Zucchini flowers in a feather light cider batter (using my father’s cider of course); a Burrata with a handful of San Marzano tomatoes, a few marjoram leaves and a slug of really good olive oil; A white onion risotto with an absurd quantity of freshly shaved Perigord truffles.
These are just some of the slightly pretentious – yet utterly necessary – dishes that come to mind when daydreaming about my last supper. All of these cooked and presented just the way I like them, as for these particular dishes, I would insist on being the cook.
What about if I could choose any chef or location? Would it be parmesan custard with anchovy toasts and white asparagus with blood orange hollandaise served in a veritable ballroom in Bayswater with a twenties feel; all cooked by a man that has known me for more years than I care to count? If I could teleport myself back to the tiny Sugar Club on All Saint’s Road, and have the exact meal that I ate twenty years ago, that made me realize that food can change you… would I just have that? How could I not include ‘Alphabet Soup’; an exquisite and comedic gesture at the end of one of my most memorable meals, consumed in a stunning hacienda outside Seville, that also serves as the training ground for Spain’s most famous restaurant. How could I exit the planet without revisiting The French Laundry; not a laundry (nor in France) but heaven on earth in California? Filling a paper box to bursting with the most unpretentiously divine salads from a tiny Italian deli on Westbourne Grove, and scoffing them in the sunshine in a playground off Portobello is my true happy place. But then so was my grandmother’s toasted cheese with hidden mango chutney. My mother’s lasagna. Where to begin? Where to end?
If there is only one thing that I could have at any given moment it would be bread. Well, actually it would have to be two. Warm bread straight from the oven (obviously not mine as my baking abilities cannot possibly stretch to those of the trained boulangère, nor the kit – a wood fired oven is essential), and butter. Cold, hard, salty butter.
I have no doubt that I should list Ambergris, Caviar and Foie Gras, and secretly wish I was that refined. But no, it has to be bread and butter.
Baking bread in the tropics is a challenge. Singapore’s humidity is not known to be the ‘Baker’s Friend’, but even I have managed to create a half decent dough that seems to stand up to being twisted and beaten (even by over enthusiastic small hands), that rises though it doesn’t really need to (the hint is in the name) … and is really rather quite tasty. We smother it with garlic and thyme and then, when baked, dip it in olive oil or mashed up roasted tomatoes with plenty of garlic, marjoram and S&P.
GARLIC & THYME FLATBREADS
Makes about 12
1 cup warm water
1 heaped teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
3 cups plain flour, plus extra for surface and hands
3 TBSPs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt flakes
1 egg whisked with a TBSP of water and a TBSP of olive oil for brushing
A few cloves of very finely sliced garlic
Plenty of very fresh soft thyme leaves
Sea salt flakes and fresh black pepper
Mix the honey or sugar into the warm water and sprinkle in the dried yeast. Allow to stand for a few minutes until frothy (this can take up to ten minutes). If it doesn’t froth, either your yeast is dead or the water was too hot and killed it!
Place flour and salt in a bowl, mix together, and make a well in the middle. Add the yeast liquid and olive oil, and slowly bring together until a dough forms. If it is dry and very stiff add a little more water or olive oil until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth – about ten minutes.
Transfer to lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and allow to rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume; about an hour. Gently roll dough out into a sausage and cut into individual portions (between 12 and sixteen dependent upon how large you want them to be).
Preheat oven to 180C.
Roll out each portion into rough oval/rectangular, twists or round shapes and place on parchment lined baking trays. Brush with egg wash and top with herbs and garlic. Bake for about fifteen minutes, until golden.
If you do not need so many; you can freeze the dough at the point of dividing into portions. Simply wrap each portion in plastic wrap and freeze for another day. When needed, defrost, roll out on floured surface, allow a little while to rise and top and bake as above.
You can of course top these flatbreads with all sorts of things; black olives, rosemary, grated parmesan, sliced onion etc. Quick, easy and fun to do with little people too; plus, they make great kid friendly pizza bases!