How to make Allotment Focaccia

As many of you may have noticed, I’ve been a little less prevalent in posting recently. The allotment has had to take a back seat as plans for the community supported bakery, and baking itself, have had to take precedent. Fortunately, the weather and season has offered me the excuse to put the allotment into hibernation with only a little guilt that I should be tending, clearing or digging. Plot 4 has been a critical part of my ongoing recovery and a place of safety from the Black Dog of depression, but as I move on, baking has joined it in providing me with the chance to be mindful. This recipe is therfore an important one to me; combining, as it does, two therapeutic activities and experiences in one food.

The great thing about having an allotment is having a range of herbs and crops that cna be used in all your cooking. My little garden at home, with a small herb planter, can’t sustain the constant use of a family, but the plot’s herb garden can. So, the herbs for this bread come from the plot; picked on a beautiful spring morning, their fragrance is brought to life topping this traditional hearth bread.

You will need
500g strong white flour
7g salt (plus more flaked sea salt to sprinkle on top of the finished bread)
7g dried yeast
60ml olive oil (plus more to  work the dough and drizzle on top of the finished bread)
310ml warm water
Your choice of herbs to top the bread with (I used marjoram and some chopped rosemary)

Start by mixing all the ingredients (minus the herbs) together to form a rough dough. Continue to knead the dough until it becomes smooth; using a little olive oil on the worksurface can help to stop the dough sticking, and help you to achieve the silken finish you’re looking for. The kneading will take about 10 minutes, after which you should form the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to ferment for a couple of hours.

After 120 minutes, take the dough out of the bowl, lay it flat, and fold it over on itself. Place back in the bowl for a further half an hour. Meanwhile oil a tray a 40×30 tray, then take the doughwith oiled hands and stretch it to fill the tray. Scatter your chosen herbs over the top and massage into the dough, making dimples usiny your fingers. Pour a little more oil over the dough and leave to prove for an hour or so. Bake in a hot oven (230°C) for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool a bit before taking off the tray and cutting into portions.

 

I topped this focaccia with simple herbs; but the beauty of this bread is that onions, potatoes, courgettes, even peppers, would work equally well. It really is a bread for the allotment.

How to Make Fougasse

Originally cooked in the ashes of the hearth, and typical of Province, Fougasse is a marvellous bread to eat. It’s pretty simple to make too; combining olive oil with flour, yeast and salt. Traditionally the Fougasse was a flatbread made to check the temperature of the wood fired oven; the time taken for the bread to bake indicated how hot the oven was. That said, it doesn’t need to be cooked in a wood fired oven; a really hot traditional domestic oven is fine.

Fougasse

Fougasse is a great vehicle for flavours, and the allotment is good at providing them at the moment. The red onions, which have been busy swelling over the last few months, are dried and ready to be used; and the woody herbs at the plot are all looking lush and fragrant. So, to combine the flavours of rosemary and red onion, or marjoram and sea salt, makes sense to me. I always think if they grow together (the rosemary and onions look at each other over the allotment path), then they probably will work together in food.

You will need (makes 8)
1kg strong white flour
100g refreshed sourdough starter (this is optional, but adds a depth of flavour)
625ml warm water
100ml olive oil
10g dry yeast
15g salt

For the flavourings
1 red onion, finely sliced and fried until soft and succulent
1tsp. chopped rosemary
1tbsp. torn marjoram leaves
2tsp. sea salt

Mix all the ingredients into a loose dough, then leave to stand for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the water and for gluten strands to begin to develop. Tip the mix onto a work surface, before kneading the dough until the dough comes off the work surface and has lost some of its stickiness. The dough will be sticky, but try not to add any extra flour; your bread will benefit from it if you don’t. Form the dough into a ball, place an oiled plastic sheet over it and leave for 90 minutes to 2 hours to ferment. Tip onto an oiled surface and stretch and fold the dough. Let it rest, covered once more, for a further half hour, the portion into 200g pieces. If including flavourings in the dough, flatten each piece and place a small amount of flavouring (cooked onion and finely chopped rosemary in my case), fold the dough over the filling and ball them up to rest again for a further 10 minutes. Roll out the balls of dough into rough triangular shapes. At this point you can add any toppings you want, gently pushing them into the dough with your fingers. Dust each triangle with flour, then use a sharp knife to cut slashes through the dough. Start with a slash down the middle, followed by diagonal slashes on each side of the centre to form a leaf-like effect. Carefully open the holes a little, stretching the dough as you do, before sliding onto a lined baking tray and baking in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Recipe inspired by those of Community Chef and Emmanuel Hadjiandrou.

fougasse

 

 

New Baby Chicken

It’s amazing how a situation, and experience, can change how you perceive things. Its definitely the case with food. Fish and chips for example always tastes better on the beach, and the memory of the ice cream I had relaxing on the walls of old Dubrovnik is undoubtedly effected by my happy memories of that holiday.

When our daughter was born, my wife and I returned from hospital with our new baby desperate for a good meal. Hospital food is not necessarily the best, although I remember my wife gobbling down all the food given to her during her time in the hospital. So, on our return I set to work making a decent meal.  I don’t recall why, perhaps it was suggested by my wife, but I ended up making a Jamie Oliver recipe (from one of the comic relief mini-books). A tray bake chicken dish, which used pancetta wrapped around chicken stuffed with basil butter. The herby butter oozed out of the chicken, helping to keep the chicken moist, but also infusing the potatoes with a delicious basily butteriness. It was exactly what was needed for a mother recovering from childbirth, and a father coming to terms with the enormity of parenthood. Comforting and buttery, yet fresh with the acidity of the tomatoes and the vibrant flavour of basil. We’ve had the same dish, or very similar versions of it, many times since, but its never ever come close to matching the first one. That’s why it will forever be known as New Baby Chicken.

New Baby Chicken

You will need (serves 2)
600g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
salt and black pepper
olive oil
Small bunch fresh basil
50g softened butter
2 skinless chicken breasts
6 slices streaky bacon
Large handful cherry tomatoes, halved
Small bunch of salad leaves (whatever you’ve got, but rocket or watercress go well)
Juice of half a lemon
4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C and par·boil the potatoes in salted water, then drain and let them steam dry until cool. Toss them in a little oil and seasoning, before baking in a  roasting tray for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, tear the basil leaves and pound them in a pestle and mortar with a little salt until the luscious green juices of the basil are released. Add butter and work the basily liquid into it, to form a green flecked basil butter.

To prepare the chicken turn your first chicken breast over, fold back the small fillet underneath, cut a long, shallow slash into the main breast meat. Spoon a couple of teaspoons of basil butter into this cut and fold the small fillet back into its original position. Next, lay the streaky bacon on a chopping board and, using the side of the knife, flatten and lengthen each rasher. This makes your bacon go further, but also helps it to crispen up better.  Lay out three rashers, slightly overlapping, on a chopping board. Place a chicken breast upside down at the centre of the bacon and wrap the rashers around the chicken breast. Repeat with the remaining chicken and bacon.

chicken and potatoes in the pan

When the potatoes are nearly cooked, throw the tomatoes into the tray with a splash more oil, and place the wrapped chicken breasts on top. Pop back in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Serve with a salad of leaves and a quick lemon juice dressing (mix the juice of half a lemon with 4tbsp. of oil).

new baby chicken

 

Taking the Sting Out Of It – Nettle Risotto

Nettles consume the phlegmatic superfluities which winter has left behind. Nicholas Culpepper 1653

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Like many allotments, ours has the occasional weed. Indeed; we have, the last eight years, been battling an attack of bind weed, with occasional skirmishes with ground elder, nettles and goose grass. Many of these weeds were essential foods in Medieval times. People like Nicholas Culpepper knew the nutritional benefits of these now unwanted plants; they even put them in books such as The Fromond List (a list of ‘herbys necessary for a gardyn’), compiled by Surrey landowner Thomas Fromond in about 1525.

Across the world nettles for example are used in many dishes, from frittata, and a Scandinavian soup, to a version of the Greek spanakopita. The Italians seem to be particular fond of the humble nettle; so, as the nettle ‘crop’ at the allotment was looking particularly lush and fresh, I decided to make use of this foraged food for a risotto. Nettles are not known as Stinging Nettles for no reason, they have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation. In order to avoid the obvious issue of being stung when picking I wore gloves and picked only the top few leaves, placing them straight into a last of bag as I did.20140430-082937.jpg
You will need
Two large handfuls of young nettle leaves
1 litre chicken stock
50g cubed butter
1 onion, very finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
250g Arborio rice
A small glass of dry white wine
50g grated Parmesan
A handful of toasted pine nuts

Start by blanching the nettles for a few minutes in boiling salted water, before whizzing in the food processor with a little liquid to make a purée. Next heat the stock, you want it to be just simmering so when you add it gradually to the rice it doesn’t reduce the temperature of huge dish too much and slow the cooking. In a thick bottomed pan, sweat the onion gently in a little butter and olive oil until it’s translucent and soft. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, before adding the rice. Cook the rice for a few minutes until it starts to become slightly translucent, then pour in the the glass of wine. You want to let the wine evaporate until the onion and rice are nearly dry, then add stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly, each time waiting for the liquid to evaporate before adding the next ladle.

Continue this process for about ten minutes, then add the nettle purée. Stir into the rice and continue to add the stock until the rice is al dente. When the rice is ready, add the cubed butter, seasoning and Parmesan and put the lid on the pan. Leave the risotto to rest for a couple of minutes, before beating the butter and cheese into the rice and serving. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top and add a little more Parmesan and a drizzle of good olive oil.
Nettle risotto

Nettles are such a great resource, which as well as being nutritious and plentiful are free! Why not take the sting out of your food bill and give it a go. Any other suggestions for foraged greens?

I’m dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!

BiB Food 2014

 

 

I’m entering this recipe for Four Seasons Food celebrating the vegetables of spring.  FSF is run by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Eat Your Veg who is hosting this month.

Gurnard, Cannellini beans and Wild Garlic Salsa Verde

I have been on the search for some wild garlic for weeks. Everywhere I went, my eyes had been peeled for the beautiful white flowers and my nose was seeking out that allium aroma which is such a giveaway of this springtime plant. Up until last weekend I had begun to think that this year’s abnormal weather had affected the wild garlic and caused it to disappear. Then, when away in Dorset, I found some. Under the woodland canopy, in a damp corner, there it was. I hurriedly gathered some and my mind began to race with ideas.

Recently I was contacted by Maille, purveyors of all things mustard, and asked if I’d like to enter a competition using their products. I’ve always said that I wouldn’t do reviews or product promotions; but as I use their mustards all the time I feel I can do so with a clear conscience. Armed with mustard and wild garlic I knew exactly what to make. Salsa Verde. This sauce is a brilliant way to use fresh herbs from the plot and a fantastic accompaniment to fish and meat. The acidity of the salsa combines particularly well with the flavour of meaty fish like Gurnard (a great sustainable option, which is only really caught as bi-catch and if we bought more of it would alleviate the pressure on other species).

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You will need (serves 2)
2 decent sized Gurnard fillets

For the Cannellini beans
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil  
1/2 clove garlic (crushed) 
Small sprig fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. chopped parsely
Grated zest 1/4  lemon   
1 can Cannellini beans

For the salsa verde
Parsley, mint and basil leaves (a small handful of each)
A handful of wild garlic leaves
1/2 tbsp. each of capers
1/2 tbsp. gherkins (I used Maille le Mini Recette Classique, they have a natty cage inside the jar so you don’t have to delve into the jar to grab a gherkin)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard (I used the Mailles Dijon Orginale)
1 anchovy fillet
Enough olive oil to bring the salsa verde together into a pourable sauce

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For the beans, put a splash of olive oil in a saucepan, and mix in the garlic. Add the rosemary sprig, and the lemon zest and warm through. Remove the rosemary and add the drained and rinsed beans, before adding to the pan and warming through. Take a third of the beans and whizz in the blender, then return to the pan. Finally add a small handful of chopped parsley.

The salsa verde is simple to prepare. Start by blanching the wild garlic leaves, refreshing in cold water, and allow to cool. Finely chop the garlic, herbs, gherkins, capers and anchovy using a sharp knife and combine with the mustard and enough oil to make a pourable sauce. Put to one side for the flavours to mingle and mature. Season the cod cheeks with salt and pepper and fry in a little olive oil for 2 minutes on each side. In the last minute, add the chopped garlic and a little lemon juice.

To cook the gurnard, season the skin side of the fillet, then add skin side to a hot buttery pan. Fry until the skin becomes crispy, around 3 minutes. Turn over and cook for a further minute.  To serve, spread the bean mix on the plate, place the fillet on top and then place some salsa verde on top.

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Cod Cheeks, Jerusalem Artichoke Purée and Braised Peas

I got the fabulous Polpo cookbook for Christmas and spent the festive period drooling over the delicious dishes within it. One of the dishes I immediately took a fancy to was the Cod Cheeks, Lentils and Salsa Verde. Having never had cod cheeks, but being a fan of the Italian braised lentils the recipe is accompanied by, I set about finding some cod cheeks to give it a go. My local fishmonger (Fish on Shoreham harbour) stocked them frozen, as the demand is not high enough to warrant being on the slab every day. Easily cooked in a few minutes and relatively cheap, they’re one of those foods (like the ox cheek and breast of lamb) that are not used enough. In the Polpo dish, the sweet flesh of the cheeks contrasts beautifully with the acidity of the salsa verde.

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With things firmly in the ‘hungry gap’ at the allotment, one of the only crops I’m harvesting is Jerusalem artichokes. They make a beautiful cream coloured purée, which is a great accompaniment to white fish or sweet scallops. So the other day I combined the cod cheeks and the artichoke purée for a early spring supper.

You will need (serves 2)
For the Jerusalem artichoke purée
200g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chopped
water, to cover
30g butter
20ml double cream
A little lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the braised peas
Half an onion chopped
3 rashers streaky smoked bacon, chopped
100g frozen peas

For the cod cheeks and salsa verde
Parsley, mint and basil leaves (a small handful of each)
1/2 tbsp. each of capers and gherkins
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 anchovy
Enough olive oil to bring the salsa verde together into a pourable sauce
250g cod cheeks, cleaned of small pieces of bone
Chopped clove of garlic

For the Jerusalem artichoke purée, bring the Jerusalem artichokes to the boil in a saucepan and simmer until tender, then drain and allow to cool. Whizz the Jerusalem artichokes into a food processor with the butter, cream and lemon juice to make a smooth purée. When ready to serve, season the purée and heat gently to warm through.

To make the braised peas, heat a little olive oil in a shallow saucepan, then cook the chopped onion and bacon for 8 – 10 minutes until the onion turns golden and the pancetta is brown but not crisp. Turn the heat down, add the peas to the pan, then cover and braise for 5 mins until peas are tender. Add a dash of lemon juice, seasoning and a bit more olive oil, if necessary.

The salsa verde is simple to prepare. Finely chop the herbs, gherkins, capers and anchovy using a sharp knife and combine with the mustard and enough oil to make a pourable sauce. Put to one side for the flavours to mingle and mature. Season the cod cheeks with salt and pepper and fry in a little olive oil for 2 minutes on each side. In the last minute, add the chopped garlic and a little lemon juice.

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To serve, place a spoonful of artichoke purée onto each plate and smear a little across the plate. Top with the cod cheeks, followed by a drizzle of salsa verde. Scatter the braised peas around the plate.

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This post has been entered into Delicieux & Eat Your Veg March Four Seasons Food Challenge.

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Allotment herbs into the winter

The allotment was decidedly nippy the other morning. Bright and beautiful, but nippy nonetheless. The majority of the summer crops have finished and the plot has taken on a different hue; moving from a lush green to more of an earthy brown, as crops are sown and planted to overwinter.
Of course, some of the crops will survive the coming months. The herbs like rosemary and sage will continue to provide fresh flavour to the kitchen. However, others like mint and basil will die off as the cold days encroach. So, a few weeks ago I decided to cut a load of herbs and dry them in the shed. We use a lot of dried herbs, oregano, mixed herbs, they all help to flavour our sauces and stews. It made sense to not waste the fabulous flavours the plot and try to keep them to use in the winter.

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To dry the herbs, all I did was cut a good bunch of a range of herbs, tied them into bunches and hung them in the shed. After a few weeks they had dried to a crispy, crumbly texture. The last stage was to crush the herbs, place in jars, label and add to the store cupboard for use later. Some of the herbs I kept on their own, but I also created an ‘allotment mix’ as well. It will be great to pull out the vibrant flavour of the allotment when it’s cold and wet outside.

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I’m addition to cutting and drying herbs before the winter comes, it’s also a good time to take cuttings from the woodsy herbs such as rosemary and sage. Choose a vigorous, non-flowering, shoot. Cut it off just below the leaf node or joint. Next strip off most of the leaves, leaving the top few. Place the cuttings in a pot filled with compost and vermiculite in roughly equal parts. You need to water the compost and then cover with a plastic bag or bottle to create condensation. After 4-6 weeks in direct sunlight, the cuttings should have rooted and can be planted out in the spring. From one plant, you can give yourself a load of new ones.

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