Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Here Comes Summer!

Possibly a tad keen on my part but it was such a gloriously sunny weekend after all the rain, can't hurt  - much - to hope. Planning days out and dinners dominated by, if not delicacy, then certainly a lightness of touch seems marginally less ridiculous than usual. This positivity was enforced by an email from Sopexa enquiring whether I'd care to sample a couple of bottles of Chablis -  bien sur!

Chablis is the steely white wine produced in the Burgundy region of France. It has a slightly austere quality that is very refreshing on a warm day and means it pairs well with seafood and simple poultry dishes. Salad had pole position on the menu plan for the weekend - the verdant flavours of fresh leaves and cucumbers and, especially, asparagus have been seducing me these last few weeks. It is very definitely spring when the fat bundles of asparagus are piled up early at the market.

Loved the idea of warm roast chicken for Saturday night special, even more so with a bottle of Domaine Vocoret & Fils Premier Cru chilling in the fridge. Aiming for elegance and simplicity I planned no more than a beautiful green salad on the side, dressed with a tarragon cream sauce. I associate tarragon mostly with Italy, where it is known as dragoncello, a name that conjures for me all manner of excitements and fire. I love the mix of aniseed and light vanilla notes that judicious use confers on all manner of dishes and try and grow it in the summer, sometimes successfully.

Dragoncello Dressing

This makes enough for a generous bowl of your favourite mix of salad leaves spiked with thin slices of cucumber and chopped chives

1 medium egg, hard boiled and cooled
A pinch of smoked paprika
70ml double cream
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon leaves
Salt and pepper

When the boiled egg is cold, peel and cut in half then scoop the yolk out into a small bowl. You can discard the white or, like me, add a twist of salt and claim it as cook's treat. Mash the yolk very thoroughly with a fork and season with a little paprika. Add a teaspoon of cold water and mix well then add the cream, vinegar and tarragon. Taste and season then add to your salad and toss gently to combine and serve immediately.

This makes such a great dressing I couldn't resist making another batch Sunday to dress still warm new potatoes for a fine dinner of cold roast chicken with basil dressed asparagus and peas for green. A cool glass of Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 2012 rounded out the first weekend of *summer* delightfully.

Thanks to the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB) for supplying the wine!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Little Carrot Pots

The thing about getting a weekly veg bag that is preselected by someone else is that it becomes an ever evolving challenge. To use it all in the allotted time, to make great food - new and interesting dishes with the contents as your starting point and defining guide - avoid disasters, don't let it spoil or go to waste, eat less meat all seem to be considerations. A weekly Ready Steady Cook challenge at home. It's harder than it should be!

This week I had carrots and no plan for most of them. Love carrots - all alone they can brighten your day - they taste great, have a brilliant crunch, are lovely raw, grated, juiced, steamed, mashed, useful in all kinds of stews and salads the whole year long. If they don't come from the supermarket they have the potential to be comedy shapes or the starting point of many a joke. Good for you - the World Carrot Museum summarises neatly -   
Let us start with a brief history of Medicine and Nutrition - 

Patient "I am sick".
Physicians responses:
3500 years ago - "Here eat this root"
2500 year ago - "That root is heathen - say this prayer"
150 years ago - "That is superstition - drink this potion"
50 years ago - "That potion is snake oil - take this pill"
15 years ago - "That pill is no good, take this antibiotic"
Today - "that is not natures way - here eat this root" 

 The recipe I settled on this week had piqued my curiosity in the weekend Guardian. It was for a dessert, a concoction of carrot  and cream, gorgeously scented with vanilla and orange then served with more cream in little pots. The man loves little pots! It comes from Thomasina Miers' article about pigs - and her pig idea project.

Carrot and Vanilla Pots

Makes 4

Use the best flavoured carrots you can get your hands on - I find if they smell sweetly carroty they taste pretty good

200g carrots, peeled and finely sliced
15g butter
40g golden caster sugar
Juice and zest of an orange (a blood orange, ideally)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla pod
175ml double cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Put the carrots in a saucepan with the butter, a tablespoon of sugar and the orange zest, and add water to cover. Cover and cook on a low heat for 15 minutes. Remove the lid, raise the heat and cook until all liquid boils off – the carrots should be tender and glazed. Add the orange juice and vanilla extract, and whizz to a fine purée with a stick blender.

Cut the vanilla pod in half and scrape out the seeds into a clean pan. Add the cream, scraped pod and remaining sugar, bring to just below a boil, remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly, retrieve the vanilla pod then pour the warm cream into the carrot purée. Add the whole egg and egg yolk, and whizz with the blender.

Fill four ramekins with the mix. Place the ramekins in a baking tray and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until just set. Remove, set aside to cool and serve at room temperature with cold pouring cream.

 They worked a treat, very simple to do, and I'm thinking they'd be fabulous with a blow torched sugar crust - though that might be because I am hankering for a kitchen blow torch.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Wild Garlic Pesto

Lamb and barley soup with wild garlic pesto
Wild garlic is a fine harbinger of spring and definitely an unmistakable find if you're wandering happy and aimless in the woods in celebration - or relief - that winter is gone for another year. It loves damp shade - so an ideal plant - and pushes through ground cover and creates a sort of cloud of garlic perfume. Quite a surprise on a first encounter! The leaves grow to a foot or more and the flowers are quintessential spring - pretty bright white stars shine amidst the dark, they are a great garnish on a salad.

I got a big bunch in the veg bag last week and I really fancied trying my hand at pesto. I have a friend who is very enthusiastic about food, loves eating great stuff though it must be said is not the world's finest cook. The one thing she does make better than anyone else I know is pesto - she finds a perfect balance of basil, nuts and cheese and serves it generously on hot pasta. Love it. Her mastery means I have never actually made pesto in any form - it's so great, why would I? But she left London a while ago and I've not eaten pesto since. A vague hankering was beginning to niggle.

I had a few pine nuts and a few more walnuts and a fine hunk of Parmesan and that seemed as good a start as any. I lightly toasted the nuts but I think you could use all walnuts and skip that step entirely. It is a very easy thing to make - chuck it all in the blender and whizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Add oil. This makes quite a decent quantity, too much for us to eat in one sitting, but it keeps very well in the fridge for a couple of weeks so long as the top is covered with a thin layer of oil.

Wild Garlic Pesto

If you don't have the time/inclination to forage wild garlic is sold at lots of farmers markets and the occasional fruit and vegetable shop at this time of year

Large bunch wild garlic
20g pine nuts, lightly toasted
30g walnuts, lightly crushed and toasted
50g finely grated Parmesan
100ml olive oil

Wash the wild garlic and rip the leaves into smaller pieces and put into a blender jug. Whizz to make a paste. Add the nuts and cheese and whizz again to combine. Season with salt and pepper, add about half the olive oil and whizz once more. Keep adding the oil and whizzing till you have the consistency you want. Tip the finished pesto into an airtight jar or tub, cover with a thin film of olive oil and refrigerate.

I loved having this in the fridge for a week - I used it first to dollop into a rich lamb and barley broth, then a few days later into a less successful vegetable soup. I loved it best however on Sunday night mixed into hot spaghetti with extra Parmesan grated on top. Brilliant supper ready in ten.