Tag Archives: cooking

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

 

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After the storm – healthy ways with leftovers

Pre-Christmas walk at Bewl

These early days in January, after the social whirl of Christmas and the New Year festivities, can be a bit of an anticlimax, especially if the weather persists in being wet and miserable, as it has in this little corner of Sussex – and I suspect across the country. I’m full of a cold too, doubtless not helped by the constant walks in sodden clothing through waterlogged fields and woods. At least we haven’t been flooded here, unlike wide swathes of the UK, but it certainly hasn’t been a time for sorting out the allotment, as I’d hoped.

After the torrent of visitors and social activities, it’s actually quite nice to get back to normal. I’ve taken the Christmas tree down today, early, I know, but I wanted to start the first working week of the New Year with cleared decks tomorrow – and the house feels much less cluttered and calmer as a result. The fridge, too, is slowly returning to normal after all the festive richness, lovely as it was. I’ve been enjoying the remains of a beautiful gammon joint the last few days in a spicy tomato and ham pasta sauce, a mellow squash, leek and ham risotto, homemade pizza and a delicious vegetable and ham gratin with a gluten-free Béchamel sauce made with rice flour and with crumbled oatcakes as a crunchy topping. Oh and my son and his fiancée took a chunk of the huge joint (thanks, Mr Waitrose!) home with them too.

Other leftovers clamouring to be used included a bag of cranberries and some smoked salmon. The cranberries have been turned into Bacon and Cranberry Pancakes (yum!) for a late breakfast on New Year’s Day and Cranberry Eton Mess for dessert tonight. The last of the smoked salmon, however, went into a refreshingly different pasta dish for last night’s supper; I didn’t fancy a creamy sauce after the excesses of the previous week, and so concocted this brassica-based dish from the contents of my fridge / allotment as a healthy antidote to all the rich food of the season. See what you think!

Kale, Smoked Salmon & Pine Nut Linguine – serves 1 Kale and salmon pasta

150g cavolo nero or kale

1 red onion, finely sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

Handful pine nuts

50g smoked salmon, chopped

Olive oil

1 tsp sesame seeds

Sesame oil to finish

50-75g linguine (or pasta of your choice)

Seasoning

Grated Parmesan to garnish

Cook the sliced onion and chopped garlic in a slug of olive oil until starting to soften. Meanwhile, put the linguine on to cook as usual. Remove and discard any hard central stems from the kale or cavolo nero and finely chop the rest. Add to the pan with the pine nuts and cook for a further few minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, sprinkle in the sesame seeds and chopped smoked salmon, then add a swirl of sesame oil if the mixture looks remotely dry – this will ensure it blends unctuously with the pasta.

Drain the pasta and add to the pan. Serve topped with grated Parmesan and enjoy!

After thoroughly relishing this, I went on to read in two separate articles, one in yesterday’s Times, and the other in the February edition of Good Housekeeping, that kale is one of a number of super “sirtfoods” that contain sirtuins, helping to promote the so-called skinny gene and encourage a healthy diet, encouraging natural weight loss if that’s what takes your fancy. Others include virgin olive oil and red onions, so I had unknowingly created a super-healthy supper – no wonder it tasted so good! Coffee, dark chocolate and red wine are also sirtfoods – fascinating! While it may well turn out to be yet another food fad, anything so delicious has to be worth a try.

Now on to my cranberry extravaganza (not on the list of sirtfoods, unfortunately, but cranberries are up there with blueberries for their antioxidant properties). I love dried cranberries in cookies, tray bakes and in salads, for a different dimension, but I rarely use the fresh variety for anything other than Cranberry Relish. A friend, before Christmas, added them to an apple crumble along with mincemeat, where they gave a lovely zingy tang. These pancakes, from a cutting unearthed in my ancient recipe scrapbook, are quite a revelation too:

Bacon and Cranberry Pancakes – makes 16 Bacon and cranberry pancakes

4 rashers streaky bacon (or chopped ham if you have leftovers!)

175g plain flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 large eggs

150ml crème fraiche or soured cream

100ml milk

50-75g cranberries

Rapeseed oil to cook

Maple syrup or icing sugar to serve

Chop the bacon into small pieces (I use scissors) and fry in its own fat until golden and crispy.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs in another bowl with the crème fraiche or sour cream and milk, then stir into the dry ingredients and whisk with an electric whisk until you have a smooth batter. Stir the bacon and cranberries into the batter.

Heat the oil in the same frying pan and add small ladlefuls of the batter, four at a time, cooking for 2-3 mins each side until golden brown.

Keep warm whilst you make the rest.

Serve warm with maple syrup or butter and icing sugar.

Vegetarians can omit the bacon and just make cranberry pancakes, of course.

Any left-over (kept in the fridge if you use bacon or ham) are delicious toasted and served as above.

My final leftover recipe isn’t particularly healthy per se, because of the cream and sugar content, but my motto has always been “everything in moderation” – and this uses up the last of the cranberries nicely.

Cranberry Eton Mess cranberry eton mess

150ml double cream

150ml natural yogurt

200g cranberries

1 orange, zest and juice

3-4 tbsp Demerara sugar

Crumbled meringues

Cook the cranberries gently in the orange juice, zest and sugar until tender – 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool completely. Whip the double cream until soft peaks form, then fold in the natural yogurt, followed by the roughly broken meringues – I use homemade (left-over from a Christmas Pavlova), so hard to specify a quantity: just until there’s a fair proportion of meringue rubble compared to cream and yogurt! Finally gently fold in the cranberry compote to create a rippled effect. Chill before serving.

Tomato Soup, Three Ways

Tomato soup has to be my all-time favourite. I think it goes back to the Heinz cans of tomato soup of my childhood, delicious on a cold winter’s day, even out of a Thermos flask. We never had home-made soup when I was a child, yet I’ve always prepared my own ever since I first started cooking in earnest and there really is no comparison! It’s so easy too, just a case of browning off your vegetables, adding (good) stock and away you go.

I love to stock up the freezer with tomato soup, as the tomato season here in Britain is so short, especially when you’re growing them without a greenhouse. I confess I do cheat and make tomato and lentil soup or minestrone with tinned tomatoes in the winter months, but for me the best tomato soups are those made in the fleeting months of August and September, when fresh, juicy tomatoes come straight off the vine. I don’t have a huge crop of tomatoes these days, and I do favour the cherry varieties like Sungold and Gardener’s Delight which I love to eat just as they are for their incomparable, sweet taste. This year, like last, I’ve also grown the stripy Tigerella, a small standard tomato, which is delicious cooked in soups and sauces, and lends itself to growing outside too. However, I don’t grow nearly enough for full-scale soup production and I’m very lucky this year to have been given bags full of huge, ripe tomatoes by friends with a smallholding and a very large and productive glasshouse!

I can never decide on my favourite tomato soup recipe and have three in contention – so I usually make all three at some point and fill the freezer accordingly for the darker days ahead. They are Delia’s Roasted Tomato Soup, which has a divinely rich and concentrated flavour, but uses a lot of tomatoes for a relatively small end quantity; Tomato, Apple & Celery Soup, another of Delia’s recipes, which originally came from the legendary John Tovey of the famous Miller Howe restaurant in the Lake District; and a simple Tomato Soup made in the slow cooker, originally taken from my very old Tower Slow Cook book. I’ve adapted them slightly, as ever. See which you prefer!

Delia’s Roasted Tomato Soup – serves 6

Roast tomatoes for soup1.5 kg ripe tomatoes

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Handful of fresh basil leaves

200 – 250g potato, peeled and chopped

1 litre boiling water or vegetable stock

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

2 tbsp tomato purée

Seasoning

Cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side uppermost in a large roasting tray with the onion cut into chunky wedges. Sprinkle the roughly chopped basil leaves and chopped garlic on top, season and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Roast at 180°C fan (Gas 5) for 50 minutes to 1 hour until starting to brown at the edges. In the meantime, place the chopped potato in a pan with the boiling water or stock and tomato purée, and simmer until the potato is cooked – about 20 minutes.

When the tomatoes are ready, scrape the contents of the roasting tray into the potato pan and purée the lot in a liquidiser in several batches. I’ve doubled Delia’s recipe here, as I found the original only ever made enough for three – perhaps I’m just greedy or maybe we have bigger appetites these days?

You can now sieve the soup if you wish, or leave it as it is if you don’t mind the slightly chunky texture. It will be even chunkier if you use a hand blender or food processor rather than a liquidiser, but none the worse for that.

Serve with good bread and savour the deep, rich taste – mmmmmm.

The next soup is ideal if you don’t have huge amounts of tomatoes to play with, as it uses equal quantities of apple and celery and gives a really fresh and vibrant flavour as a result. I always have plenty of windfall apples lying around at home and at the allotment this time of year, so it’s definitely on my must-cook list. Once again, I’ve doubled the original quantities – it’s really no effort to make more, fills my trusty Le Creuset casserole and makes plenty for the freezer. This soup is a much lighter colour than the other two, probably because of the apple and celery content.

Tomato, Apple & Celery Soup – serves 6-8

Tomato, apple and celery soup250g onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

4-500g tomatoes, quartered (leave on the skins and stalks)

350g apples, dessert or cooking, quartered (remove any damaged parts if using windfalls, but otherwise leave stalks and cores)

350g celery, including leaves, chopped into 3cm lengths

60g butter

120 ml dry sherry

Freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 litre home-made chicken stock

Seasoning

Melt the butter in a large pan, then add the chopped onions and garlic and cook gently until golden – about 10 minutes. Add the prepared fruit and vegetables, sherry, spices, thyme, tomato purée and seasoning, then place a double thickness of greaseproof paper, dampened with cold water, over the contents, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 1 hour. This method of cooking keeps in the flavours and allows the vegetables to cook really slowly; I’ve never found that it sticks, but you might like to check from time to time in case your heat source is particularly fierce!

After 1 hour, add the stock to the contents of the pan (removing the paper first, of course!) and stir thoroughly. Bring back to the boil for a few minutes, then allow to cool. Liquidise the soup in batches and then you will need to sieve this soup, as it contains all the stalks, pips, etc! Return to a clean pan and reheat.

Serve with good bread or cheese & apple scones. So fresh!

My final tomato soup recipe is made in the slow cooker for convenience, but you could equally well cook it on the hob for 45 minutes – 1 hour after the initial preparation. I often make it overnight, then it has time to cool before being liquidised for lunch. In my original recipe book I’ve noted down to add flour – how times have changed! I wouldn’t dream of adding flour to a soup recipe these days, but tastes were obviously different back in the early 80’s. Another sign of the times was the addition of dried mixed herbs – I really can’t remember the last time I didn’t use fresh herbs in a recipe, but they just weren’t as available in the shops 30 years ago… It works perfectly well with dried herbs if that’s all you’ve got to hand, of course, but fresh are definitely better. This recipe also includes bacon, which I think gives it a nice savoury flavour, but you could always leave it out and use vegetable stock if you’re cooking for vegetarians. It makes quite a thin, but delicious soup, since most of the vegetable content is rather watery; if you’d prefer a thicker soup (and trust me, flour is not the way to go!), just add a medium potato, peeled and diced, with the rest of the vegetables. Alternatively, you could add cream at the end for a cream of tomato soup.

Traditional Tomato Soup

Tomato soup50g butter or olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

3 sticks celery, chopped

(1 medium potato, peeled and diced if you prefer a thicker soup – optional)

4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

1.4kg tomatoes, quartered

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 bay leaf

1 sprig rosemary, chopped (or herbs of your choice – basil, parsley and/or thyme are also good)

1 litre home-made chicken (or vegetable) stock

1 tsp sugar

Seasoning

If using a slow-cooker, pre-heat on high if necessary.

Heat the butter or olive oil in a large pan and cook the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and bacon gently for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Stir in the remaining ingredients apart from the stock and cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the stock and bring to the boil.

Transfer to the slow cooker if using and cook for 8 – 10 hours on Low – or overnight. Otherwise, turn the pan down to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove the bay leaf, allow to cool, then liquidise in several batches. (I say this advisedly – I once asked my teenage son to liquidise some soup for me, but he didn’t read the instructions, didn’t allow it to cool and poured it all into the liquidiser in one go. Result: one extremely messy kitchen – not a pretty sight!) Again, you can sieve if you feel it necessary, but I don’t usually for this one.

Once again, serve with good bread and enjoy the taste of summer!

Feast of plenty

Poppy and Leo with the apple treeReturning home from a 10-day working trip in France this weekend, the garden seems to have been ultra-bountiful in my absence. The Katy apple tree, a delicious red eating apple along the lines of Discovery, has shed most of its fruit now, always an early arrival, and friends have kindly left bags full in my fridge. The tomatoes have also ripened beautifully, despite, or perhaps, because of the plentiful rain, and I haven’t dared check out the allotment yet, but the rather large courgettes taking up residence in my fridge suggest they have been productive too! I’m hoping to spend the day down at the allotment tomorrow, so will doubtless have even more bounty to process then….

Having eaten at rather strange times in France due to my working hours, I’ve been really looking forward to simple fruit and vegetable meals again – just as well, really! For tonight’s meal, after a day getting straight with unpacking, washing, sorting out paperwork and generally relaxing, I had the urge to make something akin to Aubergine Parmigiana, but sadly my only remaining aubergine is just a couple of inches long and probably won’t come to anything this late in the season. I decided instead to create a tomato dish, inspired by the aubergine recipe, but using just tomatoes. I served it with pork and leek sausages from my local farm shop and it was everything I’d imagined: see what you think!

Baked Tomato & Gruyère Gratin – serves 2 or 4

Tomato Gruyere Gratin450g tomatoes (amount not crucial – just use what you need to fill the dish!)

Handful fresh basil

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Balsamic vinegar

200g pot creamy fromage frais (not the 0% stuff!)

About 80g Gruyère

Couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs

Halve the tomatoes and line up in neat rows in a gratin dish. I used cherry tomatoes as that’s what I had most of, but you can use standard tomatoes too – just increase the initial cooking time in that case. Sprinkle with chopped garlic, chopped basil, then drizzle with olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Roast in a pre-heated oven at 200°C / Gas 6 for 20 – 30 minutes depending on size of tomatoes. They should be starting to soften and release their juices.

Top with spoonfuls of fromage frais, spreading out as best you can; it doesn’t matter if it’s not all covered. Then add thin shavings of Gruyère and top with the breadcrumbs (I use frozen for ease, prepared in the food processor when I have excess bread to use up).

Turn the oven down to 180°C / Gas 5 and cook for 30 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top.

Serves 4 as a vegetable side dish with meat and potatoes or 2 if just serving as a substantial side with sausages or chops.

Pudding had to be apples of some description, so I looked to Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Puddings for inspiration and adapted one of his deliciously simple apple creations:

Pan-fried apples with Calvados – serves 2

Calvados apples24-5 red eating apples such as Katy or Discovery – choose apples that will hold their shape when cooked

Lemon juice

Knob of butter

2-3 tbsp vanilla sugar

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Dash of Calvados

Peel and core the apples, slicing each apple into 8 or so segments. Sprinkle with lemon juice to stop browning as you prepare the rest.

Melt the butter in a small frying pan and add the apples. Cook over a relatively gentle heat for 15 minutes or so until starting to soften. Add the vanilla sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon to taste, then cook for a further 10 minutes until the liquid looks syrupy. Add a dash of Calvados and cook for a further few minutes.

Serve warm or cold with crème fraiche or clotted cream. Heaven…

My final recipe is one I shall cook tomorrow night to make inroads into the courgette stockpile. It was suggested by a very good friend of mine after we’d shared a foodie/garden-visiting weekend together earlier this year and makes a scrumptious and substantial vegetarian feast. The first time I made it, I adapted it slightly to use up the remains of a Puy lentil and beetroot salad I had in the fridge, but you can equally well use lentils from scratch. Just cook in water for 20 minutes or so according to the instructions on the packet.

Stuffed Courgettes with Puy Lentils & Cheese – serves 2

Stuffed courgettes22 large courgettes

1 large onion

1 clove garlic

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

Handful chopped basil

½ tin chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato purée

100g cooked Puy lentils

Cooked beetroot (optional)

Cheddar cheese to top

Halve courgettes lengthwise and hollow out flesh with a sharp spoon. Chop the flesh and reserve. Blanch the courgette shells in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain and place in a rectangular gratin dish.

Sauté the chopped onion, garlic and chilli until soft, then add chopped courgette flesh, cumin and coriander, chopped tomatoes, basil and tomato purée. Cook down for a further 10-15 minutes, then stir in the cooked lentils and beetroot (if using). Cook for another 10 minutes or so until well blended; fill courgettes with the lentil mixture and top with grated Cheddar cheese.

Cook in a hot oven (180°C / Gas 5) for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

Serve with a green salad and enjoy!

Butternut squash and a blustery day…

Euonymus in full autumn gloryIt’s been an unseasonally warm, but blustery day here in the South-East – the perfect weather for walking dogs through autumn-hued forests and starting the great garden (and allotment) tidy-up. Having been on holiday the first week of October, then back to a change-of-season head cold, I feel as though the change from summer to autumn has happened almost overnight! All of a sudden the nights are drawing in, leaves are changing colour and the harvest definitely needs bringing in.

All my apples are in already, beans have finished and the last few courgettes are not really ripening, despite the residual warmth in the sun. On the plus side, the late-season sowings of salad and herbs I made in September are romping away, looking promising for winter greens if I can keep the slugs and frost at bay – I think a judicial application of organic slug pellets and a fleece overcoat might be in order!

Autumn raspberries are still producing, albeit at a slower rate, but still enough to top my breakfast muesli and yogurt a couple of mornings a week – which can’t be bad for October. The dahlias are also magnificent still, producing vases full of deep magenta, fuchsia pink and claret red blooms, with some spidery white cactus flowers for good measure. The stalks are shorter this year, but I can’t complain and I have so many vases for every eventuality that they always look good.

My Sarah Raven tulips finally arrived this week, so I made a start, late this afternoon, on empting my summer tubs in the garden – doesn’t seem two minutes since I planted them up for summer! The tuberous begonias I bought as tubers have been phenomenal this year, so I’m going to attempt to keep them over the winter. For now, I’ve just shaken off any loose soil and left them to dry out in a tray in the shed, but before the frosts arrive, I shall wrap them in newspaper and store in the garage overwinter.

I’m going to do the bulk of my tulips next weekend, when the weather will hopefully be a little colder. I’ve ordered orange Ballerina, deep-purple Recreado, deep red Couleur Cardinal and red and black Pimpernel – should be a sight to behold! And this year I’m reverting to planting single blocks of colour in each pot for maximum effect, rather than mixing them and risking them not flowering at the same time, as happened this spring.

Pickings from the allotment this weekend included calabrese, beetroot, kale, mixed salad leaves, coriander, parsley, leeks and butternut squash, the latter now being left in a capacious basket in the conservatory for winter use. Indeed, most of them are so huge, they are enough for several meals in one go (such hardship!). Recipe ideas to follow:

Butternut squash, leek and bacon risotto

Serves 3 (or 2 with enough left for arancini the next day…)

Half a large butternut squash, peeled (easiest with a vegetable peeler) and chopped into large chunks

Olive oil

1 tsp coriander seeds

100g smoked bacon, chopped

225g leeks, trimmed and sliced

150g arborio risotto rice

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

75 ml dry white wine

approx. 500 ml homemade stock (vegetable, chicken or ham)

1 dspn chopped fresh sage

2 tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

salt & pepper

To serve:

50g Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

Chopped parsley or toasted pumpkin/squash seeds to garnish.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Roast the chopped squash in olive oil, seasoning and crushed coriander seeds for 30 minutes. Turn oven down to 160°C, Gas 4. Cook the bacon and the onion in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 mins. Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the leeks and the rice to the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine and the stock, then the sage and seasoning and bring to boiling point. Finally stir in the roast squash. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 mins. Then stir in 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more liquid if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 mins, before serving with extra cheese and toasted pumpkin or squash seeds as a garnish – or parsley if you prefer.

(Don’t forget to make arancini with any leftover risotto – delicious! See https://rhubarbandraspberries.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/bluebells-tulips-and-wild-garlic-a-bounty-of-bulbs/ for instructions.)

Butternut Squash Dauphinoise squash dauphinoiseThis recipe is courtesy of my BBC Good Food kitchen calendar, slightly adapted to the contents of my fridge. I often make potato or parsnip dauphinois, but had never tried it with squash and was pleasantly surprised. No. 1 son was home for the weekend and this made a delicious accompaniment to roast chicken, roast potatoes and home-grown calabrese.

150 ml double cream

150 ml milk

Bay leaf

Sprig of thyme

1 clove garlic

Grated nutmeg

½ large butternut squash, peeled and thinly sliced

Butter to grease dish

50 g Gruyère cheese, grated

Place milk, cream, bay leaf, thyme sprig and crushed garlic in a pan, bring to the boil, then switch off and leave for 10 mins to infuse.

Heat oven to 200°C. Grease an oblong, shallow ovenproof dish with butter, then add the thinly sliced squash in layers. Season, then pour over the milk and cream mixture including the herbs. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 30 mins. Then uncover, make sure all the squash is submerged and add more milk if you think it looks a little dry. Scatter over the grated cheese. Return to the oven for a further 30 mins until the squash is tender and the whole dish is golden. Serve with roast meat, sausages, etc. This amount makes enough for 3, but can easily be doubled to feed more.

And finally:

Stuffed butternut squash with sausage, onion and kale

Serves 2

1 medium butternut squash, halved and deseeded (but NOT peeled)

50g pearl barley

200g kale, thick stalks removed, finely chopped

2 good-sized sausages

Olive oil

100g halloumi or feta

1 onion, chopped

1 tsp harissa paste

100g cherry tomatoes, halved

½ Jalapeno chilli, finely chopped

Gruyère or Parmesan cheese, grated, to top

Roast the squash halves, cut side up, on a tray in the oven at 200°C for 50 mins – 1 hour, depending on the size of your squash. Meanwhile, cook pearl barley in a pan of water for 40 mins until tender, adding the chopped kale for the last few minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion slowly for 30 mins, adding the skinned and chopped sausage for the last 15 mins. Add to the pearl barley, along with the chopped feta or halloumi, tomatoes, chopped chillis and harissa paste, then season well.

Scoop out the tender flesh from the squash and add to the barley mixture, mixing lightly. Return to the squash shells, sprinkle over Gruyère or Parmesan to taste and return to the oven for 15 mins until nicely golden.

Enjoy!

This was based on a recipe from my Sainsbury’s Cook’s Calendar – obviously a good month for calendar recipes. My squash was so huge that I could only eat a quarter of it in one go and I did find that it wasn’t as good re-heated for lunch the next day: the barley seemed to have absorbed all the liquid so it was a little dry. Perhaps serve with tomato sauce if re-heating? First time round it was delicious however!

Leo and the logpile

 

 

Passion for Preserving

Jars, backlit

It’s that time of year again, when the dew stays on the grass until mid-morning and the evenings start getting chilly. Despite pleasantly warm days, it’s feeling undeniably autumnal in the garden as shrubs are starting to colour and the late-season flowers are in full bloom: Aster Mönch has been at its splendiferous peak of lilac perfection for weeks, set off spectacularly by the golden yellow stars of Rudbeckia and the wands of orange and brown Crocosmia. Down at the allotment the harvest is in full swing: plums and apples aplenty, and lots of vegetables just calling out to be preserved for the dank, dark days of winter.

I love preserving: ever since I had my very first house and took to cooking and gardening like a duck to water, I’ve adored the alchemy of converting harvested goodies, preferably grown and picked by my own fair hands, into gleaming jars of jewel-like preserves for the store cupboard. It must be nearly 30 years ago that I was tempted by a Good Housekeeping offer of a preserving set with capacious pan, long-handled wooden spoons, a wide-angled funnel, jelly stand and muslin jelly bag. Bar the pan (which came to a sticky end after an ill-fated and ultimately burnt-on encounter with plum ketchup a few years ago…), I still have the rest – and they come out like clockwork every year. The jelly stand has been worth its weight in gold for straining elderflower cordial and redcurrant and blackberry & apple jelly, all three staples of my kitchen year.

At this time of year, though, it’s the vegetables that are calling out to be preserved. I ring the changes depending on what I have in glut proportions, but here are the three preserves I’ve made in recent weeks:

Chilli dipping sauce

400g granulated sugar

3 chopped chillis (mine are Apache, which I find germinates reliably and produces in abundance in my conservatory, hot but not too hot!)

5 garlic cloves, crushed

250ml cider vinegar

250ml fresh orange juice (3-4 juicing oranges)

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan (you don’t need a preserving pan for this, just a large saucepan will do) and cook over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until syrupy – i.e. when the drips run together when you hold up the spoon over the pan). Leave in the pan for a few minutes to let the chopped ingredients settle, then pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal. I find this makes just enough for a standard 450g jam jar, but you could use two smaller jars if you prefer.

Thanks to Sarah Raven for the recipe!

Chilli dipping sauce

Cucumber Relish

3lb cucumbers

1lb onion

2 green peppers

1 ½oz salt

1pt distilled white vinegar

10oz granulated sugar

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp black mustard seed

2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground mace

Peel and dice the cucumbers, finely slice onions and finely chop the pepper. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt and leave overnight, covered with a tea towel. Drain in a colander, rinse in cold water and drain again thoroughly.

Place remaining ingredients in a preserving pan, stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to boil and simmer for 2 mins. Add drained vegetables, bring back to boil and simmer for 4-5 mins, stirring constantly.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer into warm, sterilised jars (using a wide-necked funnel makes life a lot easier!), then top up with any remaining liquid. Seal with cellophane and lids.

Should make 4-5 jars. Ready in one week, but keeps for ages – delicious with cheese and cold meat.

I’ve had this recipe for years (as you can tell by the Imperial measurements!). It’s in my hand-scribbled recipe book, but my notes tell me it came originally from my friend, Bridget, a home economics teacher and keen fellow gardener.

And finally, my younger son’s favourite:

Spiced beetroot and orange chutney

1.5kg raw beetroot, trimmed, peeled and grated (much easier with a food processor; otherwise wear disposable gloves!)

3 red onions, chopped

3 apples, peeled and grated – you can use cooking or eating; whichever you have available!

Zest and juice of 3 oranges

2 tbsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp ground cloves

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

700ml red wine vinegar

700g granulated sugar

Mix together all the ingredients in a large preserving pan. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for at least 1 ¾ hours until the chutney is thick – or when you draw your spoon down the middle of the mixture, the resulting channel doesn’t immediately fill with liquid. Leave to settle for 10 mins or so off the heat.

Spoon into warm, sterilised jars and seal with cellophane and lids while hot. I find this makes 5 standard jars. It can be eaten straight away, but I think it’s better kept for a few months to mature and then keeps for ages in a cool, dark place. Again, perfect with cheese and cold meat.

Store cupboard

Bluebells, tulips and wild garlic – a bounty of bulbs!

What a fabulous season it’s been for bulbs! The bluebells on my daily dog walks have been absolutely heavenly this year, obviously relishing the heavy rains of winter. That scent as you walk through them is just knockout – making you inclined to linger and not return to the desk at all!

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As for the tulips, well, they’ve been brilliant too. I’m lucky to have (at least) two beautiful tulip events to visit round here, with the deservedly renowned Pashley Manor Tulip Festival (http://www.pashleymanorgardens.com/) last weekend for stunning drifts of tulips in an immaculately maintained country garden setting and the backdrop of a wisteria-clad manor house. Bliss….

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The weekend before I’d made time to go to the tulip open day at Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden (https://www.sarahraven.com/perch-hill), just south of Burwash and not very far from here either. I always look forward to Sarah’s open days, especially the tulip one, as she grows her tulips in amongst the vegetable and flower beds and I always come away inspired.

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This year I’d ordered the Brandy Snap mix shown in the image above for my own tubs, but mine didn’t all flower at the same time for some reason, so whilst they were gorgeous, they didn’t look quite as spectacular as Sarah’s. This mix contained tulips Ronaldo, Bruine Wimpel, Belle Epoque and Cairo and was a really sensational smoky blend of colours. I think in future I might revert to having one colour per tub, though, as I’ve done in previous years, just for the sheer massed effect of one colour. Sarah offers both tulip mixes where you get a mixed bag of 4 different tulips, and collections, where each tulip variety is bagged separately and I think that’s the way to go – for me at least.

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I adore bulb-planting time in the autumn and am like a child in a sweetshop when it comes to choosing new bulbs each year. I always buy new tulips for my five large oak barrels, and then, when it’s time to empty the barrels of their winter offering ready for the summer planting, I look at the bulbs to decide whether to keep them. If they have split into lots of tiny bulbs, it’s not worth saving them as they’re unlikely to flower again, and I just compost them. If, however, the bulb is still a good size, I plant them out in the garden and enjoy them for years to come. The bulb growers never give any guidance about which ones are perennial and which ones aren’t – and indeed it varies according to your soil and the position they’re planted in! I have colonised the communal island opposite my house (as viewed from my study window!) as the perfect spot for tulips and Mediterranean-style plants. The soil is pretty poor – I suspect it was the builders’ soil repository when they built the three new houses next door to my plot back in 2000 – but it is south-facing and banked and the tulips love it! The varieties I have found to be reliably perennial include Purissima (early white – always the first tulip to flower here), Doll’s Minuet (as shown in the foreground above, a delightful fuchsia-pink lily-flowered tulip which has really bulked up in the ground) and red Oxford, which has a striking yellow base, visible as it opens fully. There’s also a beautiful pink variety, tipped with silver, but the problem with planting them out and seeing what comes up is that I’m not sure which variety it is! I suspect it’s Pink Impression, although I’ve also had Menton, which is similar, and Judith Leyster, another potential contender. Motto: keep better records of where you’ve planted what! Either way, it’s a fabulous tulip and comes reliably year on year. There’s also a deep burgundy tulip, but mysteriously I’ve no records as to what that might be! It’s always worth a try, in any event – as long as the bulbs are a reasonable size. I’m due to start emptying my spring pots next weekend and am hoping that at least some of this year’s beauties are suitable for planting out…

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I’ve actually run out of space on the front beds, unless I dig up yet more lawn (!), so my thought this year is to plant some (fingers crossed!) down at the allotment, between my asparagus rows. That bed is pretty empty at this time of year, apart from the burgeoning asparagus shoots which are cut down as soon as they reach 8” tall – mmm! I thought it might be a nice idea to have some tulips there as a cutting crop – especially as I can never bring myself to cut the ones at home, even though they make a prolific show nowadays. I’ll report back on how I get on!

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Final bulb of the season has to be the wild garlic, which has also had a good year. It seems to arrive all of a sudden, and I find myself heading back from my bluebell walks with a rucksack full of wild garlic leaves (prompting the postmistress to ask what the smell was one day last week! Oops…). Wild garlic pesto is delicious and allows you to steal a march whilst you’re waiting for this year’s basil seedlings to grow. Thanks again to Sarah Raven for the recipe, from her Garden Cookbook, one of my favourites:

Wild Garlic Pesto

  • 2 handfuls (about 100g) of wild garlic leaves with flowers
  • 200ml extra virgin olive oil, plus a bit more for sealing
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 50g Parmesan cheese, grated
  • salt and black pepper

Blanch the wild garlic leaves in boiling water for about 10 seconds. Refresh in cold water and pat dry on kitchen paper. Put the wild garlic, olive oil, pine nuts or walnuts, together with the garlic cloves, into a food processor and blend to a puree. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the grated Parmesan. Season carefully and put into a sterilised jar. Pour over a little extra virgin olive oil to seal and cover tightly.

I must admit, I don’t think you need to add the extra garlic cloves as it packs quite a punch anyway! Certainly don’t add them if you’re freezing it. I found it kept in the fridge for a good week, ideal for use in pasta sauces and, sublimely, in risotto.

I often adapt Delia’s oven-baked risotto these days, just so I can get on with other things as it cooks and don’t need to stand by the stove, stirring away. You can use any other vegetables you like, of course, but here’s my suggestion for a delicious wild garlic, leek and bacon risotto:

Wild Garlic, Leek and Bacon Risotto

100g smoked bacon, chopped

225g leeks, trimmed and sliced

150g arborio risotto rice

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

75 ml dry white wine

approx. 500 ml homemade stock (vegetable, chicken or ham)

1 dspn chopped fresh thyme

2 tbsp wild garlic pesto (see above)

2 tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

salt & pepper

To serve:

50g Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

Chopped parsley or toasted pine nuts to garnish.

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C, Gas 4. Cook the bacon and the onion in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 mins. Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the leeks and the rice to the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine and the stock, then the thyme, a couple of good spoonfuls of pesto and seasoning and bring to boiling point. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 mins.Then stir in 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more liquid if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 mins, before serving with extra cheese and toasted pine nuts as a garnish – or parsley if you prefer.

Enjoy!

I find this makes enough for two (hungry) people and enough left for arancini (risotto balls) for lunch the next day – just roll the leftover risotto into balls and put a cube of cheese – Taleggio or Gorgonzola are ideal – in the middle of each one). Either cook in a preheated oven at 180°C as they are, or, if you want to do it properly (as when my perfectionist and budding Masterchef student son is home!) dip alternately in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs, fry off briefly, then finish in oven. Either way, they are delicious, served with homemade tomato sauce if you have any (or passata with appropriate seasoning and herbs will do otherwise).