Oven-Dried Tomatoes

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Three varieties of oven-dried tomatoes

Introduction

It has been a year since I posted this recipe. A number of you asked me how long the tomatoes will last. I can now reveal that they retain an excellent flavour for 3-6 months, but mine began to degrade after that. Full disclosure: I didn't exactly follow my own storage advice and instead had them in full view, they look so pretty, so this winter they are going into a cool dark cupboard. Promise :)

The climate in Misse is perfect for growing tomatoes, but for sun-dried tomatoes, you need an intense heat and a very long season, such as that found in Sicily or Southern Spain. Oven drying is an excellent substitute.

We have three smaller varieties of tomato growing in the kitchen garden.
San Marzano - the celebrated Italian sauce tomato, we have grown a small variety
Red Pear - a beauty on the vine, very sweet and a little bigger than a cherry tomato
Sun Belle - golden colour, intense sweetness and cherry-sized when ripe
We are treating each variety according to its moisture content. This also allows you to compare what adding different ingredients brings to the flavour. Here is a pasta recipe that makes good use of them.

Tagliatelle with Duck Ragu

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Duck Ragu

Introduction

In the autumn and winter I like to use whatever meat is plentiful in my ragu. Wild rabbit and wild boar (with bitter chocolate) are particular favourites, lamb shanks can be fantastic, goose too.

I made this version with duck legs mostly drumsticks, but you can substitute any of the meats mentioned above. The secret is to use cuts of meat that require long slow cooking.

Wild or domestic duck are equally good, but the wild bird will take longer to cook.

Sweet Potato or Squash Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce

Sweet Potato or Squash Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce

Introduction

Thanksgiving and Christmas are times to celebrate but they can also be used to innovate in the kitchen. I am happy to be constrained by “traditional” ingredients as long as I am free to choose what to do with them.

The reason for scare quotes: traditional = old bad habit, constraint and enemy of innovation; I have little time for it.

I came up with this dish for a Thanksgiving dinner in Atlanta a couple of years ago. We had sent our guests a wide list of ingredients and asked them to choose the flavours that they most associated with Thanksgiving, celebration and autumn/fall. This dish, one of many small courses that we served, was a result of their choices.

I had wanted to do something with sweet potato that showed it in a different light. The dish is equally good with sweet potato or squash, but look for a Potimarron or Hokkaido squash, they are less moist which is essential.

Zucchini Bread with Dates & Walnuts

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Zucchini Bread with Dates & Walnuts

Introduction

At the end of our summer squash season we ended up, as you often do, with a couple of giant zucchini\courgettes. They are best eaten when smaller, but were perfect for these loaves.

To readers outside the U.S. think cake rather than bread, this is not savoury. The nearest things I can compare it to are a carrot cake and the Jamaican Ginger cakes that were popular when I was growing up in the UK.

Roasted Vegetables

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Roasted Vegetables

Introduction

For a great plate of roasted vegetables, you need a good balance of textures and flavours. Use too many root vegetables and it can be too sweet, though turnips will help offset that. Fresh herbs will give fragrance to the dish.

Use a combination of four or more of the following six categories: (1) potato and\or sweet potato, (2) squash and\or courgette\zucchini, (3) aubergine\eggplant, (4) root vegetables, (5) broccoli and\or cauliflower and (6) onions (red for colour) and a head of garlic.

We made the plate pictured above to serve alongside Porchetta and Aubergines\Eggplants with Oven-Dried Plums; for that reason we left aubergines\eggplants out. The roasted garlic at the center is always a crowd pleaser.

All of the vegetables needed are in abundance right now and should be inexpensive from now until the end of winter, so have fun with your choices and go with the best of the season.

Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto

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Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto

Introduction

I have or thought I had a 'Zucca piena di Napoli' squash growing, a rare Italian variety with a beautiful blue-ish green hue. While I was away last week it turned a pale tan colour because it is actually butternut squash. No complaints butternut has an excellent flavour and is particularly good in risotto and soup.

I let the squash, the whopper pictured below which weighed 2.2kg (almost 5lbs), mature a day or two more on the vine and then let it sit for a couple of days once cut to allow it to dry a little. This concentrates the flavour.

Any firm autumn\winter squash will work. I am looking forward to experimenting with some of the varieties that we have planted in the kitchen garden; let's hope they don't all turn out to be butternut.

Chard Gratin

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Chard Gratin

Introduction

We have grown more varities of chard than I knew existed. In the kitchen garden you will see Rainbow\Bright Lights, Silverbeet, Spinach Beet. On the other side of the garden we have what the French refer to as Cardes. The wine bottle pictured is for perspective, not because of a wild party in the vegetable garden.

You'll see cardes in French markets with the leaves bundled on top of each other. The stalks have an excellent flavour and can be substituted in any recipe that calls for cardoons (for the first month, that's what I thought I was growing).

Most chard recipes will tell you to cut off the stalks leaving just the spinach-like leaves. The leaves can be treated like spinach, see Suggestion below. What the recipes neglect to mention is that when you discard with the stalks, you dispense with the essence of chard, because while the leaves are good, the stalks are wonderful. This recipe shows you one simple way to cook them.

Blackberry Jam\Jelly with Star Anise

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Blackberry Jam\Jelly with Star Anise

Introduction

There is an abundance of wild blackberries around us. Last week we picked at least 10k\22lb of them. Some went into a Southern cobbler (recipe to come), but the rest were destined for jam\jelly.

My issue with blackberries: the seeds; I can't bear them. So seeds out, but I needed to know if they improve the flavour, so we ran an experiment.

We blended the blackberries raw, then de-seeded them using a kitchenaid with the fruit/vegetable strainer attachement. We then made two batches of jam\jelly, one with a muslin\cheesecloth bag of seeds and skin, the other without. To my great surprise our group thought that the jam made without seeds had the fuller earthier flavour.

I should also mention that the jams\jellies that we have been making are what I refer to as 'adult' jams and jellies. The 1-to-1 proportion of sugar to fruit makes sense for commercial producers, but using less increases the concentration of fruit and the flavour.

Oven-Dried Plums

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Oven-Dried Plums

Introduction

This was an experiment from last week, that turned out very well. A friend brought me a large bowl of Quetsch plums. It's a variety commonly grown in Alsace and is most often used to make tarts, plum brandy and Slivovitz. We already had 'Liqueur de fruits' scheduled for our course this week, so wanted to try something else.

We have been preparing oven-dried tomatoes so it struck me that this might also work with plums. I discovered that Martha Stewart had given this a whirl some years ago, but I wanted purer flavours.

The resultant dried plums can be used for sweet or savoury dishes. I have posted a recipe combining some of them with aubergines\eggplants.

Artichokes alla Misse

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Artichokes alla Misse

Introduction

We have been growing artichokes in the garden, but I mistakenly planted a globe variety. I have decided to let these bloom (see photo below) and will then replace them with 'violet de provence' artichokes for next year.

Catherine de Medici is credited with introducing Artichokes to the French Court in the first half of the 16th Century. By the end of the century artichokes were cultivated throughout France, Spain and Italy. Britian never succumbed to the artichoke's charms and to this day, they are a rarer sight.

This recipe uses the 'violet' variety of artichoke. This variety is normally about 5cm\2 inches in diameter and more elongated than the globe varieties.

I have given a lot of visual tips on handling artichokes to help those less familiar with them.

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