Fanny Cradock opens Part 18 - which focuses on Exciting Winter Vegetables - with a plea. Her plea is for us to make good use of British vegetables, which are after all the finest in the world, even if they have 'suffered just a little bit by the time they reach our doors'. Fresh vegetables, local and in season is her campaign, cooked properly, naturally, which means the Cradock way. She was very big on seasonality, even producing a hanging wall chart to be hung in every kitchen as a constant reminder of the monthly expectations. Additionally Fanny begs us all (with some humility) to 'put an end to boiling' and over-cooking. Escoffier has taught us, and Fanny reminds us, that no-one can cook limp, flabby, inferior vegetables and expect to achieve perfect results.
Vegetables should be fresh and lively. Fanny gets hers down the market, but the poor barrow boys' knees must start to jitter when they see her approaching. You see, Fanny insists on fondling the merchandise, despite calls to 'not handle the goods, Madam.' How else can housewives be sure they are buying vegetables in perfect condition? Fanny is wise to the sneaky market traders trying to shovel shoddy vegetables into bags from behind the barrows, so always says 'Please show me what you want me to buy before putting it in my bag.' If they refuse, Fanny recommends walking away. I have no doubt she did on a regular basis.
So, shop local, in season, and choose well is the campaign slogan. It is odd then that the first recipe in this part that Fanny wants to share is one she chooses to showcase out of season produce. The tomato. By her own reckoning, British Tomatoes are readily available in the Summer, and only imports are available in Spring (at least in the 1970's). She ploughs on though, pairing it with an onion and some cream to really showcase it's erm, natural favour and freshness. Perhaps this was all that was in her bag on returning from the market when her requests to cop a feel were refused?
This is a favourite side dish for Fanny and she is excited to share it with us. This must be why she is so confused. Poor Fanny. Let's play along. She selects an onion, which should have a paper thin skin that 'practically rubs off' when you touch it. Any green shoots poking out, please reject it as 'old and on-the-bolt' only suitable to plant and grow for flower decorations. Slice your perfectly rubbed onion finely and add it to a pan of hot oil over a low heat. Slice your tomatoes in half and make criss-cross cuts over the sliced surfaces and place on top of the onion. Add a few sprinkles of herbs and cover the pan completely with a lid or tight fitting foil to allow the vegetables to poach and fry very gently until tender. After seven minutes, peek in and turn the tomatoes over, returning the pan to the low heat to continue cooking.
All that remains to be done is to 'swill in' some cream and allow it to heat through without boiling, before transferring the dish to the table. Fanny uses real (of course) very thick cream, I have chosen soured cream. It may be a reflection of my mood. Fanny serves this side dish with triangular croutons of bread. We've made that together in the previous part. I have to be honest, it is an odd little dish, but perfectly tasty and presentable. Hardly an 'exciting winter vegetable' to kick off a campaign though is it? Certainly not boiled and limp. In season? Doubtful. Well, at least the cream is British!