Monday, May 6, 2013

Have you packed your spatula? A book review and pea, mint and feta fritters

I thought I was going to start this post telling you how I had been eagerly awaiting a package for weeks, checking my mail day after day but when the Royal Mail is involved, things arrive at your doorstep rather sooner than anticipated. That is not to say I wasn't impatiently waiting, even if it was just for a handful of days.

My excitement upon carrying the red and white parcel upstairs was palpable for a variety of reasons, the first being that it is not all that often that I receive tangible evidence of the people I communicate with every day in the virtual world. It is nice to know they actually exist in the flesh and not just in some crazy corner of my mind (do you ever wonder if the blogging world is all just a figment of your imagination?). The rush of pleasure that I experience upon opening a new cookbook, or any book for that matter, is not a secondary factor. I know you know what I mean, that slight crackling of the binding when you first turn the pages, the anticipation of pages filled with words, colorful photographs and enticing recipes yet to be discovered.

Last, but certainly not least, my excitement was generated by the opportunity handed me by an extremely talented blogger to review her first baby, the one in print that is. Although it actually isn't her first book, as she already has an e-book out on no-carb eating.


Tori, in case you don't know her yet, is an Australian food blogger based in London, married to the Hungry One. After going through a white food phase in her earlier years, she turned into a travelling omnivore once she met her soulmate. They set off to discover the world with a "wish list scribbled on the back of a boarding pass".  After wandering to the farthest reaches of Asia from their home in Sydney, in the past years they have started visiting more of this side of the hemisphere (but not only) taking advantage of the endless low-cost weekends on offer. Their wish list turned into a baby bucket list and as the months went by, more and more items got crossed off. Not that having a Stowaway (yes, the baby already has his very own blogging alias) has really stopped them, as they travelled to the Americas in the throes of morning all-day sickness. As Tori's belly grows into various stages of fruit and vegetable, her trips have been getting shorter. Not a bad thing for those eager to learn more about the beauty England has to offer.

If you are a reader of her blog, you already know she is  as partial to pink wine as the Hungry One is to black forest cake (of which there is a mouthwatering cheese strudel version in the book) and she can get evangelical about pulses. She loves spread sheets and nuts in all shapes and sizes.

Her book is an extention of her blog, like the bonus dvds with great extra content you get when you buy a movie you love. Except better. It is so much more than just eye candy: it is a travel journal and a good read, peppered as it is with the author's trademark evocative phrases that conjure images of irresistible meals: yolks bleeding like a sunset over sand, pale plumes of ricotta, tomato fritters as dark red as a British backpacker's neck, sauce as soothing as a squeeze from your mum, fish flesh as pink as pinched cheeks.

She not only gives us pointers to the best hot dogs in the world, her pages are filled with recipes that are vibrant in color and texturally intriguing. She intersperses them with advice like joining a long food line "because locals are always waiting for a reason"; or "if something has been washed it doesn't mean it is clean" (especially if it was washed using local tap water, might I add!). She teaches us what any traveller needs to know: after suggesting we pack the now-obvious spatula, trusty black flats and a scarf that doubles as an airplane blanket or pillow  in her blog, in the book she advises taking along an open mind and an insatiable curiosity and appetite. But beware, it might lead you as far as tasting evil in the form of fish protein.

Do you need any more convincing? I didn't think so.

Expect to walk through the markets of Paris with a heavy backpack strapped to your sweaty back in search of some perfect picnic nibbles to then quickly change into a black dress and those flats you packed for a night out in a Michelin-starred temple. You will lie with her on the beaches of the Pacific and watch people ski by you whilst resting on the deck of a chalet in Switzerland.


Mind you, your journey will not end there.

Just for your sake, or at least that is how Tori makes it feel with her amicable and almost conspiratorial tone, she has studied the best way to navigate a hotel breakfast buffet (one of the best tips to avoid scrambled eggs meddling with tzatziki, grapefruit juice and some soggy corn flakes being: would you order that dish if it were on the menu?) and come out on the other side satisfied, yet not overly stuffed, with a few excellent bites packed away for a quick lunch between visits to monuments and museums. She is the master of picnics, on grass and carpeting. She also gives you the secret to making yourself a stiff one (or two) in your hotel room after a taxing day of work or shopping without needing to slip out of your complimentary robe and slippers. She tops it all off with some advice on plane food, and believe me, you know your planes when your loved ones live Down Under and you reside by the Thames. Advice that does not consist of packing tons of homemade granola and Tupperware containers that require three days of cooking before your trip just so you don't feel inadequate - like you don't already have enough on your to-do list.

We may have our little differences (I was more enthusiastic about the pulled pork at Fette Sau in Brooklyn than she was and the surprise ingredient to me in her pie crust wasn't the vodka, it was an egg), but I feel a great affinity with her: it is not just that we both spent our honeymoon in the city of light, or that many of her recipes are from cities that have a special place in my heart like Venice, Stockholm, Madrid, Lisbon or Berlin. It is a love for great food, whether consumed in a "nose-bleedingly expensive" joint or a casual watering house on the beach; and an even greater love for travel. This love is as much the glue of my marriage as I believe it is of hers.

My copy of A Suitcase and a Spatula  is now filled with sticky, color categorized tabs. There is so much I want to make, first and foremost the pigeon pastille (just the name conjures images of distant kingdoms and camel caravans  crossing desert dunes) with its flaky layers of pastry, the slight gaminess of shredded dark pigeon meat mingling with the sweetness of sugar and ground almonds and warm spices like cinnamon and saffron. My first attempt, however, and the only one so far for lack of time (not enthusiasm) is one of the simpler and quicker recipes. As most of the dishes I post about, I chose it because it is a no-fuss recipe that is so versatile it can be made any time of the day. It is a great week end breakfast or brunch dish, but works just as well as a light and easy Sunday night dinner (our case), a light lunch or a snack on the go (although the fritters are best eaten straight out of the pan, trust me).

These fritters are the perfect vehicle for the spring bounty that surrounds us right now. As most of Tori's recipes, the ingredients are easily adaptable. Throughout the book she often makes suggestions for changes at the bottom of the page. I used mint instead of basil, and yes, I am aware of the recent trend. Personally I think these fritters would work just as well with asparagus or young fava beans, or why not, a meddley of the three.

Ingredients (12-14 fritters)
200gr/1 1/3 cups peas
100gr /3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
150ml milk
grated zest of half  a lemon
100gr/2/3 cups feta cheese
30 torn basil leaves (I used mint)
olive oil
black pepper

Preheat oven to 180°C/350F°.
The recipe suggests using slightly defrosted peas. I used fresh ones, but using frozen definitely cuts cooking time. Defrost the peas in a frying pan.
Combine flour, baking powder, egg, milk and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the crumbled feta, the basil or mint leaves and the warm peas.
Heat a dash of olive oil in the frying pan used to defrost the peas. Spoon a large tablespoon of the batter per fritter into the hot pan. Cook over medium heat until you see holes appearing on the surface, like when you make pancakes. Flip carefully and cook for a couple of minutes on the other side. Keep warm while making the others.

Tori serves her fritters with roasted tomatoes (next on my list, along with a host of roasted fruits like red grapes and figs... oh, and I absolutely must try that bacon tomato relish!) and prosciutto. My kids ate them with their fingers straight from the pan and we all dipped them into Sriracha sauce for a hit of tomato, sweetness and heat. It worked a treat.




  1. Mi sembrano assolutamente perfette, le farò di sicuro! Ma una domanda: perchè hai scaldato il forno per tenerle in caldo mentre fai le successive?

  2. Quando le ho fatte non ho scaldato il forno perché le mangiavamo man mano che le facevo. Ma se vuoi servirle a un brunch/pranzo le puoi fare prima, tenere in caldo e poi portare in tavola quando siete tutti seduti.

  3. Tori is fabulous I agree! And what a gorgeous book. I tried her ebook recipes and they were absolutely fabulous. Go Tori! :D

  4. The book looks gorgeous. I love the colour. Great review xx

  5. love that book and its artsy feel; thanks for pointing it out, will get it when i can~

  6. Interesting and exciting book you got there, and so as the pancake.


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