Below are two recipes inspired by a conversation I had with Alex Jackson, the chef and founder of the recently opened restaurant, Sardine. Brilliant versions of these dishes, both utter classics, are on his Provençal-style menu. Mine are not quite the same – Jackson’s tomato includes pork and basil, and his soup contains pasta. I read Elizabeth David’s recipe for Soupe au Pistou in French Provincial Cooking (also cited by Jackson) to get a method. We have different ingredients, David includes beans and potatoes, which I didn’t have, and does not use parmesan rind, but the method is very similar. I must say, this was pretty much the most delicious soup I ever cooked, and the tomato dish was exceptionally good too. I bought the veal mince at the large Waitrose in the Brunswick Centre, in Bloomsbury and I am sure that a mix of pork mince and beef would also be good if that were not available. I am indebted to Alex for having put me onto these wonderful things, which were a real joy to cook, and made me feel as if I were transported to Provence from my small flat in Peckham.
I urge anyone who has the chance to go and eat at Sardine, I have not yet tried his ‘Lamb à la Ficelle’, a lamb leg cooked on a string over wood fire, but after trying other items from the menu, I am very keen to.
Soupe au Pistou
2-3 smallish, firm courgettes, cut into 2cm pieces
1 onion, sliced finely
1 tin of chickpeas and water, or 300g soaked and cooked chickpeas and a cup of cooking water
1/2 tin of tomatoes and 2 tinfuls of water
1 parmesan rind (if you have one)
a few spring onions or a leek, chopped roughly
a small bunch of spinach, or some frozen spinach
a bunch of fresh basil – at least 10 fronds
3-5 cloves of garlic, depending on size
3 tablespoons of olive oil
block of parmesan for serving
How to make
In a large heavy bottomed pan, add several tablespoons of olive oil and the onions, let them become soft and start to take colour then add in the tinned tomato and stir. Let it cook for a few minutes. Add in the parmesan rind and then the tins of tomato water, stir, allow to bubble, then the courgettes, the leeks or spring onions, the spinach the chickpeas and chickpea water. Simmer on a low heat for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, pound the garlic and basil in a pestle and mortar and add in the olive oil gradually while stirring. Season the soup very well with salt and some pepper. Stir in the pistou. Taste again. When happy, serve at just above room temperature, with a grating of parmesan on top.
Tomatoes Stuffed with Veal, Tarragon and Chicken Liver
12 medium sized tomatoes on the vine
400g veal mince
1/2 a large white onion, grated
50g chicken liver, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs soaked in 3 tablespoons of milk
1 small bunch of tarragon, leaves removed, roughly snipped with scissors
a grating of nutmeg
100ml single cream
175ml of dry white wine
40g unsalted butter
How to make
Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Gently mix the veal with the breadcrumbs soaked in milk, the chicken liver, half of the tarragon, the grated white onion, and a decent grating of nutmeg (around 1/4 a teaspoon). Do not overwork the meat mixture or it will become tough and hard when cooked. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cut the tops off the tomatoes, and save them. Carefully scoop out the innards with a spoon and place in a sieve over a bowl. Push in a good amount of the mince mixture so that it just comes above the top, and replace the top of the tomato. Repeat with all of the tomatoes or until the veal mix is finished.
Place the stuffed tomatoes snugly in a roasting tray with the white wine, a few tablespoons of the reserved tomato juice, and a splash of water.
Bake for around 20-25 minutes.
Just before serving place the tomatoes on a plate to keep warm, and tip the white wine from cooking into a frying pan and boil for a few minutes until, then turn the heat right down, add in the butter and the rest of the tarragon and stir until melted, then add in the cream, allow to bubble gently for a few minutes, and season well with salt. Do not turn the heat up too high, or add the cream before the wine has reduced for a few minutes, otherwise it will curdle.
Serve the tomatoes with a spoon of sauce over the top, and have some bread around to mop up. These would also be good eaten with some buttery rice and followed by a green salad and cheese.