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Mediterranean veg with seedy mamaliga (polenta)

2 Oct

When I get a visitor with food needs I haven’t met before, it’s a challenge I love. This week’s visitor eats meat, but has allergies to dairy and gluten. No dairy, no problem, but no gluten (wheat, oats, rye, barley) is a restriction I haven’t catered for yet.

Mamaliga, polenta, aubergine, red pepper, garlic, seeds

Colourful and flavoursome

Last night I made this and served it with late-summer Romanian yellow beans (and I had feta cheese crumbled on top).  There are endless variations you can try, including a bit of chicken or tuna grilled or pan-fried, any green veg such as Savoy cabbage, broccoli or chard; you can try different herbs with the polenta, different cheeses, either crumbled or melted on top… The choice is yours. But here’s what I concocted last night. [This long list of ingredients and instructions might look as if this post doesn’t qualify as “easy”, but I’d say it does – the recipe is flexible and forgiving, so unless you leave the polenta cooking while you have a bath, or don’t cook the Med Veg for long enough, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s not fiddly or over-precise, so it’s a good one for less experienced cooks.]

Seeded mamaliga

Mamaliga is the Romanian word for polenta, and is a staple food here. I find it – as normally served – like wallpaper paste, tasteless and gluey. but with a little extra something, then sliced and grilled, it becomes something altogether different.

Ingredients

300g maize meal or instant polenta

Boiling water

Big handful of fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoons of dried), chopped finely

Handful of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds

Toast the seeds till pale brown and set aside

Boil a kettleful of water and pour half into a large pan on full heat – when boiling, add the dry polenta/maize meal and stir vigorously (use a whisk to get rid of the lumps) for 15 mins or so (follow cooking instructions on packet), topping up with water as polenta thickens. Add the toasted seeds and the parsley, and a salt to taste – check seasoning several times. You want the polenta thick, but still pourable. When it gets to that point, pour it into a shallow dish and let it cool while you cook the veg.

Meanwhile…

Mediterranean veg

I call this Arthritis Relish because it consists of all the veg that do no good for arthritic hands – but they’re all so delicious I put up with a couple of days of discomfort.

Ingredients

1 aubergine (eggplant) –  cubed into 1” pieces, skin on.

2 red peppers (bell peppers) – chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 medium onion

2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 chilli pepper, chopped – with out without seeds, depending on how hot you want it

Herbs of choice – basil, thyme, marjoram or a Provencal mix

A teaspoon of a spice mix like Baharat or Ras al Hanout

Salt & pepper

How to do it

Put all the ingredients in a big pot with plenty of oil (extra virgin olive, for preference) and frazzle slowly for at least 45 mins, so the aubergine has softened thoroughly and tastes sweet and rich. Check flavours and adjust seasoning if needed.

When cooked down to a jammy chunkiness, take off the heat and keep the lid on the pan.

By now the polenta wshould have cooled and set so that you can slice it; cut a slice for each person and put them under the grill or in the microwave for a few minutes to heat through. (If you’re all cheese-eaters, a bit of grated cheese of choice goes well on top of the polenta slices.)

On each plate: a slice of polenta, a scoop of Mediterranean veg, something green and leafy, and perhaps some crumbled feta cheese or grated Pecorino, and a good twist of black pepper.

NB There should be polenta left over (it’s very filling) – a grilled slice works very well as breakfast, topped with scrambled, poached or fried eggs, mushrooms or grilled tomatoes. And/or bacon, if you’re so inclined.

 

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Pink peanut pasta

19 May

This is a very old favourite from student days. A skint* store-cupboard supper, quick, easy, vegan – and scrummy.

Ingredients:

Pasta

Onion & garlic (1 med onion per person & as much garlic as you like)

Tinned chopped tomatoes (half a tin per person)

Generous spoonful of good peanut butter (NO added sugar!) per person

Spice mix of choice [see herb & spice page]

juice of quarter of a lemon per person, or to taste

Herbs of choice

Salt & fresh black pepper

Don’t worry about the length of these instructions – I’m dotting t’s and crossing i’s for the inexperienced, but the only thing you have to watch out for is keeping the sauce from burning, so don’t leave it!

Pick your preferred pasta shape and cook as directed on the packet (or sling it in boiling salted water and test it till it’s done to your satisfaction).

In another pan, slosh in some olive oil [NB see store-cupboard/healthy pages]. Chop up a mid-sized onion per person and some garlic (more or less, according to your taste. I love it, so three cloves for me); hurl them into the pan and fry gently (or sauté if you’re posh) over a low heat, stirring now and then to stop them burning, until they go soft and transparent. At Keep an eye on the pasta.

Scoop out the peanut butter and push it off the spoon into the onion mixture. (NB it melts quickly and then burns easily, so from now on, keep stirring.) Pour in a teacup-ful of water to keep the peanut butter from sticking to the pan, and keep it all moving. Static peanut butter is stuck peanut butter.

Open as many tins of tomatoes as you need and slosh them into the onion pan, with your herbs and spices (turmeric is good, btw) and a bit of salt. Stir thoroughly, then let it mix itself with the spices and herbs for a while.

Is the pasta done? Turn the heat off, drain it and put it back in its pan with a lid on to keep warm.

Tomato & peanut mix: it doesn’t take long to do – maybe 15 minutes. Keep stirring it off the bottom of the pan, and check the flavour. Add a bit more salt if it needs it; adjust everything to your taste.

Squeeze your lemon juice into the tomato mix and stir well. It adds a bit of zing and freshness, and makes the flavour a bit more complex and delish. The tomato & peanut sauce should be a salmony-pink now, but don’t worry about the colour. It’s the flavour that matters most.

You choose: serve the pasta and pour the sauce on top of it; OR turn the pasta into the sauce and stir it through before serving. Put some chopped fresh herbs (basil, chives, or parsley, maybe?) on top of each serving and let them wolf it down.

Vegan, as is; with a shot of sour cream or grated cheese on top, vegetarian.

[* skint – for unBritish English speakers: skint, boracic, broke, cashless, poverty-stricken]