Quite often I find I enjoy the starter and the dessert of a three-course meal, but not the “main “. The reason, I think, is that a good starter is tasty and can take the edge of the appetite for the main course. A less charitable thought is that the main may well have had to hang around a bit in the kitchen because the diners talked too long over their aperitifs or starters. I seem to remember a restaurant in London which served only starters and Puds. It may well still be there. Anyway, starters can make a good snack meal and many restaurants will (grudgingly, possibly) allow you to omit the middle course of three.
All this is a short preamble to the extracts from my recipe files this week, which are some thoughts for snack dishes or as openers to a fully-fledged meal. You can, of course, go to a supermarket or Deli and buy pate, cooked meats and sausages of all kinds, as well as lots of ready-made starters. But people (well, some of them) notice that you’ve “bought in” rather than “made”. This is well and good if you can’t cook or hate cooking, but if you can rattle a pan yourself, I reckon it’s better all round. And it can be quite easy, too, and from time to time I shall offer tips to cut down the time you spend chopping, whisking and stirring.
A Simple Country Paté
Some time ago we used to go to a homely, but good little restaurant in Kent, run by a cookery writer (Let’s call her Katy) and her sister. They had created a pretty eclectic menu. One night, sampling a delicious paté maison, I asked Katy what the ingredients were. She looked round the crowded room, bent over and whispered in my ear: "Pig’s liver and pork sausage meat". It’s a good and inexpensive combination.
Ingredients for a Paté terrine or 30 cm long bread/cake tin. This will make 12-15 good slices.
225 g streaky smoked bacon
450 g pig’s liver
450 g of pork sausage meat
150 g of ham, chopped
1 onion and 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of dried thyme and sage plus half tsp powdered ginger
1 tbsp dry sherry
Salt and pepper
1. Heat oven to 180 °C
2. Line the terrine dish, or tin with the streaky bacon, leaving some ends to fold over the top.
3. Mince or very quickly whizz the liver.
4. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
5. Add all the other ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon.
6. Transfer the mixture to the bacon-lined terrine, fold the ends of
the bacon over the top, then cover tightly with aluminium foil. Put a
heavy lid on.
7. Fill a large baking tray half way up with water and stand the terrine in it.
8. Place the tray in the centre of a medium oven and cook for about one and half hours.
9.. Remove from the oven, take off lid and put a heavy weight on top of the foil (I use a clean brick) and leave to cool.
10 When cool, remove the weight and the foil, decorate the top with bay leaves, thin slivers of red pepper and some peppercorns or juniper berries. Then dribble over a little warmed thick stock or aspic which will cool and jellify.
Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade
I rather doubt we shall have enough summer to sun-dry our own tomatoes ourselves this year, though you can do very passable ones in your oven at 50?C. Bought ones are OK. They come “dry”, or packed in olive oil. I prefer the latter, as long as when you look at the at the jar, the tomatoes still have some red colour.
3 rounded tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes removed from their oil.
1 – 2 sprigs of fresh basil (or basil preserved in olive oil)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2 cloves of garlic peeled (or more, or less, to taste)
1 tbsp olive oil. Salt and pepper
Above: Sun Dried tomatoes, as they should look, with, alongside, a jar of basil leaves preserved in olive oil.
1. Put sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes.
2. Remove tomatoes from water and put into a small food processor with the garlic, balsamic vinegar, the sugar, garlic and olive oil.
3. Whizz for 20-30 seconds until you have a coarse paste.
4. Add more oil if you want a thinner mixture.
5. Season and put in the basil and whizz for just a couple of seconds.
Sun-dried tomato tapenade is gorgeous with grilled, griddled or fried fish, or as part of a starter with fresh French bread.
Make up a Toothsome Threesome
As a starter, serve the tapenade with two other little plates: Olive Paste, which is pitted black olives, chopped and whizzed briefly with olive oil, and Fennel Paste (the centre of the fennel cut into segments and sautéed with a small sliced onion in olive oil – which, when cooked are whizzed with more oil and salt and pepper, and served coolish.
I prefer the Greek name for these: Courgette “Keftedes” It is an enormously popular dish in Greece, and one you won’t fund in your supermarket or Deli. This is also better than recipes on the Internet!
Ingredients for 20 – 25 pieces
1 kg /2.2 lb of courgettes, grated semi-fine
4 good sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
4 sprigs of fresh, finely chopped basil
2 medium onions, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
250g / 9 oz of quite hard cheese (Cheddar or fresh Parmesan) grated.
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 – 1½ cups dried breadcrumbs
Oil for frying
1. Put the grated courgettes in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let stand for an hour so that they release their liquid.
2. Squeeze the courgettes to remove water, a little at a time, and pat
them with a cloth, too, to get them as dry as possible.
3. Mix everything except the breadcrumbs together.
4. Slowly add the breadcrumbs. Mix well, until you have a nice firm mixture.
5. Form into balls about 3-4 cm in diameter, roll in flour and deep fry in hot oil until lightly browned and crisp on the outside.