Weekend Jobs

My first job was pumping petrol at the garage at Stone Cross in Northallerton.  4 star petrol cost 55p a gallon and I got 20p an hour so you can see how long ago it was!  I was 14.  A couple of school friends and I shared the rota and it was lot of fun.  I remember very clearly Hazel one of my friends wasn’t concentrating on filling up a motorbike (because she fancied the motorbike owner) and as she turned to put the nozzle in, she squeezed too early and managed to pour petrol into the owner’s wellies.  It is only now that I wonder why he was wearing wellies.

That job ended when a well-meaning parent of a friend told the garage that it was illegal for under-16s to be working with petrol.  I then started working in the shop attached to the garage.  I didn’t enjoy this very much – I found it quite boring and even the princely sum of 25p an hour didn’t make it better.  I was then headhunted (poached) to work on Saturdays only in the houseware/toy shop of some family friends.  Suzy had worked there too.  I really didn’t enjoy this even though my other Saturday co-workers were friends too.   The other problem was that once a month I had orchestra practice all day Saturday for the North Riding Schools Orchestra (again, pre- North Yorkshire so just dated myself…).   The Saturdays that I wanted off never seemed to coincide with the days that the others wanted to work.  I hung on because I liked having the money.  I didn’t like getting into trouble from my violin teacher though.

There was one lovely restaurant in Northallerton at the time, Romanby Court Restaurant.  It was run by Toni and Giovanni, two Sardinians.  Toni was the majority share-holder and ran all the operations.  Giovanni was the chef.  The food was slanted towards Italian but included more Yorkshiremen-friendly food too!  As a family, we had started going there once a month as a treat.  After one visit, Toni asked if I would like a job.  Hurrah!  I would now waitress Friday and Saturday nights and help setting up on Saturday during the day.  He was fine about my missing Saturdays during the day for orchestra and I would earn £7.20 for the weekend.  I was rich.  I also had no social life.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant and I got on well with my co-workers.   I particularly enjoyed being in the kitchen and at the end of shift would help them clean.  The school summer holidays of 1974, I needed money to buy a 21st present for my brother and so asked if I could help in the kitchen.  1974 isn’t on record as being a hot summer, but it certainly was in that kitchen.  I did the washing up, cleaned ovens, and dodged flying knives.  Giovanni was quite temperamental and generally the knives were thrown towards the outside, usually at the cat, but sometimes…  Away from the pressure of cooking to order, Giovanni was a kind, funny man, but when stressed he was appalling.  I remember quite clearly that he couldn’t find me once – I had gone upstairs to get some more napkins.  I heard him yell ‘Where is that putana?’  I stormed downstairs, napkins in hand, squared up to him and yelled, ‘Don’t you dare call me a putana – I am not a putana.’  He backed off and immediately apologised, saying he wasn’t really calling me a whore, really it was a term of endearment.  I gave him what in later years became my Killer Death Stare, while everyone else laughed.  He never called me that again, and I like to think he had a new respect for me.  Anyway, he showed me how to make today’s recipe.  It was served throughout the year with the main courses.  During that summer of 1974, I often prepared the vegetables for him and he taught me that it was more important to have the vegetables cut evenly than to always have the same proportions of vegetables.   I always remember that as I chop them.  Everyone who knew Giovanni had their story about him – he wasn’t an easy man, but, temperament aside, he cooked well and he was happy to teach me, because he knew I was interested.  He died some years ago, and I was sad when I heard the news.  Romanby Court had long since closed and Giovanni had opened a takeaway which was a terrible waste of his talents.  So today’s recipe is Ratatouille – made the way Giovanni showed me in 1974, but in family-sized quantities!

Ratatouille – Ingredients

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 red pepper, cut into pieces
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut into pieces
  • 1 aubergine, cut into cubes
  • 2 courgettes, cubed
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes or 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Method

Put about 3 tbsp olive oil into a pan, and gently heat.  Add the onions and soften – do not brown.  Add the garlic – again do not brown.  Add the aubergine, peppers and courgettes and sauté gently till softened.  If using the tinned tomatoes, add, cover and simmer until vegetables are cooked through.  If using real tomatoes, peel and slice and add to the pan.  Then cover and simmer until all vegetables are cooked through.  Season according to taste.   Add parsley and serve.

Enjoy!

Aphrodite’s Island

I have been thinking about Greek and Greek-Cypriot food since I wrote the post with keftedakia and dolmades.  So much so that I have booked a table for Dad and me at Thalassa tonight!  I haven’t found a Greek-Cypriot restaurant in New York yet, but I have already been to this restaurant and it’s really rather nice.

Greek and Greek-Cypriot cuisines are not interchangeable, but they have many dishes in common, in name at least.  Greek-Cypriot food is much more influenced by the Levant, being only 70 miles from the coast of the Lebanon,  and includes the wonderful meze as a standard.  Greece is a large and sprawling country with many, many islands and dishes with the same name are cooked quite differently throughout the land.  Neither country has yet become known for fine cooking and that’s perfect for me – fine dining doesn’t go easily with this style of eating.  Cyprus has been influenced by successive waves of occupation.  Imam Bayaldi is a Turkish dish, meaning literally ‘The Imam fainted’ – presumably from the joy of the dish.  Hummus, originally a Lebanese dish, is eaten throughout Cyprus, but not as commonly in Greece.   Pasticcio, a form of lasagne, seems to be a relic from the Venetian rulers.

I have been to Cyprus three times – twice in quick succession in 1992/1993 and then not again until 2011.  In the two early visits, we stayed in Paphos, a popular tourist destination in the south.  It seemed to me that every restaurant we ate at on those two visits was excellent – that the mezes were memorable.  I came to the conclusion that it was nigh on impossible to eat badly in  Cyprus.  Unfortunately when we returned with Bapu in 2011, the situation was very different.  We had very average Greek food twice in Larnaca and Paphos.   On the second occasion, at a restaurant we had visited on the previous trips.  Bapu was very disappointed at how hard it was to find Greek-Cypriots in the restaurants and how many foreigners there were – living, working and with second homes.  We had three wonderful meals – a home barbecue at the home of Bapu’s sister and family; fresh fish and meze in Risokarpasso, now in the Turkish area but the food was Cypriot and excellent; and the best meal of all, at a restaurant recommended by Bapu’s family, Soutsos near Larnaca.  I looked around and I know I was the only person in there without Greek blood.  We had a fantastic meze, with dishes I’ve never seen and more food than we knew could be served to three people.  Bapu bravely ate his way through everything Dad and I disdained, including two platters of snails, large and small… and then asked for glykko (super sweet candied fruit)!  We rolled him back to the hotel.

Today’s recipe is a classic Greek dish, eaten widely in Cyprus too.  It is an example of the differences between the two cuisines.  Moussaka is always thought of as being a layered lamb and aubergine pie.  It certainly is in Greece, but in Cyprus the lamb is sometimes replaced by beef, and the aubergines are often replaced by courgettes or potatoes.  I prefer it with aubergines, but some of you don’t like them which is why I am giving you the Cypriot recipe.  I was told once when I was in  Greece that one should never eat moussaka for dinner in a restaurant, because it is made in the morning and therefore sits around all day waiting to be eaten.  I was told this after I had ordered it, but happily suffered no ill-effects.

Moussaka – Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 kg / 2 lbs aubergines or courgettes, or a mixture trimmed and sliced lengthways in thick slices, or
  • 1 kg /2 lbs large potatoes, cooked, pealed and sliced
  • 1/2 glass / 100 ml olive or sunflower oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 450 g / 1 lb minced beef or lamb
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated (peel first) or 1 x 400 g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 glass / 100 ml red wine
  • Salt and pepper

For the white sauce

  • 75 g / 3 oz butter
  • 4 level tbsp flour
  • 1 pint milk
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 50 g / 2 oz grated cheese – in Cyprus they use halloumi (acquired taste like this, frankly), or kefalotiri (nice but you’d have to go to Wood Green to get it).  Parmesan works well or strong Cheddar.  Keep a little extra to sprinkle on top before baking.

Method

If using, lightly salt the aubergines and leave for half an hour.  Rinse and pat dry with kitchen towel.  You don’t need to do anything to courgettes or potatoes.  Fry whichever vegetables you’re using in the oil.  Brown but don’t over cook.  Leave to drain on kitchen paper.  Aubergines absorb a huge amount of oil.  One tip I read but which I haven’t tried is to lightly beat the white of an egg, dip the slices in the egg and then fry – allegedly much less oil is absorbed and the dish will be healthier.

Gently fry the meat in a pan.  As the fat starts to come out of the meat, add the onions.  Fry together until onions are soft and the meat is completely browned and doesn’t have any lumps.  Add the tomatoes, herbs, spices and red wine and cook for a further 25 mins until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in yet another pan, and then stir in the flour.  Cook gently for 5 mins.  Add the milk gradually, letting it heat through before you whisk.  When all the milk has been added, cook gently for a couple of mins and then take off the heat.  Stir in the cheese and some ground nutmeg.  When the sauce has cooled, add the eggs.

In a baking dish (15 cm / 15 cm /  10″ x 10″ is the recommended size for these quantities), cover the bottom with half of your chosen vegetable/s.  Spread the meat over.  Cover with the remainder of your vegetables (think lasagne when you’re doing this).  Cover with the white sauce, sprinkle with a little more cheese, and bake in the oven 175 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4 / moderate for about 50 mins until the top is a good crusty brown.

For the non-Brits, aubergine = eggplant and courgette = zucchini

Enjoy!

Summer Salad

Yesterday I raved about the colours of the vegetables in Whole Foods and today I think I’ll continue on that theme.  I have always said that I don’t really care what the weather’s doing so long as I have the right clothes on, but it is so lovely to see the sun shining, to have bare arms, to wear sandals and to feel warm.  Even in this city of grumpy attitudes I swear there were a few happier faces when I was out (I went to get my nails done – Malaga Wine, a dark red, since you asked).

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As a family we all enjoy barbecues and I enjoy preparing the salads to accompany the meat.  I like trying new recipes, and today’s original recipe came from a vegetarian cookbook but I have changed it quite a bit, including a new tweak today.  Yes, for the first time, I am able to post a photo of the finished recipe!  I was particularly interested in this recipe because it includes tarragon.  Tarragon flourishes in our garden and I grew tired of the classic uses for it, that is, with chicken and in a bearnaise sauce.  This recipe’s main ingredient is courgette which I love and lemon juice and olive oil, my favourite dressing.

Today’s recipe is Courgette and Tarragon Salad, a favourite of Tom’s, thoroughly disliked by Andrew, and I’m not sure how Nico and George feel about it.  It is very easy to make and should be left for at least half an hour before you eat it.

Courgette and Tarragon Salad – Ingredients 

(Serves 2)

  • 1 medium courgette
  • 1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbspns fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 2 tbspns lemon juice
  • 4 tbspns olive oil
  • Pepper (and salt, if desired)

Method

Wash the courgette and slice very thinly either using a mandolin or a potato peeler.  Put into a bowl.  Add all the other ingredients and mix.  Voila!  It’s ready.

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I have a new magic ingredient which I have used the last couple of times instead of the lemon juice and olive oil.  It is a lime infused olive oil which I bought in New Zealand and which is lovely. I’m sure that you can get similar products in London.  I just drizzled the oil over the courgette and it tastes fantastic.

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By the way, courgette = zucchini = Italian squash.

Enjoy!