Aubergine and Vegetable Sauce – for people who don’t like aubergine

We’re on a countdown to our next mammoth England trip. If all goes well this week, we’ll leave on Friday in the early hours and get there on Saturday night. This time we won’t pretend to ourselves that we’re going to be there for three weeks and end up staying for nearly ten months! Oh no…this time we are going to do even more of the renovation work ourselves and will take it slowly. We’re planning on three or four months, so we’ll be enjoying the Rye Bay Scallop Season, Bonfires and Fireworks and Christmas too…along with plenty of hard work.

Preparation for the trip, apart from sorting out our house and garden here for the winter, means buying plenty of Spanish goodies to enjoy and share, booking the vet to sort out the paperwork for the pups and digging out our winter and work clothes. Last year we left with mixed emotions, this year it has not been a great summer for us in Spain due to family illness and loss…it’s going to be good for us to have a change of scene and the distraction of hard work.

Aubergine Sauce (4)

One of the things we’re also doing is eating as much of our lovely garden produce as possible and eating what we have put buy in the fridge and freezer without buying too much food before we go. Big Man planted aubergines for me, an act of true love which ranks almost as highly as his first ever gift to me of a cauliflower. The man knows how to “woo” me. He’s not crazy about aubergines but will eat them as he knows I adore them. I finally figured out that the skin and the texture of aubergines are what put some people off. Personally, for an aubergine lover, I feel it’s probably a great part of the attraction. Time to figure out how to get round that issue so everyone is happy. Bring on the aubergine and vegetable sauce…

Aubergine Sauce (3)

For a portion to serve four people

  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 large aubergine
  • 1 large green or red pepper (sliced)
  • 2-3 cups of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée (concentrate)
  • 1 small glass of red wine
  • A level teaspoon of sweet or smoked pimentón (paprika)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of sugar (optional)
  • Olive oil for frying

This is pretty much a traditional tomato sauce, apart from the way you deal with the aubergine. Start by cutting the top off the aubergine and slice it lengthways into quarters. Placing the white flesh against a grater, keep grating until you get to the skin and then stop. Repeat with the remaining quarters. You could also do this in a food processor, but you’d need to peel the aubergine first, and it’ so quick to do it’s hardly worth bothering. Discard the purple skin or feed it to some friendly local chickens.

Slowly braise the garlic in a little oil until soft, then add the aubergine and peppers and cook slowly (covered) until the vegetables are softened (about 10 minutes). Now add the tomato, the concentrate, the wine and the pimentón and season lightly. Bring to a bubble and then reduce the heat and cook very slowly (covered) for about an hour. Stir every so often and you may need to add a splash of water if it’s getting too thick. The aubergine melts into the sauce and gives it a slightly meaty texture.

I think you'll find I look great from any angle...
I think you’ll find I look great from any angle…

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (I didn’t need to add sugar as I used mature tomatoes from the veggie garden, but sometimes you need just a little pinch). Cook for a few minutes uncovered and enjoy with pasta, pizza, over meat or fish or as a bruschetta topping. If you don’t tell an aubergine hater what’s in there, they probably wouldn’t even know as the seeds look like tomato seeds when cooked and the taste is a wonderful mixture of slow cooked vegetables.

Luna starts her acclimatisation training for the colder English weather...
Luna starts her acclimatisation training for the colder English weather…

And because tomato sauce is not desperately exciting to look at, I’ve also given you a few gratuitous Alfi and Luna photos…

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Sopa de Bacalao – Cod and Spinach Soup

If you do an internet search for a typical Spanish soup called Sopa de Bacalao, you’ll find many versions of a firm favourite. I don’t lay claim to my version being authentic, especially as it uses a very non Spanish ingredient – Ras El Hanout – but as the spice mix comes from North Africa and there are such very strong connections between Africa and Andalucía, I feel no one will be up in arms.

The ingredient list is short and simple, the preparation too. But the taste, oh the taste, your friends and family will think you’ve spent hours reducing stock to achieve the intensity of flavour.

Sopa de Bacalao (3)

Ingredients (to serve 2-4 as a main or starter)

  • 1 large cod fillet, skinned and cut into bite sized chunks (use either fresh cod or desalted salt cod)
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
  • About 2 cups of chopped fresh spinach
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon of Ras El Hanout
  • About 1.25l of either fish stock or water (if you use a cube to make your stock, I won’t tell!)
  • A little olive oil

Start by sweating the onion and garlic until softened then add the potatoes. Toss them around in the oil until they are all coated in oil then add the Ras El Hanout and mix in. Pour over the stock and cook until the potatoes are almost done.

Add the cod and cook for a minute or two until the fish is cooked. Taste and season if necessary and then add the spinach. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and wait for the spinach to wilt before serving with plenty of fresh lemon to squeeze over.

Tamarind Spiced Aubergines and Spinach

The Veggie Garden, although planted sparsely and late this year, continues to reward us with a bounty of aubergines. Always on the lookout for new ways to prepare old favourites, and in the midst of spring autumn cleaning, I came across a packet of tamarind paste from one of my UK trips. Perfect!

Tamarind Spiced Abergine (9)

Internet searches came up with curry recipes, so thinking of a curry type base as inspiration, I made it up as a I went along, and oh my goodness…what beautiful flavours emerged from a few very simple ingredients.

Ingredients (to serve two as a main course with rice or four as a side dish)

  • 1 large aubergine cut into small dice
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • About 1 heaped tablespoon of fresh garlic and ginger paste (make this by finely chopping or mincing equal quantities of garlic and ginger, it can be stored in the freezer, and you can scrape off what you need)
  • About 2 cups of chopped fresh spinach
  • 2 teaspoons of tamarind paste soaked in a little hot water
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Salt to season
  • Water or vegetable stock
  • Half a teaspoon of hot chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • Oil for shallow frying

Fry the aubergines until lightly browned and remove from pan. You can omit this step if you like but will need to cook the dish when all the ingredients have been added for about 10 minutes longer. Both methods are good.  Add a little more oil if necessary and fry the garlic and ginger paste and onions until the onions are soft but not browned.

Add the tomatoes and cook until softened then add the chili powder and garam masala. After a further minute, add the aubergines, sugar and tamarind, season and pour over enough water or stock to cover the vegetables.

Tamarind Spiced Abergine (4)

Simmer gently until the aubergines are completely tender (about 15 minutes) and just before serving add the spinach and cook until wilted.

Serve with a little chopped coriander and some plain boiled rice. Observant readers will note, however, that in the first photo I picked parsley by mistake!

Autumn Days and Autumn Nights – Apple and Blackberry Pudding

The days are getting shorter, the sun still shines most of the time but not with the intensity of summer. The air smells different, fresher, more invigorating. It’s time to finish off doing things you meant to do in summer and plan for the next few months.

Time to enjoy autumn fruits like prickly pears…

Chumbos (2)

Big Man and I haven’t had the great summer we had hoped for in Spain this year. That’s the way life goes sometimes. You just have to accept it and move on.  We hadn’t had a single chance to go to the beach, so at the end of last week we made it happen. Granted, we didn’t get down there until lunch time, but luck was on our side and a beachfront table at one of our favourite Chiringuitos (beach restaurants) became available as we arrived.

Beach 12 Sep (8)

Perfect, time to relax with a bottle of chilled white wine, a mix of deep fried fish and some peppers and a plate of little pieces of grilled monkfish.

Beach 12 Sep (5)

After a reviving coffee it was time for a gentle snooze down by the sea, listening to the waves and the distant sounds of murmered conversations.

What a difference a day makes, the next day Up the Mountain was grey and misty with low clouds lurking around the house.

VIstas 13 Sep (10)

A day that made me wish the blackberries here were still going strong, as they had been in England. A little bag of about 2 cups of blackberries had been picked on a seaside walk in England Down by the Sea and turned into a delicious autumn pudding.

Blackberry & Apple Pudding (3)

Apple and Blackberry Pudding

  • 2 cups of blackberries (approx.) washed, two small apples peeled and thinly sliced and both fruits mixed together and sprinkled with about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 cup of self raising flour, a pinch of salt and quarter of a cup of sugar mixed together in one bowl
  • 1 large egg, a teaspoon of vanilla essence, a quarter of a cup of oil and a quarter of a cup of natural yogurt beaten together until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well, if the mixture is very stiff, add a tablespoon full of milk.

Mix the cake mix into the fruit and pour into an ovenproof dish. Bake at 180º for about 30 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre of the pudding comes out clean and the top is slightly browned.

Blackberry & Apple Pudding (1)

Serve with cream and/or ice cream whilst making sure your dog does not sneak up on you and pinch a mouthful.

Well…it was a nice idea….”Carpaccio of Octopus”

When you blog over a period of time, you realise that often you cook and eat old favourites because they’re easy, familiar and, well, they’re good to eat. Because we have the lovely Fish Lady who delivers, we make the most of local fish but I confess to mostly cooking it quite simply on the grill or in the oven.

Pulpo Carpaccio (3)

When we are lucky enough to have an octopus delivered, I usually make Pulpo a la Gallega. Octopus cooked in the style of Galicia. And very good it is too.

Just before we took off for England a few weeks ago, Fish Lady (who is actually called Ana Maria) sold me an enormous octopus which weighed nearly 2 kilos. A monster from the deep. I knew that we wouldn’t eat it before we left so I cleaned it and divided it into two portions and froze it. Octopus (if it’s fresh when you buy it) actually benefits from being frozen as it tenderises it and beats slamming it on a nearby rock for half an hour in native fisherman style.

Looking for a new way to cook my tentacled friend, I came across a recipe for a Carpaccio of Octopus. It’s not really Carpaccio as the octopus is cooked first, but I liked the idea of beautiful thin slices of octopus laid out on a platter and dressed with lemon and olive oil. Here’s the video for you to see how it SHOULD be done.

I cleaned and cooked my octopus until is was beautifully tender. I even kept the delicious purple cooking juices to use in another dish.

I washed a water bottle, pierced some holes in the bottom and cut the top off.

Pulpo (1)

Then I packed in the tentacles, making sure to twirl them into an attractive pattern.

Pulpo (2)

Slits were cut into the top of the bottle then folded down.

Pulpo (3)

A weight was put on top of the beastie and it was left to chill and drain.

Pulpo (4)

So far so good, it even turned out beautifully from its plastic tunnel when required. It just didn’t keep its shape. Hmph.

I think I didn’t press it down enough, perhaps I drained off too much juice. But no matter. I cut it into rather chunky chunks, dressed it with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and parsley and it tasted wonderful.

Pulpo Carpaccio (4)

Big Man, on seeing it, asked where the pimentón and potatoes were (the usual accompaniments for Pulpo a la Gallega). I explained it was a different dish. He tasted, he smiled and said “Delicious, but you’ve cut it into really big chunks haven’t you?” He was lucky he didn’t get the native fisherman treatment.

Ten out of ten for taste, but it’s back to the drawing board for Chica and her Octopus Carpaccio when it comes to presentation.

And when she got there, the cupboard was bare….Olive Oil Tortillas

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone
When she got there, the cupboard was bare
And so the poor dog had none*

Olive Oil Tortillas (3)

Our little break Down by the Sea is over and yesterday we got back to Spain and are now back Up the Mountain. Today is Sunday, and of course in our rural area pretty much everything is closed.

We could have gone out for lunch but we are exhausted. Time to dig around in the freezer and the store cupboard and become an inventive Chica.

On opening my fridge I actually screamed with shock and slammed the door shut again. Big Man came running thinking I’d left something in there that had grown gills while we were away. But no, it was 3 weeks of tomatoes kindly picked and stored by our neighbours. Here’s a photo of about half of them…

There's still the salad basket below which is packed too!
There’s still the salad basket below which is packed too!

Well, there was definitely going to be a tomato salad on the menu. Every day for a long time.

The freezer kindly delivered up an Ottolenghi Chicken and Hazelnut dish and all I needed was bread. Did you know that most Mediterranean folk I know won’t even consider a meal complete unless there is a basket of bread on the table? In fact, I think if there was nothing on the menu in a restaurant they’d order bread with bread.

With not enough time or patience to make a loaf, I thought of tortilla wraps and headed over to check out Tandy’s brilliant recipe at Lavender and Lime. Of course, I had no butter but in the land of olive oil, a substitution was possible, and gave great results.

Olive Oil Tortillas

  • 180g plain flour
  • 30g olive oil (yes, I did this by weight and not volume!)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Up to 100ml water

Add the sugar and salt to the flour and mix then pour in the olive oil. Rub the oil into the flour until small lumps form and then rub for a moment or two more to break the little lumps down. Gradually add the water and knead for a few minutes until you have a smooth dough.

Rest the dough for 30 minutes (I just left it on the counter) and divide into four equal pieces. Roll out into thin rounds and dry fry in a very hot frying pan, pressing down with a spatula to stop air bubbles forming. Cook on both sides until lightly browned and keep warm by wrapping them in a tea towel.

Olive Oil Tortillas (1)

Enjoy your tortillas whilst asking your other half where all your glass jars with lids are for your tomato bottling session, only to find out he has thrown them all in the recycling.

*Rest assured that no dogs or even humans ever went hungry in our house!

For a delicious gluten free bread/wrap, take a look at my Socca recipe.

Busy Doing Nothing…Working The Whole Day Through…

We are Down By The Sea in our little second home. Mixing work and play, family, friends and colleagues. It’s just what we needed.

Early morning walks on an empty seafront.

Bexhill Ago 2013 (1)

A few days away in the New Forest.

Hol Lymington (24)

Watching the world go by while sipping a cold glass of wine.

Lymington (1)

Celebrating 50 wonderful years of marriage with my parents.

M&Ps 50th (104)

Oh, and eating. It wouldn’t be the same without good food.

M&Ps 50th (105)

We’ll be back Up the Mountain next weekend and (hopefully!) normal blogging service will be resumed.