Monday, 27 March 2017

Roast rhubarb galette

Galet: Old French meaning pebble. So what's a galette then? Isn't that a tart?

A galette is several things; always the way with food. In the north of France it might be a buckwheat pancake served with eggs and ham. In Belgium it's a waffle. In North Lahndahn it's a pretentious name for a tart by a cook who can't EVEN BE BOTHERED TO MAKE HIS OWN PUFF.* It can be, in fact, anything served flat and round. But I'm using the best known definition of a 'flat cake of pastry, often topped with fruit'. OK, rhubarb is a vegetable but it's close. You may well have neighbours popping round with rude sticks of the red stuff. This is your chance to escape the inevitable mulchy crumble.

I'm always looking for new ways of serving rhubarb, especially ones that involve a crunch. The reason this isn't a tart is I wanted to ensure a really crisp and light crunch. Texture is as important as taste, otherwise we might as well blend everything. The other reason is that I can prepare rhubarb and galette at leisure, combing just before service, ensuring the crisp base stays crisp.

It's a great combination. I'm going to use this with peaches and apricots, come the season.

One of the prettiest things in the kitchen.

The rhubarb was roasted in a 140°C oven for about 15 minutes. Cut small and sprinkled generously with caster sugar, the rhubarb keeps its shape this way.

Puff pasty galette

Preheat oven to 200°C.

My galettes are made from puff pastry. I normally use a commercial all-butter number. I will make my own again one day. One day. It is such a faff. The recipe I used to use is M. Roux's. I make individual ones but for family meals, a large one works just as well. When I do make it, I'd mix in some vanilla seeds too.

Roll out your pastry to thickness of a pound. The old round pound! Hey, maybe the new one will be thinner?

Using a tartlet ring cut shapes out. This is much easier when the pastry is cold and stiff so return it to the freezer for a few moments if it's a warm day.

Lift out and carefully centre the pastry in the case, pushing down the excess onto the base. This gives you a slight ridge, all the better to withhold your fruit.

Beat an egg with a little milk and brush the pastry discs. Now sprinkle a big pinch of caster sugar over each. This ensures extra crispness and crunch. 

Bake for 12 minutes. For a large galette you'll probably need 20 minutes. The pastry will dome alarmingly. Remove and gently press the centres down with a spoon. Return to the oven for maybe 6-8 minutes. You want a good, deep golden colour. Remove and allow to cool before uncasing them.

Just before service. Pile rhubarb and a little of the roasting syrup into the centre of each galette and sprinkle with more caster sugar. You could, if you have the time and patience (and who doesn't) arrange the pieces of fruit like a mosaic. Roast for just five minutes at 220°C. Allow the tarts to cool to hand holdable then serve.

I served mine with pistachio ice creamcrystallised pistachios and some of the roasting syrup further pan reduced until sticky and then drizzled. It would also work with a simple vanilla whipped cream.

*Honestly, this is the one thing I serve that I don't make from scratch.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Pistachio ice cream

Pistachio ice cream with crystallised pistachios and a chocolate tuile.

Of all the regular ice cream flavours, pistachio is my favourite. Odd then that I'd never thought of making it myself. Although perhaps the cost of the raw ingredient was off putting. This is doubtless the most expensive of the regular gelato flavours. It's easily ten times the cost of my Valrhona chocolate ice cream.

The inspiration came from my neighbour Michael over a feedback session. By 'feedback session' I mean those evenings where - wine in hand, possibly as a drink, possibly as a weapon - I insist on a full and frank set of opinions on whatever new food I have fed friends.  It's possibly one of my most endearing traits. On this occasion it was a rhubarb dessert that I'd served with Crème fraîche sorbet. Michael thought it would benefit from some pistachios crumbled over it. He was very right. I ambled off down pistachio alley to find an entirely new dish: rhubarb galette with crystallised pistachios and pistachio ice cream. I'll recipe this up soon.

Roast rhubarb galette with crystallised pistachios, rhubarb and rose syrup and pistachio ice cream.

As with almost all my ice creams, this is a version of my custard base recipe. The bad news is you can only make pistachio ice cream using pistachios. Why do these nuts cost so much? I thought cheap stuff was meant to 'grow on trees'. Yeah. So, you will need to buy some pistachio paste. This was the first one I found and - to the consternation of my anti globalisation readers - is delivered by Amazon. I could not find it in any local shop or supermarket. It's about £9 for a 190g jar. Be careful though. This was my second purchase, I first ordered the almost identically labelled pistachio pesto. Although in retrospect, seeing that the pesto is entirely nuts with some salt; critically NO parmesan, I might try that too. Seriously. I add salt anyway to most of my ice cream recipes. It's a Heston gig.

You could try making your own paste but that means buying raw pistachio kernels which are also very expensive and making nut butters is a fraught, blender-burning experience. I know from my hazelnut endeavours that making a perfectly smooth nut paste is very hard work that results in wasteful sieve-fulls of bits. Tolerable when using 'cheap' nuts but... these are pistachios, the uranium of the Fagaceae family.

This has a better flavour than the commercially available ice creams I've had. I suspect they use a cheaper flavouring that has never seen a nut tree. This ice cream has nuance. It tastes of the nut. It's also not as sweet. You won't get the near luminous, Halloween green colouring - more of a 1970s German army olive drab - but I think we can all agree that's a good thing. I've never yet had a pistachio that I could read a book by.

The problem with the paste is it includes sugar; it's ferociously sweet. I had to compensate by reducing the sugar in the custard. I have since found pastes with no sugar and will update the blog when I use it. The new paste costs £14 for the same small 190g jar. I won't be making it very often.

Pistachio ice cream
Serves 16 as a dessert accompaniment (see above) or 8 as a dessert or one sad person bent on an evening of woeful self reflection.

Make a custard (technique here) using 350ml full fat milk, 140 caster sugar, 6 egg yolks and 250g of mascarpone (replacing) the double cream and a pinch of salt. Stir the pistachio paste into the mix. Churn the chilled mix in whichever machine you use.

You could, of course, halve the amounts but then you'll have half a jar of absurdly expensive paste left.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A little necessary British acidity

"It's Rupert!" called Belinda from the bottom of the stairs. Door slightly ajar, I pulled a face at her. I don't know any Ruperts. "It's about your vinegar order." She added walking upstairs and handing me the phone. So I stood, dripping wet in the bathroom, ex-shower, phone in my clammy hand, experiencing some fantastic customer service.

Rupert (Parsons) of Womersley Foods in the Cotswolds had seen the order I'd made the night before, clocked that I'm a supper club and called to inform me that I was due a discount. But as stopping and replacing my initial order was a faff, would it be OK if he just bundled in a few free bottles?

It was OK. 

If you want one question to establish if someone is a foodie or not (a predicament we've all found ourselves in surely?), it's probably "how excited are you by vinegar?" My answer would be: enough to stand naked in a freezing February bathroom, dripping wet.

Apologies for that image btw. Here's George Clooney.

All cleansed? Good.

Au revoir les Français
I've been looking to reduce my L'Olivier fruit vinegar reliance recently. They are fantastic vinegars but it's increasingly difficult to source the whole range. Also the bottles are small at 200ml so I can easily go through one in a month. Fruit vinegars are now critical in my kitchen; I rarely make a dressing without one.

After much web frustration with nasty, cheap 'flavoured' products, I found Wormersley nestled in a clutch of testimonials from chefs I respect. These are fruit vinegars worthy of the name. Unlike L'Olivier, they filter off the pulp resulting in a clear liquid but with no less flavour. In fact... maybe more. They come in 250ml bottles and are better value. They also do larger trade sizes for restaurants. 

You'll notice the bottles in the top picture all have torn seals. That's because I stood with my family, spoons in hand, tasting each one straight out of the packing foam. And they are very, very good. A deliciously different quality of acidity to the French but no less usable. The fruit flavours are clean, intense, distinct and very natural. The Raspberry and chilli, Blackberry and Orange & Mace are set to become go-to bottles, I'm sure. My only issue is where to keep them. I have at least 30 existing bottles of vinegar. My well used ones are pictured below.

Why do I care so much about about acidity? Because it's been my great discovery since starting the supper club. It's the child who sat in the corner, head down, uninterested; who suddenly lifted up her chin, opened her mouth and filled the room with a high, perfect soprano. Acid makes your dishes sing.

Or as I read recently (but have lost the link - probably Serious Eats): that 'something' your food is missing is probably lemon juice - or a fruit vinegar.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

New born, new wave, old lamb

Not OLD lamb. Let's kick that rumour into touch straight off. Given the season, any lamb now comes from animals approaching one year old, so technically hogget; the flavour becomes more like mutton and the portion size grows. Some of the lamb shanks I served this weekend were mah-hoo-sive. As ever the lamb was Romney Salt Marsh, supplied by 
F. Normans in Oakwood. Who have a rather nifty new web site I notice.

I've never written down my shank technique (that means something very different in my part of Norf London) but it began life as a Jamie Oliver recipe. I used to individually wrap the French trimmed joints in foil along with some aromatics and alcohol, and bake for about three hours. Trouble is you lose much of the valuable roasting juices when removing meat from foil. It's also a severe faff double bagging ten shanks. Now I place them all together in a tent of foil with rosemary, onions, carrots, celery and red wine. I push a clove of garlic into the top of each shank too so the juices will run down and through the meat during cooking.  Maybe three hours at 140°C (depends on size) and then tear off the foil tent (and retain) and another twenty minutes at 180°C to colour. When they're done, cover with the foil and a towel/blanket and they will keep perfectly for an hour awaiting eating. Juices then strained and turned into a gravy to which I often add a dab of Madeira and some sweeting redcurrant jelly.

We serve ours with minted, crushed peas and beans, served simply with just a spritz of lemon juice; sweet & sour red cabbage; roast carrot puree and (of course) my slow roasted dauphinoise potatoes.

Friday was Sonia, celebrating Lorraine's birthday. A little dancing was had. Music from the 80s (New Wave see). Lorraine is a vegetable gardner and has promised me some golden beetroot. You did Lorraine. I'm holding you to it.

Saturday... and Nathan, our youngest ever guest, as part of Lynsey's party. I say guest, he didn't consume anything I prepared but he was fed in the room. Nothing but admiration for a parent who eats out with a three week old baby. Start as you mean to go on.

Belinda and I once managed to forget Fabian who had been asleep for hours one afternoon. We were a happy hundred yards down the street before we did a comedy realisation and both yelled 'Baby!' and ran back to the house.

Lynsey and friends

Camille and Nathan

Friday, 10 February 2017

Bleeding heart tarts (Lupercalia cakes!)

Like Christmas, Easter and Halloween, St Valentine's day is another occasion where the church piggybacked an existing pagan festival. In this case the very ancient Lupercalia. Young men would 'whip' willing young women with the pelts of recently sacricfed goats and dogs - to aid their fertility, naturally - before everyone drew lots to secure a night with not Mr Right but Mr Random, presumably to test said fertility. Sounds much more entertaining than staring vacantly at your betrothed over a Nando's doesn't it? Bring it all back I say. Apart from the dog slaughtering. Don't all shout at me at once.

But mainly through the efforts of American greeting card giant Hallmark this fun festival descended into a day where we can make manifest our adoration with the purchase of pre-sloganised cards, pre packaged chocolates or plastic wrapped petrol pump roses. Nothing says "I love you" like commerce does it? I know. Colour me cynical. If you must indulge, at least make an effort; something that isn't delivered on a supermarket pallet. Love is action, as they say. At least, as I say.

My mate Brian wanted these for an alternative valentine's party; French almond friand cakes made soppy by shape. I normally make blueberry, lemon or chocolate orange but these are raspberry and vanilla. In fact they are frozen raspberry. I think you get a better result with frozen fruit (which is handy). Fresh fruit turn to mush. Being frozen, you can also break the fruit up into small pieces and make patterns if that turns you on. It doesn't me, hence the abstracts above.

Melt 100g of unsalted butter in a small pan. Once melted, continue to heat until the butter turns a golden brown. You'll know it's close to ready because it stops fizzing as all the moisture is burnt off. 
It will also smells fantastic. Trust your nose. Cool the pan, to prevent the butter from burning, by placing it in cold water. This is beurre noisette and it adds a wonderful flavour. Allow the butter to cool.

Whisk three large egg whites to a floppy foam. We're not making meringues but you do want some air fixed in the mix as this is the only leavening agent. 

Sift 25g plain flour with 125g icing sugar and 85g ground almonds and a teaspoon of vanilla paste/extract

Fold this into the egg whites, making as few folds as possible. Keep the mixture aerated. Gently stir in the butter. 

You should now have a light, floppy batter. Divide this up into eight well buttered moulds. About halfway up the sides. Moulds? I have these silicon things which I bought years ago. Amazon do something similar. But usually I use a friand tin. You can use a cupcake or mini-muffin tin. Just keep an eye on the timing. You might need a minute more or less, depending on the size. 

Push some fruit into the top of each cake. Not more than five or the cakes will be too moist and fall apart. Bake for 18 minutes at 180°C until just golden and gently firm to the touch. Leave to cool before turning them out. These are delicate creatures. Best eaten when just warm with a sprinkle of icing sugar, for the eye.

I was in a bad mood when I wrote this. Does it show? I'm sure I'll be cheerful in March.

In the more traditional shape

Saturday, 31 December 2016

A couple of Christmas crackers, a plug, a pig and a very happy new year

Our very last booking of 2016 turned out to be a corker... John's surprise 50th organised by his wife Christina (neighbours of ours). Luckily their celebration port - from his birth year - wasn't corked. It was fantastic. Probably the oldest bottle of anything anyone's opened in our kitchen. In fact, I had to open it. A half century cork -  no pressure!

The port demanded a cheese course and I thought I'd serve up a couple of Christmas crackers (wheat and rye) to accompany. Big, break and share jobs that I will always do from now on. Much more fun. One a cracker, one a crisp bread. More on this, and the recipe, in the new year. For now, I'm pulling off the apron and pouring myself some white Burgundy.

Many thanks, as ever, to Kate and Richard at Holtwhites for the cheese - they're not just the finest bakers in the world you know. The very best of British cheese. So glad I only have to travel to Enfield now, saving me the trip to Neal's Yard.

Holtwhite's cheese selection. 

A couple of Christmas crackers!

We are closing our ovens for a few weeks now. It's also my 50th you see so we're going to Midsummer House in Cambridge for what, I hope, will be the best meal of my life.

We will hopefully see you all, friends old and new, for a nice bit of dinner and a chat in 2017. 

Best wishes from the New River Dining Christmas pig.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A good gravy

Many things comfort, especially in the kitchen: the embrace of a roast; the blanket hug of bread baked and calmly steaming on the side; the soothing seethe of the pressure cooker, to the little tug chug of the dishwasher and the smell of newly clean linen on the dryer. Even better if it's raining outside. The kitchen is the snug hub of our home. And that's where we make our gravy. 

I was chatting through a roasting recipe with a friend who was also after some gravy tips when I realised I'd never blogged it; never even taken a photograph it seems. This is a curious omission. My family will tell you that I often call them in for a taste, or just a look, with me stood proudly, like a child, with a roasting tin or saucepan of some glossy, well reduced wonder.

A good gravy is a triumph and can elevate a meal from mediocre to memorable. But it should enhance the food not dominate. A fillet steak with a rich gravy will taste of... gravy. It should be both the bass notes, underpinning the music, and the piccolo, adding interest and contrast. I know, I'll stop with the metaphors. All this pretension for what is essentially boiled bones and flour.

First. Let's shoot the elephant in the room - those big bones will make excellent stock, after all. I know some of you might use, might even think you enjoy... gravy powder (I can barely bring myself to write it.) If you do, I don't really want to know. I'll just get upset and it will forever blight our relationship; like walking with something grim and sticky underfoot while we chat. I've written about why fake gravy is a heinous crime. It's there if you want it. And hey, it's Christmas, let's make an effort.

Deep breath. Let it go. 

Much of my progress over these past few years has been into food simplicity. Increasingly I think that most things are better left alone. I am not an Ottolenghi (is it true there are 23 ingredients in his glass of water recipe?). Meat especially is often best served as a simple roast, same with vegetables. If you want complexity of flavour, do it by mixing elements  This gives control to the eater. Gravy is the big exception. Gravies are complex; they take time and effort - often more than the rest of the meal elements combined.

The simplest of gravies is roasting juices and pan scrapings, maybe deglazed with some alcohol. This works well with fatty, juicy meat, less so with the leaner, more expensive cuts. You won't get more than a few spoonfuls from a fillet of beef or a rack of lamb. Sometimes, often, you want a thicker sauce too, something to coat your roasties or Yorkshires with.

This is how I do it. You need a big pot: a stock pot. This will take a while so we might as well go large. First let me tell you a secret: shop stocks are awful... and expensive. I have no idea why they are all so uniformly awful but they are. Doesn't matter that they have a grinning Blumenthal on the packaging. Don't bother. Make your own.  A home made stock will also contain gelatine for a much better texture. 

Make a lot and then bag it up for the freezer. Mine is a mass of beige and amber ice. I use a roll of plastic bags from Nisbets, about a litre at a time. You could go smaller, as I tend to serve large groups. Do remember to label them though. Lamb stock tastes very different to chicken.

I'm going to divide gravy into five elements.
  • Meat stock
  • Aromatics
  • Alcohol
  • Thickeners
  • Finishing (final flavours, sweeteners and acidity)

Marrow bone and oxtail

Meat Stock

Clarified stock
Stocks are made by slowly simmering meat bones and trimmings, along with aromatic herbs and vegetables, in lots of water. If you have a pressure cooker, so much the better. The higher temperatures mean more flavour making Maillard reactions in the pot. Supermarkets are next to useless when making stock. They won't (can't) sell you the offcuts that make for bad eating but great gravies. You need to go and talk to a butcher. If you're local to Enfield try mine: F. Norman's in Oakwood. Tell them I sent you.

Generally I make stock by simmering (or pressure cooking) meat and aromatics in water, covered, for a couple of hours then allowed to cool. I sieve the liquid off into jugs, sealed with cling film, and leave overnight in the fridge. This means any fat present will collect in a layer at the top making it easy to skim off (and use if need be). The skimmed stock can then be fast boiled to reduce and concentrate flavours. Don't boil an unskimmed stock; you will end up with something cloudy and greasy.

You can take this concentrating stage to a higher level by clarifying the stock. I use a few egg whites and crushed shells whisked in. The stock should be brought to a simmer as slowly as possible and simmered for at least thirty minutes. The egg white captures all the unfiltered particles as it solidifies and, once sieved (ideally through muslin or a new kitchen cloth), you should have a fabulous, clear consommé.

You can always double stock, stock. That is: reboil with extra meats and aromatics. I often do this for improved flavour, or if the stock is lacking an element.

Never add salt at the stock stage, only ever in the final gravy. 

- Beef
For beef use chunks of marrow bone, any trimmings and maybe a kilo of chopped oxtail. You're looking to fill an oven tray. The weight will vary. Make sure your butcher gives you manageable chunks. The more surface area, the better.

Roast the bones and trimmings for about an hour at 220°C until brown and chewy. Being sure to scrape all the sticky bits off the bottom of your tin, place the roast in about five litres of cold water. 

- Lamb
Roast two kilos of scrag end, along with any trimmings from your joint, for about an hour at 180°C. You can give your partner the bones to nibble on afterwards. You can in my house anyway. She wasn't fed properly as a child or something.

- Chicken, Turkey, Poultry
Carcasses are an obvious choice to roast and boil... but who has several at once, unless you've recently feasted on fowl? Short of carcasses, try a couple of kilos of chicken wings. If you've been nice to your butcher, they may well bung them in for free. Turkeys often come with the neck and other giblets in a bag. All good. Dice them up to make the flavour release easier.

Again, brown your chicken bits in the oven for an hour. Unless you want a pale stock, in which case, don't. You used to be able to buy tough old birds called 'boiling fowl' and these are excellent for a pale but deeply flavoured broth. Ask your butcher. Again you can use the meat afterwards, but it won't taste of a great deal.

- Pork
Ah, yes, pork. For some reason, pork stock almost never features in (European) recipes. Maybe it's because it's not part of the classical French canon. But why isn't it part of the...? I don't know. I use pork stock for pea and ham soup and for pork and apple gravy.

Be careful when making pork stock. Many pork products contain prohibitive amounts of salt that would result in an unusable broth. I'd go for either trotters (yes, I can hear the squeamish screaming) or (more likely) a couple of cheap pig knuckles - just make sure they're unsmoked. You can even use the knuckle meat to make a terrine or soup afterwards.


Once your meat is ready and in the water, you need the aromatics: vegetables, spices and herbs. These elevate an otherwise flat base, adding nuance and highlights.

Most stocks will welcome the holy trinity: onion, carrot and celery. Perhaps two of onion, three of carrot and celery (stalks). Coarsely chopped and sweated slowly in butter to render sweet and remove any harsh notes of allium. Do this with some woody herbs: thyme, bay leaves, rosemary.

Fennel is great for pork and lamb stock but can be potent. Bash up half a bulb.

For dark stocks roast off a couple of chopped onions or shallots for forty five minutes at 160°C. You're looking for a golden brown not burnt. If in doubt, taste the darkest part. Do not use anything black and bitter. The smallest part can taint a stock. There is a subtly here though, and I'm reminded of the Father Ted gag about priests' socks. Some things are not black but very, very, very dark brown. Let your tongue tell you.

Mushrooms are excellent roasted or dry pan fried, especially with beef. Shiitake and ceps are hugely rich in those desirable, meaty, umami tones, if a rather expensive addition. Basic shaggy mushrooms, trimmed, washed and fine sliced will also do. Let them catch and brown a little.

Peppercorns. I usually throw in a handful with any red meat stock. The whole berry (peppercorns are dried berries) adds a more subtle touch than the freshly ground. More of a happy hum than a bright tune.

Leafy herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, coriander should probably be left until the final gravy. Their flavours are ephemeral. A bunch of parsley stalks can add a pleasing vegetativeness though.


Alcohol, in the form of grape based fermentations, brings acidity, sweetness and a fruity base. Many recipes tell you to put alcohol directly into stocks but I don't usually, preferring to greatly reduce it on its own, almost to a syrup, to be added to the gravy later. Easier to add in increments, especially when you don't know how flavoursome your stock will be. All wines and spirits should be reduced by boiling. This rids it of much of the eyebrow raising harshness and stops one getting drunk on the gravy. Plenty of time for that later.

Don't use anything you wouldn't drink and don't assume one wine will taste like the next. Sweetness makes the difference here, those subtle tannins and fruits tend to cook out to no difference. Serious Eats did a proper study of this.

Red wine is the most obvious participant. I keep half and quarter bottles next to the hob for when I need a quick splash. White wine works just as well though remember and can be better when you're looking for a fruity or mineral note.

All the fortified wines work well; I am guilty of pouring port into almost everything. It's great with beef and lamb. Madeira or Marsala with pork, or perhaps Calvados or another apple brandy. With chicken I tend to reach for the vermouth; its herbaceous-ness works well with poultry.


Ideally a gravy should be reduced until it reaches the desired consistency but this isn't always possible. You simply might not have enough liquid to do that for a start but also, if you have a deeply flavoured stock you might not want to further concentrate it.

While other sauces can be thickened with egg yolks or gums, gravies are normally made more substantial with starch, in the form of flour, usually just before serving. Never just add flour to your stock though. You won't get the lumps out and it won't do its job. If using pan juices stir the flour into those first and heat on the hob. Flour also helps to bind the fat in roasting juices. There's nothing I like less than a greasy gravy (apart from, you know...)

I tend to make a beurre manis, a mix of equal amounts of melted butter and flour. You only need about 15g of both. This can be cooked on the hob slightly to remove any floury flavour before whisking into the gravy. All flour thickened sauces should be gently boiled to remove the starchy flavour and to start the thickening process. 

Corn starch mixed with a little cold water and whisked in also works well. Not much is needed. A tablespoon of cornstarch will easily thicken a litre of stock. Remember to simmer the sauce for a few minutes though.

Butter, chilled from the fridge and cut into small chunks can be whisked into a warm sauce, adding richness and shine. Don't then boil the sauce though as the butter may split out leaving you with a greasy nonsense.


So you have your meaty, glossy, aromatic gravy. You are about to pour it over your perfect roast but then you remember that thing you should do, that beat before the birth of any table wonder. YOU TASTE IT. Funny how many cooks send things untasted out of the kitchen. 

You TASTE IT and you look skywards. 'Something' is missing. This is the job of the finishers. It's probably salt. We haven't seasoned it yet remember. Salt or maybe soy sauce, good for colour too. A generous grind of black pepper too, especially in the beef gravy. But there are other seasonings: ground coriander with chicken or lamb?

Worcestershire sauce? Take it easy, it's very distinctive. Mushroom ketchup? All good in a dribble.

Sweetness is possibly needed. Don't be afraid of sugar. A pinch often makes all the difference. I often go for redcurrant jelly, it brings more gloss and mouthfeel too. Honey works with chicken (couple it with a scant teaspoon of mustard).

But the 'something' you're missing is probably acidity. Chefs love this word, especially the Oliver boy, and for good reason. Acidity animates. It brings life. Maybe not a whole lemon but a quick zizz. This, in part, explains why I have at least twenty five different vinegars and if the house was on fire I would be saving my L'Olivier fruities first (sorry family).

Fruit juices can also add acidity, I'm thinking mainly of apple with pork or chicken. It should be the not-from-concentrate variety or it will be too sweet and not nearly acidic enough.

But know when to stop too. You are making an accompaniment remember, not a soup. Although... give my sons some bread and they'll make it so.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Layer bake of roasted vegetables

A layered bake. A tower of vegetables, all roasted until sweet and yielding, with a dressing of cheese, herbs and my sweet, sour and smokey sauce. Let's agree not to call it a 'mille feuille'; there's really no need, least of all because this is at least 994 leaves short. Also auto-correct hates the term and keeps wanting me to write about a 'mild refill', and this is definitely not that. 

Apologies for my prose on this one. I am in the middle of the most intense job of my career and, right now, I feel like I've run out of words. I spent at least ten minutes this afternoon searching for the term 'eccentric'. I think, for the first time in my life, I might be tired.

I often serve this as part of a split menu when the carnivores are having lamb or beef. It's a robust full flavoured dish and so works with traditional accompaniments to roast meats. More a technique or a theme than an actual recipe, you can use any veg that will roast well. It's infinitely variable* but I especially like the colour combination of red and yellow peppers, tomato and butternut squash but you can also use cauliflower, aubergine, carrots, courgette or even portobello mushrooms.

A large one serves as an entire course on its own. Smaller ones serve in place of meat as part of a meal. You can build a stack as in the pic above but I also like cutting circles out of the veg for a neater look. I also find that trying to stack very hot veg to be both tricky and burny for more than two people. No one wants their mille feuille, froid do they? So I assemble part baked veg and then finish in the oven once guests are assembled. If you are also serving roast meat these can sit in the already hot oven while the meat rests under foil.

Slice all your vegetables, apart from the peppers, to equal thickness, about a centimetre (third of an inch). Place on baking parchment or silicone, roll in a little oil and roast at 200°C for roughly:

Carrots: 30 minutes - why does carrot take so long to cook?
Squash: 20 minutes
Peppers: 20 minutes - top and tail, cut in half, deseed and press flat
Cauliflower: 25 minutes
Aubergine: 15 minutes - go easy on the oil there.
Courgette: 10 minutes
Mushroom: 5 minutes - Just oil the tops.

There's no need to roast the tomatoes just yet.

This is just a guide. Basically you should be able to make an indentation with your finger (careful). You might also like your veg harder or softer than me. Aubergine, especially, is a matter of personal taste. The easiest way to do this is add the longest roasting slices first, then the others in reverse order. The important thing is that all the layers are in the same state of 'cooked' so, ready for the final bake.

The mushrooms, peppers, courgette and aubergine can alternatively be griddled. This gives you attractive and tasty char lines. If you don't have a griddle, try a skewer, held over a hob flame. Bit of a faff though.

Once roasted, either stack up the slices in bags and refrigerate until needed or assemble straight away. Roast veg slices make a handy side dish anyway. Great with meat or fish. 

Before guests arrive make your stacks. Again line the roasting tray with oiled paper. Oven to 200°C. I like to season each layer with just a little salt, pepper and a pinch of freshly crushed coriander seed. Note: I don't mean use powdered coriander here. Just cracked seeds smell fantastic and add some texture.

Go as high as you dare, or you think appetites will manage. Top with some cheese - I like salty feta crumbled but soft goats works well too. Mozzarella will give you mouth feel but little flavour. Personally I think this is no place for cheddar but feel free to shout me down.
Finished in the oven and glazed

Bake for about 12 minutes, until the cheese is looking interesting.

Remove to plates using a spatula and a steady hand. Serve on a display of spinach leaves.

Pour over the dressing and garnish with lots of aromatic herbs. Often dill or very finely chopped rosemary.

The dressing makes the dish here but for an easy meal you could just slum it with oil and balsamic. If you substitute redcurrant jelly for the honey (and obviously omit the cheese) the dish is vegan.

You won't find the vinegar I use in the shops but please seek it out. I've linked to my on-line provider. I've said quite enough about L'Olivier vinegars in another place and won't bore you all here again.

New River Dining glaze for roasted veg.
Enough for two
In a glass, mix a tablespoon of oil with one of red pepper vinegar. Add a half tablespoon of honey. Add a big squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Fish out any pips if using lemon. Whisk with a fork. Taste and adjust. Add a knife tip of smoked paprika, less of cayenne, a good pinch of sea salt, black pepper and at least a half teaspoon of ground coriander. Taste again. Add more of everything probably, until something tingles. The flavour should be intense. Remember that this will be spread thin. Toss in some robust chopped herbs, maybe chives or lemon thyme. Pour over your roast veg.

*So not infinite. I think it would be the factorial of n, where n = (let's say) three cheeses and eight vegetables = factorial of 11 = 39,916,800. Eaten once a day that would take you over 1300 lifetimes to work through all the combinations, by which time you and the many generation of your family after you, burdened with your gastro-pedantry, would be utterly sick of it.

Would really appreciate it if a mathematician could correct my errors here.