Friday
Aug212015

Tomatoes, apples, lobster & crab

TOMATOES

English tomatoes are in season from June to the end of October and if you’re lucky, some of them will be sun-ripened. As those who have eaten the multi-coloured misshapen varieties in the Mediterranean will know for sure, nothing matched the flavour of tomatoes ripened in the sun.

We’ve become so used to having forced greenhouse crops in the shops throughout the year that to a large extent many have forgotten what tomatoes should really taste like. It was a very clever ploy of the marketeers to present us with what they call ‘On-the-vine’ tomatoes. Actually that’s a misnomer as tomatoes grow on trusses – not on vines – but, of course, ‘vines’ sound far more seductive that ‘trusses’ that have some rather unfortunate connotations – particularly for men of a certain age !! Anyway – it’s the green stems that carry that wonderful fresh tomato fragrance that reminds us of childhood days when we picked fresh tomatoes in Grandpa’s garden and carried them through to the kitchen table.

It’s not too late though to recreate those wonderful times – even if only from a plant grown in a window box or a growbag on a patio or against a wall.

Frequently, however we are better off to open a can of Italian tomatoes to use in our cooking than trying to make something taste really good with watery supermarket varieties. I often recall a wonderful expression that crops up in many of the legendary Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean recipes: “Put a little olive oil in a pan and MELT the tomatoes over a gentle heat”. As a youngster I didn’t get it at all because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t ever get my tomatoes to melt. BUT, try cooking with those great big knobbly jobs you see in street markets in the South of France, Italy, Spain and Greece and it suddenly makes sense.

Whether you choose to call tomatoes fruits or vegetables there’s no doubt that they are one of the world’s natural superfoods containing an array of vitamins and mineral with health giving properties and protection from diseases – worth a mention, that Lycopene the antioxidant that gives tomatoes their rich red colour has been medically shown to help prevent cancers such as Prostate and colorectal – they are good for blood pressure and the prevention of heart disease.

Enough of the science – what are we going to cook with them?

Well there is of course the ubiquitous tomato sauce at the foundation of pizza and pasta dishes and for use in curries, stews, casseroles and many other dishes.

Basic tomato sauce – make a batch and freeze what you don’t need to use immediately.

Ingredients

6 – 8 ripe tomatoes, quartered and the hard stem seat removed
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
Clove of garlic, crushed
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A tablespoon of red wine vinegar
A dessert spoon of sugar
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Tablespoon of olive oil

Method

  • Sweat the onion and celery in olive oil until softened without colouring. Add the garlic and cook gently for a minute or two before adding the tomatoes.
  • Continue to cook until the tomatoes have collapsed and begun to liquefy. Add the vinegar, sugar and oregano. You may need to add a little water if the mixture is drying too quickly.
  • Cook covered over a very low heat for an hour then leave to cool in the pan.
  • Blitz the sauce with a stick blender and if a very smooth sauce is required, pass through a sieve.

 

This is the base to which you may add, meat, chicken, fish, shellfish, vegetables. Give it a Greek flavour by adding crumbled feta, go Mexican with lots of chilli and a touch of cumin. Add smoked paprika and maybe a little saffron for all your favourite Spanish dishes like patatas bravas – or just on its own with a little chopped parsley and grated Parmesan for the perfect pasta pomodoro.

Here’s a favourite Greek dish from Pelion in the region of Thessaly

Spetsofai

Classic Greek dish of country sausages cooked with wine, tomatoes, onions, peppers and mountain herbs with a hint of chilli. Served with

Ryzi me spanaki – rice with spinach

Ingredients for 20 tasters

6 best quality, handmade pork sausages
One onion, peeled and chopped
Clove garlic, chopped
One red pepper and one green pepper, de-seeded and cut into chunks
Spoonful dried mountain herbs
Salt & pepper
4 tomatoes – roughly chopped
Two red chillies – finely chopped
Splash white wine
Olive oil
Lemon
Parsley

METHOD

  • Cut the sausages into chunks about 25mm long and fry in olive oil until nicely browned. Remove to a plate.
  • Fry the onions, garlic and peppers in the same pan until well softened and beginning to colour, then add the chopped chilli.
  • Return the sausages to the pan along with the chopped tomatoes, dried herbs and wine.
  • Simmer gently until the sauce begins to thicken, then season to taste. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and chopped fresh parsley.

Ryzi me spanaki rice with spinach 

Ingredients for 20 tasters

2 handfuls rice
One onion, peeled, and chopped and boiled in water for 5 minutes
2 large handfuls spinach – wilted, drained and chopped
Salt & white pepper
Ground cinnamon
Grated nutmeg
Chopped dill
Olive oil
Lemon zest 

METHOD

  • Cook the rice, then drain and reserve.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a pan, then add the onion, spinach and rice. Stir together over a low heat.
  • Season with salt & pepper plus cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Finish with chopped dill and finely grated lemon zest. Give the finished dish a final flourish of olive oil.
  • Cook the rice, then drain and reserve.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a pan, then add the onion, spinach and rice. Stir together over a low heat.
  • Season with salt & pepper plus cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Finish with chopped dill and finely grated lemon zest. Give the finished dish a final flourish of olive oil.

APPLES

A lot more about apples next month, but as some varieties are already ripe on the treesI wanted to give you one of my favourite recipes:

Poulet vallée d'Auge

Normandy chicken cooked in butter and cider with mushrooms, shallots, Calvados
and cream, flavoured with fresh tarragon

Ingredients for 4 servings

Whole free-range chicken approx. 1.4kg
2 rashers smoked streaky bacon cut into lardons
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
50g finely chopped shallots
150g mixed mushrooms – wild and cultivated (use some dried and re-hydrated porcini mushrooms if fresh wild ones are not available)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh tarragon
Handful chopped parsley
Small glass Calvados
250ml Normandy dry cider (English dry cider works just as well)
100ml double cream or crème fraîche for a lighter finish

Method

  • Begin by jointing the chicken to give 10 portions on the bone: 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings and 2 whole breasts halved. Keep the back for stock making.
  • Melt the butter in a large sauté pan and when sizzling add the lardons and cook to release their fat.
  • Add the chicken pieces, season well with salt and pepper and cook, turning occasionally until well browned all over.
  • Add the chopped shallots and stir through for a couple of minutes.
  • Pour over the Calvados and flambé to burn off the alcohol.
  • Pour over the cider, cover with a paper cartouche and simmer for 20 minutes
  • Remove and discard the cartouche and stir through the sliced mushrooms along with the fresh tarragon, cook for a few more minutes.
  • Finally stir through the crème fraîche and chopped parsley. Check for seasoning and serve hot direct from the pan.    

Serve the chicken with apple rings sliced to about 100m thick and sautéed in butter with a touch of sugar. Garnish with watercress.
 

Lobster and Crab

Our own native lobsters are in season from July to November and well worth treating yourself. OK so for a decent sized specimen enough to feed two people we’re talking about £12 -£15 – to cook at home of course. Eat out and you may well be looking at £20 or more per serving. So for a special occasion it’s not too far over the top.

Here’s a few simple ideas for very seductive eating – just the thing for you men to cook for the girl in your life. The adventurous may wish to tackle a live lobster but mostly local fishmongers sell freshly boiled ones that only need splitting. 

1)     Simple lobster salad with fresh mayonnaise into which you have whisked a little dissolved saffron – lots of mixed leaves and fresh crusty bread plus a bottle of Sancerre or similar

2)     Grilled lobster As before, if you are nervous have the fishmonger split it for you – pop onto a BBQ shell side down for a couple of minutes then serve with lashings of Beure Matre d’Hotel (butter mashed with garlic, salt, parsley and lemon juice). Serve with fried potatoes and salad or rice with peas, sweetcorn and chopped red peppers.

3)     Spaghetti aragusta. Split the cooked lobster. Tear off the claws, crack then open and remove the flesh. Tear off the legs. Remove the tail meat from the shells and discard the intestinal tract. Put the empty claws in a saucepan along with the legs, add a glass of white wine and a couple of spoons of your tomato sauce. Simmer and strain into a clean pan. Cook the spaghetti to al dente then transfer the hot pasta to the sauce along with a little of the cooking water. Slice up the tail meat and stir gently though the pasta and sauce. Now fill the half shells with the lobster spaghetti top with the whole claw meat and flash under the grill for a minute. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with a glass of cold Chardonnay.

Lobster Thermidor

Lobster Thermidor for 2 people

Ingredients

2 live lobster weighing 3/4 lb each
3 pints court bouillon
1/2 pint thick Béchamel sauce
1/2 teaspoon English mustard
A pinch each of sea salt and ground paprika
A little melted butter 

For the Court Bouillon

3 pints water
1/4 pint dry white wine
4 shallots finely sliced
1 carrot finely sliced
Juice of half a lemon
Teaspoon of salt
A few black peppercorns
Bouquet Garni: sprig of thyme, bayleaf, a few parsley stalks tied into the outer leaf of a leek

Put all the ingredients except the peppercorns into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour adding the peppercorns for the final 10-12 minutes. Strain through muslin.

For the Béchamel sauce

1 oz plain flour
1 oz butter
1/2 pint milk
Half an onion, peeled and stuck with a whole clove
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
A bouquet garni – tie together a bay leaf and a sprig each of thyme and parsley
1 dessertspoon thick double cream (optional) 

Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour. Keep stirring while you cook out the flour over a moderate heat to a pale buff colour. Remove from the heat and cool a little before whisking in the milk. Bring back to the boil then add the seasoning, onion and bouquet. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain through a very fine sieve.

For the lobster

Kill the lobsters in your preferred fashion then plunge into boiling court bouillon and boil gently for ten minutes. Remove, drain and allow to cool a little. Split the lobsters in half lengthways and remove the stomach bag from inside the head and the intestine (the black line running down the tail). Brush the flesh with melted butter, season with a little salt and paprika then place flesh side down in a hot pan. Cook for 4 minutes.

Make the Béchamel sauce, stir in the mustard and cream (if using) plus the cuisson, juices from the pan in which the lobster was cooked. Remove the meat from the tail and cut into generous scallops. Chop up the head and claw meat and mix with half the Béchamel. Divide this mixture between the 4 cleaned and trimmed lobster shells. Carefully arrange the tail scallops (rounded side up) on top and coat with the remaining Béchamel. Sprinkle with a little melted butter and glaze under a very hot grill.

Now for crab – buy them ready dressed and have all the wonderful sweet white and brown meat without the hassle of having TO PICK IT YOURSELF a few ideas:

Crab risotto – with sundried tomatoes and mascarpone

Crab toasts

Thai crab cakes

Chilli Crab Linguini

Ingredients for 2 servings

1 whole dressed crab
Half an onion, peeled and finely chopped
Clove of garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon dried chilli flakes (more if you like heat)
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons tomato purée
½ teaspoon sugar
Pinch saffron
Small glass dry white wine
Hot water
100g linguini
Chopped parsley
Extra virgin olive oil 

Method

  • Separate the white meat from the brown crab meat and set aside 
  • Scrape all the brown crab meat from the shell and press through a fine sieve to make a smooth purée. Brake the crab shell up a bit. 
  • Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and add the onion and crab shell – cook, stirring for a minute or two. Then add the tomato paste, garlic and chilli. Continue to stir and cook for a minute before adding the wine, saffron and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes, adding a little hot water if it begins to dry out. 
  • Pass the whole lot through a sieve into a clean pan and whisk in the sieved brown crab meat. Return to a low simmer 
  • Meanwhile, boil the linguini in a large pan of salted water until cooked to just al dente. Do not drain. 
  • Season the sauce with salt and pepper and add more chilli flakes if desired. 
  • Transfer the linguini directly from the cooking water into the sauce and stir through adding a little of the cooking water to loosen the mixture.
  • Finally stir through the white crab meat before serving in warmed bowls. Finish with chopped parsley, a twist or two of black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Chef’s tip: The addition of a little finely grated lemon zest along with the chopped parsley adds an extra dimension to this dish.

Buon appetito