Sunday, 21 June 2009

Scorching Chilli, Garlic and Cumin Paste

This aromatic paste of dried red chillies, cumin, fresh garlic and preserved lemons is similar to Tunisian harissa, but has only four main ingredients. It keeps for months, out of the fridge, in a sealed jar, and is made in minutes in a blender or small grinder.

It's delicious added in (small!) dabs to yoghurt- or oil-based marinades, stirred into tomato-based sauces, or with pasta, couscous or rice. Flicked over a fried egg, it's eye-wateringly good.

You can add any spices you like - coriander, cinnamon, black pepper, and so on - to this paste, but I like it just as it is. If you don't have preserved lemons to hand (do you know they keep beautifully in the freezer?), use finely grated lemon zest.

This looks like an enormous quantity of chillies, but the mixture makes just one jar.

Scorching Chilli, Garlic and Cumin Paste

45 dried red chillies
2 heads of fresh garlic
a preserved lemon
4 T (60 ml) fresh powdered cumin
enough olive or sunflower oil to make a wet paste

Soak the dried chillies in a bowl of water overnight, weighing them down with a plate so that they are totally submerged. Put on a pair of gloves and, using the sharp pair of scissors, snip off the stalks, slit the chillies lengthways and scrape out most of the seeds. It doesn't matter if you leave a few behind. Put them into the goblet of a blender fitted with a metal blade. Peel the garlic and add the whole cloves to the blender. Scrape the pulpy flesh away from the quarters preserved lemon, chop roughly, and add to the mixture, along with a good pinch of salt. Now half-cover the ingredients with olive oil, cover the blender and blitz to a fine paste. If the blades clog, add more oil. Tip into a glass or plastic jar, cover with a little more olive oil and seal tightly.

Makes 1 jar.
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The world's rudest lemon

Never let it be said that Mother Nature doesn't have a sense of humour. This set of tackle has been ripening on the lemon tree outside my study window for the past month or so, making it hard for me to concentrate on my work.

The lemon tree in question is a Cape rough-skin (snigger).

I consider myself lucky to have this variety in my garden, because, once mature, the tree produces enormous crops of very fragrant, thick-skinned, sweet-tasting lemons. I believe that this variety of lemon tree came originally from St. Helena, and that they were first planted in the Company's garden by Jan van Riebeeck.

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Friday, 19 June 2009

Roast Beef Fillet with Creamy Celeriac-and-Horseradish-Cream Salad

I do love celeriac, and this combination of slivers of snappy celeriac tossed in a remoulade-style dressing of yoghurt, cream and horseradish, and served over rosy slices of roast beef, is my idea of heaven.

For this recipe I used fresh, grated horseradish steeped in olive oil (recipe here) but you could use creamed horseradish. How much you add is up to you, but the horseradish shouldn't overpower the delicate taste of the celeriac and its creamy dressing.

This is also lovely with pork fillet: try adding a grated apple to the mixture.

If you are also a fan of celeriac, try my Salad of Warm New Potatoes, Smoked Trout, Celeriac and Watercress

Roast Beef Fillet with Creamy Celeriac and Horseradish 

For the fillet:
1 large fillet of beef
3 Tbsp (45 ml) Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
millled black pepper

For the salad:
2 young celeriac, each about the size of an orange
½ cup (125 ml) thick plain yoghurt
½ cup (125 ml) pouring cream
1 Tbsp (15 ml) creamed horseradish, or freshly grated horseradish, to taste
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
a pinch of white pepper
alfalfa sprouts or micro greens, to top

Heat the oven to 190°C, and place a metal roasting pan in the oven.

Put a dollop of mustard in the palm of your hand and smooth it all over the fillet. Sprinkle with olive oil and grind over plenty of fresh black pepper. Season with salt. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high flame. The fat should be very hot, but not yet smoking. Brown the fillet on all sides; this shouldn't take longer than five or six minutes.

Now put the fillet onto the heated roasting pan and bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-20 minutes, depending on the degree of pinkness you want. (A slim fillet takes about 10 minutes; a full-size one 15-20. If you're not sure, cut a deep slit in the thickest part of the fillet to check for doneness). You'll find more detailed instructions for cooking fillet here.

Now make the salad.  Whisk together the yoghurt and cream, and add enough horseradish to give the dressing a nice bite. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice - the sauce should be pleasantly sharp - and season with salt and a little white pepper. Peel the celeriac with a sharp knife and cut into very thin slices (you could use a mandolin). Stack the slices vertically, cut them into strips or matchsticks, and place in a mixing bowl. Pour just enough dressing over the celeriac strips lightly to coat each piece: the salad should not be swimming in dressing. Do so immediately, or the celeriac will go brown.

Remove the fillet from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Carve the warm fillet into slices and arrange them on a platter (or on individual plates).  Pile the celeriac in the middle, and top with tangle of crunchy alfalfa sprouts, or micro greens of your choice.

Serves 8-10 as a starter; 6 as a main course. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Preserving Fresh Horseradish: freezer or olive oil but please, not vinegar

Fresh horseradish root
Can you think of any two more disparate words than 'horse' and 'radish'? These are not words that - outside the English language at least - have a natural affinity. After all, a horse is a useful, flicky-tailed, muscular beast of considerable majesty, who has endured all manner of abuse over the centuries that it has been bred, tamed and enslaved by humans, while the humble radish is a stinging little red fart bomb with has few redeeming qualities apart from its ability to grow really quickly, and its habit of sending a blast of hot peppery air through your sinus cavities.

 I love horseradish in all its forms, and a few weeks ago I dug up the stupendously enormous and gnarled roots of a horseradish plant that's been hogging my small vegetable patch for years.

This great big brooding tangle of root was far too woody and leathery to use, but alongside it were several slim, crunchy parsnip-like offshoot roots that were perfectly ready to be preserved.

Last year, I followed the advice of fellow food bloggers and preserved my horseradish roots by grating them and pickling them in vinegar. But the results weren't great: the mixture was far too vinegary and acidic, and lacked the fresh zinging taste I like so much about horseradish.

So this is what I did with this year's crop: first, I washed them to remove all caked dirt. Then I timmed off the brown bits, and scrubbed them clean, in a sinkful of cold water, using an abrasive pot scourer to scour away the skin.

Use a micro-plane to grate the fresh root
Half of the scrubbed roots I wrapped tightly in cling-film, and packed straight into an arctic freezer (I have treated them like whole, fresh ginger root, which freezes beautifully, grates like a dream, and loses virtually no flavour in the freezing process).

Postscript: The roots retained their good flavour for six months in the freezer.

The other half I grated finely, using a microplane grater. I packed the gratings into a sterilised jar with a pinch of salt, and then filled the jar to its brim with olive oil.  The jar steeped on a warm windowsill for three days, and then went into the fridge.

The result is a fragrant, zingy, nose-tingling oil that is just lovely in a salad dressing, or drizzled over rare roast beef, or dabbed alongside a piece of panfried tuna.

Please note that this oil should be kept in the fridge and used within 3-4 weeks. It should not be bottled and shelved, because the gratings are raw, and without any acidity in the form of vinegar, the mixture may ferment.  If the oil solidifies in the fridge, place it on a sunny windowsill,  or warm a few tablespoons over a gentle heat.

Horseradish on Foodista

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Spicy Chicken, Tomato and Sweetcorn Soup

This is a versatile, nourishing recipe for a family with picky eaters (and another idea for a double dinner).

If your kids don't like spicy or strong flavours, or 'floaty bits', leave out the chilli, the pepper, the cayenne pepper, the cumin and the paprika. When the soup's ready, put half of it into a blender, blitz until thick and smooth, and serve topped with grated cheese and crunchy little croutons.

To the other half, add all the zingy ingredients you left out (but half the quantity specified below) and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

I usually use tinned, drained sweetcorn kernels (not the creamed variety) because they are so convenient, but you could as easily use frozen kernels, or fresh ones cut from the cob.

Spicy Chicken, Tomato and Sweetcorn Soup

For the stock:
1 whole free-range chicken, trimmed of excess fat
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
a few stalks of parsley
a stalk of celery
a large bay leaf
a few peppercorns
2 whole cloves
enough cold water to cover (about 2 litres)

Place all the ingredients for the stock into a big pot and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then turn down the and simmer gently for an hour and a half, skimming any foam that rises to the top. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool. Strain the stock into a large bowl and discard the flavourings. When the chicken has cooled, pull the cooked flesh from the bones, discarding any fat or skin. Tear it into small shreds with your fingers, cover and set aside. At this point you can, if you are planning ahead, put both the stock and the chicken shreds into the fridge for a few hours, or overnight.

For the soup:
3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-cm cubes
1 red chilli, finely minced [optional]
1 tin Italian tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons (45 ml) tomato paste
2 cups (500 ml) corn kernels (frozen, tinned or fresh)
1 cup (250 ml) split orange lentils
3 teaspoons (15 ml) ground cumin
1 teaspoon (5 ml) sweet paprika
1 teaspoon (5 ml) cayenne pepper or chilli powder, to taste
2 teaspoons (10 ml) dried oregano
salt and milled black pepper
a handful of fresh chopped parsley, or fresh coriander

To serve:
chopped spring onions
sour cream or plain Greek yoghurt

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, potato cubes and chilli and fry over a medium heat for five minutes. Remove any fat from the top of the cooled stock, and pour the stock over the vegetables. Bring to the boil. Add all the remaining soup ingredients and season well.

Turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the lentils are cooked through and the potato pieces are quite tender. Tip in the shredded chicken. Cook gently for a further ten minutes. Check the seasoning, stir in the chopped parsley and serve at once, topped with chopped spring onions and a blob of sour cream or yoghurt.

Serves 6 Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday, 12 June 2009

Double Dinner: Fusilli with Marinated Chicken, Pesto and Tomatoes, and Pasta Salad the next day

If you're feeding a hungry family, you will know what I mean by Double Dinner. First, there's the DDDTPE (Double Dinner Due to Picky Eaters), which involves your having to make two separate meals because the smaller, fussier kids won't eat what the bigger kids (or teens) want to eat. And then there are the meals that you make in bulk, in the faint hope that you'll have plenty left over the next day for snacks, lunch-boxes and freezers.

I say 'faint hope' because there is no such thing as a left-over in my house, which is the land of midnight snackers. Even if a few morsels do find overnight refuge in the fridge, nicely covered in clingfilm, the chances are that a) they'll mysteriously vapourise in the early hours of the morning and b) there will be loud complaints about having to eat the 'same old food that we had yesterday'.

Still, I persist in my quest to find the ultimate Double Dinner. I reckon most kids and teens will eat this happily, in its hot and cold forms, but if you have a super-fussy toddler or preschooler, I suggest you put a portion of the pasta to one side, add a little of the hot chicken, pulled into shreds, and top it with a knob of butter, a little grated cheese and a dollop of tomato sauce.

The yoghurt is an essential ingredient in this dish: it makes the chicken breasts amazingly tender and succulent.

This recipe serves five to six people, twice over.

Double Dinner: Pasta with Marinated Chicken Breasts, Pesto and Tomatoes, and Delicious Pasta Salad the next day

12 deboned, skinless organic chicken breasts
1 cup (250 ml) plain white natural yoghurt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
the juice of a fat lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper
750 g (one and a half packets) dried pasta shapes (fusilli, farfalle or similar)
a little olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) dried tomatoes, soaked in water for an hour, or oven-baked cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup (180 ml) basil pesto
1/2 cup (125 ml) grated Parmesan, Grana Padano or Pecorino cheese

For the next-day salad:

depipped, halved black olives
fresh basil leaves, shredded
firm feta cheese
a little olive oil and lemon juice

Using a very sharp knife, make three or four 5-mm-deep slashes in each chicken breast, top and bottom. Place the breasts in a big plastic or glass bowl or dish. In a separate bowl, mix together the yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic and two tablespoons (30 ml) of the pesto. Tip this mixture over the chicken breasts and mix well - using your bare hands, preferably - making sure that every breast is thorougly coated with the marinade. Set aside in a cool place (in the fridge, if it's a hot day) for two hours. Don't leave the breasts for longer, as the yoghurt may tenderise them to the point of mushiness.

Pre-heat the oven to 170 C. Put an enormous pot of salted water on the heat and bring to the boil.

Remove the chicken breasts from their marinade and, using a spatula or the blunt edge of knife, scrape off the excess yoghurt. It doesn't matter if a little yoghurt still clings to the breasts. Season each chicken breast with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a large frying pan and, when it is blazing hot, add a dash of olive oil. Brown the chicken breasts, in small batches, in the fiercely hot oil for a few minutes, until golden brown on both sides. They will still be raw in the middle. Place the partially cooked breasts on a metal baking sheet. When they are all browned, place them in the oven to finish cooking for 10 to 12 minutes.

In the meantime, throw the pasta into the boiling water. Boil for 10-13 minutes, or until just cooked (al dente). Drain the pasta, leaving a little of the boiling water behind in the pot, and set aside.

Remove the chicken breasts from the oven. They should be perfectly cooked: you can test by cutting through the thickest part of the biggest breast. If there is any sign of pinkness, put them back in the oven for 5 more minutes.

Gently heat the remaining pesto and the drained sundried tomatoes in a pan, but do not allow to boil.

Using your hands or a sharp knife, tear or cut the chicken breasts, along the grain, into pieces as big as your pinky finger. Tip them into the pot of hot pasta, along with any juices. Stir in the warmed pesto and the tomatoes, and splash over a little more olive oil. Check the seasoning - it may need more salt and pepper - and serve piping hot, in deep bowls, with grated Parmesan.

Now, the leftovers:

Tip the remainders into a big salad bowl and set aside in a cool place (or in the fridge, if it's summer). The next morning, stir in the olives, feta and basil, and any other ingredients you fancy - perhaps some chopped spring onions, shredded fresh spinach leaves, halved fresh cherry tomatoes, a handful of toasted pine nuts... Add a splash of olive oil and lemon juice if the salad seems dry, and season well with salt and pepper.

Serves five to six, twice over. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

What's on your kitchen windowsill?

'It’s a mark of a productive, busy, lived-in household to have things stuck with magnets to the fridge door,' writes my friend Muriel (a co-writer on my other blog).

Muriel's 'festooned' fridge door is a sight to behold, and I can't help feeling a little jealous at the fact that I have a new-fangled fridge with plasticky sides that won't accept magnets.

All the rags and tatters and dog-eared photographs that adorned my ancient fridge for decades were turfed into the bin when the new fridge arrived. Nowadays, school notices, newspaper clippings and snaps are posted neatly on a family noticeboard in a dark little passage just off the kitchen.

To no avail. Nobody ever looks at this noticeboard, with its teen-improving quotations, its lists of healthy foods, its household-chore rostas and its prissy admonitions about saving electricity and water. Why? Because it's too far away from the fridge, that's why.

Anyone who has teenagers (or humans, for that matter) knows that the refrigerator is the most-visited piece of equipment in any household. Not that teenagers spend any time perusing the contents of the fridge door; no, they wrench it open and gaze into it with despair while emitting small, pitiful mews. It's when they slam the fridge door closed and glare angrily at it while roaring, 'There's nothing to eat, mom!' that their sunken, malnourished eyes flicker for a second across their personal exam timetables for next week.

Anyway, back to my kitchen windowsill. It's just above the sink, and close to the stove, and as I spent an extraordinary amount of time chopping veggies and cooking and washing dishes, I tend to use it as a sort of three-dimensional personal noticeboard. On an average day, the windowsill will hold: a few jars of something dark and sticky I preserved two months ago, a boiled egg, a half-finished knitted square, a few packets of seeds, a radio, a ball of scrumpled supermarket receipts, a lotto ticket, desiccated wedges of lemon, cloves of garlic, crumbling chillies, shrivelled beansprouts, potplants, hairclips, anonymous keys, birthday cards, wine glasses, half-crumbled nutmegs, and so on.

It looks, in short, like what my husband rudely calls 'a whore's handbag'. So today I decided to do a vigorous prune of my windowsill, and have edited it down to a few favourite things:

* a beautiful hand-carved wooden box which contains a working, battery-powered radio. I bought this at the wonderful African Toyshop. It has two knobs: a big one for tuning, and another one for volume. Because this radio has no digital elements or any sort of screen or shivering needle, finding my favourite stations is a very hit-and-miss thing, involving a lot of dial twiddling, and artfully placed dabs of pink nail varnish.

* three little plastic daisies equipped with mini-solar panels, which I bought from my local Chinese market (see picture, above). As soon as the morning light hits them, they wave and wiggle in unison, flapping their leaves in the merriest way.

* my Philippe Starck 'Juicy Salif' lemon squeezer, which, though quite beautiful, is the singularly most useless kitchen device I have ever owned. When he designed this 'iconic' squeezer, Mr Starck overlooked the fact that lemons have pips, and he also forgot to add rubber socks to the device to prevent it from skidding across kitchen counters.

* a little Acacia bonsai tree, which neatly folds its leaves as the sun goes down, and tolerates all sorts of abuse

* a hefty white-marble mortar and wooden pestle that belonged to my grandfather

* a silver egg with a soft inner chiming device

* Sunlight dishwashing liquid, a beloved South African brand

* A bottle of liquid soap. I can't get through the day without washing my hands twenty-five a few times.

What do you have on your kitchen windowsill?

Oh, I forgot to mention my other treasured item of kitchen equipment: this tray (left), which has a rather inspirational message.

Click here for my teen-improving quotations. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Whisky and Orange Dark-Chocolate Truffles

Dusted with cocoa powder and chilled for an hour or two, these truffly-looking nuggets of orange- and whisky-scented dark chocolate make a lovely finish to a meal. You can add any type of liqueur or flavouring agent to this basic recipe: try it with Frangelico and toasted hazelnut chips, or with a dash of good almond extract and a coating of finely chopped toasted almond flakes.

Good-quality, 75-percent-cocoa- solids chocolate is important for this recipe. I use Belgian chocolate chips which I get from my local baking shop. These truffles freeze well, so it's worth making a double batch and keeping them for future pudding emergencies.

The only really tricky part is keeping your palms cool enough to prevent the truffles getting sticky as you roll them. A good tip is to fill a jug with iced water, and to press your palms to the glass to cool them (scraping any chocolate residue off your skin first). It's quite difficult, also, to judge when the mixture is firm enough to be formed into balls. If you've let it get too hard, use a stout-bladed knife to cut it into chunks, and leave at room temperature for a hour or so.

I always melt chocolate in the microwave because it's so quick and effortless, but if you feel like faffing around with a double boiler or a glass bowl set over a pan of boiling water, be my guest.

This recipe is adapted from Phillippa Cheifitz's The Cosmopolitan Cookbook (1986) which, 20 years after I bought it, is still one of my most treasured recipe books (Phillippa used Cognac in her truffles).

Whisky and Orange Dark-Chocolate Truffles

350 g good dark chocolate (see notes, above)
1/2 cup (125 ml) cream
3 T (45 ml) whisky
the finely grated zest of 1 small orange
3/4 cup (180 ml) icing sugar, sifted
1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted, for coating

Place the chocolate, broken into pieces, in a glass bowl and melt in a microwave oven or over a pan of simmering water (see notes above). Stir well until smooth and glossy, and then mix in the cream, whisky and orange zest. Now tip in the sifted icing sugar and mix until smooth. Press a piece of clingfilm onto the surface of the mixture and place it in the fridge for about an hour, or until firm enough to handle.

Tip the cocoa powder onto a plate. Dig out spoonsful (each about the sized of a large marble) of chocolate paste and roll quickly between your palms to form balls (or ovals, to resemble real truffles). Place the balls on the plate of cocoa powder and roll them about so that they are thoroughly coated. When you've made all the balls, place them in a sieve or colander and shake gently to remove any excess cocoa powder. Cover and place in the fridge for two hours, or until firm.

Makes about 35. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday, 8 June 2009

Oven-dried Cherry Tomatoes Preserved in Olive Oil

Oven-dried cherry tomatoes
Yes, I know sun-dried tomatoes are so last-century, and about as fashionable nowadays as Avocado Mousse and Prawn Cocktail. But what am I supposed to do when I come across mountains of gleaming, juicy, deep-red cherry tomatoes, going for a song, at my local greengrocer?

I spent a lot of time in the Nineties experimenting with drying tomatoes in my oven, with uneven results.

 The reason the results were uneven was because in those days I didn't have a fan-assisted oven, so the tomatoes took forever to dry out.

Now that I have an oven which, (although elderly, and missing its knobs) has a powerful fan, I have found that drying fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs is a breeze. A warm, super-desiccating breeze that turns plump little tomatoes into summery, sweet-sharp nuggets.

If your oven has a fan, try this recipe when cherry tomatoes are in season. These keep very well in a cool cupboard, if packed, while piping hot, into spotlessly clean, hot, sterilised jars with plastic-lined metal lids. (Preserving jars with loose disc-lids and screw-on rings are perfect.)

To halve cherry tomatoes in a hurry, line them up on a rack.
If you are dealing with a huge amount of tomatoes, a quick way to get them all sliced is to tip them onto a cake-cooling rack or oven rack set on a chopping board or your kitchen counter.

Shake the rack, and nudge the tomatoes so that they fall into neat, aligned rows. Using a razor-sharp kitchen, slice downwards along the rows so that each cherry tomato is neatly halved.

Oven-dried Cherry Tomatoes Preserved in Olive Oil

2 kg ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp (45 ml) flaky sea salt
2 tsp (10 ml) caster sugar
olive oil, to cover

Preheat your oven to 100 °C. Slice the tomatoes in half.

Arrange the halved tomatoes, in a single layer, cut side up, on baking trays. You can place them racks set over baking trays, which will slightly shorten the drying time, but this is not essential. Crumble the flaky sea salt over the cut tomatoes and sprinkle with sugar.

Place in the oven and allow to dry out for three to six hours (the drying time will depend on the size and ripeness of the tomatoes, and the power of your oven fan). Check the tomatoes every hour or so: they are ready when they are shrunken, dried on the outside, slightly leathery, but still bendy and a little moist on the inside.

Sterilise four glass jars by submerging them, and their metal lids, in a pot of rapidly boiling water for 10 minutes. Place three sheets of newspaper on your kitchen counter. Using tongs, remove the jars and their lids from the boiling water and place upside down on the newspaper to drain for two minutes. (Alternatively, you can place the jars and lids into an oven heated to 160°C, for 10 minutes.)

Remove the hot tomatoes from the oven, and, without allowing them to cool, tightly pack them into the hot glass jars, filling the jars to within 1 centimetre of their rims. Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes, pressing down firmly with with the back of a dessert spoon to remove each and every air bubble. Top each jar up with a 5-mm layer of olive oil, so that every scrap of tomato is submerged. Tightly screw on the hot metal lids (or the disks and the metal rings). Set aside for two hours, and then re-tighten the lids. Store in a cool cupboard.

Makes 3-4 jars. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Spiced Kumquat Compote

Perfumed winter kumquats
How very rude the word 'cumquat' looks in black and white. I can barely type it without blushing, let alone say it out loud to my greengrocer or my children.

It doesn't help to spell it 'kumquat', with a 'k', or to know that its Cantonese etymology is entirely innocent: it's the sound of the word colliding with my brain-bank of slang words that makes my ears shrivel.

It reminds me of that apparently innocent yet raspingly vulgar-sounding name, 'Slartibartfast'. Invented by the late, great Douglas Adams, this is a word that one really cannot say out loud in polite company. (Here, by way of contrast, is my post about evocative food words.)

I always know that winter has arrived in Johannesburg when I visit my greengrocer and find mountains of beautiful little oval citrus fruits, each one a dazzling orange and about the size of a quail's egg. Thin-skinned and wonderfully aromatic, these little kumquats darlings are dirt-cheap and plentiful when in season in South Africa, and are just lovely when cooked in a light, spicy sugar syrup, or pickled with sugar and vinegar.

This compote keeps well in the fridge for up to three weeks. It' s delicious with a slab of cold smoky ham and wedges of sharp Cheddar, and equally good poured over vanilla ice cream, along with an optional dash of Van Der Hum or Cointreau. Or try the fruits dipped in dark chocolate: see end of this post.

I used a small quantity of whole spices in this dish (all of them warming spices that pair nicely with citrus flavours) because I wanted the sharp citrus fragrance of the orangey rind to predominate. You can add whatever spices your heart desires, but I would advise against cinnamon, which, in spite of its gentle, woody, spicy name, is just too aggressive a flavour.

If you like kumquats, try my recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Half-Candied Kumquats.

Spiced Kumquat Compote

1½ cups (375 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) white granulated sugar
a 10-cm strip of thinly pared lemon rind
juice of half a lemon
1 blade of mace
8 whole coriander seeds
6 whole peppercorns
1 cardamom pod, lightly crushed
300 g ripe kumquats

Put the water, sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice and whole spices into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring now and again to dissolve the sugar. Cook briskly for 5 minutes. Now tip in the whole kumquats, reduce the heat, and simmer gently for 25 minutes or so, or until the fruit is soft, slightly transparent and beginning to look wrinkled. Remove from the heat.

Set aside and allow to cool completely. Remove the spices and lemon rind, decant into a lidded container or a glass jar, and place in the fridge.

Makes about two jars.

Cook's Note: if you'd like a really spicy compote, leave the whole spices in the syrup.

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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Slow-cooked Lamb Shanks with Potatoes and Tomatoes

A delicious one-pot autumn meal: meltingly tender lamb shanks cooked with sliced potatoes, sweet cherry tomatoes, rosemary and garlic.

Usually I cook lamb shanks in a richly flavoured tomato or wine sauce, and roast the potatoes separately. But after my Pork Neck Casserole with Potatoes turned out so well, I thought I'd try the same method, this time using some lovely Karoo lamb.

Don't be tempted to add extra liquid - say wine or water - to this dish: it will form its own delicious juices. Use the sweetest, ripest cherry tomatoes you can find.

This is really easy to prepare, and, like the pork casserole, can be made many hours in advance and then forgotten about. Ask the butcher to slice through narrow end of the shanks a few times so that the shanks can be curled into the pot. It's not essential to brown the shanks before they go into the oven, but it does add extra depth of flavour.

Slow-cooked Lamb Shanks with Potatoes and Tomatoes

1/2 cup (125 ml) good olive oil
4 large lamb shanks, bone cut through
8 big potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-cm-thick slices
1 large onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
500 g (1 punnet) of ripe, plump cherry tomatoes (I used Rosa variety)
8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a sprig of fresh rosemary
juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a knob of butter

Preheat the oven to 180° C. Heat a large cast-iron casserole dish, or an ovenproof dish, on your hob or hot plate, add a little oil and, over a fierce heat, quickly brown the lamb shanks on all sides (in batches if necessary). Remove dish from the heat, set the shanks aside on a plate, and pour away any lamb fat that's accumulated in the pot.

Arrange a single layer of sliced potatoes in the bottom of the dish and top with half the sliced onion and cherry tomatoes. Add half the sliced garlic and a few rosemary needles and sprinkle with 3 or so tablespoons of olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Place the lamb shanks on top of this layer and squeeze half a lemon directly over the shanks.

Tuck the remaining onion slices, cherry tomatoes and garlic between the shanks. Sprinkle with rosemary needles and a little more olive oil, and season again.

Now cover the entire dish with a solid layer of overlapping potato slices. Squeeze over the remaining lemon juice, sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter with a few rosemary needles.

Cut a circle of tin foil to the same size as the dish, butter it generously, and place it, butter side down, directly on the top layer of potatoes. Place a heavy plate or dish on top of the foil, so that the contents of the casserole are are weighed down. Place in the oven and cook at 180°C for one hour. Now reduce the heat to 120°C and cook for another three to four hours, or until the lamb is so tender that it is falling off the bone. Do not stir or mix the dish.

Remove the plate and tin foil. Brush the top layer of potato with a little melted butter. Turn the oven up to 180°C and cook for three-quarters of an hour, or until the potato topping is golden and crispy.

Serve hot, with plenty of bread for mopping up the juices.

Serves 6 or more Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly