Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quince Bake


Yeah, I know, another baked dish... but hey, faced with giant quinces, what's a girl to do? This one is incredibly easy, and took advantage of the leftover Quittenmus (pureed quince) that I made last week by using it in the cakey layer above the fruit. I sprinkled it with some spelt oats, because spelt oats are a good friend of mine. Also because it looks prettier, but eh, whatever.

As you can see above, one of the quinces had been in a couple of fights. They're a pretty tough fruit, best handled with a small, sharp knife. The skin tends to be a little fuzzy, like a peach, and they're totally inedible raw. I've never had the gumption to try one raw, actually, so that could be an old wives' tour created by those who despise sour fruit. The smell of the quince, as you cut into it, is so much better than the appearance of the fruit; light and floral, sweetsour, and fresh. Apple, my young padawan, you have absolutely nothing on your older friend, here.

You want to cut your quince into small chunks, ready to simmer in some water (with sugar added, if you need) as if it were an apple. Except, thankfully, it's not an apple - it's better. Yeah, I know, you're probably not as enthralled with quinces as I am, to which I say: suck it up, princess. This is my blog, and if I want to wax lyrical about fruit, then sure, I'm going to do so. Just be thankful that it's not another post about pumpkins! ;)

The stewed fruit it put into a small casserole dish, covered with the batter, and slowly cooked. I know it's not a friendly thing to do, but I pierce the middle of the batter after about half an hour - it releases a little moisture. If you have one of those flutes used to vent pies, then that too would be absolutely brilliant. The level of moisture here means that the bottom layer of the cake will be mushy and slightly battery in places, which is completely awesome if you were the kind of child who would fight tooth and nail to lick the spoon when your mother baked. If you don't like that sort of pudding-like consistency, then halve the fruit amount and double the cake batter, and bake it as though it were a quince cake or clafoutis. See, quince is for everyone!
Quince Bake
2 ripe quinces, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
sugar (to taste)
pinch cinnamon (optional)
1 & 1/2 cups wholemeal flour*
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder*
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1 & 1/2 cups quince puree (applesauce is fine)
soymilk/milk, as required
small handful oats, if desired
Simmer your quinces in water, adding sugar and cinnamon if you like (I don't bother - I like tart fruit) until the quince is completely tender. Drain thoroughly. I like to let them sit to cool, so that they release less liquid when they're baked. It improves the texture of the cake.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, vanilla and quince puree, adding soymilk or milk if required, to make it into a thick batter. Whether you need to add extra liquid depends entirely on the consistency of your fruit puree.
Pour the batter over the quince pieces and bake, about 50-60 minutes in my slow oven, which was set to 180 degrees C. I cut a vent in the top when the batter was thick enough to stay apart, so about 30-40 minutes into the baking time. Just put a knife into the batter and pull it back to the sides, so that the fruit in the middle is exposed. It doesn't need to be too big.
Eat straight from the dish with some kind of icecream or custard, if you can. Mush it up as you eat it, then realise that you never took a photo of how it looks inside, and realise that you've made it completely un-presentable to anyone who would want to see it. Eat a quarter for morning tea, and then half for afternoon tea (after a huge lunch), and then regret your lack of self-restraint when you get a stomach ache from eating too much food in one sitting. ;)


*If you have access to SR flour, use it instead of flour + baking powder. I'm using wholemeal flour because that's what I have in my pantry - white flour is perfectly acceptable, too.

Semolina Tutorial.

This old friend, my bag-of-semolina, has been sitting in my pantry for ages. Ok, not ages exactly, but a couple of months. Unopened. I know, it seems phenomenal. But I only crave semolina in cold weather, or times like now, when I have an upset stomach from too much quince bake (more on that later)... I still get hungry when I'm feeling sick, unfortunately, and semolina is the ultimate in comfort food. It's soft and creamy, mild in flavour but substantial enough to leave you satisfied. I ate semolina almost every morning last Winter, sitting on the cold tiles of the kitchen bench, back pressed against the window to catch and stray sunlight. I mentioned it in passing to Tash recently, and she said I should put up a recipe here so that she, too, can share in the goodness. It's incredibly simple, so I'm going to make it look much more complicated by including step-by-step photos. Apologies for the quality; I had to have the stove lamp on because it's late at night and our kitchen light isn't very bright. Bear with me, here.

Into a small saucepan or pot, place 1/3 cup semolina, 3/4 cup soymilk/milk and 3/4 cup water. I cheat and boil the kettle so that it cooks faster. If you're making a cup of tea in the morning, then really it's the most effective way of having both tea and semolina in the table at the same time. Turn the heat up - the higher it is, the faster it cooks, but you'll need to be a little careful later on.

After a few minutes, the semolina is thickening nicely. Some people choose to stop the cooking here and eat it soupy, as though it were a congee. Needless to say, I'm not one of those people. Semolina, like it's hip cousin Polenta or my darling favourite Custard, should be eaten thick. ('Pouring' custard is a travesty and should be outlawed.) If it falls off my spoon, then it's too thin. I wait until after the mixture has reached boiling point. You might not want to do that if you use real milk, but I use soy, so I can cook it to as hot as I like. Be careful, though, because if it's really thick then it will spit a little. Remember that it will thicken as it cools, so really you can stop the cooking process a little earlier than your 'perfect' consistency.

This is how I like my semolina: if I can draw a spoon through it and actually see the bottom of the pot for a second before it closes over, then I can take it from the heat. I'm actually very quick about the spoon-action here, contrary to the photography. (I had to take a photo like 4 times to get one that captured the exact moment the pot was showing.)

When in doubt, this is how you know it's good. The semolina is thick and falls into a pile before slowly oozing back into the rest of the pot, instead of streaming off of the spoon as it did only a few minutes earlier.

When my semolina holds its shape like the photo above, I generally move it into a bowl. Some people like to drizzle it with a little more milk and a sprinkling of sugar. I'll confess that on occasion, I've eaten semolina as a dessert, cooked exactly as above except drizzled with a touch of maple syrup. (We all know that maple syrup is far superior to every other sugar in existence, though I think palm sugar deserves an honourable mention too.) Generally I just eat it straight - and some nights, when I have an upset stomach and a strong case of laziness, I just eat it straight from the pot.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Capsicum

Sorry, no recipe here. These are just photos that I wanted to share because the last post was so ugly that I thought I needed to post something beautiful. And really, capsicum is a beautiful vegetable. I know, technically that's a whole lot of Banana Chillies also, but hey, they all contain capsaicin in the tiniest possible amount, so hey, let me generalise. These got sauteed in a hot pan with a generous splash of olive oil until they were caramelised and delicious, then blended and poured over al dente spaghetti. Quick and easy dinner in 15 minutes? Check.

Spaghetti Squash.


The above spaghetti squash was one that I picked up at the Dom Markt, unlabelled, with no ideas what it is. A closer inspection of the fine-grained flesh gave away its identity. And the coffee cup is for size comparison, of course. It has absolutely nothing to do with me constantly drinking coffee when I sit in the kitchen.

Roasted in the oven, cut-side down and rubbed with olive oil, for the better part of an hour. The flesh flakes into very short strands, which I discover to be utterly flavourless, until the slightly-bitter aftertaste hits. I'm definitely sticking to the other variety of Spaghetti Squash from now on. Oh, and above is the sort of natural light I usually get in my kitchen... until, miracle of miracles, the sun comes out. Then everything gets overexposed, which I don't mind, because it takes the attention away from that ugly tablecloth.


There's a lolly shop here that has one of these sitting in the window, carved into a Jack-O-Lantern. I think next time I'll follow the unspoken advice of the locals, and just make it into something decorative.

Vegetable Burgers.

I have a theory that the ugliest batter makes the best looking burgers. See above and below for proof. These vege burgers were made simply because I needed to get rid of that flavourless spaghetti squash sitting in my fridge, so I won't post a recipe for them. They're just the usual grated-veg burgers, good with rich tomato sauce or even some mayo. Can't wait to eat dinner...!

Sweetcorn Soup

Dear Farmers of Paderborn, I have a slight complaint. Every time I leave the centre of the city I see fields of corn, tall and lush, often dominating the landscape. However, Summer has passed, and your corn would have well and truly ripened by now. So, why is it that only one market stall has had corn for sale? So they could charge exorbitant prices for it? Or is it that you're feeding all the rest to factory-farmed animals, hmm? And when I go to the markets and see that that one stall has corn again (it's a sporadic thing), and I buy five cobs for three Euro, you'd better count on my being disappointed when they're starchy and dry and not fully formed. This cries out to me that corn season is over, and I feel completely ripped off. And if any German dares to suggest that I should buy the pre-cooked, shrink-wrapped, long-life corn in the supermarket, made by the same company responsible for the inedible beets, then I'm probably going to punch them.

So, what's a girl to do with disappointing corn? The last time I found it, I just ate it straight from the cob. Without salt, pepper, or any slather of hydrogenated fats. This time, I did that with one cob, and felt too bitter about the starchy taste in my mouth to bother with the others. So I did the most reasonable thing for a person to do: I made sweetcorn soup. (I also resolved never to buy from that stall again - a resolution that I've made once, and broken simply because of the availability of corn. But this time, I mean it.) The corn kernels were sliced from the cob, mixed into some sauteed onion and chilli, and blended to make a thick soup. I know everyone (including me) sings the praises of using the best-quality fresh ingredients, but sometimes, we have to compromise. And, I assure you, this was a delicious compromise.

My first taste of sweetcorn soup was of the chicken-and-corn variety, when I was in New Zealand as a twelve-year-old. Dad had been to a conference, and it was something of a family holiday. It was my first time overseas, including my first time on a plane, and it wasn't very different to Australia, except that I saw a chestnut for the first time. And I tried corn in soup at the house of some family friends. When I was told we were having corn soup for lunch, I remember saying to my mother that I didn't want to eat it. (I wasn't very good with trying new foods sometimes.) She told me that I couldn't be rude, and that I had to eat at least some. I think I was pleasantly suprised at how edible it was. And in my older years, I became a fan of the version served at Chinese restaurants. Now I'm a fan of my own version, sans chicken and MSG, which is blended just a little. Sometimes I add a spoonful of peanut butter for some satay-goodness, but not today. When I do that, I like to add a swirl of coconut cream, or use coriander instead of parsley. However, sometimes simplicity is the best answer to complicated questions.

Sweetcorn Soup
4 ears of corn, kernels shaved
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
1 small (brutal) thai chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp thyme leaves (if using dried, halve the quantity)
fresh parsley (optional)
1 litre vegetable stock
salt and pepper
chilli powder (optional)
olive oil

Pour a small splash of olive oil into the bottom of your pot, and sautee the onion until softened and transparent. Don't be afraid to let it colour a little. Add the garlic and chilli, frying about a minute longer, until fragrant. If you're not coughing from the chilli fumes, add a little more!
Throw in your corn kernels and thyme, sautee for a minute, before adding the vegetable stock.
Simmer until the corn has brightened in colour - it really only takes a minute or two.
Add chilli powder, salt and pepper, and fresh parsley to taste.
Blend, in batches as necessary - I like to blend maybe 3/4 of the mix, so that I still have some chunks of corn in the finished soup. Don't worry if it froths up a lot - it's just because the corn is so high in natural sugar. The bubbles will subside by themselves.
Scatter with parsley and pepper. Best served with crusty bread.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pumpkin and Cinnamon Muffins

As much as I love eating normal, dinner-and-lunch food for breakfast, sometimes it's nice to have something a little more 'breakfasty' as well. Baked goods seem to be the heart of breakfast here, whether it be bread rolls with ham and cheese or croissants or 'toast bread' with marmelade. And who am I to reject one of the few traditions that I like here? Baked goods strike me as about the only good thing that German food has going for it, because nothing else has impressed me. So, ever so occasionally, I bow down to the god of baked goods, and make some breakfast muffins.

I had a lovely container with some remnant dry-roasted hokkaido, which is very tense with a creamy, almost chalky texture. I like to roast a whole squash or pumpkin and just keep the pieces in the fridge for snacking. It's useful to have a pre-cooked vegetable in my fridge when I'm starvingly hungry, and it gets included in other meals as well. It's like the Autumn tradition of what my mother used to do in Summer, which was keeping a huge tub of sliced watermelon in the fridge for snacking.

I decided that I wanted to make some autumnal muffins, nothing too sweet, to eat with a little slather of marg in the morning. They're almost-savoury, cinnamony, and hold up well to being held on the toasting rack over your toaster - that appendage that only appears on European toasters for the ubiquitous bread rolls. They're probably a little too cakey to actually sit in your toaster in slices, but warm them by whatever means necessary, before you slice and slather. I promise you, it's worth the wait. If you're feeling lazy, or have a craving for sugar, drizzle one with a little maple syrup. Delicious, I promise.

I decided that it was time to try out my new baking pans, because really, everyone knows that pumpkin and pirates are a natural combination. Ahem. Either that or everyone knows that I'm a child at heart, that I like ridiculously decorated bakeware, and that I'm well on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady. As it turned out, these muffin pans were a great idea. A certain housemate had occupied the freezer space that I was intending to stuff with breakfasty treats, so I took half of the batch with me when I went to visit some friends in Muenster. And, as luck would have it, their kids have an especial interest in pirates. They ate healthy food without even caring what was in it, simply because it was wrapped in shark-and-pirate papers. They didn't even ask what flavour they were! After seeing the way that kids can be picky eaters, even with flavours that they do like, I was astonished. And amused.

I only had a 6-hole muffin tray (ok, it's a bit small, so it's more of a cupcake tray) so I used my ridiculously-long loaf pan to bake the other half of the mix. These were quite large, and owing to space restrictions, they ended up being quite cute and square when they were baked. I'm definitely going to do this again in the future. I'll definitely be making this again, but I'm probably using more pumpkin next time. I think that this recipe is good, but I like my muffins to be so loaded down with fruit (or vegetable, as the case may be) that they struggle to rise. So, really, what I'm admitting to here is that I'm going to make a recipe that definitely won't be blog-friendly, but that will be perfectly suited to my tastebuds. I'm excited already.

Yes, that is a Paderborn Student Union mug that you can see in the background, and no, it's not mine. I think all student-sharehouses just grow one or two mysteriously in the kitchen shelves.
Pumpkin Spice Muffins
2 cups wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder*
1/3 cup neutral-flavoured oil
1 cup applesauce or apple syrup or maple syrup, depending on how extravagent you feel, and how sweet you want your muffins to be.*
3/4cup or more of milk (I use soy)
1 firmly-packed cup finely diced cooked pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla extract or powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Mix all ingredients together, adding more liquid if needed, and bake in muffin tins in a 180 degree C oven for 20-25 minutes. Alternately, bake as a loaf for 40ish minutes, until your skewer comes out clean.
*If you have access to self-raising wholemeal flour, simply use that instead of the plain flour and baking powder. The amount of milk needed depends entirely on whether you use syrup or applesauce for this recipe - just add more if you need. I used the syrup that is left when I make apfelmus, so that these muffins don't have any added sugar.

Squash.

So, thanks to this morning's Dom Markt, google image search, and the usual wonder that is the internet, I think I finally have an explanation for my 'What is this Squash?' dilemma. In the above picture, you can see two squashes, sold to me as 'Spaghetti' (left) and 'delicata' (right) varieties.

Above is the delicata by itself. It's smaller than the spaghetti variety, and a touch more golden in colour - they tended to have the tiniest amount less green colouring on the skins, judging by my observation at the 'curbit' stall this morning. So, what has the internet told me? After searching long an hard (ok, I had to check out maybe a dozen websites) someone finally admitted that delicata squash can be crossed with the usual "orangetti" squash variety, coming up with the spaghetti-squash hybrid that I've been eating. Problem solved!

My next task is to identify this giant monster of a squash, which of course I didn't ask the name of (was too busy purchasing yellow beans, because they're impossibly pretty). It's absolutely huge, but I think the colour is fantastic. (ed note: That giant thing is, in fact, an overgrown Orangetti.) And, of course, I have a 'Speisecurbis' or 'mini-Muskatcurbis'... in that "Muscatnuss" is the german word for nutmeg, I'm guessing that this has something to do with the colour of the skin. It's a little browner that the photo below would have you believe, and the flesh was light golden. I'm still hoarding squashes and pumpkins, but I can finally say it's just for research purposes! ;)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Imposter.

I'd like to call your attention to a certain squash specimen that I picked up at the markets recently. You'll notice that the skin is a slightly glossy dark-green, slightly speckled, and a touch on the pointy side. I decided it was probably some kind of hybrid acorn squash, or perhaps some entirely new variety that I hadn't seen yet.

Unfortunately not. What had originally seemed exciting gave way to sheer disappointment: I had been sold an underripe spaghetti squash. This is what I get for buying things without labelling, really. But honestly, what kind of stall-holder wants their customers to be eating their pale, insipid, flavourless vegetables? They're certainly not going to return to the stall, that's for sure. To hell with your wild mushrooms, mister, I'll be sticking to the Hokkaido from my favourite lady and the Spaghetti Squash from the squash seller (a recent, seasonal addition to the market).

Which brings me to another point: spaghetti squash. All the pictures on google image search show me lovely, golden-yellow squashes with vibrant yellow flesh. My spaghetti squash here have identical flesh, but they have the ribbed, green-striped skins of a delicata squash, which have a much more solid, creamy inside. Are my spaghetti squash some kind of hybrid? Are they a completely different variety? Or just a spaghetti squash hidden inside a delicata skin? It's all a bit confusing.

Olive Bread.

I'd like to formally introduced myself as a newly-reformed anti-olivist. Yep, you heard me: the same olives that I was protesting a couple of months ago are now suddenly up there on my craved-foods list. Sure, they're still a little more bitter than my palate usually endorses, and they're not something I'm willing to eat for breakfast (yet). Ed note: that changed within a matter of about a week. They're still bitter, but they're fantastic for breakfast. But, seeing as how I've developed an addiction to bread and olive oil, I guess it's a natural progression that olives would follow.

I'd never eaten olive bread until my friend Tash served some with a meal. I took a slice out of curiosity, and really enjoyed it: the bread was fresh and soft, but the olives were salty and addictive. I loved it instantly. On my recent trip to Berlin, to see my parents while they were briefly in the country, we ate a lot of baked goods: they're the go-to foods for train travel and snacks. There's a bakery every 100m and they have all of the classics. But in the Berlin Bahnhof, there was one bakery selling olive bread, in long ciabatta-like serves, appropriate for a single hungry traveller. I bought two in the space of two days.

The final hurdle between myself and olives was crossed in Tash's kitchen quite recently. We were preparing pizzas for dinner; a make-your-own arrangement which was great fun for the kids (and me, I admit it!) and allowed everyone to pick from a good range of toppings. One of the toppings was olives, in both black (kalamata) and stuffed green varieties. We'd bought them at the markets in Muenster that afternoon, from a very friendly olive seller. But, before I even got to sample those, I got offered Zitronen-Oliven (lemon olives) from the small container already residing in the fridge. Needless to say, none of those lemon olives made it onto a pizza. They were a revelation: salty, piquant, with just enough citrus flavour to cut through the bitterness of the olives. I was hooked.

I still haven't had an olive as good as those, but I did purchase olives for myself at the Paderborn markets recently. I bought almond-stuffed olives, covered in garlic, from one seller, and rosemary-lemon olives from another. Sadly, the rosemary-lemon, which I'd expected to be the clear winner, somehow didn't taste quite... fresh. Which is strange, for a preserved product. The other olives, however, were fantastic, and you can bet that I'll be lining up for more tomorrow. The rosemary-olives were rinsed off (I think some extra non-rosemary herbs were the problem here, and the olive oil they were in wasn't as good) and used, together with the garlic stuffed into them, in a loaf of bread. I'll be making more of this, in huge batches, just as soon as my housemate eats those goddamn frozen pizzas that he insists on stuffing our tiny freezer with...

Olive Bread
400g wholemeal flour + extra for kneading
1 sachet instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup - 1 cup warm water
300g green olives, halved*
Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the warm water as needed, bringing it together to form a dough. It should be pretty sticky, which is fine: just cover it with a layer of flour on all sides, so that it doesn't stick to the bowl when it rises.
Leave the dough for about half an hour, in a warm kitchen (twice that in a colder one), until doubled in size.
Punch back the dough and mix in the olives (and extras, see note below), giving it a knead for as long as you can bear. You'll need to add in extra flour as you go, to stop the dough from sticking to your surfaces, but it's fine to leave it a bit sticky. I certainly did - I like my loaves to be a bit dense and chewy.
Allow the dough to rise again, until doubled. Knock it back and divide it into two flat loaves. Proove it in your oven for a few minutes while it preheats to 200 degrees. (My oven is super slow, so they got about ten minutes in there, before it started getting properly hot).
Place a small dish of water in the bottom of your oven - this creates steam, which prevents your loaf from splitting open.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. You want it to be browned and crusty.
Eat and entire loaf for lunch, dipped in olive oil, and then laze around feeling stuffed for the better part of the afternoon.

*My green olives had rosemary and garlic cloves, which I included in this bread. If you buy plain olives, add 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped, and 4 cloves of roughly chopped garlic to this recipe.
*One of my loaves seemed to get the lion's share of the olives; the one you can see sliced, at the top of this post, was lighter on the olives. I'll have to take more care next time, when I divide the loaves! Should probably also take care that the loaf isn't upside-down when I'm taking photos, too... ;)

Warm Pesto Salad

If that photo doesn't have you enticed, then please, you're going to have to leave my blog. Because really, if you don't think that warm pesto salad looks entirely delicious, then we're never going to agree on anything, and we probably can't be friends. This is serious business.

Today in one of the major supermarket chains I found a jar of fresh pesto, which, due to a serious turn of luck, didn't have any cheese in it. Yep, that rarity of pre-made pesto: one without any milk products. And it was actually made here in Germany, which surprised me even more, knowing of the German penchance for anything and everything 'dairy'. The jar was a little overpriced, I thought, but I justified it by thinking about pasta coated in a layer of garlicky, nutty, basil-ish goodness. Sold. I'm not a difficult consumer when it comes to artisan foods, I assure you.

My jar was originally going to be used as a spread for some bread that I bought, in that I'd be on the train back to Pb from Muenster across the normal span of my lunchtime. Plus, I was already getting a little peckish. But, sitting on the train, I somehow couldn't bring myself to do it. I already had higher plans for my little jar of pesto, and it involved the remnant vegetables in my fridge. It's generally slim pickings before market day, and today was no exception.

My surprise find was the tomato, which I'd cleverly stashed in my fruit bowl, still wrapped in its paper bag. The beans and zucchini, both from the Dom Markt, were on their last legs. The mushrooms had fared surprisingly well, and still felt firm and fresh. The entire vegetable content of my shelf in the fridge went into the pan, and it ended up being amazing. Thankfully, tomorrow morning is the Saturday market, so I can eat all of the leftovers for dinner, without having to make my vegetables stretch for another day... because, really, when I say that I have no food in the house, what I really mean is that I don't have fruit and veg. Some people label rice and pasta as their staples, but really, I don't eat them all that much. Maybe once a week, each. But vegetables? No, I couldn't live a day without those. So here's what to do with your stray vegetables and that amazing jar of pesto that you couldn't live without.

Warm Pesto Salad

300g green beans
2 small zucchini
handful of mushrooms
2 tomatoes
4 tbsp basil pesto
pepper, to taste

First, prep your veg: the beans should be halved, the mushrooms and zucchinis sliced, and the tomatoes cut into thin wedges.
Now, heat a little oil in your frying pan. I used the oil that was the layer on top of the pesto: I couldn't bear the thought of adding more oil to a product that already used a lot of olive oil. If you're not using fresh (refrigerated) pesto with a layer of oil as a preserving measure, just use a little olive oil.
Sautee the mushrooms and zucchini for 2-3 minutes over a medium-high heat. Add the beans and cook for a few minutes longer, until they're just tender.
Add the tomatoes at the very end - they don't really need to cook, and if they're as ripe as mine were, then they'll soften with the residual heat of the vegetables anyway.
Take the vegetables off the heat and mix through the pesto. Serve warm, liberally sprinkled with pepper, and with plenty of fresh bread to wipe your plate clean. Or you can just lick it.

*Use whatever veg you like: leftover cooked potatoes would be pretty amazing, too.
*If you're going to serve this cold or at room temperature, take the vegetables off the heat before they're tender: the residual heat will cook them further, and you want them to keep a good texture. Mush vegetables are not friends with this salad.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Zucchini Noodles.

For every dish I make, I have an initial inspiration. Faced with an empty fridge, I decided that I'd duck into Rewe on my way home from the bank, in order to grab something for lunch. Unlike the girl behind me in the checkout line, frozen pizza and chocolate biscuits weren't on the menu. (I can't believe how badly students seem to eat, but that's another story.) I always gravitate towards the fruit and vegetables, and really, that was all that was missing from my fridge. Fruit and veg make up most of what I eat. Because I love them. So, so much.

In keeping with my eat-local leanings, I picked up a punnet of mushrooms and a few zucchinis. They were both labelled as being grown in Germany, as opposed to the vast majority of vegetables (as especially fruit) in the supermarket. I'll also note that Rewe have taken to putting "see packaging for country of origin" on their labelling. Sneaky, Rewe! They're relying on the laziness of shoppers to ignore where their food comes from, and the sad thing is, it'll work.

So, armed with zucchini and mushrooms (and new laundry liquid, which is somewhat less interesting) I headed home. I had two tins of lentils in my pantry, and I wanted to eat something warm and filling, but still quite light on my stomach (after a weekend involving me eating copious quantities of amazing food, including Tash's fantastic vegan lemon cake). I really enjoy zucchini noodles, and I decided to keep them raw for a better texture. Sometimes I blanch them in boiling water for a few seconds (which I recommend if you make carrot noodles) but honestly, they don't need it. Simplest noodles ever, courtesy of my vegetable peeler. Use a mandolin if you like your noodles a little less, ahem, "rustic." ;)

My other zucchini was sauteed with mushrooms until browned, then became the basis of the chunky tomato sauce. The lentils that I added already had a half-dozen pieces of carrot and onion in the tins ('Suppengruen' according to the packaging - admittedly I buy them because they're more economical than the plain lentils) but it has far too little vegetable content to do anything for the flavour.

My tomato passata of choice is the sort than you make yourself, by putting your overripe tomatoes into a blender and waiting paitently, whilst quietly freaking out that your housemate's blender just doesn't sound healthy. It's quite healthy, but I just despise the sound. Add as many chillies as you dare - I found that for 10 Roma tomatoes, 2 tiny-but-brutal birds-eye chillies was perfect. It was enough to warm up my mouth while I was eating, but not enough to burn or disguise the other flavours. It really depends on the chillies that you have on hand. If they're home-grown, you probably only need half as many... my chilli bushes of old were definitely out to kill me, in the best possible way. I cooked it until the sauce was thick, and then heaped it over my zucchini noodles. What a lunch! I'm glad that I have enough leftover sauce to make another giant bowl for dinner...

Zucchini Noodles with Tomato & Lentil Sauce
3 large zucchini
300g button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped/crushed
700ml-ish tomato passata (or 2 tins crushed tomatoes, if you like)
2 chillies (blended into your passata, or just finely chopped)
2 tbsp olive oil
800g tin brown lentils (or 2x 400g tins), drained well, or 2 cups dry brown lentils, boiled for 20 mins and drained
1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt & pepper, to taste
Using a vegetable peeler or mandolin, slice two of the zucchini into ribbons. Once you get down to the very centre, it'll be impossible to make ribbons, so just slice the remains. Slice the third zucchini into pieces of the same size.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic, and chilli if you haven't included it in the passata. Let it sautee for a moment until the garlic is transparent, then add the mushroom and zucchini pieces. Cook until all the liquid released has been evaporated, and the vegetables are lightly browned.
Add the lentils, tomato, and oregano. Simmer over a medium heat until the sauce is thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve generously over the zucchini ribbons. The zucchini will release liquid when it comes into contact with the hot sauce, so it's a good idea to have bread on hand, so that you can mop up all the tasty juices.
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