Tag Archives: Rhubarb

Quick bakes

Pett Beach April 2017

A busy bank holiday weekend with family home and my elder son moving house to just up the road (comparatively speaking!) meant I didn’t have much time for baking, but I didn’t want to let the side down with empty cake tins! Cue my very quick and easy rocky road flapjack: dead simple to throw together one evening after cleaning the house and makes enough to take half as a welcome offering. Also gluten-free, which is always a good thing as my son’s fiancée and her mum are both gluten-intolerant.

Saturday was forecast to be the nicest day of the weekend weatherwise, so we headed down to the coast to Pett Level, a fabulous stretch of pebbly beach backed by cliffs, and completely sheltered from the wind on this particular day. Followed up by tea with friends, it was the most perfect afternoon, but left very little time for baking/cooking when we finally got back home, so dinner was quickly assembled freshest Rye scallops on a spinach purée with crispy bacon, salmon fillets with homemade hollandaise sauce, roast asparagus and new potatoes, and a traditional rhubarb pie to finish. It may have been quick, and a joint effort between my younger son and me, but it was also absolutely delicious – and the perfect showcase for seasonal produce.

I barely need to offer a recipe for the pie: just (homemade) buttery shortcrust pastry, rolled out to fit an old-fashioned enamel pie plate, filled with chopped (uncooked) rhubarb – at least 500g, depending how high you want to mound it. It always loses volume when cooked. Don’t forget to sprinkle with 4-5 tbsp sugar, then top with the remaining pastry, seal and trim the edges, glaze with milk (or egg) and a sprinkling of granulated sugar and cook at 200°C (fan) / Gas 6 for 20-25 minutes. It’s certainly not elegant, but it remains one of my favourite desserts for all that; especially the soggy bottom (sorry, Mary) – rhubarb pie wouldn’t be the same without all that delicious syrupy juice at the bottom.

Rhubarb pie
Next day we were all off to my elder son’s to see the new house, and I knew there would be a house full of family and a need for cake as well as a picnic lunch for the workforce! With little time to prepare, lunch was going to be lovely cheese from my local deli, olive sourdough bread and sourdough crackers, and salad with fresh leaves and pea shoots from the allotment. Cake had to be quick, gluten-free and transportable, so with a couple of egg whites in the fridge, left over from last night’s hollandaise sauce, I hit upon these coconut macaroons, a taste from my youth – and ready to go in next to no time.

Coconut & Almond Macaroons – makes 20 or so

Coconut macaroons

2 egg whites
200g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g dessicated coconut
75 – 100g good dark chocolate to drizzle

Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment (I used to use edible rice paper for these when I first made them in the 70s – but they’re much nicer without their papery backing). Set the oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar, followed by the ground almonds and coconut. Place heaped teaspoonfuls onto baking trays, spaced well apart to allow for spreading and bake for 15-20 minutes until a light golden colour. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate (I use a microwave in short bursts), then drizzle over the macaroons when cooled sufficiently.

Mission accomplished – quick and delicious!

The bank holiday itself was a gloomy day weatherwise, as they so often are, but an excellent opportunity to catch up on potting up and sowing seeds, chilling with the weekend newspapers and generally chatting. We all need days like that. It also gave me a chance to experiment with a recipe I’d been keen to try for a while, since buying  some bone and paw-shaped biscuit cutters in Jeremy’s, Tunbridge Wells’ Aladdin’s cave of a kitchen shop. And yes, I know, who bakes their own dog biscuits?! In my defence, I had some gram flour that was past its sell-by date and needed using, son’s dog, the adorable Ollie, has a sensitive constitution and also does better without gluten, so why not see what I could produce?

Cheddar & Rosemary Dog Treats

Dog bones

225g gram flour
50g grated Cheddar cheese
120ml milk
few sprigs rosemary, chopped leaves

Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl until they form a soft dough. Adjust liquid or flour until it can be rolled out on a floured surface. Roll out to 1/2cm thick and cut out with your choice of cutter – I’m sure the dogs won’t mind if you haven’t gone a bone cutter!

Bake in the oven at 160°C (fan) / Gas 4, cool, then store in an airtight tin. My dogs seemed impressed – but then anything with cheese in was always going to go down well….

Poppy at Pett

My final baking of the weekend was a snap decision to bake some almond tuiles to accompany our Monday dessert of luscious rhubarb fool (obviously been watching too much Masterchef!). I used plain flour rather than the rice flour I used last time I wrote about this recipe, but both work well.

Rhubarb fool and tuiles_cropped

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Emerald Treasure

April harvest

My haul from the allotment on Sunday was a veritable treasure trove of seasonal delights: pink rhubarb, slate green and white leeks, rich purple-sprouting broccoli, the sapphire glints of rosemary flowers and of course the emerald green of perpetual spinach and flat-leaf parsley. It certainly makes for interesting meal planning in the week ahead!

The broccoli was a delicious accompaniment to my one-pot roast chicken and roasted roots on Sunday evening, with the rest going in a delectable Italian anchovy and pine nut sauce for linguine on Monday. Rhubarb found its way into my favourite rhubarb shortbread, a cake/pudding combined with a vanilla-infused, buttery custard topping. Plenty left over for a rhubarb and orange compote later in the week too.

I couldn’t decide what to do with the spinach initially; I pondered the idea of a spinach & pea soup, but the current warm weather hardly lends itself to soup. Then I remembered a recipe I’ve cooked many a time, a spinach & mushroom korma from Nigel Slater’s Real Food: just what I fancied, light, vegetarian, yet packed full of flavour and goodness. Plus it freezes well, so I can use all the spinach I’d picked. Given that it will probably go to seed very soon – and I’ll need the bed to plant this year’s pea crops – it’s no hardship to use as much as I can! As ever, I’ve tweaked the recipe to suit the contents of my fridge, but the principle is the same.

Spinach & Mushroom Korma – serves 2-3

Spinach and mushroom korma

25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh (or frozen) root ginger, grated
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 green chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
8 cardamom pods, seeds scraped out and crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
250-300g large mushrooms
25-50g hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (or you can use toasted cashews)
200g spinach, thick stalks removed
Handful wild garlic leaves (if in season – optional!)
2 tbsp sultanas
100ml sour cream
2 tbsp crème fraiche or natural yogurt
Seasoning
Fresh coriander (or parsley) to serve

Melt the butter and oil in a pan and cook the sliced onions, chopped garlic, grated ginger and finely chopped chilli for about 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the spices and bay leaf and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Chop the mushrooms into chunks and add to the onion mixture, then cook for another couple of minutes. Then add the chopped hazelnuts (or cashews), sultanas and 150ml water, bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes over a low heat.

Wash the spinach and wild garlic thoroughly, removing any thick stalks, drain, then chop roughly – it will look a huge mound! When the 15 minutes are up, add the chopped spinach and garlic – you may need to do this in several stages, but it will quickly reduce in volume as it wilts. Cook down for a few minutes, then season well and stir in the sour cream and crème fraiche/yogurt, warming gently without boiling to prevent curdling. Remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick before plating.

Finally, garnish with fresh coriander or parsley, depending what you have to hand, and serve with rice. The flavours seem to meld even more after freezing, as is often the case.

Poppy and Leo in the garlic at Snape
Perfect day for picking wild garlic

 

Vegan Challenge

Having just got to grips with cooking gluten-free food for my elder son’s fiancée and her mum over the past year or so, my younger son set me a new challenge this weekend when he announced he was coming home, en route to France, and bringing with him some vegan friends. Could they stay the night and have dinner?

Now, cooking vegetarian poses no problems for me; in fact, I virtually become vegetarian in the summer months when the allotment is in full production. I still enjoy meat and fish, but if someone said I had to do without from now on, I think I’d cope. Doing without eggs and dairy products is an entirely different ball game, however….

Wellington uncooked

I do a range of vegetarian curries and casseroles, but knew my son had cooked my standby lentil curry for these friends when he entertained them to dinner recently. Then I remembered the Squash, Beetroot & Puy Lentil Wellington I’d cooked for the family over New Year. In its original incarnation in the BBC Good Food magazine, this had been a vegan recipe, so this was an ideal time to revert to the initial ingredients, missing out the goat’s cheese I’d added to the Kale pesto, and remembering to brush the finished Wellington with almond milk rather than beaten egg. I nearly made a rookie error in using a butter paper to grease the tray, but remembered just in time and used olive oil! I also added a handful of wild garlic to the Kale pesto as it’s just coming into season – made for a delicious dairy-free pesto that’s definitely worth serving with pasta just as it is.

Squash wellington - cooked

Not quite as brown as when brushed with egg or milk, perhaps, but delicious nonetheless – and the non-vegans amongst us loved it too. Plenty of flavour and texture, served with homegrown purple-sprouting broccoli (still in abundance!) and oven-roasted Vivaldi potatoes with garlic and rosemary. Make sure the puff pastry is vegan-friendly – I used Jus-rol and it was perfectly tasty, even though not quite as good as the all-butter pastry I’d favour if suiting myself.

Dessert posed more of a challenge as most puddings in my repertoire use eggs and/or butter and I didn’t want to serve fruit on its own, although I had a fresh pineapple on standby just in case… I remembered reading over Christmas about so-called vegan meringues, made from the liquid from a can of chick peas. Whatever next? Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I found a promising-sounding recipe online and had a go. Much to my surprise, they worked – and tasted pretty good too, if I say so myself. Don’t ask me how the chemistry works (just protein, according to a chemist friend!), but to all intents and purposes these looked and tasted like meringues, if perhaps slightly less stiff.

Vegan meringues in bowl
Vegan Meringues with Coconut Cream and Rhubarb & Orange Compote

Liquid drained from 1 x 400g can of chick peas (in water NOT brine)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
125 g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tin of full-fat coconut milk, chilled overnight in the fridge
3 tsp agave nectar

750g rhubarb, chopped
Juice and rind of 2 oranges
4-6 tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 100°C (Gas 2) and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Pour the water drained from the can of chickpeas into a large bowl and use an electric hand-held or stand mixer to whisk for approximately 5 minutes until it’s more than doubled in size, white and frothy. Add the cream of tartar all at once and whisk again for another minute. Slowly and gently start adding in the sifted sugar, whisking until the mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. Stir in some vanilla, if using. (I found the mixture didn’t hold its stiff peaks for quite as long as egg whites, but this didn’t affect the end result.)

Pipe the meringue mix into nests on the baking tray.  Mine made nine, but if you can manage to work quicker than I did and keep the mixture stiffer, you could probably make 10 – and neater than me too! Next time… Alternatively, just use a spoon to create mounds and use the back of the spoon to hollow out the centre.

Vegan meringues on tray

Bake for 2 hours. Do NOT open the oven! After 2 hours, turn the oven off and leave them to cool in the oven for at least another hour.

Meanwhile, cut the rhubarb (unpeeled unless really thick and woody – shouldn’t be necessary with early-season produce) into small dice, halving the stems first if really chunky. Place in a shallow, rectangular baking dish and sprinkle with the brown sugar (to taste), orange rind and juice. (You can add chopped preserved ginger and a few tbsp of ginger syrup as well as or instead of the orange if you like; Amaretto is also a good addition!) When the meringues are out of the oven, cook the rhubarb at 160°C (Gas 4) until tender, but still in distinct pieces, for about 30-40 minutes. Leave to cool.

Whip the pre-chilled coconut milk with 3 tsp agave nectar (or to taste) to create a thick double cream consistency – incredible as it may seem, it really does whisk up quite thick!

To serve, place the meringue nests on dessert plates, add a dollop of coconut cream and then a spoonful of rhubarb compote. Garnish with an edible flower if you have any – I used a primrose from the garden.

Vegan meringue

Eat and wonder! I wouldn’t cook these rather than traditional egg white meringues and double cream if I wasn’t catering for vegans, but they were a pretty good approximation to the real thing. And my guests said that desserts are one of the most difficult things for vegans, as so often they are just offered fruit.

We finished with the fridge fruit & nut bars I made this time last year, using coconut oil, seeds, fruit, nuts and cacao powder. It’s amazing what you can do if you set your mind to it….

Rhubarb March 2017

 

Experimenting with rhubarb…

It’s at this stage in the season that I start to wonder what different dishes I can make with my burgeoning rhubarb crop. Much as I love the old faithfuls – pies, crumbles, fools – it’s good to experiment every now and again. I made a rhubarb streusel cake the other week, but, nice though it was, the crumble topping on top of the rhubarb sponge was all a bit much. A colleague had posted a picture on Facebook of a Rhubarb & Chocolate Gugelhupf with dark chocolate rather than white, but when I’m cooking for one, a cake with rhubarb in the sponge tends to go off faster than I can eat it, especially in muggy weather!

Inspiration struck when I was debating what to cook for dessert this evening: a pudding that would also serve as cake during the week was the answer. I combined ideas from a number of different recipes and the result was this scrumptious Toffee Rhubarb & Ginger Upside-down Cake. Delicious served warm with pouring cream or custard, but also equally good with afternoon tea.

Toffee Rhubarb & Ginger Upside-down Cake

Toffee Rhubarb & Ginger Upside-down Cake

125g golden caster sugar
75ml water
50g butter
3-4 sticks rhubarb, chopped into 1cm cubes

125g butter
125g dark Muscovado sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 lumps of preserved stem ginger plus 1 tsp of ginger syrup from the jar
125g self-raising flour
1 tsp dried ginger

Pre-heat oven to 160°C, Gas 4.
Put the caster sugar in a small pan with the water and stir over a gentle heat until dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil without stirring until the sugar syrup starts to caramelise. Remove from the heat and stir in the 50g butter. Pour into the base of a solid 20cm round tin – I use a tarte tatin dish.
Chop the trimmed rhubarb into 1cm cubes and arrange on top of the toffee mixture.
Mix the remaining butter and Muscovado sugar together with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg with the teaspoon of ginger syrup added. Gently fold in the sifted self-raising flour and the teaspoon of dried ginger. Finally fold in the chopped stem ginger.Put the cake mixture on top of the rhubarb and spread out to the edges to cover as completely as possible. Place in the oven and cook for 30-35 minutes. It should just spring back to the touch when ready. Remove from the oven and immediately place a large plate on top of the tin. Run a knife round the side of the tin, then firmly and confidently turn the plate and dish over, tap all over and gently lift off the tin – with any luck it should turn out perfectly, leaving no fruit or toffee topping left in the tin! If it doesn’t, no worries, just patch as required and leave to cool slightly before serving warm for dessert (or cold as cake – wonderful any which way!).

Rhubarb Upside-down cake slice

White Chocolate, Blueberry & Pine Nut Cookies

Garage bed May 2016

Younger son came home unexpectedly this weekend, so my empty cake and biscuit tins (after a week of hectic evening sporting activities following full-on working days) were crying out to be replenished this morning. Having picked armfuls of rhubarb from the allotment yesterday, along with my second decent harvest of asparagus of the season (yum!), my favourite Rhubarb Shortbread was a no-brainer, but I also felt inspired to make White Chocolate, Blueberry & Pine Nut cookies. These were originally from a recipe by Sophie Grigson, adapted as is my wont, but absolutely delicious with a good cup of coffee. Suffice to say that extra helpings of both have headed back to Reading with my son and his girlfriend this evening… (Praise indeed when an American girl approves of your cookies – thanks, Lauren!).

The rest of the rhubarb went into a Rhubarb & Almond Crumble after tonight’s herb-roasted lamb dinner: rhubarb cooked briefly in the microwave for 4-5 minutes, sweetened with Demerara sugar to taste and 2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur, then topped with an almond crumble made with 75g SR flour, 25g ground almonds, 50g butter, 25g caster sugar and a handful of flaked almonds – so simple, yet so good! And absolutely sublime with Amaretto Ice-cream on the side…

White Chocolate, Blueberry & Pine Nut Cookies

150g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
220g self-raising flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
50g pine nuts
100g white chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Waitrose Belgian white)
75g dried blueberries

Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 5. Grease two large baking trays.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the beaten egg, vanilla essence and sifted flour and mix well.
Stir in the pine nuts, white chocolate (I find a small mezzaluna brilliant for chopping chocolate quickly and easily) and blueberries.
The mixture will be quite wet, but this is fine. Either roll into 24-28 balls with dampened hands and place, spaced apart, on baking trays, or use a spoon to make walnut-sized blobs. Press down with a dampened fork to form rough discs.

Cookies pre cooking
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes until pale golden-brown, cool for a minute or so on the tray, then transfer to a rack to cool.
Serve with good coffee and a very happy grin!

White choc & blueberry cookies

Foolish pleasures

Flower teapot We might well regard gardening as a foolish pleasure given the awful weather we’ve had today: heavy rain, verging on sleet at times, wicked winds and a general wintry feel to the day. Hardly what you’d expect from the end of May. I’ve been playing yo-yo with my tomato and courgette plants all week, in and out of the conservatory to harden off in the day and then back in for protection from the chilly nights. Today was so dreadful, I brought the tomatoes back in after an hour when they were all knocked over by the wind like so many spindly skittles…. I had hoped to plant them up in their pots outside this weekend, but I think I may have to delay by another week as my mother, the weather oracle, says it’s finally due to warm up NEXT weekend. Instead, I think I’ll be forced to pot them on into their final pots, but squeeze those into the conservatory overnight without their cane frame and keep my fingers crossed that the weather warms up soon! Courgettes, cucumbers and squashes/pumpkins can definitely wait another week before braving the elements down at the allotment, even though my little grow frame is rapidly running out of room.

I don’t think I can recall such a late start to the season for quite some time: last week I had a lovely day up at the Chelsea Flower Show – clad in winter coat, boots, a cardigan over my dress and a pashmina for good measure! And whilst the sun did come out at some points during the day, I really didn’t feel tempted to divest myself of any surplus layers! Fabulous show though: I loved Jo Thompson’s M&G Retreat garden with its natural swimming pond and romantic pastel planting, and Chris’ Beardshaw’s Healthy Cities garden had a glorious colour palette, as did Adam Frost’s immaculate Homebase garden. The slate-filled Brewin Dolphin garden was also breathtaking close-up, much more so than it appeared on television, with a clever juxtaposition of that beautiful slate, water and delicate naturalistic planting. And whilst I admired Dan Pearson’s artistry in recreating a patch of Chatsworth, for me, it wasn’t a garden, more of a landscape – so definitely wouldn’t have been my choice for Best in Show! Each to their own…

Chris Beardshaw's garden M&G garden retreatThis week I was tempted into my sandals on a sunny visit to the Savill Garden near Windsor, where the azaleas and rhododendrons are in full, heavenly-scented bloom. Unfortunately, it’s back to winter today, though – roll on summer!

Rhubarb and asparagus are still going great guns down on the plot, and I managed to plant my runner and French bean seeds and net all my soft fruit against the birds last weekend, so I feel relatively up-to-date. I even sneaked up after work on Wednesday and weeded my root vegetable bed; the protective fleece covering seems to encourage both the vegetable seeds and the weeds, but hopefully weeding at this stage will allow the baby seedlings to get ahead of the game. Flea beetle have targeted both the radish and swede, but with any luck they won’t destroy the plants. Parsnips, carrots and beetroot are looking very promising, though, despite the odd gap in the rows where the slugs have obviously had a munch – soon topped up with fresh seed.

The constant flow of rhubarb calls for more recipes, both old and new favourites. One old faithful is silky-smooth rhubarb fool, served this time round with gluten-free almond tuiles for added crunch.

Rhubarb Fool

¼ pint custard

1lb rhubarb, chopped into 1 cm pieces

Grated rind and juice of 1 orange

4-6 tbsp demerara sugar

¼ pt double cream, softly whipped

Make the custard using 1/2 tbsp custard powder, 1 dsp granulated sugar and ¼ pt milk (or make fresh custard with eggs and sugar if you prefer, although I think the thicker consistency of cornflour-based custard powder works better and stops the fool becoming too runny). Cool slightly whilst cooking the rhubarb.

Cook the chopped rhubarb (no need to peel unless really stringy) in a covered dish in the microwave for 4-5 mins with the grated rind and juice of the orange and the sugar (to taste), until tender. Leave to cool.

Purée the custard and the rhubarb in a food processor until well blended – you may not need all the juice from the rhubarb. Turn into a bowl and fold in the whipped cream. Use a balloon whisk to mix gently together if you can still see bits of cream. Pour into 4-5 sundae dishes and chill.

You could use yogurt instead of custard (or cream), or crème fraîche for that matter, but I love the unctuous mixture of custard and cream. Gooseberries work well too as the rhubarb season comes to an end.

Serve with almond tuiles (or shortbread or amaretti biscuits if you prefer!).

Almond Tuiles

makes about 16

3oz butter

3oz caster sugar

2oz flaked almonds

2oz plain flour (or rice flour for gluten-free)

Pinch salt

Beat together the butter and sugar. Crush the almonds in your hand as you add them to the mixture with the sieved flour and salt. Mix well. Place heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture, spaced well-apart, on baking trays lined with baking parchment – probably only 4-5 on each tray as they will spread while cooking! Cook at 200°C / Gas 6 for about 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the trays and repeat with the rest of the mixture. They will be very soft when you take them out of the oven, but set to a lovely, crisp finish when cold.

The original recipe is with plain flour, but I experimented with rice flour for my gluten-free guest this time and it worked beautifully!

The Joys of Seasonality

tulip recreado cropped Tulip Recreado

One of the things I love most about gardening and cooking is that they keep you attuned to the rhythm of the seasons. I’m pretty sure I’d hate to live in a country where there wasn’t a marked contrast between the various times of the year: what would you have to look forward to? As it is, I relish the first rhubarb of the year, then the first asparagus, and so on through the year. Every season has its favourites, right down to parsnips and leeks, which are all the better for a hard frost in the winter!

Flowers too are so much more special for their fleeting appearance in the year’s calendar. The tulips have been heavenly this year, just going past their best now, but rapidly being overtaken by the purple drumsticks of alliums in their moment of glory. I’ve been delighted by my Sarah Raven selection from last autumn: the deep purple Recreado, bright orange lily-flowered Ballerina, and fabulous rich red Couleur Cardinal. The one slight fly in the ointment was the Pimpernel, supposed to be a deep scarlet and intended to fill one of the tubs flanking either side of my garden arch with Couleur Cardinal on the other side. Unfortunately, they’ve come up as a pretty pink and white viridiflora variety (Groenland, perhaps?) – lovely, but definitely not what I ordered and certainly not the matching colour I’d hoped for!

Tulip BallerinaTulip Ballerina

Couleur Cardinale Tulips Tulip Couleur Cardinal Viridiflora tulips

Tulip viridiflora ???!

Tulips from previous years have flowered beautifully on my sunny island bed, as ever, with carmine-pink Doll’s Minuet, scarlet Oxford and apricot/pink Menton putting on a splendid show, preceded by the early and reliably perennial white Purissima. My experiment with last year’s container tulips down at the allotment was less successful, with only a few flowering again; the varieties I’d transplanted were the later-flowering Cairo, Belle Epoque, Ronaldo and Bruine Wimpel, and only a handful of the Cairo made an appearance, despite the bulbs being a decent size when I transplanted them. I’ll leave them in situ and see how they perform next year, but also try a few of this year’s earlier tulips and see how they do. It could be that they don’t get the baking they need due to the overshadowing asparagus ferns for much of the summer….

Seasonal harvests are another joy: my haul from the allotment this evening, despite the so-called hungry gap, was an impressive basket full of rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, purple-spouting broccoli and parsley!

Harvest May 2015I couldn’t believe how much the asparagus had grown since picking my first spears last weekend: there must have been well over a kilogram tonight. Fortunately, I was dropping a birthday card off at a friend’s house on my way home, so left a bag full of rhubarb and asparagus too!

Deciding what to cook with your seasonal goodies is another delight. I rarely plan ahead once the allotment is in full production, just wait and see what’s ready and then decide what I fancy cooking. Not unlike a Masterchef challenge, really, but with considerably less pressure…..

Tonight I opted for a Roast Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Risotto, followed by Rhubarb & Amaretto Syllabub – heavenly combinations both.

Roast Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Risotto – serves 2-3 generous portions

Asparagus risotto 1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

50g butter

75ml dry white wine

170g risotto rice

500ml home-made vegetable stock (plus extra just in case)

Handful fresh mint leaves, chopped (save some to garnish)

Handful fresh parsley, chopped

10-12 spears asparagus

100g smoked salmon, chopped

75g grated Parmesan cheese

Olive oil

Seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and garlic in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus by breaking off any woody stems (they should break easily at a joint). Place in a roasting dish, drizzle with olive oil, season and roast for 10-12 minutes or until just tender. Remove from the oven and set to one side, then turn the oven down to 160°C, Gas 4.

Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions in 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, season and bring to boiling point. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the cooked asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces, smoked salmon and chopped mint and parsley, plus 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more stock 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 minutes, before serving with extra cheese and more chopped mint to garnish – or parsley if you prefer.

Rhubarb & Amaretto Syllabub – serves 6

Rhubarb & Amaretto Syllabub500g rhubarb, chopped

Juice and rind of 2 small oranges

5-6 tbsp demerara sugar

 300ml double cream

3 tbsp caster sugar

125ml dry white wine

2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur

10-12 Amaretto biscuits, roughly crushed

Place the rhubarb in a shallow ovenproof dish and add the grated rind and juice of the oranges, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Leave to cool.

Whip the double cream, caster sugar, Amaretto liqueur and white wine until it holds its shape in loose swirls. Spoon the cooled rhubarb into the bottom of 6 stemmed sundae dishes (or wine glasses). Sprinkle the crushed Amaretti biscuits over each glass, then top with the syllabub. Top with any leftover biscuit crumbs, or a reserved piece of rhubarb, if you have any left.

Chill before serving and enjoy!