Mint

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

Roasted beetroot with cumin, lime and mint dressing

beetroot salad

We have beetroot coming out of our ears. This is great news, but after using it in all our best-loved beetroot dishes (borscht, Russian salad, my husband’s legendary pink risotto) we are running out of ideas. So this week I’ve been experimenting with dressings for cold, roasted beetroot so that we can have it on its own for lunch, or on the side with any old meal.

So far this is my favourite. The flavours of cumin and lime are fantastic with the sweet beetroot.

Roasted beetroot with a cumin, lime and mint dressing

  • 4 large beetroot

Dressing

  • 1/2 a teaspoon of cumin seeds (don’t be tempted to cheat and use powdered cumin – it’s just not the same)
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 tablespoon of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of good quality olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • A table spoon of fresh mint leaves, chopped

For the roast beetroot, first cut off the leaves and trim the root, then scrub to remove as much dirt as possible.

Place in a baking tin, cover tightly with foil, and bake in an oven heated to 160oC for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The beetroot is cooked when a skewer goes all the way through without resistance. Leave to cool and then slip the beetroots out of their skins and chop into small chunks or thin slices.

For the dressing, first dry fry the cumin seeds in a small frying pan, without oil, over a high heat for about 30 seconds until brown and fragrant. Crush in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of coarse sea salt.

Add this mix to the other ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Spoon over the roasted beetroot and serve.

NOTE: This beetroot salad goes really well with brown rice and flaked hot smoked salmon.

Pork with cashew nuts, lime and mint

pork lime cashews

I was rather mean about Nigel Slater in a recent blog post and it’s been bothering me. Being horrible doesn’t sit well with me – I was just trying (and failing) to be clever and cutting like many journalists (forgetting that I am not clever, or indeed a journalist). So I’m sorry Nigel, as I constantly remind my children, how someone looks should never be important.

And my view that Nigel is a really good food writer was strengthened recently when I picked up his recipe book ‘Real Food’ in a charity shop. It was written 16 years ago and it’s brilliant. A no nonsense cookbook, full of straightforward recipes with big flavours – just the sort of food I like. It also includes several Nigella recipes (from the time before she was on the telly).

I’ve tried a few recipes but so far this ‘pork with cashews, lime and mint’ is my favourite. It’s punchy, refreshing and just perfect for a Sunday evening when you’ve drunk a little too much over the weekend. If you like powerful flavours and a feeling that you’ve in some way cleansed your body then you should definitely give this dish a go.

Nigel Slater’s pork with cashew nuts, lime and mint (in my own words)

Serves 2

  • 400g of pork fillet (trim off as much fat as possible, then cut into 1/2 inch thick medallions and cut these into thin strips)
  • 5 tablespoons of groundnut oil
  • 90g of cashew nuts (finely chopped with a knife or roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar)
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • a 4cm knob of ginger, finely shredded
  • 4 small red chillies, finely chopped, (or I use 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes)
  • The zest and juice of 3 limes
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • a handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • a handful of basil leaves, torn

Pour three tablespoons of oil into a really hot wok and stir fry the pork for three or four minutes, keeping the heat high and stirring from time to time so that it browns nicely. Tip the meat into a bowl along with any juices.

Return the wok to the heat and add the remaining oil. Add the spring onions, garlic, ginger and chillies and fry for a minute, stirring constantly so that they don’t stick or burn.

Then add the nuts and stir fry for another minute.

Add the meat back to the pan, along with any juices and stir in the lime zest and juice and fish sauce. Fry for a couple of minutes and then stir in the herbs.

Serve with plain rice.

Lamb and apricot tagine with couscous

Nigel Slater tagine without nigel

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with tagines. First I tried Lindsay Bareham’s lamb and apricot tagine. It looked beautiful and was quick to cook but tasted a bit insipid which was bizarre considering all the ingredients involved. I then tried a Nigel Slater recipe with the same name and I knew I’d found a winner. His version was slow cooked and absolutely packed with flavour.

Nigel Slater is a brilliant food writer but in my view he should never have been put on television. Is it just me who wants to drag him to the hairdressers? He’s also a little bit creepy. Like Nigel this dish is not a looker but don’t let that put you off because it tastes amazing.

It’s a bit tricky to source but don’t be tempted to miss out the preserved lemon – it cuts through the sweetness of the fruit and really lifts the whole dish.

Nigel Slater’s lamb and apricot tagine

Serves 4 generously

  • 1kg lamb shoulder, diced (to roughly 3 cm square) with as much fat trimmed off as possible
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of hot paprika (I couldn’t find this and so I used cayenne pepper instead)
  • 3 onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 60g sultanas
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of saffron
  • 750ml of chicken stock
  • 2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 350g apricots (I used just 250g because this is the size of the bag and this was plenty, I also roughly halved them)
  • A preserved lemon (I used ¼ of a jar of preserved lemon paste which they sell in the ingredients section of Tesco)
  • A large handful of coriander leaves
  • A small handful of mint leaves
  • Some oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

In a bowl toss the diced lamb in half the ground spices, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least four hours, although overnight is best.

Set your oven to 160oC fan.

First brown the lamb in batches in a frying pan with a little oil until it is nicely browned on all sides and set aside.

Then, in a heavy-based casserole dish with a lid, cook the onion, garlic and the remaining ground spices in a little oil over a medium heat until soft and slightly coloured.

Add the sultanas, honey, saffron, stock, tomatoes, apricots and meat to the pan. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and cook in the preheated oven for 2 ½ hours.

If using a preserved lemon, cut it in half and discard the interior pulp. Finely chop the skin and stir in to the tagine. Alternatively, add the preserved lemon paste and give it a good stir.

I found that after 2 ½ hours the sauce was beautifully thick and did not need reducing. If yours does look a little thin then Nigel suggests removing the meat with a draining spoon and boiling the sauce over a high heat until it thickens up, before returning the meat to the pan.

Just before serving add the coriander and mint.

Serve on a bed of couscous (see below). It is also nice with rice.

Couscous

For 2-4

  • 200g couscous
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 450ml of hot chicken stock
  • The juice of half a lemon

Make up the stock and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the saffron and the juice of half a lemon, then the couscous in a stream. Give it a quick stir, cover with cling film and leave for 15 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Before serving fluff up the couscous with a fork.

Chickpea soup with fried eggs

chickpea soup

When I was a little girl I wouldn’t touch a cookery book without pictures – I had to be able to see what I was going to cook in order to be inspired. Nowadays, I’m the opposite and I get rather fed up with bad value tomes that seem rather short on recipes and rather full of smarmy pictures of celebrity chefs cooing over their own food. Also, I once worked for a design agency and I know some of the tricks food stylists use, (super glue, waterproof spray, soap!!!) mean that you couldn’t actually eat any of the food photographed for recipe books. That’s why I don’t beat myself up too much about the photos for this blog, even if it does sometimes look a bit like dog food, it is actually edible.

Some of my dearest cookery books have no pictures whatsoever, like Lindsey Bareham’s wonderful book ‘A Celebration of Soup’. It’s more like a soup manual really with so many recipes that I’m not sure I could ever cook them all. We’ve taken to annotating the ones we’ve tried so that we don’t lose track. Here’s the annotation for this one in my husband’s hand.

I promise I don't really drink that much!

I promise I don’t really drink that much!

This is one of my favourite soups from the book, it has a really clean flavour and the surprise fried egg makes it seem more like a proper meal than just a bowl of soup. I’ve simplified the original recipe to use a can of chickpeas rather than dried so it takes no time at all to make.

Chickpea soup with fried eggs

Serves 2 as a main course

1 400g can of chickpeas in water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed and chopped
A good handful of mint leaves finely chopped
350ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 eggs

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sweat the onion and garlic over a medium heat until soft. Add the whole tin of chick peas to the pan without draining and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add the mint and stock, then purée well until smooth. Pour back into the pan and season with the lemon juice and a generous amount of salt and pepper.

When you are ready to serve fry one egg for each person in some olive oil and slip the egg into each soup bowl. The egg doesn’t have to be completely cooked on top as it will continue to cook in the soup.

I like to serve this with tahini flat bread. Make plain pizza bread (as in my post ‘Basic pizza dough and two ways to use it for a Saturday night tea’) but replace the olive oil with tahini.

Ready for the table with tahini flat bread accompaniment.

Ready for the table with tahini flat bread accompaniment.