Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.

Jamie Oliver

Spicy Pork and Chilli-pepper Goulash

My home-grown banana peppers had ripened in the recent good weather, so I picked a few of them and cooked them in a classic dish – goulash. Rather then using cubes of pork, this recipe from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie at Home” cooks an entire loin of pork in the stew, which you can then pull apart with a fork before serving.

Preheat the oven to 180deg C, and heat a large ovenproof casserole dish on the hob. Score the fat on the pork (a 1.5-2kg loin off-the-bone with the fat on but skin off), in a criss-cross pattern all the way through to the meat, and season with salt and pepper. Pour a good glug of olive oil in the pan and then add the pork, fat side down. Cook for about 15mins on a medium heat to render out the fat, then remove from the pan and set aside.

Add 2 chopped red onions, 2 fresh chillis (chopped and de-seeded), 2 generous tablespoons of paprika, 2 teaspoons of ground caraway seeds, the leaves from a small handful of marjoram or oregano [I used 2 teaspoons of dried oregano], and some salt and pepper to the oil/fat in the pot. Turn the heat down and cook gently for 10 minutes, then add 5 sliced peppers, a 280g jar of grilled peppers (drained and chopped), and a 400g can of tomatoes. Put the pork back in the pot, give it a mix, then pour in enough water to just cover the pork. Add 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, put the lid on top, and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours.

Just before serving stir a 142ml tub of sour cream, the zest of a lemon and a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped, in a bowl. When the meat is cooked, break it up with a fork and give it a good stir. Serve with a bowl of steaming rice and the flavoured sour cream.

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Bustrengo

Another recipe from Jamie’s Italy, this Bolognese polenta and apple cake is lovely served warm with a dollop of whipped cream.

Preheat the oven to 180deg C and butter a shallow 28cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Mix 100g polenta, 200g sifted plain flour, 100g stale breadcrumbs and 100g caster sugar in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together 500ml full-fat milk, 3 large beaten eggs, 100g runny honey and 55ml olive oil. Gradually add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing it very well. Add 100g chopped dried figs, 100g raisins (or sultanas), 500g firm eating apples, peeled, cored and diced, half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, the zest of two lemons and two oranges, and a teaspoon of salt.

Stir everything again and pour it into the cake tin. Bake for about fifty minutes, and before serving sprinkle over some caster sugar.


Pollo alla Cacciatora

Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian, and in the contect of cooking “alla cacciatora” refers to a meal prepared hunter-style. In Jamie’s Italy, Jamie Oliver has a really simple recipe to make this incredibly tasty dish.

I used four chicken legs and four chicken thighs to serve four people. Even when buying free-range, these are really inexpensive pieces of meat that have a greater depth of flavour then chicken breasts, as the meat is cooked on the bone. Season the pieces with salt and ground pepper and put them in a bowl. Add eight bay leaves and two sprigs of fresh rosemary, tucked in between the chicken, then stir in a crushed clove of garlic (I use a microplaner to grate the garlic). Cover everything with a half a bottle of red wine (preferably Chianti, but any full, rich red will do), and leave to marinade for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180deg C. Drain the chicken, reserving the marinade, and pat it dry with kitchen paper. Pour some plain flour onto a plate and dust the pieces of chicken in it, shaking off any excess. Heat an ovenproof casserole dish, add a splash of olive oil, and fry the chicken pieces until browned lightly all over.

Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and then add two cloves of garlic, sliced. Fry gently until golden brown, taking care not to burn the garlic. Then add two 400g tins of good-quality tomatoes (break them up with a wooden spoon in the dish), six anchovies roughly chopped, a handful if olives (with their stones removed), the chicken, and the reserved marinade. Bring to the boil and then cover with a lid and cook in the oven for about an hour and a half.

When it’s cooked, skim off any oil that’s collected on top of the sauce and remove the bay leaves and rosemary. For a traditional Italian meal serve with some cannellini beans and crusty bread, or for a more hearthy meal serve with a big bowl of mashed potato.


Homemade Tomato Ketchup

According to Harold McGee, in his seminal book McGee on Food and Cooking, modern ketchup as a sweet-sour tomato condiment owes it’s name to kecap, an Indonesian salty fish condiment. These Asian soy and fish sauces were brought back to England thanks to the commercial activities of the East India Company in the 17th Century, and our familiar tomato ketchup is a sweetened version of salty, vinegary, spicy tomato preserves of the time.

Given the ubiquity and value of a bottle of Heinz ketchup, making your own home-made ketchup only really makes sense if you have a green-house, or somewhere similar, that you can grow your own tomatoes, or else if you’re a masochistic chef who needs to make every element of a meal before they put in on the table. Jamie Oliver has a straight-forward recipe for making your own tomato ketchup in his book Jamie at Home – in this instance I used Santini tomatoes.

Place a chopped large red onion, half a bulb of fennel trimmed and chopped, a stick of celery trimmed and chopped, a thumb-sized piece of ginger peeled and chopped, two cloves of garlic peeled and sliced, half a red chilli deseeded and finely chopped, the stalks only from a bunch of basil, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, 2 cloves, and a good splash of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook gently over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally. Add about 1kg of tomatoes and 350ml of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer until reduced by half.

Add the leaves from the bunch of basil, then whizz in a food processor or with a hand blender, and pass through a sieve into a clean pan. Add 200ml red wine vinegar and 70g soft brown sugar and simmer until it reduces and thickens to the consistency of tomato ketchup. Correct the seasoning to taste.

Spoon the ketchup into sterilized jars and seal tightly. Keep them in the fridge until needed (up to about six months). We had some of ours with steak and home-made char-grilled chips and a handful of rocket!


Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals – the test

“I’m going to show you how to put a whole meal on the table in 30 minutes flat!” So begins the latest TV show and spin-off cook-book from Jamie Oliver. The premise is simple – to demonstrate to people that by being organized you can create a complete, delicious meal when you get home from work, without compromising on quality.

This was the challenge I set myself – to select one of the complete menus from the book, and cook it from start to finish in thirty minutes. After a quick flick through the book I decided on Wonky Summer Pasta with Herby Salad, and Pear Drop Tartlets.

A couple of caveats: I tried to pick a menu where all the ingredients would be easily available in any supermarket. However, pre-made small, deep shortcrust pastry cases almost defeated me, but I eventually found them in my fourth different supermarket and an hour of driving around. They weren’t particularly deep either, but beggars can’t be choosers. The recipe called for three different types of fresh herbs, but I left out one of them (the mint for the salad) on the basis I don’t have a herb garden and I couldn’t justify the cost of a third bag of herbs. I also used a hand-whisk rather then a free-standing mixer to beat the egg whites, which cost me a few minutes as I couldn’t do anything else simultaneously. Finally, I used dried tagliatelli instead of fresh chopped pasta, but I put it in the pot sooner to accommodate the longer cooking time.

I started the stopwatch, and got cracking. I turned on the oven for the tarts, got my equipment ready and began boiling the water for the pasta. I spooned jam into each pastry case, chopped tinned pear quarters and divided them between the tarts. I was 5 minutes in at this stage.

I separated 2 eggs between two bowls, added sugar to the whites and started whisking. Once it was stiff I put it aside and started making the sauce for the pasta – I added extra-virgin oil, salt and pepper to the egg yolks, as well as parmesan I had grated in the food processor, and the juice and zest of two lemons. The clock had ticked well past 15 minutes at this stage, and a slight air of panic was setting in.

Once I realised the next step involved pounding half a bunch of basil in a pestle and mortar and then chopping the other half I knew the thirty minute goal was a fantasy. I ploughed on regardless, and added my two types of basil to the egg mixture and mixed it all together.

My pan of water had been boiling for so long now I had to top it up with water from the kettle, and chaos had descended by the time I put the meringue mixture onto the pear tarts and put them in the oven. In the turmoil I forgot to add vanilla extract to the mixture first, but given that by now all the kitchen needed was crime-scene tape around it I don’t think I would have found it under the debris anyway.

I dumped the pasta in the pan and started the salad. To save time I chopped the bacon with a scissors as I dropped it into the frying pan, and then I dumped a bag of rocket and watercress into a salad bowl, tore up the tarragon and added that too. While simultaneously turning the bacon, stirring the pasta and watching the tarts I added grapes to the salad mixture. Unsurprisingly I forgot to add fennel seeds to the bacon.

The thirty minute mark was by now a distant dot behind me.

I dried off the bacon pieces and threw the dressing together – balsamic vinegar, extra virigin olive oil, the juice of half a lemon and some salt and pepper. I turned off the oven and left the tarts on the shelf with the oven door open to cool, sprinkled the bacon over the salad and put it on the table with the dressing.

I drained the pasta in a colander and mixed it into the sauce – Jamie recommends adding some water from the pasta, but I didn’t need it.

RESULTS:

Total time: 55 minutes 27.8 seconds.

Stress levels: 7/10

Appearance: 4/10

Tastiness: 5.5/10

Overall: 5/10

I have a huge amount of respect for what Jamie Oliver has done to educate people about healthy eating and not compromising on quality, but the reality of what he is trying to achieve with his thirty minute meals may have the inverse effect of alienating people from cooking. Trying to prepare that meal in thirty minutes was a nerve shredding experience, fraught with disaster, that turned my kitchen into a battlefield. The primary issue with multi-tasking like that is not so much that it took longer then expected, but that by being delayed at one stage can effect something else you’re cooking simultaneously. In my case, because the bacon didn’t cook quick enough and it took more time to make the dressing, it meant the pasta was in for too long, so it ended up over-cooked.

Ultimately, this type of experience removed the pleasure of cooking from assembling a meal. The dinner would have benefitted by being simplified down to just one course – the problem is trying to do too much at once. The salad looked and tasted like it was thrown together, and the pasta sauce would have benefitted from more care and attention. The pear tartlets saved the day, but unfortunately who has time to make dessert for a mid week dinner? Maybe next time I’ll skip the main course and just start off with the pudding!