Cooking with foods that are in season and locally produced is something that we both favour. It’s hard to not support the theory when you look at the evidence. Eating foods out of season will mean that they have been raised in artificial surroundings — for example under glass — or they will have been imported from somewhere where they are in season. These two factors will each determine that whatever the food, it won’t taste as good. It will not have had the opportunity to ripen or mature in its natural surroundings and it might’ve travelled thousands of miles in cold storage. If you live in the UK this means that you’ll be eating small, hard, stringy nectarines in February, paper-like celeriac in June, woody asparagus in September, and watery peppers in December. Yes, before we have to beat off hoards of protesters, there are some foods that have to be imported, and others actually suit importation; but when you can eat a locally grown sun-ripened and picked-just-hours-ago apricot that is bursting with flavour, why suffer a pale imitation of the real thing that’s flown halfway across the world? If that alone isn’t enough to convince you, and you won’t be swayed by the environmental impact of unnecessary transportation, heating, and refrigeration, we’ll just tell you that the chances are local, seasonal food will be cheaper.
And that’s how we arrived at this recipe.
A random in the pub: What’s in season right now?
DEB and LPM in unison: Courgettes!
We're fairly convinced that most families have a variation on a tomato concoction to be served with carbohydrate as a straightforward meal that won't arouse scathingly suspicious looks from children and induce exhaustion-associated trauma for the cook. A few staples, a few seasonal vegetables, and a little variation. This is the gin soaked incarnation, for summer, at least.
The success of this recipe is, to be truthful, somewhat fortuitous. First, we had contemplated cooking it all in one pan, and then just piling the separately cooked meat onto the carnivores' plates. We decided against that as we were cooking for TenMinJoe and the Lovely Hannah; we thought guests deserved the fully-fledged version. Second, we had intended to use paneer in the vegetarian half, but there was no paneer to be had in north London, so we used aubergine instead. Between the separate cooking and the ingredient substitution, we discovered that the vegetarian half lacked a distinct element of flavour found in the meat version. And no, it wasn't the meat. Well, it wasn't the meat itself, although die-hard meat-eaters might say so. It was the smokiness provided by the sausage. That was something we could remedy. On this occasion, we cheated a bit, but the solution comes from the aubergine.
You'll need two pans and about thirty minutes. Are you ready?
Ingrediments for two meat-eaters and two vegetarians
- The tomato base (this is for both versions, so add half to each pan: two onions for the vegetarians, two for the meat-eaters, a clove of garlic in each &c)
- 4 medium-sized onions, sliced in half moons
- 2 fat cloves of garlic (ours was smoked), crushed or minced
- 2 yellow bell peppers, in 2 cm (somewhere just under 1 inch) chunks
- 2x 400g (14oz) cans of chopped tomatoes
- 4 courgettes, about 100g or 3oz each, quartered length-ways and then in 3 cm (1½ inch) lengths
- 2 glasses of red wine — a full-bodied Spanish red would be ideal, but DEB has something of an obsession with South American wines right now, so we used an Argentinian Malbec
- 1 lemon, zested
- 1 tspn hot paprika
- 1 handful of fresh lemon thyme if you have it, thyme if you don't, chopped (that's about 1 tbsp)
- 2x 400g (14oz) cans chickpeas
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- For the meat-eaters
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes
- 200g (6oz) kabana or chorizo, in 1 cm (½ inch) chunks
Begin with the aubergine. Prick its skin and place under a hot grill, turning every four or five minutes until the skin is blackened. The aim here is not to cook the flesh through, but to give it a smokey flavour. Allow it to cool, peel it, and then cut the flesh into 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in each pan. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper, and the kabana or chorizo to the carnivores' pan, and fry off for four or five minutes until the onion is glassy and the bell pepper beginning to soften.
Tip in the courgettes and move around the hot pan for a minute before adding the tomatoes, the wine, the lemon zest, the paprika, the lemon thyme, and the salt and pepper. Stir, and check the flavour balance. Lower the heat to something around medium, so that the tomatoes don't catch and that the sauce can reduce.
If you haven't already helped yourself to a glass of wine, we suggest that you do so about now.
Place the chicken in the carnivores' pan; add the aubergine and tomato puree to the vegetarians' pan. Leave to cook, which should take about 20 minutes. To ensure that the chicken is cooked, cut into a piece and check that there is no pink meat.
About five minutes before things have finished, add the drained, rinsed chickpeas and heat them through. The sauce should be thick and rich and permeated by a smokiness from either the sausage or the aubergine. Serve with rice or boiled potatoes, and a dollop of crème fraîche, if your dietary habits permit.
And that, is about that.
Music to cook to: Giant, Herman Dune