Tag Archives: Food and drink

Fusion stew

With winter closing in it’s time to start thinking about robust food, especially as I’m a bit of a trencherman at heart. Two of my all time favourites are cassoulet and fabada asturiana. But they both require considerable prep and cooking time. While browsing baked bean recipes recently I started to wonder how easy it might be to do a simple alternative.
Starting with meat, beans and some staples what could you do in 60 minutes? This was a very ad-hoc attempt, which appealed to the part of me that likes cooking by eye, taste and instinct rather than strictly following a recipe.
So regard this as a “structure” rather than something that should be slavishly followed. Adapt as you see fit.
Dice a couple of red onions and carrots. Chop two cloves of garlic. Put in a decent sized saucepan over a low heat with enough olive oil until the onions start to soften.
Add passata (a 500g carton of supermarket own brand), two small red chillis roughly chopped and partly de-seeded (I didn’t put all of the seeds in, but I didn’t pick them all out either), a decent teaspoon of pimenton dulce (or maybe a bit less of paprika if you don’t have pimenton dulce as a staple), a heaped tablespoon of muscovado sugar (or any other brown sugar you have to hand), and drained tinned beans (I used a 400g can of rosecoco and a 175g can of cannellini).
Stir, cover, and raise the heat so it’s bubbling nicely.
Meanwhile, grill the meat. In my case three Toulouse sausages and a morcilla. The beauty of this “recipe” is that you can use whatever you fancy. I happened to have Toulouse sausage and morcilla to hand. Cumberland or Lincolnshire or anything reasonably tasty will work just as well.
Twenty minutes or so later. Slice the sausages into pieces and add to the main pot. Cook for another 10 minutes.
Ladle into bowls. Depending on the size of the bowls, and how hungry you are, serves two to four.
The verdict? For something made up as I went along I was remarkably pleased with it. Thinking about it a bit more:

  • I’m not sure the carrots served any useful purpose.
  • There might have been a shade too much chilli. But not if you were using the basic idea as a base for a chilli.
  • I’d probably use one type of beans next time rather than mix two varieties. And the proportion of beans to meat wasn’t quite right for me. The rosecoco beans alone would have sufficed. Or if using 600g of beans then another sausage (or two) wouldn’t have gone astray. And I’d have preferred the beans a little softer, so a brisk 10 minute boil while the onion was softening might be needed next time.
  • I wanted the beans to have a slightly sweet note so the brown sugar is essential.
  • If you don’t have pimenton dulce or paprika then some bacon might add the required smokiness.

But this is all tinkering to suit individual taste. Once you’ve got the base sauce how you like it there are endless possibilities. Meatballs rather than sausages. Mince and red kidney beans for a chilli. Which reminds me that I have a chilli recipe somewhere that includes chocolate, which could be an interesting substitute for the brown sugar.
Once I’ve got the balance how I liked, I’d be tempted to make a larger batch of the base and freeze it into portions. It was interesting (but not hugely surprising) that when I had the leftovers for lunch the next day it seemed more “rounded” as all the tastes had merged a little more, which I’ve noticed with stews in the past.

43 varieties

I first tasted Cuarenta y Tres in Seville. Drinking sangria in Spain is a sure-fire way to identify yourself as a tourist, but that’s never bothered me much. I speak a little Spanish and I’m sure my pronunciation is just as much of a giveaway.
One of the fascinating things about sangria is that, like paella, no two places ever produce the same even though everybody agrees (more or less) what the core ingredients should be. And, typically of eating and drinking out in Spain, just because the place looks, or is, cheap doesn’t necessarily mean the quality suffers.
It was an outside terrace in Triana. Just across one of the bridges. I can’t be certain, but it might have been Restaurante Rio Grande. What I can be certain about was that it was remarkably good sangria. More than just the usual red wine, fruit, sugar, and cheap brandy. The taste was much richer and complex, with one flavour that I couldn’t quite place. I thought it was fruit based, the person I was with thought vanilla. It turned out that we were both right.
So I asked the waiter what was in the sangria. The surprise was white spirit. No, not the sort you clean paint brushes with, but vodka. And the “secret” ingredient was Cuarenta y Tres. So named because it has 43 ingredients including fruit and vanilla. Unsurprisingly, I have a bottle on one of my shelves.
The last two weekends I’ve been abroad in Germany and France, photographing Christmas markets and other things that require you to be on the street, on your feet, in the cold, for long stretches. The stalls selling gluhwein or vin chaud were very welcome.
More than one of them had orange somewhere in the mix. It took a few days for the thought to surface, but something made me wonder whether Cuarenta y Tres might work in mulled wine, rather than sitting on the shelf until it’s sangria time again. It does.
And just as sangria should be individual and distinctive, so should mulled wine. What’s the point of buying those teabags of mixed spices that make your mulled wine taste like everybody else’s? Why not browse a few recipes, adapt and experiment. This worked rather well:

One bottle of red wine. I used Cotes du Rhone but I doubt that it matters much providing it’s a fairly meaty red. This is not the season for Beaujolais Nouveau.
One apple chopped into smallish bits. I’ve had some mulled wine where the apple has been cored and then sliced into rings. But life’s too short to core an apple needlessly.
Two clementines. Because I didn’t have an orange. Unpeeled and cut into quarters. You could peel and zest of course, but life’s too short and I’d doubt you’d really taste the difference.
Three or four cloves.
A couple of inches of cinnamon stick. I just took a whole one and snapped it in half.
Some freshly ground nutmeg. Optional because grating nutmeg is a pain. And if life’s too short to grate a nutmeg…
A tablespoon of sugar. Most recipes seem to call for caster sugar. Possibly because it dissolves faster? Golden granulated works just as well.
Two large star anise. This might be the “secret” ingredient that will make your mulled wine stand out from everybody else’s.
It all goes in a pan with a glass lid so you can keep an eye on proceedings. Heat it very very slowly. Do not, under any circumstances let it boil.
Fifteen minutes or so later take it off the heat. Add a large wine glass (mine was probably 150ml or more rather than the regulation 125ml) of Cuarenta y Tres. Or Cointreau.
Or similar as takes your fancy.
Plus a splash (25ml or so) of cheap brandy.
Leave to infuse for a while. I managed 30 mins while cooking dinner.
Re-heat if required.

And enjoy.