Sunday, 24 April 2011

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crostata

English strawberries are in the shops now - I worry about the environmental impact of all that heated polytunnel growing, and then - hypocritically - go and buy them.  I am always a little disappointed, as the flavour is never going to be as good as the ones in May and June grown in the sunshine and open air.  But, they are fine for cooking, and go so well with rhubarb.  I love crostatas which is just a posh way of saying tart!  They are so easy to make and look so pretty.  I chopped the rhubarb and cooked it with sugar.  Make sure it goes into a puree.  When cool, mix with sliced strawberries and a couple of teaspoons of cornflour, then pile in the middle of a round of shortcrust pastry and bring the edges up around the filling.  Bake in a medium oven (on baking parchment) for 35 minutes or so until the pastry is crisp and the filling has cooked into a delicious sweet jamminess.  Serve with clotted cream for a real Easter treat.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Smoked Haddock and Asparagus Pancakes

This is a variation on an old favourite from earlier in the blog, Asparagus Crepes.  We have an abundance of milk in the house, so pancakes are obvious.  They are filled with a bechamel sauce with Gruyere cheese and nutmeg.  Big flakes of lightly poached smoked haddock and cooked asparagus are folded into the sauce.  Lay in a gratin dish, pour on a little more sauce and grated cheese and brown well under a grill.  Delicious with lots of sweet and floppy Batavia lettuce to mop up the sauce - scrummy!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Asparagus and Cheese Penne Pasta

Another simple veggie supper - slice some asparagus on the diagonal, add to the pot of pasta 3 or 4 minutes before the end of cooking is up, drain and mix with a creamy cheesy bechamel sauce with some fresh parsley.  I add some 'poke' to the sauce by adding mustard and Cayenne pepper, along with a good grating of nutmeg.  You can take this dish off in different directions by adding chopped ham, crisp bacon, sliced tomatoes, smoked salmon.  You can also tip it into a dish, top with cheese and brown under the grill. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Spaghetti with Chard and Parma Ham

I love Parma Ham - you get a salty savoury hit without too much meat, and it worked perfectly in tonight's quick pasta supper.  For 2 people, fry 2 or 3 slices of sliced Parma Ham in a little olive oil until crisp.  Remove to one side.  Wash a small head of Swiss Chard and cut across the head into thin slices.  Don't cut all the way down the thick stems for this dish.  Boil your spaghetti until al dente.  Whilst this is happening, saute a thinly sliced small onion for about 8 minutes until golden and soft.  Add a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, the prepared chard and a chopped ripe tomato to the onions and continue to saute, adding a little more oil, until the greens have wilted and the garlic is fragrant.  The tomato will start to break up to make a sauce.  Keep the heat brisk under the pan.  Season with black pepper and add the ham - you won't need any salt because this adds sufficient saltiness to the dish.  Drain the pasta, holding back a cup of the cooking water, and add to the chard mixture over the heat.  Toss together well, adding a little cooking water if dry.  Dish up and serve with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Roast Asparagus with Parma Ham

Simple!  Boil some trimmed asparagus spears until almost tender.  Cool in cold water and drain.  Wrap slices of ham around each spear, drizzle with oil and roast for 10 minutes in a hot oven.  Serve warm with cocktails.

The Gallone Cocktail

This is a pretty full-on Italian aperitivo, and pretty delicious too.  It consists of 2 parts gin, stirred with one part each of Campari and Cynar (a funky bitter Italian aperitif made from globe artichokes!) and served over ice, topped with soda water.  Wonderfully refreshing, served with roasted asparagus wrapped in Parma ham.  Cin cin!

Rhubarb and Custard Fool

This is scarcely a recipe really, but sometimes the simple things in life are the best.  We had a bunch of rhubarb (about 500g) delivered in the Riverford box, so it was chopped, sprinkled with orange sugar and baked.  To make this, you grate the zest of an orange into a bowl containing 3 tablespoons of caster sugar, and mix it all so the orange oil impregnates the sugar to produce a damp, orangey sandy texture.  Bake the rhubarb for 40 minutes until really tender and juicy.  When cold, fold into a carton of good-quality, fresh custard - usually about a pint.  Spoon into nice glasses and allow to chill in the fridge.  Serve with a crisp biscuit or piece of shortbread.  Yummy!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


........which sounds better than leek and cheese pasty, which is essentially what this northern French dish is.  Here is a good recipe, although you will find lots of variations.  I didn't have Gruyere so used good Glastonbury cheddar instead.  Yum!  This is so cheap and filling, and was delicious served with baked mushrooms and stir-fried spinach.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Lentil and Pancetta Soup with Chard, Lemon and Mint

I am suffering from (another) very heavy cold at the moment, which has turned into a chest infection.  Even though it is bright and sunny, it is a bit chilly, and I need soup to cheer me up.  This Nigel Slater recipe fitted the bill perfectly.  Even though I can't taste a thing, it felt like it was doing me good, and it was a perfect way to use a big head of Swiss chard that was staring at me every time I opened the fridge.  In Nigel's recipe, he uses spinach, but in Tender, he suggests chard as an alternative.  Add the sliced stems first, and then the leaves a few minutes before serving.  Hubby says the mint and lemon at the end really lift the whole thing.  I'll have to take his word for it!  It isn't a very photogenic soup but it is good for you.  Veggies could leave out the bacon and use veg stock.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Baked Rhubarb and Blueberries

Simplicity itself, and a super combination.  This Nigel Slater recipe gave me an opportunity to use up a punnet of blueberries that had been lurking in the freezer, alongside some lovely fresh garden rhubarb that arrived in the Riverford box.  All you do is combine equal quantities of the fruit - I used 250g each of chopped rhubarb and blueberries and tip into a shallow baking dish.  Top with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, mixed with a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon OR the grated zest of an orange, whichever floats your boat.  Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of water (or orange juice if you used the zest) and bake at 160C for about 25 minutes.  Tip into a pretty bowl and chill.  We will eat this for breakfast over the next couple of mornings, spooned over thick Greek yoghurt with honey.  As the strawberry season approaches, I shall substitute the blueberries at the end of the baking time, stirring them through the cooked rhubarb - they go so well together too.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Herby Parsnip Wedges with Chilli Tomato Dipping Sauce

These were addictive, and possibly a great way to get kids to eat vegetables.  Another way would be to strap them to a chair and force-feed them.  It is probably just as well I am not a mother..........Anyway, this is adapted from a Riverford recipe.  You steam wedges of parsnip, cool, then egg and breadcrumb them.  A bit fiddly I know, but I just bunged the breadcrumbs in a plastic bag and tossed the egged wedges all together.  I also added finely-chopped rosemary to the breadcrumbs.  Roast in a high oven, sprayed or drizzled with some olive oil, until light brown and crisp - about 20 minutes.  Best place them on baking parchment.  Serve with a thick tomato sauce - onion, garlic, a tin of tomatoes, a pinch of sugar, and quite a bit of finely-chopped red chilli, all cooked with a little olive oil until thick and reduced.  Dunk the parsnips in and chomp away!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Spinach, Mushroom and Chorizo Frittata

Lovely and light for a gorgeous spring evening.  We had been expecting wild garlic from our Riverford delivery, but they had got cold feet over this crop, worrying about sustainability and also whether they can guarantee a wild product to be free from unwanted weeds that might kill you.  Never mind, they substituted it with some very nice baby spinach leaves instead.  They went into the pan with some fried cubes of chorizo and sliced Riverford mushrooms, and were then set into a lovely eggy frittata.  We served this with some purple sprouting broccoli (Riverford again, of course!) and some cubes of potato roasted in olive oil and garlic butter - lush, as the young folk say.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Bacardi Cocktails

This cocktal MUST be made with Bacardi rum, by law!  Seriously, it was the subject of a court case in the States in the 1930s, when the Bacardi Rum Company succeeded in obtaining a decision that only their brand could be used in cocktails sold as Bacardi Cocktails.  And who are we to disagree?  There is a nice little rhyme to help you remember how to make it:

A LITTLE SOUR, (Juice of half a lime or lemon)
A LITTLE SWEET, (1/2 teaspoonful of sugar or the equivalent of Gomme syrup, along with a little Grenadine)
THE TROPIC SUN, (A jigger of BACARDI, White or Silver Label)
WITHOUT THE HEAT! (Ice and shake well)

However, after you have drunk one, you will soon forget the rhyme!

Cappuccino Cupcakes

This is a variation on the Hummingbird Bakery's Espresso Cupcakes, with the coffee flavour toned down a little.  The recipe is essentially the same as the vanilla cupcakes posted last week, with a couple of teaspoons of good instant coffee dissolved in the milk for the sponge and in the milk for the buttercream frosting.  I piped the topping in the rose pattern I now love so much.  Honestly, at the moment, if you stand still in my flat, you are likely to have a rosette of buttercream piped on you, I am that obsessed with doing this!  Anyway, these will make a nice treat for a fundraiser at work on Monday.  I shall finish them off with a chocolate-covered coffee bean at the last minute, along with a dusting of cocoa.  I have just received the Hummingbird Cake Days book, and I can't recommend it enough.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Wild Garlic Soup

Our regular Riverford box included a bag of the freshest and most fragrant wild garlic leaves - or ramsons, as they are known.  I used them straight away in a simple but scrummy soup.  This is a little like a watercress soup, but with the elusive and subtle taste of wild garlic.  Simply saute an onion and leek in about 25g of butter until softened, add a chopped potato and a handful of washed wild garlic leaves.  Just cover with veg stock and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add another handful of wild garlic and blend until a vivid green, smooth soup.  Add a little milk or cream if liked and tuck in before the colour and aroma fades.  We felt very healthy eating this soup, all that fresh ferrous greenery and the goodness of all the aliums.  If you have a patch of woodland near you, do gather some of this, and try it stirred into risotto or chopped and baked with potatoes in a dauphinois.  I shall add some to a stuffing for chicken on Sunday too - endlessly versatile and so good for you.