Essex Road Recipes is about 2 years of food improvisation. It’s the “Whose Line is it Anyway?” of cookery; 50 recipes, each one created to make the most of the best fresh food on offer in my local independent shops here in Islington, North London.
When I moved to Dublin from London in 1993, I lived just a short walk from an independent butcher, a greengrocer and a fishmonger. A few years after I moved there, every one of those had closed down, to be replaced by a combination of mediocre supermarkets, expensive specialist delis and coffee shops.
So, when I came home to London a few years ago, I was delighted to find myself living just around the corner from 4 of Islington’s finest specialist independent food stores: Steve Hatt the fishmonger, The Market Garden (fruit and veg), James Elliott the butcher and Raab’s the baker. Add to that The New Rose, a proper local pub, right on my doorstep and I was in heaven.
These places, their staff and customers all helped me to put down roots and feel at home in my new neighbourhood. I’ve come to realise that shops like these help to strengthen communities; they provide a place for us to get to know each other just a little in those few moments while we shop. They and their customers are not only good for ideas and advice about food, but also a constant source of banter, and of mutual support when things aren’t going so well.
So, rather than decide on a dish and then shop for the ingredients, I began to reverse that process; putting ingredients first, talking to the shop staff and other customers about what was good and interesting to them, and then improvising recipes around that.
In a practical sense it’s about using local expertise to make the best of fresh ingredients, but in a larger sense the project is about the purpose of community, about trying to stay connected to each other. It’s about the joys of gossip and banter in the queue for bread or sea bream. It’s about belonging, through food.
Each set contains 100 postcards. There are 2 copies of each of 50 recipes, so that you can cook for your family and friends, and if they like the dish, give them the recipe there and then. Or, hand a recipe card to someone in your local shop.
I hope that Essex Road Recipes inspires a food improv movement in neighbourhoods all over the world.
Pot roast lemony chicken.
1 large free range chicken 2 lemons 2 onions 4 garlic cloves ½ bunch flat leaf parsley ½ bunch coriander leaf salt and pepper
You’ll need a deep ovenproof dish with a lid, or one that you can cover tightly with foil
What to do. …roughly speaking:
Pre heat the oven to very hot; 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8
Chop 1 of the lemons very finely, skin and all. Pick out all the pips.
Chop 1 of the onions, all the garlic, half of the parsley and coriander leaf very finely.
(I then blitz the chopped lemon onion and herbs in a food processor for a few seconds to release even more flavour, but it isn’t absolutely necessary to do this.)
Mix all the chopped ingredients with a little salt and pepper and spread over the bottom of your roasting dish. Add a small amount of water, about ½ a cup/100 mls.
Place 1 whole lemon and 1 whole, peeled onion inside the chicken. Lift the skin on the chicken breast and push the remaining uncut herbs between the skin and the flesh. Rub a little salt and pepper into the skin of the chicken and place the chicken on top of the chopped mix. Cover or put the lid on the roasting dish and place in the very hot oven. After 15 minutes turn the oven right down to 150ºC/300ºF/Gas Mark 2
Check after about 20 minutes to make sure that the liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish is bubbling slightly, and if it isn’t turn up your oven a bit.
Cook for 21/2 hours. The chicken should be falling off the bone. Serve with some of the chopped lemony onion spooned over the top of the chicken with boiled potatoes and green beans.
Aphrodite’s Beetroot Soup.
According to the Oracle of Delphi beets are worth their weight in silver. Fortunately they’re a lot cheaper than that now. Allegedly the goddess Aphrodite ate beets to help retain and enhance her beauty (although it’s possible that she was just a messy eater so looked as if she was wearing lipstick after she’d eaten it). It is said that if two people eat from the same beetroot then they will fall in love; so be very careful who you share the soup with.
Beetroot season ends in October/November, however, like most root veg, if stored carefully in a cool, humid environment beetroots retain their flavour and texture for months so don’t worry about buying them right through the winter.
Eating beetroot regularly helps cleanse the liver, so this is not just comforting hangover food, it actually does you some good!
5 small beetroots with stalks and leaves. 1 medium potato 1 medium or half a large onion 1 stick of celery 2 garlic cloves 2 teaspoons fennel seeds 2 tablespoons of olive oil about 750 ml water salt and freshly ground black pepper
What to do. …roughly speaking:
Chop the onion, garlic and celery very finely.
Wash the beet greens (stalks and leaves) thoroughly. Chop them coarsely.
Scrape and chop the beetroots and potato into bite–sized chunks.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Fry the onion and celery for a couple of minutes.
Add the garlic, cover with a tight fitting lid and turn down the heat.
Sweat these ingredients for a few minutes until they soften.
Turn up the heat again and add the fennel seeds. Stir the veg and fennel seeds around so that the seeds don’t stick or burn, but cook quite quickly.
Add the chopped beetroot stalks and leaves and keep stirring around as they fry a little.
Turn down the heat, put the lid back on and leave the mix to soften for about 5 minutes.
Now add the beetroot and potato, stir to coat it with the other ingredients and add the water, salt and pepper (just a few turns of the salt and pepper mill - you don’t want to mask the taste of the fennel and beetroot.)
Bring to the boil, then turn it down. Cover and simmer very gently for about 40 minutes, or until you can pierce the beetroot pieces easily with a fork. Check the taste, and add more salt and pepper if it needs it.
Lots of you have been asking when you can expect to receive your cards. Well, the design looks great, we're just in the process of re-checking the copy and hope to have them with you in April or May. Meanwhile, I'm plotting some foody launch events in the local shops here in Islington for those of you who live nearby.
Until then, for the seafood lovers among you, here's a quick recipe I made up…
I intended to make a big tuna niçoise salad for our neighbours get-together the other night, but Marsey and Jason in Steve Hatt the fishmonger pointed out that, due to bad weather in the Indian Ocean, tuna had been a little hard to come by. That’s the kind of food nerd info that I love. .
So I went with salmon instead. I bought one large piece and Marsey skinned it for me. I like to cook the salmon…
First, big thank you to all you lovely supporters, and please continue to spread the word.
Here's a brand new recipe..
An anonymous foodie left a pickled chestnut in the Market Garden recently, with instructions for them to give it to me and challenge me to invent a recipe around it.... then I spied scallops in Steve Hatt’s window, and from that came this. I added a little of the chestnut,…
These people are helping to fund Essex Road Recipes.