Tag Archives: tomato

Spice Up Your Life.

25 Oct

I know you must be cringing right now – and don’t worry, so am I – at the above reference. It’s not only socially unacceptable to know the name of and possibly like a Spice Girls song (not that I’m admitting anything here) but potentially worse to be seen reading an amateur food blog that alludes to the song in question.

But these girls make a good point. An array of spices can make any meal more exciting, whether it be a plain tomato-based sauce transformed into a curry, hamburgers made into kofta or peanut butter on toast revamped to become peanut butter on toast with cinnamon.

The other night I was feeling pretty lousy and was in no mood to cook something elaborate. Initially my thoughts were to go with my very delicious – yet admittedly very sad – fallback of tuna, peas and rice (which only involves throwing the latter two in a pot of boiling water before mixing them with a tin of tuna. Mmm.) but inspiration came in the form of a little jar of curry powder sitting at the very back of our pantry.

Curry is wonderfully simple, only requiring a few basic ingredients and a few minutes preparation. It’s a great way to use up vegetables that are clearly past it and quickly becoming compost-ripe and can be adapted to suit almost any type of vegetable or meat. You can also change up the spice mix if you so desire. This particular recipe is inspired by Nigella’s latest offering, Kitchen, and uses cherry tomatoes and peas, but by all means use whatever’s available and in season and whatever the bottom of your fridge desperately needs to get rid of.

Tomato & Pea Curry.

Tomato & Pea Curry

Serves 2

2 TBSP olive oil

1 large brown onion, peeled and chopped

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp fennel powder

2 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp dried chili flakes

250g cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup frozen peas

1 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 cup coconut milk or regular milk

salt

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan that has a lid.

2. When hot, add the onions and fry, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.

3. Add the spices and fry for a further two to three minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes and the peas and cook, with the lid on, for twenty minutes.

5. Add the tomato paste and the milk and cook for a further 10 minutes.

6. Season to taste.

7. Serve with rice.

Revenge of the Soup.

4 Oct

In order to maintain my incessant laziness, I’ve decided that every time I make soup, I’m merely going to insert the word ‘soup’ into the title of a Star Wars movie. Admittedly The Soup Strikes Back was a happy coincidence and I doubt Seriously Simple Jedis was – or ever will be – a contender for the sci-fi saga, but this post is an unabashed and intentional rip off. So now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s move on to the next installment of Soup Wars.

Today was a pretty miserable day, weather-wise. It was a pathetic excuse for an approaching-the-middle-of-Spring day, with rain and clouds and wind and all things sad. I was reluctant to venture out in the cold but needed something for lunch. All we had on hand was a tin of tomatoes, a tin of beans and the usual staples like garlic, onions and dried herbs. And because of the dismal weather, all I really wanted was a bowl of hot, steaming soup and some carbalicious bread.

I pretty much bung everything in a pan and left it for ten minutes to cook – another example of my indolent ways – but the results were bowl-lickin’ good. The tomato became rich and sweet, heady and fragrant with garlic and herbs. The addition of chili gave the soup a warm and hearty kick. The beans added a mellow flavour and gave the soup substance and stodge – perfect for a rainy day in.

Tomato and Cannellini Soup.

Tomato and Cannellini Bean Soup

Serves 2

1 TBSP olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/2 medium brown onion, peeled and chopped

1 400g tin crushed tomatoes

1 400g tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 tsp mixed dried herbs

1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)

3/4 cup water

salt and pepper

grated Parmesan, to serve

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil.

2. When hot, add the garlic and onion. Fry for five minutes, until fragrant.

3. Add the tomatoes, beans, herbs, chili flakes and water and stir to combine.

4. Simmer for ten minutes and season to taste.

5. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Salad at a Steal.

19 Jul

To me Winter is all about warm things. Fudgey, oozy, gooey, sticky, creamy, carby things. Pasta, stew, potatoes, roasts and pies are all such things that come to mind. I’ll more than happily eat these things day in and day out but sometimes even the most gluttonous of people can tire of constant stodge.

I’ve been craving a salad for some time now. I think my salad strike has been going on since early April, when Sydney’s ridiculous weather patterns decided to become prematurely freezing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat vegetables in Winter if they’re served up warm, but sometimes life just calls for a salad. As they say (or really, they should) if life gives you lemons, make an Italian vinaigrette.

The wonderful thing about salads is that they can be as basic or elaborate as whatever your tastes and budget allow. Often mine consist of week-old lettuce and a tin of tuna – disgusting, I know, but when the only other option is beef-flavoured two-minute noodles, it makes perfect sense. Back in the good ol’ days when three-quarters of my paycheque didn’t go towards rent, my salads were a little more appealing: nuts, cheeses, vegetables like sweet potato and beetroot and various meats made delicious additions to exciting leaves like baby spinach and rocket. These days I’m stuck with iceberg.

But that doesn’t mean a good salad has to be an expensive one – the following recipe cost me a little under $2 for one serve. It can be easily altered with ingredients added, omitted or changed altogether. In the past I’ve put in red onions, cheese, chopped up pickles and corn – following, of course, a hefty bonus at work.

Tuna, Cannellini and Cherry Tomato Salad.

Tuna, Cannellini and Cherry Tomato Salad

Serves 2

One 400g tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

One 95g tin tuna in springwater

250g cherry tomatoes, chopped in half (usually these are really expensive, so normal tomatoes can be used)

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Dressing

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

1. Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Mix all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl or shake in a jar to combine.

3. Toss the two together and season with salt and pepper.

Yumbo Italiano.

19 Jun

For those of you not familiar with the late 90s/early 2000s hit ‘Mambo Italiano’, that was the inspiration for the name of this post. I’ve noticed that my creativity with post names is pretty poor and this is probably a new low. Apologies.

Moving along. I recently purchased two new cookbooks – a gift to myself to celebrate the end of the uni semester. Initially I intended to only get one and savour it over the six week break but I gave into temptation and overdrew my bank account for the sake of expanding my culinary knowledge. The two books I bought are part of the same series – ‘The Food of France’ and ‘The Food of Italy’. Each is a 300-odd page tome of wonderful recipes and information about the cultures themselves, with amazing pictures of both the food and countries.

The books are fantastic introductions to each cuisine. The recipes are authentic enough that you’re not left only having spaghetti Bolognese and chocolate mousse as dining options but basic enough to let you avoid having to make your own foie gras.

The difficulty of each recipe varies but thankfully they range from easy four-ingredient salads to elaborate you’ll-be-preparing-for-weeks terrines. Basically there’s something for everyone, even me, the humble and penniless student.

In order to prevent her from throwing me out and finding a better replacement, I usually leave it up to my flatmate to choose what we have for dinner. Tonight’s choice? Pizza. From scratch.

Now you might be thinking that making your own pizza dough is completely impossible – but you’d be pleasantly surprised. Even my flatmate (who has only just mastered a basic pasta sauce) was amazed at how easy it was. And cheaper. The recipe may seem involved but don’t be daunted.

A packeted base will cost up to $6, but the homemade option? If you’ve got basics like flour, olive oil, sugar and salt and are willing to fork out $2.50 for a box of yeast sachets, this one will cost about 20c. The sauce can again be made from what’s in the cupboard. The lack of bizarre and surely unhealthy ingredients is a bonus too.

The finished product is pretty damn good. The dough is fluffy yet crisp, the sauce a mile better than anything from a bottle. I highly recommend you get into making your own pizzas – they’re an insanely cheap option that really beats the frozen variety.

This recipe is the most basic but you can add anything to the top.

Pizza margherita

Pizza Margherita (courtesy of ‘The Food of Italy’ by Murdoch Books)

Makes two 30cm (12 inch) pizzas

For the dough:

1 TBSP caster sugar

1 sachet dried yeast

215ml lukewarm water

450g (3 ⅔ cups) plain flour

½ tsp salt

3 TBSP olive oil

For the sauce:

1 TBSP olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

One 400g tin diced tomatoes

2 TBSP tomato paste

1 TBSP mixed dried herbs

salt and pepper

1 TBSP olive oil

20 small basil leaves or 10 large ones

300g grated mozzarella cheese

For the dough:

1. Put the sugar and yeast in a small bowl and stir in 90ml of the water. Leave in a draught-free spot to activate. If the yeast does not bubble and foam in 5 minutes, discard it and start again.

2. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the olive oil, remaining water and the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough loosely clumps together.

3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes, adding a little flour or a few drops of warm water if necessary, until you have a soft dough that is not sticky but is dry to the touch.

4. Rub the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Roll the ball of dough around in the bowl to coat it with oil, then cut a shallow cross on top of the ball with a sharp knife.

5. Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave in a draught-free spot for 1-1 ½ hours until doubled in size.

6. Meanwhile, make the sauce.

7. Punch down the dough to its original size, then divide into two portions.

8. Working with one portion at a time, push the dough out to make a thick circle. Use the heels of your hands and work from the centre of the circle outwards, to flatten the dough into a 30cm (12 inch) circle with a slightly raised rim. You can also use a rolling pin if this is a little difficult.

For the sauce:

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

2. Once hot, add the garlic and fry for 3 minutes or until soft.

3. Add the tin of tomatoes, tomato paste and herbs.

4. Stir and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper accordingly.

6. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

To assemble:

1. Preheat the oven to 240C.

2. Place each pizza base on a separate tray that has been rubbed with olive oil to avoid sticking.

3. Spread each base with tomato sauce, spreading it up to the rim.

4. Scatter with the basil leaves and mozzarella.

5. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden and puffed.

6. Remove from the oven and cut accordingly.

The Glorified Tomato Pie.

28 May

I wanted to be a bit wanky and pretentious this particular evening. And what better way to do it than with a tomato tarte tatin with caramelised onions, fresh basil and a balsamic reduction?

Lordy, I sound like I should really get into menu writing – if there is such a profession. If there is, though, I’m ready and willing to drop out of uni and give Matt Preston a run for his money in the snooty stakes.

Sadly the reality is that this was really a tomato pie with some onions, herbs and a pretty questionable vinegar and honey concoction splashed about on top. But such is the power of pompous vocabulary.

Anyway, I digress. A recipe on Taste (see bar on the right) inspired me to create this tomato thang for some guests we were having over. But the original recipe, to be honest, didn’t seem to have the right amount of pizazz – that is, I couldn’t really ham up and wankify its description in its initial form.

So I added some fresh basil leaves (from our, surprisingly, still alive basil plant) and caramelised onions and altered the balsamic vinegar component a little bit.

The end result was quite ‘tasty’ (I quote my flatmate here) and made me look like the ostentatious chef I so aspire to be. In reality? This recipe couldn’t be easier. And I couldn’t be any further from the aforementioned description.

Tomato tarte tatin

Tomato Tarte Tatin with Caramalised Onions, Fresh Basil and a Balsamic Reduction.

(translation: Tomato Pie with Some Onions, Herbs and a Pretty Questionable Vinegar and Honey Concoction)

Serves 4

For the pastry:

100g (2/3 cup) plain flour

1 tsp salt

50g dairy spread

1 TBSP cold water, approximately

400-500g baby roma tomatoes (depending on the quantities available to buy)

2 large onions, thinly sliced

2 TBSP olive oil

1 tsp sugar

6 or 7 basil leaves

salt and pepper, to taste

For the reduction:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 TBSP honey

For the pastry:

1. Rub the flour, salt and dairy spread together with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

2. Add enough water so that the dough comes together to form a ball. Make sure it’s not too sticky – if it is, add a bit more flour accordingly.

3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the rest.

1. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over high heat.

2. Add the onions and fry until well cooked – they should be quite mushy and brown.

3. Add the sugar and keep cooking until the onions are well caramelised.

4. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

5. Arrange the tomatoes on the base of a 20cm-round cake tin. Make them look somewhat nice, mainly for the wank factor. And don’t use a springform cake tin – I did and ended up almost causing an oil fire.

6. Spread the basil leaves around on top of the tomatoes.

7. Top with the cooled onions.

8. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out so that it is big enough to cover the other stuff – if there is excess, just roll it back so that it forms a kind of ring around the edge. For a better explanation, click here.

9. Preheat the oven to 200C.

10. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in the fridge for 10 minutes – this ensures the pastry doesn’t shrink while cooking.

11. Meanwhile, make the balsamic reduction/vinegar and honey concoction. In a pan over medium-high heat, put the balsamic vinegar and honey. Keep stirring and eventually it will turn into a thickish, molasses-resembling sauce thing. Don’t be deterred by guests telling you it resembles car oil. Looks are deceiving.

12. Take the tart out of the fridge and place in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. You can put the grill on for the last few minutes to ensure the pastry browns up nicely. But watch it – that thing is wild and can turn your tart black in seconds.

13. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a plate so that it is upside down. Again, refer to here for better instructions. But ignore the wire rack thing.

14. Drizzle with the reduction, season with salt and pepper, garnish with something green for extra wank (I promise this is the last time I’ll use this word) and serve.

NOTE: If serving to guests, preferably use the first description. Cravat optional.

Spice World.

14 May

I fell in love today.

Sorry, dumplings, but I’ve possibly found a new flame. And this affair’s a little more spicy – boom, TISH!

My flatmate and I were visiting one of our regular shopping haunts after uni, Paddy’s Markets in Sydney’s Haymarket. Forget scrounging around for vintage finds in Rozelle or salivating over Paddington’s designer wares – when you’re in our position, grocery shopping becomes your favourite pastime. We have regular discussions over which type of milk powder to buy or what our preferred types of dishcloth are. Oh yes we do.

I digress. We were doing the weekly fruit and vege shop when we stumbled across a stall we had never seen before. A stall that was, quite seriously, going to change my life. Well, my spice rack at least.

Green Valley Spices was a beacon of colourful exuberance – fat, overloaded pots of almost every kind of spice, seasoning and even tea that let off the most wonderful mix of smells.

Bucketloads of spices

Cinnamon was there and za’atar was there and turmeric and paprika and ground fennel were there. Vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks and bark, whole cloves and cardamom pods. Seasonings for every type of meat, as well as chunky teas – not that powdery supermarket kind.

We were tempted to get some of the chai tea mix – loaded with broken cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and whole cloves. The camomile tea also looked intriguing, with its whole camomile flowers that were such a far cry from the bags we’re accustomed to. But our budget sadly only stretched to a few spices.

Vibrant turmeric and paprika

Instead we were more than satisfied to leave with 100g of cinnamon, 100g of za’atar and 50g of chilli flakes for $8. Getting your spices at the supermarket? Be prepared to spend more than twice that.

Most spices were $3 for 100g, $5 for 200g, $8 for 500g and $15 for 1kg. The teas were a little more exxy, starting at $9 for 100g, but still a comparative bargain to supermarket shopping.

A wall of spices

For dinner we decided to do something impromptu and spice-fuelled: sumac tomato salad and toasted sourdough with olive oil and za’atar.

‘Now what are these crazy things?’ You may ask. Sumac is a reddish-purplish spice with a tangy, almost lemony flavour. Za’atar is a mix of dried herbs: oregano, basil and thyme together with sesame seeds, salt and other spices, including sumac. They’re both generally used in Middle Eastern cuisine and are both equally as delicious.

Sumac tomato salad

Sumac Tomato Salad

Serves 2

2 tomatoes, chopped into wedges

2 tsp sumac

2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Arrange tomatoes on a plate or in a bowl
  2. Mix together sumac and olive oil
  3. Drizzle over tomatoes
  4. Serve

Sourdough toast, za'atar, olive oil and tomato salad

Toasted Sourdough with Za’atar

Serves 2

4-6 pieces of sourdough bread, toasted

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup za’atar

  1. It’s quite simple really: a bowl for the oil, a bowl for the za’atar and a plate for each person. Dip your bread in the oil and then the za’atar and voila, utter deliciousness with less than sixty seconds preparation time.

Green Valley Spices
Paddy’s Market, Haymarket
Sydney