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!
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.
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!
Our time back Up the Mountain seems to be flying past so quickly, but we are managing to catch up with family and friends, but less so on rest and sleep. Oh well, it´s all about the Fiesta this week in our village and we´re making the most of things.
Tonight though we are at home. After almost a week of eating out our bodies need a rest before a little farewell party tomorrow night in a local bar. Fiesta food is heavy on the meat and protein as it´s all cooked over coals as you wait. Delicious grilled fillets of pork sprinkled with a type of salsa verde, pinchitos (little pork kebabs), jamon and cheese, braised goat and some grilled prawns. Of course, on Sunday we had the village paella.
It was time to balance things out and stock up on veggies and our little abandoned vegetable patch came up with the goods. Today I picked about 10 kgs of peppers, both green and red and a few aubergines. Most of the peppers were sliced and frozen or braised with olive oil and then frozen for the coming months. A few though were roasted and turned into a delicious, filling salad dish for a meat free supper.
While the peppers were roasting I picked my Chinese Lantern plants which have gone wild in our absence. Tomorrow I´ll pick the lanterns off the plants and use them to decorate the house later in the year. Very autumnal.
The cases are being packed (yes, I managed to get a whole jamon into one) with things to remind us of home for the next month or so. The dogs have been bathed (Luna) and clipped (Alfi) while they stay with my parents. And we have had time to recharge our batteries. Well, sort of. We are counting our blessings that that we avoided any damage from the terrible rains here in Spain and spare a thought for the less lucky ones. Life is hectic, life is full, life is good.
Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main dish or 4 as a starter or salad)
4 large peppers (green and red)
2 large aubergines
2 small tins of tuna
1 medium onion finely sliced
A large handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
About 150g of chopped olives
Olive Oil and Lemon juice
The grated rind of a lemon
Salt and Pepper
Roast the peppers and aubergines until charred, leave to cool slightly and then peel. Slice the peppers and scoop the flesh from the aubergines and cut into chunks.
Mix the vegetables with the tuna, olives, onions, mint and grated lemon and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Taste, season, enjoy.
When I lived in London my life was, as you can imagine, very different from life Up The Mountain. For a start I had a Proper Grown Up Job. And I travelled a lot, sometimes spending weeks living out of a suitcase or briefly stopping at home for a pit stop to repack the case. At times like this my best friends were the local take away menus. Luckily, I lived in an area that boasted an amazing amount of pretty good quality restaurants who could get something tasty to my doorstep within about 30 minutes of me placing a call.
When I moved to Spain, it took me a while to adjust to the fact that when I didn´t feel all that much like cooking it was either Big Man´s special fried eggs, or jamon, cheese and melon to eat. The nearest take aways or delivery services are, I imagine, in a town a 45 minute drive away.
Finally I realised that I could still have something tasty to eat in about the same amount of time as it would have taken me to decide what to order from the take away menu, make the call and wait for the delivery guy to show up.
This is one of my speedy suppers. In the time it takes for a large pot of water to come to the boil and the pasta to cook, I have a delicious sauce made to serve with my favourite pasta, plenty of grated parmesan and I even get to swig a glass of wine while it´s cooking. Well, I need a dash of wine for the sauce.
Per person you need half an aubergine finely diced, two cloves of crushed garlic, two medium tomatoes peeled and chopped, a large slug of wine, a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs (I used a mixture of parsley and basil), seasoning and olive oil. I also use a crushed dried chili as I like my sauce spicy, but this is up to you.
Put the pot of water on to boil and sauté the aubergine until brown. Now add the garlic and once it is softened add the tomato and seasoning and the chili if using. Let the tomato cook down a little by which time you will probably be ready to put the pasta into the pot. Add your wine and herbs to the sauce and let it bubble away gently until the pasta is cooked and ready to be drained. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
The sauce is a little like the one used in Pasta alla Norma (ChgoJohn has a fine example of it here and Linda at Savouring Every Bite here). These recipes give you a deeper tasting, richer sauce as it´s cooked for longer. Yum!
Now all you need to do is mix the sauce into the pasta, grate or shave over plenty of your favourite cheese, pour another glass of wine and think about how you are putting the fast food delivery services out of business.
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!
I realised tonight that a month had flown past since we planted our vegetable “plugs” this year. We´re catching up as we´ve has plenty of rain followed by sunshine and a few misty evenings, which the plants seem to love!
Our herbs are doing well, apart from my parsley and cilantro (coriander) which are still looking a bit sad.
I´ve let the sage flower as I think it looks so pretty. I sometimes deep fry the large leaves in very hot olive oil for a few seconds and sprinkle with coarse sea salt as a little nibble with almonds and olive…and wine, of course!
The mint is going crazy…these were the stragglers which I had to pull up later.
I´ve also let the chives go to seed as the flowers are also lovely in salads.
The basil is almost ready for the first batch of pesto.
We´ve got plum tomatoes.
We´ve got a “wild” tomato which has sprung up from a leftover seed from a squashed tomato from last year. It has such a desire to live, we´ve let it do its own thing!
We have some (very) bitter salad leaves and the delicious chard. The celery tucked in there is slow to get going, but we´ll let it take its time.
Tomatoes, beans and the little muscat vines.
We´ve got rocket seedlings (must plant some more though)
The first of the runner beans should be ready to pick in a few days
The onions are doing well too
We´ve got long thin green peppers and large bell peppers – but we can´t remember which are which. We´ll soon find out!
The aubergine flowers are so pretty – wish they´d hurry up as I love aubergines (eggplant!)
Dwarf French beans (yellow and green) which we only planted a week ago
And finally, radish seedlings…not long now!
As I said, we´re a little behind this year because of the very wet spring that we had, but we´re happy with progress so far and already dreaming of grilled vegetables, salads and bunches of grapes. Happy growing to you all!
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.
The broad beans are still in full production, the freezer is also well stocked for when they do die off in a few weeks.
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.
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!
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.
Our tomatoes, peppers and aubergines have taken root well.
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.
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”.
And just to prove that it´s not all about veggies, here´s a gratuitous shot of one of our roses…
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.....