Saturday, 30 May 2009

How to impress a brilliant cook: Casserole of Slow-Cooked Pork Neck with Potatoes, Lemon, Thyme and Garlic

Picture this: in a moment of drunken foolishness, you invited a brilliant cook, or a famous chef, or the best caterer on earth, to dinner. Now you're gazing bleakly into your fridge, scratching your head and wondering how you're going to whip up a jus, a froth, and a parfait of double-glazed liver of Galapagos Partridge Napped with Sea-Urchin Reduction, using only potatoes, an elderly carrot, and a few fossils of Cheddar.

This wasn't exactly my situation last Wednesday, but it came close. My old friend Bertrand, who occasionally drops in for dinner when he's in Johannesburg for a night, en route to Burundi, is a brilliant cook with a very fine palate (he's French, duh). It's not that Bert's fussy or snobby - not in the least - but he is a foodie of note, and he's someone who takes the greatest care, and makes a huge effort (thanks for those fresh crayfish, Bert!) whenever he invites me and my ilk to dinner at his home in Cape Town.

So what to make? How would I warm the cockles of Bertrand's heart? Well, experience has taught me that the way to the heart of a real cook is to choose a dead-simple, heart-warming, honest country dish, to cook it slowly and lovingly, and to use the very best ingredients.

I have always followed the wonderful advice given by Fay Maschler and Elizabeth Jane Howard in their book Cooking for Occasions. Ruminating about the worry of having a famous chef or cook to dinner, they write, in their chapter 'Having a Roux Brother to Dinner':

'Imagining, having, say, a Roux brother to dinner fleshes out the worry of inviting someone to your house whose knowledge and skills in connection with food you assume to be vastly superior to your own. What you must keep in mind when faced with this scenario is that professional cooks and chefs value well-sourced, wholesome ingredients treated simply and respectfully. In their own life they come across too much teased and tormented "luxury" food... and they like nothing better than a dish such as plainly roasted chicken served with its buttery juices and a watercress salad and a homely pudding such as a carefully made creamy rice pudding. They are thrilled to have the tables turned and are usually ready to love everything you put in front of them, exclaiming over perfectly ordinary assemblies as if it had never occurred to them to prepare them.'

And that's a useful piece of advice. Bert really liked this (whew) and so did my other foodie friend Mike Karamanof (another whew!), who dropped in just as I whipped the dish out of the oven.

This is my version of an Italian dish of wild boar with potatoes that I saw being prepared on Rick Stein's TV series Mediterranean Escapes; the dish was traditionally cooked by soldiers, said Stein, between two shields. It's dead simple, with few ingredients, and no extra liquid: very similar, in fact, to a Lancashire Hotpot.

This dish serves 10-12, but is easily halved.

Slow-Cooked Pork Neck with Potatoes, Thyme, Lemon and Garlic

2/3 cup (160 ml) good olive oil
10 big potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-cm slices
2 big onions, peeled, halved vertically and thinly sliced
2 pork necks (2.4 kg, about 1.2 kg each), trimmed of excess fat and cut vertically into 10-mm 'steaks'.
8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely sliced
6 sprigs of fresh thyme (sage is also good, but use only two sprigs)
1 cup (250 ml) chopped flat-leaf parsley
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a knob of butter

Preheat the oven to 130°C. Pour a little olive oil into the bottom of a big cast-iron pot or casserole dish. Add a single layer of sliced potatoes and one-third of the sliced onions. Season with a little salt and pepper. Now put 4-5 slices of pork on top and sprinkle with some sliced garlic, thyme, parsley, and lemon rind. Squeeze over a little lemon juice and olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Top with another layer of potato slices, and continue layering in the same pattern, finishing with a solid layer of overlapping potato slices.

Cut a circle of tin foil to the same size as the dish, butter it generously, and place it, butter side down, directly on the top layer of potatoes. Place a heavy plate or dish on top of the foil, so that the contents of the casserole are are weighed down. Place the dish in the oven and cook at 130°C for three to four hours, or until the pork is meltingly tender and you can pull it apart with a fork. Do not stir or mix the dish.

Remove the plate and tin foil. Brush the top layer of potato with a little more olive oil and butter, squeeze over some lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Turn the oven up to 180°C and cook for 3/4 hour, or until the potato topping is golden and crispy.

Serve with Slow-Baked Cherry Tomatoes, a fresh rocket salad, and some sharp mustard.

Serves 10-12
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Sunday, 24 May 2009

Fresh Persimmon Salsa, and lovely food words

Hachiya persimmon. A watercolour by Amanda A.
Newton,  1887, via Wikimedia Commons
The word 'persimmon' is, to my mind, among the loveliest words in the English lexicon: it's a feathery whisper of a word, ever so slightly astringent, yet with spicy and exotic undertones. It's certainly among my favourite food words, those wonderful epithets that evoke, sometimes in just a single syllable, the taste and perfume of a single ingredient. Take, for example, those ineffable words 'peach' and 'plum'. Just thinking these two juicy, crunchy, sun-warmed words makes my mouth water.

Or how about nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, citrus, pepper, fig, coffee and sherry? Do these words fire up any pathways in your brain, or tickle any scent receptors in your nostrils?

Then there are the less flattering food words, which do not exactly sit up and beg to be said out loud, but that perfectly describe the distinctive texture and shape of a foodstuff: think of yolk (round, golden and gloopy), gizzards* (grey, grizzled and gizzardy), cabbage (crunchy, peppery and farty), and parsnip (wizened goblins' legs).

These thoughts of food words passed through my mind as I was peeling a perfect persimmon because I had read, that very morning, in our South African Sunday Times, an interesting piece about how words have the ability to seduce us, or utterly repel us. I can't find the link to the South African version, but here is a copy of the original article by Kristi Gustafson, whose least favourite words are (sorry to do this to you, just before I post a recipe, but read them, and you will get my point), pus, panties and vigil.

Anyway, back to the persimmons (also known as Sharon fruit). The first persimmon I ever tasted was mouth-puckeringly, palate-strippingly astringent, and so traumatised was I by the experience that I avoided them for at least a decade. I had foolishly bitten into an heart-shaped persimmon, which contains exceedingly high levels of soluable tannins. The tomato-shaped persimmon, also known as fuyu, is far more palatable, with a sweet, distinctive flavour and, when just on the point of ripeness, a nice crunchy texture.

I gazed at my persimmons for a good twenty minutes, trying to think what to do with them.

They weren't soft or juicy enough for a crumble or a fruit salad, and there weren't enough of them to make a chutney, so I opted for a fresh, zingy, citrusy salsa, which I served with stir-fried, marinated chicken strips, wraps and shredded lettuce. This would be lovely with an oily, meaty fish, such as tuna, yellowtail or mackerel.

If you have any good recipes using ripe persimmons, please let me know.

Fresh Persimmon Salsa

2 just-ripe persimmons
½ yellow pepper (capsicum), finely chopped
5 little radishes, finely chopped
2 spring onions, white parts and pale green parts only, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
4 tsp (20 ml) olive oil
the juice of 1 sweet orange
a small handful of fresh mint or coriander [cilantro], or both, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

Remove the stalk end of the persimmon, and, using a potato peeler or a small sharp knife, thinly peel it and chop into little cubes. Place into a mixing bowl, add all the remaining ingredients, and toss well to combine.

Keeps for up to four hours in the fridge.

Serves 4.

* Gizzards: two years ago, at a hotel in Mauritius, my sisters and I came across a buffet dish intriguingly labelled 'Candied Gizzards'. We took bets about what this could be, and all lost our wagers: it turned out to be a dish of caramelized chicken livers.

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Friday, 22 May 2009

Kohlrabi, Baby Cabbage and Apple Slaw with Yoghurt & Horseradish Dressing

Every now and then I get a craving for the peppery crunch of a good Sixties-style coleslaw, and because I can't be bothered to make it myself (cabbage is not something I usually have in the fridge) I slope off to Woolworths to buy a ready-made one. Then, after I've eaten it, I feel queasy, because the Woolies version is so over-mayonnaised, oily and - like so many Woolies ready-meals - under-flavoured. And doubly queasy because I paid through the nose for something I could have made in a jiffy at home.

With a spare fresh kohlrabi rolling around in my fridge (the other beauty having gone into last week's Kohlrabi 'Carpaccio' with Radishes and Blue Cheese), I thought I'd make a lighter, brighter version of coleslaw, using the usual ingredients, plus grated apple, baby red cabbage and a dollop of creamed horseradish.

If you can't find kohlrabi, leave it out, or add a little finely diced celery. Sultanas are entirely optional. Make this salad in small quantities, and very soon before you serve it, because it doesn't improve on standing.

Kohlrabi, Baby Cabbage and Apple Slaw with Yoghurt & Horseradish Dressing

For the salad:
juice of one lemon
1 red apple, cored but not peeled
1 baby (fist-sized) white cabbage
1 baby red cabbage
1 young kohlrabi bulb
2 carrots, peeled
a little handful of sultanas (optional)
1 t (5 ml) caraway seeds (optional)

For the dressing:
¾ cup (180 ml) good mayonnaise (Hellman's, Kraft or home-made)
½ cup (125 ml) plain thick white yoghurt
2 T (30 ml) white wine vinegar
1 t (5 ml) caster sugar
1 T (15 ml) creamed horseradish, or more, to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the lemon juice into a big plastic bowl and coarsely grate the apple directly into the juice. Toss well to combine. Finely shred the white and red cabbage, coarsely grate the kohlrabi and the carrots, and then add all the vegetables, along with the sultanas and caraway seeds, to the bowl containing the apple and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients, taste the dressing, and adjust the seasoning if necessary (this dressing needs quite a lot of salt). Add just enough dressing (dollop by dollop) to the salad to lightly coat each individual shred: the salad should not be swimming in its dressing. Toss well and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6 as a side salad. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday, 18 May 2009

Moroccan-Spiced Mini Meat-Loaves with Lemon & Mint Yoghurt

What a great stand-by beef mince (ground beef) is when you're feeding a family. I'm not wild about mince (isn't it an annoying and gristly word, 'mince'?) and I loathe the way it goes all lumpy and grey and sticks to the pan when you fry it. However - provided that it's lean mince you're using - it's a good healthy high-protein staple, loved by most kids and teens and also by men hankering after mom's spag bol or meat loaf.

I have shamelessly copied the words above directly from the opening paragraph of my 2007 post on this blog - 'Mince for supper again?' - because I can't be arsed to think up a new way of introducing this most humdrum of ingredients.

I buy mince at least once a week - as do, I'm sure, many other lucky families in the developed world - because it's still relatively inexpensive, it's versatile, it makes good leftovers, and because I firmly believe that my sprouting teens should eat plenty of nourishing, blood-enriching lean red meat.

I think the last time I got excited about cooking mince was in 1982, when I made a killer spag bol in the kitchen of my student digs, cheered on by my admiring housemates, after we'd had many glasses of OB (Old Brown Sherry).

Frankly, mince does not blow my skirt up.

Until last week, when I found myself staring gloomily at a kilogram of fresh minced beef. I toyed with the idea of making a mommy-style meatloaf, baked in a loaf pan and topped with the usual gloopy sauce of sugar, tomato sauce and spices, and then I thought, well, there has to be more to mince...

Anyway, here is the result. These mini-loaves (more like giant muffins, actually) were tender and flavoursome, and they looked rather cheffy, with their puffed-up tops and neat little collars of streaky bacon (yes, I know bacon isn't exactly a staple food in Morocco, or a particularly healthy choice for family food. You can leave it out if you like, but it does add succulence, keep the 'loaves' in shape, and prevent the mince from drying out).

This is a long recipe, with a lot of ingredients, and it takes a while to prepare. But it is worth the effort, especially if you double the quantities and keep the mini-loaves for lunch, or lunchboxes, or the freezer.

The vegetables need to be very finely chopped; I use this wonderful device, which produces a perfect, tiny dice in seconds. You could, at a pinch, grate all the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a coarse grating blade.

If you don't have preserved lemons to hand, use a little finely grated lemon rind instead. See notes about preserved lemons at the end of this post. You can use fresh mint, instead of dried, in the yoghurt sauce, but dried mint has a special flavour. Again, see notes at end of recipe.

Moroccan-Spiced Mini Meat-Loaves with Lemon & Mint Yoghurt

250 g streaky bacon
2 t (10 ml) sunflower or canola oil
1 large onion, very finely chopped
1/2 a green pepper [bell pepper], deseeded and very finely chopped
1/2 a red pepper [bell pepper], deseeded and very finely chopped
2 10-cm sticks celery, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 ½ cups (375 ml) fresh breadcrumbs (white or brown bread)
1 kg lean minced beef
100 ml finely chopped fresh parsley
100 ml finely chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
6 T (90 ml) plain, thick white yoghurt
6 T (90 ml) tomato sauce [ketchup]
2 t (10 ml) Tabasco sauce (optional)
1 ½ t (7.5 ml) Worcestershire sauce

Spicing and seasoning:

1 ½ t (7.5 ml) ground cinnamon
1 T (15 ml) ground cumin
1 t (5 ml) ground coriander
1 t (5 ml) paprika
1 t (5 ml) red chilli powder or cayenne pepper (optional)
1 ½ t (7.5 ml) salt
plenty of freshly ground black pepper

For the yoghurt sauce:

½ a cucumber, finely diced
½ t (2.5 ml) salt
1 ½ (375 ml) cups plain white yoghurt
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T (15 ml) preserved lemon, very finely chopped or minced
2 t (10 ml) dried mint (see notes at end of recipe)

Take 80 g (about 6 slices, or a quarter of the 250 g packet of streaky bacon) and cut it into a small dice. Set the remaining bacon aside. Heat a frying pan, add the vegetable oil and fry the bacon until it just begins to crisp. Add the finely chopped onion, green and red pepper, celery and garlic, and cook, over a medium heat, and without browning, for 5-7 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly softened, but not mushy (tender-crisp, in other words). Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Heat the oven to 180°C.

Put the mince, breadcrumbs and finely chopped parsley and coriander into a big mixing bowl. Add the egg, the yoghurt, the tomato sauce, the Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce, along with all the spices and the cooked, cooled vegetable/bacon mixture. Season well with salt and pepper. Using your hands, squish and squeeze the mixture until it is thoroughly combined; this should take a good two to three minutes.

Set a large baking tray or oven-proof ceramic dish on the counter. Divide the mixture into eight portions (each about the size of a tennis ball). Roll each portion into a ball, then place each one on a chopping board so that its top and bottom are flattened. Using the palms of your hands, coax the vertical sides of the mixture upwards, turning all the time, until you have a squat, round-topped tower about 6 cm (2 ½ inches) high. Wrap a piece of streaky bacon around the base of each 'tower' and secure the ends with a toothpick. (If the bacon doesn't reach all the way round, pat and prod the 'tower' so it is a little taller, and its base a little smaller).

Arrange the towers, just touching one another, on the baking dish.
Brush the tops of the towers with a little olive oil or melted butter and place in the hot oven. Bake at 180 C for 30-35 minutes, or until cooked right through.

In the meantime, make the yoghurt sauce. Put the chopped cucumbers in a sieve over a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Allow to stand for 15 minutes. Press down well with the back of a spoon to remove excess liquid. Put the chopped cucumbers into a mixing bowl and add all the remaining sauce ingredients. Decant into a clean bowl and place in the fridge until you're ready to serve the meat loaf.

Remove the meat loaves from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes. Serve hot with a dollop of cool yoghurt dressing and baked potatoes, or steamed baby potatoes.

Serves eight.


Preserved lemons:
So easy to make at home, but the problem is that they need a month or so to mature. Here's a great recipe for preserved lemons.

Preserving preserved lemons by freezing them: Another drawback of preserved lemons is that they only last for four or five months in the fridge before they lose their flavour and go slimy. The answer is to freeze them, and here is how: when your preserved lemons are ready and at their best, remove the jar from the fridge. Tip the contents of the jar into a colander set over the sink and rinse the lemon slices under cold running water to remove excess salt. Put each wedge, skin-side down, on a chopping board and, using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, its blade held parallel with the chopping board, slice the yellow softened skin away from the white pith and pulp. Discard the pith and pulp and finely chop the skin into tiny pieces. (If you have enough skin, you could whizz it in a food processor to reduce it to a fine shred). Place the chopped lemon rind into a polythene bag or small tupperware box, label and freeze. Use as needed.

Dried mint: To dry fresh mint, wash a bunch of mint and strip off the leaves. Shake well. Spread the leaves loosely on a baking tray, and put them on the middle rack of your oven. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and bake until they are quite dry. Crumble the leaves and store in a clean, airtight jar for a up to a month.

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'Carpaccio' of Kohlrabi with Radishes and Blue Cheese

Shaped like a sputnik, with curious tentacle-like leaves and a name that sounds as if it came from Star Wars, kohlrabi is a strange wee beastie of a vegetable. It's not something you see often in the shops here in South Africa, I suppose because there's really not much call for it.

Kohlrabi is a hybridised member of the brassica family, and its taste has been variously described as being like celery, turnip, broccoli stem, or a milder version of the heart of a cabbage.

I think kohlrabi has a taste all of its own. It's lovely steamed and stir fried, and in vegetable stews, and lightly curried. Very young kohlrabi, with its crunchy, almost apple-like texture, can be grated or julienned and used in salads, slaws and salsas.

Try it in this refreshing starter, which is most beautifully coloured, with its pale avocado-greens and creams, and its slivers of startling crimson. I found the combination of salty, creamy blue cheese and crisp paper-thin kohlrabi delicious, although my family, I admit, were not immediately bowled over. But they'll come round. They'll have to, because I intend to place this vegetable on the family menu more often. This recipe is adapted from Anton Mosimann's 1991 book Naturally.

You do need a mandolin to produce the paper-thin, transparent slices called for in this recipe. If you don't have one, use a sharp knife to cut the thinnest possible slices. Or coarsely grate the kohlrabi and radishes. Or cut them into matchsticks before you toss them in the dressing.

I haven't specified the amount of blue cheese, because this is entirely up to you. But less is best here, I think, because the taste of the kohlrabi is quite delicate.

'Carpaccio' of Kohlrabi with Radishes and Blue Cheese

2 small, young kohlrabi
6 young radishes
4 Tbsp (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 tsp (20 ml) white wine vinegar, or white balsamic vinegar
a pinch of Hot English mustard powder
blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Roquefort, or whatever you fancy)
flaky sea salt
freshly milled black pepper

Strip the leaves off the kohlrabi and cut off the tops and bottoms. Using a mandolin, cut the bulbs into paper-thin slices. Do the same with the radishes. Arrange the kohlrabi and radish slices on a platter, or on individual salad plates. Whisk the olive oil, white wine vinegar and mustard powder together in a small bowl, and drizzle the dressing over the slices. Season well with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Lettuce, Cucumber, Spring Onion and Pea Soup

A paradox in a bowl: this soup has a lovely, clean, delicate flavour, even though it's sinfully enriched with cream, and thickened with egg yolks. If you like a fresh-tasting soup, as I do, you'll love this one.

This recipe is adapted from Robert Carrier's recipe for Potage à la Bonne Femme, from Great Starters, a little gem of a book first published in 1965.

Of the nine soups Carrier included in this book, no less than three feature lettuce as the main ingredient. Having tasted this soup, I can see why: when softly stewed in butter and stock, the humble and unfashionable iceberg lettuce has an ethereal yet distinctive taste, as does cucumber, that most gentle of flavours.

Carrier's original recipe suggested chervil, sorrel or tarragon as a flavouring herb, but I used fresh parsley (I couldn't find any fresh chervil or sorrel, and I thought tarragon would overpower the dish).

This soup is a bit tricky to make, because the eggs have a tendency to curdle in the blinking of an eye. If you're not confident about adding eggs to hot soup, I suggest you add a little cornflour (see recipe) and only two egg yolks to the mixture, which will greatly minimise (but not eliminate) the chances of the soup splitting. If it does curdle, for whatever reason, strain the whole lot into a liquidiser and blitz until smooth - it will still taste lovely.

Lettuce, Cucumber, Spring Onion and Pea Soup

5 t (25 ml/25 g) butter
1 small iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
6 spring onions [scallions], white and pale-green parts only, finely sliced
250 g frozen peas
half a large cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut into matchstick-sized pieces
salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups (1.5 l) good chicken stock, heated
3 egg yolks (or two egg yolks, plus 1 ½ t [7.5 ml) cornflour/cornstarch]
200 ml single cream
3 T (45 ml) very finely chopped fresh parsley or chervil

Heat the butter in a large pot and add the lettuce, spring onions, frozen peas and cucumber. Season with salt and pepper, stir well and cook gently for five minutes. Add the hot chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are quite tender, but not mushy. Put the egg yolks and cream into a little bowl and whisk together until well combined. [Alternatively, see above, slake the cornflour with a few teaspoons of cream. Whisk in the remaining cream and two egg yolks.)

Add a soup ladle of the hot soup to the egg and cream mixture and stir well. Remove the soup pot from the heat and strain the egg and cream mixture, through a sieve, into the soup. Put the pot back on a very gentle heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until the soup thickens ever so slightly. Don't, whatever you do, allow the soup to come anywhere near boiling point, at which point it will curdle. Stir in the finely chopped parsley or chervil.

Check the seasoning and serve hot. Robert Carrier suggests croutons as a garnish, but I liked it just as it was.

Serves 4 - 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Wasabi and Avocado Potato Salad with Seared Sesame Tuna Steaks

Nose-nuking wasabi paste and gentle, buttery avocado are unlikely bedfellows, I admit. But when combined in a creamy dressing and poured over freshly boiled and cubed spuds, they... well, I suppose they come together. With fireworks and a celestial choir.

I am a devoted fan of potato salad: not the yellow, greasy Sixties version, but a lighter, brighter breed of salad, made with unskinned boiled baby potatoes and dressed with a mixture of thick white yoghurt, good mayonnaise, lemon juice, mint, parsley, chives, onion and the slightest twang of garlic.

Because I was planning to serve some lovely fresh tuna steaks for supper, I thought I'd add wasabi paste to the dressing. It tasted stingingly good, but the dressing wasn't the very pale pistachio-green I'd hoped for , so I stirred in the finely mashed flesh of a ripe and voluptuous avocado. To my surprise, the delicate taste of avocado gave the aggressive wasabi flavour a good punch on the nose - and the result was a tie.

The ingredients for the dressing should be whisked together just minutes before you serve this dish. The first time I made this salad, I concocted the dressing before I put the potatoes on to boil, and 45 minutes later I found it had turned from a creamy wobble into a thin, bubbly liquid. Why the mixture liquefied, I don't know, but it had something to do with the wasabi and the avocado. Maybe their knees just turned to water?

Wasabi and Avocado Potato Salad with Seared Sesame Tuna Steaks

18 small new potatoes (or 8 waxy, thin-skinned young potatoes)
1 T (15 ml) salt
2 ripe avocados

For the dressing:
1/2 an onion, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
the juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup (180 ml) good mayonnaise (such as Hellman's, or home-made)
3/4 cup (180 ml) thick plain white yoghurt
1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and crushed
1 - 2 t (5- 10 ml) wasabi paste, to taste
1 ripe avocado
a dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)
a handful of finely snipped fresh chives
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the tuna steaks:

4 fresh tuna steaks
6 T white sesame seeds (or a combination of sesame and shelled pumpkin seeds)
3 T (45 ml) olive oil or vegetable oil
salt and milled black pepper

Put the potatoes into a big pot and cover with water. Add the salt and bring to the boil. Boil for about 30 minutes (depending on the size of the spuds) or until they are quite tender, but not splitting.

While the potatoes are cooking, combine the grated onion and the lemon juice in a small bowl, and set aside (the lemon juice will take the sting out of the onions).

Sprinkle the sesame seeds onto a plate. Press the tuna steaks, top and bottom, into the sesame seeds, so that both sides are well coated. Put the steaks onto a big plate, in a single layer, cover with tightly with cling-film, and press down with the palm of your hand so that the seeds adhere to the surface of the steaks. Place in the fridge.

Remove the potatoes from the heat, drain in a colander and set aside to cool while you make the dressing and cook the tuna steaks.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and, when it's very hot, add the tuna steaks. You may need to do this in two batches, if the steaks are bigger than the palm of your hand. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side (you'll see, by observing the edges of the steaks, the flesh turning opaque as it comes into contact with the heat). When the opacity has crept two or three millimetres up, flip the steaks over and cook for a few more minutes. I like tuna with a lovely rare, rosy centre - that is, virtually raw inside - but feel free to cook the tuna right through if you'd like it that way. Remove the tuna steaks from the heat and set aside to rest.

Cut the warm cooked potatoes into chunks (or leave them whole if they're tiny baby ones). Skin the avocados, cut them into cubes, and sprinkle with a little fresh lemon juice to prevent them browning.

Now make the dressing. Put the onion and lemon-juice mixture into a big bowl. Using a wire whisk, beat in all the remaining ingredients, except for the chives. (Wasabi paste comes in various degrees of nose-blasting fierceness, so I suggest you add a teaspoon to start, and add more to taste). Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary, and then tip the potato and avocado cubes into the dressing. Toss very lightly to combine. Tip into a salad bowl and scatter with the finely snipped chives.

Using a very sharp knife, cut the tuna steaks into slices, and arrange around the edges of the potato salad.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6 Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Slow-baked Cherry Tomatoes with Ricotta and Thyme

Slow-baked Cherry Tomatoes with Ricotta and Thyme
A simple, sublime, slow-cooked dish combining only four beautiful ingredients: ripe tomatoes, fruity olive oil, ricotta cheese and fresh thyme. I came up with this recipe in a panic, when I realised that the shoulder of lamb I'd bought to make my slow-cooked lamb was so small and under-meaty that there was no ways it would have fed seven rather special people.

And this was a special gathering of friends: six out of the seven people sitting around my table were in my house, also for dinner, a year ago, when an armed gang burst through our gates and held us at gun point. We all escaped without injury that night, and went on to eat our dinner of lamb two hours later, once the police had gone. A year down the line, I figured that we should draw a line under the incident by having the same dinner, with the same people. It wasn't a celebration: just a time of sober (actually, not very sober) reflection.

Anyway, back to the tomatoes: what makes this dish so good is the contrast between the sweet, deep, gloriously summery flavour of the baked tomatoes in olive oil and the delicate (bland-and-almost-soapy) taste of the ricotta. Don't be tempted to use a salty or aggressively flavoured white cheese (such as feta or goats' cheese): shreds of good mozzarella would, however, be very nice.

The second time I made this, I let the tomatoes stand at room temperature, overnight, before adding the ricotta and reheating the dish, which greatly enhanced the thyme flavour.

Faintingly good with bruschetta, and excellent piled on top of a piece of grilled linefish.

Slow-baked Cherry Tomatoes with Ricotta and Thyme

500 g (1 punnet) of ripe, plump cherry tomatoes (I used Rosa variety)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fruity olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme
1 200-gram block ricotta cheese
salt and milled black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. Tip the cherry tomatoes, whole, into a small-oven proof bowl or dish. Stir in the olive oil and scatter over the thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Place, uncovered, in the hot oven, and allow to bake, undisturbed, for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and stir gently to distribute the juices. Cover and allow to stand for a few hours, or overnight. Crumble the ricotta into dice-sized pieces over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with a little more olive oil, but do not stir. Replace in a hot oven for 5 minutes, or until the ricotta has warmed through.

Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

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Monday, 11 May 2009

Fennel Salad with Caramelised Pears, Walnuts and Blue Cheese

This delicious winter salad packs a fistful of flavours: crunchy baby fennel, sweet pears, toasted walnuts and nuggets of creamy blue cheese. My local greengrocer is full of lovely little baby bulbs of fennel, a vegetable I really enjoy, but don't eat often enough. You don't need to caramelise the pears, but I like their gritty stickiness.

Fennel Salad with Caramelised Pears, Walnuts and Blue Cheese

6 small bulbs fresh fennel and their tops
a handful of walnuts, broken into pieces
3 ripe, but firm, pears
2 T white sugar
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (Gorgonzola is gorgon-gorgeous with this)
4 T (60 ml) olive oil
1 t (5 ml) walnut oil (optional)
2 T (30 ml) white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar

Trim bottoms off the fennel bulbs and cut off the leaves and stalks. Using a mandolin, or a very sharp knife, cut the bulb (vertically) into paper-thin slices. Place in a bowl.

Heat a frying pan, add the walnuts and toss over a medium heat until lightly toasted. Set to one side.

Sprinkle the sugar over the base of the same frying pan and heat, without stirring, until it melts and begins to turn golden. While the sugar is heating, cut the pears vertically into eighths and remove the cores. When the sugar has turned to a rich golden brown, turn down the heat and place the pear slices in the caramel. Cook for a minute or so, or until lightly caramelised, and then flip and cook the other side. Remove from the heat.

Arrange the fennel slices and pears on a platter. Top with toasted walnuts, crumbled blue cheese, and a sprinkling of the feathery green fennel tops.

To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, walnut oil and wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the salad and toss well.

Serves 4. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday, 8 May 2009

A wobbling jelly of quince: eat with a runcible spoon

I was going to call this 'Quince Jelly', but of course 'jelly' in American English means 'jam' in the Queen's English. What Americans call 'jello', we in South Africa call 'jelly', and what they call 'jelly' we, like the English, call 'jam'. Is that - like a good jelly - perfectly clear? I think I had better steer clear of a speed wobble and set things straight:

This is a mixture of fresh quinces, sugar and lemon juice, stewed slowly to a glorious pinky-orange syrup, set with a little gelatine, poured into a mould, tipped out and served, chilled, with cheese and crackers.

'Not another quince recipe!' my kids roared when I presented this as a starter, and (using the leftovers; see recipe) quince-crumble and cream as the pud. 'Enough with the quinces, already!'

Okay, so maybe I have gone a bit overboard on this blog with quince-related recipes (see quince jelly and quince paste), but I can't help myself: what a beautiful, fragrant fruit it is, it is, it is.

And, besides, it reminds me of that lovely line from the favourite poem of my childhood: Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat:

They dined on mince, and slices of quince
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Don't peel or core the quinces: the skins and seeds are rich in pectin.

Jellied Quinces

4 large quinces, rinsed and rubbed clean of fuzz
enough water to cover
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
juice of one small lemon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) powdered gelatine

Chop each quince into six large chunks, skins, pips and all. Place the pieces in a saucepan and add enough water to just cover the pieces. Tip in the sugar and the lemon juice. Turn on the heat to a medium setting and, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar, bring to a low boil. Once every grain of sugar has dissolved, turn down the heat to a very low setting and allow to stew gently, for two to three hours, or until the chunks of fruit are very soft, and syrup has thickened and turned to a deep, rich pink-red colour.

Remove the pan from the heat. Tip the contents of the pan into a colander set over a large bowl. (Keep the soft quince chunks left in the colander aside for a crumble pudding: here's a recipe).

Now pour 450 ml of the strained quince syrup into a bowl. If there is less than 450 ml of syrup, add enough hot tap water to bring it up to the 450 ml mark. Set aside.

Put 60 ml (4 tablespoons) of very hot (but not boiling) water in a little bowl, and sprinkle the gelatine powder over its surface. Stir briskly until every speck of powder has dissolved. Pour the gelatine mixture into the quince syrup, and stir well.

Pour the mixture into small individual jelly moulds (any small dish, such as a ceramic ramekin dish, will do) and place in the fridge for two to three hours.

When you're ready to serve the dish, dip the bottom of each mould into a bowl of boiling water for a few seconds. Unmould onto a plate and serve with a selection of cheeses and crackers.

Makes 3 small (about 150 ml each) jellies.

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Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Fresh Beetroot Greens with Olive Oil Dressing

I fell upon this delicious, simple dish like a starving wolf: I was seized by a deep craving for its metallic greenness, and the earth-blood flavour of its red stalks.

My friends Mike and Michele - whose recipe this is - watched with alarm as I devoured half the bowl, wolfishly licking my chops as I did so.

My pee was a delicate pink all the next day. (One of the other friends at the table, a doctor who is a general practitioner in Johannesburg, told me that she is often faced with patients complaining about blood in their urine. Her first question to them is, 'Have you eaten beetroot recently?').

I cannot think of a vegetable dish I've enjoyed more in the last few years. When I turned 43, about, erm, 1 year ago, I developed a great taste for deep-green leaves, steamed, stir-fried or microwaved and dressed with fruity olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper (or sometimes soy sauce or vinegar).

So profound is my craving for these veg that I would rather eat a tangle of dark greens in a nice dressing than munch on a cold KitKat or a packet of Salt 'n Vinegar crisps. I take this as a sign that my appetite centre has finally reached adulthood.

I've never cooked beetroot greens because I've never seen them sold fresh and crisp at any supermarket. If I do see fresh beetroot in a bundle, the greens have either been torn away and discarded, or are as wilted and sad as a lost sock.

My friends Mike and Michele Karamanof (who are featured, this week, in my South African Food Fundis series; click here for more about them) found these organic beetroot greens at the Jozi Food Market.

I can't give you exact quantities here: taste, and decide.

Fresh Beetroot Greens with Olive Oil Dressing

2 bunches fresh beetroot leaves
water to cover
1 t (5 ml) salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
olive oil
balsamic vinegar (or freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste)
flaky salt and freshly pepper

Wash the leaves well in cold water to remove any grit, and drain in a colander. If you like, you can chop the stalks into 2-cm lengths. Or leave them whole. Half fill a big pot with water, add the salt, and bring to a rapid boil. Add the beetroot leaves, in batches (to avoid the water going off the boil) and cook until the stems are very tender. Drain in a colander. Tip the hot leaves into a big salad bowl and dress with a generous splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice, or both, to taste). Season well with salt and pepper.

You can also microwave the leaves. This isn't heresy, and your internal organs will not boil. Click here to read more about microwaving veggies.

If you want slightly crunchier leaves, add the chopped stalks to the boiling salted water first, cook until just tender (poke them with the tip of a sharp knife; they are ready when they offer no resistance), and then add the leaves. Cook until the leaves are just wilted.

Tip into a big, deep salad bowl and serve warm or at room temperature.

Lovely mixed with cooked, sliced beetroot.

Serves 8 as a side dish. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Mike's Youvetsi: a Greek comfort food

This hearty Greek dish of slow-cooked lamb and tomatoes baked with rice-shaped pasta and firm white cheese is wonderful on a chilly autumn evening. Prepare everything in advance, or the day before, and put it in the oven to reheat half an hour before your guests arrive.

This dish comes from the repertoire of Mike and Michele Karamanof, the second local cooks to be featured in my 'South African Food Fundis' series. Click here to read about the Karamanofs.

Any cut of lamb suitable for long, slow cooking can be used - leg of lamb, shoulder of lamb, lamb shanks, or even lamb chops or ribs. 'Don't use a deboned leg of lamb, though,' says Mike, 'as you need the bone in, for flavour.'

If you like, you can marinate the lamb in the olive oil, garlic, oregano and a little white wine for a few hours before it goes into the oven.

There are many variations of this traditional dish - some include onions, cinnamon, cloves, red wine, bay leaves and so on; add more flavourings as you see fit

This is Mike's version, which I think is perfect as it is, tasting only of its key ingredients: lamb and tomato. If you can't find Greek kefalotyri cheese, use a firm feta. 

Mike's Youvetsi
A leg or shoulder of lamb, or 6 lamb shanks (see notes above)
3 T (45 ml) olive oil
2 T (30 ml) good dried oregano
the juice of a lemon
salt and milled black pepper
4 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)
10 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 x 500 g packet Orzo (or similar rice-shaped pasta)
2 cups (500 ml) cubed kefalotyri cheese or feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the lamb in a large ovenproof dish or cast-iron casserole dish. If you're using lamb shanks, place them in a single layer in a roasting pan. Pour the olive oil over the top of the lamb and sprinkle with oregano and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven, uncovered, and roast at 200°C for half an hour, or until the lamb is beginning to brown on top. Tilt the pan and drain all but about 3 tablespoons of fat away. Now arrange the chopped tomatoes and garlic around the lamb, turn down the heat to 120°C, and return the dish, uncovered, to the oven.

Cook for three to five hours (the cooking time will depend on the size of the leg or lamb pieces) or until the meat is fork-tender and falling away from the bone. Baste the meat occasionally with the pan juices while it's roasting.

Remove the meat from the dish and pull it into shreds or chunks - how big these are is up to you. Discard the bones.  Pile the meat onto a plate, cover, and set aside.

Place the roasting pan on the hob over a medium heat. Add six cups of water (or a mixture of white wine and water, if you like). Bring to the boil, scraping at the bottom of the pan to loosen any residue. Tip in the orzo and cook briskly, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is soft and has absorbed most of the liquid. You may have to add more liquid at this point if the mixture seems dry: it should be about the consistency of a risotto: not stiff or dry, but not swimming in liquid. Season with salt and pepper, tip in the reserved lamb pieces and three quarters of the cubed cheese, and mix gently. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top.

Pile the mixture into an earthenware or ceramic dish (about 10 cm deep is ideal) and cover. When you're ready to serve, place in a low oven (110°C) for half an hour, or until heated right through. Serve with a crisp green salad.

Serves 8  Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday, 4 May 2009

SA Food Fundis II: Michael and Michele Karamanof

Say I had a choice: indulge in an exquisite meal at the finest restaurant in the city, or enjoy a home-cooked Sunday lunch, under a whispering tree, at the home of Parkview couple Mike and Michele Karamanof. No contest: I would head over to my friends' house with a bottle of wine and no regrets.

Maybe I'm getting old and crabby, but I'm fed up with restaurant food in Johannesburg. I can't afford to eat out often, and when I do, I almost always end up feeling ripped off. I do enjoy a slap-up meal at a good family steakhouse or pizza joint, if it's good value for money, but I really resent forking out R800 to R1000 - which is about what it costs to take five people to dinner at an upmarket restaurant these days, excluding wine - for a meal with absurdly stingy portions, pretentious stacked towers of food, dabs of this, drizzles of that, and shriekingly disgusting 'foamed' sauces that look and taste like spit.

All I want is a full plate - or several plates, for that matter - of honest, gutsy, delicious home-cooked food. I want it hot, I want it fresh, and I want it made in a home kitchen by a friend.

Chemical engineer Mike Karamanof and his wife Michele Botha (a graphic designer) have, for many years, and in their spare time, run a small home industry supplying several Johannesburg restaurants with top-quality home-made products, notably superior home-made pesto and tiramisu.

The Karamanofs are small fish in the Johannesburg-Foodie nibbling order: they're not caterers, chefs, restaurateurs or food professionals, but they are still among the best cooks I know. They have an instinctive love of food, they care about fine ingredients, and they understand simple combinations of brilliant flavours.

Welcome to the second of my new series about local South African food fundis!

Michael Karamanof is an ebullient, warm-hearted Greek with a passion for food that borders on obsession. His knowledge of food and ingredients is encyclopaedic: there are few butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers and wine merchants in Johannesburg with whom he isn't on first-name terms. He loves food, he adores wine, and Michael's idea of heaven is whipping on his apron and spending countless deliriously happy hours cooking for friends and family.

Actually, Mike is a complete know-it-all about food, and the only reason he gets away with this insufferable attitude is because he does actually know an enormous amount about food, and especially Mediterranean food. Mike speaks fluent English, Greek, German and French, and can hold a conversation in Italian and several other languages.

Michele Botha, the thoughtful, organisational, highly creative wing of this partnership, and a talented cook herself, is frequently maddened by Mike (the Karamanofs cannot prepare a meal for friends without having a good argument before everyone arrives).

But, back to the food: although they can cook anything, it's simple Greek food that Mike and Michele really adore. And this passion has accelerated since they bought, a year or two ago, a beautiful, tumbledown old house on the Greek island Kythera. The Karamanofs and their son, Leo, try to get back to the old house twice a year. Most of their time there appears to be spent arguing with builders and architects and each other, while they figure out how to to renovate the place, but they also do manage to spend a lot of time finding, eating, and thinking about food. One of the gorgeous desserts featured here - thickened yoghurt with sweet stewed grapes - is a speciality of Kythera.

For weeks, I've plagued M&M, as they are known among friends, for recipes for my SA Food Fundis section of this blog, and as they haven't produced the goods, on the grounds that they 'don't really have proper recipes' (and they genuinely don't, preferring to cook from their hearts) I'm giving you what they made me for lunch a Sunday ago. This represents a tiny portion of the wonderful food I've eaten at their home over the years.

Our meal started off with beetroot greens - the top leafy portion of beetroots, with their crimson stalks - simply cooked and dressed with olive oil, vinegar and salt, and a loaf of yeasty home-baked bread. Thin-crusted, crispy pizzas, freckled underneath with the black spots you get only from a proper wood-fired pizza outdoor oven (manned by Michael in his apron) and topped with gorgeous mozzarella, anchovy, tomatoes, herbs, mushrooms and the best salami, came next. Then, when we thought it was all over, two earthenware dishes of youvetsi - a dish consisting of rice-shaped pasta (orzo) combined with the tender rippings of lamb cooked for many hours with tomato, and topped with feta. And then, to crown it all, the yoghurt and stewed grapes.

All this around a wooden table, under a tree, in glowing autumn sunshine, and the scent of lemons drifting from a nearby tree in Michele's organic vegetable patch.

Does food get any better than this?

Want to go for dinner at Chez Auberge de La Mon Repose in Poshville, Sandton, for a Tower of Scottish Salmon with Rooibos Jus and Biltong Spit?

I thought not.

Here are the recipes:

- Stewed Sweet Grapes with Thick Yoghurt and Mascarpone, Kythera-style
- Beetroot Greens with Olive Oil
- Mike's Youvetsi

This post is the second in my series about South African Food Fundis. To see the first post, about Gilly Walters of Wedgewood Nougat, click here. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday, 3 May 2009

A delight from the Greek islands: Kythera-style Yoghurt with Stewed Sweet Grapes

I never, ever, ever, ever, ever eat pudding, but I darn well ate this. Here is a most unctuous and intriguing dessert: sweet, late-season grapes, stewed in a light syrup, and served with a combination of thick, creamy Greek yoghurt and mascarpone.

 Stewed Grapes with Mascarpone & Yoghurt.
This unusual recipe comes from my dear friends Michael and Michele Karamanof, a Johannesburg couple who are superlative cooks.

Mike and Michele first tasted this dish on the island of Kythera, in Greece, this year. 'It's a distinctive dish of this island,' says Michele. 'The recipe uses the very last grapes of the season, which are very sweet, and just beginning to shrivel.'

She adds that the original recipe she and Mike tasted used only thick Greek yoghurt: 'But the yoghurt you get on Kythera is sweeter and richer than South African Greek-style yoghurt, which tends to be slightly sour. So I added a little mascarpone to the recipe.'

Kythera-style Yoghurt with Stewed Sweet Grapes

3 bunches of late-season sweet seedless grapes, such as Sultana grapes
2 cups (500 ml) water
300 ml white sugar
2 cloves
one x 2-cm-long stick of cinnamon
2 cups (500 ml) thick, full-fat Greek-style yoghurt
1/2 cup (125 ml) mascarpone

Pull the grapes from their stalks, rinse well in cold water, and drain. Heat the water, sugar, cloves and cinnamon in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil, tip in all the grapes, and turn down the heat. Cook, uncovered, at a low simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, or until the syrup has reduced by a third. Remove from the heat, set aside at room temperature, and allow to cool completely.

Just before serving, whisk together the yoghurt and the mascarpone. Pile the mixture in a big billowing mound into the centre of a large flat serving platter. Using a slotted spoon, arrange the stewed grapes around the edges of the platter. Pour some of the syrup over the grapes, and splash some of it over the yoghurt mound.

You could dish this into individual pudding bowls, but I think you should do as Mike and Michele did, which was to pass it round the table, with some small teaspoons.

Serves 4-6.

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Tomatoes Baked with Garlic Butter and Cream

Glorious tomatoes in cream,
sequinned with butter.
A wickedly indulgent yet simple dish that is excellent with bacon and eggs, or with a cheese omelette. A first baking with garlic butter allows the garlicky, herby flavours to permeate the tomatoes; a second baking with cream produces a heavenly sauce spangled with little sequins of butter.

You can use any combination of fresh herbs here; good dried herbs are also fine, but use half the quantity as dried herbs are far more pungent than fresh ones.

If you like, you can bake these in individual ramekins, but you will need to shorten the cooking time by about 5 minutes. Don't cut the bottoms off the tomato halves, which will cause them to collapse.

Tomatoes Baked with Garlic Butter and Cream

8 ripe, sweet tomatoes
3 Tbsp (45 ml/45 g) softened butter
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed (to taste)
a pinch of finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp (5ml) finely chopped fresh oreganum
salt and freshly milled black pepper
2/3 cup (160 ml) single cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Halve the tomatoes and place them, cut-side up, in a single layer in suitably size oven-proof dish. In a little bowl, combine the butter, garlic, rosemary and oreganum. Place a dob of the garlic butter in the centre of each tomato, and season well with salt and pepper.

Bake the tomatoes in the hot oven for about 20 minutes, or until just softened. Pour the cream over and around the tomatoes, resisting the temptation to stir, or to disturb the garlic topping. Turn the heat down to 160°C, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until soft right through, but not collapsed.

Serve with plenty of toast or fresh bread for mopping up the juices.

Serves 4. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Easy Home-Made Tomato Ketchup

I used to despair about how much tomato sauce my kids ate until I read that it contains lashings of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant (these days I squeeze it down their throats while holding their noses). I joke, of course, but we do eat an awful lot of tomatoes in this house, mainly because of my addiction to tomato soup, which still shows no signs of abating.

I bought a lovely big box of tomatoes yesterday and decided to try my hand at home-made ketchup. I approached this recipe with some trepidation, because I didn't think it would taste the same as shop sauce, but I needn't have worried: it not only tastes exactly like ketchup; it tastes better. I love a recipe that delivers on its promises, and this recipe does - in dollops. The spice combination is spot on.

It's adapted from Preserved, by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton. If you're into drying, salting, smoking, pickling and bottling, I can highly recommend this brilliant and inspiring book.

I was particularly impressed to see that the first recipe in the book is for our beloved South African delicacy biltong: 'Mention to biltong to émigré South Africans and their eyes will start to water with nostalgia,' they write. 'Dark, chewy, and frankly pretty tough, this air-dried, spiced meat is an acquired taste, but once acquired it is never forgotten. Americans already have a head start through their predilection for beef jerky, but never make the mistake of comparing the two in the presence of a South African!'

Easy Home-Made Tomato Ketchup

3 and 1/2 kg ripe, juicy tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 cup (250 ml) vinegar (I used half malt vinegar, and half white wine vinegar)
10 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1/2 t (2.5 ml) white pepper
1/2 t (2.5 ml) ground black pepper
1/2 t (2.5 ml) ground mace (use nutmeg if you can't find mace)
1/2 t (2.5 ml) ground allspice
1/2 t (2.5 ml) ground cinnamon
2 t (10 ml) paprika
1/2 cup (125 ml) white sugar
2 t (10 ml) salt

Remove the stalk 'scar' from the tomatoes using a sharp knife or apple corer, but don't peel them. Cut them in quarters and feed them through the tube of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, together with the garlic. Process to a chunky mush. (If you don't have a food processor, roughly chop the tomatoes into 1-cm sized pieces). Put the cloves and cardamom pods onto a little square of muslin or cloth and tie in a bundle, like a bouquet garni. Place the bundle into a deep preserving pot or a thick-based pan and add the tomato pulp and all remaining ingredients. Mix well, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and cook gently, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the mixture has reduced by a third, or is slightly thickened.

This will take about two hours. Remove the spice bag, allow the sauce to cool slightly, and then whizz to a rough purée in your food processor. Pour the purée back into the pan and bring to the boil. In the meantime, sterilise four jars (about 25o ml each) and their lids (or wide-mouthed bottles if you have them). Pour the boiling sauce into the jars, filling to within a few millimetres of the rim. Screw on the lids tightly, and tighten again after half an hour hour.

I suppose you could sieve this sauce if you wanted a really smooth ketchup.

The authors of Preserved recommend that you store the sauce for eight to ten months before you eat it, but I don't think I can wait that long. Keep in the fridge after opening.

Makes 4 jars. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly