19/02/2012

Olive Branch recipe: Deconstructed Caponata

I love Italian food. Ever since my first exposure to it way back when I was a small child spending the summer holidays with my family in a friend’s apartment in South Eastern Italy. We stayed in Pontecagnano, a small industrial town on the coast, inbetween Salerno and Battipaglia. The main industry seemed to be a tomato canning plant just outside town or at least it was, until it got blown up. We awoke to an entire town covered in tomatoes and tomato residue. Everything was tinged a watery pink for days and for weeks afterwards dented tins of San Marzano tomatoes would wash up on the beaches. Everyone said they didn’t know why the explosion had occurred, but the speculation of it being the work of La Famiglia was rife.

We made friends easily, helped by my Dad speaking Italian like a native and his pretending to be a long lost son of the area so our car didn’t get vandalised. You did not leave on the GB sticker. One year we forgot, on our first night, and came down to a car made toothless by broken windows.

We got to try the real food of Italy, not just the restaurants, but what people ate at home and in celebration. You’ve not lived – or known what full feels like - until you have eaten a traditional Italian wedding feast. That really is the gift that keeps on giving, sometimes even after a few of the guests are in a food coma.

The drawback to discovering all of that wonderful food is that it does spoil you for any Italian food that you get in England, that I admit, but I keep on trying different places here anyway, ever hopeful that it will have that taste that I remember.

The most elusive thing for me has been the tomato. Once you have had a simple sauce in Italy, when you try to recreate it here, very often the tomatoes are the things that can let it down. Napolina had seemed to be the best brand so far, but even then they didn’t taste quite right. Recently Cirio has become available here, and they are very good indeed. What I wasn’t expecting was Sainsbury’s Finest.

I spotted Pomodori D’Oro when I was doing an online shop, and bought a tin on the offchance. I can safely say that they are absolutely lovely. The smell when I opened the tin took me straight back to those heady summers in Italy, and the juice that they come in is thick, almost like a purée, not a watery residue to be drained off.

Tinned yellow tomatoes 
Yellow Tomatoes

The colour is pure, yellow sunshine, and that inspired me to put together a version of a much loved recipe. I had some aubergines, and some olives and that, to me, says caponata. It’s a sweet sour Sicilian dish, and utterly addictive when eaten with chunks of fresh bread. Angela Hartnett's version is one of the best I've had.

I had some of the lovely olive oil that Olive Branch had sent me left, which just made cooking this all the more worthwhile. I spent a very happy Saturday afternoon pottering in the kitchen and to my great delight the weather stayed nice and the light remained good, despite my faffing about. So here, for your delight and my tummy, is a very simple Deconstructed Caponata.

1 medium aubergine
1 tin whole yellow plum tomatoes
Aged balsamic (I used Carluccio’s. Thick and syrupy wonderfulness. You need the sweetness.)
Small black olives
Thick bread slices (I used home made)
Olive oil

Cut the aubergine in half lengthways, and slash deeply with a sharp knife, taking care not to cut through the skin. Douse liberally with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. Place on a baking tray and grill until golden brown and quite soft.

Aubergine section ii

While the aubergine is cooking, put the tomatoes in a shallow pan, add some olives, olive oil and drizzle with balsamic. If you can’t find the syrupy aged vinegar, then try some balsamic syrup. Merchant Gourmet do a good one and most big supermarkets have it.

Tomato, oil, vinegar, pan

Add in a good handful of black olives.

Homegrown Essex olives

I was lucky enough to have some home-grown, oil cured olives from my very own tree to use, (yes, it appears you can grow olives in Essex if you wait about ten years for the tree to fruit…) but any decent black olive will do although please, buy them with the stones in, as the flavour is infinitely superior. By all means de-stone them before cooking, but don’t use those ready stoned ones you can buy, they all seem to look like otters’ noses and taste of rubber. You know the ones. The kind that you get on takeaway pizza, all texture and no taste.

Heat the tomatoes and olives gently until everything is bubbling. Don’t stir it, just let it cook and the flavours will happily merge into one another.

IMG_5209

Drizzle or drench your bread slices with olive oil. I used home made bread because that’s what I had, but any decent bread that you like will work.

Loaves   Bread slices iii

Toast the slices in a very hot griddle pan until golden and griddle-marked. Of course you do not have to do this, you can just toast them in that wonderful modern invention, The Toaster, but  I prefer the flavour you get from a griddle pan and also, well, I am a bit poncey at times.

Once the bread is toasted, the dish just needs putting together.

Toast, aubergine, tomatoes, and top with any sauce and olives. Drizzle on more olive oil because you can, then eat and enjoy.

Plated close up
Plated

With many thanks to  http://myolivebranch.co.uk/ for sending me their lovely oil, and to Sourced market in Kings Cross station for selling me some more!

12/02/2012

Snickerdoodles!

No, it’s not a new swear word, it’s a cookie. A very, very good cookie, first made for me by my dear friend Denise when we stayed with her in New England. A whole new world opened up to me – the world of American cup measurements. In some ways I find it easier, and in others…I’d much rather have a set of scales to hand. It probably just depends what side of the bed I got out of.

Anyway, yes, Snickerdoodles.

Buttery, cinnamony, sugary cookies with a melt in the mouth texture. My husband loves them, and he’s going away for a week tomorrow on a course for work, so I thought I’d make him some to take with him. A little bit of home in a tin.

Oddly, after extolling the fun of American cup use, I wanted to make these using a scale. The reason being that it is awfully cold in my kitchen at the moment (2 outside walls) and the butter will NOT soften to the right consistency to measure it with a cup without bending the handle, so scales it was. I managed to find a recipe using British measurements and off I went.

http://www.theamericanresident.com/2011/10/snickerdoodles-the-amazing-anytime-of-the-year-cookie/ is where I found the recipe, but I made a few tweaks. Come on, it’s me, that always happens, plus I remember some of the ingredients in the recipe that Denise used so I wanted to get as close to her recipe as possible.

Snickerdoodles
375g self raising flour
1/2 tsp Cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp cinnamon
150g butter, room temperature
75g lard (or white Flora but lard was all I had)
280g caster sugar
2 large eggs
For rolling the cookies in:
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon mixed with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
Method
Preheat oven to 180C.
Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
Put butter, lard and sugar into another bowl. Use an electric mixer to mix them for about 3 minutes, until fluffy.

Mix in the eggs with the butter, lard and sugar mix. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in the flour mixture, upping the speed as needed.

Shape the dough into balls of about 1.5 to 2 inches depending on how large you like your cookies. I made mine about the size of a walnut.

Try and get them into the sugar/cinnamon mixture soon, rolling them around to get completely covered in cinnamon and sugar. I found the chilling the mixture made it a lot easier to handle, and all I had to do today was open the window a bit!

Place the dough balls on cookie sheets lined in baking parchment or a non-stick baking liner. They will spread out, so I placed them about 1.5” apart.

Bake until edges are golden. That took about 10-12 minutes for my ones. Obviously the bigger you make them, the longer they take. 

It’s not a problem if you overcook them a bit, but the longer you cook, the less of a chewy centre they have.

Once they are out of the oven and on a cooling rack, then you face the problem of not eating them all while they are still warm.

I promise you that there will be photos soon, but I have managed to drop my SD card into the body of my computer tower because I’m a numpty. The link above has photos, so you can pootle over there and have a look.
I can’t believe I did that.

EDIT: Thanks to my wonderful husband, the card has been retrieved, so here is a photo of Snickerdoodles. At last
.
IMG_5160




















06/02/2012

Bread and olive oil, the staff and stuff of life.

A few weeks ago, I was sent some lovely olive oil by the very nice people at Olive Branch. Now it is fair to say that possibly olive oil, not blood, runs in my veins, though any good phlebotomist who has had a fight with my veins may disagree.

I love the smell, the taste, even the feel of it on my skin (don’t wipe it off, rub it in, it is an excellent moisturiser) and when they asked me if I’d like to try some of their oil of course my pretty much instant answer was “Yes please!”

It arrived and I baked some fresh bread to go with it that very same day. All I needed was that bread, a bit of balsamic for a second tasting and that beautiful, greengold elixir.

I had a very indulgent afternoon, let me tell you. Just me, the warm bread and the oil.

Photos, because words cannot do it justice.

Bread corner Bread soaked

Oil, vinegar, bread

The oil is rich and smooth tasting, but this bottle didn’t have the peppery notes that I’ve tasted elsewhere. It was fresh, and green tasting, if that makes any sense, redolent of crushed wet grass. Utterly lovely, and perfect with simple bread. I admit that  did also add some Carluccio’s aged balsamic after the initial tasting, because when you have that, and olive oil of this quality, then it would be foolish not to.

I’ll leave you with words from Olive Branch, telling you all about their beautiful oil.

Our Olive Oil has been produced at a community co-operative in the south of Crete. The co-operative is owned by its members, all of whom are responsible for picking the olives themselves, during the early harvest which takes place around November/December each year. Once the Olives are picked, the Oil is cold pressed within hours to create a fresh and grassy taste.

The Oil is made from the Koroneiki Olive, which is native to Crete and has high natural antioxidant content. The Olive is picked at the stage when the ripening begins as this is when the Olive is packed with vitamins and antioxidants. This creates a superior quality olive oil which is indicated by its exceptionally low acidity level of <0.3%.

Our Olive Oil will take you on a taste journey – starting with a fresh and grassy taste, moving to tomato like notes and ending with a pepper like finish.

http://myolivebranch.co.uk/