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A QUICK LEMON TART FROM ITALY

Quick Lemon Tart

One of my favourite books in the last few years has been Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow. It is a happy mix of food, history, art and Italy thus covering many of my interests; it is also beautifully written and so withstands many readings without becoming tedious. 

The book traces the development of the growing of citrus fruits throughout the Italian peninsular and specifically the lemons for which Italy is justifiably famous. In the UK, the vast majority of our lemons are imported from Spain and whilst they are reliable workhorses in the kitchen (or in the gin), for me they lack the added dimension of fragrance and flavour that some with Italian lemons, specifically those from the area around Sorrento or from Sicily. 

Unfortunately for we cooks, Spanish lemons tend to be at a more economical price point and I use them for the majority of food where lemon is a supporting act, rather than the star of the show. Where a dish has lemon as the main act, I do try to find and use Sorrentine or Sicilian lemons, especially if I am using the zest. This part of the lemon is where I feel the main advantage lies in Italian lemons; there is something deeply aromatic and almost woody in the zest that out-performs the Spanish cousins. A further advantage is that tend to be somewhat larger so do go further.

I have a vast repertoire of lemon dishes (although I cannot abide lemon meringue pie!) and have been in pursuit of the perfect lemon tart for many years. Mercifully, the wonderful Felicity Cloake has now written up the perfect tarte au citron in her fab book Perfect Two. It is however, not a recipe to be hurried or done in a spare half hour, as the author herself says, so much I love this recipe and commend it wholeheartedly, I have also been searching for a quicker, more “do-able” tart and this is it. It is a variation on a torta al limone as found in the iconic Italian cookery book, The Silver Spoon. Now I love this book, despite it being roughly the size and weight of two house bricks, but it does have shortcomings. It makes no concessions to one’s experience (or lack of) and thus assumes you know how to undertake certain cooking processes and can tell when something is done. The prime example of this assumption is that it never specifies what size cake, tart or flan to to use. In other words, you will have learned all the basics from your mother and/or grandmother and this is just to provide you with ingredients and (approximate) cooking times!

I have to admit that I got this recipe wrong a couple of times but I’d like to think that I’ve ironed out all the wrinkles and have also added additional information that might be helpful. It has a simplicity that showcases Sorrentine or Sicilian lemons to perfection and I like to serve it with creme frâiche or home made (or very high quality bought) vanilla ice cream.

If you don’t feel like making pastry but quite fancy making the tart, do feel free to use an all-butter bought pastry but in this case, I would blind bake it first (see recipe)

A Quick Lemon Tart

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 30 minutes cooking

Ingredients

  • Pastry (as per my Rhubarb Almond Tart)
  • 250g plain flour or Italian Tipo 00
  • 125g unsalted butter, very cold from the fridge and cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium free range egg, lightly beaten
  • 100g icing sugar
  • tiny pinch of sea salt
  • Filling
  • 3 medium free range eggs
  • 140g caster sugar
  • finely grated zest of two unwaxed Sorrentine or Sicilian lemons
  • juice of one Italian lemon
  • 150g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • A well buttered 21cm loose bottomed flan tin. I have neither the inclination nor space to collect flan tins in every possible size, so I use a loose bottomed sandwich tin for this; no fluted edge but I can live with that. Happily, both are about 3cms deep.

Instructions

1

Pre-heat the oven to 160C fan

2

To make the pastry, place the flour and butter in a food processor and whizz until fine breadcrumb stage

3

Add the sugar, mix briefly and add the egg and salt

4

Whizz until a soft dough is achieved; tip out of the processor and form into a flattened ball, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

5

When time is up, roll out to fit the flan tin and press the dough gently into the tin

6

Unusually for flans, this recipe doesn’t require baking blind first but somehow (miraculously!) avoids a soggy bottom, at least in a fan oven

7

If you are using bought pastry, increase the oven to 170C, prick the base of the pastry lightly with a fork, line with baking parchment and baking beans; put in the oven for 20 minutes, remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for another 5 minutes

8

After removing the case from the oven, reduce the heat to 160C

9

Beat the eggs with the caster sugar in a large bowl until the mixture becomes creamy with a small amount of foam on top

10

Stir in the lemon zest and juice and then stir in the butter, mixing well

11

Pay attention at this point as if you over mix, the mixture can curdle, which doesn’t affect the flavour but will affect the texture; it’s probably safer to mix by hand at this point rather than use a mechanical mixer

12

Pour the mixture into the pastry case and bake for about 30 minutes until golden and firm to the touch

13

Cool in the tin then dust with icing sugar, remove from the tin and serve with creme frâiche or ice cream

Notes

This looks very pretty topped with raspberries or halved strawberries, too. I have also tried this as a blood orange tart with some success (but I do love lemon!) in which case I like to sprinkle with cocoa powder, as indeed I did for the lemon tart in the photo

 

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Spring/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A SPRING RECIPE FOR PORK

Pork chops with apple and creme frâiche

As you know I am someone who tries to eat seasonally and reasonably locally, although I am not going to apologise for buying avocados or olive oil. Traditionally, pork has not been much of a spring meat, which I think is a shame as while the weather remains unpredictable during March and April, I think free range organic pork is a splendid choice.

Our local butcher recently had beautiful pork chops, with a fair layer of flavour – adding fat so I snaffled a couple. Once home, however, I then had the “what do I do with them” problem. Pork chops have flavour at the more delicate end of the range and frankly, can also be dry, if not cooked carefully. For that reason, I am not a fan of the plain grilled pork chop, so I consulted better cooks than I to decide how to get the best from them.

I have a quite a fair size cookery book collection which is something of a double edged sword when it comes to consulting them, as it can take so long to look through them. There is also the serious risk of becoming completely engrossed in a book I haven’t opened for a while and losing sight of my original need to look in the book in the first place! Anyway, my fingers hovered around Richard Olney’s three books that I have in the collection and I realised that I really haven’t paid him as much attention recently as I should have done.

For those of you who don’t know him, please may I take a moment to commend his writing to you, especially if you are partial to good wine, or at least reading about it. He was an American who, like many before him, fell in love with France and its attitude to food and wine. He lived in Paris during the 50s and 60s and writes evocatively about the arts scene of the time. He eventually settled permanently in Provence where he wrote most of his books. My favourite is “Reflexions” in which he is deliciously gossipy about many food names from the second half of the twentieth century. I no longer feel quite the same about Julia Childs but did have my view of Elizabeth David positively reinforced.

I found the inspiration I was looking for in Mr Olney’s “Simple French Food” and whilst I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter, I did like the method and most of all, the outcome. This is my take on the Olney recipe and I am very grateful for everything I have learned from reading his books.

PORK CHOPS WITH APPLE AND MUSTARD CREAM

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 Cooking Time: 45 inc prep

Ingredients

  • 500g eating apples, preferably with a bit of tartness to them and a crisp texture
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 2 free range organic pork chops, skin removed if present
  • sea salt
  • 150ml dry white wine (I used a Gavi of which I doubt Mr Olney would approve as he didn’t seem to be a fan of Italian wine)
  • 4tbsp creme frâiche
  • 4tbsp Dijon mustard
  • black pepper
  • A well buttered gratin dish or other shallow oven proof dish, into which the chops will fit without overcrowding or distortion

Instructions

1

Take the chops out of the fridge about half an hour before you start cooking

2

Pre heat the oven to 180C fan

3

Peel, core and quarter the apples, slicing the resulting pieces into thin slices and lay them in the dish, turning them over so they acquire some of the butter clinging to the dish

4

Place the dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes

5

While that’s going on, over a medium heat melt the tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan and brown the chops, about 7 - 8 minutes per side

6

Remove the apple from the oven (leave the oven on) and put the chops on top, leaving the sauté pan on a low heat

7

Add the wine to the pan, scraping any meaty scraps from the base and sides of the pan

8

Turn up the heat a little so that the wine bubbles enthusiastically and reduce it by about half

9

Turn down the heat to low and add the creme frâiche, stirring it all in

10

Add the mustard, tasting you go to your satisfaction; you may like more or less than the amount I’ve suggested

11

Season with salt and pepper and pour the sauce over the chops and apples

12

Give the dish a good shake to ensure the sauce penetrates down to the apple

13

Return the dish to the oven and leave it there, unmolested for 15 minutes; if you have particularly thick chops, you may need a few minutes more

Notes

It’s very easy to multiply this up to feed more than two people and is equally good with wholegrain mustard. I have also tried adding a small amount of chopped sage or thyme, but decided I preferred the simplicity of the basic recipe. I like to serve this with brown rice and a green vegetable, or good bread and a green salad. Drink the wine you’ve got left from making this dish!

Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A WINTER CARB FEST

Winter carb fest - gattò di patate

There is something about the cold winter months that makes carbohydrates much more attractive during that time. I do try to limit them as there is no doubt that for me, too many induce lethargy. Add to that limited sunlight, cold wet weather and a warm snuggly bed and I have a recipe for staying too long in bed, weight gain and low mood. It makes perfect sense then for me to conserve my carbs for those I really love, usually rice or good pasta. Yes, I love bread but trial and error has proven to me that too much really does not agree with me; one or two slices per day of good sourdough is my limit.

With an Irish surname like mine, you’d think I’d love a potato but actually I can take them or leave them. Cue grandfather spinning in grave…

Recently however, I have been using potato a whole lot more and it’s all the fault of Angela Clutton and Borough Market Cook Book Club. Our January event was an homage to the late, great Antonio Carluccio and I was a bit slow off the mark bidding to make his Caponata, which I love. I therefore chose something that is also a family recipe, which in itself is a bit of a mystery and I’ll come to that later.

Having had Caponata nabbed from under my nose (you know who you are), I went for Gattò di Patate, which has nothing to do with cats (spot the accent!) and everything to do with a wonderful combination of potatoes, cheese, egg and cured meat. I ask, you in this weather, could you imagine anything more wonderful and tempting?

Gattò in this context is a corruption of gâteau and dates back to when Naples was a Napoleonic possession (although because this is Italy, there are other opinions!) and that is where the family mystery comes in. As you know, we are an Anglo Italian household and everyone on the Italian side comes from either Carrara in Tuscany, or Borgo val di Taro in Emilia Romagna, so how a Neapolitan recipe comes to be in the family repertoire is a complete mystery. Perhaps someone visited Naples and fell for this complete carb fest and brought the recipe back north. In truth I’ve avoided making it until now, not being much of a potato lover, despite plaintive hints from Edoardo from time to time.

Now, however, its time had come. Comparing the Carluccio recipe with the family one revealed some interesting differences (again, perfectly normal in Italy) but I played by the rules for the Cook Book Club and made the recipe in the Carluccio Collection. That version mixes the meat and cheese components throughout the dish and it was tasty but now having made the family version, to me that is the more delectable version, and is the one I’ve described below.

You’ll see that I have listed specific cured meat here but in truth, the meat component can be leftovers or good bacon, anything that will cut into nice little matchsticks. If you are buying something specifically for this dish, don’t buy anything that will disintegrate under the cooking conditions, for example thinly sliced Mortadella will disintegrate (although if you buy a chunk of it and cube it, that will be OK).

The potatoes are important – they must be a floury variety so for example Alouette, Maris Piper, Desirée or even good old King Edward. The cheese (apart from the Parmesan) must be a type that melts easily such as Taleggio, Provolone, Scamorza, Mozzarella or Fontal. In the picture I have used Montasio which is a DOP cow’s milk cheese from Friuli and the Veneto but I accept this can be tricky to get hold of in the UK.

This is quite a rustic carb fest and although it is frequently served as an accompaniment with a roast meat or fish, we have enjoyed it most as a supper dish in its own right with a clean, fresh green salad (my favourite here is Little Gem, rocket and fennel in a sharp lemony dressing).

Do try it now, before spring arrives and this will be too carby – it has converted me to the humble spud!

GATTÒ DI PATATE

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 - 6 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1kg floury potatoes, scrubbed but left whole
  • 50g unsalted butter plus extra for greasing
  • 6 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • 4 medium eggs, beaten
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 75g grated Parmesan, Gran Padano or Pecorino Sardo
  • 150g cured meat eg salami, speck, prosciutto or mortadella (buy in a piece and cut into slim pieces, like slightly thicker matchsticks; if you use speck, I like to lightly fry it first)
  • 150g cheese that melts well, eg Taleggio, Provolone, Scamoza, Mozzarella, Fontal, Montasio, sliced
  • olive oil or butter to finish
  • sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • a 25cm springform cake tin or ovenproof dish, well buttered and coated with about 4tbsp of the breadcrumbs

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 180C fanBoil the potatoes in their skins until soft when pierced with a skewer

2

Drain and allow to cool and dry off

3

Peel and then mash or use a ricer to produce a dry potato powder (I have seen a recipe that says sieve it but honestly, life is too short)

4

Add 50g butter and mix in well to achieve a smooth potato mash

5

Add the meat, parsley, 50g of the Parmesan or other grated cheese and then the eggs

6

Mix well until smooth and spread half on the base of the tin or dish

7

Layer the sliced cheese over the potato, cutting up the cheese to ensure every bit of the potato is covered with cheese

8

Cover with the other half of the potato mix and press down quite firmly

9

Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese and breadcrumbs and either drizzle with a little olive oil or dot with butter

10

Place in the centre of the oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown; if it hasn’t taken colour by 25 minutes, ramp it up 10 degrees for the last five minutes

11

Serve warm or cold with a refreshing green salad with a lemony dressing

Notes

If you’ve used a springform tin, it looks good turned out onto a pretty plate to serve I have also then used a small biscuit cutter to create bite sized pieces to use as stuzzichini, perhaps topped with a parsley leaf

 

 

Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A DISRUPTIVE VEGETABLE

I’d been thinking for a while that I might have got into a bit of rut with my cooking, so while preparing my farmdrop.com order, I decided to disrupt my vegetables choices and opt instead for a veg bag from lovely Purton House organics. My thinking was that if I’m faced with a bag full of fab veg, I will be forced (or do I mean encouraged?) into new thinking and approaches.

Anyway, this week the bag contained Jerusalem artichokes, which I have always loved when I’ve eaten in Italy or France, but never cooked in the UK. The first idea that came into my mind was soup; I love the whole process of soup making, there is something very reassuring and comforting about both making and eating it. I know, that doesn’t push me very far outside my cooking comfort zone but we are having a cold snap here in London, so soup is just the ticket.

You probably know that Jerusalem artichokes have absolutely nothing to do with Jerusalem, the word being a corruption of the Italian for sunflower: girasole. The two plants are related, both being of the genus helianthus. The artichokes can romp away up to 3m high if left unchecked and do look pretty if a bit straggly, when growing. The tubers do look somewhat unpromising and learn from my experience: try to get the least knobbly ones, otherwise after peeling them, you can be left with precious little to use.

It is thought that the plant originally came from North America via the French explorer Samuel de Champlain (he who founded Quebec and charted the first maps of the Canadian east coast). The plant was first cultivate though, by the Dutch botanist Petrus Handius in the seventeenth century. They proliferated across Europe to the point that in 1629, the British botanist John Parkinson declared them to be so common and cheap “that even the most vulgar begin to despise them”.

Delicious though they are, they do have an unfortunate reputation for disrupting the digestive system although I think Gerard’s Herbal of 1621 was a tad extreme in saying “which way so ever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy, loathsome, stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and a meat more fit for swine than men”.

Personally I’ve never found this to be the case but perhaps that is because our diet is already quite rich in beans, pulses and vegetables. I also find that pairing the artichokes with a full fat dairy product (butter, cream, cheese or yogurt) minimises the disruptive effect.

If I haven’t completely put you off trying these, bear in mind they are a rich source of potassium and iron and also contain useful quantities of niacin, thiamine, phosphorous and copper so give this delicious soup a go and be generous with finishing it with cream or creme frâiche!

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE SOUP

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 Cooking Time: 30 - 40 mins

Ingredients

  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (doesn’t need to be virgin but should have a mild flavour)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped (make sure you run a potato peeler down the stalks if they are “mature”, to rid them of those pesky strings)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 250 - 300g unpeeled weight Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and diced
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 1 litre hot vegetable stock ( a low salt powder or cube is fine)
  • 250 ml cold whole organic milk (don’t even think of doing this with skimmed milk)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

1

Take a heavy bottomed pan and melt the butter over a low to medium heat then add the oil to minimise the risk of the butter burning

2

When the butter is foaming but not coloured, add the onion and celery and soften them for five minutes or so

3

Do not allow this soup to colour at any stage as it will spoil the creamy white purity of the end product

4

Add the potato and Jerusalem artichoke and cook for another five minutes

5

Strip the leaves off the thyme sprigs and add to the mixture in the pan

6

Add the hot stock, followed by the milk

7

Stir well and leave to simmer gently for 30 - 40 minutes; keep a sharp eye on proceedings as you don’t want any colour, or for the milk to cause a boil over

8

When the artichoke and potato are easily crushed against the side of the pan, switch off the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly

9

Use a stick blender to create a smooth creamy soup, season and serve in warm bowls

Notes

Finish with cream or creme frâiche and chopped parsley to create a colour contrast In the picture I have finished with three rehydrated dried Morels, fresh double cream and a drizzle of truffle oil. Pink peppercorns make a pretty contrast, perhaps with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt.

Autumn/ Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

FEEDING PEOPLE – EASY BAKED SALMON

Colourful, healthy and SO easy.

Let me state right up front, I love to have a table full of people for whom I’m cooking. Don’t much mind if I’m just making a giant risotto for twelve with antipasti first and green salad then fruit and cheese, or a full scale cordon bleu high French cuisine meal for four. Have to say the former scenario is less stressful and much easier on the budget. On reflection, I am not sure anyone really entertains at home in that formal way any more and I can’t stand it when home entertaining becomes a competitive sport.

On that basis, I am going to do a series of occasional posts talking about recipes and tips I have found useful when feeding people at different times of the year and of the day. I will probably include a few failures as well, on the basis that I’m human!

Having said that, having friends round their table is something that sometimes worries people though, so this post is giving you an absolutely foolproof main course that can be put on the table in under 30 minutes, is stress-free and can be done even if you’ve over done it on the aperitivi before you get in the kitchen…not that I have any experience in that regard…

Before we get to the recipe, I would like to emphasise that the quality of ingredients here is crucial: when we cook something this simple, the flavours must be clear and authentic, so do try to find the best you can and in the case of the salmon, preferably organic.

In terms of setting this within the context of say, a three course meal, I usually give people either a simple soup (prepared the day before) or a cold starter (Roquefort, pear and walnut salad is a crowd pleaser and dead easy), followed by a big bought tart, fresh fruit and cheese. Again, very simple so look for the best you can afford.

While I’ve been writing this, I have come to the conclusion that I really don’t like the word “entertaining” in this context. It’s all a bit Abigail’s Party (find it on You Tube – it’s genius) or 1980’s Cuisine Minceur (don’t bother Googling that – dreadful phase in food; everything served on black octagonal plates and so tiny you just wanted to make a pile of buttered toast once home). Having people round a table, eating good home cooked food (ahem, apart from puddings…) accompanied by conversation and laughter is one of great pleasures. Yes, wine helps but some of the best conversation round our table has come from teetotallers or designated drivers. On second thoughts, maybe there is a correlation there…

That’s a long paragraph to describe why I dislike the pretensions that can accompany feeding people at home and I still haven’t found a word to replace entertaining, so I am going to leave it at “feeding people” and hope it doesn’t make me sound too institutional!

Don’t be deterred by the length of these recipe; it is dead easy and when you’ve done it once, it will all slot into place and you’ll do with your eyes closed – or after a few aperitivi

EASY BAKED SALMON

Print Recipe
Serves: as many as you like Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 fillet of organic salmon per person
  • 1 slice of Parma ham per fillet (optional - see notes)
  • bay leaves
  • olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • small bunches of cherry tomatoes, left on the vine
  • sweet potatoes, say, 1 chunky one per person but depends on appetites!
  • mature spinach (not those wimpish “baby”leaves that are for salad but have no flavour when cooked); buy more than you think you can possibly eat
  • fresh or dried thyme
  • 1 clove garlic
  • butter
  • double cream or creme frâiche
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • nutmeg

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees/180 degrees fan

2

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into chunks about the size of a golf ball

3

Wash the spinach in two or three changes of water and leave in a colander to drain

4

Put olive oil into a shallow baking tin or oven proof dish, add the chunks of sweet potato ensuring they are all well coated with oil

5

Add black pepper, thyme and a smashed garlic clove (no need to peel it)

6

Put in the oven for 20 minutes

7

Take a second oven proof dish and add a drizzle of olive oil - just enough to lubricate the base

8

Pat dry each salmon filet and wrap each in a slice of Parma ham with the “seams” underneath

9

Slot a bay leaf under the ham, on top, with the tips poking out

10

Add the tomatoes to the dish, with the salmon, making sure they have a drip of olive oil of them but aren’t swimming in it

11

Put in the oven proof dish and wait until the sweet potatoes have had their 20 minutes

12

At that point, turn over the potatoes and return them to the oven

13

Put the salmon in the oven and set your timer for 15 minutes (Note that this time is for a slender fillet - if you have gone for a chunkier size, add a few minutes)

14

About 5 minutes before time is up, take your largest pan and melt a good sized knob of butter

15

When it has foamed, add the spinach and ensure it is all well coated with butter

16

Add a pinch of salt, put the lid on and leave it alone for about four minutes over a medium heat

17

When the time goes off for the oven; switch off the oven and leave everything in there while you finish off the spinach

18

Take the lid off the spinach and you’ll see it has shrunk beyond belief which is why I recommend you buy more than you think you’ll need

19

Drain it through a colander in the sink and then take an old saucer or small plate and press down hard on the spinach to force out as much of the liquid as possible

20

(You can do this to this stage a couple of hours in advance and in some ways that’s better, as it does give the spinach time to properly dry out)

21

Return the resulting green heap to the pan over a low light and move it around a bit more to drive off more liquid Turn up the heat to medium and add a couple of tablespoons of double cream or creme frâiche, heating until it bubbles and sizzles

22

Add black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg

23

Turn off the heat, plate up the fish and tomatoes put the potatoes and spinach in serving dishes - job done

Notes

This is colourful, healthy and not too expensive, especially if you replace the sweet potatoes with lentils or brown rice and leave out the Parma ham In truth, the method for this meal can be adapted for any firm fish such as cod or haddock and the spinach replaced by whatever green veg is in season, so do experiment and find your own speciality that you can produce with your eyes closed - or after a few aperitivi!

 

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A FACE ONLY A MOTHER COULD LOVE

I have been, as they say, unavoidably absent from these pages for the last few weeks as the builders began the work on the London flat and I had forgotten how much a big refurb project can take over your life. And it’s not the big stuff like choosing the kitchen and the bathrooms; it’s the small stuff. I was sitting on the Tube, quietly trying to read Jay Rayner and listen to Bach (what a pair) and I happened to glance up at the advertising. Normally quite safe, as the habitués of that space seem to mostly be wifi providers I’ve never heard of and dodgy looking money transfer outfits. Not this time; now I was invited to consider how meaningless my life would be without electrical sockets that have built in USB ports….what? Genius. Straight on to the builder, who has the patience of a saint. So you see, I haven’t been safe from the damned project even on the Tube. and I am trying to find all kinds of displacement activity to avoid choosing new door furniture. And tiles. And timber flooring. And paint colours…..so talking about the ugly sister of the vegetable world is a delight.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned celery, the Cinderella of the veg world, so let me introduce you to the ugly sister: celeriac. Honestly, it has a face only a mother could love, but it is, in this country at least, the unsung heroine of the vegetable world. I was delighted a couple of weeks ago to receive in my farmdrop.com order a complete plant, as per the picture. This was completely unexpected as normally in the UK, one only gets a trimmed root, which while less startling than the complete plant, still looks a bit like a turnip with a hangover. There the resemblance ends.

Every bit of a complete plant can be used, although there is a fair bit of waste when one trims the root. If you’re lucky enough to own a compost heap, then that isn’t a problem but it is important to trim off every bit of hairy root and any yellowing stalks or leaves. The stalks aren’t really bold enough to use raw, as in cultivation, the energy has gone into creating the lovely big root, but they are fine for using in soups or risotto (excellent in the latter with a morsel of Gorgonzola). The leaves can be used as a herb, so again good in soups, stuffings, risotto and with lentils, quinoa or cous cous.

The root, which is really the focus of this piece, makes wonderful soup but one of my very favourite things to do is put a whole celeriac, cut into chunks, under a roast chicken, mixed with garlic and thyme. I also put a couple of chunks inside the cavity with thyme and half a lemon, salt and pepper. When the chicken is done, keep the bird warm and put the roasting tin with all the celeriac and garlic gunk over a low flame (if there is a lot of fat, just pour most of it off), mix it up with a wooden spoon (the celeriac and garlic will be very soft by now), gradually add as much white wine as will make a deeply savoury sauce and simmer for a few minutes stirring all the while. A few green peppercorns won’t come amiss and although I have tried it with a spoonful of creme fraiche, for me, that’s gilding the lily. This isn’t a sophisticated dish but is very satisfying and people who have eaten this have always asked for the “recipe”. I think, however, that it is so simple as to barely qualify as a recipe, so it’s here and not written up as a recipe proper.

I also love celeriac incorporated with potato mash, but it does retain more water than potato, so I always steam it if I’m going to mash it. It’s also great as part of a platter of roast root veg; in particular it seems to pair and contrast well with roast parsnip (another less than lovely looking vegetable). Above all, it is stupendous in soup and the recipe that follows is wonderful. I can claim no credit for this, as I discovered it in the staff canteen where I worked; the chef was so pleased to have someone ask for a recipe you’d have thought it was his birthday. I have tweaked it a bit to please our palates more and despite the slightly unlikely combination of ingredients, do please give it a go. I promise you, it’s fab.

Celeriac, Coconut and Chilli Soup

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 normal people or 2 greedy ones Cooking Time: about an hour

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 900g of celeriac root, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 750ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • juice of a lime
  • 2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp lemon or ordinary thyme leaves, chopped finely
  • 1 green chilli deseeded and chopped
  • small bunch of fresh coriander, separated into stalk and leaves
  • 250 ml full fat milk (if you insist on using semi or skimmed milk, make something else)
  • 75g creamed coconut
  • grated zest of the lime

Instructions

1

Heat the butter and add the celeriac, cover and cook gently for about 10 minutes but don’t allow it to brown

2

Add the stock, lime juice, ginger, (lemon) thyme , chopped chilli and coriander stems

3

Bring just to the boil, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes

4

Add the milk and simmer uncovered for about another 15 minutes; you’re looking for the liquid to reduce but never boil

5

Remove from the heat, add the creamed coconut

6

Use a stick blender until you have a smooth soup; flecked with green from the chilli and coriander stems

7

Season as you please and garnish with grated lime zest and chopped coriander leaves

Notes

If, like me, you’re not too keen on coriander as a herb (love the seeds), use flat leaf parsley instead. Also feel free to use a different chilli and in fact, I have made this with dried crushed chilli. Both of these changes will alter the flavour slightly, but of course, it is still a delicious, warming soup that is a bit different.

 

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

CINDERELLA CELERY

I will come right out and say I love celery and its root, celeriac. Love them to bits and happily crunch away on both of them. But they have a bad reputation; the stalks seem forever associated with the deprivation of a rigid low calorie diets, and celeriac usually evokes a puzzled look and a comment about how ugly it is.

Wrong, just wrong. Good celery is a staple ingredient for soffritto in Italian cooking and mirepoix in the French canon but the critical word there was “good”. I am sorry to say that so much of what is sold in the UK comes from Spain and is weak, feeble and hollow. Honestly, I’ve had Spanish celery – and Israeli come to that – you could use as drinking straws. The stalks shouldn’t be hollow and yellowy, and a good head of celery will feel quite heavy for its size. Oh and smell fresh and very celery-ry.

It is true to say that there is both green and white celery, but don’t mistake pathetic yellowing specimens for the delicious blanched Fenland celery that can be had in the UK during November and December. This has a strong distinctive flavour and like asparagus, has a short season, so do make the most of it while we have it.

Green celery is available more widely but UK grown, flavourful celery seems mostly available September to April and I have it my fridge most weeks during that time, with an interregnum for the Fenland crop.

This unsung hero is just so useful; I put it in risotto, lentils, soups, quinoa, couscous, stews and casseroles, not to mention cutting short lengths, filling with Gorgonzola and dusting with paprika. I know it sounds a bit Abigail’s Party, but I love it! It also earns a place on a cheese board with grapes and figs, which frankly I prefer over biscuits after a meal. I also use the leaves chopped up as one would a herb, but go gently as the celery flavour is very concentrated here.

Anyway, the celery I had from https://thefoodassembly.com/en/assemblies/8012/products was just gorgeous and although a fair amount was eaten with the lovely Slipcote cheese, I had enough left for this lovely soup which has a distinctly celery flavour and is creamy in texture, without needing the addition of any dairy (although you can add it if you want to!).

Celery Soup

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 - 4 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 small/1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 150g celery stalks, chopped into slices about 0.5mm wide
  • 1 slim leek, washed, sliced in two lengthways, then sliced into slender half moons
  • leaves stripped from two sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 heaped tsp Marigold reduced salt bouillon
  • 1 litre hot water
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper

Instructions

1

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the onion and garlic

2

Allow to soften but not colour and add the remaining vegetables and thyme

3

Soften for about 15 minutes but do not allow to colour

4

Add the Marigold powder, mix in and then slowly add the water

5

Season and mix well, bringing to a simmer but don’t let it boil

6

Simmer gently with the lid askew for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft and can be easily squashed against the side of the pan

7

Cool slightly and use a stick blender to process until smooth; the addition of potato will give the soup a very smooth, almost creamy texture so you don’t have to add dairy to finish the soup

Notes

My favourite finish are garlic croutons and in the picture, you will see a small swirl of Jersey milk, but in truth, it was gilding the lily. This freezes well, but freeze minus any dairy you might want to use.

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

BAKED EGGS

This is such a simple recipe, I am wary of actually posting it but a good friend said that she’d never thought of it, so why not?

I think this is something that you can throw together from things you mostly have in the house anyway, plus the fact that you can add all kinds of bits you might find lurking in the fridge. I recently used a few scraps of left over Parma ham; any small pieces of salami are also good but I am reluctant to use anything fishy as i just can’t imagine how it might test. Although it might be good with lovely Morecambe Bay shrimps?

Apologies too, for the dayglo cheese; I was using up a bit of left over Red Leicester and it does come up bright! Tasted good though and that’s what counts.

Baked Eggs

Print Recipe
Serves: 1 Cooking Time: 8 - 9 minutes

Ingredients

  • scrap of butter for greasing
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • i small leek washed and sliced finely (or a small shallot finely chopped)
  • 1 large tomato, skinned and cut into 1cm dice
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 2 tbsp cream or creme frâiche
  • 2 tbsp grated cheese
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • small oven proof dish, buttered

Instructions

1

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C/160 fan and put in an oven tray to heat

2

Melt the butter in a small pan on a medium flame

3

Add the leeks and soften but don't allow to colour

4

Remove from the heat and drain well on crumpled kitchen paper (don't omit this step as to do so will render this dish too greasy)

5

Spread across the small dish

6

Add the tomato dice

7

Carefully break the eggs into the vegetables, without breaking the yolks

8

Drizzle over the cream and season, taking account of how salty the cheese is likely to be

9

Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs

10

Place the dish on the oven tray for about 8 minutes until the egg is set

11

Watch the egg yolk carefully - hard-boiled is not what we aiming for!

Notes

It easy to increase this to serve more than one person but I'd use individual dishes if you can. Serving could be messy from one large dish.

Autumn/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Uncategorized/ Winter

#SUPERMARKETSIESTA 2 AND A HALF

The idea for this blog came when I realised, after leaving my corporate life, how much food I was throwing away, if I had over-provisioned (that happened SO often). It was therefore a stark reminder of my old life when towards the end of last week I was faced with leeks, feta cheese, an astonishingly pretty striped aubergine, a couple of San Marzano tomatoes and the dregs of the carton of creme frâiche. A rummage in the dry goods drawer also revealed a sad, almost empty bag of pearl barley. This post therefore, is not quite episode 3 of Supermarket Siesta which follows later this week, but I felt did talk to the origin of this blog.

The weather had begun to feel more like autumn, although not yet cold enough to trigger my soup-making (although enough to make me feel like Kanga counting Roo’s vests). So what to make? When in doubt, consult Elizabeth David is my motto and after half an hour in her company, and an espresso, I had inspiration, although I have to say I made most of this up as I went along.

So here are two simple recipes that are quick, reasonably priced and can be dressed up and down to suit either a solo lunch or supper at home, or serve as starters or main courses. I have a number of vegetarian friends and these work well for them, although I’m still working with a limited repertoire for vegans. I don’t seem to be able to get past using eggs, cheese and butter; my fault I know and I probably need to find the time to do a whole lot more research.

I think the stuffed aubergines will be a regular through the autumn and winter and I’m looking forward to playing around with the flavours.

Stuffed Aubergines

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 40g uncooked weight pearl barley
  • 2 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped and chopped (I don’t always bother to chop as I don’t mind seeing the little leaves in the finished recipe)
  • 0.25 tsp ground cumin
  • finely grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1 dsp capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 40 - 50 g feta cheese
  • 2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • A greased oven tray

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees C/180 degrees fan

2

Set the pearl barley to cook over a moderate flame until al dente then drain

3

Cut out the flesh of the aubergine, chopping it into 1cm dice. Leave a slim shell of aubergine skin and set aside.

4

I find an old grapefruit knife remarkably useful for this operation. Try your best not to pierce the shell as it will leak horribly.

5

Heat the oil in a thick based pan and soften the shallot and garlic, without letting them colour

6

Add the aubergine flesh and cumin and cook until the aubergine begins to soften

7

Add the tomato, thyme and barley and mix well

8

Allow to simmer until the mixture is quite dry - the tomato juices must evaporate to stop the mixture being sloppy and also to intensify the flavours

9

Add the grated lemon zest and capers and check the seasoning

10

Fill the two aubergine shells, packing the mixture quite firmly

11

Crumble over the feta cheese and finish with the breadcrumbs

12

Cook for 25 - 30 minutes until the stuffing is hot, cheese melting and the aubergine shells a bit wrinkly

Notes

I prefer to eat this warm rather than hot and like it with either a simple green salad or buttered savoy cabbage. Feel free to experiment with the spices here; I can imagine cinnamon being good and to shake things in a different flavour direction, ground cardamom and/or fennel seeds. Just thought - dried porcini mushrooms, soaked and finely chopped could be good too.

Autumn/ Breakfasts & Brunches/ Desserts & Savouries/ Spring/ Summer/ Winter

BANANA EMERGENCY

I had a bit of a challenge to my Watchful principles last weekend, as I discovered three elderly bananas that were quite beyond eating “as is”, and for some reason I had neglected to eat most of the Discovery apples that had been delivered by Farmdrop.com. I can’t really explain that latter event, as I adore those apples and they have such a short season. It might have had something to do with my stuffing myself with a friend’s homegrown raspberries and the delivery, direct from Italy, of the most fragrant melon, another gift from a friend – lucky me!

Anyway, these poor apples had become a tad on the wizened side, so I made Spiced Apples (elsewhere on this site), not thinking they’d also come to the rescue in a banana emergency.

I have a fairly large collection of cookery and food books, together with favourite websites and years and years worth of good, old-fashioned clippings from magazines and newspapers. I wish I could tell you that the latter are in apple pie order and that I can lay my hands on exactly what I want in a trice. Nope. Not a hope. This lamentable lack of organisation came back to haunt me when I wanted to save these poor bananas from the bin and had a vague recollection of a good recipe from some years ago. I will cut a long and frustrating story short, by saying it took me nearly an hour to find what I wanted. Yes, there were other recipes more readily available, but stubbornly, I wanted that particular recipe that turned out to be snipped out of an American newspaper eleven years ago. It probably wouldn’t have taken me an hour if I had remained on task, but I kept discovering long forgotten gems, some of which revealed just how rusty my once fairly fluent French has become. Anyway, back to bananas.

The recipe is straightforward enough, in fact it is so simple it barely counts as cooking. Assuming, of course, one has all the ingredients…..now, I am an incurable recipe tweaker, except when it comes to cakes and baking generally. I don’t seem to have to same instinct for baking as I do for other areas of cookery, so tend to tweak only minor ingredients. I am not sure, however, it counts as minor when I discover I only have slightly more than half the required peeled weight of bananas. At this point I had greased the tin, was heating the oven and had weighed out all the other ingredients so opting out wasn’t an option. And Edoardo was expecting cake…….I sympathise, I get a bit like that when I’m expecting cheese…..

Anyway, for once I decided to tweak on a more major scale and made up the weight by using Spiced Apples that were drained of the juice that is inevitable with them. I did wonder if they would make it a bit too damp but decided to keep a close eye on the cake in the oven. For me, it is a minor miracle that it turned out perfectly: moist, light and full of flavour. I might even make this more often (cue for E’s eyes to light up – he complains he is cake-deprived normally).

I have written up what I did, but I suspect you could tinker around with the proportions, so long as it added up to 225g. And it wouldn’t have to be the Spiced Apple recipe; I might try it with raw grated apple and increase the spice content a bit. If you do try that, please let me know how it works out.

One last note; in the picture I was worried to see what looks like a lump of uncooked cake mixture but was relieved when it turned out to be a piece of apple!

I hope you enjoy this – we now call it “Leftovers Cake” but it’s not a very appetising title!

Spiced Banana and Apple Cake

Print Recipe
Serves: 10 Cooking Time: 45 - 60 minutes

Ingredients

  • butter for greasing the tin
  • 85g unsalted butter
  • 225g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 0.25 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 0.25 tsp grated nutmeg (or cinnamon, or a mixture of both)
  • 120g peeled weight ripe bananas
  • 105g drained Spiced Apples
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten in a cup
  • 100g roughly chopped walnuts
  • 1kg/2lb loaf tin, base and long sides lined and greased with butter

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 190 degrees/170 degrees fan

2

Melt the 85g butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat (it mustn’t colour) and allow to cool

3

Mash the bananas thoroughly and stir together with the apple

4

Stir in the sugar, eggs and melted butter

5

Sift in the flour, baking powder and bicarb, folding in carefully

6

Fold in the chopped walnuts

7

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin, giving it a smart tap on the work surface to eradicate any air pockets and smooth off the top

8

Bake in the oven for 45 - 60 minutes, testing with a skewer after 45 minutes.

9

This one was done after 50 minutes but I suspect the banana/apple proportion will influence the time

10

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove form the tin and cool on a wire rack