It's David's special meal day and the challenge was oats. Quietly I was pleased about this. I rather like oats - though never in porridge, and they are definitely very, very good for you. They say that to keep your cholesterol down you only need to have a tablespoon of oats per day. But it's not just the cholesterol thing - they have seven B vitamins, vitamin E, nine minerals including calcium and iron and are relatively high in protein too. Which is why they were the first cereal developed for feeding animals. Indeed apparently as much as three-quarters of the world's supply still goes into feeding animals. So there must be a lot of oats out there, because there are also a lot of oats products on your supermarket shelves in this health conscious age. In the beauty aisles too where you will find them in skin care products of various kinds. So well done David.
But what to cook? For most of the recipes that you find for oats are either for various breakfast things, like muesli and porridge, or else for sweet things like biscuits and cakes and crumbles. Indeed I usually put a handful of oats into my crumble mixes. They are delicious like that - nutty and crunchy.
As usual I cruised the net, but in this instance most of my good ideas came from two sources in my home library - the River Cottage gang and the wonderful late Bert Greene, who is, in fact, providing tonight's recipe - in a moment. What was interesting was that Stephanie Alexander, for example had nothing on oats in her massive tome and I couldn't find much anywhere else either. Maybe I didn't look in the right places. Delia has some cookie kind of recipes, but nothing else. If I had a Scottish cookbook that would probably be the place to look as the Scots love their oats and use it in a whole range of different dishes, including the national dish - the haggis. Well oats also have the advantage of being to grow in fairly hostile conditions. And you would have to say that Scotland has a lot of that.
Going back to the origins of oats Bert Greene told an interesting tale of how it came to be thought of as fodder rather than food.
"The oat is one grain that, historically speaking, has never won any popularity contests. Too abrasive a cereal to be chomped for one thing, it had a bad reputation for another, having been used exclusively as horse fodder and cattle silage since the dawn of agriculture. Early Bronze Age farmers are credited with the discovery of oats as animal feed when their oxen formed paths quite on their own, selectively chewing their way through fields of wild grasses and consuming only the oats, leaving the other stalks upsampled."
Quite how reliable the story is I have no idea but it's a very pleasing one. Nowadays they plant fields of it for their cattle's food whether eaten as it grows or cut and stored as silage.
Before I get to my chosen meal I'm going to mention a couple of things from the River Cottage people. They sound tempting enough for me to try some time. First of all there are some Cheddar and Onion Oatcakes - the link will take you to a very short video. It's basically a dough made with oatmeal, oats, onion, cheese, salt and black pepper mixed with milk, rolled out, cut into circles and baked in the oven. Then there are some no-cook flapjacks:
"an amazing raw version can be whipped up by whizzing dates, dried apricots, ripe banana, orange zest coconut oil and honey in a food processor, combining the purée with oats, then pressing it into a tray and refrigerating. The fruit binds the mix, while the oats give body and nutrients: no butter, no extra sugar, no wheat - and no cooking." Gill Meller - River Cottage A-Z
There's a similar recipe online from the same place called Fruity fridge flapjacks, the main difference being honey rather than coconut oil.
These two recipes are very representative of a whole world of bars, scones, muffins, biscuits that you will find.
But I was looking for a recipe which would provide us with dinner. And although those things would be good to snack on - bearing in mind that one shouldn't really snack on anything other than fruit or raw vegetables - they are not dinner. When it came to dinner there were a few categories into which a main dish that included oats fell.
Firstly there were meatloaf and meat balls and kofta recipes and all the permutations of other ingredients and the sauces they were served with. I was sorely tempted by one from Bert Greene - Oated ham and lamb loaf with dill sauce, but we had just come back from the shops and I had no lamb mince, no ham and no dill. So that was out unless I substituted all of those things so that it became something else altogether. Also the rationale of the David's special meal thing is that I cook from an actual recipe something I have never cooked before. Or I could go to the shops again but that would really be somewhat stupid and wasteful.
Then there are the fried or baked crusted things like chicken and fish. The trouble with this option - also very tempting - is that we are cooking crumbed chicken for the grandchildren's lunchboxes tomorrow. I also saw a recipe for crumbed pork with mushrooms and mustard, but we had eaten our favourite pork stroganoff with three mustards from Delia just a few days ago, so also not really suitable. Same ingredients in a different form.
It's worth noting however that oats are pretty good in this kind of dish as they do not absorb the cooking fat as much and remain crunchier than the traditional breadcrumbs. So maybe we might add a few oats to our breadcrumb mix tomorrow.
Speaking of breadcrumbs, I'm guessing that they could also be used in stuffings, although I did not come across any recipes for this, although to be fair I wasn't really looking.
Then there are tarts - I remember a wonderful tomato tart recipe from Jane Grigson - Tomato and Oatmeal Tart - that I made years back. Not suitable today as it had chilli in it, although I suppose I could leave it out. But then we had quiche earlier this week too, so also a bit, not exactly boring, but done and dusted - for now anyway..
So what did I settle on? Well a sort of pizza. My first option was what Bert Greene calls Nice Red Pissaladière, whereby he makes a base of tomato sauce, oats and cheese and then tops with sliced olives. In my head I was going with this, although I was going to swap the olives for peppers, as neither of us is that keen on olives, when I came across a second similar recipe which he calls Nizza Pizza. There are very few pictures of Bert Greene recipes on the net - people don't really seem to have discovered him. Which is a huge oversight on the part of the foodie world. Never mind the hoky names for the recipes, the content is original, tasty and infallible. I have great faith that this recipe will work. And when I started looking for something similar I found that his recipe is sort of unique.
There are lots of recipes for pizzas with an oat base, some mixed with things like cauliflower or sweet potato. Well oats are sort of gluten free and we all know that gluten free is a big thing these days. But oats are not always gluten free as apparently they can become contaminated by other grains.
However, Bert Greene's recipe for the base is oats mixed with tomato sauce - a special tomato sauce that includes clam broth and anchovy paste. Not just with oil and water. Well I don't have clam broth so I think I'll substitute white wine, and I don't have anchovy paste, but I have anchovies. If I sneak in one or two I don't think David will notice. The topping is ricotta, mozzarella (it will have to be cheddar), and salami - so that will be perfectly acceptable I think. Serve with green salad and a glass of wine, and follow with David's freshly baked bread and cheese. I'll post a picture tomorrow. I'm quite looking forward to it. I'm sure the base will be crisp rather than bread pizza like, but that could be interesting. Crossing fingers anyway. And I might make some of those biscuits too.
I don't think David wanted to eat the leftovers, so when I was asked to make some sausage rolls for his wine night I whizzed up most of the leftovers and added them to the minced meat. Worked wonderfully well. I reckon I could have made little croquettes/meatballs of it too.
POSTCARDS FROM ELTHAM
I haven't taken many pictures of late. Our photo competition has died and I haven't been walking as much either because of rain or heat. I must find somewhere new to walk as well. But here are a few. The bear has a little message on it - With love from Aurora. Cute