Any regular readers of this blog will know that in the colder months, when I can light the oven in Spain (or pretty much any time in England) I am a huge fan of slow cooked comfort food.
In Spain we often eat pork shanks, in England we got to enjoy lamb instead. Here´s a simple recipe that is great for those cold winter days or nights and also a useful dish for entertaining as it can be prepared ahead and then forgotten about for several hours before serving.
Ingredients (to serve 2 people, easily doubled)
Two lamb shanks
1 can (400g approx) of borlotti beans
About 1 cup of chopped tomatoes (tinned are fine at this time of year)
A sprig of rosemary
4 cloves of crushed garlic
A glass of red wine
A teaspoon of olive oil
A teaspoon of tomato purée
Salt & Pepper
Mix all the ingredients (except the meat) together and season, pour them over the lamb using a deep oven proof dish. Cover with a lid or wrap tightly in foil and cook in a low oven for about 4 hours.
Serve with creamy mashed potato and make sure to finish that wine you opened to make the dish.
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.
Spring is sprung,
De grass is riz,
I wonder where dem birdies is?
De little birds is on de wing,
Ain’t dat absurd?
De little wing is on de bird!
Apologies, but I do enjoy nonsense and nursery rhymes! Yesterday at 6.14am, Spring officially began here in Spain. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the weather and the warm temperatures we have been experiencing dropped overnight.
No matter, we have been putting some early plants into our veggie patch, but Big Man has been creating mini polytunnels to protect them on cold days and nights.
In about a week we´ll be eating our first broad beans, and the onions are also coming on nicely.
We planted a totally ridiculous 280 cloves of garlic, and are now planting lettuce between the rows. Big Man will cover them with netting or the little sparrows will think they´ve been invited to a Michelin starred restaurant.
We planted a first “wave” of tomatoes, peppers and chard.
The tomatoes are already producing flowers.
The chard is almost ready to start picking.
But helpers are thin on the ground here. Better to sleep in the warm sun room.
Maybe I´ll get up and help.
Maybe not, I´ll just put my head down and no one will notice I´m here.
And a final piece of “newness”. John From the Bartolini Kitchens, very kindly sent me a fantastic tutorial on how to insert the Flag Counter I now have right at the very bottom of my blog page. If you scroll down, down, down you will see that it is now starting collect flags from the countries that have visited my blog. Very interesting and a lot of fun to check up on. Maybe one day I´ll get to visit more of them. Thanks John, my brilliant long lost Italian cousin!
It´s been such a long time since I talked about the garden or the vegetable patch. Naturally, it´s still winter, the soil is resting.
But not quite. It´s been an exceptionally mild winter, and while things could still change, there are signs of life.
My cyclamen, bought before Christmas, continues to stun us with its beauty. I am doubly shocked as I generally manage to kill pot plants within a few days. What do I do next with it? It currently sits inside our sun room, with the door open all day and sun in the afternoon. It seems very happy.
Some of our geranium cuttings are already producing little flowers.
Daffodil and narcissus bulbs planted last year (bought back from the UK) are flowering.
My parsley survived the winter outside, this is the first year this has happened.
Broad beans and onions in their little winter shelter. We open the door and let the sun in during the day and we´ll be eating beans again in a few weeks.
Plenty of garlic for the year ahead. I thought it was only a month away from being ready, but wise old Big Man tells me I need to be much more patient. In the background one of our lemons and our artichoke plants which are already producing baby artichokes.
Our other lemon took a battering in the recent high winds, but still has plenty of lemons and produces new flowers with each new moon.
We don´t tend to grow our produce from seeds as many of Big Man´s family do this on a large scale for a living. We are going to risk some early planting. Nothing to lose, we think. Basil, thyme, chard, spinach, frying peppers, bell peppers, some more lettuce and some salad tomatoes.
Winter has been kind to us this year. Fingers crossed it won´t take us by surprise in the next few weeks.
When you are lucky enough, as we are, to have a vegetable garden full of tasty summer tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, you are always looking for new ways to serve them. Arriving home from our holiday, we found the veggie garden over run with peppers plus we had a few cucumbers and the first of our new batch of tomatoes turning red. A neighbour had also left four huge and sweet onions in a bag hanging on our door. What a great homecoming!
I love tabbouleh, but had forgotten about making it until another kind neighbour bought me round a bag of bulghur wheat. I have very kind neighbours! It reminded me of how much I enjoy it and what a great use of my summer vegetables it would be.
It´s very easy and quick to prepare and can be made a little in advance of eating so that all the seasoning is absorbed and flavours your salad.
As I was finely chopping a mixture of tomato, cucumber, onion and garlic I realised how similar the base ingredients are to an Andalucían gazpacho, both the blended and the chunky versions. I also added chopped green and red peppers. I´m not sure how traditional they are but we still have so many, it seemed silly not to.
The wheat had been cooked according to the instructions on the pack, all very simple and straightforward, and when it had cooled a little I added my chopped vegetables, chopped mint and parsley, salt, olive oil and plenty of lemon juice.
And that was it. I left it to chill a little then bought it back to room temperature before eating. How simple and delicious was that?!
When you have lots of tomatoes growing, or you can buy them cheaply, it´s fun to play around with recipes and see what you can come up with. An excellent book for anyone interested in growing their own (or who just dreams about doing it) and cooking with the “bounty” is The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
One of his recipes that I´ve played around with over the years is the one he gives for tomato ketchup. The beauty of it is that you can adjust spices and flavourings to suit what you and your loved ones enjoy. I like my ketchup spicy, so I go heavy on the chili. Some of the things he mentions in his recipe I don´t always have to hand (like mace or celery seeds) so I have changed things round just a little.
This is the Up the Mountain version, and I can highly recommend it.
You´ll need a very sturdy heavy based saucepan for this as you´ll be reducing and reducing the sauce until it gets to the right consistency.
Put tomatoes, onions, peppers, chillis and celery leaves into the pot and simmer until very soft. Put through a mouli or fine sieve and then back into the pot with the sugar, mustard powder and vinegar. Put the remaining spices apart from the salt, nutmeg and pimentón into a cloth and tie securely then drop this into the mixture. Grate a little nutmeg over and if you want more later you can add it nearer the end.
Cook the sauce slowly until it has reduced to the thickness you require. If you like you can give it a whizz with the hand blender (don´t forget to remove the spice bag first though!), then season with the salt and pimentón. You can either put it into sterilised bottles or jars (I use the small juice bottles we get here in Spain) or it will keep well in the fridge for a month or you can freeze it.
Delicious with chips (or French fries for my US pals), burgers, fish, veggies…well, pretty much anything in fact! And mixed with mayonnaise it makes a wonderful Marie Rose style sauce with a bit of a kick.
Yes, tomatoes are now officially ripening at a rapid speed in our Huerto, and apart from drying and preserving, we are eating them too!
If you head over to Cook, Eat, Live Vegetarian you´ll find a wonderful tomato and quinoa recipe which shows you how to slow roast the delicious summer tomatoes we have in Andalucía at the moment. The other night we were heading out for dinner, so on the way out I popped a couple of trays of tomatoes into the oven set at the lowest temperature, and when we got back about four and a half hours later I had perfect roasted tomatoes. The house smelt wonderful too!
The next morning I braved the heat of the oven and decided to make a tomato tart. You can also find another wonderful version over here at Sweet Pea´s Kitchen made with Heirloom Tomatoes.
I put greaseproof paper at the base of a loose bottomed tart tin (that always makes me giggle, it sounds a bit saucy!) and put the tomatoes in, cut side down.
Then I mixed 200 grams of my garlic and herb cream cheese with one egg and spread this over the tomatoes. Finally I covered the whole thing with a sheet of puff pastry and tucked all the edges in.
I cooked it at 180ºC for about 50 minutes, left it to cool slightly in the tin for 10 minutes then turned it out on a plate. You get a few lovely juices dripping out and it´s best served at room temperature.
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!
Well, summer is finally here and with it comes gorgeous red and juicy tomatoes. Soon we´ll have so many it will be time to set some by for the months when tomatoes are sadder and greener.
One of the ways I like to store tomatoes is by sun drying them. Of course, if you live in a country that has less sun, or it´s winter right now, you can use your oven instead. I have never dried tomatoes this way but understand that as long as you wedge the oven door open slightly with a skewer or similar, then they´ll dry out nicely rather than steam.
This is the way that I do it, it does take a little time but I like to think that the final taste includes a little warmth of the Andalucían sun.
Wash and dry your ripe but not squashy tomatoes – this time I had plum tomatoes (also known as Roma or Pear tomatoes in Spain).
Cut into halves and then sixths or eights (or smaller depending on the size of your tomatoes). Don´t remove the centre core or seeds.
Lay them out on a large tray lined with kitchen paper and sprinkle them fairly heavily with salt. The salt will help to draw the liquid out of the tomatoes and they won´t taste super salty, I promise. Use coarse salt (or kosher salt) if you can.
Now leave them in a sunny but sheltered spot. If there is risk of wind or flies, cover them with a muslin cloth or net and take them in at night if you have humidity.
This batch took just over 48 hours.
After one hour
After four hours
Final day (after a windy morning!)
When they´re as dry as you want them (you may decide to leave them a little “juicy” for sun blush tomatoes) you are ready to put them in a sterilised jar (or canning them).
Sterilise your jar in the dishwasher or give them a good wash in very hot water then dry them out in a low oven for about 10-15 minutes.
Now pack your tomatoes into a warm jar. Can you believe nearly 3kg of tomatoes fit into this jar?
You can layer with basil, thyme or oregano if you want.
The you will fill the jar with olive oil. I know it seems like an awful lot of oil, but in a few months time when you´ve eaten the last of the tomatoes in that jar you can use the oil for salads, drizzling over pizza, making pasta sauce….
As a final security measure, I put my jar into a deep pot of simmering water so that it´s almost covered and leave it in there for about 10 minutes. This will ensure a good seal and that your tomatoes run no risk of fermenting.
Now, what will you do with your sun dried tomatoes? Maybe some canapés, or crostini, or chop them up in a salad or sauce, or maybe serve them with a little flaked fresh parmesan and olives….the choice is yours!
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.....