Thursday, 29 September 2011

Tomato and Plum Soup

This recipe is a handy and tasty variation on tomato soup that uses plums to give a sweet and sour flavour. It’s based on a Michael Smith recipe from the 1980s. I don’t mean Michael Smith the very successful Scottish chef or Michael Smith the well-known Canadian TV chef; I’m talking about Michael Smith the cookery writer, TV chef of his day and great champion of British food, who sadly died back in 1989.

This may not be exactly Mr Smith’s original recipe, but the spirit is there.

It’s possible to make this with tinned tomatoes if you’re stuck for fresh, but you’re likely to need less passata in that case. It’s crucial to get the balance of sweet and sour right for this soup and you may need to adjust the amount of sugar you add depending on the sweetness of the plums and tomatoes you’re using.
Tomato and Plum Soup
This will make 4 or 5 decent-sized portions.

1 onion, chopped
500 g plums (preferably red ones), stoned
325 g tomatoes, deseeded (you don’t have to be fanatical about the deseeding)
300 ml passata or sieved tomatoes
500 ml vegetable stock
½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp fresh oregano leaves
about 2 tsp sugar – you may need more or less depending on the sweetness of the plums and tomatoes you’re using

Soften the onion gently in a little oil.

Add all the other ingredients, but only use 1 tsp of the sugar at this point. Season with a little salt and pepper. Bring up to a simmer and let the mixture bubble away gently for about 15 minutes or until the fruit is very soft.

Allow to cool a little, then liquidise and strain through a fine sieve. Adjust the seasoning and add more sugar if needed. Reheat and sprinkle with a few leaves of chives and parsley or chervil before serving.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Torta di Zucca e Mele

For the September We Should Cocoa challenge Chele of Chocolate Teapot has decided that we should celebrate the first birthday of We Should Cocoa. I was thinking of making a cake but that didn’t seem like a celebration somehow – after all, I’ve made cakes for other entries in the challenge. I was struggling to think of something different when my wife suggested this torta.

This feels like a celebratory dessert to me because it’s not only delicious and seasonal, it’s also just that bit out of the ordinary (well, actually, it seems downright odd when you look at the list of ingredients) . The finished torta is thin, very moist, fairly delicate, not too sweet and tastes properly grown up. Not obviously suitable for a first birthday party, perhaps, but I’ve very little experience with 1 year olds, I'm afraid.

There are a number of different variations on this torta but this version is essentially a Sophie Grigson recipe from the late 1980’s. I’m assuming that you know relatively restrained people, in which case this will serve around 8 of them.
Torta di Zucca e Mele

2 dessert apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
175 g pumpkin (weigh chunks of the flesh with no seeds or skin)
80 g caster sugar
2 tbsp milk
60 g plain chocolate, roughly chopped
60 g amaretti biscuits (not the soft ones), crushed into small pieces but not to a powder
60 g semi-dried figs, finely chopped
30 g sultanas
½ tbsp cocoa powder
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp vanilla extract or paste
2 tbsp brandy
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Grease and line a 23 cm cake or tart tin. This doesn’t have to be deep but one with a loose bottom will make life a lot easier. Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Place the apple slices in a saucepan with half the sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. Thinly slice the pumpkin flesh, place in a separate saucepan with the remaining sugar and the milk. Cover the saucepans and gently simmer both pans until the apple and pumpkin are softened but not falling apart. Depending on the type of apple and pumpkin, this will probably take between 10 and 15 minutes.

Pour all the contents of both saucepans into a bowl and allow them to cool just a little. Add the rest of the ingredients, one at a time and in the order given, stirring thoroughly between each addition. (The residual heat should melt the chocolate but the mix should be cool enough by the time of the last addition to not scramble the eggs).

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth it over. Tap the tin on the worktop a couple of times to remove any air bubbles. Bake in the oven until set and reasonably firm in the centre – this will probably take between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on how much liquid the apples and pumpkin produced.

Allow the torta to cool for a short time in the tin but remove it (carefully) while it’s still a little warm. The torta is best served cold.
Torta di Zucca e Mele
I’m hopeless at remembering to celebrate special events such as National Chocolate Cake Week (is there one?) or my birthday or whatever there is, but I can’t believe I forgot to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day this week. Oh, the shame of it. Maybe I should have made a torta with rum instead. This is my favourite pirate song at the moment, by the way.

Happy Birthday We Should Cocoa.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Navettes–A Random Recipe

For this month’s Random Recipe challenge  Dom of Belleau Kitchen has challenged us to pick a recipe at random from among those we’ve torn out of magazines, newspapers and the like. Fair enough, I thought, and went to my box of disorderly clippings and pulled out a recipe for Navettes cut from a well-known French magazine (I’m naming no names). I was a happy bunny because I’ve always fancied making these.

Navettes are mostly associated with Marseille and are somewhere between a cake and a biscuit. They’re supposed to look a little like boats and, according to one story, may date back as far as ancient Egypt where they were made in the likeness of the boat that carried Isis. Not sure I really buy that, but I love a good story and this does seem to be a genuinely very old recipe.

So I cheerfully began to make the navettes. But, Dear Reader, let this be a salutary lesson to us all. As I’ve discovered more than once in the past, the recipes in magazines are sometimes not subject to the same degree of testing and proofreading as those in books (or those of my lovely fellow bloggers, of course). It quickly became clear that this recipe was never going to work – the ingredients and amounts given were just plain wrong.

But was I downhearted? Well yes I was a bit, but rather than abandon the navettes, I’ve  played around with the recipe until it works. (Hopefully Dom will forgive me for slightly bending the rules.) You can nibble on these at any time of the day and they’re solid enough to carry with you for sustenance on a country walk. They’re also really good to dip into creamy desserts or to serve alongside ice cream.
You can make these smaller or larger as the mood takes you, but this amount should give you between 15 and 20 navettes of a decent size.

375 g plain flour
2 eggs plus 1 extra yolk for glazing
180 g caster sugar
30 g butter, softened
A pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp orange flower water
Zest of 1 lemon, very finely grated
50 ml water

Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Lightly beat the two whole eggs and pour them into the centre of the flour. Add the sugar, softened butter, pinch of salt, baking powder, orange flower water and the lemon zest.

Gradually mix the ingredients together with your fingertips, incorporating the flour bit by bit. Gradually work in enough of the water to form a smooth but still quite firm dough. You may not need all the water. As soon as the dough comes together and starts to feel smooth, stop working it.

Divide the dough into 5 pieces. Roll each piece into a longish sausage shape – how thin is up to you, but an overall length of somewhere between 30 and 40 cm is probably about right. Cut each sausage of dough into three roughly equal pieces. Flatten each piece a little into an oval shape. Place on oven trays lined with silicone sheets or non-stick paper. Use the point of a sharp knife to cut a slit along the middle of each navette. Set aside for an hour at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Beat the remaining egg yolk with a little water and paint this mixture over the navettes. Bake in the oven until golden and cooked through. How long this takes will depend on how large you’ve made them, but around 15 – 20 minutes should do it. Allow to cool fully on a wire rack before munching.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Tomato Tarte Tatin

It’s not been a great year for tomatoes in our garden but then it’s not been that bad either. I wish I could pass on gems of wisdom about how to grow the best tomatoes in a variable climate but I’m still wondering myself.  The only useful thing that I think I can say is that, after a number of years, Sungold is still my favourite variety of tomato to grow. It’s small, relatively common and doesn’t look too inspiring but it’s reliable and has the sweetest and most addictive flavour when freshly picked of any tomato that I’ve ever tried to grow.

On the other hand, if you have some larger tomatoes to use up, then this recipe is excellent. To call it a Tarte Tatin is likely to have the Tatin sisters turning in their graves, but let’s not worry too much about that for the moment. This is an Australian recipe by Marieke Brugman and I first came across it some years ago when she was still at the apparently now defunct Howqua Dale Gourmet Retreat in Victoria. You can find the full recipe here.
Tomato Tarte Tatin

For once in my life I pretty much stuck to the original recipe, although I did cut down the quantities a little and I used a good Greek feta rather than a goat’s cheese. The pastry may seem a little unlikely for a tarte Tatin but it works really well in this recipe. A bit messy to eat, perhaps, but all you need is a small fresh green salad alongside for a superb lunch.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream

In my last blog entry I was extolling the virtues of prunes in armagnac and the sheer joy of using them in ice cream. Assuming that you have some armagnac-soaked prunes, then the easiest way to create an ice cream is to stir some chopped prunes with their armagnac juices into softened, shop-bought vanilla ice cream. But, although the following recipe is more complicated, it’s much nicer in my opinion. The taste is truly intense and the combination of the residual alcohol and mascarpone makes for a velvety smooth feel. Definitely a grown-up sort of ice cream and definitely one of my favourites.

You don’t have to soak the prunes for 4 weeks to make this ice-cream – overnight will do at a pinch – but if you have got the patience then I promise it’s well worth the wait.

Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream

200 g armagnac-soaked prunes, drained
125 ml of the armagnac-laden prune-soaking liquid
125 g caster sugar
125 g fromage frais (preferably not the very low-fat version)
200 g mascarpone
1 egg yolk
50 g icing sugar, sieved
1 tbsp lemon juice

Add the prune-soaking liquid and the caster sugar to a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring a good deal. Make sure that the sugar has fully dissolved, then simmer the syrup for a few minutes until it becomes quite thick. (Stop before it seizes up completely, though.)

Allow the syrup to cool a little, then put it into a food processor with the prunes and fromage frais. Whiz them together until well mixed but stop before the prunes are completely obliterated – a few small chunks will be no bad thing. Place the mixture in the fridge and wait until it’s thoroughly cold.

Beat together the mascarpone, egg yolk, icing sugar and lemon juice until the mixture is smooth and quite loose. Stir in the cooled fromage frais and prune mixture. Pour into an ice-cream maker and allow the mixture to churn and freeze. (If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, placing the mixture in the freezer and taking it out a few times as it freezes to beat it with a fork should be fine.)

This ice is quite rich and powerful so serve small scoops with suitable biscuits or alongside plain cakes or light chocolate desserts. In fact, it's great just in an ice-cream cone. Less obviously, perhaps, I think it also works well with apple desserts or with other baked fruits.