Chilli and tomato relish with goji berries

tomato, chilli and goji berry chutney

When you’re of the foraging persuasion, you find yourself constantly on the lookout for new produce to plunder. It’s surprising what you see growing right under your nose if you keep your eyes peeled. Just round the corner from us, someone has hops growing in their front garden. On the shortcut we take to our local Aldi, there are grapevines, elder and goji berries. All this, within just a few hundred metres of our house.

I was vaguely aware that goji berries can sometimes be found growing wild in the UK, but this was the first time I’d found them and was curious to see what I could use them in.

Despite the more familiar dried berries being thought of as a sweet snack food, fresh goji berries are apparently often used in savoury dishes, and I decided to put them in this relish. (Or is it a chutney? After a bit of Googling I’m still none the wiser.)

Goji berries 3

Ingredients

  • 12 ripe, normal sized tomatoes
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped roughly into large chunks
  • 6 or 7 red chillies (deseeded or not, depending on your preference)
  • Fresh (not dried) goji berries, washed (I picked about 70g, but as many as you can get your hands on)
  • 200ml white wine vinegar
  • 200g caster sugar

Cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side up in a roasting tray (without adding oil). Cut the tips off the garlic, brush them with oil and nestle them among the tomatoes. Roast in the oven at about 180°C for half an hour to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes look nicely softened and are starting to colour a bit. Remove and leave to cool.

Once the garlic cloves are cool enough to handle, slip off their skins.

Whizz the garlic, onions, chillies and goji berries in a food processor until they form a fine mush. Scrape out into a large pan, then thoroughly whizz the tomatoes as well and add these to the pan too (you might need to do this in batches).

Add the vinegar and sugar to the pan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring constantly. You want this to get to a nice sticky chutney consistency, which could take a while so be patient. When you can scrape a spoon over the bottom of the pan and leave a clear line, you’re pretty much there.

Divide into hot sterilized jars and seal.

This made 4 small-ish jars. It can be eaten as you would any chutney or relish – I think it’d be ideal dolloped in a burger.

Damson gin and sloe gin

I’ve finally had the opportunity to make damson and sloe gin this year after some unsuccessful foraging attempts previously. I still haven’t managed to find a good spot to pick damsons or sloes, but luckily someone I used to work with did- and my god did she manage to pick a lot of them. Carrier bags full of the bastards. So, the spoils were shared, chilli jam changed hands by way of payment and I once again have the kindness of a colleague to thank for a blog post.

Sloes and damsons- a beautiful shade of inky midnight blue (there I go again with the Nigella-esque poetic food descriptions).

The idea with sloe gin and damson gin is to make them in September-ish so that they’re ready in time for Christmas. I was actually a bit late making mine, so I’m probably going to decant it in the New Year.

You might still be able to pick some sloes and damsons, although it’s likely that they will have already been found by other foragers by now. Alternatively, if you know anyone with a stash of them in their freezer, you could always try to sweet talk them into sharing. Damsons and sloes freeze well- I was given mine just before going on holiday in September so I left them in the freezer until I had time to use them. Freezing them is actually recommended, as it simulates a frost and splits the skins- a less labour-intensive alternative to pricking all the fruit individually.

I’ve tried to outline this recipe using ratios, as I realise not everyone has the same sized jars or the same amounts of fruit.

Ingredients

  • Damsons and/ or sloes- rinsed, dried and either frozen or pricked thoroughly with a skewer or fork.
  • Gin (I used good quality gin in a couple of my jars and cheaper gin in the other to see how different they tasted)
  • Sugar (I used caster)

Start by sterilizing some big sealable jars. I used 1 litre Kilner jars.

Fill the jars about two thirds full with your damsons or sloes. I put mine in straight from the freezer. This worked out as about 600g of fruit in each jar.

Add a third of the amount of sugar to fruit- so 200g per jar in my case.

Top up with gin and seal the jar. Give the jar a gentle shake to help dissolve the sugar and then invert it every couple of days until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Leave for about three months before straining through a muslin and bottling.

My plan is to decant my gin in the New Year, but save most of it until at least next Christmas, as apparently the taste improves with age. I also have plans to try making slider (no, not the tiny burgers) with the leftover sloes, although I think this might involve the use of demijohns and airlocks and what not (which could either be new and exciting or a total disaster).

Two risottos for autumn

I’ve written before about my love of risotto and its comforting properties. So, as a follow on from my ‘Summersotto’ post, here are a couple of suggestions for autumnal risottos:

(both recipes serve two)

Roasted butternut squash and blue cheese risotto

Ingredients

  • 500-600g butternut squash (about half a large one), peeled and cut into chunks
  • Nutmeg (optional)
  • About 40g pine nuts
  • A glug of olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • An onion, chopped
  • A stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 150-165g risotto rice
  • 700ml hot vegetable stock
  • A tablespoonful of fresh sage, finely chopped, or a teaspoonful of dried sage
  • About 100g blue cheese
  • Black pepper
  • Truffle flavoured oil, for drizzling (optional)

Start by roasting the butternut squash. Place the chunks of squash into a roasting tin and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and grate on some nutmeg if you fancy it. Scrunch with clean hands to coat the squash in oil. Roast at gas mark 5 (190⁰C) for about 45 minutes or until the squash is tender enough for a knife to easily go into it. Set aside.

When you’re ready to make your risotto, get all your ingredients ready.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan (use the same pan that you plan on using for your risotto) until they start to turn golden but without burning them. Set them aside in a bowl.

Heat the olive oil and butter in the pan, then add the onion and celery and fry them gently until they are translucent. Add the risotto rice and stir it in until it’s covered in buttery oil.

Begin to add the stock a ladleful at a time as you normally would with any risotto. After the first couple of ladlefuls of stock have been absorbed, stir in the sage before continuing to add the stock.

When you’ve used up all your stock, test a couple of grains of rice to see if they’re cooked. If not, add a bit more stock or boiling water and keep stirring for a couple more minutes.

Turn off the heat and crumble in the blue cheese, stirring it in until it’s nicely melted. Season well with black pepper and divide between bowls. Scatter the butternut squash and pine nuts on top and serve.

I like a drizzle of truffle flavoured oil on this, but it’s just as nice without.

Mushroom risotto with bacon

Ingredients

  • 4 rashers of bacon
  • A glug of olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • An onion, chopped
  • A stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 150-165g risotto rice
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Sherry
  • 650ml hot vegetable or chicken stock
  • A tablespoonful of fresh thyme or a teaspoon of dried
  • Parmesan

Grill the bacon until crispy and set aside.

Heat the oil and butter in a pan and add the mushrooms, onion and celery. Fry until the onion and celery are translucent and the mushrooms are softened. Add the risotto rice and stir to coat with oil and butter. Add the garlic and fry gently for a couple more minutes.

Turn up the heat and add a generous glug of sherry. Allow it to bubble down a bit before beginning to add the stock a ladleful at a time. Add the thyme after the first couple of ladlefuls have been absorbed.

When you’ve used up all your stock, test a couple of grains of rice to see if they’re cooked. If not, add a bit more stock or boiling water and keep stirring for a couple more minutes.

Turn off the heat and grate in a decent amount of parmesan, stirring to melt it in.

Divide between bowls and trim the bacon into strips on top.

Note added 9th January, 2012

I made this mushroom risotto tonight, but used a pack of fresh shiitake mushrooms (which we like to pronounce ‘shit-ache’ in our household because we’re childish) which were in the reduced bit at Sainsbury’s. I also added several chopped chestnut mushrooms and a few dried porcini mushrooms, which I soaked in boiling water to rehydrate them. I then used the soaking water in the stock. I can definitely recommend the porcini mushrooms for an extra mushroomy flavour hit. You don’t need to use many of them- I find a pack of dried ones (stored in a kilner jar) goes a long way.

Bean and chorizo stew

In the words of House Stark: “Winter is Coming”. This is my favourite time of year- I know it’s a bit sad when the nights begin to draw in earlier each day, and getting out of bed for work when it’s cold and dark is a pain in the arse. However, I like getting all cosy at home in a big jumper and eating something suitably stodgy. We’re also at that nice stage at the moment where the weather hasn’t turned properly cold yet and the autumn sun is making everything look lovely (listen to me- what an old romantic I am).

Autumn cooking is my kind of cooking- oozy risottos, chutneys and jellies made from foraged ingredients or gluts of fruit shared by friends and colleagues, warming curries and comforting casseroles and stews. I’ve been enjoying all the autumnal blog posts that have been popping up in my feed recently- lots of pumpkin and squash recipes and good hearty dishes to stick to the ribs.

My slow cooker tends to see a lot more action over the autumn and winter months, and this is one of my favourite slow cooker recipes. It’s cheap, nutritious and tasty. This recipe serves four (or two with some portions left over for the freezer or for lunch the next day).

Ingredients

  • About 125g chorizo, cut into small half moons/ chunks
  • About 250g of mixed dried beans (I usually use a mixture of red kidney, cannellini, haricot, black turtle, pinto, adzuki and mung beans and chickpeas)
  • An onion, halved and chopped into half moons
  • 2 sticks of celery, washed and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoonful flour
  • A generous glug of red wine
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • About a tablespoonful of thyme (use fresh if you happen to have some, but dried is fine)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled
  • 200ml water
  • A couple of heaped tablespooonfuls of pearl barley
  • A carrot, scrubbed or peeled and then diced

Soak the dried beans overnight or for at least 8 hours in plenty of water with a bit of bicarbonate of soda added to it. When they’re soaked, drain them well and add to a pan with enough water to cover. Bring them to the boil, then let them simmer with the lid on for 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside. (Don’t be tempted to miss out this step- The beans need to be soaked and boiled in order to get rid of toxins in their skins that can apparently cause severe stomach cramps.)

Add the chorizo, onion and celery to a pan and fry until the onion is looking translucent but not brown. Some fat should come out of the chorizo but add a bit of olive oil if the onion and celery need it to fry in. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so. Add the flour and mix in until all the flour is coated with oil. Turn up the heat, add the red wine and simmer for a minute or so, stirring to mix everything together. Mix in the chopped tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, stock cube and water, then add the drained beans, pearl barley and carrot.

Put the whole lot into a slow cooker and cook on high for about 4-6 hours, adding water if it looks dry.

Eat with some nice crusty bread for dippage.

For the vegetarian version, leave out the chorizo and add a teaspoon of smoked paprika instead.

Generic apple and sultana chutney

It feels a bit early to be making chutney- it’s usually more of an autumnal activity. However, I was visiting my dad recently and couldn’t resist scrumping a basket of apples from the two trees in his garden, which are already laden with fruit. The apples aren’t sweet enough to eat as they are, so I thought I’d make a batch of chutney.

If you’re just beginning to dabble in the world of preserving, chutney is a good place to start as there’s not much exact science involved- you just chuck everything in a pan and cook it until it looks ready. You don’t need to worry about jam thermometers and checking for setting points or straining jellies through bags for days on end. It has what an ex-colleague of mine would call “A very low fuck up potential”. The most faff that’s involved is preparing the jars- scrubbing labels off and sterilizing them (more on which later). The preparation of the apples admittedly did also take a bit of time, as I had to peel, core and chop lots of very small apples. However, you could always rope in an extra person to help out with this or get one of those gadgets that peels and cores apples (which, as I was preparing these apples, I did consider scurrying off to Amazon to purchase). Having your headphones in also helps- incidentally it turns out that ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order is an excellent accompaniment to chutney making.

This recipe was mostly made up as I went along- I had a basic idea of what I was going for and just sort of added ingredients and spices as I went, tasting it and adjusting accordingly. As I was adding the spices, I realised the chutney had taken a slightly festive direction, which inspired me to add a dash of rum in a moment of Christmassy cheer. It probably wasn’t necessary though. In my enthusiasm, I also forgot to weigh the apples before I prepared them, so the weight is an approximation. To give you an idea, I used all the apples in the basket pictured above. I guess all this further illustrates my point that chutney isn’t an exact science and is very difficult to balls up.

Ingredients

(This made five and a half jars)

  • About 2kg apples- peeled, cored and chopped into 1cm ish cubes
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 3 or 4 handfuls of sultanas
  • 120g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 400g sugar (I used caster sugar but you could substitute some of the sugar with dark muscovado for an extra hint of Christmas)
  • 400ml cider vinegar
  • A tablespoon of ground ginger
  • A tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • A tablespoon  of mixed spice
  • A teaspoon of grated nutmeg
  • A dash of dark rum (optional)

Add all the ingredients to a large pan. Bring to the boil and then simmer (stirring regularly) for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the chutney is thick and syrupy. Turn off the heat and ladle into hot, sterilized jars using a jam funnel* and seal (I use cellophane held in place with an elastic band and then put the lid of the jar on over the top).

Leave to mature for a few weeks before using/ palming off on friends, relatives and colleagues.

*Which in this case I had to wrestle off my boyfriend, who was wearing it on his head in an attempt to impersonate the tin man from The Wizard of Oz. Very helpful.

A note about preparing jars and sterilizing equipment

Preparing jars is my least favourite part of making preserves, especially getting the old labels off. Sometimes, soaking the jars in hot soapy water is enough and the labels easily slide off. Failing this, a good scrub with a nail brush used specifically for this job often works. However, you inevitably end up with a few jars still covered in infuriating sticky label residue. I’ve used both Goo Gone and Sticky Stuff Remover, and I have to say that Goo Gone is the most effective of the two in getting rid of even the most stubborn residues. It’s a good idea to have a stash of jars which have already been de-labelled to save messing about when you’ve got a cauldron of jam/ chutney/ jelly on the go.

Once you’ve got your labels off, you need to give the jars a good thorough scrub in hot, soapy water. To sterilize them, I immerse them in Milton for 20 minutes, then put them in the oven on the lowest possible setting for at least 30 minutes. Don’t forget to sterilize the lids as well.

Most decent books about preserving will give a variety of methods for sterilizing jars, so it’s just a case of finding out what is easiest for you. Apparently you can use a microwave to sterilize jars as well, but I don’t have one so this isn’t an option for me. It’s also important to sterilize your ladles and jam funnel, which I do using boiling water.