The last few days have been gloriously sunny and bright- a real shock to the system after the wet, dank weather we’ve had since the start of the year. The only thing that really keeps me going towards from February to March is the promise of lighter days, warmer weather and finally being able to hang up my winter coat. It looks like I’ll be doing that a couple of weeks earlier this year- this weekend we even sat outside at the pub, squinting into the sun.
There is one bright and brilliant addition to the last push of winter that I always look forward to, though: blood oranges. It seems strange that this vibrant citrus fruit is in season during the winter, though I’m not complaining, as they always seem to arrive just when I need an injection of freshness and long for lighter foods. This year, I was lucky enough to find bergamots for sale alongside blood oranges at the brilliant Deli Downstairs, my local treasure trove. So I had a bit of a mad few weeks where every meal was finished with a juicy, plump Sicilian blood orange, bright juices streaming down my hands and feat like some sort of gory feast. But I also experimented with them in salads, puddings and bakes. The results are in.
Blood Orange Curd
Adapted from Steve Parle’s recipe, found here.
(makes 1 large jar)
You will need:
400ml blood orange juice (from about 8 blood oranges)
zest of 3 blood oranges
150g caster sugar
10 eggs (5 whole and 5 yolks)
200g butter, cubed
1. Sit a medium sized bowl over a pan of just simmering water. Add the blood orange juice, zest sugar and whole eggs along with 5 yolks. Allow to thicken for about 15 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the butter, one cube at a time, waiting until each has melted before adding the next one. Tip into a large sterilised jar, allow to cool completely then refrigerate. Use within two weeks.
Blood Orange and Mascarpone Victoria Sponge
You will need:
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
175g self-raising flour, sifted
1 blood orange, zest and juice
blood orange curd
1 tub mascarpone
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease 2 x 23cm springform cake tins, lining each with a circle of greaseproof paper and greasing again. Cream the butter and sugar together with electric beaters until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, continuing to beat between each addition. Fold in the flour and orange zest, adding 1-2 tbsp of juice to lighten the mixture slightly.
2. Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 25 minutes or until the cakes are risen, golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave the cakes in their tins for 10 minutes, before removing from their tins and cooling completely on a wire rack. Generously spread one cake with the mascarpone and curd before sandwiching with the second cake.
Pan Fried Mackerel with Blood Orange and Fennel Salad
(Serves 2 as a light lunch or starter)
You will need:
220g pack of green beans, topped and tailed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
pinch of sugar1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly and any fronds reserved
2 blood oranges, peeled with any pith removed, sliced into rounds
large handful black olives, I used Kalamata
2 mackerel fillets, pin-boned (get the fish monger to do this for you)
small knob of butter
25g toasted flaked almonds
1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the beans and cook until just tender. Drain and place in a large bowl of ice cold water to cool and crisp up. Whisk together 2 tbsp of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, sugar and some seasoning. Place the fennel, blood orange slices, drained green beans and olives in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss together then divide between two plates.
2. Add the remaining oil to a large, cold pan. Sit the mackerel, skin-side down, in the pan and turn the heat on to medium. Frying your fish this way means the fillets don’t curl up and ensures perfectly crispy skin. Keep frying, basting with the oil and adding a little knob of butter if necessary. Once the flesh of the fish has gone from translucent to opaque, it has cooked through. Flip over briefly and fry for a further 30 seconds. Top the salads with the fish fillets and sprinkle with flaked almonds and any reserved fennel fronds.
Bergamot and Blood Orange Pavlovas
You will need:
5 egg whites (from the curd, see recipe above)
2 bergamots, juice and zest
275g caster sugar plus a little extra
300ml double cream
1 blood orange, segmented
blood orange curd
handful pistachios, roughly chopped
1. To make the meringues, preheat the oven to 120C. Place the egg whites in a large, preferably metal or glass, bowl with a squeeze of bergamot juice. Whisk to stiff peaks. Mix the sugar with the zest of 1 bergamot then add in heaped tablespoonfuls to the whites, whisking between each addition. Line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper, then drop on 6 even dollops of the meringue mixture, leaving as much space between each as your baking sheet will allow. Use a spoon to swirl each meringue nicely before placing the lower part of the oven for 1 hr 45 min- 2 hrs, until the meringues are crisp and dry and will easily lift off the baking sheet. Allow to cool completely.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the double cream until stiff peaks form. Add the zest of the remaining bergamot and a squeeze of the juice. Sweeten to taste with a little caster sugar, but keep in mind that the meringues are very sweet. Once ready to serve, place each meringue on a serving place the pile high with the cream, segmented blood orange slices (in the photos for these posts I used bergamot segments, but feel these were too sour), a dollop of blood orange curd and a sprinkle of the pistachios. Serve immediately.
Blood Orange Jelly with Custard
(makes 5-6 individual or 1 large jelly)
You will need:
For the jelly:
3 leaves of gelatine
300ml fresh blood orange juice (about 8 blood oranges)
For the custard:
290ml double cream
zest 1 blood orange
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp caster sugar
1. Begin by making the jelly. Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water so they are completely submerged. Leave for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, gently heat the blood orange juice and sugar until just dissolved. Do not boil. Set the sweetened juice to one side, then squeeze out any excess liquid from the now softened gelatine leaves and add to the pan. Stir for a few minutes, until all the gelatine has melted. Pour into a medium sized bowl or, for individual servings, ramekins and wine glasses work well. Allow to cool before chilling until completely set- at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
2. Make the custard. Place the cream and orange zest into a pan and bring slowly to the boil. Set aside to cool briefly. Beat the yolks and sugar in a medium-sized bowl briefly until combined and creamy. Pour over the cooled cream and then clean out your pan. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over a low heat, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. This should take about 10 minutes- do not simmer or boil at any point. Strain if necessary and use to top the set jellies. Return to the fridge for a further hour before serving.
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.