Make your own harissa

I usually buy harissa paste from the supermarket. Belazu’s rose harissa is a favourite. This year, I grew a sizeable crop of chillies in the garden (very easy to do if you fancy a try next year) so I decided to make my own. Dear Reader, it is delicious! Don’t worry if you don’t have home-grown chillis, you can buy supermarket ones and it will still work. Put it in an airtight jar and it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. You could freeze it, just don’t add the oil until after it’s defrosted.

You can serve it with couscous, eggs, bread or roast lamb or in any these previously posted recipes Braised chorizo sausages and vegetables in harissa sauce, Baked chicken in rose harissa sauce, Traybake roast chicken on a bed of chorizo and chickpeas, Hot and sour carrot and chickpea salad, Kisir, Spicy butternut squash hummus, Lamb Zagora (with sausages or lamb neck fillet).

Harissa
  • 250g fresh red chillies
  • 3 tsps ground cumin
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large red piquillo pepper, oven roasted, peeled and seeded
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 6 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper

To make…

  • First, prep the chillies – I always wear rubber gloves. Slice them in half lengthwise and gently remove the seeds and then roughly chop the flesh.
  • Roast the pepper on a metal tray at 200C for 20 minutes until the skin blisters. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. The skin should slip off easily. Remove the stalk and seeds. Chop roughly.
  • The next stage is blending. You can do this in a food processor or, I add mine to a large Pyrex jug and use a stick blender.
  • Add the chopped chilli, red pepper, garlic tomato puree and the lime juice. Blend until smooth. Add the spices, salt and pepper and the oil. Mix thoroughly. Taste and check the balance of seasoning.
  • Decant the paste into a screw top or kilner jar. Cover with a little oil and secure the lid. Keep in the fridge until you need to use it.

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Medlar ‘fruit cheese’

I love a good cookery challenge so, when my friend Gylda asked me if I’d like some medlar fruit from her orchard, I jumped at the chance. Most foods are best thrown away when they start to rot, but not medlars. To be eaten or processed in any way the fruit needs to be partially rotted or fermented until its flesh turns soft, sweet, and toffee apple-like. This rotting process for medlars is called ‘bletting’; it’s a word I’d never heard before but I just love saying it. So, first, ‘blet your medlars’ by leaving them spread out in a single layer on a tray or in a box for up to three weeks until soft and squishy. Then, you just have to decide what you’re going to do with them.

You can eat them with a spoon, scooping the flesh straight out of the shell (fiddly), or serve it stirred into whipped cream, custard or yoghurt. Or you can preserve them by making jelly or ‘fruit cheese’ which is delicious cut in slices with cheddar or blue cheese. I decided to make the medlar cheese to serve with our actual cheese course at Christmas. When making jelly, the pulp is usually discarded, the fruit cheese is made from the strained pulp and juice, which is cooked down until very thick and set in lightly oiled moulds.

Medlars
  • Medlars, well bletted a couple of kilos is enough to make quite a lot of fruit cheese
  • Unrefined sugar use proper jam sugar as bletted medlars are low in both pectin and acid
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Flavouring options: Grated fresh gingerjust the juice about 1 tsp. You could also use vanilla paste, cimnnamon or orange zest.

To make…

  • Put the bletted medlars in a preserving pan or large thick-based saucepan and add enough water to come about third of the way up the sides of the fruit. Don’t overdo the water as you’ll only have to cook it off later. Squash the soft fruit with a potato masher, then bring the mix to a boil. Turn the heat down low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes.
  • Tip the cooked medlars into a colander set over a bowl and push the pulp through. Discard or compost the waste. Pass the pulp through a sieve to remove the very last of the seeds using the back of a spoon or a ladle, then weigh the resulting puree. Put it back into your clean preserving pan or a deep saucepan with half its weight in sugar and the juice of half a lemon for every 500g of puree. Add your flavouring: press the grated ginger through a tea strainer so only the juice goes into the mixture or stir in vanilla paste or cinnamon. Bring to the boil and then cook gently for 30 minutes or so. Stir it regularly with a long handled spoon so that it doesn’t catch or burn you, until the mixture turns thick and jammy. If using a thermometer, the setting point for jam is 104.5C. For this, I found I needed to get to about 100C to thicken it properly – it’s like molten lava so do be careful. I undercooked mine the first time and had to reboil it – it needs to thicken and set so it can be sliced.
  • Spoon into oiled moulds or a shallow dish, and refrigerate until set. To serve, turn it out of the mould or cut in slices. The “cheese” will last at least a year.

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Spicy cauliflower, bacon macaroni cheese gratin

Regular readers will have seen the delicious cauliflower cheese pie recipe I posted a few weeks ago. This borrows the method of roasting the cauliflower and bacon with curry powder from that recipe before adding the macaroni cheese and then adding a crispy gratin crust. It’s a really delicious twist on a classic macaroni cheese that can be served by itself or with a salad or wilted cauliflower greens on the side. Although there are essentially four steps to making the final dish (roast the cauliflower, make the cheese sauce, cook the pasta and then combine them altogether), if you get all your ingredients assembled before you start and follow the right order, you can have this on the table in just over an hour.

  • Serves 4
  • I small cauliflower, trimmed and broken into bite sized florets
  • 6 slices of smoked streaky bacon cut into lardons
  • 1 heaped tsp Madras curry powder
  • 3 tbsp light olive oil
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 75g plain flour
  • 675ml milk
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
  • 150g grated cheese – I used a mix of Parmesan (20g), gruyere (30g), Cheddar (100g)
  • 2 tbsps Panko breadcrumbs
  • 300g macaroni. I used half rigatoni, half macaroni
  • Salt and black pepper

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly grease a medium sized deep gratin with butter.
  • Add the cauliflower, bacon, curry powder, 1 tsp salt and pepper and 2 tbsp of oil to a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Put the mixture on a large parchment-lined baking tray and roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Put it back into the mixing bowl and set aside. Keep the oven on.
  • Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce. Put the butter in a non-stick saucepan and melt over medium heat. Whisk the flour into the remaining 50g of butter and cook through for a few minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk to ensure you don’t get any lumps. Cook through, whisking continuously for 5 minutes and then stir in all the cheese (keep back half of the Gruyere), mustard, 1/2tsp of salt and grated garlic. Pour over cauliflower mix.
  • In parallel, cook the macaroni according to the instructions on the packet – usually about 8 minutes. Drain but reserve a little of the pasta water. Add to the cheese and cauliflower mix, mix gently. I use a silicone spatula so as not to break up the pieces. Add a little of the pasta water to thin it down if it needs it. The gratin is going to baked so the sauce needs to be oozy not stodgy.
  • Put the mixture into your greased gratin dish. Top with the Panko crumbs and grated Gruyere.
  • Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  • Serve with green veg (I used the greens from the cauliflower wilted in a little butter) or a side salad.
  • If there’s any leftover, keep it in the fridge and reheat in a baking dish for 20 minutes with a little extra milk to reconstitute the sauce.

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Chicken with fennel and tarragon

I love the aniseed flavour and fragrance of fennel and tarragon and it goes perfectly with chicken. Add leeks, a white wine and cream sauce, serve with some creamy, buttery mash and you’ve got a real winner of a dinner on your hands.

chicken with tarragon and fennel
  • Serves 4
  • 4 French-style pieces of chicken – drumstick and thigh together
  • 30g butter and a dash of light olive oil
  • 3 sprigs of fresh tarragon
  • 2 tbsps double cream
  • 1 head of fennel, chopped
  • 1 banana shallot, sliced
  • 1 leek, 2 cm slices
  • 2 tbsps dry white wine
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • A good pinch of salt and white pepper

To make…

  • Melt the butter and oil together in a wide based shallow oven-proof casserole dish. Brown the chicken and them set aside.
  • Add the shallots, fennel and leek to the pan and sauté gently in the butter for about 5 minutes until slightly softened. Add the white wine, stock, salt, white pepper and tarragon.
  • Add the chicken pieces back in and snuggle them in with the vegetables.
  • Add the casserole lid and cook in the oven at 160C for 45 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, test the chicken to ensure it’s cooked through. Cook for another 15 minutes if it’s not cooked through but it shouldn’t take more than an hour. Stir in the cream, check the seasoning.
  • Serve with creamy mash.

Share, follow, like, enjoy!

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