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.

Brockwell Park Salad

There’s a great park in South London called Brockwell Park, and it has amazing community gardens based around the old greenhouses (it dates back to 1811, so there used to be gardeners on site raising bedding plants for displays). Anyway, some years ago, when the community space was first set up, I was invited to go and help cook the produce at their open day (it was part of my job at the time, working on local food projects – I’m not trying to make out I’m famous). Such a beautiful idyll in the middle of the city.
Anyway, this below is what we made, it was all there was to harvest that day, but happily it was a pretty perfect combination. I always think of it as Brockwell Park Salad – I make it as soon as there’s an excess of nasturtium leaves in the garden…sadly, I haven’t been on the ball enough to grow everything for myself this year, but there were enough new potatoes in the left over dinner I was given, and I have some broad beans in the freezer. The leaves and the onions came from our community garden here in Limehouse.

Ingredients
For every 500 g of potatoes (new or salad potatoes – I like Anya or Pink Fir Apple, ‘cos they’re so dense and nutty)
2-3 generous handfuls of broad beans, fresh young ones or frozen, slipped out of their little white jackets
2-3 spring onions
½ red onion
Rocket leaves – wild or cultivated
Baby nasturtium leaves – if you haven’t got any, you could use watercress, as they come from the same family and taste similar.
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt, preferably flakes or coarsely ground
Coarsely ground black pepper – optional, as the leaves are peppery.

Method
Boil the potatoes in their skins. Placing the broadbeans in a sieve, immerse them in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then remove and set aside.
Meanwhile, finely slice the red onion, and chop the spring onions at an angle, into 1cm lengths. Gently heat the oil, and sweat the spring onions for a couple of minutes so they just lose their oniony bite.
Drain the potatoes, and gently squash them to crack their skins – you may need to cut up some of the larger ones. Add the oil, spring onions and the salt, mix through and set aside to cool down a little – it’s fine if you serve it warm, but the leaves will wilt too much if the spuds are too hot.
When cooled a bit, add everything else and fold in. If you’ve got some nasturtium flowers (mine aren’t in bloom yet) you could use a few on the top, but I quite like it yellowy cream and bright green with a hint of crimson from the red onion.

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.

Pickled green chillies for noodle soup

In Malaysia, these chillies are served everywhere with noodle soup – even thinking about them takes me back to early morning breakfasts on Jalan Alor in KL…large sigh with tummy rumbles.
I got shown how to make them in Penang in the little kopishop that I took the ‘do not spit on the floor’ photo in – they are lovely people and I think they thought I was funny turning up at the crack of sparrowfart everyday for my fix- I can’t remember the name of the cafe, but it’s on Jalan Macallister (I think – it’s the street just off from Komtar that has all the undertakers and things for Chinese funerals on – yes, a whole street)

The green version of the long red chillies in the last post seem to be harder to find in the UK, but you do need a green slightly fleshy but still hot chilli for this – I have made it with red, but it’s not quite the same…I guess you’d only notice if you’d had the green ones first, though.

For me, there’s no point in making a big batch, because while they keep for ages, they lose their quintessential juicy crunch after a bit…you can scale up the recipe if you’re feeding a football team.

Ingredients

3-4 long green chillies, sliced into 3-4 mm rounds
Boiling water
100ml white rice vinegar
2 teaspoons of sugar – my man in Penang used grated palm sugar – but ordinary sugar will do
1/4-1/2 tsp salt – to taste
Method

Mix vinegar, salt and sugar in a bowl until they dissolve. Taste.
Put chillies in a bowl or a cup and pour boiling water over them. Let it stand for 30-45 seconds, and then drain. Pour on the vinegar solution. The chillies need to be completely immersed, so top up with a little more vinegar if necessary.
Place in the fridge for a couple of hours, and the chillies will turn a khaki green…and they are ready.

Phew – that’s the last recipe from my sunday afternoon making sauces…they were much quicker to make than to write about.