When Claudia Roden’s three children spread their wings and left their London home more than 35 years ago, Claudia decided to leave home too and travel around the Mediterranean.
Off she went in the spirit of adventure without plans or arrangements but with her head swirling with childhood memories of the exhilarating moment when she and her siblings arrived in Alexandria by the desert road from their home in Cairo and suddenly saw the sea. She still vividly remembered the flavour of the food in the cafes along the seafront.
Back in the 1980s, a woman travelling alone was definitely suspect; but Claudia was on a mission to research and recapture flavours. This allowed her to make contacts, ask for help, visit restaurant kitchens: it gave her the freedom to introduce herself to people on trains in cafes or in pension sitting rooms — ‘I’m an English food writer researching your cuisine, can you tell me what your favourite dishes are?’. Invariably people were happy to talk about food and so it began.
The countries around the Mediterranean Sea are all very different — with both Muslim and Christian cultures, deserts, forests, mountains, islands. Yet they have much in common — a shared climate, hot, dry summers, mild winters and balmy evenings that encourage convivial outdoor cooking, alfresco eating, street food, and bustling markets.
Every country has its own food culture and unique dishes, some of which differ from one town to another. Ingredients and utensils can be similar, clay pots to cook over fire, pestles and mortars, and wood-burning ovens. Curious, friendly people invited Claudia into their houses and cooked their favourite dishes for her while she jotted down the recipes. She went through Spain, Italy, France, Sicily, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, meandering through the Balkans and the Levant. Much of this is documented in her cookbooks which have brought so much joy to so many of us throughout the years.
Claudia, now in her 80s, had already written 22 books. Nonetheless, during Covid, her agent pressed her to write yet another book. She was reluctant at first and was convinced that ‘nobody will want another cookbook from an octogenarian’. Fortunately, she was persuaded to share the favourite recipes that she loves to cook for family and friends.
Claudia, whom I have been fortunate to know for more than three decades, is a beautiful, generous home cook and a relentless entertainer. Her food is fresh and timeless and inspires and delights both home cooks and professional chefs. I feel so blessed to know her. Here are a few of my personal favourites from MED published by Ebury Press.
Red pepper and tomato salad
Inspired by Moroccan cooked salads, this one is a favourite for its glorious colour and marvellous flavours. The addition of boiled lemon, with its unique sharp taste, is my little 'fantasia'. For this, boil an unwaxed lemon for 30 minutes until it is ver
Preparation Time 10 mins
Cooking Time 45 mins
Total Time 55 mins
3 large fleshy red peppers
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
300g (10oz) cherry or baby plum tomatoes, such as Santini
½ - 1 fresh chilli, seeded and chopped, or a good pinch of ground chilli (optional)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon sugar
1 small boiled lemon (see introduction) or ½ large one (optional)
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a few sprigs of coriander, leaves chopped
Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the peppers in half through the stalks, remove the stalks, seeds and membranes and arrange them, cut-side down, on the parchment paper.
Roast in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes until they are soft and their skins are blistered. Put them in an empty pan with a tight-fitting lid or in a bowl with a plate on top and leave them to steam for 10 minutes, which will loosen the skins.
When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and cut each half into four ribbons. While the peppers are roasting, heat the oil in a frying pan and add the tomatoes and chilli, if using. Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, shaking the pan and turning the tomatoes over with a spatula until they are soft. Push them to the side of the pan, add the garlic to an empty bit of the pan and cook, stirring, until the aroma rises and the garlic just begins to colour.
Add the sugar and some salt and stir well. Add the peppers to the tomatoes. If using the lemon, cut into small pieces and add it to the pan, juice and all, but remove the pips. Stir gently over a low heat for a minute or so. Leave to cool. Serve at room temperature, drizzled with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of coriander.
Garnish with 10 black olives and 10 anchovy fillets in oil
For Neapolitan peperoni e pomodorini in agrodolce, dissolve 2 tablespoons of sugar in 100ml white wine vinegar; pour this over the peppers and tomatoes and cook for a minute or two. Omit the sugar, boiled lemon and coriander.
Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press
Haricot beans with clams
This is my favourite clam recipe. Use good-quality white haricot beans from a jar or tin. The wine gives them a delicate flavour and the clams add the taste of the sea
Preparation Time 10 mins
Cooking Time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
650g (1lb 7oz) clams
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
½ small fresh chilli, chopped (optional)
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
350g (12oz) jar small white haricot beans [or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin], drained and rinsed
125ml (4 1½ fl oz) fruity white wine or cava
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Throw away any clams that are chipped or broken and any open ones that do not close when you tap them on the sink or dip them in ice-cold water. Scrub them with a brush if they are dirty. Leave them in fresh cold water for 20 minutes — as they breathe, they will push out any sand that remains inside.
Lift them out and rinse them in a colander under running water. Heat the oil in a wide casserole or pan with a tight-fitting lid.
Add the onion and the chilli, if using, and stir over a low heat until very soft and beginning to colour. Add the garlic and stir for a minute or so. Add the beans, the wine and a little salt, mix gently and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Put the clams on top, put the lid on, and cook over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes until the clams open. Throw away any that do not open. Serve sprinkled with parsley.
Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press
Parfait Mocha Praliné
This very easy no-churn ice cream has the wonderful mix of coffee and praline flavours that I love and also brings back many happy memories
Preparation Time 6 hours 0 mins
Total Time 6 hours 0 mins
50g (2oz) blanched hazelnuts
50g (2oz) caster sugar
300ml (10fl oz) double cream
175g (6oz) sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp instant espresso coffee powder
To make the praline, in a dry frying pan (not a non-stick one) toast the hazelnuts over a medium heat, shaking the pan, until they just begin to colour. Tip the hazelnuts onto a plate and set aside.
Put the sugar in the pan, spread it out and place over a medium heat until it becomes liquid and turns a light golden colour (watch it as it can quickly turn very dark and bitter). Put the hazelnuts back in and turn them around until they are well coated with the liquid caramel. When the caramel turns brown, pour it onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper (or onto an oiled baking tray). Let it cool completely. When it is hard and brittle, grind in a food processor.
Whisk the cream with the condensed milk and coffee powder until soft peaks form. Fold in the praline, keeping 2 tablespoons aside to decorate. Keep this in a little cup covered with parchment paper until you are ready to serve.
Line a mould with parchment paper (it makes turning out easier) and pour in the cream mixture. Cover the top with parchment paper and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Take out of the freezer 15 minutes before serving. Dip the mould into a bowl of very hot water for a few seconds. Remove the covering parchment paper. Turn the mould upside down onto a serving plate and remove the remaining parchment paper. Serve sprinkled with the reserved praline.
This week I've chosen Mary Berry's new book as my ‘Book of the Week’ — 120 recipes from her new BBC series — it feels like a ‘hug between two covers’. Lots of no-nonsense tips and tricks as well as well-tested recipes. "Over the past year, many have had unexpected time on their hands at home and have found a love of cooking to be comforting and healing in very difficult times" — Mary Berry
Congratulations to Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni, Sarah Cremin of Good Fortune Cookies whose double chocolate and sea salt cookies won bronze as the recent Blas na hÉireann awards. See goodfortune_cookies on Instagram.
The Burren Food Fayre is returning for a series of unique food and farm visitor experiences this October Bank holiday weekend.
The event, which is organised by the Burren Ecotourism Network, marks its 10th year in operation this year, with a return to in-person events. Last year’s event had to be staged virtually.
Small groups of visitors will be able to prebook different itineraries, which will take them on a food trail across the length and breadth of the Burren. Five different experiences have been created, featuring a variety of different producers.