Showing posts with label recipe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recipe. Show all posts

Courgette, broad bean, beetroot and feta salad – home-grown cooking


Courgette, broad bean, beetroot, and feta salad
A terrific salad featuring home-grown beans and courgettes.

One of the key reasons for relocating to Scrumptious Scran Villas some two and a half years ago was the garden. It’s on a big slope, as we live opposite a burn (brook, to those of you in England- shire), but pretty much south-facing. This probably won’t mean much to those of you who are not green fingered, yet the main thing to consider is that this means it has great potential for growing fruit and vegetables.

A couple of years of renovating said villas – well more a modern-ish Dutch town house, but this isn’t an interior design blog  – has meant that to date the garden has been maintained rather than developed, and things are about to get worse before they get better in terms of landscaping. The final piece of the building renovation jigsaw involves an extension that will result in a kitchen-diner. This development will provide a great cooking and entertaining space but of course will also cause havoc in the garden too.

Courgette in garden.
There's no hiding, my lovely courgette!
Ultimately however, I imagine that I shall stroll out of the French doors of the kitchen, in a style akin to Nigel Slater, to gather herbs and vegetables from the terraced raised beds (any tips on these greatly appreciated) but for now I have to make do with a relatively compact veg patch.  And for a number of reasons, this hasn't been at its most productive this year.  The French beans have been disappointing, and the beetroot and spinach seedlings all succumbed to slugs and snails (if only I could find an organic control method for these that really worked).

However, all is not doom and gloom, because growing conditions in south-east Scotland this year have been ideal for two crops; broad beans and courgettes. And it just so happens these rate as two of my favourite ingredients.  There is something delightful in gathering these from the garden knowing that I have tended to them, that they are organically produced and, whilst it might be purely psychological, that they taste all the better for it.  So what to cook with my vegetable harvest?

Well certainly I wanted the flavour of the courgettes and broad beans to shine through, so it couldn't be a dish that featured anything else that might be overpowering.  Also, gathering summer crops is, well, indicative of summer so something a bit lighter would be appropriate, even if the weather in Scotland hasn't exactly been continuously scorching.

Broad beans and courgette from the veg patch.
Just some of my home-grown haul.
So a sumptuous salad seemed to fit the bill, where blanched beans and char-grilled courgettes are centrepiece, but complimented with deep sweet-earthy flavour provided by beetroot (preferably roasted) and salty sharpness added by a smattering of feta cheese.  Add a fresh grassy-aniseed note from dill, piquancy from green spring onion, and bring it all together with a good quality dressing, and the result is a tasty, satisfying and fresh summer dish, that can be served warm or cold.

The recipe is makes enough to amply serve two as a tasty supper, or could feed more as a great accompaniment to likes of grilled pork chops or some chunky, roast fish steaks, should you wish not to stick to being vegetarian.  And of course, the vegetables don't have to be home grown.  But eating this dish would undoubtedly bring a smile to your face if they are.

Serves two as a decent supper.

Ingredients

For the salad
  • 1-2 courgettes (depending on size) around 200-250g, plus a couple of tablespoons of oil for brushing
  • 200-250g broad beans - post podded.  You can double pod them if you want, but I like the outer skins and life is too short
  • A couple of medium sized beetroot, either bought ready cooked (absolutely fine, if not in vinegar) or peeled and roast until tender in the oven (about 30 minutes)
  • 100g of decent feta cheese - use a reduced fat variety if desired
  • A couple of small spring onions, chopped
  • A tablespoon of chopped dill.
For the dressing
  • 1 tablespoon of decent vinegar – good quality cider or sherry vinegar would be ideal
  • 3 tablespoons of decent oil – I used cold-pressed UK rapeseed oil
  • Half clove of garlic, very slightly crushed
  • Sea salt and black pepper to season.
 Preparation and cooking
  1. Put a griddle on a medium heat, and whilst it comes up to temperature, slice the courgette into medium rounds no more than a centimetre thick.  Brush each of the courgette disks on both sides with a little oil.
  2. Place the courgette disks on the griddle (you may need to do this in batches) and grill until they begin to soften and exhibit lovely charred lines, then turn over and repeat on the other side. Set aside.
  3. Whilst cooking the courgettes bring an appropriately sized pan of salted water to the boil.  Drop in the broad beans and return to the boil, then cook for around 3-5 minutes (depending on how chunky the beans are) until just tender.  Drain the beans from the hot water and then immediately transfer to an appropriately sized bowl filled with cold – ideally iced – water to stop the beans overcooking.
  4. Cut the beetroot – which is either pre-bought (but not preserved in vinegar) or previously roasted – into 1cm or so cubes.
  5. Break the feta cheese into chunks which are also around 1cm cubes.
  6. Place the garlic clove in the bottom of a small bowl.  Pour in the vinegar and oil, season with salt and pepper, and then lightly whisk for a few seconds. Rest for a couple of minutes for the garlic to infuse the dressing, then whisk again until the dressing begins to emulsify. Leave to rest again whilst the salad is assembled.
  7. In a roasting dish, layer the courgettes, beans, beetroot, feta and onion, sprinkling a little dill on each layer. Remove the garlic from the dressing, and whisk again until smooth before pouring over the assembled salad.
  8. Gently toss the salad as it is served to distribute the dressing evenly around the salad ingredients.

Pa amb tomàquet - A mighty-vine Catalan tapa

Pa amb tomàquet - catalan tomato and bread tapa.
Mighty vine: Pa amb tomàquet - catalan tomato and bread tapa.

Hopefully some of you out there - possibly, my Dad at least - may be aware that my previous post on Scrumptious Scran was a foodie travelogue encapsulating culinary discoveries made during a recent visit to Barcelona.  Publicising such musings on social media, as is the want of most food bloggers, I was a bit surprised to be accused by some, seemingly, smart Alec that the article was ‘completely oblivious to its [Barcelona's] culture.’  'How odd' thought I - or words to that effect.  For what could typify a city's, region's or country's culture more than the food and drink that is uniquely associated with it?  For it effectively represents a place's history and literature on a plate, or in a glass.

And when it comes to Barcelona and Catalunya, there is one dish that ultimately typifies the culture there.  It is uncomplicated, harking back to when what is now modern-day Catalonia was much more rural, and certainly less of the industrial powerhouse it has become in modern times. It uses locally-sourced ingredients, and stems from a time when wasting any food - even stale bread - would be treated with disdain.  I talk, of course, of the straightforward yet exquisitely delicious tapa/dish that is pa amb tomàquet, which literally translates as 'bread with tomato'.

Pa amb tomàquet is a dish that is ubiquitous in Catalunya, being served from high-end restaurants to neighbourhood canteens, as well as consistently cropping up in the kitchens of practically every household. It's also a dish that is ideal for easy dining on warm summer days, so great for an alfresco lunch or supper back in the UK, when the sun is shining. And what’s more it takes just minutes to make and involves the use of just four or five ingredients; bread, tomatoes, salt, garlic (optional but adds real flavour and a little kick) and olive oil.
 
So if you fancy a bit of Barcelona on a plate, back in Blighty, here’s my guide as to what you will need to make your own, pretty authentic,  pa amb tomàquet, and the achingly simple process for putting the dish together.  ¡Salud!

Serves 2 as a tapa or part of a light lunch.

Ingredients
  • 2 large, thick slices of rustic bread - sourdough is really ideal for this.
  • 2 tomatoes, halved - these should be ripe and sweet with not too much acidity, and ideally posses a pulp that isn't too watery.  Catalans traditionally use tomàquets de ramallet (tomatoes still on the vine) so go for properly vine ripened heritage ones, if possible.
  • A clove of garlic, peeled and halved - a nice fat juicy clove is ideal.
  • Olive oil - the best quality one you have in the kitchen, a fruity, extra-virgin, Spanish variety would be right there in terms of flavour.
  • Course sea salt.
Preparation and cooking
  1. Heat a grill to a medium heat.  Place the bread on a tray under the grill and cook for a couple of minutes each side until just beginning to turn very slightly golden.  Remove, and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Sprinkle the bread with a few grains of the sea salt, then gently rub one side of each slice all over with the garlic, so that it releases its oil on the surface. A little salt on the bread will help with this.
  3. Rub the same surface of each slice with the tomatoes.  The pulp of each tomato half should cover the bread leaving just the skin behind.
  4. Generously drizzle the olive oil over the tomato-laden side of each slice, and sprinkle with a little more sea salt, to taste, if desired.  Consume with gusto and a crisp, cold beverage.

Hake, tomato & anchovy-stuffed olive roast – happy recipe & ingredient tinkering!

Hake, cherry tomato, & anchovy-stuffed green olive roast
Tomato and anchovy olive hake-bake.

Hake, tomato & anchovy-stuffed olive roast recipe - "The pimentón imparts a lovely wood-fired spiciness.  Rather than Nocellara olives, my version of the recipe uses Spanish green Manzanilla olives stuffed with anchovy puree.  This brings a wonderful, subtle seafood umami flavour to the dish but doesn't overpower the flavour balance at all."


When it comes to recipes, and cook books for that matter, I've always been a bit of a magpie. I love perusing and using them to discover how other enthusiastic cooks and foodies have combined familiar, and not so familiar, ingredients to make an enticing dish.  I remember as a child thumbing through the volumes of my parents' Supercook magazine collection, reading in wonderment the instructions on how to prepare, what seemed in the 1970s, seemingly exotic meals.  As a student, I used to snip recipes from the Sunday supplements and save them in scrapbooks for future reference. Nowadays, I can just as easily do such snipping online, of course. Yet I still love turning and gazing at the pages of cookbooks both new and old.

Now I'm not sure if it's down to my scientific background, but much as I savour a good recipe, it's not often I don't think about having a wee tinker with it.  The thought "I wonder what it would taste like if..." frequently pops into my head.  Usually my experimentation is subtle; I might substitute Rosemary with Thyme, or add a further - hopefully complimentary - spice or vegetable to the mix of ingredients.  Sometimes things go well, sometimes they are not so successful, but I like to think my tinkering never produces any total disasters.  And truth be known, I suppose it's through exactly this process that the multitude of variations in such standards as, say, pasta Bolognese, or fish pie, come into existence.

A successful example – at least to my taste buds – of my ‘freestyling’ involves a super, yet straightforward, recipe I happened across in this year’s Olive magazine calendar.  It’s for a tray roast involving cod wrapped in Parma ham, and cooked with cherry tomatoes and Nocellara green olives. A cinch to cook and, as both JML and I agreed, delicious and quite healthy to boot.  But when I thought about cooking it again a few days later, that little voice inside my head piped up “I wonder what it would taste like if it the emphasis was a bit more Spanish than Italian?”…

Hearty spring eating - Spanish-inspired stew with lamb heart, chickpeas, peppers and olives

Spanish-inspired stew with lamb hearts, peppers, chickpeas and olives.
Spanish-inspired stew with lamb heart and chickpeas.
The transition from late winter to early spring can be a bit of a disorientating time of year.  In terms of weather - and I speak here as a Scot - one minute clear blue skies and bright sunshine hint of a glorious summer that is, hopefully, to come. Yet within an hour or two the wind changes direction, leaving the populace shivering in horizontal sleet.

Cooking and eating at this time of year can be equally hit and miss, especially when trying to use seasonal ingredients. On one hand there can be a longing to dine on fresh, green produce, but it's usually still too early in the season in late February or early March for many spring crops to be making any sort of meaningful appearance. On the other hand, days are still quite short and nights can sometimes be frosty, perpetuating winter-time yearnings for hearty meals.

At a time when fresh, local ingredients can be limited, it's sensible to make best use of what is available. And if you are a meat eater one thing that is synonymous with spring is lamb. Make mention of cooking with this delicious meat and most people automatically think of a roast leg, slow cooked shoulder, or grilled chops. Smashing as all these joints may be, my northern English heritage possibly makes me a wee bit more adventurous.  After all, as a child I was no stranger to the delights of cheap, cheerful and flavoursome cuts such as tripe, chitterlings and trotters.

I remain an adventurous omnivore to this day, even though JML and I are attempting to cut down on our meat consumption for a number of ethical and environmental reasons.  And I heartily agree with the ethos of Fergus Henderson - chef, restaurateur, and author of Nose to Tail Eating - that if we are going to kill an animal for food, we should make use of as much of it as possible. Basically, as Fergus maintains, "You should be nice to your offal".  All of which leads me to this recipe for a Spanish-inspired stew featuring chickpeas, olives, peppers, and lamb hearts.

I actually can't remember how the original recipe for this Hispanic-influenced casserole came to my attention, but it's a dish I have been regularly cooking, and refining, for years. It's straightforward, economical, and - most importantly - very tasty, combining the earthy flavours of chickpeas and cumin, sweetness of red peppers, fried onions and tomato, umami notes provided by mushrooms and olives, and subtle spiciness originating from smoked pimentón (paprika), thyme and a pinch of dried chilli.  Left to feature just the above ingredients it's a hearty vegan dish.  Sometimes however I like to add chunks of chicken thigh or pork shoulder to give things a meatier twist. So why not lamb hearts as well?

Recipe: ¡Viva Tortilla! - A scrumptious take on "Spanish omelette", to welcome the return of al fresco dining

Spanish tortilla based on a "Moro" recipe.
Spanish tortilla based on a scrumptious "Moro" recipe.
When I was a wee lad, there was an advert on TV hailing from a major food producer.  It extolled people to be exotic in their cooking by preparing a "Spanish omelette".  I can't remember exactly which non-egg ingredients said dish was meant to include to make it "Spanish" other than frozen peas. I suspect some of you are realising which major food producer was the sponsor of the advert...


Exotic eating was very much in vogue in the 1970s, which represented a time of transition in terms of the UK's culinary heritage.  Historically, British cooking had been diverse and inventive, but coinciding - and probably as a result of - the great wars of the 20th century, our relationship with food seemed to lose its way.  Wartime rationing meant that our cuisine became bland and mundane.  At least until we discovered, and took to our hearts/stomachs, food from across the world.
 
Like many people growing up in urban areas of the UK in the 70s I became aware of, and fascinated by, the increasing prevalence of restaurants serving the food of India (technically, more usually that of Pakistan or Bangladesh), China and Italy.  This growth in "exotic" new fare was no accident, but resulted from those who emigrated to the UK from across the globe during the last century expressing their culture in culinary terms, and sharing this with people already resident here.  And we Brits loved it!

Yet surprisingly, there was one culture that Britons became increasingly familiar with during the 1970s and 80s that seemed to have scant influence on our eating patterns.  With millions of us annually jetting off to Spain each year, why was it that the superb food of that country failed to become ingrained in our culinary psyches?  Maybe it was because the nature of the package holiday meant that holidaymakers from the UK had only limited exposure to authentic Spanish cooking.  Or perhaps (at least until the relatively recent economic turmoil within Europe caused significant migration) there simply wasn't a large enough Spanish community within the UK to provide a genuine Iberian dining experience for those returning from the fortnight of sunshine on the costas.

This all goes to explain why the pea-festooned "Spanish omelette" of my youth bore little resemblance to the "tortilla española/de patatas" I first sampled in Barcelonan tapas bar in the mid-1990s.  It is a dish that exemplifies the, often, uncomplicated nature of Spanish cuisine (although Ferran Adrià might dispute that assertion). Fundamentally it comprises merely three ingredients; onion, potato and eggs - plus seasoning.  Yet it is also a dish the flavour of which is substantially greater than the sum of its parts, simultaneously being sweet, earthy and rich, but also fresh tasting.

In an ideal world, tortilla de patatas should be enjoyed on a sunny Spanish terrace, accompanied by a cool glass of beer.  But as balmy spring weather starts to make its presence felt in the UK why not rustle up this simple and delicious dish to be enjoyed - hot or cold - as part of some home-based al fresco dining?  The recipe below is pretty authentic, being my evolution of one contained within the truly splendid Moro - The Cookbook.  Rather than deep-fry the potatoes (as the original recipe requires) I prefer to parboil them until they are just cooked, drain them and allow any excess moisture to steam away.  I have also been known to add a small green pepper to the onion, to give an even greater sweet-earthy, grassy accent.

Recipe: Fresh meets mature - Mutton braised in sherry, garlic and rosemary, with char-grilled asparagus and salsa verde

Mutton in sherry with asparagus and salsa verde
Mutton, asparagus, salsa verde - yum!
Sometimes, it can be good to mix things up a little, especially when it comes to cooking. Pairing a just-in-season ingredient with one that is more mature. Matching fresh and vibrant flavours with those that are more rich and complex. During spring – when new-season crops become ready to harvest, and certain produce from the preceding year matures – it can be a great time to partake in this form of culinary experimentation. As I found out last weekend…

With JML in the USA on business, rather than rattle around Scrumptious Scran Towers by myself I decided I would head for Edinburgh Farmers’ Market to purchase something interesting for Sunday lunch. In terms of vegetable ingredients I already had a specific idea in mind. Early May means that we are smack in the middle of the British asparagus season, and for me this has to be one of our finest, home-grown, seasonal vegetables. I love the fresh grassy flavour to be had from the bright green spears, and it is an ingredient that really doesn’t need much in the way of adornment.

So, with the vegetable component of my Sunday repast taken care of, my attention turned as to what to pair with it. The idea of a nice cut of lamb sprang to mind, but unless you are someone who favours very early spring lamb, it's a bit too soon in the season for Scottish-reared examples of this meat. Plus, for me, early spring lamb can be a bit underwhelming in terms of flavour. This is why I often go for cuts from more mature incarnations of sheep, in the form of either hogget (over one year old) or mutton (over two years old). These have a much greater depth of flavour, and the meat benefits from longer, slower cooking which all combine to produce some mouth-wateringly good meals.

Schmoozing amongst the stalls at the farmers' market I was delighted to encounter the pitch occupied by Annanwater blackface and blackface-cross lamb and mutton. Blackfaces are an ancient Scottish breed of sheep, which are both slow-growing and ideally suited to the rough upland grazing found in many areas of Scotland, including the Borders region of Dumfries and Galloway, where the Annanwater farm is based. And nestling on their stall I spied an appetising-looking neck cut of Blackface mutton. Combined with the right ingredients, this richly-flavoured succulent meat would make an ideal pairing for my asparagus. But how to cook it?

Recipe – Zesty lemon drizzle polenta cake

A lemon polenta cake in a cake tin
Deliciously zesty lemon polenta cake.
A thought entered my head the other day.  "I really must post more recipes on the blog that involve baking" is how the thought went.  Those of you who are regular followers of Scrumptious Scran will know from my "quaking baking" post that my control-freakery makes me a bit afraid of cooking bread, cakes and tarts.  I'm generally fine mixing the ingredients together, it's when these riches have to be abandoned in the oven – a bit like a parent leaving a child on its first day at school - that I start to fret.  I mean, what if they just sit there without doing what's expected of them?

Lemon polenta cake mixture in a cake tin.
Cake mixture in lined tin, ready for the oven.
I had mixed feelings a couple of weeks ago, when one of my work colleagues - who knew I was a food blogger – suggested I might want to contribute to a charity bake sale at work, in aid of Sport Relief.  Deep down, I knew this was the sort of challenge I needed to encourage me to have another bash at a baking recipe.  But what if the dish I produced was rubbish and nobody wanted to buy any of it?  Oh, the potential shame!  In order to avert such a disaster I would have to choose my recipe carefully, deciding upon something that was relatively simple to prepare, pretty foolproof to bake, AND that looked and tasted good.  It also occurred to me that it might be nice to produce something that wasn't entirely based on flour, eggs, butter and sugar.

Recipe: Bravo Belgium! - Carbonade flamande, or Belgian-style beef and beer casserole


A pot of carbonade flamanade - Belgian beef and beer casserole.
Flaming tasty - Carbonade flamanade ready to eat.
It’s nearly the middle of March, so as a “foodie” I suppose I really should be clambering to the likes of Edinburgh Farmer’s Market to fill my bags with early spring vegetables in order to cook a recipe that’s both fresh and tasty. Well that’s all well and good in theory, but whilst southern England may have been basking in double digit temperatures last Saturday, in Scotland it certainly didn’t feel very spring-like. Consequently my yearning for comfort food continues, meaning that last weekend I decided to draw inspiration for dinner from the Low Countries – Belgium to be precise.

Softening carrot, onion and celery by frying.
Sweating the veg until soft.
Belgium has a surprisingly varied and rich cuisine, featuring really great meat, fish and vegetable dishes that often have overtones of influence from neighbouring cultures and countries. I’ve heard it joked that Belgium food combines the straightforwardness of the Dutch, the portion control of the Germans, and the cooking skill of the French. We all know that, in terms of food and drink, Belgium is particularly famous for three things: fries (frieten/frites); chocolate; and beer. What might not be so obvious however it that the Belgians have not only mastered the art of producing a fantastic range of excellent beers, but also cooking with beer as well.

Chunks of beef shin coated in seasoned flour.
Chunks of beef shin coated in seasoned flour.
Ample chunks of shin of beef, combined with complementary vegetables and a few herbs and spices, and simmered slow and long in a bitter-sour-malty beer. This is basically carbonade flamande (or in Flemish, stoverij or stoofvlees, which sounds pretty close to the Scottish “stovies”), often described as Belgium’s “true national dish”. It is a sumptuous casserole where a tough cut of meat softens superbly - through slow cooking – and melds its flavours with the acidic-sweetness of the hoppy beer and aromatic vegetables to produce a rich gravy. It’s both splendid and really simple to prepare.

Recipe: Peas please me, and ham it up too! - Split pea and ham hock soup


A bowl of pea and ham soup
Pea and ham soup - a real winter warmer.
In my last review on Scrumptious Scran – for the excellent The Apiary bistro – I mentioned how, at the end of a long winter, we often need something comforting (food-wise) to provide a bit of cheer. Spring, may be about to bring us warmer days and the year’s first crop of fresh produce, but even March can have a wintry sting in its tail.

When we can now skip to the supermarket to purchase out-of-season asparagus jetted in from South America, or fresh tomatoes grown at any time of year, it’s easy to forget that historically during this season people would mostly be cooking with produce harvested the preceding year, and preserved to last through the winter. Personally speaking I think that some of the best comfort food to be made uses these preserved ingredients, and a fine example of this can be found in a steaming-hot bowl of split pea and smoked ham hock soup.

Split peas, vegetables and herbs in a pan about to be boiled.
Split peas and flavourings about to be cooked.
There’s something truly lovely about the look of this deep khaki-green concoction, punctuated with pink flecks of meat. But if it looks good, it tastes event better. Drying the peas imparts a really earthy mellowness to them, totally different to the taste of these legumes when fresh out the pod. By salting, then smoking the hock (or hough), the rich meaty flavour of this cut is further enhanced and transformed to yield (once simmered for a couple of hours) tenderly smoky, almost gamey meat. The further addition of good quality stock and some complimentary herbs and spices all combine to produce a splendidly tasty and filling dish. And what’s more, given that the ingredients are usually pretty cheap, it makes for an economical meal, too.

Recipe: Going for the Burns (supper) – A reconstructed take on haggis, neeps and tatties

Reconstructed Scottish classic - haggis, neeps & tatties.
This is set to be an interesting year for anyone living in Scotland – a county that has been my home for the majority of my adult life. Firstly, 2014 has been designated the year of Homecoming Scotland – a programme of events and activities showcasing all that’s great about Caledonia. Secondly, for sports fans there is golf’s Ryder Cup, and the excitement of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games – having experienced London 2012, I personally can’t wait. Oh, and there is September’s referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent nation again, which will have repercussions, whatever the result…

It’s somewhat appropriate then, given that this is such a big Scottish year, that a Burns supper was my first celebratory meal of 2014. For those not familiar, Robert (or Rabbie) Burns is Scotland’s national bard, an 18th century poet, writer and lyricist, claimed as an inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and author of works that include A Man's A Man For A' That and Auld Lang Syne. Burns suppers are traditionally held each 25 January to mark the poet’s birthday and celebrate his life and work.

A Burns supper may vary from formal to casual, but will almost always have three elements in common: the reciting of Burns’ poems at some point in proceedings; the partaking of a “nip” or two of Scotch whisky; and a main course that consists of haggis, neeps (bashed turnips or swedes) and tatties (mashed potatoes). This is very traditional Scottish fare, historically eaten by people of limited means. The vegetables used were cheap and plentiful, and haggis consists of lamb offal – usually liver, lungs and heart – mixed with oatmeal, onion, suet and spices, all encased in a sheep’s stomach and simmered in water.

Recipe: A brunch that's "muy bien" - Huevos rancheros (rancher's eggs)

Tasty huevos!
I like cooking. I wouldn’t be writing a food blog if I didn’t. Yet sometimes, no matter how well developed someone’s culinary skills might be, a hankering develops for a dish that is tasty whilst simultaneously requiring only the minimum of effort in the kitchen.

Breakfast is always one meal that I prefer to be flavoursome and simple, even at weekends, when I have a bit more time to prepare food. Saturday and Sunday morning staples at Scrumptious Scran Towers tend to consist of the likes of a decent bacon buttie (dry cure on sourdough, preferably), maybe scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms, or if I have the ingredients to hand, a ham and cheese omelette. Yet now and again I yearn for something a bit more adventurous that’s still easy to prepare and speedy to cook.

Bring on the toms & eggs...
So this Saturday I decided to rustle up a breakfast dish that certainly packs a flavour punch, is relatively healthy and, most importantly, is a cinch to prepare - my own particular take on huevos rancheros. A staple of rural Mexico, the literal translation of this delicacy is “rancher’s eggs”, as it was staple breakfast fare for those working the fields or tending livestock.

Traditionally, huevos rancheros combines a spicy, tomato-based sauce with fried eggs, maize tortillas, with a side of refried beans. But to be honest, this is a wee bit elaborate for me, especially if I’m cooking on a Sunday morning following a somewhat ‘lively’ Saturday night. So my recipe concentrates on an adapted version of the spicy sauce, which – when ready – is used to poach a couple of fresh eggs. This is all served with ample slices of crusty bread.

The recipe below serves two people generously, and I leave it entirely up to taste as to how spicy or otherwise the sauce is made (think of it as a sort of edible Bloody Mary mixture, but without the vodka). Of course, if you have house guests for breakfast it’s very straightforward to just double or triple the ingredients to ensure everyone is properly fed.

 ¡Buen provecho!

Feature Article: A cure for cod - I hope...

Coley, awaiting more cure.
Hopefully, alchemy is currently occurring in the kitchen of Scrumptious Scran Towers. Fret not – no work units have been sacrificed in order to install a smelter that converts base metal to gold. The transformation occurring in the fridge is more subtle, but no less remarkable. It’s all because I have discovered a cure. And it’s for cod. Well for coley, if I am honest - it’s a more sustainable seafish.

I fear a little bit more contextualisation is called for. Back in July, a dear friend bought me a great cookbook as a birthday present. This was Tim Hayward’s Food DIY. His book is a veritable encyclopaedia of how to prepare food and drink many of us love, but few now make themselves. From corned beef and bacon, to smoked salmon and even gin – with no distilling required – it re-acquaints people with the techniques that enable such culinary staples and delights to be prepared at home.

Given my love of Spanish cuisine my attention was immediately drawn to salt cod – or bacalao. This preserved white fish is ubiquitous across the Iberian Peninsula, having originated as the favoured means of preserving the abundant catch captured in the Atlantic, in the days when refrigeration was not an option. Unlike Spain and Portugal, in Edinburgh there isn’t a market just round the corner offering this cured delicacy. I suppose I could buy some online, but how to guarantee the quality?

Well thanks to Food DIY I have no need to worry. I am making my own salt cod (coley), with three simple ingredients. Fish, sea salt and Prague powder #1. “Prague what?” you may ask. Well it’s an additive – to be used sparingly – that ensures that the curing process sees off even those bacteria that cause botulism, and with good reason. Trust me, I have no desire for my laughter lines to be static, let alone those muscles that keep my lungs bellowing, and blood circulating. And neither should you.

Cured, wrapped, now dry...
I am cooking for an smashing dinner party soon – watch out for further news on “lamb wars” – and have a dish in mind featuring salt cod. So, sprinkled in a kilo of cure, wrapped in cheesecloth, tied in string, two lovely fillets of white fish are now sat in my fridge having all their liquid content pulled from them. And there is some major osmosis going on. Hayward describes it as a “fierce cure”. Judging by how dry my hands feel merely rubbing the salt into the fish, he is not wrong.

Wrapped in their shrouds, and exuding inherent moisture, I want to keep peaking at the alchemy occurring to the fish in my fridge. I know I must just leave them to dehydrate – bar turning them over twice a day. If all goes well, soon the fillets will be as dry as biscuits and then I can rehydrate them again, in order to cook with my salt fish. Why go to this trouble, some of you might ask? You really just have to taste salt cod, to discover the answer…

Be sure to check back soon to see exactly what I cook with my salted fish.