An Autumn Lunch

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At this time of the year my southern Spanish vegetable garden is lush with green vegetables that in the north are considered spring vegetables. There are several varieties of lettuce and endive, Cima Di Rapa, crispy dark green chard, french beans, Mange-Toute and the sweetest baby courgettes……… So I want to feature this abundance in my meal. I dither between choosing to prepare a composed salad, or grilling some of the vegetables. In my other veg patch I find some small purple and white striped aubergines and a few asparagus spears. That helps me to make up my mind, grilled vegetables with a sweet and spicy pepper sauce. IMG_1390 My regular readers will know that I preserve whatever surplus I have of garden produce as I go along, so the sauce is based on a couple of these, the recipes for which you will find on previous blogs. SWEET AND SPICY PEPPER SAUCE Half a small jar of Red Pepper Salad 2 tablespoons Chilli Jam Juice of half a lemon Simply whizz together in the food processor The main course was Orechiette Pasta with Beef and Tarragon Meatballs in Mushroom Sauce. IMG_1389 BEEF & TARRAGON MEATBALLS WITH MUSHROOM SAUCE FOR 6 400 grams lean minced beef 2 garlic cloves – peeled 1 medium egg 25 grams dried breadcrumbs – preferably from good bread that you have dried and crumbed yourself Half a dozen sprigs of fresh tarragon Salt and freshly ground black pepper Plain flour Olive oil 100 grams fresh mushrooms, preferably ceps, but chestnut or oyster will do 20 grams dried ceps 300ml chicken stock Put the dried ceps in a small bowl and pour over enough boiling water to just cover. Leave to reconstitute. Crush the garlic cloves with a small amount of salt. Take the leaves off the tarragon stalks and chop finely. Put the minced beef in a bowl with the garlic, tarragon, breadcrumbs and egg. Mix thoroughly. Season with black pepper. Leave for about half an hour for the breadcrumbs to absorb moisture and bind the mix. Take small amounts of the minced beef mix and roll into balls and then roll in the flour. It is tedious to make the balls small, about 1.5 cm across is ideal, but they mix so much better with the pasta and are a perfect little mouthful this size that it is worth the effort. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and fry half the meatballs in one batch over a medium heat, turning from time to time to lightly brown them on all sides. Remove to a dish and fry the other half of the meatballs. Remove these too. While the meatballs are browning cut up the mushrooms into quite small pieces. Once the meatballs are out of the pan, add the mushrooms to it together with a little more oil if needed and gently fry them for about five minutes. Add the stock, soaked dried mushrooms and their liquid and bring to a simmer. Simmer for five minutes then add the meatballs and any juices that have seeped out of them. Simmer for five to ten minutes. Serve with pasta and parmesan cheese. For dessert, the Spanish classic, Cheese with Honey and Walnuts, the recipe appeared in a previous post. IMG_0389

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Nicoise Salad

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Composed salads with their mixture of textures, tastes and colours are very close to being perfect food, and a Nicoise Salad is one of the great classics in this category. Its mixture of green leaves and French beans, red tomatoes and peppers, black olives, white and yellow egg and the pinky brown of tuna make it a delight to look at.

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At the market today, my favourite fish stall had some superb fresh tuna, so I decided to sear it fairly rare and have it as part of a Nicoise Salad in place of the usual tinned tuna. Without losing the elements that make a salad a Nicoise, ie Tuna, Egg, French Beans, Tomatoes and Black Olives, there is room for you to make the salad your own. I prefer a poached egg to boiled as I like to mix the runny yolk into the salad. I also like to thin down the mayonnaise with a little water before pouring it over the salad. And I do love Chilli Jam with tuna, so although it is not traditional…..

Sopa De Ajo Blanco – Chilled Almond and Garlic Soup

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Here in southern Spain, those of us with almond trees make this soup with the first of the new harvest nuts. Cool and creamy, with a hint of garlic and the fruitiness of olive oil it is delightfully refreshing in the heat of summer and making it has become one of those traditions that one looks forward to each August.
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Making this soup used to be a labour of love involving much pounding of garlic and nuts with a pestle in a large mortar, nowadays with the aid of a liquidiser it is a much less labour intensive task to make. Having said that, it is only when the almonds are fresh that the graininess will disappear with blending. It is possible to make the soup with drier almonds, but you will have to strain it after blending to make sure that the texture is smooth and creamy.

Of course for us locals we still have to pick the almonds in the heat, shell them and them remove the inner brown skin, so this is not the dish for those in a hurry.

SOPA DE AJO BLANCO
FOR 4-6 People
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1 small clove garlic
Half a teaspoon of salt
100 grams fresh almonds
50 ml fresh fruity olive oil
1 litre cold water
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
50 grams fresh white bread without crusts
2 tablespoons small yellow raisins
Half a sweet eating apple cut into small dice

Peel the garlic clove and with the salt pound to a paste with a pestle and mortar. Add some of the oil and water and pound to mix. Put into the goblet of your liquidiser.

If you are starting with fresh off the tree almonds then weigh the kernels after cracking the shells and removing them.

To remove the brown skins, put the nuts into a plastic container and pour boiling water over them. Leave to soak for two to three minutes, then drain them and put them into cold water. The skins will peel off easily.
Add the nuts to the garlic in the liquidiser and whizz to grind them.

Add the rest of the olive oil, the bread cut into cubes, the vinegar and enough of the water that the mixture can make a thick sauce. Whizz for a couple of minutes until all is smooth.

Add the rest of the water and whizz again until very smooth and all graininess of the almonds has gone.
Check for seasoning. The soup may need more salt or vinegar.

Put the soup into a container that will fit into the fridge. Add the raisins and apple cubes, then leave the soup to chill for several hours before serving.

The soup may separate out a bit with the solids coming to the top of the mix, but don’t worry simply stir it back to an emulsion again.

Gratin of Onions & Potatoes

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I am afraid I have been side tracked and this post as you possibly already have noticed is not featuring the promised Ajo Blanco soup.

I have been today at one of Doris’s book exchange lunches where each of the participants contribute part of the meal. As I have had a very good crop of red onions and a similarly good one of potatoes, I offered to concoct a dish from these. The girls were asking at the end of the meal if the recipe was on the blog, which I think means that they liked it. So here it is on the blog.
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1 kilo onions
1 tablespoon olive oil
30 grams butter
1.5 kilos potatoes
200 ml chicken stock
100 ml thin cream
1 small tin anchovies
100 grams grated parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel and slice the onions into rounds.

Melt the butter and olive oil on a low heat in a large shallow pan. Add the onions and stir into the fats. Cover and cook slowly for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time until the onions are soft and translucent.

Peel the potatoes and slice into thin rounds.

Heat the chicken stock and cream together slowly. Chop the anchovies quite small and add together with their oil to the stock and cream. As the liquids heat the anchovies should dissolve.

Preheat the oven to 160 centigrade.

Once the liquids are hot, assemble the dish. You will need a shallow ovenproof dish.

Put a layer of overlapping potato slices in the bottom of the dish. Strew over a third of the onions, then a few spoonfuls of the stock mix, then thinly scatter over some grated parmesan. Season with black pepper, then continue with the layers finishing with a layer of potatoes generously covered with the grated cheese.

Cover and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.

You can cook to this point the day before the dish is needed, and the resting time does add to the flavour of the dish.

If you are serving the potatoes straight away, uncover them, turn the oven heat up to 180 centigrade and put the dish back in the oven for about 15 minutes until the top is nicely browned.

If you have prepared the dish in advance then it will need longer in the oven to reheat the potatoes through. I had my dish 10 minutes in the oven covered and then another 10-15 minutes uncovered until the top was nicely browned, again at 180 centigrade.

Sweet,Salty & Spicy Almonds

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This years almond crop is being harvested and the creamy fresh nuts always make me think of Ajo Blanco, a cooling and delicious soup that is a speciality of the area around Cordoba. The best one that I was served there was in the restaurant Casa De La Judia in the old town. Pale and smooth with no one flavour dominating and the consistency of a light cream, it was garnished with tiny cubes of sweet apple and halves of white grapes which added to the balance of the flavours.
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Of course once I got home I had to perfect my own recipe – but you are going to have to wait until the next post for that, firstly I want to use up the few remaining almonds from last year.

At some time in the dim and distant past I remember making sugared almonds but with a difference – they had spices mixed into the caramel. They were delicious and I may well make them again, but this time I wanted to include the spices but cut down drastically the amount of sugar used, and I like the mixture of salt and sweet, so I added some salt. Here is the resulting recipe.

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SWEET, SALTY AND SPICY ALMONDS
200 grams almonds – with or without the brown skin
Half teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 cloves
6-8 allspice berries
Half a teaspoon coriander seeds
The contents of 3 green cardamom pods
Quarter of a teaspoon hot chilli powder

Firstly we need to toast the spices before grinding them. Put the cloves, allspice berries, coriander seeds and cardamom seeds in a thick based pan and toast them on a low heat shaking from time to time until you can smell the aromas of them starting to be released.

Put them in a mortar and grind to a powder.

Add the chilli powder, salt and pepper, and mix.

Warm a thick based shallow pan on a low heat and add the almonds. Toast slowly moving the almonds around for even browning.

After a couple of minutes add the spice mix and continue toasting and stirring.

Once the almonds are browned add about a tablespoon or so of water and stir to mix well.
This will help the spice and seasonings stick to the almonds.

The water may disappear quite quickly, or you may need to continue on the heat until the almonds are dry again.

Let cool and serve as an aperitif……. and try not to sample too many before your guests arrive!

The Larder – Bethnal Green – London

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I don’t generally consider restaurant reviews to be part of what this blog is about, but the food in this vegetarian cafe is so good that it cannot not be mentioned. All the meals that I have ordered here have been so thoughtfully composed, executed and presented. Whoever designs the dishes has a real understanding of how to mix flavours and textures, and never forgets to consider how the components will look on the plate.

Today I treated myself to a Mexican breakfast – which I had for lunch.

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In the little brown pot beneath the grilled half mushroom, fried egg, guacamole and fresh coriander leaves was a rich and spicy tomatoey sauce thick with black and pinto beans, corn kernels, red peppers, celery and onions. There was just enough chilli to give it oomph without overpowering the rest of the ingredients, and it was fragrant with the flavour of garlic and coriander seeds.

Below the deep fried Padron peppers in the other pot was a flavoursome but not hot jalapeño purée. The tortilla chips were freshly deep fried and crispy.

I look forward to trying their egg and chips, one of the most appetising looking egg and chips that I have ever seen. Served on one of those pasta plates that is like a shallow soup bowl, there is a base of freshly made tomato sauce topped with a stack of fat crispy polenta chips which likewise is topped with a fried egg.

I hope it is on the menu next time I visit this restaurant.

http://www.worldslarder.co.uk

Arroz Negro – Black Rice

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Continuing on the rice theme, here is my favourite seafood and rice dish. It is fairly simple to make and does not have many ingredients, but the flavour of the squid ink and seafood mixed with that of the chilli and onion makes for a rich tasting dish. I regularly cook it just for myself.

FOR 6
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion – finely chopped
1 red pepper – chopped into small squares
1 green pepper – chopped into small squares
Half a red chilli – finely chopped
500 grams squid
500 grams mussels
500 grams prawns
250 grams rice
500 ml fish stock
500-750 ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Let’s start by preparing the fish.

Remove the innards from the squid and carefully remove the ink sacks into a small bowl. Cut the tentacles from the innards and save discarding the rest.

With the ink sacs, you need to break them open to release the ink and press them with the back of a spoon to make sure that it is all out before discarding the sac. In some places it is possible to buy the ink frozen in little sachets which saves on the fiddle of extracting the ink.

Wash the squid bodies and tentacles and dry them on kitchen paper. Cut the bodies into thin circles. If the tentacles are small leave them whole, but if large cut them smaller.
Clean the mussels and steam them open.

A lot of cooks like to cook the mussels in the rice, but I find that there is often grit in the mussel shells and so prefer to open them separately and then sieve the liquid. Also some mussels are extremely salty, so if you have their liquor apart, you can taste it for saltiness before deciding how much to add to your dish.

If I am making this rice just for myself, I use ready cooked and shelled mussels that I buy frozen and keep in the freezer for these sort of mixed fish dishes that only require 5 or 6 mussels.

The prawns can be left in their shells to be opened at the table, but if you prefer for easier eating, they can be de-headed and peeled now.

Heat the oil in a large shallow pan and add the onions. Fry gently until translucent.

Add the peppers and chilli and keep cooking gently for five to ten minutes.

Add the squid and and continue frying gently for another five minutes.

Add the rice and stir well to coat with all the other ingredients in the pan. Fry for about five minutes.
Mix a little of the fish stock into the ink to dilute it and add it to the pan with the rest of the fish stock. Mix well.

Cover and leave to simmer for about five minutes. If it is starting to look dry add some of the chicken stock.
After another five minutes add the prawns if they are in their shells and the liquor from the mussels. Check the seasoning in the liquor in the pan and add salt and pepper as required. Add more chicken stock if needed.

Continue cooking until the rice is at the al dente stage – cooked but with firmness in the centre.

using unshelled prawns add at this stage and then a couple of minutes later add the mussels and let them warm through.

Let the rice rest for five to ten minutes.

Serve with Alioli and a tomato salad.

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Spanish Rice Dishes – Arrozes

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The Spanish take their rice very seriously, and the other day I was discussing with a group of friends which their favourite rice dishes were, their favoured cooking methods, what variety of rice is best and should you include garlic and onions or not it? Can a good paella be made without rabbit? We all agreed, no.

It occurred to me that I had not shared any Spanish rice recipes with you. I am about to rectify that lack.
The one thing that all rice dishes here have in common, is that the rice is cooked in a flavoured liquid, and so the short to medium grain varieties of rice which absorb much liquid without disintegrating, are the ones used.
The best rice we all agreed is Bomba from Calasparra. The only rice cultivated here not at sea level, but in the flood plains of several rivers in the mountains where it grows slowly in the cool water, letting it develop lots of flavour. Consequently it is more expensive than other rice, but you get what you pay for.

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Cooking the rice outside on an open fire is unanimously the favoured cooking method preferred by my friends, although whether this is more to do with the atmosphere of gathering friends and family together and all pitching in with either ingredients to go in the rice or little starter dishes, rather than the actual flavour of the rice, I am not sure.

The paella illustrated above and cooked by my camera shy neighbour Paca, was made with rabbit, pork ribs, artichoke quarters and red and green peppers.

Obviously this method of cooking rice is not available to most of us, and is best suited to cooking for a good number of people, but that does not mean that a good paella for as few as one person cannot be successfully prepared in your own kitchen. The flavour of the fire can achieved by the addition of a pinch of good smoked pimenton or paprika.

There are as many paella recipes as cooks, and many are simpler and have fewer ingredients than the celebratory Paella Mixta with its several varieties of seafood plus chicken, rabbit, and pork ribs for the meat. I am going to start with my favourite which has as its two main ingredients, rabbit and butifarra sausage. The sausage is quite highly spiced, so if the butifarra is not available, use any other peppery sausage.

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PAELLA DE CONEJO Y BUTIFARRA
For Six
1 rabbit – cut into chunks with the bones in
1 Butifarra sausage of aprox 350 grams
1 onion – cut into small dice
1 red pepper cut into strips or small squares
1 -2 green peppers – cut into small squares
250 grams short grain rice – La bomba or any of the risotto rices
1 – 1.25 litres light stock
Saffron – 2 good pinches
Pimenton – 2 pinches
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
300 grams French beans – cut into short lengths

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Peel the sausage, cut into quarters lengthways and then into thick slices.

Put into a shallow pan on a low heat for the fat in the sausage to render out. If you are using a very lean sausage, then add some olive oil in which to gently fry the sausage.

Add the onions and fry slowly until transparent.

Add the peppers and again fry slowly for about 10 minutes.

Add the rabbit pieces and fry turning from time to time until sealed all round.

Now add the rice and stir in to make sure that it is coated with all the fat and juices from the other ingredients. Fry for about five minutes to let the rice absorb the juices.

Crumble into the pan the saffron and add the pimento. Stir well.

Now add the stock. Start with about three quarters of the amount stated.

Bring to a simmer and keep the heat low. Cover and let cook for about ten minutes.

Stir the rice. Add the beans.

Add more stock if needed. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Leave to cook until the rice is cooked but still slightly firm in the centre and the stock has been absorbed.

Turn off the heat and leave the rice covered to rest for about ten minutes.

Serve.

Next time – Arroz Negro – Black Rice made with seafood and a hint of chilli………

Braised Chicory

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At this time of the year the chicories that I have been enjoying all through the winter are starting to get a little big and too bitter to be eaten raw. Actually what happens is that the chicories cut for salads sprout new tender leaves and so these I use for salads, and then other chicories get left and get too big.

After a lot of effort is put in to grow something, it cannot be wasted.

When I was in Sicily a couple of years ago, I was served cold spicy cooked chicories as part of a mixed starter and it was delicious and is the inspiration for this recipe.

This method works well for the pale Belgian chicories as well as lettuce that have grown large.
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4 large heads of Chicory – washed and outer leaves removed
60 ml olive oil
60 ml balsamic vinegar
150-200 ml chicken stock
Large pinch of chilli flakes – to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cutting top to bottom, cut the heads of chicory in half.
Warm the oil in a shallow thick based pan that will take the chicories in one layer. Once the oil is hot add the chicories, cover and fry gently until browned.
Turn the chicories over and fry on the other side, again until browned.
Add the balsamic vinegar, chilli flakes and season with salt and pepper.
Add just enough stock to almost come to the top of the chicory layer.
Leave to cook slowly for 10 minutes.
Turn over the chicories. The liquid should have reduced. If you think that it is too dry, add a little more stock but go easy.
Continue cooking until the chicories are cooked and tender and the liquid reduced to very little.
Serve either as a vegetable with a main course, or cold as part of a mixed starter, or as a pizza topping with some goats cheese.

Berenjenas en Escabeche – Aubergines in Spicy Sauce

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When you grow aubergines the first year plants will start to give you fruit in June or July and then continue until about November or early December depending on the weather. You can take out the plants at this point and start again the next year, but with the frost free winters here I can leave mine in the ground. They will have a little rest for a month or two and then start to produce fruit again. The fruits tend to be smaller and paler than the summer fruit, but plentiful.

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When there are more than I can eat fresh, I like to cook them in this spicy sauce and bottle them for serving as part of a mixed starter later. Escabeche is a method used a lot here in Spain for preserving usually fish. It is highly flavoured with garlic and smoked paprika, and then vinegar and white wine are used to aid the preserving process.

For a slightly more eastern mood to the escabeche for preserving aubergines I like to add some cumin seeds and use quite a hot piquant paprika.

500 grams  small aubergines

1 head garlic

150 ml olive oil

150 ml white wine

150 ml white wine vinegar

15 ml cumin seeds

30 ml smoked paprika – picante

Salt

To cook the preserve you will need a large shallow thick based pan in which you can cook the aubergines in one layer.

Divide the head of garlic into cloves and peel each one. If some are very large slice them in half.

Wash the aubergines and remove the stalks. Cut the fruits in half from top to bottom.

Heat the oil in the pan and add the garlic.

Once the garlics start to sizzle turn them over and move them to the edges of the pan.

Add the aubergines cut side down and fry gently for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown.

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Turn over and fry on the other side.

Add the cumin seeds and paprika, then the vinegar and wine. Shake the pan to mix the spices and liquid without disturbing the aubergine pieces.

Add enough water to just cover the aubergines and season with salt, half a teaspoon.

Cook covered for 5 minutes.

Gently turn over each of the aubergines, I use tongs for this, and continue cooking covered until the aubergines are cooked through but not mushy. This should take between 5 and 10 minutes.

Some of the liquid will by now have been absorbed by the aubergines and so will look reduced.

Put the aubergines while still hot in hot sterilised jars, seal them and cool.

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Serve as either part of a mixed starter, with cheese or they are very good with lamb dishes.

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