When I was younger we had rhubarb growing in our garden. It was a seemingly magical plant, with massive leaves and bright stalks and I was always amazed that this almost tropical-looking beast could be eaten. We put it in crumbles and pies mostly, normally picking the stalks on rainy days when baking seemed like a good activity for two bored and restless little girls. I was incredibly sad when it was cut down a few years ago by an over-enthusiastic lawn-mowing family member. Still searching for forgiveness for that one and that particular patch of the garden seems strangely empty now.
We’re right at the end of the rhubarb season – you may still be able to get a few pink stalks in the supermarket. For me, it’s a summer fruit rather than a spring one, as the season is a bit later on in Sweden than in the UK (as with all fruits and veg due to our northerly location). Rhubarb is not just for puddings, it goes exceptionally well with oily fish like mackerel and can be made into sharp cocktails and cordials. Perfect for sipping on a hot summer’s day. The tart flavour may not be to everyone’s taste – my husband hates the stuff even when it has been doused in sugar- but I urge you to give one or two of the easy recipes below a go and see if you aren’t converted.
Rhubarb and Ginger Custard Crumb Cake
Makes16 to 18 slices
You will need:
For the crumble
100g unsalted butter, melted, plus a little extra
125g golden caster sugar
140g plain flour
For the cake:
400g rhubarb, quartered lengthways then cut into 3cm bars
2 tbsp light brown sugar
2 balls stem ginger, finely chopped and 2tbsp stem ginger syrup
200g plain flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
250ml good quality custard
1. Preheat oven to 175C. Butter a 22cm square cake tin and line with baking parchment. To make the crumble, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Add flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Toss the rhubarb with the brown sugar, 1 chopped stem ginger ball and 40g of the flour. Combine the remaining flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt in a small bowl. Beat butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs and vanilla, beating well after each addition. Finally, add the flour mixture a little at a time, alternating with the custard. Stir in the remaining stem ginger and the ginger syrup. Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and then spread with the rhubarb mixture. Finally top with the crumble.
3. Top with rhubarb mixture, then top with prepared streusel. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until golden and a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the cake (beware that the custard will still be a little moist, however). Allow to cool completely then cut into slices.
Rhubarb and Vanilla Cream Soda
You will need:
200g rhubarb, cut into 1 cm chunks
75g golden caster sugar
1 split vanilla pod, seeds scraped
soda water or fizzy water and ice, to serve
Put the rhubarb chunks, sugar, vanilla pod and seeds into a saucepan along with 100ml of water. Slowly simmer until the rhubarb is soft and completely collapsed, adding more water if necessary. Allow to cool a little then strain in batches through a fine mesh sieve to get all the lovely pink syrup out. It may help to add more cold water to the mixture. Allow to cool completely. Pour the syrup into a bottle and chill until needed. When ready to serve, pour over ice into tumblers and top with soda water.
Rhubarb and Cardamom Compote
You will need:
400g rhubarb, cut into 1 cm chunks
juice and zest of 1 orange
2 cardamom pods, crushed and ground in a pestle and mortar
3 tbsp golden caster sugar
Place all of the ingredients in a medium sized pan and simmer over a low heat for about 20 mins, until the rhubarb starts to collapse and is soft and spreadable. Add a splash or two of water if starting to look dry. Serve with yoghurt for breakfast or over ice cream for a simple pudding. Keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Over the past few months I’ve been working with Scan Meatballs on a number of different projects including hosting a food blogger’s event and taking over their twitter and facebook feeds in the run up to Sweden’s National Day and Midsummer’s Eve next week. They’ve been a fantastic company to work with as they are keen to promote Swedish food and culture over here in the UK and to get away from some of the more traditional views of Scandi food. As such they’ve given me free reign to create some recipes for them.
Meatballs are perhaps a bit of a stereotype of Swedish cuisine and with good reason: a classic Meatball sarnie is a staple in every Swedish café. I always have one on one of the boats that take you out to the Stockholm archipelago, with a cup of coffee or a cold beer. However, meatballs aren’t just limited to the stereotypes. Families regularly have meatballs for dinner in all manner of guises and Swedish food mags contain countless variations with inspiration from all over the world. And so with this in mind, I’ve created a Meatball Mushroom Stroganoff and a sticky sweet Teriyaki meatball served with rice in crunchy salad cups.
Classic Swedish Meatball Sandwich with Quick Pickled Cucumber
You will need:
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp caster sugar
pinch white pepper
small handful dill, roughly chopped
1 x 230g pack Scan Meatballs
2 cooked beetroots (not in brine)
2 tbsp creme fraiche
1 tbsp mayo
2 wholegrain or rye bread rolls
To serve: salted butter, salad leaves, radishes, dill
1. Begin by making the quick pickle. In a small bowl, combine the sliced cucumber with the white wine vinegar, sugar, white pepper, a little dill and a pinch of sea salt. Set aside while you make the rest of the sandwich.
2. Cook the meatballs according to packet instructions, either in the oven or on the hob.
3. Dice the cooked beetroot and mix with the creme fraiche, mayonnaise and salt and white pepper. Slice the bread rolls and spread with butter. Top with lettuce, cucumber, beetroot salad and finally the meatballs. Scatter a little extra dill on top, if you like, and serve immediately.
Meatball Mushroom Stroganoff
You will need:
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
2 onions, sliced
200g mushrooms, such as chestnut or shitake
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 x 395g pack Scan Meatballs
200ml chicken stock
100g creme fraiche (about 4 generous tbsp)
1 tsp dijon mustard
small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
Rice or pasta
Gherkins or capers, Pickled Red onions, optional
1. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the onions over a low heat for about 10 minutes, until golden and soft. Meanwhile, in a separate frying pan, heat the remaining oil and fry the mushrooms in batches. Set aside.
2. Tip in the meatballs into the onion pan and fry for about 5-7 minutes, until golden. Add the garlic, thyme and paprika cook for another couple of minutes.
3. Add the stock and creme fraiche and simmer for about 10 minutes, until thickened. Sitr through the dijon mustard and add the mushrooms. Season to taste before sprinkling with chopped parsley. Serve with rice or pasta as well as some pickled red onions, gherkins or capers.
Teriyaki Meatball Salad Cups
You will need:
300g Jasmin or Basmati rice
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
small thumb fresh root ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 pack Scan meatballs
4 Little gem lettuces, leaves picked
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp toastec sesame seeds
Small handful corriander, roughly chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges
1. Cook the rice according to packet instructions. In a small bowl, whisk together honey, soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, grated ginger and garlic. In a separate and even smaller bowl, mix the cornflour with 1 tbsp of water, stirring until milky and all lumps have disappeared. Add to the teriyaki sauce and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the meatballs. Fry for about 5-7 minutes, until just starting to go golden. Add the sauce and heat through over a low heat until thick and really sticky – a couple of minutes.
3. To serve, lay out the remaining ingredients on your table. Let everyone help themselves to make the lettuce cups by topping each leaf with a spoonfull of rice, a couple of meatballs, spring onions, sesame seeds and coriander. Squeeze over a little lime and dig right in.
It seems like ages ago now, but for almost two glorious weeks around Easter I was in Italy on what can only be described as a gastronomic tour to give both Elizabeth David and Elizabeth Gilbert a run for their money. It was also a most efficient holiday as I managed to spend time with my husband, my family and friends all in one trip. We started in Rome, without plan or agenda, simply walking the streets in search of new sights and good food and wine. On our first day we gave the Easter crowds a wide berth by avoiding the Centro Storico and Vatican. Instead, we headed to the neighbourhood of Monti, with its quieter streets, more peaceful squares and treasure trove shops. This was followed by a walk to Said chocolate shop, which has been producing treats for the Romans since 1923. After stocking up on truffles and Easter eggs, we nipped in for dinner at Pastificio San Lorenzo across the road. An excellent place to try a few dishes that veered away from the pasta/pizza fare of the centre of town and the perfect place to people watch over an aperitivo.
After this city break and in the midst of the Easter rush, we escaped to the countryside. After surviving what was possibly the most terrifying taxi ride of my life (our driver felt he was quite capable of turning around and chatting to us at length while speeding down the motorway), we picked up our car at the airport and drove up through Lazio into the heart of Umbria and where my Dad is gradually semi-retiring. We met him in his tiny little village near Orvieto, perched at the top of a hill with views stretching out into Tuscany.
Umbria is sometimes overlooked by tourists, but this relative quiet really only adds to its charm. It is known as the il cuore verde d’Italia (the green heart of Italy) because of its verdant hills and agricultural abundance. It certainly seemed like everywhere we turned there was wonderful produce – from the olive groves and vegetable patches around the village we were staying in, to the nearby vineyards and saffron fields. Over the Easter period there were plenty of markets in the nearby towns and villages, manned by proud farmers showing off their produce. We particularly enjoyed a blustery afternoon spent in Citta della Pieve, tasting salame, cheeses, beers and hog roast panini.
After a few peaceful days in Umbria, I waved goodbye to my family and headed up the country to Florence, where I met a group of girlfriends for a long weekend. Walking around the city was a strange experience, it seemed like there were ghosts of a past life on every corner, echoes from a long time ago. I lived in Florence for a year when I was 16, my father’s infatuation with Italy brought the whole family there at the turn of the millennium. I went kicking and screaming, not wanting to leave my friends and established life behind. Of course when we moved from Italy year later, it was in further floods of tears. I’d fallen hard for the city, the weather, the people (Italian boys, of course!).
Every street in central Florence brought back a memory, a conversation I had forgotten, a person I’ve lost touch with, a smell or a taste I can’t quite seem to place. It was eery and a bit sad, but also wonderful to be reminded that yes, this did actually happen half my life ago and it was great and came to shape who I became as an adult.
Not least in terms of food. I had a wonderful friend that magical year in Italy, called Hannah. She was the daughter of the priest at the American Church in Florence (who from what I could tell spent most of his time marrying Japanese tourists, even answering the phone with a cheery ‘moshi moshi!’) and she was in the year above me at school. She had bright pink, red or purple hair (depending on the week) and cooked like a goddess. It was the first time I had met anyone my age who loved food and loved cooking to that extent. Before living in Italy, I’d been a bit embarrassed by my love of food and kept it hidden and separate from the rest of my life. It was something I shared with my family and only revealed to friends at the occasional school bake sale.
But Hannah made it not only seem like the coolest thing in the world (I remember watching in awe as she chopped a peach sans chopping board, delicately segmenting each slice in the palm of her hand), but also a viable career option – she always knew she wanted to be a chef and eventually open a restaurant or bakery. Even at that young age she was taking birthday cake orders from all the moms at our school. Although I haven’t seen her in many years as she now lives in Texas, from what I understand from social media she is well on her way to making that a reality.
My year in Italy was sandwiched between the two summers I worked at Lisa Elmqvist in Östermalms Hallen, Stockholm, gutting icy herring and rolling meatballs all day long – hard, physical and sometimes monotonous work creating those classic Swedish dishes. And I loved it. So I guess that year when I was 16 cemented my future in food. I went about it in a pretty round about way, but got there in the end.
I was immensely fortunate in my choice of travelling companions over that weekend. We all share an obsession with good food and drink and so rarely went for more than an hour without eating, drinking or at least planning where our next meal was going to be. Highlights from the weekend included the Cantinetta Verrazzano for the most delicious focaccia (the truffled mushroom was out of this world) fizz and coffee taken standing up at their pastry-laden counter. The Enoteca Fuori Porta was also well worth the hill climb for a favourite for crostini and lengthy wine list. Then there was the piazza Santo Spirito for nightlife and watching the world go by. I also managed to pick up some wonderful curtains and prints from the monthly Santo Spirito antiques market.
Of course, I had to fill whatever small scraps of space in my suitcase with loot from the Italian supermarket. Olive oil, parmesan wedges, dried mushrooms, biscotti and sauame all came with me. As did a paket of curious greens that caught my eye in the vegetable aisle. I wasn’t completely sure what it was, but decided to take a risk and do some research when I got home.
It turns out I hit the jackpot – agretti, or ‘barba di frate’ (Monks’ beard) has all but sold out in the UK, I later found out. It is quite delicate and subtle in flavour that is slightly spinach-like. Cooked properly it has a lovely bite, a bit like samphire. It likes classic italian flavours – garlic, anchovies, lemon. Although it’s not so easy to get hold of, it is well worth picking some up if you do happen to stumble upon it. I also had to take some artichokes back as they were absolutely everywhere we went and wonderful to cook with. The recipes below are inspired by these ingredients and the simple, delicious dishes that Italy is so renowned for.
Agretti with Chilli, Ricotta, Caramelised Lemon and Pine Nuts
You will need:
Large bunch agretti
2 tbsp olive oil
1 chilli, finely chopped
20g pine nuts, toasted
small handful greek basil leaves
1. Remove any tough ends of the agretti before plunging into a large pan of boiling, salted water. After about a minute, drain and season with salt and pepper as well as a drizzle of olive oil.
2. Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions. Meanwhile, strip the lemon of it’s zest using a zester or a sharp knife to create little shards of zest, avoiding any pith. Heat a little olive oil in a large pan and cook the zest until golden and beginning to caramelise. Set aside.
3. Drain the pasta and toss in little olive oil. Add the agretti, lemon zest, chilli and ricotta as well as a squeeze of lemon juice. Season and serve, topped with pine nuts and basil leaves.
Roman Baked Artichokes
You will need:
4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp grated pecorino cheese
4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
4 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped oregano
2 tbsp chopped basil
juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra
4 medium sized artichokes
150ml dry vermouth
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. In a small bowl, combine chopped anchovy fillets, minced garlic, pecorino, breadcrumbs, herbs, lemon juice and zest. Add the olive oil and mix to form a thick paste.
2. Cut off about 2 cm of the artichoke tops and rub with the leftover lemons. Pry oven the individual leaves and stuff with the herby breadcrumb mixture. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and the vermouth. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes, until tender. Uncover for the final 10 minutes to allow the artichokes and breadcrumbs to crisp up. Serve with chunky bread and a crisp green salad.
I have been working with Tenderstem® recently to create some recipes under their ‘date night’ theme. This really appealed to me as I love the idea of giving vegetables a starring role by building a dish around them. Tenderstem is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale and although at its best in the Spring, is available in the UK all year round. In the States, it is more commonly known as Broccolini and is not to be mistaken with Broccoli rabe, which is in the turnip family.
Incredibly, a 100g portion gives you your entire daily requirement of vitamin C as well but Tenderstem is also packed full of vitamin A, calcium, folate and iron. It is an incredibly versatile ingredient as it can be steamed, boiled and stir fried of course, but I particularly love it roasted or grilled. You can even eat it raw in salads or as a crudité. I’ve put together an elegant date night dish for Tenderstem® with polenta and chorizo crumbs (for when you want to impress your date) and a more relaxed pizza for when you’ve been together a bit longer and just fancy a slobbing out in front of the telly. Finally I’ve wrapped them in prosciutto with a hollandaise-style dip, which would make a lovely starter – or even brunch the next day.
Smoky Three Cheese Polenta with Sautéed Tenderstem, Chorizo Crumbs and Parsley
You will need:
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
50g chorizo, finely chopped or blitzed in a food processor
40g fresh breadcrumbs
200g instant polenta
50g smoked cheese, grated
30g grated mozzarella
30g parmesan, grated
1 tsp chipotle paste, optional
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
small bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped.
1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the tenderstem and simmer until just cooked through, with a little bite, about 5-7 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to stop the broccoli cooking and set the colour and texture.
2. Heat 1/2 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan and add the chorizo. Fry until golden then remove to drain on kitchen paper, keeping the fragrant oil in the pan. Add the breadcrumbs and fry in the oil until crispy – about 3 minutes. Combine with the cooked chorizo.
3. Fill a large saucepan with 1 litre of cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer then slowly pour in the polenta. Lower the heat immediately and stir continuously until cooked, about 5-7 minutes.
4. Remove from the heat and add all of the cheese, stirring until completely dissolved. If you’d like extra smoky flavour, add up to 1 tsp of chipotle paste.
5. In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of oil and add the tenderstem and garlic slices. Sauté until heated through and the garlic is crispy.
6. To serve, reheat the polenta and divide between four plates. Top with the tenderstem and sprinkle with chorizo crumbs and chopped parsley.
You will need:
For the pizza:
300g wholemeal flour or wholegrain spelt flour
30g grated parmesan
1x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100ml double cream
25g grated parmesan
50g grated mozzarella
1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked and roughly chopped
2 large handfuls rocket
For the red pepper sauce:
2 red peppers
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli, deseeded
50g blanched almonds
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Being by making the pizza dough. Combine the wholemeal or wholegrain flour, grated parmesan, yeast and 1 tsp salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix together the warm water and oil and pour almost all of it into the bowl, mixing with your hands as you go. Add as much of the rest of the water as you need for form a sticky dough. Tip onto a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes, so it comes together and feels elastic. Cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes in a warmish place.
2. Meanwhile, make the red pepper sauce. Grill the peppers in the oven or, if you are feeling confident, over a gas hob until charred. Leave until cool enough to handle, then remove the skin, seeds and any remaining stalk. Blitz the peppers in a food processor along with the garlic, chilli, almonds and vinegar. With the motor running, gradually add the olive oil until you have a dressing-like sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Place the tenderstem in a large pan of salted boiling water. Cook until just tender, about 5-7 minutes. Refresh under cold water, drain thoroughly and set aside.
4. Preheat the oven to 200 C. Divide the dough into two and roll out on a floured work surface into two rounds, about the thickness of a pound coin. Place each round on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and leave for a further 15 minutes until beginning to poof up.
5. Combine the cream and cheeses with a little seasoning. Spread over the pizzas and sprinkle over the rosemary. Top with the tenderstem and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and the veg is starting to crisp up. Top with the rocket and drizzle with the red pepper sauce just before serving.
You will need:
80g prosciutto slices, halved lengthways
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
100g hollandaise sauce
zest and juice of 1 lemon
small bunch chives, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the tenderstem and simmer until just cooked with a little bite, about 5-7 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
2. Wrap each broccoli stem in a piece of prosciutto and place on an oven tray. Drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic oil and bake for about 15 minutes, until the prosciutto has started to crisp up.
3. Meanwhile, mix the hollandaise with the lemon zest, chives and a squeeze of juice. Serve with the tenderstem broccoli, letting your guests dip the stems into the sauce.
So it’s been a while since my last post, but I do have my reasons! Naturally, work projects do tend to nuzzle in and get in the way but also I’ve been on holiday over the Easter period. And in between that and house hunting, choir commitments (I joined a fantastic choir at the start of the year called Lips) and trying to build a website for my work portfolio, the blog has fallen by the wayside.
No matter, because I’ve just returned from a glorious 10 days in Italy (more on that to follow) and suddenly Spring has sprung. The sun is shining and London seems decidedly less grumpy, more scantily clad and frequently to be found drinking in the middle of the day. Which is a pretty great state of affairs to come back to.
There’s also fantastic new produce everywhere I turn- lots of gorgeous green leafy vegetables and crisp beans and peas, all perky and bright. It’s enough to make you want to start a new health regime or at least blitz up a few green juices. Which is just as well as this is exactly what is required after my holiday, but then what is Italy, really, without the pasta, pizza and gelato? And red wine, of course. And Prosecco. And Aperol Spritz.
For me, the arrival of wild garlic (also known as ransoms) really heralds Spring properly. As a cousin to chives, they might not be the best ingredient to put through your juicer, but they are wonderful to cook with, something that I encourage you to do as soon as possible- the season is short lived.
I found mine for sale at my local deli, however, back home in Sweden (a nation of foragers!), I’m more likely to pick them in the wild. Do be careful when you go looking for wild garlic- it bears a striking resemblance to several poisonous plants. Whenever you are foraging, it is best to be completely sure that what you are picking is indeed edible- don’t eat anything you aren’t able to correctly identify. Wild Food UK offers courses in foraging for those keen to find out more. And remember to ask permission from the landowner before you collect your loot!
Add them to a creamy risotto with peas, asparagus and broad beans or stir chopped wild garlic through buttery new potatoes (perfect with Spring lamb). Alternatively, you could try this recipe for fluffy savoury scones- the wild garlic pairs really well with the goats cheese. They are very moreish straight out of the oven with plenty of butter but also great paired with a Spring soup- I like a creamy carrot or beetroot in particular.
Wild Garlic and Goats Cheese Scones
(makes 8 scones)
You will need:
225g self raising flour
black pepper (from a mill)
120g soft goat’s cheese
1 large egg
4 heaped tbsp roughly chopped wild garlic
2-3 tbsp whole milk, plus a little extra
1. Preheat the oven to 190 C/ 375 F/ Gas Mark 5. Sift he flour and salt into a large bowl along with a good few grinds of pepper. In a small bowl, mash together the cheese and egg then stir through the wild garlic.
2. Mix this into the flour along with a few tablespoonfulls of milk, enough to make a soft but not sticky dough. Tip out onto a lightly floured worksurface and knead briefly to come together. Roll into a rough circle, about 20cm in diameter and 1 cm thick. Cut into eight wedges and brush each with a little milk.
3. Place each wedge onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 18-20 minutes until risen and golden. Serve warm, slathered in butter or allow to cool and serve as an accompaniment to soup.