Fresh Oregano

tomato oregano

There is nothing quite like picking fresh herbs from your own garden.  I do it with a smug pride reserved for a delusional sense of achievement, as though I had something to do with the herb’s ability to grow.  To be fair I did plant it, but that is where my responsibility ends.

Still, I am always very excited to be using my own herbs once more.  I just think they taste different from the bought ones. There is, of course, the sense of having food ‘for free’ which never ceases to make me smile.

Recently, I have been snipping the oregano plant in our garden, chopping and popping it into all things tomato based.  I tell you what, it makes such a difference from the dried stuff.  I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why that is, but I highly recommend investing in growing your own.

And the beauty of herbs is that you don’t actually need a garden.

It’s what windowsills were made for…

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Distraction Baking

tomato pepper oregano bread

Although I am back to work, things are a little less busy as all the boys are on holiday this week.  Let me clarify that.  They’re at home.  Last time the wee boy and I discussed the Easter holidays he asked where we were going and was deeply disappointed that we weren’t all going away for the duration.

Anyway, I have also recently picked up a bag of the fabulous Orion bread flour from Bradshaws, and as I haven’t dabbled in bread flavours for a while, I decided to make a loaf of sundried tomatoes, picante peppers and fresh oregano.  I know, sounds delicious.

All was going very well, and although the dough was a little ‘wet’,  it got itself together well, and shaped beautifully.

Meanwhile, we recently had some dead and diseased trees cut down in our back garden thanks to my lovely in-laws.  Once again, let me clarify, they didn’t cut the trees down but paid for it as our birthday and Christmas present.  However, as the weather has been constantly dark and damp we haven’t been able to burn the bits of tree we don’t need for other things.  Not until this week.

In fact, it was turning out to be a very productive day all round. Bread, tree burning…

Women are renown for being able to multi task, it has even been scientifically proven that our brains are wired differently and can therefore, much more competently juggle more things at once, than men.  I’m not sure whether this research was done by men though, which may point a suspicious finger at the whole scenario.  After all, if you become competent at something, you are often the ‘go-to’ person for that thing.  But I digress.

So, I placed the dough on a baking tray under a tea towel and put it in the grill part of the cooker with the oven on underneath it, to prove.

I then went outside to join himself in the big burn.  We have one of those fabulous holy metal bins.  And by that I don’t mean it’s religious.  It is one of those old fashioned style dustbins that some design genius realised would be perfect for burning outdoor stuff, as the air drafts through and makes the wood, especially, burn extremely quickly.

There is something deeply satisfying about burning stuff.  All kinds of stuff.  I remember one Easter weekend I had hired a skip to clear the house and garden of un-necessaries.  As it was a bank holiday, one of my cousins popped over for the weekend and we ended up having a cheekie glass of wine outside and lit a fire in order to take the evening chill off.

As darkness descended we took out a couple of blankets and nipped down for a rummage in the skip to see if there was anything we could keep the fire going with.

By the end of the evening the skip was almost empty.

I love fire.

I am married to a man who also has a penchant for fire.  Together we lost ourselves in the sacramental art of fire.  And then it dawned on me that the bread was still snuggled in the grill section.  It had exploded and flattened, but, not to be disheartened I popped it in the oven with a mental note to self that I should come back and check it within the next twenty minutes or so.  An hour or so and a plethora of sticks burnt later, I remembered.

Although not what I expected, it hadn’t burnt to a cinder.  Turns out it’s pretty tasty dipped in olive oil.

Hilariously, it seems that fire isn’t my only non negotiable distraction.  I have just done exactly the same thing again today. Different circumstances, same scenario.  Almost.

I think I will revisit that multi tasking theory, and delve a little deeper…

Italian Tomato Sauce

Italian Tomato Sauce

We have had one of those very chilled out, gentle days where everyone has been in the same room doing different things and generally allowing time to just waft.  I love these days.

And it is on days such as these that I tend to do my catch up cooking.  Today I am making some hummus, roasting some peppers and cooking a large pot of my all purpose tomato sauce.

The thing about this tomato sauce is that, although it takes a while to make, once it’s done you can use it as a base for anything in the Italian food range, from pizza to lasagne, bolognese to cannelloni, or just as a sauce in itself, to cover spaghetti or another form of pasta.  It’s perfect.  Well, perfect for our family.  Some people get stuff in for the freezer, I make tomato sauce.

So, what I do is finely chop an onion, a few carrots, a couple of sticks of celery and a few cloves of garlic.  Pop in a pan with a generous portion of ordinary olive oil, add some salt and pepper, put the lid on and allow it to all saute, very gently, into itself. I would say if you leave it on a very low heat, keeping your eye on it, everything will be wonderfully soft within around 45 minutes.

Once the vegetable base is softened, chop up 9 or 10 large tomatoes and add to the pot.  Squeeze a good splodge of tomato puree in there and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of oregano depending on how strong you like the flavour to come through.

The next couple of ingredients are both a confession and a statement in my defence.  You see you can’t truly make a good tomato sauce unless you put in red wine and sugar.  I have to admit to having had a splosh of red wine in a bottle sitting next to my oven for about two weeks, waiting for exactly this type of day to arrive. Sadly, to my shame, I have not been able to resist putting in a teaspoonful of sugar to accompany the wine, and enhance the flavour of the tomato.  However, my logic follows that of bread making.  You cannot possible make bread without adding some sweetness as it is a catalyst to the yeast.  Similarly, with home made tomato sauce, I believe it to be imperative in order to allow the tomatoes to shine, that sugar is added.  It’s only the tiniest bit…

And on the subject of sugar, I’m not sure whether I am going through a sugar delirium having not had any for 10 days now, but everything is starting to taste sweet.  Is that what normally occurs?

Anyway, allow everything to simmer in the pot with the lid on, for another 20 – 30 minutes or until you think everything is cooked.  Turn the heat off and let it all sit in itself for a while.

At this juncture I would suggest you make a cup of tea, perhaps have a slice of cake, and put your feet up.

When the tomato sauce has cooled down you can either whizz it up in a blender, leave it chunky, or, as I do, split it and do half and half.

Whatever you decide to do with your sauce, when it’s cooled pop it in a tupperware box, an old large greek yoghurt pot, ice cream pot or whatever has a lid, and either store it in the fridge or separate into small meal sized portions and freeze.

I tell you what, if it does nothing else, it will make you feel very organised and together when you next need an Italian tomato sauce.

Melanzane Parmigiana

aubergine parmesan

As you may or may not be aware, I am a dedicated devotee of the non sandwich lunch.

I do enjoy a sandwich, I just don’t want them to become a daily habit.  I realise that for some the sandwich just fills a hole, but for me, I feel I would be missing out on trying so many other things.  In fact lunchtime is often the only time I can experiment with different foodstuffs and eat what I really love, without feeling under pressure to satisfy a less than enthusiastic crowd.  However, you do need time in order to do this, so it doesn’t happen as often as I’d wish.

This week though, I managed to find time for a delicious home cooked lunch for one. Melanzane Parmigiana, or Aubergine Parmesan to you and me.  Eggplant if you’re across the water.  Although I am not particularly enamoured by the word eggplant. It has no romance.

However.

All you need is one aubergine, some tomato sauce (which consists of onions, tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano, olive oil, salt pepper, sugar, red wine (optional) and a splash of red wine vinegar), mozzarella and parmesan.

Make the tomato sauce, or, if you’re one step ahead of the game, get some out of the fridge that you’ve prepared earlier. Polish your halo.  Slice the aubergine thinly, brush with olive oil and fry until translucent.  Grate a generous amount of mozzarella and parmesan.

Put a little tomato sauce in the bottom of a dish, add a layer of aubergine another layer of tomato sauce and a layer of cheeses. Keep layering until the aubergine has all been used. Finish off with the cheese and place in the middle of the oven, gas mark 4, for 50 minutes.

Take out and leave it to gather itself together for a few minutes.

Enjoy alone, or with friends.