Posted by: seasin | July 13, 2009

What to eat when July behaves like November

I have no idea what’s wrong with the weather, but the past week-end almost had me running to my SAD light. I’m not sure when it started raining in Sofia, because on Friday I was trying to re-create the 24 hours Le Mans race (don’t ask, it was very stupid and I won’t tell anyone who wasn’t directly involved). But when I got home on Friday night (or was it Saturday morning?) at about 1 am, it was raining. And it did not stop until…well, I’m not sure when it stopped because I was mercifully asleep, with a warm DB to cuddle up to at last after a few days of sore absence. Sun was shining this morning, anyway. Hallelujah.

So in all this wetness and gloom, as I was trying to decide on what to cook for Sunday dinner, all I was craving for was soup. Stew. Goulash. Something hot and filling and if possible loaded with either cream or butter. Soul food.

Or cottage pie. There’s an idea. Especially since our freezer and fridge were completely empty, save for a few sad-looking carrots, a bag of potatoes, some garlic, some butter, and some frozen veal mince. And 15 tons of peppers. How on earth did that happen? (I know how, DB keeps buying those bleah light green longish Bulgarian ones, that I wouldn’t touch with a pole, mainly because they taste of nothing and I don’t like nothing taste in my food; I keep buying tasty colorful other sorts, but I keep buying three of the buggers, I end up using two, then I forget I have one left over, and go ahead and buy three more. Not good).

I naturally consulted with DB (who couldn’t care less, that man would eat pretty much anything you put in front of him, as long as it’s not too fancy or doesn’t contain liver or any other innards-or warm tomatoes) and decided I’ll try my hand at cottage pie. With the help of my trusted friend Jamie Oliver, of course, because you might not know this, but I’m a Transilvanian and where I come from, we don’t eat cottage pie (so I had no idea how to actually make it). (and of course, Jamie Oliver is not my friend but I wish he was. I certainly feel very friendly towards him. In a pathetic, worshiping kind of way).

My plans and resolve came to a screeching halt during the afternoon, when I realised…that we don’t have any peas. Oh no, I couldn’t possibly make cottage pie without peas. That would be blasphemy! (in fact it was only an excuse not to stick with the recipe, regardless of the fact that it came from my friend Jamie). So I ended up making Transilvanian pie. Bear with me, because it turned out to be really, really yummy. Real comfort food.

But first, I had to figure out something to do with all those peppers. Me being frugal and hating to waste and all. So this is what you do when life hands you peppers.


you make a marinated peppers salad, that’s what. So:

Take 6 peppers-and if possible, and it definitely was in my case-pick different colors. Or 7. Or as many as there are wilting away in your fridge. Dear Lord, there was an invasion of the creatures starting to rot away in mine! Just for the sake of spurious accuracy, all the peppers I had and used were the longish pointy sort, not bell peppers. Sorry I don’t know the name in English. After all, I’m Transilvanian.

Wash the invaders, cut the tails off, split them in half, de-seed them, take out the white ribs, CLEAN them for God’s sake (remember I hate pepper seeds?). Then slice them in strips about 1 cm wide, then cut accross those to get little squares about 1 cm wide. And long. whatever. Just get little squares, ok?

Then peel and finely chop one small red onion, and three or four (be generous) cloves of garlic. Pop the onion and garlic in a saute pan (or in a not so shallow frying pan) with a glug of olive oil, give them a few minutes to sweat (but not brown. We don’t want any browning this time). Then add the pepper cubes. Season the lot with freshly ground salt and pepper (the spice!), quite abundantly. Then if you’re feeling naughty, as I always do, crumble on top two (exactly two) of those tiny dried Italian pepperoncini. Boy are those HOT! Can’t live without them.

Cover, and give it about…oh, say 20 minutes on mellow heat. You want the peppers soft, not completely cooked, and definitely not browned. Once that target is reached, tip the whole thing in a bowl, adjust the seasoning by adding more salt (no, you don’t have to, I only do it because I’m Romanian and I’m a salt addict) then splash it with 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Stir, cover, then leave to rest and cool while you’re getting busy with the Transilvanian pie. Oh, and this is how it looks.Pepper Fiesta

I’m really bad at taking pictures, can you tell?


So I took Jamie’s recipe for cottage pie, from his Comic Relief book (I figured it’s for charity). And messed it up transilvanian way, as follows:

Take waay too many potatoes (about 4 biig ones-or 1 kg, if you’re one for spurious accuracy). Peel, wash, cut into cubes (one-inch cubes. See, I even do Imperial!). or, if you’re lazy like me and your potatoes are freakishly big spring potatoes, with really thin skin, don’t peel. “Cottage”  channels rustic, doesn’t it?  Set to boil in a big pot with cold salty water. Let them boil while you tend to the pie filling. They need to be really tender, so that when you put a fork through them, it goes in easily but they don’t quite fall appart. About 30 minutes, I’d say. Or less. Or more. You figure it out. They’ll make the mash to go on top of the pie. Forget about them for a while.

Peel and finelly chop a medium red onion (I LOVE red onion, can you tell?). Peel, wash and cube reasonably small (size of a pea, or dice) a few carrots. About three big and three small. Because they’ve all been wilting away in the fridge, in the company of the peppers. Then decide they’re waaay too many, and chuck one in with the potatoes. In bigger cubes, though, if you’re like me. But if you can take some advice, don’t be like me and do the small cubes for this one carrott too. They’ll boil faster and mash better and you won’t end up with big orange chuncks in your otherwise smooth and creamy mash.

Heat a sauce pan with some olive oil in it, and chuck in the onion and carrots. Add two (or four, who cares!) bay leaves, and one sprig of fresh rosemary. What, you’re telling me you don’t have fresh rosemary? No worries, my friend, I didn’t either. Ha. Use dried. About…ooooh…2 teaspoons. Be generous. Cover, let soften and sweat over medium heat. Until soft. Naturally. About…20 minutes?

While that’s happening, peel and clean the mushrooms that have also been wilting away in the fridge (since the meal for single people on Wednesday). There were about 6 medium size mushrooms, I’d say. It doesn’t matter, really, how many they are, I was just trying to use up as many sad-looking vegetables as I could. Chop them in not very small cubes (just quarter them, if that’s easier).

Once the carrots are soft, turn up the heat, and crumble in the mince. I had 400 g. Let it cook until is browned. Then season generously with pepper, but if you bought your mince in a Bulgarian supermarket, like yours lazily, BE CAREFUL with the salt. Gasp. I never thought I’ll live to say that. But the mince is already salted, and quite heavily with that, so taste it and only add salt if you really really are a bigger addict than I am. If you have proper mince, then season it to your taste. Then, add one BIG glass of white wine. Of the sort that’s laying around opened since the last party (a very, very long time ago. Thank god for screw tops). About 200 mils. Turn down the heat to medium again, cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes. And if DB reads this-maybe that’s why you didn’t LOVE the food, sweetie. Sorry I cooked with wine again. I promise I’ll do it again!

About 20 mins later, add in the mushrooms, and about half a small can of sweet corn (I really felt it needs some color and I also really felt I need some small round things inside instead of the peas). Let simmer some more while you make the mash.

By now, the potatoes should be done-but time it well, they need to be hot when you mash them. Drain them, add them to a big bowl where you have already deviously placed about two tablespoons of butter, and, hold on for this, a small tub of fresh goat cheese. The creamy sort-I used Chavroux. Don’t tell anyone that the tub wasn’t full-it doesn’t need to be. Just to add some taste (which DB did not like! Oh well, I did!). Mash the potatoes over the butter and cheese, until those pesky chunks of carrots are nearly crushed too. Then get at it with a whisk or a spoon, adding some milk as you go along. I like my mash a bit runny, but feel free to stop whenever you want. And frankly, it should be less runny for this sort of dish. Never mind. Add plenty of salt and pepper-as wisdom has it, it’s very easy to underseason a mash.

Now, tip the meat filling in a baking dish, spoon the mash on top and flatten out. Sprinkle some more salt, a few cubes of butter, and a bit of the dried rosemary. Place in the oven heated at 180 C (even if I forgot to tell you to do it in advance 😦 and bake for about 25 minutes, until little dark spots appear on the surface.

Tuck in, it works really well with the marinated peppers. Then have a nervous breakdown in the bathroom because DB didn’t really like it. I did. There was nothing wrong with it. It was tasty. Please try it. I promise I won’t have another nervous breakdown if you don’t like it either. I’ll just never make it again.

Sorry for the bad pic :)

Sorry for the bad pic 🙂

This would definitely be enough to serve 4-we had ample portions, then I packed half of the leftovers to go in the freezer, and half to go with me at work for lunch. I’m not going to give the ingredients and quantities again, because a. I made the ingredient list up as I went along and you can do the same; b. it’s been a bloody long post already!



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