Apples of all kinds

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

In this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness I’ve been thinking about apples. I’ve always thought of them as the quintessential English fruit but looking at data on world apple production collated by the United States Food and Agriculture Association. I see that China rules the apple world producing an impressive 31 million tonnes in 2008. The US is in second place producing a mere 4 million tonnes. The UK languishes in 37th place with its meagre production of 243,000 tonnes, narrowly pipped (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun) by Switzerland’s 255,000 tonnes.

Apples featured during our trip to Switzerland this summer. The Swiss, like the English, claim the apple as their own. After all it was an apple that Swiss folk hero William Tell shot from his son’s head to prove his prowess in archery.

We saw this luscious golden version of William Tell’s apple in the sculpture park at Martigny, Switzerland which we visited in August. The artist is French sculptor Claude Lalanne (b. 1924)

And here is the real thing, apples growing in a ProSpecieRara orchard in what might be called William Tell Country, the shores of the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne to the English speaking world, with iconic Swiss mountain Pilatus in the background. This was a view from the second week of our Summer 2010 Swiss trip as we ascended the Bürgenstock on foot rather than usual tourist option of funicular railway and spectacular outdoor lift.

By the way, ProSpecieRara http://www.prospecierara.ch/ is the Swiss Foundation for the Cultural and Genetic Diversity of Plants and Animals, a sort of super Brogdale. They hit the headlines recently with a taut-skinned longlived rare apple variety which is now being used in a facecream used by Michelle Obama.

I digress so back to the fruit itself. Apples from our neighbours’ garden greeted us on our return home in early September. Their enterprising daughters were giving away these beauties door to door in return for a donation to charity. I’m not sure what variety they were but they were crisp and sweet and worked well for both cooking and eating:

I was inspired to depart from the usual pie or crumble option and to try out two different apple recipes. The first was a new one for me, a traditional Brown Betty pudding, the recipe taken from the ever reliable Four Seasons cookbook. The second was the resurrection of what’s become a family classic, an apple and walnut cake from Nigella Lawson’ “How to be A Domestic Goddess”.

The apples turned out to be one that held their shape after cooking rather than “falling” into a delicious fluff in the way that Bramleys do. The Betty would have been better with a Bramley type apple I think as all the ingredients would have melded together. Served with a dollop of proper custard, it was nevertheless a satisfying conclusion to a ribsticking Sunday lunch:

Now that I’ve tinkered with Nigella Lawson’s cooking instructions (I’ve found that a lot of the recipes in the Domestic Goddess book need road testing and refining before they’re safe to use) this is a reliable recipe for an unusual but easy to make cake. The flavours of walnut oil and lemon zest, plus the grappa soaked sultanas (my refinement to the recipe which originally specified rum) marry perfectly with the apples and lift their flavour. You can almost kid yourself its good for you too.

Here are the two recipes in case you too have a glut of apples on your hands. They’re both good enough to go out and buy apples for too if you don’t have any homegrown ones.

Recipe for Apple and Apricot Brown Betty

From Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book. I’ve tinkered with it only to adjust the dried apricot instructions as these days all you can find are the ready to eat type so no need to soak overnight.

Ingredients

1/4 lb (115g) dried apricots, the soft type ready to eat type, roughly chopped
1 and 3/4 lb (800g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
6 oz (175g) coarse fresh white breadcrumbs
2 and 1/2 oz (70g) melted butter
2-3 oz (55-85g) blanched almonds
grated rind of 1 small orange
4-6 oz (115-175g) brown sugar (I used a dark soft Muscovado)
more butter for dotting

Toss the crumbs into the melted butter so they absorb it evenly. Spread a thin layer of crumbs onto the base of a porcelain soufflé dish. Cover with a mixture of the coarsely chopped apples, apricots and almonds. Sprinkle with a little orange rind and some of the sugar. Repeat the layers until the dish is full, finishing with a layer of crumbs. Dot with butter and sprinkle over any remaining sugar. Bake at 180 to 190 degrees C until golden and crisp. Good with cream, perhaps clotted cream, or proper custard.

Recipe for Apple and Walnut Cake

Adapted from a recipe in “How to be a Domestic Goddess” which in turn started life in Anna del Conte’s “Secrets from an Italian Kitchen”

Ingredients

100g sultanas
75ml grappa
150 ml walnut oil (or half and half mixture of walnut oil and extra virgin English rapeseed oil which I used)
200g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
450g eating apples (don’t use a Bramley type apple for this recipe as distinct nuggets of cooked apple are what’s required in the finished cake) peeled, cored and cut into small cubes (1/2 cm dimension is about right)
zest of a lemon
100g walnuts

Put the sultanas into a small saucepan and bring to the boil then set aside to plump up.

Line a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin with bakewell paper and preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.

Beat the oil and sugar together in a large bowl, and add the eggs one at a time, beating until it looks a bit like mayonnaise. A wooden spoon and some elbow grease work fine here. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, folding in with a metal spoon. Stir in the apples, lemon zest, sultanas with any residual grappa and walnuts. The batter should be fairly stiff.

Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin, level the surface and place in the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 160 degrees C. After a further 30 minutes, check the cake and if it’s browning too quickly, cover the top with a disc of foil. The cake will be ready after an hour, or maybe an hour and fifteen minutes. Check with a skewer after an hour.

Let the cake stand for 20 minutes before turning out. It’s delicious eaten slightly warm but will behave better in terms of cutting into neat slices, if left overnight, wrapped in foil before you try it. I can’t comment on its keeping qualities as it’s never lasted more than a day or so in our greedy household!

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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.

Relaxed cooking for the holidays

May 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

I was chatting to a friend on a balmy Friday evening while we watched our sons valiantly lose a cricket match. She’s rented a holiday cottage by the seaside for a week over the half term holidays. She disclosed to me that, following an afternoon spent planning meals, shopping etc, all she had on her list so far was wine and a bottle of gin. Fine as far as it goes but it won’t feed a hungry crowd!

This dilemma got me thinking so I thought I’d jot down a few uncomplicated recipes with a summery holiday feel that you might be inspired to try in a holiday cottage with unfamiliar and probably limited cooking equipment.

I’ve come up with two lunch dishes, one evening meal and of course a cake.

Recipe for Caponata

Since trying the caponata at Da Piero’s restaurant last month (see my post https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2010/05/04/review-of-da-piero-irby-wirral/) I haven’t been able to get enough of the stuff. It’s a really useful holiday dish as you can make up a large batch and keep it in the fridge. It’s one of those dishes that improves if it’s kept and is very good natured as it is best served at room temperature. You could served it along with cold meat and cheese at lunchtime, or as a vegetable accompaniment with some simply grilled or fried fish (skate, sole, bass).

This is a dish you can experiment with and make your own – after all Da Piero’s unorthodox but good addition was chunks of waxy salad potato. So far, the version I like best is one I have adapted from a recipe in Tamasin Day Lewis’ “Good Tempered Food”. It’s quite simple and clean tasting and I like the astringency of the green rather than black olives.

Serves 6, maybe more depending on what’s with it

Ingredients

light olive oil for frying- about 4 tablespoons
6 sticks celery cut into 1/2 cm dice
2 medium aubergines cut into 2 cm cubes
sea salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 and 1/2 400g tins plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
3 oz good green olives stoned and halved
Handful of roughly chopped flatleaf parsley

Heat the light olive oil in a large deepish sauté pan big enough to hold all the ingredients. If you don’t have a pan large enough you’ll need to work with a frying pan (to brown the vegetables) and a casserole (to complete the cooking). When the oil is hot, add the celery and cook for about 10 minutes until soft and beginning to brown. Season then remove with a slotted spoon onto a plate and set aside. If needed, add a slosh more frying oil and when hot add the aubergines cubes. Fry until soft and brown which will take 10-15 minutes. They will shrink incredibly as the water they contain cooks away. Season and remove from the pan and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the extra virgin olive oil to the pan and gently fry the onions and garlic until soft and golden. Add the tomatoes and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, vinegar and sugar and cook for a further 10 minutes. Check seasoning. Add the reserved aubergine and celery, capers and olives and cook gently together for a further 5 minutes.

Allow to cool to room temperature then stir in the chopped parsley and serve.

Recipe for Rillettes de Tours

From Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons cookery book. We eat loads of rillettes, a coarse stringy pork almost pâté, when we go on holiday to France. Both the boys love it. It makes an easy picnic lunch spread thickly onto crusty French bread. It’s simplicity itself to make, especially if there should be an Aga in your holiday house – the simmering oven would be just the right temperature to make this. Any butcher should be able to sell you the belly pork but it might be worth preparing the spices in advance and taking them with you as you may find difficulty tracking down the ground cloves and allspice in a village shop.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
2 lb (900g) belly of pork
3 tablespoons (45ml) dry white wine or dry white vermouth
5 black peppercorns lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of ground allspice
very small pinch ground cloves
1 large clove of garlic

Remove the rind and bones from the pork, or ask your butcher to do this. Cut the meat into small cubes and put them into a deep ovenproof dish with the wine or vermouth, crushed peppercorns, salt, spices and crushed garlic. Cover and cook in a very slow oven (120 degrees C; 250 degrees F, Mark 1/2 for 2 hours (maybe more) until the pork is soft and slightly shrivelled looking, swimming in a pool of fat.

Drain off and strain the fat. Pull the meat apart with two forks to form shreds. Press into your chosen pot or pots and spoon over the strained fat to cover. Chill until set. Serve with cornichons and crusty bread straight from the pot like a pâté. No butter is necessary.

Paella de Cerdo con Chorizo y Espinaca
(Pork paella with chorizo sausage and spinach)

Another recipe from Tamasin Day-Lewis’ “Good Tempered Food”. She attributes the recipe to Sam Clark, chef-proprietor of London’s Moro restaurant. Search out and bring with you the chorizo and smoked paprika, maybe also the rice, which you do need to give an authentic flavour to the dish. For anyone in the South Manchester area, Goose Green deli in Altrincham sell lovely fresh chorizo sausages for cooking.

Serves 4

Ingredients

7 tbsp olive oil
350g/12 oz pork fillet, halved lengthwise and sliced into 5mm strips
125g/4 oz mild cooking chorizo, cut into small pieces
2 large Spanish onions finely chopped
1 large green pepper, halved, seeded and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
225g/8oz paella or risotto rice (original recipe suggests Calasparra rice from Valencia)
1 tsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika
2 bottled red peppers, drained and roughly chopped (original recipe specifies dried ñora peppers, presumably soaked in hot water but as these are difficult to get hold of I’ve substituted widely available bottled sweet pimentos)
900ml/1 and 1/2 pints hot chicken or vegetable stock or water
500g/ 1lb 2oz spinach, washed and drained
1 lemon cut into wedges
sea salt and black pepper

In a 30-40cm/12-16 in paella pan (or failing this a frying pan or large casserole) heat the olive oil over a high heat. Stir-fry the pork for 2-3 minutes so it is still a little undercooked. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Turn down the heat to low and fry the chorizo for a minute. Add the chopped onion and green pepper and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a further 5-10 minutes. At this point the mixture should have begun to caramelise. Stir the rice into the pan for a minute to coat it in the mixture. Up to this point everything can be cooked in advance.

The next stage needs about 20 minutes more cooking time. Add salt and pepper to season the rice. Add the paprika and ñora or bottled peppers followed by the hot stock and simmer for 15 minutes until there is just a thin layer of liquid around the rice.

Meanwhile in a large pan briefly wilt the spinach with a little salt and put it on one side with the pork. Scatter the pork over the rice evenly then do the same with the spinach. With the back of a spoon gently push both the pork and spinach partially into the oily liquid that remains at the bottom of the pan. Tuck in the lemon wedges, cover the paella tightly with foil and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with a glass of Rioja and a tomato salad.

Recipe for Courgette and Lemon Cake

I tried a courgette, lemon and pistachio cake recently at Green’s very welcoming café and tearoom in Grasmere in the English Lake District. I searched around for a recipe and eventually found one I’d forgotten about in Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess”. She attributes the recipe to one Flora Woods. Don’t be put off by the inclusion of courgettes – they simply make the cake moist and turn it a fantastic green colour. Think of it as an interesting first cousin to a brash carrot cake. I’ve tweaked Nigella’s recipe by adding pistachios to the cake batter and simplifying the filling and icing. I’ve had trouble with cream cheese icings recently as Philadelphia and its ilk don’t have enough fat in and are packed with water and stabilisers which break down into runnyness when you beat the stuff with a wooden spoon. My friend Nadia put me onto the idea of using mascarpone with a 50% fat content instead – thanks Nadia it works! BTW the cake in the photograph contains neither raisins nor pistachios just to see how the plainer version worked out. Fine – in fact scrumptious.

Serves 8, maybe more if you’re frugal

Ingredients

60g raisins plus 2 tablespoons white wine or vermouth (optional)
250g courgettes (weighed before grating – about 2 medium ones)
2 large eggs
125 ml vegetable oil (I use light olive perhaps with a splash of deep green pistachio or pumpkin seed oil if I happen to have some in the cupboard)
150g golden caster sugar
225g self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
50g pistachio nuts roughly chopped (optional)

For the filling
1/2 jar best lemon curd

For the icing
1/2 tub mascarpone cheese
6 heaped tablespoon icing sugar, sifted
juice of half a lemon

If using the raisins, put them into a small saucepan with the wine, bring up to the boil and leave to soak and plump up for 30 minutes or so.

Prepare your cake tin(s) by greasing and/or lining with bakewell paper. Nigella’s recipe specifies 2 * 21cm sandwich tins. I don’t have sandwich tins in that size so have used a single deep 21 cm tin (about 9 inches) and extended the cooking time and reduced the heat to bake a single large cake. Once it has cooled it can be split, filled and iced in the usual way.

Wash and dry the courgettes, trim off top and bottom but don’t peel them. Grate using the coarse surface of a standard kitchen box grater, then turn the grated courgette into a sieve and let it drain for 10-15 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, to remove excess water.

Put the eggs, oil and sugar into a mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Sift in the flour, bicarb and baking powder and beat until well combined. Stir in the grated courgette, raisins and their juices and pistachio nuts. Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin(s) and bake at 180 degrees C for 30 minutes for 2 cakes; 170 degrees C for 10 minutes then 160 degrees C for a further 35-40 minutes in the case of a single large cake. Check and cover with a disc of foil if the cake seems to browning too rapidly. Remove from the oven, leave to stand for 10 minutes then turn out and cool on a rack. Don’t attempt to split the large cake until it is completely cold.

Meanwhile make the icing by beating together the mascarpone cheese and sifted icing sugar then stirring in lemon juice to taste.

Sandwich the cakes together with lemon curd and top with the mascarpone icing. Decorate with more chopped pistachios and grated lemon zest if liked. For easy transportation to a picnic, you could use both the lemon curd and the icing to sandwich the cakes together and leave the top un-iced so the cake can be wrapped in foil.

Enjoy your holidays and don’t spend too much time in the kitchen!

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