Three weeks ago I volunteered at the first Ballymaloe food festival, which took place just outside Cork in Ireland. It was a delight: I saw good friends, watched many an idol (Claudia Roden, Jancis Robinson, Rory O’Connell), found ingredients that I have never seen in the UK (smoked butter chez Frank Hederman) and, if all that wasn’t enough, went to the beach for the first time this year. Oh yes and the food…the food was amazing.
After the grim reminder that the only food at Heathrow that can be eaten, the only food at an international airport mind!, is Pret (unless you want to a) spang lots of cash on caviar or b) eat over-priced ‘pub food’ which bears no resemblance to pubs or food), I was whisked to Cafe Paradiso, the home of Dennis Cotter and some of the best vegetarian food on the planet.
Ottolenghi is my default for all things vegetable but Cotter’s food is just as good: more European vegetarian if you like, rather than the Ottolenghi Middle-Eastern tinge. So less za’atar and sumac, more mozzarella (albeit Irish mozzarella, from Toons Bridge) and polenta. I can recommend the gorgeous, leek and roast squash gratin with hazelnut and Hegarty’s Cheddar crust, citrus and rosemary cream (like a savoury crème anglaise) and braised fennel, the side dish of fennel with lime, chilli and coriander (who’d have thought those four would go together) and this lovely red wine with the best label text on the planet.
The starting-out stakes, then, were very high but when the next big foodie thing on the horizon is a three-hour demonstration by Claudia Roden, well, there’s no real risk of disappointment. I’m not a great fan of demos, especially not big ones, but I came out of this with several recipes and a real respect for Ms Roden. She cooked TEN recipes in THREE hours! And she’s 76! Granted, she had two very willing helpers and an enormous kitchen to do it in but I’ll be very happy if I’m half that fast and able when I’m her age.
The recipes were from her the Food of Spain book, which I don’t yet own, and my favourites were the stuffing for the chicken (full of apricots, nuts and pork), the salmorejo cordóbese (as delicious as gazpacho as far as I’m concerned) and these patatas riojanas. I have made them three times already and I love them: one-pot, practically self-cooking, easy to reheat (properly mind, because of the pork), ready in about 45 minutes, depending on how much you make, and easy to scale up or down for different numbers. Oh, and since cooking chorizo keeps for months, this is a store-cupboard special. And, of course, what more fitting recipe to bring back from Ireland than one with potatoes?
The name might make you think they are cooked in Rioja; they’re not, though a little wine won’t go amiss but just water is fine if that’s all you have. In this half-winter half-summer weather we seem to be experiencing (out in my sunnies in the daytime; turning the heating back on at night) they are perfect: hearty enough to keep the ice age away but, with the chorizo and pimentón, summery too. Add a green salad, a glass of this and you could almost be in another country, a warmer one…
Patatas a la Riojana
For two people
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
onion, 1 medium
olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons
garlic cloves, 2
fine sea salt
white wine, small glass (optional)
dried chilli, 1 small (optional)
spicy cooking chorizo, 200g
new potatoes, 35og
sweet or spicy pimentón, ½ tsp (optional; I like it though)
1. Peel, top and tail and chop the onion then sauté it in a good splash of olive oil over a low heat in a wide, deep frying pan or sauté pan. Stir it often and cook it until it is almost caramelised: soft and brown.
2. Whilst the onion is cooking, peel, top and tail and chop the garlic, cut the chorizo up into 1cm-ish pieces, give the new potatoes a bit of a scrub (peel them if you want; I don’t bother) and chop those into 2cm-ish pieces.
3. When the onion is done, add the garlic and chorizo and cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes. Try and seal the chorizo on all sides if you can.
4. Next, add the potatoes and cook for about five minutes, again cooking them on all sides if possible.
5. Finally, add the wine (if using) and then pour in enough water to cover, add the pimentón, crumble in the dried chilli (again, if using), add a pinch of sea salt and leave to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and the liquid has reduced to a sticky-ish sauce that coats the potatoes and chorizo. You may find that this takes a little more or a little less time, depending on the cut size of the ingredients and the type of pan used. Serve as they are or with a green salad.