Pottering weekends are ideal for playing in the kitchen. A tray of roasted tomatoes makes good seasonal sense right now, for adding to nearly anything you can imagine, as does a jar or two of pesto. Relishes, condiments, accompaniments. I’m rather fond of the delightfully old fashioned word tracklement. Said aloud, working your ear around those first syllables, it’s a beauty. Tracklements, condiments, call them what you will, they are the pepper and salt that make cooking, and indeed eating, exciting.
Mid week meals are made that much simpler by having a jar of this or pot of that, ready to spice up your cooking life. To transform staples into something new, something fresh. Preserved lemons are a constant in my fridge – I can’t imagine not having their cheery yellow-ness in there. They sit next to the last jar of Anglo-Indian chutney and another of seriously wobbly olive oil mayonnaise. I like these familiar things as much as anything else, but new jars are welcome, too. Here are three new additions to this year's collection.
Tomato pesto: At some stage during the 1990’s, the leathery sun-dried tomato, rightfully, fell out of fashion. The semi-dried tomato on the other hand, a softer and more luscious creature, has made a tentative comeback. Used judiciously, they can make a meal, and a girl, sing.
Roughly chop 1 bunch of chives (or the leaves of 1 bunch of parsley or basil) and whiz to a paste in a food processor with 2 cloves of chopped garlic. Add ½ cup of pine nuts and ½ cup of packed semi-dried tomatoes which you have snipped into smaller pieces with a pair of kitchen shears. Whiz again and trickle in 2/3 cup (about 150ml) of extra virgin olive oil with the motor running. Get out the Good Oil for this, especially if cheese ain’t your thing. Tip into a bowl and stir through ½ cup of grated pecorino cheese if you like and season to taste. Keeps for about a week if covered with a film of oil. Very useful.
Makes one jar. Purists may deny this little mixture the title of ‘pesto’, but does that stop me? In the words of someone I’m missing, no, it does not.
Beetroot, pear and ginger relish: I now add beetroot to my growing list of vegetal love. This beetroot relish is incredible with cheese despite the outrageous hue.
Set the oven to 180 C (375 F). Cut all but 2cm (3/4 inch) of the stalks from 400g (just less than 1 lb) of beetroot, wash them, dry them and wrap tightly in foil. Bake for 1 ½ hours. Meanwhile, peel and coarsely grate 3 pears, any kind, 2 onions and a thumb of fresh ginger. Put the pears, onions and ginger in a large, heavy based saucepan and pour in 1 cup (250ml) of white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of sea salt and 1 ½ cups of sugar. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Peel and coarsely grate the beetroot when ready and add to the simmering saucepan for a further 5 minutes. Spoon into clean, sterilized jars, seal and invert. Keeps for 4 months, unopened.
For the adventurous, the ‘Nori Condiment’ is a difficult thing to explain. In some ways, it could be described as a darker, muscular version of creamed spinach. Free of dairy, it’s lighter, too. But whereas a large dollop of creamed spinach on the side of nearly any plate I care to imagine is sheer heaven, a similarly sized serve of this wouldn’t be nearly as nice. It’s wonderful in its own, odd way; smooth and creamy, but not exactly pretty. I’m now quite partial to its Creature of the Black Lagoon shade of deep green, but then, perhaps things are just getting a bit eccentric around here. While I enthusiastically tackled the recipe, based on one in this book, The Artist was busy building a large nest with twigs in the backyard.
Tear 4 or 5 sheets of toasted nori into pieces. Cover with 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Soak for 10 minutes. Heat the saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of tamari, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, ½ a small onion which you’ve finely chopped and a crushed clove of garlic. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often. Grate a small pile of ginger. Squeeze it hard over a small bowl to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the pulp. Add this juice and a few drops of toasted sesame oil, lower the heat right down and continue cooking and stirring for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste with wasabi or Dijon mustard. Keeps for 3 days, jarred and refrigerated.
Try it. I wouldn’t offer something this obscure without some ideas, so: it’s exquisite with potatoes (surprising yum), nice dolloped on egg-based dishes, and makes a great vegan, mineral-rich dressing for pan fried tofu. Think ‘sushi’ fillings and you can’t go wrong. I spread the last of it on crackers. Quite good – weird - but good.
A very useful day.