Saturday, 27 August 2011

ThriftWitch: Summer in Winter

Summer is slipping away. Already the days are shorter and there is a tinge of autumn in the air. Wouldn't you love to be able to capture and bottle the essence of summer to be kept for a cheering treat in the midst of the darkest winter days? Well, you can. Summer has not deserted us yet, and there is still time to capture some of her magic...

My first suggestion is to make and freeze some batches of a fresh tomato sauce. The taste of this sauce is like preserved summer sunshine. The tart sweetness of tomatoes, the fragrance of herbs - yum! It's so much better than anything you can produce with tinned tomatoes. Hopefully, you will have some homegrown tomatoes you can use, or failing that you could chat up a gardening friend, seek out a roadside 'honesty' stall, visit your local farmer's market, or even try your plain old ordinary market at the end of the day where you may be lucky to pick up a crateful of ripe tomatoes on the cheap. If all else fails, there's the supermarket!

Fresh Tomato Sauce

  • Fresh tomatoes
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • A splash of olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • Herbs - preferably fresh. You can choose the herbs you like for this, but personally I go for basil, thyme and a bay leaf or two. And possibly some oregano.

Skin the tomatoes by placing them whole in a large bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Leave for a couple of minutes, during which you can fry up the minced garlic over a low heat in the oil and butter. Meanwhile the boiling water should have started to split the skins of the tomatoes, and they should be easy to peel. Peel them and plop them in with the frying garlic, turning the heat up a little. They should gradually start to break down (you can help the process along with a potato masher or wooden spoon if you like). Chop the herbs and add to the pan and leave the whole lot to simmer for a while until it's reduced and thickened a bit. At this stage you could be stirring in some wishes and blessings for the coming winter if you like. And you're done! You can add seasoning if you want, but quite honestly I find this recipe so tasty I don't think it needs it.

Freeze the sauce in batches. It is delicious just as it is, over pasta with a grating of Parmesan or the cheese of your choice. Or you can dilute it with a little stock, whizz it through the food processor to make it really smooth, add a dollop of cream and make a tasty soup to serve with garlic bread. Or use it as a base for all sorts of other recipes like chili or ratatouille, or add it to the mince of a shepherd's pie for extra zip. But for a real taste of summer in winter, trust me: as it is, over pasta, with a little cheese. You will be transported back to mid-August as if by magic!

Another magical recipe to transport you back to summer is my Strawberry Crumble. Although it seems a crime to freeze strawberries rather than just enjoying them fresh, trust me on this: in the middle of winter you'll be glad you showed some restraint and put a few by. Actually, if you grow strawberries or go to a Pick Your Own for them, you will know there are always some imperfect strawberries - too hard, just under ripe or over ripe, weird shapes or whatever. Those are perfect to freeze - and they'll taste fabulous in this recipe no matter what they looked like originally! And by the way, rose water brings out the flavour of strawberries beautifully in any dish. Try it.

Moonroot's Strawberry Crumble

  • 225g strawberries, fresh or frozen
  • 3 tspn sugar
  • 1 tbspn rose water
  • 65g flour
  • 30g sugar
  • 35g butter
  • 2 tspn ground almonds
  • 1 tspn vanilla essence

Mix together the strawberries, 3 tspn sugar and the rosewater in an ovenproof dish.

Mix together the flour & 30g sugar and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the ground almonds and vanilla essence.

Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the berries and cook at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-30 mins (until berries are cooked and topping is browned). Serve with cream or vanilla custard.

I think this would be a great Valentine's Day dish - strawberries, rose water, vanilla would all be perfect offerings to Aphrodite (if you can bear to leave a little in a dish for Her!).

Of course there are many other ways of preserving summer into winter - perhaps I'll post about making fruit liqueurs in the near future. There are plenty of damsons, sloes and blackberries coming along in the garden and I have great plans...

Sunday, 14 August 2011

August Pleasures

It has been a quiet, uneventful weekend - heavenly, after a hectic week. Work has been extra busy and at home the house has been in turmoil while a chimney has been lined in preparation for the installation of the new wood burning stove. Earlier in the week my lovely brother and nephew were visiting so there has been much socialising too.

Yesterday I harvested mange-touts and courgettes from the veggie patch, and a basketful of peaches from the dwarf tree in the polytunnel. This morning I had lovely lie-in, and after tending to the chickens (in their luxurious new run!), geese and cats, grazed on juicy blackberries from the hedge. The elderberries are also ripening, so it will soon be time to make a few gallons of wine. And the damson tree is literally weighed down by its enormous crop which is gradually turning from green to purple - more wine, and lots of jam! I love all this harvesting, it's so satisfying.

Meanwhile the kitchen is scented by the bunches of herbs that are hanging up to dry - rosemary, watermint, meadowsweet and St John's wort. Bear snuggles, purring on my lap as I type. What a lovely day! I hope yours is just as lovely.