Thursday, 14 August 2014

Aubergine and Roasted tomato Pasta Sauce

My friend Sylvia grows wonderful aubergines, no easy task for a plant that requires such a long period of growth in the sun. My aubergines will certainly not be ready for another week or two. She kindly gave me a couple the other day and I decided to create a pasta sauce using one of them. The tomatoes from the greenhouse are coming thick and fast so combining the aubergine with some of these and the addition of the obligatory garlic seemed a good idea. People who read my blog know that I rarely use currants, but adding currants to this sauce brought out the slight tannin flavour of the aubergine skin producing a rich deep flavoured sauce.

For this recipe (enough to feed 4) you will need,

700g of fresh tomatoes
1 large aubergine
50g of currants
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
2 anchovy fillets (optional)
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

Begin by dicing the aubergine and frying in 2 tablespoons of olive oil along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a large heavy based pan. Fry on a medium heat and stir from time to time to ensure each surface gets a reasonable chance to colour up. Meanwhile cut the tomatoes into chunks and place with the remaining salt and oil in a hot oven to roast. Roast them for 15 to 20 minutes at 200C or until they have released their liquid and the skins have taken on a little colour.
When the diced aubergine has turned a little brown, add the chopped garlic and the anchovy fillets if using. Cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato puree. Cook for a further couple of minutes, stirring to make sure all the ingredients get exposed to the heat of the pan. Finally add the roasted tomatoes, currants, pepper and cayenne and 200ml of water. Cover with a lid and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes while you cook whatever pasta you fancy.

Frying the aubergine, which so readily soaks up oil, in so little oil is made possible by the addition of salt. The salt will draw liquid out of the aubergine and force the oil back out of the vegetable.
I find the use of anchovy fillets really adds a depth of flavour to the finished sauce, leave them out of course if you are feeding vegetarians, the rest of the dish may well be vegetable based but people who regard themselves as vegetarian quite rightly include fish, even tiny ones.
The currants provide a fruity sweetness which doesn't in any way over-sweeten the dish but does enhance the flavour of the tomatoes and balances the tannins in the aubergine and the currants themselves.

Monday, 21 July 2014


The basil in the greenhouse is beginning to flower so it's time I made pesto. This easy recipe produces a jar of highly scented and delicious pesto which will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks (as if you're ever going to leave it that long!). I find the addition of a little citric acid helps to keep the fresh green colour and avoid oxidation.

Welcome British Indian Ocean Territory, number 132!
Welcome Iraq, bringing the total up to 133!

For this recipe you will need;
100g of fresh basil leaves
100g of pinenuts
150g of freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 fat cloves of garlic
100ml of a light olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of citric acid, available online or from wine making suppliers

Begin by picking over your basil leaves, this just means picking the leaves off the stalks and discarding any that look damaged in any way. When using Greek basil I usually leave the tiny leaves on the finer stalks. I find using a food processor makes really light work of pesto making. Place the parmesan cheese, cubed into the processor and process until you have a fine breadcrumb consistency. Add the pinenuts and process again, add the garlic and again process until all appears evenly fine. Finally process the basil leaves and pour in the light olive oil until you have the creamy consistency you like. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and if you're using it, the citric acid. Place in a lidded jar and keep in the fridge.

I like to use a heaped tablespoon of this pesto along with 500g of oven roasted tomatoes as a sauce for pasta, the freshness of the tomatoes, in my opinion enhances the rich herb and cheese flavour of the pesto.

Almond Croissant

Considering how fond I am of almond croissant it was only this last weekend that I made them for the first time. Simply make the basic croissant dough and a batch of frangipan and an almond croissant can be yours for breakfast anytime you choose.

For this recipe you will need;
1 portion of basic croissant dough click here for the recipe
1 portion of frangipan made from;
100g of ground almonds
40g of unsalted butter
60g of caster sugar
1 medium egg
a pinch of salt

Topping consists of a little fondant icing and a few flaked almonds that have been toasted.

Make the frangipan by creaming together the butter and the sugar, add the egg and the salt and beat in before mixing in the ground almonds. Place the mix in a piping bag fitted with 1 centimeter nozzle and place in the fridge.
Prepare the croissant dough and at the point where you have cut out 8 to 12 triangles, pipe an amount of the frangipan along each of the base edges before proceeding with rolling up the croissant. Don't worry if some of the frangipan is exposed it should just cook along with the rest of the croissant without oozing out.
leave to rise fully, this can take several hours, I usually leave them overnight, before baking in a hot oven, 200C for 17 to 20 minutes. Drizzle with a little fondant icing made from fondant icing sugar and water, and finally scatter with some toasted flaked almonds.

I have never come across an almond croissant which wasn't flattened, I don't know why but consistently they are far flatter than standard croissants. With this in mind I half expected some sort of deflating to go on once they were out of the oven and cooling on a wire rack, however, they remained perfectly inflated, so almond croissant that look like they have been sat on remain a mystery.

You may find that you have a little frangipan left over, simply form into little balls and bake on a tray while the croissant are baking, they make perfect little petit four to serve with a cup of cafe ristretto.

White Chocolate & Peanut Butter Blondies

I put together this recipe just over a week ago, and after trying the result realised that I needed to reduce the sugar content even more. White chocolate is so much sweeter than the 70% dark chocolate I use in my brownies. Somehow the batch seemed to disappear without too much trouble, but yesterday I made a second batch and so now I am sharing my revised recipe with you.

I need chocolate!

For this recipe you will need;
250g of white chocolate
175g of unsalted butter
350g of caster sugar
100g of crunchy peanut butter
150g of Self Raising flour
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of salt
140g of salted peanuts

As with my brownie recipe click here for the recipe, prepare a baking tin and switch on the oven. Melt the chocolate, butter and peanut butter in a pan over a pot of water that is barely simmering. White chocolate is trickier to melt but the addition of butter and peanut butter makes it unlikely that you will get into difficulty. When the ingredients are melted, allow to cool for 5 minutes before whisking really well to produce an even glossy consistency. Whisk in the sugar, then the 4 eggs. Whisk in the flour, salt and finally stir in the salted peanuts. Pour the whole into the prepared baking tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. A bamboo skewer should come out with still a little of the mix adhering to it, in order for the centre to be gooey.

Altering the original

I find this mixture requires a little longer to cook, but keep an eye on them.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Chocolate Brownies

My daughter makes the best brownies I know, well that at least is what I have always thought and I get her to make a batch occasionally when she visits.This means that in the last nine years I have not made brownies, so you can imagine my surprise when I telephoned her to ask her for the recipe, "But it's your recipe" she said. I had completely forgotten that when she set off to university I equipped her with some of what I considered essential recipes, brownies being one of them.

She sent me the recipe via text, very modern, and I have tweaked it so that she and I will continue to make different brownies to each other.

For this recipe you will need;
250g of chocolate (70%)
250g of unsalted butter
400g of caster sugar
4 medium eggs
140g of S.R.flour
120g of walnuts pieces
100g of white chocolate chips
100g of dried sour cherries
50ml of seriously strong fresh espresso coffee
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Begin by placing the butter and chocolate (not the white chocolate chips) in a large bowl over a small amount of simmering water. Switch off the heat and leave for 10 minutes until the chocolate is completely melted while you line a baking tin with baking parchment; I use one that measure 30cm by 20cm by 5cm.
Set the oven to 180C
When the chocolate butter mix is fully melted allow it to cool for 10 minutes before stirring in the sugar and mixing thoroughly, beat in the eggs and coffee. It's important at this point to keep mixing until you have a smooth even consistency. Stir in the flour and salt and again beat to achieve a smooth consistency before you finally add in the nuts, cherries and white chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared baking tin and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Test the brownies at 30 minutes by pushing a toothpick or wooden skewer into the centre, unlike the test for when a cake is cooked the stick should come out slightly glistening with the mix. You need to judge just how wet the stick can be and this will only happen with experience, too wet, i.e. too much mix on the stick and the centre will be seriously wet when the brownies have cooled, no real hardship, what you need to avoid is the stick coming out completely dry, this will mean your brownies will taste delicious but not have the yielding texture that they should. Divide and cut the brownies while still a little warm.

Clearly you can bring your own variation to this recipe, you can vary the nuts and dried fruit, but essentially this is a good recipe for a basic brownie, producing 18 brownies in all.