Tomatoes

Tomato – the edible, often red, veg of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The plant belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae (potatoes, auberinges/ eggplants). The species originated in western South America.

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Wild versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red. A member of the deadly nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious. This was exacerbated by the interaction of the tomato’s acidic juice with pewter plates. The leaves and immature fruit in fact contain trace amounts of solanine which in larger quantity would be toxic, although the ripe fruit does not. Aztecs used the fruit in their cooking. The Nahuatl (Aztec language) word tomatl gave rise to the Spanish word “tomate”, from which the English word tomato derived. The exact date of domestication is unknown, but by 500 BC it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico. The Pueblo people are thought to have believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination. The large, lumpy variety of tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521. Christopher Columbus may have taken them back as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in a herbal written in 1544 by an Italian physician and botanist who suggested that a new type of aubergine/ eggplant had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant – cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. It was not until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or “golden apples”. Taken to Europe, the tomato grew easily in Mediterranean climates and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 17th century in Spain.

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Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. For example, the Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty”, and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their habit of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.

 

Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s. However, by the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopaedia Britannica stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups and broths. They were not part of the average person’s diet, and though by 1820 they were described as “to be seen in great abundance in all our vegetable markets” and to be “used by all our best cooks”, reference was made to their cultivation in gardens still “for the singularity of their appearance”, while their use in cooking was associated with exotic Italian cuisine.

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, a berry, consisting of the ovary together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. However, the tomato has a much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, and is therefore not as sweet. Typically served as part of a salad or main course, rather than at dessert, it is considered a culinary vegetable. One exception is that tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices: they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require.

Tomato plants are vines, initially decumbent, typically growing 180 cm (6 ft) or more above the ground if supported, although erect bush varieties have been bred, generally 100 cm (3 ft) tall or shorter. Tomato plants are dicots and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. When that tip eventually stops growing, whether because of pruning or flowering, lateral buds take over and grow into other, fully functional, vines. Tomato vines are covered with fine short hairs. These hairs facilitate the vining process, turning into roots wherever the plant is in contact with the ground and moisture.

The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a mutant “u” phenotype in the mid 20th century that ripened “u”niformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

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Here are some to try growing: 

Garden Pearl (Determinate) – Sweet cherry tomatoes, happiest in large pots outdoors.

Marmande (Semi-determinate) – Large irregular fruits with excellent flavour, happiest grown outdoors.

San Marzano 2 (Semi-determinate) – Classic flashy Italian plum tomato, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Golden Sunrise (Indeterminate) – Distinct sweet flavour, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Red Cherry (Indeterminate) – Prolific crops of sweet ‘cherry toms’ happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Tigerella (Indeterminate) – Good flavour and novel stripes on the skin, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Sungold F1 (Cherry) – Attractive golden fruits with a very high sugar content balanced with some acidity, Indeterminate.

Shirley F1 – A much loved variety famed for its heavy yields of well-flavoured fruits – an outstanding hybrid.  Indeterminate.

Loretto F1 – sweet cherry sized fruits with excellent flavour and a good choice for outdoor containers. Resistance to blight is one of the major benefits of this cascading ‘bush’ tomato. Indeterminate.

Alicante F1 – One of the best for flavour and very reliable yielding a good crop of medium sized tomatoes. Indeterminate.

Ferline F1 – A top quality tomato variety producing high yields of large and tasty fruits. Trials have shown that tomato Ferline F1 has excellent resistant to blight. Indeterminate.

Indeterminate – these varieties of tomatoes are the most common and are grown as cordons (single stemmed plants with side shoots removed). They will grow very tall – sometimes taller than 2.5m in very warm conditions.

Bush/Determinate – these varieties stop growing sooner than indeterminate varieties with the stem ending in a fruit truss. They are referred to as ‘bush’ and ‘dwarf’ types (suitable as hanging basket tomatoes) and don’t require any pruning.

Semi-determinate – these are similar to indeterminate varieties (grown as cordons) only they produce shorter plants.

Types of tomatoes:

  • Beefsteak tomatoes – 10 cm (4 in) or more in diameter. Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical.
  • Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce for canning and are usually oblong 7–9 cm (3–4 in) long and 4–5 cm (1.6–2.0 in) diameter; like the Roma-type tomatoes.
  • Cherry tomatoes – small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in) size as the wild tomato. Probably my personal favourite.
  • Grape tomatoes – are smaller and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes.
  • Campari – are sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness, bigger than cherry tomatoes, and smaller than plum tomatoes.
  • Tomberries –  tiny tomatoes, about 5 mm in diameter.
  • Oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks, and are shaped like large strawberries.
  • Pear tomatoes are pear-shaped and can make a rich gourmet paste.
  • “Slicing” or “globe” tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating. The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 5–6 cm (2.0–2.4 in) diameter range.

Heirloom tomatoes are becoming popular amongst home growers as they tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the cost of disease resistance and productivity. The definition of an heirloom tomato is vague, but unlike commercial hybrids, all are self-fertile varieties that have bred true for 40 years or more.

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How to grow tomatoes

In England, we can be kind-of lucky and get some tomatoes off the vines when we grow them outside, but really it is easier to do it in a greenhouse as they will prefer warmer growing conditions.

Tomato seed is normally sown 6-8 weeks before the last frost date (March/April) although they can be sown earlier for greenhouse cultivation. Sprinkle your tomato seed thinly on the surface of good quality seed compost. Cover the seed with about 1.5mm (1/16in) of compost and water lightly with a fine-rose watering can. If only a few plants are required sow two seeds into a 7.5cm (3in) pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. The seeds generally germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C (70F). Keep the compost moist. Pot on the tomato seedlings when large enough to handle, taking care not to touch the stem. Handle the plants by the leaves and transplant them carefully into 7.5cm (3in) pots. Take care not to expose the plants to frost, cold winds and draughts as this may kill them. Tomatoes need a lot of water and feed (high potash) to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. If growing outdoors, plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. Regularly pinching out of tomato side shoots will concentrate the plant’s energy into producing fruit.

One of the most common problems when growing tomatoes is tomato blight, which spreads quickly throughout the plant in wet weather, causing the plant to die and the fruits to decay. The symptoms are brown patches on all parts of the plant. It is much more common in tomatoes growing outside than tomatoes growing in a greenhouse.

Start picking your tomatoes as the fruits ripen and gain full colour. When frost threatens at the end of the season, lift any plants with unripe fruit on them and hang them upside down under cover.

Tomatoes contain excellent amounts of fiber, vitamins A, C (to resist infections), and K, potassium (controlling heart rate and blood pressure), and manganese. Good amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper are other resources. In daily value, tomatoes provide 38% of what is needed in vitamin C, 30% in vitamin A, and 18% in vitamin K. Tests suggest tomatoes may be a preventive factor against prostate cancer. Lycopene flavonoid antioxidant has the ability to protect the cells even as it protects the skin from ultraviolet damage, and as a possible result, skin cancer. Lycopene in tomatoes has been proven to decrease oxidative stress and risk of osteoporosis and prevent serum lipid oxidation, thus exerting a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases. The coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid, in tomatoes, fight against nitrosamines, which are the main carcinogens found in cigarettes. The presence of vitamin A in high quantities has been shown to reduce the effects of carcinogens and can protect you against lung cancer. Tomatoes keep the digestive system healthy by preventing both constipation and diarrhoea. They also prevent jaundice and effectively remove toxins from the body.

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There are so many ways of using tomatoes and they are such a valuable crop to grow yourself. You can eat them raw, as part of a salad or cheese sandwich, cheese toasty, stuff them, cook with them to make a sauce for any dish, fry them to go with your English breakfast, sun dry them, bottle or can to make your own tinned tomatoes, always a handy thing to have at hand for a quick meal… 

Here are some recipes that use tomatoes. Plenty more on the site!

Recipe: Mushroom Tomato Risotto

Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

 

Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti

Updated recipe: homemade pizza

Quinoa – Chicken Casserole

Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

Salad – Rocket – Pasta and tinned tomatoes and rocket

Keep searching for more recipes! 

Borlotti Beans

The borlotti bean (singular borlotto in Italian), also known as the cranberry bean, Roman bean or romano bean (not to be confused with the Italian flat bean, a green bean also called “romano bean”), saluggia bean (named after the town Saluggia in Italy where borlotti beans have been grown since the early 1900s), or rosecoco bean, is a variety of  common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) first bred in Colombia as the cargamanto. The bean is a medium to large tan or hazelnut-colored bean splashed or streaked with red. They come in large beige and red pods with colours that resemble the dried beans.

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They originated in Colombia in South America and were one of the crops that found their way into Europe with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The Italians were the first Europeans to embrace the borlotti bean (as well as the tomato). Now you can eat these beans in Italy in stews with polenta and in salads as well in appetizers along with prosciutto and lots of parsley and olive oil.

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The borlotti bean is a variety of the American cranberry bred in Italy to have a thicker skin. It is used in Italian, Portuguese (Catarino bean), Turkish, and Greek cuisine. When cooked the beans will lose some of their bright markings and turn a light brown colour.

Borlotti beans are potassium rich so are good for the muscles and for the proper functioning of the kidneys, as well as maintaining good blood pressure. They also contain other minerals such as sodium, zinc, selenium, copper (good for stimulating blood cell formation), calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron and phosphorous as well as Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. They contain vitamin A and several of the B-complex vitamins including B1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Borlotti beans also contain 18 amino acids along with dietary fibre (good for the digestion), folate (good for pregnant women and enhancing the nervous system) and protein. If you are trying to grow your own vegetarian protein, beans are a good place to start…

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Sow indoors for surest results April-May, 2.5cm (1″) deep into individual pots of compost (I use tall yoghurt pots, they give the plant lots of root room). Water well and place in a warm position. A temperature of 15-20°C (60-68°F) is ideal. Gradually accustom plants to outside conditions (avoid frosts), before planting out when 15cm tall, 25cm (10″) apart, during May-June when frosts are over. Allow 45cm (18″) between rows. Like runner beans, insert canes into the ground along with the bean plant to allow them to climb up it. If it is sunny, cold or windy when you first plant them out, rig up some covering (I use left over horticultural fleece) to give them shade or protection from the elements that might damage them before they are fully established. You can harvest borlotti beans from July-October. To harvest, pick the pods before they set seed and slice them up and cook them like you would do to runner beans. Or, leave the pods on the plants and allow them to grow very big and to set seed. The pods will turn a pale straw colour as they start to dry out towards the end of summer or early autumn. Harvest and take them inside to continue drying before you pod the beans. The pods will rattle once they are ready. You can cook them straight away, freeze them or dry them out and store them in glass jars in the cupboard. They can be shelled into trays and placed in a warm place to continue drying. The beans should ultimately be light and hollow-sounding when tapped, at which point they can be decanted into glass jars for storage in a cool, dark place. Discard the pods at this stage, they get too tough to eat.

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Dried beans contain high amounts of lectin, a natural chemical which can cause stomach upsets. Soak the beans overnight or for at least eight hours then place into cool water. Bring the water up to a vigorous boil and boil like this for ten minute before turning down the heat and simmering till soft.

Grow borlotti beans from Mr Fothergills: ‘Climbing Bean Borlotto lingua di fuoco 2 Seeds‘.

Borlotti beans can be added to any dish for vegetarian protein.

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Coconut Borlotti Beans

Serves 4

-450g borlotti beans, pre-cooked -1dsp coconut oil -1 onion, finely sliced -2 generous handfuls of spinach leaves

  1. Warm the coconut oil in a frying pan. Add the sliced onion and fry until golden brown.
  2. Add the spinach leaves. Stir in until wilted before adding the borlotti beans. Combine and leave briefly so that the beans warm up.
  3. Remove from the heat and serve with rice or potatoes, as a side dish, or in a wrap.

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Parsley

Growing your own herbs can be easy and take up little space. You can grow most of them all year round, indoors and outdoors, and can freeze any sudden gluts.

Parsley is my favourite herb (I’m not very herby, let me just quickly say).

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Parsley is a species of flowering plant in the family Apiacea native central Mediterranean. The word “parsley” is a merger of the Old English petersilie (which is identical to the contemporary German word for parsleyPetersilie) and the Old French peresil, both derived from Medieval Latin petrosilium.

Garden parsley is a bright green, biennial plant in temperate climates, or an annual herb in subtropical and tropical areas. The two main groups of parsley used as herbs are curly leaf (i.e.) (P. crispum crispum group; syn. P. crispum var. crispum) and Italian, or flat leaf (P. crispum neapolitanum group; syn. P. crispum var. neapolitanum); of these, the neapolitanum group more closely resembles the natural wild species. Flat-leaved parsley is preferred by some gardeners as it is easier to cultivate, being more tolerant of both rain and sunshine, and is said to have a stronger flavour, while curly leaf parsley is preferred by others because of its more decorative appearance. A third type, sometimes grown in southern Italy, has thick leaf stems resembling celery.

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Curly Leaf Parsley (picture from internet)

The Ancient Greeks associated parsley with death as it was supposed to have sprung from the blood of Archemorus, whose name meant ‘Forerunner of Death.’ Homer tells the tale of chariot horses being fed parsley by warriors prior to battle in hopes of making the animals more light of foot. Victors at funeral games, athletic contests held in honor of a recently deceased person, were crowned with parsley. The saying ‘to be in need of parsley’ was saying that someone was terribly ill and not expected to survive. Greek gardens often had borders of parsley and rue which led to the saying “Oh! we are only at the Parsley and Rue” to signify when an undertaking was in contemplation and not fully acted upon.

The Romans did not generally eat parsley either but they did wear garlands of parsley on their heads during feasts to ward off intoxication. Parsley was kept away from nursing mothers because it was thought to cause epilepsy in their babies.

Old culture said that the slow and unreliable germination of parsley is because the seed goes nine times to the Devil and back before coming up. The ungerminated seeds are the ones that the Devil keeps for himself. The belief went even further, claiming that only if the woman was master of the household would parsley start to grow. In Suffolk, it was thought sowing Parsley seed on Good Friday would ensure the herb coming up “double”.

Like Ancient Greece, parsley was also associated with death in England. A common saying was ‘Welsh parsley is a good physic’ as ‘Welsh parsley’ signified the gallows rope. In Surrey and in other southern English counties it was said, “Where parsley’s grown in the garden, there’ll be a death before the year’s out.” It was also believed that if someone cut parsley, they would be later crossed in love. In Devonshire, it was believed that anyone who transplanted parsley would offend the ‘guardian genius’ who presides over parsley beds. The evil transplanter or a member of his family was thought to be punished within a year and in Hampshire peasants feared giving away parsley as it would bring ill-luck upon them.

Parsley history includes its use as an antidote against poisons. Sources suggest that parsley’s ability to counteract the strong smell of garlic was a possible source for this belief and usage. Parsley was used historically in veterinary medicine. Farmers once thought that parsley prevented a number of diseases in sheep and would plant fields of it to keep their flock healthy. The strong aroma would unfortunately attract an overabundance of rabbits which would come from long distances to eat the parsley leaving many farmers to fence in their fields.

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Flat Leaf Parsley (picture from internet)

If you intend to grow your parsley indoors, you can sow the seeds at any time of the year. Sow thinly, 0.5cm deep, in small pots of compost. Water well and place in a light, warm position and keep the compost moist. Plants can be grown on a light windowsill. Or you can sow outdoors, March-July. To grow outside, sow thinly, 1.5cm deep, directly where they are to grow. Seedlings should start to appear in 14-21 days. When they are large enough to handle, thin outdoor plants to 20cm apart. Keep moist and weed free. Or we do sow ours indoors and then transplant outdoors when the frosts have cleared. Parsley is great for sowing between other crops. The leaves of indoor plants can be picked at any time and those from outdoor plants, from May. Take a few from each plant so they regrow quickly.

Parsley’s volatile oils, particularly myristicin, have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, and particularly, tumor formation in the lungs. The flavonoids in parsley, especially luteolin, have been shown to function as antioxidants that combine with highly reactive oxygen-containing molecules (called oxygen radicals) and help prevent oxygen-based damage to cells. In addition, extracts from parsley have been used in animal studies to help increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood. Parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A (notably through its concentration of the pro-vitamin A carotenoid, beta-carotene). Parsley is a good source of folic acid, one of the most important B vitamins. While it plays numerous roles in the body, one of its most critical roles in relation to cardiovascular health is its necessary participation in the process through which the body converts homocysteine into benign molecules.

Excessive consumption of parsley should be avoided by pregnant women. Normal food quantities are safe for them to consume, but consuming excessively large amounts may have uterotonic effects.

Another type of parsley is grown as a root parsley the Hamburg root parsley (more coming soon…). This type of parsley produces much thicker roots than types cultivated for their leaves. Root parsley is common in central and eastern Europe cuisine where it is used in coups and stews or simply eaten raw, as a snack (similar to carrots). We’ve found the easiest way of using it is roasting chunks like parsnips and eating a medley of homegrown roasted veg: carrots, parsnips, Hamburg root parsley and celeriac.

Parsley is widely used in European, Middle Eastern and American cooking. Curly leaf parsley is often used as a garnish (which is my favourite way of using it): in central Europe, eastern Europe, and southern Europe, as well as in western Asia, many dishes are served with fresh green chopped parsley sprinkled on top. Root parsley is very common in central, eastern, and southern European cuisines, where it is used as a snack or a vegetable in many soups and stews.

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Here are two recipes that include parsley: one I’ve already posted a while ago, Mum’s Fish Pie, the other is for any fellow veggies, Baba Ganoush which is the most delicious dip ever when parsley is sprinkled on top…

Mum’s Fish Pie

Original link to blog post here: Recipe: Mum’s Fish Pies

(Serves 6)

For the topping: – 1kg potato – 50g butter – A dash of milk or cream – 70g grated cheddar cheese

For the filling: – 50g butter – 1/2 onion, finely sliced – 1 giant clove of garlic, finely diced – 1 cod fillet – 3 large tomatoes – 150ml double cream – Handful of parsley leaves

Additions: – Handful or parsley – Handful of chives

  1. Preheat the grill to high or the oven to 200C.
  2. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into chunks to boil in the pan. Turn the heat down to a simmer and leave until the potatoes are cooked through. To test they are done, stick a fork in the middle of a cube – if it slips off the fork without any persuasion easily, then it is cooked. Drain the water into another pan for boiling the tomatoes later. Put the butter and a dash of milk or cream into the pan and mash. Set aside until ready.
  3. For the filling: melt the butter in a large frying pan. Fry the onion until it is golden brown. Add the garlic a fry briefly. Turn the heat down to low and add the cod fillet, letting it warm in  the butter mixture.
  4. Meanwhile, bring the old potato water to a rolling boil. Briefly dunk the tomatoes, whole, into the water for a couple of minutes so that the skins sag and are ready to peel off. Remove and place in a bowl and allow to cool before breaking them up into pieces.
  5. Pour the double cream into the fish mixture, stirring it in so that it is combined. Add the parsley leaves, shredded into pieces. Remove from the heat straight away and continue to stir for a couple of minutes. Stir in the tomato pieces.
  6. To assemble: scrape the fish mixture into the bottom of a large ovenproof dish. Put a thick layer of mashed potato on top and cover it with grated cheddar cheese. Cook under the grill for about 10 minutes or in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and cooked.
  7. Serve with lots of vegetables, like peas, carrots, sweetcorn, runner beans, courgettes, broccoli, cauliflower etc. Scatter the parsley, torn over the top along with cut up chives.

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Baba Ganoush 

(Serves 4)

-1 aubergine -3 small garlic cloves – ½tsp salt – Juice of 1 lemon – 1tbsp tahini paste – 1 ½tbsp olive oil -1tbsp chopped parsley – Black pepper – Flat breads, like maneesh or pitta breads, to serve – Mixed salad, to serve

  1. Heat the grill to high. Prick the aubergine with a fork and grill, turning occasionally, until the skin is charred and blackened all over and the flesh feels soft when pressed. Leave to one side until cool enough to handle.
  2. Crush the garlic. Tip into a food processor, add the lemon juice, tahini and olive oil and combine. Season with black pepper.
  3. Cut the aubergine in half, scoop out the soft flesh and add to the mixture. Combine well so it is a smooth paste.
  4. Spoon into a serving dish and top with a grinding of black pepper and parsley. Serve with bread and salad or it goes great with rice and as a topping to potato.

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More recipes with parsley- available below!

Stuffed Aubergines (Vegetarian), parsley is great on curries like this Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry, used in stocks for soups Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock and in Homity pie along with Leeks.

Pumpkin

A pumpkin is a cultivar of a squash plant, most commonly of Cucurbita pep, that is round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange colouration. The thick shell contains seeds and pulp. Some exceptionally large ones are derived from Cucurbita maxima. In NZ and Australia, the term pumpkin generally refers to the broader category called winter squash elsewhere.

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Native to North America pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use and are used both in food and recreation. Pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in the US although commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the pumpkins frequently carved as for decoration at Halloween. Pumpkins, like other squash, are thought to have originated in North America. The oldest evidence of pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 BC was found in Mexico. Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. One often-used botanical classification relies on the characteristics of the stems: pumpkin stems are more rigid, prickly, and angular (with an approximate five-degree angle) than squash stems, which are generally softer, more rounded and more flared where joined to the fruit. Pumpkin fruits are a type of botanical berry known as a pepo. The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon which is Greek for “large melon”, something round and large. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and to the later American colonists became known as pumpkin. Traditional C. pepo pumpkins generally weigh between 3 and 8kg (6 and 18 lb), though the largest cultivars, C. maxima, regularly reach weights of over 34 kg (75 lb). The color of pumpkins derives from orange carotenoid pigments, including beta-carotene found in carrots, provitamin B compounds converted to vitamin A in the body.

Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that are usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures 8cm (3 in) deep are at least 15.5C (60F) and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures and sandy soil with poor water retention or poorly drained soils that become waterlogged after heavy rain. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed. The thing I most fear for our pumpkins is powdery mildew – Powdery Mildew

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A courgette with powdery mildew – the white spots that grow on the leaves before the plant shrivels and dies.

Pumpkins produce both a male and female flower. Bees play a significant role in the fertilisation of the flowers. Pumpkins have historically been pollinated by the native squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, but this bee has declined, probably at least in part to pesticide sensitivity. Today most commercial plantings are pollinated by honeybees. One hive per acre (4,000 m2 per hive, or 5 hives per 2 hectares) is recommended by the US Dept. of Agriculture. If there are inadequate bees for pollination, gardeners often have to hand pollinate – inadequately pollinated pumpkins usually start growing but abort before full development.

To grow pumpkins, plant one seed in a tall yoghurt container filled with good compost, puncture a hole in the bottom of the pot to allow water to drain through, in April. Plant 1.5cm, 1/2 inch, deep (deep as your thumb) and firm the soil over the top. Keep well watered and put on a warm, sunny windowsill in your house. Take it off the windowsill at night to keep it warm. Transplant outdoors in May or when the frosts are over, spacing 1.2m (4’) apart. Keep moist and well fed – I feed mine lots of manure throughout the season because of my sandy soil that leaks away the nutrients – pumpkins are hungry plants. To prevent the fruit from rotting, gently lift from the ground and place a brick or large stone underneath them. Careful not to damage the stem. Harvest once they are turning orange all over, September – November and before the first frosts. The most obvious clue is to look at the stem as if it has died off and turned hard you know that the fruits are ready. Other ways of telling that the moment of truth has arrived is to slap the fruit (it should sound hollow) and to push your thumbnail into the skin, which should dent but not puncture. Cut the stalks a good 4 inches from where it joins the fruit. Wash the fruit with soapy water containing one part of chlorine bleach to ten parts of water to remove the soil and kill the pathogens on the surface of the fruit. Make sure the fruits are well dried. Then you need to cure it. Curing involves the hardening the skins to protect the flesh inside from deterioration. Do it properly and you can expect fruits to stay in top form for at least three months, comfortably taking you to the first harvests of next spring.  Remove the fruits to a greenhouse or as sunny a windowsill as you can find having first brushed off any dirt. Allow your fruits to sunbathe and develop a tan! This should take about two weeks for the top of the fruit then once carefully flipped over, another two weeks for the bottom. Pumpkins and winter squash prefer a well-ventilated, dry place. Keep the fruits raised up off hard surfaces on racks or wire mesh with a thick layer of newspaper or straw. Keeping them off the ground will allow air to circulate around the fruits while the extra padding will prevent the skin softening and becoming vulnerable to infection.

The best pumpkin variety I’ve tried so far are ‘Racer’.

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The practice of carving pumpkins for Halloween originated from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips. Not until 1837, does jack-o’-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern and the carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is first recorded in 1866. In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween. In 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o’-lantern as part of the festivities to encourage families to join together to make their own jack-o’-lanterns. Association of pumpkins with harvest time and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving reinforce its iconic role. Pumpkin chunking is a competitive activity in which teams build various mechanical devices designed to throw a pumpkin as far as possible. Catapults and air cannons are some of the common mechanisms. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow special varieties of pumpkin under specialized conditions to improve the pumpkin’s chances of surviving a throw.

Pumpkin seeds, leaves, and juices all pack a nutritional punch. Pumpkin has a range of health benefits, including being one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene and are a good source of fibre -one cup of cooked pumpkin is 2.7kg of fibre. Pumpkins have been found to reduce blood pressure, reduce risk of cancer, combats diabetes and supports your immune system.

Here are some yummy pumpkin recipes and ideas to get you started:

You can simply roast them at 180C in the oven covered in olive oil for 45 minutes. You can use them in soups, stews. Grate them up and add them to any casserole or bolognese, stir fry etc. Make pumpkin pie, try inventing a new dip…

Pumpkin Coconut Curry

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What to do with left over pumpkin? – make pumpkin seeds taste like popcorn

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Happy Halloween! Recipe Flashbacks – pumpkin cake anyone?!

Mushrooms

Unless you know your mushrooms well, it is difficult and dangerous to forage for them. I heard a story about someone who put a poisonous one in the basket alongside all of the edible ones before realising their mistake and removing it. She and her partner ended up in hospital with severe poisoning after eating the edible ones that had touched the poisonous one.

However, there is a simpler way of harvesting them if you are a scardy-cat like me. You can buy your own mushroom kits.

Mushrooms are the fleshy and edible bodies of several species of microfungi – fungi which bear fruiting structures that are large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

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Potato and Mushroom recipe – coming soon…

Identifying mushrooms requires a basic understanding of their macroscopic structure. Most are basidiomycetes and gilled. Their spores are produced on the gills and fall in a fine rain of powder from under the caps. At the microscopic level the spores are fired off and they fall between the gills in the dead air space. As a result, for most mushrooms, if the cap is cut off and placed gill-side-down overnight, a powdery impression reflecting the shape of the gills is formed. The color of the powdery print, called a spore print, is used to help classify mushrooms and can help to identify them. Spore print colors include white (most common), brown, black, purple-brown, pink, yellow, and creamy. While modern identification of mushrooms is quickly becoming molecular, the standard methods for identification are still used by most and have developed into a fine art harking back to medieval times and the Victorians, combined with microscopic examination. The presence of juices upon breaking, bruising reactions, odors, tastes, shades of color, habitat, habit, and season all have to be considered.

Mycophagy, the act of consuming mushrooms, dates back to ancient times. Edible mushroom species have been found in association with 13,000-year-old archaeological sites in Chile but the first reliable evidence of mushroom consumption dates to several hundred years ago in China. The Chinese value mushrooms for medicinal properties as well as for food. Romans and Greeks used mushrooms for culinary purposes. Food tasters were employed by Roman emperors to ensure that mushrooms were safe to eat.

The terms “mushroom” and “toadstool” go back centuries and were never precisely defined. Between 1400 and 1600 AD, the terms mushrom, mushrum, muscheron, mousheroms, mussheron, or musserouns were used. Mushroom and its variations may have been derived from the French word mousseron in reference to moss (mousse). Yet difference between edible and poisonous fungi is not clear-cut, so a “mushroom” may be edible, poisonous, or unpalatable. Cultural or social phobias of mushrooms and fungi may be related. The term “fungophobia” was coined by William Delisle Hay who noted a national fear of “toadstools”. The word “toadstool” has apparent analogies in Dutch padde(n)stoel (toad-stool/chair, mushroom) and German Krötenschwamm (toad-fungus, alternative word for panther cap). In German folklore, toads are often depicted sitting on toadstool mushrooms and catching, with their tongues, the flies that are said to be drawn to the Fliegenpilz, a German name for the toadstool, meaning “flies’ mushroom”. This is how the mushroom got another of its names, Krötenstuhl (a less-used German name for the mushroom), literally translating to “toad-stool”.

Many species of mushrooms seemingly appear overnight, growing or expanding rapidly. This phenomenon is the source of several common expressions including “to mushroom” or “mushrooming” (expanding rapidly in size or scope) and “to pop up like a mushroom” (to appear unexpectedly and quickly).

A mushroom develops from a nodule, or pinhead, less than 2mm in diameter, called a primordium, which is typically found on or near the surface of the substrate. It is formed within the mycelium. The primordium enlarges into a roundish structure of interwoven hyphae roughly resembling an egg, called a “button”. The button has a cottony roll of mycelium that surrounds the developing fruit body. As the egg expands, the mycelium ruptures and may remain as a cup at the base of the stalk or as warts or volval patches on the cap. Many mushrooms lack a universal veil, a mycelium, therefore they do not have either a volva or volval patches. Often, a second layer of tissue covers the blade like gills that bear spores. As the cap expands, the veil breaks, and remnants of the partial veil may remain as a ring around the middle of the stalk or as fragments hanging from the margin of the cap. All species of mushrooms take several days to form primordial mushroom fruit bodies, though they do expand rapidly by the absorption of fluids.

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Mushrooms are great in stir fries

The cultivated mushrooms, or common field mushrooms, initially form a minute fruiting body, referred to as the pin stage because of their small size. Slightly expanded they are called buttons, once again because of the relative size and shape. Once such stages are formed, the mushroom can rapidly pull in water from its mycelium and expand, mainly by inflating preformed cells that took several days to form.

Many mushroom species produce secondary metabolites that can be toxic, mind-altering, antibiotic or antiviral. Although there are only a small number of deadly species, several others can cause particularly severe and unpleasant symptoms. Toxicity likely plays a role in protecting the function of the basidiocarp: the mycelium has expended considerable energy and protoplasmic material to develop a structure to efficiently distribute its spores. One defense against consumption and premature destruction is the evolution of chemicals that render the mushroom inedible, either causing the consumer to vomit the meal or to learn to avoid consumption altogether. In addition, due to the propensity of mushrooms to absorb heavy metals, including those that are radioactive, European mushrooms may, to date, include toxicity from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and continue to be studied.

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So far we have tried using Taylor’s mushroom growing kit. It hasn’t been great – so far we have one big, beautiful mushroom, and nothing else. But I’ve been doing my research and have looked up how to grow mushrooms indoors and outdoors, as well as including the Taylor instructions below…

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Taylor’s Grow Your Own mushroom kits…

  1. Empty the mushroom compost in the bottom of your lined box and lightly firm. Spread over the ‘Casing Layer’ (which has been moistened with half a litre of water) and lightly mix the two layers together leaving the surface rough.
  2. Rest the lid on top of the box at an angle and put in a warm place for about a week and a white fluffy mycelium should appear on the surface.
  3. Remove the lid and place in a cooler dark location, use a mist spray to keep the surface damp.
  4. Mushroom should begin to appear after about a week, pick them as small or as large as you like.

Indoor sowing information… 

You need 20kg (45lbs) of well rotted compost for 100g spawn. Make the compost from fresh, strawy horse manure, or straw supplemented with organic nitrogen. The best compost for mushrooms is horse manure. Make sure the compost is free of worms and invertebrates which will eat the spawn. The manure will be “clean” if composting temperatures are reached. A cellar, shed, cool greenhouse, shelter or even garden frame can be used. Beds should be about 25cms (10 ins.) deep, boxes 15-20cms (6-8 ins.) deep. Tightly pack with compost. It may heat up after packing so leave until the temperature is steady and no higher than 21C (69F). Scatter the spawn over the surface and mix in until it is about 2 to 3 ins deep Firm the surface again and cover with a damp newspaper to keep the compost dark and moist. The compost will become covered in white fungal threads in two to three weeks. When the compost is fully colonised (covered with white threads) remove the newspaper. Cover the compost with 2.5 cm (1 inch) of casing. Casing may be either 50% garden soil 50% peat plus 2 or 3 handfuls of lime per bucketful of casing, or 50% chalk and 50% peat. Peat free compost can also be used but add the chalk or lime. Before using the casing it should be thoroughly wetted and allowed to drain. Keep the casing layer evenly moist but not wet. Use a fine rose watering can or mist spray. Mushrooms will first appear as tiny pin points 3-5 weeks after casing. Air humidity must be kept high at this point (about 85%) to allow mushrooms to develop. They will grow in a flush approximately every 10 days. Pick by twisting the cap until the mushroom comes away and avoid damaging the small ones nearby.

For outdoors…

Sow from Spring to August. In grass areas lift 25 cm (10 ins) square turfs, 4 cm (1.5 ins) deep and about 60 cm (24 ins) apart. Loosen the underlying soil with a fork. Where no animal or garden compost has been added recently, or where the soil is poor add well rotted farm manure, garden or mushroom compost. Spread the mushroom spawn thinly over the soil and mix to a depth of 1 cm. Press the turf down firmly and moisten in dry weather. The soil below should not get saturated. A good dressing of humus – limed peat, rotten horse manure or old mushroom compost is recommended. Choose a lawn or pasture where the soil is rich, moist and contains plenty of fully decayed organic matter. In the garden it will thrive best in lawns which are not to acidic and therefore do not grow moss. Neglected lawns and around compost heaps are good sites. Growth will depend on the weather. Mushrooms grow best in warm damp conditions and once established they should continue to thrive if the weather is warm and the turf is kept moist. Growth produces patches of greener grass. Mushrooms grow best at an even temperature of about 16C(60F). They do not grow well below 10C(60F) or above 20C(68F).

Mushrooms are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that helps lower elevated blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke. One medium portobello mushroom has even more potassium than a banana or a glass of orange juice. One serving of mushrooms also provides about 20 to 40% of the daily value of copper, a mineral that has cardioprotective properties. Mushrooms are a rich source of riboflavin, niacin, and selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant that works with vitamin E to protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Male health professionals who consumed twice the recommended daily intake of selenium cut their risk of prostate cancer by 65 percent. In a Baltimore study, men with the lowest blood selenium levels were 4 to 5 times more likely to have prostate cancer compared to those with the highest selenium levels. One cup of raw onions equals 2.2g of protein which is pretty high for plants. Mushrooms are therefore very useful for vegetarian or vegan diets as a source of protein and vitamin B and D.

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Mushroom and Orach seeds

I’ve been using mushrooms more this year and have come round to liking them in a number of different dishes. They are a great replacement for chicken in casseroles, brilliant in stir fries (Garden Stir-Fry – the way to use up unwanted veg), I like them just fried in butter with rice and salad for a quick lunch, or fried with Orach seeds. They are a traditional side to egg and bacon, or just egg and toast. An addition to chicken pie. Mushroom risotto, addition to carbonara, raw in French salads with raw green beens and hard boiled eggs. Yet my favourite new-found-new-liked recipe is mushroom and cheese omelette – the best omelette around.

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Mushroom and Cheese Omelette

(Serves 1)

-2 eggs -100g grated cheddar cheese -3-4 button sized mushrooms, sliced thinly -Knob of butter, for frying -Salad, to serve

  1. Beat the eggs together in a large bowl, thoroughly otherwise the whites and yolks won’t mix properly to create that beautiful yellow colour.
  2. Mix in the grated cheddar and sliced mushrooms.
  3. Melt the butter in a frying pan, swirling it round to cover the entire surface. Tip in the contents of the bowl and swirl it over the surface of the pan too.
  4. Allow it to cook on one side for a couple of minutes. Then, using a scraper, gently lift up half of the omelette and flip it over the other half. This encourages the other side to cook whilst preventing you from tearing the omelette apart.
  5. Once the outside is starting to brown and the inside looked cooked (the cheese will be melted but you want the egg part to be cooked), flip the omelette onto a plate and serve alongside a salad or some crusty bread, rice or potatoes.

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Pepper Pasta

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Anyone have too many peppers? Any one at a loss of what to do with them? Try my new recipe…

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Pepper Pasta

(Serves 2)

-2 servings spoons of pasta -Olive oil -1 red, 1 yellow and 1 green bell peppers -2 handfuls of cheddar cheese, grated

  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the pasta and then leave it to simmer for about ten minutes, or until the pasta has cooked. Drain and set aside.
  2. Add a generous splash of olive oil to a frying pan.
  3. De-stalk, de-seed and slice the three peppers into long, thin strips. Scrape  them into the frying pan and bring to a high heat, stirring. Once they start to char slightly, turn down to a simmer.
  4. Scrape the pasta into the frying pan and mix into the peppers. Bring the heat up briefly for a minute or two and then remove the frying pan from the flame.
  5. Divide the mixture in half and serve onto two plates. Sprinkle a handful of cheddar cheese over the top of each helping. Serve.

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Peppers

Peppers (Sweet Peppers, Bell Peppers, Capsicum) are from the species Capsicum annuum. Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colors, including red, yellow, orange, green, chocolate/brown, vanilla/white, and purple. Green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and almost fruity.  The whitish ribs and seeds inside bell peppers may be consumed, but some people find the taste to be bitter. They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant, are sweet and plump vegetables featuring either three or four lobes.

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Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Pepper seeds were imported to Spain in 1493, and from there spread to other European, African, and Asian countries. Today China is the world’s largest pepper producer, followed by Mexico and Indonesia. The earliest fossil traces so far are from southwestern Ecuador, where families grew their own peppers about 6,100 years ago.

The word pepper comes from the Greek word pipari which means the black spice. The misleading name “pepper” was given by Europeans when Christopher Columbus brought the plant back to Europe. At that time, black pepper (peppercorns), from the unrelated plant Piper nigrum originating from India was a highly prized condiment. “Pepper” was at that time applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste and was therefore naturally extended to the newly discovered vegetable (botanically a fruit but referred to as a vegetable in culinary use). Peppers were not hot but still looked a lot like the other hot peppers, chilli peppers. The pepper is the only variety of its genus that doesn’t produce any capsaicin which is the compound that is the heat in chili peppers. The lack of capsaicin in bell peppers is due to a recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin and, consequently, the “hot” taste,

All of the bell pepper varieies start green and turn to red or yellow or orange etc. It is the same variety but each of the colors (besides green) is a different cultivar.

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Now, I haven’t been too successful with growing peppers but that was mostly due to being a bad mummy to them. I have known a neighbour to grow lots of delicious peppers. Because I’m in England, I have to grow then indoors, but I’ve included the outside instructions as well, below.

For greenhouse crops, sow indoors, February-April. A warm kitchen windowsill is all you need for starting these seeds. Sow thinly, 0.5cm (¼”) deep, in a tray of compost. Water well and place in a warm position. A temperature of 15-20°C (60-68°F) is ideal. Keep moist. Seedlings usually appear in 7-21 days. Transplant to individual pots when large enough to handle. Grow on in cooler, but not cold conditions. Plant out May-June, to large pots, growing bags or into warm, well-drained soil in the greenhouse border. For outdoor crops: delay indoor sowing until March or April. Gradually accustom plants to outside conditions (avoid frosts), before planting out 40cm (16″) apart, when frosts are over. Choose a warm, sunny, sheltered spot. Outdoor crops will be smaller and later than those in a greenhouse. Harvest: July-October.

Peppers are often harvested when the fruit is still green, but full sized. Allowing the pepper to remain on the plant and continue to ripen, changing colors from yellow, orange to red before picking pepper fruit, will result in sweeter peppers. Harvest with scissors to not break the branches of the plant. Peppers do not keep very long so try to use as soon as you have harvested them.

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I have tried ‘Californian Wonder’ from Mr Fothergills as well as ‘Northern Lights’, but there are plenty more varieties available. When you are buying pepper seeds, just look for ‘sweet peppers’ as other ones will be hot ones, that you might not want to get confused with!

Capsicum peppers are rich sources of antioxidants and vitamin C. The level of carotene is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers. Red and green bell peppers are high in para-coumaric acid. The characteristic aroma of green peppers is caused by 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IBMP).

There are lost of delicious ways to have peppers. Stir fries are great, especially for the green peppers. I like the red ones raw as part of any salad as well as with melted Brie cheese on toast. Stuffed peppers are delicious with rice. But today I am sharing with you another way of fancying up my homemade pizza:

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Follow this pizza recipe Updated recipe: homemade pizza and after sprinkling the cheese on top, slice the de-seeded pepper/s into small segments and scatter over the surface before putting it in the oven and following the usual steps.

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Enjoy!