Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Courgette, Ricotta and Walnut Tart

A quiche simply does not look as glorious the day after.  Just-pulled from the oven this specimen billowed beauty, exhibiting crisp yellow-orange curls of courgette flowers on ricotta clouds while the heavensent scents of roasted walnuts and garlic blustered on the kitchen air... And yet today, camera in hand, it looks most mundane.  So be it.  A Courgette, Ricotta and Walnut Tart is a thing of glory - you have my word.

For the pastry: 4oz Flour 2 oz Butter 1 Egg.

Grate the cold butter into the flour, mix to breadcrumbs with the fingertips, add an egg and bring quickly into a paste.  The addition of the egg should mean you don't need any water.  Put this in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Soften two onions in butter, until translucent, sweet and not quite beginning to brown.  Remove from the pan and add four or so courgettes cut into rounds.  Fry these with lots of Garlic.  When beginning to brown remove from the heat.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until very thin.  Press this into a buttered quiche dish.  Pop it back in the fridge while you prepare the egg mix.

Beat four or five eggs and a pot of cream or similar (I used Mascarpone, Milk and Fromage Frais as these were to hand).  Season and I think this would be delicious with Thyme.  (I forgot to add the thyme). 

Fill the pastry with  the layer of buttery onions followed by the garlicky courgette rounds.  Pour over the egg mix (it should reach the edges of the dish).  Then place Ricotta in cloudlike spoonfuls over the top of the quiche, sprinkle with Walnuts and decorate with Courgette Flowers.

Bake about 45 mins 180C until risen through to the centre.

A thing of glory is it not?

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Rainbow Carrot Cake

Ostensibly the most ordinary of Carrot Cakes this is in fact a colourful celebration of our magnificent crop - the cake is a melange of the conventional orange carrot, the Limburg yellow, and the splendidly named purple haze.   I have gone for a traditional cake: butter, spices, lemon icing.  But my foray into the world of carrot cake recipes has shown that they are many in number and variation.  This is only therefore the beginning of the odyssey.

Cream 200g Butter with 150g Sugar.  Beat in 4 Eggs.  Fold in 275g Spelt Flour, 1 tsp Baking Powder, 1 tsp Bicarb, 2 tsp Cinnamon, 1 tsp Ginger, 1 tsp Nutmeg.  Then fold in five grated multicoloured carrots, 2 in. grated Ginger and a handful of Walnuts.  Bake in a lined loaftin for about 40 mins at 180C until cooked through.

I made the icing by creaming butter and mixing in icing sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and mascarpone to taste.   A bit too sloppy perhaps... still delicious.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Courgette and Basil Soup

...with Cheese on Toast.  A little indulgent it has to be said, but sliced bread and melted cheese is quite the happiest addition to a bowl of Courgette Soup.  I am forced also to recall quite the most exquisite supper I had in the house of a sculptor in Colombia: cheese and garlic on toast with warm ripe figs.  Bliss.  Never since have I snubbed this cosiest of foods.  I have posted this recipe before, or, its variation: Courgette and Pesto Soup.  Because it is so brilliant, so delicious, so apparently glamourous, and yet ever humble, I feel obliged to remind you readers of it.  Who would imagine the Courgette would make a soup of such soothing creamy qualities.

On this occasion the recipe went as follows:

Fry half an Onion, tonnes of Garlic, about five Courgettes in Butter and Oil. Put the lid on to allow the Courgettes to realeae some of their own juice.  After about ten minutes, the Courgettes softening, the Onion translucent, add water or stock to the level of the veg.  Bring to boil and simmer for say ten minutes.  Blend.  Add a large handful of Basil.  Blend again.  Stir in 1 tbsp of grated Parmesan.  Taste, and this is (always) the most vital moment: the soup should have a lovely creamy whole with salty notes of Parmesan and the peppery fragrance of Basil.  Alter and season accordingly with the lightest touch of salt, some pepper.  Serve warm, drizzled with Olive Oil, sprinkled with torn leaves of Basil.

And, if wanting extra comfort, eat with Cheese on Toast.


The Basil and Pesto variation is made by using the same recipe as above but instead of the Basil and Parmesan. simply adding 1-2 tbsps of Pesto at the end.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

A Fool

I should start this post with a one-liner: you'd have to be a fool not to be able to make one... or something.  Fergus Henderson, who is rather more direct, entitles his fool recipe "You Fool" and begins: "Who are you calling a fool?"  Whatever the pun, the fool is quite the easiest and most delicious of fruity puds.  While you can smarten it up with drizzles and jus and marblings, or replace some cream with yoghurt, I think simple is best: a true fool is just whipped cream, fruit and sugar.  To my mind the tarter the fruit the better the fool.  Think: Gooseberry Fool, Rhubarb Fool - the dreamiest of creamy puddings.

This season we are into Damson, Blackberry or Raspberry Fools.  Here is a suitably messy Blackberry and Raspberry Fool.  The raw fruit is macerated in the sugar for a few hours then folded into the whipped cream.  Fergus Henderson's recipe from The Complete Nose to Tail [brilliant, brilliant, brilliant book - every kitchen must have it - where else does tradition meet style so imperiously?!] reads more or less as follows:

200g Fruit - 50g Caster Sugar - 400ml Double Cream.

Lightly cook fruit with half the sugar till juices run, or if very ripe just mix with sugar and crush with fork.  Whip cream with rest of sugar to soft peaks.  Fold in fruit.  Serve with Shortbread.

Yes, shortbread is a super accompaniment to a fool. I follow his recipe for shortbread too, but rather than cutting shapes, press it into a tin and break it at the table.

750g Plain Flour - 500g Butter - 250g Caster Sugar

Half quantities suffice.  Grate the butter into the flour.  Breadcrumb it between the fingers.  Add Sugar.  Press into a tin. Cook about 15 - 20 mins 160 C.  Should be pale but crisp not doughy.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Giant Puffball and Radiccio

In a garden in the Val d'Orcia this summer I had a plate of chicken livers that reminded me that the simplest, humblest of rural foods can be quite the greatest delicacy.  And, as one seems to compose a map of the world according to what was eaten and where, I shall here recall another meal that took place about fifteen years previously: A salad of chicken livers and other gesiers in a hilltop restaurant somewhere in the Cevennes - as we ate a storm blew up and we sat in wavering candlelight watching as bolts of lightning illuminated the valleys below.

The Tuscan Chicken Livers were served hot on some radiccio leaves, which wilted in the livers' warmth, and with toast and olive oil.  So, when we came across a multitude of Giant Puffballs last week, I decided the buttery truffley marshmallowey richness would do well against bitter red Radiccio leaves.  The Puffball was sliced and fried in butter and garlic, seasoned and placed on a bed of Radiccio.  These were eaten with a homemade Baguette, Butter and a grating of Parmesan.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Hedgerow Loaf Cake

It has to be said that, after a hot and close Summer, this past fortnight has definitely felt like Autumn.  Along with the cooler weather, the hedgerow fruits are here in abundance.  Here then a recipe for a hedgerow fruit and nut cake, which will hold whatever fruits you deign to gather.  This simplest of recipes served as a wholesome birthday cake for a mother-in-law fond of the hedgerows, and is seen here the following day with coffee.

Cream 200g Butter with 150g Sugar.  Beat in 4 Eggs one by one.  Fold in 150g Spelt Flour, 1 level tsp Bicarb., 1 level tsp Baking Powder (all sieved) and 150g Ground Almonds.  Then fold in autumnal fruits, nuts and seeds.  In this case I have used Windfall Apples, Elderberries, Blackberries, Walnuts and Hazelnuts.  The fruits and nuts should be about the same volume as the mix so that when folded into the mixture it contains them, but only just.  Spoon into a lined loaf tin.  I have then topped it with slices of Apple and Flaked Almonds.

Bake at 180C for about 40 mins until cooked through.


You could try replacing some of the ground almonds with ground hazelnuts - heat them, rub off the skins, then grind to flour.  I think that Maple Syrup instead of Sugar might taste really lovely in this cake.  I have yet to try this... Also, this is not a very sweet cake.  If you would like it to be sweeter you could sprinkle with Brown Sugar before cooking or drizzle with Honey or Maple Syrup once cooked and when still warm.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Spaghetti alla Vongole/Stewkey Blues

I love this picture, which captures the somewhat chaotic cockle lunch we had on Sunday.  Spaghetti alla Vongole is all about timing - timing is not my forte.  But we managed it - Cockles open, hot, Spaghetti still al dente, Samphire perhaps a touch undercooked.

Picnicking at Stiffkey (or Stewkey) on Saturday, a friend came upon a crock of the famed blue cockles, blue because of the mud they live in, and sent me home with a sackful and a recipe.  I have to admit, despite being local to Stiffkey - I have never cockled, and never eaten a cockle.

Much impressed, I set to purging them overnight in sea water with a handful of oats, that they spit the sand out.  Next day I rinsed them.  Then followed (more or less) his recipe:

Soften Shallots and Garlic in a mixture of Butter and Olive Oil.  Add about 300ml of White Wine, tiny touch of Salt and loads of Pepper and heat.  Meanwhile, get the salted water boiling for the Spaghetti.   Once the Spaghetti is in the water and boiling away, toss the Cockles into the wine, put the lid on.  Drain the Spaghetti when not quite cooked.  Shake the Cockle pan, after about 3 or 4 minutes all should be open, remove any that are still closed.  Add the Spaghetti to let it finish cooking in the winey cockley juices.  Meanwhile chop loads of Parsley, or in my case, for lack of Parsley: Spring Onions, Oregano, Rocket, Celery tops, Thyme...

Serve still hot, having removed most of the shells, with blanched Samphire on the side and doused in herbage.

This was so utterly delicious, and to my mind is even better than local Mussels.


N.B. On the purging front it seems a few hours will suffice.

Friday, 22 August 2014

La tarte verte...

The green tart - just visible at the bottom of the picture - is a year round staple.  I have my days on Clare Island to thank for this recipe, though no doubt it appears here somewhat adulterated.  There, I remember, it is made with their Ducks' eggs and home-made Ewe's Milk Yoghurt and Cheese.  As for the greens, I think it best made with a Chard or Beet, though do alternate with Kale, with Sorrel,  with Sea Beet or Beetroot Tops, with wild or bitter greens.  Ideally throughout all the seasons there will be some wild or cultivated green abundance asking to be used in la tarte verte.

For the pastry -

In this case I have used: 4oz Flour 2oz Butter 1 Egg 1 drop of cold water (if necessary, often not).  Rub flour and butter together to breadcrumb texture, add egg, mix in with hands and if not forming a whole add the smallest drop of water.  Refrigerate.  

Try with wholemeal flours, particularly Spelt, which gives a delicious pastry.

Wash, dry and chop a large basketful of Leaf Beet, Chard or greens of choice.  Soften an Onion in butter, add the leaves handful by handful until the whole lot has reduced enough to fit into the frying pan.

Mix 3 Eggs, 1/4 pint of Cream/Yoghurt according to preference and two handfuls of grated hard Ewe's or Goat's Cheese.  To this add grated Nutmeg, Salt and Pepper.  Then add the Chard and blend the lot with a stick blender.

Roll out the pastry and press it into a tart dish.  I use my knuckles, fold it over and patch it up as and when.

Pour in the green mixture.

Bake until risen in the middle.  Say 180C 30-40 minutes.

Eat warm or cold, and (as above) with allotment salads, new-potato chips and mayo.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Courgettes à l'étouffée

By now you have eaten Courgettes raw, roasted, grilled, steamed, barbecued and stuffed.  You have made zucchini cakes and breads and pies and tarts.  You have made chutneys and jams, potted ratatouilles and even fermented a winter's worth of jars.  Still the Courgettes grow!

Courgettes à l'étouffée, literally "smothered courgettes", is an unlikely but brilliant way of cooking the fruit.  The Courgettes are cut into thick rounds, spread over a shallow non-stick pan to which a lid is tightly fitted, and cooked over a medium to high heat.  Once they begin to brown, they are turned, until coloured on both sides while still juicy in the centre.  

The magic of this recipe lies in the fact that - you will have noticed - no fat nor liquid nor extraneous substance is used to cook the Courgette.  It cooks in its own moisture.  These little courgette rounds are in fact essence of Courgette!  The difficulty is that for the full effect you should not remove the lid, except the once to turn them.  You have to trust your judgement.  

Mine are rather blacker than they should perhaps be.  But so delicious - the almost bitter exterior, the still juicy interior.  You can eat these hot or cold.  The temptation is to further smother them - in Oils and Herbs and Garlic, to toss them with Chili and Feta, to add them to Potato Salads. Do this, do all of these - and add salt and pepper, mix them with Rocket and Basil, with Grilled Halloumi, lather on Vinaigrettes, Lemon Zest, add Chickpeas or mix into Couscous.  

But first, before you do so, taste them, eat a few just as they are.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Blackberry Cake... longing for teatime

The Blackberries are definitely here.  The allotment is teeming.  I have persuaded some friends to come for tea, simply for an excuse to make a Blackberry Cake.

This is again taken from Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook.  Mine an adulteration of her Blackcurrant and Almond Cake.

200g Butter
150g Demarara
3 Eggs
200g Ground Almonds
Zest of a Lemon
1 tsp Vanilla
200g Blackberries

Cream Sugar and Butter.  Beat in eggs.  Fold in Almonds, Vanilla and Lemon.  Put mix in tin and scatter with Blackberries.  Bake 30mins at 180C.

I added the Lemon Zest and used less Sugar.  The aim is a moist, buttery, zesty, puddingy cake with the sudden bite of the first Blackberries.  Cream wouldn't go amiss.

Just longing for teatime...

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

It's time for... Courgette Pie!

The joy, as here we reach the height of the Courgette season.  We have had a month or so of perpetual grilled and barbecued Courgettes, raw ribboned Courgette salads... Now it's time for Courgette Pie.  I discovered the recipe last year, it is pure Grecian indulgence - Creamy, Feta-ey Courgette between layers of Filo Pastry.  Yes, I have been longing for the glut that I might have an excuse to make it once again.

This recipe is more or less that of Greek Courgette Pie in Sarah Raven's excellent Garden Cookbook.   Simply the only cookbook I refer to once the garden is growing.  There are, I know, plenty of seasonal vegetable cookbooks, but this one, which offers multifarious homely and worldly recipes based entirely on what is growing in the garden is quite my favourite.  (More on cookbooks anon).

Grate and salt 1kg Courgettes.  Allow to drain for half and hour and squeeze out excess juice.  Fry 1 Onion and a handful of Spring Onions.  Add Courgettes and fry for 15 minutes and until liquid evaporates.

Layer 3 Filo sheets brushed with Olive Oil on both sides in the base of baking tray.  Top with Courgettes and 300g crumbled Feta.  Beat 3 Eggs with 120ml Double Cream, add any Herbs you have growing (Parsley/Dill/Basil/Thyme/Mint), the tiniest touch of Salt and Pepper.  Pour this over Courgette mix and fork in.  Fold the edges of Filo over the filling then top with 3 more sheets of Filo, brushing Olive Oil between each one.  Glaze with Milk and scatter with Sesame or Sunflower Seeds.  Prick with a fork.

Bake at 200C for an hour or so until golden, and set.

Allow to cool for half an hour before indulging.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Blackcurrant and Windfall Jam... and Raw Blackcurrant Jam

Blackcurrant is quite the headiest of summer flavours, almost musky, a touch tart, the scent of the leaves alone risks intoxicating.  I long to make cakes and sorbets and all sorts, but, better still, to capture this flavour in a jar.

The winds brought down the first Windfall Apples, and I used these to add body, texture, pectin and tartness to the Blackcurrant Jam.

2 1/2 lb ripest Blackcurrants
1/2 lb grated Windfalls
3 lb Sugar
1/2 Lemon juice of

Macerate these overnight in a bowl.  Bring to boil in a jam pan, then simmer quickly until reaches setting point.  Pot in sterilised jars.*


I wondered a moment how to capture the raw Blackcurrant flavour, besides freezing, and remembered a recipe, again from Clare Island, for Raw Blackcurrant Jam.  This recipe uses far less sugar and has to be eaten immediately (or frozen) :

Mash Blackcurrants without crushing pips.  Beat until light.  Add sugar to 1/3 of the weight of the currants.  Beat again until light.  Pot in clean jars.  Use as jam  - not just on toast, but with yoghurt, pancakes, cakes, smoothies, on a spoon...


*To test for setting point, put a plate in the fridge.  Put a teaspoon of the jam on the cold plate, return to fridge.  Setting point is reached if wrinkles when cool.  Sterilise clean jars by putting in oven at 100 C for 20 minutes.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Redcurrant (not) Frozen Yoghurt

Ideally for this simplest of summer recipes, you have an ice-cream maker, and a freezer.  If this is the case, you coarsely blend 500g Redcurrants (or, even better, Blackcurrants) with 100g Sugar and one pot of Yoghurt, put this in the ice-cream machine, and when ready pot and freeze, for the most fragrant and fruit-filled of summer ices.

In my case I blitzed the Redcurrants, Yoghurt, a tablespoon of Sugar and same of Elderflower Cordial, dropped in a few Blackcurrants and we ate it as it was, tart and not frozen.

This recipe comes from Clare Island Yoga Retreat Centre, where they make yoghurt of their own Sheep's milk and are likely gathering their heavenly Blackcurrants as I write...


On the sugar front - need I say that in this and all sugary recipes those of you who prefer to use alternative sugars (agave/maple/date/fructose &c.) replace as you wish.  Note however, I do cut down on sugar, use unrefined varieties and bake on the tart side.  At the same time, I don't hesitate to express my sympathy for the too-oft villified sugarbeet. 

A new home... a new kitchen

Those of you that have followed this blog from the start will remember tales of Gardener's Cottage, where kitchen pottered into garden, and forage and firewood gathering were the order of the day, all against a backdrop of frosty winter fields.  Most of these, my former ventures, are still gathered here on the blog, please scrawl down, use the search button or refer to "best posts" and "archive".

I have since accumulated a husband, that baking boy of once-upon-a-time, a child, dear charming girl child, now nearly walking and expert at podding peas, a dilapidated townhouse and an allotment.  Today, nearly a year since I last posted I am relaunching this blog, to once again regale you with tales of la bonne bouffe - good food.  My angle will have no doubt changed since those romantic early years -  now all a-fluster with feeding a family, holding together a tumbledown home, and struggling to grow vegetables in a bramble strewn patch of ground...

Despite the ramshackle nature of the abode, Tom, husband, baker and (more to the point) joiner, has hewn a magnificent kitchen (shown), great ash work surfaces, deep drawers, shelves galore, these a woodburning stove, and giant gleaned sink, make cooking at Dow House utter joy.


For now news is: there is Blackcurrant and Windfall Jam in the making, and we are planning a foray to the local poultry auction.