Take One Bag of Flour

I don’t know who discovered that by grinding grains, flour could be produced. And whoever then went on to figure out that by adding simple ingredients like water and air, you could end up with a delicious loaf of sourdough bread. As for pasta, whoever had that great idea of adding an egg and a pinch of salt to make a beautiful silky dough….well, I raise my glass of wine to them.

Not really much of a recipe today, more an acknowledgement that good food doesn’t need to be complicated or sophisticated. Ingredients, as long as they are fresh and good can produce the most incredible tasting meals with just a little effort and time invested. Oh yes, and love. Good food needs to be made with love.

Pasta with Tomato and anchovy sauce (4)

Lunch the other day was a homage to simple ingredients. Home made pappardelle (thick pasta as opposed to thin as the pasta cutting attachment on my machine has died, so I had to cut by hand) served with a (home grown vegetables) tomato and vegetable sauce with anchovies. Home made bread, dipped in our own olive oil and a glass of not home made wine. I’ll leave that to the experts!

Slow Cooked Vegetable Sauce with Anchovies (serves 2-4)

  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Half a courgette (zucchini) coarsely grated
  • One carrot peeled and coarsely grated
  • One stick of celery, finely chopped
  • Half a red pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 cup (or can) or chopped tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning
  • Herbs (I used basil)
  • A small glass of red wine
  • About 4-6 fillets of salted anchovies

Hand Cut Pasta

Start by slowly braising the garlic, courgette, celery, carrot and pepper (but don’t brown them) until they start to soften. Add the tomatoes, the purée, the wine and the herbs and bring to a gentle simmer. Season lightly and cook slowly for about an hour (or longer). If the sauce becomes too thick, add a splash of water. When nearly ready, remove the herbs if you have kept them whole and stir in the anchovies (leave these out if you want a vegetarian dish). Check for seasoning (you probably won’t need more salt) and serve.

Pasta with Tomato and anchovy sauce (3)

Home Made Pasta

I use (per person as a main course) 100g strong plain flour, 1 egg, a tiny splash of olive oil and a tiny pinch of salt. Mix together by hand or in a machine and knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes soft and silky. Leave to rest for 30 minutes. Check out Chgo John’s excellent recipe for more tips and help.

Garden Vegetable Pizza with Blue Cheese

The vegetable garden is now delivering well and we are trying to make the most of it before we have to walk away from it for at least a month. We´re both really sad about this, and I don´t imagine I´ll get too much bottled or frozen this year.

However, some lovely neighbours will be coming in and keeping an eye on things and looking after our chickies. They don´t have a veggie patch of their own, so they are going to enjoy what we´ve planted, so we´re very happy that it won´t go to waste.

In the meantime though, we´re enjoying what we have and last night we enjoyed a pizza with a difference. No tomato sauce!

It´s a sort of Pizza Bianca, in that it´s white, with some lovely fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden – red onion, courgette and rosemary.  I seem finally to have cracked making a thinner, crispier dough, so if you fancy a change, give this one a go. It serves two hungry people or 3-4 regular folk if you have a salad with it.

For the dough

  • 250g strong white flour
  • 1 teaspoon of easy blend yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 125ml of water

For the topping

  • 125g cream cheese blended with 3 tablespoons of milk to make a thick paste
  • 75g blue cheese (I used gorgonzola) crumbled or chopped
  • 1 medium red onion halved and finely sliced
  • Half a large courgette very thinly sliced
  • About 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary (pull the leaves from the centre stems)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

To make the dough mix all the ingredients together either in a bread maker or by hand and knead for about 10 minutes then set aside to rest for about 45 minutes. Roll out thinly and place onto a sheet of greaseproof paper placed on a baking tray or flat board. Leave for about 30 minutes.

When you are ready to make the pizza, turn the oven to high and leave to warm for at least 10 minutes and make sure you place the baking tray you will use for the pizza (not the one it´s sitting on right now) in there to heat up. If you have a pizza stone, all the better!

Spread the cream cheese over the dough, then add the courgettes and onions and sprinkle over the blue cheese and rosemary. Finish with a good grind of black pepper and then remove the hot baking tray from the oven.

Slide the pizza (you can leave it on the greaseproof paper) onto the hot baking tray and pop it back into the oven for about 10 minutes or until the dough is starting to brown.

Cut yourself a big slice of pizza and enjoy…

PS. If you fancy a thicker based pizza, take a look at this recipe.

Couscous – Two Ways

Now that the heat seems to have arrived (and looks to stay), we make the shift to summer food. Fast cooking, not so much time spent in the kitchen, and a lot of cooking on the barbecue…as long as we can find a shady spot for it.

Couscous ticks a lot of the boxes as it´s so quick and easy to prepare, and provides a blank canvas to work with. I´m sure many of you have your favourite ways of preparing it, and I´d love to hear what they are. Here are a couple of ways I´ve served it recently. Both versions serve 4 as a side dish and were made with 1 cup of cous cous prepared according to the packet instructions and served chilled.

Couscous with Mushrooms and Courgettes

  • 1 medium onion, 1 cup mushrooms and 1 medium  courgette all finely chopped and sautéed until soft.
  • Mix with the cous cous, season and dress with olive oil, lemon juice and some finely chopped parsley.

Couscous with “Gazpacho”

  • Inspired by our summer favourite, I mixed the cous cous with finely chopped red onion, tomato, cucumber, green pepper and mint and dressed it (after seasoning) with olive oil, white wine vinegar and some finely chopped mint.

Two simple dishes to inspire and feed you.

Pinto Bean “Paté” or Dip

I make a lot of soup, especially vegetable soups using whatever I have available.  To make them more filling, I often add lentils, pearl barley or beans. Today I fancied making a mixed plate of tapas to eat before lunch and had paté cravings.

Instead of making a meat paté I took about a cup of dried beans that I had soaked overnight  (the other half of which were destined for the soup pot) and made them into a tasty, garlicky paté which we served with pickled courgettes, our home cured olives, pickled onions from Cook, Eat, Live Vegetarian´s lovely recipe, salami made by a neigbour and some dried oven baked rolls.

To make one bowl of paté cook about a cup of your favourite dried beans until tender and drain (or use a can of beans).  I cooked them with a few sticks of celery and a chopped carrot for extra flavour.

Put the cooked beans into a blender jug and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, 2 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper and a small bunch of fresh parsley.  Blend using an immersion(stick)  blender or a food processor.  If the texture is too thick, taste and then add either extra oil, lemon juice or water depending on which flavours you want to dominate. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Quick, easy, tasty and economical.  Pass the bread please!

Green Summer Vegetable and Chicken Casserole

Now that we are starting to have a little drop in temperatures during the day, and a nip in the air first thing in the morning and last thing at night, we know that autumn is just around the corner.  While this means saying a gradual farewell to summer, it also means an autumnal welcome to the next season and the food and change in cooking it brings.

Off out for a busy morning and knowing I was not going to be in the house while it was still relatively warm, prompted me to cook the first casserole for a long time.  We came home to delicious chicken, vegetable and brothy smells and apart from opening the wine and grabbing the loaf of bread left for us earlier that morning on the gate by Bread Man, there was nothing more for us to do other than set the table and enjoy lunch.

The dish was a celebration of almost the last of many of our summer vegetables.  The bobby (french) beans finally started producing yellow as well as green beans, with kilos of them stored in the freezer for the months ahead.  The green peppers are still doing well, we´ll see how much longer they last.  Our onions have dried out nicely and are sweet and delicious and I had been hoarding the last handful of potatoes we had left from our first ever potato crop.

Into a big pot went two large legs (drumstick and thigh) of our free range chicken, some chopped peeled potatoes, large chunks of courgette given to us by a neighbour along with some whole unpeeled garlic cloves.  A few chopped green peppers, a roughly chopped onion, a few handfuls of green beans and some seasoning finished off the ingredients.  I covered everything with water and bought it to the boil then put a lid on the pot which then went into a very low oven for about 5 hours. You could, of course, cook it much more quickly on the stove top with equally good results if you´re not off out shopping for the morning!

And that was it…memories of summer and anticipation of autumn all in one delicious bowlful.

Am off to London to visit my family tomorrow for a week.  Will try to keep up with all your lovely blogs and posts, but apologies if I can´t always comment.  Looking forward to a proper catch up when I return!

Pickled Courgettes

What do you do when your Big Man comes home with about 15 mammoth courgettes and you´re the only one in the house who really enjoys them?  Well, you have to give a few away to a courgette loving neighbour, and then get creative.

The courgette loving neighbour gave me a recipe for her courgette bread which looks delicious and rather like my Banana Bread recipe.  As soon as I´ve made it I´ll let you know how it goes. Then I made some little courgette pancakes, but more of those another time.  And then I thought it was time to tackle some pickled courgettes.

These remind me of special Italian family meals when I was younger – lots of salamis and pickled vegetables as a big Antipasto.  It´s been years since I made them, and I used mustard powder and turmeric which is not so Italian, I have to confess.

I used a recipe I found on the BBC Good Food Website with a few small tweaks.

500g courgettes, very finely sliced (I used a mandolin slicer)

500ml white wine vinegar

140g brown sugar

1 tsp mustard powder (I used Colemans English Mustard)

1 tsp mustard seeds

4 dried cayenne chilies, crumbled (use less if you like)

1 tsp ground turmeric

Sprinkle the courgette slices with salt and then cover with ice cold water and leave for an hour. Drain and pat dry. Meanwhile put the rest of the ingredients into a saucepan and heat to dissolve the sugar and leave to bubble for a couple of minutes.

While the pickling liquid is cooling down a little, pack the courgettes into two sterilised jars, pour the liquid over and seal tightly.

The recipe says to keep them in the fridge and that they will keep chilled for a couple of months.  I have them in the larder which is cool.  They will taste great in a few days, but I had a few slices that wouldn´t fit into the jars which I covered with a drop of the pickling liquid and ate that evening…and they were delicious!

The Vegetable Garden – El Huerto – A Late Start

5 Days Ago...the story starts

It´s the end of May and we only got round to planting out all those little plant plugs on 21st May, shame on us.  We´re usually at least a few weeks earlier, but never mind.  The weather seems to be turning to summer, and I took a little look around this morning to see how things were doing.  Five days on, and I couldn´t believe my eyes.  Fortunately things catch up quickly here and I know, at least if the weather stays fine, we´ll be eating most of what we´re growing now into November.

The runner beans seem to be growing a few cm each day.  Luckily we have plenty of canes for them. We had to put down some slug pellets, not really in keeping with our organic aims, but there seems to be a plague of slugs and snails this year.

Jack and The Beanstalk...

The broad beans are still in full production, the freezer is also well stocked for when they do die off in a few weeks.

Beans, beans are good for you...!

We´re very excited about our potatoes as we´ve never grown them before. Big Man was reluctant as they do take up a fair amount of space.  However, they´re drying out now and will be ready to dig up soon, then once we´ve dug over the soil and given it whatever (organic) feed it needs, we´re going to put other things in.  I have seeds for dwarf runner beans (including some very funky yellow ones, which I´m quite excited about).  We´ll definitely put some radishes in as they grow so quickly, and then some lettuces as choices here in the shops locally are mainly limited to lettuce hearts or iceberg.

Tired Potato Plants - which is good!

Last year a neighbour gave us some little cucumber plants which he had grown from seeds of his previous year´s crop.  They went crazy and we had loads of delicious little cucumbers all summer long.  We took his advice and saved the seeds from one cucumber which we let grow fat and sad looking.  We planted them 5 days ago, and despite Big Man being convinced that nothing would come of them, this morning we found lots of little sprouts…we´re so proud!

Tiny Cucumber Sprout - Future Gazpacho Ingredient

Our artichokes continue to flourish, but we will put some new plants in this year as the current ones are now three years old and getting tired.

Artichoke leaves, a perfect snack for slugs

Our tomatoes, peppers and aubergines have taken root well. 

Pepper or Pimiento

Big Man hates aubergines (or eggplants) with a passion. I, on the other hand, adore them. Sometimes I sneak them into dishes without telling him and he cant always tell.  I love Melanzane Alla Parmigiana, and make this as a treat all to myself so we have planted a little row of them to keep me happy.

Aubergines. Love ´em or hate ´em?

And our lovely little lemon tree seems to have found its pace and keeps us supplied with juicy fruit for squeezing over grilled meats, making dressings and slicing into our “sun downers”.

Ice and a slice anyone?

And just to prove that it´s not all about veggies, here´s a gratuitous shot of one of our roses…

Roses are red...

Happy growing!!!