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Pickling, salting, fermenting and curing are just a few of the many ways humankind has learned to extend a food’s shelf life. I’m not one for goodbyes at the best of times, so happily this means I never really have to part with my favourite fruit and vegetables; instead, I get to enjoy them in a different guise. Whereas fresh produce needs very little doing to it, the art of preserving lends itself to bigger, louder, funkier flavours. The ingredients get to know each other in whatever controlled environment we’ve put them and, somehow, they transform into wonderfully intense spoonfuls of deliciousness. And that, I’d say, is a definite win.
Peppered chicken and pickled watermelon salad (pictured top)
This dish delivers on multiple fronts: salt and spice from the peppered chicken and sweet and sharp from the pickled watermelon. Store any excess pickle in a sterilised jar in the fridge for up to two weeks, and use to spoon on salads or grilled meat.
Prep 25 min
Pickle 12 hr
Cook 15 min
Serves 2 as a light meal
For the watermelon
1.3kg watermelon, rind removed, flesh cut into 2cm cubes (850g)
1 jalapeño chilli (10g), cut into 3mm-thick rounds (if you prefer less heat, remove and discard the pith and seeds)
170g caster sugar
125ml red-wine vinegar
2 camomile tea bags
2 tbsp mint leaves
Fine sea salt and black pepper
For the chicken
2 tsp mixed peppercorns – green, white, red and black, ideally, coarsely crushed in a mortar
⅛ tsp Sichuan peppercorns, coarsely crushed in a mortar (optional)
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 boneless and skinless chicken thighs
1 banana shallot, peeled and cut into thin rounds (40g)
1 lime, halved
Put the diced watermelon, jalapeño and sugar in a large, sterilised jar, give it a gentle shake to coat, then leave to macerate for 20 minutes. Add the vinegar, tea bags, mint, a teaspoon of salt and 175ml water and cover with a piece of greaseproof paper. Seal the jar and refrigerate overnight.
Now for the chicken. Combine all the ground peppercorns in a medium bowl, and set aside a quarter-teaspoon of the mix. Add the flour and a half-teaspoon of salt to the remaining ground peppercorns.
Put the oil in a medium frying pan on a high heat. Sandwich each chicken thigh between two sheets of greaseproof paper and use a rolling pin to bash it out to ½cm thick. Coat the chicken in the pepper-flour mixture, then lay them one by one in the hot pan and fry for three minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken to a board, sprinkle an eighth of a teaspoon of salt over them all, and leave to rest.
Return the frying pan to a medium-high heat and add 200ml of the watermelon pickling liquid; drain 175g of the pickle solids and set aside. Cook down the pickling liquid for five minutes, until it turns orange and syrupy and has reduced by four-fifths, then take off the heat.
Meanwhile, mix the shallot, watercress and the drained watermelon pickle, then transfer to a large plate with a lip. Cut each chicken thigh at an angle into four slices and arrange on top. Spoon over the reduced syrup, sprinkle on the reserved quarter-teaspoon of ground peppercorns and serve with the lime halves for squeezing over.
Confit fenugreek aubergines
Confit is a great way to store baby aubergines so they can be enjoyed into autumn and winter. I like them with some soft cheese or yoghurt. The flavoursome spiced oil, incidentally, makes a great finishing touch for all sorts of roast vegetables and salads.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 40 min
750g baby aubergines – I used the round variety, but the long, skinny kind will also work
400ml olive oil, plus 2 tsp extra
Fine sea salt
11 garlic cloves, skin on
3 red chillies, cut in half lengthways
1½ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp ground kashmiri chilli, or paprika
5 sprigs fresh oregano
5 sprigs fresh thyme
¼ tsp caster sugar
Cut a cross in the base of each aubergine, going down all the way through to the stem but not cutting right through (you want it still attached). Rub the aubergines all over with the two extra teaspoons of oil, then sprinkle over three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt, making sure some gets inside the cuts.
Set a griddle pan on a high heat and, once it’s hot, grill the aubergines in two batches for two to three minutes, turning often, until the skins are nicely charred all over. You don’t want the skin to be burnt or to cook the flesh too much; the aubergines should be slightly softened but still raw. Transfer the charred aubergines to a deep, 15cm x 20cm baking dish.
Heat the oven to 160C (140C fan)/315F/gas 2½. Pour the remaining 400ml oil into the aubergine dish, add the garlic, chillies, fenugreek seeds, kashmiri chilli, oregano, thyme, sugar and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, cover tightly with foil and bake for 90 minutes, gently turning the aubergines with tongs every half-hour. By the end, they should be soft but still retain their shape.
Remove from the oven, uncover and leave to cool completely. Once cool, gently spoon the aubergines, aromatics and oil into a sterilised glass jar and seal with an airtight lid.
Serve warm or at room temperature as part of a meze platter. Once jarred, they will keep in the fridge for up to a month.
Dutch baby with fig preserve and soured cream
When figs are at their best, it’s very hard not to eat them all immediately. Preserving them, however, will extend the joy they bring, especially when spooned on to a massive, yorkshire pudding-like pancake, AKA a dutch baby. Any leftover preserve will keep in the fridge for up to a month.
Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
Cool 2 hr
For the preserve
10 fresh black figs (430g), stems removed and cut in half lengthways
175g caster sugar
2 fresh bay leaves
1 lemon – zest pared off in 6 fine strips, then juiced, to get 2½ tbsp
For the batter
20g unsalted butter, melted, plus 15g extra butter at room temperature
120ml whole milk, at room temperature
100g plain flour
20g coarse polenta
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ tbsp caster sugar
¼ tsp salt, plus 1 pinch extra for the cream
For the cream
100ml double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
3 tbsp soured cream
15g shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
First make the preserve. Put the first four ingredients in a medium saucepan, add 150ml water and the lemon zest, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, taking care not to crush the fruit. Once the liquid has reduced to a loose syrup, take off the heat, stir in the lemon juice, then spoon into a sterilised jar and leave to cool. Once cool, seal and refrigerate.
Put all the batter ingredients bar the extra 15g room temperature butter in a blender, blitz for 30 seconds, until smooth, then leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the double cream, a tablespoon of icing sugar and a pinch of salt in a stand mixer and whisk to soft peaks on high speed for 60 seconds. Stir in the soured cream and refrigerate.
Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9 and put in a 22cm, high-sided, ovenproof frying pan to heat up for about 10 minutes. Carefully take out the hot pan, drop in the extra 15g butter and swirl it around so it melts and covers the base. Working quickly, pour in the batter, then return the pan to the oven and bake for 18 minutes, until puffed up and golden.
Remove, then spoon 175g fig preserve into the well in the centre. Spoon the cream mix alongside, dust with the final tablespoon of icing sugar, sprinkle over the nuts and serve while it’s still hot.