Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fresh anchovies in a fiery red pepper sauce

This is inspired by a Calabrian speciality known as rosamarina or mustica (also sometimes called Calabrian Caviar). This consists of anchovy fry, which are dried, salted and conserved with oil and hot chilies. The resultant preserve is then eaten on bread or used to flavour pasta.

When I went to Calabria in April, I took an empty bag in my hand luggage. For the return trip I filled it with two kilos of spicy sausages, some nduja (a very spicy, spreadable salami), and a jar of rosamarina. The recipe below is inspired by the rosamarina, although all the details are different: instead of anchovy fry I used fresh adult anchovies, I replaced the fresh chillis with cayenne pepper (red chillis are very difficult to come by in Cadiz – they do appear in the market from time to time, but not in a predictable manner), and I cut down on the salt. The result is a sauce which is fresh, spicy and fishy all at the same time. It is excellent with pasta, and also goes well on toast. If you can’t get hold of fresh anchovies, then I imagine this would work well with herring fillets.

500g of fresh red peppers
500g of fresh anchovies
olive oil
3 teaspoons of chilli powder
½ teaspoon of salt

  1. Chop the red peppers into small pieces and sweat them gently in a large frying pan with plenty of olive oil.
  2. While the red peppers are cooking, prepare the anchovies. There are two ways of doing this. Either take the whole anchovy, insert a sharp knife into the back just below the head, push it right through so it comes out of the front of the anchovy, then slide it down. Remove the top fillet and the guts. Slide the knife under the backbone and along to the tail and remove the other fillet. Rinse the fillets in plenty of cold water, and drain. This sounds fiddly but is actually quite easily. It should take no more than 10 minutes to process 500g of anchovies. An alternative method is to gut the anchovies (by sliding a sharp knife into the fish’s anus then up towards its head, pull out the guts and rinse under cold water), then blanch them in a saucepan of boiling water for 30 seconds or so. Once you’ve done this, you can just slide the fillets off with your fingers. They will be slightly cooked, but that doesn’t matter.
  3. Once the peppers are soft and thoroughly cooked, transfer them to a food processor and liquidise until you have a fairly smooth sauce.
  4. In the saucepan, heat a little more oil, stir in the chilli powder and fry for 10 seconds or so to release the flavours, then return the peppers to the pan. Season with the salt, stir well and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the anchovy fillets to the sauce, stir well, cover the pan, reduce to a minimum and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve as a pasta sauce or spread on toast as a spicy hors d’oeuvre.
Sometimes I think we worry too much about authenticity – becoming too obsessed with always using the original ingredients can stop us from improvising and finding ways of doing new things.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Scotch eggs

One of the fun things about living in another country is that it gives you the opportunity to pass off all kinds of dubious information as hard fact. “Yes, yes. Everyone makes these at home in Scotland. We keep our own quails in the garden specially for this purpose.”

Every year Sammy and Carmela’s school has a multicultural buffet, where parents are meant to bring things from their own country. There are quite a few Moroccan kids in the school, so there is always a good supply of little pastries, and last year there was a great chicken couscous too. There is a girl whose parents are French/Belgian and who have a patisserie, so they bring along a tray of pastries, and this year there was a bit of an Anglo baking competition involving apple pie, brownies and flapjacks.

Anyway, I decided to use the event as an excuse to make Scotch eggs. (Which may not even be Scottish.) They went down surprisingly well, despite a wobbly moment at the beginning, when one of the Moroccan mums bit into one of them and had to be quickly reassured that I had only used beef. (Actually, I wasn’t that surprised, as Spaniards love eggs and mince, and are also pretty keen on anything breaded and fried.)

Making them with quail eggs involves a little more work at the beginning (peeling and coating), but they are easier to fry and much more attractive. Steaming the eggs is important, as it stops them from cracking as they cook and so makes peeling them easier.

This is one of those recipes that I thought would be frustratingly fiddly to do, but it wasn't. For me, there are two kinds of fiddliness in the kitchen: fiddly and difficult (e.g., making baskets out of spun sugar), and fiddly but easy. This one is time-consuming, but it's fairly foolproof and doesn't demand any great technique. So long as I'm in the right mood then I find this kind of thing quite therapeutic.

24 quail eggs
400 g of minced beef
3 spring onions, roughly chopped
fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of mustard
4 teaspoons of grated Parmesan
freshly ground salt and black pepper
3 chicken eggs

  1. Steam the quail eggs for about 5 minutes. Remove, cool in a large bowl of water, and peel.
  2. Place the mince, spring onions, parsley, mustard, Parmesan, salt and black pepper and ONE of the beaten chicken eggs into the food, and chop until the mixture is quite smooth. (It should start to form a ball.)
  3. Take a small piece of the mixture, flatten it out in your hand and wrap it round the egg, making sure that the egg is completely covered with a thin layer of meat. (This sounds fiddly, but is actually quite easily. You can just squash it round the egg and pinch off any excess mixture.) Repeat this until all the eggs are covered. (With the quantities above there should be a bit of leftover mixture which can be turned into beefburgers.)
  4. Put plenty of flour on a plate, plenty of breadcrumbs on another plate, and break the two remaining chicken eggs into a bowl and mix with a fork. One by one, roll the covered eggs in flour, shake off any excess, then pass the floured egg through the egg and then roll it in breadcrumbs. (It’s best to do this in stages: first flour all the eggs, then put them all into the egg mixture, then roll them in breadcrumbs: otherwise you will find that your fingers gradually become covered in a sticky egg and breadcrumb mixture!)
  5. Fill a large, high-sided saucepan about 2.5 cm deep with sunflower oil. Heat the oil until it is hot but not too hot. (Sorry to be vague, but I don’t use thermometers for this kind of thing.) Place the breaded eggs gently into the oil, fry for a couple of minutes before carefully turning over and frying for another couple of minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen paper.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Aubergine curry

The key to this recipe is for the onion and tomato sauce to be very smooth, and this technique can be used as the base for lots of curries.

sunflower oil
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 kg of tomatoes
1 kg of aubergine
2 teaspoons of minced red chilli
1 tablespoon of medium curry powder
½ teaspoon of salt

1 bunch of fresh coriander

  1. Peel and roughly chop the onion and garlic, and whizz thoroughly in a food processor so that they are very finely chopped. Slice off the tops and bottoms of the tomatoes, and discard. Chop the tomatoes roughly and whizz thoroughly in a food processor. Top and tail the aubergines, then cut into large chunks. Deep fry in batches until golden brown, and leave to drain in a colander.
  2. In a large saucepan with plenty of oil, fry the onion and garlic gently until the onion is cooked (but not browned). Because the onion is so finely chopped, you need to be careful it doesn't burn. Use a low to medium heat, plenty of oil, stir frequently and add a little water if it starts to stick. Once the onions are cooked, add the curry powder and fry for 30 seconds or so to release the flavours, then add the tomatoes, chilli and salt, bring to the boil and simmer for about half an hour until you the sauce is juicy and thick.
  3. Wash and finely chop the coriander (stems and all). Add the cooked aubergines, stir gently so that they are well-coated in the tomato sauce, but being careful not to break them up, then add the coriander and cook at a low heat for another 10 minutes or so.

Roasted garlic puree

One slightly frustrating feature of food shopping in Spain is the way many products are treated as commodities. While a British supermarket allows you to choose coffee on the basis of country of origin, strength of roast, fineness of grounds and quality, the Spanish equivalent gives you a choice of three or four almost identical brands, and the only other choice is decaff or normal.

This is true even of garlic. In Edinburgh, I can choose between ‘normal’ garlic, smoked garlic, top grade Highland garlic (or its Patagonian replacement during the winter), jars of crushed and chopped garlic and tubes of garlic puree. In Cadiz there is just garlic, and the occasional appearance of fresh garlic in the spring.

I don’t always feel like peeling and chopping garlic, particularly if I’m making something quick, and that's where ready-crushed garlic comes in handy. The method below is a great way of producing homemade garlic puree. It also has the advantage of being much milder than the raw version, so I prefer to use it in dips and other dishes where the garlic isn’t going to be cooked any further. Once you've cooked the garlic, it will keep for a few days in the fridge, and you can just squeeze it straight into your cooking.

Ingredients4 heads of garlic
4 bay leaves
olive oil


  1. Drizzle the heads of garlic olive oil, sprinkle with salt, wrap in tinfoil with the bay leaves, and roast in a hot oven for 45 minutes or so.
  2. Remove the tinfoil parcel from the oven, allow to cool, cut each head of garlic in half, and squeeze out the roast garlic into a small bowl.
  3. Mix with a little salt and some more olive oil, and store in a jar in the fridge.

You obviously don’t want to turn the oven on just for this, so the best thing to do is bung some garlic in the oven when you are already baking something else.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Courgette soup with lemon and basil

This is a really simple soup I came up with today. The ingredients were just what happened to come to hand, but I think the sharpness of the lemon goes really well with the smoothness of the courgette. And the basil gives it a bit of extra interest without overwhelming the other flavours.

olive oil
1 leek
3 medium-sized courgettes
600 ml of good quality stock
juice of 1 lemon
a good handful of basil leaves

  1. Chop the leeks quite finely, and sweat in plenty of olive oil in a large saucepan. Cut the courgettes into smallish pieces, add to the leeks and continue to cook for 10 minutes or so.
  2. Add the stock, bring to a boil, cover, reduce to minimum and cook for another 20 minutes.
  3. Add the lemon juice, chopped basil leaves and about quarter a teaspoon of salt. Turn off the heat and allow to cool a little before liquidising. Taste and add a little more salt or lemon juice if required.
Not all lemons are the same. These rather ordinary looking ones were given to me by the mother of Sammy's schoolfriend, Martín, who has a lemon tree in his garden. They have lots more flavour and are much juicier than anything I have ever managed to buy, either in Spain or in the UK.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pasta with beans and Calabrian sausage

Here is a recipe for pasta with beans and spicy Calabrian sausages. (I brought back a couple of kilos in my luggage, but they can be replaced with any Italian sausages, or indeed any good quality coarse British sausages.) The end result should be a stew served with pasta, rather than pasta served with a sauce. (The picture at the top shows the stew before the pasta has been added.)

500 g of haricot beans
olive oil
1 head of celery
500 g of carrots
6 cloves of garlic
1 kg of spicy Calabrian sausages

  1. Soak the haricot beans overnight. The next day, chop the celery, and fry gently in a large saucepan for a few minutes until it starts to soften. Add the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, fry for another minute or so, then add the strained beans and enough stock or water to cover. Bring to a boil, skim off any scum which floats to the surface, reduce the heat to minimum and simmer until the beans are almost done but still have a little bite. (Probably about an hour.)
  2. While the beans are cooking, peel and chop the carrots, and slice the sausages into thick slices. Add the carrots and the sausage to the cooked beans, add a little stock if necessary, and some salt. Simmer until the sausage is cooked. (About 20 minutes.)
  3. Cook your pasta, drain, toss with a little olive oil, and add it to the stew.

Calabrian food is characterised by the generous use of chilli. It’s used both fresh and dry, and in lots of preparations. Two of my favourites are a salty sauce made with fresh chillies and salted anchovies, and ‘nduja’, a type of soft very spicy sausage which you can spread on bread or melt into a pasta sauce.