The English summer is unpredictable. Some beautiful days with perfect heat and a gentle seaside breeze. Then days of rain, wind and the thought that maybe, just maybe, we need to turn the central heating on.
Then we hear from family in Spain that it’s in the forties and it’s too hot to even think, so we feel blessed and happy to be Down by the Sea with our English weather.
Our runner beans are loving days of sun followed by heavy rain. Another positive for us and we’re enjoying the fruits (and flowers) of our little garden. I do miss our vegetable garden though…oh those tomatoes!
Dinner the other night was a simple salmon en croute. Roasted vegetables were cooled then placed on top of a tail fillet, wrapped in puff pastry, brushed with beaten egg and roasted for about 25 minutes. Perfect with those beautiful beans.
Happy summer to my northern hemisphere friends and happy winter to those in the south!
I’m a person who thinks that most vegetables, especially those which have just been picked from the garden, don’t need too much messing around with. There are few vegetables that don’t respond well to blanching or steaming, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemons. But let’s be honest, sometimes we fancy a change.
Any of you who grow your own vegetables will be faced at some point with a glut. While we are in England we are only managing to grow a few things. The tomatoes are STILL green and with only 3 runner bean plants, we’re not exactly dealing with kilos of them.
However, lovely fresh and sweet tomatoes from the next door county of Kent are being devoured daily and I decided to make a quick and fresh summer vegetable dish. Delicious as a side dish, or serve it at room temperature with some cheese and salamis, plenty of crusty bread and (of course) a chilled glass of wine.
About 200g runner beans, shredded or cut into chunks and blanched in salted, boiling water for about 3 minutes
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or crushed
A few generous glugs of olive oil
About 4 ripe tomatoes (peeled or not, you decide), finely chopped, puréed or grated
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Half a teaspoon of smoked pimentón
A sprig of fresh rosemary (optional)
Slowly warm your olive oil in a small deep pan (if you have an earthenware cazuela, even better) into which you have put the chopped garlic. Once the garlic has softened, but not browned, and your kitchen is filled with wonderful warm garlicky smells, add the tomato, a little seasoning, the rosemary and the pimentón.
Continue to cook gently for two or three minutes until it all starts to come together, then add the blanched beans. Cook for a further couple of minutes to allow the beans to soften a little more, but not lose their colour.
Leave to cool down slightly, best served at room temperature.
And now a cloud shot from the other day – I just thought it was so weird and beautiful. I’m sure there is a special name for this kind of cloud formation, please do enlighten me if you know!
Yes, it´s that runner bean time of year here Up the Mountain. We´re picking them daily, freezing some, giving some away and of course, eating plenty.
This was a light supper dish that was quickly pulled together as I had already blanched the beans and had some cooked potatoes in the fridge (a staple in our house for potato based salads) and some cooked prawns. If you don´t have these ready though, it´s not the work of hours to blanch some beans and boil some potatoes before throwing in raw prawns to cook through at the end.
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a light meal)
About 500g of sliced, blanched runner beans
2 medium cooked and peeled potatoes, cut into small chunks
About a cup of cooked, peeled prawns
1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
2 fat cloves of crushed garlic
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
½-1 teaspoon of hot or sweet pimentón (or chili powder)
Olive (or vegetable) oil
Into a deep, heavy frying pan pour a few tablespoons of oil for frying and quickly fry the potatoes until they start to brown over a high heat. Reduce the heat to low and add the ginger, garlic, cumin and pimentón and fry gently until the garlic and ginger have softened. Now add the beans and continue to fry gently until they have cooked through. Add the prawns (I chopped mine as they were quite large) and taste. Add salt if necessary. This would be great with some finely chopped coriander but I didn´t have any. Serve hot with crusty bread or try this beautiful recipe for pita bread from Tandy over at Lavender and Lime.
Another hectic few days in the UK, but more of that in a moment. It was a good trip, and I even got to meet my blogging buddy Claire from Promenade Plantings. We had a wonderful little break sitting on the sea front, drinking rosé wine and getting to know each other better. And then she gave me a bag of her super delicious peppery radishes. How lucky am I?!
As ever, I came back with some goodies to enjoy here Up the Mountain. A fabulous Ottolenghi cookbook, which is already inspiring me with some amazing recipes. Can´t wait to try them out.
I also bought myself some cooling racks for my baking which I had wanted for ages. Well, I had been balancing an oven rack on top of tin cans which wasn´t ideal. And in the shop, next to the baking racks I spotted some adorable mini loaf tins which just pleaded with me to leap into my suitcase. Of course, I obliged them! I expect you have also spotted my guilty (not so) secret of Cheese & Onion crisps.
Big Man had kept busy in the veggie garden in my absence and picked tomatoes, courgettes and almost three kilos of runner beans…and I had only been away for four days.
Some of the beans went into a delicious salad at lunchtime today. Thinly sliced raw runner beans, tomatoes, sweet onions and green peppers with chopped basil and a lemon and garlic vinaigrette. All from our garden, it did make me feel a very happy Chica.
Then, just when I thought my first day home couldn´t get any better, my lovely neighbour came round with a fantastic present for me. Look at this beautiful mixer. She said she had it stored away in her garage and hoped I would make good use of it. You bet I will!
And now for some exciting news. Regular readers may have noticed that I have been making more trips than usual back to the UK in the last few months. Well, they weren´t all back to London to visit my family, but to sort out a project that Big Man and I will soon start working on. We will be heading over to a little seaside town on the south coast of England, called Bexhill on Sea. In just under 3 weeks in fact, so not long to go now. We will pack up the car with tools, supplies, two dogs and almost definitely some Spanish cheese and jamon. We will drive across Spain and France and when we get to the UK we will be setting up base in a little Victorian house which is in need of some love and attention.
Hopefully over the course of about a month we will be able to restore it to a liveable condition (while we live in it ourselves). We will be polishing floorboards, putting in a kitchen and bathroom, unearthing the little garden and breathing life back into it.
It´s going to be hard work, it´s going to be stressful but it´s going to be fun and a wonderful experience. While we do this we´ll have to cook and eat and we´ll be sharing our little adventure with you before we head back to Spain once it´s all done. I do hope you join us for the ride, and please be prepared for dust, rain and laughter along the way.
Now, if there was a prize for the least photogenic dish in the world, this one would be up there with the final contenders. It´s a very simple and tasty dish, especially made with the young tender broad beans which are in season right now. Our vegetable patch is delivering nicely and I make these regularly.
And then I take a photo. But to no avail. Broad beans braised slowly for about 30 minutes just don´t look pretty. You have the photos to prove it here. Sigh. If only they were as photogenic as Roger´s beautiful beetroot. But what they lack in looks, they make up for in taste, you´ll just have to believe me on this.
It´s quite a versatile dish – it is served here as a tapas, a side dish or with fried or poached eggs as a light supper dish. It can also be mixed into beaten eggs and made into a tortilla or huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs).
500g of young broad beans (podded, but keep the skins and slice them into 1cm pieces)
1 medium onion finely chopped
About 6 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced lengthways in half
100g of finely chopped jamon (or use lardons or pancetta)
Sweet pimentón (optional)
The Spanish way of making this dish is to braise the onion, garlic and beans (pods and skins) in olive oil until tender. It does taste wonderful but this is how I do it.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the bean pods and skins and cook for about 4-5 minutes until just starting to become tender. Drain. Put about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into a deep frying pan that has a lid (or that you can cover with foil) and gently poach the onions and garlic (with the lid on) until they are soft.
Now add the beans and continue to cook gently, stirring to mix the beans into the oil every so often, with the pan covered. They will simmer and braise until very tender. Near the end of the cooking time add the jamon which will also cook through. I also like to add a sprinkle of pimentón when I add the jamon, but this is not typical. Taste and season if necessary and serve hot or cold.
For a similar dish using runner beans, take a look at this recipe.
Big Man and I are heading to the UK tomorrow. We have packed our umbrella as I think we have a few rainy days awaiting us. I won´t have access to e-mail but I look forward to catching up with you all next week – hope it´s a good one for everyone!
Well, summer is here and I finally have my first glut of tomatoes.
We also picked runner beans last night, although they are coming to an end now.
And the first of our bobby or French beans. I planted two varieties, one green and one yellow, but so far I´m only seeing green ones!
Because we don´t use insecticides or nasty sprays, some of our tomatoes look a little quirky, but we don´t mind that. It makes us love them all the more…
Time to start laying some by in jars for the winter months. Last year I made what seemed like enough for the whole village, but by the end of April we ran out. I am on a mission this year to make enough to last us until next summer. It is a little bit of effort, but we have so many tomato plants and have also just done a second planting, that it makes sense to do it and enjoy all our hard work in the colder months.
For a great idea on how to use your tomato sauce, and also the way I make mine, head over to Tales of Ambrosia for a delicious aubergine and tomato sauce dish.
I started by cutting small crosses in my washed tomatoes.
Then I blanched them for a minute or two in boiling water.
After peeling and coring them I put them into my food mouli (although sometimes when I´m pressed for time I just blitz them with the hand blender).
The mouli, if that´s the correct word in English, is a hand held vegetable mill and gets rid of any tough bits and seeds.
Every so often you´ll need to empty out the bits you´re left with. You can either use these in soups or sauces or if you have chickens, like us, they love them as a special treat.
You´ll be left with a purée of tomatoes which you can now freeze, use or bottle (can).
When I am going to bottle or can them, I add half a teaspoon of salt per litre of tomato and heat gently until just bubbling.
This then goes into sterilized jars which are tightly sealed then left to simmer in a bain marie for about 10 minutes and then left to cool down.
Today, as I had been cutting back my basil which is getting a bit overgrown, I added a spring of basil into each jar too.
Now put the jars away in a cool dark place and on a dull grey day, a few months ahead, you´ll be so glad you invested a little time on a hot summer´s day doing this!
A few days ago Big Man came back from a trip to Granada raving about a different kind of tapas he had eaten that day in a bar. First of all I need to explain all about Granada and tapas. Granada (the entire province, not just the city) is famed for and rightly proud of its tapas culture. In most other regions you are asked if you´d like a tapas to accompany your drink and offered a choice. This can simply be cheese, jamon or olives or quite sophisticated grilled or fried fish, fillets of meat, or potato or seafood salad.
In Granada you don´t get offered, you just get given. Most bars will have their own specialities and generally their first tapas will be x, the second y and so on. Of course, if they serve you something you don´t want or like, you can ask for something different. They even have a word for going out and moving from bar to bar sampling the best they have to offer. It´s called “tapear”…isn´t that wonderful? Sounds so much nicer than going on a pub or bar crawl! It also helps with not ending up with a sore head if you drink alcohol as you are eating as you go along.
So, back to the tapas he ate. Apparently it was runner beans with bacon. It sounds simple, and it was, but he said it was delicious and fresh and made a lovely change from the usual fare. After cross questioning him under a spotlight (ok, I made that last bit up) he told me that he thought the beans had been cooked a little first in water, then stir fried with little cubes of bacon. Then he thought there might have been garlic and couldn´t make his mind up if there had been tomato, but probably not. What a great way to use up some of my runner bean glut and to get my super marvelous bean shredder out again!
So that was pretty much it. I sliced my beans finely (I used about 2 cups) and boiled them for a few minutes then drained them. I diced a couple of slices of smoked streaky bacon which I fried until slightly brown at the edges, threw in two cloves of crushed garlic and the beans and stir fried them for a few minutes more.
Big Man pronounced them even better than the ones in the bar, mainly because I had used some of my precious stock of lovely English bacon supplied by my pals. And I´m happy as we have a new quick and tasty dish to use up some of our runner beans which we´re currently picking at a rate of about a kilo a day.
I can´t believe that I´ve been picking veggies and not bragging about it!
Today we finally picked our first red tomatoes…hurrah! We were late planting, but now that they´ve kicked in, there will be no stopping us for quite a few months now. Am planning salads, sauces, sun dried tomatoes and goodness knows what else. My plum tomatoes (or roma) are getting huge, but still frustratingly refuse to turn red.
We planted 18 runner bean plants this year (as opposed to the totally ridiculous 60 last year) and have been picking them almost daily for about 3 weeks now. We´ve still got a way to go with them, but thanks to my nifty runner bean slicer, we´re enjoying beans and freezing them too for later.
The aubergines are ripening and I´ve started to pick them quite small. Later I´ll leave them to get a little larger, but I couldn´t hold back.
Our long thin green peppers which are great for gazpacho are now being picked every couple of days. They´re also wonderful deep fried (stuffed or not) in olive oil and just sprinkled with salt. Our bell peppers are growing well, but need some more time to get bigger and then red.
The dwarf beans we planted a couple of weeks ago are all in flower, so it won´t be long now until they´re producing little bobby beans for us. I´m quite excited as I´ve planted two varieties, one green and one yellow. I´m sure they´ll taste pretty much the same but they´ll look extra pretty!
Our Spanish radishes, which are long as opposed to round, are doing great. We pick a couple each day and they have a good bite to them. We´ll probably plant a few more as they come up from seed so quickly.
And our little Spanish cucumbers are doing well. We grew them from seeds from a cucumber we saved last year. The cucumber had come from plants that our neighbour Diego gave us from seeds of his own – so these are several generations old. It´s good to have a little bit of history in the garden!
Our chard flourishes, I keep giving bunches of it away, but will do something this week with it for us. And our celery is slowly but surely getting bigger.
We have other things going on in the vegetable patch, and I´ll take some pics as the become ready. I do have to mention our little vines. Big Man is very rightly proud of our muscat grapes which are now trained over the kitchen window. They look amazing, we had to remove some as we had so many bunches but they would never have all ripened. Am looking forward to grapes in September and drying some for Christmas too.
I love summer…but I´m off to water the garden soon as it´s very hot here during the day and the plants are thirsty. ¡Hasta luego!
When my pals came over from the UK recently they came bearing gifts, just like the wise men. One package was from my lovely mother and she had made up Za´atar and Dukkah for me. What a lovely mum I have! We can´t get them or all the ingredients to make them up here. At least, I can´t seem to track them down, and it´s always lovely to have a gift like this as every time you use it, you think of the person who gave it to you.
We had a very small shoulder of goat in the freezer (enough for two hungry people or two regular appetites with enough left over for sandwiches) and I thought I´d do it on the barbecue.
It was very easy to pull together and quick to cook. I made a package with a double layer of foil to put the meat in the seasoned the meat with salt before sprinkling over and rubbing in the Za´atar.
I wrapped it up and put it onto the barbecue at a low heat for about 40 minutes and that was it.
We ate it with lemon juice squeezed over, a big salad and some cold runner beans from the garden dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Oh, and a glass of wine of course!
Yes, the planting is starting to deliver! Great excitement this week with my two best friends visiting, with lots of talking, laughing eating and drinking going on.
The vegetable patch gave us its first little crop of runner beans this week, and a second picking a few days later. Big Man, despite being the largest of the family group this week, was given the honour of squeezing in between the bean canes and picking those precious runners, making sure not to knock any of the delicate flowers (or future beans) off.
When I was last in the UK I bought a little gadget for cutting runner beans. You snip the ends off with a little blade then run them through a hole with several blades. Result? Long thin strings of spaghetti like bean strips. This means you can cook them quickly and still retain colour and flavour.
I won´t say it´s quicker than doing it the old fashioned way with a sharp knife, but you can see how pretty they look with this simple bowl of boiled beans lurking behind some barbecued hake with alioli. We served them just warm with olive oil and lemon juice.
Inspired by a delicious recipe over at Fati´s Recipes, I also cooked some up later in the week with mushrooms and a simple tomato sauce.
I lightly fried some sliced mushrooms.
Then I added some blanched beans (which I had chopped into little squares this time).
Finally I poured over some home made tomato sauce, a little water, seasoning and simmered until ready.
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.....