Tag Archives: Summer

Coniglio All’Ischitana e Frittelle di Zucchini

Braised Rabbit and Zucchini Fritters

There are some films which momentarily transport you to another time or place as the story unfolds and then there are those which when finished have a more lasting effect and allow your mind to wonder and wish you had lived in that time or place. For me, one film that produces the latter effect is ‘The Talented Mr.Ripley’. Aside from the playboy lifestyle and amoral / sinister behaviour and eventual murder the viewer is immersed in an idyllic lifestyle spanning various parts of Italy. One of those places is the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, now a heaving tourist destination, back then it was as traditional and untouched as Islands come.

On Ischia, rabbit is the major source of protein as the steep hills make farming larger animals near impossible. The Italians have a vast variety of preparations for rabbit and this was the first I tried. In Valencia where I lived for the past year, rabbit was the main meat in the traditional Valencian Paella, it was therefore cheap and very available which is much more than can be said for England. Rabbits there were lean and flavoursome, so I was shocked at the large size of the rabbit I picked up from my butchers here but left wanting by the reduced gaminess of the meat.

This braise is quick and for me it is more of a summer dish so to accompany I made some light and creamy Zuchinni fritters by adding a few tablespoons of ricotta to the mix. It was the first time I had made them and I was so happy with the result. They would go great on their own or as a side to other things.

I am in Northern India for the next 3 weeks so this will be the last post for a while.

Coniglio All’Ischitana

Recipe adapted from the fantastic book ‘Al Dente’ by William Black. Serves 4

1 rabbit of around 1.5kg

olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

150ml red wine

500g plum tomatoes, chopped or tinned

a couple of thyme, marjoram and rosemary sprigs

small handful of fresh basil

salt and pepper

Ask the butcher to cut the rabbit into large chunks, or do it at home yourself. Wash and pat dry before browning in batches in hot, smoking olive oil in a large casserole or flameproof terracotta pot. Add the garlic and chilli and replace all the browned rabbit.

Add the wine and bring to a boil to reduce slightly over a high heat before adding the tomatoes. Reduce the head to medium and add the thyme, marjoram and rosemary sprigs. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Add the basil 5-10 minutes before serving to leave a fresh, fragrant flavour.

The dish can then be served as it is, or for a thicker sauce (like I have done), remove the rabbit chunks and reduce the remaining sauce to the desired consistency. Passing through a chinois once or twice for an even more refined texture. Serve with zucchini fritters, the red wine used in cooking and bruschetta.

Frittelle di Zucchini

Makes 5-6 large fritters

2 medium zucchini

coarse salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

70g all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons ricotta

Olive or another oil of your choice, for shallow frying

Grate the zucchini or shred in a food processor into ribbons. Then mix through a teaspoon of course salt and place in a colander or sieve over a bowl with a weight on top to squeeze out the liquid (add extra pressure yourself to help squeeze out even more). Alternatively, place in a cheesecloth, tie and squeeze. Removing as much liquid as possible is vital to the mixture holding.

Then combine the rest of the ingredients with the zucchini in a bowl adding a little more salt if desired. When well mixed, leave in the fridge until ready to fry.

To fry, I used a cast iron skillet and poured a thin layer of oil in the bottom. Heat the oil over a medium heat and add a large spoonful (a serving spoon) of the mix to the pan, then flatten slightly with the back of the spoon. Leave for around two minutes before turning over with a spatula to fry for another couple of minutes or until lightly browned.

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Caramelized Figs – two ways

Over the past year the fig has climbed through the ranks to make itself my favourite fruit. This is no doubt down to having access to the best figs I had eaten in Spain and then during my trip to Italy, indulging in unhealthy quantities of ‘fichi caramelatti’. Their versatility as an ingredient seems endless in their fresh and dried forms, their aesthetics unsurpassed, whilst the previous fig post I made has been my most visited

Caramelisation of these sugar-heavy fruits is quick and produces some complex flavours, for me the near burnt caramel flavour really sets off the fresh sweetness that remains in the untouched seeds inside. Eaten raw or cooked, figs lend themselves to a huge range of preparations and combinations so try and buy in bulk and experiment especially with some conserves or jams. In the UK they are especially expensive but I have been fortunate enough to buy some cheap crates from the Italian baker near me who also holds a passion for figs and thus buys some serious quantities which he puts to use in some amazing cakes. We are also currently waiting for the figs on the neighbours tree which hangs conveniently over the fence to ripen.

Caramelized Figs with Ricotta Ice Cream and Fig Biscotti

The idea for this came from a ‘gelateria’ I visited in Italy which offered a fantastic caramelized fig and ricotta flavour. I decided the texture of the figs is too good a thing to put in an ice cream so serving them separately was logical. I made this at a dinner for 16 and so decided that quantity of ice cream wasn’t feasible with the small machine at my disposable and so asked my favourite Italian shop to make a batch. It is cream based and with a little sugar, but I can’t find a recipe on the web which sounds up to scratch, it had a really creamy texture whilst internet versions seem more flaky.

The fig and walnut biscotti recipe is from the infamous Smitten Kitchen which in turn is lifted from the Batali ‘Babbo’ cookbook – they are really flavoursome and worth making just to eat on their own. I omitted the cloves and probably left them in the oven slightly too long.

To Caramelize the figs, simply halve and sprinkle with sugar. Place cut side down in a skillet over a high heat until caramelized.

Millefeuille of Prosciutto, Burrata and Caramelized Figs

This could be a lunch for one, or divided as an antipasto dish. The combination of silky prosciutto with creamy mozzarella and the sweet fig flavours is fantastic and I feel this is a lovely way to display them.

Caramelize the figs as above and get layering!

Cesena, Italy

Some snaps I got on my trip to Cesena last week (click an image to open gallery), got some more to put up soon. Next posts should be some recipes and ideas I picked up in my time spent in this beautiful part of the world.

Seared Pigeon Breast, Broad Bean & Pecorino Salad

At midnight last Saturday I stood with ten pigeons spilling out of a bin liner onto the kitchen counter, needing to be tended to before any flies could do their damage. Somewhat to my relief, my girlfriend’s father who had shot them all said there was no point in plucking the whole bird as they weren’t that big and so it was just a matter of cutting the breast out. This was relatively simple and caused far less mess than when I had attempted to pluck a couple at home the year before. Although it did seem like an awful waste to just cut out these tiny breast and discard the rest of the bird, at that time of night I wasn’t complaining.

I’ve always thought of pigeon as a particularly British game bird but it is put to use worldwide in all manner of preparations. In London I’ve always considered it as quite a delicacy, but this status also extends to Egypt and the Middle East where birds are stuffed and cooked whole; something I would definitely like to try. I had always associated a slow braise in red wine with the bird, but as I just had the breast I decided I would also go for a lighter, more ‘summery’ preparation and just sear the breast meat.

In Spain, the broad bean season is at the beginning of the year and each stall had machines through which the pods were fed, separating the beans to be sold and the skins to be put back to other uses. The fresh beans were then quickly bagged and sold that day. Although ‘de-podding’ broad beans isn’t such a difficult task, I quickly understood why they had these machines as after getting through a kilo I was surprised at how few I actually had to work with at the end; 250g would be my estimate, so enough for a small serving between 4 people. The beans have a wonderful sweet freshness, and my favourite preparation is one an Italian friend showed me, serving them raw or quickly blanched and tossed with balsamic, parmesan or aged pecorino. The freshness of this salad and subtle saltiness in the cheese paired excellently with the earthey and gamey flavours of the pigeon which had been marinated with juniper berries and coriander seeds.

I am off to Cesena, Italy to stay with the friend I mentioned above next week and so hope to return with a bounty of products and having learnt a whole set of new recipes. I am extremely excited, especially at the prospect of staying in a house with a wood-burning oven, a family with a passion for good food and of course, returning to a climate with some consistent warmth. I imagine I won’t get any more food posts in between now and my return, when of course I shall have a lot of photos and food to share.

Seared Pigeon Breast, Broad Bean & Pecorino Salad

serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main

For the pigeon:

6 small or 4 large wood pigeon breasts

1 tablespoon juniper berries

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

4 black peppercorns

1 tablespoon olive oil

sea salt

In a pestle and mortar crush the berries, coriander seeds and peppercorns until fine, stir with the olive oil and then pour into a ziplock bag. Place the breasts in the bag, seal and shake well ensuring they are well covered with the marinade. Leave in the fridge for a minimum of 8 hours.

When ready to cook, heat a frying pan or skillet with your preferred oil until the oil is smoking. Lay the breasts in the pan, being careful not to overcrowd the pan and flip every 15 seconds. A thin breast will take around 90 seconds, but obviously as size and heat varies, do one as a tester and apply this time to the rest. Allow to rest on a rack for a further 90 seconds or so before cutting.

For the broad bean and pecorino:

1kg fresh broad beans or 250g shelled broad beans

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon aged balsamic

sea salt

20g pecorino stagionato in fine shavings

Shell the broad beans, then separate them into large and small beans. Place the larger ones in boiling, salted water and balnch for 2 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to cool.

Remove the pale green casing which should have split whilst blanching and place the bright green bean with the smaller raw beans.

Mix the beans with the oil, balsamic and salt adding half the pecorino.

To serve, plate the broad beans and lay the warm sliced breast on top, sprinkle over the remaining pecorino shavings either on indivifual plates or a platter.

And for good measure here is a photo of the red wine braise I did the remaining breasts in; definitely more of a winter dish, but this is a British summer.

Sardines & Anchovies

Some time since my last post as I found myself put straight to work last week and catching up with all the people I had left here in England. Serious respect for anyone blogging that manages to work all day then come back ready to cook and put together a post. The problem here is that by the time I’m home and cleaned up from a day at the building site, there is barely any light (just rain – anyone in the UK at the moment will feel my pain) and I don’t have the equipment to shoot at night, so I will try and set aside dedicated cooking and shooting days but until I start university again I feel my post count will decrease.

To bring some Spanish sunshine back into my life, I opened up the box of treats I brought back from ‘Rafa the anchovy man’ of whom I spoke in my last post. Just the sight of them made me happy and the smells reminded me of starting my day at his market stall with a glass of young wine and one of his creations. I quickly got used to strong flavours first thing. The quality of this cured fish means that preparation should be limited, i.e served very simply. For me the best way is on bread with some good tomatoes to cut through their richness. He had also packed some of his own sun-dried tomatoes which he assured me would be better than any other I had tasted, and I had no reason to doubt him.

We, in England have some amazing produce unfortunately little of it seems to filter down to the masses, instead being sold in expensive markets or snapped up by the catering industry. But one thing we do have is an endless demand for Italian products and thus a copious amount of deli’s, cafe’s and bakeries in the capital. I am fortunate to live around the corner from what must be one of the best. The Bottega del Pane supplies the infamous River Cafe and other restaurants with their baked goods and I challenge anyone to leave empty handed after seeing what’s on offer. So I bought some of their famous sourdough and some amazing tomatoes (English grown!) to make some ‘Tostas’, the Spanish crostini.

I served the anchovy and tomato on slightly thicker cuts of bread because I wanted some of the juices to be soaked up without making it soggy throughout. I am positive this quality fish cannot be bought in a supermarket, so you’ll have to splash out somewhere but remember a little go a long way.  The sardines should be on thinner slices as the flavours are more delicate and topping drier. The dried tomatoes were wonderful and very different to ones I had tried and slated before, and with the basil made for the perfect trio. These probably aren’t for standing up and eating at parties as these things have become fashionable for but would go perfectly at the start of a meal. Or if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with more that 8 days of sun a year then bask in its glory with some cold wine and make everyone in the UK jealous.

Anchovy and Tomato Tostas

sliced sourdough bread or similar

extra virgin olive oil

tomatoes, chopped finely

good quality fresh anchovy fillets in oil

Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. For 4 tostas I used 2 tomatoes.

Preheat the grill/broiler to a high heat and toast the sliced bread until golden around the edges. Drizzle with a little oil.

Spoon the tomatoes onto the bread using a slotted spoon. Lift an anchovy fillet from the oil, let just a little of the oil drip off then lay on the tomatoes.

Sardine & Sun-Dried Tomato Tostas

sliced sourdough bread or similar

 sardine fillets in oil

sun-dried tomatoes

basil

Prepare the bread as above. Cut the sardines up into 1cm slices; the tomatoes into slightly smaller pieces and roughly chop the basil.

Mix well in a bowl with one tablespoon of oil from the sardines and one from the tomatoes. Spoon onto bread. Serve.

 

Peach Tart with Rosemary Infused Mascarpone

There is a memory I have of sitting on a beach somewhere in Europe, sinking my teeth into the ripest, juiciest and most flavoursome peach of my life which seemed to melt in my mouth. So vivid was this bite that I have a near sensory experience upon thinking about it now and long to eat a fruit so perfect again.

Throughout my year in Spain I have eaten my way through the very best each season offers, purchasing from one of the World’s greatest food markets with a daily turnover of the freshest produce available. From this I have learnt the importance of exhibiting the natural qualities of ingredients and not over-loading dishes with too many flavours. I had thought about how to honour the glorious peach without just simply eating it, for I know back home in England that these fruits are not what I have become used to here over the last few weeks.

There is a distinct lack of sweet things on this site and I put that down mainly to lack of equipment here which just about stretches to an overheating hand blender. But a couple of weeks ago I met an editor who asked me to do a simple dessert for the 4th edition of her magazine ‘Revista Couche’. I was over the moon and immediately knew I wanted to do something with peaches, one of my favourite fruits, whose peak season is arriving and at least some Spanish people must be in search of new uses for the copious quantities they have.

I quickly decided on a ‘tarte fine’ as I feel its elegant simplicity wouldn’t vow for attention with the real star of the show, and to keep the recipe easy a shop-bought puff pastry can be used. I spent some time working on how to keep the peaches moist and flavoursome throughout cooking. Experimenting with poaching in syrups before baking but felt they imparted too much sugar and over-softened the already ripe peaches. However, this would work for the unripe offerings at home and allows for extra flavour to be infused if they were otherwise tasteless (star anise went particularly well). Finally, to retain their natural flavour I settled on a short maceration with brown sugar which drew out some of the juices but then allowed for a syrup to be poured over at the end of cooking, adding moisture and a rich peach flavour.

The idea for the rosemary pairing is taken from Heston Blumenthal’s peach ‘tarte tatin’ served with a rosemary and syrup cream. I instead infused mascarpone whose addictive creamy richness features more and more in my food. The aromatic peach boosted by a peach syrup sits perfectly alongside the subtle pine notes within the mascarpone upon a thin flaky pastry.

Unfortunately in a rather dramatic and rapid turn of events, the magazine has had to stop. Some powerful ans seemingly threatened competitors applied pressure upon the sellers of advertising space to cut their links and within two days the free magazine had no choice but to close. It is a shame and lost opportunity for me; but for the young, ambitious team behind it, it means losing their career and years of effort. I felt it captured the mood of the Spanish economy perfectly: the established staying put nicely at the top without many problems whilst the small man is left without any hope of joining and sharing with them.

Peach Tart with Rosemary Infused Mascarpone

makes 4 individual tarts

For the tart:

6 of the best peaches available

2 tablespoons brown sugar

250g puff-pastry

For the rosemary infused mascarpone:

4 tablespoons whipping cream

1 large sprig fresh rosemary

200g mascarpone cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

For the peach syrup:

liquids remaining from maceration

oven @ 180C

Using a heavy knife aim to cut the peaches first in half and then cutting through the stone into thin slices (some impact from above onto the blade should slice through it nicely). By cutting through the stone, the slices retain their shape well. Use a small knife to then cut out the stone from each slice.

Place in a bowl and mix well with the sugar. Cover and leave to macerate 1 hour in the fridge. If using unripe fruit then this stage can be substituted for poaching the whole fruit in syrup or macerating for longer and/or with alcohol. 

Meanwhile, roll the pastry to a 2mm thickness and cut out four individual tarts of around 5″ diameter. Place on baking parchment and use a fork to poke holes in the centre of the tart, around 5 stabs is fine.

Lay the slices onto the tart bases as desired, allowing a second for any excess moisture to drip off back into the bowl before placing. Place the tarts on a tray in the oven for 25-30minutes, checking regularly and removing when the pastry is golden.

Meanwhile, place the cream and rosemary in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat before it boils completely. Allow to infuse for 20 minutes.

Using a fine sieve strain the infused cream into a high-sided bowl or jug, discarding the rosemary. Add the other ingredients and whisk for 5-10 seconds with an electric whisk to combine well, soft peaks should also form.

With the tarts removed from the oven and allowed to cool on a rack for 5 minutes, add the syrup which is left in the macerating bowl to a small saucepan and on a high heat reduce until a syrupy consistency. Stirring constantly. Don’t allow to thicken too much as it has to cover four tarts and will continue to thicken whilst cooling.

To serve, place a spoonful of the mascarpone into the centre of each tart. Then, using a spoon, drizzle each tart with some of the syrup. Enjoy warm or cold.

Shredded Lamb Shoulder and Burnt Aubergine Kebabs

I once saw Nigella Lawson prepare this lamb in one of her shows and as usual was swept away by the beautiful simplicity and openness with which she makes and presents her food. There seem to be a few Nigella haters out there but I have nothing but respect for a woman with no training to make cooking sexy, inviting and easy for more than one generation of men and women. Besides how could I hate someone whose criticisms include: “flirtatious”; whose programmes include “scenes of gluttony” and who can “make dinner seem like the prelude to an orgy”.  Her huge success in the UK and abroad can be measured not only in her book and cookery line sales but the affect on sales of products she  uses in her shows; goose fat sales doubling in supermarkets after she named it as an essential Christmas ingredient.

This lamb shoulder became an instant hit with my family and everyone that has eaten it. A maximum of 10 minutes preparation and then it can be left to its own devices in the oven overnight to produce meat that happily falls off the bone to form a delectable mound of tender shreds ready to be plated.

I paired it with what I can only describe as a ‘high street’ Baba Ganoush. Not far off the real thing, retaining a strong smoky aubergine flavour but toned down with a little yoghurt for the masses. For me this smoky and slightly spicy dip goes perfectly with this the rich lamb and then is cut through with fresh bursts of pomegranate and mint leaves. What better way to eat it than wrapped up in a big flatbread I thought? And so I did; this is my kind of kebab.

Of course this lamb could be served on a large platter as an alternative Summer Sunday Lunch, served with some grilled peppers and tomatoes etc or mixed through with other herbs and fruits in season.

Shredded Lamb Shoulder and Burnt Aubergine Kebabs

serves 6

recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s found here

For the lamb:

2 1/2kg lamb shoulder (bone in) 

1 teaspoon ras-al-hanout

1 star anise

4 shallots halved, not peeled

8 cloves garlic

1 carrot, peeled

good quality sea salt

500ml boiling water

small handful of mint

seeds of one pomegranate

oven @ 120 C

Put the water to boil. Heat a little oil in a deep roasting tin on the hob until smoking and brown the lamb on the fat side. Set aside whilst quickly adding the spices, the vegetables and a good pinch of salt to the oil, frying for 2-3 minutes.

Pour in the boiling water, this will de-glaze the pan and carefully replace the lamb fat (skin) side up this time amongst the water and vegetables. Let the water come to a simmer before turning off gas.

Tent (seal) the roasting tin well with foil and then place in the heated oven.

Now you can leave it whilst you sleep and it will be ready to eat at lunch the next day. Alternatively start in the morning (early – mid morning) and it will be ready for dinner. At this temperature and in liquid the meat won’t dry out and will be perfect after around 10 hours, give or take a few.

For a quicker cooking time, have the oven at 170C and it will be done in 5 hours.

An hour before eating, remove from the tin and leave to rest for one hour. By then you will be able to flake off the meat with a couple of forks.

Finely chop the mint and mix with the shredded lamb and pomegranate seeds. Give another good sprinkle of sea salt and serve.

*at room temperature the fat will congeal so keep warm until needed. Any leftovers can be re-heated thus melting the congealed fat.

 

 for the Baba Ganoush:

2 large aubergines (eggplants)

3 tablespoons tahini paste

100g greek yoghurt

juice of 1 lemon

3 garlic cloves, peeled, de-germed and v.finely chopped or crushed

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

salt to taste

Place the whole aubergines directly onto the flame of a gas stove or the coals of a BBQ, turning every so often until blackened and blistered all over.  This will impart the smoky flavour.

Leave to cool, covered. Then rinse under a cold tap to remove the skins and leave the flesh to drain a couple of minutes in a colander or sieve, applying a little pressure with a spoon.

Then shred the flesh, it should come apart easily in natural segments. If there are many seeds, try to discard them. Then in a large bowl mix well with the other ingredients, adjusting to personal preference. Serve.

Black Figs with Serrano, Purple Basil and Balsamic

In the mighty world of hams in Spain, nothing surpasses the acorn eating, wild Iberico pigs that provide the cured meat world with ‘Jamon Iberico de Bellota’, to be served and consumed only in paper-thin, translucent slices. Despite it’s fame, as a student I can’t quite justify a price tag of around €90 per 100g of the stuff. However, I happily downgrade to Serrano whose silken texture; meaty yet fruity and floral flavour isn’t as rich as Iberico ham but whose uses are much more versatile without causing offence to any onlooking Spaniards. I’ve definitely eaten my fair share of these melt-in-the-mouth hams this year and fully intend on taking as much of a leg as possible to England.

To quote the godfather of Food Science, Harold Mcgee: “Hams are to fresh pork what long-aged cheeses are to fresh milk – a distillation, an expression of the transforming powers of salt, enzymes, and time”

Serrano (or parma etc) with figs is a tried and tested combination; flavours and textures readily complementing each other without any work required. It was something I ate regularly on arriving in September in time for fig season and have missed them ever since they disappeared from the market in October.  So I was very happy upon the appearance of these black figs, also known as giant figs which precede the smaller  varieties that arrive in August. Their fleshy interior isn’t red like many varieties but they have a wonderful flavour, not so syrupy but just sweet enough with some woody notes.

My ‘go-to’ man for herbs in the market introduced me to this purple basil which I believe is the Red Rubin variety. I had never seen such vividly coloured basil before. It has a lovely floral aroma, not quite as pungent as standard green basil, and has a bit of a citrus taste alongside the sweet basil flavour. I intend to make a ridiculously deep purple pesto with my next purchase.

The balsamic I used was of the ‘glaze’ kind, the overused, controversial plastic bottle stuff that any Italian would turn their nose up to. A raspberry balsamic glaze at that. But then I don’t think it is any worse than using a shop bought balsamic anyway. In Italy vinegars from Modena of quality are sold labelled with the age of the content, are syrupy in consistency (getting thicker the older they are) and extremely complex in flavour as they must be a minimum of 12 years old. Around 35 kilos of grapes are converted over time by acetification, fermentation, maturation, evaporation and other processes to produce 250ml of balsamic vinegar. So that ‘traditional balsmic of modena’ you get in your posh deli for £10 is most probably wine vinegar coloured with caramel and sweetened with sugar, with some young balsamic and cooked down grape must if you’re lucky. Unnecessary rant over.

Black Figs with Serrano, Purple Basil and Balsamic

Makes a great easy starter of antipasti

in-season figs

Serrano ham in paper-thin slices

purple basil or similar variety if unavailable

balsamic vinegar

Trim top hard stalk off the fig and cut a cross down to the midpoint of the fig. Press at the base of the fig at 4 points towards the centre so the top slits you made open up.

Wrap each fig with slice of ham and plate. Dress the fig and plate with the basil and vinegar. Serve

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus & Pitta Crisps

I stumbled across this article the other day and realised that I had never made Hummus in the proper way. Despite making many batches of the stuff at uni last year, I had never bothered with dry chickpeas, imagining that there really couldn’t be that much difference; after all it just cuts out a bit of work buying them tinned. So after having spent this year striving to use the freshest, most natural ingredients available I decided it was time to take on the classic that has been adopted as the dip of choice by most of the West. In fact the weekend saw a finger food foray in my flat as ridiculous heat and humidity made cooking and eating a proper meal unthinkable.

Recent popularity in the West doesn’t feature much in the Hummus story. After a bit of light research I learnt it is believed to date back to the 12th Century, favoured by the Sultan Saladin, whilst others cite it in the Old Testament. It is a source of modern political tension and made in unbelievable quantities as a means to settling origin debates. It is also considered a blasphemy to stray away from the most basic of Hummus’ preparations; rendering mine and most of the supermarket versions as frauds.

Although I am a sucker for sticking to the food rules and limiting my fusion there is something about this combination which is so right that I had to break them (plus I had a couple of peppers to use) . The result is a vividly coloured hummus, where the sweet/smoky flavour of the skinned capsicums didn’t overpower the nutty chickpeas and sat perfectly with the garlic, cumin and smoked paprika.

I will agree with most in the dry versus tinned debate in that flavour doesn’t differ that much, maybe a slightly nuttier taste with the dried ones, the real distinction is the texture. It was smooth but still had some of the grainy, wholesome texture that hummus should have – if that makes sense. And as for the extra time taken, I would deem it worthwhile, after all it only requires a little forethought to pre-soak overnight and with the addition of baking powder the chickpeas can be cooked in much less time and be left unattended, even quicker with a pressure cooker. The simple pitta bread crisps are an idea stolen from my mum and are not only extremely ‘moreish’ but are a great way of using up bread that is past it’s best.

 

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus

this makes a nice big dish of hummus with plenty left over for other uses. Lemon, garlic, tahini, cumin should be adjusted to personal taste. 

To skin the peppers (capsicums) 

Place 2 large red peppers  directly onto the flame of your hob or even better onto  hot coals until blackened all over. Cover in a bowl until cool then rinse under a cold tap to help remove the skins. When skinned remove the seeds and stalk and then blend until liquid.

For the Hummus

500g dried chickpeas

2 teaspoons bicarbonate  of soda

8 tbsp tahini

3 lemons, juiced

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoon cumin powder

salt, to taste

red pepper purée (above)

olive oil

smoked paprika

Stir 1 teaspoon of the bicarbonate into two litres of water and use to cover the chickpeas in a large bowl. Leave for 24 hours.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, covering with fresh water in a pan and adding the remaining bicarbonate of soda and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil over a medium heat and reduce to a low simmer until they are very tender, almost falling apart. Mine took around 2 1/2 hours. Add more hot water to the pan from time to time so the chickpeas are always covered.

Allow to cool in the pan, then drain, RESERVING the cooking water. Mix the tahini with half the lemon juice and half the garlic, then to loosen this thick paste slowly add a little reserved cooking water until the paste is loose and workable. Then transfer to your food processor or similar appliance along with the chickpeas, cumin, and a teaspoon of decent salt.

Blend until a purée and then loosen again with the cooking water until you reach the desired consistency, I also added a good dash of olive  oil at this point. Continue to blend adding the red pepper purée. Taste and add any of the remaining garlic, lemon juice or more cumin, olive oil or salt before transferring to serving dish.

Garnish with olive oil, smoked paprika and cooked chickpeas if you like.

For the Pitta Bread Crisps

pitta breads

olive oil

sea salt

dried rosemary

Oven @ 180 C

Cut the pitta bread into strips lengthways then separate each strip into two (they should come apart easily due to the natural air bubble in the centre). Drizzle a baking tray with a little olive oil, lay the pitta bread slices on then drizzle with more olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a pinch of rosemary.

Bake for 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and place on paper towel to absorb any excess oil before serving.

Watermelon Gazpacho with Prawns and Kumquat

Despite being hot here in Valencia most of the year one thing which has signified the start of summer and the need to refresh oneself is the appearance of Gazpacho on almost every menu. Made well it is truly one of the most satisfying things one can eat in the heat. Served ice-cold and filled with the season’s finest tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers; those adverse to ‘cold soup’ need to experience the real thing.

The idea for watermelon gazpacho came from a meal in Havana, in the well-established king of tourist restaurants – La Guarida. Having thought it was a very original dish and a welcome change from the never-ending mountains of rice and beans I was quite surprised to find not only was it a well-practised dish in Spain but that the shockingly pinky-red dish I had eaten was merely a more traditional gazpacho with watermelon added. Far from the simple, distinct flavour I had experienced. So I decided to create my own stripped back watermelon gazpacho.

Upon seeing some kumquats in the market I wanted to add another element to the plate. I had never cooked with them before but with their wonderful appearance; tart and slightly acidic taste I thought would sit well with the freshness of the watermelon and the spiciness in the prawn marinade. Then I tried the cooked Kumquat and was blown away, little caramelised rounds of goodness, serving it both ways on the plate starts to exhibit it’s diversity as an ingredient

I was so happy with how it came out, such vibrant colours and flavours yet so easy to make, it honestly won’t take you more than half an hour to prep and cook; plus some chill time in the fridge in-between. There can’t be a better place to eat this than sitting outside on a sun-soaked evening with the BBQ burning. It was also a great excuse to utilise my latest flea market purchase: a decanter with ice-compartment.

Watermelon Gazpacho with Prawns and Kumquat

serves 4 as a starter

For the Gazpacho

Half of a watermelon, de-seeded and flesh roughly chopped

Flesh of one tomato

2 capfuls of vodka

sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to season

Process the watermelon flesh with the tomato in a blender until smooth, add the vodka and season to taste. The pepper really added something to the dish and worked well with the melon giving it a more aromatic fresh taste whilst the salt takes off the really sweet edge.

Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours until ready to serve, then strain through a fine sieve into a jug.

For the Prawns

20 raw prawns, with shells

2 tablespoons of olive oil

small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

6 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds (if unavailable substitute for lime zest)

teaspoon of chilli flakes or 2 fresh chilli peppers

sea salt

 Peel the head, legs and shell from prawns, leaving the tail in tact (de-vein if you like – I didn’t) . Heads and shell can be set aside or frozen to make a good fish stock.

Add prawns to a bowl with the olive oil, parsley, kumquat slices, chilli and a pinch of salt. Leave covered in fridge to marinate for 15 minutes – we can’t leave this too long as the acidity from the kumquats could start to cook the prawns.

To cook the prawns:

In a pan: Heat some olive oil from the marinade on a high heat in a wide heavy-based pan until smoking then add half the prawns. They will need to be cooked just 1 minute each side if the pan is hot enough but cut into one to check before removing. Cook the remainder in the same way.

OR

On the BBQ: undoubtedly more flavourful and ‘smokiness ‘really works with the other flavours. Skewer prawns and kumquat slices from marinade and cook for 1 minute each side over hot coals.

To Serve

1 small cucumber cut into thin batons

5 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds

Arrange the cooked prawns, cooked and fresh kumquat and cucumber as you wish on the bowl. Pour over the strained Gazpacho at the table