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…

Rumbledethumps

Rumbledethumps is a traditional Scottish dish, made from left over tatties, cabbage and onions. It’s another one of those comfort dishes that can handle all the butter and pepper you can throw at it.

Rumbledethumps is essentially a variation of the Irish colcannon, or the English bubble and squeak. I can remember having plenty of bubble and squeak as a child, with Mum cooking leftover mashed tatties and cabbage in a frying pan. I can’t ever remember anyone calling it Rumbledethumps though, or cooking it in the oven.

I’ve tried in the past to make bubble and squeak in a similar fashion to how I remember Mum making it. We never seem to have leftovers in this house though, so it’s always been from scratch and ended up being a bit disappointing.

As I had some Charlotte potatoes leftover from making the Batata Harra, I decided to used those to make the mash. In a similar fashion to the Clapshot, I simmered the tatties with a bay leaf, a bunch of thyme and some garlic cloves.

Given the choice, I wouldn’t use this variety of tatties to make mash again, as the end result is far too gloopy. You’re much better off with floury tatties like King Edward to make your mash.

Mashing tatties with butter and pepper...

I also decided to use kale, rather than cabbage, mainly as we had a bit bag of it in the fridge, as my wife likes to juice it. Rather than sauté the kale with the onions in some butter, I steamed it over the simmering tatties. This only happened, as I’d totally forgotten about the onion, so ended up quickly frying off a shallot, while everything else sat there ready to go in the oven.

Some grated Red Leicester cheese sprinkled on top, and it was ready for the oven. It just so happened that we had a small amount of this cheese left, so it meant that I could use it all up. This felt a bit more in the spirit of the dish, rather than cracking open a new packet of Cheddar.

I thoroughly enjoyed eating every single last drop of this, even though it could easily have fed two; I was stuffed to the gunwales for hours afterwards. It’s a great comfort food, the tatties and kale go so well together, there’s nothing about it not to like.

Batata Harra

It’s taken ages to finally get round to making this, maybe it’s just because Ottolenghi’s Plenty More didn’t have a photo, but more likely that I’ve just been too busy doing other stuff.

To be honest, a year ago I couldn’t have told you what batata harra was, or where it came from; Wikipedia isn’t exactly replete with information either. It turns out it’s a Lebanese dish and the name translates as spicy potatoes, it’s also pretty damn tasty.

You’re supposed to make it with red pepper, but my wife used the only red pepper we had the evening before, even though I’d ask her to not to; so I had to make do with a yellow one. I’m sure the taste wasn’t affected, but you can really see why a red one is specified, as the yellow one is the same colour as the potatoes, so you loose a lot of visual appeal.

Ottolenghi’s recipe, calls for the oven to be on 240°C, which leads to nice and crispy potatoes, but utterly destroys the crushed garlic and chopped coriander. Never having had batata harra before, I have no idea if this is the desired result or not.

I made half the quantity in the recipe, which was enough as a main course on it’s own. I misread it though and used ½ a teaspoon of homemade chilli flakes, rather than a ¼. By the time I finished, it was like someone had blow torched the inside of my mouth while I took a shower; the sweat was streaming down my head. I know it’s supposed to be spicy potatoes, but I’d definitely use a touch less next time. I couldn’t help thinking that it needed some sort of yogurt or labneh based condiment to take the edge off the heat as well.

One other thing I might change, is the use of the lemon juice. While works really nicely with the other flavours, I do wonder if using barberries would give a similar effect. Mainly as the lemon juice seemed to soak into some of the potatoes and not into others. Having lots of little lemon flavour bombs scattered through out, might mean you get some lemon flavour to the last mouthful.

Clapshot

Clapshot is a traditional Scottish dish, made with mashed neeps and tatties. One of those winter comfort dishes, where it’s almost impossible to overdo the butter and pepper.

Clapshot is, technically, really easy to make, just boil some neeps¹ and tatties², mash with loads of butter and pepper, stir through some chopped chives and away you go. It’s just as easy to get it wrong though, too much turnip can overpower the potato and if the turnip is too wet, it can make the whole lot too sloppy. Like most things, it’s all about finding the balance.

I simmered the potatoes with a bay leaf, some fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and a few halved garlic cloves, similarly, I simmered the turnip in milk, with a bay leaf and some green peppercorns. This was to try and get some extra flavour into what can be two pretty bland vegetables. One thing though, just make sure you simmer the turnip for long enough, especially if you’re going to try and force it though a ricer, as it wouldn’t quite all go through mine; I should probably have used the mouli, rather than the ricer.

Neeps and tatties ready to cook.

I think a ratio of around 3:2, potato to turnip, is probably around where you want to aim. Anymore and it can become a bit too skewed in favour of the turnip, in my opinion. Similarly, about two thirds to three quarters of a 25g bunch of chives is about right, as they can be quite potent when raw. One thing is for sure though, don’t skimp on either the butter, or the ground pepper.

Then crack open some oatcakes, but chunky ones rather than the poor excuses I used here, sit back and stuff your face.

¹ turnip, at least what the Scots call a turnip, sold as swede down South.
² potatoes, preferably floury ones like King Edward.

Baba Ganoush

Baba Ganoush...

I have a love hate relationship with aubergine, but had my eyes opened when I tried some baba ganoush made by a friend. I had to have a go at making my own.

I associate baba ganoush with the Middle East, so when I was looking for a recipe my first query was basically Yotam Ottolenghi baba ganoush. What turned up was unexpected though, as it turns out that Felicity Cloake has done one of her How to make the perfect… for baba ganoush on The Guardian website.

I decided to go straight for Felicity’s recipe, as life is too short to go through the angst of picking one of the others and then being disapointed. I’ve made it twice now, and I have to say that it’s bloody delicious.

If like me, you don’t have a gas hob and don’t want to soften the aubergine under the grill, then buy a disposable barbeque. The small ones are big enough for four aubergines and the smokiness that’s imparted isn’t too much. Although it can take quite a while to soften large aubergines, as some of these wee barbeques aren’t the most powerful.

This will most likely become a staple dish at parties and barbeques going forward, it’s definitely worth trying.

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.

North African Squash and Chickpea Stew

IMG_20130401_192423_1

I quite like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day book, it’s my kind of simple unfussy cooking. I’d been wanting to cook this North African Squash and Chickpea Stew recipe for a while, but the rest of the household had always vetoed the idea. We needed something hearty and warming one weekend though, as the weather was pretty dire, so I finally got my wish.

It was ridiculously easy to make, as everything went into the one pot. I also made some pitta breads to go along with it, shame I can’t remember whose pitta recipe I used. I thought it was really nice, but the kids found it a bit much, I think it was the teaspoon of ground black pepper that did it. Just a bit too much warming heat and spice…

As we had two portions left over, it meant that I could have it again at my leasure. So one evening last week, I took a tub of it out of the freezer and had it for my dinner. I paired it with some plain couscous that I stirred some of my homemade harissa into and it worked really well. It’s definitely something I want to make again, whether I’ll be allowed to or not, is another matter…