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Basil Oil

5 Oct

Here is another preserving job to do in autumn to capture the flavours of summer before the first frost. Basil is a delicate herb, it does not freeze well and it does not keep its flavour when dried, it goes slimy if left too long in oil so the best way is to infuse oil with its aromatic flavours and then strain it. The infused oil is a great treat through the winter months on salads or drizzled over soups.

You don’t really want to wash the basil so its best to be careful when you pick it. Pick the basil a day or so after a good rain in the morning of a dry sunny day. Bring the basil into the kitchen and roughly shred it, or bruise it slightly in a large mortar and pestle to release the oil. Pack the basil into a large sterilised glass jar, fill the jar to over half way and pour oil over to fill to the top. Push down and make sure there are no are bubbles. Seal and leave the jar to infuse for 2-3 weeks before straining into clean jars.

TIPI find the best way to strain the oil is to use a coffee filter paper set in a funnel. It takes some time to drip through but just keep topping it up. Bottle immediately and store in a dark place.


Roast Pepper Salad

23 Sep

There are many roasted pepper salads to be found all around the Mediterranean region; long sweet green or red peppers are roasted and skinned and served with a simple dressing.
To prepare the peppers
Preheat the oven to 240c (gas 9). Wash the peppers and lay whole in a large baking tray and place high in the oven. Roast the peppers for 30-40 minutes until the skins start to brown and blister. Better still is roast them over a charcoal flame until the skins are blackened. Put the peppers in a polythene bag or cover the tray and leave for 15 minutes to loosen the skins. While still warm peel the peppers, remove the seeds and cut off the stems but make sure to keep all the pepper juices. At this point the peppers can be stuffed into a sterilised jar, pour in the juices and top up with olive oil to form a seal from the air, cap and store. The peppers are ready to eat simply slice into long strips or squares, dress and serve.

Cook’s Tip
Roasted peppers make a great preserve, once prepared, simply pack into sterilised bottles with their juices and cover with oil. They will keep in a cool dark place for years. Serve as an appetiser or tapas, add to a salad composé or serve with pasta for a quick lunch.
Dressing Variations:
  1. Basic Spanish Dressing: a simple dressing of crushed garlic and olive oil
  2. Garlic & Parsley as basic Spanish Dressing but with parsley
  3. Preserved lemon dressing: as basic dressing plus sliced preserved lemon skin
  4. Lemon & Parsley Dressing: salt & pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, chopped garlic and parsley.
  5. Salt Fish: in Spanish tapas bars roast preserved peppers are often served with flakes of salt cod.

Preserving Tomatoes

28 Aug

Tomatoes make some of the most valuable preserves and condiments for the pantry; sun dried tomatoes, passata, tomato concentrate, sauces or salsas, and chutneys. Processing tomatoes for preserving can be a messy time consuming affair and the kitchen can look like a set for the chainsaw massacre but for me the rewards are worth it, It is such a luxury to have all this lush tomato stuff in the cupboards because lets face it we won’t be seeing tomatoes again until next July unless I can get some to ripen a little earlier next year. Each year I grow more and more tomatoes so that we will have enough to preserve. We eat so much of these tomato preserves that there is just never seems to enough until next years crop.

The all purpose preserve is the basic sieved tomato sauce called Passata, to take the Italian name for it, just tomatoes boiled with a little salt and then sieved or put through a pasta machine. It is indispensable in the kitchen as a base for all kinds of dishes. For full instructions on making passata see How to Make Passata.


It has more body than sieved tomatoes and very useful pantry preserve. The process is slightly different from passata in that the tomatoes are skinned and de-seeded then chopped.  This is the basic stuff I have left over from seed saving and as a seed saver for Association Kokoplelli I tend to produce a lot of this. It can be used fresh in its basic state, frozen as is or bottled cold and heat processed. I usually cook it to reduce the amount of liquid in the pulp before bottling into 250g jars with a sterilising lid and heat process for 20 minutes.

Many sauces that we regularly make can be heat processed. Tomato sauce differs from passata in that the tomatoes are cooked with other ingredients and it is not sieved so it has more body and is perfect to use straight from the jar on pasta or in other dishes that require a tomato sauce. See my Basic Tomato Sauce recipe.

Drying tomatoes is like alchemy the fruit wither down but their flavour just gets bigger and more intense. It is best to use a fairly dry type of tomato or the drying process will take forever. A good tip is to place the tomatoes on a metal surface as the heat reflects back and speeds the drying process up.


This is the cheapest method of drying tomatoes requiring no real apparatus but it does require sunshine. Slice plum tomatoes length ways, remove the green pithy stem sprinkle with salt and lay cut side up on a slatted tray or basket. Cover the tray with netting or gauze to keep insects out. Position the tray in the sun during dry sunny days and bring indoors when the sun goes down. If the weather is at all damp bring the tray indoors and sit on a sunny window still making sure there is plenty of ventilation. It takes about 3 days but could take a little longer depending on the weather and how dry you want the tomatoes. Dust off the salt and store packed into sterilised air tight glass jars in a cool dark place.

Follow the same method as above but place the cut tomatoes on a large oven tray and place at the bottom of an oven set low. I normally set our oven between 50c and let them ‘dry’ for anything up to 24hrs. The length of drying time will depend on: the type of tomatoes, your oven and how soft you want to have the tomatoes.

I use usually use San Marzano plum tomatoes for this recipe. Follow the oven drying method as above but you want the tomatoes to be slightly soft, in our oven 50-75c for 6-8 hours works. Dust off any excess salt and pack into hot sterilised glass jars. Cover with olive oil to 1 cm above the tomatoes, tap gently to knock out any air and seal immediately. Store in a cool dark place. These make wonderful hors d’oevres or tapas straight from the jar and a real treat in winter.

I tried freezing tomatoes after reading Susan’s post on Farmgirl Fair Preserving the Harvest: How to Freeze tomatoes the really easy way. It sounds too simple to be true but often the most simple things are the best. All you do is wash the tomatoes, chuck them in a bag then put them in the freezer. Done! Great tip- Susan thanks.

This is the most complicated and time consuming of the tomato preserves. Concentrate is basically passata reduced down to become a thick paste with a very concentrated flavour. It takes a lot of tomatoes to make a small jar of paste but if you like tomatoes it is worth it. I could eat this stuff just spread on bread.
To Make roughly chop ripe tomatoes, cutting off any bad bits, and chuck them into a large pan. Season well with sea salt and cook over a low heat for 20-40 minutes giving it a good stir every now and then so that it does not stick. The tomatoes should disintegrate and become pulpy. Cook for longer if not. Let it cool slightly then pass the pulp through a passata machine or a sieve pressing it with the back of a spoon until all that is left in the sieve are skin and seeds. Return the sieved tomatoes to the pan (after first rinsing the pan) and cook over a low heat until it is reduced. It should reduce to a thick dark red paste. You will know when it is thick enough when you can draw a spoon through it and the sauce does not run back into the channel left by the spoon. When the paste is the right consistency spoon it into sterilised jars, add a layer of olive oil to cover the paste and seal immediately. Store in a cool dark place and refrigerate once opened.

For information on growing conserving tomatoes go to