Basil

Spaghetti with green tomatoes

Green tomatoes

I feel like I’ve been away from this blog for a long time and it’s nice to be back.

I think I might have over-egged the custard when I said at the end of my last post that my local library had reopened with a “stunning array of cookbooks”.

On closer inspection the bulk seems to be by new celebrity chefs such as Kirsty Allsop and Fearne Cotton (seriously!!!) and the old guard – Nigella, Mary, James, Jamie, Rick etc. But hidden amongst these largely style-over-content tomes there are a few more interesting books that I’ve never seen before. One called ‘The Good Carbs Cookbook’ seemed to speak to my rebellious, carb-loving self and this recipe, which promised to use up some of the green tomatoes currently refusing to ripen in my greenhouse, caught my eye.

It’s a good recipe that takes just as long to prepare as it does to cook a pan of spaghetti (about 10 minutes). So it’s perfect if you’re short of time on a midweek evening.

It’s not dissimilar to a regular herby pesto with the acidity of the green tomatoes taking the place of the usual lemon. It’s not a dish that’s going to blow you away with its complex flavours but the result is a perfectly tasty bowl of pasta that will make you feel virtuous and happy that those green tomatoes haven’t gone to waste.

Below it is the only other green tomato recipe I know – a chutney by good old Delia. It is wonderful (one of the best chutneys I’ve ever tasted) but in contrast with the pasta recipe it takes a great deal of time and effort to make and needs to mature for at least a year (preferably longer) before it’s at its very best. Not a great one then for the impatient. It’s sometimes difficult to see the advantages in putting the effort in now if the rewards are not to be enjoyed for such a long time.

Pasta with green tomatoes and fresh herbs

Adapted from ‘The Good Carbs Cookbook’ – Dr Alan Barclay, Kate McGhie & Philippa Sandall

Serves 2 greedy people or 4 normal ones

  • 6 medium green tomatoes
  • A generous handful of mint
  • A generous handful of basil
  • A generous handful of parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Half a pack of spaghetti or linguine (250g)
  • 50-100g of ricotta (I think 50g between two is more than enough)
  • A light olive oil (not extra virgin) – between 50 – 125 ml (the original recipe uses the full 125ml but I think this is too much personally)

Roughly chop the tomatoes, mint, basil and parsley and place in a food processer with the olive oil and crushed garlic. Pulse for a few seconds until you have a chunky mixture.

Cook the pasta in a large pan of salted water until done to your liking. Purists would say it should be al dente but I prefer it a little more cooked than that. Drain but reserve a ladle full of the salty cooking water for the sauce.

Return the pasta to the pan over a low heat and add the tomato mixture. Tip in the reserved water and give everything a good stir to combine. Season well with salt and pepper to your own personal taste. I refrain from giving exact measures because I like a lot of salt and you may not.

Serve immediately with blobs of ricotta on top to be stirred in when eating.

NOTE: I think some green chilli would also be a good addition and you can play around with the quantities of herbs and oil depending on your personal taste.

Green tomato pasta

Delia Smith’s Green Tomato Chutney

Makes 8 x 450g jars

  • 1kg of green tomatoes
  • 1kg of cooking apples
  • 900g of onions
  • 6 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 450g of raisins
  • 625g of soft brown sugar
  • 25g of pickling spice
  • ½ tablespoon of cayenne pepper
  • 2 level dessertspoons of ground ginger
  • ½ tablespoon of salt
  • 1.75 litres of malt vinegar

Wash the tomatoes and cut them into quarters.

Peel and quarter the onions.

Peel and core the apples – keeping them in water so that they don’t go brown.

Mince the tomatoes, onions, raisins and apples and place them in a very large pan. Now I don’t have a mincer and I don’t know of anyone that does these days. An alternative is to use a food processor and this is what I do.

Now add the garlic, cayenne, salt, ginger and sugar and mix everything together thoroughly.

Tie the pickling spice in a piece of cloth and attach the string to the handle of the pan so that it dangles down into the mix.

Now pour in the vinegar and bring to a simmer, removing any scum from the surface.

Simmer very gently for 3.5 hours without covering, stirring now and then to prevent sticking.

It is ready when the vinegar is absorbed and the chutney has thickened to a smooth consistency. The chutney should leave a trail on a metal spoon when it’s done.

Pour the chutney into 8 sterile 450g jars, filling them as full as possible.

Cover with wax sealing discs and seal with a tight lid immediately.

Store in a dark, cool place and leave for at least 3 months before eating. I have found though that this chutney is best when left for at least a year and the very best when left for 3 years!

 

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Chocolate peppermint bars

chocolatepeppermintbars

I don’t often buy magazines but this one shouted ‘buy me’ from the rack in WHSmiths. Take a look at the headings at the bottom and you’ll see why.

Simplethingsmagazine

It’s quite a sweet magazine which I enjoyed reading. I do appreciate the simple things in life so this idea appealed to me greatly – although there was still a heavily consumerist angle which seemed to contradict their ethos somewhat (although I accept that this is how magazines survive). Printed media is having a huge resurgence (rather like vinyl) and there are some really beautiful publications around at the moment.

Anyway, I spied and saved this ‘hand-me-down recipe’ to try (which I believe was from Rachel Allen – in cutting it out I lost the reference).

If you like the peppermint/chocolate combination (think After Eights, mint choc chip ice cream etc) then you’ll love these. I would describe them as a cross between millionaire’s shortbread and Kendal mint cake. However, unlike millionaire’s shortbread these are pretty easy to make.

I’m the only one in my family who is not a mint choc chip fan so I thought I’d be immune to temptation with these. Memories of making vile peppermint creams at primary school has put me off the smell of peppermint essence forever.

However, having tried a small bite of one (for the sake of research) I have to say they are surprisingly delicious – which is both good and bad at the same time.

Chocolate peppermint bars

Makes 12-18 bars depending on how big you cut them

For the shortbread

  • 225g of plain flour
  • 75g of sugar
  • 150g of butter

For the peppermint cream

  • 75g butter
  • 300g of icing sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of peppermint essence

For the chocolate topping

  • 150g of dark chocolate

Line a 20 x 20 cm square tin with baking parchment.

Preheat your oven to 180oC fan.

To make the shortbread, measure the flour, softened butter and sugar into a bowl and rub through your fingers until well incorporated and breadcrumb like. Press the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden. Leave to cool completely (you can speed this up by putting it in the fridge if necessary).

To make the peppermint cream, add the 75g of softened butter, icing sugar, milk and peppermint into a bowl and beat with a hand held electric mixer until fluffy. Spread the mixture onto the cooled shortbread using a palette knife dipped in warm water to get the surface as level and even as possible. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave. Tip this over the top of the peppermint cream and level off with a palette knife and place in the fridge until hardened.

Cut into squares with a very sharp knife as neatly as possible. You’ll notice that mine are a bit messy but this didn’t seem to ruin the taste.

chocolatepeppermintbarsandcoffee

A random photo of my first crop of homegrown basil which has just been whizzed up into pesto. Try to ignore the slug holes.

basil

Pizza with courgette

griddled courgettes

Sorry but I’m having a lazy August blog-wise – this is mainly due to the children being off for the school holidays which means I just don’t have the head space for writing anything. Despite this though I just had to take the time to tell you about a new food revelation of mine.

I while ago, when searching for courgette recipes on the internet, I read about a type of Italian pizza with zucchini as a topping.  I dismissed the idea at the time because I thought it sounded horrid. I imagined watery, anaemic looking courgettes making the dough go all soggy. But I recently made a griddled courgette salad to go with a margarita pizza (I had no other salad items in my fridge and was drowning in a sea of them) and realised that if you piled the courgettes on top of the cooked pizza it actually tasted very, very nice indeed.

So for anyone with a glut of courgettes, I urge you to try this.

Griddled courgettes

Cut several medium courgettes into slices length-ways as finely as you can without chopping off your fingers. Season with salt and pepper and brush each slice on both sides with olive oil. Then place on a griddle pan over a very high heat for about 5 minutes each side (or until soft and slightly scorched).

When cooked place in a bowl and cover with cling film. When you are ready to serve drizzle over a little olive oil and lemon juice (you may also need a touch of extra salt and pepper), then toss around in the bowl so that the flavours mingle.

pizza

I wrote about homemade pizza nearly a year ago now in my post ‘Basic pizza dough and two ways to use it for a Saturday night tea‘ but if you missed it here’s a recap.

Basic pizza dough

Makes two square pizzas that fill a 33cm square tray

  • 350g strong plain flour (but bog standard plain flour will do if that’s all you have in the cupboard)
  • 2 teaspoons dried instant action yeast (I use Allinson’s which comes in a small green tin)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Warm water – 200-250ml
  • A sprinkle of semolina (to stop the pizza sticking to the baking tray)

Put the flour, salt, yeast and olive oil in a mixing bowl and add the water gradually mixing with your fingers. You want to bring the mixture together into a fairly wet dough – you may not need the whole 250ml. If you add too much, and the dough is too sticky to work with just sprinkle on a little more flour.

Tip the dough on to the work surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Ideally you should knead for at least 10 minutes but I have little patience and am usually in a rush so it tends to be more like three and the results are just fine.

Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film, and rest for at least 1 ½ hours (although 2 hours is better).

After this time take off the cling film and give the dough a good punch to knock out the air. Transfer to the work surface, knead lightly for a few seconds and divide into two (as this recipe is enough for two bases).

Assembling and cooking the pizza

Set your oven to its highest temperature (mine goes up to 270oC) and place two flat, square trays in the oven to heat up.

Rolling out the base can be tricky as pizza dough is very elastic. It resists being stretched and wants to spring back so this part can feel like treading water. My technique (which seems to work) is to stretch the dough carefully with my hands first before using the rolling pin. When you have made a round of about 20 cm by pulling in all directions with your hands, liberally flour your work surface and a rolling pin and roll the disk until the dough is really thin and large enough to fill your baking tray. Repeat the process with the second portion so that you have two bases.

Place the rolled out pizza bases onto two heated baking trays.

Smear the bases with some tomato passata (I sometimes make my own, but when lazy use the ready-made stuff in a carton). Tear up some basil leaves or drizzle over some pesto, then slice two packets of mozzarella cheese (170g balls) thinly and place evenly on top. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the base is crisp and the cheese is melted and browned.

Serve the pizza with the griddled courgettes on the side but eat together as below.

pizza with courgette

Things in jars – pickling and pesto

It’s that season down at the allotment when all the hard work pays off and everything seems to be ready to eat all at once. It’s both a joy and a bit of a stress. Because I just hate waste I fret about trying to use up everything but sometimes there just don’t seem to be enough meal times in the day and I’m already bombarding my friends and relatives with hand-outs. This is where pickling and preserving comes in.

Pickled Beetroot and Eggs

Beetroot pickled eggs

Beetroot pickled eggs

My friend ‘Little Ben’ first introduced me to pickled eggs at the end of a drunken night out in Nottingham and I have to admit I was not a fan. These pickled beetroot eggs however are truly delicious. The beetroot makes them lovely and sweet and the pinky colour of the eggs is just wonderful. I like to eat them on their own, sliced in half with a blob of mayonnaise and salt and pepper. They are also really good cut up in a Russian style salad with their pickled beetroot neighbours.

  • Cooked beetroot skinned and chopped into chunks (I cut medium sized beetroot into quarters). To cook I scrub the beetroot gently and roast them in their skins in a foil envelope  for an hour at 160oC fan.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • About 250ml of red wine vinegar (it’s difficult to be exact here as you will need enough to cover the contents of the jar and this will depend on how tightly packed in things are
  • A teaspoon of sugar
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • About 6 peppercorns mixed white and black

Sterilise a big jar (750ml mayonnaise ones are good) then cram in the cooked beetroot and the eggs layering the two throughout the jar.

I put the vinegar, sugar, bay leaves and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. When the mixture is piping hot and the sugar has dissolved I tip the vinegar into the jars until the eggs and beetroot are completely immersed. I then pop on the lids of the jars and leave to cool. Leave the jars for at least a couple of weeks in the fridge before using.

Basil Pesto

Brilliant basil...

Brilliant basil.

  • Fresh basil leaves (stems removed)
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • A little lemon juice
  • Salt

Pesto is so easy to make but it’s difficult to give exact quantities for this recipe as it will depend on how much basil you have available at the time and it’s quality. Once you’ve whizzed up the basil leaves in a food processor with a good glug of olive oil to help things along (I have one of those mini choppers like this one http://www.cuisinart.co.uk/mini-processor.html which works well) you just need to add the other ingredients a little at a time until you have the right balance. If you’re basil leaves are a bit long in the tooth then you will need to use quite a lot of olive oil. You will also need a lot more basil than you may think. One shop bought basil plant will only make the tiniest jar of pesto so it really is best to grow your own. I drive my family mad by growing plants on every window sill in the house as well as in huge tubs in the allotment greenhouse.

Keep your pesto in a sterilised jar in the fridge with a fine layer of olive oil on the top to stop it from turning brown. I’ve never actually managed to keep any long enough for it to go off in the fridge but it should keep for at least a month or two.

I always add parmesan cheese to the pesto before tossing with pasta but I find that if you jar it with the parmesan added then it impairs the flavour.

A Lovage version

A couple of years ago we bought a small lovage plant from our local garden centre in a 4 for 3 offer on herbs. We didn’t have a clue what it was at the time or how it could be used. Lovage is said to be similar to celery in flavour but personally I think the taste is unique and I absolutely love it. The plant has grown to over a metre high and takes centre stage in our herb bed. Because it is so plentiful in the early part of the year when the basil on the window sills and in the green house is only just germinating we thought we’d try a pesto made with lovage instead of basil with the same additional ingredients as above.  You will probably need a bit more olive oil than for a basil version and it’s a very strong flavour but used sparingly and mixed into pasta with plenty of parmesan it is delicious.

Lovely lovage

Lovely lovage

Courgettes, courgettes, courgettes

I so look forward to the very first courgettes of the season but then, after a month or so when they just keep coming and coming, I scrabble around desperate for new recipes to try. Here are two of my favourite recipes but please do contact me (details on the ‘about me’ page) if you have any other good ones (aside from the usual ratatouille and stuffed courgettes which get a bit tedious). As much as I absolutely hate waste it’s got to the point now where we can’t even give them away. We are currently decorating our garden with some of the larger ones and in past years they have ended up as door stops and baby playthings.

courgettes edited Eddie with courgette edited 2

Courgette and basil soup

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 8 medium courgettes roughly chopped into chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • A good handful of parmesan
  • A good handful of basil leaves (or you can use pesto if the basil has dried up)
  • 1 1/2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock (homemade is best but packet is also fine)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the courgettes and garlic. Turn the heat down low. The key here is to sweat the courgettes down slowly (for at least 30 minutes) without browning. The smell at this point is just wonderful. Then pour in the stock and bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. I let the mixture cool now for a bit before whizzing up (because I’m prone to liquidiser accidents) but if you’re in a hurry, and you’re careful it’s not really necessary.

Pour the mixture into a liquidiser and add the basil. Whizz for about 30 seconds or until smooth. The original recipe recommended a coarse texture but I personally prefer a finer one.

I then pour the mixture back into the pan and season well with salt and a little pepper. I don’t add the parmesan until the soup is ready to serve and I stir this in at the end once it’s heated through. I always have it in my head that soup is a little boring (this probably comes from my Dad who has never classed soup as a proper meal) so I like to work the presentation. With this recipe I save a little parmesan to sprinkle over the top and then add a drizzle of good olive oil and a few torn up basil leaves.

Any leftover soup keeps well for a couple of days in the fridge as long as you don’t add the parmesan.

Courgette and hazelnut cake

This recipe was passed to me by a former colleague Glenis. It’s taken from her vast collection of recipes cut out of magazines, I have no idea how old it is or which magazine it came from. I promise that it is much nicer than it sounds. In the past, when I was working, I have taken it into the office and everyone has devoured it (as long as the secret ingredient isn’t disclosed until the end).

This is a large cake that should easily divide into 10-12 large pieces.

  • 100g hazelnuts
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 200ml sunflower oil
  • 25ml walnut oil
  • 225g grated unpeeled courgettes, patted dry with kitchen towel
  • 275g self-raising flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180oC fan, and prepare a 23cm spring form tin by lightly oiling and lining with greaseproof paper.

Roast the hazelnuts for 5-10 minutes on a tray in the oven. Watch them carefully to make sure that they don’t burn, you want a golden colour. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray before chopping roughly.

Place the sugar, eggs and two oils in a large mixing bowl and whisk until thick (you can do this by hand but it’s really, really hard work so I always use an electric mix). Add the courgettes to the oily, sugary mixture and stir until combined. Combine the flour, salt and cinnamon in a bowl and then add to the courgette mixture, folding in very gently. Then fold in the roasted hazelnuts, again use a gentle action here so that you don’t overbeat the mixture.

Tip the mixture into the tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Leave the cake in the tin to cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Then remove the cake from the tin and leave to cool completely before icing.

The original recipe decorates the cake with ripe peaches before serving but I prefer a more gluttonous, carrot cake style cream cheese topping which I make by mixing a small tub of full fat cream cheese (200g) with an equal amount of icing sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence.