Chocolate chip cookies and an English Greek Salad

An English Greek salad

An English Greek salad

Yesterday was our tournament finals day at Eardisley tennis club. Tragically, Mary and I failed to retain our mixed doubles title. But it was a perfect sunny autumn day and a lot of good food was brought including some seriously good Chelsea buns from Norma – so I’m not complaining. A day of tennis and food on a beautiful day comes high on my list of good things.

I brought along a sort of English Greek salad and some very American chocolate chip cookies. A kind of yin and yang on the perceived healthiness continuum.

An English Greek salad

At home we’ve been eating something similar to this perfect simple salad regularly since the start of two delightfully overlapping seasonal deliciousities: Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes and runner beans. You can also add cucumbers and olives and substitute fresh oregano for basil.

500g runner beans, topped, tailed and finely sliced. The fineness of the slicing is important to get a good final texture without overcooking
350g Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes, halved (other well flavoured tomatoes can be substituted but this isn’t a salad worth making with poor quality tomatoes)
60ml olive oil
200g crumbled feta cheese
20-30 basil leaves, finely chopped

Add the beans to a large pan of boiling water. Once the water has come back to the boil continue boiling for no more than 2 minutes until the beans are just tender. Drain at once. If you’re going to eat the salad straight away then don’t bother to refresh them (it’s quite nice having slightly warm beans in the salad). But if you’re making it to eat later then plunge the beans into cold water for a couple of minutes and drain thoroughly.

Mix the cooked and drained runner beans with everything else. No need to season as the feta provides plenty of salt.

Chocolate chip cookies

Up close to a cookie

Up close to a cookie

At my Hereford and Cambridge cafes we always want to offer more cakes, tarts, buns and biscuits than there is room for on the menu. But one day we will start selling chocolate chip cookies and when we do it will be to this recipe. There is a recipe for chocolate chip cookies in my first cookbook but my taste has evolved over time. This recipe, based on one from convicted insider-dealer Martha Stewart, is just as buttery and chocolatey as my earlier recipe but a touch less sweet and all the better for that. I’m always suspicious when recipes are described as ‘quick and easy’ but this is genuinely quick, easy and exceptionally delicious.

makes 30 cookies

250g softened butter
300g light muscovado sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten together
1 tsp vanilla essence
325g plain white flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (less if you’re using salted butter)
350g good quality dark chocolate chips

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C (using a fan oven)
  2. Butter and line with baking parchment two very large (or several smaller) baking sheets
  3. Cream the butter and sugar in a food processor until pale brown and fluffy.
  4. Add half the egg and the vanilla essence. Whizz until incorporated and then repeat with the other half of the egg.
  5. Add the flour, salt and baking powder and mix for as a short a period as necessary to mix it all properly together.
  6. Add the chocolate chips and pulse briefly to distribute them through the mixture.
  7. Using two desertspoons put blobs of the mixture on to the baking sheets. Each blob should weigh about 40g to make an even batch that Paul Hollywood might approve of but no harm will be done by creating a variety of sizes. You need to leave big gaps around each blob as the cookies will expand as they bake.
  8. Bake at 180C for 10-14 minutes until brown at the edges.
  9. Remove from the oven and leave the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes and then transfer to cook fully on a wire rack. When completely cool, store them in an airtight jar. But they’re best eaten within a day or two of baking.

Bringing holiday food home

Tomatoes on toast for breakfast

Tomatoes on toast for breakfast

It feels like summer has finished a bit early in England this year, so I want to keep warm with the memories of two delicious weeks of eating 3000 ft up in the Alpe della Luna in eastern Tuscany this August. Around 16 of us, enthusiastic cooks and eaters all, aged 11 to 54; mostly cooking for ourselves with just a couple of memorable meals out. The 20-stage antipasto starring a tiny omelette with summer truffles was the highlight of our eating out experiences, but the biggest food pleasures of the holiday came from sitting and eating together on our terrace.

Breakfasts
Our daily breakfast of toast and tomatoes with coffee may not sound like much, but maybe it was the most delicious thing of the whole two weeks. Tuscan bread is (to my mind) horribly unsalty, so we made our own bread most days and toasted it the next morning for breakfast. We bought lumpy misshapen and ripe tomatoes. We cooked the toast on the stove, drizzled a bit of olive oil on it, sliced the tomatoes onto it, poured on a bit more oil, salt and pepper and then tore some basil over it. Heavenly, and sadly unachievable in England – unless our Marmandes ever ripen this cool year.

Our dining room

Our dining room

Meal 1: Chicken pieces coated with garlic/parmesan/butter/breadcrumbs (‘Carla’s chicken’ in our family) then cooked on top of sliced potatoes in the oven. As you can imagine you get crispy chicken on top and garlicky, buttery, chicken soft potatoes underneath.

Meal 2: From the local market we bought delicious sliced porchetta – whole roast suckling pig cooked with a salty stuffing of fennel, garlic and rosemary and ate it at home in dripping fatty sandwiches with a tart green salad

Meal 3: Stock from the previous chicken was the basis for fennel risotto with green beans tossed in pork fat (leftover from the porchetta) and lemon.

Meal 4: The assembled kids (how long can we keep calling them that now that the oldest are 17?) made a stunningly good pasta bake with meaty sausage, roast peppers, tomatoes, all our various leftover pecorinos (at least 3 different varieties) and caprine (goat equivalent of pecorino) – this was the girls’ offering. Followed by a riposte of an excellent Nutella cake with Nutella icing from the boys. Can we retire?

Meal 5: My turn at the stove: rabbit, sausage (leftover from the pasta bake) and chickpea stew made with plenty of white wine (bought from a petrol pump) and thickened with pureed chickpeas.

Meal 6: A really delicious spaghetti Bolognese from Matt. I’m not a regular Bolognese maker and I was impressed by the rich combo with plenty of chicken livers, bacon and red wine included in the long-cooked mix of tomatoes, garlic, onions and minced beef.

Meal 7: Chicken with white wine and fennel – I failed to write down whether we cooked this on top of rice (my favourite way of combining rice and chicken) or had it with potatoes and my normally reliable food memory is drawing a blank. Surely not food senility creeping in?

Our bread waiting to go into the oven

Our bread waiting to go into the oven

Lunches: A couple of delicious Nicoise salads (but can I really go on holiday with people some of whom don’t like capers on their Nicoise?) and piles of prosciutto crudo with ripe melons, nectarines and figs. More tomatoes with basil and sometimes mozzarella. Local salamis. Stuart’s focaccia and rolls and the aforementioned pecorino selection. And then our fine landlady (opera singer turned writer Lizzie) introduced us to an excellent pasticceria just in case we were still hungry. And sometimes we were.

cakies from the pasticceria

cakies from the pasticceria

I love England and I’m glad to be back with the energizing chill of September – but I’m also looking forward to our next Italian summer, whenever that may be.