Monthly Archives: August 2013

Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Harissa, Mozzarella and Basil

Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Harissa,Mozzarella and Basil

Roasting tomatoes really intensifies their flavour and is a great base for a pasta sauce, bruschetta or a salad. I prefer these to commercial sundried tomatoes which can be somewhat salty or oily. I like to pep up the taste with a dab of harissa. Then you can just leave them in a low oven for an hour or two until they have collapsed and dried out somewhat. To get them really dry you need a longer cooking time These still have a bit of juice left which I like squished into whatever they are served with.

For 4 people:

250g plum tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon harissa – I particularly like the Belazu rose harissa if you can get hold of it
A pinch of brown sugar
A ball of light mozzarella
Fresh basil

Heat the oven to 150 C/ 300 F.

Lay the halved tomatoes, cut side up, on an oven tray lined with a non stick mat or foil.

Mix together the harissa and sugar in a small bowl. Using the back of a teaspoon, spread a bit of the harissa/sugar mix onto each tomato until you have used all the mixture.

Place In the oven and leave to cook for an hour and a half. Check that they are not burning and cook an extra half an hour if you prefer them a bit drier.

To serve as a salad – place the tomatoes cut side up on a plate, tear up the mozzarella and scatter over. Finish off by tearing some basil leaves over the top.

My children like to eat this dish added to gnocchi with a bit of pesto mixed in.

You could toast some wholemeal baguette and use the tomatoes and mozzarella as a tasty topping.

Happy Holidays – 21 August 2013

We leave tomorrow for our summer holiday. The weather will be hot and the sea crystal clear. Most importantly, the food promises to be wonderful. Usually we pack the car with every imaginable necessity amongst which is a two week supply of muesli. This gets my days off to a virtuous start even if I do not intend to continue as I begin. But at least I get my daily dose of oats and feel that I am giving a nod to arterial health.

This year we are flying to our destination and, it being a budget flight, we can take almost nothing heavier than an olive. My English Breakfast tea bags are packed but sadly the muesli has to stay behind and I may just be forced to eat pastries for breakfast. We are not travelling to a country that has much time for oats so I don’t expect to find any in the local Superette. Mind you, I could always choose fruit and yoghurt for breakfasts and perhaps I will.

The rest of the day might present more of a challenge. One of the island’s specialities is roast suckling pig. Just saying those three words aloud makes my mouth water. Apologies to my vegetarian friends. As we will be celebrating my husband’s birthday I may just have to arrange this local delicacy for dinner. Then there are tales of wonderful plates of silky homemade pasta in local cheese sauces, shellfish (always best with butter), breads, cakes and gelato. That’s before we even get started on the local wines and digestifs.

We will be staying in a medieval house – 14th century I believe – with a roof terrace on which I plan to spend much of my time, reading and snoozing, waking to cook and eat at regular intervals. At night I hope to watch the night sky and think about nothing much.  I should be thinking about my annual cholesterol test which will be coming up soonish, but I probably won’t. I will attend to such matters on my return which will be soon enough after all.

Please excuse my absence for the next fortnight. I have decided to take a short break to recharge my batteries and to leave my technology at home for once. I tried to bargain with the kids that if my laptop stayed behind so would their ipad. Guess who won that round? As it turned out my computer voted with its feet, fell off the sofa and now needs to go in for repairs. It will spend the holiday getting some TLC. I know how it feels! See you in September. Happy holidays.

Samphire and Soba Noodle Soup

Samphire and Soba Noodle Soup

I hate wasting food – why throw away what one can rather eat? – and sometimes end up putting together unlikely companions into a dish so as to concoct a meal out of what is left over in the fridge. Having made a chicken stock from a carcass, and not wanting to consign it to the freezer where so many previous stocks are still languishing, I decided to use it with immediate effect. I also had left over rather a lot of samphire – a seasonal product I love. My fishmonger stocks it in the summer months and I can rarely resist the emerald green fronds. This week I was over enthusiastic. I cooked some of it alongside a baked salmon but had loads over. I wondered how it would look with a thin noodle, remembered I had a pack of soba noodles in the back of the cupboard and got to work. The result was surprisingly good, got the thumbs up from my boys and pleased me too.

For 4 people;

About 1 litre homemade chicken stock – you could use a well flavoured vegetable stock to make it a vegetarian soup.
80g Soba noodles – I use the Clearspring wholewheat and buckwheat noodle
250g shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed, halved
6 spring onions, sliced
2- 3 handfuls samphire, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes, rinsed
Juice of half a lemon

Heat the chicken stock in a pot. When it comes to the boil, snap the soba noodles in half and add them to the stock. Now add the shiitake mushrooms and the spring onions. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Now add the samphire and continue to cook for a few minutes until the samphire has heated through. If you overcook it the samphire will turn a brownish colour. Add the lemon juice, mix well and serve.

The Slippery Slope – 14 August 2013

In two weeks’ time we leave on our summer holiday.  Our trip is unusually late this year which has resulted in my toiling away at the day job long into the hot summer. My office is baking these days and the few weeks off does seem to be taking its time arriving. I had planned to be careful with my eating in the build up to the vacation so that I could at least fit comfortably into my white linen trousers which get their annual fortnightly outing at this time of year. Fortunately they are elasticised. While this may cover all manner of poor eating choices over the past weeks, it does not change the fact that I am finding it hard to keep my resolve about healthy habits.

Yesterday my husband and I attended a matinee at the theatre. It is striking how many older people attend these performances and my elasticated trousers put me in just the right demographic. Alongside the theatre is one of my favourite food markets which we visit whenever we are in the area. During my ultra-disciplined days, when I hardly ever veered off the path of low cholesterol eating, I would trawl forlornly through the stalls seeking in vain for something to eat. Clearly the hog roast with apple sauce and chilli on a toasted ciabatta was off the menu and, even though my men would tuck in to these, I never even asked for a bite. The healthiest choice would be the tomato bruschetta stall but the amount of olive oil soaking into the toasted bread was prohibitive. Once I was so well behaved – ok obsessed – that I simply bought a lovely nectarine from a fresh produce stall. Boy, did I feel virtuous.

But how the mighty fall. ‘Let’s buy something to eat at interval’, I suggested to my husband. Without any thought to my arteries we bought two large, sticky Chelsea buns bursting with blueberries. Antioxidants aside, this is clearly not the sort of choice I should have made. And here’s the rub – I was not making a choice (at least not a conscious one) because I had forgotten that there was a choice to be made. In months past I would have thought ahead, taken a few handfuls of almonds and an apple in my bag for my interval snack and been happy enough. Having scoffed the bun, I licked my fingers and then reflected on the choice I had unwittingly made.

I raise this not to lambast myself – nor for the pain aux raisins that I also forgot to make a choice about a few days ago or the orange cake I ate today and the raspberry financiers I baked this morning which await eating . This is the point – I am falling straight back into the habits of not thinking that got me into raised cholesterol trouble in the first place. I am heading straight back to where I began and where I promised myself I would not return.

The summer vacation has not even begun and already I am catapulting down the slippery slope. It does not augur well.

Fish and Fennel Tagine

Fish and Fennel Tagine

I just love how dishes evolve in the kitchen. I set out to try a recipe from The Jewelled Kitchen – broad bean, pea and fennel tagine – by Bethany Kehdy. No sooner had I started than I realised I didn’t have half the ingredients, so I used the recipe as an inspiration and went off in my own direction. Some really tasty dishes come to life this way. Initially I was planning to serve the vegetable tagine alongside baked cod, but in the end I popped the cod into the dish to make a fish tagine.

For 4 people:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 preserved lemons, rinsed in cold water, flesh removed and skin chopped
1 ball preserved ginger, chopped
250ml apple juice
500ml vegetable stock – I use Marigold bouillon
¼ teaspoon turmeric
3 – 4 fennel bulbs, each cut into 8 wedges
1 kg unpadded weight of fresh broad beans or 250g frozen
75g green olives, pitted
500g cod fillet, cut into bite sized chunks – not too small or the fish will fall apart when cooking
Juice of ½ lemon
Black pepper
Fennel fronds to garnish

Gently heat the olive oil in a casserole dish and add the chopped onion. Saute on a gentle heat until the onion has softened. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the chopped peel of one of the preserved lemons. Also add the chopped preserved ginger. Stir again to combine. Now add the apple juice and the vegetable stock and the turmeric. Bring to the boil. Add the fennel and broad beans, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

I like to do this ahead of time and then set aside the vegetables to develop a bit of flavour. I then add the fish when I am ready to eat. I don’t much care for fish that has been reheated as it tends to get a bit tough.

To prepare the fish, cut into bite sized chunks, squeeze over the juice of ½ lemon and give the fish a good grinding of black pepper.

When you are about ready to eat, reheat the vegetables in the casserole. When the mixture comes to the boil, add the chunks of fish and push them gently under the sauce with a wooden spoon. Now turn down the heat a bit, cover the casserole and cook for 10 minutes. The fish should be just cooked through at this stage.

Garnish with the second chopped preserved lemon and some fennel fronds.

Serve with wholemeal couscous sprinkled with sumac and some chopped preserved lemon.

Pass around a bowl of harissa if anyone wants to add some heat to their bowl.

Summer Holidays

At last the school holidays have arrived!! My children’s school seemed to be the very last in the country to break up and we all limped towards the finishing line. As the day approached my car was the first to collapse exhausted. On my way to work it began to emit strangled sounds, the steering became jammed and I had to acknowledge there was something amiss. It being an intensely hot and humid day, the man at the garage we have used for years was uncharacteristically rude and unhelpful, refusing to keep the car for examination. Thankfully the AA was as reliable as ever – it does not call itself the 4th emergency service unknowingly – and quickly diagnosed a serious problem. Curiously, the garage then accepted the car. Wisely too, as the repair bill was staggering.

Throwing money at the problem did not decrease the time needed to repair the power steering whatsit and I faced a week without wheels. And what a week it has been. Suddenly the whole family walked everywhere. It turned out that the boys are capable of walking 20 minutes to the school bus –who would have guessed after 3 years of being driven there every morning? I have walked to work and back. Ok, the grocery shopping has been erratic; for some reason I have not managed to do an online order. Instead, I have nipped into the supermarket on my way home each day and bought the few things that I have needed. It’s an old fashioned habit much loved by the French and it focusses the mind on the now rather than on the week ahead. In this way less is wasted. My fridge is almost bare, I have used up every vegetable lurking in the depths of the chiller drawer. I am sure that I have spent less this week and certainly wasted nothing.

It has set me to wondering about being car free as a lifestyle, how fit we would all be, the money we would save on petrol and repair bills. We even had the novel experience of travelling on a coach to spend the weekend with cousins who live in another city. My husband dozed all the way home while the boys played ipad monopoly. Yes the journey took twice as long, but we were not in a hurry.

This morning my boys bid me farewell and caught the bus to the barber to have their hair cut and to taste a bit of freedom. No longer ferried about by their mother, they have taken to the road. We will meet later at the shops so that they can help me lug home the groceries. Family pulling together, walking and talking – surely a healthier lifestyle than emitting CO2 while kids stare balefully out of the windows?