Austerity Bites – Ratatouille

There’s something about so-called ‘peasant food’ that makes it far tastier than haute cuisine.  It’s comforting and wholesome and earthy. Most of my favourites dishes are, essentially, peasant meals. Like ratatouille.

Now, I won’t lie to you. This dish takes a bit of time to prepare, but it’s worth it. Due to the time it takes to prepare, it’s a lovely one to make with your family over the course of an hour on a lazy weekend afternoon. The most time-consuming part is the tomato sauce, but making it from scratch is well worth the effort.  This tomato sauce is a great basic sauce – perfect for slopping on pizza (thicken it up with a bit of tomato puree for that purpose, if needs be), running through pasta, using as a dip or crusty bread, or – as in this case – providing the base for a stew.  In fact, this sauce is good enough to put in an attractive pot (or a kilner jar) and bring it (with or without a baguette) to a dinner party. (We all have those weeks when the budget doesn’t stretch to a bottle of wine.)

This week – with tomatoes and courgettes both on special offer in Aldi – is the perfect week to make big quantities of this recipe. It freezes well and, in spite of (or maybe because of!) its humble origins, I think it makes a lovely meal for sharing with lovely friends.

Start with the tomato sauce:

800g Tomatoes (fresh or tinned)

10 cloves (Approximately 1 Bulb) of Garlic

3 Tablespoons of Dried Herbs OR 8-10 Leaves of Fresh Herbs

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper

If you’re starting with fresh tomatoes, slip them out of their skins: With a sharp knife, cut an ‘x’ on the bottom (the opposite side to where they were attached to the vine) and pop them into a bowl of boiling water. Leave for about 30 seconds, then tip them out of the hot water and into cold. The skins should come away easily from the fruit.

Chop the tomatoes, removing the hard white membranes.

If you’re starting with tinned tomatoes, open the cans 🙂

Peel and bash (or press) the garlic.

Pour enough of the olive oil into a medium-sized pot to cover the bottom. The fruitier the oil you have, the better.

Heat the oil over a medium heat.

Turn the heat to medium-low and add the garlic.

Saute the garlic until it turns golden. Garlic burns really easily, so be vigilant here! If you’re worried that your pot may be too hot, take it off the stove and let the residual heat in the pot cook the garlic.

When the garlic is golden, add the tomatoes, the salt, pepper and herbs. I know it may seem like a lot of herbs, but please be generous with them. Forget your little dainty spoonfuls of dried herbs and add a good handful. Trust me on this! I use a selection of whatever is in the kitchen – or a pre-mixed Herbs de Provence . If I have a live plant knocking about, I’ll add fresh leaves – maybe 4 basil leaves, 4 sage leaves and 20 rosemary spines.

Add a sprinkle of salt and a really good grinding (about a teaspoon) of pepper.

Turn the heat up until the sauce is just under the boil, then reduce the heat to low and leave the it alone – partially covered – for about 40 minutes.

At the end, you can add a glug (maybe 3 tablespoons)  of red wine if you happen to have a bottle open, or a splash (about 2 teaspoons) of balsamic vinegar. (Don’t despair if you find you’ve been too heavy-handed with the vinegar – a teaspoon of sugar, dissolved into the sauce should right things)

Tomato Sauce

While the sauce is cooking, prepare the veg. You’ll need:

1 Medium Sized Onion

1 Aubergine

2 Courgettes

1 Bell Pepper

Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

I salt aubergines and courgettes before I use them. This removes excess water and ensures they don’t disintegrate in the stew.  Top and tail the vegetables, cut them into discs and pop the disks into a plastic sieve or colander (metal, salt and water not being the best combination). Shake a generous amount of salt over the eggplant (you can use cheap salt like Saxa for this job!). Leave it to drain over a bowl for about half an hour. Then (and I know this seems counter-intuitive) rinse the salt off under running water and gently squeeze the discs against the sides of the sieve to get all the water out. If you like, you can pat the discs dry in kitchen paper or a tea towel.

Sometimes, I manage to time it so my sauce is ready at about the same time as my vegetables are salted, but that’s only when I’m pretending to be really efficient.

Anyway, while the veg are salting, peel and roughly chop the onion.

Cut the pepper into bite-sized chunks.

Halve the bigger aubergine and courgette discs, so they are roughly the same size as the peppers.

Get a big pot (possibly your biggest) and, over a medium heat, warm enough olive oil to cover the bottom.

Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes.

Add the aubergine and courgette to the pot and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes, until they are slightly coloured.

Add the bell peppers and, still stirring, cook the lot for about another 5 minutes, until the peppers start to colour as well.

Tip in the tomato sauce and cook the lot, partially-covered, over a gentle, medium-low heat for 20 minutes.  A few more herbs won’t do it any harm if you fancy lobbing them in.

Season with salt and pepper and serve with plenty of grated cheese.

We have this with rice, quinoa, pasta or – if we’re feeling Continental – fresh baguette.

Pot of Ratatouile

Austerity Bites – Jackfruit Curry

We descended upon our local Asian shop the day before yesterday and stocked up on some of the things we needed. Fortunately, there was a bit more in the coffers than usual, so I went a bit mad.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I just decided to buy food rather than pay my phone bill.

Anyway, the main point is that stocks were replenished. I picked up  12 tins of tomatoes for €3.99 and paid €4.99 for a dozen cans of chickpeas. Chillies were €5.99 per kilo – I got about 30 of them for €0.24 – way cheaper than even the cheapest supermarket. Economies of scale, I think it’s called.

In the middle of all this cheapie-cheap stuff, I got us a treat: Jackfruit. If you have been to South East Asia, chances are you’ve come across durian. This is a large fruit (about the size of a basketball) that  very prickly on the outside and, when cut, smells similar to cat’s pee. In colour and texture, it is similar to custard and it’s an acquired taste. A taste, I hasten to add, I never acquired.

The reason I mention durian is because jackfruit is its Indian first-cousin. Less cat-pee, less prickly and less custard-y, though – I love jackfruit. It’s in season at the moment and we picked up 1.5kg for €5.

Jackfruit

After we’d had our fill of the fresh, raw fruit, I suddenly remembered that when I’d been pregnant with Kashmira (ten years ago!) our nanny used to make me a jackfruit curry. Normally, if you’re using a fruit in a curry, you use it when it’s slightly under-ripe. Jackfruit is an exception, though – you can use the under-ripe or the ripe fruit.

To the best of my recollection, this is the recipe Nishanthi used to cook for us:

Jackfruit Curry

150g Ripe Jackfruit

1/2 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Salt to Taste

100mls of Water

20g grated coconut (I use dried because I can’t get it fresh)

2 Fresh Green Chillies

1/2 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

1/2 Teaspoon of Mustard Seeds

1 Red Chilli

3-4 Curry Leaves

2 Teaspoons of Coconut Oil

Cut the jackfruit into bite-sized pieces.

Cut Jackfruit

Put jackfruit, salt, turmeric, chilli powder and water into a medium-sized saucepan.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

While the jackfruit is cooking, make a paste using the grated coconut, chillies and cumin seeds (grind with a blender, adding a little water as necessary).

When the jackfruit is done – it will be tender but not mushy and still holding its shape – add the paste to the fruit and bring the lot back to the boil.

Heat the coconut oil in a small pan, and add the chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to sputter, remove from the heat and pour over the curry.

Jackfruit Curry

Cooking the fruit changes the texture completely.

The raw fruit is quite sweetly pungent – though not unpleasant – it hits the back of your throat rather than the tip of the tongue. It has a thick texture – similar to that of raw mushrooms. Cooked, it’s more like stewed apple before it gets pulpy.

If you can get your hands on a bit of jackfruit, it’s an interesting addition to the dinner table.

Tasty Tuesday – Hazelnut & Carrot Top Pesto

Last week, my lovely friend’s lovely husband gave me some lovely organic carrots from their lovely garden.

 

My youngest worried that the luscious green tops would go to waste. I had heard that they were inedible, but Googled just to check. I was glad I did, because it turns out that these green leaves are bitter, but definitely edible and packed full of all the goodness you’d expect from leafy greens.

 

Now that I knew we could eat them, I wondered what best to turn them into. I settled on a pesto.  In this photo, you can see that the consistency is more that of a pâté than a pesto, so I added a little water (2-3 tablespoons) later and thinned it out. It tasted good either way.

Time: 15 mins      Serves: 4

Ingredients:

3/4 cup Hazelnuts

Tops of about 14 carrots

12 basil leaves, shredded

3 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

30g Mature Cheddar Cheese

Salt and Pepper to season

 

Method:

Toast the nuts in a dry frying pan until they colour slightly and release their aroma.

Remove the carrot leaves from the stalks. Discard stalks.

Puree nuts, garlic, lemon juice, carrot leaves and basil.

Add cheese and seasoning.

Add oil, a little at a time, and blend.

 

Note: A small red chilli, chopped and added with the garlic peps this recipe up slightly.

Eggplant in Yoghurt – Kashmiri-Style

Eggplant, aubergine, brinjal…..whatever you call it, this is a wonderfully versatile vegetable. In this recipe, it’s married with some of the ‘sweeter’ spices and natural yoghurt.  Just don’t ask me to count the calories…!

 

 

 

Time: 10 mins prep + 30 mins cooking     Serves: 4 

Ingredients:

Vegetable for shallow frying

1 large aubergine, cut into thin discs

4 green cardamom pods, bruised

1/2 tsp fennel powder

1/2 tsp tumeric powder

1/2 tsp dried ginger powder

Pinch of asafoetida

300g natural yoghurt

Salt

Coriander leaves, chopped finely.

 

Method:

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan until it is very hot.

Fry the aubergine on both sides until it’s golden brown in colour.

Drain on kitchen paper and keep to one side.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon of oil.

Drop the cardamoms, spice powders and asafoetida into the oil.

Add the yoghurt immediately.

Season with salt and heat through, stirring constantly, until the gravy is heated through.

Add the fried aubergine and serve immediately, garnished with the chopped coriander.

 

Serve with plain white rice and lentils.

Tasty Tuesday – Greek Salad

This week’s Tasty Tuesday recipe is for a Greek salad that takes about 15 minutes to prepare from start to finish. It’s packed full of protein, vitamins, zinc and other trace minerals.

Great as a side dish, this is also wonderful as a main – and can be eaten with pita, baguette, foccacia or pasta for a complete meal.

Time: 15 mins      Serves: 4 

Ingredients:

400g  Chickpeas (tinned), drained and rinsed

300g Black olives, halved

250g Halloumi, sliced

250g Cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4  Cucumber, sliced thickly

2  Spring onions, chopped

Juice of half a lemon

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Handful of basil leaves, torn

Salt and Pepper to season

Method:

Pan fry the halloumi, both sides, until it is slightly coloured. Remove from heat and leave to one side.

Mix lemon juice with olive oil.

Quarter the slices of cucumber.

Put chickpeas, olives, cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions and halloumi in a bowl. Add basil leaves. Drizzle lemon juice and olive oil mixture over the salad. Toss. Season. Serve. Enjoy!

Note: If you don’t have halloumi, you can use Mozzarella instead.