I’ve just read ‘Dear Francesca’ from cover to cover. The recipes use a relatively small range of ingredients to create wonderful food. This is one of the first recipes I tried, using a tray of cherry tomatoes that had ended up in my fridge, along with some of the staples from the book: ricotta and pecorino.
I didn’t have spaghettini, so I used spaghetti, which is very slightly thicker. It was fine, I had no complaints.
- 3 tbsp good extra-virgin olive oil
- A punnet of cherry tomatoes, or a couple of good handfuls, quartered
- a clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 180g spaghettini (or enough pasta for 2 people, whatever your usual measure is, I allow 60 to 75g per person)
- salt and black pepper, freshly ground
- 2 tbsp ricotta cheese
- two good pinches of dried oregano
- freshly grated pecorino
- Heat the oil in a pan, and add the tomatoes and garlic. Turn the heat down low and let them cook for ten minutes. There will be a bit of sizzling.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water, according to the instructions.
- When the tomatoes are completely softened, add the oregano and the ricotta cheese, and mix well. Check for taste and add salt if required.
- When the spaghettini is cooked, drain it, return to the pan and add the sauce, pecorino and a grating of good black pepper.
When I was 10 years old, we moved to Teheran. My dad is a civil engineer, and he was working for Sir Alexander Gibbs, specialising in dams and irrigation. The Shah of Iran was investing in infrastructure, building the Lar dam in the Alborz mountains, to the north of Teheran.
We lived in north Teheran, in a dilapidated house that belonged to a dentist. It had a walnut grove, cherry trees, red and white mulberry trees, and a pomegranate tree. It was lovely. Our family employed Zara, a woman from Tabriz in the north west of Iran, to help out. She cooked us traditional Persian food.
Particular favourites included Lubiya Polo, barbary nan, thick white yoghurt sold in blue-glazed earthenware bowls, nougat, salted pistachios, chicken stuffed with walnuts and plums. Zara showed us how to wash long-grain rice and cook it so it formed a delicious buttery crust at the bottom of the pan. I’ve longed to try these dishes again, and I’d love to revisit Iran to eat these dishes as an adult.
It is only in the last few years that I have been able to find recipe books for Persian delicacies. Nightingales and Roses has to be the best. It is written by Maryam Sinaiee, who was born in Teheran, and only moved to the UK in 2011. She writes a food blog, and keeps alive the very strong tradition of Persian cookery. The book takes care to explain the balance of ingredients, how meals are structured and how the seasons bring their own flavours. The recipes are easy to follow, and any new techniques are well explained.
An excellent book.