It’s Shrove Tuesday and Pancake Day! An absolutely brilliant British institution- why don’t all nations have a dedicated day for eating pancakes? We generally go to town and have some savoury (generally stuffed and baked) followed by a few (or perhaps more than a few) with sugar, lemon, melted chocolate, ice cream… It is only once year, after all.
In Sweden, pancake day isn’t nearly as big as it is in the UK. Instead, they have semlor- wonderful cardamom-scented buns, filled with marzipan and whipped cream especially for Shrove Tuesday. So fair play, really. However, when it comes to pancakes, the Swedes have got something right. It’s called a pancake cake. And it is exactly what it says on the tin- a stack of pancakes layered with fillings, most often cream and berries, and served as a cake with messy slices cut out of it.
One of my favourite books as a child was a beautifully illustrated story book called the Pancake Cake about Mr Pettson and his cat, Findus. For the cat’s birthday, Pettson sets out to make a pancake cake. For this he needs flour, which involves going to the shop. But his bicycle has a flat tyre and the pump is locked in a shed. And the key for the shed is at the bottom of a well, so they need a ladder. But the ladder is in a field with an angry bull in it. So they have to distract the bull, to get the ladder to get the key to get into the shed to get the pump to… you get the picture. Hilarity ensues.
This is my hat tip to Pettson and Findus. A very simple blueberry and lemon flavoured pancake cake that can be made as outrageously tall as you like. For a smaller cake, simply halve the recipe.
Blueberry and Lemon Pancake Cake
You will need:
400g plain flour
4 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp melted butter plus more for frying
2 lemons, zested and juiced
290ml double cream
blueberry jam- or your favourite jam, raspberry and strawberry also work very well
blueberries, to serve
1. To make the pancake batter, sift the flour into a large bowl along with a pinch of salt. Make a well and add the eggs, milk, butter and 100ml of water. Whisk together until you have a thick batter. Add most of the zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. Set to one side for about 20 minutes to let any bubbles or lumps of flour settle.
2. Fry your pancakes. For this cake I used a small frying pan, but you could just as well use a large one. Melt a little butter in a hot pan and add half a ladle full of the batter. Immediately swirl the pan around to evenly disperse the mixture. Once bubbles start to appear on the surface and the bottom seems dry, flip the pancake over using a spatula. Fry for another minute or so. This first pancake is likely to be a disaster- this is the universal pancake rule. Eat it immediately sprinkled with sugar and then carry on making more pancakes. As you can gain confidence, you can try having two pans on the go at the same time and perhaps doing some pancake flips?
3. Allow your pancakes to cool completely on a wire rack. Whip your cream quite stiffly, adding a little squeeze of lemon juice and any remaining zest. Sweeten if you like. Layer the pancakes on a serving plate, alternating with the jam, cream and berries. Finish by spreading the top layer with cream and decorating with more blueberries and perhaps a sprig of mint.
There seem to be so many wonderful things in season at the moment. There’s all the summer abundance of fruit, berries, leaves and beans. Then there’s the exciting prospect of a more autumnal harvest right around the corner- blackberries, figs then eventually pumpkins, apples, cobnuts and game. So much to enjoy and so much to look forward to!
My greengrocer has been coming up trumps. I don’t know if the area is attracting a more discerning vegetable consumer (a belated Olympic effect, perhaps? The East End seems to be getting more gentrified by the minute), but suddenly I’ve got heritage tomatoes, baby aubergines and chanterelles on my doorstep. There are also beautiful courgettes, including the fat, yellow variety.
I think these in particular warrant a celebration and what better way than by turning them into the main affair? I first tried a version of this dish at Leiths for our ‘creative red mullet’ day by pairing thin strips of courgette with basil oil and pan fried fish. I love red mullet, but the courgette ‘pasta’ was a real revelation. I recognise that this may seem like diet food in disguise and I suppose it could be, but I promise you won’t miss the carbohydrate. However, if you do want to make it even healthier, tone down the olive oil.
You will need:
200g baby tomatoes
1 yellow courgette
1 green courgette
100g baby spinach
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 small red onions, sliced
handful of basil, torn
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juice and zest
Sea salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 190 C. Slice baby tomatoes in half through their middles (they look prettier that way) and place on an oven tray. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until cooked through and beginning to caramelise, approx 20-25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make your courgette tagliatelle. Use a wide peeler (like a speed peeler) to create thin slices of courgette, moving around the vegetable to get the right shape. You only want the outer, more dense layer of courgette (and the beautiful skins)- do not use the middle, water-logged seed-y part. You’ll end up with a long, rectangular bit of courgette, which you can discard or save for soups or stir fries.
3. Gently fry the onion until just soft. Add the garlic and spinach and heat until the spinach has just wilted. Off the heat, add the roasted tomatoes, lemon zest, basil, a drizzle of olive oil and season.
4. In a separate frying pan, add the strips of courgette with a splash of lemon juice and another drizzle of olive oil. You don’t want to fry the courgette as such, merely heat the strips through- the bite is part of the appeal.
5. Plate up the courgette and top with the tomato and spinach mixture. Finish with a grating of Parmesan and wolf down.
I have always believed that a poor workman blames his tools and therefore try (albeit with muttering reluctancy) to take some responsibility for my stumbles, both in the kitchen and out.
That was until I started at catering college.
Never again, Ikea knives. Never again, sieves with holes in them, blunt graters and rusty pans. The knives in particular are a revelation. They cut through tendons and joints like butter, making filleting flesh a cinch. I realise I sound ever so slightly Hannibalistic, but I think Japanese steel could awaken the inner butcher in anyone.
Also- who would have known there were so many uses for a slotted spoon? Why on earth don’t I have one at home? Why do I never warm my plates or use a warming oven? I’ve been eating tepid food all my life, I’m sure. What about using a cartouche? I’m really only being mildly dramatic when I say that this little piece of circular baking paper, scrunched up, dampened and placed on top of frying veg, has changed my life forever.
The effects of my first five weeks of cooking under watchful, reassuring tutelage have perhaps not begun to seep into my technique quite yet- I still chop vegetables at roughly the same speed as the Hammersmith and City line. And don’t even get me started on turning them. However, the month has certainly made a kitchen materialist out of me. Lakeland and Nisbets- you’ll have seen me coming.
And while we’re on the subject of knife skills, a friend recently told me that she imagined catering college was a bit like that scene from Julie and Julia, where Meryl Streep is manically chopping onions. Needless to say, the reality isn’t quite worthy of a movie-montage. It’s much too slow, with ups and downs, highs and lows and more gradual sense of achievement. And sometimes just flat out disappointment. The majority of the time, though, I feel so flooded with information that I get to the end of the week and can’t even remember what I’ve cooked that same day (spaghetti vongole and sauce espagnole, for those who were wondering. And yes, I made the pasta from scratch. Natch.)
In short, I hope all this goes some way to explain why Always So Hungry has had slightly less activity than usual- it’s not because I haven’t been doing any cooking. Rather, because I’ve been doing too much cooking!
So until I’ve mastered a bit more and taken stock (from making stock…sorry, couldn’t resist), I’ll leave you with a recipe for a culinary classic. One that I made ages ago and simply haven’t had the time to post. It seems particularly apt to feature meringues, given that I seem to get through about a billion eggs every week. Enjoy.
Lemon Meringue Pie
(from Leiths Cookery Bible)
You will need:
For the pastry (rich, sweet shortcrust):
170g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
For the filling:
4 tbsp cornflour
225g caster sugar
290 ml water
4 egg yolks
grated zest and juice of 2 1/2 large unwaxed lemons
For the meringue topping:
3 tbsp water
2 tsp cornflour
4 egg whites
110g caster sugar + a little extra
1. Sift the flour with the salt into a large bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (you can also use a food processor at this stage if you have one).
2. Mix the egg yolk with about 2 tbsp of water and sprinkle about half of this mixture over the flour. You may need to add more, but be careful not to make the pastry too damp.
3. Mix to a firm dough, first with a knife, then with one hand. Add more of the yolk-water mixture if necessary.
4. Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out the pastry and line a round 20 cm flan or tart tin. Chill until firm in the fridge then blind bake in the oven- removing your baking beads/grains when the sides are almost golden and allowing the base to cook through.
6. Turn the oven temperature down to 180 degrees. Make the filling by combining the cornflour, sugar and water in a saucepan. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and translucent.
7. Whisk the egg yolks into the still hot mixture then pass through a sieve. Add the lemon juice and zest.
8. Pour the hot filling into the warm pastry case and place in the centre of the oven for 5-10 minutes.
9. Make the meringue topping by whisking the water and cornflour in a small saucepan over a medium heat, again, until thick and translucent. Remove from the heat.
10. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks before gradually adding the caster sugar, whisking all the while. Whisk in the warm cornflour mixture.
11. Pile the meringue on top of the filling, starting at the edge next to the pastry, then moving towards the centre, to form a bit of a mound in the middle. Use a fork to create peaks, then sprinkle with a little extra sugar.
12. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the topping is light brown.
13. Allow to cool before serving or refrigerate if serving the next day.
Having said that, one pumpkin can go a really long way in terms of feeding the masses, so it gets bonus points on that front. And there are ways to use it that work really well, either with other ingredients to lift and bring out its sweetness or as a way to add moisture and texture. And don’t forget that the seeds are edible too and make for a great snack.
Here are some ideas to make your pumpkin go further. These three dishes all came from one medium sized pumpkin.
To enhance the flavour:
Roast pumpkin, lemon and sage risotto.
You will need:
To serve 4
300 g pumpkin, cut into wedges, skin on
sea salt, pepper
2 cloves of garlic
2 lemons, zested and juiced
200g risotto rice- arborio or carnaroli
100 ml white wine or dry vermouth
1 L good quality chicken or vegetable stock
A bunch of sage leaves, torn
1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Lay the pumpkin wedges on an oven proof tray and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Scatter with salt an pepper and bake until just tender, about 40 mins.
2. Chop the onion and mince the garlic. In a large, heavy-based pan, sweat the onions in some olive oil over a medium heat. Add the minced garlic, the zest of one lemon, a few torn sage leaves and the rice and mix well. Fry these for a minute or so, allowing the rice to absorb some of the fragrant oils in the pan.
3. Add the white wine and vermouth and allow to bubble away. Once reduced, begin adding the stock, about a fourth at a time.
4. Cook until the rice is just tender with a bit of bite to it and the liquid has been absorbed and you have a creamy consistency.
5. Add the chopped pumpkin and lemon juice/zest to taste as well as a good grating of Parmesan. Allow to come together for a minute or two. Serve in hearty bowls with a grating of cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and some more sage.
To add umph to a cake- This recipe is adapted from this one I found on the BBC Good Food website. I had some leftover coconut milk kicking about, so I used this for sweetness instead and reduced the amounts of honey and sugar. To add more coconut flavour, add some essence or replace 50g of the flour with 50g of dessicated coconut.
Pumpkin, Ginger and Coconut loaf
You will need:
50g cooled melted butter
75 g honey
1 large egg
150 ml coconut milk
1 tsp coconut essence (optional)
250g grated pumpkin
100g light muscovado sugar
350g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp demerara or light muscovado sugar
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Butter and line a loaf tin.
2. Combine the flour, muscovado and ginger in a small bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the egg, honey, butter, coconut milk, essence and grated pumpkin.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix until well combined.
5. Pour into your prepared loaf tin and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
6. Bake for an hour until golden and cooked through when tested with a cake tester. Allow to cool before slicing and spreading liberally with butter.
Waste not want not:
Smoky Pumpkin Seeds
When carving your pumpkin, it is generally assumed that you scoop out the fleshy innards, including the seeds and chuck them in the bin. Don’t. Save the seeds- pop them in a bowl and into the fridge until you have a spare 15 minutes and you’ve got the oven on.
You want it to be set to 200 degrees C and have a large oven tray to hand. Spread your seeds onto this and remove any stringy bits of pumpkin flesh. Sprinkle with lots of sea salt, more than you think you’ll need, pepper and some paprika. Drizzle with a good slug of oil- olive if you have it, but plain will do too. Roast in the oven, giving the seeds the occasional shuffle about, until golden and toasted. They’ll keep for about a week and make for an irresistible nibble.
I’m lucky to live just the other side of the park from the Deli Downstairs in Victoria Park Village (or Lauriston Village to use its proper name). It’s a wonderful place to pop in for a treat- they do beautiful pies, quiches, sausage rolls and cheeses. I’m a fan of their black pudding scotch egg. You can also bring your own bottle to fill with some red or white from Borough Wines. But the real reason why I love it is because it stocks the odd unusual ingredient that is just a bit harder to source- wild garlic or goats curd for example. Or a bag of pearled spelt grain for the bargainous price of £1.50.
I’d never cooked it before, but this ancient grain turns out to be fantastic stuff. It has a slightly nutty flavour, but much more neutral than something like pearl barley, which I always think tastes like musty, damp socks. You simply boil it until tender and then use it as a side dish, instead of rice or in a salad as you would do with cracked bulgur wheat or couscous. I decided to go down a more risotto-esque route by stirring in some creme fraiche, feta cheese, lime zest and thyme. Along with a colourful salad of tomato, peppers and chorizo, this made for a satisfying supper which I highly recommend. You just might have to pop down to South Hackney to get all the ingredients.