Melanzane Parmigiana

Melanzane. Ah, I love this word. Say it with me: Melanzane.

Mel - ant - zaané

Mel – ant – zarné

It means aubergine in Italian and hearing them say melts my insides. As does this recipe. It is so warming, and comforting and packed full of cheese. Amazing winter warmer. And one of the vegetarian options on my Delicious Dinners list. Its super filling and has no carbs except the breadcrumbs on top which are kind-of optional. The sauce needs long slow cooking so this one takes a little time but it is soooo worth it. Even the Italians loved this when I cooked it for them last summer, they couldn’t believe an English cook had made it…

Melanzane alla Parmigiana

Large aubergine, 2 balls mozzarella, 2 tins whole, peeled plum tomatoes, olive oil (loads), garlic, onion, glass of red wine, oregano (fresh if possible), handful fresh basil leaves, breadcrumbs, Parmesan

First off we’ll start the sauce. In a large pan heat a large glug of olive oil then add the finely chopped garlic and onion, sweat until soft and sweet with a pinch of salt. Add the wine and simmer gently until reduced by about half. Open the cans of tomatoes and, with your fingers, squish the whole tomatoes into the pan. Retain the sauce in the cans. Chuck in a handful of fresh oregano or a heaped tablespoon of the dried stuff. Add another big glug of excellent olive oil and simmer gently for as long as you can – over an hour is good, adding a little of the tomato sauce from the tins if things get a bit dry but you’re going for a nice thick sauce.

Slice the aubergines thinly into rounds. For a slightly healthier option, you could griddle all the slices, for a totally unhealthy option fry them all in oil. Or do a bit of both for a middling option as frying them makes them so soft a scrummy that to not have any in there would be a shame (this is packed with cheese so its never going to be a healthy dinner anyway…).

Super Supper

Super Supper

In a deep, square/rectangular oven dish layer the sauce, cheese and aubergine slices in the following order: sauce, aubergine, sauce, mozzarella slices (seasoning), grated parmesan, aubergine, sauce, mozzarella slices, grated parmesan mixed with breadcrumbs to top.

Put into the oven at 180 C for 30 minutes, then turn the oven up to 200 C for 10 minutes if the top hasn’t browned nicely. Top with torn basil leaves before serving. Eat with lots of crusty bread and a large glass of Italian red wine. Possibly a leafy green salad too, depending on how bad you feel about consuming that much cheese…

 

Grilled Aubergine Rolls stuffed with Spinach and Feta

We always have a lot of aubergines in the fridge and so seeing as I still haven’t been food shopping yet this week (eeek, getting withdrawal symptoms, the shopping shakes!!) I had to come up with something that used up the left over chorizo and white bean stew from last night and the aubergines that are just begging to be cooked. And this was it.

Rolly polly lunch

Rolly polly lunch

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Eat it with relish

Like most countrymen (and women) I love getting into a pickle. Many an Englishman (and woman) has professed to loving good, plain English food, but very few of them would turn down a little spicey chutney or a tangy relish on the side. Preserving is an ancient way of keeping yourself topped up with the good stuff all through the winter. My grandmother taught me to make jam, along with many other things, and unfortunately there has been a shortfall of education in the current generations when it comes to many of the ‘olde’ ways that are now considered old fashioned. I love how a good spoon of tomato relish can turn a slice of cheese and a hunk of bread into lunch but chutneys and jams also appeal to my innate frugality, my inability to waste anything.

As some of you may know I used to run a preserve making company in Plymouth called Spread the Love (before I decided to drop everything and start galavanting about on boats). None the less I still love making jams and chutneys and there is no better season than Autumn in which to do this. There is a glut of food about that is just begging to go into jars, its saying ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ and well, I am happy to oblige. A few hours of calming, rhythmic chopping and simmering, steaming up the kitchen with a comforting fug of spicy aromas, is as soothing a way of passing a dingy autumn afternoon as I can think of.

The best marmalade in the world...

The best marmalade in the world…

Any gluts that might have caught you off guard on the lottie (I am notoriously incompetent at successional sowing…) or those that come free of charge from nature have to be taken advantage of but eating 3kg of blackberries all in one day is definitely not the way forward (trust me). There’s always a joy in eating seasonally, devouring the day’s harvest minutes after I’ve brushed the soil from it, but there’s also a real pleasure in preserving the moment in a jar, like a snapshot of plenty for the lean months of winter.

Tomato Relish Makes about 600g

500g cherry tomatoes, red onion, 3 cloves garlic, tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp hot paprika, small red chilli, 4 cloves, 100ml balsamic vinegar, small glass red wine, 100g sugar, 2 tbsp honey, salt and pepper.

Toast the fennel seeds in a dry pan then add a little oil. Chop the onion and garlic into teeny tiny pieces then fry until soft. Add the paprika and cloves, measure first – don’t ever just tip spices in straight from the pot as you always end up with a massive pile when you only need a pinch… Pour in the wine and simmer for a few minutes then add the vinegar. Add the tomatoes, roughly chopped and then put the sugar and honey in too. Stir until sugar is dissolved and let it simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. You should be able to draw the spoon across the bottom of the pan and see the bottom before the chutney closes in again – like the Red Sea trick…

Jars: sterilize clean jars in the oven at 100 degrees C. Put the chutney in while it is still hot (being super careful), filling the jar all the way to the top. Put the lid on and then turn the jar upside down. Allow to cool and put in a cool, dry place.

This is a relish as it doesn’t have loads of vinegar and sugar in it. You can eat it after just a few days of mellowing rather than the usual 3 months for chutney. It is delicious with hard cheese in a sandwich or on sausage rolls.

Autumn Chutney

The basic ratio for 1kg of chutney is about 2kg fruit to 500ml vinegar and 250g sugar.

1kg pumpkin or squash, 300g cooking apples, 300g pears (or if you can get your hands on quince 150g of each), 300g red onion, 100g raisins, 500ml cider vinegar, 250g brown sugar, 3 star anise, cinnamon stick, 6 cloves, 2inch chunk of fresh ginger, 10 peppercorns, salt.

Chop all the veg into small chunks of the same size for a nice even cooking time. Put all the ingredients in the pan and bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer. Leave it simmering uncovered, stirring occasionally. It’s ready when it’s glossy, rich and thick, but with the chunks of fruit and veg still clearly discernible. It should be thick enough to do the Red Sea trick.

Pour into warm, sterilised jars. Pack down with the back of the spoon to remove any air pockets, and seal with vinegar-proof lids. Make pretty labels for jars with the ingredients and when you made it. Store in a cool, dark place and leave for a couple of months to mature before using. So making it now will mean perfect timing for Christmas presents (homemade is best afterall). Use within two years.

Just make sure you get the basic ratios of vegetables to vinegar and sugar right, and you can then vary the recipes to please yourself, which is part of the charm of most of my recipes. Substitute apples for quince or pears, throw in a handful of dried cranberries instead of raisins for a Christmasy treat, add some diced carrot or parsnip, add a pinch of chilli flakes, substitute horseradish for ginger, coriander seeds for cumin. In other words, experiment until you get a combination that is entirely, gratifyingly, your own.

Raspberry Jam

I adore raspberries, almost as much as my Dad who may possibly wish to marry them… They are tangy and sweet, soft and yielding, beautiful to behold. They are my favourite fruit right now and I eat raspberry jam for breakfast everyday at the moment.

I hope you like jammin' too!

I hope you like jammin’ too!

Jam is like chutney in that it is all about the ratios. For most jams its a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar, some use less though and it depends a little on your own taste, as well as the sweetness of the fruit you are using. I like a very sharp raspberry jam so I tend to use a little less. To get a good set for jam you need pectin, a naturally occurring chemical found in many fruits, though there is more in some than others. You need to add a little acid to your mix, and lemons is a good way to add this and pectin.

1kg raspberries, 750g light brown sugar (don’t buy jam sugar, its expensive and pointless), 1 lemon (juice squeezed out and halves retained)                                                                                  *You could add a cinnamon stick too for a nice winter warmer

Put a side plate in the freezer. Put the raspberries, lemon juice and lemon halves in a large pan with 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is a soft pulp. While at the boil add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved and the mix boiling hard do not stir. I know its hard not to stick your spoon in but it needs to boil really hard to reach setting temperature. There are actually temperatures you can read on a thermometre if you want to be precise. I don’t know what they are and I don’t own a sugar thermometre in any case. The way I test for a set is using the cold plate method. After boiling for ten minutes, get your plate out the freezer and spoon a little jam onto it. After a moment see if its jammy. Complicated eh?! If it isn’t jammy, boil for a little longer. If it is turn off the heat and put it into sterilised jars, being super careful as this stuff is like molten larva and really hurts when you spill it all over your hand because you’re too impatient…

Toma(i)toes, Toma(r)toes

Inspired by a #pantrychat on Twitter I have decided to collate a few of my favourite recipes with this delectable, and highly versatile vegetable (fruit if you’re a pedant). Tomatoes are something I always have in the galley. I have to keep them in the fridge as they tend to get too ripe too quickly in 35 degree heat! It is best, if you can, to keep them at room temperature but if you are keeping them in the fridge, bring them out a while before serving so they can warm up a little as they taste best at room temperature. There are thousands of varieties, all with their own strengths and here in the South of France I am particularly lucky with the wide selection available. I also use a lot of tinned tomatoes, the best type for me is the whole plum tomatoes without skin on as they cook down to make a wonderful thick and concentrated sauce. They are a store cupboard staple, especially with an Italian on board!

Raw Tomato Pasta

Big red tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, Parmesan, pasta, olive oil, black pepper, salt, balsamic vinegar

Gently fry the onions and the garlic in lots of olive oil (I mean loads, so that its kind of like a sauce). Cook the pasta as per the instructions. As I’ve said before, it is best to cook it fairly al dente and then drain (keeping some of the cooking water back), because when you mix it with the sauce it will continue to cook and there is nothing worse than soggy, over soft pasta (especially if you are cooking for Italians…). Once the onions and garlic are soft and fragrant add a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and season. Chop the tomatoes roughly. Put the drained pasta into the frying pan with the garlic and onions then chuck the tomatoes in. Add a little cooking water as it makes the pasta and olive oil all silky. Rip up loads of basil and stir it all in. Serve with more olive oil, Parmesan shavings and more black pepper. Very quick, very easy.

Cooked Tomato Pasta

Tinned plum tomatoes 800g, 3 onions, carrot, olive oil, salt, pepper.

This recipe is my bosses favourite and comes from his chef in Geneva. I have been taught it so that the boss doesn’t have to bring tupperware boxes of it with him in his luggage all the way to Ibiza…

Chop the onions and the carrot very finely, pop in a big sauce pan with lots of olive oil. Fry until soft and sweet. Add the tinned tomatoes, squashing them in your hands to make lumps – don’t chop. Reserve all the juice, you don’t need it in this recipe so put it in the fridge in a clean jar – its fantastic for making curry sauce or adding to tomato soups. Season and add a lot of olive oil, I’m talking half a litre to 800g of tinned tomatoes. A lot. Cook until all the liquid is evaporated off. It freezes well so make twice as much as you need, 800g of tomatoes will make enough to serve 7-8 people. Fantastic for defrosting should you get mobbed and need a quick lunch.

Simply scrumptious super simple

Simply scrumptious, super simple

Roast Tomato Soup

A good selection of different tomatoes that are as ripe as possible, carrot, celery, leek, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar.

Stick the tomatoes in a roasting tray with lots of olive oil, a glug of balsamic and a sprinkling of brown sugar, cut a garlic bulb (not clove, whole bulb!) in half horizontally and put cut side up in the tray with them. Roast for 30 minutes at about 180 degrees, you want them to be a little blackened on the outside so perhaps 200 degrees towards the end will help. Meanwhile, make a sort of veg stock. Chop the carrot, celery, leak and onion into small pieces, cover with water and simmer until the carrot is soft. Once the tomatoes are done, add them to the veg mix in the saucepan, scoop out the soft roasted garlic too and then blend into a smooth puree. You could add some cream at this point if you like. Serve with croutons (chop up bread, fry in olive oil – or lightly toast in the oven if you’re after something healthier…fry it its so much better), extra black pepper and a swirl of EVOO.

*EVOO is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for those that haven’t twigged it yet. It took me awhile.

Bruschetta

Bruschetta bread (or slices of french bread), mix of ripe tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, red onion.

For the best bruschetta dressing, make this an hour before you need it. Chop the tomatoes roughly, chop the red onion finely and mix with a good glug of EVOO, balsamic, rock salt and black pepper. Cover and leave on the counter, not in the fridge, for an hour. The tomato juices will leak out and make the most amazing liquor with the oil and vinegar. Mmmmm! Rub the slices of bread with the cut side of a garlic clove and then toast/grill/griddle. Drizzle them with olive oil. Load with the tomato mix and top with a basil leaf. Serve as a snack before dinner (nibble nibble), or as a lunch. Good with crisp white wine.

Late Addition!

Squid in Tomato Sauce

Last night I cooked this and we all sat down and had a ‘family’ meal with the owner too. It is based on a recipe his daughter gave me while we were away in Ibiza and it really is delicious. I was skeptical at first as squid can be a bit tricky, going chewy and tough if its over cooked. However, long slow cooking leaves it just as tender as short, hot cooking – its somewhere in between where it all goes wrong! Little squid are more tender and soft so best to get the smaller ones when buying from the fishmonger.

1kg cleaned squid, two tins tomatoes (plum without skin), garlic, onion, glass white wine, seasoning

Fry onions and garlic until soft and sweet then add the glass of wine. Simmer until reduced by a third and then add the tomatoes, squishing the whole plums between your fingers as they go in. Cook for ten minutes then add the sliced squid, legs and all. Pop the lid on and allow to simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve with rice, green salad and a crusty loaf. So, so simple, and really, really tasty 🙂

Squiddly Diddlies

Squiddly Diddlies