Midweek dinners, mother recipes and a passion for anchovies

Ah, the lure of the thrifty eating!

I suspect I’m not alone in deriving an enormous amount of pleasure from building an entire meal out of leftovers. I’m reasonably sure I’ve lived through some serious famine in a previous life. My inability to throw food away, often verging on borderline petri dish territory, may also have its roots in my upbringing: how my mother loved to repeat the mantra of  ‘you never lived through a war!’. Now, there are so many holes in that statement, it’s difficult to see where to start, really. Let’s see. My mother is a product of post-war Italy, and left for a better life in the tropics as a young child. And I also happen to have met her own mother, who’s capable of spending hours on end over a stove to make sure everyone gets exactly what they want to eat. The notion of a starved childhood fighting for scraps of polenta and sheltering from snow tempests is one she clearly only knows from the melodramatic Italian children’s literature that she herself read to me! In any case, the concept stuck and I don’t like throwing food away. To the extend that I will find myself in an endless cycle of buying a bit of feta just to fit in with that pie made of scraps, but then end up with leftover cheese and buy something else to go with it, and I’m forever trapped.

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Going from mothers to husbands, mine is vegetarian, and, as much as I care for the man, that sort of behaviour can be a challenge on occasion. Currently, having a freezer stuffed with 2 pork loins, a kilo of tilapias and some packs of bacon even I could not manage on my own,  it is tempting to smuggle some animal protein in a veggie curry and get it over with. Last night, I decided to tackle the fridge, abandoned after a week away with work, and crying out for some clearing out. This is what I made:

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The aforementioned grandmother used to fry potatoes in oil and rosemary, and I don’t know if this particular detail was on purpose or not, but the crispy bits of potato stuck to the bottom of the pan were always my favourite. For me, potatoes made this way beat any results you can get from an oven. Cut the potatoes quite thinly and arrange them in 2 or 3 layers in a deep frying pan, then cover them in nice olive oil. I added to that: smoked paprika, black olives, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. And since the resident vegetarian insisted on having dinner too, towards the end of cooking time, I split the portion between 2 pans, adding anchovies to mine and a couple of eggs to his. The eggs cooked gently and ended with a runny yolk, which immediately took the taste and colour of the paprika. The anchovies melted beautifully into the oil, producing a rich and velvety sauce to coat the potatoes and bring a contented smile to my face.

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And then I tackled the suspicious looking tomatoes: panzanella, or stale bread and tomato salad, really is such a simple solution to mankin problems. The only trick here is to prepare the salad not more than 15 minutes before you’re planning to eat it, so the bread doesn’t get too soggy.

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A last minute update: just before posting this, I found an abandoned aubergine in the bottom drawer of the fridge, and that went with the leftover olive oil from the previous night’s potatoes, some fava beans, and the lot into a cous cous.

And now we move to the freezer.

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Smokey potatoes in olive oil and anchovies

Add other ingredients you may have lying around that go well with the potatoes. The one thing not to compromise here is the quality of the olive oil. Use the nicest you have.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium potatoes. I used Maris Piper
  • enough extra virgin olive oil to fill about 2 inches (5 cm) of a deep saute’ pan
  • a handful of black olives
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme
  • salt, black pepper
  • 5 salted anchovies fillets

Peel the potatoes and cut them into approximately 1 cm (just under 0.5 in) slices

Fill a deep saute’ or frying pan with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and warm it in a medium heat, but not too much as to become smoky.

Add the potatoes, forming a tidy layer to cover the bottom of the pan.

Sprinkle some salt and pepper, smoked paprika, then place a couple of springs of rosemary and thyme.

Add a second layer of potatoes and continue with the same ingredients until you used all the potatoes. Up to 3 layers will cook well. Any more, and you’ll end up with burned potatoes and the bottom and uncooked ones in the middle.

Set the eat to lowr, cover the pan and let it cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Towards the end, when the potatoes are almost tender, add the anchovies. Push a few of them towards the bottom of the pan. They will melt quickly and mix with the olive oil and paprika sauce. Leave the rest of the anchovies on the top of the potatoes.

Cover the pan again, cook for a further 5 minutes, and it’s ready.

Eat with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Vegetarian version:

Replace the anchovies by 2 eggs. Carefully make a small nest by shifting a few potatoes to the side, and gently break an egg into it. To the same again with the other egg, then cook for only 2 to 3 minutes, so the yolks remain runny.

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