All you Cannes eat.

Basking in sunshine, Cannes attracts the wealthy and the vain in their thousands each year.  Through the air wafts a heady mix of Chanel and arrogance that almost masks the aroma of fresh bread from boulangeries that line the busy roads.

Between the Hermes-clad stick figures and noisy Ferrari’s, a small family make their way to see a proud grandfather and share some bread and grilled sardines on his balcony.  It’s the simple things that bring the most joy.

My father-in-law grew up in Cannes and still lives there, swimming each day and grabbing bargains from the fish monger.  Cannes isn’t the friendliest place I’ve visited, in fact, the summer heat is matched only by the frosty reception from the bourgeois beach crowd and the crinkly old coffin-dodgers.  However, there’s some good food to be had!

My father-in-law likes to swim in the morning and then return home for a big lunch just as the midday heat is peaking.  Freshly grilled sardines, saucisson, salad, merguez sausages, paella, steak hache, olives, roasted peppers, cheese and of course, baguette.

Just round the corner was a beautiful little boulangerie and patisserie that makes the most delightful baguette.  Crispy, light and fluffy inside.  Parfait!  I became very fond of their bread and brought some home with me.  Traditional French bread recipes do not use preservatives, so baguette should be eaten on the day it is baked.  I had some left over and couldn’t bear to throw it away.  The following recipe is a great way to use up any stale bread and I’m sure that bread lovers will agree with my decision to find a use for the spare baguette.

Spaghetti with bread crumbs

75g dried spaghetti

7 anchovies

half a red onion (chopped)

8 Kalamata olives

1 clove garlic (chopped)

1 tblspoon olive oil

35g stale baguette

a handful of flat leaf parsley (chopped)

half tspoon dried oregano

This recipe is for one serving, but a quick glance at the ingredient list and you’ll see how easy it is to make this for more people.

I made bread crumbs by blitzing the baguette in a food processor.  I then heated a little olive oil in a small pan and fried the crumbs with the oregano until they were a deep brown colour, but not burned.  I put these to one side.

Meanwhile, I began cooking the spaghetti in boiling salted water.  Some people recommend adding a drop of olive oil to the water, but this is completely unnecessary as long as you give the pasta a stir to stop it from sticking.

Next, I heated the garlic and onion in olive oil until cooked and then added the anchovies.  I broke the anchovies up into the onion and cooked them for a further minute or so.  I stirred in the parsley and the mixture was finished.  The anchovies are salty, so I didn’t need to season the mixture.

I drained the spaghetti, added it to the anchovy and onion mixture and tossed it to make sure that the spaghetti strands were coated.  Finally, I added the bread crumbs and ground a little black pepper over the pasta.  I added whole Kalamata olives at the end, but you could use any olives that you like.  My wife suggested adding squid to this dish which is a great idea.  Maybe next time I’ll use a variety of seafood and a little squeeze of lemon.

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For the love of garlic.

Garlic frying in butter.  It announces that something special is taking place in the kitchen.  It draws you in, makes your imagination create wonderful possibilities, secret hopes of what the dish might be.  It’s the very beginning of something savoury and full of depth and irresistable flavour.  Garlic does all of this, and that’s before you even taste it.

When my French father-in-law visits, his suitcase is filled with all manner of food delights and this includes the ubiquitous garlic bulbs.  They’re three times the size of the puny bulbs available in English supermarkets and their flavour is wonderfully rounded and smooth.  If you want quality British garlic, you’ll have to look for it somewhere other than your local, friendly, giant, faceless, monopolizing supermarket.

With several bulbs of garlic from southern France, I felt charged with the responsibility of making something worthy of their quality.  My first thought was of garlic bread.  However, first ideas are not always the best and garlic bread is hardly an earth-shattering revelation.  Consulting colleagues didn’t yield any new ideas and I was beginning to scratch my head when suddenly, I had an earth-shattering revelation: garlic bread!

You may laugh (and possibly cease reading this altogether), but my first thought was not as silly as I’d judged it to be.  What better way to showcase the wonderful flavour of this garlic than to combine it with fairly bland, but satisfying ingredients?  I’ve enjoyed garlic soup in the Czech Republic and some wonderful chicken dishes with heaps of garlic in Thailand, but honestly, I wanted something with origins closer to home.

What follows is a recipe so full of garlic, that casual admirers of garlic may wish to turn the volume down on this one.  My recipe is for those who love garlic, I mean really love it.  Can you have too much of a good thing?  Probably.

Killer garlic bread

half French tiger stick (or plain baguette)

1 bunch fresh parsely (chopped)

10 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

150g salted butter

1 tblspoon olive oil

salt

It’s a killer garlic bread for a number of reasons.  Reading the ingredient list gives you a clue to at least one of them.  You can use more or less butter according to your taste (and lifestyle choices).  Copious amounts of butter, however, will guarantee a rich flavour and a moist end product.

After chopping all of the garlic finely, I heat the butter in a milk pan and fry the pungent cloves very gently.  If you burn any of the garlic, it is ruined.  The bitter taste of burned garlic is a real spoiler for any dish, so do take care to add enough butter to let the garlic float a little and give the pan a shake to make sure nothing sticks.  I often tilt the pan so that the butter gathers and cooks the garlic evenly.  I usually add a drop of olive oil to prevent the butter burning too.  Don’t add too much oil or you’ll end up with greasy garlic bread which is not pleasant.

The reason that I use a lot of butter is not just so that the garlic can be cooked evenly.  I need to mix the garlic butter with lots of parsley and spread it onto the bread.  Predictably, the bread soaks up the liquid, so there needs to be plenty of topping to cover the surface of the bread and also to soak into it.  We really want the flavour to seep through instead of sitting on the top.  I use a wooden spatula to mix in the parsley and then I season the buttery paste with some sea salt before spooning it onto the bread.

Tiger bread is very tasty, so when I spotted a French tiger stick, I was excited about using it to make the garlic bread.  You can use a regular baguette for the same result.  I only needed half and I cut through the length of the bread and opened it out to spread the verdant garlic butter onto the soft surface.  The parsley is essential for countering the strength of the garlic.  It also brings a fantastic colour to everything.  I left the bread for a few minutes to let the butter soak in.

I then lined a baking tin with foil and put the bread into a hot oven at 180C for about ten minutes or until the bread was crisp and golden.  Spreading the butter and parsley to the very edges of the bread ensured that nothing burned.  I ate mine with some cream cheese on the side which was a cool companion to every bold bite of this bread.  It’s delicious on its own and would go down a treat at a barbecue!  Just make sure you warn your friends that this garlic bread is the real deal.

 

Laos, ‘Nam and jam.

Jam in Japan?  Loaves in Laos?  Well, yes, actually, it’s not all noodles and rice.  Western travellers can enjoy the delights of local cuisine the world over, but sooner or later, the comfort of home comes calling.

You can thank the French for bringing their beautiful bread to Laos.  After jungle treks, boat rides and back packs, believe me, you will.  In Vietnam, street snacks often take the form of small baguettes smothered in  La vache qui rit. I can almost smell the freshly baked, crispy baguettes!

It’s a very personal thing, so I guess that everyone will have their own image of that go-to comfort food.  For my wife, no matter where we go and what we eat, eventually, that yearning for something familiar comes calling.  When it does, there’s nothing I can do to dissuade her; only spaghetti in a rich tomato sauce will do.  Try ordering that in the Mekong Delta.

I’m easier to please.  When I’ve had my fill of local dishes, I think of bread.  Good, fresh bread with butter and jam.  Plenty of jam.  You don’t have to travel to appreciate good bread though.  Recently, a friend (who knows me very well) bought me a beautiful loaf tin filled with very tasty jams, spoons, ribbons, recipe cards and wax discs.  There’s everything needed to make jam and a simple bread recipe to make a loaf too.  Needless to say that I’ve been dying to give it all a try.  Yesterday I got stuck in and made a gorgeous loaf to slice up and pile jam onto.

I used the recipe card that came in the set, but adapted it (the dough was too wet to work with at first).  The loaf came out crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  I’m not a master bread maker, but I’m very happy with it.  Looks like I’ll be eating bread and jam every day this week.

Observe, if you will, the beauty of bread baked at night. Time to fetch the butter.

Honey bread

700g white flour

1 pint warm water

1 tblspoon honey

1 tspoon salt

1 tspoon dried yeast

Sift the flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl.  Stir the honey into the warm water until dissolved and pour into a small well in the middle of the flour.  Use one hand to hold the bowl and the other to mix until you have a dough that will come away from the sides.  If it is too wet, add more flour.

Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead it gently.  Place into the large prepared loaf tin.  Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove for an hour or so.

After an hour, run a sharp knife down the length of the loaf and drizzle more olive oil on top.  Place in an oven at 180C for about half an hour.  To check if the loaf is done, tip it out carefully and tap the base.  It should have a hollow sound when ready.

Let the loaf cool on a wire rack for a little while.  Then, of course, it’s time to slice it thickly and let butter and jam do the rest.  If you’ll excuse me, I’ve left my loaf unattended and in my house, that’s what is known as a “schoolboy error”.