27 February 2017

Chestnut & aubergine stew - big, punchy flavours.

I seem to be having a bit of a Mediterranean leaning at the moment where cooking is concerned.  So much so that everything seems to have at least one red pepper in it and my olive oil stocks are depleting rapidly.

It has even crept into my Sunday dinner plans.  You see, we're currently shopping at Lidl as our primary supermarket - they've just opened a nice big store quite close by where you can get most things and what you can't get, you can either stop at Sainsbury's (if you go home one way) or Tesco (if you go home the other!) for.  Now Lidl has a regular weekly special offer on four items of fruit/vegetable and four items of meat/fish, which I keep in mind when it comes to creating the menu plan.  Hence, the pork being part of the special offer dealio was why I was focused on roast pork loin for our Sunday dinner this week.  I'm going to have to buy another piece and do a blog post on successful roasting of pork loin with rosemary and sumac, because it was by far and away the nicest piece of pork we've had in a long time.

Anyway, I digress.  I didn't want to do a standard roast pork with all the trimmings, as that is so much up and downing to the oven that I'm exhausted by the end of it.  No, this week I thought I'd couple it with delicious sweet potato and nutmeg (with outrageous amounts of butter) mash and some kind of vegetable stew.

Now I know that the name "vegetable stew" is an instant turn-off for a lot of people and understand why.  However, the stew I wanted to create wouldn't be that dull and boring.  Oh no. It was to have deliciousness like red onion, saffron, chestnuts and aubergine in there, along with the carrots and mushrooms and all in a delicious richly sweet tomato sauce.  Oh alright, it also had a red pepper.  I admit, I couldn't resist.

Now you may raise your eyebrows at the idea of humble chestnuts along with such exotic ingredients as saffron and aubergine, but the phrase "they were brought in by the Romans, don'cha know?" (the chestnuts, that is) was all the encouragement I required to place them in what turned out to be a very appropriate recipe.

You will need a fair old amount of time to create this stew because, well, it's a stew.  It needs time to hubble, to bubble, to toil and well hopefully not create trouble, but to cook all those ingredients to a stage where they're all very good friends.  It needs to stew.  It's no good throwing all the ingredients into a pot and hoping for the best, although you would get something more closely resembling a weak soup.

However, your reward for that time spent stirring (plus lifting the lid hopefully and having a wee soupcon as a taste - which is essential, of course) is such an unusual and delicious accompaniment to just about every meat and fish that's on the planet (bearing in mind I've not tried them all, but of those I have tried ...).  It would even be brilliant with eggs.  Perhaps a little odd as an accompaniment for a pineapple cheesecake, so let's just stay with the savouries, I think.

Anyway, as you will see from the photographs, I paired mine with the roast loin of pork (which I roasted for 35mins per pound, plus 35 mins, at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 covered for the first hour then uncovered for the rest, if that helps) and the sweet potato mash.  The combination made for an excellent Sunday dinner that made a lovely change from the standard roasties etc.

A closer look at that roast pork because, well, it deserves it.
So, whether you're choosing to eat it with roast pork, sausages, or salmon, I just hope that you like it as much as we did!


Ingredients :

1 tbsp plus 2 tbsp olive oil (used separately)
1 small aubergine, diced
1 red onion, finely diced
2 big garlic cloves, sliced finely
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium red pepper, cored and sliced
a pinch of sea salt
half a tsp ground black pepper
2 large tomatoes, tough cores removed and diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 pinch of saffron strands
a quarter of one preserved lemon, sliced into fine shreds
300ml hot water
1 heaped tsp of chicken stock powder (or 1 stock cube)
90g halved chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet brand)
5 large white mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp runny honey (if required)
2 tbsp fresh Basil leaves, torn
1 tbsp fresh Parsley leaves, chopped, for garnish.

Method :

Heat the one tablespoonful of olive oil in a large, deep frying pan or wok until very hot.  Gently add the diced aubergine and fry until quite deeply coloured on at least three sides.  Remove the aubergine from the pan and set aside.

Heat the two tablespoonfuls of olive oil to a moderate heat and add the red onion, garlic, carrots and red pepper with the sea salt & black pepper.  Cook until the onion is softened, then add the diced tomatoes, tomato puree and saffron.  Stir occasionally until the tomatoes are beginning to break down.

Add the preserved lemon shreds, hot water and stock and stir through.  Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook - stirring every so often - for around 20-30 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down completely and the carrots are al dente.

Add the aubergine, chestnuts and mushrooms and stir through.  Replace the lid and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste for seasoning and add the honey if the sauce seems acidic.

Remove the lid and allow the liquid to evaporate, until the sauce has become thick and is covering the vegetables and the carrots are cooked through - around another 10 minutes or so.

Finally, stir in the torn basil leaves and serve, sprinkling with a little fresh parsley as garnish.

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