Category Archives: fruit

Currant Favourites

Currants galore

There’s a time of year when everything seems to come ready at once – everything in the soft fruit department, that is. Just as the raspberries were coming fast and furious, all the currants – red, white and black – AND the gooseberries suddenly reached peak ripeness and demanded to be picked and eaten. Cue many hours of harvesting and bowls of fruit borne home for freezing/processing, eating just as they are. A boon, really, but it is also a bit daunting to have so much in one go! Then , just as quickly as they come, you go away for a weekend (my future daughter-in-law’s hen weekend no less!) and come back to bushes stripped clean. I don’t know how the blackbirds do it, but they seem to find a way under the nets every year. Fortunately, I’d picked the majority by then, so I don’t mind sharing some of my bounty with the allotment wildlife.

What to do with all this produce? The usual suspects of jam and freezer, of course, but I also experimented this year with a couple of recipes I’ve been meaning to try for a long time. My younger son and his girlfriend are staying this month, between lets, so a great excuse to cook more elaborate dishes than I’d normally do for myself.

Blackcurrants are one of my favourite soft fruits and rather than stick to the standard pies, crumbles and fools, I had a couple of interesting recipes on my list: Nigel Slater’s blackcurrant trifle and a delicious-sounding blackcurrant & liquorice sorbet that took me right back to the sweet shops of my childhood.

Blackcurrant Trifle – serves 8

Blackcurrant trifle

500g blackcurrants
3 tbsp caster sugar
4 tbsp water

250g sponge cake (I used half a Victoria sponge I happened to have in the freezer, but you could use trifle sponges or bought cake)
100g amaretti biscuits
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 large egg, separated
vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp
300ml double cream
2-3 amaretti biscuits, crumbled, to garnish

Strig the currants and put in a pan with 3 tbsp caster sugar (or to taste) and the water. Cook gently for 7-10 minutes until soft and juicy. Remove from the heat.

Break the sponge into pieces and put into a trifle dish with the amaretti biscuits. Spoon the hot blackcurrants over the base and leave to cool.

Put the egg yolk and sugar into a bowl and mix, then stir in the mascarpone and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until it forms soft swirls, then fold lightly into the mascarpone mix. Finally whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks and fold that into the cream mixture.

Spoon the mascarpone custard over the cool blackcurrant base and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Decorate with crumbled amaretti biscuits for added crunch.

Blackcurrant & Liquorice Sorbet

Blackcurrant and liquorice sorbet

200g granulated sugar
200g water
450g blackcurrants
Juice of 1 lemon
25ml aniseed liqueur (I used Marie Brizard, but ouzo or pastis would work too – or leave it out if you prefer)
1 tbsp liquorice powder (I ordered this online, but specialist Asian shops might stock it too)
1 egg white

Dissolve the granulated sugar in the water over a low heat and cook for 5 minutes or so. Leave to cool and form a sugar syrup.

Strig the blackcurrants (no need to remove all the stalks as they will be sieved afterwards) and put in a small pan with the lemon juice. Cook gently for 5 -10 minutes until soft. Add the aniseed liqueur. Purée the fruit mixture in a liquidiser, then press through a sieve.

Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn for 20 minutes, then fold in the stiffly whipped egg white for the last 20 minutes. (Alternatively, fold in the egg white straightaway and freeze in a container for 1-2 hours, whizz again in a food processor and return to the freezer until set.) The alcohol gives the sorbet a lovely texture and means it can be served virtually straight from the freezer. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Super breakfasts

It’s at this time of year that breakfasts become a real treat with all the soft fruit from the garden. Such bliss to have a constant supply of strawberries, raspberries and currants of all hues to perk up my breakfast bowl of muesli and yogurt. This year, I’ve even had masses of alpine strawberries some days too. This week it’s the turn of raspberries to take the abundance top spot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so plentiful: the canes are weighed down with fruit, hiding under the leaves, dripping with crimson loveliness. I’ve been picking pounds at a time, with plenty for jam (one of my absolute favourites and ideal for beginners, as it is cooked for a very short and defined time, so no worries about getting the set right), desserts of all kinds and ample left over for breakfast.

This jam recipe is adapted from my ancient – and falling-to-pieces – Good Housekeeping cookery book. I still refer to it for staple things like jam-making and this must be one of the first jams I ever made when I started preserving soon after I got married in 1983. I’d like to say I still have the same preserving pan I bought as a set from Good Housekeeping, but I managed to burn the base irredeemably with a particularly sticky chutney some years ago, so now use by mother’s identical model. Now in her 80’s, she hasn’t felt the urge to make jam for quite some time, and is happy to have my frequent contributions to her larder! I do still have the jam funnel, jelly bag and stand, and long wooden spoon though – not bad after 34 years’ service!

Easy Raspberry Jam – makes 6-7 jars

Raspberry jam cooking

3lb raspberries
3.5lb granulated sugar

Simmer the fruit very gently in a large preserving pan until the juice runs – this has to be one of the most tantalising aromas ever! Then bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, warm the sugar for a few minutes – I use the microwave. Add to the fruit and stir until dissolved, then bring back to a rollicking boil and cook for precisely 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into sterilised jars (see here for method), then cover with waxed circles/cellophane as usual. Another perfect filling for a traditional Victoria sponge, or served with hot buttered crumpets for breakfast…

Raspberry jam jar

I usually buy Dorset Cereals muesli (Simply Nutty variety), but it seems to have been getting increasingly expensive lately, along with a lot of other food (gee thanks, Brexit 😦 ), so I’ve been thinking for a while about making my own granola. A quiet spell this week gave me the impetus to give it a go. Many of the recipes I found had honey in, a real no-no for me, so I ended up cobbling together my own recipe based on various sources: Nigella Lawson, BBC Good Food and various other websites. The result is scrumptious, not too sweet, but nutty and crunchy at the same time – and I’m sure it has a lot less sugar than the oversweet and ridiculously expensive bought varieties.

Granola

Granola

2 tbsp olive oil
125ml maple syrup
2 tbsp agave nectar (or honey if you’re that way inclined)
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g oats
50g golden linseeds
50g pumpkin seeds
4 tbsp sesame seeds
100g flaked almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
100g dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
50g coconut flakes

Put the olive oil, maple syrup, agave nectar and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Stir in the oats, seeds, nuts and cinnamon (but not the coconut and fruit) and mix well. Spread out on two greased baking trays and bake at 150°C/gas 3 for 15 minutes. Scrape back into the bowl, stir in the coconut and cranberries, then return to the baking sheets and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until starting to colour. Remove from the oven and cool on the trays. Transfer to a large airtight storage container when cool.

Serve with natural yogurt (or milk if you prefer) and lashings of fresh fruit of your choice!

Granola with raspberries

I’ve written before about the redcurrant & raspberry pancakes I make for breakfast in season, but a revelation last weekend, when my younger son was home and in crêpe-making mood, was how delicious normal pancakes are served with just-warmed fresh raspberries and a sprinkling of sugar – divine! We tried them with nutella and raspberries too, but the nutella detracted from the raspberries in my view; now a drizzling of melted dark chocolate might have been a completely different story….

 

 

Salad Days

Allotment harvest mid-June

We’ve been experiencing an unexpected heatwave here in the South of England for the past week or so, with temperatures over 30°C at their peak. Nothing unusual for many parts of Europe, to be sure, but pretty exceptional in the UK! My house has a north-south axis which works very well in these conditions, especially as my office and bedroom are on the cooler north side of the house, so working and sleeping aren’t too much of an issue.

Watering becomes of paramount importance to a gardener, though. I’m resisting watering twice a day, but trying to water pots and containers at home in the morning, and the raised beds at the allotment in the evening – to spread the load. It’s actually a very enjoyable process, as you can commune with Nature as you water and see what’s newly flowering/germinating/doing well. I’ve managed with water from my water butts so far, but two out of the three at home have now run dry and the allotment butt has been empty for a while – although fortunately water at the allotment comes from a trough and standpipe at the corner of my plot – very convenient! Our yearly subscription covers water costs too, so while it’s not metered to us (although hosepipes aren’t allowed), any huge uptake in usage could theoretically lead to a rise in subs for us all next year, as it is metered to the allotment association.

Allotment poppy June 2017

I love summer evenings up at the allotments: there are always a few people pottering around their plots, it’s incredibly peaceful (apart from my noisy dogs if people dare to walk past “their” plot – sorry, folks) and the sunsets are spectacular. A lesson in mindfulness at the end of a busy day…. This week I’ve managed to mow the grass (trying to keep on top of it so it doesn’t reach jungle proportions again!), get rid of some perennial weeds (docks, blackberries, the dreaded convolvulus) that were encroaching on the paths, do some weeding around newly planted beds and keep up with the harvesting: strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants have suddenly started to ripen at a tremendous pace, and the broad beans and lettuce are still going strong. Such a lovely time of year.

I’ve even made some comfrey tea for use as a fertiliser in three weeks’ time when it has steeped sufficiently. Having lost my comfrey patch a few years back, a healthy-loooking clump has sprung up near the communal bonfire site, so I swapped a wheelbarrow full of weeds for a barrow overflowing with comfrey leaves, stuffed them in an old chicken pellet container (with a lid to contain the stench!), covered with water and will leave to brew. It smells vile but the plants love it – and it’s free!

The strawberries have been epic this year – I’ve had enough for breakfast every day and to make strawberry ice cream, strawberry cheesecake, pavlova and Strawberry Coulis for the freezer (just blitzed in a blender with the juice of an orange and 1 tbsp of icing sugar). Yesterday there were even enough for the quintessential summer jam: strawberry & redcurrant to be precise, as the currants add pectin and make for a better set.

Strawberry & Redcurrant Jam – makes 5 standard jars

Strawberry and redcurrent jam

1.2kg strawberries
300g redcurrants (or gooseberries would work too), removed from stalks
1.5kg granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Hull the strawberries, chopping up any particularly large fruit and put in a preserving pan with the strigged redcurrants. Add the lemon juice and simmer over a low heat for 20-30 minutes or until very soft.

Strawberry jam making

Weigh out the sugar and add, stirring until it dissolves, then turn up the heat to a rollicking boil, stirring as you go. Add a small knob of butter to reduce any froth! Test after 5-10 minutes to see if it has set – I find the best test is to hold your wooden spoon over the pan and when the drips run together to form a bigger drop that breaks off sharply, the jam will be done. Otherwise, have a saucer in the freezer and place a little of the jam on the saucer, cool slightly, then push with your finger: the surface should wrinkle. You will need to take the jam off the heat while you do this test to stop the jam overcooking. Strawberry jam is notoriously fiddly to set, so test little and often. Mine was ready after just 5-6 minutes in yesterday’s heat.

When set, pour the jam into prepared jars (washed and sterilised in the oven on a low heat), cover with waxed circles and lids, then label when cool. Set aside for the perfect accompaniment for traditional Victoria sponges and scones with jam & clotted cream over the coming summer months…

When the weather is this hot, though, salads are the way to go. Quite apart from the fact that I’ve been getting back from the allotment so late that cooking isn’t an option, it’s really too hot to contemplate cooking. I love experimenting with whatever I have in the fridge or bring back from the plot, resulting in some delicious combinations. Lunch today was a refreshing Melon, Strawberry & Feta Salad served on a bed of mizuna with dill and mint to garnish – sublime! With Galia melon (not my own!), two kinds of strawberries (the large allotment variety and tiny alpine strawberries that run with gay abandon in one border at home), drizzled with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and a hint of balsamic vinegar, this really hit the spot for a cooling, yet tasty lunch. The salty chalkiness of the feta and the slight bitterness of the mizuna were a perfect foil for the sweet and juicy fruit.

Strawberry and melon salad

Other salad combinations have included Baby Broad Beans & Griddled Halloumi with toasted pine kernels and rocket, with a chilli, mint and lemon dressing, and my perennial favourite, Bauernsalat (farmer’s salad), inspired by one of our best-loved holiday hotels, the Tennis Hotel in St. Wolfgang, Austria, which simply consists of crispy fried bacon and potatoes scattered on a bed of fresh salad, with a herby yogurt dressing to accompany. So good – worth cooking extra new potatoes especially to make this! Anything goes – experimenting is half the fun. If something doesn’t work particularly well, just leave it out next time – but with fresh and homegrown produce, chances are it will all taste sublime.

Allotment sunset

Putting the zest back into February

snowy-day-in-the-woods-feb-2017

Well, February hasn’t been much of an improvement on January so far. We even had a smattering of snow yesterday, not enough to transform everywhere into a magical winter wonderland, just leaden skies, bitter wind and uniform greyness. Yuk.

Needless to say, there’s still nothing doing in the garden, although this is the perfect time to get on with ordering/buying seeds, potatoes and dahlias for the summer and indulge in a little wistful poring over the catalogues, online or print, to while away the grey days. I’ve been buying my seeds as I see them on offer in local garden centres, often half-price at this time of year, but still had to order a few specials online, like the Ammi visnaga from Sarah Raven, and squashes Crown Prince and Squashkin (a butternut/ Crown Prince hybrid from Marshall’s that sounded too tempting to miss!). I haven’t been overly impressed with the potato selections on offer in my local gardening emporia this year, so ended up ordering those online too: Jazzy from Thompson & Morgan, and Anya, a lovely waxy, salad variety I’ve had before and enjoyed, again from Marshall’s. They came ultra-quickly and are now chitting away in eggboxes in the conservatory – so I suppose that’s some progress!

I couldn’t resist ordering new dahlias too; not sure where I’m going to put them, but I’m sure I’ll find room – and there’s my son’s wedding to grow flowers for this year, of course! This year’s additions are Indian Summer, a spiky scarlet cactus variety, Labyrinth, a fabulous pastel peach confection (I did try this one last year, but with no success; fingers crossed it comes up this year) and Mel’s Orange Marmalade, another extravagant cactus type, purely because I loved the name and couldn’t resist the marmalade colour and fringed, almost marine-like petals.

Despite the lack of action in the garden, miserable weather is always a good excuse to spend time messing about in the kitchen and what better ingredients to use to add some zing to a grey day than citrus fruit? It’s the peak season for citrus just now, so my morning ruby grapefruits are extra-delicious and lemons and limes are plentiful. A neighbour, who I cat-sit for when they’re on holiday, very kindly brought around a big pot of home-made Seville orange marmalade on Friday and I even managed to buy my absolute favourite citrus fruits, blood oranges, in Lidl yesterday – they only have a very short season, so all the more reason to snap them up when you find them!

blood-oranges

So what did I make on this cold winter Sunday? First, a carrot, orange & ginger soup to add a touch of sunshine to a chilly lunchtime. Then I finally got round to using up some egg yolks that have been sitting in the fridge since last weekend, when I used the whites in a pineapple & coconut meringue roulade for my younger son’s birthday celebrations. Five egg yolks is quite a lot to have hanging around, especially when you’re cooking for one. The usual contenders of custard, or pastry, only use one or two yolks and my standby gooseberry & crème fraiche tart is best made in summer with fresh, not frozen gooseberries (too much liquid) and for a party to boot! A colleague on Foodie Translators had posted a tempting-looking recipe for lemon bars, based on a recipe by the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, which sounded interesting, but used whole eggs. Researching further found an article in the Guardian by Ruby Tandoh, in which she makes lemon curd with just the yolks – and thus an idea was born….

First, the soup though. I make several variations on carrot soup, including carrot & coriander and a carrot & lentil from an ancient M&S cookery book. Both excellent, but if you fancy something both citrussy and slightly spicy, this really hits the spot.

Carrot, Orange & Ginger Soup -serves 6-8

carrot-orange-ginger-soup

750g carrots, peeled & chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 orange, juice and grated zest
1 cooking apple, peeled and chopped
1 2.5cm piece root ginger, grated (I store in the freezer and grate from frozen)
50g butter
Salt and pepper
1.25 l chicken stock (or you can use vegetable stock if you prefer)
Few sprigs thyme, leaves only

Melt the butter in a large pan, then add the onions, garlic and celery. Sweat gently for 5 minutes or so while you prepare the carrots and apple, then add to the pan with the grated ginger and thyme leaves. Continue to cook for a few more minutes, then add the grated orange zest and juice. Pour in the stock, season and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Leave to cool slightly, then purée in a liquidiser until smooth. You may need to add more stock at this stage, depending how thick you like your soup – or you could add cream or milk if you prefer. Garnish with coriander or parsley if you have any; otherwise eat as it is and enjoy your little bowl of sunshine!

Needless to say, I had to tweak the Barefoot Contessa’s lemon bar recipe to suit the five egg yolks I had lurking in the fridge, so I more or less halved the quantities, cut down the sugar content, and went from there, adjusting as I went. I was delighted with the results, tangy yet buttery at the same time, but you might wish to tweak further!

Lemon Bars – serves 12

lemon-bars

125g butter
50g caster sugar
150g plain flour
pinch salt
Grated rind of 1 lemon

5 egg yolks
200g caster sugar
Grated rind of 3 lemons
Juice of 3/4 lemons (110-120ml juice in total)
50g plain flour, sifted

Put the first five ingredients, for the shortbread base, into a food processor and blend together until mixed and starting to form a ball. Remove, knead together lightly and press into a greased 17.5cm (7″) square tin. Prick with a fork, then bake in the oven at 160°C, Gas 4 for 15-20 minutes until light golden.

Meanwhile, make the filling: blend the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and zest and flour with a hand whisk, then pour over the cooked shortbread base. Return to the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until set. Leave to cool, then dust with icing sugar and serve with a nice cup of tea. Amazingly good!

A trio of apple puds to go…

It’s that time of year again, when I’ve little time for blogging, vast amounts of urgent work (why does everything suddenly need doing before Christmas?!) and actually there’s not much doing in the garden anyway – probably just as well! It’s also the time for networking get-togethers, along with the usual festive social gatherings and this year the emphasis has been on bring-your-own affairs – a refreshing change from the overpriced and noisy Christmas lunches if you go to restaurants in the run-up to Christmas.

My default option, when asked to bring something to a party, is always a dessert, for obvious sweet-toothed reasons – and apples are often my first choice as I invariably have lots hanging from the garage rafters, just crying out to be eaten. I haven’t many dessert apples left by this stage, just a few mellow Cox types, but still plenty of Bramleys. So what to take?

My first contribution was a Toffee Apple pie, based on a Sarah Raven recipe from her lovely “Food from Family & Friends”, a great book when cooking for the masses. I’ve tweaked here and there, as ever, but it’s basically an appley take on that old favourite, the banoffee pie – and who doesn’t like that?!

Toffee Apple Pie – serves 8-12

toffee-apple-pie

150g digestive biscuits, crushed in a plastic bag with a rolling pin
75g butter, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tin Caramel condensed milk
5-6 large Cox apples, peeled and sliced
75g butter
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
300ml double cream (or mix of cream and natural yogurt)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Toasted flaked almonds, to garnish

Stir the crushed biscuits into the melted butter, add the cinnamon, mix well, then press the crumbs into a greased 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin (mine is about 4cm deep). Chill in the fridge while you prepare the apples.

Melt the second batch of butter in a frying pan and add the sliced apples and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Cook until golden brown and tender. My apples are so mellow by this time of year that they fall, but if you can find apples that keep their shape, so much the better – it tastes delicious either way! Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Set to one side to cool.

Gently spread the Caramel condensed milk over the flan base, taking care not to disturb the crumbs – if you’ve left it to chill sufficiently, it should be fine. Arrange the pan-fried apples evenly over the top.

Whip the cream in a large bowl with the grated orange zest (you can use a combination of cream and yogurt for a lighter topping), then spread over the apples, covering completely. Sprinkle with the toasted flaked almonds and remove the outer ring of the tin to serve.

My second pudding choice was a trusty Tarte aux Pommes from one of my first ever cookery books, an M&S paperback by Jeni Wright called Just Desserts, dating back to the early 80s – and yes, it still comes out nearly 40 years down the line! It’s also the source of another family favourite, my profiteroles…. Forgive the Imperial measurements in this recipe – as I said, it goes back a long way (and I still think primarily in Imperial when baking!).

Tarte aux Pommes – serves 8

tarte-aux-pommes

10oz plain flour
pinch of salt
2oz vanilla sugar
1 beaten egg
3-4 tsp milk
5oz butter, diced

2-3 large cooking apples, peeled and sliced
2oz butter
4oz granulated sugar (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large dessert apples
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
6 tbsp light-coloured jam (I use gooseberry, but apricot or rhubarb would work well too)
1 tbsp icing sugar

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, beaten egg and milk, then rub in the diced butter (you can use grated frozen butter too if preferred). Knead to form a dough, then chill for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile peel and slice the apples, then place in a large pan with the butter, granulated sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Cook over a gentle heat until the apples are reduced to a thick purée, stirring every so often to prevent sticking. Beat with a wooden spoon to remove any lumps. Set aside to cool.

When the pastry has chilled, roll out carefully on a floured surface to make a big enough circle to line  a greased 24cm loose-bottomed flan tin (as above). (I find I only need 2/3 of the mixture for a tart of this size, so use the remaining pastry to make a batch of mince pies.) Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in a pre-heated oven (180-200°C) for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and put it back in for another 3-4 minutes to set the base.

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C, then spread the apple purée over the baked tart case. Peel the dessert apples, and slice into thin, even slices, sprinkling with lemon juice as you go to stop browning. Arrange the sliced dessert apples in an overlapping ring around the edge of the tart case and then either another ring in the opposite direction or fill the gap with rows of overlapping apples if, like mine, your apples are too large to achieve two rings even in a tin of this size!

Warm the jam in a bowl in the microwave or in a small pan with the juice of a lemon and one tbsp of water. Press through a sieve into another pan, add the icing sugar and cook until reduced and a glossy glaze has formed. Gently pour the glaze over the apples, covering completely.

Return to the oven for 30-35 minutes, covering the pastry edges with foil if they show signs of burning. Remove the outer tin to serve with whipped cream or crème fraiche.

My final to-go dessert was for an impromptu meal with friends last week, so basically involved throwing together a pudding with very little time and storecupboard ingredients. Hence my tried-and-tested Apple & almond pudding, a Delia stalwart from over the years, but one which never fails to please, especially if you’re cooking for gluten-free guests.

Enjoy!

fireside

 

Autumn Glory

ratatouille-ingredients

I can barely believe that September has flown past and here we are in October, summer definitely over, yet the gardens are still overflowing with beautiful produce. The weather is still being kind to us, at least down here in the South-East, so my (late) sweet peas are still going strong, as are the dahlias, and the courgettes are still producing chunky fruit every couple of days! There’s definitely a chill in the air, though, certainly in the morning and evening, and the leaves on my scarlet Euonymus alatus are just starting to turn – a sure sign that autumn has arrived.

euonymus-alatus

The late start to the growing season this year has meant that some crops haven’t done as well as usual: my squashes are very small, for instance, and the runner beans have been sketchy, although the French beans have been magnificent! My two plum trees were cut back hard last year and tend to be biennial in any event, so I haven’t had vast amounts of fruit, but the later Marjorie variety has come up trumps with a few bowls’ worth of sweet and juicy plums.

With all the ingredients for ratatouille to hand, it seemed sacrilege not to make some for the freezer – something you really appreciate in the dank. dark days of winter. In recent years I’ve been oven-roasting the standard veg for a baked ratatouille, but this time I’ve reverted to the traditional method of cooking slowly on the hob – delightfully simple, yet delicious. I used courgettes, aubergine (two types), tomatoes, basil, red and green pepper, red onions and garlic, but the specific vegetables are not set in stone. In fact, I actually used a couple of tins of tomatoes, and a squirt of tomato purée, as my own tomatoes are not particularly prolific this year – that late Spring again! The Sungold and Gardener’s Delight have done well, as usual, but you never get enough to cook with on a large scale as they are cherry tomatoes, after all. The Black Russian, though extremely tasty and fleshy, have fruited very sparsely and I won’t be growing those outside again. Back to the drawing board next year for a larger outdoor tomato…

ratatouille_prep

Starting with the sliced onions, garlic and pepper, I gradually add the remaining veg as I prepare them by chopping roughly, then simmer for an hour or so. The taste of summer… Freezes beautifully, of course.

ratatouille

After the last couple of chillier nights, I removed all the remaining tomatoes from my outdoor plants this morning and have left them in baskets to ripen on the conservatory windowsill. I’ve done the same with some of my triffid-like chilli plants too. This year’s variety, the jalapeno-like Summer Heat, has been very tasty (if pretty hot!), but with very large fruit and leggy plants – not necessarily ideal on the conservatory window ledge!

Fortunately, the allotment is still full of veg for the coming months: leeks, brassicas, beetroot and parsnips are all yet to come – the joys of growing your own! My new autumn raspberries have taken well in their new bed and I’m picking a handful every couple of days – perfect with my breakfast muesli and yogurt. Apples are looking plentiful too and one of this weekend’s tasks should certainly be to harvest as many as I can for storage in the garage before the first frosts. Such a lovely time of year….

Oh, and those plums? Delicious eaten straight from the tree, of course, but this is one of my favourite recipes for a plum-based dessert/cake:

Plum and Almond Cake

plum-and-almond-cake

9 1/2oz caster sugar
7oz butter
10-12 plums, halved, stones removed
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2oz self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 oz ground almonds
4 fl oz milk

Grease an 8″ solid-bottomed cake tin – I use a heavy tarte tatin tin.
Put 4 1/2oz sugar and 3fl oz water in a small pan and simmer gently until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook to a golden caramel colour, watching like a hawk so that it doesn’t burn! Remove from the heart and add 2oz butter, stirring well. Pour into the prepared cake tin and place the plum halves on top, cut side down.
Beat the remaining butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, then gradually mix in the beaten eggs and vanilla extract. Add 1-2 tbsp flour if it shows signs of curdling. Then fold in the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk.
Spoon the mixture onto the plums and bake for 45-50 minutes at 160°C / Gas 4 until golden brown, spongy to the touch and a skewer comes out clean.
Cool for a few minutes, then, while still warm, run a knife round the edge of the cake, place a large plate on top of the tin and firmly but gently turn the whole plate and tin upside down. Shake a little and the cake should just turn out of the tin onto the plate. If any plums stick to the tin, just gently transfer them to their position on the cake.
Sprinkle with toasted flaked almonds if you like.
Serve warm with cream or crème fraiche for a delicious dessert or cold as cake – delicious either way!

Incidentally, I’ve also made this with gluten-free self-raising flour (Dove’s Farm) and it worked a treat – worth remembering!

Blackcurrants – not just for Ribena!

Blackcurrant fool individual

Berries and currants of all hues, shapes and sizes are coming thick and fast in the fruit garden in this unexpected July heatwave. The raspberries are fantastic this year – must be all that winter rainfall – and the gooseberries and currants aren’t far behind. All apart from the redcurrants, that is; they’ve been stripped (by birds/mice?!) despite being comprehensively netted! Raspberries and strawberries I eat as they come, but most of the currant family tend to need cooking before eating. Whitecurrants are the honourable exception, being delicious raw like mini grapes, added to salads or as elegant decorative touches. I do hope to make some jelly when I get a spare minute or two, but may have to add some blackcurrants to give a hint of colour in the absence of the usual redcurrants.

I’ve already got a number of blackcurrants in the freezer from last year’s bountiful crop, so I’ve been experimenting with this year’s pickings. Having my younger son and his ice cream-loving girlfriend to stay for a few weeks while they were between flats was a great incentive to try a blackcurrant ripple ice cream, a variation on a recipe I found in the June edition of Sainsbury’s magazine. The original used cherries, but I figured blackcurrants could work as well, if not better.

Blackcurrant Ripple Ice Cream

Blackcurrant ripple ice cream

250-300g blackcurrants
300g caster sugar
2 large egg whites
1 kg full-fat Greek yogurt

Stew the blackcurrants and 50g sugar gently in a small pan, stirring until the juice runs, until the currants soften and form a compote. Allow to cool.
Mix the egg whites with the remaining sugar in  heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir constantly until the mixture is hot, but not boiling – 2-3 minutes.
Transfer to a large, cold bowl and whisk with an electric mixer for 5 minutes until you have  a cool, stiff and fluffy texture.
Whisk in the yogurt, then transfer to an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. Of course, you can make it the old-fashioned way by freezing for an hour or so, then whisking in the ice crystals and repeating until softly frozen.
Fold through the blackcurrant compote for a rippled effect and return to the freezer for at least 4 hours to set.
This makes an extremely light, yet creamy and tangy ice cream., good served with fruit or on its own, with lots of contented lip-licking.

Having made the ice cream, I was left with two egg yolks skulking in the fridge. I normally make Chocolate Custard Creams or add them to quiche, but this week, in sweltering heat, I was tempted by the idea of a blackcurrant fool, using freshly made custard with the egg yolks as the base – satisfying use of leftovers too! I’d made double the quantity of blackcurrant compote in the first place, so enough for the ice cream and the fool – making assembling this even easier. You can add fresh raspberries and the food processing stage to replace some of the compote if you prefer. You could equally well use ready-made custard or custard made with custard powder if you don’t fancy making fresh custard.

Blackcurrant Fool – serves 2-3

Blackcurrant fool duo

2 egg yolks
1 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar
1 heaped tsp cornflour
150ml milk
few drops vanilla extract
250-300g blackcurrants
50g caster sugar (or to taste)
100ml double cream, whipped

Combine the egg yolks, 1 tbsp caster sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Stir in the cold milk, then strain into a small pan. Cook gently until the mixture starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Add the vanilla extract to the custard. Allow to cool.
Stew the blackcurrants and 50g sugar gently in a small pan, stirring until the juice runs, until the currants soften and form a compote. Allow to cool.
Blend the custard and compote in a food processor, then push through a sieve to remove any seeds/skin.
Whip the cream and fold into the fruit mixture. You can use a balloon whisk to combine if the cream is too thick to fold readily!
Spoon into sundae dishes and chill, then decorate with fruit of your choice, or mint leaves/toasted  almond flakes to garnish.

Incidentally, if it’s not soft fruit season, the Chocolate Custard Creams I mentioned earlier follow the same method for the custard, but stir 60g chopped plain chocolate into the custard immediately after it thickens. Continue stirring until the chocolate melts completely, then transfer to ramekin dishes and decorate with chopped walnuts or grated chocolate. Tastes amazingly decadent for such a simple pud….