Friday, 28 October 2016

Green tomato caponata bruschetta

Messy but delicious
Just recently, an incident happened at the bottom of my garden which in simplest terms can only be described as tomato carnage, on a biblical and catastrophic scale. Without getting too upset about matters, I can only say that someone, or something, deliberately and most maliciously decided to trample all over one of my beloved plants. A plant that was yielding some beautifully formed heirloom tomatoes. Deep-lined emerald jewels that were primed for another month or two bathing in the sun, before transforming, nay, blossoming into voluptuous, juicy fruits.

Now, all is gone. However, if I ever catch the culprit, be it a cat, fox or hedgehog on the make, then retribution will be swift. For I have a water pistol, primed, loaded and ready, by the patio door.

Still, having an unexpected bounty of green tomatoes isn’t such a bad thing really. I quite like them in their unripened state; either in curry, chopped into salsa verde or simply fried for breakfast, along with an egg, sunny-side up. Because they are normally fairly tart at this stage, I also wondered how they would fair in caponata, that infamous Sicilian stew, concocted from slow-cooked and cosseting aubergine, spiked with capers and vinegar.

There are lots of variations out there but the general consensus is to achieve a perfect balance of sour and sweetness through the dish, or agrodolce, as the Italians say. Having tried it out, the green tomatoes certainly delivered an acetic kick to the palate, providing delicious contrast to saccharine shallots and indulgent, melting flesh of the eggplant. So if are growing your own, or can get hold of some, be brave and snip a few off early. It’s definitely something different to try out.

On a warm summer’s evening, this sort of caponata would go down particularly well with friends, served on bruschetta, drizzled with oil and parsley, and washed down with a crisp, dry white wine. And if, whilst eating, you happen to spy a devious, malformed, hairy looking creature who happens to go by the name of Fred. Sat there, looking all smug and complacent, whilst perched on the fence.

If you could only manage to grab the water pistol without him noticing. Just this one bloody time.

Then that would be just perfect.

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs.

Caponata with green tomatoes on bruschetta - serves 8


100ml olive oil
2 aubergines, large dice
1 shallot, halved and finely sliced
1 celery stick, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
Small bunch of fresh oregano, leaves picked
5 green tomatoes, roughly chopped (one red tomato did make it in the pot too)
2 tbs capers
2 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper, to season
1 tbs chopped parsley, to garnish

For the bruschetta

Half a stale sourdough loaf, slice thinly
Olive oil


First take a saucepan, place it on the hob over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Once it has warmed up, add the diced aubergine and stir before dropping the heat a touch. Cover and leave the aubergine to cook for 10-15 minutes, checking to stir every now and then, in case it catches, until it becomes soft

Remove the aubergine with a slotted spoon (there should be some oil left in the pan) and put it briefly to one side in a bowl. Add the sliced shallot and celery and again stir through and cover, leaving to cook for 10 minutes

Take the lid off and add the garlic and oregano. Stir, cooking off for a minute or so, then add the tomato and the vinegar. Cook off for another 10 minutes before adding the aubergine back to the pan, along with the purée and the capers. If the mix begins to look a bit dry, add a touch more oil.

Leave everything to gently simmer for another 15 minutes then take off the heat. Everything should be quite soft and glistening by this point and will do well if cooled on the side and left to steep and thicken for a couple of hours.

When ready to eat, place a frying pan on the hob and drizzle your slices of sourdough with oil and quickly toast in the pan in batches. Keep the bread warm as you move along.

To serve, spread the grilled bread onto a platter or wooden board and spoon a generous amount of caponata on each piece. Finish by drizzling with more oil and sprinkling parsley all over the top to messy effect.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Marinated halloumi with a mint, pomegranate and red onion relish and bulgur wheat salad

You may well be familiar with the Welsh proverb which states that ‘a watched clock never tells the time’, yes? Well here is another - ‘an unwatched pan will almost certainly burn the halloumi.’ Which, OK, isn’t really an old wives’ tale proper. It is sort of obvious really, an unwatched pan will burn anything. Yet in my experience where halloumi is concerned, a family favourite, the degrees of crisping or browning is an intricate and precise process. Whenever I cook it at home, the level of concentration I have to apply is the equivalent to that of a Grandmaster chess champion planning their fiftieth move ahead. Because usually I have to take three different orders. And if I get them wrong, I am in big trouble.

My son’s request is the easiest to deal with as he could easily eat it raw. I’d like to think it was down to a textural thing but as he locks his teeth in, one bite seemingly transforms him into a mouse, such is the well-known sound that the cheese makes. I have since managed to convince him that the briefest of scorching is a good thing, just to harden up the halloumi a little. He still likes to jump around like a small woodland creature whenever it gets dished up though.

My daughter has a preference for smoke to go with her unripened, brined cheese and doesn’t quite understand why I can’t fire up the BBQ every time we have it. Nor can she understand that you can’t really bring a BBQ into the house without an adequate extraction system. Or that sometimes halloumi, a large flat mushroom and a drizzle of pesto is a speedy, vegetarian alternative to a burger. Especially when done in a pan. ‘Alright,’ she’ll sniff. ‘But I only want it cooked on one side.’

My wife, well, she likes her halloumi burnt. Why, I do not know. But having been caught out by the ol’ unwatched pan adage in the past, I have been stopped on the way to the bin before, holding a pan complete with smoldering slices of despair and asked ‘What are you doing? I’ll eat that.’ ‘I’ve burnt the halloumi though,’ I’ll reply, slightly flabbergasted but more often than not, she’ll take the pan and pop the remnants into her mouth for a charcoal fix.

Whether this was a game or some curious health kick, I am not sure but thankfully, all the incidents I’ve just described were actually one-offs from the past. Our little journey in developing a taste for certain Hellenic dairy if you will. And if my family had kept these little quirks up, like I said rustling up three contrasting preferences for halloumi, cooked like steak almost, would be a nightmare.

These days we all speak from the same page, all happy to eat halloumi fried to tanned and mottled perfection but just lately, I have been pushing the boat out by marinating it first. Given the salty kick that it often delivers, it might seem hard to believe you can infuse any sort of flavours into this much heralded cheese but you can with lemon, garlic and za'atar; that special middle Eastern blend of oregano, thyme and savory.

The key to making sure that this works, is again to keep an eye on the time because if you let it steep for too long, the acids from the citrus will start to break the cheese down. So leave for an hour or two, tops. Tying in the mint, sweet red onion and pomegranate relish also helps cut through the brackish edge and adds some vibrant colour to the dish and when we tried this recently, I served it up with a handsome and filling bulgar wheat salad and some smoked chicken. But this would go down just as well, served up in some wraps, with some fresh herbs and some of that relish.

Just don’t burn your halloumi. Unless you also know someone weird, who likes to eat it that way.

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs

Marinated halloumi with a mint, pomegranate and red onion relish and bulgur wheat salad - serves 4 (without the chicken!)


Halloumi marinade
2 x 250g packs of halloumi, each sliced into eight
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1tbs za’atar
1tbs extra virgin olive oil

For the red onion and pomegranate relish
3 large red onions, sliced
50mls pomegranate molasses
1tbs red wine vinegar
1 pomegranate, seeds popped out
1 tbs mint leaves, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to season

For the bulgur wheat salad
250g coarse bulgur wheat
100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
Small bunch of spring onions, sliced
2 tbs mint, roughly chopped
2 tbs parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced
50ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to season
Extra mint, for garnish


First, place the sliced halloumi in a bowl, add the marinade ingredients and gently mix together. Cover and leave for an hour at room temperature.

To make the relish, place a pan on the hob over a medium heat and add the sliced onion. Sauté for about 10 minutes until the onion becomes soft, then add half the pomegranate seeds and the red wine vinegar to reduce

Once the vinegar has evaporated, add the pomegranate molasses and stir, reducing some more for a minute or 2, until the onions become sticky and jammy. Sprinkle in some mint, stir through and set aside

To make the bulgur wheat salad, pour the bulgur into a saucepan, cover with 500ml of cold water and add a pinch of salt and a splash of oil. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, until the wheat is just done

Drain and leave to cool before adding the tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and herbs. Mix together then add the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, stirring again to combine. Taste for seasoning

When you are good to go, place a frying pan on the hob over a medium to high heat and add the halloumi slices around the pan in a clockwise fashion. Keeping a watchful eye, flip the halloumi so that both sides fry up nice and crisp, but not too brown!

To serve, spoon a generous portion of the salad into the centre of the plate and place four slices of halloumi on top. Add nice dollop of the red onion relish on top of that and finish by dressing with the remaining pomegranate seeds and some mint leaves.