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Mushrooms to kill for

12 Mar

Wow. Some dishes are just knock-out. Our supper tonight was one of those. Knock-out delicious, and knock-out for any passing vampires – the garlic content must be driving every vampire out of Romania, and every flu bug out of existence. Vegetarians, say huzzah – this is a dish worthy of a celebration.

Mushrooms, cauliflower, garlic, vampires, healthy food, veggie gourmet, vegan option, breadcrumbs, super supper, Transylania food

Mushroom crumble with a cheese lattice, served with cauliflower in white sauce

I had a box of field mushrooms (half a kilo @ 12 lei per kilo) demanding to be eaten, and a fat bulb of garlic sitting by a tub of sour cream. What was I to do? Could I neglect a whining mushroom any longer? Was the garlic to be denied? Not to mention a bag of crumbs made this morning from a belly of crusty brown bread and four lebanese flatbreads whose hey-day was past.

I wasn’t sure what would result, although I was confident of the ingredients – just wondered how it would all emerge from the burning fiery furnace of my oven.

By the way, I’ve swallowed half a litre of  organic pear cider (we used to call it perry), hence the purple prose. I shan’t apologise, but shall get on with the recipe.

This serves between 4 and 6 people, depending on their level of hunger. I served the mushrooms with barely-boiled cauliflower in a white sauce made with the stalks of the mushrooms.

What

500g large (field or Portobello) mushrooms

4 or 5 big cloves of garlic

1 heaped teaspoon of sour cream per mushroom

lots of breadcrumbs

fresh black pepper, mixed herbs, salt

50-100g grated cheese, for topping

How

Pull the stalks out of the mushrooms. Give the mushrooms a wipe and put them gills up in an oiled gratin dish, and wedge the stalks in amongst them. Two or three mushrooms per person is more than enough (depending on the size of fungi and appetites).

Crush or chop the garlic and put a bit in each mushroom; add the herbs and seasoning, then the dollop of sour cream.

Scatter the breadcrumbs liberally over the mushrooms till they’re well covered, then grate the cheese over the top.

Hurl it into a medium-hot oven for 30-40 minutes until the cheese melts into a lattice and the breadcrumbs are dark gold.

Serve with caufliflower in white sauce. (I chopped the four remaining mushroom stalks into the white sauce.)

This is a seriously good supper dish, and if presented with more care than I bothered with this evening, it would make a stunning meal for the most exacting of veggie gourmets. With the cauli, it is a triumph.

Vegans – substitute hummus or nut butter for the sour cream.

Cheap – yes. Easy – certainly. Delicious – unutterably.

 

 

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Tocana – a Transylvanian autumn treat

20 Oct
Gogosar is the Romanian word for rounded peppers, compared to the long, pointed ones known as ardei

Gogosar, the sweet capsicum you find in their natural shape and colours in Transylvanian markets

This is a fabulous foodie treat that hasn’t yet escaped its home cuisine in Transylvania (Romania). Tocana is a relish of the last summer vegetables, for sale in the market for buttons in October as the autumn takes hold and winter beckons. [Zacusca is a close relative, made by roasting the vegetables rather than cooking in oil like a confit.]

Housewives buy 20 kilo sacks of peppers and aubergines to cook and put in jars for a reminder of summer in the depths of a harsh winter, with smaller sacks of onions and carrots grown in the smallholdings of rural Transylvania.

Sweet with a hint of smoky bitterness, full of flavour and colour, the autumn peppers (ardei and gogosar) from the south of Romania and imported from Turkey are a far cry from the pretty but tasteless peppers you find in British supermarkets, grown in Dutch polytunnels without benefit of mineral-rich soils and southern summers. These aren’t perfectly shaped, uniformly coloured things, but organic vine fruit folded and twisted and coloured by the sun, grown without the synthetic encouragement of agrotechnology; the difference in taste is so marked that they might be different species altogether.

Tocana, the Transylvanian foodie secret that is one of the treats of the year

Tocana, organic, simple, naturally colourful and bursting with late summer flavour

So – tocana. A simple recipe, but cleaning and chopping takes time, so it’s best done as a family, or with a group of friends; if you’re on your own put some music on and surrender yourself to an annual ritual of aroma and maturing textures. Then you have the delicious reward of warm tocana for supper, and the looking forward to helping yourself to a jar of tocana from time to time through the long, frozen winter.

This is a dish of such rich summery colour and flavour that I’m amazed it hasn’t been swiped by savvy chefs in Britain, or exported by canny Transylvanians. An opportunity for you to make a coup, and worth every minute of preparation.

Ingredients

5kg red peppers

1kg carrots

1kg onions

800g tin of tomato paste

1 litre oil (sunflower or another mild-flavoured oil)

seasoning to taste

NB You’ll need a big pan for this amount, and several large jamjars. If you live in a northern climate, peppers might be prohibitively expensive in these quantities, but the 5:1:1:1 ratio of ingredients is easy to scale down for an occasional dish.

How to do it

Clean and deseed the peppers, skin the onions and peel the carrots. Chop the veg to a fine dice in a food processor (stop short of a paste) and put in a large pan (a jam pan is ideal) with the tomato paste, oil, salt, black pepper and/or cayenne, and if you like, a little sweet paprika. (Better to add a little seasoning and add a little more if needed, rather than overdoing it all at once.)

Cook over a high heat until the mixture is bubbling. The veg release plenty of water, so once boiling, turn the heat down and leave to cook (stirring often to stop burning) for a good couple of hours, until the water has evaporated, and the mixture is a thick, rich, glossy red conserve. Adjust the seasoning if you need to, then let it cool to blood temperature.

While still warm, put into sterilised jars and seal thoroughly. It should last for weeks, if not several months, in a dark place. Eat with a spoon straight from the jar, or if you want to be a bit more civilised, serve with toast or oatcakes. You can use it as a sauce for pasta, or as a relish with cold meat or cheese.

Coronation slaw

10 Jul

I love coleslaw. I love coronation chicken. This way I get both in one mouthful. 

What you need:

– cold chicken

– cabbage (white or green, possibly red – your fave cabbage to eat raw – or a mix – very pretty)

– carrots

– greek yoghurt (full-fat)

Curry in the spice-bazaar (egypitan) in Istanbul

Curry in the spice-bazaar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– curry powder

– olive oil

Optional: sultanas, flaked almonds, toasted sesame seeds

What to do:

– Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a small pan, and add two tablespoons of curry powder. Over low heat, warm through for five minutes to release the flavours of the curry powder. Let it cool.

– chop the chicken into bite-sized bits and put in a large mixing bowl

– slice the cabbage finely or grate in a food processor; add to chicken in bowl

– grate the carrots

NB ratio of cabbage : carrot : chicken = 3:2:1, but change if you prefer.

– Spoon yoghurt into a separate mixing bowl and add the curry-flavoured oil to yoghurt and mix well.

– Pour spicy yoghurt over cabbage mix, add optional sultanas, almonds, sesame, and mix well.

– Serve with tomato and onion salad and crusty bread.

Delicious for summer lunch or as a dinner party starter.

Slow roast pork, tender and rich

6 Jun
roast pork loin, potatoes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was prompted by the Ranting Chef’s post yesterday to tell you about my slow-roast pork, which is always a guaranteed winner for any occasion, even if you’re on your own (piggy, piggy). [Beware: if you do this for a party, make you sure you get some early, because it vanishes before you can say crackling.]

Scour the supermarket shelves for the largest pork joint you can find. Doesn’t really matter what joint it is as long as it’s pork and not bacon, ham, gammon or suchlike – unsullied roasting pork – leg, shoulder, belly. Carving will be immaterial – the meat will fall off the bone if there is one. If you’re lucky, you can find a big joint on sale, which makes it even tastier, somehow…

What: joint of pork bigger than you think you really need (it will all be eaten); packet of mixed herbs; cheapest bottle of dry white wine or cava; salt

How: The day before you want to eat it, ie 24 hours ahead, put the pork in a deep (3″ – 4″) roasting dish (cut it in half if it’s too long and nest the two halves side by side). For good crackling, cut deep slashes into the skin all over the top and sides and rub salt into the skin. Pat the mixed herbs all over the pork, including underneath – be generous. Slosh the white wine or cava (I used an old bottle of cava that had lost its fizz a bit, so no good for drinking – perfect for cooking) into the roasting pan – use the whole bottle, or as much as will go into the pan. If pan too small, get bigger pan. The wine keeps the pork moist and makes the most delicious, aromatic gravy.

Stuff pork in oven on high heat for half an hour, then turn the oven to its lowest setting and leave it for 24 hours. This is very difficult, as the smell of the roasting joint will torment you, especially when you come down for breakfast. But do not give in to temptation. LEAVE IT. Check that it’s doing okay and hasn’t dried out too much – if there’s no liquid or almost no liquid in the pan, slosh in some more wine. If there’s a lot of grease, pour some off into a bowl (not down the sink) and put the joint back into the oven.

For the crackling, I’d suggest taking the crackling off the meat half an hour before serving. Keep the meat warm and let it rest, and put the crackling back in a hot oven until it’s bubbly and crisp. You can make the gravy at this point, too. Take the juice from the pan, pouring off excess fat, and either serve as is, or thicken with a little flour or cornflour and top up with a little boiling water if necessary.

For a dinner party, serve with garlic mashed potatoes or a herb risotto, and a green salad; for a party, it would be the centre piece of a buffet. Don’t worry, it won’t be around long enough to go cold…