Well, it had to come to this — with starter always on hand, I was eventually going to try making pitta bread with it. Turns out a quick Google was enough; I found a recipe on sourdough.com that worked first time. Here’s my version of it for the record. Strong bread flour doesn’t exist in France, so again I adapted it according to what I have. This recipe involves leaving it in the fridge overnight, but you don’t have to do that — you could just leave it at room temperature for 2-3 hours if it’s more convenient that way.
Walnut tart is a classic in south-west France, especially the Dordogne. Recently some visitors arrived from the Lot with a big bag of freshly gathered walnuts, so I had to try making it. It looks a bit odd, but it’s delicious, like a very sophisticated version of treacle tart. I used the recipe from Geraldene Holt’s lovely book of traditional French cuisine, French Country Kitchen, which is no longer a neglected cookbook.
It’s well worth making the pastry with orange juice; it adds an extra zing. In light of this, I substituted Cointreau for the rum Geraldene uses in her filling, and that was a good idea too. Pro tip: it takes ages to shell enough fresh walnuts for this, but listen to something nice on the radio while you do it 🙂
This recipe is very loosely based on a recipe from Bourke Street Bakery in Australia. I rarely use sourdough recipes unchanged, if only because French flour is nothing like flour used in most other countries; “strong” flour basically doesn’t exist here.
It’s a delicious bread; the spices and sultanas mean it doesn’t need anything other than butter. Superb still warm from the oven; it will make great toast, and if it hangs around long enough to go stale I can imagine excellent bread and butter pudding. It was pretty quick too; I started it at lunchtime and took the baked loaves out of the oven at about half past nine (yes, that is quick by sourdough standards).
You’ll need to decide on your own flour combination; I used French organic T65 (bise, almost but not quite white) flour, with a touch of wholemeal spelt flour (I virtually always use some spelt in my loaves as it has a lovely nutty flavour). Use mixed spices of your choice; I always use 4-épices for recipes calling for mixed spice because I like its warm, peppery flavour. The quantities below are reduced from the original; they made two smallish round loaves.
I can never resist making jam when summer fruits are in season, but we don’t actually eat that much of it, so it accumulates in the larder till I give it away or cook with it. This recipe, based on one in Nadine Abensur’s Cranks Bible, used up most of a four-year-old jar of marmalade. American-style muffins, but unlike those, these are not over-sweet; the only sweetener is the marmalade plus a little maple syrup, and my home-made marmalade is true bitter-orange marmalade. The crunchy topping is interesting too.
You can use this as a basic muffin mix, replacing the marmalade with other not-too-sweet preserves, or fresh or frozen berries. Also, if you are like me and always have sourdough starter hanging around, try replacing part of the flour and buttermilk with it (see recipe for details).
When S cooks, he tends to look at recipes for inspiration, then put them aside and make something up. This started as a lamb and onion tagine with honey, but ended up bearing little resemblance to the original. It was delicious though. As well as the ingredients listed he added some cubes of roasted butternut squash right at the end, but this was only because we happened to have some; it can easily be left out.
This is becoming a theme — yet again I had jars of starter bubbling all over the kitchen. We fancied smoked salmon, and I was sure it must be possible to use sourdough for blini. A quick Google and I found a recipe on a Spanish blog of all places, but it’s a blog I followed till it went dormant, so I felt confident that it would work. I was right; they were delicious. Just as good as the Delia recipe that was my standby up to now, and without all the cream.
The following is my adapted recipe. Use buckwheat flour if you can, for authenticity. I didn’t have any, so I used wholegrain spelt instead. I have an electric plancha which is perfect for cooking these as it remains at a low, even temperature — otherwise use a griddle or large heavy frying pan, over a low heat.
This made about 30 blini; halve the recipe if you want fewer, but they freeze really well. I wrap 6 or 8 together in flat foil packets and freeze them in ziplock bags. Then you can just take out as many packets as you need and warm them through in the oven. They are just as good with butter and honey as they are with salmon or caviar.
I was given Provence, 1970 for Christmas and have just been reading it. In it, a group of well-off Americans, all interested in food, gather in Provence in autumn 1970, cook, dine, and have endless conversations about food and wine. They just happen to include Julia Child and her husband Paul, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, and Richard Olney. I enjoyed it in a cosy sort of way, eavesdropping on their gossip and occasional snobbery. The author, Luke Barr, is MFK’s great-nephew, and he used letters and especially his great-aunt’s notebooks and diaries, to reconstruct whole evenings of conversation in a convincing way. I have to say that I wasn’t surprised to find that Olney, while probably the best cook of the lot of them, could be a somewhat unpleasant character — his Simple French Food is written in such a way that I never felt I’d be comfortable in the kitchen with him, just as I wouldn’t be with Elizabeth David. Whereas Jane Grigson, MFK, or Julia Child would surely be good company. It was a bit disappointing to find that Sybille Bedford (partner of an old friend of MFK’s) could be rather obnoxious as well though.
Serendipitously, we were looking for a recipe for stuffed cabbage and found one in Olney’s book. Oh, good, a chance to revive my neglected cookbooks theme! I’ve had this book for many years and even blogged a recipe from it once, but I don’t get it out often. There’s no denying the quality of the recipes; it’s the turgid prose that puts me off. The first sentence sets the tone: it’s 124 words long. He’s the kind of person who refers to himself as “one”, and his paragraphs are unnecessarily long and rambling.
Still, the proof of the pudding and all that. Alice Waters quotes him as her main inspiration for Chez Panisse, and by and large I’ve been happy with the results of the recipes I’ve tried. He has taken traditional French bourgeois cooking and turned it into an art form. I have to say that while stuffed cabbage may sound dull, if not positively offputting, it was spectacularly good. So if you’re a fan of traditional French cooking and you can get past the convolutions of his prose style, it’s worth having on your shelf. But if you’re not an experienced cook, I still believe no-one surpasses Mireille Johnston for authenticity and accessibility. Mireille’s is the book that’s splattered with food stains in our house. Such a shame it’s out of print; on the other hand it does mean you can obtain cheap second-hand copies.
Anyway, here’s the stuffed cabbage. We made this with pork mince from organic, free-range pigs browsing under oaks in the Aragonese Pyrenees, which probably had a lot to do with the excellent flavour. We didn’t have much stock, so we just made it up with water and flavoured it with a whole peeled onion and a couple of carrots. You need a piece of muslin or a string bag to wrap the cabbage in, and some string.
This is one of those delightfully easy “stick it in the oven and forget about it” supper dishes. Other than green veg or salad, you won’t need anything with it, and even drab supermarket chicken will be suitably perked up. It’s from a Sainsbury’s magazine, slightly adapted by me: the original called for halved new potatoes, but it seemed entirely implausible to me that they would cook from raw in the oven in 45 minutes. So I cut my (non-new) potatoes into 2-cm chunks, and they were just barely cooked in an hour. If you do want to use larger pieces, you’d be well advised to parboil them for about 3 minutes first, but this makes a bit more work.
I cooked this in two gratin dishes; it will serve about six.
This isn’t really hummus, because it doesn’t have oil or tahini in it. But if you’re trying to cut down on fat intake, it’s not a bad substitute, and it is very quick and easy to make using a jar of chickpeas and a few other ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. It’s part of our campaign for healthier nibbles to eat with aperos; we have it with raw carrot sticks, but you can use other vehicles of your choice, including pitta bread of course.
Words of advice:
- Use a Spanish brand of chickpeas if you possibly can, they are just better. Jars are generally better than cans for some reason.
- Lack of tahini and oil means you have to really ramp up the spices and garlic to stop it being bland. Don’t take my quantities as gospel — taste and adjust as you like.
- This makes a lot; I hope it freezes well because that’s what I’ve done with half of it. It will keep for a few days in the fridge.
When in Spain … it has to be arroz con leche, not plain old rice pudding. Truth to tell, the two are almost identical. In Spain, the arroz is always served cold, with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon, one of the three spices used in unadventurous Spain (the others are saffron and paprika). And of course the rice used is paella rice (bomba), subtly different from the round-grain Carolina rice we use. Many Spanish recipes specify partly cooking the rice in water and then adding it to the milk, but I don’t hold with that — I like my pudding thick and creamy, and you need all the starch in the rice for that.
TV chef Karlos Arguiñano’s recipe suits me; he cooks it in milk, and the only thing I changed was the amount of sugar (many Spanish dishes are over-sweet for my taste) — plus we had it hot.