Baccalà mantecato alla veneziana: Venetian-style stockfish spread

Baccalà mantecato alla veneziana

Norway has been much in the news lately. Its $850bn oil-fueled sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, owns an eye-popping 1.3% of the world’s stock markets. Not bad for a country of 5 million inhabitants! However, with power comes responsibility and it is now under pressure to use its not insignificant influence to be a more activist shareholder. But for the longest time-indeed, since the Vikings-Norway’s major export was not oil but stockfish (dried cod). I learnt this when, on a recent trip to Bergen, which was and remains the center of stockfish trading, I visited a museum dedicated to the history of the Hanseatic League. This was a confederation of German merchants and market towns set up to facilitate trade and protect its members’ interests. Founded in Lübeck, the Hanseatic League came to dominate trade during the 15-19th centuries in the Baltic Sea region and northern Europe. (I visited Lübeck, which is near Hamburg, a few years ago, attracted like a fly to its famous marzipan!)

Poulet à la moutarde-French-style chicken with mustard

Chicken with mustard

It is said that every cook should have at least one good chicken recipe in their arsenal. Judging by that, I would consider myself fairly well-armed, with a number of recipes in my regular rota. My favorite, though, is surely today’s recipe for chicken with mustard or poulet à la moutarde in its original French. Since I first came across it several months ago in David Lebovitz’s excellent and funny My Paris Kitchen, I’ve probably made it more times than any other dish. Apart from being extremely tasty, this dish has a number of things going for it. It is both quick and simple enough to throw together on those weeknights when you’re sorely lacking in energy and inspiration. Yet it is also posh enough to be served at a dinner party.

Quinoa and kale patties

Quinoa and kale patties

When I first got into food and started writing about it I obsessively followed other food blogs. At one point I may have had a browser window with several dozen open tabs dedicated to them! I still do. But as my culinary journey has progressed the ardor has waned, and I can’t remember the last time I looked at any of them. With perhaps one exception: “101 Cookbooks“, a “recipe journal” by Heidi Swanson with a focus on healthy food that I somehow feel is very “Californian” in how Asian and Mediterranean flavors are creatively blended together. And while I don’t religiously follow “101 Cookbooks”, I do subscribe to it’s feed and have made–or been inspired by–many of the recipes on that site. These little patties–or “bites” as Ms. Swanson calls them–made of quinoa and kale are a delicious example of why I remain a loyal reader of her blog.

Chorizo and kale tamales

Chorizo and kale tamale

New York is justifiably famous for some of the best–and poshest–food on Earth. But much as I miss the Japanese omakase restaurants, what I really pine for are those hole-in-the-wall places that make eating out in New York such an amazing experience. Places such as Xi’an Famous Foods in Chinatown and Taqueria y Fonda in my own former Upper West Side neighborhood. Not to mention the tamale vendor on W 96th and Broadway. Sadly, tamale ladies–or Mexican food of any kind–are rather thin on the ground in the UK, let alone Oxford. So when I had the chance to visit San Francisco a few months ago I made a point of picking up a few ingredients so I could make my own tamales!

Fregula with roasted onions and cherry tomatoes

Fregula with charred onions and cherry tomatoes

I was oddly pleased recently when someone complained that my pasta was inedibly hard. I thought: “I’ve finally leant what ‘al dente’ really means, and to make pasta that would not make my Italian friends cringe!” Italians, as you know, take their pasta quite seriously. And no wonder. When it comes to comfort food there’s nothing quite like it (or dal, I might add). And while it takes a certain amount of courage to stop when the pasta is still obviously uncooked, achieving that delicate point between undercooked and soggy is well worth striving for. What is also worth the effort is seeking out fregula, a bead-shaped pasta from Sardinia that has shot up my list of favorite types of pasta.