Sun-Dried Tomato Paste

I try to make as many things from scratch as possible, partly because I like to know exactly what I’m eating (I am very distrustful of processed food after extensive reading into the subject) but mainly because I like the challenge, I like to experiment and, well… why not?

Sun-dried tomato paste is widely available in UK supermarkets, and the type that we keep in our pantry is very good indeed – if a little expensive. I use it as an ingredient in many Italian dishes, and often use anything from a teaspoon to a tablespoon to augment the flavour of a tomato-based sauce, so it is something we get through a lot of.

Stuck with an hour to spare one afternoon I decided to start making dinner early, and on a whim I filled that hour experimenting with my own sun-dried tomato paste. The results were spectacularly good, yielding a more intense flavour than shop-bought, and it is so quick and easy to make.

Sometimes life is too short to muck around making everything from scratch, and sometimes life is too short not to. Sometimes, all you’ve got time for is a bowl of pasta with something stirred through it – stir a tablespoon or two of this through a pan of fusilli, add a good handful of freshly grated Parmesan, a dribble of good extra-virgin olive oil and a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley and I’m sure you’ll be eternally thankful that you did muck around making this from scratch.


RECIPE 

2 x 280g jars of sun-dried tomatoes in oil

8 fat garlic cloves

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp sea salt


METHOD

Drain the jars of sun-dried tomatoes in a sieve, put into a bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Stir for a minute then drain again. This softens the tomatoes up so they will blitz more easily, and cleans off the remainder of the oil.

Peel and crush the garlic, put into a food processor with the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and sea salt, then blitz until it is a smooth puree. You may need to add a little oil if the paste is too stiff, and you will very likely need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times to get everything. You can also do this in a blender, or if you’re really keen a pestle and mortar will do the job.

Decant into a sterilised jar, top off with a little more oil (do not mix it in, the idea is that it sits over the paste and protects it from the atmosphere) and refrigerate. This will happily keep for two weeks or more, and quantities can easily be doubled or trebled.

*To Sterilise Glass Jars: Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1, then turn it off and keep the door closed. There is no point in wasting energy! Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water then rinse well. Place the jars on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to dry completely. If using Kilner jars then boil the rubber seals, as the dry heat of the oven will make them perish.

Crumpets!

Who doesn’t love a good crumpet? Why go to all the trouble of making your own though, when you can easily pick up a decent pack of 6 ready-made crumpets for under a pound? One simple reason: there is a world of difference between a decent shop-bought crumpet and a crumpet that you have made yourself.

Home made, they are light, fluffy, and taste divine. You also know exactly what you have put into it, so you know exactly what you are putting in to your body: no preservatives, no flavour agents, no chemical additives. It is also a very satisfying thing to do, and extremely easy.

RECIPE (Makes 12)

400ml warm milk

100ml tepid water

1 tbsp dried fast action yeast

1 tsp caster sugar

300g strong white flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp fine sea salt

Vegetable oil, for greasing


METHOD

Warm the milk and water gently until it is around blood temperature – too cool and your yeast will act slowly, too hot and you run the risk of killing the yeast. Whisk the yeast and sugar into the warmed liquid until completely dissolved, then leave in a warm place for 15 minutes or until it starts to froth slightly.

Meanwhile, sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and, when it is ready, pour the milk mixture into it. Whisk from the centre outward until the flour and milk are fully combined, with a consistency like double cream. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside for a further 45-60 minutes until the batter mixture is bubbling.

*NOTE: Make sure you use a very large bowl, the batter mixture will expand significantly as the bicarb and yeast start to do their work. If you can, leave the batter to sit for up to two hours, if you leave it for longer then the holes in your crumpets will be more defined and it will taste better as well.

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You will need a large frying pan or skillet to cook your crumpets, as well as four muffin rings (or large cookie cutters).

Lightly grease the inside of your muffin rings with vegetable oil, and apply a thin film of oil to your pan.  Place the empty, greased rings in the pan and set over a medium-high heat; when hot, add 4 tbsp of the batter to each muffin ring and cook for 5 mins without disturbing them. You will see the holes start to develop as they cook, the top of the batter will start to dry out and the holes will firm up. After 5 mins, wriggle the muffin rings off each crumpet using a pair of tongs, then turn them over and cook for a further minute. The base of the crumpets should be smooth and lightly browned and, once cooked, the other side should be holey and also lightly browned.

*NOTE: Make sure you don’t over fill the crumpet rings. If you put too much batter in, the middle of the crumpet will still be liquid after 5 minutes and when you turn them over that liquid will fill in your holes and you will be left with a crumpet that looks more like a muffin. The picture below shows the crumpets after about two minutes of cooking – as you can see, the holes are starting to develop.

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To make the remaining crumpets, re-grease the muffin rings, and the pan if necessary, and reheat the rings. Refill the muffin rings with the crumpet batter and continue.

You can make these in advance, and when you are ready to serve just lightly toast them to warm them through. I like these buttered so heavily that the butter runs down my chin…