Berry Bonanza

allotment haul July 2015Summer in the allotment is a fabulous time for soft fruit and this year is no exception. From the end of June through to the end of July, there’s a constant stream of delicious berries to harvest, starting with strawberries, closely followed by currants, white, red and black, and on to raspberries. This week I’m also looking after my neighbour’s allotment whilst she’s on holiday and she has jostaberries too: a German hybrid of blackcurrants and gooseberries (hence the name: Jo-hannisbeeren (blackcurrants) and Sta-chelbeeren (gooseberries)). This makes a huge bush – my neighbour’s must be at least 8-10 feet across and this year, secure in its fruit cage, is absolutely dripping with fruit. I’m under instructions to help myself, and so have jam in my sights, but for now have just picked enough for a delicious compote to top a cheesecake – tangy and delightful, tasting of both its parents, but unique too – definitely one to try again! I usually make this recipe with fresh strawberries (as shown in the photo) or raspberries, but it was equally good with jostaberries and would work beautifully with blackcurrants too.

Strawberry (or Jostaberry) Cheesecake – serves 6-8

Strawberry cheesecake 75g butter

250g HobNob or digestive biscuits

150ml double cream

200g full-fat cream cheese

200g crème fraiche

Juice and zest of 1 lime

75g caster sugar

Few drops vanilla essence

Fruit to top: 500g strawberries (sliced) or raspberries

or 500g jostaberries or blackcurrants

50-75g sugar (to taste)

1 tsp arrowroot

I make this in a shallow 30cm x 20cm rectangular tart tin with a loose bottom, but you can use an equivalent round tart tin if you prefer. Grease the tin with butter.

Melt the butter in a small pan and add the crushed biscuits (the old-fashioned way using a plastic bag and a rolling pin, or food-processor if you prefer, but don’t overprocess: a chunky mix is good). Mix and turn into the base of the tin. Spread out and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Whip the cream lightly with the sugar, then add the lime zest and juice, cream cheese, crème fraiche and vanilla essence, continuing to whip until the mixture makes soft swirls. Turn into the base and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight for the best set.

Top with fresh berries if using, garnishing with borage flowers if you have any.

If serving with compote, cook the jostaberries or blackcurrants gently with the sugar until just cooked. Don’t be tempted to add water as the fruit will produce plenty of juice as the berries burst. Pour some of the juice into a small bowl and mix in the teaspoon of arrowroot, then stir the resulting mixture into the cooked berries over a gentle heat, until the mixture thickens slightly. Do not allow to boil, otherwise the mixture will turn runny again! Cool overnight and use to top the cheesecake just before serving.

My summer raspberries are just about coming to an end, and my autumn raspberries (along with many others on the allotment) have succumbed to a mystery virus this year, so I won’t be enjoying my autumn breakfasts of muesli, yogurt and fresh raspberries this year, sadly. It’s been a great season, though, and I’ve used raspberries in so many ways, including the following delicious summer pudding, great for a dinner party. This recipe originally came from the Beechgrove Garden TV show when we lived in Scotland, but I’ve adapted it slightly and it has been part of my summer repertoire ever since:

Meringue Roulade – serves 8

Meringue Roulade4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

25g flaked almonds

1 dsp cornflour

1 tsp lemon juice

150ml double cream

150ml natural yogurt

Fresh raspberries or strawberries (at least 250g)

Line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Set oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk egg whites until firm and gradually whisk in the sugar until glossy and stiff peaks have formed.

Fold in the cornflour and lemon juice using a metal spoon, then transfer to the prepared tin using a spatula and gently level the surface. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds, then bake for about 20 minutes until just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Cut a piece of greaseproof paper a little bigger than the roulade, place on a large chopping board and gently place over the roulade. Invert the whole board gently so that the roulade is upside down on the paper. Carefully peel off the baking parchment.

Whip the cream until the soft swirl stage, then whisk in the yogurt. Gently spread over the meringue and top with the fruit of your choice. The more fruit you add, the more challenging it will be to roll, but the more delicious it will taste! You can always add more fruit on the side if you’re not sure…

Finally roll up firmly, using the paper as a guide. Think positive! Transfer onto a serving platter and serve to much acclaim!

The original recipe suggests serving this with raspberry sauce, but I don’t think this is necessary if you add enough fruit to cover in the first place….

The starting point for my final berry recipe was a recent Waitrose recipe leaflet that coincided with a glut of raspberries in the kitchen. I misread the recipe when I first tried it (more haste, less speed!) and forgot to separate the eggs. I also used gluten-free self-raising flour (Dove’s Farm) and halved* the mixture – they were delicious! This morning I experimented again for my weekend house guests, separating the eggs, and using the full quantity and standard self-raising flour: they were even better! I also changed the proportions of yogurt and ricotta as I only had half a pot of ricotta left after the first time. Just goes to show that you can sometimes deviate from the recipe with great success….

Raspberry and Redcurrant Ricotta Pancakes – serves 4 hungry people!

raspberry and redcurrant pancakes

125g self-raising flour (gluten-free works fine)

50g caster sugar

100ml natural yogurt

250g ricotta

1 tbsp milk

3 large eggs, separated

Zest of 1 lemon (or lime)

½ tsp vanilla extract

100g raspberries or redcurrants (or a mix of both)

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks, yogurt, ricotta, milk, lemon or lime zest and vanilla extract until well mixed. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat the wet yolk mixture into the flour, then fold in the egg whites, followed by the fruit.

Heat a knob of butter and a splash of oil in a large frying pan, pour off excess and place small ladlefuls of the mixture into the pan, in batches. I cooked four at a time in my large pan. Fry on a medium heat for a couple of minutes each side, turning with a spatula or fish slice when golden brown on each side. Keep warm (or serve to impatient breakfasters!) while you continue with the rest. Serve on their own, or with butter or maple syrup. Any leftover (ha!) are delicious toasted the following day….

*If, like me, you decide to halve the mixture for 1-2 people, use 1 whole egg and 1 egg white, but you can add 75g fruit without any adverse effects 🙂

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Aubergenius!

Bougainvillea in MairenaI’m newly returned from a fabulous yoga holiday in the Spanish Alpujarra mountains, where we practised yoga in the olive and orange groves to the sound of cicadas and golden orioles – bliss! The food on offer was vegetarian, as befits a yoga holiday, and cooked by local Spanish ladies from the hill village of Mairena – all absolutely delicious. Back home, my allotment and garden are overflowing with produce and I find I’m inclined to continue the vegetarian diet – why eat meat when there’s so much produce to experiment with?

Much to my surprise, my aubergine plants, grown from seed (Bonica), had two huge aubergines perfect for picking the week I arrived back – much better than the grafted specimens I bought at great expense last year. We’d had a delicious aubergine recipe at Las Chimeneas whilst I was away, subsequently demonstrated in a fascinating local cookery session and we’d all been issued with the recipe, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to try my Spanish cookery skills! My version is slightly adapted from the original to suit the contents of my kitchen, but I’m assured that Soledad, the cook, changes it every time too!

Aubergine plant July 2015Walnut-stuffed Aubergines (Berenjenas rellenas) – serves 2

1 large aubergine

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

50g walnuts

2 large tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato purée

100g grated Manchego or Cheddar cheese

Large handful of basil leaves

Seasoning

Olive oil

1 egg, beaten

Cut the aubergines in half lengthways, leaving the stalk end intact, brush the cut sides with olive oil and bake them on a baking tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 180°C, Gas 5, until soft. Allow to cool, then scoop out the soft flesh and put to one side, leaving the skins intact.

Meanwhile, fry the chopped onion and garlic until soft in the olive oil. Place the walnuts on a tray and cook in the oven for 5-7 minutes until starting to turn golden brown, then crush lightly in a pestle and mortar – not too fine. Grate the tomatoes (ingenious – I’d never thought of doing this, but it saves the effort of skinning them as you discard the last piece of skin!) and add to the pan with a squeeze of tomato purée (needed to compensate for the tomatoes available in the UK at this time of year compared with the flavoursome Spanish varieties… mine won’t be ready for a few weeks and hopefully will make the world of difference). Chop the aubergine flesh and add to the mixture with the crushed walnuts, chopped basil and half the grated cheese, then season well. Remove from the heat and stir in the beaten egg.

Fill the mixture back into the aubergine skins, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and return to the oven for 20 minutes to cook through and brown.

Serve with a salad and rice, or just with griddled courgettes served with chopped mint and lime, as I did. Enjoy!

Stuffed auberginesAnother old favourite of mine is Aubergine Parmigiana, based on a recipe in an ancient M&S cookbook dating back to the early 80’s! Aubergines were doubtless very new-fangled in the UK in those days, usually seen in moussaka, but this recipe has always been one of my stalwarts.

Aubergine Parmigiana – serves 2-3

1 large aubergine – mine weighed 400g! – or 2 small

Olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 large can chopped tomatoes

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp tomato purée

Handful of basil leaves, chopped

Seasoning

1 small carton natural yogurt

50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

50g breadcrumbs

Slice the aubergines crosswise and place the slices on a foil-lined grill pan, then brush with olive oil. Grill until starting to brown, then turn over with kitchen tongs, brush the other side with oil and grill again. Transfer to a tray lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil and repeat with the remaining aubergine slices.

Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft, then add the tomatoes, tomato purée, sugar, chopped basil and seasoning. Cook for 15 minutes or so until well blended.

Place half the aubergine slices on the bottom of a rectangular gratin dish and cover with half the tomato sauce and half the yogurt. Repeat these layers, then top with the cheese and breadcrumbs, mixed together. Cook in a hot oven, 180°C, Gas 5 for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Serve with salad. Any leftover heats up well for lunch the next day.

Aubergine Parmigiana on plateMy final recipe is based on a delicious dish I had in the famous El Pimpi tapas bar just round the corner from the Picasso Museum in Malaga. My companion and I sat at the bar in traditional fashion and had the most delicious selection of tapas: berenjenas con miel de caña, tortilla and a mixed salad – food fit for the gods! These translate as aubergines with sugar cane syrup – or molasses, I suppose. I nearly gave it a miss as I can’t stand honey (miel), but someone had kindly explained that this was sugar cane “honey” – no bees involved! I used pomegranate molasses, but you could probably use maple syrup instead.

Fried aubergines with molasses syrup (berenjenas con miel de caña) – serves 2-3

Fried aubergines

1 large Aubergine

  seasoning

   100g plain flour

   200 ml olive oil

   miel de caña (or pomegranate molasses/maple syrup)

Slice the aubergine into 1 – ½ cm slices. Place the slices on a baking tray and lightly salt on both sides. Leave for at least 30 mins to an hour to draw out the moisture, then rinse and pat dry with kitchen roll. (I don’t usually think this “disgorging” process is necessary with modern breeds of aubergine, which aren’t bitter, but for this recipe it seems like a good idea to ensure the flour sticks).

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Tip the flour onto a large plate and season with salt and pepper. Coat the aubergine slices in the flour and press down, turn over with tongs and coat the other side.

When the oil is hot (it should sizzle when you put the slices in), lift the slices with tongs, shaking off the excess flour, and place in the oil. Cook for about a minute on one side until golden brown and then turn over with the tongs and do the same on the other side. When cooked on both sides remove to some kitchen roll to drain. Continue until all the aubergine is cooked.

Arrange the slices overlapping in one layer on a large serving dish/platter and drizzle generously with the molasses. Serve immediately with extra molasses/syrup on the table.

A sublime and quite unexpected combination! Las Chimeneas door