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Gigantes Plakis – Greek Style Giant Baked Beans

23 Jun

So, as you probably can guess, Gigantes refers to the size of the beans! And Plaki (I think) means that it’s something cooked in the oven or baked. Now, I’m not claiming that my version of this dish is authentically Greek. I’ve seen several versions, some which involved a few extra steps in the process, but here’s my interpretation of a delicious vegetarian dish which can be served as is, or as part of a meze. And you don’t even have to stress about it being served piping hot, Greek food is often dished up at room temperature!

Gigantes Plakis (4)

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • 500g of large white beans (I used butter beans but others that can be used are lima beans) soaked overnight in water with a small pinch of bicarbonate of soda
  • About 500g of a simple tomato sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, some finely chopped celery (if you have it) and some chopped fresh parsley

Rinse the beans, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Fast boil for 10 minutes, skim off any scum and reduce to a simmer for about an hour – you want them almost cooked but not quite.

Heat the oven to medium (about 160 degrees) and make sure your tomato sauce is hot. Drain the beans.

Gigantes Plakis (1)

Stir the beans and the tomato sauce together and put into an ovenproof dish. Bake for about 1 ½ – 2 hours until the beans are tender and a little dry/crispy on top. You may need to add a little water during cooking. Check for seasoning and adjust if necessary, add a little extra chopped parsley if you like and sit back and wait for them to cool down a little. Or just eat them piping hot and hope that no one reports you….

Griddled Aubergines with Salsa Verde and Tomatoes

16 Jun

Our recent month in Spain was less of a holiday and more of a race to get through a list of household chores and maintenance, family visits and dealing with banks, bills and bureaucracy. Still, it had to be done, and there were of course a few special times of relaxation and fun with family and friends. Sometimes, though, it was nice just to have a couple of hours at our little cortijo (that’s a house in the country in Spain) and relax with a meal and a bottle of wine.

Berenjenas y Limones 001

The weather was all rather unpredictable going from an initial 40 degrees which knocked us sideways, to down below 20 degrees.  Then it jumped around from lovely to grey and cloudy, rainy and windy, then back to lovely. Honestly, we could have been in England! When we did have a comfortably warm day, we fired up the barbecue and cooked and ate outside. Some days we ate meat, but after a few weeks of a meat heavy diet, we craved vegetables. Luckily we were gifted an awful lot of salad so made a local gazpacho. Sounds weird but it works, trust me!

Big Man is not a fan of aubergines, but he did give this dish a go and grudgingly agreed that it was “comestible” – that’s Spanish for edible! Luckily we also had salmorejo (another variation of the more traditional gazpacho) my very favourite summer soup, to save him from fading away and I feasted on most of the absolutely delicious aubergine.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main course)

  • 1 large aubergine sliced into ½ cm slices lengthways and brushed lightly with olive oil on both sides
  • Some salsa verde (Spanish style) or just make up a mix of fresh olive oil with some finely chopped garlic, herbs and a pinch of salt
  • A large tomato, finely chopped
  • A finely chopped chilli (optional)

Fire up the barbecue if the weather permits or heat up a griddle pan. I never salt my aubergines as I really don’t find them bitter. Feel free to do this if you like, but don’t, of course, brush them with oil until you’ve rinsed them.

Berenjenas y Limones 004

Grill lightly on both sides and drizzle over some salsa verde. Cover tightly with foil or cling film so that they sweat slightly, and absorb the dressing at they cool down. Serve at room temperature with the tomato and chilli sprinkled over. That’s it, easy eh?!

For another grilled aubergine dish, take a look here.

Give us this day our daily bread…

18 Apr

I make our bread several times a week. I enjoy the process and now that I’m using my starter Hercules, Son of Priscilla (thanks Celia!), my loaves are going from strength to strength. I confess that most of the time I make my usual sourdough loaf, starting the process the night before and baking early evening of the next day.

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Other times I use Celia’s overnight sourdough recipe which gives fantastic results and I took on board her tip of dusting the loaf in semolina flour for a crunchy crust. Clearly, as she’s my bread making heroine/guru and I am her keen student/bread making stalker, I also made some teeny tiny loaves (like she did) using some small loaf tins I had bought to make cakes in but had never used. They turned out wonderfully and were the perfect size for a hugely filling lunch roll.

Bread 001

The last few weeks have given me time too to do a little experimenting and for Easter Sunday my father requested a loaf with whole eggs baked into the top of the dough, as this is what his mother used to make when he was a boy. I Googled Calabrian Easter bread and most of the recipes led me to make a slightly sweet bread, gently flavoured with anis and made using eggs and milk. The least said about the egg dyeing the better, but everyone enjoyed it. We all felt that it was like milk bread or pan de leche as it’s called in Spain and would probably prefer to eat it as a breakfast or tea time bread. I’m going to experiment making it again in small rolls so once I’ve perfected it, I’ll post the recipe.

Italian Easter Bread 001

The most recent experiment was to use my sourdough starter to make a whole grain loaf. I wasn’t really sure what sort of results I’d get as wholemeal flour tends to rise more slowly than white flour and give a heavier bread. Combined with a slow rising, heavy sourdough loaf I was a little concerned I’d end up baking the cornerstone of our next building project, but using a mix of a flour which contained wholemeal, wheat flakes and bran with a strong white bread flour, I got fantastic results. The bread was malty, tangy and chewy and delicious spread with butter or drizzled with olive oil. I followed the same process as my usual loaf, but didn’t add olive oil. I added an extra knead and a slightly longer bake.

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • 100ml of unfed sourdough starter (mine is fed with the same volume of flour and water)
  • 250g wholemeal flour with flakes and grains
  • 300ml water

For the dough

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 10g salt

The night before you want to bake (or fit this into your usual baking routine), mix the ingredients for the sponge, cover and leave overnight or for about 8 hours. Don’t forget to feed your original starter to replace what you took out!

Bread 006

The next day, add the remaining flour and salt and in a mixer with a dough hook (this is quite a wet dough) knead for 10-12 minutes until the dough looks stretchy and elastic.

Turn it into a large, oiled bowl and cover with oiled cling film. Leave it to double in size, mine took about 5 hours, but it will be different for everyone. Turn out of the bowl onto an oiled surface, knock it back, form it into a ball and put it back into the oiled bowl and cover again. Leave to rise again, this should only take a couple of hours, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. I didn’t use semolina but feel free to use whatever you like best.

Knock back and shape either onto a round or put into a floured banneton (which is what I did). Cover with a tea towel and leave to double in size.

Bread 004

Just before you are about to bake, turn your oven on to heat at top “volume” with an oven tray inside if you are going to turn out from a banneton. Once the oven has reached its temperature, carefully take the tray out and turn your loaf onto it. Slash with a very sharp or serrated knife, put it in the oven and turn the temperature down to 150C (Fan) and bake for about 55 minutes until nicely browned and it sounds hollow when tapped on it’s lovely wholemeal bottom.

Drive yourself crazy for a few hours while it cools with the wonderful smell of your freshly baked loaf and enjoy whichever way you most enjoy bread!

Asparagus and Sour Cream Tart

13 Apr

There’s something about asparagus that makes me happy. Well, a few things really. It tastes wonderful, it looks pretty and has an amazing colour which screams “spring”! It also feels like a luxury ingredient, which it most certainly used to be, but in reality is one which is now readily available and easily affordable. Mind you, in a few weeks when we have the start of the wonderful English asparagus season, we may pay a little more but oh it will be worth it for the flavour!

Asparagus & Sour Cream Tart (4)

Blogging too makes me happy, it allows me to keep a record of dishes I enjoy cooking and eating, it allows me to share my passions with like-minded folk and it has introduced me to new pals around the globe. New cuisines are available at the click of my mouse and one such cuisine which I am gradually learning more about comes from Germany. A wonderful blogger, Ginger, shares her recipes and memories over at Ginger and Bread. A German, with a Chilean partner living in London. Do pop over if you get the chance. She recently shared a recipe for a traditional onion quiche and I was intrigued by the use of sour cream in there with the rest of the more familiar ingredients. Time to buy a carton of sour cream and give this style of quiche a go!

Ingredients (to serve 6)

  • 1 packet of puff pastry (I used puff as this is what I had to hand, use short crust, or make your own – you decide)
  • 1 bunch of Asparagus
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml of sour cream
  • 100ml milk
  • About 50g grated cheese (I used smoked gouda)
  • Salt & Pepper

Start by snapping off the woody ends of the asparagus and blanching the spears in lightly salted boiling water for about 3 minutes. If you don’t have a wide enough saucepan to take the spears whole, use a deep frying pan filled with water. Drain, rinse in cold water and put to one side.

Turn the oven on to medium (180C in my fan oven)

Line a tin with greaseproof paper (optional) and lay the pastry inside. If you use a flan tin with a loose bottom you don’t need to line – it just makes life easier when it comes to lifting the tart out when it’s cooked if your tin does not have a loose bottom.

Trim the pastry to fit and prick lightly with a fork.

Beat the remaining ingredients (except the asparagus) together and season. Pour into the pastry case then lay the spears gently on top.  Bake for about 45 minutes until lightly puffed up and just starting to turn golden.

Delicious hot or cold, but leave it to cool down slightly for at least 5 minutes before cutting. The addition of sour cream gives you a soft, fluffy filling, almost mousse like. Lovely with a simple dressed salad and great too for picnics.

Spicy Cucumber Salad

20 Mar

We recently celebrated Mother’s Day in England and for my mother I cooked a Chinese inspired meal with lots of different dishes. Some I’ve cooked before, like Stir Fried Beef with Ginger. Alongside the meat and fish dishes, I made a fresh and crunchy salad, inspired by one in my Gok Wan Cooks book. Sadly, there were very few leftovers the next day, and none at all of the salad!

Chinese Feast 003

Ingredients to serve 4-6

  • 1 cucumber, partly peeled
  • ½ fresh chilli, finely sliced
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • A few handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt

Slice off the ends of the cucumber then slice it in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and then cut the cucumber into chunks about .5cm wide.

Mix the cucumber with the chilli, beansprouts and spring onions. Mix the rest of the ingredients together to make the dressing and pour over the salad a couple of minutes before serving.

Split Mung Bean Curry

5 Mar

I do enjoy curries made with pulses, they’re so good for you, economical and wonderfully tasty. I had bought a packet of split mung beans in a local shop and wanted to try them out. I came across a recipe online which inspired my own version, but of course, didn’t keep track of the original source. Apologies to the owner of the original recipe, I’d be happy to credit you.

Mung Bean Dhal (4)

The quantity I made filled 4 plastic tubs, so I shared the curry love with my mum and my best pal. Feel free to scoff it all yourself or make less! This gives a gentle tasting curry, you may want to increase the quantities of the spices (I think I will next time) for a little more punch!

Ingredients to serve 4-6

  • 400g yellow split mung beans (yellow moong dal), well rinsed
  • Water, to cover the beans
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Approx 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped
  • 1 level teaspoon chilli powder or to taste
  • 1 level teaspoon of coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tomato, peeled and finely chopped
  • 200g frozen spinach (or 400g fresh, finely chopped)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Some finely chopped coriander

In a deep pot, combine about 4 cups of water, the turmeric, and 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Bring to the boil, then add the mung beans. Add more water if necessary, you want about 5cm of water above the beans.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the lentils are very soft. If the water starts to dry up, add another ½ cup of water. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium-sized frying, heat the rest of the vegetable oil and add the red onions. Sauté for 7 to 8 minutes or until the onions are browned.

Mung Bean Dhal (9)

Add the ginger, garlic, cumin, chilli powder, frozen spinach and tomatoes. Continue cooking gently until the tomatoes are soft. If using fresh spinach, add once the tomatoes have softened. Mix in the cooked beans.

Add the salt (it needs a fair amount, keep tasting) and coriander and mix well. Delicious served hot, but makes a fantastic dip served cold as it thickens as it cools.

If you enjoy curries like this, take a look at my Split Pea and Squash Curry or my Green Lentil Curry.

Morrete de Setas – Mushrooms with Potatoes

24 Jan

If like me, you are the sort of person who is not put off by strange translations into your native tongue of a dish you encounter on your travels, this one is for you. Coming across this dish in a small local restaurant near our mountains in Southern Spain, you’d probably read something like “Mushrooms to the wild, cooking with soft potatoes of the saffron dressing up in vinegar”. Or some such bizarre description.

It doesn’t even look that pretty, as the end dish is indeed “with soft potatoes” and has rather a look of mush about it. What you would be served with, however, is a dish with simple ingredients combined in a way you’ve probably never tasted before, and a flavour that makes you say “ooh, that’s so good…I really didn’t expect that”!

Morrete de Setas 004

Around our neck of the woods (or Up Our Mountain), the most commonly eaten mushrooms are Oyster mushrooms. We have grown them ourselves in the past and Big Man would often come home with a crate of them for me to turn into dishes like Mixed Mushrooms with Cinnamon and Lemon or Braised Mushrooms. This dish is made across Andalucía but is probably known by other names outside of the radius of our local villages. Here’s our local version, the simplicity of the ingredients hides a wonderful combination of flavours. It is vegetarian/vegan and can be served alone as a tapa or starter, or alongside other dishes as part of a meal. A poached or fried egg is a wonderful accompaniment.

Ingredients (to serve 6-8 as a tapa, 4 as a starter or 2 as a hearty main course)

  • 1 kg peeled and cubed potatoes (cut into small cubes)
  • About 600g of thickly sliced mushrooms (I used a mix of Shitake, Chestnut and Forestiere Mushrooms)
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 1 level teaspoon of sweet pimentón
  • ½ level teaspoon of hot pimentón
  • A pinch of saffron or turmeric (in Spain though you find they usually use food colouring)
  • About 60g of stale bread
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • About 240ml water
  • About 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

You will need 2 frying pans (or you will need to cook the potatoes and mushrooms separately. In one pan with about ½ cm of oil to cover the bottom, slowly cook the potatoes until they are soft and just starting to brown at the edges. Mix occasionally as they cook. You don’t want them to be crispy like chips.

In another pan, add a little oil, the mushrooms and some salt and cover with a lid. Slowly braise the mushrooms until soft and releasing their juices. The potatoes and mushrooms both take about 20 minutes to cook.

Meanwhile, put the bread, water, garlic, spices and 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a blender jug and blend (I use a hand blender) until you get a mix which resembles slightly runny porridge.

Drain the potatoes from the oil and add to the mushrooms and pour in the bread/water mix. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until it all thickens up (you may need to add a splash more water). Just before serving, taste and season and add a further tablespoon of white wine vinegar. Think of the resulting taste in the same way that you would use lemon juice to “lift” a dish.

Serve with plenty of crusty bread and if you’re feeling a bit cheffy, some chopped parsley on top makes it look pretty. But don’t tell the local village ladies I said that as they’d be horrified at any such nonsense.

Pasta with Kale (in the absence of Cavolo Nero)

20 Jan

January is a dark, gloomy month for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. For many of us it is a month of tightening the financial belt and loosening the trouser belt (whilst making plans to get fit) after the excesses of Christmas.

This is a dish which ticks all those resolution boxes – healthy, economical and it looks like Spring in a bowl, which is no bad thing. The garlic will ward away germs (or so my old Italian aunties always told me), it’s quick to prepare and you’ll feel comfortably full but without the feelings of guilt after eating this. Sounds good to me!

Even looking at it fills you with vitamins!

Even looking at it fills you with vitamins!

This dish was food for the poor folk…simple ingredients (although if you can afford to use your best olive oil, I’d highly recommend it) and no fuss to make.

Quantities are easily halved or doubled, I used regular kale as I didn’t have cavolo nero (also known as black leaf kale), and it was delicious. The colour was a more vibrant green than the almost black-green you get with cavolo nero.

Ingredients (to serve 2 people very generously)

  • 200g of kale leaves
  • Approx 100ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Maldon (or coarse) sea salt and black pepper
  • Grated parmesan to serve (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the kale and 2 of the garlic cloves for about 5 minutes until soft. It needs to be slightly more than wilted, but not soggy. Drain and put into a food processor.

As you start processing the kale, add slugs of olive oil to the mix until you have a slightly sloppy paste – rather like pesto.

Pasta with Cavolo Nero (1)

Crush the remaining clove of garlic with a teaspoon of rough salt and add 2 teaspoons of olive oil then stir this into the kale mixture. Taste and season with extra salt and black pepper if necessary and then stir into your favourite pasta, making sure you keep a little of the cooking water to loosen up the pasta if necessary once you have added the kale.

To serve, add grated parmesan if liked and some folk even add a little extra drizzle of olive oil. Go on, I won’t tell anyone!

If you’d like to see how we make our olive oil in Spain, click here.

A Vegetarian Feast – Mushroom Risotto with Asparagus

12 Dec

We love risotto and I make it often. Some folk are nervous about it, thinking it will be a pain to stand and stir, and worrying if the rice will be over cooked or undercooked. Relax, pour yourself a lovely glass of wine and just enjoy about half an hour of gently attending to your dish while your mind sorts out the worries of the day. The diners will eat when the risotto is ready. No sooner, no later. And if you don’t like your rice too “al dente”…well you’re in charge, you can cook it for longer.

It’s a great dish too for using up whatever you have to hand. Personally I’m not so keen on meat risottos so this is a good option for us on the days when we choose not to eat meat or fish. To make this vegan you’d need to use vegan cheese and leave out the splosh of cream at the end – it will still taste amazing, I promise.

Arroz con Champinones y Esparragos 042

Ingredients to serve 6 as a starter, 4 as a main

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 2 peeled and crushed cloves of garlic
  • About 10g of dried porcini mushrooms soaked in boiling water, drain and finely chop the mushrooms and reserve the liquid. Make the liquid up to 1.5 litres with vegetable stock and keep it hot
  • About 300g chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced or finely chopped
  • A tablespoon of butter
  • Fresh parmesan
  • A good splosh of cream

Start by warming the oil in a deep frying pan and sweating the onions and garlic until soft. Add fresh mushrooms and cook gently until they are also soft then add the rice. Stir the rice in the pan to make sure all the grains are coated in oil then add the chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms.

Slowly add the hot stock, a couple of ladles full at a time, stir into the rice and when it has been absorbed, add more liquid. When the rice is almost cooked to your liking, turn the heat off and stir in the butter and cream, cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes.

Serve with griddled asparagus and large mushrooms (brush them with olive oil and season before cooking on a hot griddle) for a filling main course. Sprinkle with fresh parmesan as you serve if that takes your fancy.

Cranberry, Orange and Raisin Cake

5 Dec

Cranberries are not just for cranberry sauce and cranberry juice! And we all know they’re good for us, don’t we?! I love that sour taste of Cranberries, Big Man…less so. Oh dear. But he loves cake, so a perfect compromise is to make cake with cranberries in it. I do love a Win/Win cooking situation.

Cranberry & Orange Cake 001

This is a cake for people who are not very good with measuring ingredients as they can find the scales but not the old fashioned weights that go with it. It’s good for folk who have trouble finding the mixer or the electric whisk, who then accidentally turn the oven off for 5 minutes while baking a cake thinking they’ve turned the hob off, then open the oven door to see why the light in the oven seems to have stopped working. Yes, that was me, but this cake is like the hardiest Marine in the Cake Corps – nothing can defeat it, it WILL turn out fine no matter how badly you treat it. You can even half drop the tin as you’re turning the cake out – oh yes, I did that too – but it’s probably going to be prettier if you leave that bit out.

Ingredients for one large cake (serves about 12 – 14 slices)

  • 2 ¼ cups of self raising flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • The grated zest of one orange and the juice from the orange made up to 1/3 cup with water if there is not enough
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • ¾ cup of oil (I used a mix of vegetable oil and olive oil)
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup raisins (or any other dried fruit you fancy)

Grease and flour a large baking tin. I used an 11” bundt tin, but a 9” square tin would also work well. Set the oven to 175 degrees C.

Mix together the sugar, orange juice, eggs, yogurt and oil. If you can find your electric whisk, go ahead. If not, use a hand whisk with a bit of fury until all the ingredients are well blended.

Not much left...

Not much left…

Add the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon, then stir in the fruit and zest. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45-50 minutes until the cake is pulling away from the sides of the tin, is browned on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

If you want to top it, mix 8 heaped teaspoons of sifted icing sugar with about 2-3 teaspoons of orange juice (add gradually) until you have a thick pouring paste, and drizzle over.

Make a pot of coffee, cut yourself a good slice of cake, put your feet up and relax…

For another olive oil cake recipe, take a look at my orange and raisin cake.

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