Tenderstem

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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
Serves 4

You will need:
300g tenderstem
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.

Method:

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.  

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Wholemeal pizza ‘bianca’ with Tenderstem and red pepper sauce (romesco)
Makes 2 large pizzas

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
200ml water
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100ml double cream
25g grated parmesan
50g grated mozzarella  
1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked and roughly chopped  
220g tenderstem
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

Method:

 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.

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Tenderstem Dippers wrapped in Prosciutto with Lemony Hollandaise
Serves 4

You will need:
220g Tenderstem
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

Method:

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.    

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.

A note on meat…. and a pudding!

I am not one to vehemently advocate a particular ingredient over another.  I am likely to be enthusiastic, yes, but I would never veer into any territory that resembles preaching.  And there is one food topic I definitely won’t go near: the politics of meat.  But mostly that is, of course, because I don’t need to.  We all know the score:  eat less of it and when you do, buy the good stuff.  Organic, free range, steer clear of anything resembling a CAFO, so on and so forth.  Nuff said. 

But the unavoidable issue comes down to money- the good stuff is pricey.  And even if you don’t buy it as often, paying what sometimes amounts to double (I had a quick comparison on mysupermarket.co.uk) stings, especially in these cash-strapped times.
 I find the answer lies in going ahead and buying high quality meat, but the less popular cuts.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought a chicken breast, for example.  I find chicken thighs and legs are not only more flavoursome, they are generally less dry and more forgiving to cook with, not to mention a great deal cheaper.  I also use lamb neck in my harira, and I’ll roast a piece of fashionable pork belly (by now ubiquitous on gastropub menus) and serve it with spicy plum sauce.  I’m also looking forward to trying out recipes for ham hock and brisket.  
The other week we had our lovely newlywed friends, Pete and Anna, for dinner and I had a real craving for some pâté.  I do on occasion order liver when eating out as I like the taste, however, it is quite rich and as such not something I would necessarily buy and cook a whole packet of.  But for a deep and smooth pâté, I made an exception and headed to the liver section of the meat aisle.   It took me a half hour to find.  Who would have known chicken liver is most logically filed next to minced lamb?  In any case, when I finally found it I was delighted by how cheap the good quality stuff was- for a measly £2, I got twice the amount I needed. 
Here’s the recipe I used. 
Chicken Liver Parfait. 
Makes one cereal bowl full (but you may want to double the recipe for leftovers)
You will need:
225 g unsalted butter
225g chicken livers, trimmed
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove,  minced
2 tbsp calvados or brandy
1 tbsp crème fraiche
sea salt, pepper
freshly grated nutmeg.
Method:
Melt 25g of the butter in a large frying pan.  Add the chicken livers, bay leaf, thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Fry the livers for about 3 minutes until they are golden on both sides but still pink the middle- do feel free to check by cutting the livers in half, it doesn’t matter as they are all going to be whizzed up into a paté anyway.
Discard the herbs and pour the livers and any juices from the pan into a blender.
Melt another knob of butter in the pan and add the shallot and garlic, sweating until cooked through.  Add the booze and simmer, enjoying the wonderful fumes, until almost completely dissolved.  Tip all this into the blender with the livers and purée until smooth.  Add the crème fraiche and blend again, making sure that the mixture is well-incorporated.   
At this point, add the remaining butter and a good grating of nutmeg.  Continue to blend until you have a thick, paté-like consistency. 
Spoon the parfait into a bowl and leave in the fridge until required.  It will keep for a couple of days but may need 10 min or so out of the fridge before serving, just to soften a bit.
Serve with sourdough bread, radishes, celery, red onion marmalade.  For this starter, I also made a goats cheese dip by mashing the cheese with some garlic, sea salt and mixing with crème fraiche and chopped spring onions, which provided a fresh counterpart to the meaty density of the parfait. 
For a pud, I wanted something sweet and creamy and managed to dig out an old favourite recipe for Panna Cotta.  This is a honey and almond flavoured one that is at once velvety and grainy, with a nutty bite from the ground almonds that gives it a bit more substance.  It’s one of those puddings that never fails to impress, but is extremely easy to make.  The only tricky part is getting your gelatin just right- it needs to have dissolved completely.  If you don’t like the idea of using gelatin, agar-agar flakes are a seaweed-derived substitute you can find in most health food shops and even larger supermarkets.  
Honey and Almond Panna Cotta
You will need:
1 sachet gelatin, 7g (or equivalent substitute such as agar-agar)
200ml double cream
250 g greek yoghurt
6 tbsp runny honey
50 g ground almonds
1 vanilla pod
4 ramekins, lightly oiled and lined with clingfilm
Method:
In a large bowl, combine cream, yoghurt and honey, mixing until smooth before adding the ground almonds. 
Cut your vanilla pod in half length ways and then scrape out all the seeds.  Add to the mixture.
Prepare your gelatin or agar-agar flakes, following the instructions on the packet.  If you aren’t quite sure, add about 3 tablespoons warm water to a large bowl, add the gelatin and stir to dissolve before leaving to cool.  Make sure to add the gelatin to the liquid and not the other way around and that all the gelatin has dissolved completely.  Otherwise you may end up with strings of squid-like rubber in your pudding.  Which is rather unpleasant.  Once you’ve prepared the gelatinous water and are sure it has completely dissolved, add to the creamy mixture.  
Divide this into your prepared ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours until set.  To serve, turn out onto plates, removing the cling film. 
I accompanied mine with a simple orange, mint and toasted flaked almond fruit salad, but you could just as easily serve it with other fruits- summer berries would work particularly well.