Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Livening up a tomato sauce

This applies mainly to Italian style tomato sauces, as the flavours might be a bit out of place in curries or mexican. That said, there's no harm in experimenting! I use a variety of ingredients to add flavour to tinned tomatoes to make a rich sauce for pasta, baked dishes etc. Here are some that add that extra punch:

Red wine -
This is the one ingredient that I believe adds the most flavour and a sort of dry tang that cannot be provided by lemon juice or tomato paste. It's best added at the beginning with the quorn (if using) and onions/garlic/herbs and left to bubble away and evaporate for about 10 minutes or until it's noticibly reduced.

Sun dried tomato paste -
Richer and not as tart as normal tomato paste, this also has a more full-bodied flavour. Use sparingly, perhaps a tablespoon in a sauce for 2 people. If you can't find the paste, then finely chopped sun dried tomatoes should be fine, or if even those are tricky, roast some cherry tomatoes with a bit of sugar until sticky and whiz them up in a blender (or dry your own, but I don't know how to do that!).

Balsamic vinegar -
If this is used, it is important to use a good quality, and most likely expensive, vinegar otherwise it'd make the sauce too sour. It should be reasonably thick and sweet. It can be used as just that little extra something a sauce might need, and to added sweetness. Add about a tablespoon per 2 people.

Treacle -
A bit of a strange option, and certainly not something you would buy especially for some sauce. If you don't have any lying around then dark, soft brown sugar will do, but if you do then don't afraid to add a couple of teaspons per 2 people to add sweetness and a layer of curious flavour.

Mushroom ketchup/Worcestershire sauce -
Salty and light, this is a good option to use instead of actual salt if you have it. This is very much a personal taste thing, but I usually use just over a tablespoon per 2 people.

Marmite/yeast extract -
You love it or you hate it. If you love it, I'm sure you've probably tried putting it in about everything, and tomato sauces are no expection. Giving a savoury tang similar to wine, it's easy to overdo and end up too yeasty. Just a teaspoon should be enough.

Herbs -
Don't forget your herbs! Fresh or dry, never give up the opportunity to season a sauce with their particular flavours. Basil and thyme go well with tomato, unless you are making a northern-type dish like meatballs, in which you may wish to use dill. Rosemary goes well with british dishes.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Creamy green soup

Another soup! I just love soup and it's so easy, plus it's an excuse to eat homemade bread. I was anticipating spring a bit to early with this one, but fancied something refreshing rather than stodgy. The greens used are 'light', spring type greens rather than the heavy leaves of winter.

Creamy Green Soup

Serves 4-5

Takes about an hour if you're speedy with your chopping, took me more like 1hr 10mins

2 Courgettes

2 trimmed leeks

A crown of broccoli

200g french/green beans

3 tbsp green pesto (can adjust to taste)

3-4 tbsp Creme Fraiche

1200ml vegetable stock

2 tsp dried thyme

3 cloves garlic

Salt and pepper to season, although with the pesto, salt isn't too necessary

* Prepare the veg - slice the leek in half lengthways then slice into thin slices (slice, slice, slice). Cut the florets of broccoli off the stem, chop the courgette into small, 1.5cm pieces and cut the beans in half or thirds if you're not blending at the end. Chop the garlic into small pieces.

* Heat some oil in a large pan and fry the leeks, garlic and thyme gently until soft but not brown (about 5 minutes)

* Add the rest of the vegetables and fry for 10 minutes, until just starting to go soft.

* In the meantime make up the stock, then add to the pan once the vegetables have finished their 10 minutes of frying.

* Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 25 minutes. This makes the vegetables very soft! If you prefer not to blend your soup and want to keep a bit of crunch to the veg, adjust the cooking times accordingly.

* Stir in the pesto and creme fraiche, then blend in a food processor or using a hand blender.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Sausage casserole

Started eating before remembering to take a picture!

January is upon us, the end of the festive season has come and I'm sure many of us are looking to food that's comforting but not too rich on an already over-taxed stomach. This recipe is heavy on veg and flavour but light on fat and stodge, making it a great supper for post holiday-excess. I did cut corners a bit, as my favourite flavour for casseroles comes from packet soup, the kind you make in a cup with boiling water, rather than the traditional stock+tomato paste. I'll add an alternative though, for those who want to make it properly (or can't find any packet soup).

Sausage casserole

Serves 4 or can serve 6 if served with potatoes or bread.

Takes 1hr 15 minutes in total, including a lot of chopping.

2 packs of vegetarian sausages

2 trimmed leeks

2 large carrots

2 eating apples

4-5 sticks of celery

4-5 portabella mushrooms

800ml of water mixed with a tomato-y packet soup (I used Heinz vegetable)
- [alternative - use 800ml stock mixed with 2 heaped tsp tomato paste, 2 tsp herbs of your choice such as savory or thyme, 2 tbsp savoury sauce such as worecester]-

2 cloves garlic

2 tsp dried savory

If available, a packet of herbs for sausage casseroles is a nice addition, such as the Schwartz brand. This gets added to the liquid.

* Chop everything that looks like it needs chopping! All the veg needs to be in pretty small pieces, and the sausages I generally cut into 4 pieces. Heat some oil in a large pan.

* Fry the sausages until they are cooked (check the packet - usually 10 minutes or so) then put aside.

* Fry the leeks, garlic and savory for a few minutes until the leeks are soft but not brown.

* Add the mushrooms and the sausages again cook for 5 mintues.

* Chuck in everything else besides the liquid and fry for a further 10 minutes. If you haven't made your soup/stock yet then make it now.

* Pour in the liquid and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes.