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Posts Tagged ‘basil’

In an unwise decision the other night I decided to reclaim my cast-iron griddle pan from its box in the loft where it has been temporarily stashed since the start of our kitchen renovation, and introduce it to my temporary kitchen-in-the-lounge. Bad move people, bad move. My hankering for charred courgette salad nearly drove us out the house: the lounge’s complete lack of an extractor fan meant the room rapidly filled with billowing smoke − a good test for the fire alarms but a total common-sense fail. Whoops! Having safely deposited the rabbits in the back garden, we had to open up all the windows and doors to properly vent the smog. Goodness knows what our neighbours made of it all. Rest assured, for now the griddle pan has been retired back to the attic and any griddling action will take place on the barbeque if we ever get a long enough dry spell in the midst of all this rain.

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Over the past few months I’ve been trying to introduce more vegetarian meals into our weekly menu; no mean feat when you’ve got a vegetable-shy husband! Whilst we have what I’d call a fairly healthy diet; eating vegetarian a few times a week feels more balanced. Also, by cutting back a bit, I can afford to buy better-quality, local meat which we both prefer. The only problem is finding recipes that are substantial enough for my husband not to notice the lack of meat. I tend to fall back on pasta dishes or quiche but am on the look out for new ideas. Does anyone out there have any suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

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I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the greengrocer this morning; after a long winter of muddy roots the fresh spring fruit and veg is brightening up the shelves. Fresh peas, plump strawberries and wiry asparagus were piled high and a big box of locally-grown baby plum tomatoes had pride of place by the door. I took my time browsing and left with my bag overflowing with goodies, including plenty of those shiny, red tomatoes.

 

As a devoted fan of the wonderful Nigel Slater I often turn to his books, articles and shows for inspiration. He is a keen gardener which is probably why he creates so many simple but stunning recipes for vegetables. I was sure he’d have something perfect for my haul and so he did. This fab and speedy recipe is not your usual tomato sauce; rather than roasting or sauteing the tomatoes, you char them under the grill making them smokey and sweet. I tweeked the original a little;  I also happened to buy some gorgeous wood-smoked garlic that was begging me to join in the fun. If you can find some, pop it in, you’ll be glad you did!

 

A handful of fresh herbs, some melty mozzarella and the first of the home-grown salad made my morning’s shopping into a fantastic light dinner. But there’s no need to stop there, this sauce would be lovely on bruschetta or made on the barbeque.

 

Smokey tomato sauce

Lightly tweeked from Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers

  • 15-20 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic (smoked if available)
  • fresh thyme
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • a dash of wine vinegar or a teaspoon of sugar if necessary
  • fresh basil
  • a ball of mozzarella, torn into small bits

Pre-heat the grill to the highest setting. Meanwhile halve the tomatoes and arrange in a baking pan deep enough to catch the juices. Slice the garlic and tuck underneath the tomatoes.

Drizzle over some olive oil, scatter over thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Pop under the grill until charred*.

Roughly mash the tomatoes with a fork and taste. Add vinegar if too sweet or sugar if too sour. Stir in the basil and mozzarella and serve immediately.

*This took about 15 mins in my rather slow grill, start them before the pasta and check regularly.

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Eton mess is a classic British summer dessert traditionally consisting of whipped cream, strawberries and crumbled up meringue piled into a dainty dish or glass. There are almost as many stories behind the name of the treat as there are recipes – my favourite involves an over-excited labrador and a pavlova.  It’s not just because of the back story that it’s one of my favourite desserts: you can use any fruit you fancy; it’s ludicrously simple to make – especcially if you use ready-made meringue, and always looks pretty despite being a literal mess. The golden rule, as with all simple dishes, is to try and use the best quality ingredients you can get you hands on.

I recently made my own ricotta and ate rather a lot of it straight-up with a ripe tomato and slivers of basil. This got me thinking whether it would be possible to make a savoury version of a traditional sweet. There are lots of other desserts which have been converted including cheesecakesclafoutis and crumble and I hoped this would work too. Creamy ricotta replaced the usual whipped cream and ripe diced tomato played the role of fruit but I was unsure what to use in place of meringues. Eventually I plumped for cubes of bread tossed in good olive oil and lightly toasted which provided the crispy texture I was after. With some shredded basil and a little salt and pepper the result was a great little vegetarian starter for a summer dinner party or a light lunch served with green salad and a nice glass of white wine.

 

Savoury Eton mess

Serves 4 as a starter

  • 2 thick slices of rustic-style white bread (slightly stale is best)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g ricotta
  • basil or chives, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 ripe tomatoes or 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes (try to find tomatoes that are a bit sharp)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Cut the bread into 1 cm cubes, toss in the hot oil and toast until golden brown and crispy, about 4 mins.

Mix the ricotta with the herbs, a little salt and pepper.

Dice the tomatoes or, if using cherry tomatoes, cut into halves.

Either mix all the ingredients together for an authentic-looking mess or layer the ingredients into small bowls. Decorate with more herbs and serve immediately.

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