Oven Dried Tomatoes

Do you know what I really don’t like?  Sun-dried tomatoes.  Bleugh.  They look weird and they taste weird.  So weird do they taste, in fact, that I physically shudder when I eat one.

Sun-blush tomatoes, however, are a completely different kettle of fish.  Dried in full sunlight for only half the time of their wrinklier cousins, sunblush tomatoes are sweet and rich and really quite pretty.  If I lived somewhere warm and sunny with a begonia filled balcony, I’d make sunblush tomatoes all the time.

As it happens, I live in the north of Scotland where it’s generally pretty cold and windy.  Even on our sunniest of days it’s hard to dry a sheet let alone a tray of tomatoes.  It was, therefore, with utter delight that I discovered by slowly drying cherry tomatoes in a low oven, one can imitate the sweet, caramel flavour of sunblush tomatoes in a wintery northern kitchen.

Oven Dried Tomatoes

Cherry or baby plum tomatoes (even the out of season hot-house ones – as I used this time – work wonderfully)

Caster sugar

Salt and Pepper

A dried herb – thyme or oregano are my favourites

  • Pre-heat oven to 100 oC.
  • Cut the tomatoes in half length ways and place cut side up on a baking tray.
  • Lightly dust with caster sugar, seasoning and the herb.
  • Place in oven for 2 hours.
  • Eat warm or cold.

I’m sure these would be wonderful in salads or through pasta but I love them just as they are.

Simplified Cassoulet

Cassoulet is an elaborate, rich, hearty french dish traditionally consisting of 
(amongst a dizzying array of other ingredients) pork belly, duck legs, Toulouse sausages and lamb all cooked in a generous amount of goose fat and beans.  Not a dish for the faint-hearted, I suspect.  I say “suspect” as I have never actually had real cassoulet before.  I’d like to and I will do some day when in France and really, really, really hungry. 

Until then, I’m more than happy to stick with the following much simplified version of the dish.  Based on the lovely (and much missed) Amanda‘s recipe, this cassoulet-inspired casserole is an absolute cracker.   It’s perfect for winter but I strongly suspect it’ll be appearing on our table well into the spring and summer months.  :)

Simplified Cassoulet

(serves 4 with crusty bread)

1 tblspn olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

4 rashers of bacon

4 cloves of garlic, halved length-ways

400g tin chickpeas

400g tin butterbeans

1/4 bottle white wine

400ml beef stock OR 200ml beef stock and 1 tin of tomatoes

2 bay leaves

8 butchers’ pork sausages

juice of 1 lemon

1 cup breadcrumbs

Seasoning

Handful fresh parsley, chopped

  • Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large casserole (if you don’t have a cooker & oven safe dish do the first part in a normal pan then transfer to an oven dish later).  Add the onions and cook until golden (about 20 minutes).
  • Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions to another dish then add the chopped bacon to the pan.  Increase the heat and fry until crisped up. 
  • Add the onions back to the pan along with the halved garlic, beans, wine, stock, tomatoes (if using) bay leaves and a little black pepper.  Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, brown the sausages in a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium high heat. 
  • Squeeze the lemon juice into the beans and season to taste. 
  • Carefully place the sausaged on top of the beans and push down slightly so they are only half submerged in the mixture.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
  • Cook uncovered in a 175oC oven for an hour.
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle with parsley. 
  • Serve with lots of crusty bread and some greens.

Countdown

I’m moving house at the end of next month and am rather excited about it.  Mostly because the view from the bottom of my garden will be this:

38 days to go!

P.S. Thanks to my Dad for these photos.

This Week’s Lunch

There’s a David Gray song that has very recently been totally ruined for me.  The slow, aching longing that makes This Year’s Love so very beautiful is completely lost when one cannot help but sing the words “this week’s lunch” instead of “this year’s love”:

This week’s lunch had better last,
Heaven knows it’s high time.
I’ve been waiting on this lunch too long…

I blame it on my Sunday ritual of cooking up a large vat of something to see me through busy weekday lunch breaks.  Soup used to be my staple (this one or this one perhaps) but, for no particular reason, I’ve been eschewing liquid foods this winter in favour of rice or lentil based dishes.  

My current favourite (and the dish I’ve made for this coming week) is the following vegetable biryani.  Though not terribly authetic, I love this dish.  It’s nutritious and it’s filling and it’s tasty.  And that’s just what I need to perk me after a morning’s teaching. :)

Vegetable Biryani – adapted from La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer

(makes 4 lunch-sized portions)

1 onion, chopped finely

1 tblspn ghee or vegetable oil

2 clove of garlic, chopped

1/2 tspn cinnamon

1/2 tspn turmeric

1/2 tspn pepper

1/2 tspn ground ginger

1 tspn salt

1/4 tspn cayenne pepper (optional)

1 carrot, chopped

5 button mushrooms, chopped

400g tin of chickpeas

1/4 cup red lentils

1/2 cup basmati rice

2 1/2 cups water

Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup frozen peas

Handful of coriander, chopped

  • Fry the onion in the oil until almost softened.  Add the mushrooms and fry for a few minutes more.
  • Add the garlic, spices and salt and fry for another few minutes.
  • And the chickpeas, lentils, rice and water and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and put a lid on the pan.  Simmer gently for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed and rice is cooked.
  • Add the peas and tomato.  Stir through and replace lid.  Leave for 5 minutes.
  • Stir through the coriander.

Baked Gnocchi

This isn’t a recipe so much as a revelation.

You know that stodgy, pre-packed gnocchi you can buy in supermarkets?  Well, until just recently I thought it was absolutely inedible.  Then I discovered the joys of baked gnocchi. 

Simple stir your cooked gnocchi and a green (I used rocket but spinach is good too) through lots of (preferably) home-made tomato sauce and sprinkle with a moderate amount of Parmesan cheese.  Bake at 190oC for 30 minutes or until the cheese has crisped up.

The formerly plasticine-like gnocchi go all crisp on top and all moist and soft underneath.  Yum!  Lovely jubbly with a big  green salad.

Hmmmmm.  Now I really want some plasticine to play with.  Or Fimo!  That would be amazing…

Braised Belgian Endive

The second of my current favourite starters uses the slightly maligned Belgian endive.  Perhaps you call it chicory or witlof.   It’s a beautiful pearly vegetable with bitter but satiny white leaves and I adore it.  Tried to grow it last year and failed miserably.  Will try again though.  It’d be wonderful to pick fresh from my garden.

Anyway, though I adore endive all raw and crunchy in salads with cheese and nuts, my absolute favourite way to eat it is braised in a little butter and stock then topped with bubbling parmesan.  Gorgeous as a side dish to grilled chicken and perfect with crusty bread as a sticky starter served

Braised Belgian Endive

One endive per person, halved length-ways

Butter

100-150ml stock (Chicken or veg)

Seasoning

Parmesan cheese

  • Preheat oven to 190oC.
  • Melt a little butter  in an oven-proof dish, just large enough to take your endives.
  • Roll the endives in the butter until coated and discard extra fat. 
  • Lay endives in the dish rounded side up, season and pour in stock until halfway up the vegetables.
  • Cover tightly with foil and roast for 20 minutes.
  • Remove foil and turn endives so the flat side is up.  Roast for another 10 minutes without the foil.
  • Increase oven temp. to 210oC.  Sprinkle endives with parmesan cheese and roast for 10 minutes until cheese is golden and bubbling.
  • Serve drizzled with the juices woth crusty bread on the side.