Pasta Mont’ e Mare

Or ‘Malfadine with Oyster Mushrooms and Samphire’ 😉
Usually, pasta mare e monti – sea and mountains, contains prawns and wild mushrooms, or sometimes artichokes or asparagus, depending on the season and the region of Italy it comes from – this recipe uses oyster mushrooms and samphire, (which is also known as sea asparagus) mainly because I like the wordplay, hence why I’ve switched the words around. I used Malfadine pasta (which is like tagliatelle with frilly edges) because it reminds me of ribbons of seaweed on the beach.
This recipe uses the same pasta bianca sauce method as Pasta Primavera.

Ingredients serves 2
250g Malfadine or pasta of choice.
50g oyster mushrooms
50g samphire, washed, picked over and any tough bits near the base discarded. You could use a seaweed like hijiki, if you don’t live somewhere that has samphire.
2 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
1-2 tablespoon olive oil or a knob of butter
10g plain flour added to
200ml cold water (this is about a scant level tablespoon of flour in a hi-ball glass of water)
Salt
Optional – 2 tablespoons soaking water from rehydrating wild mushrooms (I was soaking some Chinese black mushrooms for the next day so this is what I used), or 1 teaspoon mushroom bouillon powder – Totole, a Chinese American brand is the best I’ve found and widely available – or a small pinch from the corner of a porcini mushroom stock cube, Star brand from Italy is widely available in the UK – they are very concentrated and salty so I do mean just a pinch.

Method
Cook the pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water as per the instructions on the packet until al dente. Meanwhile, tear the oyster mushrooms into strips down the length of the gills, and sauté in a little oil with a pinch of salt. Lift out of the pan and reserve. Make a paste with the flour and a little water until smooth, then add the remaining water and mix well. Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan and add the garlic, cook until fragrant (30 seconds), then add the flour and water and the mushroom stock, stirring continually for 4-5 minutes until the sauce slightly clears and thickens, (it should be an ivory colour and it will begin to bubble up and rise in the pan), check that the ‘raw flour’ taste has completely disappeared.
30 seconds before you drain the pasta, add the samphire to the cooking water to heat through. Strain, and fold in the oyster mushrooms and the sauce.
Oyster mushrooms have a certain peppery-ness and the samphire is naturally salty as it thrives by the coast, so you will probably need little, if any extra seasoning. You could also substitute a mixture of fresh and dried wild mushrooms.
50g of both oyster mushrooms and samphire equates to a large handful.
Please remember this was for a slightly posh birthday dinner – still only cost about 60-70p each.
So this is what we had for our main course – pudding was elderflower sorbet.

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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

Tuppence ha’penny Tomato soup

I want to create a new name for this month – I’m torn between Jucember and Juvember… 😉

This recipe is cheap but cheery, to make you feel summery even though you’re still wearing a cardigan.tuppenceha'pennytom

The best value, and best flavoured tomatoes on the market at the moment are little thin skinned cherry toms – there were about 100 in the bowl I bought for £1, and very toothsome they are too. The recipe below can be made even cheaper/more cheaply by leaving out the fresh tomatoes and just using (a little more) puree, but then you might want to add a pinch of dried oregano or mixed herbs – still tasty with a chunk of bread and a salad for a quick lunch, and better than a packet.

I made mine in the rice cooker, because I was running out of gas, but it should be cooked over a medium heat.

Ingredients – makes 2 large bowls or 3 small ones

2 tablespoons oil, preferably olive
2 heaped tablespoons tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
20 cherry tomatoes, washed or 3-4 normal tomatoes, deseeded and chopped.
1 level tablespoon plain flour
600ml water
½ teaspoon sugar, or to taste
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

Method

Mix the flour in a little water in a glass, then top up with the rest of the water, so it’s ready.
Over a medium heat, fry the puree in the oil for a couple of minutes, stirring until the oil turns red and the puree darkens. Add the garlic, stir until fragrant, then add the tomatoes and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the skin begins to split on one or two tomatoes. Add the water and flour mix, bring to a boil, then simmer until the mixture thickens slightly and the flour taste has cooked out. Remove tomatoes and roughly mash/chop with scissors.(At this point, you could pass them through a sieve, but I like some texture) – and return them to the soup. If you want to blitz your tomatoes in a machine, do so with just a ladleful of the soup…you do get a deeper colour if you do it by hand.
Add salt, taste and adjust with sugar, if needed.

هريسة – Hurray for Harissa!

It’s Sunday, so I’m making sauces and condiments again – probably because I get all ‘in the kitchen mood’ whenever I listen to the ‘Food Programme’ on BBC Radio 4.

I got this recipe from my friend’s mum in Tunisia. Um Habib is possibly the hardest working woman I have ever met. She not only cares for a severally disabled daughter, cooks, cleans, washes laundry by hand etc etc for a family of six, she makes everything from scratch: her own rose water, orange flower water, jasmine water, even her own couscous from flour and semolina. This, she does two or three times a week. It’s a very smoothing process to watch, but it takes a lot of care and patience. She’s an absolutely amazing cook, making pot after pot of delicious food, the key ingredient being love.

Anyway, as with so many things, there are lots of different recipes for harissa, but two main styles; one using fresh peppers, both chilli and sweet, which is commonly known as Harissa Nablia, from Nabeul in Tunisia, and this one, based on dry chillies. As well as being an ingredient in other recipes, in Tunisia it is often served on a plate with extra olive oil, that you dip bread into, sometimes accompanied with olives and a salad, at the beginning of a meal – as a way to both get your gastric juices going, and fill you up before the more expensive main course.

Ingredients
100g dried chillies
4 cloves of garlic (use less if you like, I just love garlic, and the more you use, the more sauce-like it becomes)
½ tablespoon caraway seeds
½ tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ tablespoon dried mint – if I’ve run out of home dried mint, I’ve been known to use the contents of a peppermint tea tea bag
½ teaspoon salt
50ml olive oil

Method
Break off any chilli stalks, and twizzle between your fingers to remove most of the chilli seeds – this sauce is quite fiery enough. As with the chilli bean paste recipe, you may want to wear gloves for this bit.
Cover in boiling water and leave to soak for 30 mintutes. Meanwhile, dry fry the spice seeds until fragrant – if you’re using a small pan, stir, so they heat evenly. In a coffee grinder or a pestle and mortar, coarsely grind the spices.
Strain the chillies, and roughly chop (I use scissors to snip them) and ditto the garlic. Add all the solid ingredients and ¼ of the oil in a whizzy machine and blitz on a pulse, adding the rest of the oil in splurts as it comes together.
To store, make sure it is always covered with a layer of oil.

It will probably not surprise you to hear that Um Habib does all this by hand.

I have heard lots of people,(including Nigella) state knowledgably that Harissa is a tomato and chilli paste, but I’ve never seen or tasted such a mix….it may well be nice, just not harissa. I have read such recipes, but usually on websites that use canned chickpeas for hummous and falafel. Miao. Zorry, zorry, zorry…I am such a foodsnob.

Pasta Primavera – asparagus, broadbeans and petit pois

…or how to make my favourite expensive vegetable go further.

This recipe uses a ‘pasta bianca’ sauce, but the way it is made in restaurants. I learnt the method from my friend Claudio, who is an amazing cook. It means you can make it vegan, or optionally vegan, adding parmesan to each plate separately if desired. I think this recipe, with asparagus, doesn’t need cheese – in fact, is better without it – but do as you will, dear reader 😉

Ingredients – serves 2 people, but it is easy to double it up

250g dry weight of ‘smooth’ as opposed to ribbed pasta (pasta liscia)
I used linguine, but I would have used penne lisce, if I’d had some – the important thing is that it is smooth to go with the silky texture of the vegetables.
125g (about half a bunch) asparagus – choose a bunch with thinner rather than thicker spears, as it gives the illusion of being more when they’re cut up
100g fresh or frozen broad beans, their inner skins removed – if you can’t get them, substitute frozen edamame/green soya beans
100g frozen petit pois
2 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon oil or a knob of butter
10g plain flour
200ml cold water (this is about a scant level tablespoon of flour in a hi-ball glass of water)
Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste.

Method
Skin your broadbeans.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, trim woody ends from the asparagus, and cut spears into 2-3 cm lengths. Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add asparagus and cook for a couple of minutes until done but al dente. Strain over a jug (the water is very good for you!) and refresh asparagus under cold water.
Add pasta to the big pan, and cook as per instructions on the packet until also al dente. While the pasta is cooking, make a paste with the flour and a little water until smooth, then add the remaining water and mix well. In a small pan over a medium flame, heat oil (or melt butter and when gently foaming), add garlic. When fragrant, about 30 secs, add flour and water mixture and stir continually for 4-5 minutes until the sauce slightly clears and thickens, (it should be an ivory colour and it will begin to bubble up and rise in the pan,) check that the ‘raw flour’ taste has completely disappeared and season – you might not need salt if you’ve used butter, but don’t forget it if you’ve used oil.
Two minutes before the pasta is ready, add the peas and beans to the water. Strain all in a colander, and return to pan, add asparagus and the sauce and mix through. Black pepper and/or parmesan are optional, but there should be enough vegetables in this to be brimming with taste as it is. The fresh garlic gives the sauce plenty of flavour.

Chilli-ginger Sauce

This is the traditional sauce served with Hainanese Chicken Rice, at least in Malaysia – but I like it miles too much just to make it once a year….it’s one of those ‘if you’re going to have the chicken, you’ve GOT to have this, but if you’re going to have this, why restrict yourself’ things. 🙂

I like it with plain things like steamed tofu or steamed Chinese cabbage – it also makes an instant sambal mixed with grated carrot, daikon or sour fruit like pineapple or unripe mango – you know when you get a piece of fruit home and it’s not sweet when you cut it open, but you’ve cut it and you don’t know what to do with it? Now you do.  Keeps well in the fridge too.

 Ingredients

6 red chillies (the kind that are about 15cm long and 1.5 cm wide, slightly fleshy)

5cm piece of ginger peeled

3 cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

Dash of white rice vinegar, to taste

Method

Chop the chillies, ginger and garlic – I de-seed my chillies, not because I’m a wimp, but because I like the texture better that way. Then, in a mortar and pestle or in a whizzy machine, reduce to a rough paste. Add salt and vinegar – you can just bung everything (already roughly chopped) in together if you’re using a machine, but then blitz it in bursts….it should have a little texture.