Thursday, 13 August 2009

Help Wanted, Apply Within

I was a bit miffed about the last WMPC exchange. Some people really need to get their arses into gear you know and organise the time they've got and make sure that they get the ingredients they need in time for the swap. Otherwise the whole exchange is a bit pointless and you end up handing something over that is obviously a last minute gesture, which in turn makes you look a bit lame. My meeting with Lizzie of Hollowlegs at Oxford Circus felt exactly like that and as I walked away with this horrible empty feeling, the best I could do to console myself was to think "well at least I got Violet over to her, that marrow will have to wait until next time, I can't believe I forgot it and the bloody camera too".

Ah you thought I was slagging off Lizzie for a second then, didn't you? No she came up trumps, I'm just being hard on myself for not getting down to the allotment in the morning. I had found out that she was quite a fan of marrow you see, so I left one of my courgettes alone for the last couple of weeks and it was shaping up to be a real whopper. Like something Captain Caveman would wield. And then come Wednesday, amidst the howls of a chaotic morning, I couldn't find the key for the allotment gate. It had just disappeared. I could have run down there and tried to shout up to the patrol tower to be let in but Arthur who was on duty that morning is deaf and would have probably been asleep anyway. Yes they take security very seriously down Norfolk Road Allotment. So I left the house and on the way to the station, I bombed into M&S to pick up the first bottle of sauvignon blanc I could find (I hate M&S but was now in a rush). Then when I was on the train travelling in I looked into my bag and realised that I left the camera at home, so wouldn't be able to take photos of Lizzie's offering in the office. Naturally after this revelation I threw some violent jerky shapes in my seat whilst cursing under my breath which I believe perturbed my fellow passengers a fair bit. So I decided to calm down and look out of the window with just the smallest of ticks flicking under my eye. "Still at least I remembered to take along Violet" I thought, the second born daughter of Veronica, my sourdough starter of nearly 6 months now "Lizzie should be happy with that at least."

Prior to meeting Ms Hollowlegs, I was intrigued as to what she was going to do. We had bumped into each other earlier in the week at the BPR Summit and in the pub after the word "Spam" was getting bandied about a lot, leaving me a little apprehensive. A love of marrow, although watery and tasteless to some, I could appreciate. Spam on the other hand, I really do find hard to get excited about. Memories of the stuff, greasy and battered, plague me from my student days when we lived two doors down from a chippy/kebab shop and would regularly chow down on Spam patties. I suspect that Lizzie is a bit of Spam connoisseur and when she noticed my reaction to the mere mention of the word, she shot me a look that said "you'll get what you're given pal!". Perhaps she had been pulling my leg all along because when I met her a couple of days later, she produced a massive lunchbox containing Baby Octopus and Aubergine Pasta with no Spam in sight. And for this I was extremely grateful. Even better was the fact that I didn't have to work too late that night and was able to take it home to photographise her work before scoffing it down. It wouldn't have done to put up a picture of an empty lunchbox now*.

The great thing about this pasta (which I ate cold later in the evening) was it's simplicity. Sometimes it can be tempting to throw everything in but the kitchen sink when making a sauce. I do it all the time but Lizzie's tomato sauce was just right, giving the penne an even coating with a nice fresh zing. This meant that octopus and aubergine stood out rightly on their own. I love aubergine and the juicy, smokey flavours from the slices worked well against the light, tender pieces of baby octopus, delicious. I was pretty amazed to find out that the octopus had previously been frozen and would like to know where Lizzie gets her supply from. In the outer reaches of Essex, like in Sainsburys, Hornchurch High St, I've only really seen it in jars of brine, not the same at all. And lastly, I'd just like to say I was fairly staggered with the amount of food that she had made. If this is an average portion size then Lizzie really does have hollow legs.

Cheers Lizzie and thanks for providing the recipe (which I have posted below). I'll try to get that marrow to you once I find the key or when I finally get the attention of Arthur, whatever comes first.

Baby Octopus and Aubergine Pasta

Baby Octopus and Aubergine Pasta
200gr penne
2 cloves of garlic
2 shallots
1 can of cherry tomatoes (or just chopped) in juice
A glug of sherry (or a pinch of sugar)
A large pinch of chilli flakes
8 baby octopus, defrosted if frozen
1 aubergine
A handful of parsley Slice the aubergine thickly. in a non-stick pan, heat up some oil and fry the slices until browned on both sides. Remove and leave on kitchen paper. Heat up some more oil and fry the shallots with the garlic and chilli on a low heat. Slice the octopus in half if they're big and then add them to the pan. Fry them until they start to curl a little, then add the glug of sherry and simmer until reduced. Then add the aubergine slices and the can of tomatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes, until thickened. The sauce should be quite thick, so do stir it now and again so it doesn't stick to the bottom. Meanwhile, cook the pasta to al dente. When the sauce is sufficiently thickened, mix with the pasta and scatter the parsley, finely chopped, into the pasta.

*Speaking of empty lunchboxes and other food carrying receptacles, I have now accumulated a large amount which is taking up valuable space in my cupboard. Please let me know if you want yours back and I will get my secretary to post them to you as soon as possible.


  1. Funny post Daisy. Yum yum, baby octopus. You gotta love those tentacles. I know where she gets them but I'll let her tell you. As for the lunchbox - I can clearly identify mine as the shitty Cornish ice cream tub. You're welcome to it ;)

  2. Hurrah! Glad you enjoyed it. I never designed for it to be eaten cold, but it's happy news that it still tasted good. Violet and the wine was quite sufficient (thanks!) so don't beat yourself up.

    I had tried to work some Spam in there, as I'm a huge advocate of spam, but alas... I couldn't think of a way that was easily reheated.

  3. Lizzie - I was too hungry by the time I got home to heat it, just wanted to take a decent snap and then I wolfed it. So where do you get your baby octopus then?

    Helen - Shh, no one knows my real name. Your shitty Cornish ice cream tub is getting mailed to Kings for your attention whether you like it or not. Have you never heard of recycling dammit?!

  4. New Loon Moon, Gerrard Street, in the freezer section. Huge bag for £3. Bargainous!