Summer’s End Caponata Pizza

caponata pizzaI know it sounds a bit gloomy to pop ‘summer’s end’ into the title, but it does seem appropriate. September is nigh, and unless you are of a southern hemisphere persuasion, autumn is here in all but name.

I may be a bit of a weirdo but I quite like autumn. I like its colours,  textures and tastes: bumpy, rough apples with their creamy sweet-sharp flesh; prickly brambles, daring you to pluck their dark treasures; kale – proud and tall – emerald leaves fanned like peacocks. Even the air is different – better – tinged as it is with illicit bonfires and hints of vegetal decay. All seasons have their plus points: who can’t say that spring, with its shyly peeking plants and lengthening days isn’t welcome? But, at least here in the UK, early autumn is the best of all seasons – fresh food in abundance, dry warm-ish days and nights finally cool enough to sleep through. Unless you wake up with loads of crazy ideas that is. Continue reading

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Baked Marinara-stuffed Arancini (Risotto Balls) – low-fat, lemony and delicious

There are some people who don’t like leftovers. That may even be you. It is sometimes me: as I am not a teen-aged boy I  don’t understand the appeal of leftover pizza. But leftovers make sense. Make enough at one meal to do for another: whether chilled and eaten the next day, or wrapped, labelled and tucked in the freezer, never to be seen again to be eaten later.

I do fight my irrational inner distaste of leftovers, tucking into leftover stew or curry (which admittedly always taste better the next day) and forking through salads made from leftover grains with added bits and bobs. All very worthy, time-sparing and cost-conscious. But, hmm, how do I put it? A bit dull? Yes, a bit dull, at least sometimes. I think I might not be alone in this. That’s where this recipe comes in. But first a confession of sorts. Continue reading

Summer’s All Wrapped Up – Goats’ Cheese Crust Tomato Tart

You’ll be relieved to know that today’s post is a quickie, both in the writing and the recipe. Tomorrow Miss R, Mr A, my lovely in-laws and I are headed to Barcelona for a week. And I have done nothing in preparation. I don’t even know where my summer clothes are (I am still wearing long sleeves and socks). So, this will be super speedy so I can get on with ferreting around in cupboards for shorts, and dust off ancient, rarely used flip flops. And throw away expired, half-empty bottles of sunscreen.

But before I head upstairs I will polish off the last bit of this goats cheese crust and tomato tart, a la Nigella. Yes, I’m going to stand in front of the open fridge, but no, I will not be doing it in a dressing gown or licking my fingers lasciviously. Who does that?? Continue reading

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagne – Low-fat and Luscious

Hello from under the duvet! I know what you are thinking, lazy git/lucky cow. I would too. But before you get all judgmental/jealous I should clarify: this duvet day is not out of choice. Nope. Not surrounded by Heat magazines (which is the creme de la creme of trashy magazines in my humble opinion) and straight-to-DVD, DVDs. No sign of smoked salmon bagels either. You see, after the amazing high of being featured on last week’s homepage (still can’t quite believe it – click ‘earlier’), I have swiftly received my comeuppance. Temperature, sneezing, wheezing, aches in places that shouldn’t ache. Not forgetting the tap dancing in my head. If I were a man I would dub it the flu, but I’m not so it’s just a rubbish chesty thing. My once a year cold, perfectly timed to put me in my place.

What has kept me feeling perkier than I might be otherwise is reading the kind and encouraging comments to the blog. Mostly on the Tamarind and Shiitake Tofu post, but also many of the others. I can’t believe so many of you are raring to give tofu – and me – a go. Like I said a few times in the commenting, I am so grateful for every click through to food to glow. Astounded in fact that of all the zillions of food blogs out there that you found and read (possibly skimmed, I don’t know) my not very razzmatazz effort. So, so humbled. Thank you. Now before I get all sentimental and sappy, and you get bored, onto the recipe bit…

Continue reading

Courgette, Pea and Pesto Soup

After promising from the little box on the right-hand side that I would post this recipe, at last it is here. Just in the nick of time, before the British seasonal courgettes are finished. I know you haven’t been waiting with bated breath, but I can’t believe I have waited so long to post this fabby soup.

I love soup (as any right-minded person would) and this one is one of my most favourite, and easiest to make. Because it is so quick and simple it often features at my summer Maggie’s Centre nutrition workshops, where everyone seems to really enjoy it and want to make it at home. Energy and tastebuds certainly take a hit during cancer treatment so it’s great to have a bung it all together kind of recipe that tastes great, is nutritious and freezes well for another day. I am always immensely pleased when anyone says that they enjoyed their lunch at Maggie’s, but especially so by those whose appetite and taste are affected by treatment. I will be putting more of my easy, Maggie’s Centre-tried and tested recipes up for you and your family to try. In the meantime I really hope you go for this one. If you like Italian tastes but want something ultra-light, creamy-tasting but still filling, this might just do. Continue reading

Mediterranean Sauteed Artichoke Pasta with Poor Mans’ Parmesan

What a great weekend! Despite the vagaries of a Scottish ‘summer’ – which is basically autumn with added midges and tennis –  my family and I had an idyllic Saturday and Sunday.  A perfect mix of socialising and doing bother all. Humour me for a few minutes while I elucidate.

Every year we host a big barbecue, with work colleagues, family of colleagues and Mr A’s fellow Maggies Monster Bike and Hikers in attendance. I buy decent sausages and fish, and make homemade burgers, salads and maybe a fruity pavlova or two. But it’s really about the mildly alcohol-enhanced chat (Scottish stereotype intact), daft games involving malted milk balls and water guns, and treating our tolerant neighbours to my daughter’s frankly awesome taste in tunes.

The past few times Mr A and his partner in all things childish, Issy, have taken to scouring the charity shops for the most dire, embarrassing and ill-fitting hats and garments to inflict on our game partygoers: every balding man has to have an Abba wig and at least someone has to sport superhero underpants over their trousers (hello Gordon!).  But every year there is the fret about what the weather might unleash. So, every year a marquee gets erected in the garden to act as a weather charm, warding off looming thunderheads that tend to gather like snarling dogs. Do you do that too? Not set up marquees but, say, drag an umbrella around so that you won’t need it: it always rains if I don’t have one rather than when I do. I practise a lot of rain god appeasing here in Edinburgh.

But, despite an almighty downpour of rainforest proportion at T minus 2 hours, we ended up dancing, singing, gossiping, marshmallow toasting and chowing without the downer of raincoats and wellies. All under under our nearly-midnight sun. Bliss. And to top it all off from two very thoughtful friends came the gift of little coats for our rescue hens. So even our girls could join in the dress up ‘fun’. We tried one on our most amiable (ie, daft) girl and it fitted perfectly. She wasn’t too sure about it, but I bet she will be clucking for it before too long. Continue reading

Kitchen-sink Spring Minestrone and Spring Green Pesto Focaccia

As I am writing this I am also keeping an amused eye on the antics at my bird feeders. The gnarly, old apple tree on which the feeders hang is suddenly alive with over a dozen balls of downy cerulean fluff, cheeping and and chasing as if battery powered. The extra life in the tree is due to a second set of blue tits having just today fledged and joined their older, bolder siblings. I would love to show you a picture of these hyperactive blue bullets but they are too darn fast, flitting from limb to limb with the ease of practised trapeze artists.

Because we have two cats it is with a certain amount of guilt that we hang and maintain bird feeders. One cat is too rotund to prove much of a risk to the visiting bird population, and is taunted by raucous crows who occasionally swoop low and  rocket off, cawing loudly. The other cat, a slinky tabby, is another story altogether. Let’s just say that at this time of year it is not a complete surprise to be given a ‘present’. He watches and waits with infinite patience for any clumsy, or distracted, chick upon which to pounce. A large recently fallen oak tree branch is proving a perfect eyrie to espy little ground-based birds as they scavenge for anything knocked from the overhanging feeders. Our cats are well-fed and of relatively advanced years (somewhat like myself) so are not as active in this respect as once they were, but it is still a source of guilt at this time of year. But right now, with the deft acrobatics I am witnessing before me, it’s all good. And both cats are doing as cats do and sleeping. On the master bed of course.

What in the world does this have to do with minestrone? Well, not much (my ramblings rarely dovetail with the accompanying recipe) except they are both delights of late spring. Root-based soups are sustaining and warming in winter, but a fresh-tasting, pesto-infused minestrone makes a wonderful light lunch as spring eases into summer. And even better if accompanied by a pillowy hunk of green stratified focaccia. Continue reading

Aubergine Parmigiana – Lower Fat

I’m afraid this is a bit of a cheat. Our three-day week – thanks to lovely Kate (err, Katherine) and William – has got me feeling a bit lazy, so this will be a quick post. Not only is it a quickie, it’s borrowing from my last post – Wild Garlic Pesto Risotto. In that post I made a wild garlic pesto that I used in a simple spinach risotto. Think of this recipe as the sequel. A good one. Not like Superman 4, or Rocky V. God forbid. Continue reading

Tuna and Creme Fraiche Pizza

I had a phone call from my lovely Dad the other day. Amongst other things, we had a nice chat about how for once my weather is better than his (thunderstorms/tornadoes on the Florida Gulf coast and unseasonably sunny weather in Edinburgh). But he couldn’t help being blunt about something that needed bringing to my attention. It is something that some of you may have noticed but been too shy to point out. That is, that I’ve featured beetroot in at least four posts.  “What’s with all the beetroot?” were Dad’s exact words. I apologise. I’m still in the shallow end of this blogging thing so I have a lot to learn, balance being one of them. Sorting out page breaks is another. I will from henceforth relinquish my self-appointed post as beetroot PR supremo. I’m not saying I won’t feature it. Oh no, I use the vegetable too much to retire it. But 4 posts out of 15 is a little excessive.
Even if you like beetroot as much as I do you might be relieved that today’s recipe doesn’t feature it, not even in a tiny supporting, non-speaking role. Instead I give you a zingy, light pizza with the usp (unusual selling point) of not having tomato sauce or cheese. Technically I’m not sure it qualifies as pizza, and I would be happy to be corrected if it’s not. Wikipedia, Britannica and various know-it-all websites define pizza by its inclusion of tomato sauce and cheese. Perhaps my recipe has more in common with the cheeseless pissaladiere of southern France, or maybe the nearly-nude olive oil and rosemary pizza bianca. I’m not quite sure what this is. For now, it is pizza.

I concocted this simple, but flavour-packed ‘pizza’ because (I’m whispering), I don’t really like pizza. There. I said it. It’s not that I never eat the stuff, because if someone orders a big pizza I will certainly help myself to a slice: I’m not crazy, or weird. But neither am I fond of the typical thick-crusted behemoths with the chewy bubblegum-esque cheese and wheelbarrow of toppings.  I love a thinnish, bubbly olive oil-enriched crust with just a scatter of things like marinated artichoke hearts or semi-dried tomatoes, but this is largely fantasy, unless you go a bit up-market and a bit knife and fork. The posh pizzas at California Pizza Kitchen or Pizza Express are quite nice but most are unfortunately loaded, and I mean loaded, with sodium and saturated fat. A nice, occasional treat, but not an anyday choice if you value your heart and kidneys – or waistline. I much prefer this eat-in option. And I hope you give it a try, even if you quite like pizza with the works.

The make or break point for any pizza is the dough. For years I persisted with making a heavy-ish wholemeal dough, thinking that the only way to redeem  pizza nutritionally was to go all out with the fibre. It tasted nice, but what I really wanted was a thin crusted, delicate pizza, with a bit of crunch, but also a soft interior. I also like the random bubbles you get with these kind of pizzas – somehow the bubbles make it taste even more delectable. But I was darned if I could achieve this with wholemeal. So, I ditched the wholemeal, holier-than-thou dough for perfectly respectable white spelt flour dough.

Other than flour type, what separates a passable pizza from a lustable pizza is the rise. A great pizza is worth waiting for. But not too long. Especially if you have a family. For this pizza I have played around with various types of dough until I reached a balance of lightness, through the dough proving (fancy word for rising), and speed, through not having to wait ages on the proving. Peter Reinhart, the much-lauded bread guru, has an unbeatable ‘delayed fermentation‘ (or you could also call it ‘delayed gratification’) dough that I have tried, but as I don’t always think that far ahead, I’ve relaxed a bit and settled on a perfectly acceptable – to my mind – one and a bit hour rising time, and quite a bit less bother. If even my version sounds taxing, by all means use bought dough, but honestly I do think you will find this an easy and delicious option, especially with the inclusion of lemon thyme and lemon zest. You can also use this dough to make wonderfully light crackers: just roll out thinly, slice, bake until golden and puffy, and top with olive oil, extra herbs and salt. Yummo.

As for the scant toppings, what can I say – unusual. To my mind perfectly decent pizzas can be ruined by putting everything you like on something that you want to rise. The physics don’t add up. I think pizzas are best with just a few well-chosen toppings, but making a number of different pizzas to get the variety we all crave. This pizza dough makes enough for 4 generously-sized individual pizzas. Make them all different and have a slice of each. Best of all worlds.

If you really like your carbs maybe lay on a some thin slices of leftover new potatoes that have been lightly lightly pan-fried in garlic oil. Now if that doesn’t tempt you to put away the pizza menu, I don’t know what will…

Nutrition Notes: I am not going to tout this as a health food just because it isn’t covered in cheese and pepperoni, but it is certainly on the healthy side for a comfort food. You could add more fibre to the dough by using half wholemeal and half refined, but I’d just as soon add fibre by eating a few slices with a substantial mixed salad. Be fairly generous with the olive oil to keep everything lovely and moist, and don’t skimp on the peppery Vitamin C-rich rocket leaves – they balance the oily tuna and the salty capers. Btw, rocket is also packed with beta-carotene, fibre and an amazing anti-cancer chemical called sulphoraphane. If you can eat a good handful of rocket everyday – or other sulphoraphane-containing veg such as broccoli, kale or cauliflower, you will be doing your body a big favour.  Here’s just a short list of how this potent phytochemical helps prevent and fight cancer:
• Reduces DNA mutation, which is a precursor of cancer
• Slows down the increase of abnormal cells
• Increases apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells
• Helps prevent benign tumors becoming malignant
• Prevents metastasis- the spread of cancer
• Reduces the growth of blood vessels which supply tumors with glucose and oxygen (angiogenesis)
• Boosts the immune system
Basically sulphorophane is a one-compound warrior, attacking cancerous changes at many levels. It also helps keep our arteries ‘fur-free’, staves off age-related retinal damage, is anti-diabetic and reduces the level of a harmful gut bacteria called H. pylori. And it comes in delicious packages too.
Tuna and Creme Fraiche Pizza
This pizza turns out stupendously well baked on a pizza stone. These are basically flat stones or pieces of ceramic that more evenly distribute heat than metal or glass, and will give your finished pizza a professional result. You can get them at any cook shop, on the Internet, or go to the the hardware store and buy a flat, unglazed quarry tile for about 50 pence. Buy a few for baking a couple of pizzas at a time (I have a fancy pizza stone and a DIY tile, and they work equally well). The only caveat for using a stone as opposed to a baking sheet (which will warp at the super high temps needed for great pizza) is that it needs to go in a cold oven and heat up over 45 minutes, and then it needs to cool down in the oven while you are enjoying your lip-smacking pizza. Not really tricky but necessary to prevent the stone cracking.
The dough
500g/18 oz refined spelt flour OR strong/bread white flour
2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp fast-action yeast (or use fresh and dissolve in warm water first)
250ml/9 fl oz warm water
25 ml/1 fl oz olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 tbsp honey (optional)
zest of one unwaxed lemon
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme leaves (or ‘normal’ thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme)
Maizemeal (cornmeal) or fine polenta or semolina for dusting (gives a restaurant-style crust which is lovely and crunchy)
The Toppings
Tub of creme fraiche – I use half-fat, but push the boat and use full-fat if you like
Fresh lemon juice and lemon zest from one lemon
Best quality jarred tuna in olive oil (enough for four pizzas)
Marinated artichoke hearts, halved
Caperberries (the big ones with stems) or capers
Fresh lemon thyme leaves
Fresh black pepper
Anchovy fillets in olive oil OR anchovy-stuffed olives, sliced
Chilli flakes, optional
Fresh rocket/arugula for scattering
To make the dough mix the flour, salt, yeast, lemon zest and thyme leaves together in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle, and add the warm water, oil and honey. With one hand in a claw shape mix the ingredients to form a rough dough – much better than a spoon. Turn the dough out onto a flour-dusted surface and start kneading away for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. It may seem really sticky at first but it will smooth out. I usually cheat and use a dough hook fitted to my precious Kitchen Aid mixer (a favourite present), but I rough mix it by hand in its metal bowl first. Give it a five minute kneading if using a mixer. When you have a silky smooth dough, which should spring back a bit if prodded, pop it into a large oiled bowl, cover and let double in size, probably at least an hour. Here in cool Scotland I usually stick it in the airing cupboard otherwise I might have to wait a couple of hours.
When risen, gently knock the air out of the dough with your finger tips before tearing off four equal pieces. Use a rolling pin or your hands to roll or stretch one piece into a thin shape (round, oblong, teardrop – whatever you like), not more than 5 mm thick, thinner if you can.
Partway through the rising time put your pizza stone in a cold oven and then turn it up to 250C/480F. If you don’t have a stone heat up the oven to this temperature just before you want to bake. 
When it’s time to bake your pizzas organise your toppings: mix lemon juice and zest into the creme fraiche, to taste; tear up the tuna into generous chunks; snip the anchovy fillets into slivers if you like. Take out your exceedingly hot pizza stone, scatter it with maizemeal and carefully lay on one pizza base. Working quickly, slather on some creme fraiche and add a quarter of all of the toppings, except the rocket. Bake for 5-10 minutes, depending on how ‘fast’ your oven is. I like the base to be crisp and the edges golden brown. Remove and immediately drizzle the edges with more olive oil (or garlic oil if you have some) and scatter over a generous amount of rocket. Now get on with the remaining pizzas. If you are using a baking sheet, preheat it for a few minutes before continuing as above. Buona fortuna!