Tag Archives: autumn

Gourmet tastes for next to nothing

18 Sep

If you ever wondered how to make a filling, hearty, scrumptious and attractive meal from a few roots and a bit of cabbage…. to satisfy even the most carnivorous of people, read on.

I had lot of root veg in the house, so for supper tonight I chopped sweet potato and half a butternut squash into chunks, turned them in oil and mixed herbs with a heavy pinch of chilli flakes, and bunged them in the oven on top heat. So far, so good.

Then it was the spuds – peeled, chopped and boiling, they toiled away while I peeled garlic and got Rich to pick parsley and chop it very finely. Jules was shredding red and white cabbage, meanwhile, and I was eyeing up the spice shelf.

When the spuds were soft, I drained them, pressed four garlic cloves into the steaming pan, added a sizable chunk of butter and a slosh of milk and mashed their socks off before dropping in the parsley for a final stir.

The cabbage was boiling hard for three minutes while the parsley was making the mash look pretty; then the cabbage was well drained and put back on a gentle heat. Three heaped tablespoons of sour cream, half a teaspoon of nutmeg and a generous shaking of paprika, lots of black pepper, and a thorough stir to coat and colour the white and purple shreds… and it was all ready.

The variety of flavours – sweet roots with an aromatic herby savour and the bright warmth of chilli; earthy mash with tangy garlic and parsley freshness, and the wonderfully complex spicy, creamy cabbage… contrasts that complemented perfectly, and won compliments. The colours and textures, too – I’ll definitely be doing this combo again – an off-the-cuff experiment that worked perfectly. It would be great for autumn and winter, and wonderfully cheap. Spuds, roots and cabbage, with a bit of spice and cream to add the luxury. Can’t be beaten.

Cheap? Yes, for sure.

Easy? Yes – nothing complicated, just some chopping and seasoning to think about.

Delicious? Oh…. yes… mmmmm.

cheap easy delicious

Sweet roots, garlic mash, spiced creamy cabbage

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.