Barry’s Apple and Chilli Jam

Twice this week my apple and chilli jam/sauce has been praised so I thought for the friends who asked me how to make it and for any other interested parties I’d share the recipe with you. One day I had some spare apples and as we were having pork that lunchtime I thought about making an apple sauce, but as I don’t really like cooked apples decided to spice it up with some fresh chillies from the orto.

Look on the internet and you’ll find a plethora of recipes for chilli jams and sauces and many use a mix of pepper and chillies whilst others call for garlic or ginger to be added. I guess it’s a matter of taste. My favourite recipe for a chilli dipping sauce rather than a set jam is by Nigella Lawson and I’ve made this many times as it’s as easy to make as lacing a shoe.

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My apple chilli jam is the paler sauce in the right of the picture 

To make 4 – 5 medium sized jars you need: 1kg white sugar, 1 litre of white wine or cider vinegar, 150 – 200 g fresh chillies, 3 fresh green apples (granny smiths are good).

Before you begin sterilise your jars and lids, this can be done in the dishwasher or wash in very hot water. Once cleaned, pop them into preheated oven 140C – 275F (gas mark 1) for 15 minutes to dry out. Once dry handle carefully as they’ll be hot and don’t touch the inside of the jars.

Trim and deseed half of your chillies then chop them.  If you don’t fancy chopping by hand, add the whole lot into a food processor and blitz them. (The seeds from the whole chillies add an attractive look to the finished product). Peel and core the apples but don’t throw any bits away, chop the apple into 2 cm cubes and with the chillies add them into a heavy saucepan with the sugar and vinegar.

As jam makers know to get it to set you need pectin, this is added to pre-packaged jam sugar but in Italy it’s difficult to find it so I used granulated white sugar. As apples have plenty of pectin naturally you shouldn’t have a problem with the setting consistency. I put the peel, pips and cores of the apples to a muslin bag and add this to the mix for added pectin.

Bring to a simmer but don’t stir until all the sugar has dissolved otherwise it can look stringy and won’t cool clear. When the mixture starts to boil, stir it and keep it on a rolling boil for 20 minutes with the occasional stir with a wooden spoon. (Metal spoons can taint the jam).

Test the consistency by dropping a dollop onto a cold saucer out of the fridge. After a minute it should be thick but not set like a jam, if you’d prefer a set jam, bring back to the boil for a few minutes and test again as before. The beauty of this sauce is you can have it as runny like a dipping sauce or hard set like marmalade it’s all about choice.

Remove the bag containing the core and peel and fill the hot jars. Once the lids are on and after a few minutes as the chilli flakes will be at the top of the jars, turn them over onto their lids for 15 minutes and as the mixture cools they’ll redistribute themselves.

That’s it, easy as lacing a shoe.

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The red chilli jam in the picture on the left was made with red wine vinegar, red chillies and to get it to set I added a sachet of shop bought pectin, which can be found in most UK supermarkets and online.

Passata Baked Eggs

How many times have you been in the kitchen making lunch and doing something else at the same time? We all lead busy lives and the time constraints of work and family can often mean at lunchtime we just make a quick sandwich or buy something on the go. Here’s one of my easy lunch recipes that’s both filing and tasty and leaves you hands free for most of the cooking process.

This dish was given to me by a friend from Calabria a while back and is great for lunch as it’s rather like having a bowl of soup with some added protein to keep you felling satisfied throughout the afternoon.

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The ingredients are very simple, just 400 ml passata, 2 eggs and cheese; I’m using a 24 month aged Parmesan but any hard cheese like Grana Padano will do as will a mature Cheddar.

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Add the passata, to an oven-proof dish and break the eggs into it, gently move the passata so the egg sinks rather than sits on the top. Give the dish a sprinkling of salt and black pepper and pop it into a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees and leave it for 20 minutes. I’m using some of the passata I made a few weeks ago, for the recipe click here.

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To serve add to warmed bowls and sprinkle with the cheese of your choice and serve with a crusty bread roll. It’s equally lovely topped with chopped chives but doesn’t really work with basil. If you want that authentic Calabrian taste add a generous splosh of fiery chilli sauce, my friend adds so much that he calls his, the Devil’s eggs.

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buon appetito

Fusion Hot Pepper Sauce

Each year I grow hot Italian chillies and as I harvest them I sun-dry them in batches for use throughout the year. Once dried they store in an airtight jar for a year or so. Just make sure when you pick some out that your fingers are dry, a tiny drop of water in the jar will spoil them. As my chillies in the orto are almost ready to harvest I decide to use up some of last years to make way for the new crop.

I’ve also been growing some Jamaican Scotch Bonnets, the plant is in its second year and after a not so good season last year, I took advice and potted it up to restrict the roots and it’s bearing lots of bright orange fruits this year. So using these two varieties I thought I’d create a Caribbean-Italian fusion hot pepper sauce.

The ingredients I used are:

8 sundried cayenne chillies, 5 fresh Scotch bonnets, 5 garlic cloves, 230 ml white vinegar, 2 teaspoons malt vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar,  2 tsp red wine and a tsp of tomato puree.

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First boil a kettle and soak the dried chillies to rehydrate them. While they’re soaking trim the stalks off the Scotch bonnets and peel the garlic.

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Once the chillies are rehydrated take their stalks off and add everything into a blender and blitz until smooth. NB: The tomato puree is used purely to add colour to the sauce as the orange Scotch Bonnets have very little colour.

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Transfer to a pan and simmer the liquid until reduced by a third. OPEN A WINDOW and don’t stand over the steam and breathe it in as it’ll cause you to cough and can irritate the eyes.

Remove from the heat and using a jam funnel decant it hot into a sterilised jar and seal.

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The consistency of this sauce should be loose, very similar to Tabasco rather than a gloopy sauce. If you don’t want seeds in the sauce then it’s okay to sieve it. Like similar sauces the salt and the vinegar are excellent preserving agents so should keep in a dark cupboard for around 3 months and in a refrigerator for 6 months.

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So how was the taste test? It was hot but the sugar took away the harshness. I think it’s ideal for adding into stews, soups and sauces and good for drizzling over pasta dishes. I may even try a little on a pizza turning Margherita in la Diavoletta.

Olio Santo

You could say that Italy can be hot and fiery. We have the active volcanoes; Vesuvio, Stromboli and Etna, we swelter in the energy sapping summer heat and then there’s that Latin temperament. But I’m talking about neither of these, today the subject is peperoncino, the generic name for Italian chillies.

Every restaurant table will have a pot of oil with chillies suspended within it for drizzling over your pizza or pasta and in summer when they’re in season you’ll find fresh chillies with tiny pairs of scissors on the table too.

It would be foolish to suggest that every Italian partakes of this fiery condiment as I know a handful that are not keen on the hot pepper sauce, but that said I have friends from Calabria that adore the stuff, so much that I’m sure these crazy Calabresse would have it on their breakfast cereal if they could.

Here in Abruzzo this chilli oil is known as Olio Santo (Sainted oil) and it’s literally hot chillies steeped in olive oil. Everyone has their own method of making olio Santo and a search on YouTube will bring up a plethora of instructional videos. Most recipes use dried and crushed chillies, whereas my method uses fresh chilli; also I have to admit that my method was taught me by a Neapolitan friend and so my recipe is from Napoli not Abruzzo.

The oil will last from season to season if kept in a cupboard out of direct sunlight which will break it down. I make mine in a recycled  jar no fancy oil bottle for me. It’s not the prettiest container in my larder but it does the job perfectly.

This recipe is really very simple and the ingredients are:

Olive oil, not extra virgin, save that for your salad and bruschetta just normal olive oil will do.

Chillies, I use around 20 to 25 for a small (250 g) jar.

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To make the oil, chop the chillies and then steam them for 5 minutes and then add them to the jar and fill with oil – simple as that. (Steaming the chillies brings the heat out faster and infuses the oil in less time that using dried chilli). Leave it to stand for around 2 weeks before using and occasionally agitate the jar.

The oil will keep for 12 months and you can top up the oil if it starts to run low, it’ll lower the heat however, and be sure to shake the jar to mix it.

After a few weeks the colour will change and it’ll take on a spicy yet funky aroma. Once you’re chillies are ripe the following year, make more and after 2 weeks dispose of the old oil and start using the fresh batch.

It develops throughout the year and gets hotter, last year I grew some Scotch bonnets and added a couple to the mix and this year the olio Santo is as hot as Hades; fabulous on linguine con cozze or a bacon sandwich.

 

 

Another Green Theme

With autumn dressing the trees in various shades of brown and gold, I removed the tired tomato plants from the side of the house that has been our makeshift orto. From the four plants, we have had a a good crop and had to purchase no tomatoes until a week or so ago. There was still a glut of green un-ripened fruits hanging from the trusses, so I picked them and left them in a bowl on the kitchen counter until I decided what to do with them. A few evenings ago we were given a bag of fruit from our friends up at the Olive House, as they have an abundance of apples in their orchard. So yesterday I decided to make some green tomato chutney.

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I’ve never made chutney before. I do make homemade sweet chilli sauce and I did once make jam in school. So chutney being mid-way between chilli sauce and jam, shouldn’t be too hard a task. I started by peeling the strongest onions this side of the fires in Hell, and like a teen who’s favourite boy-band had just announced their slit, I chopped them as tears poured from my eyes. I measured out the apple vinegar and weighed the tomatoes and apples. I grabbed a few spices and an opened bag of sultanas from the kitchen cupboard, chopped a couple of chillies and I was ready to make chutney.

As the iPod played the Tobi Legend, Northern Soul classic, Time Will Pass You By, I rubbed my eyes and forgetting that I’d chopped chillies, I instantly went blind. Idiot. With cold water splashed onto my face my vision began to restore itself as the music shuffled and the Pointer Sisters sang, Slow Hand. I chopped the two and a half kilo’s of green tomatoes and the kilo of tiny Italian apples and decided on the spot that if I had to change careers, I’d never choose commis chef. Once all the ingredients were assembled it was a case of fill the largest saucepan I owned and put a light under it. As soon as it came to the boil I turned down and just let it bubble away for a couple of hours.

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Towards the end of the cooking process, three-hours in I turned up the heat to allow it to thicken and reduce the remaining liquid. I set about washing jars in boiling water and popped them into the oven to dry. As soon as the jars had been sterilised in the oven we filled them which was no mean feat, hot jars and hot chutney pose their own handling problems. But with two large jars and a standard sized one filled, I had a self-satisfied smile as the iPod shuffled and my jars of chutney were serenaded by Sinead O’Connor singing Troy (Live in London).

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I barbecued some thick steaks tonight and had them with the chutney, it tasted amazing. Maybe I’ll look into this making chutney malarkey in more detail

One Pumpkin Two Black Devils and Lots of Fireworks

100_7187I picked the first of my pumpkins two days ago and since then it’s languished on a shelf waiting for something to happen to it. So today as the iPod kicked in and Tilly and the Wall, play Alligator Skin, I took a knife to it and scattered it with chopped chillies, curry powder and cumin before roasting it until the flesh became soft. After it had cooled it was joined by an onion, some tomato puree, homemade stock and after seasoning, it was mercilessly dropped into the liquidiser and reduced to a thick paste. Some fresh cream and a little more stock was added to thin it down and the result was three and a half litres of spicy pumpkin soup.

Lunchtime arrives and as we eat warm focaccia and prosciutto we enjoy a bowl of the soup which has a kick of heat amid its soft creamy texture. It’s 38 degrees outside, but it feels hotter inside my soup bowl. I have to agree with myself that this was a morning well spent in the kitchen.100_7197

In the evening we pick up friends and after I give them a bottle of pumpkin soup, I drive to nearby Palombaro. We’ve been invited by our friends, Richard and Annie for dinner at their  magnificent palazzo. We’re welcomed with wine and I chat to Richard as Annie gives the others a tour of the three-storey property, complete with a sweeping staircase and marble columns. As we sit down to eat, fireworks appear in the distance and very quickly I realise i have the most advantageous seating position. Opposite me is a huge open window, so as I eat I’m entertained by the pyrotechnics in the distance. After a lovely evening of laughter, irreverent storytelling and random remarks about peaches we say our good-byes. We stroll back to the car in streets lit by ochre coloured streetlamps and as we descend back down towards Piana Selva another town is closing its festa with a magnificent firework display.

We arrive home at around 01.30, I let the dogs out for a mad dash around the front garden rough land at the front and then take them for a walk down the lane. When we get to our turning around spot, I clap my hands and like two black devils they race back up the lane towards home. When I eventually catch up with them, Alfie is sat outside the front door while Olive sits in the middle of the road, her eyes flashing in the light from my torch. I ask her to follow and together we enter the house and close the door on another Italian day. 

Ants in Your Plants

It’s been very hot here these past few days, Italy has had a mini heat-wave, but this morning it’s quite cool. I check on the plants growing in my mini orto. There’s some more courgettes, young and tender that need to be picked and a couple of tomatoes have donned their red jackets, so they can come out of the plot, a couple of white onions are a good enough size to harvest . I notice that ants have taken up residence my cayenne plant and as I pick a couple of the orange chillies they dash across my fingers eager to protect. I’m not worried by this, it’s rural Italy and a few ants wont ruin my day. As I walk back to the house the iPod shuffles and the strains of Hungry like the Wolf, by Duran Duran drift out into the Italian countryside.

Back inside the kitchen with my collected bounty I set to, preparing it for storage. I chop it all up and add a couple of garlic cloves, I sweat the onions off and then add the courgettes followed by the chillies and tomatoes, last to hit the pot is the garlic. I add a little water and let it simmer away until the contents of the pan have softened. I don’t season with salt and pepper as I’m going to divide the mixture once cold and freeze it.

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Now cold, the mixture is divided up into three portions and popped into the freezer and now I have a sofrito base for three pasta sauces that I can use when the season has ended. A few minutes in the morning will save me a few euros in winter time, and the memory of a summer morning will be released into the saucepan.

Devilishly Hot

One of the best things about living in Italy is the longer growing season. Back in the UK there was; during a good summer, a sixteen week window for growing tomatoes, chillies and aubergines. These would mostly need to be grown in a greenhouse to maximise crop yield, however the climate here means they can be planted outside, and plots of land with rows of tomatoes growing is as commonplace here as cabbages in Lincolnshire fields.

I have to admit to having never been a very successful grower of chillies back in England, I could never seem to get it right. The plants would start off well, then just either go spindly and die or just flatly refuse to produce anything. Here it’s a different story, one small 99 cent, cayenne plant can be left to do its own thing and as long as it gets a daily drink it’ll produce little fiery pods of heat. I tend to pick the cayenne chilli just before they go red and sun-dry them, preserving that little bit summer for a wintery evening’s dinner.

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I find they don’t retain their heat if they are dried once they have turned red, but do if picked and dried whilst still orange. Obviously the fresh ones when red are as hot as Beelzebub’s bath water, which is very apt, as they crop in mid-July, which according to 16th century belief, is the month that Beelzebub is at his most powerful, and at this time he tempts man to become a glutton. I’m not a great believer of this and assume that mankind is seen to be gluttonous solely because of the amount of fresh food that is cropping around this time of year. I assume people ate while food was plentiful, as the winter months would be lean.

To sun-dry them I put them out on a metal/foil tray and just let them sunbathe. Sometimes as the sun moves around the house I’ll move them so they get maximum exposure, but mostly I just leave them. I do however bring them in at night. One little piece of advice I’ll pass on is, if you do dry them in a foil tray, add a rock to the tray, in 2011 after two weeks of drying on my neighbours terracotta roof, my crop was ready for storing, as I went out to collect them a gust of wind came and blew the tray over and my chillies fell between the cracks in the tiles, never to be seen again.

 

This year I am also growing some of the longer red chillies, not quite so hot but nicely piquant and great if chopped up small and dropped into a salad with some mint, giving an occasional hit of heat amid the cool salad leaves. I purchased this chilli towards the end of the planting season, so was left with a leggy twelve centimetre plant, I watched my neighbour’s chillies closely and his grew to around fifty centimetres before he pinched out the top of the plants, I waited for mine to catch up and did the same. Now it’s filled out, no longer is it a lanky green single stem, it’s a bushy healthy plant with long green chillies hanging from it. I’m hoping these will be ready to harvest in August, which incidentally is Astaroth’s month, another of the Seven Princes of Hell, the demon who bring laziness to mankind. Or could that just be the late summer sun?