Monday, 3 February 2020

Pan fried cod with a pea and lemon verbena risotto

I was looking for an easy partner for a great piece of cod I was going to pan-fry* for friends. I mean food partner obviously. I suppose my wife might object to an 'easy partner' in the house. Unless it was for her. Anyway, sub-laddish bantz aside, I decided on a risotto. These can be made ahead of time if you only take it half way. They have almost infinite variety too; mushroom and shellfish are obvious choices but I've seen some made with red wine and chorizo. As this was to partner fish I decided on pea and lemon verbena as it grows in my garden.

*Funny that we always say pan-fry and not simply 'fry'. Why is that? Is it to create a clear culinary distinction between restaurant sophistication and a greasy spoon with its eggs, bacon and bubble? But fried is what it is. A delicious piece of fried fish. Pan-fried fish. No, the second one sounds tastier. Damn my pretensions.

Before we do the rice let's discuss the protein. Buy the freshest fish you can. It cooks better. It stays together. It crisps more. This means avoiding supermarkets; that stuff is old, flabby and usually unforgivable. Why supermarkets can't serve great fish I don't know, but they don't. Find a good fishmonger and cherish them with regular trade.

Take your fish out of the fridge an hour or so beforehand. Put it on a clean tea towel to dry it off. Sprinkle salt on the top and leave, allowing the salt to be drawn in and moisture to be drawn out. Don't fry wet fish. You'll be trying to Vanish out the oil spatter for many washes. I did that piece in the picture with a glug of hot oil in a very hot pan. Skin side down first. Turn the heat down to medium. Leave the fish it for a few minutes or it will stick. Let a crust form. Now add a knob of butter, let it foam and flip the fish. Spoon that lovely butter over the fish for another five minutes until you get a golden crust forming. Move the fish to a plate and let it rest, allowing the hot side to cook the middle. You want translucent flakes not cotton wool. Overcooked fish is death in the mouth.If you're unsure just prise the fish apart in the pan with a sharp knife. If it looks raw, cook for a minute more.Then let it rest.

Risotto should be a creamy affair, but not with cream. It's well massaged starch from the grains that thicken the stock. Ignore any advice to add dairy in any form other than butter and parmesan. It should also be liquid but not runny. The rice should be loose in texture and firmer than soft. I've never really known what al-dente means with rice so I won't use that term.

Risotto rice comes in three main varieties: arborio, carnaroli and Vialone Nano. The last one is my favourite but there's not much in it (half of Veneto will now leave angry comments!). Just don't use long grain. Most supermarkets stock Arborio.

As ever the superb Serious Eats has a page dedicated to risotto technique and the science of starch. Worth a read. They do advocate adding cream though. Ignore that.

Pea and lemon verbena risotto.
Serves 6.

Lemon Verbena. Almost impossible to buy. 
First off. Sorry. You won't be able to get lemon verbena unless you grow it or you live close to some impossibly posh shops in one of the London Hills: Notting, Highgate, Primrose. You know the type. So, sorry about that. You could replace with tarragon and a gentle zest of half a lemon. It'll be similar and delicious. I have a large LV plant in my back garden so I'm never short. I know: smug.

Bit of prep before we work with the rice. You'll need a stock. As this is a pea risotto, make a pea stock.You'll often use a chicken stock in risotto but that's the wrong flavour here and I wanted to make this a vegetarian dish, not least because my eldest son is now partnered with non meat eater and they're coming for dinner soon. Hi Meg.

Bring up 250g of frozen peas to the boil in a litre of water. Once they are boiling and bobbing about, lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them into ice water. This stops them cooking into sludge and preserves a vibrant colour. You know: pea green.

Return the pea water to a low heat and add: a bay leaf, a few inches of rosemary and some parsley stalks. Simmer for a few minutes then turn off the heat, leaving the herbs to infuse to make a light vegetable stock until you're ready to start the risotto.

Strain your stock and bring back to a simmer.

Remove your peas from the cold water and mash them up with a little olive oil. We're not making a puree here, just helping things along. I still want to see whole peas. Season with a little sugar and salt.

Chop one large, white onion into fine dice and fry in a 50g of butter in a wide, shallow sided pan. Add a tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds. Cook on a medium heat until the onion is translucent and getting golden. No brown though. Not the right flavour. Now add three finely chopped stalks of celery and cook for another five minutes. Add another 50g of butter, bring up the heat and stir in 400g of risotto rice. Stir to fry the rice for a few minutes until it too is translucent. Pour in about 250ml of dry Vermouth. I like Noilly Prat. If you have no Vermouth, an aromatic white wine will do. Bring this to the boil and reduce, stirring often. Now add about a quarter of your pea/herb stock. Stir in, 'massaging' the rice with the back of a wooden spoon to encourage the starch to mix.

Fennell fritter: the perfect accompaniment
At this point the proto-risotto be left until guests arrive or you're ready to eat. It takes about another 15 minutes from here.

Again, bring your stock to a simmer. Don't add cold stock to a risotto. Now spend 15 minutes pouring in the stock a wine glass at a time. Stir until it's absorbed and repeat. taste the grain. It should still have some bite. You might need little boiling water in addition to your stock. Once happy with the texture, finely grate in 50g of good parmesan (not so much as this is to go with fish), a few chopped spring onions and a handful of chopped lemon verbena or herb of your choice. Finally stir in the pea mix. It'll warm up in seconds. Taste and maybe season with salt. And hell, perhaps a blob more butter, just no cream yeah?

I served mine with a ring of pea shoots dressed with a little home-made basil oil. The cod goes on top. For a little extra crunch a bowl of fennel fitters works very well and complements both rice and fish perfectly.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Vegan starter: crispy tofu with marinated courgettes and cucumber gel.

Pretty dish
I wanted this to be light, fresh, packed with flavour and varying textures. I'd already signed up to the crispy tofu challenge, so what to put with it? Contrasting the sweet and savoury flavours of soy and mirin with citrus seemed obvious so I used my marinated courgette ribbon recipe that I've previously paired with salmon.

I think I originated this. I'm rather proud of it. It's fun watching guests do the "I don't really like cour.... oh my God, that's delicious". The citrus here is Yuzu, a fragrant fruit used in China, Korea and Japan, which complements the Asian flavours in the tofu glaze. Yuzu is similar to the mandarin but fearsomely expensive. You can buy tiny bottles of the juice in larger supermarkets. They cost about a fiver.

You'll also need to make a cucumber gel. Take a look at the recipe. if it's too cheffy, just use batons of cucumber. But try and make the effort. The gel is intensely flavoursome and brightly coloured. It's not difficult to do and is a handy kitchen skill to learn.

First we need to talk about tofu.

It tastes of almost nothing when raw. Broad beans would easily win in a brouhaha. A memory of a mushroom, maybe. Perhaps a cod fillet caught your eye? Let's agree on 'subtle'. 

There are many forms of this soya bean curd, usually categorised by texture: silken, soft, firm, etc. Here I'm using extra firm, allowing me to cut cheese like chunks that will withstand deep frying. A 450g block like this will serve four people as a starter.

"First catch your hare." as famed cookery writer Hannah Glasse once said*. Well here Ocado already has my 'extra firm' so the instruction start with "first press your tofu - a couple of days before you plan on eating it". Tofu is wet and it's stored in water. Water is not flavoursome. We want the water out. Wrap your tofu in some baking paper, place in a baking tin and put a heavy weight on top. Leave in the fridge for a day.

You'll find a pleasing amount of water in the tin. Discard this. Put the tofu in a plastic bag and freeze overnight. This forces out more water and gives the tofu a more friable texture.

Pressing tofu. The coconut milk was for dessert.
Ta dah. 24 hours later.
Post squeezing. Post freezing. A change of texture.
I did a few test runs and the most important tip I have is to season your tofu early and well. No surprises here as I do the same with fish and meat. Cut the tofu into slices, salt well and leave for an hour at least.

I also discovered that browning tofu in oil takes an astonishingly long time. Much longer than say potatoes. I'm guessing because it's still too wet and there are too few sugars to caramelise. I addressed both these issues by rolling the slices a couple of times in a mixture of approx 80% cornstarch, 15% sugar and 5% salt.

Ready for the fryer.
Using a deep fat fryer at 200°C or a fat pan and a sugar thermometer, deep fry the slices until golden and crispy. You could try shallow frying. Good luck. The crust should actually stay crisp even after you apply the glaze. Set aside.

Test fry. The left just cornflower and salt.
The right slice has the added sugar also.
The glaze can be whisked up in minutes in a glass or jam jar. Make too much and drizzle on chicken, salmon or chargrilled halloumi later. Mix together equal measures of soy and white wine or rice vinegar. Start with a tablespoon of each. Then add more to taste. This is a the holy trinity of salty, sweet and savoury.

Finely grate in a thumb of fresh ginger to taste - a microplane is useful here. Add honey or agave syrup (depending on just how vegan you are). A dash (steady!) of toasted sesame oil for smoky depth and silky mouth feel. Finally, a hit of cayenne, or not.

You'll have a sticky, rich, dark glaze. Taste. Adjust. It'll probably stand a little more ginger. Be bold. Set aside.

Next the marinated courgettes

First make your marinade. Key to this is vinegar. I use a fantastic lemon, basil, bay and juniper vinegar from Wormersley. You probably won't have this and it's not readily available in the shops. Ether give Rupert a ring and order some (you'll thank me if you do) or substitute a good quality white wine or cider vinegar, combined with some lemon juice and a few gratings of lemon zest. You want equal amounts of vinegar and mirin, about 70ml and half that of yuzu juice. I say 'about' because I never do this by weight or volume. Aways by eye and taste. I put the liquids in a click lock, watertight plastic box that I'll use to marinade the ribbons, shake and taste. Now add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of freshly crushed coriander seeds. Don't even think of substituting with coriander powder. Add a drizzle of honey or agave syrup. It should be sweet, sour and citrus fresh and should smell deeply aromatic.

Take three medium, green courgettes. If you can find yellow too so much the better. Top and tail the veg with a knife. Using a vegetable peeler take off three or four ribbons from each side. Different peelers give different thicknesses. You want something worthwhile. Opaque. It has to sit in an acidic marinade for hours and anything too thin will disintegrate. Discard the first slice that's mainly skin. You want the next few: smooth, creamy white with a pleasing edge of green. Stop when you hit the seedy interior. Don't go there.

My courgette peeler of choice
Layer the ribbons in the click lock box and place in the fridge. Turn the box every few hours to ensure all the ribbons are immersed. Note that 24 hours is too long; the slices start to disintegrate, so I normally do this on the morning of the meal.

These ribbons work on their own as a side and especially well with cooked salmon or spicy chicken - should you be that way inclined. Vegetrians may wish to consider a nice salty feta.


To finish the dish I serve some finely diced apple and cucumber. In both cases, avoid the seeds. Keep the dice covered in the fridge tossed in a little olive oil and white wine vinegar.

To assemble. 
The amounts above will serve four people.

Remove from the fridge and have ready your tofu, glaze, cucumber gel, diced apple and cucumber, marinated courgettes and some interesting salad leave or micro herbs.

Refresh your tofu in hot oil for a few minutes to crisp and warm. On a tray, drizzle the warm pieces with the glaze.

In the middle of the plate loop up some ribbons, making sure you don't bring too much marinade with them. 

Around the edge of the plate make pretty with the dice, some salad leaves and the cucumber gel. Get creative. If you have some purple salad elements, so much the better.

Finally put your crispy tofu slice on the ribbons, drizzle a little more of the glaze and garnish with a salad leaf of distinction. 

*She probably didn't.

A vegan dinner party menu

My attitude to vegan food is fast changing. We need to eat less meat. Without doubt, a plant based diet is better for us and better for the planet. Would I applaud you to for going vegan? Yes. Will I be giving up meat? Not a chance. Actually it's butter I'd struggle to replace. There is no vegan equivalent for flavour and cooking qualities. Brown butter - beuure noisette - is possibly my most favourite aroma. I'd splash it on like aftershave if it didn't mean third degree burns. Also cheese. Vegan cheese is an abomination. Oh... and a world without dippy eggs and soldiers. Damn. No. Not yet. Selfish Jason. Yup.

Elena sounded hesitant when she called. It was her birthday. She wanted a meal with eight friends. Was it fair to make it meatless and dairy free. I thought so. Anyway, I can't do a carne/vegan split. It would virtually mean two separate dinners, with a high degree of cross contamination: the absent minded stir.

Restrictions are often a pathway to creativity, certainly has been in my TV writing. The sudden absence of a character, a sick actor, a lost location forces you to think tangentially; peeling apart possibilities. I was once told, days from filming, that my episode of Casualty which revolved around an armed robbery and hostage situation in an ambulance, could no longer feature a gun. Get thinking.
I wanted to use tofu, for no reason other than I've never cooked with it. I've only tasted it when very drunk too, probably in one of the slightly suspect Lisle Street Chinese restaurants that are still open at 5am. Tofu has a rep for being tasteless and rubbery so I wanted to tackle both issues. After some research I decided to deep fry some 'extra-firm' tofu to a satisfying crunch and serve it with a flavoursome sauce.

Which brings me to my major issue with vegan cooking. At least, vegan cooking in the UK. I try to use local and seasonal ingredients where possible (Lemons! Busted). In warm countries flavoursome ingredients are available all year round. Not so in the UK. What does local, English vegan fare look like in the frozen heart of February? Pickled turnip all round? My starter ended up looking eastwards, with ginger, soy, mirin and yuzu whereas dessert went West, to Caribbean pineapple and coconut so I was determined that my mains would be an all British affair.

I decided to blog the menu as a whole because while looking, it becomes obvious that not many people do this. I'll list the entire menu below and link to various older recipes and new blogs.

The New River Dining Vegan Menu #1
I'll be adding the recipes over the next few days.

No changes to the bread. Substitute walnut oil for the brown butter in the nut recipe.

Roasted cauliflower soup with toasted hazelnuts.

Tarts of sweet onion, roasted celariac and smoked beetroot pureé with dill oil. Served with crushed peas in a mint vinaigrette, sweet and sour red cabbage.

Spice and citrus roasted pineapple. Served with coconut ice cream, rum and coconut cream and a salted peanut praline.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Roast shallot and sherry jam

This is deceptive stuff. It tastes like hours slaved but you could knock it up while you stand wowing guests with wine and wit. It works well with cold meats and cheese. It will last for weeks in the fridge. I often use it to make a starter bruschetta of toasted walnut bread with goats cheese.

If you're a stranger to sherry, I'd suggest you stay away from the sweet. The dry, nutty, toasty flavours of Manzanilla or Amontillado are what I use. Decent sherry is about £15 a bottle. We only need a third or so here. Anything will work, even the almost full bottle of Cockburn's that sat in your cupboard for years, next to the unopened jar of 'relish' gifted to you anonymously at that work's secret Santa. The sherry is a key flavour component here though.

Roast shallot and sherry jam. Makes one pot of indeterminate size.

My thumb
Backlit for drama
Generously butter a medium sized baking tray. Lightly sprinkle this with salt and sugar. Slice in half about 14 good sized echalion shallots - the long ones, also known as banana shallots. Now, what do I mean by 'good sized'? Bigger than my thumb but smaller than a pencil case. There's an obvious flaw here, of course, in that your thumb maybe bigger or smaller than mine... so here's a picture for comparison. Worst comes to the worst, you could pop round to mine to check before you go shopping.

If you can, avoid the pre-packaged bags because they contain all sizes. Some supermarkets have the shallots loose so you can pick similarly sized. Obviously a variety in size will roast differently and we're after consistency here.

That proclivity of supermarkets to bundle together wildly varying fruit and veg is most annoying. This is entirely for their convenience not ours. When I'm roasting, especially beetroot, I don't want a bunch that consist of four marbles and a football. I tend to, ahem, construct my own bunch in the shop.

Anyway, shop rebellion or none, place the shallots unpeeled, on the buttery tray and bake at 160°C for about 40 minutes. Do check though. You want the shallots to be soft and squishy but with a deeply caramelised cut surface. Remember to scrape up sticky bits off the tray too. It's all about flavour. Anything dark is fine so long as it's shiny. Avoid black and crusty though, that's a burn too far. Allow to cool.

At this stage you could just serve the roast shallots with roast beef or lamb. Or chop them up and reduce with some stock and redcurrant jelly to make a decent gravy for sausages.

Doesn't that look tasty. The very essence of savoury.

Scrape out the soft, golden insides onto a board and chop roughly. I use a little hand blender to make this even faster. Taste.

Pile the chopped roasted shallots in a small pan and heat through, stirring to ensure nothing sticks. Add a little more butter maybe or some nutty rapeseed or olive oil if that's your thing. Cook over a medium heat, until you have a deep golden or brown colour (maybe ten minutes). Now add about 200ml of sherry and 'deglaze' the pan. Bring to the boil and reduce the liquid until you have a gooey, sticky mess with a very pleasing shine. Don't let this catch. Taste. Is that what you were expecting? It might need more sugar. It will need salt and pepper. If you used a sweet sherry it could probably benefit from a little lemon juice to balance. I like to finish with a good glug (sorry, can't be more precise) of a decent balsamic vinegar but that's up to you.

Served on walnut bread toast with goats cheese, cheese mousse and a salad of walnuts and balsamic.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

The New River Dining roast potato.

The kit
How good are these? One doesn't like to brag but guests have said they've not had better. I want crunchy exteriors, deep golden, friable edges and fluffy insides. Those meekly tanned, leathery efforts are an insult to their cooks. If I wanted jackets I'd have left the skins on.

The real trick is to flavour the oil. I like onions and thyme. And also don't be scared of salt. Use a crystal salt to give you crunch too.

Maris Piper with shallots, thyme and marrow bone. Ready for the oven

I have a few rules, most of which you'll probably be familiar with. We are a post-Delia nation after all. The basic sequence is: peel, parboil, fluff, baste, roast.
  • Use Maris Pipers. These are the least wet spuds available. It's all about the starch. Lots of dry matter gives you a fluffy finish, little dry matter and you have a soapy texture.
  • Make sure the potatoes are evenly sized. Again, it's just obvious: same size = same cooking time
  • Parboil the potatoes. Heston does it almost to destruction but that's a world of pain. I usually stick around 12 minutes.
  • Dry the potatoes after boiling. Space them out on a clean tea towel and allow them to steam themselves dry. You can rough up the surface by gently shuffling them about too.
  • Use the heaviest, thickest roasting pan you have. Sadly these are expensive. Thick pans spread the heat yes but more importantly they don't warp. If you hear your roasting pan/tray buckling in the oven, it means some potatoes now have a lot of fat and some have none. It doesn't even have to be a roasting tray. Use a few decent cake tins. M
  • Heat the roasting pan on the hob and make sure your oil is very hot. Roll the pots in the oil, covering all sides.
  • Use goose fat. I'm not as fascist about this I once was. I've used cheapy sunflower oil and expensive rape seed with decent results. Personally I think olive oil imparts the wrong flavour.
  • Flavour the oil. Fry up some onion or shallots first and then some thyme. leave the aromatics in. the onion can also be served up. On this occasion I had some chunks of bone marrow so I roasted that too.
  • Roasting is about hot air. Air means S P A C E. Don't crowd your pots in the pan. They will steam not roast.
  • Turn the potatoes half way through the cooking. 
  • Cook for at least an hour. Ignore recipes that pretend you can do it in less. I don't think the temperature matters as much as the time. I tend to go for 90 minutes at 180°C. Much above 200°C and things can char to bitterness. You can always take them out early. Roast pots will reheat without worry. That length of time means the onions will be almost black and your pots will have a savoury bake to them; a scarf of invisible umami (sorry).

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Hazelnut crackers

I was trying to work out a way to pretend this was a festive recipe. I didn't need to try hard. It's a Christmas cracker. Moreover, it's a nutcracker! Yay. Sadly there we wave goodbye to Santa (and to exclamation marks, this isn't Instagram); this has nothing to do with yuletide cheer, but it does work ridiculously well with cheese and beetroot. So... Boxing day buffet?

My current favourite starter. Again, the low light makes food look weird.
I made this because my new favourite winter starter is roasted beetroot served with a cheese mousse, a smoked beetroot gel (recipe coming) and a hazelnut and raspberry salad. It was crying out for some snap. Initially I thought of making elegant long thin things but that's a faff I don't need and I always end up breaking some just before service. Making one huge cracker is at least unusual (apparently not in Spain, a guest informs me) and I like the 'breaking bread' aspect of it as I hand it to a guest on a wooden platter and ask them to pass it round the table.

It's an unleavened affair, so a doddle to make. This would be ideal as a first recipe with a young child. So long as you can roll it fairly flat and get it into an oven it will be edible, probably delicious, and the heterogenous appearance will hide all manner of fluff and 'pickings' that inevitably find their way into the baked goods of the under fives.

The tricky business with nuts is finding the flavour. It sounds counterintuitive but nuts don't taste that nutty. Think of the almond cakes you've eaten - strong almond flavour? Nope. Two ways to address this: toast the nuts, it enhances the nuttiness; and use a nut oil. You can think of this almost as an essence. You do get what you pay for though. Worth splashing out. It will last for months.

Make four or five for a family party or buffet and expect some 'oooh'. These have a high impact to work ratio. They'd probably look great on Instagram, backlit and tied with a taupe bow with some nuts casually spilled on gingham. But sod that.

This recipe also works well with walnuts. Just be sure to find unsalted nuts and a decent walnut oil.

Hazelnut Cracker.
Makes two big ones, enough for 16.

Take 120g of blanched hazelnuts and toast in a 180°C oven for six to eight minutes. You want golden brown. Allow to cool. Set aside 20g of whole nuts. Blitz the remaining 100g in a blender, stick blender or little chopping thing (like I do) until they resemble breadcrumbs. If you can't find blanched use whole nuts but after toasting you'll have to roll them around a fair bit to remove their brown papery skins.

In a bowl, mix with a good pinch of salt (about 2g) and 200g of plain flour. Now add a good glug of hazelnut oil, maybe two tablespoons. OK, most people don't have hazelnut oil so toasted sesame would do at a push but the flavour will be a little... vulgar, so use less. Hazelnut oil is expensive but a larger supermarket will stock it. I buy it online. Don't be tempted to skip the oil, it's probably the most flavour giving element of the mix. It also gives crispness and shine to the finished cracker.

Add enough water to just bring the dough together into loose balls - around 75ml - dribble it in. Be cautious. Any more and the dough will be sticky and a pain to roll out. It should look like this. Scoop the dough together and roll it around a bit with your hands to bring it together into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Once rested, split the dough into two balls. Each makes one cracker. Roll out the cracker onto lightly floured Silpat or baking paper as thin as you can/dare - about 30 x 20 cm but it doesn't have to be a straight sided oblong; I think the weirder the shape the better. Just remember that too thin and it may fall apart when baked. Now take the 20g of whole nuts you set aside and gently crack them into pleasing chunks. Sprinkle over the dough and press in with your hands. Roll once or twice more. The dough might tear but I like this. Gives a pleasant filigree effect.

Bake for about ten minutes in a 180°C oven, turning once to avoid an overbaked side. All ovens have hot spots. I say about ten minutes. You need to check. You might want a pale bake or a high one. I like to catch it in the middle when the edges look just past golden. Be aware that overbaked nuts are bitter and as unpleasant as a late night Nigel Farage. 

These are great with soft (Tunworth!) - or blue cheese. Forget the Stilton; get yourself a truckle of Mrs Bell's Blue for Christmas. That'll be something.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Apricot tart

Just before the oven. A dusting of icing sugar to help caramelise the edges.
"Why don't I eat these more often?" I think whenever I finish a dish of apricots. I haven't yet found a decent answer. At their amber blushing best for the next few months, apricots have a wonderful aromatic balance of sweet and sour.

Apricots can be poached in a simple sugar syrup and served up with a little of the reduced poaching liquor and maybe some crème fraiche but I had a longing for a glistening squidgey, fruity, almondy tart.

And then Jim (my butcher, oddly enough) gave me a job lot of apricots for free. Just past their best apparently. So I had no more excuses not to bake.

Apricot tart.
serves 8 generously

Four parts to this tart: base, frangipane, apricots, glaze. You'll need about 35 good sized apricots.

The base is simple enough: shop bought, all butter, puff pastry. Roll it out. Cut it large enough to overlap the 27cm tart tin and refrigerate until needed.

Frangipane. Soft almond paste that complements apricots so well. In a bowl, beat together 120g each of soft butter and caster sugar. Once pale and fluffy, add 120g of ground almonds. Add in 1 egg and one egg yolk, a little at a time. Finally 25g of plain flour and the very finely grated zest of one (smallish) lemon. Keep the naked lemon.

Apricots. Cut in half about 30 ripe apricots and discard the kernels. If they aren't ripe and slightly soft, don't bother. They should smell of apricots and not packaging.

Assemble. Pipe or spoon the frangipane into the pasty base and arrange the apricots sideways on in circles or however you wish. Cram them in. They will shrink. Dust lightly with icing sugar to aid the delicious and attractive caramelisation of the fruit.

Bake at 210°C for about 30-40 minutes. Remove when: the pastry edge is golden, the fruit is soft and slightly charred and the frangipane is risen and browning. Trim the edge of the pastry with a sharp knife if you want a neat tart. Or don't bother if you really like pastry.

While the tart is baking, make the glaze. You must have a glaze. It transforms the tart. For reasons unknown, a glistening tart is so much more attractive than a plain one. You can of course glaze with some apricot jam, thinned with a little hot water. Nah! I wanted to maximise my apricot flavour and jams are often surprisingly insipid things. So I blended about three apricots with some sugar syrup (boil water and sugar 1:1). Yes 'some' sugar suryp - a deliberate imprecision. Do it to taste. Depends how sweet or tart your apricot blend is. Sieve and heat gently in a pan. Add some lemon juice (from that naked lemon) to taste. Now add a teaspoon of thickening  arrowroot mixed with a little water and bring the glaze to the boil. Allow to cool before brushing all over the tart top.

Something creamy goes well with the tart. Perhaps some sweetened vanilla cream or ice cream?

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Orzotto of barley and Jerusalem artichokes

Orzotto. As risotto is rice, an Orzotto is... barley (orzo in Italian). However don't confuse 'orzo' with 'orzo' which is a type of pasta (AKA risoni because it looks like, er... barley).

And this is why I try and use English terms in my kitchen. So let's start again.

This is a barley pottage, with Jerusalem artichokes, two ways: little boiled chunks and deep fried crispy skins. It's an excellent use of the whole tuber. Because these are not artichokes, they are the root of the sunflower. In yet another linguistic confusion, some poor, confused 16th century scribe heard girasole and wrote Jerusalem. Girasole is Italian for sunflower. In fairness, our made up man was quite devout and maybe the plainsong had been really loud that evening. You know how monks liked to pump up the jam?

This recipe belongs to chef David Everitt-Matthias. I was looking for new ways to serve barley, a great staple. Barley is easier to both cook and serve than rice. It's much more forgiving and even benefits from pre-cooking in a way rice just doesn't. Add more water to cooked rice and you often end up with... glue. Barley sucks it up and remains toothsome. 

Jerusalem artichokes are one of those like-nothing-else flavours. I love their distinctive  taste. I keep seeing them described as 
sweet and nutty but that's misleading, at least to my palate. Their distinctiveness is partly because its storage carbohydrate is inulin instead of starch. Note: INULIN not insulin. This is a low calorie carb... so we obviously need to deep fry them or serve with lots of butter. Ha. 

Some may bang on about the unique health benefits of inulin but that's not my gig at all. However, one incontestable benefit of inulin: its digestion can be quite gaseous in some people. So that's the after dinner cabaret sorted!

Barley and Jerusalem artichoke pottage
Serves six as a starter

Start by baking your tubers. Place six 100g Jerusalem artichokes (JAs) on a baking tray and roast at 140°C for an hour.

Stop. That's what David says. Mine took two hours. Maybe his were long and thin. Mine weren't. Less surface area = more oven time. Mine were all kinds of sizes too. Just take them out when they're done.

Aw. Cute.
 Bake until tender. Allow to cool. Split the JAs lengthways into two or four if they are large, scraping out the soft flesh. I found a blunt knife was the best tool for this. It is a faffy job. Takes half an hour maybe. You can't rush it as you need the skins in reasonable shape for deep frying. Cut up the flesh into coarse chunks and reserve for later.

If you've ever made a risotto, the rest will be familiar and very easy. If you haven't, it will still be easy and you'll have learned how to make risotto.

In a small saucepan, bring about a litre of chicken stock to the boil. You know how I feel about shop bought stock so I'll just presume you've made your own and we'll never speak of it else.

In a decent glug of rapeseed oil (for its nutty flavour but use any oil or butter) fry a diced onion until it's translucent. We're not looking for colour. Add a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves and fry for a couple of minutes more. Now pour on 150g of pearl barley and fry for a few more minutes. Smell. You should be able to detect the roasting grains.

Pour on 150g of white wine (about a quarter of a bottle) and simmer until most of the wine is reduced. Now add the boiling stock, reserving about a quarter. Cover and simmer very gently, stirring occasionally until the stock has been absorbed. This will take at least half an hour. I sometimes use the rice cooker for this last stage. Try the barley. It's probably too hard. You can leave the barley like this for a while, prepped, until you wish to eat. Stick it in the fridge overnight if you like. It'll be fine.

Final additions: mascarpone, butter and Parmesan.

When it comes to dinner, gently reheat the barley and add the rest of the (reboiled) stock. Simmer until absorbed. Taste. You want a little firmness. Add more stock, water or even more wine if it needs it.

Deep frying the skins
While the grains are a-swelling, heat up your deep fat fryer to 180°C or heat up some oil. Without a temperature probe, you're using guesswork. Add the skins and fry until crisp and golden. No more than five minutes. If that. Sprinkle with sea salt and set aside. 

Once you're happy with the texture: season with salt and black pepper and a little dried thyme. Stir in 50g of mascarpone, 30g of grated Parmesan and 30g of unsalted butter. Mix well.

Now add the crispy skins on top.

I followed David's example and served the pottage with goats cheese and a peanut & parsley pesto. It would also be good with some beetroot puree and perhaps some toasted halloumi.