Tomato essence

Tomato EssenceI was fair consumed with jealousy at the weekend when I visited my friend Abby and saw her homegrown vines heaving with luscious red fruit, which I couldn’t help comparing infavourably with the massed cordons of shiny green balls dangling from my plants right now. Alas, such is the lot of the exotic tomato grower – these rare or old varieties really do seem to take so much longer to ripen. So much so in fact, that the last two years my crop has been almost a total failure, as by the time they’re due to redden the weather has turned suddenly wintery (what happened to Autumn as a season?!) and I’ve lost half to blight and the rest get too cold and stay stubbornly green. If that happens again this year I think I’ll give up, and go back to good ol’ Gardener’s Delight like normal non-masochistic growers do.

Tomato EssenceAnyhoo, if you’re delighting in plants groaning with ripe fruit, or you’re lucky enough to frequent a market (y’know – one of those places you can get ’10 mange tout’ ) that sells seasonal bounty cheap, and you’ve never tried making Tomato Essence (also known as tomato ‘tea’, or more erroneously ‘consomme’) then now is the time. It is, as the name suggests, the pure clear essence of tomatoness. The soul and heart flavour of Solanum lycopersicum, taste of the Med and balm to the soul. No, really. Stop snorting at the back. This stuff really is worth the hyperbole.

And it’s so simple! In fact, I make it not only when I have a heap of whole fruit, but any time some barmy chef tells me in a recipe to cut out and discard the seeds and pulp – you know, the bit where the flavour is!  The cores from a standard punnet of toms won’t give you heaps of essence, but even a shotglass-full is worth the minimal effort when you realise what a punch this stuff packs.

Taste. Of. Summer.

Tomato EssenceTomato Essence
Serves: Some
So simple in fact, there are no measurements. Take the skins, cores, pulp and seeds from as many tomatoes as you have. Use the tomato flesh for something else – a salad perhaps, or a fresh tomato sauce, or maybe even oven-dried tomato ‘petals’. Chop the cores and pulp roughly with a knife. Don’t be tempted to blitz them in a processor, even with a big batch, otherwise you’ll smash bitterness from the seeds into your lovely essence. Place in a muslin-lined sieve (or a jelly bag, if you have one), shake over a little fine salt and stir briefly.  Set the sieve or jelly bag over a jug into which you’ve placed a few bruised sprigs of basil or fresh oregano, and leave to drain overnight. If you can suspend your muslin from something (a fridge rack for instance) so much the better, to get maximum ‘essence’. At no point squeeze the muslin/bag or attempt to force juice through – that will make the end result cloudy. Taste the clear essence in the jug, and add salt if needed. Serve as it is, chilled or at room temperature, perhaps garnishing with a sprig of fresh herbs, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or even a few balsamic pearls.

Cheaty cheapy roasted tomato & pepper soup with basil oil

As much as I love tomato soup I’m often horrified by the cost of making it at home. It’s common for recipes to call for a minimum of 1.5kg tomatoes for a few portions, that’s pretty darn expensive to buy, and even when I have a glut in my garden I’ll be hard pressed to provide that more than once a season.

Tomato Pepper Soup

So to satisfy the penny pincher in me (and to acknowledge that for yet another year in a row there’ll be little to no sunshine and my tomato harvest is likely to be nil) I’ve created a tomato soup that delivers all the flavour for a fraction of the cost, the tomatoes being bulked out a little with peppers and carrots, and a shot of concentrated tomato puree gives an extra boost of tomatoeyness. The basil oil isn’t strictly necessary, but I do think a homemade soup deserves that little extra dressing up, and it means you can make this in the winter (or our ‘summer’ equivalent), with hothouse-grown tomatoes, and still feel like you’re in the Provençal sunshine.

Roasted tomato & pepper soup with basil oil
Serves 4

500g cherry tomatoes
2 red peppers, quartered and deseeded
Half a red chilli (in the piece, not chopped)
3 small carrots, peeled
a small knob of butter
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, bruised and peeled
pinch of celery salt
3 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
500ml vegetable stock

For the basil oil
15g basil leaves
olive oil

Toss the tomatoes, peppers and chilli in a tiny drop of oil (just enough to stop them sticking), then roast at 200˚C/Gas 6 for 40-45 minutes. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool before skinning. If you can be bothered, pinch the skins from the tomatoes too, but don’t be too fastidious about it.

Finely grate the carrots (use the finest side on a box grater, or a microplane), then sweat in the butter with the onion, bruised garlic, celery salt and tomato puree until meltingly tender. Add the roasted tomatoes, skinned peppers and the chilli, plus the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, simmer for just a minute or two, then blitz and season to taste.

For the basil puree, whizz the basil leaves with a pinch of salt and just enough olive oil to form a smooth paste (using a stick blender or mini processor). Serve the soup drizzled with the oil.

Chive flower tortelloni

Chive flower tortelloniChives grow abundantly in our garden and although the plants, at 3 years old, are a bit tougher and woodier than I’d like they still put forth a beautiful crown of purple flowers at this time of year, which is as attractive to me as it is to the bumble bees that frequent our herb bed in droves.  The flowers are even more delicious than the green chive itself, with a delicate perfumed garlicky-ness I find quite addictive.  If you don’t grow your own and can’t get hold of the flowers by any other means you could of course substitute fresh chopped green chives in this, just use a bit less to avoid them overpowering the other flavours. Half the flavour of the potatoes is in their skins so I leave them on as you want to get maximum flavour from the simple constituents of the filling here, and I like to use Burford Brown eggs for my pasta, as the orange yolks give a great rich colour.

Chive flower tortelloni with new potatoes and raclette cheese
Serves 8-10

500g ’00’ pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
4 medium eggs + 6 egg yolks
For the filling:
1kg new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
100g butter
300g raclette cheese (or any other good melty cheese)
5 tbsp chive flowers (approx 10 heads)
You will also need a pasta machine

Put the flour and eggs in a food processor and pulse until it forms a dough (or mix by hand on a clean worktop, breaking the eggs into a well in the centre of the flour and working in gradually). Knead the dough on a clean worktop for a few minutes until you have a smooth, pliable dough, then divide into eight portions, wrap well in clingfilm and leave to rest for an hour.

Read on for the rest of the recipe…

The elderflowers are coming!!!

Elderflowers on the treeIn case you haven’t yet been enveloped by the the aroma of fragrant cat’s piss wafting from the trees, allow me to remind you that the Elderflower season is here!  As I mentioned in my post last year, it’s important to plan your picking of elderflowers to get the most of them, and with the forecast in most of the country being for rain over the bank holidays, this weekend is the time to get cracking – the blooms will have lost half their potency once they’ve been drenched by the Jubilee showers and will take a few days to recover. As for what to do with them, there’s a fabulous cordial recipe here, an elderflower champagne recipe on the way, and you could even try making some gorgeous elderflower fritters by coating the heads in a light tempura batter and deep-frying them.

Runner bean spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

Runner bean spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

Late summer is a time of abundance for British gardeners, the time of year when a vast majority of homegrown crops are at their peak and when keeping up with your edible bounty can be downright difficult! Runner beans have been a staple crop in my household since I was a child, and in good years we eat them almost every day, the plants putting out fresh batches of beans practically overnight.

Even if you aren’t growing your own, runner beans are everywhere now so it’s a great time to get some toothsome airmile-guilt-free food whilst it’s dead cheap.  This is a delicious and simple dish which is easily scaled up or down, depending on the number of people needing serving (and how big your glut of runner beans is!).  I wouldn’t bother cooking less than half of the tomato sauce – simply because it’s so easy and tasty you can use any spare sauce for other pasta dishes, stews or even on homemade pizzas. It keeps in the fridge for several days, or in the freezer for months.

Read on for the recipe

Spicy and sticky orange BBQ wings

Spicy stick orange BBQ wings With the weather increasingly autumnal in temperament it seems the British summertime is on its last legs, but with the sun making one last determined attempt to shine this weekend I had to share this recipe for delicious BBQ wings which is everything I love most about summer eating: big flavours, messy, sociable eating just perfect for sharing with friends.  Chicken wings are a deliciously inexpensive way to feed a crowd –  I keep them in bags in the freezer from jointing whole quality birds for breast and legs so they’re essentially free, but most butchers will sell you free-range for a pittance, and even the divine organic ones sold online by Sheepdrove Organic Farm will only set you back about 40p a wing.

Such gloriously charred and sticky wings demand you use your hands, get smeared in sauce, gnaw bones and lick your fingers afterwards. As such this is not food for dates or strangers: share it with your loved ones in the sunshine with a drink and you’re guaranteed a good time – no one can be down or serious with food this gloriously messy.

The marinade is super-simple to make, and can be tweaked to taste and made a day in advance. You start the wings in the oven, freeing up barbecue space for other things, and this technique also ensures they’re cooked through (no one likes a pink wing!) They’re then finished off on the barbie, giving them a lovely smokey note to their charred edges – but if the sun fails to shine you could always flash them under the grill instead.

Read on for the recipe….

Summer’s here? Well it is at River Cottage…WIN WIN WIN!

River Cottage Summer's HereI’ve always been a huge fan of River Cottage: from its infancy when Hugh was at the cottage only at the weekends and had a professional tending the crops during the week because he still had to pay the bills by working in the big smoke, through the move to larger premises when the whole family joined in the project (little Oscar tending the ducks and geese? So cute!); and finally the grand new River Cottage HQ and the canteen in Axminster, plus everything from the Chicken-out! campaign and Hugh’s Fish Fight in between.

Hugh has proven himself to be a tireless campaigner for better food, better living, and better animal welfare for the greater part of my adult life, and a shelf groaning with his books, well-thumbed and splattered with food stains is testament to how successful he has been, at least in my corner of the world.

Now that his little food empire has grown way beyond the reaches of a smallholding, Hugh has moved on from the joys of hobby farming (although his passion for the agricultural life remains prevalent) and has been dedicating himself to promoting the joys of seasonal eating. River Cottage ‘Summer’s here’ is out on DVD from 1st August, packed full of a range of impressive dishes using the finest edible delights from the garden, the hedgerow, the river and the stream. To celebrate the release I have 2 copies of the DVD to give away to Souperior readers – all you have to do is comment below and tell me what your favourite River Cottage recipe or episode is!

UPDATE: This competition is now CLOSED.  Thankyou to all who entered, and congratulations to our winners!

There is one main way to enter and several ways to get bonus entries. You must leave a separate comment for each bonus entry.

For a chance to win please comment and tell me what your favourite River Cottage recipe or episode is, and why.

For a second chance to win please tweet this post using the tweet button below and comment telling me you have done so, with your twitter username

For a third chance follow me (@FoodieEmma) on twitter and comment to tell me you have done so, with your twitter username

For a fourth and final chance, use the Facebook button below to share this post with your friends, and again leave a comment to tell me you’ve done so!

Good Luck!

*T&Cs: Closing date is 31st July 2011. Winners will be drawn using a random generator on 1st August 2011 and notified by email within 7 days. This giveaway is open to all readers with a mailing address in the UK. Souperior is running this competition on behalf of marketMe Ltd who will be responsible for sending the prizes to the winners. Their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Topless Tart: Roasted baby tomato and pesto tart with a Parmesan crust

Roasted tomato & pesto tart with Parmesan crustIt’s been a long time since I took part in a food blogger event, but I couldn’t resist joining in with this month’s cheekily titled ‘Topless Tarts’ Monthly Mingle, hosted by one of my favouritest bloggers, Jeanne of Cook Sister!

For me, a homemade tart is all about the pastry. There’s no end of clever and tasty fillings for a tart, and shops have sold most of them at some time or another, but where a homemade tart can beat shop-bought hands down is with carefully made, fresh from the oven, tender, crumbly pastry – there’s just nothing to beat it! The key to good pastry is twofold: keep everything cold, and work fast. For the serious cook with time on their hands, I would advise a one-to-one session with an expert, exploring all the nuances of the words ‘chopping in’, ‘pecking’ and ‘frasiering’ – pâtissiere terms for the three delicate manoeuvres used to create top quality pastry in restaurants. For the more everyday, I would recommend a Magimix. The food processor will work far faster than you ever can, and by not touching the pastry yourself you avoid the pastry getting hot and greasy. You can even chill the blade in advance (if you’re that organised!) for even better results.

With most types of pastry, chilling it before rolling, and again after lining the tart tin, protects against shrinking during cooking. The hefty amount of Parmesan in this crust means some shrinking is unavoidable as the cheese melts, so make sure you use a deep tart tin and line it all the way to the top, so when it is cooked it will still be several centimetres deep.

Read on for the recipe…

Asparagus and super-easy Hollandaise sauce

Asparagus & Hollandaise sauceNothing signifies the return of summer cooking to me more than the first of the new season’s asparagus. That first plate of green delights from our British fields tells me it is time to put the cassoulets and hotpots away, and bring in light pasta dishes and salads.

Although a touch early (the British asparagus season is usually from the end of April-early July), I did indeed have that first dish of new season asparagus this weekend, the first cutting of the year, taken that morning. There is only one approach to take with asparagus at the beginning of the season and that is ‘keep it simple’ –  either drizzle it with molten butter, or dip it in luscious hollandaise. Later in the month I might start getting creative with tarts and pasta, but for now I want my asparagus whole, and mostly unadorned.

Lightly boil or steam your asparagus, and the freshest spears will need mere minutes. Then whip up a batch of my insanely easy hollandaise sauce, based on a recipe given to my father more than fifty years ago and still a family favourite, then devour – preferably with one’s fingers rather than knife and fork.

Easy Hollandaise Sauce
Serves 4 as an accompaniment

3 egg yolks
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
110g melted butter

Put all the ingredients except the butter into a blender or liquidiser and process briefly until mixed. Keeping the motor running, very slowly pour in the melted butter and continue to blend until foamy. Serve immediately.

Basil Gnocchi

Homemade Basil Gnocchi

When I had a glut of basil on my hands and needed inspiration for what to do with it, Qin of ‘In Pursuit of Food‘ told me about some delectable basil gnocchi she’d had recently at Mayfair’s Tempo and as I adore making unusual variants of this Italian classic I just had to give it a try. Gnocchi take a bit of trial and error, as the best ones are super-light and therefore super-delicate, but I urge you to give this recipe a try – it captures the beautiful fragrance of the basil perfectly, and makes for a super eye-catching dish!

Basil Gnocchi – Serves 4

4 large baking potatoes (to yield approximately 450g cooked flesh)
70g fresh basil
70g parmesan, finely grated
1 large egg yolk
75-125g plain flour

Read on for the recipe method….