Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Slow Cooked Courgettes - A Dip & A Mash

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

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

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

First cook your courgettes SLOWLY

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

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

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

To make the dipCourgette Dip

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

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

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

To make the mash

Courgette and Potato Mash

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courgettes Separator 2

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

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Welsh Honey and Dried Rosemary Lamb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 July 2017


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

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Fennel Ketchup or It Might Be A Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 May 2017

Salade Polletaise

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 10 April 2017

Tourte or Pastis or Croustade of The Pyrenees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 9 March 2017

London Pie - Sort Of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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