This time of year, wander the local hedgerows and lanes around here with a carrier bag and you could bring home a bountiful supply of free food. My absolute favourite, for two main reasons, is walnuts. First reason is they are free. Second reason is they taste amazing.
With a big bowlful of walnuts on the kitchen counter it’s hard to resist using lots straight away in recipes like Spiced Apple Cake with Walnuts or Walnut Bread ( easy in the breadmaker and great with another seasonal favourite Potimarron and Leek Velouté ). If kept dry and away from the sun, walnuts will last for ages so we fill our pockets every time we go for a walk and make sure we squirrel away a good stash. When the walnuts started to fall to the ground this year, my step-daughter happened to be staying with us and suggested we make pesto. One jar of pesto will keep in the fridge for several days and will be OK if you keep the surface covered with olive oil though it might go a bit brown. You could also freeze small quantities for adding to pasta for example. Half of our first batch was stirred into tagliatelle, the second half was spread onto fresh whiting and baked (called merlan in France, it’s a reasonably priced fish similar to cod or haddock), served with salted potato wedges and fresh salad. You could also spread it on bruschetta, dollop some in your soup, make a toasted sandwich, stir some into mashed potato, or put it on a pizza.
So here it is, the ever so simple but very impressive Walnut Pesto.
You’ll need a blender or stick-blender to make this, and if you want to store it, a sterilised jar with an air-tight lid. None of the ingredients are measured exactly, which is a good excuse to keep tasting it to get the balance and seasoning to your taste.
A few handfuls of fresh basil leaves
Walnuts2 cloves garlic
Ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated
Put all the ingredients in the blender and whizz to a pulp, adding more oil if necessary and seasoning to taste. Use straight away or seal in a jar and refridgerate.
Spiced Apple Cake with Walnuts is a delicious moist cake that can be served while still warm or stored for several days in an airtight container – if it lasts that long. It’s also a good way to use up some seasonal produce, and freezes well. I’m posting the recipe in my next post.
After all the hard work in planting seeds, battling against pests, coping with extreme weather and controlling weeds, the greatest pleasure from tending a vegetable garden has to be eating your own produce. This year is one of the best. Despite the heat and the drought, rain in July has given rise to the sort of lush growth I hope for and every day sees me bringing another hoard of vegetables into the kitchen.
Last week, we enjoyed Nigel Slater‘s idea for roast tomatoes with fresh thyme. Just place halved tomatoes close together cut side upwards in a dish with a sprinkle of olive oil, sprigs of fresh thyme, season and bake for 40 minutes in the oven (temperature 200 °C). They were absolutely divine. The flavour was so concentrated and the juice had almost caramelised in the dish. But now I need to get serious and preserve.
Yesterday I was processing tomatoes to make tomato and tomato and chilli sauces so we can enjoy their fresh flavour well into the winter. There are so many variations on making sauces but I’ve found that these two simple sauces are the most useful. I don’t measure ingredients, it’s largely guesswork and experience but nothing will be wasted if you find you need more or less of something, you can always adjust it the next time.
Firstly, roughly chop 2/3 onions and fry them gently until softened in a generous amount of olive oil. Add a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic and for an arrabiata type sauce, one or two fresh chillis from the garden according to taste (powdered chilli is OK if you don’t have fresh). While the onions are cooking, skin the tomatoes and roughly chop them removing any woody core. You can remove seeds if you want, but I leave them. They’re OK in an unblended sauce, and if you prefer a smooth sauce you’ll remove them later.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the onion, stir and leave them to gently simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally to stop the mixture from sticking to the pan. It should take about 40 minutes for a large pan full of sauce.
Leave the mixture to cool. Now you have a choice. According to your preference you can leave the sauce as it is or whizz it up into a delicious smooth sauce packed with flavour. Either use a mouli or whizz it in a blender and push the sauce through a seive to get the sauce to a consistency similar to passata, except yours will be a hundred times better. Don’t forget to season the sauce when you come to use it, salt and freshly ground black pepper will enhance the flavour. The sauce freezes really well – I measure portions into freezer bags but containers are better if you have them.