TV and fried food: stuffed courgette flowers and Nigella Lawson’s Tuscan fries

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It was not too long ago, although it seems a political lifetime away, that my boyfriend and I settled in front of the TV to watch the ITV EU referendum debate, accompanied by platefuls of crispy, deep-fried goodness. There has been plenty to keep anyone glued to the television lately: Brexit and Trump for the politically inclined; Euro 2016 for the sport-inclined (it’s football or something); and the final episodes of the latest series of Game of Thrones. I’m going to  admit that of this list I paid keenest attention to the EU membership referendum debates. Now that the referendum has passed, those politically inclined can continue watching Trump, the dissolution of the Labour shadow cabinet, and post-Brexit negotiations. Those disappointed by England’s defeat in the Euros could always switch their support over to Iceland, who are in their first major international tournament, or my own team, the Red Devils (not Manchester United…this totally confused my boyfriend when I first told him “I only really support the Red Devils”.) Or, you know, tennis, since Wimbledon began, although you could have missed the news, drowned out as it has been by politics, which has been in a state of what you might call ‘flux’. And if you watch Game of Thrones, well, I know less about that than I do about football.

Whatever takes your fancy, you may wish to eat while watching. There is something that feels so decadent eating off a tray on the sofa as an adult, especially when things are eaten with fingers, even more so when you have allowed yourself not the low-fat hummus and crudites but the good stuff, the actually fried stuff: onion rings, calamari, whitebait, aubergine tempura, fried chicken, Scotch eggs, even the humble crisp, all have benefitted by being submerged in hot oil until their water has evaporated and they have returned from this slightly dangerous baptism crisp-skinned and tinged with gold. While there is nothing wrong with a torn-open bag of Doritos’ finest (Cool Ranch if you know I’m coming over, please), if you want to up your game a bit, or perhaps combine a love of deep-fried food with seasonal eating, may I recommend the fried and battered courgette flower?

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Courgette blossoms, tenderly cossetted, before filling, dredging and frying

All right, so that possibly sounds like the most pretentious sentence ever written, but I bought some of these flowers, prevalent in spring and summer during courgette/zucchini growing time, stuffed it with cheese (and anchovy – I would characterise this as optional), battered it and fried it, as per Tessa Kiros’ recipe in her elegant Falling Cloudberries (her writing is lyrical, at times a little purple, but hugely evocative of mood, place, memory). The flower itself had a delicate, slightly milky freshness, the petal both tender and yet robust enough to chew; the batter crunched under my teeth; the mozzarella oozed in long and delectable melted strands. There is nothing exclusive about this kind of textural and taste pleasure. The only problem will, of course, be getting hold of the flowers themselves. In London, this may be, at most, a hassle rather than impossible: Wild Country Organics sells them at various farmers’ markets and Borough Market, as well as online. You can buy courgette flowers online via Farm Direct, Natoora and other specialist food sellers. They are not the absolute cheapest things to buy – they are seasonal and delicate so must be harvested and transported with care. For the recipe below you will need about two, maybe three, total, flowers per person, depending what you are serving them with, so if you want to try this but are also cost-conscious, this is the perfect dish to serve up for just you, or perhaps you and your partner or a close friend. The mozzarella and batter makes the tender blooms surprisingly filling. They are scattered with a final flutter of battered and fried sage leaves.

Tuscan fries, oil blotted
Tuscan fries, oil blotted

Nigella Lawson‘s Tuscan fries, from her book and show Nigellissima, which focused on Italian food Anglicised, or perhaps Nigella-ified, is perhaps, if not quite the opposite of the fried courgette flowers, an easy introduction to deep-frying; deep-frying for the cautious. The method is unorthodox: you fry chunks of potato, starting in cold oil, adding aromatics such as unpeeled garlic and herbs at the end. I used sage, because sage was called for in the battered courgette blossom recipe and I wanted to use up the packet: the fried herbs are perfectly crisp and dry at the end, crunchy and paper-thin and shattering delectably against the tongue. I actually much preferred these naked leaves to their battered cousins. Rosemary would also be very good here.

Frying the chips in cold oil, Nigella assures us, does not leave them greasy or soggy. I think mine browned a little too much – I should have turned the heat down a little – and they were slightly limp in the middle (they could have been cut a smidge finer, and I think I used the wrong variety of potato – see my notes below), but indeed they were no greasier or oilier than chips cooked in the more traditional two-part method. While you definitely, certainly, should not ever ever ever leave boiling oil unattended in the kitchen, you can certainly potter around the kitchen and prepare other parts of the meal when cooking the chips using this method, keeping the occasional close eye on them. I did let the oil used for frying cool and then strained and saved it for possible further use.

I wouldn’t advocate this meal for every night (masses of oil + TV means your hips, stomach, waistline and bum won’t lie) but, with a cool glass of prosecco, it’s the perfect, slightly classy-but-still-fried accompaniment to the political TV/sporting event/brutally bloody Middle Ages themed TV show your heart could desire watching.

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RECIPE: corn pudding, simple and sweet

I read a recipe for the ‘simplest corn pudding‘ in the New York Times. It was indeed simple, consisting of no more than grated corn, baked in the oven, the milk of the corn thickening in the heat of the oven and providing the pudding it’s structure. I was slightly sceptical but intrigued. However, I hadn’t seen much fresh corn at the market so I emailed the recipe to my friend Emma and forgot about it.

More or less. It turns out that the market was bursting with squeaky-fresh, unshucked ears of corn the next time I went. I bought ten and started grating them as soon as I got home.

The grated corn, unbaked

The recipe says to cook the corn in a cast iron skillet. Such skillets seem to be ubiquitous in the US but are not as common here in the UK. Still, I have one, a hefty 24cm/10 inch little number I picked up for about £13 at Nisbets on Shaftesbury Avenue, and they can be bought online at Amazon.co.uk. I don’t know if it’s crucial to the recipe that you use a cast iron skillet if you really don’t want to or can’t get hold of one. A pyrex or metal baking tin should be fine, though it might have less of a crust.

Corn pudding, baked

As can probably be expected the taste of this was very clean and pure, the corn sweet and deliciously caramelised at the edges. I ate some for lunch and it reheated fine for dinner as well. The butter, lime juice, salt and chilli powder (or cayenne) is crucial to bringing out the sweetness and corn flavour, in my opinion. To my surprise the grated corn and milk thickened to a thick, spoonable, bready consistency – showing that you don’t need fillers such as milk, egg or flour.

One last point: there is a LOT more corn on one of those cobs than you might expect! It took a good bit of grating to get down to the cob. Also, be careful: the corn is wet once grated and I cut myself when my hand slipped on the grater.

Corn pudding – simple and sweet
Only very slightly adapted from the New York Times

10 ears corn, husked
To serve: butter, lime juice, salt and chilli powder or cayenne pepper

1) Preheat oven to 180C

2) Using the fine side of a box grater, grate the corn directly into the skillet. Discard cobs.

3) Once finished, spread out the corn evenly across the pan and bake in the oven until the corn is thick and firm and the pudding is golden on the top and edges. This took 30 minutes for me.

4) Remove from oven. I served it directly from the skillet, adding salt, butter, lime and chilli to taste