Monday, 11 December 2017

Pithiviers Fondant

I know it's that time of year and all good food bloggers should be presenting their Christmas cakes, mince pies and puddings but I'm afraid I don't really do the classic Christmas stuff anymore. So here's the closest thing to a festive cake that I've made recently. I hope it makes up for the lack of Yuletide baking. It may not be traditional, but I like it a lot.

The French town of Pithiviers has become famous for the puff pastry concoction that shares its name. They can be delightful but they're a newfangled invention dating back no earlier than the 18th century. By that time Pithiviers had long been renowned for this gâteau.

So forget all about those pastry newcomers, this is one of those meltingly soft (well, fondant) almond cakes that has probably been around since the middle ages, although some people even claim that it originated with the Roman invasion of Gaul. It's a bit like a cross between a Gâteau Nantais and a Tarta de Santiago in my opinion. (Sorry, my irritating baking nerd persona got the better of me there.)

Never mind the history, though, it's a delicious cake that makes a fine dessert or afternoon treat. The cake is normally iced but tastes fine without if that's what you prefer. It's also usually decorated with glacé cherries and angelica. I've just used some little jellies instead and there are two reasons for this: first, I don't really like glacé cherries and angelica and second, I have no class.
Pithivier Fondant
This really is very straightforward to make, especially if you use a decent electric mixer. You can add some extra flavouring to the cake, although that's optional. A few drops of almond extract or a little vanilla extract will both work well. Alternatively, some bakers add a dash of booze such as dark rum, kirsch or almond liqueur instead. The cake keeps very well in an airtight tin.

200 g caster sugar (I prefer golden caster sugar, but it’s not crucial)
4 eggs
140 g unsalted butter, melted and allowed to cool a little
200 g ground almonds
Additional flavouring – this is optional, see above

To finish:
Around 200 g icing sugar and your chosen bits of decoration

Butter and line a 20 cm cake tin. (A loose bottom or springform tin would be best, if you have one). Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.

Whisk the sugar and eggs together thoroughly. Whisk in the melted butter and any flavouring you want to add. Gently but thoroughly whisk in the ground almonds.

Pour into the prepared tin, smooth out the surface of the mixture and bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the top is a nice golden brown and a knife blade inserted into the cake comes out clean. Don't worry if there seems to be a lot of mixture for the tin compared with, say, a classic sponge cake because this cake won't rise very much during cooking. The cake should remain soft and moist and so be careful to avoid baking for too long.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin a little before turning out onto a rack to cool completely. Be careful when removing the cake from the tin because it will remain quite soft and fragile. (It is a fondant, after all). Once completely cold, you can ice and decorate the cake.

Gradually add a little water to the sieved icing sugar until you get a spreadable consistency and cover the top and sides of the cooled cake evenly. If you want it to look like an authentic, classy Pithiviers Fondant then take a lot of time and care over this stage. Personally I'm a bit too busy to worry about perfection and, as I admitted earlier, I have no class. If you have the time and inclination, embellish with suitable cake decorations arranged in an attractive pattern.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


I was sad to hear recently of the passing of Antonio Carluccio. Many years ago I used to visit his Neal Street deli whenever I could and met the man himself there a few times. His respect and enthusiasm for quality ingredients and simple but intensely flavoured dishes were a significant influence on me. For instance, I didn't realise just how good Parmesan cheese could be until he scooped a piece from a wheel and handed it to me and I might never have tried to make risotto if he hadn't told me to stop worrying and just get on with it. He was a great ambassador for Italian food and I for one will always be grateful to him.
Antonio Carluccio's Italian Cooking
Although I use quite a few Italian recipes I haven't posted many here. The fact is that when I started this blog it seemed to me that the world really didn't need me to add to the mountain of recipes for Italian food. There were just so many blogs already specialising in Italian dishes and so many Italian restaurants down here in Surrey that if you threw grissini out of any window they would probably land in someone's arrabiata sauce. But it seems like a good time now to get around to recording just a few of the (inauthentic) Italian recipes that I use.

I think caponata is simply one of the most adaptable, versatile and useful dishes that I know (Italian or otherwise). It's made in advance and is easy to put together, although it does take a while. It's perfect for serving at room temperature as a relaxed starter, for taking on picnics, for feeding large gatherings or even heating up as a main course with pasta, rice or baked potato. (I know that heating caponata as a sauce might be frowned on by some but let's not worry about them.) More often than not I simply serve this with some good bread. My version is not very different from many other recipes for caponata that you might come across but it's what works for me. (It's not Antonio Carluccio's recipe by the way, but you can find his here if you'd like to try it).
This will make at least 4 generous portions but the dish scales up very nicely for a larger or very hungry group. Don't worry too much about being exact with amounts; the dish will adapt very well to individual tastes and to what you have in the cupboard and veg rack. You definitely need a decent olive oil but it doesn't have to be a really expensive one.

3 medium aubergines, cut into 2 - 3 cm chunks (you don't need to be too precise)
1 large (or 2 medium) courgette, cut into roughly 2 - 3 cm chunks as above
60 ml (or thereabouts) olive oil
2 shallots (or 1 onion), peeled and thinly sliced
Small pinch of chilli flakes
A generous pinch of dried oregano or about 1 tsp of fresh, roughly chopped oregano
1 can peeled plum tomatoes (400 g)
2 tbsp capers (I use brined capers, rinsed and well-drained)
50 g pitted green olives, roughly chopped
60 g mix of sultanas and raisins
1½ tbsp caster sugar
150 ml red wine vinegar
1 small (or ½ large) jar roasted peppers, drained  and roughly chopped (or grill and peel your own if you can spare the time)

To serve (these are optional but very desirable extras and you can omit if you’re really pressed for time):
2 small handfuls of pine nuts
A few leaves of basil

If you've got some fresh and firm aubergines then you don't really need to salt them but many of the aubergines I buy in supermarkets seem to produce a lot of water and so I do bother with the salting palaver. Coat the aubergine pieces lightly in salt and allow them to drain for an hour or so in a colander. Clean off the salt and pat the aubergine chunks dry. There's no advantage to salting the courgette unless it's more like a marrow than a courgette.

Brush both the aubergine and courgette chunks with some of the olive oil, place on separate lined baking sheets and roast in the oven at 180ºC until they're soft and have taken on a little colour at the edges. Chances are that the courgette will take a little longer than the aubergine, but 20 - 30 minutes should usually be enough.

Put the remainder of the olive oil (around 2 - 3 tbsp but don't worry if you don't have enough left, just add a bit more if you're in doubt) in a large pan and fry the shallots gently until soft (don't rush this). Pour in the tinned tomatoes and their juice and stir around to start breaking them up. Add the capers, olives, sultanas and raisins, sugar, vinegar, oregano and chilli flakes. Bring to simmering point, then add the roasted vegetables. Add a few turns of pepper and the roasted peppers, turn the heat down, cover and simmer gently for around 90 minutes. Stir every now and then and make sure that the mixture doesn't dry out. (Add a little water or passata if it seems too dry).

Allow to cool and store in the fridge. It should keep for a few days but it will also freeze well at this stage. In my opinion (and I'm not alone), this is definitely best served at room temperature so remember to take it out of the fridge for an hour or so before serving.

If you have the time before serving, toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry frying pan (watch carefully because they burn very easily), allow to cool and either stir them into the caponata or sprinkle on the top. Immediately before serving chop or tear some basil leaves and stir them in as well.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Ossau-Iraty, Smoked Duck and Peppers

A lot of the recipes on this blog are pretty easy, but they really don't get much easier than this. Not too long ago I was wandering around a local supermarket in my usual bemused manner and I stumbled across some particularly fine produce: Lamuyo peppers from Spain, smoked duck breast from Scotland and, one of my favourite cheeses, Ossau-Iraty from the southwest of France. Then from some particularly murky corner of my mind I remembered that these were just the kind of ingredients that Guy Martin put together on one of his TV programmes.

Thanks to Google I've realised that the name Guy Martin often seems to refer to a bloke that rides motorbikes mystifyingly fast. I definitely don't mean him. I mean the chef of Le Grand Véfour in Paris. (Please be careful if you're tempted to peruse the prices at Le Grand Véfour - you may need to have someone nearby to administer strong drink to aid your recovery). Mr Martin intended this combination of ingredients to celebrate the wonderful flavours of the south west of France. I'd be the first to agree that the flavours of that beautiful region are well worth celebrating but Spanish peppers and Scottish smoked duck breast are worth getting excited about as well. Just to complete the European mixture, I served them on a fine English muffin. There was a period not long ago when the English muffin had become a sad, industrial product, but there are some excellent artisan versions around these days.
Ossau-Iraty Smoked Duck and Peppers
I put this together from memory and so it's not faithful to Mr Martin's recipe, but it's in the right spirit. The only real cooking required is a simple bit of preparation of the peppers but, despite the simplicity, it's a lovely combination. Well, of course it is – Guy Martin knows his flavours.

This will serve 2 as a light lunch or can be the star of a larger salad. Really easy and really delicious.

2 large red peppers (I used Spanish lamuyo)
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp honey
2 English muffins
4 – 8 slices smoked duck breast
4 – 8 shavings (not too thin) Ossau-Iraty (shave these at the last minute)
A few small basil leaves (optional)

Cut out the core of the peppers, deseed and slice them into quarters. Grill until nicely blackened. Place the peppers in a bowl, cover and, once cooled, peel off and discard the skin. Chop the pepper flesh quite finely and place in a saucepan (make sure you include all the pepper juices) with the olive oil and honey. Season and let this mixture cook very gently over a low heat, stirring frequently until the peppers are almost, but not quite, falling apart. Chill until needed. You can make this the day before you want to serve it; in fact, I think it tastes a little better if you do.

The rest of the “recipe” is pretty much a simple assembly job. Split the muffins and toast them lightly. Place a layer of the peppers on each of the muffin halves and cover with one or two slices of duck breast. Finally top with one or two freshly shaved slivers of Ossau-Iraty and decorate with a couple of small basil leaves if you fancy.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Les Patiences Fraxinoises And Boodle Goes To Provence

If you follow any of Julie Andrieu's TV programmes then you'll know that she's fond of wandering around digging up authentic, local recipes. (My wife is firmly of the opinion that I'd follow Julie Andrieu anywhere she wanted to lead me. She may well be right.) Ms Andrieu visited La Garde-Freinet in Provence a few years ago and was given a recipe for the authentic patience fraxinoise. Until I saw the programme I thought they were little almond biscuits but it turns out that I knew nothing.

In fact, these biscuits are somewhat similar to a langue de chat, although there are a few major differences: they don't include any butter, they're flavoured with orange flower water and they're round and not shaped like a cat's tongue. I did depart a little from the original recipe by adding some maple syrup.
Patiences Fraxinoises
Strictly speaking these should be baked in a very hot oven – something wood-fired would be ideal – but they work perfectly well in a domestic oven on a high setting. I've cut the recipe down to the minimum practical amount but it still produced around 40 biscuits of roughly 4 cm diameter. They're  lovely with a glass of sweet wine or a small coffee and do a fine job when served with ice cream.  Or you could use them with a creamy dessert and funnily enough you'll find one of those below.

150 g caster sugar
1 egg
50 ml water
2 tsp orange flower water
2 tsp maple syrup
170 g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 230°C. Cover a few oven trays with baking paper or silicon sheets.

Whisk the caster sugar and egg together thoroughly until very pale. Whisk in the water, orange flower water and maple syrup.  Add about a quarter of the flour and beat in. Repeat three times with the rest of the flour.

You need to place small circles of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets and the neatest way of doing this is probably to pipe it on. The mixture is relatively thin and will spread so aim for circles of about 3 cm diameter and you should end up with finished biscuits of around 4 cm. If you don't fancy piping, you can simply spoon small amounts onto the baking sheets – the shape may not be perfectly round, but what's a few odd shapes between friends?

Bake the biscuits for around 5 minutes. When they're ready the biscuits should have some colour around the edges but remain pale and interesting in the centres. Carefully transfer to a rack to cool. (Make sure you eat one or two as soon as they're cool – I think they're at their very best then).  Store in an airtight tin.

And now for the "creamy" dessert……

Boodle’s Orange Yoghurt

Boodle's Orange Fool is a traditional dessert invented and served at the seriously exclusive club in London. This definitely isn't it. This is a low fat alternative that just uses some of the same flavours. The real thing is a genuine fool with more than a hint of trifle and depends upon the thickening action of citrus on cream and that's not going to happen with yoghurt.  This combination of flavours is probably not strictly historically correct either, but it makes a refreshing mix that works very well with the patiences fraxinoises.
Boodle in Provence
Juice and finely-grated zest of 1 orange
Juice and finely-grated zest of 1 lemon
15 g caster sugar
300 g 0% fat Greek yoghurt

Mix the zest and juices with the sugar and stir to dissolve. Beat into the yoghurt and chill thoroughly. The mixture will thicken a little as it chills but please don't expect the texture and thickness of a fool. Either layer the yoghurt and patiences fraxinoises in a small bowl or glass or simply serve the biscuits alongside.


I've been asked (several times as it happens by the same person) why I don't share posts on blog link ups any longer and apart from the fact that I'm really lazy I suppose the main reason is that they emphasise the social media malarkey these days and I don't do any of that. But these are a treat and they're petite so I'll link this to Treat Petite. I told you I wasn't a complete curmudgeon.  

Sunday, 24 September 2017


I'm in a retro mood. Shirley Conran famously wrote in the mid-seventies that ‘Life is too short to stuff a mushroom’. I suppose if she were thinking along the same lines now she would suggest that life is too short to spiralise a courgette. Despite the Conran statement, the stuffed mushroom was a staple of the seventies and early eighties and I remember it very fondly.

What's that got to do with galipettes? Well, if you order ‘galipettes’ from a French menu, then expect stuffed mushrooms to arrive on your plate. The word ‘galipette’ actually means ‘somersault’ and either refers to the fact that the mushroom is turned upside down to be eaten or that the mushrooms are so large that they start to fall over of their own accord. I've been given both explanations and I've no idea what's correct, so take your pick.

British mushrooms of the 1970s were usually stuffed with garlic butter and breadcrumbs but in France galipettes can also be stuffed with goat’s cheese or snail butter and sometimes with a combination of rillettes, cheese and butter, especially if you happen to be near the Loire. I probably don't need to add that they can be very rich. I prefer to make a simpler Loire version and now that pork rillettes are widely available in this country, why not revive the 1970s? Despite the Conran admonition, this is a very simple and quick dish to put together and makes a fine, retro starter or lunch dish if combined with some decent, crusty bread and a few salad leaves. Smaller mushrooms will work very well as savoury bites with an aperitif but they are a bit messy, so be prepared to hose down your guests after eating.
It's difficult to be precise about amounts for this recipe because so much depends on the size of your mushrooms, but allow around 50 g of pork rillettes to fill one large portobello mushroom (unless you want a LOT of filling) and scale up as appropriate. This really isn't a recipe that demands too much precision.

Make sure the mushrooms are clean, remove the stalks with a small knife or by snapping them off if the mushroom is cooperative in that way. Mix the rillettes with a little fresh thyme if you fancy and spread the rillettes gently and evenly into the cup of the mushroom. Grate over a little lemon zest, add a grind or two of pepper and top with some panko breadcrumbs. (I can’t recall ever coming across a crust of panko breadcrumbs on mushrooms in France, but I love the panko crunch).

Put the mushrooms on a baking tray in the oven at 180ºC for around 20 minutes for large mushrooms or until they're tender and oozing.

Of course, you could be much more industrious and make your own rillettes if you can't find any in the shops. There's a very fine recipe by the always excellent Simon Hopkinson here if you want to try. I don't think that's life's too short to make rillettes but I do think that unfortunately it's very often too busy these days.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Slow Cooked Courgettes - A Dip & A Mash

Five years ago I wittered on about slow cooked courgettes and, as if once wasn't enough, I'm afraid I'm now going to witter on about a few variations on that theme.  After all, there are a lot of courgettes around at the moment that need to be cooked somehow and these recipes even allow me to use up the overgrown courgettes that I've neglected so badly in the garden.

To be honest, though, the main reason to revive this way of cooking courgettes is that nobody believed me the first time. I know we're forever being told not to overcook vegetables but if you cook courgettes for as long as I say then Jamie Oliver won’t break down your door and take you away for questioning. Really, that hardly ever happens.

So here's how to produce tasty, healthy dips and a different sort of mash with that courgette mountain.
Courgettes Separator 2

First cook your courgettes SLOWLY

This is the initial step for the recipes below but, if you want to keep things simple, just add a few herbs or other flavourings, cook uncovered a little longer to reduce the liquid content and you'll have a fine vegetable side dish in its own right.

This is all you need to do. Clean, top and tail the courgettes, then slice quite thinly. Put them into a large saucepan with a little salt and pepper and a splash of water. Place on a low heat, cover and cook slowly, stirring regularly until the courgettes have completely softened and collapsed, which could take anywhere between 45 and 70 minutes.

You can cook as many courgettes as you like in this way but, as a guide, start with a prepared weight of around 1 kilo for the dip and 500 g for the mash if you’re feeding 4.

To make the dipCourgette Dip

Cook 1 kilo of courgettes as above, then add the finely grated zest of a lemon to the collapsed courgettes together with a squeeze of the juice. The courgettes will almost certainly have produced a lot of liquid, so increase the heat and continue cooking and stirring without covering the pan until the mixture has thickened to your liking. Take off the heat.

Stir in a generous amount of chopped fresh herbs. I usually add mint but other herbs work well too. Basil, dill (thanks for the suggestion Ozlem) and lemon balm are good alternatives and a scattering of chives with the other herbs will be no bad thing. Taste and stir in extra seasoning if it needs some. Add more lemon juice if the flavours need a lift and a drop or two of honey if it tastes too sharp. Cool and store in the fridge until needed.

Shortly before serving take the dip out of the fridge and allow it to come close to room temperature. Sprinkle with a little paprika just before serving and, if you're OK with adding a little fat, drizzle over some olive oil or, even better, lemon-infused olive oil. On the other hand, if you’re trying to stay very low fat then you could try a tiny drizzle of an infused vinegar instead - pomegranate or lemongrass would work well.

To make the mash

Courgette and Potato Mash

Alongside the 500 g of courgettes, you'll need:

700 g potatoes (one that’s good for mashing), peeled and cut into chunks
2 tsp capers, rinsed, drained and finely chopped
Small handful mint leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp Dijon mustard
A generous squeeze of lemon juice
A pinch of sugar

You can use other herbs and flavourings in this side dish too but a minty mash is just perfect with lamb or lamb sausages. It's not at all bad with chicken either. You don't have to be too precise about the amounts, it's just down to what you fancy.

Cook the courgettes as above until they've collapsed. Stir in the chopped capers, take the lid off the saucepan and increase the heat. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture has thickened to a purée. Don’t worry about little pieces of courgettes in the purée, they’ll look good in the mash.

Put the mint leaves, olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and sugar in a blender and whizz until very smooth.

Steam or boil the potatoes until soft, then mash them. Stir the courgette purée into the mash and add the mint oil mixture a little at a time until you get a pleasing flavour (you may not want to use it all). Adjust the seasoning, reheat gently and serve.

Courgettes Separator 2

I must stop burbling on now because my wife has just returned from a trip into the garden.
Courgettes 5

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Welsh Honey and Dried Rosemary Lamb

This flavouring paste (or rub, if you prefer) is based on an old, perhaps even ancient, Welsh method for flavouring lamb. I used it a lot back in the 1980s and I was reminded of it when I visited Anglesey a few years ago. The sight of fine Anglesey honey for sale made me crave the intense flavour of this dish once again.

When I was young and easily-led, I used to listen to TV cooks telling me not to use dried herbs because fresh herbs are always better. I remember one of those cooks saying that if we needed proof, then we should try making mint sauce with dried mint and see how horrible it is. Years later I came across cooks choosing dried rather than fresh mint to flavour some very fine dishes and realised that dried herbs are different but by no means always inferior. You just need to use them in the right dish.

To be fair to those ancient TV cooks, though, there are certain dried herbs such as basil or parsley that really don't seem to work at all. And so what, you may ask, would be the point of drying rosemary when you can pick fresh leaves all year round? Well, this dish is the point of dried rosemary for me. Of course, you can use fresh rosemary in this recipe and very nice it is too, but it really isn't quite as good or as intense in my opinion. If you happen to have a little spare rosemary, then try drying some. It's easy to do, just hang some lengthy shoots of rosemary up somewhere airy and dry for a while. (Sorry that the picture below is rubbish - it was dark and I was hungry.)
Lamb Rasted With Honey 2
Of course, you can use any runny honey for this dish if you can't get to Anglesey, although, if you do get the chance, then it's a place that's well worth a visit. Or if you ever happen to be passing by the Welsh Food Centre in Bodnant, then don't pass by. Go in. You're very unlikely to regret it and they're almost certain to have plenty of local honey and lovely Welsh lamb for sale.
I used this paste on lamb shoulder on this occasion but it's just as good on leg or whatever cut you prefer. This should give you enough for a half shoulder or a piece of lamb for at least 2 people. Scale up as needed and, if in doubt, be generous with the amount of paste.

1½ - 2 tbsp dried rosemary
½ tsp sea salt flakes (from Anglesey ideally)
½ tsp black peppercorns
½  tsp ground ginger
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, peeled
½ tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp runny honey plus an extra 1 tbsp for drizzling
Half shoulder of lamb

Pound the rosemary, salt and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar until reduced near enough to a powder. Add the ground ginger and pound in the garlic. Stir in the oil, lemon juice and the honey. You should have a thickish paste. Rub this over the lamb and leave in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

Place the lamb in a roasting tin, drizzle over the additional tablespoon of honey and roast until done to your liking. It's a good idea to line the roasting tin with some foil - roasted honey can be very difficult to wash off. I prefer to roast the lamb at quite a low temperature, so for a half shoulder that’s about 80 minutes at 150ºC, but use whatever time you prefer or would be suitable for the cut of lamb you've chosen.

Allow the lamb to rest before serving. I think it's best kept simple with something like green veg and boiled potatoes but I've got nothing against gravy if you'd prefer to make some.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017


When I first came across visitandines I imagined that the name came from the fact that they were the perfect little cakes to take on a visit. That just proves how dumb I can be. In fact the cakes were first produced by nuns of the Ordre de la Visitation which was founded in the 17th century in Annecy. I have to admit that my knowledge of nuns is sketchy to say the least.

The cakes are very similar to financiers but have probably been round a fair bit longer. The key difference is that one is made by pious, peaceful nuns and the other is made for bankers who'd rather have their cake and eat it.

Some visitandine recipes call for browned butter (beurre noisette) and that will give the cakes a very fine flavour, although I think it makes the cakes taste a little too similar to some traditional madeleines. You may prefer them that way, though, so don't let me stop you.
Visitandines are commonly baked in barquette moulds but small, round muffin tins will work very well and may even be more traditional. This will make around 12 cakes, depending on the size of the tins. They keep well in an airtight container.

125 g plain flour, sifted
225 g golden caster sugar
100 g ground almonds
Very finely grated zest of 1 lemon
125 g very soft unsalted butter
200 g egg whites (or around 5 large egg whites)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Mix together the flour, sugar, ground almonds and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the very soft (and I do mean very soft) butter thoroughly. Don't beat the mixture so much that the almonds become oily, though.

Whisk the egg whites until they form firm peaks. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the egg whites into the mixture until it comes together and is reasonably smooth. Fold in the rest of the egg whites.

Spoon into the tins and bake for about 15 minutes or until a knife blade come out clean and the cakes have taken on a little colour.
Funnily enough visitandines are very good for taking on a visit (or a picnic or country walk) and piety is entirely optional.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Fennel Ketchup or It Might Be A Sauce

Every now and then I find that I'm tempted to use certain flavours more and more often until they become a bit of an obsession. Fennel has been a bit like that for me in recent times. This ketchup definitely satisfies the fennel craving with a serious hit of flavour.

I'm not sure that this is truly a ketchup and I've probably used it more often as a sauce for chicken, pork or seafood combined with pasta or rice. It's made using the same technique as a ketchup but with less vinegar and sugar than you might expect. As a result, it won't keep as long as a typical ketchup, so store it in the fridge if you're using it in the next few days, or freeze it if you need to keep it longer.
Fennel Ketchup
This makes around 350 ml of ketchup or 3 to 4 portions if used as a sauce.

1 onion (I like to use red onions in pickles and ketchups but it’s not really critical)
1 bulb of fennel
2 cloves of garlic (3 if they’re small)
¼ - ½ chilli (depending on how hot the chilli turns out to be)
1 tsp fennel seeds
A few turns of black pepper
¼ tsp salt
75 ml cider vinegar
1 tin of tomatoes (400 g)
15 - 30 g granulated sugar

Peel and chop the onion into small chunks. Cut out and discard any damaged or woody parts of the fennel and chop the remainder into small chunks or slices. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Finely chop the chilli.

Put all the ingredients except the sugar into a non-reactive pan (one with a lid), place on the heat and bring to simmering point. Cover the pan and leave to simmer gently for about 40 minutes until the fennel and onion are tender. Allow the mixture to cool a little then liquidise it. Pass the contents of the liquidiser through a fine sieve. 

Pour the liquid back into the cleaned pan and add a tablespoon of the sugar. Place the pan on the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Taste and add more sugar if you think it needs it. Once the balance of sweet and sour is the way you like it, simmer the ketchup gently until it's as thick as you want it to be. I prefer to keep the ketchup on the thin side because I think it's more adaptable that way but if you want it to top burgers or something of that nature, then it's better to thicken it a little more. Whatever you do, though, make sure that you stir frequently at this stage because the mixture is quite keen on sticking to the bottom of the pan if you don't.

Place in suitable containers and either store in the fridge or freeze. Try it simply with whatever pasta you fancy, some cooked chicken or prawns and a sprinkling of parmesan.
Pasta With Chicken and Fennel Ketchup

Monday, 22 May 2017

Salade Polletaise

OK, I admit that some people would rather eat gravel than herrings but I love the little silver darlings and this dish is my way of celebrating some of the excellent marinated herrings produced in the UK. At one time the marinades plonked on this poor little fish could be used as an alternative to paint stripper but the products from some of the smaller suppliers today are a completely different kettle of herring. (You could create your own marinated herring and that would be a wonderful thing to do but I'm assuming that time isn't hanging heavy on your hands.) For this salad you need a good quality marinated herring without any overly strong flavours. A simple dill or light mustard marinade would be perfect.
Salade Polletaise
This is actually a little offering from my Dieppe days. Le Pollet is the traditional fishermens’ quarter of Dieppe where old sea dogs sit mending their nets and telling colourful tales of life on the unforgiving sea. Actually, it may have been like that once when Walter Sickert prowled the area with paintbrush in hand and a lustful glint in his eye but those days are long gone.

The traditional food associated with Le Pollet is a dish of herring and potatoes. There's nothing wrong with that simple combination but you'll find much more elaborate versions of the salade in the upmarket restaurants and hotels around Dieppe. This is my attempt at a more refined but still straightforward version. You'll need a vinaigrette, some new potatoes, some marinated herring, chicory (or endive, if you prefer a more French sounding name), apple and some chives and parsley. I think it makes a very pleasing and, hopefully, impressive starter or lunch dish for remarkably little effort. I haven't given precise quantities here, because it's better to decide on the balance of flavours and amounts according to your personal taste and the size of appetites you're faced with.
Dieppe Collage
First make a vinaigrette using the usual proportions of 3 to 1 oil to white wine vinegar with a little salt and pepper and for this dish add a small amount of Dijon mustard to the mixture. I use a combination of light olive and rapeseed oil but any neutral oil would do the job. It's probably sensible to make a little more vinaigrette than you think you might need, because warm potatoes have an impressive ability to soak it up.

Boil or steam some new potatoes. In Dieppe they'd probably be Ratte or Charlotte but if Jersey Royals are in season then I would use them. You don't have to peel them but I definitely would. Once they're cooked and as soon as they're cool enough for you to handle without damaging your fingers, slice them into rounds or small chunks and pour over some of the vinaigrette. Leave to cool.

Slice some chicory quite finely. (You could use another salad leaf if chicory isn't available but it should be reasonably crisp and just a little on the bitter side). Peel a crisp, eating apple or two, cut into smallish dice, place in a bowl with the chicory and mix in more of the vinaigrette. (Don't leave the apple sitting around too long without dressing or it will lose its youthful looks). Chop a generous number of chives together with a little parsley if you have some.

Now you just need to combine the lot. I make it into a fancy little stack but you really don't have to do that unless you're desperate to impress someone. Arrange a layer of potatoes, top with some of the herring that you've drained and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add a layer of the chicory and apple mix and sprinkle over some of the chopped dill and parsley. Don't overdo the amount of apple and chicory in the final dish or it might swamp the other flavours. If you were in Dieppe you'd probably get some baguette with this but I must admit that I prefer a slice or two of buttered wheaten bread.
If you want to get the whole experience then try a small glass of Pommeau as an aperitif and maybe even a little Normandy cider alongside the dish. You could also imagine that you're sitting in a restaurant on the Quai and hummng a De Palmas tune. (Sorry, I got a bit carried away for a moment there.)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Tourte or Pastis or Croustade of The Pyrenees

I've been reading Allyson Gofton's ‘Recipes from my French Kitchen’ and it's been pleasantly nostalgic for me because it talks enthusiastically of foods and places that I've loved in the south west of France.  It's also a bit odd because it's clearly aimed at an audience back home in New Zealand and New Zealand is much more of a mystery to me than France. How I came to be the owner of a signed copy of a book of French recipes written by a cook from New Zealand whom I've never met is just too long a story. As far as I know, the book hasn't been published in the UK.

I was reminded of many places and tastes but one in particular stood out. In the local markets and bakeries, especially as you start to get into the Pyrenees, you're pretty sure to come across a brioche-shaped cake called either a ‘pastis’ or a ‘tourte’ or maybe a ‘croustade’. It's a cake that I'd always intended to make but that I'd never quite got round to attempting and this book persuaded me to get on and do it.
Tourte or Pastis or Croustade
To me the tourte resembles a sort of Madeira cake that you can enjoy up a French mountain. It's a simple recipe that's often flavoured with vanilla or booze such as rum or pastis (the drink) and sometimes contains extras such as blueberries. Of course, the blueberries should be wild and foraged from the mountainside but I foraged for mine in the supermarket on the High Street.

The three different names for essentially the same cake are pretty confusing but here's my highly questionable interpretation just in case you're interested. It was probably called ‘tourte’ because that word was often attached to special occasion (especially birthday) cakes or pastries. The name ‘croustade’ possibly came about because it does have a sort of Madeira cake style light crust. The word ‘pastis’ probably has nothing to do with the famous aniseed drink, although the cakes can be flavoured with the drink and some say the drink got the name from being used to flavour the cake. The word ‘pastis’ actually seems to derive from an ancient Gascon word for dough or batter and, by extension, cake. If you happen to find yourself among the pine trees of the département des Landes, then pretty much the same cake will probably be called a pastis and, as likely as not, will be flavoured with orange. Now that’s as much dubious food history as I can cope with while sober.Pyrenees
There are many different ways of producing this sort of simple cake and this isn't actually Allyson Gofton's recipe (not that there's anything wrong with it). My version is based on an amalgamation of recipes from the area that I've collected over time.

3 eggs
180 g caster sugar
150 g butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp dark rum
2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
2 tbsp milk
200 g plain flour
50 g potato flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
70 g blueberries
1 tbsp  pearl (nibbed) sugar (optional)

This cake looks the part if made in a fluted brioche tin, although a simple round tin will do just fine. The one I use has a diameter of 20 cm (at its widest) and a capacity of around 1.25 litres. If it's a non-stick tin, then so much the better, but I think it's still best if it's buttered thoroughly. (If you see this cake being sold at a French market, there's a good chance that they'll be in paper liners which could save on the buttering business, but the liners are not widely available in this country).

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks and the caster sugar together until the mixture is very pale. Add the melted and cooled butter, the rum, vanilla and milk and whisk in. Sieve the flours and baking powder together and add to the mixture. Stir in thoroughly. (If the mixture seems very stiff, then add a little more milk). Stir in the blueberries.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir a large spoonful of the egg white into the cake mixture to loosen it a little, then fold in the rest of the egg whites gently but thoroughly. Pour into the tin and sprinkle the top with pearl (nibbed) sugar if you have any. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 - 60 minutes. Test with a knife or skewer in the usual way. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a rack.
Tourte or Pastis or Croustade
You really don't have to be up a mountain or in New Zealand to enjoy this.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

London Pie - Sort Of

I was reminded of this dish while meandering along the back alleys of some old cookbooks. It's a variation on cottage pie and the most obvious difference is that you don't usually get fruit in a cottage pie. I don't know the exact history of this recipe but I'm sure that this pie was around in some form during the period of rationing after the war. At that time small amounts of meat were often mixed with any available veg and fruit to make it go further. I can remember eating something like it in the 1970s but it seemed to fade away around the end of that decade. Meat combined with fruit has a very long history in British food and is common enough now in more fashionable, imported dishes so I thought I'd try a personal London Pie revival.
London Pie
Less sweet varieties of apple are best for this recipe in my opinion and I've used both cooking and eating apples to give a contrast in texture. The sour quality of the apples is offset by the dried fruit and the sweetness in the topping. A pure potato top would be much more traditional but this variation is sweeter, lighter and adds a bit of colour. I've used types of dried fruit that I like and that I happened to have in the cupboard but other types would work just as well.

Of course, the flavourings I've used aren't typical of the 1950s, especially not the chilli sauce or the cumin, but they're what you might have lying around the place in these non-rationing days. Unless you really love chilli it's probably best to use a mild chilli sauce - I used one that I picked up in The Little Chilli Shop on Anglesey and that's well worth a visit if you're in the area. This will serve 2 pretty generously.
London Pie
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped into small dice
250 g lean minced beef
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 small eating apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
2 tbsp sultanas
30 g dried pears, chopped
20 g dried apricots, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
100 ml mild chilli sauce
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (optional)

For the topping:
     2 potatoes, medium or large
     350 g butternut squash flesh in chunks
     3 tbsp mango chutney
     A squeeze of lemon

Start the onion and carrot frying in a little oil then add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan. Keep cooking until the water has evaporated then stir in the beef. Fry until coloured then add the apple, dried fruit, cumin, chilli sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper, add around 4 tablespoons of water (you need the dish to be nicely moist rather than swimming in water), cover the pan and cook gently for around 25 minutes. If your apples are not sharp then add the sherry vinegar. Remove the lid and continue cooking until any excess liquid has evaporated but the mixture is moist and all the ingredients are cooked through.

While the filling is cooking, prepare the topping. Peel and chop the potatoes and steam (or boil) along with the butternut squash. When they're both softened, drain thoroughly and mash. (I use a potato ricer because I find that it’s easier to get rid of any excess moisture that way but it's just a personal preference.) Once mashed to your liking, season with salt and pepper, stir in the mango chutney and the dash of lemon juice.

Place the filling in your chosen ovenproof dish and top with the mash. I prefer to leave the mash looking a little rough on the top. (You could dot with butter if you don’t mind the extra fat). If you want to make the dish in advance then you could chill it at this stage until ready to cook or, probably better still, chill the filling and topping separately.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes (you may need a little longer if the mixture is chilled) or until it’s thoroughly hot throughout and the top has a little bit of brown here and there. Personally, I don’t think you need anything with it, but a little green veg will give a nicely contrasting colour.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Munich Pudding

Every so often I come across a historic recipe that sounds barmy but just can't be ignored. I really want to know what it tastes like. This is definitely one of those ‘can't pass it by’ sort of recipes. Essentially it's a variation on a bread and butter pudding but the twist is that it was meant to be cooked in a paper bag.

The original recipe is from Nicolas Soyer's ‘Paper-Bag Cookery’ first published in 1911 and is described as ‘Pudding à la Munich’. This book has been the subject of a fair amount of (mostly academic) ridicule over the years but I think that's unfair. Nicolas Soyer was the grandson of the renowned chef Alexis Soyer but he has a claim in his own right to be the original ‘modern’ celebrity chef. He was probably the first to understand the power of marketing and branded goods. If you wanted to make some of the recipes in ‘Paper-Bag Cookery’ then you really needed to get hold of some of Soyer's own paper bags which came with his signature printed on the outside (I don't think even Jamie's tried that yet). As I understand it these bags were made of some sort of strong greaseproof paper and, in effect, Mr Soyer was promoting a form of en papillote cooking years before it became fashionable. Paper bag or not, I haven't come across Pudding à la Munich anywhere else. And, in fact, I couldn't bring myself to try cooking this in a bag (sorry Mr Soyer).

Admittedly some historic recipes taste very odd when you make them but this was far better than I'd feared. In fact, it left me wanting more. I also admit that I haven't quite stuck to the original recipe. I've added maple syrup to the golden syrup of the original, for instance, and I used quite a dense sourdough to add some very welcome texture.
Munich Pudding
I've not given very precise measurements in this recipe - it's really not that kind of dish - so just add more or less of the ingredients as you fancy (within reason). It's a very easy pudding to put together, especially if you decide to use ready-made custard and should provide plenty for 2 people. A ceramic pie dish (an oval dish 16cm x 11cm with a depth of 6cm) seemed to work well for me but an enamel dish will be fine too. 

10 - 12 thinnish slices of baguette, slightly stale is fine and I think that sourdough is best
Unsalted butter
A handful of mixed sultanas and raisins, roughly chopped
Golden syrup
Maple syrup
Either milk, vanilla, sugar and an egg yolk to make a custard or around 250 ml of ready-made custard if you’re pressed for time (and who isn’t?)
1 egg white
60 g icing sugar

Butter your chosen dish. Lightly toast the slices of baguette and spread them quite thickly with butter. Drizzle the bottom of the dish with golden and maple syrups and sprinkle on some of the sultanas and raisins. Cover with a single layer of the buttered toast. Cut or tear the toast to give a reasonably even covering. Drizzle the toast with more golden and maple syrups and sprinkle on some more of the sultanas and raisins. Repeat the toast, syrups and fruit layer and, hopefully you'll be somewhere near the top of the dish (although, don't worry if you're not – this is a relaxed sort of dessert).

You now need around 250 ml of fairly thin custard. So separate the egg and use the yolk to make a simple custard. Well that's easy to say, but in my view it's a bit of a pain to make a custard with just one egg yolk and I should know because I did. So I'd recommend either making a larger amount and using any leftover custard elsewhere or buying a ready-made custard from your local supermarket. If you decide to make your own and don't have your own preferred method then Delia's can't really be bettered. If you use  ready-made custard then you might want to add a little milk if the custard is particularly thick. Mr Soyer doesn't specify adding vanilla to the custard but I really think that plenty of vanilla in this dish is close to essential. However you produced your custard, pour it into the dish until the bread and fruit is just covered.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC and make a meringue mix with the egg white and icing sugar. (Yes, it's also a bit of a pain making meringue with a single egg white but even that small amount is probably going to be more than you'll need). Whisk the egg white to the firm peak stage and then gradually whisk in the sugar until the mix is glossy. Spread a layer of the meringue over the pudding. I think a thin layer of meringue is best because the pudding is already as sweet as a sweet thing.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until the meringue has a light brown crust and the pudding is nicely heated through. Serve straightaway or, if you're odd like me, cool and chill in the fridge before serving cold. I think most people will prefer it hot (or at least warm) but try any leftovers cold - you might be as odd as I am.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Pain de Gênes

Most people I know are not only deeply suspicious of fat these days but are also putting on false beards and crossing the street to avoid bumping into sugar and so I suppose it's not surprising that I haven't added a cake recipe to the blog lately. But here's one that I've had around for a while. For some incomprehensible reason I was reluctant to publish this recipe because I thought that it wasn't an authentic Pain de Gênes. That's the first time I've been bothered by authenticity and, to be honest, it will probably be the last time too.

The original and authentic Pain de Gênes should be made with almond paste unless I'm much mistaken (and I could be) but this recipe uses ground almonds and no flour. Oddly enough, I first came across this style of Pain de Gênes in my venerable copy of the 1950's classic 'Constance Spry Cookery Book' but since then I've seen a number of French recipes that are made in a similar way. It's a beautifully moist cake with an excellent almond flavour and, even better, it's really easy to make. It works either with afternoon tea or as a dessert with fruit and maybe some creamy substances.

So here's my version of a Pain de Gênes but please note that authenticity is not my strong point.

Pain de Gênes
110 g unsalted butter, softened, plus a bit more for the tin
130 g caster sugar
100 g ground almonds
3 eggs
3 rounded tbsp potato flour
2 tbsp amaretto liqueur

Butter an 18 cm or 19 cm round tin. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly. Briefly beat in the ground almonds until well combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Lightly but thoroughly stir in the potato flour and the liqueur. Pour into the prepared tin, level the mixture and bake for 30 – 35 minutes. A knifepoint inserted in the centre should come out clean. (See, I told you it was easy to make).

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely. The top of this cake is prone to cracking but I don't mind a few cracks so I don't try to cover them up. As far as I can tell the plain and slightly cracked top is traditional but I've also seen Pain de Gênes decorated with flaked almonds or showered with icing sugar if you feel it needs something.
Pain de Gênes

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

It's 2017 & Time For A Floctail

Let's not dwell on the dispiriting aspects of 2016. Here are a few food and drink snippets worth celebrating from 2016 and worth looking forward to in 2017 - well, for me anyway. Given the events of the last year I suppose it's not surprising that a number of them are alcoholic.

But first, let me offer a sincere apology. At the start of last year I confessed that I was running out of recipes and that 2016 would probably be the last year of this blog. The bad news is that not only have I been hopeless at getting around to adding the remaining recipes to the blog, I've also found a few more in a ditch somewhere with the result that I might well have another year to go. Sorry about that.

I did make an effort to be a bit less hopeless and more like a proper blogger early in 2016. I was persuaded that I should start a Facebook page for the blog. It seemed to use up time that I couldn't really spare but I gave it a go until a very successful blogger told me that Facebook would allow me to ‘begin the leverage of my blog's potential to maximise the exploitation of my profile on social media’. At least, it was something like that. Of course, as soon as I heard the word ‘leverage’ I deleted the Facebook page. I'll try to avoid mistakes like that in the future.

Some very fine (and often affordable) wines crossed my path during 2016. Sometimes they were from places I didn't expect like Tasmania, sometimes made from grapes I didn't expect like touriga and sometimes they were just plain surprising. I was especially surprised by a number of delicious 'new world' wines that you might well think were from the oldest of the old world.
Casas del Bosque Syrah and LH Riesling

One of the most interesting people I met last year was Grant Phelps, winemaker and DJ. Until recently he was the head winemaker at Casas del Bosque in Chile and his wines were my choice for Christmas. They're seriously good wines (especially the Syrah) and very possibly not what you'd expect from Chile. Mr Phelps has now left Casas del Bosque to run a hotel and wine bar made out of shipping containers in Valparaiso. (Told you he was interesting.)

And I can't mention wines without saying that there are some really good sparkling wines being produced in England these days. And I do mean REALLY good.

Staying with alcohol, I'm inordinately pleased to say that the British gin revival continues in a glorious fashion. Just to mention a couple of very fine examples: Silent Pool (and not just because it's my local gin) and Bathtub. And try the Bombay Sapphire Distillery experience if you get a chance - it's good fun.
Bombay Sapphire Distillery

I'm looking forward to the crowdfunded publication of 'The Plagiarist In The Kitchen', the first cookbook by Jonathan Meades. I know that there are still some interesting cookbooks being published but there also seems to be an endless succession of dismal, repetitious and self-congratulatory celebrity cookbooks. I think I can be certain that Meades won't be that kind of writer and I'm assured that the book will not contain the word 'drizzle'.

In 2016 there was a nasty moment in my little town when a number of people were treated for shock after a local restaurant served several dishes which contained no kale at all (hard to believe, I know). In other 2016 fashion news, I think I might need to join a support group if I come across yet another cake made with coconut flour. And don't get me started on chia seeds. However, despite the obvious dangers, I believe that it's compulsory to discuss future food trends in January so here goes.

In 2017 I'm told that we'll be eating vegetable yoghurts, tucking into anything that looks vaguely fermented and, by the end of the year, we'll be unable to live without regular doses of cauliflower. I'll need to revive my cauliflower soup and purée recipes - I might be on trend for once in my life. No, let's be honest, that's not likely.

I've also been told that sherry cocktails might be big this year. That's OK by me but I’m currently more interested in floctails. For some outlandish reason I think of floc as a winter drink so here's a fruity and cheering cocktail based loosely on some drinks that turned up in a Landes pine forest. I think I might call it “Floc Wallpaper” just because I can. Adjust the size of your measure according to your need for a drink.
Floctail or Floc Wallpaper

4 measures of white Floc de Gascogne
1 measure of peach schnapps
1 measure lemon juice
½ measure of lime juice

Shake all the ingredients with ice. Strain into a suitably decadent glass and decorate if you really feel that you have to.

Hopefully I’ll soon get round to publishing some of the deeply unfashionable recipes that I didn't get round to in 2016. Until then let me wish you all a slightly belated very best for 2017 and leave you with my favourite song from 2016.