Tag Archives: tomato

Sweet and Sour Horse

No, not Tesco’s latest tasty offering, but a re-post of something I originally offered at the start of the year of the rabbit, reheated for the year of the horse. Though having watched Ken Hom eat a traditional dish of fried rabbit’s head in Chengdu on TV this morning, perhaps horse wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Whatever your choice of meat, veg or tofu – a happy, prosperous and healthy year of the horse to one and all! 

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

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Goat’s Cheese Tart

In the latest edition of My St Margarets Magazine I wrote about remembering your summer holidays through food, and as Autumn’s tendrils start to twine through the thinning rays of October sunshine you may be tempted to do the same. You can read the full piece ‘Look back in hunger’ [and indeed the whole magazine] here but the viewer does require Flash, so for my iPad using readers I’ve reproduced the goat’s cheese tart recipe below…

Goat's Cheese Tart

Nothing says French holiday quite like a ‘Tarte au Chevres’. Returning holiday makers however please take note – not even an award-winning local cheese shop is likely to be able to source “the wonderful little goats cheese made by the old man with a stall every other Thursday in such and such village in the Loire”, as his cheese probably never makes it as far as the next village on, let alone out of the country! This is your opportunity to recreate a happy facsimile with something more local. Last time I used Pant-Ys-Gawn, next I intend to use Dorstone.

For one large [20cm] or four individual [8cm tarts] shallow tart cases

NB – this is easiest with ready baked tart cases. If making your own blind bake first.

  • 6 small tomatoes, quartered
  • Half a red onion, thinly sliced and sautéed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon crème fraiche
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves OR
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
  • 1 Pant-Ys-Gawn goats cheese, or equivalent quantity of your chosen cheese

Paint the inside of the of the pastry case[s] with the mustard. Arrange the tomato quarters neatly in the bottom, strew over the sautéed onions and season well. Mix the beaten eggs, herbs and crème fraiche and pour around the tomatoes – they should just break the surface. Crumble the goats cheese over the top [or for individual tarts try slicing into four neat discs and place one in the centre of each], and season again with plenty of black pepper and any stray morsels of herb. Bake in a 220°C oven for 20 minutes. The top should be golden with brown tinged edges and corners here and there. Allow to cool and eat at room temperature. A simply dressed salad of fennel, olives and chicory eats well with it.

Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Happy New Year to everyone celebrating the Spring Festival – may the year of the rabbit bring you prosperity, happiness and good health.

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

Tomato Soup In A Flash

Tomatoes

The other day I watched James Martin make this soup in five minutes, so – stopwatch at the ready –  I’m attempting the same.  I’m doing no pre-prep other than to line the ingredients up on the kitchen counter, possibly in nice little dishes and ramekins just like they do on the telly, and setting up equipment like plugging in the food processor [I’ll just have to manage without the lights and cameras]. In fact I’m sure James had his pan warming before he set off so I’m giving myself the same advantage. Other than that it’ll be a tomato soup time trial from a standing start.

I have made a couple of tiny tweaks to James’ recipe. My tomato to stock ratio is a little more tomato heavy, and there’s the addition of my secret ingredient for any tomato soup – gin! I’m not sure my mother would approve of this as a tin of Heinz tomato soup was always her restorative food of choice for an ailing infant, but tomato and gin soup has long been a favourite, and was my first course at the ‘everything must contain booze’ dinner I cooked for friends in Singapore some thirteen years ago. The same dinner, incidentally, where I flambéed eight fillet steaks all at once for the first time, producing a tremendous fireball which briefly engulfed my head, taking with it my fringe, eyebrows and lashes. I was told by the waiting guests who could see into the kitchen through a large hatch from the dining room that the pyrotechnics  rivalled the harbour fireworks display at the Singapore National Day celebrations, but it’s not a trick I’ve been keen to repeat since, and I most certainly would not recommend that you try it at home!

Anyhow I digress. For four dainty or two hefty portions of the soup you will need:

  • 1.2kg tomatoes
  • 4 fat garlic cloves
  • 1 small handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • A good glug of olive oil
  • 500ml hot vegetable  or chicken stock [vegetarians and vegans will clearly want the former]
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tsp caster sugar [or to taste]
  • 60ml double cream, plus extra to serve [this can be omitted for a vegan version]
  • 50ml gin, plus a dash to serve [optional]

So then, we’re under starters orders – and we’re off!

Pan’s on the heat, in with the oil and start to quarter the tomatoes. Tomatoes into the hot oil and as they fizz and spit chop the garlic. Garlic in, and tear the basil. Add tomato puree, stir, and gin. Salt, pepper, sugar. Basil in. Back to the simmer then pour in the hot stock, and back to simmering point again. Now into the blender or food processor. Whizz, adding the cream as you go. Ready a sieve over a waiting pan [I used the one where the stock had been warming], and pass through the blended soup. Return to a simmer for the final time, taste and adjust seasoning and sugar, and add a splash more gin.

Stop the clock!

My time? A not very respectable 15:00.2. This is not boding well for the three egg omelette challenge, but I’ll post any new personal bests here as and when. Do add comments with your own times. But even at 15 minutes, it’s hardly a huge investment of time for a fresh and tasty soup to beat any can.

Tomato Soup

Spicy Italian Sausage Pasta

At one of my local farmers’ markets [actually the one that’s a bit more frou-frou than farmer] there is an occasional visitor, a South African sausage maker, who makes the most luscious Luganega sausages. Luganega and its seasonings, like most things Italian including the language, vary from region to region, from town to town, and it’s also known as salsiccia a metro as it is traditionally sold by the metre. This chap’s version is lightly spiced with chilli and bursting with fennelly flavour. I visit this particular market about every other week, and when my man is there he doesn’t always have the Luganega, so I probably get my hands on them once every eight weeks or so, by which time I’m always more than ready for another bowlful of this.

For two:

  • 3 Luganega [about 230g, or around 36cm if you’re buying in Italy!]
  • 300g fresh tomatoes
  • 170ml dry vermouth [perhaps here it should be Italian, but there’s normally French in my kitchen]
  • I medium onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 dried chilli, flaked
  • 1 star anise
  • 150ml single cream [or double if you prefer]
  • 200g pasta, penne work well here but I’ll use whatever’s in the cupboard
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano to serve

Sautee the onion in a little olive oil until softened and add the flaked chilli and crushed garlic. You can vary the quantity of chilli and use or discard the seeds depending on your need for heat. Skin the sausages and crumble their contents into the pan, stirring and browning the meat. Roughly chop the tomatoes [slice cherry tomatoes in half] and add to the pan. This is a rustic affair so there’s no need to bother with skinning and seeding here. Sprinkle in a small pinch of sugar, some salt and pepper and add the vermouth. After a brief bubbling boil turn down to a low simmer, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the cream, check and adjust the seasoning. You will of course have set your pasta cooking at the appropriate point during this process so that by now it’s just al dente – as all brands vary I’m not going to attempt to give you more advice than you’ll find on the side of the packet. Use a little of the pasta water to thin the sauce if it seems too thick. For best results add your pasta to the sauce and give them a minute together in the pan on a low heat to get to know one another better before their dinner table debut, where you can make them feel welcome with a confetti of parmesan.

When I first made this there was another stall at the same market selling a wonderful fennel pesto, but they’ve since disappeared. If you can lay your hands on some add a couple of spoonfuls along with the tomatoes and maybe leave out the star anise.

The Never Ending Fillet!

Mmmm, beef fillet. Luxurious, indulgent, and not something you’d eat every day. Not, that is, unless you’ve been living here for the last few days. What began as a South African braai [or barbecue for the non-Afrikaans speaking] in honour of the world cup host nation has, mercifully given the price of fillet, metamorphosed into a medley of delicious dishes. But let’s start at the beginning…

‘Gemsbok fillet in red wine and soya sauce’ read the recipe, helpfully adding that in the absence of Gemsbok any South African antelope could be used. A trip to my local butchers however failed to turn up a single specie of antelope and the decision was soon taken to replace the prancing prince of the plains with a cow. ‘Enough for six’ I told Mr Armstrong and left with a hefty slab of the finest fillet [c. 1.5 kg] ready to submerge it in what I like to think of as a spa treatment for meat, a deep, dark marinade which the recipe said should be composed of the following:

  • A bottle of Merlot [though I had an open Pinot Noir and used that instead]
  • 125 ml soy sauce
  • 125 ml olive oil
  • A tablespoon of soft brown sugar
  • 5 or 6 crushed garlic cloves
  • A small thumb of grated ginger
  • A small teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds
  • 2 or 3 finely shredded chillies [I left the seeds in despite being told to do otherwise]
  • And without being asked to do so by the recipe I couldn’t resist throwing in a couple of torn and fragrant bay leaves

Despite the South African provenance of the recipe there’s a clearly oriental bent to these aromatics which I have previously combined with red wine, Chinese five spice and honey when cooking duck, but the beef [as I’m sure would have the Gemsbok] appeared very much at home with its new playmates and became a darker ruby red with every turn over the next 8 hours.

Now it would seem from the recipe book [Cape Wine Braai Masters – free with 6 bottles of South African Wine!] that your average South African barbecues roughly three meals per day, but I’m British and with English summers being what they are I probably cook over coals that many times per year, and as such I think I lack the natural confidence with charcoal which comes from the life lived largely outdoors. So the fillet had its prescribed 20 minutes per side on the barbecue, with regular basting, but there was an oven waiting at 200˚C and off it popped for a further 20 minutes in there to be on what we Brits would call ‘the safe side’. Whilst the meat finished and rested I reduced the remaining marinade to a thick sauce which needed only a sparing drizzle over the thickly sliced meat. The result was meltingly tender meat, still rare at the core and with an intensely flavoured outer crust, but without knowing the exact temperature of the charcoal etc I can only suggest using the ‘poke test’ one would apply to a fillet on the grill to check when the meat is cooked to your liking.

The same book contains a great recipe for a simple but splendid tomato salad with mixed varieties of tomatoes [as many as you can find], diced red onion, finely chopped red chillies and basil with a lemony vinaigrette which eats very nicely with the beef on a warm summer evening.

Well received as the fillet was by the braai guests I was left with about half of the meat and a good quantity of the marinade / sauce. Perhaps I should have scaled to quantities to take account of the Sosatie marinated pork chops and the Bobotie spiced chicken [ostrich, it seems, is no easier to come by than Gemsbok]. Ah well, there are worse things to worry about in life than what to do with a hulking great chunk of steak and some intensely fragrant cooking liquors. And despite the summer heat I was inexorably drawn, wherever else I looked, in one direction. The direction — of cottage pie!

EPISODE TWO – THE PIE.

I do have an old fashioned hand cranked mincing machine, inherited from my mother, but it’s suction foot doesn’t suck properly anymore and the laborious job of feeding flesh into its gaping jaws and winding [and winding, and more winding!] the handle whilst trying to keep it in one place is actually nowhere near as much fun as mum made it look. So mincing by hand with a chef’s hatchet seemed the best way forward, first with, then across the grain of the meat. I have seen Chinese chefs do this to raw pork with a cleaver in each hand, but again it’s probably one of those things where a lifetime of practice pays dividends so I took the slow and steady route.

An onion was chopped and sweated, in went some more garlic, then some quartered button mushrooms [for some reason known only to The Shop Keeper we have a fridge FULL of mushrooms] and some finely diced carrot. And was that half a fennel bulb lurking in the salad drawer? Why not.

Next a good squeeze of tomato puree, a dash of umami paste, and a glug of fruity rose [also, ahem, open], which all cooked out for a few minutes more. Then in with the hand minced beef, the remaining marinade / sauce, a good quality tin of chopped tomatoes, and, as it looked a little thick, another good glug of wine. Oh and a couple more bay leaves from the neighbours’ garden. Then it’s simmering time. Gentle simmering that is, we are after all cooking with fillet steak and not boiling brisket.

And having tipped the result into a pie dish more than big enough for two – there’s still enough left over for another day! [see Episode Three]

I always let a cottage or shepherd’s pie filling cool before attempting the topping. The filling become firm when cold and as such it’s far easier to get a nice even coating of mash. And I wanted this mashed potato to be bold enough to hold its own against the richness beneath so added a generous grated handful of full bodied, meatily mature Comte which had somehow managed to squeeze into the fridge amongst all the mushrooms. So, mash on, top swirled with the tines of a fork, brush with melted butter and into the oven until golden on top and bubbling around the edges. At which point allow to the pie to sit and [literally] chill for a few minutes before serving. The taste buds of a scalded tongue would struggle to savour the delicate complexities of your creation.

There is an ongoing debate between The Shop Keeper and I as to the perfect accompaniment for such a pie, that being garden peas or baked beans. On a cold November Monday with an M&S cottage pie I’m quite happy to take the path of least resistance and open a can of Heinz, but for a pie of this refinement nothing less than the king of the greens will suffice. In case you’re wondering, we ate this one with peas.

EPISODE THREE – THE SKY […’s the limit? OK this is a really crap heading but I’m about to write about tortillas and nothing appropriate rhymes with ‘Braai’ and ‘Pie’]

Don’t forget, this beef is amongst other things, a spicy little number – remember all those chillies way back in the original marinade? They’ve mellowed somewhat by now, but they’re still there. And so the last hurrah for this saucy little cow is to be in a meaty tortilla.

This won’t be the traditional chilli filling but I’m looking forward to the rich and slightly spicy mixture wrapped in a warm flour tortilla, and topped with sliced avocado, a tomato, lime and chilli salsa, and a dollop of soured cream. There’s only one thing missing – the cheese. Luckily we didn’t use all of that Comte, and I think it’s about time that this fillet and that particular fromage were reunited…