Cardamom Burnt Creams with Coffee Ice Cream (+ a short visit to Jordan)

Do you know what you are looking at? Banana fields through a mosquito mesh from my trip to Jordan last week.

We spent a lot of time at a private farm close to the Dead Sea, which to me is the most magical place on earth: 330 days of sunlight a year, low humidity, dry air, 1,200 feet below sea level - it all adds up to making it unique, I would go as far as to call it otherworldly. The light is tinged with copper and it makes everything look rich. Things that shimmer should, the pool for example but also things that shouldn’t. A stretch of date trees, looking like a bunch of fat ladies wearing overlapped necklaces of dates. Sometimes the farm hands put nets around the dates, to prevent the birds from getting at them and to keep the dates from falling to the ground. The fecundity of the land astounds me, eggplants that have been dried by the sun litter the fields, the pickers unable to keep up with the squat bushes production. There is more fruit in the citrus trees than there are leaves. I eat a pomelo a day, every day, for four days. I borrow from the Vietnamese and pick some searingly hot chiles, dice them up, toss them with salt and dip the pomelo segments into it. I set out to convert every person I meet and succeed. My suitcase back to Berlin is brimming with pomelos, as well as seedless pomegranates, chile peppers, cardamom pods, a quarter kilo of sumac, oh - and pine kernels in the shell from Afghanistan.These pine kernels, no relation at all to the soft, almost rancid specimens around here.  They are sweet, nutty with a good snap to them.  You can toast them sure but there is no need to.  If you know me, pester me to give you some of these, they are outstanding!

We spent one day at a house in ‘Ruman’ district (which translates as the ‘pomegranate’ district - don’t you love that?).  Everyone seemed to be dithering so I decided to make myself useful and pick the ripe olives, my father had said that if I collected enough, he would take me to a local press to turn them into olive oil. 2 hours of dedicated picking, yielded about 2 shopping bags full.  You don’t make a trip to the press unless you’ve got sackfuls, about 5.  My father comes out and sees me gingerly picking one olive at a time and starts laughing.  I instantly understand why olive picking is a group activity, that takes all day long and is treated like a celebration.  ”You know olive picking days are where the most romantic matches are made.” my father tells me.  ”Why? Because all the girls are bending over?” I joke.  He rolls his eyes at me and smiles, at this point he’s used to my humor I guess.We go to the press anyway.  It’s a heady mix of motor oil and olive oil.  The machines make a terrible racket. Read more of this post

Nicoise Salad

I am a perennial “salad” eater.  Not “salad” as in Eddie Murphy’s (when he was still funny and minced around in a purple leather suit - no joke!) take on women he dated who would say “Oh, I’ll just have a salad and a glass of water.” while their stomach made obscene rumbling noises, then they would say “I don’t know why my stomach is making those noises - it’s so embarrassing.”  And he would sneer “Cause your hungry b***h!”

I mean Salad - capital S.  Ottolenghi type salads.  Served in flat plates.  With different textures to titillated my taste buds.  Seasoned and dressed well.  With a protein or a carb thrown in there to keep me going.  It can take me and hour to get through one of my salads.  More often than not because I make it to serve at least three but it ends up just being me who gobbles it all down.  What?  It’s just a salad!  See how I am making that work for me there? : )

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Spaghetti al crudo

I am already missing the Guardian’s food supplements.  Luckily I got my fix for the month when my very thoughtful sister-in-law sent me the Summer Recipes: Seafood supplement by post.  It kind of made me feel all warm inside to see the buxom Nigella Lawson on the cover.  I haven’t really managed to read through it-but a quick flip through with little L tugging my dress, and I quickly saw a recipe I wanted to try!

It’s called  Spaghetti al crudo and is submitted by Giorgio Locatelli.  It’s a little bit like a tame Puttanesca (in that it’s uses the same ingredients minus the garlic, chili and is raw).  It’s full of things people who don’t like food don’t like, namely capers, olives and “ewwwwww” anchovies.  My taste buds think it’s a marriage made in heaven.  You have sweet tomatoes, meaty anchovies, salty olives and perky briny capers.  Then a healthy helping of basil to make the whole thing a little more elegant. 

Giorgio recommends that you dish out some money on the pasta for this recipe.  Why spring for more expensive pasta?  It’s just flour and water right?  Yes, sure but it’s all in the making you see…  In the pricey stuff, they use copper molds (which are expensive and wear down faster) which make the spaghetti surface imperfect.  This imperfection is the key to you slurping up every last one of those noodles because it helps the sauce cling to the strand.  The spaghetti is also allowed to air dry rather than being heated quickly and artificially.  Not convinced?  Give it a shot once and see.  

Spaghetti al crudo - serves 1 greedy person - ME!

1 tbsp capers (baby ones, if possible)

2 tbsp black olives, pitted (I urge you not to throw them in whole, because then you will never get the perfect mouthful, instead you will be to busy extracting the pits.  It is tedious but just trust me when I tell you it’s worth it.)

3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

1 large tomato (the best quality you can find), finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

150g spaghetti

1/4  bunch basil

glug of extra-virgin olive oil



1. Put all the ingredients except the spaghetti, basil and half of the oil in a sauté pan and mix together, but don’t heat. Taste and season.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil add salt, drop in the pasta. Now this is important, before you drain the pasta, take out half a cup of salty, starchy cooking water and put it to one side.  I saw this in Genoa and have been doing it ever since.  It ensures that you can serve pasta that is deliciously moist and does not stick together.  

3. While the pasta is cooking, put the sauté pan containing the ingredients for the sauce over the top of the pasta pan, so the steam just warms everything up a little and the flavours start to infuse (Giorgio’s idea, not mine - I actually didn’t do this).

4. Remove the pasta a whole minute before the packet tells you to.  It will absorb a little more liquid from the sauce and continue cooking.  

5. When the pasta is cooked but still al dente, drain. Add the pasta to the sauté pan and toss through, adding a little of the cooking water to loosen. Add the rest of the oil (I say at least two tablespoons!) and toss through again. Tear the basil leaves, scatter over and toss through again.  Add some shaved Parmesan and serve straight away.


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