Thursday, 19 January 2012

Pep up the midweek food

Can you eat well but cheaply? It’s a question that has been exercising more than a few minds in the last few years, as the county slumps from recession to recession and families find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

And indeed, what does "well" mean within that construction? Does it simply mean healthily? Does it simply mean 'enough to keep you going'? Or can it mean something more?

More than one person has observed that the last time we were a really healthy nation was during rationing – so perhaps there’s hope now? And more than one person has decided that suggesting frugal food solutions can be a money spinner.

Yeah. Well, that might be more than a tad boring, looking back at some of what people ate during WWII and in the immediate years after.

But there’s a point here – and it’s not totally unrelated to what I posted about earlier this week.

Perhaps cash concerns can be beneficial to health – and pleasure?

With the general idea I discussed there in mind, I try to have at least two meat-free days a week.

Actually, I should be a bit more specific here. It’s very rare for my lunch to include meat. Occasionally, my breakfast might include meat. So it’s primarily a question of dinner being meatless a couple of times a week. Of fishless, for that matter.

Tuesday was just such a night.

I have decided that, even though this is not one of The Other Half’s favourite dishes, he can put up with it occasionally. It’s not far distant from an arrabiata – and he certainly enjoys a pomodoro – so he has little excuse.

This recipe, although essentially traditional, originally came from a little book of 32 pasta recipes from Lidl, which cost me peanuts – a book that continues to be a delightful source of dishes.

So this is my ever-so-slightly tweaked version.

Take some big tomatoes – you want really fleshy ones: big Italian plum tomatoes are the best, but they’re not easy to get, so the sort of beefy ones that my local Turkish shops sell are the business.

I used five tomatoes for two people. Halve them and scoop out the seeds, then leave them to drain on some kitchen paper.

Take a couple of romano peppers – they’re the long ones and so much sweeter than the standard bell peppers. Halve and remove the seeds. Do the same with a couple of red chillies.

Heat your grill and put the shelf around 10cm below.

If the fruits have been in the fridge and the skins are damp with condensation, wipe them dry carefully. Better yet, make sure they've been out of the fridge for a good 20 minutes before you start preparation.

Pop everything on a foil-lined baking tray, skin side up. And under the grill it goes.

It’ll take a minimum of 10 minutes for the skins to scorch and blacken. Once you’ve reached that point (see the picture above) bring them out and let them cool until you can handle them comfortably. Then you can peel the skins off.

In the meantime, pop a saucer under the grill with a layer of ground almonds on it. You’ll need to watch this because it can get burnt very quickly, and you just want it when it’s started turning golden.

Right. Now you can put everything in a pan and give it a very gently blitz with a hand-held blender – or give it just a tiny process in a processor.

Otherwise, just chop the fruits roughly and mix with the toasted nuts.

That’s it, in essence. If it’s a bit stiff, you can loosen it with olive oil, but otherwise, simply heat gently and serve with the pasta of your choice.

Easy, tasty, healthy and inexpensive. Given word associations, it seems churlish to describe it as ‘frugal food’, but it’s certainly not a bank breaker!

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