Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas is a Spanish tapas dish, of fried potato, with a spicy sauce.

Having decided to have a go at patatas bravas, I needed a recipe. Step forward Felicity Cloake and her How to cook the perfect… in the Guardian. I’m starting to think it’s probably worth buying a digital subscription. It would be worth it just for her column alone, let alone all the Yotam Ottolenghi and Anna Jones recipes too; it’s a great resource.

I followed the recipe, with a couple of changes. I don’t have any sherry vinegar for instance, so used red wine vinegar instead. I also hadn’t bothered to buy any chives. Other than that, it was straight down the line.

Having grown a few chillies this year, I decided to use one. I should’ve used more than one, as it turns out that they’re not as hot as last year. The tomato sauce had no heat to it what so ever. Which meant that it tasted very similar to the rich tomato sauce from The Geometry of Pasta.

Where the tomato sauce had been distinctly lacking any zing, the aioli had enough zing to raise the dead. It also made a lot. By a lot, I mean enough to slather on double the recipe and still feel like you’ve overdone it a bit.

This all made for a bit of a disappointing dish. Lacklustre tomato sauce, overly pokey and rich aioli, I was struggling to see why people rave about it.

Patatas Bravas, first attempt

In a twist of fate, I ended up having to buy another bag of Charlotte potatoes. So decided to have another crack at the recipe a few days later. I decided to change a few things.

Out when the homegrown chilli and in came homegrown chilli flakes, I know they’re hot. Rather than roasting the tatties at 200°C, I followed Yotam’s method for the potatoes in his Batata Harra recipe; so 240°C to get them good and crispy.

I also cooked the tomato sauce for longer, really reducing it to intensify the flavour and make it thicker. As I mentioned above, there was a lot of aioli left over, so I didn’t have to make any more of that.

This was almost a different dish. The heat and spiciness of the tomato sauce, the crunch of the tatties and the cool of the aioli. I can see why people rave about it.

I’ll definitely be making this again. Just have to think of a few other veggie tapas dishes to go with it…

Homemade Tomato Ketchup

Two batches on the go...

After chutney, the next logical thing to do with a load of tomatoes, is to make homemade tomato ketchup. As some of the green tomatoes had ripened in storage, I decided to do two batches, one with the now ripe tomatoes and one with the still unripe, green tomatoes.

The recipe came from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home and is pretty simple; chuck everything into a pan, cook, blitz, add the vinegar and sugar, reduce further, bottle. It’s pretty simple stuff.

A hissing, spitting pan of molten ketchup...I was hoping that the green tomatoes would result in a green coloured ketchup, but alas, it’s turned out beige. Yes, beige ketchup. I’m not really sure what to make of that and I think it might have a bit of an image problem with the rest of the family, even though it tastes great. The ripe tomatoes have resulted in a ketchup that isn’t quite red either, it’s more of a pasta sauce orange, but again it’s really tasty.

We had some friends round one day the other week after school and as we’d run out of normal ketchup, my wife fed the four kids mine. One thought it was the best thing ever, another liked it, but two though it was minging. Since it was the older two who liked it, I’m putting it down to age, younger kids might not like the sweet and sour nature of it. I like it, even though it’s nothing like the shop bought stuff.

Ripe and unripe tomato ketchups...The only thing I’d add to the recipe though, is when it says reduce by half in the first part where you’re softening all the veg. Really reduce it at this point, as once you’ve blitzed it all to a purée and added the vinegar and sugar, it’ll hiss and spit something terrible as you reduce it to the consistency you want. So you really want it to be near the final volume, so you don’t get third degree burns from the molten hot contents of your pan.

Finally, like most things, once you’ve opened it and stored it in the fridge, it’ll thicken up. So unless you’ve used wide necked ketchup jars, you may struggle to get it out. I used old passata jars and they’ve worked well so far. If I’d made it any thicker, I would have been tempted to put it in normal jam jars, so I could spoon it out.

Ginger Beer-Battered Stuffed Tofu with Asian Mushy Peas

Ginger Beer-Battered Stuffed Tofu with Asian Mushy Peas

This recipe is the whole reason I bought Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian book. To be honest though, I’ve been a bit too scared to cook it. I think that’s mainly due to me having no confidence in my ability to produce something that remotely resembles the photos of any dish I want to make. I always feel that I’m going to cock it up somehow and produce something that’s inedible. I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. It just so happened that one weekend I said to my wife that I’d cook her anything she wanted, but it had to be from this book. She chose this recipe, mainly because she knew I wanted to make it.

I thought there might be a few issues trying to put this dish together and I wasn’t wrong. The recipe calls for cutting a slit into the tofu and stuffing some of the filling into it. Now to me, any recipe that has a filling, obviously has the right amount of filling, i.e. there shouldn’t be any left over. So in this case, exactly a quarter of the filling should be stuffed into the slit in each of the four bits of tofu. Now, if you use the Cauldron Foods tofu like I do, there is no way you’re going to get anywhere near that much filling into a block of it, as it’s just too fragile. So either I’m using the wrong type of tofu, or the recipe produces way too much filling.

If you find yourself making this recipe and you’re using the Cauldron Foods tofu, don’t despair, there’s an easy solution. Instead of cutting a slit in the tofu, cut a trench. So rather than just the one cut in the middle of the block, make parallel cuts on the thirds and then scoop out the middle with the handle of a teaspoon, remembering to leave enough tofu at the edges and bottom. Then you should have enough space to stuff about a quarter of the filling into the tofu without any risk of it bursting open.

The only other thing I’d say about tofu, is that it’s pretty flavourless stuff, even when stuffed with a flavorful filling and encased in tasty batter. It’s especially tasteless, if it hasn’t been completely drained of all moisture, which I’ve never quite been able to do; at least not without damaging the tofu. I think that dusting it in some sort of spice mix, inside and out, might go some way to alleviating the watery flavourless lump that you encounter between the two really tasty bits.

Finally, this isn’t the biggest dish in the world, even with the mushy peas, it’s crying out for a side of chips, wedges, or something similar. I have an inkling to pair it with the Rosemary and Butternut Squash Polenta Chips, or a variation thereof. Either way, I’m definitely going to make it again, although I might try and make my own tofu first…

Fried Butterbeans with Feta, Sorrel and Sumac

Fried Butterbeans with Feta, Sorrel and Sumac

I’ve made this Yotam Ottolenghi Fried Butterbeans with Feta, Sorrel and Sumac dish a couple of times now and I really quite like it. I’ve not been able to find any sorrel though, so I’ve always made it with baby spinach and extra lemon juice instead. Since I haven’t found any sorrel locally, I’ve resorted to buying some seeds and am trying to grown my own, just so I can taste this dish as it is meant to be.

The one thing I’ve found though, is the success of the dish is dependent on the quality of the dried butterbeans. One packet of dried beans is too much for the recipe, so you have some left over. You may want to make sure you use the same, or similar, brand of beans and especially make sure that you use beans that are dried to a similar level. Otherwise when you mix packets, you’ll find that the beans cook at different rates and you end up with some of the your beans turning to mush, while others are under cooked.

Mango and Coconut Rice Salad

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I’ve made this Yotam Ottolenghi Mango and Coconut Rice Salad a number of times, it’s a firm favorite. A couple of things though; don’t use rancid coconut flakes, make sure they’re relatively fresh, nothing worse than munching on rancid coconut flakes. Also, it’s currently the arse end of the alphonso mango season at the moment, so do yourself a favour and pop down to your local exotic ingredients shop and buy some; your taste buds will thank you.