Sicilian Tuna in Stemperata Sauce

Stemperata is a Sicilian sweet and sour sauce of capers, olives and vinegar. It is one of those sauces that only reveals its true nature when eaten at room temperature, the flavours having room to express themselves without the distraction of heat. And what flavours! The briny olives, sharp capers, sour vinegar and sweet raisins rolling together, accentuating and contrasting with each other.

This is a recipe I found in Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’. I love Diana Henry’s books; they’re full of exciting flavour combinations and her books are so beautifully and evocatively written they are a joy in themselves.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the tuna:

1 tuna loin steak per person

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

4 celery sticks, plus the leaves, finely chopped

1/2 large, or 1 small, red onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

150g pitted green olives, some whole, some halved, some chopped

175g capers, rinsed of their brine

75g raisins, plumped up in a little hot water and drained

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried)

freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

First make the sauce: saute the celery and onion in the oil until soft and just beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic, olives, capers and raisins and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the vinegar, oregano and some ground pepper and cook until the vinegar has evaporated. Set aside and leave to cool to room temperature until you are ready to eat.

When you are ready to eat, rub olive oil, salt and pepper on each side of the tuna and heat a ridged griddle pan until very hot.

Cook the tuna, allowing 1 minute for each centimetre of thickness of the fish; so a 2cm thick tuna steak will have 2 minutes per side. This should give you a seared exterior and an interior like a rare steak, pink and meltingly soft – perfect. In the final seconds of cooking, add a slosh of balsamic to the pan and ensure it travels under the ridges of the pan to give a lovely glaze to the fish. Turn the fish over again briefly and add a little more balsamic if necessary.

Serve immediately alongside the stemperata sauce, with a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil anointing the tuna. This goes brilliantly with some steamed new or baby potatoes, lightly crushed and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Masala Turmeric Dhal

I have made a lot of different lentil dishes over the years, all of them lovely, all of them incredibly moreish. I have slightly adapted this one from a Rick Stein recipe, and it stands head and shoulders above every other dhal recipe I have ever used. It’s that good.

It’s subtle, with the merest glow of warmth from the chilli and exquisitely perfumed by the turmeric. You will find yourself tasting it as you go along, and struggling to stop yourself having just a little bit more. Then something truly magical happens…

Just before you serve it you temper it with gently fried onion, ginger, green chilli and tomato, stir it through, taste it, and stand back in astonishment. The temper adds new layers of vibrant flavour, while underlining the perfume of coconut and turmeric. If forced to choose just one dish to eat for the rest of my life, this would be an extremely strong contender.

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Photo Credit: Dropping The V Sign

RECIPE serves 4

250g red lentils

600ml water

225g onions

225g tomatoes

100g coconut oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1 tsp hot chilli powder

400ml coconut milk

1 tbsp black mustard seeds

a fat thumb of ginger, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped

A pinch of asafoetida (optional, but essential in my opinion)

a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with the water and leave to soak while you work on preparation.

Coarsely chop half of the onions, finely dice the other half.

Coarsely chop half the tomatoes, finely dice the other half.

Heat 50g of the coconut oil in a large pan then gently fry the coarsely chopped onions and coarsely chopped tomatoes with the garlic, for around 8 to 10 minutes until softened into something resembling a paste. Add the turmeric and the chilli powder and cook on for a minute or so.

Add the lentils together with their soaking water, stir well and bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk and bring back to boiling point before reducing to a low simmer. Leave it to cook until thickened and the lentils are fully soft; this may only take around ten minutes, depending on the age of your lentils. When cooked, season and set aside. I generally find that lentils of any kind will appreciate more salt than you might think, but only when they are fully cooked.

At this point it is always good to leave the dhal to sit for a few hours to allow the base flavours to develop and mingle, but you can of course go straight on to serving if pushed for time.

To finish the dish: gently re-heat the lentils to just below boiling point, and heat the remaining 50g of coconut oil in a large pan that has a lid. When the oil is hot, add the black mustard seeds and cover the pan. When the seeds start to pop, which will only be a minute or so, add the ginger, finely diced onion and finely diced tomato, the green chillies and asafoetida. Cook gently for around 5 minutes until softened but not coloured, then add to the warmed lentils and stir through. Add the chopped coriander and allow it to wilt in the dish as you bring it to the table.

Rick Stein serves this with fish marinated in turmeric and oil, and it’s lovely, but it really doesn’t need anything other than some naan bread or, even better, roti. You’ll love it.

Panzanella (Italian Bread and Tomato Salad)

It’s been a lovely summer here. Lots of warm evenings sitting outside eating great cheeses and amazing bread. There has been some cooking going on though, and once again I find myself apologising for not blogging for the longest time. In my defence: I’ve been busy eating lovely food and enjoying life.

The discovery of the summer for me has been the Italian bread and tomato salad, Panzanella. Dismissed by one family member as soggy bread salad, he was merely echoing my own expectations. When we actually tasted what I had made (courtesy of Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food of Italy) we very quickly revised our opinion, and now I find myself hoping I have some stale sourdough left over so I have an excuse to make it.

This is best made when tomatoes are at their ripest, so if you’re going to make it, make it now. The bread you use also makes a huge difference – ensure you use a slightly stale (one or two days old) sourdough or country loaf, with a good thick crust.

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Photo Credit: Scott Phillips

RECIPE serves 4

250g stale bread, cut or torn into rough chunks

600g ripe tomatoes, cubed

1 red onion, diced

1/2 cucumber, diced (peeled if you like)

2 stalks of celery, finely diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

a handful of basil leaves, torn

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Start with the tomatoes, and salt them in the bowl to encourage their juices to flow.

Now add all the other ingredients and stir well so everything is coated in everything else. Leave it to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle and develop, check the seasoning, and that’s it!

For variation: you can take the crusts off the bread, which gives a more uniform but, I think, a less interesting texture. You can also lightly toast the bread beforehand. Try different ways of preparing the bread, and try different types of bread as well, the way you like it is the way it should be prepared.

You can further augment this with whatever takes your fancy and works: if you’re having it with grilled fish, for example, try zesting a lemon into it and using the juice of half a lemon in place of a tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Or you could turn it into a summer vegan main course by slicing avocado into it. Let your imagination run wild, it’s how you discover lovely things.