Thursday, April 9, 2020

First plant your herb garden or window-box and wait a year . . . By Catriona

Craft: The next book you write will be published, under whatever name you choose (yours, or a nom de plume). What will you write? Why?

This question has shown my extreme good fortune to me like no other could - I already write the books I want to write.

Back in the dim past, I did write three picture books: one for my dad, about two plucky buckets who saved the farm where they live in the dairy; one in honour of my cat Spud, about his experiences with a bad injury (it had thrilling scenes in the vet's waiting room); and one . . . can't remember why, but it was about a little girl's moving to a new school.

It's an interesting challenge to write a story in thirty-two pages, with fewer than two-hundred words in total. It's fun to work out which bits to let the pictures tell and which bits need language. I was sorry to discover what an intensely tough world picture-book publishing is and have to let all three go.

Hey, if anyone's mad enough to be contemplating a new venture in the costly production of all-colour, large, sturdy books for the under-fives, rights for The Plucky Buckets, That Ginger Cat, and Call Me Annie are available . . .

But the only thing I'd love to write that I know I couldn't get published in a thousand year's is a cookery book. Why, I can claim the honour of having a recipe turned down by the MWA cookbook, don't you know? It couldn't have come with better crime credentials either, being the pie I made to say thank you to Val McDermid when she bent the rules a bit to let me on a panel at Harrogate. (She shared it with her neighbours and reported that I got a standing proposal of marriage from one of them.)

Everyone who watches the Great British Bake Off / Baking Show will immediately recognise this as a raised, hot-water-crust pie.These are typically filled with game or - as here - pork and they include savoury jelly round the meat. That was one of the problems for the MWA cookbook, I reckon. One of the ingredients was pigs' trotters. Also, you cook it over three days.

And maybe that's why my cookbook will remain a dream. (I even offered a recipe on Facebook only yesterday and there were no takers.)  I think I cook really easy food - yesterday's recipe was a prime example - but what makes food easy, for me, is "if you stick to the method it never goes wrong". What other people seem to think makes food easy is "it's quick and it doesn't make much mess".

I can see eyes glazing over when someone asks for the recipe of what they're eating and I start to tell them. It's like me when I ask directions and the person says "Go north for a hundred metres . . ."

Since my cookery book will never be published, I'm going to go right ahead and offer that one recipe right here.  You decide.

Butter (Lima? Fava? Lima, I think) Bean and Tomato Soup

For the stock: some carrots, some celery, a large onion, some parsley with stalks, some garlic cloves, some peppercorns, two fresh bay leaves, a little olive oil.
For the soup: a lot of butter beans, eight big tomatoes, butter, two very large onions, salt and pepper.

Day 1. soak the butter beans in a big bowl of water.

Day 2. Scrub the carrots and celery and roughly chop lengthwise. Roughly chop the unpeeled onion (the peel adds colour). Heat the olive oil in a big pan. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves, carrots, celery, and onion and brown briefly. Add the parsley, pepper and bay leaves and cover with water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently until the carrots are soft and the stock tastes rich when you add a few grains of salt to a spoonful. Discard the boiled vegetables.

Drain and rinse the butter beans. (You can use all this water in the garden, by the way.) Add the beans to the stock, bring to the boil, boil for ten minutes and then simmer until the beans are tender. This depends on how fresh your beans are and how long you soaked them. It could be forty minutes or it could be an hour.

Peel and thinly slice the two remaining onions and fry very gently in butter until soft but still pale. Meanwhile put the tomatoes in a large bowl and pour on boiling water. After a minute, start to fish them out one at a time, to cut in half and slip off the loosened skins. Then chop them, being careful to conserve all the juice.

When the beans are tender, add the buttery onions, the chopped tomatoes, and salt and pepper. Bring back to the boil, simmer for fifteen minutes, check the seasoning and serve. You can adjust the amount of stock to the weight of beans depending on how thick you like your soup. For me, if it's flat on top, I failed. (see pic.)

This will keep in the fridge for a week and freezes well too.

Easy! And unbelievably delicious, but it must be the dish I have most often started to tell people about only to have their eyes glaze over.  And what's worse: once someone "made" it, with tinned beans, tinned tomatoes, oil instead of butter, dried bay leaves and a stock cube and then said it was no good. I ask you! 

Grrrrr. My cookbook would be so bossy I'd make Nigella Lawson look like Gandhi. 


No comments: