Tempted by a Tomatillo? Only if they are Curried.

Tomatillo? What’s that I here you cry… Well the official answer is the Mexican relative of a cape gooseberry and here are some examples:

Now I know they look under ripe and not very tempting, but after a couple of weeks of experimenting due to their arrival in our veg box, I think I might have the measure of them.

We started off trying them raw in a salad, always a good place to start I think. They are fairly hard and quite sour so whilst that was fine, we moved on to incorporating them in a guacamole style salsa to go with a chilli.

Now that worked really well: into a bowl combine some chopped avocado and equal quantities of chopped tomato and tomatillo. Mash together a little and add some chopped coriander and a little salt and pepper. The sourness of the tomatillos removes the need for lime juice.

Then last night I thought they might work well in a curry and so made my version of Cornish Chicken Curry. Cornish Chicken Curry!! What can be Cornish about Mexican fruits or Indian Curry. Ah well, Cornish Chicken Curry is by definition a dish of ‘using up stuff’ and what do we all have half a jar of in the fridge? A jar of curry paste, along with a few bits and pieces of veg which are looking long past their sell by date and the omnipresent store cupboard staple, a tin of tomatoes.

So this version of the curry went something like this (for 4): fry off a couple of smallish thinly sliced onions in a slug of oil for 5 minutes or so until soft and then add 2 cloves of chopped garlic, a sliced green chilli and 1 cm or 2 of grated fresh ginger. Stir all that around for 2 or 3 minutes, add some diced chicken (around 400-500g) and stir frequently until the chicken has coloured on all sides and then add a couple of tablespoons of curry paste, the tomato based ones work best like Balti or Rogan Josh. Add a diced pepper, 5 or 6 chopped tomatillos and any other veg you fancy, a tin of tomatoes and a cup of water, allow to come to the boil and simmer until the chicken and veg are cooked through. Season if required and serve with rice. The tomatillos again give a lovely sharp tang to the dish and do retain their form like peppers, a real winner.

Chicken curry essentially all looks the same so I haven’t taken a picture of that, but here’s the salad we tried: baby beetroot, potato, smoked salmon, samphire, dill and goat’s cheese. The tomatillos were superfluous frankly but the rest was nice enough. Top with a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds.

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Mediterranean Chicken Stew

Quite honestly this could be called Mediterranean Hunter’s Stew as rabbit would work just as well, almost better perhaps, in terms of authentic-ness. These hearty tomato based dishes are fabulous and with the very average weather we are having here, just the job.

This one is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe which features in his book: Jamie’s Italy. But the basis of it can be found in any substantial book on Italian food or French for that matter. On the subject of Jamie Oliver, I am a fan of his recipes, preferring the earlier stuff (The Naked Chef) and the travel writing. He feels as bit overexposed to me at the moment, but I love his energy and the endless stream of ideas that he acts upon.

Serves 6

2 kg of Chicken pieces, preferably on the bone and skin on, Salt and Pepper, 8 Bay Leaves, 2 Sprigs of Rosemary, 2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled, ½ bottle of Italian, French or Spanish Red Wine, Flour, Olive Oil, 6 Anchovy Fillets, a tin of Fragata Lemon Stuffed Olives, 2 tins of Tomatoes ultimately chopped, zest of a Lemon, 2 small or 1 large Fennel Bulb, sliced, 5-10g dried Porcini Mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes in boiling water.

OK, so a least an hour before you plan to start cooking this marinate the meat in a large bowl with the wine, seasoning, bay leaves, rosemary and garlic. Cover and pop in the fridge.

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160-165°C. Drain the chicken, retain the marinade, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place on a plate and sprinkle with flour to absorb any residual liquid.
  • In a large casserole (Le Crueset) add 2-3 tbsp of Oil and fry off the meat pieces, a few at a time, over a moderate heat until lightly browned on the surface all over, transfer to a new plate before adding the next batch to the pan.
  • Once all the pieces are browned add a little more oil to the casserole and gently fry the fennel slices for a minute or two and then once they are tinged brown at the edges, return the meat pieces  to the casserole along with the marinade, anchovy fillets, olives, tomatoes, and the soaked but drained porcini mushrooms.
  • Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours for the chicken, but if you are adventurous enough to try rabbit it may take up to 2 hours.
  • When you think you are nearly done, remove from the oven, skim off any fat and remove the bay leaves and rosemary sprigs. Then check the seasoning and add the lemon zest. Return to the oven for 5 more minutes.

Serve with bread and salad, beans or Jacket potatoes. Yummy.

Fragata Olives are the tins of olives from Spain which are readily available in supermarkets, but any olives will do, a good handful.

Peto Garden Risotto

The Gardens at Iford Manor were designed by Harold Peto. Harold Peto was strongly influenced by Italian gardens he had visited. I adore anything Italian. Therefore, I love the gardens at Iford Manor. Luckily for me Iford Manor is literally down the road.

I took some pictures on Easter Sunday, so around a month ago. Here are some of the best, it’s the easiest place to photograph, picturesque barely covers it but the light was as flat as a mill-pond so I’ve done what I can in Photoshop.

First off the architectural ones:

I like the strange leaded lights and the shadow the branch produces

Gorgeous embellishments

Loving the Loggia

The overriding smell was that of wild garlic that grew in such abundance that it flowed like a river in places and so that got me thinking about risotto as a perfect use for it.

Both wild garlic leaves or wet garlic which is like a giant spring onion can be used in following recipe and the flavour is subtle here not punchy, sharp and leaving you reaching for the mints.

Butternut Squash and Garlic Risotto (serves 2)

As is usual with these things begin by bringing 600ml of vegetable stock (use a stock cube) to simmering point in a saucepan on the back of the hob and then fry off a small to medium finely chopped onion in a large heavy bottomed saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Once transparent, add a sliced wet garlic bulb (prepare as you would a spring onion) if using and a finely chopped stick of celery. Stir that around for a minute or two and then add 200g of Arborio or Carnaroli risotto rice and stir again to coat the rice with the oil. Add a slug of white wine if you wish and then begin adding a ladle full or two of stock and stir regularly as the liquid is absorbed. Add half a chopped medium-sized butternut squash and some more stock and keep stirring regularly again until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock and stir repeatedly for 10 – 15 minutes until the rice is almost tender. If using wild garlic leaves, you will need a good handful, washed and roughly chopped, add these now and allow to wilt. Grate in a little parmesan cheese and a knob of unsalted butter and continue to stir until everything is combined and melted. Check the seasoning and serve in bowls with additional parmesan grated over and a little black pepper.

If you feel you need to make this a little more substantial: chopped bacon can be added with the celery, shredded, cooked chicken towards the end of the stock absorption process (check it is piping hot before serving) or steamed purple sprouting broccoli can be laid on the rice once cooked. A multitude of options to suit.

Back to a few more pictures:

They hold Opera and Jazz concerts here on barmy summer evenings. Idyllic… Check Iford Arts link for details.

Biryani for Beginners

Image

It is still the Easter School Holidays. The kids are at home and so there isn’t much time for a finely honed blog post.

I thought I might try the quick post function.

I cannot profess to be an authority when it comes to making curry. Friends and family seem to own books on the subject with words in the title like ‘Bible’. The only curry recipe book I have at home features in the picture above and is called ‘Let’s eat Indian at home’! For ages I thought it was more snappily entitled ‘Let eat Indian tonight!’ It’s in a series; one could be eating Italian, Mexican or Chinese instead. I can’t say I even follow the recipes that closely, just absorbing a feel for what ingredients and spices are necessary to distinguish my saags from my bhunas. I don’t seem to have the time for the full recipes either so usually invent and as usual that is what happened last night.

My Biryani worked out very well though, I knew what I was aiming for in principle but in the end I don’t think this is authentic in any way as I went entirely off-piste in construction. Like with all these things it is a bit of a effort, a 2-stage process, but surprisingly quick as well. This serves 4.

So there are 2 parts to this, a tomato and spinach sauce and the biryani. I will list the ingredients out as we go along but the biryani can optionally include 30g each of soaked sultanas and toasted flaked almonds. Therefore, if using, before you even get to the tomato sauce you need to soak the sultanas in a bowl of boiling water.

Stage One – The Tomato Sauce

¼ medium Onion, chopped, 1 tbsp flavourless Oil, crushed clove of Garlic, good pinch Chilli flakes, ½ tsp ground Ginger, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cumin, pinch of Asafoetida, 1 red pepper, sliced, 1 tin of Tomatoes, chopped, or ½ tin of Passata, a handful of Spinach leaves, roughly chopped, 1 tsp chopped Mint, salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onion, fry over a moderate heat until transparent and tinged brown round the edges, add the garlic, stir round for 30 seconds or so, add all the spices and stir again for another 30 seconds. Add the pepper, coat with the oil and spices and then add the tomatoes or passata, season, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally whist you make the biyani. If using passata you may need to slacken the sauce with recently boiled water from the kettle to prevent it from drying out.

Stage Two – The Biryani

350g Basmati rice, 800ml just boiled water, some left over roast lamb or chicken if you wish, chopped, ¾ Onion, sliced, 2 tbsp flavourless Oil, crushed clove of Garlic, 1 tsp finely chopped Ginger or ½ tsp of ground, pinch of Chilli flakes to taste, 1 tsp ground Coriander, 2 tsp Cumin, 1 tsp Turmeric, pinch of Garam Masala, 4 or 5 Mushrooms, sliced, juice of 1 Lemon, good handful of frozen Peas, salt and pepper, optionally 30g each of flaked Almonds, toasted and the soaked Sultanas, fresh Coriander to serve if you have it.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 165°C. In something like a Le Creuset casserole, heat the oil and fry the onion again gently until tinged brown round the edges, then add the garlic, ginger and spices except the Garam Masala and fry again for a minute or so, add the meat, if using, and mushrooms and coat in the spices. Then add the rice and again coat in the spices and cook for a minute stirring continuously. Add 600ml of the boiled water, stir again to combine and once the liquid is bubbling, season, cover and pop into the oven for 15 minutes. Whilst that is cooking, toast the flaked almonds in a frying pan without oil over a moderate heat, shaking the pan frequently. This only takes a minute or so then remove from the heat and set aside. Drain the sultanas and set aside too.

Once the 15 minutes is up take the casserole out of the oven, stir the rice mixture which should look pretty much cooked, add the peas, lemon juice, Garam Masala and remaining 200ml of recently boiled water, stir through and return, covered, to the oven for 5 more minutes.

Add the mint and spinach to the tomato sauce and stir through until the spinach is wilted. Check the seasoning.

Once the 5 minutes is up, remove biryani from oven, fork through and add the almonds and sultanas if using. Sprinkle with fresh coriander.

Serve a bed of the biryani with a garnish of tomato sauce on top.

The kids coped fairly well with this, obviously you can tailor the chilli heat to suit and leave out almonds and sultanas to give a more child-friendly spicy rice dish which would be enjoyable on its own. Ours really liked the rice; the tomato/spinach sauce – not so much!

Barely got your hat off Chicken Noodle Soup

I always remember a wise member of my family quoting an expression her mother used to use regarding those occasions where you come bursting through the front door, and for whatever reason, a meal should have been on the table 10 minutes beforehand. She described it as ‘being in such a rush to get started on the cooking that she had barely got her hat off’. I know the feeling, chopping in your coat, frequently in fact and today was such a day.

We had been travelling home from our weekend away and despite having left plenty of time (and thank goodness we had), we were starting to run late. It was a lengthier trip than usual due to downpours, copious roadworks, heaps of traffic, the gods conspiring to send every traffic light we approached red and some extremely dawdle-y type individuals. Child 1 needed to be at cricket practice (yes that’s right, cricket) more or less upon arrival home and guess what – needed some tea before he went.

What do you cook at such a moment – barely got your hat off, practically store cupboard Chicken Noodle Soup.

I had had the foresight to buy the cooked chicken you need, those packets of ready roasted chicken (breast or legs) or even thickly sliced chargrilled chicken are perfect for this, but as it’s Monday you might have left over Roast Chicken knocking about.

So for 2 medium sized children:

to a saucepan add a chicken stock cube, about 800mls to 1 litre of boiling water, 2 tbsp each of mirin and soy sauce (reduced salt is fine), 2 layers of Sharwoods medium egg noodles, broken up a fair bit, a good handful of frozen peas and/or sweetcorn (or whatever you think you can get away with) and an amount of cooked shredded chicken equivalent to a chicken breast or so. Allow the whole lot to come to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes or so until the noodles are cooked and the chicken is piping hot. Check the broth for seasoning, you can always add a little more soy sauce if necessary. Ladle into bowls and supply those conjoined chopsticks or a fork and also a spoon. Perfect.

Mine love this and not just because it is quick.

Adults may eat it too, but you might need to get a bit more creative, assuming time and scope. One might add a little chilli, flakes or fresh, mushrooms, fresh coriander etc.

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