It all started going wonky when I managed to cut off the top of my middle finger while slicing some onions. It was tears before bedtime in every sense of the word.
Do you know how much blood there is in a middle finger? More than you would ever guess until it is covered in several layers of Elastoplast, and even then the stuff keeps leaking out.
And then you wonder how you ever got on without it - the tip of your middle finger, that is. You never really know just how essential any part of your body is, how many small, unconscious jobs you do with it, until you can't use it. Then your life falls apart as you discover that you can't do up your flies, how difficult it is to tie a shoelace, how complicated the apparently simple business of peeling, deseeding and chopping tomatoes becomes. Cometh the hour, cometh the guest, however - and so cameth dinner.
Recipes serve four.
Chard tarts with tomatoes and thyme
You'll find the original of this recipe in the epoch-defining Cuisine Minceur by Michel Guérard. This was far and away the most influential cookery book of the latter half of the last century. It affected almost everything we eat today, although we don't give it another thought now. And it is full of cracking ideas, of which this is one.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 bunch each thyme, chervil, parsley
8-12 decent sized chard leaves
4 sprigs thyme
Peel, deseed and roughly chop the tomatoes. Chop the shallots finely. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the shallots gently until soft. Add the tomato and cook for 30 minutes on a highish heat until virtually all the liquid produced by the tomatoes has vanished and you are left with a moist mass. Season, then plunge in your bunches of herbs and leave them to steep while you get on with the rest of the dish.
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/ gas mark 7. Cut out and discard the stalks from the chard leaves. Blanch for a minute in boiling water. Cool down in cold water. Dry on kitchen towel. Line tartlet tins or ramekins with the leaves. Fill them up with the tomato pulp. Place a sprig of thyme on each, plus a teaspoon of olive oil. Fold the edges of the chard leaves over the top and bake for 15 minutes. Turn out on to plates and dribble - not drizzle, note - a little more oil over each.
Sea trout with mashed broad beans
I have a friend, Mark Clarfelt, a prince among men and fishermen, and he caught a 12lb sea trout. As another fisherman once wrote about another fish, "It wasn't just large, it was gigantic." I wish I could have said that about a fish I had caught. I have twice caught a sea trout, and both times I cooked it very soon after, and very simply, because that's what you should do with sea trout: the subtlety and delicacy of its flavour, the refinement of its texture, calls for minimal interference. That's not to say it doesn't benefit from a sauce. All fish - in fact, almost all foods in the world - are better off for a sauce. No, I mean that the fish requires minimum interference. That's why I poach it just in salted water. My experience with court bouillons, the classic poaching medium, is that the fish picks up trace flavours, and I don't want that. I just want the taste of the fish.
1 whole sea trout, cleaned and gutted, about 1.5kg
800g old broad beans, podded
250ml chicken stock
Juice of ½ lemon
1 small bunch parsley
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp double cream
Cook the sea trout by putting it in a fish kettle, roasting tray or any other heat-proof container large enough to hold it. Cover it with cold water. Add plenty of salt - one or two tablespoons - and nothing else. Bring slowly to simmering point, then turn off the heat. As if by magic, the fish will be perfectly cooked. You can leave it in its bath until you need it. I am not sure that this needs anything other than the broad beans, but if you want a sauce, try the lemon sauce I suggested with the whiting the other week.
Put the broad beans into a pan, cover with the stock and boil until well cooked - 15 minutes, I would say. If you are really finicky, you will now squeeze the brilliant, emerald green centres out of their wrinkled, greyish skins. I am not finicky. More to the point, I like the deep-down and earthy flavour of the skins. So I bung the whole beans into the food processor along with the remains of the stock, lemon juice and parsley, and blast it all to a purée. Turn this out into a saucepan, check the seasoning, beat in the cream and gently reheat.
Raspberry water ice
Aka granita. Now is the season of raspberries, my favourite summer fruit. Mostly I like them waist deep in golden cream and dusted with sugar, but I can't give a recipe for that, so here's one that is delicious and refreshing in equal parts. And very easy to make, even with a finger bound in plaster. In summer I keep a jar of sugar syrup in the fridge just for making sorbets and granitas.
375ml sugar syrup
Juice of 2 lemons
Blast the raspberries to a pulp in blender or processor, along with the syrup. Push the resulting purée through a sieve to get rid of the pips. Add the lemon juice. Pour into a plastic container and slide into the freezer. After an hour, check it - ice crystals should have started to form around the edge. Give it a good stir with a fork. Repeat the process every 30 minutes or so until frozen.