Blood Oranges and Bergamot

 

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. 

double pavlova citrus

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

Method:
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
(Serves many)

You will need:
175g butter
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
175g self-raising flour, sifted
1 blood orange, zest and juice
blood orange curd
1 tub mascarpone

Method:
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

Method:
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
(Serves 6)

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

Method:
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.

Double jelly pavlova

 

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)
25g sugar

For the custard:
290ml double cream
zest 1 blood orange
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp caster sugar

Method:
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.

Chocolate Pear Tart with Saffron and Ginger

 
 

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

Method:

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
200ml water
1/2 tsp saffron strands
2 slices ginger
1 strip lemon peel

For the pastry:
250g plain flour
pinch salt
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
2 eggs

Method:

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. 

 

Tricky tagines

Whenever I’ve been to Morocco I have eaten an awful lot of tagines.  Tagine for lunch, for dinner and all over again the next day.  Lamb, beef, seafood or chicken, from Tangier to Casablanca to Marrakesh, they were always absolutely, addictively, delicious.  However, combined with the country’s wonderful pancake-like breakfast breads, there was inevitably a lot of lying down required between meals, which rather scuppered any sightseeing.  Not to mention the diet of salad and watery soup needed for at least a month after my return home.  I later read that a tagine (read ONE tagine) should basically be your meal for the day, so no wonder. 

Even so, a traditional tagine is perhaps best saved for a special occasion or when you are really, really hungry.  There are hundreds of different versions (the tagine or tajine earned its name from the pot it is cooked in rather than from a specific recipe), depending on the combination of meat, fruit, nuts and vegetables.  However, most conventional recipes do often call for a lot of spices, such as the famous ras el hanout (worth picking up if you are ever in Morocco).  A traditional tagine also needs a fair amount of time to cook, preferably something like a whole day, emerging all unctuous and gooey, meat slipping off the bone.

This is a good cheat’s version.  It still has those undeniably Moroccan flavours, but it is quicker, lighter and has a relatively short list of ingredients.  So although I may have borrowed my flatmate’s tagine pot for an authentic-looking photo, make no mistake- I bluffed my way through this one.

I am always quite sceptical of a stew that doesn’t rely on at least half of (if not a whole) bottle of wine, but this recipe really doesn’t need it, the sauce is still strong and deep.  I was also pretty delighted to finally find a use for all those preserved lemons.
 

Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons

You Will Need:

 Olive oil, preferably extra virgin
2 onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Spice- saffron would be preferable (about 1/2 tsp of the powdered stuff) but if that is too expensive (and it is), try some paprika.  Also ground ginger (1.5 tsp), salt and pepper.
Chicken pieces on the bone (thighs, legs, wings as you prefer)- about 750g-1kg
Juice of 1/2 lemon
A bunch of coriander
A bunch of parsley (flat leaved)
1 Preserved lemon
15 green olives
 

Method:

 1.  Get out your very largest cooking pot.  Heat up about 3 tbsp of the oil and then add the onion.  Sauté until softened, before adding the spices and garlic. 

2.  Add the chicken pieces, a large pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper.  Continue to fry over a medium heat, until the chicken has got some colour.  In traditional tagines the meat is not usually browned, but I feel for this one it both adds flavour and speeds up the cooking process.

3.  Pour about 400ml of water into the pot and leave to simmer, turning the pieces of chicken every so often when you remember.  It should take about half an hour to cook, and for the water to turn into a thick, stocky sauce. 

4.  While it is bubbling away, prepare the preserved lemon.  For this recipe, I only used the peel, sliced thinly, and discarded the pulpy flesh.   Stir this, along with the lemon juice, chopped coriander and parsley into the sauce. Finally add the olives and leave the stew to simmer for a further 5-10 minutes. 

5.  At any stage of the cooking process, you can add more water to the sauce if you feel it is going to be too dry or thick.  Alternatively, if you feel it is too liquidy, remove the chicken pieces at the end of the cooking process and put to one side while you let the sauce reduce over a higher heat.  

6.  Return the chicken to the pot and serve with, couscous, naturally. 

Those pickles and preserves- things for jars.


I’ve blogged before about chili jam, which is a bit of a favourite at maison alwayssohungry. It is a brilliant chutney to make as it ticks so many pickle boxes: you can have it with any cheese or meat BUT but but… because of its heat, it also works really rather well in spicier dishes.  It livens up a stir-fry, can act as a marinade for chicken or fish when mixed with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and I often dilute it with some water and sesame oil to make a light but scrumptious salad dressing.  And it just sings as an accompaniment to sausages.  I use the salad club’s recipe and double it.  But double doesn’t last very long. 

The only issue with this gorgeous glop is it totally stinks up the house.  I think it’s partly the fish sauce.  Let’s face it, the stuff smells like feet.  Then there’s the chili, which gets right at the back of your throat, particularly when you are blending the jam together at the start of the cooking process.  I stumbled upon a solution the other day when I was idly watching everyone’s guilty favourite, Come Dine With Me.  One of the contestants was blending soup with a stick blender straight in the pan, as I often do too.  The problem with this is that you get splashes of hot liquid all over your clothes, in your face, eyes (not great when you are dealing with 20 odd chillies), hair and kitchen.  I normally just roll with it and pretend it isn’t happening.  This is obviously a pretty stupid method. However, the CDWM contestant had cleverly covered his pot with cling film and made a hole in it to accommodate the blender, sparing any splash attacks.  So simple, so clever!  The CDWM commentator made a typically sarky remark at this technique, which was characteristically unnecessary and a bit cruel.  That commentator can be the best thing about the programme, but he does irk me sometimes.

In any case, this solved part of the problem but I still had to put up with the stink in the kitchen, made worse because I couldn’t escape due to my self-imposed deadline to make 4 preserves in one weekend.  I should obviously have done the chili jam last, rather than first.  We live and learn.
So, half-blind and choking, I proceeded to make quince jelly as the chili jam bubbled away.  The jelly is not dissimilar to quince cheese, perhaps just slightly less firm and put into a jar rather than a tray mold.  It of course works absolutely brilliantly with cheese, but I find it can also work very well with pâtés and rich meat dishes, in particular game.  Quinces are in season during the autumn, my local corner shop is currently selling them at the bargain price of 2 for £1.  But the season is short, so if you see them, don’t hesitate.   This was the first time I attempted quince jelly and with mixed success.  I feel it is much too sweet, so I have adjusted the recipe below accordingly.  I would also heartily recommend that you source some muslin (making sure you get the stuff that’s food-friendly, rather than something that has been treated with chemicals for DIY purposes) to use for sieving the quince pulp.  Here’s what I did:


Quince Jelly

You will need:

1.5kg quinces (about 5 large ones)
Approx 2l water
100g sugar to every 200ml quince juice (approx 400-600g depending on how juicy your quinces are and your patience, more on which later)
Method:
Remove any stems and cut off any bruised bits before coring and quartering the quinces, leaving the skins on.
Put the quince in a large pan and fill with enough water to cover all the fruit, bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and leave for about 45min, until quinces are really soft and almost as if they are about to dissolve.

Take the pan off the heat and mash the quince and water mixture with a masher.  You want something that’s the consistency of runny jam or applesauce, so you will most likely have to add quite a lot of additional water.

Strain the mashed up pulp into a separate bowl, either through muslin or by using a fine mesh sieve.  Either way, this will take the patience of a saint, especially if you have to stir the pulp through the sieve, rather than just leave it to slowly drip through the muslin.  You will find out pretty quickly if you’ve not added enough water, i.e. if nothing happens.

You then need to measure the amount of juice you have, before pouring it all back into your pan and adding the sugar, 100g sugar per 200ml juice.  Bring the sugary juice to a boil, stirring constantly to make sure the sugar has dissolved and doesn’t burn at the bottom of your pan.

Bring the heat down to a simmer, skimming off any foam that bubbles to the top with a slotted spoon.  The mixture should now slowly begin to change from the colour of cloudy apple juice to a deeper amber.   The consistency will also start to change, gradually thickening.  The best way to check if the jelly (or any jam for that matter) is done is to put a small dollop onto a saucer.  Leave this to cool, then ‘push’ it with your fingertip across the plate.  If it wrinkles and shoves up, your jam is done, but if it is still runny, it needs more time.  Decant into sterilised jars and leave to cool.
Next up, a red onion marmalade.  This is one of my favourite pickles, again because of its versatility but also because it reminds me of so many things that I love about Scandinavian food at this time of year.  It has the evocative sweet and sour flavour from the vinegar and sugar combo used in lots of Swedish preserves and the thyme and mustard seeds lend a really deep earthy flavour.  This is wonderful with a crumbly goats cheese on rye bread or with a pâté. 
Red Onion Marmalade
You will need
1kg red onions
4 large garlic cloves
olive oil
2 tsp black mustard seeds
3 sprigs of thyme
1/2 tsp salt and pepper
75 g muscovado sugar
1.5 tsp black treacle
5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
75mul white wine
Butter (optional)
Method
First, slice your onions, using the old wives’ tale of your choice to avoid tears.  My favourite is to suck on a spoon or light a candle near your chopping board.  Or both at the same time?  Cut the onions in half and then slice each half into thin half-circles.  Heat about 4 glugs of olive oil in a large pan, add the onions and crushed garlic along with the mustard seeds and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.  
Cook the onions uncovered over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until they have reduced and are beginning to caramelise (about 20-30 min).  Make sure they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan (lower the heat if this starts to happen).
Stir in the muscovado, treacle, vinegars and white wine.  Leave to bubble away for another 20 min or so, until the liquids are just absorbed and the mixture is caramelised- but not dry.  Remove the thyme sprigs and add a knob of butter, if desired.  Decant into sterilised jars while the mixture is still hot.  Leave to cool and sore for up to 2 months.

Lemons are another brilliant fruit to preserve.  You can easily do this at home so don’t buy an expensive jar that will just sit at the back of your cupboard for months.  If you preserve your own lemons and watch them slowly mature and soften in their acidic juice over the course of a month, you will be counting down the days until they are ready for tasting and using, as I am now.   By the time they are done you will have come up with all sorts of delicious uses for them.  They are, of course, traditionally associated with Moroccan food, and do work beautifully in tagines, couscous and the like.  However, you can also blend the skins with creme fraiche or greek yoghurt before adding chopped mint or parsley to make a dip or sauce for fish.  They are wonderful when added as wedges for the last 20 min or so roast spuds.  Or stuffed into the cavity or under the skin of a chicken that’s been rubbed with paprika before heading into the oven.  They are also wonderful chopped up with vegetables and pulses such as chickpeas, okra, aubergine, courgettes… the list goes on.  Once mine are ready I’d also like to experiment with adding them to lamb, perhaps in a marinade of some kind.

Preserved Lemons
You will need
Lemons (UNWAXED), plus more for juicing. 
Coarse sea or kosher salt
Peppercorns
Bay leafs
This is super easy.  Wash and scrub your lemons good and proper.  Cut off any stems or tips, so that they can sit upright.  Quarter each lemon lengthways almost all the way through, so they are still whole and joined at their bottoms. 
Stuff each lemon generously with plenty of sea salt (make sure you don’t have any cuts or grazes on your fingers or this will be really painful!).  Put each salt-stuffed lemon in a large sterilised jar, really squishing them in as much as possible.  Even when you think you can’t fit another lemon in the jar, try to anyway.  You’ll need to give them a little push or a shove every so often for the first few days, to release more juices.   You will most likely need to add some additional lemon juice to get things going.   Also add some peppercorns and bay leaves for additional flavour.  Star anise also works well. 
After a few days the jar should be full of juice, but if not, add some more and do a bit more squashing.  Turn the jar every few days to distribute the flavour.  Leave them to preserve for a month before using.

 A note on sterilising glass jars.

There are several ways to do this.
The simplest way by far is if you have a dishwasher, in which case you simply run them through it on a short cycle.   I don’t have one of those fancy machines.  So, I alternate between one of the following methods- either putting the jars in a large pan of water on top of a steaming rack (so they don’t touch the bottom of the pan), and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes. Or sometimes I put clean, dry jars sans lids, in a 120 degree C oven for about 15 minutes.  With all of these methods, however, you do run the risk of cracking the jars if they get too hot.  It is worth bearing in mind how thick your glass jars are and when in doubt, let things cool down a little. 

Keep all your preserves in a cool, dry place and once opened store in the fridge.  All of the recipes above will last for a few months.