Sunday, 23 July 2017

Raspberry sorbet

Do you know how hard it is to photograph sorbet? It melts for a start. You want a nice outdoor shot in the sun. But the summer sun is hot it turns out. Sorbet is also sticky so I line up a shot and then I notice the red thumbprint marring the glass. And it melts. I still can't make a quenelle so I'm using an ice cream scoop to make perfect spheres, that then adhere to the scoop despite me dipping it in hot water, so the perfect sphere deforms on its way into the bowl. And then it melts. It's melty.

The colour's fantastic though, isn't it? There's an intensity of flavour too that is simply absent from commercial tubs.

Photographing sorbet is much harder than making it. We seem to have a glut of well flavoured fruit this summer (2017): peaches, nectarines, strawberries, raspberries, plums; all gorgeous. So juicy I have to eat them with a tea towel in my lap.  British cherries of course still taste of almost nothing sadly. If anyone knows otherwise, please leave a comment below.

Sorbet, aside from being the perfect end to a summer dinner, is also a great way of using up bruised or over-ripe fruit. I buy up piles of 'sell by' punnets that slosh around the shelves this time of year.

Sorbet is fruit pulp and sugar, churned while freezing. Simple. The only issue is the amount of sugar. Too little and it's tart; too much and aside from the diabetes, it won't freeze. Commercial mixes are measured with a sugar refractometer but I use an egg instead. Yup, an egg. It's a density floaty test thing. Details here. (If you click on the link, notice how poor their sorbet photo is too. It melts you see. Ha. Culinary schadenfreude.)

This recipe makes a lot. No point faffing about with trivial amounts when dealing with something that's frozen for a living.

Raspberry Sorbet
Makes about two litres.

Put 1.5kg of ripe British raspberries in a thick pot. Thick so you don't get hotspots that catch and burn. Add 400g of caster sugar, two tablespoons of water, one 140g tube of glucose syrup (helps the texture) and the zest of a lemon. Keep the lemon, you'll probably want the juice later. Put a lid on or cover with foil. Let it sit like this for an hour or so until the sugar starts to make the raspberries weep their juices.

Slowly heat this mix. You don't need to boil it. You want to soften the fruit to destruction while dissolving the sugars. Taste when done. Don't take my word for it. Recipes are just blueprints. You still have to monitor the constriction and make your own decisions (Belinda!). Your ingredients will not be the same as mine when I wrote this. I may have had very sweet raspberries. Who knows. You may need some more sweetness. Add sugar and dissolve. Taste. You may think it needs some acidity (probably). A zing of lemon juice. 

The mix needs to be strained through a sieve. There are lots of seeds. You don't want the seeds. Push the mix through with the back of a ladle or the 'big spoon' that all kitchens seem to have acquired (never bought). Avoid using wooden spoons - unless you enjoy sawdust sorbet. Do this in batches, emptying out your seed pile occasionally. I haven't yet found a use for raspberry seeds and I hate throwing food away. If you know one, leave a comment.

The mix should be slightly too sweet. Now that's a rubbish direction I know, akin to the 'don't over work the mix' instructions. Freezing food makes it taste less sweet so get it as you like it then add a little more sugar.

Chill this mix for a few hours, typically overnight, and then churn in your machine. You might think about throwing in some whole fruit too. Once churned this needs another overnight freeze before serving.

Next, I'm making some strawberry ice cream. I'll link this up once written.

Another poor shot. This is halfway through plating up a dessert of glazed peaches with raspberries, rose meringues and (missing) polenta biscuits and raspberry syrup.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

A tale of two Lemon Meringue Pies

"I do like a bit of goo," said John. "Gooey meringue."
"Lemon meringue tart?" I asked. I was keen to improve my own.

This is a tale of two tarts. Or should that be 'pies'? I think any difference there was, semantic or actual, has long since receded past the point of meaning and is now only useful to start an argument in the pub.

For John's birthday, I wanted to really 'goo' it up so went for the chef's favourite: Italian meringue. I did another for my mate Mahan; old skool, with French meringue, gently baked for a golden crust.

Which is best? Will you fall for the age old clickbait of asking a question at the start?

A successful LMP is all about contrast, of flavour and texture. Sweet, crisp pastry filled with a semi set lemon custard filling, almost puckingerly sharp and crowned with light, fluffy, so sweet meringue with a crisp, toasted top. For both I used a sweet shortcrust pastry; my usual Roux recipe. For the filling I knew I didn't want to use cornflour, wanting to avoid that gelatinous thing. 
That'll be a lemon

I'd made Serious Eats lemon bars last year and really liked the texture and tang. This would be the starting point for my custard. That recipe also makes a point of sieving the lemon zest. Some recipes don't do this and I have no idea why. I'm not partial to picking what may as well be bits of inert yellow plastic out of my teeth. Mind, worse than that is not using zest at all. That really confounds me. You might as well use battery acid (not really) for all the lemon flavour the juice bestows. Bizarre.

Although thought of as a British classic, pretty much every Western nation claims a pudding of lemon custard with pastry as its own; the French, Swiss and Americans especially.

I want to share this recipe with you I found on the fascinating Foodtimeline website. It's from England, possibly East Sussex, 1769.

A Lemon PuddingBlanch and beat eight ounces of Jordan almonds with orange flower water. Add to them half a pound of cold butter, the yolks of ten eggs, the juice of a large lemon, half the rind grated fine, work them in a marble mortar or wooden basin till they look white and light. Lay a good puff paste pretty thin in the bottom of a china dish and pour in your pudding. It will take half an hour baking.
- The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth Raffald

Isn't that fantastic? What I love about old recipes is that time and place fall away and you are just talking to someone who cares about their food. I understand this recipe exactly. It makes perfect sense and sounds delicious; perhaps even modern! Food is eternal, as is a cook's pride. I'm recently returned from Kerala in South India where I had many fabulous, stimulating conversations with chefs. Language and culture matter little when you're discussing recipes. The world is one kitchen.

[Takes off Kaftan and Lennon glasses.]

I'll take the recipe up to the meringue mark and then split off, Italy one way, France the other. Puts us somewhere in the Alps I think.

Lemon Meringue Tart
Serves 10

Pastry base

Made in a 23cm tart tin with sides of about 3cm. A removable base is very useful.

For the base make a sweet shortcrust pastry. I use a food processor to pulse everything together. Blend 250g plain flour, 100g icing sugar, sifted and pinch of salt with 100g unsalted butter cubes,  until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Gradually pulse in 2 eggs, beaten. When the mix begins to come together, gather into a ball, remove from the machine and knead a few times until it is smooth. Flatten into a round, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour. if you don't relax the dough your pastry will shrink. You don't want this. It's also much easier to roll a cold dough.

Once relaxed, roll out the pastry until it's a few inches bigger than your tin. Drape the pastry over the tin and gently ease it up to allow it to drop to the bottom of the tin. Don't squidge it in, it will thin and tear. Carefully push the pastry into the corners (to ensure a nice sharp shape) and leave an overhang of around 1cm. Cutting with a scissors if necessary. Repair any holes with additional pastry. Prick all over with a fork, including the sides, to prevent the pastry bubble rising. Place the tin in the fridge for another half hour. 

Place the tin on a baking tray. This makes it much easier to handle and you don't risk knocking chunks off the delicate crust. Blind bake (I use ceramic beans in scrunched up baking paper) for 20 mins at 180°C.

The finished case with eggwashed interior.
Carefully remove the baking beans. And now while the pastry is still warm and pliable, using a rolling pin, roll across the hung over pastry edge, pressing down to cut a perfect edge. You will need to rotate the tin and roll a few times to get a clean cut.

I much prefer this technique to sawing away with a blade as invariably crispy bits fly off.

Eggwash the insides of the pastry (one egg with a little milk) and return to the oven for around another 20 minutes. You want a deep gold colour. The eggwash makes the pastry a little more water resistant and so helps keep the case crispy when you add the custard. 

Let the tart cool before you add the custard. I tend to keep mine in the tin until just before serving.

Lemon custard filling
Use a good, heavy pan. You don't want hot spots scrambling your eggs.

Pastry case filled with thick lemon custard
In the pan mix: 70g of cubed unsalted butter, 3 large eggs, 135g egg yolks (about 8 large eggs) 400g caster sugar
Pinch of salt, 
310g lemon juice, from about 8 large unwaxed lemons. Into this zest 10g of zest (probably four lemons).

You can do this traditionally which takes FOREVER, or you can use my custard technique. Use a food thermometer. Over a medium heat bring the mix to around 65°C - you will start to see boil bubbles forming at the sides of the pan - and then stir constantly until it starts to thicken at around 78°C. Immediately chill the pan in cold water - the sink is fine. 

Sieve the mix into a jug. You'll need to push it through with the back of a spoon or ladle. This removes any zest and bits of solidified egg that would otherwise marr the mouth feel.

Pour the custard into the pastry case, cover with foil or paper and chill until needed but not more than a few hours.

Which Meringue? The Mont Dolent of decisions.

French or Italian. Up to you.

French is 'traditional' and as it's baked gives you the crunchy topping. It won't keep long though so has to be made just before serving.

Italian, made by whisking whites with a hot sugar syrup keeps for days in the fridge but can't be baked. No crispy crown but a much creamier texture. Italian is safe for pregnant people too as it is completely cooked.

You might want to refer to my egg white whisking guide.

Oh, I weigh my egg whites now. Not only because I usually have a container full in the fridge but also because eggs vary so much in size.

Whisk 240g of eggwhite (*about* 6 large eggs) to firm peak stage in a very clean bowl. Incrementally add 300g of caster sugar and continue to whisk fast until the mix is super white shiny and firm. It should not feel grainy between your fingers. If it does, the sugar can leach out during cooking which means soggy things underneath.

The general rule with French btw, is 50g of sugar per large egg white.

Pipe directly onto the chilled lemon pie custard or just pile on and freeform with a fork. Bake immediately for 40 mins at 150°C until the meringue is crusting. The egg white insulates the custard underneath so don't worry too much about that melting.

Finished with French

Good layering and the meringue still very light and fluffy

This is different to French that you may be more familiar with. Italian meringue has a creamier texture than French, needs no further cooking and is stable for hours. French will dissolve back to egg and sugar after ten minutes or so. Italian meringue is made by adding a 120°C sugar syrup to whisked egg whites and continuing to whisk.

Here I took 240g of egg white (about six large egg) and added a syrup made from: 6 tablespoons of water, 360g caster sugar and three teaspoons of glucose syrup which helps prevent sugar crystallisation. 

Bring the egg white mix to soft peaks and then dribble in the hot syrup. And yes, this means knowing how long the whites will take and the syrup to heat. Experience is all here. You then continue to whisk until the meringue cools to room temperature. Without an electric mixer you'll need biceps of Thor (or perhaps Ganesh - ha). I used a tip from the always brilliant website and rubbed a slice of lemon around the bowl first. The acidity helps stabilise the egg whites while you whisk.

You can now store the meringue until needed. I tend to keep mine in these disposable blue piping bags, clipped at either end.

Pipe the meringue and for extra flavour and showmanship, toast lightly with a blow torch, holding the flame at right angles to colour the edges.

Finished with Italian

Of the two. the Italian looks better but I might prefer the French for it crunch. Sadly I have no pictures of the Italian tart's interior. I gave the slicing job to John (of the goo, if you remember) and... well, I shouldn't have. My fault. It had been a long, merry night and the servings were a little deconstructed. Deconstructed like it had been dropped from a passing plane. No one seemed to mind.

Monday, 1 May 2017

English Asparagus

It's the season of silky green shoots, purple spears and stinky pee*. The name comes from the Persian meaning a 'sprout'. I'm always slightly surprised that I like asparagus; visually it resonates with childhood horrors of sulphurous brussels and stalky cabbage. But it is completely unrelated to the brassica family, being much closer to alliums, so like it I do. It has a taste like no other vegetable and works with almost any meat or fish.

Griddled, charred asparagus
I remember eating it barely blanched, basted with butter, in my friend Judith's little wooden conservatory in Suffolk. One of those food memories. It wasn't the first time I'd eaten it but it was the best. Just hooked from her garden, trimmed and plunged into boiling water until just bendy. A pat of cold butter and a light crunching of sea salt. Superb. if your veg is this fresh, don't eat it any other way.

If it comes via Mr Sainsbury or one of his friends, my other prep is to griddle it hot and fast and then let it wilt with more butter and salt. Maybe a couple of minutes either side, depending obviously on thickness. Don't be scared to really char it; this brings a sweetness along with other flavour elements. 

No need to do all that snapping to trim, that Mr Oliver popularised a few years back. You lose far too much of the edible stem for a start. Just knife off anything woody and centre split stems thicker than your thumb.

I never bother with the expensive 'fine' asparagus and certainly never buy just 'tips'. They're always far too expensive. Buy the real deal, trim the tips if you insist and then with the stems make soup or maybe a tart with ricotta.

In the supper club, I tend to blanch it until just wilting; literally two minutes in boiling water, before placing and storing in ice water. Just before service, place on a baking tray with some butter and gently reheat for maybe five minutes in a very low oven; no more than 90°C.

*Despite research, it seems no one yet knows what causes that distinctive aroma that graces the bathroom after dinner.

Asparagus and ricotta tart with pea shoots in a lemon dressing


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Kerala - part one

The state of Kerala
We'd ordered some lightly battered vegetable pakoras, fish curry and local parotta (paratha) bread. It was to be a languorous lunch hour; everything stultified by the thick, heavy midday heat. Nothing moved, apart from the small, eye blink geckos. From the trees of coconut and tamarind came the wonderfully tuneless meanderings of a Malabar Whistling Thrush. Cows belonging to the farm, sat silently in the dust, testing the shade. Not so far away the Arabian sea crashed into the coast; a sound not unlike an urban rush hour. But London was far, far away.

We were sat inland in the lunch shack; still with the sea breeze; the beach just visible. I pulled my damp back out of chair and supped my refreshing lime and mint drink. It was now in the mid 30s with humidity high. Walking was like wading, in sun soup.

The waitress approaches (smiling of course) stunning and serene (and seemingly without sweat glands) in a green and gold saree. She puts a plate on our table. A little something to start the meal. 
"What is it?" We ask.
"It's focaccia with some masala butter." She said, indicating the small buns and the swirl of tan fat, already melting. It's from chef.
Is chef Italian?
"Roy? No. He's from Alleppy I think."

Kerala, in the very south west of India, is full of contrast and suprises. I mean that figuratively, literally, ideologically. It's the richest state in India and run by a communist government so there are hammer and sickle flags everywhere. The towns are plastered with gaudy, modern, angular advertising often with LED and neon. The countryside is an almost constant green but as artificial as the many roadside hoardings for cement and aluminium sheeting. Concrete and cladding? Kerala, you see, as we were told many times, is a 'happening state'. In every ten metres of street, someone is building new.

The land is so diverse too. You can move from blue backwaters to scorching red coastal plains and be in the clouds within hours, cool and dewy among the tea trees, eucalyptus and silver oaks. 3000m up and ten degrees down with brief but wonderful torrential rain.

Tea plantations. Destined for Tetley - no really.
The waitress brings the lunch dishes, clears up the crumbs.
"How was the bread?"
"Fine." I lied.
"Not fine?" She corrected. Cutting straight to it.
"It's tasty enough..." I hoped that was enough.
"But it's not focaccia. Not even close. Sorry."
"Oh. I will tell chef." She almost leaves. A finger trails the table. "What was wrong?"
"The structure mainly. I think the flour's too low in gluten. There's not enough salt and they haven't use olive oil; at least, not that I could taste."
She contemplates me. "I'm sure chef will want to discuss this."
I explain hastily that I am not Italian, not even a professional cook but I have made focaccia hundreds of time. I wonder just how chef Roy will take my criticism.

Banana flowers, okra and tiny aubergines in Munnar market.

Sidebar: the principle language of Kerala is Maylalam, a very ancient Tamil tongue from the Dravidic family. The oldest spoken language in the world, I was told. Some of the dishes we tried we know only by their Malayalam names and by hasty napkin transliteration from patient cooks and waiting staff. So my descriptions will doubtless be fraught with errors.

This was the last two days of our 'once in a lifetime' holiday (such a depressing term) and we were at the Marari Beach resort. I'd been skeptical. A beach resort? But I have never felt so happy to be anywhere. If I had to design my own Valhalla, it would be this. It was gorgeous, with well appointed spotlessly clean villas; spa pools; an empty beach, outdoor eating under plaited palm leaf; fat white people in teeny-weeny bikini and budgie smugglers (not me!) You know the gig. I was very reluctant to leave. And no, they haven't sponsored me - I wish!

Me trying and failing to make the local bread with chef Sreeja
Notice how overexposed the outside is only feet away. So much light.

Spiced Prawns on (badly made) paratha
Drumstick curry
vegetable 'wedding' curry
But there was a farm attached, the resort was largely self sufficient. A two minute walk from your room finds you in a perfect half kilometre square of amazing edible fecundity, thick with scent. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of well tended plants. At the centre is an outdoor kitchen, modern and well equipped, and a long, solid, marble table for ten. You can wander the garden with a chef, picking vegetables and spices (did you catch that? You can pick SPICES) under guidance and then cook a three dish meal in the middle, along with locally caught fish and seafood.

Wandering, wide eyed, I recognised some after our ten day trek - cinnamon, nutmeg, banana, tomatoes, pepper, coconut, mango, courgette, orange, lemon, lime, cocoa, allspice, clove. Lower down, thickets of cardamom, tea, coffee, curry leaf, lemon grass and hibiscus. Root around and you'll soon find ginger, galangal and turmeric. But there were many I'd not heard of: snake gourd, jack fruit, kokum, drumstick, amazing purple banana flowers. I could spend a happy eternity here. So long as the air-con was working, at least.

Sreeja's selection of spices. The teapot contains coconut milk of course
To the left is an 'uruli' the traditional heavy iron cooking pot.
One the last day I spent a brilliant, laughter filled couple of hours with chef Sreeja (one of three women chefs in the kitchen, she informed me). She looked perturbed when I said I'd already made the classic Kerala fish curry a few times but I'd love to try making the local bread. It's spelt 'paratha' but pronounced 'PoRoTa'. I'd wondered about its distinctive texture. Sreeja crinkled her nose but reached for the phone. Within minutes and with the calm, reassured efficiency we'd experienced for our whole stay, things moved. Dough arrived.

This is what Paratha is meant to look like - a texture unlike any other bread I've eaten. Mine didn't. After kneading the leavened dough you roll it into strips, roll the strips up and then flatten it. You then pan fry the dough and while still warm you bash the bejeezus out of it. This is a technique that looks deceptively simple, like oh, you know, kneading a decent sourdough or drawing a cartoon, that very quickly reveals the limitation of both your perception and your ability. This was not something I was going to master in a single morning.

Chef Roy did pitch up later, while I was at another cooking class. He looked very formal in his starched whites and high toque hat. "A problem with the focaccia?" He asks politely. But of course he'd not come to quibble or defend but to question. He quickly rescued me from my embarrassment. We discussed the problems he faces now they've banned (because of the bleach) high gluten, white US flour. He has to add gluten in powder form. I've not heard of this technique and I imagine it's fraught with technical problems. Olive oil is very expensive. We had a fantastic discussion comparing bread making notes.

Breakfast uttapam
One thing I wasn't expecting was how keen the Kerala chefs were to talk about 'European' cooking. Sreeja looked through this blog (I mean the entire thing) and was very interested in my cauliflower purée. She'd been asked to prepare a menu by the head chef and was keen to bring in some different dishes. I'm going to email her and find out how it went.

Tree tomato. Tastes like Kiwi
Some of the stand out dishes for me were the simplest - such as the bread. So often the case. Breakfast was one of my favourite meals. Freshest fruit bowls of mango, pineapple, tree tomatoes and melon followed by a spicy uttapam with coriander leaf, tomatoes, chillies and onion. Uttapam is a version of appam, a thick pancake made from rice flour and coconut milk, often served with a lentil sambar and a coconut chutney. Coconut is everywhere in Kerala cooking. The name literally means 'land of the coconut'.

Fish and seafood was obviously a major feature, Kerala being a coastal state. We enjoyed a kingfish 'Thora' (hard Th), a dry dish made with kingfish, grated coconut and purple spinach which confers an unusual pink colouring.

My favourite dish - well two - were served when I didn't have my decent camera to hand so the pictures look terrible. One of deep fried, honeyed cauliflower florets and the other of spiced paneer. I'm afraid even the names escaped me. I keep posting the pictures in here and then cutting them; they look so awful I'm finally omitting them. Food photographed badly is an offence. 

King fish thora
It's taken me ages to write this blog and I'm not happy with this really. I've left out so much. It will take several instalments. I have hundreds of pictures. (Yay! Holiday snaps!) I think I was defeated by the variety of my experiences and the complexity of my reactions. History, language, food, plants, people, places, geography all intersect.

Many people who have been to India often use the exact same phrase on our return: it's an 'assault on the senses'. I understand the sentiment but 'assault' suggests of violence or pain. Arriving in India is more like entering a party on a very hot summer's day where twenty fabulously interesting people, different appearance and character, all talk to you at once.

There's so much more. The amazing bushes of giant bamboo; the driving; roadside snacks of crushed sugar cane and lime; the fearless macaques; the unbelievable level of service; the lack of stomach upsets, beggars and mosquito bites; the Western Ghats. Too much. I must go back.

Finally this. Driving back from a tutored spice walk in a forest near Kumily we saw this Tamil temple procession. I've never included video before (and boy, is Blogger bad at it) but this was worth the effort.

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.