Waffle v Pancake

For Living Within, November 2018

The Pancake Bakery, Pieter Aertsen (in 1560) , Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

The Pancake Bakery, Pieter Aertsen (in 1560), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

In this month of American Thanksgiving, it may not have escaped attention that the US is also in election mode, and this set of elections, more than most, is really about taking a side. A Virginia-based friend has just informed that she is busy ‘getting out the Vote’, her husband, a coffee roasting amateur, is brewing coffee for the troops under the tagline ‘The Revolution Will Be Caffeinated’. Here’s hoping!

 I won’t wade any further into mainstream politics (strictly to be watched through closed fingers these days), but now that we have coffee on the table, I might paddle in the shallower waters of breakfast in America, and the oft-debated issue of waffle v pancake; not as contentious as the average ‘wedge issue’, admittedly, but I will caution that food is not short of hotly contested political debate in the States, particularly the Southern ones. 

 Full disclosure, I would easily have come down on the side of pancakes before last year – simply because waffles require special equipment that I did not own, and probably benefit from being ‘banked’ in childhood memories, and I have none at all of waffles. But then Nigella entered the arena, confessed to being a ‘bit of a weekend waffler’ in her aspirational lifestyle/cooking show, and seduced my family with the idea of waffles for breakfast (more achievable at least than a copper KitchenAid or a see-through toaster); I duly received a set of waffle irons as present shortly thereafter. I recommend a manual version (can be stored away easily when not in use) – season well before using if cast iron, (instructions abound on how to do so), or buy with a non-stick coating. 


 For recipe, I borrow proportions, if not exact method, from Nigella’s original (as published on the web) -- sometimes I pimp the ingredients, and always I prefer melted butter to oil. 

 In the opposing corner, sits a buttermilk pancake and a recipe adapted from an Alice Waters original – buttermilk lending a flavour of the South (you can substitute milk or a mix of milk and yoghurt) and sourness helping with the rise. I have rewritten Alice’s proportions in metric, US recipes suffering in general from a deal of imprecision and needing experience to interpret them in real time, owing to the US reliance on volume measures (cups, tablespoons, etc) rather than just weighing things to be sure of them. 

 Waffles: 125g melted butter, cooled (melt a generous quantity -- ie more than this – use any excess for greasing the waffle irons); 225g plain flour; 2 tsp baking powder; pinch salt; 3 large eggs; 3 tbsp caster sugar; 450ml milk; 1 tsp vanilla extract.

 Pancakes: 80g melted butter, cooled (notes as above); 200g plain flour(or substitute/mix plain with something with a bit of ‘roughage’); 1 tsp baking powder; 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda; pinch salt; 2 large eggs; 2 tbsps caster sugar; 450g buttermilk (or a carton of buttermilk supplemented with milk)

 Both pancakes and waffles need a batter; the methods for making these are broadly similar with only a couple of notable differences – waffles include more sugar, more fat and vanilla, and the batter will be more fluid than for a pancake. 

Method for both as follows:

  1. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat (don’t stir, leave as many of the solids as possible in the bottom of the pan, you only really want the clarified top layer), leave to cool. 

  2. Measure out the flour and put into a large bowl, add the baking powder (also bicarbonate for pancakes) add salt and whisk together these dry ingredients.

  3. Separate the eggs – put the whites into a clean, dry bowl that gives room to whisk them up several times their volume (set aside), and the yolks into a bowl or jug.

  4. Add the sugar to the yolks and whisk (immediately) together until the yolks are pale. Gradually add in the milk or buttermilk; whisk until homogenous. Add in the vanilla extract (waffles only).

  5. Make a well in the centre of the flour and start to add the wet ingredients to these dry ones; whisk them together gradually (from the centre outward) until just smooth. The mixture should be pourable (for waffles) or droppable (for pancakes).

  6. Whisk in the (cooled) melted butter

  7. Finally, whisk the egg whites (you can use an electric hand-held blender or a hand-held whisk and elbow grease) until they just hold peaks (whisk them too far and they go grainy – a slightly droopy peak that holds its own is enough for this recipe!). Gently fold these whites into the batter mix – I use a wire whisk, Nigella a sharp-edged spoon, Alice is unspecific.

Your batter is now ready to be waffled or pancaked. 

  • For waffles, ladle an even layer onto a pre-heated iron that has been greased (both sides) and is at the point of ‘smoking’ (ie just before it starts to do so), and according to the instructions on your particular set of irons. Seal the batter inside, turn and cook until both sides are at golden brown perfection – cut, serve with blueberries and maple syrup (like Nigella eats hers).

  • For pancakes, heat a flat-bottomed griddle pan (or shallow edged sauté pan), grease and, when at ‘smoking’ point (as for waffles), spoon dollops of the pancake batter onto the hot surface and wait for bubbles to start to rise to the surface. Check that underneath is browning nicely (not burning) and flip and turn with confidence -- watch the pancake rise as the second side starts to cook (keep adjusting heat until the level reaches ‘optimum’ – a medium heat once the pan has come up to temperature works best). Serve immediately, or keep warm snuggled up in a clean tea-towel until you are ready to serve a stack of them together. Butter them, dust them with sugar, or drizzle with maple syrup, as you like them best.

So, pick a side! Closing arguments might include that the indentations on a waffle will hold your syrup and your blueberries in place but a pancake will absorb syrup better. The jury was out on which side wins a majority in my house at time of writing. Notes were given that ‘they are different’ but that ‘both taste good’. The pancakes are ‘more tender’, the waffles have ‘nice crisp edges’ – all were eaten!


When you’re having a pancake, you’re essentially saying ‘I’m OK with breakfast’; when you’re having a waffle, you’re saying ‘I’m looking forward to breakfast
— closing arguments, BuzzFeed 'Waffles v pancakes: a debatable issue'

rhubarb and cobblers

Living Within, February 2017

A bit of comfort and love might not go amiss this month; your kitchen may be a haven of tranquility, but I am not hermetically sealed from newsfeeds in mine, and it feels like there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.  So in search of the sweet, the soothing, the not too bad to look at but not out to impress either, or perhaps just a signifier that the rhythms of the world are still familiar and reliable in at least some parts of the landscape, this may be the perfect moment to pair the prettiness of pink forced February rhubarb and a little sugar coating with the glory of a name we can shout at the telly should the need arise.  I am talking, of course, about the family of deserts know as cobblers. Their origins an apparent mystery, but as far as I can discover, a good old-fashioned US import - and a very welcome one too - with plenty of scope regarding how it came about its moniker; cobbled together, cobble stones, cobblers awls, … I could keep going.

But here’s the “how to …”, for those who are still with me.  Grab some sticks of pink or red rhubarb, 6 or 7 should do.  Wash and cut into short lengths then toss together with 3 tablespoons of plain flour and about 150g caster sugar (this will be quite sweet - you can add a little less if you prefer your tastes tart).  Leave to macerate while you get on and do the rest (the rhubarb will start to give off a little juice and to work with the sugar while you do).  

Turn on your oven and pre-heat to 180ºC  (or equivalents).  

For the dough/biscuit topping: In a large bowl, weigh out 180g plain flour, add a pinch of salt, 4 teaspoons of caster sugar, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder - mix together with a fork or a whisk until the all the ingredients are blended roughly evenly.  

Cut 80g cold butter into small cubes; toss into the flour and then, using only fingertips, squeeze the butter with the flour (like you would for pastry, keeping your actions light and your hands high out of the bowl), just until the butter and flour looks a bit like breadcrumbs.  Don’t work too hard, don’t allow the butter to get hot and bothered, keep everything as light and airy as possible.  Now add in about 180ml of fluid cream or buttermilk - any cream will do, but a sour cream will help these biscuits (as they are known in the US - we would think of them more like little dumplings or scones) to have a nice rise - some acid in the mix helping the baking powder do it’s job.  Mix the cream through the flour and butter using a knife, or a pastry blender, or lightly use the fingers of one hand - until the mix just adheres as a shaggy dough (don’t overwork it, and it doesn’t matter one bit if the mix looks a bit rough around its edges - or even all over, so long as, broadly speaking, its centre will hold.)

Take the rhubarb and toss once again with the sugar and flour (so that it is all evenly coated) and place in an oven-proof pie or gratin dish that is of a size to allow the rhubarb to form a generous layer.  Then you can either take generous dollops of the dough and just dot them all over the top, or pat or roll the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface to a nice proud inch or so in height, and cut out small scone like shapes - being careful not to twist the dough as you remove the cutter or to overwork anything.  I cut mine in fluted heart shapes - although the shape, once they are cooked, is always going to be a little fuzzy, so I wouldn’t worry too much about how you put these together.

Place the biscuits on top of the rhubarb - the biscuits should not touch each other, and can form any pattern that you like, bearing in mind that they will expand on cooking and may join up a little as they do so.  From here they whole dish goes straight into the oven - you can brush the tops of the dough with a little more cream and sprinkle with a little sugar first if you want to help the colour develop to its full potential, but you don’t have to.

Bake on top of a baking sheet (don’t be surprised if the juices bubble over the edges of the dish if you have filled anywhere near to the top - and these bubbled over juices will, if your oven is left undefended by said baking sheet, otherwise stick to the bottom of your oven!).  The cobbler should be done - golden, bubbling, looking and smelling divine - in about 40 minutes, but start checking after about 30.

Eat while not piping hot, but at least properly warm, and I like mine with a dollop or a drizzle of cream on top.


Ne supra crepidam sutor judicaret
— a shoemaker should not judge beyond the sandal (lit.) Pliny the Elder
Cobbler stick to your last
— English Phrase


Living Within, December 2016


It is normal at this time year for a cook to consider what they might put on the table as the season turns festive.  But in a year where the verb “to normalise” comes with sinister undertones, I am putting my focus on bidding this year adieu - head down, hoping for no more shocks - literal or figurative - and safe passage out of 2016.  

Remembering how I welcomed this year in, I recall a wave of goodwill and B’stilla (aka Pastilla) - a sweet, salt, enfolding, enobling, Middle Eastern feasting dish - the recipe generously gifted in a gilt-edged cookbook.  Its authors warned that it would take time, effort and fine ingredients - a leap of faith was a part of the mix too - but the skills required are well within our grasp if basic principles are adhered to.  Read the instructions in advance, know what to expect, prepare all the various pieces in their own good time, allow their flavours and seasonings room to mingle; remain optimistic.  The recipe aims high, and hits its mark.

It’s not mine to share here, and my expectations and hope for 2017 in general are, in any case, a little lower than they were last year, but any b’stilla is based on years of tradition, history, experiment, and confidence, together with an expectation of a crowd.  It is a dish that requires a party and a celebration and, as it is well documented elsewhere, I have researched and adapted and am offering a more “back to basics” version below.  Traditionally made with a game fowl, it is sometimes adapted to be made with chicken, which is what I have done here - choose your fowl as you wish however.  

Thinly slice a couple of onions, sauté with a cinnamon stick in some olive oil over a gentle heat, until the onions start to soften; add in a some sliced or chopped garlic, a little salt and pepper, and cook until the garlic no longer smells raw.  Add in a scant teaspoon of powdered ginger, stir and allow to cook a little more.  

While the onions are cooking, take a handful of blanched almonds or pine nuts, and toast until just golden in either a dry frying pan or with a little oil.  Cool, drain on kitchen paper (if you used oil), and chop coarsely (no need to chop if you used pine nuts).  You can add some seasoning, a sprinkle of sugar even, and a little ground cinnamon if you want to up the sweet and spice of the dish; lay aside for later.

Back to the onions; add some bite sized pieces of chicken (bone free) to the onion mix (thighs are probably best as breast fillets may dry out).  You can season as you add them; all the better if you have thought ahead and added seasoning to them overnight, or at least a few hours earlier.  Stir to coat in the onion and spices and allow to take on a bit of colour, then add a small cup of liquid (stock or water) if the chicken is not likely to give off much water of its own, (you can also add some saffron here- pre-soaked with a few tablespoons of warm water - if you want some colour and additional flavour nuance; maybe also a non traditional bay leaf).  Bring to a point where you can leave all to simmer slowly (partially covered) for about half an hour ( or until the fillets are cooked through).  Remove the chicken at this stage, allow any remaining liquid to cook off (the mix needs to be relatively syrupy thick to avoid soggy filo layers later). 

Chop a bunch of coriander or parsley leaves and add to the onion mix - add the chicken back in, taste for seasoning, adjust as necessary, and leave to cool until you are ready to assemble the finished article.

Oil a 24cm/9” round oven-proof dish or pan, then start laying strips of filo pastry across it (read packet instructions to make sure they don’t dry out while you work).  Lay one base layer, then add - in petal formation - four or more additional layers to cover all sides of the dish (with excess filo overhanging).  Make sure you brush each and every layer generously with melted butter before you lay it down.

When the filo base is prepared, spread the chicken and onion mixture over the base, sprinkle over the nuts, then finish off the top of the b’stilla with another couple of layers of filo (buttering them before you add them).  Finally trim the edges to tidy, then fold them over and tuck them in, butter as you go, as you seal with a final layer of filo (which will eventually become the base of this pie).  Put it in a pre-heated oven, (180ºC or equivalents), for about 30-40 minutes (until golden brown), then give a further 10-15 minutes on the floor of the oven to allow the base layer a chance to crisp (cover the top with foil so it doesn’t overbrown) - the base will become the top layer later.  Once the pie is out of the oven, and you are ready to serve it, turn it over onto a serving dish.  Dust with icing sugar - in fancy patterns if you like - and serve, in wedges, to an appreciative audience.



Middle Eastern food was in fashion a long time ago. Interest in the cuisine has … depended on war and peace, on politics and commerce and also on the spirit of Europe…
— Claudia Roden, 1968

cornbread in the UofK

Living Within: November 2016

sunny side up? or …

sunny side up? or …

As we enter the final stretch of an election that, by now, almost dare not speak its name, the USofA is enabling at least some of the rest of the world to distract itself from its own worries.  I had toyed with writing about festival food, or pumpkins (at time of writing the latter are very much moving into the “culinary” part of the news) but instead I am distracted too with this US bias - they may not put on an election that I fully comprehend, but they sure do know how to put on a compelling show.  

So, while the US is leading from the front - not, sadly, in the field of highbrow political debate, but in psychological medicine - election anxiety being now very much “a thing” - it may be my safest moment to enter a different debate and give a UK take on a US comfort staple; cornbread.  

Cornbread can be served, like other kinds of bread, as part of, or with, almost any meal at any time of the day, and it exists, so my sources tell me, in various forms - north and south notably differ in whether to add wheat flour and, if so, how much - but the version that I am going to approximate is one from the southern states where cornmeal, in quantity, is essential.  And they mind, by the way, about the quality and the freshness of the cornmeal!

You can find cornmeal here in various “grinds” - from coarse to fine - and each will make a difference, but it is probably easiest to find as polenta - which is misnamed as an ingredient; it is more accurately the name of the cooked Italian dish.  However, it is a coarse ground cornmeal, and can be used to make a coarse grind cornbread.

Cornbread is cooked in a skillet (frying pan); it needs strong heat, and strong fat (fat that, even if it doesn’t add flavour, will take high heat) - bacon grease is often recommended.  The cream of the mostly tattoo-sleeved chef brigade who currently dominate much of the conversation about Southern cuisine disagree among themselves on whether to mix any flour or sugar with the corn, and the disputes and debates have extended in the past to whether eggs are allowed in the batter.

But as Brits we can probably avoid most of the controversy and do exactly as we please - nobody is likely to be looking; we have no grandmothers to disappoint, no family tradition to uphold, no heirloom recipes; so we can assimilate and appropriate and, even if we get it badly wrong, so long as we like the end result, nobody is likely to get hurt.

Weigh out your ingredients.  In a large bowl, add about 300g of cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), and a teaspoon of salt, and whisk all these dry ingredients together.

In another bowl, beat together 1 large egg with 350ml of buttermilk (or sour cream, or a mix of any kind of dairy that includes some “sour” - the acid helps the rise).  

Choose a skillet wisely - black, heavy, well-seasoned, preferably cast iron - render down some finely chopped bacon (smoked is good) - cook until the bacon is crisp, scoop the crisp bacon out of the pan and put to one side, and leave the rendered fat (topped up with a little oil or even butter if you haven’t got a generous coating).  Put the pan in a hot oven, for the fat to get “properly hot” (think “smoking” like for a Yorkshire pudding; remember that this bread should be beyond golden on its under side).  Meanwhile, mix your wet ingredients into the dry just like for any other batter - carefully,  so that the mixture does not become lumpy.

When the batter is ready; put your skillet over a flame (NB remember, it’s just come out of the oven; the handle will be HOT!), pour in the batter and listen to it sizzle.  Finish in a hot oven (200ºC or more); as for your Yorkshires, it will take about 20 minutes (it will be done when a fine skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean), and you want to serve it pretty much straight away, fluffy and warm.  You can cut it straight out of the pan - flip it upside down first if you want to see it’s crackly bottom - serve with butter, or whatever else you fancy - bacon bits and maple syrup went down well in my house - a true Southerner might prefer molasses.  It is a bread almost like any other, in that it will mop up juices well!

…world turned upside down.

…world turned upside down.


I… got up from the table to take my plate to the kitchen, it was clean as can be, sopped to a sheen with my last bit of cornbread
— John T Edge, Southern Belly

Plum Tart

From Living Within, October 2016

It may be autumn, but the last stone fruits of summer are still in season - plums notably - and where I have been recently not only do they form a large part of the scenery but also of the livelihood of many in the locale.  I learned something new about them this year.   Having grown used to the annual harvest with its all-enveloping “bat capes” fastened around the base of tree trunks accompanied by a mechanically assisted shakedown, giving this delicate crop both a nudge and a safe landing, what I had not understood were the niceties of timing - which are entirely plum dependent.  Plums not yet ready may shimmy and shake but will not drop from the tree.  You can put a skirt on a tree and make it dance, apparently, but the rhythm still belongs to nature.

I happened upon some beautiful blue-black Quetsches.  These Look a bit like large damsons, and taste like sweet plums, but any plum can be substituted for them in the tart that I have made here with them.

You will need a shell of sweet, crisp (blind-baked) pastry.  The pastry that I used was a pâte sucrée - a rich mix of flour, butter, egg yolks, sugar and a pinch of salt.  An admittedly hard-to-handle pastry, but you can substitute a simpler sweetened shortcrust without losing too much finesse.

raw ingredients; pâte sucrée (7oz flour; 3.5oz (each) sugar, butter; 3 egg yolks; salt)

raw ingredients; pâte sucrée (7oz flour; 3.5oz (each) sugar, butter; 3 egg yolks; salt)

bringing it together: pinch the middle to a paste; cut the flour through the paste

bringing it together: pinch the middle to a paste; cut the flour through the paste

Formed and ready to rest and roll (between sheets of clingfilm helps with the handling)

Formed and ready to rest and roll (between sheets of clingfilm helps with the handling)

just chilling

just chilling

Cut in half, lengthways, enough plums to make a pattern on the base of the tart shell; put them, skin side down, in a roasting tin, sprinkle with a little fine sugar, and roast in a pre-heated hot oven (at least 180ºC) for about 5 minutes - until the juices just start to run - make sure to remove them from the oven long before the plums might lose their shape.  Leave to cool on a rack, cut side down, allowing them to drain a little.

prepared plums in a prepared pastry

prepared plums in a prepared pastry

At the same time make a kind of custard by whisking together 1 whole egg (or, better still, 3 separated egg yolks to create a richer mix) with about 55g sugar; then whisk in approx 200ml crème fraîche (or thick cream) and 35g ground almonds (adjust quantities up or down and roughly in proportion according to the size of your tart shell and your own taste).  You can add other flavours if you like at this stage (vanilla, or a tablespoon of brandy or armagnac, for example), but you don’t have to.  Place the plum halves, still cut side down, around the base of the tart; pour over the custard so that it comes near to the top of the tart shell (it mustn’t spill over the top), then place, carefully so as not to tip the filling, into a pre-heated oven (180ºC or equivalent). 

oven ready

oven ready

Bake until the filling is set, and golden on the top (about 30 minutes).  Leave to cool; serve warm or at room temperature with additional cream to hand round.


What is more mortifying than to feel that you have missed the plum for want of the courage to shake the tree
— Logan Pearsall Smith

Berbere Brexit Blues

From Living Within: July/August 2016

Blood on the carpet,  Vadot

Blood on the carpet, Vadot

In a week where politics dominate, cooking may be as relevant to the discourse as anything else.  Food is often the subject of the political but cooking seems to have entered the fray more recently too; there are flame wars going on around the world in areas of special interest that are divisive, deep-rooted and create difficult conversations - not my battles to fight, although their blueprints are reflected in the world I see around me.  

My recent interest has been closer to home.  I have been volunteering in a social enterprise where migrant and refugee women, from all parts of the globe, work together to provide employment opportunities, to educate each other, and to share their rich, developed food cultures via a roaming restaurant kitchen; a mutually beneficial exercise in generosity that enables all participants to live better lives in an inclusive world.  I have been proud to lend my hands to these hardworking, multi-talented, mutually supportive women whose lives have not been easy, whose interests and ambitions are far-reaching, and for whom kindness and compassion seem instinctive.   

On first meeting them I felt humbled and admiring; this last week or two I felt shame.  Cultural mix and exchange have always been a part of our history and I am sad to see the results of the referendum include a rise in racism and xenophobia.  A simple in/out referendum we are told has given a clear answer, even if the questions it answers are not yet clearly understood.

In response to all this I offer you not European fare - which is already a well established part of our food landscape and culture,  the UK is European by geography regardless of any EU treaties - but instead an Ethiopian favourite, inspired by one of these inspiring women - a refugee from Ethiopia many years ago, now living in the UK as a proud European citizen, although one also now understandably concerned for her future here.

Berbere Lentils start with a simple unassuming ingredient - the everyday lentil - and owe their nuance and depth of flavour to multi-layered ingredients, careful preparation, a little time and commitment, and a wealth of history - they seem appropriate right now.  I will keep the instructions to a minimum - this is not my recipe to give, I am borrowing it from those who are willing to share their culture and their skills and I am grateful for their generosity in so doing.

Wash and cover lentils generously with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until they are on the al dente side of tender.  I used green lentils, but you can choose red, brown etc. - any lentils that will yield and soften eventually are appropriate - their cooking times will vary. 

Berbere Spice Mix

Berbere Spice Mix

Prepare some Berbere spice mix (it’s complicated!  I won’t give you a recipe here - there are many online to pick and choose and learn from).  When the lentils are cooked and with your spice mix ready, chop an onion and sauté it in lots of olive oil until softened and translucent.  Grate some garlic and fresh ginger root to create a rough paste and add this to the onion mix and sauté gently until these two ingredients lose their raw pungency and start to turn fragrant.  At this point, add a couple of tablespoons of Berbere spice, cook all together for a minute or two, add the drained lentils and a glass of water; season to taste, then cook, bubbling gently until you have a well homogenised stew that has absorbed most of the liquid (about 10 minutes).

Serve with a squeeze of lime, garnish with chopped coriander, and accompany with some salad or vegetables of your choice.  In Ethiopia they eat with injera (a kind of bread), but serve and share any way that you would like.


The complexity of our debate shows the difficulty of putting the matter to a referendum
— Ian Taylor, MP for Esher 1987 - 2010, Points of Order: Treaty of Lisbon, 30 Jan 2008, House of Commons.

Sicilian Sardines

From Living Within, June 2016

A creature of habit as a rule, travel-wise, I have just returned from a rare trip off my beaten track, meeting old friends in new scenery.  SE Sicily is Montalbano country (you would be AMAZED how much he gets about there); the commissario, so urban legend has it, has almost single handedly rejuvenated the local tourist industry by highlighting the Baroque architecture (molto barocco), fabulous scenery, and sublime food of the region.  It is hard to get food wrong in Sicily; great ingredients are plentiful, Sicilians know what they like, and what they like is very, very good.

We breakfasted on granita and brioche in Modica, we dined on seafood on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, where the locals found our English voices exotic (something that has never happened to me before).  They also laughed as we laughed at hand towel tablets that enlarged when anointed with a little water (viagra translates directly) - some reassurance there that they were laughing with and not at us.

The stage is set for an early bird.

The stage is set for an early bird.

One of our most memorable lunches was the one we had sitting on a traffic island - not an uncommon place to eat in Sicily apparently, but perhaps only in a quiet corner of a seaside Sicilian town could such a venue not only be almost entirely devoid of traffic, but also utterly charming in every detail; I long to go back for more. 

The real McCoy

The real McCoy

We ate, among other things, sardines flavoured with oranges - stuffed; rolled; tails fetchingly pointing upwards; bookended by orange slices - a little bit moorish, in every sense of the word.  I have tried to recreate a feeling of them for you here although oranges, I will caution, are just ending their long season in Sicily about now; you can, of course, always ignore that fact or substitute lemon instead.  We may not be within striking distance of a charming fishing village, but we do have Williams and Bunkell on The Parade in Claygate who can provide the necessary in terms of fresh fish of high quality prepared by experts - which is, perhaps, the next best thing.

You’ll need about a kilo of sardines - heads removed, cleaned, deboned and opened out butterfly style. Marinade them in the combined juice of one orange and one lemon (or either, or even neither, as you prefer) while you prepare the stuffing.  Zest the citrus before you juice it, and keep to one side.

For the stuffing: finely chop one medium onion and leave to soften gently in some good olive oil over a low heat.  Roberta, who looked after us and whose husband Antonio was our chef, explained that you should not be able to easily recognise onion as one of the ingredients - they need to sweat down so that they are almost melted before they are ready to play their part.  “Sudare” is the Italian verb denoting, in this case, a sensuous dissolve over plenty of time and a low, slow burning flame, as opposed to a frazzling experience played out with any sense of undue heat or urgency.  Add in a small handful each of breadcrumbs, pine nuts, and sultanas and cook until the former are beginning to look golden around the edges and the last is softening and sweetening the mix.  Finally stir in the reserved citrus zest and some chopped fresh parsley and mint leaves - combine well and adjust the seasoning (NB: it’s nearly always best to season gently as you add ingredients, then all you will have left to manage at this stage is minor adjustment).

Lightly oil a gratin dish and take your sardine fillets from their marinade - dry as best you can with kitchen paper, season very lightly if you think your stuffing is not seasoning enough, and add a spoonful of stuffing to what was the head end; roll carefully and as tightly and tidily as possible, and place into the prepared dish one by one so that all are packed together in traditional sardine style.  Sprinkle with a little more oil, or with some more breadcrumbs first (or the remains of the stuffing) if you want extra texture on top, and bake in a hot oven (at least 180ºC or equivalent) for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve warm from the oven or at room temperature, as antipasto, with citrus slices tucked all around.

sardine, caponata, pane

sardine, caponata, pane

Buon Appetito!


Before it passed from Persian into Arabic, “orange” was a poetic Sanskrit word meaning “where the elephant loves to go”…
— Roberta Corradin