Bit of a hectic one, last week. Now that it’s out, we can start by saying how thrilled and energised we are by our win for Best Blog from Observer Food Monthly, and a huge thank you to you, our readers. Thank you for being here, for putting us forward, and for having faith in us. It really means we know you’re out there, that we’re not in fact just writing to one another, Rosie and I. This is a quite a weird realisation for us, I feel. People actually read this blog.
The day of the event itself was a surreally good one. I had been commissioned to provide lunch for 40 at London’s Haunch of Venison gallery, in the middle of the art world’s hectic Frieze week. The fact that we had an award to collect that evening barely crossed my mind as I busied with laying beautiful, highest quality foods on the tables, from pata negra legs of ham to weighty logs of pure white Monte Enebro goats’ cheese with bricks of glossy membrillo and bowls of rose harissa lebneh to accompany. Providing food at a location without a kitchen makes for a lovely change – it means being able to source food that looks exquisite because it was made at its source like that, because the producer of that particular loaf or hand-peeled, wood-smoked pepper took the time and care to have it looking beautiful from the offset. A job such as this – where we source and supply food – means also learning a lot about food production, and tasting a lot before buying, which is no bad thing. Contrary to Jay Rayner’s witty condemnation of buffets in this weekend’s OFM, this lunch celebrated an exquisite selection of Spanish-influenced foods paired with Spanish wines from small, independent vineyards. I hope you’ll allow these photos, snapped hastily on my phone.
The table was laid with Spain’s finest, fine sliced Jabu Iberico ham; Monte Enebro goats’ cheese; Manchego and membrillo; Torta de cañarejal; salad of wild rocket with cured chorizo, wood-roasted peppers and mustard and anchovy dressing; green salads dressed with garlic; salmon and asparagus and nutmeg and spinach quiches; organic olive and onion loaves with fruity olive oil and sticky, caramel-like balsamic; boquerones, caperberries and chalidkiki olives; bowls of rose harissa stirred strained yogurt; dates, soft turron nougat and oranges dressed with olive oil and brown sugar; lemon tart, chocolate brandy cake and this:
Giant cous cous salad with beetroot, carrot and fresh mint
Giant cous cous is notoriously difficult to find in London, which is why I remember being held up on a whole load of online forums some time last year when I Googled it. Nowhere that I knew of sold it, and noone on the interet knew anyone who knew anyone who sold it. Lots of people had enjoyed M&S’ giant cous cous and butternut salad, but not a single person knew how to replicate it at home. I’m always on the lookout for new grains to make sturdy, long-lasting salads and to provide different textures to our favourite salad ingredients. So when I was offered the job at Haunch of Venison, and I started getting in touch with my suppliers, I found that one of them sold the Israeli cous cous (which is really a pasta grain) in bulk. I now have a 10kg sack and the need to find some new ways of eating it. It can be cooked just like pasta – simmering in salted, boiling water until al dente – and stirred through with anything from harissa, herbs and yogurt to a paste of red pesto and anchovies. The beetroot can be very dense and sticky here so the grated carrot helps to break it up and provide contrasting texture. The beautiful thing about this springy salad is that the beetroot stains the pearls of cous cous a deep, rich pink. It will also keep for several days in the fridge.
To serve 2, sink one medium beet into a pan of boiling water, turn to a simmer and cover for about 30 minutes, or until a knife slides easily in. Scrub and grate one medium carrot into the serving bowl and drizzle with good quality, green olive oil. Put two cups of giant cous cous into a pan of fresh water and bring to the boil for 7-8 minutes or until tender with a springy bite. Once cool, peel and grate your beetroot into the carrot, salt generously and add the strained, cooled cous cous. Using a fork, combine the ingredients and add a scattering of thin cut ribbons of spring onion, fresh mint and creamy feta over the top. Taste for seasoning and add more oil if necessary. You may find this needs more than a usual amount of salt. Enjoy with toasted bread, ham, cheese and chutneys.