Nigel Slater’s Pearled Barley with Bacon, Peas, and Taleggio

Nigel Slater, the food editor of the Observer/Guardian, still rolls out good ideas for satisfying grub. Recently, I noticed a recipe of his that calls for boiling some barley, adding it to bacon still frying in its fat, tossing in some peas, and, at the end, mixing in cubes of Taleggio cheese. I decided to adapt the recipe — easy enough — for one. I decided to make it even more Spring-like. I made just enough for dinner with enough leftover for lunch.

For 1.5 or 2 servings

About a pound of fava beans removed from their large pods (a cup or so)

100g pearled barley

A couple of slugs of olive oil

2 strips of bacon, cut into lardons

Half a leek, sliced

Half a cup of fresh or frozen peas

2-3 oz Taleggio cheese, cubed

Put a pot of lightly salted water on to boil. Add the fava beans and blanch for a couple of minutes. If you have a spider scoop, fish them out of the water and let cool. Meanwhile, add the barley to the water you’ve just removed the favas from. When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cook 15-20 mins until the barley is still firm but soft enough to chew.

While the barley is cooking, heat olive oil in a medium skillet and add the bacon lardons. Fry until almost crispy. While the bacon is frying, remove the outer skins on the favas and reserve to the side.  Add the sliced leeks and stir to combine in the bacon fat.

Drain the barley, shake off the excess water, and add it to the bacon and leeks. Add the shelled favas and the peas. Stir so that the bacon fat coats all the ingredients. Season according to your taste. When the peas and the barley are hot and well mixed with the bacon, scatter the cheese over, stir, and let it melt. Adjust the heat so that the cheese doesn’t burn. When the cheese has melted through the barley, turn off the heat.

If you’re eating alone, scrap half the contents of the pan into a bowl and leave the rest to cool. I ate it with a salad.

Vegetarians will omit the bacon. I imagine that olive oil on its own with a drizzle of walnut oil at the end might be very nice.

Riverford Farm: Spiced Cauliflower

from Riverford Farm: Recipes for Everyday and Sunday, p.

A box of vegetables from Riverford Farm in Devon arrives every week at my home-away-from home in London. In the US, we would call RF a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) company, in other words, a service that delivers organic produce to the homes of subscribers. The smaller scale of the United Kingdom allows Riverford to scale its operations closer to a nationwide enterprise than CSAs can do in the States. At least, people in southwestern, northern and midlands England are within a Riverford Farm’s range (as far as I can tell, only Kent in England is out of luck). The box that arrives with seasonal produce also includes attractively-printed, hole-punched recipes that subscribers can compile over time. After I tried a number of them when I had a chance to cook for myself in London, I knew I wanted their collection of recipes when it came out. The recipes are not particularly fussy, on the homey side, and substantial.

Imagine my pleasure when a copy of the newly published book arrived as a birthday gift not long ago. I dove right into the contents. Numerous dishes jumped right into my line of sight: Cabbage, Bacon, and Potatoes; Sausage Stew with Celeriac and Kale; Roast Saffron Potatoes with Almonds and Bay; Lamb Cooked in Milk and Fennel; Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Almond Pesto.

One drawback to the book, which is common among cookbook writers who stress seasonal ingredients in their cooking is that Riverford Farm has organized their recipes according to month. Nigel Slater’s wonderful Kitchen Diaries is similarly organized. There is no question that I tend to look through cookbooks in line with the season, but more often the gardener in me wants to thumb a book according to what I have on hand to eat from my garden. After all, seasonal produce here in northern California doesn’t match seasonal produce elsewhere in the U.S. much less in the UK. It seems short-sighted to assume one climate among a cookbook’s readership. But that’s a small cavil.

This recipe for spiced cauliflower was the first recipe I made from the book. Lately, all I desire for dinner is one simple dish and a glass or two of wine. The spices in this recipe gave me an opportunity to use another birthday gift, a brilliantly designed spice grinder that has quickly become an essential tool in my kitchen. The flavor of freshly ground spices surpasses spices already ground when you buy them. I’d never seen a spice mill like this one before a friend gave it to me. It’s made by Kuhn Rikon and available at Sur La Table for about $20. I’ve used it for all sorts of spices. My cooking friends don’t know yet that this Rachet Mill, as it’s called, is in their future. I like supporting companies that offer competition to Williams-Sonoma. Sur La Table may have stores all over the west coast, but I understand it still struggle for survival.

If I had had the energy to make basmati rice to eat with the cauliflower, I would have done so.

Serves 4-6

Shadowcook: HA! Sorry, I can down an entire medium-sized cauliflower. You can, too, no doubt.

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

15g (1/2 oz) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Shadowcook: If you buy one of the rachet mills I provided a link to above, then use whole seeds and grind right into the butter in the pan.

Pinch of turmeric

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

2cm (1/2 sq inch) piece fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 cauliflower, cut into florets

1 teaspoon caster (superfine, baker’s) sugar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

Heat the oil and butter in a pan large enough to hold the cauliflower in one layer. Add the spices, onion, garlic, and ginger to the pan. When the mustard seeds start to pop quickly add the cauliflower, stirring vigorously. Add the sugar, season well, cover and reduce the heat. Leave for 10 minutes on a gentle simmer. Cover, and check the cauliflower is tender. Stir again, cover, and remove from the heat and leave to finish cooking for 10 minutes in its own steam.

Shadowcook: Don’t overdo the sugar. And you’ll be surprised at the liquid generated by the ingredients. Just watch to make sure the spices don’t burn.

Food Alone: Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower, Potato, Pancetta, and Sweet Corn

Here’s another pasta and potato dish that suits the summer. No claims to originality here. This combination of ingredients can be found, I’m sure, in many other recipes. But, then again, how many combinations of basic refrigerator staples can there be? I open the door of the fridge, see a cauliflower that demands to be consumed before it grows mold, some pancetta or guanciale in the same condition, and a few fingerling pototoes in the straw larder. My options are limited, but fortunately I love the effect of combining these elements.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Cut either a small whole cauliflower or half a medium-sized one into florets. Then halve or quarter them. Put the cauliflower pieces in a bowl. Pour in a slug of olive oil and stir to coat the pieces. Add salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the cauliflower around the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the pieces. Put in oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cauliflower turn brown and caramelized.

2. Put on a pot of well-salted water to boil. Measure 3 1/2 oz of orecchiette pasta and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, mince a big clove of garlic. Dice 1 or 2 oz pancetta, a strip of bacon, or guanciale. Cut into small cubes about 4 fingerling potatoes. Scrap the kernels off one ear of corn and set aside.

4. Sauté the garlic in a bit of oil in a medium sized skillet. Add the pancetta or bacon and stir so that the garlic doesn’t turn golden. After a few minutes, add the potato cubes and corn and continue sauteing.

5. When the cauliflower is done, scrap the pieces off the foil into the skillet.

6. Add 3 1/2 oz. orecchiette to the boiling water and cook for the recommended time minus 2 minutes. Scoop out the pasta with a slotted spoon or spider and dump the wet pasta right into the skillet. Turn up the flame. Add a touch of pasta water (not too much) — just to provide moisture to keep the pasta cooking. Attend closely, let the water evaporate, season as necessary.

7. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and cut 1 oz parmesan cheese to have it ready to grate at the end.

8. When the pasta has reached the degree of firmness you like and the water has almost entirely evaporated, tip the contents of the skillet into a pasta bowl, scatter parsley over it, and grate the cheese.

9. Eat.

10. Savor.