Thursday, September 23, 2010

The tomatoes are over, but I'm not over tomatoes

With the potential glut of tomatoes now that the fabulous season we've just been through is coming to a glorious close, here’s something that’ll please almost everybody for a while to come. Early season tomatoes have their best uses in fresh, lightly cooked tomato sauces for pasta or as a bruschetta topping for example. Some shallots, garlic and oregano helps to lift the youthful and maybe fairly underdeveloped flavours a bit.

Mid season brings us plant establishment, heavier sun and mature flavour - there's a period through July and August where during which little more than a pinch of good salt and a twist of pepper is often all that's needed to dress a fully ripe tomato. Now in their final scene, with the branches withering and the fruit seeming a little tougher skinned and drained of colour, this recipe for ketchup to take us into the next season does the trick.

This yields rather a lot, but it will keep for at least a month in a covered container in the fridge.

Proper tomato ketchup

5kg ripe tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp four spice mix
1½ tsp ground ginger
1½ tsp salt
4 tblsp icing sugar
1 tblsp white wine vinegar

Core the tomatoes and reserve the stems. Place the tomatoes in a pressure cooker and add water to a depth of 1cm. Bring the cooker to full pressure for 20 minutes and then allow to cool. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, slowly cook the tomatoes over a medium-low heat for about 45 minutes. Pass the tomatoes and liquid through a sieve, discarding the leftovers.

Add all the other ingredients, except the icing sugar, the vinegar and the stems, to the tomatoes. Place in a pan and simmer slowly over a low heat until it is reduced by half - this will take about 4 hours. Pass the mixture through a sieve again. Add the icing sugar, return to the pan and continue to reduce over a low heat until it reaches a ketchup-like consistency - this will take just over an hour.

Allow to cool, and then add the vinegar. Finally, place the reserved tomato stems into the ketchup mixture for a few hours to infuse it with the fresh vine odour - it’s important to do this after the mixture has cooled, as the vine aroma is destroyed by heat. Discard the stems before serving.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ricotta salata

The Italian ricotta which we've come to know and love is typically made from the whey of either sheep, cow, goat and even buffalo milk. I'm still coming to terms with life in America where it is pretty much only ever made with the whey of cow's milk. The shame being that in my opinion the sheep's variety is the more interesting of the set with a nutty, slightly sweet finish, while the cow's tends to be blander and wetter, and therefore more neutral in cooking.
In the absence of fresh Italian ricotta being readily available here, I've taken a shine to the pressed, salted and dried variety of the cheese known as ricotta salata. A milky white firm cheese best used for grating or shaving, and a fine challenger to a good Pecorino Sardo.
The main reason for this urge to get passionate about all things ricotta came from a heated discussion around the kitchen table at earlier, and I bestowed the virtues of this much overlooked cheese to the point where todays lunch for me was inspired by it, determined by it and had an outstanding starring roll in it. The sharp salty cheese sat happily alongside some super ripe avocado, pastrami and proper wholegrain mustard on fresh warm sourdough and lunchtime for me was totally complete.

I have just enough left for a couple of plates of salad for dinner later tonight, so here's what I'm going to do with it, and the prz team can start bidding now for an invite!

Ricotta, courgette and pea shoot salad

Serves 2

A pretty, fresh salad to celebrate the late summer. Pea shoots are worth hunting down for their delicious leafy-pea flavour. Find them in whole food shops and some greengrocers, growing in punnets. Failing that, use rocket or watercress.

1 yellow courgette
1 green courgette
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tblsp freshly grated ricotta salata
Small handful of pea shoots
1 dessertspoon of fresh peas, lightly cooked (or use frozen)
1 strip of lemon zest, cut into fine threads
A few sprigs of fresh mint

For the dressing
6 tblsp Greek yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp honey
6 mint leaves, chopped

Using a potato peeler, cut the courgettes lengthways into ribbons. Season with salt and pepper and toss in the olive oil. Mix the dressing ingredients and season with salt and black pepper.

Mingle the cheese with the courgettes, pea shoots, peas and lemon zest. Drizzle dressing over it and scatter with the mint sprigs. Serve without delay.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Vegetable tartlets with marinated anchovies

All the farmers markets now seem to be laden with pumpkins, apples and not much else really, and as our Summer sadly draws towards closure in the garden and the abundance of vegetables that once was now seems to be just the season stragglers. A few last hurrahs are needed before we finally turn over to our Autumnal harvest. This recipe is a fantastic use of a few late season vegetables if you still have them and easily serves 4 with a bit of hot bread and maybe a few bitter leaves tossed with lemon juice and olive oil on the side. Don't be afraid of swapping out ingredients to make use of what you have either in your garden or lurking at the back of your fridge, and the anchovies might not be for everybody, but they sure make a difference in the end result.

100g flour
100g butter
100g parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg

2 tblsp olive oil
40g white onions, finely chopped
1 white leek, shredded
250g Swiss chard
250g baby spinach leaves
100g small broad beans
1 espelette pepper, finely chopped
2 tblsp fresh cream cheese
30 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
Herbs to garnish

Heat the olive oil and gently fry the onions and leek. Add the Swiss chard, spinach, beans and herbs. Once the leaves are tender, strain the mixture and chop finely. Taste for seasoning. Mix with the cream cheese.

Marinate the anchovies in olive oil, the rest of the pepper and the lemon juice while you make the pastry.

Preheat oven to 170c/350f.

Beat together the flour and butter and stir in the Parmesan. Beat the egg in a separate bowl and stir into the flour mixture.

Form into four dough rounds and roll them out until about 3mm thick. Place into greased tart moulds on a baking tray and put in the oven. Cook for 20 mins and then allow to cool.

Fill the tarts with the vegetables, and pass back through the oven for a final 5 minutes then arrange the anchovies on top and decorate with a handful of ripped herbs.