I’ll confess immediately this is a stolen idea! Observer Food Monthly celebrated their 200th edition today and the Observer‘s long-in-residence food writer, the wonderful Nigel Slater, wrote a piece choosing his ‘desert island’ recipes over Food Monthly‘s life. That’s a fun idea, I thought. I’ll choose my ‘desert island’ recipes from the blog; I also reckoned that after six and a half years of writing the blog my all-time favourite recipes had to be on it.
Of course ‘recipes’ isn’t necessarily the same as food. There are foods I wouldn’t want to be without: a plate of fresh oysters while sat the by sea in the sun, a cool, ozone-tinged breeze gently whispering against my ear; the now ‘politically incorrect’ or ‘challenged’ foie gras, but I love it – it’s heaven on a plate. There are wonderful cheeses of all sorts: a ripened Brie de Meaux, soft and melting on a plate; a rich, creamy Gorgonzola; the nutty, earthy flavour of Comté. There’s the glory of a fresh, flaky croissant from a French bakery; a plate of the best Italian meats (from somewhere like my local Corto Deli): San Daniele or Tuscan prosciutto, fabulous fennel salami from Tuscany. But what do I cook? What recipes do I return to over and over again. Part of the answer lay in my choosing recipes that appeared on the blog very early on, back to when I began writing it in 2011; recipes that have been with me for a long time and I continue to regularly cook.
I thought it would be quite easy to come up with my choice but of course once I started thinking about it and made my way through the long list of recipes, it turned out to be a very difficult task indeed. I’d decided to follow the famous BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs formula to the extent of choosing just 8 recipes (as the Desert Island guest is allowed to choose 8 recordings plus one book) and one cookbook, so I’d limited myself quite seriously. But then that also says something about how much I like the recipes here. So here goes! And in no particular order.
1. Moussaka (click here for recipe)
I’ve been making moussaka for almost as long as I’ve been cooking. And that’s a long time. My go-to recipe also goes back a long way and is from Claudia Roden’s iconic book, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, first published in 1968. Moussaka has become a family favourite too and I now also make a vegetarian version (click here) as daughter-in-law Rachael is vegetarian. Of course, making moussaka also reminds me of being in Greece, which I like so much, and one of the best I’ve ever had was when I was in Kardamyli, right back in 2011 at the time I began the blog.
2. Ragù Bolognese (click here for recipe)
It’s interesting seeing old recipes and photos because if I was writing the post now, I wouldn’t serve the ragù like this and I would even cook it slightly differently, although the recipe remains basically the same. Now I would serve it more Italian style: less meat and folded into the pasta before serving – not dumped on top! But then in over six years of food blogging, I would hope to have learnt a lot! It remains a favourite. I always have at least one portion of ragù in my freezer, and make it frequently.
3. Torta Caprese (click here for recipe)
This has been the family celebration cake for as long as I remember and remains our ‘go-to’ cake of choice for special occasions. Although I usually make it as one cake (click here), I’ve given a link above to match the photo of our ‘muffin’ version as they work so well and are great for parties or picnics.
Mushroom & Chestnut Risotto (click here for recipe)
How to choose a risotto!! I felt I should put just one here but there are lots of risotto recipes on the blog. It’s one of my favourite dishes to cook. It’s so versatile and I just love slowly stirring it and watching it come together; a great way to relax and wind down. I’ve chosen this one as a newer favourite – a fantastic combination of flavours with the mushrooms and chestnuts. I tend to be quite Italian and add only a very few ingredients – Butternut Squash & Fresh Thyme or a simple Asparagus Risotto.
5. Tagliata di Manzo (click here for recipe)
I do love steak. I don’t eat it a lot but sometimes I crave it and there’s is nothing like a well-cooked – meltingly tender and rare – steak. My favourite way to eat it is as a Tagliata – slices laid on a bed of rocket, topped with shaved Parmesan. Most often I eat it with son Jonathan who is brilliant at getting the cooking just right on a barbecue. I also ate a fabulous one in Florence last June.
6. Boeuf Bourguignon (click here for recipe)
Well, as I write this post I realise how much I like beef! And this classic French dish is an absolute favourite. I make it quite often in the colder months of the year. Family love it and I always make enough to freeze some. There is nothing better on a cold winter’s night than pulling a portion from the freezer and warming it through to serve with some creamy mashed potatoes to soak up the gravy.
7. Linguine with Tiger Prawns & Baby Squid (click here for recipe)
I love seafood and a favourite way to eat prawns is in a spicy fresh tomato sauce with pasta. I usually do a simpler version of this (click here) but the addition of the squid and some large tiger prawns makes it really special.
8. Melanzane alla Parmigiana (click here for recipe)
Actually I don’t make this enough but I really do love it and I often eat it at Corto Deli where they make an excellent version. My family love aubergines; we eat anything with aubergines: griddled, in moussaka, in curry or tagine or Italian style with polenta.
Desert Island Cookbook
This was such a difficult choice – of course! I realise I use cookbooks less and less, though I still have favourites, many of which go back a long way. But a book I use a lot is Antonio Carluccio’s Italia. This ties in with my love of Italy, the predominance of Italian cooking on the blog and in my home. It’s also a great book when travelling to Italy and I’ve sometimes photocopied pages to take with me. The book is divided into the regions of Italy with a guide to the local cuisine and specialities of the region, as well as having some recipes. It’s been invaluable to me when writing posts on the blog about Italian food – and is beautifully illustrated with wonderful photos.
Now, on Desert Island Discs the castaway has to choose the one recording they’d save if all were about to be washed away by the sea. So, in the spirit of the programme I’ll choose my No.1 recipe – and it just has to be the Torta Caprese because not only is it my and my family’s very favourite dessert recipe, it reminds me of my lovely family and lots of family celebrations.
What’s your favourite recipe? Please comment and let us know!