Regardless of where we are, Up the Mountain or Down by the Sea, we have access to fantastic seafood. Like many other folk we want to take a few weeks of eating menus that are a little lighter, and going down the fish and vegetable route works for us. We already enjoy pulses, so many meals are meat free, like our much loved lentils (minus the chorizo, or maybe just a little as we’re not being super strict, just making an effort!).
New Year’s Eve was a very luxurious lobster and prawn platter with bubbles. Grapes and cava, Spanish style at 11pm to ring in the Spanish midnight and champagne and fireworks from London’s South Bank at midnight.
Skate with prawns, capers and lemons featured another night (we just combined two favourite ways of cooking it…skate with capers and skate with prawns). Absolutely delicious and so quick and easy.
Tonight was a version of a Spanish dish of prawns with mushrooms with plenty of garlic. Gambas y setas con ajos (setas are oyster mushrooms, but I used chestnut mushrooms this time). Chop your favourite mushrooms into bite sized pieces and stir fry quickly in some olive oil (I cooked in my wok) when they are just turning brown add some peeled, sliced garlic and a little chopped fresh parsley. When the garlic starts to take on some colour, add some raw, peeled prawns. As soon as they have turned pink, season with coarse sea salt and a little pimentón and add a splash of white wine. Another 30 seconds in the hot pan and you are ready to dish up. Sprinkle with more parsley and serve with some lovely crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.
Whatever your plans for this month are, be happy! Don’t be hard on yourself if you break those resolutions made in a moment of madness, better still…throw them out the window and celebrate the fact that we’ve made it into another year…and let’s see what it brings. Happy New Year to you all.
Beans! Well, not just beans but Winter salads. Winter doesn´t have to mean an end to fresh delicious salads, but the colder weather means we probably want something a little more robust but no less fresh and delicious to eat as a light meal or to accompany grilled meats, fish or whatever takes your fancy.
Especially after Christmas, and all that heavy food, these are welcome light meals to ease the strain on the waistband. And talking of Christmas, belated greetings to you all and apologies for the silence. Almost regular service will be resumed this week, and I hope that you all had a wonderful time with your loved ones, I will be slowly catching up with your blog posts over the next week or so.
Anyway, back to the food. We´ve been trying to support local shops as much as possible and to buy locally grown, seasonal vegetables in the absence of our own veggie garden or store cupboard. Sometimes though, you just have to give into cravings and buy things that are out of season or grown elsewhere. Green beans seem to be everywhere in the supermarkets now, along with mange tout and runner beans. Maybe it´s my body craving something fresh and crunchy that makes me respond to the vibrant green colour. Who knows, but the beans were delicious!
Ingredients are flexible in these two tasty dishes, they´re just meant to inspire you, not dictate to you. Use what you have available, enjoy the fresh flavours.
Green Bean and Asparagus Salad
Blanch green beans and asparagus until just tender, then run under cold water to stop them cooking further. Chop into bite sized pieces, add halved cherry tomatoes, a chopped avocado and some hard boiled egg. Sprinkle over some sliced jamon or grilled bacon (leave out for a veggie version) and dress a mix of with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, English mustard, a pinch of sugar and seasoning.
Potato, Roasted Red Pepper, Bean and Caper Salad
Mix together cubed boiled potatoes, strips of roasted red peppers, green beans and halved caper berries. Make a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper. Mix the salad gently. As a little added luxury, drizzle over some truffle oil.
Our friendly local goatherd bought round some milk for us the other day, so I turned it into yogurt and then cream cheese. So very tasty!
I made plenty, so to change things up a little I made a little “paté” which was delicious served with fresh crusty bread and then the next day on griddled bread (like little crostini) and with bread sticks.
When I was young we used to spend summers in Calabria, Southern Italy, where my father is from. He was the youngest of 9 children, 6 of whom were girls. His older sisters all used to fight over who we would stay with during our holiday, as most of them had had a hand in bringing him up and treated him almost as a son. We used to try and divide our time up with the various families, but my happiest memories were of staying with my Zia Santa.
When I mentioned this once to someone in the UK they asked me if it was strange having an aunt named after Santa Claus. How bizarre, I thought, it had never once crossed my mind that her name might sound unusual to anyone else. In Italian Santa is a female saint, or a “blessed one”. My Zia Santa was indeed a saint, she had a hard life and lived in very basic simplicity for the whole of her married and then widowed life. But we loved being with her. She had one bedroom where my parents slept in her huge dark wood framed bed with my younger brother on a fold out bed. Her bathroom only had a toilet and a sink where she also washed all her clothes. The only other room was a large living, dining, kitchen area which looked onto the main street of the little village, called Longobardi. I slept here with my aunt, her on a bed and me on a mattress – and every night we would giggle together like two little schoolgirls rather than an aunt and niece who were separated in age by over 40 years.
There was a small balcony which served as the telephone. If people wanted to give you a message they stood in the street and whoever was nearest the window stood there and took the message. Likewise, if you wanted to let a neighbour know some news, all you had to do was stand on the balcony and tell a passer-by. You were in no doubt that the message would reach its recipient almost as instantly as an e-mail or text nowadays.
Zia Santa was an incredible cook. August was always taken up with drying tomatoes on her flat roof, or bottling tomatoes to go into the huge storage area on the ground floor. It never struck me as odd that there was this enormous space downstairs that could have been converted into a bathroom, bedroom, laundry room…whatever. It was more important back then to have a good space to store the cheese, salami, prosciutto, olive oil and tomatoes for winter.
I´m trying to write down all the recipes that Zia Santa taught me, my mother and, some years, my English grandmother to cook. Today it´s Caponata. I had to call my mum to ask her what the special ingredient was. Our family caponata was never the same as any other I´ve tasted. I´m sure there are thousands of family recipes, each one different from the other. This is ours.
About 1kg of aubergines (eggplant, melanzane) finely chopped and salted, then left to drain for about 30 minutes then rinsed and patted dry
Olive oil – plenty for frying
1 onion finely chopped
3 sticks of celery finely chopped
4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar (although I used white as that´s what we have here and it was delicious)
About 500g of ripe tomatoes peeled and finely chopped
Up to 2 tablespoons of sugar
About a quarter of a cup each of chopped capers and chopped stoned olives (black or green)
The grated zest of half an orange – the secret ingredient!
Fry the aubergine chunks (which in all other recipes I´ve seen is left much chunkier). Zia Santa used to deep fry, I shallow fry. The choice is yours. Set them aside when they are browned and soft.
Now add the onion and celery to the pan with more oil if necessary and fry with the lid on until soft and translucent. Turn up the heat and add the vinegar and allow it to reduce almost completely. Turn the heat back down and add the tomatoes, seasoning and about half the sugar and simmer for about 15 minutes or so or until the celery is tender but still retains a little crunch. Stir in the aubergines, olives, capers and orange zest and taste. It should be “agrodolce” sweet and sour – add the rest of the sugar if necessary and allow it to dissolve.
This dish is best served the next day and will sit quite happily in your fridge for several days. We used to eat it at room temperature as part of the antipasto but it´s also good as a side dish.
And don´t forget, do shout out of the window to let me know if you enjoyed it!
So, having had a moment of madness slow cooking pork and beans not so long ago, I have reverted to summer style cooking. Phew!
My lovely Fish man, who is soon going to have his own fan club out here in blogland, came up trumps this week with a delicious skate (or ray) for us. He knows that Big Man and I both love it, so if he can get hold of skate, he always saves me one.
They´re odd looking fish, a bit scary looking too to deal with, but actually quite straightforward when you know how.
A skate has two very distinct wings and if you get your knife in between the nodule and the “back bone” it just cuts straight off.
Voilá, two perfect portions.
And the other bits still have a lot of meat on them so pop them into a pot with some water, bay leaves, peppercorns and any vegetables you have to hand and you´ll very soon have a delicious fish stock and lots of bits of delicious skate trimmings to put into a paella or a seafood stew.
I dusted the wings in flour, seasoned them and then fried gently in a huge frying pan in a very little olive oil (although it would be very good with butter). When the skate was lightly browned on both sides I put them to one side and kept warm, turned up the heat and fried some capers until brown then added a good squeeze of lemon juice, a dash of white wine and reduced until just a few tablespoons of juices were left. I poured these over the skate, poured two good glasses of white wine and we sat back to enjoy.
When I was very young my parents both worked in the catering trade, but Sunday lunch we sometimes managed to spend time together. My father´s idea of a relaxing Sunday lunch was to go on a busman´s holiday and check out his pals´ restaurants. This meant I got to visit some really quite nice restaurants in central London from a very early age. No concession was made (quite rightly I still feel) to children by preparing “kids meals”, we all got whatever the chef or manager thought was his best dish of the day. I loved it when we got served skate as the meat slides easily off the bone and there are no tricky bits to get lodge in a small person´s throat. Memories of this dish take me back to Soho, London circa 1975 – hence my retro photo!
So in 2016 I turned 50. I was in Italy for my 21st, 30th and 40th. To keep this birthday tradition going I always knew I'd be in Italy for my 50! This blog starts with my 5 week adventure in Puglia but my love affair with Italy continues.....