Sunday 27 May 2012

A couple of great bruschetta ideas and some stuffed tomatoes

Some of the best moments in my life so far have been spent cooking with people I love. Whenever I look back on any special occasion from my childhood, it was the moments spent in the kitchen beforehand that were often more fun than the occasion itself. Perhaps it's because I couldn't drink vodka at that age and invariably the party ended with yours truly cornered by a drunken distant relative who felt compelled to tell me the story of their life. But I digress
When one of my closest friends, Anna, asked me to help her cook for her husband and his friends as a birthday treat, I jumped at the chance. I've known James for ages and it was a great opportunity to do something nice for a friend, but really I wanted to do it for the entirely selfish reason of spending some quality time in the kitchen with the lovely VP. As she had a beautiful baby boy just a few months ago, the chance to have her to myself was not one I was going to miss out on. Anna had everything planned out, so it was really a matter of just learning a few new recipes and their execution. Most the stuff was from the River Cafe Cook Book, one which I don't have at home and I enjoyed exploring - a lot of great, simple, rustic Italian recipes in there
To start, it was bruschetta with a couple of different toppings. We grilled the bread with some olive oil drizzled over it on both sides, and I vigorously (someone may have used the word "manically") rubbed garlic on each piece. I ended up smelling like a garlic clove myself by then end of the night but the result was well worth the effort. The first topping was broad beans and peas with mint, lemon juice and parmesan and chickpeas with roasted cherry tomatoes and rosemary was the other. You cook the broad beans and peas in boiling, salted water until tender (about 15min), cool, then add shaved parmesan and chopped mint. Finally, squeeze a couple of lemons in there, season, drizzle with olive oil and serve. The cherry tomatoes I roasted with garlic and rosemary at 200 degrees C for about 15min. I added them to the drained and rinsed chickpeas, with chopped fresh chilli, olive oil and sea salt. Allow to cool before serving
For main course there was quail with sage, some pilaf, green beans in tomato sauce and stuffed tomatoes. Normally I don't enjoy stuffing things too much. It's a lot of work and I'm a lazy cook who likes to keep things simple in life. But these ones, from the Plenty book up there, were well worth it. You fry some chopped red onion and garlic in plenty of olive oil for a few minutes before adding chopped and pitted black olives, capers, herbs and bread crumbs. We used oregano, chives and parsley but you can mix and match - whatever you fancy. The tomatoes are hollowed out and dried inside with a paper towel. Once stuffed, you stick them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or foil and cook for 30-40min at about 180 degrees C. They are perfect party food, because if you're going to go to all the trouble of stuffing vegetables, you may as well makes loads of them. Anna's friend, Abbie, made the most amazing chocolate cake with hazelnuts for desert. The weather is stunning in London right now, so we ate outside, drinking calprinas and wine, chatting until the sky turned a beautiful, bright royal blue, then black. Dinner parties are a massive effort if it's just one person cooking, but when there are a few people involved the whole process becomes something quite special, and it's even more fun than just turning up and eating. There's more of a connection or something

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