Aubergine and Vegetable Sauce – for people who don’t like aubergine

We’re on a countdown to our next mammoth England trip. If all goes well this week, we’ll leave on Friday in the early hours and get there on Saturday night. This time we won’t pretend to ourselves that we’re going to be there for three weeks and end up staying for nearly ten months! Oh no…this time we are going to do even more of the renovation work ourselves and will take it slowly. We’re planning on three or four months, so we’ll be enjoying the Rye Bay Scallop Season, Bonfires and Fireworks and Christmas too…along with plenty of hard work.

Preparation for the trip, apart from sorting out our house and garden here for the winter, means buying plenty of Spanish goodies to enjoy and share, booking the vet to sort out the paperwork for the pups and digging out our winter and work clothes. Last year we left with mixed emotions, this year it has not been a great summer for us in Spain due to family illness and loss…it’s going to be good for us to have a change of scene and the distraction of hard work.

Aubergine Sauce (4)

One of the things we’re also doing is eating as much of our lovely garden produce as possible and eating what we have put buy in the fridge and freezer without buying too much food before we go. Big Man planted aubergines for me, an act of true love which ranks almost as highly as his first ever gift to me of a cauliflower. The man knows how to “woo” me. He’s not crazy about aubergines but will eat them as he knows I adore them. I finally figured out that the skin and the texture of aubergines are what put some people off. Personally, for an aubergine lover, I feel it’s probably a great part of the attraction. Time to figure out how to get round that issue so everyone is happy. Bring on the aubergine and vegetable sauce…

Aubergine Sauce (3)

For a portion to serve four people

  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 large aubergine
  • 1 large green or red pepper (sliced)
  • 2-3 cups of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée (concentrate)
  • 1 small glass of red wine
  • A level teaspoon of sweet or smoked pimentón (paprika)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of sugar (optional)
  • Olive oil for frying

This is pretty much a traditional tomato sauce, apart from the way you deal with the aubergine. Start by cutting the top off the aubergine and slice it lengthways into quarters. Placing the white flesh against a grater, keep grating until you get to the skin and then stop. Repeat with the remaining quarters. You could also do this in a food processor, but you’d need to peel the aubergine first, and it’ so quick to do it’s hardly worth bothering. Discard the purple skin or feed it to some friendly local chickens.

Slowly braise the garlic in a little oil until soft, then add the aubergine and peppers and cook slowly (covered) until the vegetables are softened (about 10 minutes). Now add the tomato, the concentrate, the wine and the pimentón and season lightly. Bring to a bubble and then reduce the heat and cook very slowly (covered) for about an hour. Stir every so often and you may need to add a splash of water if it’s getting too thick. The aubergine melts into the sauce and gives it a slightly meaty texture.

I think you'll find I look great from any angle...
I think you’ll find I look great from any angle…

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (I didn’t need to add sugar as I used mature tomatoes from the veggie garden, but sometimes you need just a little pinch). Cook for a few minutes uncovered and enjoy with pasta, pizza, over meat or fish or as a bruschetta topping. If you don’t tell an aubergine hater what’s in there, they probably wouldn’t even know as the seeds look like tomato seeds when cooked and the taste is a wonderful mixture of slow cooked vegetables.

Luna starts her acclimatisation training for the colder English weather...
Luna starts her acclimatisation training for the colder English weather…

And because tomato sauce is not desperately exciting to look at, I’ve also given you a few gratuitous Alfi and Luna photos…

Stuffed Grilled Peppers

The Huerto, or Vegetable Garden, is doing well.  Although we won´t get to enjoy all of it over the summer, we are making the most of our vegetable bounty before we leave for the UK. The long thin peppers are doing well. Typically here they are used in salads or deep fried and served with a good sprinkle of salt.

To try something different, and because I had plenty of Creamy Goat´s Cheese “Paté”, I made this dish recently. Very easy and quick to prepare, and you can add whatever flavours/herbs you have to hand and enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium long green peppers
  • 200g cream cheese paté (or mix your favourite herbs and spices into a tub of cream cheese)

Blanch the whole peppers in boiling water for about 3 or 4 minutes, drain and leave until cool enough to handle.

Cut a slit down the middle of each pepper to create an opening and then fill with cream cheese. Use a cocktail stick to seal them.

I cooked mine on the griddle pan which I had sprayed with a very little olive oil. This would also work on a barbecue. Start with the uncut side first. When they are done on one side, flip them over and cook the other side which will probably need less time.

Remove from the heat and take out the cocktail stick. Serve either warm or at room temperature with a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of good coarse sea salt.

 

Out with the Old and In with the New – Broad Beans, Garlic and Chicken

Things are really shaping up in our huerto, our little vegetable garden. Yesterday the last of the broad beans were harvested and they leave us with a nice patch to fill with something else tasty.

Our garlic, which is a variety from Granada, is now just about ready for harvesting.

As you can see, it´s a small variety, slightly pink, and it tastes very sweet.  Here it is alongside one of our onions which we had expected to be bigger, but no matter…they taste great.

So, we now need to pick our 320 garlic bulbs and dry them out a little. We already have a waiting list of people who want a few, so my worries about how on earth we would use that many are already being addressed.

In order to celebrate the new garlic I made a simple dish of chicken joints, potatoes, small chunks of a whole lemon, a bulb of the fresh garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and some rosemary and oregano from our garden. I was inspired by this lovely simple recipe from Mary Cadogan over on the BBC website, but played around with it – I hope she won´t mind!

Into the oven it went, after having a good slug of local dry sherry poured over, where it sat cooking slowly at a medium heat for about 2 hours.

A little salad of finely chopped tomato with some chopped garlic and the last few fresh broad bean pods was my final tribute to the garden.

Simple, tasty and a perfect pick me up for the Up the Mountain garlic pickers!

Spring is Sprung – New Life in the Huerto

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.

Luna says "Just five more minutes and then I´ll come and help"

Maybe I´ll get up and help.

Did someone mention digging?!

Maybe not, I´ll just put my head down and no one will notice I´m here.

Think I´ll just stay here and wait until my fur grows back after the home haircut Mum & Dad gave me...

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!

In the Garden – February 2012

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.

A Challenging Challenge

Funky Geraniums

Recently Karen from Back Road Journal passed along a challenge to me.  Thanks Karen for thinking of me, I´m honoured!  I was also a little stumped as I haven´t been blogging for all that long and I had to pick out posts to show you in certain categories.

The rules are that I should have published a link related to the categories I´ll mention below, and that I should pass the challenge on to at least 5 other bloggers (well, that bit it easy, there are so many wonderful blogs I am following!).

Ok, so here goes.

The most beautiful post. This was tough, I´m not an expert photographer, but I chose my Cherry and Watermelon Granizada, as the colours evoke summer in a glass for me.

The most popular post.  Well, I was surprised, as it was one of the most simple things that I make but it got a huge number of hits.  It was my Salsa Verde Spanish Style.  Hopefully people are shaking it over everything from Cape Town to Texas!

The most controversial post.  Nothing really sprang to mind, but looking back, I did get a few surprised “looks” at my Slow Cooked Pig´s Trotters!

The most helpful post has to be my Sun Dried Tomatoes.  Again, so simple, but people seemed to like the simplicity of making these tasty little treats of sun dried gorgeousness.

The post that was surprisingly successful was The Vegetable Garden – 1 Month on.  I love that people ask me for advice.  I don´t have a huge amount of experience, but am happy to share any knowledge that I have.

The post that did not get the attention that it deserved.  I suppose a lot of the early ones when I had less people viewing, but I think it was my Pork Ribs in Barbecue Sauce.  Nearly everyone likes a BBQ rib…right?!

The post that I am most proud of.  Really tough, as I post on a variety of subjects, but it probably has to be my very first post.  Not so much for the superb writing (joke!) but it´s because it´s where my Spanish story really started.  Plucking up the courage to come to Spain alone which then led me on an amazing journey to where I am now.  And having the courage to start to write (and finish) my book.  And even though I don´t yet have a publisher, I´m proud of the fact that I did it.

Finally, these are the folk I´d like to pass the challenge on to.  I admire all their blogs, I love the variety of subjects I can read about, and I hope you get a chance to pop over to their blogs to see what they are up to.  I´m looking forward to reading their responses too.

Digging for Victory

Olives and Artichokes

And Then Make Soup

Refashionista

Cook Eat Live Vegetarian

A final huge challenge for me was actually posting this – 3 goes before WordPress decided to let me do it….grrrrrr!

The Vegetable Patch – 9 Weeks On

This evening´s harvest

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.

Please do the decent thing and turn red soon!

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 little bobby beans...

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.

Very Happy Chard

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.

Gorgeous Grapes

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!

First Runner Beans of the year….

 
Grubby Gardening Hands

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.

Pretty Beans

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.  

Stir fry in a little olive oil

Then I added some blanched beans (which I had chopped into little squares this time).

Add blanched beans

Finally I poured over some home made tomato sauce, a little water, seasoning and simmered until ready. 

Simmer gently...

Delicious!

Thank you vegetable garden!

The Vegetable Garden – One Month On

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!

Sage flowers

The mint is going crazy…these were the stragglers which I had to pull up later.

Rampaging Mint

I´ve also let the chives go to seed as the flowers are also lovely in salads.

Delicious chives...great for potato salad

The basil is almost ready for the first batch of pesto.

Fragrant Basil

We´ve got plum tomatoes.

A Future Sun Dried Tomato

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!

Born to be wild....!

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.

Green Leaves and Bitter Leaves

Tomatoes, beans and the little muscat vines.

View down to my kitchen window

We´ve got rocket seedlings (must plant some more though)

Aaah....less than a week old

The first of the runner beans should be ready to pick in a few days

Teeny, tiny beans

The onions are doing well too

Onions in neat rows!

We´ve got long thin green peppers and large bell peppers – but we can´t remember which are which.  We´ll soon find out!

Which one are you then?

Cucumber flowers

Grown from last year´s seeds

The aubergine flowers are so pretty – wish they´d hurry up as I love aubergines (eggplant!)

Hurry Up! Hurry Up!

Dwarf French beans (yellow and green) which we only planted a week ago

Not quite Jack & The Beanstalk, but working on it!

And finally, radish seedlings…not long now!

Peppery and Pretty!

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!

Chicken with Mushrooms and Artichokes

Once you´ve planted a couple of artichoke plants, they seem to last for a couple of years.  As long as you keep cutting the “fruit”, more keep on growing.  A couple of weeks ago we cut more than we needed, so stop them from getting too big and tough and a peeled off the outer leaves to reveal the hearts, blanched them in water with lemon juice to stop them turning black and then froze what we didn´t use.

As we now have more artichokes blooming, I thought I should use up the batch from the freezer (although a tin of artichoke hearts would do just as well).  I also had some chicken breasts which would go well with the artichokes in a lovely dish with a thick sauce.  Neither Big Man nor I are huge fans of the chicken breast, but when you rear your own chickens for eating, you´re always going to have them!

Ingredients for this dish for two are

  • One large or two small chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
  • A tin of artichoke hearts or about 8 fresh ones (prepared as above), sliced into quarters
  • Half a dozen medium sized mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • Two fat cloves of garlic, thickly sliced
  • Two cloves, ground (or about a quarter of a teaspoon of ground cloves) with about 5 peppercorns (or use half a dozen twists of freshly ground black pepper)
  • Half a teaspoon of paprika
  • A pinch of saffron soaked in a tablespoon of water (if you have a packet of paella spices, you can use half a packet in place of the cloves, pepper, paprika and saffron)
  • Two thick slices of day old bread, crumbled roughly
  • A bay leaf
  • A sprig of thyme (optional)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Water
  • A glass of white wine (optional) plus one for drinking while cooking (not optional in my kitchen)

Start by lightly browning the chicken in a little olive oil in a deep frying pan or a wide saucepan.  Then add the garlic, artichokes and mushrooms and fry gently until the mushrooms and artichokes start to brown.

Browning Nicely

Add the spices and herbs and season with a little salt.  Pour over the wine and enough water to comfortably cover everything and simmer, without a lid, for about 15 minutes. 

When the liquid has reduced by about half, but is still watery, remove the herbs and then add the bread crumbs, stirring as you do this.  You will simmer this for another 5 minutes stirring a couple of times.  The sauce will come together and will look smoother, with some texture from the bread after a couple of minutes.  You want to end up with a sauce roughly the texture of a thick gravy.  If it looks too runny near the end of cooking, add another half a slice of bread.  If it´s too liquid, just simmer until it gets to the consistency you want – it´s down to you! Check and adjust the seasoning, and you´re ready.

This can be prepared ahead and reheated, and takes about 40 minutes to prepare from scratch.

Looking Rustic

Delicious served either as a “spoon dish” (as they call dishes the consistency of stew which are served in bowls and eaten, as expected, with a spoon) if you prefer the sauce more liquid with bread and a side salad or with some green beans,  mashed potato or rice.