Here I am still in Italian mode. If it’s been a theme of the past week, it’s certainly a theme in my life – learning Italian, Italian friends, cooking Italian food more than any other, travelling to Italy at least once or twice a year … and being called Nonna (Italian for grandmother) by my little grandsons. Thus I’m getting a little bit excited about Jamie Oliver’s new TV series beginning on Channel 4 tomorrow (12 Aug) – Jamie Cooks Italy. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Jamie. I don’t much like his (now failing) Italian restaurants, I didn’t like his cookery schools Recipease (now closed), and while I admire his political action to bring good food to our kids, he is getting just a little bit too serious and earnest; I want to tell him to lighten up. You can do good and have fun too. But then there are the good points: the way he’s made cooking OK for men – well, not just OK, but, Go into the kitchen and get cooking, mate! I like his brilliant and usually authentic recipes. And, of course, he loves Italy too … ‘I absolutely love Italy, I just can’t get enough of it’, his new books opens. Jamie ‘does Italy’ better than most other TV chefs I can think of (although, we mustn’t forget the fabulous Giorgio Locatelli).
The book to accompany the new series was selling at half price in shops this week. I knew I’d want to buy it sometime so I bought it while the going was good price wise. And it’s full of wonderful recipes – I seriously think I want to cook every single one.
I began however with a vegetable dish. This was serendipitous. I wandered down to the local Twickenham Farmers’ Market yesterday morning. It’s a brilliant market but I don’t go often, merely because living alone I don’t stock up on lots of food; I do a lot of day-by-day shopping according to my plans and fancy. But yesterday I did go to the market and when I spied bunches of different coloured heritage carrots, I instantly remembered the recipe for Carrot Caponata I’d seen in Jamie’s new book. (I bought green beans and radishes too!)
Sicilian caponata is one of my very favourite dishes so this take on carrots particularly appealed. And I love carrots. I always buy organic and preferably still bunched as they always taste so much better. Non-organic and washed are invariably tasteless. My bunch weighed 500g so I had to halve Jamie’s recipe.
Carrot Caponata – Serves 4
- 500g mixed heritage carrots
- 1 red onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 fresh red chilli
- olive oil
- 25g raisins
- 25g pine nuts
- sea salt
- 1 tablespoon runny honey
- 2 tablespoon red wine or cider vinegar
Scrub the carrots clean and trim ends. Jamie uses ‘baby heritage carrots’ but my bunch was a mix of large to tiny. Thus when it came to cooking them, I held the small ones back and added them later on.
Slice the onion and garlic. Trim the top from the red chilli, remove the seeds and cut lengthwise into quarters.
Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion, garlic and chilli and cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly. After a couple of minutes add the prepared carrots (if like me you have a mix of sizes, hold the small ones back for a few minutes and add once the others are starting to soften – test with a small sharp knife). Also add the raisins and pine nuts and a good pinch of sea salt.
Now … Jamie says cooking time is about an hour … and it did take almost that long. Stir fairly regularly and add a little water from time to time to stop the mix sticking to the bottom of the pan. Don’t use a lid. Once the carrots are al dente cooked – i.e. still have a little bite to them – and are beginning to caramelise, add the runny honey mixed with the vinegar. Give it all a good stir and cook for about another 5 minutes. This will give them a nice, slightly sticky glaze. You can serve immediately or cold as an antipasto dish.
I had son Jonathan round for supper and cooked the beans from the market in a fresh tomato and shallots sauce; I roasted thick slices of new potatoes in olive oil with fresh rosemary; and griddled two chicken breasts, which I’d briefly marinated in a simple olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning mix.
It was a colourful and very delicious supper!
We enjoyed the carrots with their sweet-sour effect and they were a great accompaniment to the chicken. This kind of dish, with the pine nuts and raisins, is typical of Sicily where the cooking has been greatly influenced by nearby North Africa, Spain and other countries due to their long history of being invaded. You could use just ‘ordinary’ orange carrots but it was nice to sample the slightly different flavours of the different colours.
I’d make the recipe again but I have to say it was a bit of a mission. It wasn’t a recipe you could just get going and then leave to gently simmer for an hour; it needed careful watching at all times for an hour! I thought maybe another time I could parboil the carrots but you would lose some of the flavour that way. So I guess it’s a dish for when you’re planning to be doing other things in the kitchen – and if you are, and you can get hold of a bunch of lovely heritage carrots, then do try this!