Each bracketed stretch of 365 days is unusual and burdensome in their own uniquely spiced way, but 2022 really does have more infinitely nihilistic, all-bets-are-off flavour than most. What is it this time, you ask? Well, I finally got Covid, and for nine days was pinned to my bed with all the force of a brick hurled into a paddling pool. On the upside I retained my sense of smell and taste, on the downside — brain fog. I feel so stupid, and not in the usual administrative ways that I’m used to. Unfortunately I’ve tied my entire personality and sense of self and worth into various acts of writing and it’s no fun having that gigantic part of my life become an arduous struggle, and I apologise if this is evident in today’s blog post. On the whole I’m grateful I got Covid when I did (post-vaccinations), am very grateful that I was taken care of, and I know my experience is comparatively tame, but still: 0/5 stars, would not recommend.
So it’ll be no surprise that I’m coming back with a purposefully simple recipe, this Tomato, Bread, and Olive Hash — I mean, just the word hash lets you know that there’s little visual or structural expectations at play here — three main ingredients, a little frying, that’s all there is to it. This recipe is more or less the same as Nigella Lawson’s in her book At My Table, but I’ve added olives coated in flour for a little extra encrispening (although you could skip this step if you’re impatient) and while I wouldn’t expect to pay forty dollars for a plate of this at a restaurant, its pastoral unfiddliness is reassuring, and a comfort both to regard and to eat.
Simple it may be, but not bland: the tomatoes, just bursting and collapsing in the heat, soak into the oil-crisped cubes of bread, the almost meaty (almost, let’s not get carried away here) olives unite the tomatoes and bread with their briny salinity. I left out Nigella’s specified shallot and let the chives do the talking, allium-wise, and added the rosemary simply because I had some from Mum’s garden, but its earthy richness is always welcome. Something in the textural state of flux makes every mouthful of hash a thrill (specifically, will this piece of bread be crunchy or soggy?) and making, eating, and now writing about it makes me feel closer to being myself again.
In happier news, hungryandfrozen.com is fifteen years old today! Having squandered all my brainpower on the preceding paragraphs I’ve got nothing clever to say about this momentous occasion, and wish I had the energy or resources to do something celebratory, but when it comes down to it I’m glad I started my blog and I’m glad it’s still here and to everyone who has ever taken time out of their day to read it: thank you.
Tomato, Bread, and Olive Hash
Simple, comforting, easy, beautiful. Feel free to glance at the quantities specified and then just use as much of any ingredient as you want; if you add more tomatoes it will be more tomato-y, and so on: you really can’t go wrong. Adapted from a recipe in At My Table by Nigella Lawson.
- 1/3 a crusty baguette, or one to two good-sized ciabatta or sourdough buns, depending on appetite
- 70g pitted green olives
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chives, snipped
- the leaves from one stem of rosemary
- salt and pepper, to taste
1: Slice the bread into rough cubes and chunks (about an inch an a half in length, but it doesn’t matter) and set aside. Briefly chop the olives so that some are left whole and others are in bits, and toss with the two tablespoons of flour in a small bowl. Finally, dice your tomato into pieces about the same size as the bread cubes.
2: Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan and once it’s good and warm, tip in the bread cubes and let them sizzle away until golden and crisp and crouton-y. This requires patience but vigilance, as the cubes will first appear to be doing nothing and then they’ll rapidly toast up all at once, so be ready with the tongs to remove them to a bowl (or to your eventual serving plate, if you want to save on dishes). There should be a little oil left in the pan, but if not, pour in another tablespoon or so and fry the olives until all dusty traces of flour on their surface has cooked and they’re a little browned and crisped in places. Leaving the olives in the pan, tip in your chopped tomatoes, and stir for another minute or two, until the pieces of tomato start to collapse.
3: Return the toasted bread cubes to the pan, give it a stir just to amalgamate and to allow the bread to start absorbing the tomatoes, and then remove from the heat.
4: Pile everything onto a serving plate, and scatter over your chives (you can finely chop them on a board but I prefer to hold a handful over the plate and snip them with scissors) and the rosemary leaves. See if it wants any seasoning — probably more likely pepper than salt, since the olives are already salty — and eat.
- I got some green olives that had been marinated in garlic which, as you can imagine, was a fine addition to the dish. If you can only get olives with the stone in them, remember that they’ll add extra weight, so you might want to use 90g instead of 70g (but also, those quantities are really just a guideline, add as many olives as you want.)
- I know you’re not supposed to fry with extra virgin olive oil but everything is so expensive these days and it’s easier just to have one kind of olive oil on the go. If you have regular olive oil then use that for sure, but the olive flavour is important, so I wouldn’t recommend replacing it here with any other kind of oil like sunflower or rice bran.
Beautiful Briny Sea by Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. And we’re back to bad news: After Stephen Sondheim, Angela Lansbury’s was the inevitable death I’ve most been dreading. She was a continual and immensely comforting presence in my life and someone with even a quarter of her astonishingly diverse career could consider themselves a high achiever. Any number of her songs matter to me but I was raised on Bedknobs and Broomsticks, taped off the TV onto a VHS and watched and rewound till I could practically act it out for you off-book. I’m still not sure if there’s a higher form of wit than cartoon and live action characters interacting, and I love that Lansbury was allowed to become a major musical star with such an off-kilter voice. I’m sorry she’s gone — I’m glad our lifetimes overlapped for a while.
Out on the Floor, by Dobie Gray. This song radiates happiness, no, elation, and with every “hey-hey-hey” it feels like sunbeams are shooting out of your outstretched palms.
Hail Holy Queen from Sister Act; while in bed with Covid I wasn’t up to watching anything challenging but even so I’d forgotten what a balm this film is, with every minute of its runtime swaddling you, telling you it’s all going to be okay. Whoopi Goldberg is so charismatic yet grounded, and Dame Maggie Smith could do generic disapproval in her sleep but you truly feel the searing rays of her vexation, and this song — with its fake out initial verse leading up to the beat drop, Sister Mary Roberts’ riffing, and the punchy Latin bridge, makes me wildly emotional. I sang this once with my primary school choir, and it’s every bit as exhilarating to perform as it is to watch, let me tell you.
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