This is about the only time of the year that you should be able to buy fresh tomatoes cheaper than tinned. You may be lucky enough to have a greenhouse or sunny back garden and are now harvesting your super tasty home grown tomatoes. Either way, it’s a perfect time to make tomatoes the star of the show when it comes to using them up.
When I went to market last week, I picked up 5 kilos of gorgeous tomatoes for just £1.80 – you get to find super bargains when it comes to seasonal fruit and vegetables.
This is my favourite Tomato Tart recipe, which takes moments to make and tastes divine! You can use any fresh herbs that you have to hand (or even some dried) and use any cheese that you have lying around in the fridge.
Tomato Thyme Tart with Goats Cheese
You’ll need one pack of puff pastry for this recipe, so get it out of the fridge half an hour before you need it to give it time to soften a little.
Heat the oven to Gas mark 5, 375F, 190C.
In a bowl, mix together 150g cheese (crumbled if it’s a soft cheese, grated if it’s a hard cheese), 1 clove of garlic finely grated or chopped and around 3-4 tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs. If you’re using fresh thyme, you can just pick off the leaves from around 10 stems and put them in with the cheese. If you only have dried, use around 2tsp. Mix well and season with black pepper. Don’t forget cheese is quite salty, so you won’t need to add salt. Make sure all of the ingredients in the bowl are well mixed.
Roll out the pastry, trying to keep it as rectangular as you can (you can always trim it, if it goes wrong!). Don’t roll it out bigger than the biggest baking tray that you have. If you don’t have any big baking trays, cut the pastry in half to fit.
With a sharp knife, score an edge all the way round your pastry – taking care not to cut all the way through. This will enable the edges of your pastry to rise, but will prevent the middle bit from rising and pushing off all of the tomatoes. Inside the area that you’ve scored prick with a fork to make extra sure that it won’t rise.
Scatter the cheese mixture all over the pastry. You may think that there’s not enough of the cheesy mixture, but don’t forget – this is all about the tomatoes. The cheese is there to give an extra dimension, rather than providing all of the flavour.
Finely slice around 10-12 tomatoes and lay them in lines over the cheese. It makes a nice pattern if you go down one way with the sliced tomatoes and up the other way – like this:
Brush the cut edges of the tomatoes with melted butter or an oil of your choice. Season well with black pepper and sprinkle a little salt over the top before scattering some more herbs over the top of it all.
Put the tart/s on the middle shelf and bake for around 50-55 minutes (30-40 minutes if you have two smaller tarts) until the outside is well risen and golden and the tomatoes are cooked and starting to brown and show signs of being well roast.
I’ve always appreciated fresh ingredients and know that the fresher they are, the better your cooking will taste. I go to the market once or twice a week, so that I can choose the best possible ingredients, and I always look forward to going at this time of the year – not only because there are so many lovely fruits and vegetables in season right now, but also because of the new short season Brazilian Ginger.
I excitedly brought some back with me yesterday morning. The first thing that you notice about it is that it’s much smaller than the regular Chinese ginger, the tubers aren’t as thick. It’s a lot more dense because it’s tightly packed with vibrant, hot lemony juice! It also has amazingly smooth, shiny skin.
Another way to tell if you have Brazilian ginger is to cut into a piece. You’ll notice that the ginger either has a blue/grey tinge to it, or a blue ring just underneath the skin. This is why Brazilian ginger is sometimes called ‘Blue Ginger’.
This marking should make you confident that what you’re getting is ginger at its very best – juicy with a beautiful hot, spicy flavour.
We immediately celebrated with a cup of ginger tea! Add a teabag of your choice (one that you can drink without milk) to a cup of hot water and add as much sliced ginger to it as you can bear. Leave to steep for as long as possible and then enjoy.
Where would we be without potatoes? We love them – mashed, roasted, jacketed, dauphinoise, chipped, boiled, steamed, crisped – the list is endless. My personal favourites are Bombay Potatoes and Patatas Bravas, which is why I’ve chosen those recipes for this blog post. Patatas Bravas – crispy potatoes, covered with spicy tomato sauce is one of the best things to serve with cold beer. Potatoes are amazing when they’re slowly simmered – the recipe for Slow Cooked Bombay Potatoes uses a slow cooker and can be left for a couple of hours to carry on soaking up the lovely sauce while you get on with other things.
Some people think Sir Walter Raleigh first brought the potato back to show Queen Elizabeth I, from Spain (stopping off at his home in Ireland first, to plant a couple). The story goes that Raleigh presented the potato to the Queen and although dubious, she put her cooks to work immediately so that she could taste this new, exotic vegetable. The cooks didn’t know what to do with it, so threw the potatoes away and beautifully steamed the highly poisonous stems and leaves. This made the whole of court ill. Potatoes therefore weren’t a massive hit and it took a good while for them to gain any kind of respect.
The truth is probably that the potato was brought over to England and/or Ireland by the visiting trading Spanish, but I don’t like to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Potatoes originated in Mexico and were cultivated by the Aztecs. There were many different colours of potato and some reports of a variety that grew under the water. When the Spanish invaded the Aztec empire, they liked some varieties of potato and not others. They obviously only cultivated the varieties they liked and the rest became extinct, it looks as though we’ll never get to taste the underwater potatoes…
Maybe because of the stems and leaves being so poisonous, people weren’t quick to accept the potato into their lives and for many years they were only considered good enough to feed to animals. Wheat bread was the national staple, but where wheat was difficult to grow and oats were the staple (Scotland, Ireland), people were more eager to eat potatoes than rough oat bread. The rest of Britain soon followed and I for one, am very happy that they did!
Here are two of my favourite potato recipes – Patatas Bravas and slow cooked Bombay Potatoes
Patatas Bravas – Serves 4-6
200C 180C fan Gas 7
This is a famous tapas dish – crisp crunchy potatoes topped with as hot as you like smoky tomato sauce. I prefer to roast my potatoes instead of the traditional frying but you can fry them if you prefer. Serve with cold beer or as part of a tapas meal.
500g fluffy potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper)
1 onion finely chopped
1 cloves of garlic crushed or grated
1 red chilli finely chopped (remove seeds for less heat)
Few shakes Worcestershire sauce (or salsa inglesa, as it’s called in Spain and Mexico – English Salsa!)
Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks. Parboil until nearly cooked. Strain and leave the heat underneath to dry them off for a minute. Put the lid on the pan and shake gently to roughen the outside of the potatoes. Roast in a hot oven olive oil until golden and crisp.
Fry the onion in olive oil for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic. Carry on cooking until the onion is soft and golden brown (don’t let it burn). Add the chilli (bit by bit if you don’t like it too hot) and cook for another couple of minutes.
Add the tomatoes or pasatta along with the sugar (if using) and salt to taste (I used a big 1/2tsp). Add the paprika and Worcestershire Sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Simmer for 10-20 minutes until the flavours have come together.
Remove the roast potatoes and put into a warmed serving dish. Sprinkle them with salt and top with the tomato sauce. Serve with garlic mayo too, if you like.
Slow Cooked Bombay Potatoes Serves 4-6
This classic Indian accompaniment goes well with anything – even your Sunday lunch roast! If you haven’t got a slow cooker, cook the potatoes in a pan with a well fitting lid on the lowest heat possible (I stand my saucepan on a dry frying pan over the heat to make the heat even more gentle) and just check from time to time that nothing is sticking.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into thick chunks. Use waxy red potatoes or large new ones.
Either peel and grate or using a stick blender blend the roughly chopped garlic and ginger with a little water to make a watery paste.
Heat a glug of flavourless oil or ghee in a large pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds. When the seeds start to sizzle and pop, add the onion. Stir well, turn the heat to low and cover the pan with a lid. Cook gently (stirring often to prevent burning – add a splash of water if you think it might burn) for 10 minutes until the onions have started to soften. Take the lid off, turn the heat to medium and carry on cooking until the onions are soft and golden (about a further 10-15 minutes). Add the prepared ginger and garlic to the onions, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes until you can smell the garlic.
Add the ground spices and stir well.
Add the tomatoes and 1 heaped tsp salt (or to taste) and stir well. Over a medium heat carry on cooking for around 10 minutes or until the mixture starts to look glossy.
Add the raw potato cubes and stir thoroughly. Taste the sauce and add more salt if necessary – potatoes take more salt than you think!
Transfer to a slow cooker if using and cook for 2 hours on medium or until the potatoes are soft. If cooking on the hob, cover with a lid and use the lowest heat possible. If you have a heat diffuser use that. If you don’t have a heat diffuser, stand the saucepan inside a dry frying pan which will take the direct heat away.
Taste and add salt if necessary. I bet there won’t be any leftovers!
I love to eat nettles – to my way of thinking, they’re one of the most underused free ingredients that we have access to all year round. If you like spinach, there’s no reason for you to be pulling up nettles from your garden to put on the compost heap. If you have a patch where nettles like to grow in your garden, just regularly trim them back to the ground to encourage new, tender shoots to appear. These are the ones that you need to cook with. Nettles are edible at any stage of their growth, but once they have flowered the taste can be bitter and they’re a bit stringy so it’s best to look beneath the flowering nettles for the new ones that are just coming up.
Nettles only sting you while you’re collecting them, so use rubber gloves. The sting disappears the moment the nettle comes into contact with heat, so there’s no danger of you stinging your mouth! Give the nettles a good wash when you get them into the kitchen, like you would with spinach, give them a quick shake and then steam them with the washing water still clinging to them.
These pasties are perfect picnic food, especially if you make the small ones. The nettles can be replaced with spinach or chard leaves and the pine nuts can be replaced with any nut that you have to hand, or be left out completely.
Makes 3 large or 15 small pasties
You need to collect 250g of nettles for this recipe, which is a good half a carrier bag full. If you find you haven’t got enough when you get home, you can either go hunting in your own back garden or add some spinach or watercress leaves. Only pick the tops of nettles that aren’t flowering – the first 3 or 4 leaves. Use rubber gloves!
Do what you normally do for pastry – either buy 2 blocks ready-made, or if making from scratch, make an amount using 250g plain flour.
For the filling:
250g nettle tops/spinach/chard, thoroughly washed and put into a colander to drain
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ pack of feta cheese, crumbled
A handful of pine nuts toasted (you could use toasted, chopped hazelnuts or cashews if you haven’t got any pine nuts)
A pinch of nutmeg (optional)
A squeeze of lemon
1 egg beaten
Salt and black pepper
Make the pastry if making from scratch, or get the ready-made pastry out of the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with non stick baking paper.
For the filling: using scissors, chop the nettles roughly and then tip them into a large saucepan with just the water that is still clinging to the leaves.
Turn the heat to high and leave the nettles to wilt in the small amount of water that is in there. If the nettles are dry, just add a tiny splash of water. This will only take a couple of minutes. Leave to cool.
Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic over a medium heat, until soft and translucent.
Squeeze as much water as possible from the cooled, cooked nettles (the sting will have completely disappeared by now) and add them to the onion. Mix well and leave to cool.
Tip the cooled mixture into a bowl and add the crumbled cheese, chopped nuts or pinenuts, nutmeg, a squeeze of lemon juice and some black pepper. Taste for seasoning, don’t forget feta is salty anyway. Add salt if needed. Mix together thoroughly with ¾ of the egg (leave the rest for glazing the top of the pasties).
Roll the pastry out until about as thick as a 2p piece. Cut either into 3 large circles or squares or 15 smaller circles or squares, depending on what size pasty you want to make.
Mix the leftover egg with a little milk or water and moisten the edges of the first cut out pastry with it.
Using a teaspoon, place the filling on one half of the pastry (don’t overfill or the pastie will burst during cooking)
Fold the pastry over the filling and press the edges together to seal. Place on the baking tray.
Repeat until all of the pastry and/or filling is used up.
Brush with any remaining egg mixture and bake until golden brown – approximately 10-15 minutes for small pasties and 25-30 for large pasties
I’m not a huge fan of barbecue cooking in the back garden, although I do love eating outside. I much prefer to put something in the slow cooker or oven, open a bottle and sit outside in the sun secure in the knowledge that my dinner is getting on with it. Lovely smells start wafting outside and you can sit back and pretend someone else is doing the cooking.
You won’t be surprised to know that I love spicy food, Indian in particular. A lot of people think that when we get lovely sunshine it’s too hot for a curry. I disagree – they seem to cope really well in India! You should really turn up the heat, chilli-wise during a heat wave, it has a cooling effect on your body.
Last Friday was hot and sunny, so I didn’t want to miss a second of such wonderful weather after I got home from work. I refuse to think of Friday night as being anything other than fresh, home cooked Curry Night. I’d prepared a Madras sauce the night before. When I got in from work, I just mixed the prepared masala with some chicken thigh fillets and par-boiled potatoes and put it all in the slow cooker with a slosh of water and turned the cooker to high.
Naan bread was needed to mop up the gorgeous gravy. I don’t like to buy ready made flat breads, they’re so simple to make and taste so much better. Naan bread is traditionally made in a Tandoor oven: dough is rolled out thinly and pressed against the side of the hot oven which makes the underside of the naan crisp and brown, but leaves the top soft – ready to be brushed with butter. If you haven’t got a tandoor, help is at hand! This recipe doesn’t claim to be authentic – it’s easy and requires the minimum of attention. It makes great tasting soft, spongy bread which soaks up sauce – what more could you ask for?
This is the recipe that I always use – it’s a Dan Lepard one and he says that bread dough doesn’t need lots of kneading, it just needs time. Minimum effort, while sipping cold drinks in the sun – perfect. They freeze really well too. This recipe makes 6 naan.
1tsp fast action yeast (the sachet yeast is fine, but don’t use a whole sachet)
1 tbsp oil
large knob of butter/4 tbsp oil
1 clove of garlic
handful of chopped coriander
Put the flours in a bowl with the bicarbonate of soda, salt, sugar and black onion (nigella) seeds (these give you the stereotypical taste of naan bread, but leave them out if you don’t have any, or substitute with cumin/fennel seeds).
In a large bowl add yogurt, cold milk, boiling water and yeast. Stir everything together and make sure there are no lumps.
Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture and stir well. This will produce a very soft, sticky dough. Make sure that you’ve gathered together all of the flour at the bottom of the bowl and then cover the dough with a sheet of cling film and go back to the garden for 30 minutes.
After half an hour, pour 1 tblsp of any oil on to your work surface and rub it out to the size of a dinner plate. Tip the sticky dough on to the oil and roughly knead the dough into a ball. This should take around 10 seconds and then put in back in the bowl, cover with cling film and go back to the garden for an hour.
After an hour, lightly flour the worktop and place the dough on it. Pat it into a circle and cut it into 6 pieces. You already roughly have your classic naan tear drop shape. Put the oven on to 200C/180C fan/390F.
Melt the butter/oil (or a mixture of the two) in a small pan and grate the garlic into it, along with a handful of chopped coriander if you like it – you can use any other chopped herb in it’s place, such as parsley. When the butter has melted, turn the heat off and leave the flavours to infuse while you cook the naan.
Put a large frying pan on a medium heat, don’t add any oil to the pan. When the pan is hot, roll out the first of your triangles to around 1cm thick using extra flour to stop them sticking.
Stretch the triangle as you place it on the hot frying pan. Brush some of the garlic butter onto the top of the naan as it’s cooking. Soon you will see little bubbles appearing on the surface.
Keep an eye on the underside of the naan so that you can take it out when it’s starting to brown.
Using a spatula/fish slice take the naan from the pan and place it on to the racks in the oven. This will finish off cooking the top while you get on with the next naan.
Repeat the process until the dough has been used up. Keep a close eye on the naan in the oven and take them out if they start to get brown.
They soak up sauce perfectly and taste wonderful. Give them a go when you want to give yourself time to sit in the sun!
My lovely sister Sue and one of my nephews, Paul and his family live in Southern Ireland (far too far away) right by the Atlantic Ocean, where the days are long (unless you’re my sister) and the nights are lively in the local pubs with music and Guinness.
Being right by the sea, there is an abundance of fish and sea food which is taken for granted in a spectacular way. In every pub, there is a version of seafood chowder. It will always be different from the chowder that you ate in the pub 100 yards down the road, but it will always be served with fresh soda bread. When the chowder arrives at the table, you dip your spoon into the deepest corners of the bowl and bring it to the surface to see what treasure it holds within its savoury pockets. You don’t always recognise some of the creatures that are in some of the bowls, but the broth that had become the creature’s murky habitat is always a joy to behold! Some of them were rich, creamy and opulent with mussels, crab and white, flaky fish; others were vaguely gritty with tiny unrecognisable sea creatures and smaller flakes of grey fish. Both of them delicious and special in their own way.
I don’t get over to Ireland nearly enough and miss my family there so much. I therefore make Chowder as often as I can and each spoonful takes me straight back there with a great big flavoursome hug.
Here is my version of Sea Food Chowder and Soda Bread. It’s really easy to do after the basic preparation so I hope, if you love fish and seafood as much as me, you’ll give it a go. It will serve 4.
Make the Soda Bread first and you can start the Chowder while it’s cooking.
You can add fresh mussels to this recipe if you like them. You can cook them ahead of making the soup. Don’t be afraid of preparing fresh mussels – just ask for a few from the fishmonger. When you get them home, put them in your clean washing up bowl with cold water. Using a fresh scouring pad, give each mussel a scrub and then pull off the ‘beard’ using your fingers or a small knife. The beard is just what the mussel uses to hold onto the ropes/rocks that they live on. Put into a small saucepan with a small mug of water. Put the lid on and bring to the boil. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes until the shells have opened up. Throw any away that don’t open. Drain, but keep the cooking water.
The only ‘different’ thing that you have to buy for Soda Bread is buttermilk. It’s easy to find in all supermarkets now – usually by the cream and it’s only about 50-60p. If you really can’t find it, you can use plain yogurt, diluted with a little milk.
If you have a large casserole pot, you can cook the bread in there. Traditionally Soda Bread was made in a cast iron pot suspended over fire. This kept steam around the bread and keeps it moist during cooking. If you haven’t got a pot, you can just put the bread dough on a baking tray.
150g plain white flour 150g wholemeal flour (or any other type of wholegrain flour – spelt, rye, fine oatmeal, multigrain etc), 1/2 tsp salt, 1tsp bicarbonate of soda, 250ml buttermilk – you may need a little more or a little less depending on your flour, but use milk/yogurt if you need more, rather than buying two pots of buttermilk.
I like to add a handful of fresh chopped herbs (dill, parsley, basil etc) but this is purely optional. You could also throw in a handful of grated/chopped cheese if you’d like to.
Heat the oven to 200C, 400F or gas mark 6.
Throw a small amount of wholegrain flour into the bottom of the casserole dish, or onto a baking tray.
Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda together (adding any bran in the sieve to the sifted flour). Add the salt. Stir in chopped herbs and/or cheese if using.
Stir in enough buttermilk to make a soft, sticky dough that sticks to your fingers. Handle the dough as little as possible as this keeps it light. Just stir with a wooden spoon until everything is mixed thoroughly and then tip onto a floured surface.
Don’t knead, just bring the dough together in a ball and put it in the casserole dish or on the baking tray. Score a cross into the top of the bread with a sharp knife and put straight into the oven. If using a casserole dish, put the lid on the casserole dish.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and risen slightly. The base should sound hollow when tapped. Leave on a wire rack to cool while you make the soup.
This is my recipe for Seafood Chowder – the ingredients are just a rough guide, feel free to omit or add to the various vegetables, herbs and fish as you think. Just go with it in the true Irish way.
Start off by poaching the smoked fish and preparing the fresh fish. You’ll need:
1kg of fish including (or not) seafood – around 300-400g of that should be smoked white fish (see if you can get the natural coloured smoked fish rather than the vivid yellow one). Get small amounts of lots of different types of fresh fish like: a few (a couple each) raw prawns, some mussels, cheap white fish such as River Cobbler, Pollack etc (or expensive haddock/cod), salmon etc.
To poach the smoked fish:
In a small saucepan place 1 large onion quartered. 1 or 2 ribs of celery cut in half length and width ways, the stalks from a bunch of parsley, a sprinkle of peppercorns and 1 bay leaf.
Add just the smoked fish and add enough milk to nearly cover the fish.
Cover with a lid, turn up the heat until the milk is hot and then put on the lowest heat possible. Leave until the fish is cooked (e.g. it’s flaky, around 10 minutes) and then turn the heat off. When the milk has cooled a little, remove the fish gently onto a plate and strain the milk through a sieve, reserving the milk. Discard the vegetables.
Remove any skin and bones from the fish and pull apart into big chunks.
Cut the rest of the raw fish into chunks and de-vein raw prawns if using.
To make the base of the soup:1 medium onion finely chopped, 1 leek, washed and finely chopped, 1 large potato, peeled and finely chopped, 1 stick of celery, finely chopped, 1 bay leaf. Some fresh parsley/chives/dill.
Melt a large knob of butter and a splash of sunflower oil in a large saucepan and add the onions. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the leeks. Cook for another couple of minutes and then add the rest of the prepared vegetables. Cook on high for a couple of minutes and then turn down to low, cover with a lid and cook until the vegetables (particularly the potatoes) have started to soften (around 5-10 minutes). Add around 1.5 litres of water along with 1 tsp salt. Cook for 20 minutes until all of the vegetables are very soft. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Using either a stick blender or food processor, puree the vegetables OR if you prefer a chunkier soup, take out a good 1/4 of the cooked vegetables and leave them to one side before blending the rest. Put the reserved vegetables back in once the rest have been pureed.
Taste and add pepper but not more salt at this point.
Add the milk that the fish cooked in, to the soup base along with the water that the mussels were cooked in if you’re using them. Turn the heat up and then add the raw fish. Cook without boiling, for 5 minutes or so until the fish is cooked through. Then add any raw prawns that you have. Keep the heat on low and gently stir in a handful of chopped parsley/chives/dill (dill is my all time favourite herb – it makes me hungry just thinking about it!).
Taste and add more salt and pepper until you’re happy with the seasoning.
Serve in warm bowls with an extra sprinkle of chopped herbs and a wedge of soda bread.