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Summer greens – make me feel fine

19 Jul

Seven kinds of greens, all picked from my veg patch, boiled for a minute and added to pasta with three cloves of garlic gently sizzled in oil, a spoonful of sour cream and lots of black pepper. Greens: purple mange tout, sugar snaps, ruby and golden chard, spinach, redshank and Fat Hen (the last two are wild veg, aka weeds, crammed with far more vitamins and minerals than any cultivated veg. Simple, cheap (some free), very easy, utterly delicious.

Wild, organic greens

Seven kinds of wild and home-grown organic veg, with pasta, garlic, sour cream and black pepper.

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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.

The great chicken plan

10 Jul
English: Chicken and rabbit meat pie

Ah, yes, and chicken pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s cunning. It’s cheap, easy, delicious and cheap. Did I mention easy? This is my once-a-week thing.

Step 1 – acquire chicken.

Step 2 – put chicken in big pot and fill with water.

Step 3 – bring to boil then simmer for 2 hours on low-ish heat.

Step 3 – let it cool in the pot

Step 4 – when cool, take most of meat off bones for humans and put in fridge

Step 5 – take all the rest of the meat, gristle, skin, unidentifiable brown bits from inside, put in another container in fridge.

Step 6 – put bones, now reduced to small heap, in third container, in fridge.

Step 7 – pour delicious rich stock into container and put in fridge.

Now you have:

a) tender meat for making into risotto, pasta sauce, pate, potted chicken, sandwiches, salads, stir fries, fricassee, etc.

b) stock for soup, risotto, etc

c) bits of meat that you would discard that your pets will eat with enormous pleasure

d) heap of soft bones for stray dogs or foxes – or if none of those hungry creatures are local to you, for the dustbin.

Result: every day I have soup for lunch, made from the chicken stock, a little seasoning, any leftover rice, barley, pasta, potato, white sauce, cream cheese etc that’s in the fridge, and a bit of fresh or leftover veg. Cram in small saucepan, heat through till everything’s yummy, and eat.

I also have the makings of creamy chicken risotto, quick sandwiches, salad of chicken bits, leaves, cucumber, celery, fresh herbs, with olive oil and fresh lime juice dressing; there’s my delish coronation slaw, too (more later).

Cats are veryvery happy with their bits, and hungry dogs get the bones – soft enough not to splinter and choke them.

Everyone wins (except the chicken).

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]