Archive for ‘Tomatoes’

November 7, 2012

Yesterday’s Lunch: Our Fattoush

Fattoush is basically a bread salad from the Levant made from toasted or fried pieces of (stale) pitta bread. Added to it are herbs – flat leaf parsley and mint – and fresh vegetables including tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and even radishes. It’s often seasoned with sumac.

Sometimes peppers, feta cheese, olives, carrot and lettuce are added. Really it’s up to you, but choose good fresh ingredients that are in season.

You’ll notice that ours has some chickpeas in it. You’ll often notice that on ETP. It’s not quite trad in Fattoush recipes, but not really a heresy either.

We lightly fry the pitta. Don’t blacken it. It will also continue to crisp up once you take it from the frying pan to cool, so don’t overdo it. The rest is chopping and assemblage. Don’t cut the vegetables too finely – you’re not making tabbouleh.

That’s it really: a combination of fresh flavours and pleasing textures. A great lunch or light supper. Oh, and yes, we often have feta in ours. This one didn’t.

September 12, 2012

So September has come and the days are suddenly a little cooler. Summer is gone – what we had of it. But between the rains of June and July and the collective moment of forgetting everyone took through the Olympics and Paralympics, there were some occasional sunny, warm days. Summer did happen. We have the evidence here in the shape of some pictures of a back garden barbecue.

But what do you cook for a vegetarian at a barbecue? Nothing? C’mon! Buy some frozen veggie burgers and heat them through? Ugh. Make them a salad? What, to soak up the beer and wine? Don’t invite them? Jeez.

It’s a shame that more people don’t realise how much can cooked on a barbecue. Grilling vegetables, fruit and even cheese is simple – much easier than cooking meat, from what I gather from watching others – and is pretty much a surefire way of welcoming non carnivores to the party.

My theory is that a barbecue involves two things: smoke and good quality ingredients – ones that you’d enjoy eating if they were cooked in another way. Simple.

For us at ETP Towers, that means grilling skewers of mixed vegetables over charcoal. Try florets of cauliflower, peppers, cherry tomatoes, artichoke and beetroot. Mix the veg with cubes of halloumi and fruit – my favourite, mango, or even a strawberry. We also grill flat mushrooms, strips of aubergine and courgette and, of course, corn on the cob, par-boiled for a few minutes first.

For a marinade we often use a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and a herb – thyme maybe, or rosemary – and chilli maybe, too.

Ella’s fab veggie burgers, here, would also go down a treat.

There are more spectacular things to barbecue – aubergine rolls with all kinds of fillings, chilli polenta slices, for example – but some of the above is so easy, so quick, that the question of what to feed a vegetarian at a barbecue should never need be asked again.

March 29, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Tomato salad with basil and goat’s cheese

A starter that doesn’t really look like the recipe title suggests. Yes, it’s a bit ‘dinner party’ isn’t it? It’s also a refreshing ‘palate cleanser’ of a starter, perfect for the end of a warm spring or summer day. (If it had been a little warmer we’d have uncorked a bottle of pink.)

The recipe is based on one in Simon Hopkinson’s The Vegetarian Option. The book is great for sides, starters, flans and such, but not so good on whole vegetarian meals, which is something of a shame. Have a look here. Hopkinson makes a tomato jelly, which would be great, but I chanced it with something simpler – a tomato salad – mainly because I couldn’t find any vegetarian gelatine in the local supermarket.

For the tomato salad I quartered and deseeded some cherry tomatoes, finely chopped a small amount of red onion, mixed them both with a splash of red wine vinegar, a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and a tiny amount of fresh red chilli, and set aside.

For the goat’s cheese you need a soft, creamy goat’s cheese with no rind. In a small bowl mix it with a spoonful of creme fraiche, soured cream or even plain yoghurt, season with a little pepper, stir in a little olive oil and mix t get a slightly softer, creamier ‘cheese’ that can be spooned easily into a glass. Chop some fresh basil very finely and mix into the cheese mixture.

Layer the cheese into a glass, carefully place some tomato salad on top and garnish with a slice of cucumber.

Quantities will vary, obviously, depending on how many portions you’re making, the size of glass, the size of tomatoes etc. I think a smallish portion works best, but not so small as an amuse bouche. Any variations? Let us know.

March 18, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: A warm purple sprouting broccoli, quinoa, chick pea, tomato and goat’s cheese salad

There are some of our favourite ingredients combined in a warm salad here, so, for us, what’s not to like? It’s a very simple thing that can define a mood, or short time of year (erm, March?) when winter is just about over and signs spring is about here – a time after the year’s first warmth from the sun but before the last frost. That’s the time when purple sprouting broccoli appears. Sometimes we have it in wintery stews, but here it almost nods to summer, in a just-warm, almost room-temperature salad, with fluffy grains of quinoa, oven-dried tomatoes and goat’s cheese that tell you summer is not far away.

The recipe is not much more than an assembly job. First, roast the tomatoes on a low heat for as long a time as you’ve got (around 45 minutes at least) – they should dry out a little rather than cook to mush. As they’re cooking, roughly chop and steam the spears of broccoli for 5 minutes or so and cook the quinoa as per the packet instructions in a light vegetable stock. Leave both to cool slightly. Scatter the quinoa into a wide salad bowl and stir in a tin of chick peas, then add the broccoli and, finally crumble in some goat’s cheese. C’est ca.

February 1, 2012

Recipe: Jamie Oliver’s Ribollita

It’s such a cold day here in the south east, as I’m sure it is elsewhere in Britain today. East London was perishing at lunchtime and when I got back to Wivenhoe, old puddles at the side of the road hadn’t thawed.

The perfect day, then, for a chunky bowl of Italian peasant food. A classic Ribollita is a heartwarming soup of vegetables, beans and bread – used to thicken the soup to an almost stew-like consistency. Everyone will have their own favourite way to make it, but I do like this one from Jamie Oliver. And he’s right, it’ll taste even better tomorrow.

The recipe is here.

January 11, 2012

Last night’s dinner: Cauliflower, green bean and tomato salad

After yesterday’s hearty plate of potato, something a little lighter – a nutritious, lightly warm winter salad.

I had the idea for this after half watching, and half remembering, a similar dish being made on a TV cookery programme. The essential ingredients are cauliflower and tomatoes, along with a warming dressing (for that read mustard). As a salad it felt right to add some greens – we added French beans. Broccoli could work, but might conflict in texture and shape with the cauliflower. Peppery rocket would make for a lighter, perhaps more summer salad. I could even be tempted to try some cucumber with this – especially in summer.

First step was to roughly chop some ripe tomatoes, season them with a little salt and pepper, and a splash of olive oil, and set aside.

Next, make a quick dressing with some olive oil, a little sherry vinegar (white wine vinegar or lemon juice will suffice), a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of cumin seeds and a clove of finely chopped garlic.

Break the cauliflower into florets and steam until just tender (don’t for the love of veg overdo it). While the cauli is steaming, plunge some green beans into boiling water for around 4-5 minutes. That should be enough to just about cook them but leave them a little crunchy.

In a large salad bowl combine the cauliflower, beans and tomatoes. Pour the dressing over and mix well – it’s important to do this while the cooked veg is still warm. Finally, add a small handful of chopped coriander, spring onion or flat-leaf parsley and serve.

Feel free to experiment with the recipe. Just remember that the finished salad should have a bit of a crunch and a slight spiciness – almost as if it wanted to mature to be a piccalilli.

We had a big bowl of this as a main course, but it would be a good accompaniment to all kinds of pies, quiches and pasties etc etc. Happy eating.

December 4, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Stuffed tomatoes and quinoa

I must admit that stuffed vegetables rarely inspire me. Ella makes a fine, chilli-enlivened stuffed pepper (with tomatoes and mozzarella), but too often stuffed veg means simply a bit of veg with some other veg piled on top. In my book that’s not good enough.

However, for some reason, I fancied stuffing some veg the other day. I wanted a tomatoey dish, sweet and tangy, but for other flavours and textures to be involved too. Something hearty and warming perhaps.

Some Puy lentils seemed like a good idea, cooked until tender, with a little olive oil and red wine vinegar, and added to the halved and hollowed out tomatoes. These were then baked in the oven on a low temperature – around 120C – so that the tomatoes almost dry out and intensify in flavour rather than cooking to a mush. Timings are approximate here: 1 hour? At the end of the process we added some crumbled feta cheese on top and served on a bed of quinoa. And very tasty it was too.

November 2, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Roast aubergine with tomato and pine nuts, Puy lentils and a yoghurt dressing

We’ve been mentioning chef Denis Cotter rather a lot recently, partly because we’re working our way through some of his recipes in his latest book. In it, at one point, he eulogises the aubergine and sets a challenge: take an aubergine or two, find some other ingredients lying around the fridge and store cupboard, and make a meal of them. That’s right, like an aubergine-based Ready Steady Cook from TV.

This was our first attempt. We had two aubergines, some cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, some herbs, lentils, a little yoghurt, a few other ingredients too… so, what to do? To make a hearty supper we decided to base the meal around Puy lentils, with a contrasting topping.

First get the lentils going, enough for each person in some vegetable stock. Simmer until tender but still slightly nutty (around 30 minutes?), drain and then add 2tbsp of red wine vinegar, stir through and set aside.

While the lentils are cooking, top and tail the aubergine (you’ll need one per person) and slice it from top to bottom to get four lengths of equal thickness. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and roast for around 20 minutes until golden and softened. Alternatively, brush them with olive oil and griddle them for a nice charred effect.

Next, half a couple of handfulls of cherry tomatoes. Half them again lengthways to make little segments. Then scrape out the seeds and excess juice. Place in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and pepper and a chopped red chilli (to your taste). Stir in and set aside.

Then toast a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts in a dry frying pan for a couple of minutes until slightly browned – take care not to burn them. Finally, in a small bowl, take 150ml of Greek yoghurt and add a little olive oil, the juice of a lemon, a clove of crushed garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir. If it isn’t the consistency of double cream, add a little milk or a little extra olive oil, or both.

When the aubergine is cooked and cooled slightly they can be stuffed. Add the pine nuts to the tomatoes and mix through. Now take a dessert spoonful of the mixture and place it on one end of an aubergine slice and roll up. Do the same for the rest. Place the lentil rolls into a medium oven to warm through.

Chop some fresh parsley, or a little coriander or mint, and stir it into the lentils and place back on a low heat.

When the lentils and aubergine are warmed, plate up: lentils on the bottom, aubergine rolls on top and a drizzle of yoghurt sauce all over. Smashing, smoky, tangy and wholesome, warming fresh and good. With a tiny chilli kick.

October 26, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Socca crepe of roast squash, caramelised red onion, kale and pine nuts, with tomato coriander salsa and goat’s cheese cream

A Cotter special, taken from For the Love of Food.

Let’s look at that long recipe title again: Socca, squash, onion, kale, pine nuts, coriander, tomato, goat’s cheese, cream. Seems like a lot of ingredients, doesn’t it? And yes, in some ways it is. Put simply, however, this is just a stuffed pancake. The pancake is southern French thing made from gram (chickpea) flour – which usually puts you in mind of Indian recipes. It would be possible, though not quite as heartwarming, to make the pancake from wholemeal flour, or any kind of flour really, as long as it will form a thickish crepe that you can fold without breaking and yet also become a little crisped up too.

The filling is a neat combination of flavours and textures. The root notes are the sweetness of the squash and onion. The greens then cut through this and add some textural rough edges, while the pine nuts add an occasional, miniature bit of bite. The goat’s cheese cream is, essentially, a tangy dressing that helps cut through sweetness and the salsa brings some zip – just in case the rest is in danger of becoming cloying in the mouth. A recipe where every ingredient knows it’s job. And it’s a looker too!

October 6, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese

Thursday 15 September

Before the recipe, a quick word about trust and cooking, as it brings some influence to bear on our pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese.

Trust in the food we eat is one of the most natural, early, primal, comforting, rewarding, continuing experiences we have in life. Hopefully. It’s learned, hopefully, as a baby, with the first food coming straight from our mothers themselves. Then we learn to trust again, as the foods we are provided with begin to vary and as we begin to choose from different options ourselves. Our palates, hopefully, develop in a comforting, safe environment – little wonder many people have a strong emotional attachment to the notion that their mum, grannie, dad, auntie, next door neighbour… whoever… could make food more comforting than anyone else. That’s not always true, of course, but it’s a widely held experience. Even if your childhood carers were useless cooks you will have found some way of trusting that the food you ate could do its job of nourishing you. It’s probably one of the reasons McDonalds et al like to get to kids early and give gifts with the meal – that equation of food plus treat plus fun plus comfort is a powerful one that will hold into adulthood.

We carry this into later life. A favourite restaurant? Probably a new variant of that McDonalds equation – a place you can go back to, where you can trust that the food will provide what you’re looking for, where you don’t have to worry, where you can relax. A favourite recipe book? It’ll be one you can turn to that has instructions you trust, where, miraculously, you can follow it step by step and what goes onto the plate bears comparison with the picture on the page and brings a smile to your friends or family.

It’s when you start going off piste, turning to a new recipe book, visiting a new restaurant with unfamiliar dishes and, specifically for us, making a recipe up for yourself, that trust often disappears and food becomes a little more fraught. Just as someone with a limited diet and palate might get nervous when presented with a plate of unusual ingredients, so a decent cook can lose the plot completely when asked to deviate from their usual repertoire.

So why all this preamble? Well, it’s to explain how a rather tasty and comforting dish like pinto beans with slow-roast tomatoes and goats cheese can come about, off the top of your head, without being scary. Let’s trace the genesis:

We wanted a dish of some savoury beans, because we like that kind of thing from time to time. A quick flick through some favourite recipe books brought no inspiration, for some reason. There were recipes for borlotti beans, butter beans, recipes we’d already tried… but nothing new or for pinto beans. No matter. Pinto beans are pretty much like borlotti beans and one recipe suggested (I think we’ve done it before) cooking the beans then grating the zest of a lemon into them to pep them up. So, okay let’s do that. Beans, cooked and drained, kept warm, plus lemon zest, hmm, a clove of crushed garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil? Well, oil plus garlic plus lemon is pretty much a vinaigrette, so that should work. Season. Add some parsley for a little freshness? Okay. And what about a chopped red chilli? Beans and chilli? That’s common. Okay. Done.

But what about the topping? Well, baked beans come in a tomato sauce, so what about tomato? Okay, but how do you make it a bit posher? Hmm, slow roast halved tomatoes on a very low heat for a couple of hours until they’re semi-dried. We’ve seen this done in another recipe somewhere, so okay, yes. And what about that third constituent ingredient that brings things all together? Well, who hasn’t sprinkled grated cheese on their baked beans? And goats cheese is great with tomatoes – and, since they’re in the oven we could put the goats cheese on top of the tomatoes…

And so… there’s nothing in this recipe that is strange, out of the ordinary or particularly unexpected. All of it is variants of other things we know and trust. And yet it was completely made up, from the top of our little hungry heads. And it tasted delicious.

Trust: bring it into the kitchen now. It’s a vital ingredient.