Relishing the sweeter things in life

HEALTHY EATING: PART 3;We can enjoy favourite chutneys and desserts fro m Anna Thomas's repertoire without piling on the pounds
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This Is the last week of our series of recipes for self-improving, yet self- indulgent eating. We feature a selection of relishes and desserts.

These recipes represent the philosophy of Anna Thomas, one of the most influential food writers in the US. Her first book, The Vegetarian Epicure, published nearly 20 years ago, sold over two million copies worldwide. Her new book, From Anna's Kitchen, has been short-listed for the Andre Simon (best cookery book) Award this year.

Anna Thomas is not a vegetarian (she enjoys fish and white meat) though her preference has always been for fresh fruit and vegetables. Now she finds her eating style has been embraced by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which regards it as a model diet and one which is most likely to protect you from heart disease and diet-related illnesses.

The WHO recommends that we try to derive most of our energy from starchy foods (bread and potatoes, pasta, rice etc) and less from fats. So this week we include some relishes which add zest and interest to main dishes and desserts and which don`t rely on large quantities of butter and cream, though they don't lack flavour and sweetness.

ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

For years, I thought the simple tomato sauce I made in a pan, sauteing garlic and tomatoes in a bit of olive oil, was as easy as it could get, but this may be even easier. It takes time in the oven, but hardly any work. More important, roasting tomatoes concentrates their flavour to a dark, rich essence that is a mystical experience for tomato addicts.

Makes about 600ml/1 pint

1.8kg/4lb very ripe tomatoes

450g/1lb mild onions

5 large cloves garlic

2 tablespoons fruity green olive oil

1 teaspoon salt, more to taste

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil

Peel the tomatoes in the usual way: cut a cross in the bottom of each one with a sharp knife and put them into boiling water for one minute. Remove them from the hot water directly into cold water, then slip off their skins and trim them over a bowl, catching all the juice.

Cut the tomatoes into large chunks or wedges. Peel and chop the onions. Peel and slice the garlic cloves. Toss together all the ingredients, including the juice of the tomatoes, and spread evenly over a large baking sheet with edges.

Put the tomatoes in a 190C/375F/Gas 5 oven and roast them for about two to two and a half hours, stirring once after the first hour, then every 30 minutes or so. Most of the liquid will cook away, and the tomatoes will melt into a soft, thick, slightly caramelised marmalade. It's wonderful.

Serve this on pasta, with rice, on pizza, with polenta, in soups, or anything that goes well with tomatoes.

SWEET RED PEPPER PUREE

Makes about 900ml/112 pints

2 large onions, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt

2-3 red peppers, roasted and peeled

3 tablespoons cider vinegar, more to taste

3 tablespoons brown sugar, more to taste

In a heavy-bottomed non-stick pan, cook the onions in the olive oil over low heat until they are a light-golden colour. Salt lightly. In a blender or food processor, combine the caramelised onions, the peppers, the vinegar, and the sugar, and process until you have a smooth puree. Add salt to taste, and correct the sweet-sour balance with a little more vinegar or sugar if needed.

Warm the sauce gently before serving.

CRANBERRY CHUTNEY

Makes about 900g/2lb

350g/12oz cranberries

175g/6oz brown sugar

75g/3oz dried pears, chopped

1 large crisp apple, peeled, cored and chopped

1 large onion, chopped

90ml/3fl oz cider vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger root

grated zest of 1 lemon

pinch of salt

350ml/12fl oz water, more if needed

11/2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds

1-2 small hot red chillies, dried or fresh

Rinse the berries and pick them over, discarding any that are soft and brown. In a large, non-reactive pan, combine the berries with all but the last two ingredients, and bring everything to a slow boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Toast the mustard seeds in a small pan, shaking them over a medium heat until they begin to pop and jump. Toast the chillies in a very hot pan directly over a flame until they blister and turn black in spots, then mince them. Stir the mustard seeds and minced chilli into the cranberry mixture.

Lower the heat and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally, adding a little more water if the chutney becomes too thick and threatens to scorch.

The chutney can be kept refrigerated and covered for several weeks, or put into sterilized jars and processed in a hot-water bath for longer storage. Flavour improves after a day or two.

SALSA CRUDA

This is also called pico de gallo, or salsa fresca. It is the staple item of the American south-western table, the garnish that accompanies almost anything. A simple combination of freshly chopped tomatoes, onions, chillies, and coriander, it depends on the excellence and freshness of its few ingredients.

Makes 900ml/11/2 pints

900g/2lb vine-ripe tomatoes

1/2 medium onion (sweet varieties are best)

4-5 small green chillies (5-6 tablespoons, chopped)

6 tablespoons chopped coriander

salt to taste

Optional:

1-2 teaspoons lemon juice cumin seeds, toasted and crushed

Cut the tomatoes into small dice using a sharp, serrated knife. Don't use the food processor for this, as it will turn the tomatoes into soup. If the tomatoes are very, very juicy, you could drain them for a few minutes in a colander.

Finely chop the onion. Cut the chillies in half lengthwise, remove the ribs and seeds, and chop them finely. Remove the coriander leaves from their stems and chop them roughly.

Toss all these things in a bowl, add salt to your taste, and lemon juice if you like. Sometimes I add a little toasted, crushed cumin.

AUBERGINE AND OLIVE RELISH

Makes about 500ml/16fl oz of relish

3 medium aubergines (about 1.4-1.8kg/3-4lb)

450g/1lb tomatoes

125g/4oz Kalamata olives, or a combination of black and green cured olives, coarsely chopped

lemon juice to taste

freshly ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Prick the aubergines with a fork, put on a baking sheet, and roast in a 200C/400F/ Gas 6 oven for at least an hour, or until they are soft enough to collapse when pushed. At the same time, quarter the tomatoes, arrange them skin-side down on another baking sheet, and roast until they are blackened around the edges and most of the excess juice has cooked away, also about an hour.

When the aubergines have cooled, split them open and scoop the flesh out of the skins with a spoon. Scrape away and discard any clusters of very dark seeds. Allow the aubergine flesh to drain in a colander for about 30 minutes, then chop it coarsely.

When the tomatoes are ready, use a spoon to remove the tomato pulp gently from the skins. Discard the skins and stir the pulp into the aubergine flesh.

Add the chopped olives to the auber-gine and tomatoes. Stir and taste. Add a few drops of lemon juice and some black pepper, and stir in the parsley. You should not need any salt, as the olives provide enough.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with crostini, crackers, or pitta bread.

WINTER FRUIT COMPOTE

Serves 8-10

225g/8oz dried nectarines or peaches (or a combination)

125g/4oz dried plums

225g/8oz dried figs

600ml/1 pint spring water

500ml/16fl oz dry red wine

peel of a lemon

7.5cm/3in stick cinnamon

75g/3oz cup sugar

1 teaspoon Pernod

Garnish:

ice-cream

Cut the nectarines or peaches and the plums into wide strips. Leave the figs whole. Combine the fruit in a medium-sized non-reactive pan with the water and the wine. Remember - when cooking with wine, the rule is, if you don't want to drink it, don't cook with it. You don't have to use a rare or expensive wine, but it must be good.

Cut the lemon peel off in wide strips, and with a thin, sharp knife slice away the thick white pith and discard. Add the peel to the fruit, along with the cinnamon stick, sugar, and Pernod.

Bring everything to a boil, lower the heat, and then gently simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Add a bit more water if needed to keep everything just covered.

The fruit should be soft, but not falling apart. The liquid will have the consistency of a thin syrup, not too sweet and slightly spicy from the cinnamon and lemon peel. The peel can be left in the syrup while the compote is refrigerated, but should be removed before serving.

Serve warm or cool, in wide, shallow bowls, with a scoop of ice-cream added at the last moment. Cinnamon or anise ice-cream would be great; so would a good, plain vanilla.

YOGHURT CHEESE

Yoghurt Cheese is nothing more complicated than well-drained plain yoghurt. It has a creamy, silky texture, and a flavour similar to cream cheese, though slightly more tangy. It can be spread on bagels, used to make fresh herbed cheese, or sweetened with sugar or honey and eaten with fruit for a wonderful dessert.

(2.4 litres/4 pints of yoghurt will yield about 575-700g/11/4-11/2lb of yoghurt cheese, depending on how long you drain it)

2.4 litres/4 pints plain non-fat yoghurt, or a mixture of non-fat and whole-milk yoghurt. Use plain yoghurt that has no starch or gums added to it

Line a colander with a triple thickness of damp cheesecloth. Put the yoghurt into it and stand the colander in a bowl. Cover with Clingfilm and refrigerate for about 18 to 20 hours. Drain the liquid from the bowl and discard it once or twice in the course of this process.

If you want an even thicker, denser cheese, pick up the four corners of the cheesecloth, twist them together, then put a weight on top of the cheese and let it drain another few hours.

YOGHURT CHEESE WITH HONEY AND FRESH FIGS

With sweet, ripe figs, this is a dish from heaven. If fresh figs are unavailable, you could try sliced white peaches (slice them at the last moment) or big, juicy berries. Perfect ripeness is essential.

Serves 8

yoghurt cheese (see previous recipe)

8 tablespoons honey, more to taste

16 large ripe figs

mint sprigs (optional for garnish)

On each of eight medium-sized desert plates, put a big dollop of freshly stirred yoghurt cheese. Drizzle at least a tablespoon of honey over it, more if you like.

Cut figs in half and split open, keeping the halves connected at the stem if you want to. Put two figs on each plate next to the cheese with mint if desired.

PUMPKIN BUTTER

If you like pumpkin pie, then try this delicious pumpkin butter on your breakfast toast. It's fat-free, and has a wonderfully rich flavour. Sometimes we make a big batch of this to pack into pretty jars and give away for Christmas (instead of apple butter), but we always keep half for ourselves.

The secret is to use a good pumpkin. The giant ones that are grown primarily for use as jack-o'-lanterns don't have a very intense flavour. Small pumpkins tend to be much better. You can ask for advice at a local farm shop, in the produce department of a good supermarket, or from a good gardener, to find out about the best pumpkins available in your area.

Makes about 1.8 to 2.2kg (4 to 5lb)

4.2-4.4kg/91/2-10lb pumpkin weighed whole

34 teaspoon salt

4-5 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, more to taste

4-5 tablespoons cider vinegar

575-700g/11/4-11/2lb brown sugar

Cut the pumpkin in half, scrape out all the seeds, then put the pumpkin halves cut-side down in a lightly oiled baking dish. Bake the pumpkin pieces in the oven at 200C/400F/Gas 6 for about an hour, or until it feels soft when poked with a wooden spoon.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly, then turn the pumpkin halves over and scoop the soft flesh out of the rind. Be sure not to get pieces of rind into the mix.

Combine the pumpkin in a large, non-reactive, heavy-bottomed pot with the remaining ingredients. Bring to the mixture to simmer and stir over a low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, as the flavours marry and the excess moisture cooks away. Adjust the amounts of vinegar and sugar by tasting. Pumpkins vary a great deal in flavour and sweetness, so you have to play with this a little.

Puree the mixture in batches in a blender, and taste again; correct the seasoning and cook the puree down more if it feels thin - it should hold a soft shape.

Spoon the hot pumpkin butter into sterile jars, screw on new, scalded lids, and process in a boiling water bath for at least 20 minutes, or according to manufacturer's instructions. The butter can also be frozen in small batches, or simply kept in tightly covered containers in the refrigerator for several weeks.

This pumpkin butter develops its best flavour after a few days. Serve it cold, spooned on to toast or a muffin.

CLAFOUTI WITH APRICOTS

A clafouti is a pudding-like dessert, made by pouring a pancake batter over fruit and baking it in a hot oven. It's quick and easy, and best eaten hot or warm, dusted with powdered sugar.

Serves 8

900g/2lb ripe apricots

2 tablespoons melted butter, more for the baking dish

175g/6oz plus 2 tablespoons sugar

175g/6oz flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

4 eggs

400ml/14fl oz warmed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

grated zest of 1 lemon

icing sugar and cream to garnish

Wash and dry the apricots, then cut them in half and remove their stones. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Butter a large, shallow baking dish (I use a 36cm/14in round gratin dish), sprinkle it with two tablespoons of sugar, and arrange the apricots in one layer, close together, cut-side down. Put them in the oven for 10 minutes; they should just begin to release their juice.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the eggs with the remaining sugar until fluffy, then beat in the flour mixture, the warmed milk, melted butter, vanilla, and lemon zest to make a smooth batter.

Take the apricots out of the oven and pour the batter over them evenly. Push them down with a spatula if they float up, pressing out any trapped air. Put the dish back into the centre of the oven and reduce the heat to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Bake the clafouti for about 35 minutes, but to be safe, check it after 15 minutes. This clafouti has a little baking powder in the batter, so don't be surprised to see it rising in the oven in high, billowy shapes. If the edges are browning too quickly, then you can lay a sheet of foil loosely over the top for the remaining time.

The clafouti will sink gradually, however, when you take it out of the oven. Serve it warm, sprinkled generously with sifted icing sugar. I find that a little cream poured around it on the plate also goes very well.

APPLE CRISP

Serves 8

For the filling:

1.6kg/3lb 8oz crisp, juicy apples

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

125g/4oz sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons plain flour

For the topping:

75g/3oz coarsely chopped walnuts

65g/21/2oz flour

175g/6oz dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons cold butter

75g/3oz rolled oats

1 egg white

Quarter the apples, peel and core them, and then slice them crosswise. Next, toss the apple slices with the lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and flour. Spread the prepared apple mixture evenly in a large, shallow gratin dish.

Spread the chopped walnuts on to a baking sheet and toast them in a 120C/250F/ Gas 12 oven for approximately 25 minutes, then remove them and set them aside.

For the topping: combine the flour, brown sugar, and the cinnamon in a food processor and process them briefly. Add the butter, which should be cut in pieces, and process until the mixture has an evenly grainy texture, with no large chunks of butter. Add the rolled oats and process for a few seconds. Now, add the egg white, and process for a few seconds again, until the mixture starts to form in to clumps.

Using your hands, sprinkle the topping over the apples, breaking apart large clumps if necessary. Bake in a 190C/ 375F/Gas 5 oven for about 35 minutes. The apples should be simmering and the topping crisp and brown.

Allow the crisp to cool slightly, then sprinkle the toasted walnuts over the top and serve. This is best served warm, with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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