Shallow Fried Cod with Vegetable and Saffron Risotto

Ok, so the photo doesn’t do this dish much justice but I’m an honest Chica and I don’t have photoshop. We also eat ridiculously late so there’s no natural light. But what I show you is a delicious meal which would also be an amazing light vegetarian lunch or supper without the cod.

The risotto is creamy and delicately flavoured and, as a bonus, pretty healthy and low in fat too as it contains no cream or cheese. Granted, coating cod in flour and frying it in olive oil sort of cancels that out, but fish and olive oil are good for us, we all know that, so not only does this taste great it’s good for you too!

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Ingredients to serve 2 hungry people (and we’re always hungry)

  • 1 large piece of cod cut into about 6 large chunks and lightly coated in seasoned flour
  • About 150g risotto rice (I used carnaroli)
  • Approx half a litre of hot vegetable stock into which you dissolve about 5 strands of saffron
  • One roasted red pepper peeled and finely chopped
  • Half an onion finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of peeled and crushed garlic
  • 1 small courgette cut into fine dice
  • 1 large ripe tomato, peeled and finely chopped
  • About a dozen mangetout beans, finely shredded
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning
  • Lemon to serve

The risotto is made in the usual way – start by softening the onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil, then add the pepper, tomato and courgette and cook until the courgette has softened. Add the rice and make sure it is coated in oil before gradually adding a ladleful of hot stock. Cook until the stock has been absorbed then add the next ladleful. Continue in this way until the rice is just starting to lose its bite.

At this point heat olive oil in a deep frying pan to a depth of about 1cm (you can also either deep fry or use less oil if you prefer). When the oil is very hot, gently lower in the cod pieces and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.

While the cod is cooking add the shredded mangetout to the rice and a final ladleful of stock. Taste and season then place the cod on top of the rice. Turn off the heat and leave the rice to rest for a few minutes before serving with wedges of lemon to squeeze over.

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Fennel Scented Cauliflower with Griddled Sea Bream

No sooner did we get here than it’s time to head back to England. I’ll be sad to leave our beloved mountains again but work beckons and excitingly we’ll also be renovating a property for my parents close by.  We’ll all be round the corner from each other like one big Italian/Spanish family! My dad will even have space to store his beloved Vespa and to continue the family tradition of making their wine for the year with grapes imported from Italy. We have a celebration ahead with both my mum and Big Man reaching special birthdays within days of each other. Friends from Spain will be flying over to England to join us, so I’ll be able to share that with you.

Don't worry - we'll all be travelling in more comfort than this!
Don’t worry – we’ll all be travelling in more comfort than this!

The packing up of the car starts today and we head off on Thursday morning to drive through Spain, right up the middle past Madrid then over the border at Irun and – all going well – resting for the night in Bordeaux. The next day we continue up through France and cross from Calais to Dover by ferry and then a couple of hours later we’ll be in Bexhill. Just over 2200km – loaded with paella burners and pans for pals, cheeses, wines, sausages and of course Luna and Alfi. We definitely don’t travel light!

We'll miss the view from the patio of one of our favourite local bars. And the dogs love it there too!
We’ll miss the view from the patio of one of our favourite local bars. And the dogs love it there too!

But today I have just a little time to look back on the last month in Spain and share another simple recipe which, for me, is full of one of the flavours of Andalucia- anis.

I’m one of those funny folk who love fennel and dill but can’t stand drinks like anis, pernod or raki. Use it in cooking though and it’s a whole other matter.

Anis is a popular drink here (sweet or dry) and is served with or without ice, or if you add a little slosh of it to coffee in the morning, it becomes a “Carajillo de Anis”. Most popular with all the old boys in the local bars to start their day! We always have a bottle of it at home but it’s one of those bottles that lurks around for ages getting a bit dusty.

After resuming my mountain walks with the pups I have found plenty of wild fennel to pick – here it’s mostly the feathery fronds that are enjoyed, but you can also use the young stems in the same way you would use fennel. This recipe uses whatever veggies you have to hand, it’s all about the delicate aniseed flavours. We enjoyed ours with a whole bream stuffed with wild fennel which we cooked on the cast iron griddle and drizzled with a few drops of anis once it was cooked.

Sea Bream with Cauliflower (4)

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a side dish)

  • Half a cooked cauliflower chopped into small pieces
  • A leek, cleaned and cut into thin slices
  • A mix of red and green pepper, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Half an onion finely chopped
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fennel and fronds
  • A tablespoon of anis flavoured liqueur
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a deep frying pan or wok and add the onions and peppers.  Fry gently until they are very soft (this will take about 20 mins) then add the leeks, garlic, fennel and cauliflower. Continue to cook until the leeks have softened, season and add the liqueur. Cook for a further minute and serve.

This would also be delicious served as a vegetarian main course on it’s own or stirred through rice or pasta.

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…

Pan Fried Sea Bream with Asian Style Noodles

Is it because it’s Lent, or I’m Down By the Sea, or because Spring keeps teasing me that I am cooking and enjoying lots of gorgeous fish? Who knows, who cares….!

The recipe is more for preparing the noodles than the fish which was simply lightly pan-fried in olive oil and sprinkled in sea salt and then drizzled with a little extra olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I haven’t given many details for quantities, you know how much you can eat!

Sea Bream & Asian Noodles (3)

Ingredients

  • Fresh or dry noodles
  • A mixture of chopped, sliced, slithered veg….I used chopped broccoli, sliced peppers, finely chopped spinach leaves and thin slithers of carrot (I used my peeler)
  • About a teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Half a teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder
  • A few splashes of fish sauce (go easy, it’s strong)
  • Soy sauce to taste
  • Sesame oil for stir frying
  • A couple of fresh chillies, thinly sliced

This is a three pot cooking session, sorry, but it’s quick! Put the water on for your noodles and heat the oil for the fish in a large frying pan. Now add a little sesame oil (you may want to do half vegetable or sunflower oil as it has a strong taste) in a wok or frying pan.

Using all three of your hands and arms, drop the noodles into the boiling water and cook until almost done. Turn the heat off at this point and give one of your arms a rest. At the same time fry the bream lightly on both sides and stir fry the veg, spice, garlic and ginger for about 4-5 minutes. It all comes together at once.

Sea Bream & Asian Noodles (1)

Drain the noodles and add to the vegetables, adding the fish sauce and soy sauce and stir fry for another minute. Plate the noodles and vegetables up, artistically place your fish on top and sprinkle with chilli if using. Use two hands for your cutlery and your third for drinking wine and dabbing genteelly at your mouth.  Or you could just give yourself a pat on the back.

Baked Skate with Oven Roasted Vegetables

Baked Skate (4)

Regular readers of this blog may well know that at home Up our Mountain or in our (now soon to be) second home Down by the Sea (well, I’m working on that phrase…give me more time) we have a passionate love for eating fish. Fish Man provides for us Up the Mountain and Fishmonger does the job Down by the Sea.

Skate is also a regular favourite and it’s usually pan fried in my biggest pan possible. The other day I was busy glossing paintwork but wanted to get dinner on the go. Not wanting to stand over a pan for all of ten minutes, I decided to turn on the oven and get cooking.

Ingredients for 2 people

  • 1 skate wing cut into two pieces
  • 1 large lemon thinly sliced
  • A selection of vegetables for roasting (I used courgettes, peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Set the oven to about 180C degrees or medium.  Start by coating your vegetables (cut into chunks or strips) in a little olive oil and season them. Put into a deep baking tray.  Add a favourite herb if you like – I used thyme. Roast for 20 minutes then lay the skate on top, season it and then drizzle a little more oil over and lay the lemon slices over the fish. Cover with foil and continue to cook for another 20 minutes.

Check that it is cooked by prodding with a sharp knife in the centre (the flesh should be cooked all the way through in the thicket part). If it’s still a little raw (this will depend on the thickness of your fish) put it back in for another 5 minutes and check again.

You will have a lot of delicious juices in the pan which you can drizzle over but you will have extra which can be saved (freeze if not using within 2 days) and used another day for cooking with rice to make a delicious paella or as a stock for a fish soup.

Healthy, low fat, delicious. And plenty of time to jump under the shower and wash that paint out of your hair.

Autumn Tomato and Vegetable Soup

Lunch in our home right now doesn´t always happen at lunch time. Sometimes it doesn´t happen at all, but we do eventually eat and everything tastes even better as hunger – so they say – is the best seasoning.

Soups are perfect as they just need to be heated up and can be eaten quickly if we´re in a rush, or enjoyed with a hearty sandwich or some cold meats and cheeses if we have the luxury of a little time. This was a quick one to prepare, and was warming and tasty due to the addition of fresh ginger and smoked pimentón.

Of course, I´d recommend a soup bowl and not a coffee cup without a handle, but the choice is yours!

Ingredients (serves two to four, depending on how hungry you are)

  • 500ml of sieved tomatoes (passata)
  • 500ml of water or vegetable stock
  • 1 large carrot peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 1 large courgette peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 1 large onion peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium parsnip peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • About 10 green beans cut into small pieces
  • A level teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • One heaped teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
  • A teaspoon of marmite (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A tablespoon of fresh olive oil

Put all the ingredients except the oil into a saucepan and simmer until all the vegetables are tender. Taste for seasoning and either serve as is with chunks of vegetables or add the olive oil and blend until smooth and creamy.

PS. The pretty napkins were made from an old sheet my best friend gave me that she found in a charity shop. She knows how I like to recycle and refashion and was sick of me commenting that I was missing sewing/knitting/crochet etc.  She gave it to me and said “there you go, it´s big enough for you to make a tablecloth and six napkins by hand”. So I did!

Vegetable Fajitas with Soft Goat´s Cheese

Easy, nourishing dishes that are quick to prepare are still very much the order of the day here. To make a change from sandwiches, I decided to make fajitas this week. I did have to buy my tortillas, but for a fabulous recipe for home made ones (I can vouch for it, I made them in Spain) take a look at Tandy´s recipe.

Quantities are flexible, and use your favourite veggies or whatever you have to hand. We ate 2 tortillas each for lunch.

Ingredients

  • Finely chopped savoy cabbage
  • Finely shredded carrots, red peppers, onion
  • Finely Sliced Mushrooms
  • A handful of fresh beansprouts
  • Olive oil for stir frying
  • 1 teaspoon of tamarind sauce per person (pinched from my mum´s store cupboard – thanks Mamma!)
  • Pinch of dried chili flakes (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cumin per person
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 small log of soft goat´s cheese
  • Creamy Natural Yogurt
  • Tortillas for wrapping

Simply stir fry all the vegetables until they start to soften. Add the cumin, chili (if using) and tamarind and cover the pan. Continue to cook until the vegetables are cooked to your liking. Remove the lid if you prefer no juice.

Spoon the vegetables over warmed tortillas which you can spread with yogurt, place a few slices of creamy goat´s cheese on top, roll up and enjoy!

And finally, a totally gratuitous dog shot…at least someone can enjoy the rare bursts of sunshine this week…

Dogs among the rubble

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.

Osso Buco – Braised Veal (or Pork) Shank

When I was little my dad used to go crazy for Osso Buco, which translates from Italian as bone with a hole in.  I just didn´t “get” it but I enjoyed dipping my bread in the sauce.  My, how times have changed.  I go crazy for it now as my dad did.  Like many dishes, it used to be a poor person´s meal, made from the sliced shank bone of a young (or otherwise) cow.  Of course, it´s now a rather grand restaurant dish and veal is more typically used. It´s not found that often on menus as it is a long, slow cooked recipe. It´s also often made with white wine and no tomato and served with a gremolata.  Naturally, I ignored all this and did it my way!

When I saw in our local supermarket that they were selling sliced pork shank bones, I snapped up two packs (there were four in each) and decided to give making this delicious dish a go.  If you´ve ever cooked oxtail, the process is pretty much the same.  I also found that it was best made a day ahead to allow the flavours to really develop and to also be able to remove any fat from the top of the dish before heating and serving.

Ingredients

  • To serve four people I used two fairly meaty slices of shank per person
  • 1 large onion, peeled
  • Four carrots, peeled
  • 2 large sticks of celery cleaned and tough “strings” removed
  • Four fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups of crushed tomato
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of tomato purée or concentrate
  • ½  a bottle of red wine
  • A bay leaf and about 5 whole peppercorns
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Flour for coating the meat
  • Seasoning

You will also need a deep heavy based (preferably oven proof) dish with a lid

Start by dealing with the vegetables. You can either finely chop or process.  I chose the latter as I wanted the vegetables to cook down to a thick sauce, but the choice is yours.

Season the flour and coat the pieces of meat in it, reserving any that is left over.  Cover the base of your cooking pot with oil and at a high heat, brown the meat on all sides and remove to a plate. Turn the heat down and add all the vegetables, make sure they are coated in oil then put the lid on and let them sweat gently until soft for about 10 minutes. Now stir in up to a heaped tablespoon of any left over flour, cook for a minute or two then add the crushed tomato, the concentrate and the wine.  Bring it up to a bubble and have a little glass of wine while you are waiting.

When it is bubbling away nicely, add the meat back into the pot, season lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the bay leaf and peppercorns.  Cover the pot and either cook very slowly on the hob for about 2-3 hours or in the oven at the lowest setting for about 5 hours.  I prefer to use the oven as there is no chance of anything sticking to the bottom of the pot and I think the longer, slower cooking really does add something to the flavour.

The dish is done when the meat is making only a token gesture to hold on to its delicious centre bone.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

This is a real winter warmer dish and is perfect served with mashed or boiled potatoes or plain boiled rice or wet polenta.  Recommend you eat it with a fork and spoon as you won´t need a knife and you won´t want to miss any of that rich sauce. Fingers of course, are obligatory for sucking on the bones.

Boiled Gammon and Parsley Sauce

Some dishes, to me, are so typically English and bring back memories of food from my past.  Gammon is cured (usually wet cured in a salt brine) pork, from the leg.  It can be bought smoked, as an entire joint or as steaks.  It just can´t be bought in Spain, so I will have to work on a way to make my own.

Meanwhile, I picked up a few small joints of gammon on a pre Christmas shopping trip to the strange place that is Gibraltar.  A couple of hours´ drive from Malaga, it is a British Overseas Territory on the southern Iberian Peninsula.  I have to confess it´s not my favourite place as it seems to contain all that is bad about Britain packed into a very small area…but I don´t wish to offend and I am sure there is much more to it than I have ever seen on two brief shopping trips.

A trip to Gib, as it´s known to the Brits, allows us ex pats to stock up on things (particularly food) that we miss and either can´t get hold of or can´t be transported over easily by our visitors.  So, amongst many other food goodies, gammon it was.  I thought that Big Man would enjoy it as he loves pork and ham, but I knew it would be a new and interesting taste for him.

Gammon can be roasted or boiled and served hot or cold.  I decided to do a hot dish, boiled gammon with parsley sauce, which is a typical dish of comfort food from my homeland.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • One small brined gammon (about 750g)
  • About 6 carrots peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • 2 medium onions peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves
  • Water to cover
  • 6-8 medium potatoes boiled in their skins and peeled and halved to serve

For the parsely sauce you will need half a litre of home made béchamel sauce (infuse the parsley stalks in your milk before making it) and two tablespoons of parsley stirred in at the end. For extra flavour, use half milk and half stock (from boiling your gammon).

Simply put the gammon, onion, carrots, bay leaves and cloves into a deep saucepan and cover with water.  Don´t use salt – it will be fairly salty from the brine. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that rises to the surface, cover and simmer gently for about an hour until the gammon is tender.

When the gammon is cooked, leave it to sit in the hot stock while you cook your potatoes and make the parsley sauce.  I used one cup each of milk and stock (which should both be cooled) , 2 tablespoons of plain flour, 1 tablespoon of oil and whisked everything together over a low heat until it started to boil and thicken.  This is my cheat´s way of making white sauce.  Finally I stirred in my chopped parsley and let it sit for a few minutes.

Remove the gammon from the stock and slice or chop (it will not slice easily when it´s warm, but I don´t mind chunks!).  I put some runner beans into the stock with the carrots and onions, bought them up to the boil and then strained the vegetables, reserving the stock for soup. Serve with the boiled, peeled potatoes and vegetables and enjoy the lovely steamy smells of gammon and parsley that will float up and fill you with a sense of comfort.