Linguine with Aubergine, Tomato, Sage, Garlic and Chilli

Linguine with aubergine, tomato, sage, garlic and chilli
Ingredients:

  • 1 aubergine
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 2 small dries red chillies
  • 4-6 sage leaves
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Method:

Fry the aubergine in a generous couple of glugs of olive oil until soft and golden, them remove and drain from the oil on a couple of kitchen towels and set aside.
Chop the garlic, chilli and half the sage leaves and fry gently in fresh olive oil
Add the chopped tomatoes, add salt, fry very gently over a low heat for 5 mins them remove the pan from the heat.
Cook the linguine.
Whilst the pasta is cooking, add the aubergine to the tomatoes and garlic and hear up in the pan.
Add some pasta cooking water if necessary.
When al dente remove the pasta from the water and add to the sauce along with the rest of the sage.
Garnish with roughly chopped cheese and freshly ground black pepper.
Linguine with aubergine, tomato, sage, garlic and chilli.

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A Tale Of Two Risottos

Mushroom risotto and risotto with chorizo, paprika picante, peas, courgettes and sage

It’s true what they say. It really is all in the stock.
Well, I’m not sure whether they do say that, or indeed who “they” are meant to be be, but I recently made two risottos that turned out to be the finest I’ve ever cooked by a long way (indeed, it was some of the most flavoursome food I’ve ever cooked, of any variety), and I’m pretty convinced it was largely down to the quality and depth of the stock.
Obviously, every time I  roast a chicken, I endeavour to make stock the next day. But the last time, I think I was going to away for a few days following, so I froze the carcass instead.
Then, there were a couple of barbecues where I grilled a generous quantity of chicken wings over charcoal, and I elected to save and freeze the bones from these also.
I also had a few uncooked chicken wings in the freezer.
So the other week, after a visit to the Farmer’s Market the previous Sunday, and picking up a collection of delicious mushrooms, I decided to make the stock and a nice risotto.
First thing was to make the stock, using the above mentioned chicken lefovers, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery, a few bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns.

Stock ingredients, assembled and ready for a good gentle simmer.

I brought this up to the gentlest of simmers, and then vacated the kitchen for about 7 hours. (I went out to a rehearsal actually, and forgot I had some stock on. This turned out to be a fortuitous mistake).
When I returned, I remembered I had left the stock on, so strained it and was left with this delicious and concentrated golden chickeny nectar:

The stock ready for use.

I then assembled the main ingredients for the risotto, namely mushrooms, parmesan cheese, onion and garlic.

Parmesan cheese, onion, garlic and mushrooms

Now, I didn’t bother to look up the various types of mushrooms, I’m vaguely aware of what some of them are, but if anyone would like to identify them for me on the comments, that would be appreciated.

I roughly chopped up most of the mushrooms, but reserved the darker slender bunch for garnish at the end.

Chopped mushrooms

The next step, before the cooking of the risotto proper was to saute the mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil (in a separate pan), and set them aside. The key here is to saute them just enough that they are cooked, but not so they start losing their water and juice content.

Sauteing the mushrooms

Now for the fun bit. First of all, put the stock in a pot and bring to a very gentle simmer on the stove. Don’t let it boil, as not only will this impair the flavour, but you want to reserve as much as possible, while keeping it hot and ready to ladle into the rice. When you’ve done this soften some butter and oil in a pan and gently saute the onions and garlic until soft, but be careful not to let them brown to much or burn. Then add the rice and saute for a couple of minutes. This process cracks the surface of the rice grains, and enables them to absorb the flavoursome stock later in the cooking process.

Sauteing the rice

When the rice has been sauteing for a couple of minutes, add a glass of white wine, in this case it was a crisp Pinot Grigio:

Add a glass of white wine.

When the wine has been absorbed by the rice it’s time to start adding the stock, one ladle at a time. The important thing here is to keep the rice moving constantly, so the stock is absorbed evenly, without the rice sticking to the bottom.

Adding the stock

I tend to stir in a rough “figure of eight” type pattern, as you can see from the action shot below. I find this keeps everything moving in a satisfactory manner.

Stirring

When the rice acquires a nice plump appearance, it’s almost done and time to add the mushrooms. If you taste a grain, it should be al dente but not quite done.

Rice almost done

Add the previously sauteed mushrooms at this stage and stir through.

Add the mushrooms

This is now the time to saute the mushrooms reserved for the garnish. I used the pan just vacated by the previously sauteed mushrooms….

Saute the garnish mushrooms

While these are sauteing away happily, add the grated parmesan cheese to the risotto and stir through:

Add the cheese...

Only after adding the cheese did I test and adjust for salt, seeing as the cheese adds so much salt from itself.
By this time the garnish mushrooms should be nicely browned, so take them off the heat.

Garnish mushrooms

All that’s left now is to serve up with a glass of the aforementioned crisp Pinot Grigio.
The risotto was everything you would expect: rich, creamy, unctuous, satisfying, comforting (I’m trying not to sound too much like Nigella or Nigel here)….

Risotto served...

A couple of days later, I still had half of the chicken stock left. It had been in the fridge, so now had taken on a jellified form. I had to exercise a considerable amount of willpower to stop myself from just eating it with a spoon.

Jellified chicken stock

When I had mastered my desire, I decided a suitable course to take to use the stock would be another risotto, but of a completely different nature to the previous one. I settled on chorizo with smoked paprika picante, with fresh peas, courgettes and a fried sage garnish.
You could argue I suppose that a risotto with chorizo and especially paprika in it is more of a Spanish than Italian dish, but I’m afraid I’m no great respecter of tradition where food is concerned. If I can use what’s in my fridge and make it tasty, I’ll make any ingredient from anywhere into any dish of any description.
First thing I did was to place the chorizo sausages in a separate pan for an initial browning, to make them easier to slice up:

Chorizo

Cooked them until they were this brown:

Browned chorizo

The sausages were then chopped and fried in a pan with onion and garlic, and to this I added a teaspoon of the delicious smoked paprika picante.

Fry the sliced chorizo with chopped onion and garlic, and add the smoked paprika picante..

When the paprika was fried for a minute or two, I took the pan off the heat and set my stock on to simmer:
I then prepared my veg. First shelled some nice fresh peas:

Shelled fresh peas

…and chopped some organic courgettes from the Farmer’s Market:

Chopped courgettes

I then put the pan containing the sausages back on the heat and added the rice. When the rice had received it’s initial frying, I again added a nice  glug of Pinot Grigio.

Add the wine

When the wine had been completely absorbed by the rice, I added the peas and courgettes, and started to stir in the stock:

Adding the stock

This time I did take a break of a few seconds while stirring in order to chop some fresh sage.
I chopped most of the leaves and reserved a few to fry for the garnish.

Fresh sage

When the rice was pretty much done, I added in the fresh sage:

Adding the fresh sage...

While the sage was warming through the risotto, I fried the remaining leaves in a little olive oil for a garnish until crisp. This only takes a few seconds:

Frying the sage...

The Risotto was now ready to serve out, garnished with the sage and, again, a glass of the afore mentioned Pinot Grigio.
It was wholly delicious, the chorizo adding an earthy meaty flavour to the already rich chicken stock with the peas and courgettes retaining a freshness and the sage a very agreeable subtle crunch.

The risotto served out....

I can say one thing for sure at the end of all this. It’s worth freezing your chicken bones… 🙂

A bit of holiday cooking (and reading)

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

I do like to read.

So when the opportunity came up to visit my parents, brother, sister, brother in law and niece and nephew at a nice villa in the South of France (Languedoc) the other week I jumped at the chance.
The idea was that while not contributing to the holiday per se, I would cook for everyone, thus saving money overall on the inevitable meals out and takeaways which would have otherwise drained the financial resources.

The problem with reading for me is that, doing what I do, there are really no set hours for work and relaxation as such.
This last year and a half or so, I seem to have been touring rather a lot (Us3, Jim Mullen, Marlena Shaw, Mica Paris, Boy George – each different band presents a different dynamic as to convenient reading opportunities) and although, as you can imagine, there is sometimes a lot of sitting around, I tend not to get through too many books on the road, the main inhibiting factors being (not necessarily in this order):

  • Alcohol – although a couple of drinks sometimes enhance my enjoyment of a book, one too many and I can’t remember what I’ve read when sobered up.
  • Travel –  I can’t read in a car or a minibus, and although it is possible to read on the tourbus, there’s too often distracting activity like DVD watching, animated conversation or the aforementioned  alcohol in commencement at any one time.
  • Noise – A lot of sitting around can occur in soundchecks, but have you ever tried to read with a bass drum or tom tom being played repetitively at high volume through a large PA for the purposes of equalization?
  • Cabin fever – I tend to find it difficult to read for prolonged periods when confined to a small space like a hotel room.
  • Unsettlement – At airports waiting for the gate number to appear, one is always looking up at the screen in the waiting lounge, thus providing an unwelcome break in concentration.
  • Unsocial flight times – A fair amount of flights that we take are often very early in the morning, so while reading on the plane is an option, I’m more likely to want to sleep if possible.

And when at home I equate reading with not doing something constructive (not quite true I know), so I’m much more likely to get to work in the studio or at the piano.
I can get really into reading first thing in the morning (a couple of years ago I got through quite a few Iris Murdoch books just this way), but it does tend blunt my concentration for a couple of hours afterwards, as well as taking up half the day so I rarely do this anymore.

SO when the opportunity came up to go on the holiday, the first thing I did was get the books I wanted to read. Last year I did the same thing, but took the wrong book (I took Crime and Punishment – and while I enjoyed reading the book as a whole, I remember being aware that it didn’t necessarily equate to my idea of relaxing by the pool with a beer)

I took 3 books with me this time:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird – we read this at school I’m sure, but like a lot of things at school, I didn’t invest much attention or effort to it. Reading it again was a much more enjoyable experience.
  • The Life of Pi – couldn’t put this down. Very imaginative, humorous, informative, entertaining, and also lots of references to South Indian food – which is always a good thing.
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Am halfway through this at the moment. Thoroughly engrossing characterizations and fascinating historical perspective.

I also did a lot of cooking. The ingredients and produce available at even the most humble French supermarkets always has me fascinated and brimming with ideas (however, since most of the people I was cooking for were not nearly as wildly liberal or adventurous in taste as myself, I was unable to realize many of these ideas).

But I endeavored to make some nice grub anyhow.

Here’s what I cooked:

Sausage and cheese frittata

When I arrived on the Sunday, we discovered all the supermarkets were closed, so I had to rustle something up from what was in the villa already, and what we could acquire from a local service station shop. There was a box of 6 eggs in the villa along with some herbs, and olive oil, and not much else. The service station sold packs of luncheon meat style sausage, and some nice looking Cantal Juene cheese, which is a young cow’s milk cheese, firm in texture and fruity in flavour. I sliced and fried the sausage, drained the fat from the pan, put the sausage meat in once again and added the beaten eggs with some herbs and black pepper. My intention was to then add the grated cheese on top and brown under the grill to cook the top of the eggs and cheese. But… we then discovered that the grill would only operate with the oven door closed, and I didn’t want to commit the frying pan to this unrelenting heat, so I heated up the oven, then opened it and let the top of the frittata firm up in the residual heat. Not ideal, but did the job OK…. the result being a slightly guey cheese underside to the omelette, which was not at all unpleasant, though a bit messy to cut up…

The next day, we got to the supermarket and stocked up on supplies.

Chicken casserole cooked in white wine with green peppers, olives and bay

The meal that night was a simple but very tasty rustic chicken casserole cooked in white wine and stock, with sliced green peppers, olives, onions, garlic, bay and herbs. It was served with mash potatoes and steamed green beans:

Chicken casserole served with mash and beans

…and accompanied by bread with oil and balsemic vinegar (a constant companion to food that week):

Bread and oil with balsemic

The next morning I made another frittata, this time with sausage and sliced courgettes.
I put the courgettes on the bottom of the pan and the sausages on top, so it appeared like this in the pan:

Sausage and courgette frittata in the pan...

…and took on this lovely appearance when upended onto a plate:

Sausage and courgette frittata

Now before I go any further, I must admit that I did totally steal the idea for an upended courgette frittata from the wonderful blog “Lou Loves Food”  … which is packed with amazing photos and absorbing writing, and I can highly recommend it…. so thanks Lou.. 😉

That evening I decided on making some Indian food ….. yes I’m aware that may not be the most obvious option in the South of France, but my mind was made up as soon as I saw the beautiful mutton on offer in the supermarket. Mutton is a meat less than commonly available in the UK, and it rewards slow patient cooking with the most succulent and flavoursome dishes.

I bought some chopped shoulder (on the bone) pieces to make a curry with tomato and aubergine, and some ribs to make what is known as a “Bone Pepperwater”. This is a meat variation on the standard pepperwater (rasam) which is a soup consistency dish made with tomatoes, lemon, tamarind and spices.

The only problem with all this is that I was somewhat limited in the choice of spices available in the supermarket. I managed to get fresh garlic and ginger, and eventually found a premixed curry powder (not something I normally like to use) which seemed to have a good balance of coriander, cumin, tumeric, mustard and fenugreek in it.

The aubergine in the curry was cooked separately with onions, ginger and garlic (a trick I recently picked up off my mother) and added during the last 1/2 hour, which helps to preserve not only it’s texture, but flavour as well. The curry itself simmered slowly for 5 hours.

Mutton curry with aubergine and tomatoes

The bone pepperwater was made with some fresh vegetables (carrots and courgetttes), plenty of lemon and also some paprika, which I found in the villa. The mutton ribs do add the most amazing stocky earthy flavour to this dish, it must be said.

Mutton "Bone Pepperwater"

After the curry, I thought it would be a good idea to cook fish the next day both from a time and simplicity point of view.
The fish counter at the “Intermarche” was of course vastly superior to my local supermarket.
I eventually settled for some lovely fresh perch fillets, which I roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic  vinegar, bay and salt.
I gave the tomatoes a start of about 15-20 mins in an 180degC oven, then simply popped the perch fillets on top, cooked for a further 10 mins and it was done:

Perch fillets roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and bay..

There was not much need to serve this with anything else but that perennial king of juice mopper-uppers: fresh french bread:

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

The next day was to be barbecue day. However, here I failed in my duty as a blogger and recorder of events since due to the distractions of reading, swimming, table tennis and drinking, I didn’t start the fire in time and so even though I made lots of food, the only picture I managed to take before it went dark was of some balsamic chilli prawns. (I have an iPhone so am unfortunately at the mercy of the light).
Just for the record though, I did also make salmon and courgette kebabs, aubergine and red pepper kebabs, 2 types of sausages and chicken in a Mexican marinade.

Prawns in a balsamic and chilli marinade

One advantage of being in the centre of wine producing country was that there was an abundance of vineyards with completely quaffable red wine on tap at an amazing price. (€1-€1.50 a litre).
Had I the time or opportunity I would have loved to avail myself of some of the delicious looking lambs hearts in the supermarket and braise them in red wine for hours until tender… This meal unfortunately would not have been very popular with the others:

Red wine on tap.....

The final day of cooking was also the least intensive since there was a lot of packing, cleaning of the villa etc to be done before vacating, I opted to cook a simple sausage pasta with a tomato and red wine sauce. Despite appearing fairly ordinary, it was most enjoyable, due to the high quality of the sausagemeat:

Sausage and tomato pasta.....

All in all an enjoyable chance to read, cook, swim and relax…… now, back to the piano I think….

Fusilli pasta with asparagus and pancetta in a dolcelatte and cream sauce

I woke up this morning thinking of asparagus.

Not that it’s especially unusual for me to wake up thinking of food, but it’s normally more of a breakfast type of fayre that draws my thoughts in the morning – and not just fry ups. There seems to be a tri-parity (I’m aware this isn’t a regular term, but you get my drift) between the full English option and a fancying for  the more simple arrangement of marmite or marmalade on toast or (all with real butter of course)..

I do like asparagus of course, as I do most veg – a fact that I could happily present you with the year round, but it’s only at this time of year that I remember that I really like asparagus.
The reason for this annual epiphany is the fact that the English (or more correctly British) asparagus season starts in late April and continues until about mid June.
This fresh, and often locally grown  produce certainly ranks amongst the finest tasting veg I’ve ever eaten. I’m convinced I’m not imagining it’s flavoursome superiority over the imported varieties one can purchase throughout the rest of the year from supermarkets. Maybe it’s the food miles thing..?
Also, fresh green asparagus is not to be confused with the pickled white asparagus to be had in salad form on the continent, which, pleasant as it is, is a completely different animal…(I mean vegetable of course)..

For this dish, I imagined the juicy asparagus as a counterpoint to the small salty bites of pancetta, and coated in the creamy, clingy dolcelatte sauce – as I was eating my marmite on toast.
Just a small aside here: does anybody else out there find that reading cookery books or watching gastronomic TV programmes (or in this case, me imagining my dinner to come) improves the experience of what is essentially a very basic snack..? Or is it just me…?

Anyhow, I find fusilli pasta to be the best for these type of creamy sauces, since the shape of the pasta helps to hold its coating better.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients for the dish

  • Fusilli pasta – enough for 2 people
  • Some pancetta
  • A bunch of fresh asparagus
  • Some dolcelatte cheese (about 100g)
  • Some single cream (about 150ml)
  • A small onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic

FIRST….spread some of the delicious dolcelatte cheese onto some small Italian crackers, so you can nibble while you’re cooking (along with the odd swig of wine of course..!)

Necessary snacking material

THEN….. fry the pancetta in some olive oil. Meanwhile, chop the onion and garlic finely.
When browned remove the pancetta onto some kitchen paper to absorb excess grease, and drain and wipe the pan.

Pancetta frying with onion and garlic at the ready

Soften the onion and garlic in a little butter and oil
Add a the dolcelatte and cream to the pan and heat gently until the cheese starts to melt.

The cream and dolcelatte just in the pan

Meanwhile, prepare your asparagus: Chop the woody ends off the stalks, and then chop the stems into small pieces, and chop off the spears whole.
Arrange in the steamer, cover, and steam (or boil) for about 5-7 mins until done to your preference.
Also, put your pasta on at this point…

Asparagus in the steamer

Keep the sauce on low and continue stirring to prevent from burning.
Drain the pasta when done, and remove the asparagus from the steamer.
Separate the spears from the smaller chopped stalk pieces and set aside.
Add the stalk pieces to the sauce along with the pancetta and heat through.

Sauce with the pancetta and asparagus stem pieces added

Add the pasta to the pan, toss with the sauce until coated evenly.

Toss the pasta in the sauce

Serve, garnishing each dish with the spears and some freshly ground black pepper.

The dish served out with a nice glass of white wine....