Caffè alla Nonna

Translated, this means Grandma’s coffee. My lovely friend Stefania taught me how to make this when she came to live with us for a year from Italy. If you have one of those espresso pots that you put on the stove, they make very nice coffee, but it never looks the same as you get in an Italian café – this simple method will make your coffee look like a proper espresso from a Gaggia machine.
Ingredients – makes enough for 4 espressos
A pot of strong coffee
1 tablespoon of sugar – castor if you have it, but granulated is fine.
Method
Put the coffee pot on to cook, and place the sugar in the bottom of a mug. Pay close attention to the coffee, and as the very first 4-5 drops (literally!) come through, pour this first dribble onto the sugar and return the pot to the stove. Beat the dribble of coffee vigorously into the sugar with a fork until it becomes a pale creamy foam – this takes 3 or 4 minutes. Put a teaspoon of this in the bottom of an espresso cup, top up with coffee and stir.

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Crispy Bacon Craving Cure

Newly converted vegetarians and vegans, I am told, sometimes fall (figuratively) down at the wafting smell of cooking bacon. Obviously, this doesn’t taste exactly like crispy bacon, but it’s good enough to stave off a craving – it’s also a cheap alternative to nuts for a party.

Ingredients
Sunflower seeds, (shelled)
A few drops of soy sauce

Method
In a dry frying pan, over a medium heat, stir to toast your sunflower seeds – (don’t overcrowd them in the pan – it’s better to do them in smaller batches) until piping hot and golden brown. Transfer immediately to a bowl and sprinkle or spritz on a few drops of soy sauce, stirring or tossing to lightly coat them. The heat dries the sauce into a fine glaze on the seeds. Don’t be too heavy handed with the sauce – less is definitely more…too much overpowers the nuttiness.

Great as a snack/nibble as they are, or lightly crush them and thickly sprinkle between two slices of bread and scrape for your imagined crispy bacon butty;-)

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread can be white – called ‘Scofa’, the kind you get in Greggs, or brown – called ‘Wheaten Bread’ in Northern Ireland. I always make the brown version but the method and amounts are the same for both. Traditionally, it’s made with buttermilk, but any vegan milk works fine – it’s the reaction of the bicarb of soda with the cream of tartar (tartaric acid) that does all the work and makes it rise. Really quick and easy to make – no kneading.

Ingredients
For every 500g strong bread flour
1 handful of wheatbran – optional, but nice – usually to be found near the breakfast cereals in the supermarket.
1 level teaspoon of salt
2 level teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
2 level teaspoons cream of tartar
About 300ml (1/2 pint) milk/buttermilk/plant based milk

Method
Pre heat your oven to 200 celsius/gas mark 6. In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly – it’s worth adding the soda and the cream of tartar through a sieve or a tea strainer, so you don’t get yellow blobs through your bread – also be careful not to be over generous with these two, ‘cos there’s a fine line before it tastes too soda-ry.
You can bake this on a baking tray or in a loaf tin – whichever you use, dust with flour or wheatbran (for a loaf tin, dampen the sides, then dust) – you need to do this first, because it needs to go straight in the oven, once you’ve mixed in the liquid.
Add most of the liquid and mix – you want a mixture that looks wet and sticky, but not splurging all over the place – the consistency of a rich fruit cake mix/chunky wet concrete/cold porridge. Add the rest of the liquid until you get there – if it looks too sloppy, add a bit more flour. Transfer to tin or tray – if you’re making it on a tray, score the top with a large cross.
Pop in the oven, on the middle shelf and bake for 40 minutes, until it’s well risen and golden brown. As with all bread, you can test whether it’s done by tapping the bottom of it for a hollow sound. Leave to cool on a rack. When it’s fresh, the brown version is almost impossible to cut finely, but gets easier after a day or so.

Red Onion Jam – twisted No.4

Sometimes I just griddle a few fat slices of onion for a fry up, but there was a glass of red wine left in the bottle, so this seemed like the sensible, grown up thing to do with it.

Ingredients

2 small onions – white or red (red will give you a deeper coloured jam, but white will do fine)

1 glass of red table wine – nothing too oaky

2 tablespoons sugar

Method

Cut the onions into fine rings. Place in a non reactive pan – (enamel), with the wine.  Simmer until onions soften and begin to collapse. Add sugar and continue to cook until syrupy. Stores well in the fridge.

Also great with bangers and mash or as a cheap alternative to mostarda or membrillo with cheese.

Fennel Roasted Tomatoes – twisted No. 3

‘Cos of my ongoing oven issues, I had to fudge how I made this, this time – but the recipe below is how I normally make it. Tomatoes love fennel seeds, and the feeling is mutual. There’s an abundance of wild fennel growing quite near my house, in Mile End Park, so I collect the seeds for a year’s supply at the end of summer.

Ingredients

Tomatoes

Fennel seeds

Garlic, finely minced

Coarsely ground salt

Coarsely  ground black pepper

Few drops of oil

Method

Turn your tomatoes upside down and cut in quarters, but not all the way through – so they open up like four petal’d flowers. Deseed. Smear a baking tray with a few drops of oil. Lay your tomatoes quite closely, but not overlapping on the tray, skin side down, flesh side up. Sprinkle with salt, seeds, garlic and black pepper. Splatter with oil, but only a few drops.

Place on a shelf at the bottom of your oven and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on the temperature you’re using for whatever else you’re cooking) – low and slow is best. You are aiming for about 50% dehydration, so they come out a bit like ‘sun blush’ tomatoes from the deli counter.

While you might want to wait until you’ve got the oven on for something else, it’s well worth making a whole trayful – they are really good in sandwiches, on a roast vegetable platter, or with anything grilled or barbequed. Fennel seeds feature in both Indian and Chinese cuisines, so they are also great with curry, dhall, or a black bean and ginger dish.

Mr Benz’s Blindingly Good Beans – Twisted No.2

I think I might have mentioned before that I don’t particularly like British baked beans; (apart from my soup), but these Jamaican style beans I will eat voluntarily.

Ingredients

For every can of the cheapest beans going – should be about 23p each

1 small onion

1-2 tomatoes

1-2 cloves of garlic

Thyme, pref fresh, but dried if you live long distance far

Scotch bonnet chilli, a few slices – you could use other chillies, but scotch bonnet has an amazing extra special flavour.

1 teaspoon oil

Salt+ coarse ground pepper optional

Method

Fry onion over medium heat in oil. When onion begins to soften, add garlic and chilli, chopped –then after a minute or so, add the tomatoes and thyme. When fragrant and tomatoes softened but not too soft!..add the can of beans and cook out for 4-5 minutes. Done

bubble+squeak twisted No.1

Bubble and Squeak is basically left over potato aka bubble and (traditionally) cabbage aka squeak. Yesterday’s leftover leeks also work, but if you have neither, (or even if you do) onion is also good – for me quasi essential. Yesterday’s left over mashed potato (a commodity as rare as hen’s teeth in my house, at the best of times) will not be good if you used cream or milk, ‘cos it just gets too sloppy – kudos to the olive oil mash brigade…yours will do fine 😉

Local sometimes naff caffs may recycle peas and/or carrots, to the displeasure of many punters.

Ingredients

Left over potatoes, squashed or mashed – depending on how chunky you want it, but some must be mashed.

1 chopped onion

Left over cabbage or leek or even kale.

1 tablespoon or less of oil.

Salt and optional pepper

Rosemary – optional for you, but essential for me –  v. useful if you have no additional veg.

Method

In a medium to high heat pan, start frying the onion in a teaspoon of oil, and as it begins to soften, add the potato, veg/rosemary if you have any and a pinch of salt. Leave to fry to golden brown and gently crisp up on the bottom. Turn and mash up, leave to go golden brown on the bottom again, repeat this a few times, until the whole thing is flaked/flecked with browned pieces. Add another teaspoon of oil and fry one side (flip) and then the other till crisped up but NOT burnt brown-ness.