

If your tastes are somewhat more adult and respectable, you might like to try the plums in this pudding. A clafoutis is a simple French pudding, traditionally made with cherries. I won’t tell them that we’re bending the rules if you don’t.

BLACK DORIS PLUM AND COCONUT CLAFOUTIS

It should go without saying that any leftovers are delicious cold for breakfast. If you like, reserve the syrup and heat it up to pour over the finished pudding when serving.

  • 1 x 800g tin Black Doris plums, drained and stones removed
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup coconut cream (I use the Ayam brand, which comes in a 270g tin)
  • 50g white chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease a shallow ovenproof dish (like a 25cm enamel pie plate) and set aside.

Put the eggs, vanilla, sugar, flour and coconut cream in a bowl. Whisk until smooth and pour into the prepared dish. Push the plums down into the batter and scatter over the white chocolate (if using).

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and set in the middle. Leave for five minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve in wedges with a dollop of coconut yoghurt or cream.

When aïoli dreams come true…

Do you know what happiness tastes like? I do. It’s a silky emulsion of crushed garlic, egg yolk and Provencal olive oil and it’s best tasted in a Mediterranean port town in the golden hours before dusk. At least, that’s my most recent experience.

Quite to my shock and delight, I’ve just won an aïoli-making contest. In Provence, home of aioli. This is akin to an Aucklander going to Westport and winning a prize for catching whitebait (or a Wellingtonian winning a baking prize at the Westport A&P show, but that’s another story).

When they called my name out as the winner I was so gobsmacked I could barely breathe. That might have been the result of 20 minutes of furiously pounding garlic in a wooden mortar and pestle, beneath the fierce scrutiny of women in traditional Provençal costumes who looked like extras from The Handmaid’s Tale, but I think it was the general surprise that did it.

When I told the compere that I was from New Zealand there was an audible gasp among the watching spectators. A local chef, who came second, was definitely not amused. But the old ladies, who had kept such a close eye on me during the making process, were thrilled. And when I went to thank the organisers (the mysterious Confrerie des Chevaliers de l’Aiet’ – a sort of secret society devoted to all things garlic), they asked me if I could come back for a conference in October. Oh, to be able to carve out a new life as a professional aioli-maker in Provence… please, President Macron, can’t I stay?

How to make aïoli
Now, all this hasn’t gone to my head. I know I’m not the aïoli oracle (and, given the debate going on between the bonneted women watching, I’m not sure anyone would be brave enough to claim to be). However, this is how I made it the other night. No recipe, just instinct. If only all life’s tests were this simple.

Peel two plump cloves of garlic. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic to a pulp with a pinch of salt. Don’t rush this step – the garlic must be smooth or you’ll end up with ‘bits’ in the finished aïoli. Add an egg yolk and mix well (keep using the pestle as your main tool here). Decant about 200-225ml of your very best extra virgin olive oil into a bottle where you can keep tight control on its flow. Add the oil, drop by drop, to the garlic and egg mixture, constantly stirring with the pestle. Doing it drop by drop is essential – you can’t rush this part or it won’t work. Once about half the oil is in, you can relax and add about a teaspoonful at a time, making sure it’s all emulsified before adding the next. This might sound painstaking, but it’s worth it. You’ll know it’s done when the aïoli has the texture of proper mayonnaise. It will hold its shape – and, when you tip the mortar upside down, it will stay put rather than sliding out.

If you’re being Provençal, you can now eat it with tiny new potatoes, or raw vegetables, or with grilled fish, or any other way you like. It’s not bad chased by a glass of thirst-quenching local rosé, especially in the soft sea air.

Rhubarb and rose ice cream

As I write this, I’m sweating through another French heatwave. Please note this is a climate phenomenon, not a fancy euphemism for an affliction suffered by women of a certain age. If you’re currently in winter’s grip, you might think a heatwave sounds lovely. Trust me, when the temperatures soar above 40C and it feels like your brain is swelling faster than your ankles, you’ll think differently.

Image of pale creamy ice cream scattered with whole pink rosebuds. Some is scooped into a small crystal bowl.

It’s too hot to eat in this kind of weather and you soon learn that a cold beer only makes you feel hotter (and not in a good way). So I am contenting myself with thoughts of cold, refreshing ice cream. If I had some right now, I’d scoop out a bowlful and bury my face in it. I’d rub a palmful on the back of my neck and let the rest slide down the backs of my knees. But I digress. If you’re lucky enough to be in cooler climes, you can enjoy this fruity ice cream in a more traditional manner. As Weird Al Yankovic once sang, just eat it.

Rhubarb and rose ice cream
This will convert any rhubarb haters in your household – the rhubarb cuts through the richness of the cream and the sweetness of the condensed milk.

450g rhubarb, chopped into 2cm pieces
3 Tbsp caster sugar
¼ cup water
600ml cream
1 x 400g tin condensed milk
3 tsp rosewater
Dried rose petals, for garnishing


Put the rhubarb, sugar and water in a small pot set over low heat. Stir well, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft. Remove from the heat and tip the rhubarb into a bowl. Set aside to cool completely (this can be done up to three days in advance and stored in the fridge).
Whip the cream until it just reaches the soft peak stage. Pour in the condensed milk and rosewater and stir until well combined. Fold through the rhubarb and pour into a plastic container or lined loaf tin. Cover and freeze for five to six hours. Remove from the freezer and allow to soften for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with dried rose petals if desired. Makes about 1.25 litres.

Love rhubarb? You might like this rhubarb and raspberry shortcake, this quick curd or this decadent rhubarb fool

ends

Anglo-French rocky road

For reasons too complicated to explain in detail here, I recently found myself teaching four groups of school children how to make rocky road. In French. Yes, I know. I’m not sure how I get myself into these situations but once the gate clanged shut, there was no getting out. (Literally – French primary schools are like fortresses.)

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I’d been in similarily challenging teaching environments before (though I wasn’t sure this French primary school would enjoy being compared with a medium-security New Zealand prison, so I kept that to myself). Luckily, I also had help: an ex-nurse and a former army officer whose CVs were packed with far more useful and impressive feats than mine.

Image shows a bowl of rocky road mixture (marshmallows, chocolate, crushed biscuits) being stirred by five children (only their hands are visible)

I don’t want to go telling tales out of school, but trust me when I say that all three of us needed to be on our A-game. Fortunately, French school kids are used to being told off. Unfortunately, they’re like all other children (and adults) in the presence of chocolate. Suffice to say, it was an exhausting morning, much mitigated by a refreshing glass of cider at 11.30am in the staffroom afterwards. 

Should you wish to recreate this experience yourself during the school holidays, invite 10-15 children to come and make the following recipe with you. Make sure you’re in a classroom without aircon, preferably a few days before a record-breaking heatwave. For best results, have very rudimentary cooking equipment, at least two children who will be fighting at any one time, and eyes in the back of your head to stop them running with scissors and licking the bowl before you’ve finished mixing. Bon courage et bonne chance!

Two children stir a bowl of melted chocolate, condensed milk and melted butter. Only their hands are visible.

Rocky road

You can substitute other dried fruit or nuts for the cranberries and peanuts if you like.

100g butter
400g chocolate
1 x tin sweetened condensed milk
200g plain sweet biscuits
200g marshmallows
150g dried cranberries
150g roasted peanuts

Line a tin or plastic container (measuring about 20x25cm) with plastic wrap or baking paper.
Put the butter, chocolate and sweetened condensed milk in a large pot. Set it over low heat and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Put the biscuits in a freezer bag and crush them gently until they are crumbs. It’s good to leave some bigger pieces to make the rocky road crunchier.
Using scissors, cut the marshmallows in half or into thirds if they are large.
Put the crushed biscuits, marshmallows, cranberries and peanuts into the melted chocolate mixture. Stir well.
Pour into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Leave to set in the fridge for 1 hour. Cut into pieces and store in the fridge.

A boy licks biscuit mixture off a spoon.

‘Chemin Rocailleux’

Vous pouvez remplacer les cachuetes et les canneberges sechees avec des autres noix ou fruits secs.

100g beurre demi-sel
400g chocolat
1 x boite lait concentré sucré
200g biscuits du thé
200g guimauvres
150g canneberges séchées
150g arachides salées

Tapisser un moule ou un Tupperware de 20x25cm avec du film étirable ou du papier sulfurisé. Deposer le beurre, chocolat et lait concentré sucré dans un pot. Chauffer doucement pour les fondre, en agitant souvent. Laisser refroider 10 minutes.
Mettre les biscuits du thé dans un sac de congelation. Utiliser un rouler ou vos mains pour les éraser.
Couper les guimauvres en petit pièces avec les ciseaux.
Ajouter les biscuits écrasés, les guimauvres coupés, les canneberges séchées es et les arachides au chocolat. Melanger bien.
Verser dans le moule. Placer au frigo pendant 1-2 heures. Couper en petits pieces et garder au frigo. Bon appétit!

Need more school holiday baking ideas? Check out these ones.