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.

Gnocchetti con Zucca e Gorgonzola

Last week at our favourite restaurant we were served a dish we’d never tried before;  gnocchi with a pumpkin and Gogonzola sauce, so for lunch today I thought I’d have a bash at making it myself.

The ingredients were: 200 ml cooking cream, 200g gnocchetti (small gnocchi), 100g Gorgonzola and 150g of frozen pumpkin.

The pumpkin was from my orto last year literally chopped into cubes and frozen, I defrosted it in a pan over a low heat and it just dissolved into a fine puree. I guess if using fresh you’d need to roast or boil it then puree it. To the pumpkin I added the cream and stirred it until it turned a lovely peach colour.

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I set a pan of water on the hob to boil for the gnocchetti and added the Gorgonzola to the cream and let if slowly melt over a low heat before adding a little black pepper.

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Once the gnocchetti were cooked, takes about 2 minutes I added them to the creamy sauce and ate this quick and easy lunch with relish.

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It’s quite rich but a nice change when you fancy something different with your lunchtime glass of frizzante.

Sauce for the Year

Despite always making passata when required, back in 2013 I wrote a post about not being bothered with making my own tomato sauce in bulk. Since then I have seen the error of my ways and have been making a years supply each season. Back in April I blogged about getting prepared in the post entitled Passata Preparation.

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So last weekend with 75 kilograms of ripe red tomatoes on my kitchen table the task of turning them into passata began. The process is as simple as anything can be, as all you need is tomatoes, heat and a pan. Unlike when I make sauce for eating straight away there’s no oil added to the pan for my stored passata, meaning I can use it for many different sauces throughout the year. So after washing I cut the tomatoes into quarters and add them to a saucepan and turn on the heat.

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They’ll steam for a few seconds and then release their liquid. Don’t worry if there’s a slight odour of them catching, just give them a stir and they’ll soon start to break down.

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As I don’t have a traditional passata maker: One of those huge round pans sat above a wood burner, or a modern external gas ring as many people use today I make mine in the kitchen. I use my three largest pans and on a 30 degree Italian summer day it’s like being inside a furnace as they bubble away. Remember to give them an occasional stir as they break down.

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If you only half-fill the saucepan the cooking process takes 25-30 minutes and you’re left with soft tomatoes in their own juice. I then pour them into a bowl and begin the procedure again. I rinse the saucepans between each batch but there’s no need to wash them thoroughly. I continue until I have around six large bowls full of cooked fruits, (this makes around 10 litres). Once they’ve cooled sufficiently it’s time to put them through the passapomodoro machine an it’s at this point that your kitchen can start to resemble a scene from a Shakespearean tragedy.

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As you ladle the cooked tomatoes into the machine and turn the handle they give a satisfying squelch as the sauce is pushed out and the skins, seeds and dry pulp is dropped out of the rear. Now my tip is to pass the discarded pulp through once more and you’ll be surprised how much more liquid will be squeezed from it. It’s always best throughout this process to cover the work surfaces as after an hour or so it can look like Titus Andronicus has run amok in your kitchen.

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I then bottle the passata and store it in the fridge and freeze it in blocks as explained in my April post mentioned above with the hyperlink. This year I made 51 litres of the sauce with the process taking two days of cooking and 5 days of freezing in batches of two person servings. So there’s now 153 blocks in the freezer, plenty for the forthcoming year to make pasta sauces, curries and soups with.

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It may seem a lot of work but the time it saves throughout a year is considerable and when you calculate that it costs as little as €0.15 a litre it’s well worth it. But for me the bonus is knowing that it’s all fresh with no additives and even on the coldest of winter days it’ll still be bursting with the flavours of an Italian summer.

Eating Your Greens

One thing about living abroad means you get to eat things that you didn’t have available in your native country. I was making lunch today and made a variation on an Italian classic called orecchiette con broccoli, pasta with a broccoli sauce. Orecchiette originates from Apulia (Puglia) and takes its name from the Italian word for ear, orecchio  with orecchiette meaning, little ear, hence its shape; although to me it always looks like eyeballs staring up at me through a sauce.

Since I’ve moved here I’ve noticed my eating habits have changed and I now eat more fish than I previously did and have developed a real liking for calamari and a local restaurant nearby serves a fantastic octopus carpaccio.

Someone once said to me that Italian food was quite basic, that it’s all pizza and pasta, I think that’s an unkind remark; okay most of it isn’t as sophisticated as some of the French cuisine, but Italian food is steeped in history. The nation’s diet comes from two movements, povere cucina (poor food) and la cucina stagionale (the seasonal kitchen). So my point is that although it may not appear as refined as the French cuisine, it takes great skill to create a simple sauce that explodes with the taste of summer as you eat it, and you take your life in your hands in Bologna if you dare to infer that bolognaise sauce is simple to make and contains tomato.

A few days ago my good friend Jan Edwards and I were talking about food and she commented that in Italy at least it’s all, good food. I agree, the food is good  because of  the the care that is taken in the preparation and the fact that most of it is seasonal produce. It’s this that has led to the abundance of new vegetables that I’ve tried and liked since moving here.

There’s two noticeable differences between the English and the Italians. The English boil pasta until it’s soft enough to use as glue, while the Italian’s prefer it al dente. The English like their vegetables al dente while the Italians will boil the life out of them and mostly serve them lukewarm.

Some of the new vegetables that are now included in my diet are, bietola an Italian variety of chard, cicoria a bitter descendant of the humble dandelion and a plant with its roots; pardon the pun, in ancient Rome. But my favourite new green vegetable is cimi di rape which in the US is often referred to as turnip tops as it’s closely related to both turnips and broccoli. This leafy veg has a slightly bitter taste and was perfect for my lunchtime variation on a classic, when I made calamarata con rape e Gorgonzola.

To make this delicious dish is simple and you can use any pasta that you like, I used calamarata, which is often served with calamari and other seafood as it was the only fresh pasta I had at the time. So here’s the recipe:

200 ml of panna di cucina (cooking cream). 100 g of crumbled Gorgonzola. a good handful of cimi di rape. 300 g of pasta. A pinch of black pepper. Serves 2

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First chop and wilt the rape in boiling water and set aside. Add the pasta to boiling water and when almost cooked, pour the cream into a large frying pan and add a pinch of black pepper. When the cream is heated through, add the wilted rape and Gorgonzola and stir together until the cheese is incorporated into the cream.

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Drain your pasta and add it to the sauce and let it stand on the heat for a minute or two. (Always add pasta to sauce, never sauce to pasta – that’s the Italian way).

Serve in deep bowls and enjoy. I think the bitterness of the rape and the saltiness of the Gorgonzola work well together.

Give it a try, I’m sure you like this quick and easy lunch.

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