It’s not always possible to find a decent tomato in the north of Scotland. Even in the height of summer, homegrown ones can be insipid and have an odd chalky texture. And raw tomatoes are one thing I’m very fussy about. They have to be good or they have to be cooked.
There will be no turning my nose up at tomatoes this summer, however. There are beautiful, ripe, flavoursome specimens to be found everywhere and I’m eating them at most meals.
This was today’s breakfast.
The tomatoes need to be ripe, the olive oil needs to be good and the flavours need some time to fuse.
Chop or slice a handful of ripe tomatoes and place in a dish. Season with flaky sea salt and black pepper. Pour over about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of cider vinegar. Stir and leave to sit for half an hour.
Toast a bagel (or other bready item) lightly. Use a spoon to gather up the tomato-infused oil at the bottom of the bowl and drizzle evenly over bagel. Top with the tomatoes, another sprinkling of seasoning and, if you fancy, some shaved Parmesan cheese.
Also good with balsamic vinegar rather than cider vinegar.
Risotto Bianco with Rocket and Parma Ham
2 tblspn olive oil
2 tblspn butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 sticks of celery, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
250ml dry white wine
350g arborio rice
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock (homemade)
2 handfuls grated Parmesan
- In a large pan, heat the oil and butter over a medium heat until melted. Add the onion, celery and garlic and stir to coat. Reduce heat a little and cook gently for 15 – 20 mins until vegetables are soft and translucent but not caramelised.
- Meanwhile, heat the stock in another pot until simmering. Reduce heat to keep stock hot but not simmering.
- Increase the heat to medium high and add the rice. Stir to coat with oil and combine with the veg and cook for a minute. Add the wine and let it bubbly up, stirring occasionally.
- Now for the relaxing part… Reduce the heat to medium and add a ladle of stock to the rice and stir with a wooden spoon firmly, massaging the rice until all of the liquid is absorbed. You want the rice and liquid to just simmer at a gentle blib not vigorously. Keep adding the stock and letting it absorb until the rice is almost soft and the last ladle has been absorbed. Taste for seasoning at this point, adding salt and pepper to taste. Don’t be too liberal with the salt as the Parmesan and Parma ham will also add salt.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the remaining butter then cover and let sit for a couple of minutes.
- Stir well again then serve topped with parma ham and rocket.
One of my summer projects was to make sourdough bread. I made my own starter and tried out a few different recipes/techniques. What initially seemed like a massive faff to make bread, quickly developed into a bit of an obsession and I’m now making sourdough whenever I’m home at the weekends. It’s time consuming in that the dough needs to be mixed and stretched and risen over 24 hours, and you do need to plan ahead. But once you know the routine, there’s something quite relaxing about tending to the dough periodically throughout a day.
I follow the instructions from The Kitchn almost to the letter. I use slightly less water and my rising period in these cool climes can be longer. Instructions here.
Got these beautiful carrots from our local Food Assembly a few weeks ago. They were so very pretty, I wanted to show them off. So I sent photos of them to everyone (receiving a variety of responses in return) and then planned dinner around them: cumin roasted carrots with grilled lamb leg steaks, hummus, tzatziki, salad and pita chips.
Cumin Roasted Carrots
Allow 2 medium carrots per person (they reduce considerably in size as they cook)
¼ tspn cumin seeds per portion
½ tspn olive oil per portion
Pinch of salt and pepper
- Heat the oven to 190oC
- Peel the carrots, half length ways then width ways to make batons. Toss with the oil, cumin and seasoning and place on a baking tray (Don’t crowd).
- Roast for 30 – 40 mins, turning occasionally, until soft and caramelised.
Our main reason for going to go to San Sebastian this summer was the food. We wanted to bar hop and drink the traditional basque white wine, txakoli, all the while sampling lots of different pintxos. Pintxos are small portions of food – what we outside of Spain usually call tapas. Turns out tapas in Spain come “free” with food whereas pintxos are paid for, portion by portion. Pintxos are often (but certainly not always) more refined or elaborate than tapas too.
So during our 10 days in San Sebastian we walked and cycled and explored the city, and in the evenings we headed out to sample the town’s pintxos. Turns out finding the best food and navigating the bars was a skill to be learnt. The bars are busy and noisy and were a little intimidating at first. In our first pinxtos bar on our first day, I managed to steal food from another customer’s plate and had to be told to give it back. Mortifying, yes, but at least I could then drop any pretence of knowing what I was doing!
If you’re heading to San Sebastian, these are our tips on making the most of the pintxos…
- Order the hot pinxtos (pintxos calientes). These are fresher and often more interesting. Outside of the old town this menu will only be in Spanish and/or Basque. We relied on my Spanish – I know maybe 50 words and most are food related – and some English speaking bar staff but we met a Norwegian couple who were using the Microsoft Translator App and it worked a treat – they just took a picture of the menu and the app translated the words it could. The Apple version was a bit of a faff, however, so we gave up on it.
- Head out of the old town sometimes. There are lots of good pinxtos bars in the old town but there’s plenty to discover outside of this area too. Three streets we liked to visit were San Martzial Kalea just behind La Concha beach; the area around De Cataluña Plaza in Gros; and the streets De Felipe IV Hiribidea and Isabel II.a Etorb . up near the Anoeta stadium.
- Learn a little Spanish as well as the Basque words for Hello and Thank you. You’ll have no problems using English in the old town but heading away from the touristy area there are far less English speakers.
- Most bars run a tab where you pay for your food and drink when you are ready to move on. Make sure you show the bar staff what you are taking and keep a mental note too.
- Raciones are larger portions of food. Do not order four of these at once. It’s a lot of food. Trust me, I know.
- Many bars tended to stop serving food around 11pm. Cold pinxtos were available until midnight/1am.
- We booked a pinxtos tour for our second night through San Sebastian Pintxos Tours. It was quite pricey but absolutely worth it in the end. Our guide was charming and informative and the experience gave us the confidence to make even more of the food scene in San Sebastian.
One of our favourite bars was Mesón Martín. The gambas rebozadas (battered prawns) were outstanding as was the squid trainera. A trainera is a traditional Basque boat but the term is also used to describe a slice of baguette topped with seafood. The following was a trainera I returned to order again and again then I came home and made it so I could continue eating it some more. It’s very easy to put together and really great BBQ food.
Garlic infused olive oil (Shop bought or simply slice up a whole head of garlic and add to 250 extra virgin olive oil – heat very gently until the garlic starts to cook and the oil becomes fragrant – let cool and store in the fridge for up to a month)
2 cm wide slices of baguette
Slice of jamon or other thinly sliced cured meat
1 large prawn per trainera
1 small squid per trainera
Parsley and salt to serve
- Pat dry the squid and prawns and rub with oil. Cook over BBQ coals or under a hot grill for 4 – 6 minutes until the prawns are pink and the squid is lightly coloured/blistered.
- Toast the bread and brush with garlic oil. Add a slice of jamon, a squid and a prawn. Drizzle with more garlic oil and spinkle with salt flakes and parsley.
We fell in love with Nashville last summer. Oddly, it was David’s choice of destination on the trip. I’m the country music fan but he was the one that suggested it and continued pushing for a visit, even though it was out of our way. So visit we did and we loved it.
Nashville’s a good looking, laidback town with great food, super friendly folk and an unbelievable music scene. The latter may seem like a rather obvious statement but we couldn’t get over just how much good music was available all over the city, all the time. We’d go back in a shot.
Nashville Hot Chicken is a must-eat when you visit. Moist fried chicken with a blow-your-head-off coating placed on a slice of white bread and served with pickles. I knew I had to learn to make it when I returned and that’s exactly what I’ve done. My waistline may never recover. 😉
Nashville Hot Chicken
8 chicken legs and thighs
200ml tabasco sauce
2 tblspn brown sugar
1 litre vegetable oil
1 tblspn chilli flakes
2 tblspn cayenne pepper
1 tspn smoked paprika
1 tspn garlic powder
1/2 tspn cumin powder
1-2 slices of white bread per person
- The day before you eat, make the brine. Add the sugar, tabasco and two heaped tablespoons of salt to 1.5 litres of water. Heat gently on the stove until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Let cool. Once completely cool, add the chicken, ensuring it’s completely submerged. Pop in the fridge over night.
- For the hot oil coating: Add 100 ml of oil to a small frying pan. Stir in the chilli flakes, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika and cumin along with a teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of pepper. Heat gently until the oil warms up and the spices combine – do not over heat, you just want the oil to become aromatic. Set aside.
- Remove chicken from the brine and pat dry with kitchen roll. Warm an oven to 50oC. Tip plain flour into a shallow bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Heat the rest of the vegetable oil in a large pan (it should be about 3″ deep) until 175oC. Cook three pieces of chicken at a time by dredging them in the seasoned flour, shaking then placing in the oil. The chicken should cook for 10 mins then be turned. Highly recommend that you read and follow these instructions for perfect fried chicken. Place cooked chicken on a rack in the warm oven while you cook the rest.
- Once all the chicken is cooked, gently heat the oil again then brush generously all over the chicken pieces.
- Serve chicken on slices of plain white bread with plently of dill pickles. I like to have a small jug of the spiced oil available for those of us who like our hot chicken extra hot. 🙂
We ate a lot of cornbread this summer and not all of it good. Often I found it too cakey and extremely sweet . When it was good, however, it was fantastic. Stand out cornbread experiences included my friend, Nanette’s kitchen, the dining hall of the Folk School and an excellent brunch in Marché Artisan Foods, Nashville.
Since returning I’ve made this version by Anna Jones several times. It’s a coriander and chilli spiked version made with cornmeal and fresh corn. Not very traditional, perhaps, but a cracker of a recipe.
PS If you don’t know Anna Jones, I highly recommend her cookbooks. All dishes are vegetarian and I’m yet to find one that underwhelms me.