Monthly Archives: September 2012

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with fresh Tomatoes

Ordinarily this a wintry mid-week supper favourite at Chez Foti; a handy and quick store-cupboard dinner using tinned tomatoes. But with so many fresh tommies to hand it’s been made numerous times over the summer in my efforts to use up some of the glut. And it’s good, so much the better to be made with perfectly ripe, flavoursome, sweet and in-season tomatoes. You won’t be disappointed.

A bit of an Italian classic, Puttanesca is a heady mix of tomatoes, anchovies, capers, garlic, chili and olives. In Italian it literally translates as ‘whore’s spaghetti! Lovely. And it is. If you’ve never tried or made it you should. Deliciously simple.

I have no problem with using the tomato skin or seeds in recipes like this, but purists would balk. It’s up to you. If you want to remove the skins immerse the tommies in boiling water for 30 to 40 seconds then in a bowl of really cold water, they’ll then slip off easily. I use my plum tomatoes (which are the best for cooking with) for this sauce, but any very ripe, sweet tomatoes will be wonderful.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca 

Enough for 2 grown up folk (with hearty appetites!):

2 tablespoons of olive oil

a clove of garlic, finely chopped

a red chili, finely chopped (or less if you’re adverse to too much heat!)

4 anchovy fillets

450g of fresh chopped tomatoes or a 400g tin of good quality chopped tomatoes

a large pinch of freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of sugar

60g of stoned black olives

a dessertspoon of capers, rinsed

250g of spaghetti

Heat the oil in a large saucepan on a gentle heat. Fry the chili, garlic and anchovies for a couple of minutes until the anchovies are almost disintegrated. Slide in the tomatoes and add a generous pinch of coarsely ground black pepper and a small pinch of sugar. Give everything a good stir. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti to packet instructions.

The sauce is ready when it’s thickened and very flavoursome. Stir in the olives and capers. Have a taste check adding more black pepper to suit. Obviously you could add salt but there’s a fair whack already in there from the anchovies and capers so it’s unlikely you’ll need more.

Run the sauce through the spaghetti and serve immediately.

Here’s some other quickie mid-week supper ideas: Tagliatelle with Cherry Tomatoes & Mascarpone, Garden Pasta, Cheese, Courgette & Tomato Bread & Butter Pudding, One Pot Ratatouille, Tomato Tarts, 70s Flashback Stuffed Marrow, Spinach, Courgette & Pesto Risotto, Noodles with Pork & Veggies


Homemade Sun (aka Oven) Dried Tomatoes!

As regular readers will know it’s been a tomatoey summer at Chez Foti, and I have to admit my interest is now waining slightly. Though my 68 plants (beyond ridiculous I know, but down to an over-exhuberence in seed sowing and an ever growing number of fruitful self-seeders!) are most definitely not waining and unlike last year there’s not a diseased leaf in sight. And I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at this!

Of all the ways to attack a glut of tomatoes this is without question my favourite. Many a batch has been made and enjoyed over the course of our summer, and I’ve just realised I’ve not blogged how to make them. And lots of people have been asking. But beware they’re fabulously addictive. I’d hate to know how many I’ve consumed the last few weeks, but I can promise you I won’t ever be buying another shop bought jar again. The homemade ones are simply sublime beyond sublime. And I’d go as far as to say they are the single most tastiest thing I’ve EVER made! Amazing in pasta dishes, sandwiches, pizzas, salads, or served as an antipasto with drinks. The latter being my favourite way so you can truly appreciate their flavour (if stored in the fridge make sure you serve them at room temperature).

A basket of plummies!

I have to admit I’ve not made mine in the most orthodox way. After much googling it seems that few people bother with attempting real ‘sun’ dried tomatoes as it’s a pretty tricky and lengthy affair, even if you do have guaranteed hot sunshine for several days. Pretty much all commercial ‘sun’ dried tomatoes are oven dried, as are the home produced ones. So an oven is required, but all searches on google required an oven that would heat to a mere 100 to 120°C (and to bake the tomatoes for around 6 to 12 hours, depending on their size and water content). My temporary gas oven most certainly goes no where near this low so I improvised. By placing the trays in the coolest part of the oven and periodically switching the oven on and off to it’s lowest setting over the course of 24 hours (admittedly I wasn’t dedicated enough to do it through the night!) I’m pretty confident I achieved the same results. And it shouldn’t go without saying saved a good deal of energy on the normal method. A total success.

My other googling find was that plum (also known as Roma) tomatoes work the best, mainly because of their lower water and seed content and larger proportion of fleshy bits. Handily I’ve lots of those!

The Pre-baked Sun Dried Tomatoes

Homemade Sun Dried Tomatoes

As many tomatoes as you want to use, preferably plum tomatoes

a little salt

a little pepper

a little sugar

several sprigs of thyme

extra virgin olive oil

Decide how you’re going to bake your tomatoes. If your oven can be set to as low as 100º or 120º you could go with this and bake the tomatoes for around 6 to 12 hours, checking every hour or so whether they’re ready. Alternatively you could bake them like myself at a temperature of around 160º but turning off the oven every time it reaches this temperature and leaving the tomatoes within to cool down and slowly dry out. This will take around 24 hours and 5 to 8 turning on and off sessions (not including the night!). You must take care not to forget and that they don’t stay too hot for long or they’ll colour and taste burnt in a matter of minutes (this happened with one batch of mine!)

Pre-heat your oven to the desired choice of heat setting.

Cut each of the tomatoes in half lengthways. Using your finger carefully scrap out most of the juice and seeds. Place each cut side up on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Continue until all the tomatoes are halved and prepared. I do at least a couple of trays at a time, but this is an awful lot of tomatoes!

Sprinkle over the merest amount of black pepper, sea salt and sugar on each tomato half. Drizzle on a tiny amount of the olive oil and a generous sprinkling of thyme.

Place in the coolest part of the oven and bake according to your chosen heat setting.

The sun dried tomatoes are ready when the liquid has evaporated, they are considerably reduced but are still flexible to touch, a very deep red and are a little chewy or tacky. The best way to judge them in my view is to taste a couple every now again! You’ll know when they’re perfect.

I stored mine, once cooled, in a jar of olive oil with a few slivers of garlic, in the fridge. They also kept very well for several days in the fridge just plain. Believe me you won’t be able to keep them long anyway! Try not to eat them straight out of the fridge, let them warm to room temperature first.

Here’s some of my other recent tomatoey recipes: A Glut of Tomatoes Pasta Sauces, One Pot Ratatouille, A Couple of Tomato Tarts, Garden Pasta, Tagliatelle with Cherry Tomatoes & Mascarpone

The post-baked finished sun dried tomatoes


Fig, Goats Cheese & Red Onion Tarts

We’re in the midst of fig season here in France and I’m loving it. Without a doubt they’re one of my favourite fruits and as we’re relative newbies here only in our second fig season they still feel rather decedent and exotic. Sadly we’re the only people I know of without a single fig tree in the garden so I have to rely on friends and a couple of our holiday home neighbours’ trees to feed my indulgence. I really must get around to planting our own trees next spring.

Last Saturday we were happily invited to my friend Debbie’s house for a spot of fig picking and horsey riding for Francesca. Five kilos later we came home (not counting the umpteen in our tummies). I’m afraid to say I put most of them in the freezer to make into jam when I’ve a little more time on my hands than this week. The rest were made into several batches of these gorgeous wee Fig, Goats Cheese & Red Onion Tartlets and a fabulous Fig & Pear Crumble (which I shall be blogging shortly too).

Master J adores his figs too, though they’re not the choicest of foods for a lad going through potty training. Last Autumn I took my daily walk with Jacques-on-my-back past one particular fig tree which he’d scream at as we got closer, screaming for me to pick him some. Funny at first, but the screaming carried on for the subsequent four months until well into January and there was snow on the ground, and each time with me painstakingly trying to explain the figs were all gone and he’d have to wait until next September. Anyway at least September’s come around again and he’s one very happy wee (and exceptionally regular) chappie. And a happy chappie with a few more words than last year, namely ‘Mummy pick fig NOW!’.

Anyway enough fig talk, on with the tarts, or tartlettes if I want to be really posh. I made several batches of these last year too, and always a success. The sweetness of the figs and balsamic caramalised red onions is cut through with a little sharpness from the goats cheese and the savory notes of thyme and addition of black pepper to the pastry. Perfect for parties and buffets, or as a nibble served with pre-dinner drinks or a starter with a few dressed leaves on the side. Admittedly they’re a tad on the fiddly side but can be made in large batches and handily frozen. And so well worth the effort.

I’m going for my first ever trio of bloggie competitions with this recipe, so keep on in there while I detail them all. Firstly, I was very pleased to see September’s One Ingredient Challenge is the Fig, a wonderful competition held jointly by Laura at How to Cook Good Food and Nazima at Working London Mummy (this month is Laura’s turn).

As thyme is such a crucial ingredient to my tarts I’m also entering Karen at Lavender and Lovage’s Herbs on Saturday Challenge (again I know, but it’s such a lovely competition!)

And last but most certainly not least my tarts are also entering Ren Behan’s Fabulicious Food Simple and in Season Competition, this month hosted by Katie at Feeding Boys and a Firefighter.

Phew, that’s a whole lot of competitions, now on with the recipe!

Fig, Goats Cheese & Red Onion Tarts

Makes 24 mini tartlets:

For the Pastry:

200g of plain flour, plus a little extra for rolling

100g of butter, cut into small blocks, straight from the fridge

100g of hard vegetable fat, cut into small blocks, straight from the fridge

a teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper

a generous pinch of salt

an egg yolk

For the Tarts:

3 tablespoons of olive oil

3 red onions, very finely sliced

2 dessertspoons of balsamic vinegar

salt & pepper

12 to 15 very ripe figs (about 320g)

150g of goats cheese (preferably in a log shape)

a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed

a little more extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Special Equipment: 

2 small x12 tart or fairy cake tins

Start with making your pastry. I use a food processor for speed but you can make it by hand too. If you’re using a processor place all the ingredients (bar the egg yolk) in the bowl and whiz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and continue to whiz. When it starts to come together in a ball it’s ready, add a few drops of very cold water until this happens. Remove from the processor and shape together. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using.

If you’re making the pastry by hand place all the ingredients (bar the egg yolk) together in a mixing bowl. Rub the fat into the flour with your hands until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk splash and mix into the flour and fat with your hands, trying to bring it all together. When it comes together in a ball it’s ready. You may also need to add a few drops of water for this to happen. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC (gas mark 5, 375ºF).

Whilst the pastry’s resting make your filling. Heat the oil in a saucepan on a gentle heat. Add the finely sliced onions and cook slowly for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring regularly, until very soft. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and a pinch each of salt and ground black pepper. Allow to bubble for a minute or two before setting aside to cool.

Meanwhile cut each of the figs into 6 segments, and cut the goats cheese into 24 thin rounds.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface as thinly as you can, to a one to two millimeter thickness. Cut into rounds with a 8cm diameter pastry cutter (or like me an upturned thin wine glass – every time I make tarts I curse myself for not having a correct sized cutter!). Re-work the leftover pastry until you have 24 pastry rounds.

Lay the rounds in the two tart or cake tins and press down lightly. Place a small teaspoon of the red onions at the bottom of each, followed by a slice of the goats cheese, a scattering of thyme leaves. Finally place three fig segments on the top of each, plus a fine grinding of black pepper and the merest drizzle of olive oil.

Place in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the pastry’s golden brown and crisp.

How about trying my other tart recipes? A couple of Tomato Tarts or Leek & Goats Cheese Tart.


Courgette Soup with Parsley & Parmesan

There’s certainly still plenty of courgettes and marrows to be getting through at Chez Foti and I’ve now turned to soup making to attempt a dent on the mountain. Without blowing my own trumpet, or courgette, this is the nicest courgette soup I’ve ever tasted. I’ve been making it with both courgettes and marrows or a mixture of the two, and all are equally as successful so just use whatever you have a surplus off. It’s a great recipe for gluts. And if you don’t have a glut, just go halves on the quantities and make a smaller amount.

It’s probably not entirely soup weather yet at Chez Foti, but there’s a definite Autumnal crispness in the air early mornings and evenings, which is pretty welcome after all the heat of July and August. And besides I’m trying to loose a stone by christmas (a ridiculously tall order me thinks but I’m going to give it a whirl anyways) so soups are most definitely on the menu for me these days. Barely a day’s gone by since returning from our jolidays last weekend that I haven’t been busily rustling up some sort of soup or other. And the kids always love them, whatever the weather. By including a fair whack of creme fraiche (albeit I do use a half fat version) and Parmesan (or Grana Padano it’s cheaper cousin) this admittedly is a considerably more indulgent soup than my usual, but is oh so good and worth it. Though if you’re serious about dropping calories it’s still very good without any dairy additions.

I’m entering my recipe to Karen at Lavendar and Lovage’s September Herbs on Saturday blog challenge. I’m feeling rather lucky after I won the August competition with my Glut of Tomatoes Pasta Sauces recipes. My first ever bloggie win!.

Courgette Soup with Parsley & Parmesan

To make 8 servings:

3 tablespoons of olive oil

2 onions, diced

6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 kilos of courgettes or marrows, diced

a litre of chicken or veggie stock

a heaped teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper

25g of flat leaved parsley leaves and stalks, roughly chopped

2 heaped tablespoons of creme fraiche, half or full fat

75g of Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, finely grated

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stockpot on a medium heat. Throw in the onions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring at intervals. Add the garlic and cook for a moment or two more before tipping in the diced courgettes or marrows.  Cover and allow to sweat for a further 10 minutes, stirring every now and again.

Pour in the stock, bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 15 minutes until all the veggies are perfectly tender and soft. Once cooked stir in the parsley and take off the heat.

Thoroughly whiz with a stick blender or in a liquidiser or processor; I personally prefer the former as there’s less washing up. Stir in the creme fraiche and Parmesan or Grana Padano. Et voila. Final taste check and you’re done. There shouldn’t be any need to add further salt as there’s plenty in the stock. This makes a pretty thick soup (which I happen to prefer) but can be thinned down to your desired consistency with more stock, milk or water.

How about trying some of my other soupy recipes? Cream of Veggie Super Soup, Pumpkin & Bacon Soup, Butternut Squash & Chorizo Soup with Chorizo Croutons or Caldo Verde (Portuguese Greens Soup)


Back from our Holidays, and a Cheese, Courgette & Cherry Tomato Bread & Butter Pudding

Well we’re back from our jolidays in the UK, back home to a gloriously hot and sunny September here in France. It’s been a fab time away though and even the weather managed to hold out at it’s best for us. We primarily went for my Big Brother Si’s wedding to Meilee up in Peebles, Scotland (which admittedly was wet and a little on the cold side!) and a fab time was had by all. An amazing hotel (The Cringletie House) and totally stunning food.

Not the most pro or conventional of wedding photies but a fun one of all my family at my Big Bro Si’s wedding, that’s him on the left then my Mum, the bride Meilee, myself (in the flowery dress), Mr F at the back with Master Jacques, my Dad with Miss Frannie, Sis in Law Shelly, and my other brothers Ben and Julian

We also managed to catch up with lots of friends around England that we don’t get to see too often, and had a good few days of chill out time at my Mum and Dads in Herefordshire. Even Mr F came along for the trip, and he really doesn’t ‘do’ holidays or anything that involves leaving Chez Foti really. The doggies and  chickens were left in the good hands of my brother-in-law for the first week then our friend Debbie. A huge thank you to you both for housesitting and leaving us with an impeccably clean and tidy house and happy animals, and to Debbie for the lovely fishcakes and a greengage & blackberry crumble (picked from the garden) to come home to. We really should go away more often!

I hate to say it but the tomatoes are still rather prolific at Chez Foti. Several kilos each and every day. My Tomato Veg of the Month is very much continuing into September, and I’ll be doing a huge round-up at the end of the month…..so there’s still time to forward me your favourite tomatoey recipes to try out. And as for the courgettes/marrows, I thought they were on their way out before we left but clearly not:

Some of my post-holiday Veggie Haul!

Not only has Mr F been warned of our impending vegetarian status for the next few weeks, but I feel it’s only fair the kids do their bit too. My Cheese, Courgette & Cherry Tomato Bread & Butter Pudding happens to be one of their favourite veggie dinners, and one that they can be expecting to be eat on a pretty regular basis over the next few weeks!. The savory bread and butter pudding is actually an idea I’ve adapted from Annabel Karmel, and seems to be pretty pleasing to most littlies as well as grown up folk. Perfect for a quick to assemble mid-week family supper, or for just the kids.

Cheese, Courgette & Cherry Tomato Bread & Butter Pudding

Toddlers & Y oung Children, Bigger Kids, Family Dinners, Grown Ups

Enough for a family of four:

a tablespoon of butter

3 thick large slices of white or wholemeal bread

½ a small red onion

a small courgette

15 cherry tomatoes

90g of mature cheddar cheese, grated

3 eggs, free range

260ml of milk

a heaped teaspoon of dijon mustard

a pinch of black pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 180°C.

Start with buttering a small ovenproof dish. Then butter the slices of bread. Cut each of the slices into six to nine pieces.

Prepare the veggies. Finely slice the onion. Cut the courgette into four quarters lengthways, then finely slice. Quarter the cherry tomatoes.

Line the bottom of the buttered dish with half the bread pieces. Follow with a scattering of half the onion, half the courgette slices, half the tomatoes and half the grated cheese. Then repeat with the remainder of the ingredients but not the cheese.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard and pepper. Pour evenly over the pudding. Top with the remaining cheese.

Place in the pre-heated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until puffed up and golden on the top.


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