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Mighty Perennial Spears

3 Jun

Charred Asparagus

Charred Asparagus

It’s a lean time of year, the hungry gap, when the winter crops end and we wait in anticipation for the start of the main season. Greens are in particularly short supply, hence the celebration of the first harvest of asparagus at the start of May. Their bounteous sugary green spears, pushing up towards the light, ready for their month of fame.

Asparagus originates from the eastern Mediterranean and can also be found growing wild in maritime habitats throughout Europe. I don’t have the space to try and grow it, but friends tell me once it’s established, it keeps going providing you keep on top of the weeds. It’s worth having a go with one-year-old crowns, if you have the space to dedicate to it, and well draining soil.

If not, then look out for it at your local farmers’ market, it will be the first thing to go, so it’s worth getting up early for. Here’s a quick, satisfying dinner I came up with last week.

Charred asparagus with tahini yogurt, sumac and toasted hazelnuts

Takes about 30 minutes – Serves 2

500g asparagus 

handful of hazelnuts 

2tbsp of sumac 

For the sauce

20g tahini 

60g of thick yogurt 

1tbsp lemon juice 

half a garlic clove

For the bulgar

cup of fine-grain bulgar 

cup and a half of boiling water with a touch of bouillon powder 

1 small onion

1 clove of garlic 

1. Rinse the bulgar well and place in a large bowl. Cover with the boiling water and add a touch of olive oil. Cover with a tea towel.

2. Chop the onion and the garlic. Fry on a low heat in olive oil.

3. Chop the garlic for the sauce and whisk the remaining ingredients together. Add a touch of salt to taste.

4. Get a large frying pan hot and brown the hazelnuts. Smash up roughly.

5. Give the pan a quick rinse and heat again. Add 2tbsp of olive oil and add the asparagus in a single layer. Cook for around 3-4 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears. Season with salt and black pepper.

6. To serve, mix the fried onion and garlic with the now cooked bulgar. Divide the asparagus on to two plates. Top with the hazelnuts, dollops of sauce, and sprinkle with sumac. Enjoy!

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Custard Tart Ahoy – Pasteis De Nata

23 Apr

Tarts!

Tarts!

I’ve always had a bit of a thing for custard tarts, especially the ones in Lisbon with that crispy buttery pastry and sweet custard that just melts in your mouth. The ancient Pasteis de Belem, which has been baking with their secret recipe since 1837 is the place to go in Lisbon. A tiled temple, baking over 16,000 tarts a day, all made by hand in the bakery. You can even go and peak at the creamy delights being made.

There is a considerable Portugese community in London, Stockwell being the hub and some of the best Portuguese pastries are to be found along Goldborne Road, W10.

I couldn’t really find a recipe I liked so I’ve put together my own, inspired by a couple I was reading through online yesterday. They aren’t quite up to Lisbon standards, largely on the pastry front, but went down well with Bacon who is Portuguese!

What you’ll need to make 12 tarts to be proud of.

Takes about an hour

12 hole muffin tray

For the custard

4 free-range or organic egg yolks (you can freeze the egg whites to use at a later date)

30g cornflour

1 x vanilla pod or good quality vanilla bean paste

400ml organic full-fat milk

125g caster sugar

finely grated zest of an organic clementine or similar citrus fruit

For the pastry 

300g puff-pastry

1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

1 tsp of caster sugar

And

butter, for greasing

plain flour, for dusting

icing sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat your oven to 200C, 400F, gas mark 6 and grease the muffin tins liberally with butter.

2. In a medium sized pan on a low heat, add the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour, and whisk gently to combine the ingredients until thick.

3. Add the vanilla, about a quarter of a teaspoon if using paste. Gradually add the milk and whisk continuously. Using a wooden spoon, continue to stir the custard until it comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and cover to prevent a skin forming.

4. Dust a clean surface with a mixture of flour and icing sugar and roll out the pastry into a thin rectangle. Cut the pastry into two and dust the bottom layer with the cinnamon and caster sugar mix. Place the second piece of pastry on top and roll tightly, cinnamon bun style. Cut the roll into twelve slices, about an inch each.

5. Lay each slice on the dusted surface and push into a circle. Roll out into 10cm discs, using a rolling pin or handy glass bottle.

Circle time

Circle time

Roll out

Roll out

6. Press each pastry disc into the muffin tray, rolled side up. Make sure there are no air bubbles.

Tray time

Tray time

7. Spoon in the now cooled custard into the twelve pastry cases, about two tbsp each and sprinkle with a touch of caster sugar.

8. Place the tray in the middle of the oven for about thirty minutes, turning the heat down to 180C after fifteen minutes and rotating the tray for an even bake. The custard should be set and golden brown, and the pastry crisp and brown.

9. Allow them to cool in the tin and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon powder, and a strong milky coffee!

They don’t keep that well, so share them with a neighbour, make your friends smile, or take them to work. Oh and do you know that secret recipe?…

Satisfied Dough

26 Mar

Baking with sourdough is never going to be an instant hit, it’s a learning process that once you get, you’ll be addicted to the charm and character of your dough and that final loaf.

When I first started my loaves were disappointingly flat and pretty heavy, they are now well risen, lighter and have a delightful open crumb. From what I can gather, this is a combination of how active the starter is, the temperature and time allowed for the bulk fermentation, the flour and shaping of the dough, so basically all the key steps of baking with a wild yeast. I also haven’t bought a loaf of bread since June 2012!

Bonita wheat starter, 50% white, 50% wholemeal

Bonita wheat starter, 50% white, 50% wholemeal

At the moment my first winning loaf is a Pain au Levain recipe with a hydration of 68% (the percentage of water to flour) adapted from Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters made with a rye leaven. Just under half the dough is made from the leaven so it is quite sour and a cold bulk fermentation is used for three/four days at the bottom of the fridge with a turn twice a day. The rest of the flour is white stoneground organic, so the result is nutty and reasonably light, perfect for spring, wherever it has gone to.

I still have a way to go on shaping, which can only be improved by more practice. This recipe is great as you don’t need to be around all the time, just early in the morning and in the evening. The bread will also keep well for a week, if you don’t munch it first. I normally freeze the second one for later in the week or give it to a friend.

Day two fold

Day two fold

SCHEDULE for two medium sizes loaves

Day one

1. Feed the starter in the morning to make her super active – equal amounts of cold tap water and flour mix (I keep Bonita in the fridge these days and feed her once every fourth day).

2. Mix 100g starter with 300g light rye flour and 600g water that evening and leave out overnight in a large bowl with a kitchen towel covering it (it needs at least 12 hours to do its thing).

Day two

3. The leaven should be bubbling away. Mix 700g of the leaven with the final ingredients – 850g white wheat flour, 24g sea salt, 230g water. Compost any leftover leaven or make pancakes.

4. Knead the dough without adding any extra flour, for around 12 minutes until it’s smoother and satiny.

5. Shape into a round and oil a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl covered well with a clean plastic bag so the dough cannot dry out.

6. In the evening press the dough out flat and shape firmly into a round and place back in the fridge covered as before.

Day three or four

7. In the morning repeat the above process and again in the early evening if possible,  so this is done at least four times.

8. In the evening remove the dough from the fridge to warm up, about two hours depending on your kitchen then divide the dough into two, shape, dust in rye flour and place in proving baskets or a large sieve lined with a cotton kitchen towel or linen cloth.  Leave to prove until the dough comes back slowly when poked with your fingertip, between 2-3 hours.

9. Preheat the oven half an hour before baking (220 c) with a baking stone or metal tray on the bottom of the oven.

10. Gently turn out your first loaf onto a well floured wooden board and slash, spray with water and put the loaf onto the stone or tray. After 25 minutes move to the top shelf for another 10 minutes for a browner crust. Leave to cool and enjoy that first mighty slice. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Three day Pain au Levain style sourdough

Three day Pain au Levain style sourdough

Pain au Levain style sourdough

Pain au Levain style sourdough

The second loaf is more of a 24 hour loaf with a hydration of 65% which you’ll need to be around the whole day on and off, from Daniel Stevens River Cottage Handbook, a fabulous book as an introduction to baking. I gave my sister the book for her birthday a couple of weeks ago and a bread kit. She’s been baking her way through the book with uni friends queuing up for tastings.

This recipe uses less starter than the first loaves and has a less sour taste as the bulk fermentation is done over four hours, a much shorter time, but it’s still a great loaf for a weekend treat, as it’s 100% white flour. It’s pretty much the same process as the first loaves, but done over a shorter time with a warm bulk fermentation. What’s your experience of baking with wild yeast?

24 hour white sourdough

24 hour white sourdough

Love Your Brassicas

1 Nov

Gleaning cauliflowers in Kent

Fields of brassicas (Photo credit cc Feeding The 5K)

It’s a wonderful time of year for veg, autumn is the second spring right here in grey old blighty. Wild mushrooms are popping up under our feet, knobbley colourful squash are pilled high ripe for inspection in church halls, fresh wet walnuts are taking centre stage on the kitchen table eagerly cracked, baby leeks simmer ready for a weekday soup dinner and brassicas are harvested with green delight.

Brassicas are a family of veg that boast broccoli, kale (curly, Red Russian, dinosaur…) cabbage (red, white, green, Savoy, Napa…), brussel sprouts, pak choi and the often shunned cauliflower, not forgetting its close relation the Romanesco cauliflower, which is a definite looker.

Cast your mind back to school, queuing for a lunch of overcooked veg, bendy spoons and steamed puddings buried in cheap tinned custard layered with tepid skin. Now all that is going to disappear once you try my roasted cauliflower recipe which is so easy to make. It’s alive with flavour and has a super crunch that will be unrecognisable from those school memories.

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

Serves 4 as a side salad or starter

Takes 25 minutes

For the roasting pan

1 x cauliflower, outer leaves removed  (the leaves are edible so don’t waste them, treat them like any other leafy green)

1 x tsp of cumin seeds

4 x tbsp of olive oil

For the dressing 

1 x tbsp of  soaked juicy Turkish sultanas (soaked overnight or for around five hours)

1 x tbsp of  Italian capers

1 x tbsp of decent red wine vinegar

1 x clove of crushed garlic

1 x tsp of pomegranate molasses (optional)

a good handful of flat leaf parsley

a generous pouring of your best olive oli

Topping

a good handful toasted sunflowers seeds or toasted flaked almonds

1. Turn your oven onto its hottest possible setting and prepare the cauliflower by carefully cutting it into medium sized florets and adding it to a large roasting tin. Toss with the cumin seeds and olive oil. Roast for around 20 minutes until browned, shake the tin after 10 minutes so the florets get an even colour.

2. While your cauliflower is roasting away get the blender out and add all the dressing ingredients except the olive oil. Blitz and add the oil until you have a thick dressing, tasting as you go and seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. Toast your seeds or nuts in a hot dry skiddle or frying pan taking care not to burn them.

3. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and allow to cool. Toss with the dressing and sprinkle with seeds or nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature. Eat alone or with a chuck of sourdough or an earthy grain such as spelt.

I’d love to hear your twist on any unloved autumn veg.

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

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