Icelandic food adventures to savour

So today I’m transporting you back to fabulous Iceland to enjoy some of the special treats this unique country has to offer.

After an amazing morning exploring wide open spaces, waterfalls and geysers we were ready for some nourishment, and warmth too, that wind blowing down off the glacier is biting. And Fridheimar turned out to be the perfect place for both.

This magical (and enormous) greenhouse is set in the Icelandic countryside. It’s heated naturally by the waters from the underground geothermal springs and they grow four different varieties of tomatoes. It’s basically a massive tomato home – with tables set up in the warmth of the greenhouse where you can tuck into tasty tomato-based dishes.

On arrival we were greeted with tomato schnapps. Little tomatoes are hollowed out and filled with Icelandic Birch schnapps. What a wonderful idea, sip from your unusual receptacle and feel the warmth of the schnapps spread through your body. And when you’re finished (I had to go back for seconds the schnapps is so delicious), you have a juicy schnapps-flavoured tomato to enjoy. The best drink ever? Possibly.

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A tray of tomato glasses ready for pouring

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Here’s the warming local schnapps

The menu is kept really simple. First up home-made tomato soup which you help yourself to served with the freshest of fabulous bread which is sliced straight out of the oven. I loved the olive and cheese one. The soup is also served with sour cream, cucumber salsa (amazingly delicious) and there are pots of fresh basil on the table so you can add a few leaves for a herby boost.

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The wonderful fresh bread selection

Mains offer a choice of pasta or tortilla and there are 4 ‘Mary’ drinks – bloody, virgin, healthy and happy (two alcohol free), again all freshly made from the greenhouse tomatoes. Oh and even the jugs of water were served with cherry tomatoes added. Yummy.

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Happiness is the perfect bloody mary

Desserts included green tomato and apple pie, tomato ice cream and cheesecake with a jam of green tomatoes, cinnamon and lime. All beautifully served in little terracotta pots, they were certainly an unusual take on dessert, did love the tomato ice cream.

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The prettiest of tomato desserts

Fridheimar is open every day from noon to 16.00. As well as enjoying lunch among the tomato plants you can also shop for a range of tomato-based goodies. Find out more at www.fridheimar.is

Moving on from the lovely warmth of the tomato greenhouse we headed to Farm Efstidalur, a dairy farm in Laugardalur on the way to Gullfoss and Geyser (the waterfall and geyser you simply have to see).

Here you can watch the cows and calves through the window of the restaurant and feast on a range of dairy products. There’s plenty of ice cream on offer, I went for orange (first time I’ve sampled orange ice cream, so delicious, creamy and zesty. Plus their home-made cones are among the best I’ve had.

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The colourful selection of home-made ice cream on offer

We also got to taste the local cheese and the beautifully tart Icelandic Skyr which is kind of like a cross between yogurt and cheese.

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Skyr is another unique bit of Iceland

You can find out more at www.efstidalur.is

Just outside Reykjavik in the heart of the old Viking town of Hafnarfjordur is a family-owned business making artisan gourmet goods using Icelandic herbs – which pretty much grow wild everywhere.

Urta.Islandica offers an intriguing mix of salts, syrups, teas and jams and was founded by the charming artist Thora Thorisdottir in 2010. I came home with a mix of goodies to experiment with – they certainly help add another dimension to your cooking. My blueberry champagne cocktail using their blueberry syrup was loved all round (recipe coming soon). And look out for more recipes coming up using these unique (that word again!) ingredients.

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Add variety to your pantry with Icelandic syrups

You can find out more (and order online) at www.urtia.is

It’s so inspiring to travel around a country and experience the creative ways people have come up with for eating and cooking enjoyment. I loved tasting their wares and I’m certainly loving the bit of Iceland I now have in my kitchen.

While I was in Iceland I stayed at the fabulous Hotel Ranga. Find out more at www.hotelranga.is

Recipe: Spicy tomato soup

We’re coming to the end of British Tomato Week, so I thought I’d finish off with a classic that I’ve  spiced up – fresh tomato soup with a bit of a bite. I used plum tomatoes on the vine, the aromas while I was preparing them was amazing!

You could add chilli, too, but be careful that it doesn’t overpower the sweetness of the tomatoes.

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Beautiful plum tomatoes

Spicy tomato soup

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Comforting, spicy and tomatoey sweet

Serves 4

800g tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 onions, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 tsp garam masala

200ml water

400g coconut milk

Fry the onions in the vegetable oil until softened.

Add the garam masala and ginger and fry for 10 mins.

Add the tomatoes, reserving two to add later, and stir through.

Add the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 mins.

Add the coconut milk and stir through. Simmer for another 10 mins on low for flavours to mix.

Blend until the soup is smooth.

Add the remaining tomatoes and and simmer on low for another five so they heat through.

Serve with crusty bread.

Top tip: To peel tomatoes easily, place in a large bowl, pour boiling water over them and leave for a minute or two. Take a knife and insert into the skin, it should come away at once, making it easy to remove.

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Find out more at www.britishtomatoes.co.uk

Recipe: Tomato, watermelon and peach salsa

Could summer be here at last? The sun is out and I am happy, gotta love that blue sky. So here’s something light and refreshing to try, a zesty mix of fruit and tomato with a hint of mint.

This sweet and tangy salsa is great served alongside spicy dishes like curries, with grilled pork or chicken or for something different as a vegetarian starter that will get your taste buds tingling.

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A summery dish that looks and tastes beautiful

Makes a decent portion to share between two.

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 peaches, destoned and chopped into bite-size pieces

A large slice of watermelon, enough for about 12 bite-size pieces

A handful of fresh mint

Mix all the ingredients together and allow to stand for at least an hour before eating.

logoFind out more at  www.britishtomatoes.co.uk

Recipes: The best roast cherry tomatoes

Roasting sweet cherry tomatoes intensifies their sweetness and flavour and you can keep them in the fridge for up to a week. Spread on sandwiches, toss in salads, add to stews or even snack on straight from the fridge. Yum!

I cook them on a low temperature for about an hour, you can also do it overnight, like my friend Candy does. Here are two roads to fabulous roast cherry tomatoes.

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Bring on the cherry tomatoes

600g cherry tomatoes, halved

4 whole cloves of garlic, unpeeled

2 tsps dried thyme

1 tsp white sugar

4 tbsps olive oil

Heat the oven to 140C.

Place the tomatoes and garlic in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the sugar and thyme and pour over the olive oil.

Roast for about an hour (keeping an eye on them), until they are shrivelled but not dried out.

Eat immediately or allow to cool and store in the fridge for later.

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Chopped and sprinkled with olive oil and thyme

The overnight method

This way you can wake up to beautiful roast tomatoes!

Preheat the oven to 240C.

Place all the ingredients on a baking sheet and place it in the oven.

Turn the oven off and leave the tomatoes in overnight (approximately 8 hours).

Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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Sweet and juicy and ready to eat

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Find out more at www.britishtomatoes.co.uk

Recipe: Tomato, gruyere and thyme tarts

Today I’m continuing my celebration of British Tomato Week.

These tasty little tarts were inspired by one of my all-time favourite restaurants, Constantia Uitsig in Cape Town, South Africa. Very sadly, it closed a couple of years ago. We were there on its very last night open and I came away clutching their menu. I know, who knows why we do these things, it seemed like a good idea at the time and clearly they (sadly) had no need for it.

One of the favourite Uitsig starters was their tomato tart and as it lists the ingredients on my purloined menu, I decided I simply had to make my own version.

I try not to get too worked up about pastry and always buy it ready-made from the supermarket. I prefer puff pastry (as it’s lighter) but shortcrust will give  you a neater look with these tarts as you can mould it exactly to the container. Personally, I like a bit of a rustic feel – and it tastes just as delicious!

My nostalgic tomato tarts

Serves 4 as a starters

You will need four individual 10cm loose-bottomed tart tins

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Tomato tarts straight out of the oven

1 pack puff pastry

2 tsps Dijon mustard

8 plum tomatoes, peeled and seeds removed

200g gruyere, grated

4 tbsps fresh time, leaves only

25g melted butter

Lightly rub the tins with butter

Cut the pastry into squares approximately the size of the tins and mould to the tins, tucking any edges in.

Spread the Dijon mustard on the pastry equally on the four tarts.

Top with the grated gruyere and half the fresh thyme.

Lay the tomato halves face down on top of the cheese.

Dab the leftover butter around the edges of the pastry.

Cook for about 30 mins until the pastry puffs up and browns slightly and the cheese starts bubbling.

Once cooked, remove from oven and sprinkle the remainder of the thyme on top.

Serve with a green salad.

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Light, crisp pastry and a melted, indulgent filling

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Sprinkle the remaining thyme on top for a touch of green

If you don’t have any tart tins, don’t panic. Simply cut squares of the puff pastry, place on a baking sheet and follow the rest of the instructions.

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You don’t even need the tart tins…here’s a simply square one

For more about tomatoes, visit www.britishtomatoes.co.uk.

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Recipe: Tuscan-style veal stew

One of my first veal experiences was on the seafront in Cannes in the South of France. I ordered Veal Milanese, lightly breaded veal escalopes served with spaghetti in tomato sauce, on the recommendation of my husband. I have to say I was a bit dubious but fell in love with the dish within my first few mouthfuls. Since then I’ve ordered it all over the world and even made it myself dozens of times.

I love the delicate flavour of veal and its lovely texture. And as I’m still struggling to come to terms with the transition from South African autumn to English spring (no prizes for guessing which is colder and rainier), I had a mind to tuck into a hearty stew.

This dish has only a few ingredients and is really quick to prepare. Just make sure you cook it slowly for around 2 hours to infuse all the flavours and for the meat to be truly tender.

It was the first time I’d made polenta in a long while and reminded me of how much I love it. It’s so easy to make and tasted great infused with thyme flavours and combined with the rich tomato sauce. A recipe well worth trying. Of course if you don’t eat veal (for whatever reason), you could use beef or lamb instead.

Serves 4

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Tender veal, rich herby tomato sauce and creamy polenta

500g veal, cut into bite sized chunks

2 tbsps olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1x400g tin of chopped tomatoes

100ml white wine

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

3 tsps dried thyme

100g quick polenta

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan to a medium-high heat and fry the veal in batches to seal and brown slightly.

Remove from the pan and put aside.

Add the garlic and fry for a few minutes until softened. Add the rosemary, 2 tsps of the thyme, tomatoes and white wine and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes and then return the meat to the casserole.

Cover and turn the stove down to its lowest possible temperature. Make sure to check on it every half an hour or so to make sure it’s not bubbling too furiously or drying up. Adjust the temperature or add a dash of water if you need to. Cook for approximately two ho urs.

Just before it’s ready, cook the quick polenta and/or the vegetables. Peas and carrots work well.

Stir the remaining 1 tsp of thyme through the finished polenta as well as a good drizzle of olive oil

Serve immediately

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The veal stew served with carrots and peas

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Simmering slowly on the stove top