Real vegetarian food, served in an imaginary world...

Sunday 30 April 2017

A CASE OF IMMUNITY – A meal for Hector Elizondo

The second of Zelda’s test recipes for Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers, in preparation for the wonderful Columbo Cookbook is Hector Elizondo’s Famous Pasta Pomodoro

The Context
I must admit that Hector Elizondo is not an actor I was previously aware of, but his filmography runs from 1963 to the present day and includes some very famous films such as The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Pretty Woman.
In the 1975 Columbo episode, A Case of Immunity, he plays Hassan Salah, the chief diplomat of Suaria.

The Recipe and my Variations
Hector's original measurements seemed quite ambiguous, with varying amounts suggested. I have listed them as I used them and found them to work.
Spaghetti or linguini is suggested but I prefer spaghetti, purely because linguini is flatter and not as appealing to the eye.
The amount of olive oil seemed excessive. I used 1tbsp and it was sufficient.
Hector’s shopping list contains anchovies. I obviously wanted to make this a vegetarian dish so they had to go (although piscaterians will be happy to leave them in). You could make a very respectable meal using just the other ingredients, but as anchovies add a depth of flavour I substituted capers as a salty alternative.
I used chilli flakes rather than red pepper flakes but I suspect that they are very similar (if not the same thing).
I tried making it with the rosemary but, to be quite honest, I don’t know what Hector was thinking about as it seemed totally inappropriate. Perhaps he had a rosemary bush outside his kitchen door or he just got the names of his herbs mixed up. It has to be basil for serving, it really does, with a mixture of fresh herbs in the sauce.
I thought the sauce quite ‘orangey’ and dry, so I added the ketchup mix and allowed it to reduce.
I also added the pasta to the sauce (instead of the other way round) and grated additional parmesan over the serving dish at the end.
*Vegetarians will need to make sure that the parmesan they choose is vegetarian, as not all are.

1lb/ 450g spaghetti
1tbsp olive oil
6 fresh cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
70g capers
1 tbsp chilli flakes
Freshly grated vegetarian Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp fresh chopped mixed herbs
Basil leaves to serve
12 fresh tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato ketchup

Put tomatoes in pan of boiling water until skins crack. 
Rinse the capers and chop them finely.
Sauté the garlic, capers and chilli flakes in the oil, taking care not to let them brown.
Cool the tomatoes under running water and peel. 
Drop the tomatoes into the sautéed sauce. As you mix them in, sort of chop them – you want the sauce to be a little lumpy.
Add mixed herbs and season with black pepper.
Mix 2tbsp tomato ketchup with the same amount of hot water and add to the sauce.
Allow to simmer gently while you cook the pasta.
Make pasta according to packet instructions and drain.  
Add to the sauce and mix in a tsp of the grated parmesan.
Place in bowls, grate more parmesan over the top and scatter the basil leaves.

Hector didn’t specify how many portions this made but this easily served two and would, I am sure, have stretched further. (We did indulge a bit!) It would be good served with a lovely green salad.
And, remember for an arty picture, wipe the bowl before taking the photo.

The Verdict
It was certainly spicy! The chilli flakes give a real kick.
It felt odd throwing away all the tomato skins. I would be inclined to keep them on, chop them finely before cooking, allow them to break down and enjoy them in the finished dish.
This makes a lovely quick meal: from start to finish it was about half an hour, or you could make the sauce in advance and reheat when you are ready to eat.
I’m not sure why this is called Hector Elizondo’s Famous Pasta Pomodoro. In a google search the only mention of it was via Silver Screen Suppers; but maybe it will become famous after Jenny’s book.

The Experience
From the start, it smelt delicious. We ate it in bowls with the episode on the screen.

Quick, easy and tasty: this is a meal we will probably have again. 

Friday 28 April 2017

Fantasy Veggie Dinner Guests – LADY AND THE TRAMP

Dogs eating a vegetarian meal?  Why not? Anything can happen in this world.
In 1955 Lady, a beautiful cocker spaniel, met Tramp, a mongrel from the wrong side of the tracks. She was not the first and she certainly won’t be the last to be enticed down from her ivory tower by a bad boy with character.
Even if you haven’t seen the whole film, you are sure to know the scene where they eat the meatballs and end up chewing the same piece of spaghetti.
If I had them round for dinner, you know what I would serve...


Serves 2-3 (makes about 18 balls)

For the ‘Meat’balls
150g Quorn mince
1 small onion, finely chopped
4tbsp mixed herbs – fresh from the garden if possible (or 2tbsp dried)
75g fresh breadcrumbs
1 free-range egg, beaten with a fork
1tbsp olive oil
200ml vegetable stock
2tbsp Bisto instant gravy granules
2tbsp plain flour

For the Sauce
1tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 large tins chopped tomatoes
2tbsp red wine vinegar
½tbsp caster sugar
2tbsp fresh herbs or 1tbsp dried
2tbsp tomato ketchup

spaghetti (about 100g per portion)
grated hard cheese
fresh basil leaves

First make the meatballs

Heat the oil and fry the onion until soft.
Add 50ml stock and stir.Then add the mince, the rest of the stock and the Bisto. Stir well until all the stock has been absorbed.

Allow to cool, then tip this into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs, mixed herbs, eggs, lots of seasoning and the flour. Stir well.

Heat oven to 220˚C/ Gas 7.
Making sure your hands are well-floured, roll the mince mixture into golf-ball-size balls. (This can be a bit fiddly – you may need to wash your hands a few times).
Spread the balls out on a roasting tray. 
Roast for 10 minutes. Gently turn them over with a knife – be careful: they will be hot – and the roast for about 10 minutes more until browned.

Meanwhile, make the sauce

Heat the oil. Add the garlic and sizzle for 1 min.
Stir in the tomatoes, red wine vinegar, sugar, tomato ketchup, herbs and seasoning. Simmer for 15-20 mins until slightly thickened.

When ready to eat

Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions.
Add the cooked meatballs to the pan of sauce and heat until sauce bubbles and meatballs are hot right through.

Put the spaghetti on plates. Spoon the sauce and meatballs over spaghetti and serve with grated hard cheese and basil leaves.

Saturday 22 April 2017

Fantasy Veggie Dinner Guests – THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT

Edward Lear’s nonsense poem was first published in 1871. So many of the lines are just there in my head, waiting for me to recall them whenever I want.

My favourite of all (as a cat lover) are:
“O lovely pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

After their marriage they dine ‘on mince and slices of quince’. Lear does not stipulate exactly what type of mince they ate (mince just means finely diced food).
This recipe uses vegetarian mince and is extremely tasty. The addition of the gravy granules gives it a meaty taste, but look for the V on the tub. I usually serve it with small roast potatoes and some other vegetables, although once we had cauliflower cheese alongside which made it very filling indeed.

I keep this as an idea for when I need a main course in a hurry so I have used pre-made pastry. It is, of course, fine to make your own in advance.


Serves 2 – 3

1 sheet shortcrust pastry
1 small onion, chopped
50g sage and onion stuffing mix
300ml vegetable stock
200g vegetarian mince (frozen is fine)
2tbsp milk
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp vegetarian ‘meaty’ gravy granules (such as those in the red Bisto tub)

Heat oil in a pan and fry onion until just turning brown.
Add mince and pour stock over the top.
Add dry stuffing mix and gravy granules and stir well until mixture thickens. Remove from the heat.
Lay out pastry. Cut strips from the sides, retaining a basic rectangle shape. (If using pre-rolled puff pastry, keep it on the greaseproof paper it comes in, trimming the paper if necessary - it will make it easier to move, and stop it from sticking.)

Cut the corners off the rectangle and place the mixture down the middle.

Fold up the ends and sides.
Take a strip of pastry and attach it to one side at the corner. Then zig-zag it across and down, over the mince mixture. Repeat from the other side, crossing the first strip.
Continue all the way along, creating a plait effect.
Place on a baking tray.

When ready, glaze with milk and cook in oven at 180˚C/ Gas 6-7 for 25-30 minutes. 

NB Looking for pictures online, I found the lovely one of the Owl and the Pussycat by 'Jen Niles Art'. I have used it but if Jen Niles objects I will remove it.


A novelty twist on the old idea of cheese on sticks, combined with the starter you get on holiday.
Take a plate to a party.


1 ball mozzarella, rinsed and dried.
2 (or more) red, ripe tomatoes
Basil leaves (lots) - Pulling them fresh off a plant is best
Cocktail sticks

Cut each tomato into wedged sections, scoop out the seeds and just leave the flesh. Try to make all uniform in size.
Cut the mozzarella into bite-size chunks.
Put a cocktail stick through the centre of the cheese, then through a basil leaf, ending by sticking it into (but not right through) a piece of the tomato. Repeat until all cheese used up.
Place sticks on a plate.

Serve sprinkled with pepper or drizzled with some olive oil.

Friday 7 April 2017

CANDIDATE FOR CRIME - A meal for Jackie Cooper

Again, Zelda is happy to digress, especially as Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers has yet another remarkable project on the go. This time she is attempting to compile the definitive collection of recipes related to the ever-popular Columbo TV series. As well as the meals which the Lieutenant cooks himself in the show, Jenny has also tracked down recipes listed at various times throughout their careers by the numerous co-stars who appear. 
Zelda has agreed to be a tester and will try out three of the dishes.

The first of these is Jackie Cooper’s Curried Eggs and Macaroni (Don’t change channel – it is better than it sounds).

Jackie Cooper’s original recipe, as discovered and cooked by Jenny, can be found here on the SilverScreen Suppers website. It was my job to take it, try it and make it work for today.

The Context
Jackie Cooper, born in 1922, was a child star, famous for his role in Skippy and for receiving an Oscar nomination at age 9. He died in 2011 at age 88. He appeared in the 1973 Columbo episode Candidate for Crime where he played very much against type as a cold blooded adult killer, who murders for political gain and personal convenience.
According to Jenny’s research, he told recipe compilers in the 1930s that this was his favourite dish.

In order to test it properly, Dave and I had a 'Columbo Evening' so that we could watch the episode as well as tasting the dish.
While I cooked, Dave checked out the notes on the inside of the DVD box.

The Recipe and my Variations
One immediate change I made was to convert the measurements and, therefore, tweak the amounts.  This was purely for my convenience but those making the dish in the UK may also prefer to dispense with ‘cups’ in favour of metric or imperial measures. I used equal amounts of butter and flour for the sauce although four tablespoons of butter actually equates to about 57g. It also seemed a bit thick so I added milk to make the total up to 500ml.

Next, I looked at the cooking order and found that some items were assumed to have been ready prepared, so I have incorporated them into the method to make it is easier to follow the recipe from beginning to end. This also meant a change to the ingredient list as I reverted all elements back to their ‘most basic form’. Because of this I had to increase the total amount of butter used, even though I reduced the amount in the sauce.
These alterations also necessitated some change in the order of preparation and a major alteration at the end to ensure that the dish was served piping hot.

Jackie Cooper (or his ‘Mom’) also assumed a certain level of cooking skill. For example, he gives no indication of timing or temperatures, so I have added the ones that worked for me. He does say to rinse the pasta after cooking, which we do not always do these days, but I have stayed true to him here.
I made an executive decision about some items in the ingredients list but tried to keep as close as possible to what would have been to hand in 1930s America.

½ lb/ 225g dried macaroni
75g butter
50g plain flour
½ to 1tbsp curry powder
½ tsp salt
2 cups/ 475ml milk
6 hard-boiled eggs
3 slices of stale or toasted sliced bread.

Prepare the ingredients
Cut the butter into pieces and divide into two (25g and 50g)
Mix the curry powder with the flour

Make the buttered breadcrumbs for the topping
If you don’t have stale bread, toast fresh or frozen bread on both sides and allowed to cool. Then put into the blender and whizz until the crumbs are of the required size. (I like mine to look a bit ‘rustic’.)
Heat 25g of the butter in a pan and when liquid, add the breadcrumbs. Stir well until all the butter has been absorbed. Then turn out onto a tray and allow to cool again. (This will give you the buttered breadcrumbs listed in the original recipe.)

Start boiling
Bring 2 pans of water to the boil.
Salt one and when boiling, add the macaroni.
Put 6 eggs in the other and cover.
Reduce heat and allow to simmer at the boil until each are cooked.
Set the timer at 10 minutes for the eggs and then add an extra 3-5 minutes for the macaroni (or cook according to packet instructions).

Boil the kettle when the eggs are cooked, ready to rinse the macaroni later.
Heat the oven to Gas 7/ 220˚C.

Prepare the eggs
Place pan under the cold tap and when cool, tap and peel each egg. Place on a board and slice. Set to one side.
Prepare the macaroni
Drain and wash under hot water until all the starch is removed. Set to one side.

Make the sauce
Melt 50g of the butter in a medium pan and then add the flour/ curry powder mixture. Stir until it resembles dry breadcrumbs.
Add a splash of milk and mix well, then repeat.
Gradually add all the milk and stir until sauce thickens.
Season at this point.

Mix and assemble
As all celebrity chefs will tell you, add the pasta to the sauce (even though Jackie’s method added the sauce to the macaroni). Mix well to create a lovely gloopy macaroni delight
Take a suitable bowl. (I used a 9 x 6 inch/ 23 x 15 cm rectangular one, nothing fancy, just the first one that came to hand but it turned out to be the right size.)
Place a layer of the macaroni sauce in the bottom of the bowl, then cover with slices of the egg. Repeat and end with macaroni on the top (three layers of macaroni and two of egg).
Then cover with the buttered breadcrumbs.

Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes until everything is piping hot and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. (This is a change from the original recipe which just grilled the topping but I wanted it all to be hot.)

I served it with freshly cooked bread. It needs something. Another time I would serve smaller portions and accompany it with salad, or at least baked beans.
The Verdict
Although it creates a lot of volume, you do need something to cut through the ‘stodge’. I initially thought it would serve 2-3 but it would certainly stretch to 4 people – if not 6 – as a main dish. Even with Dave’s huge portion size, there was plenty left. It was also
quite ‘heavy’. It may have given Jackie Cooper all that is needed for “a young chap who is growing by leaps and bounds”, but I feel it would be better as a smaller element of a more balanced meal.
Dave thought it was real ‘comfort food’. He said that if he got a flat tyre, the rising damp reached the attic and armed police closed the local pub, this would be what he would like for dinner.

I must say that the title of this dish is a bit misleading. The eggs themselves are not curried, yet the macaroni is steeped in the curry sauce. So maybe it should be called Eggs and Curried Macaroni. The ‘curry’ label is also a little ambiguous. I used a medium strength generic powder from a supermarket as I thought this would be the closest to the original. If I am honest, it gave a ‘Chip-Shop-curry-sauce’ taste rather than what we now know to be a more authentic experience from the Sub-continent, but I suspect that this would be fairly true to 1930s America and Dave loved it because it reminded him of late night suppers after more than a few pints.

The Experience
We did actually eat this at the table but it would have been just as suitable on trays in front of the TV watching the appropriate episode. We ate first and watched it directly after.  We loved the episode, even more so because we knew we had just enjoyed the co-star’s recommended dish.

Would we eat it again? Well, opinion was mixed. Dave said he loved it, but when I asked if he would rather have this or a normal macaroni cheese or a pasta bake, he became less keen.

Jackie Cooper provided this recipe in the 1930s and it’s a real ‘Depression Era’ dish. It is full of calories and flavour at very little cost. These days we look for something a bit more refined. It was, however, great fun to cook and eat.

More of Zelda's test recipes from the Columbo Cookbook will be coming soon. Or, if you fancy having a look at some for yourself, check out Jenny's page here.