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Improvising with onions

This week’s thing is actually connected to something I did a few weeks ago, but which didn’t come into play until now.

A few weeks ago, my dad did a batch of home-made red onion chutney and gave me half, which amounted to three jars’ worth. It needed to be eaten fairly quickly and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that if I used bits here and there in sandwiches and so on, so I hit upon the idea of making a batch of pasta sauce and freezing it in portions.

I decided to make a tomato sauce — the onion chutney was quite sweet, which would complement the sour/sharp flavour of tomatoes rather well, and I had half a tube of tomato purée sitting in my fridge waiting to be used. I opted to use a ratio of one can of plum tomatoes per jar of chutney, counting the tube of purée as being equivalent to one jar.

While the onions in the chutney were technically already sautéed, I started things off by heating some oil and cooking the chutney with it anyway, just to get things heated up properly. I then added two lamb stock cubes, generous quantities of basil and oregano, a good pinch of paprika, black pepper, the tomatoes and tomato purée, and the rinsings of the chutney jars and tomato cans. I then brought the mixture to the boil, stirred well and let it simmer with the lid off for about twenty minutes so as to reduce it a bit.

I got two large tubs (each worth three meals) and one small tub (one portion) out of this experiment, which filled out my frozen food emergency stash nicely.

I was a bit stumped for what to make for this week’s big cooking thing, so I fished out one of the large tubs of tomato sauce and cooked it up with some spare pasta. Delicious! Lots of umami and subtle flavours — the sweetness from the onion chutney was quite noticeable, but not overwhelming. It certainly went well with the extra-mature cheddar I melted over the top!

All in all, I think, a successful experiment ^^ I’ll definitely keep a note of this for future occasions.

Adventures in prawn-wrangling

Conchigle alla crema di scampi this week — and it was an interesting ride…

You see, I’d covered the king prawn component of the ingredients by buying a 900g box of them from the freezer section of my local Asian food shop. Excellent value for money — way better than Sainsbury’s £4 for 225g — but the packaging once I’d opened the box caught me a bit off-guard. The prawns were all frozen into one big block and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that it took me at least ten minutes of fruitlessly attacking the block with a carving knife to work out that I could simply boil a kettle and pour the water over one end of the block to separate off the 12 prawns I needed that way.

It worked, I’m happy to say — I managed to get about 10 or 11 prawns by dint of careful pouring and peeling them out with my bare hands, then carved the rest of the softened/partially thawed bit off the end of the block with the knife I’d been using earlier. The resulting pile of seafood-y goodness looked to be about the right size, and the recipe worked out ok, so I’m treating this as a useful learning experience.

I made sure to cook the prawns extra well, even though they’d been partially cooked already from my boiling-water trick, just to be on the safe side (can’t take too many chances with seafood!). The final dish tasted really good and I didn’t get food poisoning from undercooked prawn, so I think that counts as a win! 🙂

Back to normal

Back to pasta-y experimentation this week 🙂 A simple sauce of walnuts, garlic and mascarpone — delicious!

Not much to say about it, to be honest — crushing walnuts in a pestle and mortar, chopping garlic, sautéing them in butter, stirring mascarpone into the nut mixture and parmesan into the just-drained pasta before combining the two and portioning out… Simple, elegant and delicious!

I’m a pork cutlet bowl fatale

I made katsudon this week! 😀 It’s essentially chicken donburi, but with a breaded pork cutlet instead of chicken.

I substituted the leek for a handful of frozen peas in order to dial down the portion size a bit — this actually turned out very well 🙂 I also miscalculated the frying of the pork a little, using too little oil and too hot a pan. This did leave the pork with a slightly carbonised layer, but the meat was properly cooked and the burnt bits didn’t affect the overall flavour of the dish very much.

I chose this dish in particular because I’ve had something of a craving for it ever since I discovered my current favourite anime, Yuri!!! On Ice — katsudon being the trademark favourite food of the main character Yuuri Katsuki. A full-length gush about how brilliant this anime is would be approximately novella-length at minimum and be full of spoilers, so I’ll just direct interested readers to the relevant Crunchyroll page and urge you to give it a look 🙂 Beautiful animation, choreography, music, character development, excellent handling of mental health issues like anxiety and depression, an excellently done and very healthy romantic relationship and a strong running theme of love and courage in all their forms — the sort of gem that comes along once a decade, if that.

If the title seems familiar, it’s probably because you were watching the Olympic figure skating — Miu Suzuki and Ryuichi Kihara skated to Yuuri’s free skate music (also called ‘Yuri on Ice’) for their pairs skating short program, and the fandom profoundly rejoiced 🙂 It’s very significant for a sports anime to be so strongly embraced by that sport’s real-life practitioners.

Can you hear/my heart beat?/Tired of feeling/never enough,/I close my eyes/and tell myself/that my dreams will come true…

A bowl of chicken-y goodness

This week’s recipe was chicken donburi, a Japanese dish involving chicken, rice, egg, veg and other good things! I chose this partly to celebrate the opening of a new Asian food shop near me, and partly as a dress rehearsal for making katsudon next week (a very similar dish which uses pork instead of chicken).

I did this recipe at 1/4 quantities, to make just one portion, as I was a bit uncertain about the reheatability of the finished product. I also used instant miso soup paste (made up to 375ml liquid) as I didn’t have the time or ingredients for a proper dashi stock — the paste in question contained kombu extract and bonito (yer basic dashi ingredients) anyway, so it seemed a perfectly acceptable substitute. I also used some Bristol cream sherry as a mirin substitute (more cost-effective considering that I hardly ever use mirin in my cooking at the mo).

The end result was very tasty, with lots of savouriness and depth of flavour. The texture of the eggs was similar to what I encountered when I made menemen — there’s a similarly spongy texture from cooking the eggs in liquid — but I found it a lot more palatable here. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it has to do with the surrounding flavours in each case.

Even made at 1/4 quantities, this recipe made a large and very filling portion — given my general diet habits and activity levels, next time I make this I’ll go 1/4 or 1/2 quantities, divide the meat-and-broth component into portions to freeze for later and cook up a fresh serving of rice when preparing each saved portion. I might also omit the leek or replace it with peas — I’m not that fond of leeks, to be honest, and I’m not certain it added anything to the recipe.

Overall, though, I’d say chicken donburi is well worth a try!

A piece of Amatrice

Another large manuscript came in yesterday, hence the delayed post.

An Amatrice-style sauce — spicy, tomato-y and with plenty of bacon — was my scheduled experiment for this week. I cooked half a head of garlic with the bacon, because I like the stuff and it needed using up; it certainly didn’t hurt the flavour at all!

Technically, I should have used the ‘traditional’ tomato sauce, with sautéed onion and so on, but owing to time and resource constraints I simply used a small tin of chopped tomatoes instead, and let the sauce simmer and reduce while I cooked the pasta (fusilli tricolore — yum!).

It worked out very well indeed! The grated pecorino romano that I stirred into the pasta before adding the sauce really helped up the umami and other flavours, and the sauce itself was the ideal consistency — not too runny or too thick. I was a little worried about that, I will admit, because I added the rinsings of a jar of home-made chutney to the sauce as well, which made things quite liquid initially. Everything was all right, though 🙂

In view of the fact that a new Asian food shop has opened in my area recently (so many different snacks! So many types of mochi!), I’ll be cracking open my Asian Adventures cookbook and trying out a few of those recipes — should be fun!

Old favourite

Just did pasta e piselli con la pancetta this week, at least partly because I had a largish bag of frozen peas sitting in my freezer and taunting me…

I usually use tinned marrowfat processed peas for pasta-and-peas recipes, as a timesaver and because I like the texture, but the frozen peas turned out pretty well. I added them to the bacon, onion and garlic as soon as the recipe allowed and cooked the mixture with the saucepan lid on for the maximum time given in the instructions. The peas were cooked to perfection!

The only other tweak I made was using double quantities of bacon (while everything else was half quantities). It certainly didn’t hurt ^^

I still have some peas left over after this, but I’m planning to try making katsudon in a few weeks, so they’re earmarked for that 🙂

Nibbling upon ‘nduja

(Apologies for late post — very large manuscript in yesterday. Awkward to wrangle, but yay for paid work!)

I’ve been following the Hairy Bikers’ latest TV series, Mediterranean Adventure, and it’s pretty darn interesting. The topic of today’s post is a thing they looked at in the first episode — ‘nduja, spicy spreadable sausage from Calabria in Italy.

As I recall the bit where the Bikers watched a traditional ‘nduja maker at their work, this delicious stuff is made with very fatty pork (more fat than meat), vast amounts of fiery peperoncino and salt to preserve — kneaded together, extruded into pig gut, smoked and hung for a few months to mature. I got pretty curious about what this stuff was like (I’m a sucker for charcuterie and similar things), so I decided to get myself some.

I was originally eyeballing a 180g jar of ‘nduja paste (direct from Amazon), but then I happened upon this listing — cheaper than the jar, more than twice as much ‘nduja per item and coming directly from a seller based in Calabria. I leapt at the opportunity 🙂 (It arrived less than 48 hours after I placed the order, which is absolutely brilliant!)

The ‘nduja itself was pretty darn good — a very bright, clear, powerful spicy hit that fades after a few seconds to a pleasant, smoky warmth, with a background of richness from the pork fat. I found the spicy flavour to be almost overwhelming on my first try, but repeated nibbles have helped me adjust. It goes very well on generous chunks of buttery, toasted wholemeal bread, and a little experimentation has revealed that, stirred into sautéing onions, ‘nduja also goes very well in pasta sauces — especially the tomato-y ones, which have the right sort of sharp-savouriness to complement the spice and cut through the intense richness of the pork fat.

I’ll definitely be getting this again!

There shall be prawns for tea

With pasta in a creamy tomato sauce!

I had a bash at ‘Penette alla Ines’ this week (the recipe only seems to appear in the Robert-Budwig-illustrated edition of The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces). Pretty straightforward, really, although I didn’t have the time or energy to make the required quantity of tomato sauce the day before — I fudged things by sautéing up all the necessary onions and garlic at once, throwing in the wine, tomatoes and prawns and letting thins simmer for a bit. I also had to add the cream, parsley and pepper after stirring the tomato sauce into the pasta, so as not to make the tomato pan overflow.

It turned out pretty darn well, though 😀 Very tasty, although the cream and tomato notes were somewhat stronger than the prawns — probably because I used cheap frozen ones…

Not-so-blue(fin) tuna

I don’t really believe in Blue Monday and that sort of thing, but it has been a pretty gloomy and wet sort of a day…

Things were rather brightened, though, by the success of my latest pasta experiment — an uncooked tuna sauce which was very quick to prepare. Tinned tuna in oil (skipjack, no mater what the post title says), parsley, basil, lemon zest, walnut pieces (pounded up finely in a pestle and mortar), a splash of Worcestershire sauce and enough olive oil to help everything be distributed evenly over the pasta without clumping or falling off.

I refrained from draining the tuna (since it was in oil anyway), didn’t run the sauce through a food processor (ekk… I prefer a bit of texture) and used the juice of the lemon as well as the zest, so as to avoid wastage. This is kind of in line with the principles of ‘cucina povera’ (lit: ‘poor kitchen’) discussed in the first episode of Hairy Bikers’ Mediterranean Adventure, which focused on the southern parts of Italy, which are traditionally much poorer than the north of the country.

One thing that really caught my attention from that episode was the bit about ‘nduja, a fiery spreadable sausage from Calabria (chiefly Spilinga and surrounding areas) — especially the part where the Bikers assisted an expert ‘nduja maker in creating a batch from scratch! I am a bit of a sucker for this sort of thing, so I’ve been nosing around the web for a decent supplier. It should be a very interesting addition to cheese sandwiches or a tomato sauce!