So I woke up this morning to rain and wind battering outside. Autumn is in full swing and I feel like it’s already just a matter of time before Christmas. How did that happen? Meanwhile, it’s been a busy time in my kitchen with a heavy work load seeing my already bursting cupboards fill up even more in a whirlwind of shoots and recipe testing. I also recently worked with chef Valentine Warner on some lunches for furniture makers Another Country, which was full on but great fun.
When there’s been a spare moment, I’ve been trying to make the most of Autumn produce as it is probably my favourite season for fruit and veg. There’s something so exciting about the deep colours and flavours at this time of year. It also lends itself particularly well to hunker-down comfort dishes, the perfect excuse to indulge. In particular, some purple and green figs in local Turkish greengrocer’s caught my eye. Their honeyed flavour is incredibly versatile in both sweet and savoury dishes so I’ve been making the most of them in puddings, jams and a steak salad. I’ve actually been hanging on to some of these recipes for a little while, since last year in fact, but wanted to re-test them and take a few new (better) snaps. I hope they are worth the wait.
Steak, fig and rocket salad
You will need:
1 rump steak
3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 ripe figs
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 bag of rocket
1 chicory bulb, leaves torn
50g walnuts, toasted
parmesan, shaved, to serve
1. Begin by marinading the steak. Mix together the chopped leaves from 1 rosemary sprig with the garlic, a generous pinch each of sea salt and cracked black pepper and 1 tbsp olive oil. Rub all over the steak, cover and leave in the fridge for about a couple of hours.
2. Meanwhile, make the dressing. Scoop out the flesh of two figs and mash with a fork. Mix with the remaining oil, rosemary, red wine vinegar as well as some salt and pepper. Set to one side.
3. Preheat the grill and chop the remaining figs into wedges. Drizzle with a little balsamic, season with salt and pepper and cook until starting to caramelise. Heat a grill pan until scorching hot before adding the steak. Cook for between 3-5 minutes on each side, depending on your preference. I like my steak still crawling, so I’ve gone for the lower cooking time. Leave to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.
4. To serve, toss the rocket and chicory with the dressing, figs and toasted walnuts. Divide onto two plates and arrange the steak on top, scatter over some shaved parmesan and drizzle with any remaining dressing.
Goats milk, honey and thyme ice cream with fig ripple
You will need:
4 egg yolks
1 tbsp corn or potato flour
500ml goats milk
1/2 vanilla pod, split
3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked and roughly chopped
4 plump figs
50g golden caster sugar
1. Combine the yolks, corn or potato flour and honey in a large bowl and mix until thick and creamy. Slowly add in about 100ml of the goats milk and whisk to combine completely. Heat the remaining milk in a large saucepan along with the vanilla and thyme. When just coming up to the boil, remove from the heat and gradually, slowly, pour over the yolk mixture, whisking the whole time. Discard the vanilla and pour everything back into the saucepan. Heat very gently, until thick, custardy and clinging to the back of the spoon. Allow to cool before chilling for at least 4 hours.
2. Meanwhile, scoop out the flesh of the figs and place in a small saucepan along with the caster sugar. Bring to a boil before lowering the heat and allowing to simmer for about 5-7 minutes, until thick and syrupy – add a little water if necessary. The fig should have completely broken down, but you might have to help it along a little with a fork. Allow to cool completely.
3. Turn on your ice cream maker and churn the cool custard, following manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is very thick, tip half into a plastic tub. Spoon over half of the fig and ripple through. Add the remaining mixture and repeat with the last of the fig. Freeze for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight before tucking in.
Chocolate and Fig French Toast
Serves 1 greedy person
You will need:
2 slices bread (naughty white bread is best here, or brioche)
knob of butter
a couple of thin squares of dark chocolate
1 fig, flesh scooped out and mashed or a few tbsp fig jam
1. Whisk the egg and milk together in a shallow bowl. Spread one slice of bread with the fresh fig or fig jam and top with the squares of chocolate. Sandwich with the second slice of bread. Heat the butter in a large frying pan until melted and foaming.
2. Dip the fig and chocolate sandwich in the egg and milk mixture to coat thoroughly. Quickly transfer to the pan and fry over a low heat until golden on both sides and the chocolate has melted and is beginning to ooze out. Serve straightaway.
New Years seems a long time ago now, but given that I haven’t posted anything since the holidays, I thought it worth mentioning. I had a fantastic start to 2014 up in the Lake District, battling downpours but nonetheless finding a break or two between the clouds for brisk walks amongst the valleys and dales. It is a brilliant place for a party, great for hunkering down, games, the aforementioned walks and, above all, eating. There were about 25 of us and I was put in charge of pud on the big night itself (no pressure). I went for a classic pear and frangipane tart, with plenty of boozy cream to go with, of course.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about pears and tarts recently as well as sweet spices, like cardamom, ginger and saffron. The tart recipe in this post was a bit of an experiment, but one that payed dividends. A decadent dinner party pudding with ginger pastry, saffron poached pears and rich, bitter chocolate ganache. I implore you to give it a go.
In other news, I was recently given a selection of syrups from Iceland. These include birch-tree syrup, rhubarb syrup and a berry syrup. It is very difficult to find anything out about these syrups online, mostly because all my search efforts seem to lead to the budget frozen supermarket chain, Iceland, and its online listing for Lyle’s golden syrup. I’ll keep researching, but what I can tell you is that these little pots are a total joy. I was particularly excited to try the birch syrup as I recently went to Scandinavian food event where I had birch sap sparkling wine by Sav, which was, incidentally, absolutely delicious.
With my birch sap syrup pot, I made a pear and birch spread for toast and cakes. Fruit butters are really no more than purees and sound much fancier than they are. But I do love the idea of making these as preserves and having a jar around just for when you fancy it. This would make a great cake filling as well. Of course, if you can’t get hold of birch sap you can simply use a high quality maple syrup. I also grilled some pears, brushed them with birch tree syrup and then simply served alongside a simple cardamom yoghurt. This actually makes a delicious, slightly unusual breakfast and is just the thing to ward against these wet days.
Spiced Pear, Coconut and Birch Butter
You will need:
5 medium pears, peeled
2 tbsp birch syrup (or good quality maple syrup)
pinch sea salt
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1. Preheat your oven to 200C. Roughly chop pears and place on a baking tray. In a small bowl, mix together the syrup, salt, coconut oil and ground cinnamon.
2. Toss through the pears and bake for about 30 min until golden and beginning to caramelise. Cool thoroughly then blitz in a mixer or using a hand blender. Spread over toast, muffins or stirred into your muesli for breakfast. Will keep for 1 week in the fridge.
This is a rich, decadent dessert. Perfect to impress as it combines pastry making skills, pear-poaching and chocolate work (ganache). However, it really is easy as pie to make and looks beautiful once you cut into it. Definitely one for the grown ups, though, as the chocolate is bitter and the saffron aromatic.
Chocolate Pear Tart with Saffron and Ginger
You will need:
For the pears:
6 pears, peeled
100g caster sugar
100ml pear liqueur
1/2 tsp saffron strands
2 slices ginger
1 strip lemon peel
For the pastry:
250g plain flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 egg yolks
For the ganache:
250ml double cream
200g dark chocolate, chopped
1. To poach the pears, heat the pear liqueur and water in a large saucepan. Add the sugar, saffron, ginger and lemon peel and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears and bring to a gentle simmer. Top with the round of greaseproof paper and weight down with a saucer. Cover and allow the pears to poach until just tender, about 30 minutes. Lift out and allow to cool before halving and scooping out the core with a teaspoon.
2. Meanwhile, make the pastry. Sift together the flour, salt, sugar and ginger. Work in the cubes of butter until you have a breadcrumb-like consistency. You can either do this by hand or in a mixer. Combine the egg yolks with 2 tbsp of water and add about half of it to the flour mixture. Work to a dough, adding more liquid if necessary. Wrap into cling and flatten into a disc then chill for 30 min. Roll out, line and blind bake the pastry case for about 20 min in a 200C oven.
3. Place the chocolate in a small bowl. Bring the cream to a boil and then pour over the chocolate. Leave to stand for a few minutes, then stir to combine. Add a few tsp of the saffron syrup to taste along with some additional pear liqueur, if desired. Finally, stir in the eggs.
4. Preheat the oven to 180C. Arrange the pears in pastry case then pour over chocolate ganache. Bake 25-30 mins, until just set with a tiny bit of wobble.
I recognise that my previous post was practically a love letter to the current season, so this post is going to be a bit more pessimistic. This weather is a pain in the arse. It is only me, or is it unusually cold and damp for this time of year? I’ve just managed to get rid of a scratchy, chesty cough, but still feel quite run down.
It’s a situation that calls for vegetables. The iron-packed variety preferably in as virtuous a form as possible, not slathered in cheese or anything. I’ll take this cavolo nero and bean soup, topped with a vitamin c packed gremolata to ward away bugs and nurse me back to health.
Cavolo nero is cabbage’s stylish, Italian cousin. Tall, dark and handsome, that kind of thing. This soup recipe has been nicked from the Waitrose website. It is very much what I think of as a classic version of this kind of Tuscan-inspired, hearty potage and it tastes brilliant as well as being incredibly good for you.
Cannellini Bean and Cavolo Nero Soup
You will need:
For the soup
1 tbsp olive oil
5. Meanwhile, make the gremolata. Combine the lemon zest, garlic and parsley then add just enough oil to make a paste.
6. Remove the bouquet garni and serve the soup with a sprinkling of the gremolata.
And now on to another hearty, healthy vegetable that is also in season, but this time the recipe actually is slathered in cheese, I’m afraid. But life would be pretty dull if it was virtuous all the time.
As we approach Halloween, all sorts of gourds and squashes appear on supermarket and green grocer’s shelves. They are so beautiful, it’s almost a shame to eat them. Indeed, my mother would often have a bowl full of different coloured and shaped squashes as decoration around this time of year, but I don’t recall her ever cooking with them.
But they are in fact absolutely delicious, roast wonderfully and are particularly good stuffed with a chunky, cheesy sauce. We had some Shropshire blue cheese in the fridge that was calling out to be used in this, but any strong blue cheese would work, really. If you aren’t a fan, Parmesan or goats cheese make for good substitutes.
Stuffed Globe Courgettes
You will need:
2 globe courgettes
1 large portabella mushroom
1/4 leek or 1 banana shallot
1 garlic clove
100g Shropshire blue cheese or other strong cheese
2 tbsp creme fraiche
1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Cut the tops off of the courgettes to create ‘lids.’ Scoop and scrape out the flesh to create cavernous spaces. Reserve the excess courgette.
2. Finely chop the leek or shallot and portabella mushroom. Fry the leeks/shallot in some olive oil before adding the mushrooms. Saute for a few minutes while you chop up the inside bits of the courgette and mince the garlic clove.
3. Add the garlic and courgette to the pan and keep frying. Season with salt, pepper and chopped rosemary.
4. Add 75g of the crumbled cheese and the creme fraiche and let bubble away over a low heat until all the cheese has melted. Pour the mixture into the scooped out courgettes.
5. Top with the remaining cheese and put the ‘lids’ back on. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Serve with a fresh green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette.
I love, love, love October. The leaves! The slight chill in the air! The colours! I know everyone raves about Autumn or Fall, to be all American about it, but surely even the most cynical of seasonal apathists must take some pleasure in this time of year.
For me, it’s the autumnal harvest that does it- some of my favourite things come to bountiful fruition over this period. Blackberries, apples, pumpkins and squash, leafy green kale, root veg, chestnuts, game. It’s all good, hearty stuff for when the nights begin to draw in and there’s lots of brilliant (and some shamefully awful) period drama on telly.
Plums take centre stage in this post- wonderfully versatile in that they can be transformed into sweet, salty or spicy treats. I think they are really delicious with rich meats or pungent cheeses in the form of a chutney. The European plum is in season from August until the end of this month, so get pickling now.
The delicious vanilla-scented upside down plum cake was actually one I made towards the end of the summer, as a treat to enjoy when we were queueing for the proms. Make sure you caramelise the plums completely to get that gorgeous sticky crunch at the top.
You will need:
2 tbsp butter
5 large plums, roughly chopped
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp mustard seeds
100 ml honey or syrup
50 g sugar
1 red chili, chopped
200 ml white wine
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1. Melt the butter over a low heat and add the plums, onion, garlic and mustard seeds. Cook for a few minutes until the onions are soft and translucent.
2. Add the honey, sugar and chili and stir for a few moments. Add the liquid ingredients and cook over a low heat for about 25-30 minutes. The plums should begin to melt and thicken into a jam-like consistency.
3. Season with salt and pepper before transferring to a sterilised jar and allowing to cool. The chutney will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.
You will need:
150g butter, softened
3 tbsp milk
270g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
3 tsp butter
1 vanilla pod
4.5 tbsp icing sugar
1. Put the oven on to 200 C and line and grease a loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin. Halve the plums and remove their stones.
2. Beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Add the milk.
3. Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and slowly add to the mixture.
4. Melt the 3 tsp of butter and add the plums. Coat with the melted butter before adding the icing sugar. Sizzle until the plums start to caramelise slightly. Arrange in the bottom of the cake tin, cut side facing down.
5. Pour the cake batter into the tin and put in the oven for 30-35 minutes. To check if the cake is ready, prick with a cake tester- it should come out clean and the top of the cake should be slightly golden.