Tag Archives: No Oven Required

A Fruity Little Snifter

Japanese quince brandy

There’s Brandy in the Jar – Oh!

As you will probably have gathered if you have read more than this post, I do like to get the maximum use from my produce, especially if I have grown or gathered it myself. In this, the last of my Japanese quince posts, I am getting even more out of my harvest. I’m also starting right in on my resolutions, by blogging about booze. And I assure you, this one couldn’t be easier.

I have read a lot about quince liqueurs with vodka and honey. I have also read a fair bit about quince brandy, which sounded a lot better to me. Especially after I was given a copy of Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry for Christmas, and she gives some really tempting takes on Kir Royale using quince brandy and either French cider or English sparkling white wine. I am also thinking of taking the best of both ideas and making something with the brandy and this very special cider from Sussex, Gospel Green Champagne Method Cider (look out for them, they are from West Sussex, but don’t have a website. This is truly remarkable “bubbly” style cider) if I can get hold of some.

Fruit brandies of this kind, and those distilled from scratch used to be pretty popular. You may know them as eau de vie, rakia, or brandywine, and they are still popular across Europe, but especially in the Eastern countries – Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, and as far down as Turkey.

Of course, these are meant for quince or Cydonia oblonga, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t translate into Japanese quinces too. I selected some of the nicest fruit, and set them aside.

Then the next dilemma was whether or not to go with sugar.  For advice on this, I turned to Twitter. Luckily for me, preserving queen, Vivien Lloyd and beekeeper extroadinaire, Zoë Lynch were listening, and they both said sugar was wise, so sugar it was. Thank you both, if you are reading, although I didn’t go with that much, because I figured that I can always add sugar, but I can’t take it away if the brandy is too sweet.

The brandy needs to steep  for anything up to a year, so I haven’t tried this yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Recipe: Japanese Quince Brandy

Ingredients

5-6 Japanese Quince

50 g muscuvado sugar

2 star anise

Brandy

Sterilised jar wide enough to get the fruit into

Method

Slice the quince, but leave the seeds in. Layer the quince into the jar, and sprinkle the sugar and the star anise between the layers.

Top the jar up with brandy. The fruit will be fine in here, as long as the jar is full, and the fruit doesn’t get exposed to air. I used a 700 ml jar, so needed a fair bit of brandy.

Leave it in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months, taking it out to shake it when you remember.

Strain off the brandy, and pour into a sterilised bottle, where it will keep until you have tracked down some of that excellent cider. Top up with more brandy, if necessary.

Oh, and I’m also thinking that there will be a good use for the fruit, possibly added to apples. I’m sure I’ll think of something tasty to do with them.

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Acceptable Ways With Sprouts

A Stalk of Sprouts

From Bleurgh to Bogies

“What’s the difference between Brussels sprouts and bogies?”, goes the old joke, (You can’t get kids to eat Brussels sprouts!), and for many years these particular little green balls have divided households, especially during the festive season.

In my house, tradition called for sprouts on the plate, even if the kids left them there. Every other year it was the subject of a running battle between  my grandmother and me. As a small child, I would absolutely refuse to eat them; boiled, as they were back then, with the mystifying cross cut in the base. A bit like I do now, my Gran abhorred food waste, and loathed the fact that the sprouts would sit, untouched, on my plate. Unlike me, Gran did not do creative things with leftovers. She would threaten to give me those emerald cannon balls for the next meal, and the next, thinking that I would capitulate at some point and eat them. I was made of much stubboner stuff, and we would grumble and mutter at each other, while the sprouts festered somewhere (usually in the dog).

Nowadays, boiling sprouts is no longer compulsory. I am still not going to plant these in favour of kale, cavalo nero, or purple sprouting broccoli; but if I am presented with a stalk, I will no longer stamp my feet and dig in my heels in a resolve not to get them down my gullet more steadfast than that shown by Gandalf when he faced down the Balrog.

Instead, I have learned that sprouts are better if they see minimal water during the cooking process, and that they should definitely never be allowed to boil in water for any length of time. Indeed, unless you are making a soup of leftovers (of which more later), it is probably best to keep them out of water altogether, after they’ve been washed.

Sprouts are actually delicious, delicate and tender when eaten raw, so they make lovely salads and coleslaws. I think I got this from Nigel Slater, but pomegranate and sprouts are a lovely match in a salad. The sprout tops are also great for this, as they are tender and not as powerful as their smaller, tighter offspring down the stalk.

Cooking them in fat – bacon fat or duck fat is always a winner. I have done a sort of confit with halved sprouts cooked slowly in duck fat, and plenty of  thyme, which is pretty good, but not for those looking after their cholesterol.

I also like covering halved sprouts with a cartouche and letting them steam in a cm or so of stock in the bottom of a pan, until the liquid is absorbed. Again, meat stock is better, I often use chicken or ham stock, but vegetable stock is also good for this, if you are a vegetarian. This will take about 5-10 minutes on a medium heat, providing the stock is at simmering point when you add it to the sprouts.

The recipe that I’m about to share is an obvious combination, but  it works so well. And you can make a great soup with the leftovers (which I’ll be sharing here soon).

I hope that you have a go with some of these ways to eat Brussels Sprouts. I hope that together we can banish emerald green christmas bombs forever and move towards many more acceptable ways. The only question is, how do you eat yours?

Stir Fried Sprouts

More Than Acceptable

Recipe: Stir Fried Sprouts

Ingredients

10 sweet chestnuts

100 g streaky bacon cut into lardons

400 g Brussels sprouts

A splash of water

Method

If you are using fresh chestnuts, then you will need to peel them, and take off the hairy coating. This is the best method that I have found for peeling them. Once they are peeled, chop them roughly.

In a large frying pan, gently fry the bacon on a low heat, to render off some of the fat, and until the lardons are crispy. Remove to a piece of kitchen towel. Unless your bacon has given off more fat than a duck might, try to retain as much of the fat as you can.

Meanwhile, halve the sprouts, then shred them thinly.

Fry off the chopped chestnuts, until they start to brown. Add the shredded sprouts, and stir until the green brightens a little. Do not let them catch, burnt cabbage is not pleasant. Add a splash of water, and allow it to steam off.

Return the bacon to the pan, and mix well. Serve immediately with a big roast. This year we had a gammon. Don’t worry about the leftovers; soup is always a post Christmas winner.

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Green Bean Chutney: A Taste of My Childhood

Runner Beans, Unknown var

From One Generation to the Next

Every year I grow runner beans in my garden. I don’t know what variety they are, they were originally given to me by my father from seed that he saved from his garden. I have never bought runner beans, and subsequent generations of dad’s seeds have grown successfully across four different gardens/climates and in two different countries.

We always had runner beans, fresh from the garden, throughout the summer and early autumn months. I used to take them for granted, since they always came, no matter what the weather or growing conditions that year.

After I moved out of home, I only really got runner beans if I was visiting my parents. Back then, I tended to shop in supermarkets, and runner beans were not a popular supermarket choice, maybe because it is hard to get them to be completely uniform, like the Stepford style apples and tomatoes that they prefer to sell.

When I first started to get a veg box, I got some runners, to my delight. Just like Mum used to, I settled in to string and slice them. I was jolted by a powerful memory of Mum doing this, often in front of Last of the Summer Wine on a Sunday evening.

When large amounts of beans were being prepared, I always got a bit excited, because I knew that the next day she would make Green Bean Chutney.

Just as my Dad always grew our vegetables, Mum always made a lot of our food from scratch. Chutneys, pickles and jams were no exception. In fact, I didn’t have factory produced jam until I left home; and frankly, I found it wanting.

I have always loved Green Bean Chutney. I used to have it every day at school, and all of the other kids would say stuff like “eurgh, that’s gross” and “Why do you always have that yellow stuff in your sandwiches?”. I would smile at them, safe in the knowledge that they didn’t know what they were missing, and if they didn’t want to try any, then Mum would be less tempted to give some away.

Jars of Green Bean Chutney

Sandwich Filler

Now I am older, I make Green Bean Chutney for myself. The Big Guy is a total convert as well.

As you may have seen, I am a bit of a preserving addict, so I am always giving them as gifts to friends and relatives. Despite the fact that we grow extra runner beans, so that we can make this chutney, the Big Guy still severely rations the Green Bean, in order to keep more for himself.

If I am honest, I am a little loathe to give it away, too!

So, I thought that I would share the recipe for Green Bean Chutney with you, in the hope that you can make it for yourselves, and I get to keep all of the jars that I make!

So, here is my Mum’s Green Bean Chutney. She gave it to me, but I am not really sure where she got it from originally. Maybe she can let you know, by leaving her first ever blog comment – over to you Mum?

You can  also use French Beans in this recipe, or a mixture of both French and Runners. Next year, thanks to my Seedy Penpal, Charlotte, I am going to grow a few yard long beans too, so I shall be experimenting with those as well.

My bean harvest was a little late getting going this year, but hopefully you will still be able to find some beans to try it yourself.

Do  you have any food that evokes such strong childhood memories? I’d love to hear about them.

Green Bean Chutney, Cheese and Crackers

Super Match

Recipe: Green Bean Chutney

Ingredients

I have converted this recipe from imperial to metric

3-4 jam jars

700 g runner beans (or French or other green beans, or a mixture)

1 kg  onions

Cold water to cover

1 dstsp salt

350 g demerara sugar

600 ml malt vinegar (I can;t get malt vinegar over here, so I use 500 ml white wine vinegar and 100 ml balsamic)

1 dstsp turmeric

1 dstsp powdered English mustard

1 tbsp cornflour

Method

Sterilise the jam jars in a dishwasher, or wash them in hot water, dry them and leave them in a low oven while you make the chutney. Either way, they will need to be hot when you put the chutney in it.

String and slice the beans (or use a stringless variety), making sure that they are roughly the same size – this is especially important if you use a mix of bean varieties.

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Add them to a preserving pan (or a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan) with the beans, cover them in water, and add the salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until tender.

Strain the water, and return the vegetables to the pan. Add half of the vinegar and the sugar. Cook for a further 10 minutes.

Mix together the cornflour, spices and the rest of the vinegar, and mix to make sure there are no lumps. Pour this into the pan, with the vegetables.

Bring the chutney back up to the boil, and hold it there for a few minutes, until the mixture thickens. You need some liquid though, because this will stop it drying out in the jars.

Fill the hot jars with the chutney. Then distribute the liquid between the jars, so that they are full to about 3 mm from the top.

Put a wax disc, wax side down, over the chutney, and seal it with cellophane. Don’t use a lid, the vinegar will corrode the metal, and may leave you exposed to some nasty microbial activity.

Don’t discard any excess liquid, it is great in salad dressings.

You need to leave the chutney for a week to allow it to meld and mellow.

This is a brilliant accompaniment to cheese, cold meats, salads, and is a particular marvel with jacket potatoes, and bubble and squeak.

UPDATE: In a very timely way, I found out that Susan at A Little Bit of Heaven on A Plate is running a Home Made and Well Preserved competition. So I thought that I would share my lovely childhood chutney there too, and maybe win some spices (fingers crossed).

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Red Lettuce Day

Thai Chicken, Mango and Noodle Salad

A spicy salad with a difference

Once a week, I volunteer at an Urbania Hoeve permaculture garden. It is great fun, and I am learning a lot. Another bonus is that I have been able to experience a number of different vegetables, as well as save the seeds from them to try them in my own garden.

As you can see from the salad photo, I have used nasturtium (leaves and flowers) in this salad. This is not new to me, I’ve been eating nasturtium for as long as I have been growing them.

Despite having called this post Red Lettuce Day, the two plants that I would like to talk about aren’t actually lettuces, but they are red, and plants that were new to me this year.

The first is Perilla, or Shiso (Perilla frutescens). Although I wasn’t aware of it, I have been looking for this plant since I went to Japan for work, and wanted to have a go at growing the fragrant leaf that you find in many of their broths and ramen. They translate it as morning glory, which I was very disappointed to find isn’t edible, after I had found and started to grow it.  Following a bit of a twitter storm earlier in the year, I found and grew the green version of this, and have been eating the red version from the permaculture garden.

I really love perilla in salads. It has a distinctive perfumed flavour, with a slight aniseed kick. It is a pretty strong herb, so you don’t need a lot of this to provide you with a lot of flavour. It is also good in broths and gravies, and is used a lot in pickles in Japanese cookery.

Orache (Atriplex hortensis) also comes in red and green varieties. You may be able to find the green version in the wild over here. In other temperate zones, it is possible to find it, but it is more likely to be a garden escapee. Like most wild greens, orache tastes very irony. It can be used anywhere that you would use spinach, raw or cooked. I have some seed saved, so I hope that I can grow some here too next year.

Both seem relatively easy to grow, but they need sun, so I can only grow them in a small part of my shady garden. I don’t mind, I’m looking to use them as part of a large mix in the suitable beds anyway, and I think they’ll be fine. I hope that more people will give them a go, I can recommend them.

This is an entry for the 52 Week Salad Challenge, where there has already been much discussion about red and green lettuces, and their attractiveness to slugs. I am not sure if these plants are particularly attractive to slugs in any case, but they are certainly both very tasty in my opinion!

I made up a Thai chicken and mango salad with my haul from the permaculture garden, and I used fresh coconut, which has just hit the markets around here.  I give the recipe below, but this is really easy to tweak if you don’t have your own permaculture garden to play in, or if you want a veggie version or whatever.

For example, you can substitute Thai (AKA holy basil) or even ordinary basil for the perilla; you can swap out the orache for spinach;  you can use cooked chicken without the marinade; or you can even leave it out if you would like. If you don’t have fresh coconut, use coconut flakes. It’s pretty versatile. The key components are really the dressing and the mango, with some contrasting salad flavours and crunch. Whatever salad leaves you choose will need to be robust enough to stand their own against the other strong flavours.

As always, this recipe serves 2 people, but is easily scalable.

Do you have any leaves you think would be good in this salad?

Recipe: Thai Chicken and Mango Salad

Ingredients

If using uncooked chicken:

4 chicken thighs, boned

3 tbsp oyster sauce

2 cloves garlic, crushed to a fine paste

5 cm knob of fresh ginger

½ tbsp light soft brown sugar (lichtbastaard suiker)

pinch chilli powder

If using cooked chicken: 

200 g cooked chicken, cut into bite sized chunks

For the salad:

200 g rice vermicelli noodles

150 g fresh or flaked coconut, cut in thin strips

50 g raw cashews, roughly chopped

1 mango (it can be green or ripe), diced

1 red pepper, diced

½ cucumber. diced

2 spring onions, finely sliced

200 g beansprouts, or other sprouted seeds

10-15 red perilla leaves

Bunch of red orache leaves

Bunch of nasturtium leaves

For the dressing:

3 tbsp fish sauce (optional)

1 tbsp soy sauce

Juice and zest of 1 lime

½ fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely diced, or a pinch of dried chilli flakes

Small amount of brown sugar to taste

Nasturtium flower to garnish (optional)

Method

If you are using uncooked chicken, cut down the thighs so that they are one flat piece. Mix together the marinade ingredients and coat the chicken pieces on all sides.

Roast off in a moderate oven (about 180°C) until the chicken is just cooked. Baste it with the marinade at points throughout the cooking time. Remove from the oven, and set aside

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, drain, and plunge into cold water, to stop them overcooking. Drain again.

Mix up the dressing, and add to the noodles.

Dry fry the coconut, until brown and toasted. Remove from the pan, then toast the nuts in the same way.

Toss together all the salad ingredients, except the leaves, and add to the noodles. Mix well.

If you are using the marinated chicken, cut it up into bite sized dice.

Toss the chicken and the leaves through the salad. Top each one with a nasturtium flower, and serve immediately.

This makes a filling and unusually tasty salad. Perfect as an evening meal.

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A Shaggy Mushroom Story

Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom

Shaggy Ink Cap

I have just got back from the UK, where I was attending my sister’s wedding.  She and her groom did a lovely job, with the help from friends and family. A great time was had by all, and the weather mostly held off. Congratulations to my sister and her new husband!

I also managed to fit in a little bit of a forage, between the wedding day and the train home. I found some blackberries, at last. This year has been terrible here, probably because of the lack of pollinators. I got enough for a couple of good crumbles, or maybe even a pie. I also got a sizeable amount of rowan berries, which I am experimenting with. I will bring you the recipe shortly.

I found these little beauties. I wasn’t looking for them, in fact I was busy with other things, but once you start to forage, spotting things in fields and hedgerows becomes like second nature. You can’t help but investigate, which often leads to thinking up ways to use your finds.

As Shaggy Ink Caps do not keep well at all, I quickly made them into a tasty little soup. It was really delicious, as they have a nice nutty, mushroomy taste. I did not get pictures, because (as the name suggests) it was a grey/black colour, not unlike food containing squid ink. I think that adding wilted and chopped spinach would help to make the dish look more appetising, if you are averse to odd-coloured food. Don’t let the colour put you off, the soup is definitely worth it.

I have given the recipe below, in case you come across any for yourself.

WARNING: It is very easy to confuse the Shaggy Ink Cap with the Common Ink Cap. Both are edible, but the Common Ink Cap will poison you if you eat it with alcohol.There have been no reported fatalities from this kind of poisoning, but the symptoms can be uncomfortable.  In fact, alcohol is best avoided for at least the next day too, to be on the safe side.  Please also stick to Basic Fungus Foraging Rules when picking mushrooms.

Common Ink Cap Mushrooms – not to be taken with alcohol

This soup was enough for 2 people, and will freeze well before the cream is added.

Recipe: Shaggy Ink Cap Soup

Ingredients

6 young Shaggy Ink Cap mushrooms (before they flatten out and look black and kind of slimy)

1 tbsp olive oil

Small knob of butter (optional)

1 medium onion

1 fat garlic clove

400 ml chicken or vegetable stock

100 ml cream (or milk would probably do)

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Leftover pasta to thicken (optional)

Method

Chop the onion, and roughly chop the garlic, and sweat them off in some olive oil, until translucent.

Roughly chop the caps of the mushrooms, and chop the stalks reasonably finely. Add to the onion and garlic, and add the butter. Season well with salt and pepper, and fry off. This stage may take a while, as you want to try to drive off the black moisture that will seep from the mushrooms.

At this point I added the pasta, to give a bit of bulk. You could also add leftover rice, or cooked potato. You could probably also add raw potato when you sweat the onion. Or leave out the starch altogether. I mainly added it because it was in the fridge.

Add warm stock, and the chopped stalks of the parsley. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Blitz in a food processor, or with a stick blender until it is as smooth as you like your soup. I don’t like it completely smooth, so I don’t do this as long as I could if I liked a more homogenous texture.

Return to a pan, and add the cream and the chopped parsley leaves. Warm, but do not boil. Taste for seasoning, and serve.

You can also add a swirl of cream in the bowl if you want it to look a bit more fancy, but really, how fancy can a kind of grey/black soup get?

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Garden Companions and a Lemony Salad

Foraging Spot, De Bretten, Netherlands

Pretend it’s a Salad!

Well, it has been a little while since I posted, which I blame on having broken my camera. It also means that I am about to do something that you should never do on a food blog, and that is publish a post without a photo of the food. I did have a corker to share, but it is lost, so you will have to wait until next I make this recipe. In the meantime, please enjoy the view from one of my favourite foraging spots, complete with convenient resting place for my containers.

In this area, people have also planted a guerilla garden. It has been here as long as I have been coming, and probably longer. You may be able to make out Jerusalem artichoke in the picture, and there are potatoes, pumpkins and corn at various times of the year. There is also a lot of mint, which I think was planted initially, but the conditions in the Netherlands are perfect for this herb, and now it is running rampant.

I may have mentioned that we are trying to eat healthily but with all the flavour, and one of the salads that really fits the bill is fattoush. This is a Lebanese salad that uses sumac and lemon to give a really zingy dressing. I have been buying sumac, but I’m delighted to learn that you can actually forage for this plant. It is a native of North America, but apparently it has been a popular garden and municipal plant in the UK. I shall be looking out for it here too.

Despite trying conditions for many of our crops this year, our herbs have gone crazy. So, I didn’t need to forage the mint for this recipe, but at least I’d have known where to go. I don’t take any of the other plants in the guerilla garden, because they are clearly loved and cared for, but there is enough mint here to keep Cuba in mojitos for a decade.

I am also proud to say that this salad contained my first ever Little Gem lettuce.

Since my course back in March, I have been trying to garden according to permaculture principles.  Part of this is that you try to avoid bare soil in an effort to preserve the soil microbiology, take advantage of microclimates, and to prevent the army of local cats from pooing near your veg.

OK, that last one is more a principle of mine, since they used to see our dug over soil as a litter box, little*ahem* darlings. But it does adhere to the principles of  using and valuing diversity, letting a problem become the solution, and (literally) reducing waste 🙂

Based on companion planting charts that are widely available on the internet, I decided to underplant my asparagus with lettuces, marigolds, and chicory. These included red velvet, a leaf lettuce called “Australian Yellow”, a mixed salad, and the aforementioned Little Gems. Most of them have done well, apart from the red velvet. I think this is because a cat got to the spot that night I planted the seed.

So with parsley and mint in abundance and Little Gems and radish doing well, garden fattoush was the salad of choice. A lot of flavour, with the potential of foraging. Could you ask more from a salad?

I’d be really interested in hearing about other people’s efforts at companion planting. Do you have any particular favourites that grow well, or help against pests? Please do share them in the comments.

Recipe: Fattoush Salad

Ingredients

2 pita breads, diced

1 tsp oil for frying

2 Spring onions (or more if really like them), finely sliced

Zest and juice of one lemon

3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sumac

200 g cherry tomatoes (or baby plums), halved

½ cucumber, chopped into large dice

small bunch radishes; roots quartered lengthways, and smaller leaves

2-3 Little Gem lettuces, leaves only, chopped in half

Large handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves whole and stalks finely chopped

Smaller handful of mint, leaves only, roughly chopped

Method

In a frying pan, heat a little oil until it is quite hot. Fry the diced pita breads until they are golden. You will need to stir them occasionally. Drain onto kitchen paper.

While the bread is frying, mix together the lemon juice and zest, the good olive oil, the sumac and the spring onion. Leave aside for a  few minutes to take the raw edge off the onion.

Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, salad leaves, herbs and the radish roots and leaves in a large bowl. Dress the salad with the dressing, and toss well.

Add the pita bread, stir briefly, and serve immediately.

Sounds appetising, doesn’t it? I’m sure you can picture this one without a photo.

 

 

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Simple Ways to Avoid Onion Breath

Sliced Red Onion

Not Your Lunch Time Friend

Raw onion: a lot like Marmite, it is a very divisive ingredient in any dish. Alliums in general are used to impart flavour to a wide range of food, both raw and cooked, but they are pungent and packed with sulphur compounds that make you cry and give you bad breath.

There is a growing trend amongst lunch venues to put red onion in a variety of salads and sandwiches almost everywhere I have been or travelled to. Why do they do this? Apart from making me really thirsty, raw onions are a little antisocial, especially if you have to return to breathe onion fumes all over your colleagues, and anyone that you happen to be having a meeting with that afternoon. I also think it is really lazy. There are several easy ways to avoid this, without compromising on flavour or crunch.

If I am going to be using shallots in a salad dressing, or taboulleh, I address the problem by soaking them in the vinegar of the dressing before I add the rest of the ingredients. A good 10 minutes in the vinegar will reduce the affect of sulphur compounds, as well as develop the flavour.

Similarly, if I am going to make guacamole, a 10 minute pre-soak of the onion in the lime juice sorts out the problem of onion breath. It really isn’t difficult, and in reality doesn’t add loads of time to your prep, you can do it first, then get on with another element of your salad.

I have been eating a lot of salads, not just because of the 52 Week Salad Challenge, but also because they are healthy, low in fat and they are a great way of tasting the best of the seasons.

In the past, I have omitted the raw onion in a salad, but there are a couple that really are made better by the crunch and flavour of onion, but I don’t benefit from the unquenchable thirst I get when I’ve eaten them in any amount.

Panzanella is one of my favourite salads, but it loses a lot by leaving out the onion. Keeping the onion slices as crunchy as possible is also integral to the necessary contrasts of the dish too. For this reason, soaking it in the vinegar is not the best way forward, as this will reduce the crispness of the bite a little.

I am sharing my recipe for panzanella, because it contains the easiest tip for avoiding onion breath, it’s a fantastic salad, and it uses up leftover bread. What’s not to like?

Panzanella

Scented With Summer, Not Onions

Recipe: Panzanella

Ingredients

This will serve two people on its own, or 5 as a side dish

4 thick slices of stale bread, cut into large cubes

400 g tomatoes, different varieties, if you can get hold of them. They need to be ripe, and at room temperature.

½ cucumber, in large dice

1 red onion, finely sliced

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp blackberry vinegar, or red wine vinegar if you don’t have blackberry

1 tbsp capers

6-8 anchovy fillets (optional)

salt and pepper

15-20 basil leaves

Method

If the bread you are using is not stale (although this salad is much better with stale bread), you can dry out the bread in a low oven, or one that has been turned off from cooking something else.

Chop and slice the tomatoes. If you have pretty heirloom varieties, slice some of these and set aside as a decorative touch later. I was using a mix of varieties, which included marmande, plum, tigerella and black Russian. I put the red ones into the salad, and sliced the tigerella and black Russian for the plate.

Combine the cucumber, tomatoes and bread in a large bowl, and set aside.

Cover the onion slices in boiling water, and leave them there for about 2-3 minutes. This removes the sulphur from the onion, but does not cook it, so you still get the crunch, but none of the bad breath. Drain the onion, and leave to drip while you make the dressing.

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, capers and the chopped anchovy fillets. Adjust the acidity or oil to taste, but bear in mind that the tomatoes are also going to add acidity. Season well with salt and pepper.

Add the onions and the dressing to the salad, and mix well. Set aside to allow the flavours to develop for at least a couple of hours, or overnight in the fridge, if you can, but serve it at room temperature.

Just before you serve, roughly tear the basil leaves and mix them in.

If you like, you can add punchy salad leaves, like spinach, mizuna and rocket to add extra bulk. Do this when you add the basil, or the dressing will cook them.

This is a great salad to serve at a barbecue, or summer picnic, or as a side dish. It is also the tastiest way to use up leftover bread.

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Of Gluts and Gluttony

Courgette & tomato "Pasta"

Courgetti Spaghetti

Have you ever planted too many courgettes, or even had an exceptional year, and not known what to do with your excess? I’m sure that this has happened at some time to most gardeners, and you have been desperately trying to give them away to friends, relatives, passing students, and anyone who knocks at the door. Not to mention trying to pickle, grate or shove them into fritters, soups, salads, stews, cakes and on your breakfast.

This year, many of the courgettes seem to have got off to a very slow start, due to the weather, but we are now finally starting to see them take off.

This is a recipe that I use both to use up excess courgettes, and also because it is a tasty, and unusual take on a ratatouille.  It is also a low carb alternative to pasta, as well as being a quick and easy supper.

I have made this for many years. Sometimes, I make it even lighter, by keeping the cherry tomatoes whole, leaving out the onion, and grating in some lemon zest. I find this version needs a little more parmesan, and that you need to mix this in over the hob.

This courgette pasta is actually a version of Pasta Neapolitan.Using the courgette as pasta is also a nice alternative with many other pasta sauces – I have also tried it with al’arrabiata and puttanesca to great effect, but I also imagine it would be good with pesto, carbonara, mushroom-based sauces, and even bolognese, if you are careful not to add too much liquid  to the sauce.

I like to use herbs liberally in this dish, for an extra fresh kick. Always thyme, and I like to add oregano. Rosemary or basil would also work well. Play around with it, and see what you like best.

Simple & in Season Blog Badge

I am entering this into Simple an in Season for August, hosted by Ren of Fabulicious Food. There is nothing more seasonal than using a glut of your vegetables, and this dish really couldn’t be simpler.

If you do try this recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know which herbs you used, I’m always interested to hear what people have done with my recipes, and learn new variations.

Recipe: Courgetti Spaghetti

Ingredients

1 Medium onion, finely diced

A Little olive oil for frying

2 Cloves garlic, crushed to a paste

4-5 Sprigs thyme, leaves only

200 g Cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Courgettes

A little lemon juice

2 Large sprigs oregano, leaves only, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

A little freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve

Method

Sweat the onion off in a little olive oil, until the onion pieces are translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and cook out for a minute.

Add the cherry tomatoes, and cover the pan, to encourage the tomatoes to break down and cook out. Once the tomatoes have broken down a bit, uncover the pan, and allow to cook down on a low heat.

Top and tail the courgettes. Using a mandoline, and being careful of your fingers, make juliennes of the entire length of the courgette, to resemble spaghetti. You can julienne them by hand if you don’t have a mandoline, but this is time-consuming. Instead, take a vegetable peeler and peel the courgette lengthways to give you thin papardelle sized strips.

Cover the courgette strips with cold water with a little lemon juice in. This will stop the courgette from browning, while the sauce  cooks down.

When the sauce has been cooing for at least 15 minutes, and has thickened a bit, blanch the courgette strips in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. You want the courgette to retain some bite, but take the raw edge off. Drain well, and leave in a colander, for at least 10 minutes. You can squeeze a splash more lemon juice over them to prevent browning.

Because the courgette is much more watery than normal pasta, you want to cook the sauce down until it is fairly thick, otherwise the courgette will flood the sauce and dilute it.

When the sauce is almost too thick, add the oregano and mix through. Continue to cook on a low heat, and taste. You can add a little sugar (less than ¼ tsp) if you think you need a little more of the tomato flavour to come through. If you use very ripe tomatoes, you should not need this.

Add te well-drained courgette to the sauce, over the heat. You just want to combine the sauce and the courgette. The courgette is likely to start giving off water, so keep the heat on low while you mix  it all in, and season it to taste. Remove from the heat, and serve immediately, with a little parmesan cheese. Or leave the cheese off, for a simple, seasonal, vegan supper.

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Fairies That Can Really Pack A Punch

Marinated Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Fairy Salad

I recently got hold of some small Tinkerbell Peppers, of assorted colours. They are like bell peppers, but smaller. They are officially a dwarf sweet pepper, but it has given me some ideas for what to call those that I grow, which sometimes turn out not to reach their full size!

I jest. I saved the seed, and I’ll be planting some of these to see if I can grow them next year. We’ll see how successful I am. I hope they’re not F1 hybrids.

Tinkerbell Peppers in Perspective

Fairy-Sized

I recommend this variety, they are small, but perfectly formed, and have quite a lot of flesh for such small peppers, and they have much better flavour than the greenhouse varieties that we get from supermarkets. They would be great for stuffing to use as canapés, on the barbecue or even simply in salads.

I always knew I was going to marinate these peppers, which I often do to larger varieties, to serve with homemade burgers and veggie burgers at barbecues. At the moment, I am also trying to find ways of injecting a lot of flavour into salads, without adding too much by way of fat (more on that soon).

I also have some very good smoked Maldon sea salt, which complements the smokiness of the charred peppers perfectly. I usually char the peppers on my hob, but these were tiny little things, and I wanted to add to the salad by charring some ciabatta, so I used my griddle pan. A fairly recently lit barbecue would also be a great way to char the peppers, and the bread can char just before you serve it. The delicate smoke of the salt enhanced the smoky flavour of the peppers.

It struck me that I could use the peppers and the marinade to dress a nice salad. However, the salad would have to stand up to the punchy marinade, so a normal butterhead lettuce wouldn’t cut it (and this would definitely be no place for an Iceberg). I think any of the mustard greens would be suitable, as would watercress, and some of the foraged greens that are abundant at the minute (e.g. wood sorrel, sorrel, fat hen, chickweed). I had rocket, chickweed and parsley in the garden, so I used those. I bulked it up with some baby spinach. The iron and peppery flavours were just what was needed.

I have also found apple mint and sumac great for adding a lot of flavour to salad leaves, without resorting to cheeses and too much dressing.  If you have any other tips for creating good flavours, I’d love to hear them.

This entry is part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge, where they are currently discussing pests. I know Michelle would love to hear from you if you have anything to add about the bane of slugs or other nuisances.

Recipe: Smoky Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Ingredients

For the marinated peppers:

5-6 Tinkerbell peppers (or one or two large ones)

A little oil for the griddle pan

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tbsp blackberry vinegar (or sherry or red wine vinegar will work, even balsamic if you have to)

1 clove garlic, very finely sliced

Small pinch of dried chilli flakes

Good pinch of smoked salt (or normal sea salt)

Black pepper to taste

For the salad:

4 thick slices of ciabatta

A little extra virgin olive oil

A bunch of rocket

A large handful of baby spinach

Bunch of chickweed, chopped if the stalks are long

Bunch of parsley, leaves only

¼ cucumber, diced

8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Method

Heat a little oil in the griddle pan.

Halve and deseed the peppers. Put skin-side down in the hot pan, and leave until the skin chars and blisters. You may need to press them down a little on the rounded bits to get the skin to char evenly. Don’t worry that the skins go black.

When the skins are blackened and blistered all over, place them in a plastic bag, a bowl covered with cling film, or in an airtight container, and seal. Allow to cool for 5 or so minutes, when you will be able to rub the skins off easily.

In another airtight container mix a dressing of the extra virgin olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, chilli flakes, the salt and a little pepper. The acidity of a dressing tends to be a matter of taste, so adjust this to your liking.

While the skinned pepper halves are still warm, add them to the marinade, cover, and set aside for a while – at least half an hour – to allow the flavours to mingle. At this stage, you can use the marinade peppers as a side dish or relish too, if you like.

Drizzle the ciabatta slices with some olive oil, and put in the warm griddle pan. You should be able to hear it sizzle, as you put them in. You want a nice striped toast to the bread, so once it is in, resist the temptation to keep moving and checking it.

I used ciabatta rolls, cut in half, so I only toasted the cut side. Leave this for at least 3 minutes, until you can smell the bread toasting. If you are using bread slices, then turn it over, and char the other side, again resisting temptation to move it around. The second side will need slightly less time. Leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile wash the salad leaves and prepare the cucumber and tomatoes. When the bread is ready, dress the salad in the peppers and marinade, tossing to mix it well.

Serve the salad over the toasted bread, and pour over any remaining marinade.

You will have a smoky, hearty salad, that does not leave you wanting. The marinated peppers may have a fairy’s name, but they really do have a giant flavour.

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Sauce Grib-ish

Dill, Boiled Egg & Capers

Ooh, Saucy!

I first had a dish like this whilst having dinner at my friend’s. He writes the excellent Morning Claret wine blog. He really knows his stuff, so if you want some good wines, and great writing, go and give him a visit. Both he and his partner are very accomplished cooks, and it is always a joy to be invited to their house for fine wines, great food and excellent company. His version had anchovies in it, and he served us boiled globe artichokes to dip in it. I loved it, and decided that I would have a go at recreating it.

A bit of research later, and I have found that it was a variation of one of two classic French dishes. Either Sauce Gribiche or Ravigote. Of course, as with any classic dish, there are a lot of variations and the lines are blurred between the two. It seems that ravigote is more like a vinaigrette to which chopped boiled egg has been added, and in gribiche, the yolk is used to make a mayonnaise, and the chopped white is added. This is sauce is not quite either of those things, so I have called it Sauce Grib-ish.

I first made this after an Easter egg hunt left me with quite a few boiled eggs to use up. It also needed to be vegetarian for the friends that I had coming over. It is so versatile, you can serve it as a dip, over asparagus, or with fish and chicken. I’m also going to try to make a potato salad with it, I think it will be a great combination.

I am entering this simple seasonal sauce into Herbs on Saturday at Lavender and Lovage, although I only use dill in the recipe given, it will also be really good with tarragon, chervil or even parsley.

Sauce Grib-ish

Sauce Grib-ish

Recipe: Sauce Grib-ish

Ingredients

This sauce is easy to scale up or down, depending on how many people there are. I have given the amount for two people to have as a sauce to go with vegetables or fish. Taste is the key to this dish, as you need to balance the richness of the egg with the acid of the lemon and/or caper vinegar. The amounts I give here are approximate, so keep testing and adjusting the sauce, according to taste.

1 egg, hard-boiled

2 tbsp capers plus vinegar from the caper pot

Juice of ½ a lemon (or just the vinegar from the capers)

Small bunch dill, finely chopped

Good quality extra virgin olive oil

Method

First, halve the egg, and remove the yolk. Then finely chop the white.

Mash the yolk with a little lemon juice or vinegar. You want the yolk to be a smooth, runny paste, about the same consistency as thick pancake batter.

Roughly chop the capers, and mix together with the dill, egg yolk and egg white. Taste and adjust for acidity, adding caper vinegar if needed.

Add some olive oil and taste and adjust again. The amount of olive oil you need will depend on what you want to use it for. For example, if you are serving it as a dip with crudités, you will want a thick sauce that will stay on bread, tortillas or short lengths of carrot and cucumber. If you want to serve it to accompany artichokes or asparagus, you will want a much thinner consistency, so add more oil. For potato salad, you will want it somewhere in between. The oil will also alter the acidity, so make sure you taste and adjust as you go along.

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