Riverside picnic

June 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

At this time of year, my thoughts turn to the perfect riverside picnic. I blame my obsession with this idea on a photograph in my mother’s copy of “The Robert Carrier Cookbook” which, as a child, I would turn to repeatedly. The picture showed a bottle of Loire white wine chilling in a gently flowing river somewhere in the green heart of La France Profonde. Mature trees in full leaf shaded a table set for two on the river bank. The food on offer was freshwater crayfish and, I think, quenelles de brochet (delicate little poached pike mousses).

So now once a year my family indulges me in living out this fantasy albeit in a less elaborate form than the Robert Carrier original. When good weather is forecast for a weekend in late spring we pack up a hamper of suitable food and head off for the limestone dales of the Peak District.

What constitutes suitable foods for such a picnic? I draw inspiration from the surrounding landscape. Watercress has to feature as it grows wild in the limestone streams, also river fish, generally trout as it’s easy to come by. I give a recipe below for a quick and easy smoked trout pâté. Young goat cheese has become part of the ritual and tastes good with the watercress and a loaf of walnut bread. Nantwich based Ravens Oak dairy (now owned by Butlers) produces very likeable goat cheeses which, conveniently are stocked by Marks & Spencer. I picked up both their Kidderton Ash and regular Ravens Oak goat cheeses for this picnic. You can have a look at the Butlers range at www.butlerscheeses.co.uk The Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury stock a lovely Ticklemore goat’s cheese from Devon in the summer months too.

Asparagus is in season and adds a festive note to the proceedings. I always roast rather than steam it now as it’s a foolproof method that concentrates its flavour. A cool jambon persillé would be good too – the chunks of pink ham in its bright green parsley jelly recalling the clear river water and flowing water weed.

This year, I took along a chilled soup – a refreshing Spanish Ajo Blanco. This is an odd-sounding mixture of bread, almonds, garlic, sherry vinegar and plain cold water which which, when blended to a thin purée, chilled and garnished with halved grapes turns into an infinitely refreshing chilled soup, much more than the sum of its disparate parts. The soup seemed very appropriate as wild garlic was everywhere in all its pungent glory.

A picnic wouldn’t be a picnic without cake to finish. I try and keep the cool green theme going even here. Jane Grigson’s gooseberry pound cake has been successful on a previous picnic, but this time we took along wedges of my courgette and lemon cake: see my previous post https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2010/05/22/relaxed-cooking-for-the-holidays/

Here are two of my recipes – both very simple for summer lunches at home as well as picnics

Recipe for smoked trout pâté

Ingredients

4 smoked trout fillets (or 2 whole smoked trout if you can buy them this way)
6 oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon grated horseradish or wasabi
juice of half a lemon
black pepper

If using whole trout, skin them, fillet them and place the trout fillets roughly broken up in a food processor. If you’re using pre-prepared trout fillets the skinning and filleting will already have been done for you. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and pulse carefully until the desired texture is achieved. I like a slightly rough texture so this doesn’t take long. Check for seasoning and add more horseradish, lemon and pepper to taste. The wasabi was an inspired discovery one day when I ran out of horseradish. Pile into a bowl to serve (or box to transport to your picnic. Good with oatcakes or walnut bread.

I have no current photos of trout in pâté form but here are the real thing swimming in the Derbyshire River Wye, home to both rainbow and wild brown trout. We have a favourite footbridge for fish spotting and feeding – the fish are very partial to leftover bread and crumbs from Duchy Originals gingered biscuits!

Recipe for Ajo Blanco

Chilled Spanish garlic, bread and almond soup sometimes referred to as white gazpacho.

Ingredients

4 oz blanched almonds – try and use Spanish ones ie Marcona which Sainsbury’s stock as part of their Taste the Difference range
8 oz good white bread (ie from a decent unsliced loaf with a bit of flavour), crusts removed
salt
2-3 tbsp best quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp best quality sherry vinegar
1 pint chilled water
2 cloves garlic, sliced
few seedless grapes, green are traditional but black fine as well

Dip the bread in cold water, squeeze out the excess and place in the goblet of a liquidiser along with the remaining ingredients except the garlic and grapes. Blend until smooth. Pour into a suitable container, add the sliced garlic which will gently infuse its flavour, and chill for several hours or overnight. Most ajo blanco recipes tell you to blend the garlic along with the other ingredients but I found that garlic pulverised in this way becomes unpleasantly intense in the finished soup. Serve garnished with halved grapes.

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More rhubarb puddings

June 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

English strawberries have been late this year so rhubarb has been the home-grown fruit (yes I know it’s technically not a fruit) of choice for late spring/early summer puddings lately.

I made a fabulous rhubarb cornmeal cake for a big family gathering over the half term holidays – easy to make and just a little more celebratory than the usual rhubarb crumble that usually figures in big family meals. This is a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Domestic Goddess book.

My second rhubarb recipe, a simple tart, comes from French-speaking Switzerland, in fact from the tiny wine village of Chardonne which was my second home for 4 consecutive winters back in the 1980s. I found this recipe in Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen” (from the Swiss kitchen). The recipe comprises a sweet pastry enriched with ground almonds and egg and a simple filling of rhubarb, sugar and local white wine. We most often pair rhubarb with orange or ginger in English recipes so it was a refreshing change to try something a little different which lets the rhubarb flavour shine through.

We’re well and truly into outdoor field-grown rhubarb season now (rather than the candy-pink tender forced rhubarb from Yorkshire that begins the season in February). The rhubarb variety I’ve used for both recipes is rather pleasingly called Timperley. Pleasingly because Timperley village is just a couple of miles from our front door and presumably this variety was bred by a local market gardener a hundred or so years ago.

Although I think of rhubarb as typically English, it originates from central Europe/Asia on the banks of the Volga so it is not surprising to find it appearing in different countries’ cuisines. The Scandinavians turn it into a tart sauce to serve with meat, the Persians incorporate it into a slow-cooked stew and there are a whole host of homely pudding recipes based on rhubarb like the two I give here. I’ve yet to discover whether the Italians cook with rhubarb though…That’s another train of thought altogether which I don’t have time to follow up just now… Here are the recipes:

Recipe for Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake

From Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess”. Like she says it’s very versatile – you can eat it with a cup of tea or serve it with some proper custard as a pudding.

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

500g rhubarb
300g golden caster sugar
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
155g fine polenta/cornmeal (the quick cook stuff is fine)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g butter, softened at room temperature
250g thick natural yoghurt

Prepare a 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin by lining with a double thickness of baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/gas mark 4. Wash and trim the rhubarb and cut into 1/2 cm slices. Put into a bowl and add 100g of the sugar. Don’t let the rhubarb stand for more than 1 hour otherwise it will produce too much juice and make the cake wet.

Mix together the flour, bicarb, salt, cinnamon and polenta. Do not, as I did on one occasion, be tempted to use self raising flour as it makes the cake rise too quickly leaving the rhubarb at the bottom of the tin. With a fork, beat the eggs with the vanilla in a measuring jug or small bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the remaining sugar and gradually add the egg and vanilla mixture, beating while you do so. Then add the flour/polenta mixture alternately with the yoghurt. They just need to be combined: don’t overmix.

Finally, add the rhubarb together with its sugary juices, folding in to mix, and then spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin. Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour until the cake surface springs back when pressed gently with a (clean!) forefinger. Check the cake after 30 minutes’ cooking time as you will almost certainly need to turn the oven down a notch and/or cover the top of the cake with foil to prevent it browning too much.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes before attempting to turn out.

Recipe for Chardonne Rhubarb Tart

From Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen” where the recipe is titled Gâteau à la rhubarbe à la mode de Chardonne/Rhabarbekuchen. It is most definitely a tart rather than a cake. This is Swiss-German language cookbook but the recipe is from French-speaking West Switzerland, specifically the tiny wine village of Chardonne in the canton of Vaud. Ms Kaltenbach suggests drinking a glass of Chardonne wine with the tart – an excellent idea if you can get hold of some (Nick Dobson wines in the UK currently stocks several www.nickdobsonwines.co.uk). If not, any light white wine with a good balance of acidity and sweetness would be good – perhaps a Dr Loosen Riesling or similar.

Ingredients

120g plain flour
60g butter, softened at room temperature
30g golden caster sugar
pinch of salt
25g ground almonds
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 kg rhubarb
5 dessertspoons golden caster sugar
2 dessertspoons white wine
a little butter for dotting

Sift the flour together with the salt onto a clean work-surface or pastry board. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Add the sugar and ground almonds to the pile and mix it all together loosely with your fingers. Don’t attempt to rub in the butter yet. Make a well in the centre of the mix, add the egg yolk and vanilla extract to the well and bring all the mixture together with your fingers to make a dough. Incorporate the butter into the dough using a smearing rather than rubbing-in action. If necessary, add just a little water to bring the dough together. Knead lightly then wrap in clingfilm and rest for 3 hours or so in the fridge. The original recipe suggests resting the dough for 12 hours but I found it was workable after a shorter resting period and produced a good result when baked. During the resting period, line a round cake tin 26cm (10 inches) in diameter with baking paper (the German word is Backblech – baking tin – I found that an ordinary cake tin worked well).

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Take the rested dough from the fridge and place it on a work surface. Begin to flatten the dough a little by giving it a few firm whacks with a rolling pin but don’t attempt to roll out. Place the flattened dough in the centre of the prepared tin and with your hands press the dough to the edges of the tin and up the sides to form an edge about 2cm high. This is a little fiddly but be patient, you will get there. Prick the base of the dough all over with a fork and return the tin to the fridge to rest further while you prepare the rhubarb.

Wash, dry, trim and slice the rhubarb into small chunks – about 2cm (3/4 inch) in length. The specified recipe quantity of 1kg rhubarb means unprepared weight from the garden. If buying partly trimmed stalks from a supermarket, start with 800g rhubarb which when trimmed will result in a prepared weight of about 700g.

Remove the pastry-lined tin from the fridge and spread the prepared rhubarb over the base. Sprinkle over 3 dessertspoons caster sugar, maybe a little more depending on your personal taste. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Keep a close eye on the tart to make sure that the pastry doesn’t become too brown. After half an hour, remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle over the white wine, a further 2 dessertspoons caster sugar and a few dots of butter and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes to complete the baking.

Allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes before attempting to turn out. Best served warm and needs no accompaniment other than the recommended glass of white wine.

If anyone knows the origins of Timperley rhubarb or has any Italian rhubarb recipes I would love to hear from you. Please send me a comment.

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