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.
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.
So it’s Shrove Tuesday, which here in the UK is celebrated with pancakes, generally something which I have absolutely no objection to whatsoever. It was pancake day on one of our first dates, so my husband and I always mark it- usually with some crepes stuffed with spinach, ham and cheese, slathered with more cheese before baking. Sweet ones to follow, of course.
But in Sweden, the tradition is to eat semlor on ‘fettisdagen’ or Fat Tuesday. Originally, these buns were really quite simple and based very much on the classic ‘vetebröd’ (literally ‘wheat-bread’) recipe. Sweetened, leavened bread flavoured with cardamom- pretty much the same thing we’d use for cinnamon buns. Semlor were served floating in a bowl of milk, for dipping and dunking. But traditions, of course, evolve. The Sweden.se homepage describes the semla’s trajectory best:
‘At some point Swedes grew tired of the strict observance of Lent, added cream and almond paste to the mix and started eating semla every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter.
Today, no such reservations exist and semlor (the plural of semla) usually appear in bakery windows as near after Christmas as is deemed decent – and sometimes even before. This is followed by a collective, nationwide moan about how it gets earlier every year. Shortly thereafter people begin to eat the things like the world will end tomorrow.’
I know that my last post exalted the virtues of restraint and substitution in order to make a sweet treat a bit healthier. This post, by contrast, is really all about excess, which is as it should be on the last day before Lent. My take on the semla uses plain flour, which gives them a cakier texture and just a dash of cardamom- it’s more for the scent than anything else. Unfilled they freeze really well, so you can make them in advance and have a stash to hand.
Semlor (Swedish Lent Buns)
Makes 24 mini buns or 12 big ‘uns
You will need:
For the buns:
75g unsalted butter
150ml whole milk
5g fresh yeast
60g golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom (or 2 tbsp pods, shelled and ground)
400g plain flour
For the almond paste
100g blanched almonds
75g golden caster sugar
Double cream, whipped
1. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Add the milk and bring to blood temperature. Crumble the yeast into a large bowl with the sugar. Pour over a little of the milk mixture and stir until the yeast and sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining liquid, 1 beaten egg, salt and cardamom.
2. Gradually add the flour, stirring until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly, until it comes together to form an elastic dough. Return to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, make the almond paste by blitzing the blanched almonds to a fine powder. Add the sugar and continue blitzing to a smooth paste- it may take a little while for the oils in the nuts to release, be patient. Cover and pop in the fridge until needed.
4. Tip the dough out of the bowl and onto your work surface. Knock back a little before dividing and rolling into buns. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, about 2 cm apart. Again, cover with the tea towel and leave for about 45 minutes, until almost doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
5. Beat the remaining egg and use to lightly glaze the buns. Bake for 7-8 minutes for small buns and up to 10 for larger, until golden. Cool on a wire rack completely.
6. To serve, cut off the tops of the buns and scoop out a little of the bread-y middles. Fill with a spoonful of almond paste and spritz or spoon in the cream. Crown with the reserved bun tops and dust with icing sugar.
Be my slightly less sweet Valentine this year. This decadent chocolate cake is exactly what you would want to make for a loved one or to finish a romantic meal. Except it isn’t quite as naughty as it seems. This cake is free from refined sugar, sweetened instead with dates and a little maple syrup. There’s no dairy just coconut oil instead of butter and coconut cream for the frosting. And there’s no flour or grains at all, so it’s completely gluten free. There is, however, a surprise ingredient- black beans. I recognise that this sounds a little incongruous, but trust me, it makes for a really moreish, fudgy texture. Anyway, everyone is doing it- it’s the new beetroot as far as chocolate cake baking goes and just as delicious. My apologies for the Roxette pun in the title, I couldn’t resist.
Chocolate Black Bean Cake with Hazelnut Mocha Mousse and Coconut Frosting
Makes 1 cake
You will need:
For the cake:
1 can black beans (400g), drained
2 tbsp very strong coffee
5 fat medjool dates, pitted
3 tbsp maple syrup.
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g raw cocoa powder
75g coconut oil, plus a little extra
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
5 eggs, separated
For the mousse:
150g hazelnuts, covered in cold water and soaked overnight
2 tbsp very strong coffee
1 tbsp raw cocoa
1 tbsp maple syrup
For the frosting:
150 ml coconut cream
1-2 tbsp maple syrup, to taste.
Red fruits like strawberries, raspberries, red currants, pomegranate seeds and figs, to serve
2 tbsp dessicated coconut, to serve.
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease two 20cm sandwich tins with a little coconut oil. Line with parchment. In a magimix, combine the beans, dates, maple syrup, coffee, vanilla and cocoa. Blitz until completely smooth- it should take a few minutes before the dates have completely dispersed into the mixture.
2. Add the coconut oil and continue blitzing untill the coconut oil has completely dispersed- there should be no white flecks. Add the bicarb, salt and egg yolks and blitz until just combined and transfer to a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Beat a large spoonful of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten slightly. In three separate additions, fold in the egg whites until just combined. Divide equally between the two sandwich tins and bake for 20-22 minutes, until firm to the touch with a little spring and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins.
4. To make the mousse, drain the hazelnuts and place in the magimix with the cocoa powder, coffee and maple syrup. Blitz until broken up and grainy, stopping to clean down the sides from time to time. With the motor running, slowly add 150ml of cold water and continue to blitz until you have a light, fluffy mixture. Set aside.
5. For the coconut frosting, whisk the coconut cream in a small bowl sweetened with a little maple syrup. Refrigerate until needed. Spread the mousse on one of the chocolate cakes, then top with the second. Frost with the coconut cream and decorate with fruit. Finally, dust with a little dessicated coconut.