Pasta ai funghi

Pasta and mushrooms
I already have a go-to pasta and mushrooms recipe, but Felicity Cloake’s “perfect” version looked intriguingly different, so I gave it a try. I can recommend it — more fiddly to make, but it has an interestingly complex flavour. I adapted it a bit — she recommends whizzing the dried mushrooms to a powder and using it as a thickener, but that seemed like a recipe for grit in your sauce. Instead I soaked them and then chopped very small, and used the water (minus grit!) in the sauce. Also I used a herby white vermouth rather than the white wine or sherry she recommends and I think this really helped the flavour. I used dried tagliatelle, but I think this is a sauce that would go really well with fresh.
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Fresh fig tart with ginger custard

Fig tart

Still dealing with the glut of figs. I had a little pastry left over from my last tart, and I was passed a recipe from Delicious magazine for this variation, so I adapted it to what I had. Notably, instead of making one huge tart, I made two individual tartlets as that’s all I had pastry for. This used, erm, four figs. Here I’ve adjusted quantities to make a normal-sized (20 cm) single tart, but the individual ones are very pretty. The combination of frangipane and figs is good, and I loved the ginger custard. It would go with a lot of other dishes too. The recipe suggests serving it warm, but I did it French-style, room-temperature tart with chilled custard.

You can use the pastry recipe here. It makes enough for at least two tarts, so I always split it in two and put one half in the freezer, saving time next time I want to make a sweet tart.

Planning: there are several different elements, but you can make the pastry, frangipane, and even the custard a day ahead and store them in the fridge. Remove pastry at least half an hour before trying to roll it out.
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A glut of figs

A bowl of figs

The other day, the Guardian published an article on what to do with a glut of figs. It featured one lonely recipe, which required six figs. Luckily the Guardian community stepped in to provide many ideas for dealing with an actual glut.

I don’t personally have a glut, but I did notice the three fig trees groaning with fruit in a children’s playground I pass on the way to my daily swim. The ripe fruit was simply dropping to the ground, which seemed a terrible waste. So in the last few days I’ve picked over 2 kg, which is only a fraction of what’s there. Thanks to BBC Good Food and a commenter on the Guardian article, this post includes twice as many recipes as the Guardian article, and actually preserves the figs for future enjoyment. I’m very happy with the results of both: a delicious fig chutney, and spicy fig jam. Both very easy too. I adapted both of them according to taste and local circumstances.
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Mango millefeuille

Loosely based on a tapa served in a bar on the Costa Tropical, where mangoes are a popular crop. A ripe, freshly picked mango is a wonderful thing, best served simply. It works really well with soft cheese. The original was stacked millefeuille fashion with goat’s cheese and liberally sprinkled with coarsely grated Parmesan (not a good idea, it swamped the other ingredients). You can either stack or arrange on a plate as here, whatever takes your fancy. We actually like it with Philadelphia, in which guise it could almost be a dessert, but soft sheep’s cheese would work very well too. You can buy reduced balsamic vinegar in Lidl, otherwise it can be made by boiling down (cheap!) balsamic to reduce by 50%. We sometimes use miel de caña instead, which is a type of molasses, a byproduct of cane sugar production.

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Espinacas con Garbanzos: spinach and chickpeas

Spinach and chickpeas

This is a classic Seville tapa: every bar has a version of it. It might not sound exciting, but you will never regret trying it. It’s delicious and much healthier than the many deep-fried or meat-heavy tapas available. Suitable for vegans as well as vegetarians. We don’t often have it as a tapa at home — it makes a great light lunch or first course, with some flatbread. I use the recipe from my favourite Spanish cookbook, Anya von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table, which I can’t recommend too highly.
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Quick thin-crust pizza

Pizza
Steve decided to make pizza for dinner yesterday. He googled a recipe as he usually does, and amazingly turned out two excellent pizzas less than an hour later. Almost as quick as a takeaway. We’ll definitely make this our default pizza recipe. It’s based on one from theKitchn, which I’ve converted from cup measures. There’s basically almost no rising time, apart from the time you spend preparing toppings. He did a selection: ham, mushrooms, and artichokes; prawns; and pear and gorgonzola, a favourite of ours (no tomato on this one). Baked on a pizza stone, but you can use a solid preheated baking tray turned upside-down.

Note: if you’re not in a hurry, you can let the dough rise till doubled, divide it in two, then put in sealed containers and refrigerate overnight. Give it 10-15 minutes to come to room temperature before shaping.
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Tarta de aguacate: avocado cheesecake

Tarta de aguacate
We had this “house special” dessert in a restaurant on Spain’s Costa Tropical, famed for its avocado orchards, and enjoyed it so much that I decided to try and reproduce it at home. First I googled in Spanish and found quite a few recipes that would clearly have similar results. I ended up using them to provide the basic idea for the ingredients, and determining quantities and method for myself. I had thought it would need gelatine, and believed there was some in the restaurant version, but decided to try first without. And funnily enough it worked just fine, and set well after a few hours in the fridge. Just as well, as I next served it to vegetarians. It has a lovely fresh lime flavour and a pretty pale green colour, so it’s well suited to entertaining guests. You could serve it with a scoop of sorbet or ice cream on the side, but it’s fine without. One recipe showed it garnished with strawberries, which could be nice too.

It’s a really good way of using avocados that are so ripe as not to be suitable for salad; they need to be soft enough to be easily mashed. Very quick to make, no cooking required, but it does need time to chill. Also note that it won’t go brown as avocados do when exposed to the air, because of the lime juice.
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Clementine jam

Clementine jam

I had a large bag of impulse-bought clementines to use up — they didn’t taste that great raw, but they turned out to make a very good jam. I’m calling it jam rather than marmalade because you don’t get a clear syrup with small strips of peel suspended in it; instead it has a thicker, more jammy texture, but still with the tang of marmalade thanks to the peel. It’s also a lot less work than marmalade.

I adapted this from a recipe on French cookery site Cuisine Actuelle. I liked the idea of keeping the peel on some of the fruit and peeling the rest. I didn’t though think it was a good idea to simply halve the unpeeled clementines — you’d end up with massive pieces of peel in the jam, hardly toast-friendly.

This amount will make about two to three 375 g jars. I wouldn’t make a much larger quantity than this, as it’s always difficult to get a set with a large volume. It’s best to choose clementines with as few pips as possible.
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Duck breast with dried fruit sauce

I had a recipe something like this years ago, off a packet of duck breast — now lost, but this is more or less a re-creation of it. Delicious and easy. I used PX sherry, but use whatever sweet wine you fancy — port or madeira would work too. Serve with something to mop up the sauce: mashed potato, rice, or just good bread. This amount serves two (we never eat a whole magret each).
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Bread Masterclass: brilliant baguettes!

CooknwithClass Bread Masterclass: Baguettes!

I was one of the guinea pigs for Cook’n with Class’s newly launched bread masterclass held in Arpaillargues, just outside the lovely Languedoc town of Uzès. We were just three students with chef Eric in the spacious kitchen.

CooknwithClass: Bread masterclass

We started each day sitting around the table for breakfast: tea or coffee, and bread of course — from day 2 our own productions from the previous day. This was a good opportunity to a) wake up and b) get to know our fellow students. Then each morning was spent in a whirl of preparation, mostly bread but a few other items too: a delicious chocolate tart, and a classic tropézienne (brioche filled with crème diplomate) are just two examples. Most of the breads required several hours’ or an overnight rest, so we would make and shape the dough, then put it in the fridge for baking the next day. The morning’s work finished around 1 pm, around the lunch table. Each day we made something for lunch: quiche, pan bagnat, pizzas, to be served along with salad and followed by cheese, with bread and wine of course, and a dessert also made by us.

CooknwithClass: Bread masterclass

Eric is a great teacher, relaxed and communicative, always ready to answer questions and explain why he’s doing things a particular way. No matter how well I feel I know how to do something, I always learn something new from listening to and watching a pro. For example, in all the many years I’ve been making shortcrust pastry, I’ve never known about fraisage — smearing the just-blended pastry on the countertop to blend the ingredients without developing the gluten too much.

Likewise, I now make all of our bread, but the many different breads we made introduced new techniques, and nothing beats being able to see and feel how the dough should be. My best moment was seeing the amazing baguettes we made come out of the oven — my previous efforts have never approached this. Instead of taking them home, we ate nearly all of them while drinking aperos — on their own, or with Eric’s home-made pâté.

Shortbread biscuits

There were some surprises too. I didn’t think I’d like chocolate bread, as I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but it was one of my favourites of the week: bread with cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate in the dough. Eric reckoned it would be good with wild boar stew, but we also loved it for breakfast with marmalade. It’s a keeper in more ways than one — it was still soft and chewy several days later. I also wouldn’t have counted myself a fan of hamburger buns, but these home-made ones were a great base for pan bagnat. Oh, and potato bread made with instant potato flakes — a winner for serving with soup or stew!

Pan bagnat

At the end of day 3 we went home with goodie bags containing our baked goods plus some of Eric’s sourdough starter, and of course a booklet of recipes. I’d recommend this class to any keen baker — no need to be an expert to benefit from it. What a pleasure to spend three mornings just baking with like-minded people! And as afternoons are free, you can use them to explore lovely Uzès and the surrounding area.

CooknwithClass Bread Masterclass: Tropézienne