Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wild Garlic Pesto

I'm enjoying this little heat wave we're having in Newcastle, albeit through a window, but enjoying it all the same. I took it as an opportunity to become a forager at the weekend. My foraging career to date has mainly just been for blackberries, actually perhaps that's all. I once ate some wild watercress in the Lake District but that's about it... So I've decided to be a bit more adventurous. I found a lovely recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto, so I set out in search of the wild garlic. You can smell it before you see it, I have caught wafts of it from various gardens and parks around Jesmond, you just need to keep an eye out...

Jesmond Dene is over run with it at the moment, but I found a lovely little patch in Gosforth Park, a quiet spot in the woods, far from the weeing dogs of Jesmond Dene, which does slightly put me off... I probably wasn't that prepared in ballet pumps and a dress so might have to rethink outfits on future trips, I ended up with soil in my shoes and twigs in my hair... but with a carrier bag full of bright green leaves.

You mainly find wild garlic in shaded woodland areas, identified by its wafting garlicky aroma. It has long wide green leaves that look a little like lily of the valley and it grows in Britain from late winter, into spring. The patch I found were young small leaves, perfect for cooking. Unlike normal garlic it is the leaves that you eat, not the bulb, and it has a much milder taste than the strong garlic bulb which some people find over powering, though I love it... The leaves get a bit thicker and woodier when the plant flowers, towards the end of its growing season, so now is probably a good time to go in search of some.

You can wilt it as a green leaf, as you would spinach or stir into a sauce with cream and shallots, chop it into a creamy risotto, blend it into a home made mayonnaise or wilt through a stir fry. I've been looking at lots of recipes for it and will have to get experimenting while the season lasts. For my first attempt I decided on a pesto, it keeps for months, so is a good way to preserve it for use through the summer.

Simply blitz 75g of wild garlic leaves, washed thoroughly, in a food processor with 2 shallots, 50g of walnuts, 150ml of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of sugar. You can add 50g of parmesan also if you like also, I didn’t this time around.

So far this week I have enjoyed tagliatelle with the wild garlic pesto, and even more delicious, a chicken salad with a pesto dressing loosened with a little more olive oil, manchego, crunchy little gem lettuce, pancetta and pine nuts. It has a lovely mild garlic taste, but is fresh and green at the same time, my favourite pesto I've tried so far for sure...

Friday, 23 March 2012

Lemon and Orange Polenta Cake with Limoncello Syrup

Mother's day has been and gone, I was planning to tell you about a lovely ox tail, beef shin and red wine stew that I made, only it wasn't that lovely... So I'll have to try it again and come back to you, I'm not sure what I did wrong... I've made it before and it was thick and delicious with sticky slow cooked meat, but this time it was thin and watery and not so good. I blame the challenge of cooking with an aga which I'm not used to. The only thing I succeeded in was becoming hot, bothered and stressed...

So after failing the 'make something lovely for your mother in a calm and relaxed environment' challenge, the next challenge was 'make a birthday cake for a friend at work who is gluten intolerant and doesn’t like most things'. It's been a challenging week... I feel a bit nervous about specialist gluten free cookery, especially because I might poison some poor gluten intolerant soul. I'm not sure I like a substitution food, so I was looking for a cake that just didn’t go anywhere near flour, wheat or gluten. Gluten free flour make me think of quorn, is it not just a poor substitution of the real thing, is it not better to just eat something else? It is a world I know very little about so I approached with trepidation.

I've made rich flour-less chocolate cakes before, and almond cakes. A polenta, orange and almond cake drenched in lemon, orange, sugar and lemoncello syrup sounded interesting. I think I've almost convinced myself that by using polenta it is healthy? A healthy cake? Hmmm... Maybe not. It was a Nigel Slater recipe that I have tweaked a bit to suit.

Start by finding a cake tin about 20cm in diameter, line the base with a piece of baking parchment and set the oven to 180C°. Then beat 210g of butter and 210g of caster sugar in a food mixer till light and fluffy. Next break 3 free range eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork. Pour a little of the beaten egg into the creamed butter and sugar, beating thoroughly, then slowly continue adding bit by bit, beating till all the egg is used up. I often seem to get a bit of curding going on at this point so may need to hone my baking skills a bit as I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong...

Add 225g of ground almonds to the egg cake mixture. Then stir in 150g of polenta and a teaspoon of baking powder or gluten free baking powder gently to the mix. Lastly, mix in the grated zest of 1 large orange and its juice.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, it is quite thick so smooth it out evenly with a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, then turn the heat down to 150C° and continue cooking for a further 30 minutes, cover the surface with tin foil if it is browning too much. Then remove from the oven but leave the cake in its tin.

To make the syrup, grate the zest from 1 lemon and 1 orange into a measuring jug, cut the fruits in half and squeeze their juice into the jug, then top it up with water so it measures 250ml in total. Pour into a saucepan and add 100g of brown sugar. Bring this mix to the boil and keep at a rapid bubble until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has reduced to about 175ml. Then add 2 tablespoons of Limoncello.

Finally make small holes in the top of your still warm cake with a thin skewer and pour the syrup mixture very slowly over the top of the cake. You want to get an even spread of syrup soaking down into the cake. Leave to cool and let the flavours mingle.

I was very impressed with my first gluten free attempt actually, the cake has quite a grainy feel to it from the polenta, but is light and drizzly, sweet but tangy and fresh from all the orange and lemon.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Fish Stew with Clams, Red Peppers, Almonds and Saffron

This is a Catalan fish stew from the Moro cookbook, it is called Romesco de peix. Romesco after the famous nut sauce from the region. Different types of fish can be used, Moro use monkfish and clams, you can also use mussels, prawns and other white fish. I'd be pretty happy sat in a little Catalonian restaurant with a bowl of this, some fresh bread, a salad and a crisp cold white wine, it would be delightful actually...

We picked up some very pretty clams from the Grainger Market and two little gurnard. I got a bit I got a bit carried away taking photos of the clams, and the gurnard are quite cute in an odd ugly fish way...

To start you need to heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and add a large chopped onion with a pinch of salt. Cook the onion slowly for about 15-20 minutes until it is soft, sweet and golden. Then add 2 cloves of garlic sliced thinly, a couple of large sprigs of rosemary finely chopped, 3 bay leaves and 2 red peppers thinly sliced. Soften the pepper for about 10 minutes then add half a teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika and a tin of chopped tomatoes. These amounts will serve four people.

Simmer everything for another 10 minutes then add 150ml of white wine, let the alcohol bubble off for a couple of minutes then add 100ml of fish stock and about 50 strands of saffron that have been infused in 4 tablespoons of hot water, add the saffron and the water. Then add about 100g of ground almonds, Moro say 150g, which seems an awful lot, I may have added less than 100g, just until you have a thick-ish sauce. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

Finally add the fish, we left the gurnards whole, with their heads removed. If you're using monkfish cut it into chunks, about 650g. Add the fish and the clams, about 500g to the pot of sauce. Put the lid on and simmer until the fish is cooked through and the clams have steamed open, about 5 minutes. The sauce is deliciously smoky and sweet with paprika, tomato, nuttiness; with bites of sweet red peppers and fresh white fish and sweet little clams.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Breakfast Burritos with Avocado, Tomato and Chorizo

TLI and I ate burritos at the weekend to fortify ourselves before tackling the allotment on Saturday, and again on Sunday to fortify ourselves before tackling Sunderland at home... They are his concoction really, not mine, a take on an American Breakfast Burrito, or a Mexican Burrito. The combinations of filling can be swapped, changed, left in, left out, whatever you fancy really. Filling being the operative word however, they will keep you going all day long and more... I like the combination of avocado, tomatoes and herbs with chorizo in this version, it seems a little bit more fresh than the more traditional Mexican Burrito filled with beef, refried beans, cheese and sour cream...

A little left over rice is preferable, but as I didn’t have any I cooked a handful of white long grain rice in some salted water. Chop some cherry tomatoes, a handful of coriander and dice up some chorizo. Just make as much as you fancy, hunger levels and numbers of people depending. One packed burrito is enough for me, TLI can polish off two...

Mash an avocado with a pinch of salt, a little splash of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Heat your tortilla wraps in the oven, wrapped in tin foil to stop them drying out. They only take about 10 minutes in a medium oven. Fry off the diced chorizo and lightly scramble 2 large free range eggs while the wraps heat up.

Then simply assemble, a little rice, some eggs, topped with chorizo, tomatoes, avocado and coriander, down the middle of the tortilla. Fold the end up a little, then fold each of the sides inwards to form a wrap... I really like the colours in each of the bowls, it's a pretty meal, a little kit of parts laid out on the table that you have to assemble yourself. The freshness of the tomatoes, coriander and avocado is delicious with creamy eggs and spicy chorizo. Make sure you are pretty hungry before embarking on these little fellas...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Allotment

I've been to the allotment. I feel almost embarrassed to show it to you. I haven’t been for months, I didn’t even pick some of the things I planted last Autumn. I feel ashamed and guilty... That tidy bit you can see on the left hand side isn’t mine, that's the tidy man next door, who probably frowns on me and my weeds. I have lots of weeds and it's only March. I'm already feeling overwhelmed... Saying that, even just an hour of tidying and digging has improved matters somewhat. So I had better start thinking about what I might grow year... Herbs, beans, courgettes, cauliflowers, potatoes, leeks, beetroot maybe, lots of flowers... I'll have to dig out my allotment books and get planning...