Eat their words
A marmalade roll from Narnia and other novel recipes
have always been a highly suggestible, hungry reader. When discovering a new book, or revisiting an old favourite, my mind wanders, imagining what food the characters are enjoying would taste like. A passing mention of a ripe summer strawberry, a fragrant roast chicken or a warming mug of hot chocolate sends me straight to the kitchen, book still in hand.
When I wasn’t in the kitchen, my childhood was spent in books. On weekends, my dad would push me out of our front door towards the park, encouraging me to run around in the fresh air until dusk. Little did he know that I always had a book tucked into my bike shorts, and would instead hide under a tree somewhere, losing myself in Jane Austen’s Regency England, Enid Blyton’s seaside Devon or Harper Lee’s Depression-era Alabama. My childhood was idyllic, but I spent much of it in parallel fictional worlds.
As I grew up and then moved away from Australia, the books I had read as a child became imbued with a strong sense of nostalgia. I found that I could often remember exactly where I was when I had read each book for the first time. Far away from home, these memories provided real comfort. I discovered that the passages utmost in my memory were often food-related. And so, as well as reading them, I started cooking from them too.
As I started writing about these literary/culinary links, people began to get in touch, telling me of their favourite fictional food memories. So many of us seemed to have a shared childhood: time spent dreaming of eating sardines and drinking ginger beer on Kirrin Island with the Famous Five; feeling jealous of Bruce and his chocolate cake in Matilda; and wondering what on earth Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham might taste like. It is not something we grow out of either. We imagine the dripping crumpets at Manderley in Rebecca, and find our mouths watering at the thought of the perfect steak in The End of the Affair. All the titles I have featured in my book are ones that I have read, and are part of my story. Books that I, as the librarian, would press into your hands with a glowing endorsement.
On the way I found an open café and ate a breakfast of rice and miso soup, pickled vegetables and fried eggs. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
This breakfast is bright, sharp and salty: it gives me a boost on days when I have lots to achieve.
Miso soup Serves 4
2 pieces of konbu seaweed 750ml water
2 tbsp white miso paste
A pinch of salt
100g silken tofu, cut into small cubes
1 Put the seaweed and water in a saucepan, and put over a very low heat, stirring occasionally. As the water boils, pull out the seaweed.
2 Allow the stock to boil for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat. Spoon in the miso and stir until it has dissolved. Taste and season with a little salt.
3 Add the diced tofu to the hot stock. Serve immediately.
Rice, pickles, egg Serves 4
100g sushi rice 125ml cold water 2 tbsp rice vinegar 1 tsp mirin
1 tsp caster sugar
For the pickles
1 tbsp flaky salt
1 tbsp caster sugar White pepper
150ml rice vinegar 1 cucumber, finely sliced 10 radishes, roughly chopped 2 tbsp sesame oil 4 eggs
1 Wash the rice 4 times in cold water. Drain well, then pour 125ml water over the rice. Let it sit for 30 minutes.
2 Meanwhile, make the pickle. Mix the salt, caster sugar, white pepper and vinegar together until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Split between two bowls. Put the cucumber in one and the radishes in the other. Set aside.
3 Bring the rice to the boil, then slowly simmer for 10 minutes, with the lid on, until the water dips below the rice.
Desdemona went up and down the line, adding walnuts, butter, honey, spinach, cheese, adding more layers of dough, then more butter, before forging the assembled concoctions in the oven. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
Shop-bought filo turns this from a fullday challenge into a midweek supper or weekend lunch. In Middlesex, Desdemona lays her pastry out all over the house, but she is cooking in the 1920s, before Greek pastry was common in supermarkets. If using shop-bought, keep it covered for as long as possible, or it will dry out faster than you can fill it.
Spanakopita Serves 4
1 brown onion, finely chopped 1 tbsp flavourless oil
1kg frozen spinach 1 tbsp chopped dill 3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley 1 egg 100g feta cheese Nutmeg, freshly grated Salt and black pepper 100g butter 10 sheets filo pastry Sesame seeds, to decorate
1 Set your oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Fry the onion in the oil until translucent. Tip in the spinach, stirring constantly while it defrosts. Cook over a relatively high heat to try to encourage some of the water to evaporate.
2 Tip the spinach and onion into a sieve. Squeeze out as much water as you can. Leave to cool.
3 Add the chopped herbs and egg, crumble in the feta, then add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
4 Melt the butter. Lay 2 sheets of filo on your work surface, with their longest edges parallel to you, and overlapping by 2cm. Brush generously with butter. Lay two more sheets on top, butter again. Repeat until all the filo is used up. Lay a long line of filling about 5cm from the long edge of pastry closest to you. Roll the pastry into a long sausage. Coil into a spiral.
5 Transfer to a lined baking sheet, brush generously with butter, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Is it possible to fall in love over a dish of onions? ...
I said, “It’s a good steak,” and heard, like poetry, her reply: “It’s the best I’ve ever eaten.”
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
This is, in my opinion, the sexiest dish in my book. I recommend serving it to someone you fancy. Sarah’s thoughts on the steak in The End of the Affair are the response you are aiming for, so keep it simple, and don’t forget to let it rest. And, I guarantee you, it is possible to fall in love over these onions.
Steak and onions Serves 2
2 rump steaks Salt and black pepper Olive oil
For the onions
16 small, round shallots 50g butter
30 sprigs thyme Salt and black pepper
1 Set your oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Remove the steaks from the fridge to bring them to room temperature.
2 Top and tail your shallots and peel off the outer layer of skin. Arrange them with one of the cut sides up in a small ovenproof dish. Put a small pat of butter on each one, then add a couple of sprigs of thyme. Season. Transfer the dish to the oven for 50 minutes, until golden and soft.
3 In the last 15 minutes of the onion cooking time, heat a griddle pan or heavy frying pan until water evaporates immediately when flicked on to it. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on one side of the steaks and put them, seasoning-side down, into the pan.
4 Flip each steak every 30 seconds or so. I’m loath to give cooking times here, because it is so dependent on the thickness of your steak. I use the hand test I was taught at school instead. Gently touch your forefinger to your thumb. Prod the heel of your thumb with a finger from your other hand. You’re looking for a similar tenderness in a rare steak. If you want your steak cooked differently, it’s: medium rare – middle finger; medium – ring finger; well done – little finger.
5 Once your steaks are cooked to your liking, wrap them in foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes, then slice the
Desdemona went down the line, adding more layers of dough, then more butter ...
steak into strips, put on your plate, and season with salt, pepper and a little drizzle of olive oil. Serve with the dish of onions.
And when they had finished the fish, Mrs Beaver brought, unexpectedly, out of the oven, a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot ...
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
I am unable to stay inside when snow starts. I frolic. But as much as I love being outside in it, that first hour back inside again – the long bath, the clean, warm socks, the hot meal – is just as wonderful. This marmalade roll, served to the Pevensie children by the beavers as the snow lies thick on the ground under an ink-black sky, is just the ticket. Custard is the ideal accompaniment.
Marmalade roll (on the cover)
250g plain/all-purpose flour 50g light brown sugar 1 tsp baking powder 40g butter 40g vegetable suet 60g soured cream 60ml milk 1 egg 450g marmalade 25ml whiskey
For the custard
300ml milk 100ml double cream 1 vanilla pod 4 egg yolks 40g caster sugar
1 Set the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Rub the butter and suet into the mixture with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
2 Whisk the soured cream, milk and egg together in a cup, then tip into the dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until it comes together in a dough. Generously flour the work surface and tip the dough out. Push it out into a rough rectangle, around 18x30cm in size and 15mm thick.
3 Spoon ⅔ of the marmalade on to the dough, spreading it over the whole surface. If your marmalade is hard set and not very spreadable, warm it over a low heat to melt a little.
4 Using a spatula, roll the dough up from the short end into a scroll. Pinch the ends together, and roll tightly in greaseproof paper. Tie the ends with string, or twist them and tuck them under the marmalade roll. Place a rack in the base of an oven dish, and place the roll on top. Transfer to the oven and, before you close the door, tip a little boiling water into the bottom of the dish, being careful to ensure that the water does not touch the roll. Bake for 1 hour, until a skewer inserted into the roll comes out with no bits of uncooked dough clinging to it.
5 To make the custard, pour the milk and cream into a saucepan with the split vanilla pod. Place over a low heat until almost simmering, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk burning. Remove the vanilla pod.
6 Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. While still whisking, slowly pour the hot milk and cream on top.
7 Pour the custard back into the saucepan. Stir continuously over a very low heat until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. If you’re not going to serve it immediately, cover the top with plastic wrap, pushing it down until it sits on the top of the custard, to prevent it from forming a skin.
8 Remove the roll from the oven. Put the rest of the marmalade and the whisky in a small saucepan and heat until liquid. Paint the top of the roll with the marmalade glaze and serve hot with the custard.
The Little Library Cookbook
(Head of Zeus) is out now