The local greengrocer’s, where I do much of my shopping, display their fruit and vegetables with an extraordinary generosity. Precarious piles of peppers, a small mountain of aubergines, tray upon tray of tomatoes – crisp and green, golden-shouldered, tiny orange varieties – sit next to rows of asparagus and short, sweet cucumbers. Mint, dill and parsley are sold in fat bunches and they are good, too, for curry leaves, lemongrass and my beloved coriander. These are the most reliable shops to come to for a ripe watermelon in summer and rust-speckled apricots that don’t taste of cotton wool.
I arrive home with peppers, fat and glossy, each one large enough to carry a cargo of minced pork with rosemary and garlic or mushrooms and tarragon, neither of which I have. There is a block of tofu, the fragile, silken variety, to soak up the fruity notes of the olive oil, the salty olives and the tomatoes. The juice that sat in the hollows of the roasted peppers was so good we sponged it up with pieces torn from a white loaf, its soft crust freckled with sesame. This recipe started out with feta in place of the tofu, but I wanted something softer and less salty, and anyway, we eat more than enough cheese in this house.
The first gooseberries of the year will be along shortly. Until then, there is rhubarb and blueberries for breakfast. If rhubarb would take in my garden (I have tried and failed many times) it would make a cheap breakfast fruit, the stalks chopped and piled in a saucepan with a little sugar and water and simmered for five minutes until its juices turn rose pink. Instead, it is served in small amounts, the same way I do a compote of blueberries, in vivid pools with yoghurt or kefir, or trickled over French toast. Brioche is particularly good for this, torn in half and dunked into milk and beaten eggs, then fried until its cut surfaces are crisp and gold. Some cooks add sugar to the batter, but I find it burns too easily, so add instead a dusting of icing sugar just as the bread comes from the pan, crisp, sweet and hot, ready to meet the warm fruit, served with extraordinary generosity.
Baked peppers, tofu and tomatoes
I would use silken tofu for stuffing the peppers. Its light, panna cotta texture is good with the sweet flesh of the roasted peppers. If tofu isn’t your thing, I suggest using feta cheese, crumbled into large pieces. You can add coriander here if you wish – it is particularly at home with the tofu, olives and tomatoes. Use it in place of, or in addition to the chives. You’ll need bread for the juices. Serves 3
red peppers 3
silken tofu 500g
cherry tomatoes 250g
olive oil 100ml
green olives 10
parsley 2 tbsp, chopped
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Halve and seed the peppers. Put them, cut side up in a baking dish or roasting tin. Divide the tofu evenly between the peppers. Cut each of the cherry tomatoes in half and add them to the peppers, tucking them in with the tofu. Pour some of the olive oil into each of the peppers. Season with black pepper and a little salt.
Bake the peppers for an hour or until they are truly tender.
Stone and roughly chop the olives and put them in a small mixing bowl. Finely chop the chives and mix them with the olives. Remove the parsley leaves from their stalks, roughly chop and toss with the olives and chives.
Scatter over the peppers as they come from the oven and serve.
French toast with blueberries and maple syrup
If French toast – such a delight for Sunday breakfast – is to be crisp outside and marshmallow-soft within, we need a soft, open-textured bread, such as brioche. I use brioche buns if I can get them, if not 2cm thick slices from a brioche loaf. Watch the buns carefully as they cook, lifting them as they fry with a palette knife to check their progress. The lighter, fluffier and thicker the bread the better the toast. You could serve it with cream – double and lightly whipped so it stands in soft mounds on the hot toast. Serves 2
orange small, zest of 1
ground cinnamon a pinch
brioche style buns 2
For the compote:
maple syrup 100ml
Put the blueberries and maple syrup into a stainless-steel or enamelled saucepan. Warm the fruit and syrup over a low heat for about 7 or 8 minutes until the berries are just starting to burst. Leave to simmer for a few minutes until the syrup starts to thicken.
Beat together the eggs and milk. Finely grate the zest from the orange and stir into the eggs and milk with a pinch of cinnamon. Tear each brioche bun in half horizontally. Push the brioche down into the egg and milk mixture and press gently until it is thoroughly soaked. Leave for 10 minutes.
Warm the butter in a shallow, nonstick pan. When small bubbles appear on the surface, lower the pieces of bread into the pan, torn side down, and leave for 3 or 4 minutes until the underside is golden. Carefully turn the bread with a palette knife and let the other side colour, adjusting the heat to ensure that the butter doesn’t burn.
Remove the bread from the pan and drain briefly on kitchen paper, then divide between two plates. Dust over a little icing sugar, then spoon over some of the blueberries and their syrup.