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.

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How to make Pizza Bianca Brassica

how to make pizza bianca brassicaPizza is undoubtedly one of my favourite foods and a sure fire winner with the kids too. There are so many possible things to top it with, but almost always they include the addition of a tomato sauce on the base. I do love this classic pizza, but I’ve recently discovered the pizza bianca; a pizza with no tomato. Somehow the lack of the tomato allows you to really appreciate the flavours of the pizza topping fully.

Brassicas are not the first port of call for the home pizza chef, but they offer a great alternative to the usual topping fayre. Cooked down with onions and garlic they create an unctiuous sweet and iron rich base on which to place your chosen cheese.

You will need (makes 6 small pizzas)

For the pizza base

3g dried yeast
150ml warm water
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping

A glug of olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
350g of spring greens, kale, cavolo nero or other brassica leaves (stalks removed)
75g mature cheddar, grated
75g mozarella
Salt and black pepper

Mix all the pizza ingredients together to form a dough. Continue to knead until the dough becomes more silken and springy. It’s impossble to say how long this could take, but after six or seven minutes you should be pretty much there. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm or a damp teatowel.  Leave to prove for an hour or so, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Whilst the dough proves, finely slice a couple of onions and a large clove of garlic, and slowly cook in a little oil until it is wonderfuly soft and transulcent. When the onions are done, add the finely shredded greens, allowing them to soften and combine with the sweet allium mix. Take the dough, divide it into 6, shape into balls, then roll out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a pound coin.

I find that pizzas in a home oven benefit from being placed onto a hot baking sheet. I use a piece of floured plywood to peel the pizza in to the oven and onto a preheated baking tray (set your oven to hot, as hot as it goes). The additional heat from below helps to ensure the crisp bottom required of a decent pizza, and aids the speedy baking of the dough. So, spread each pizza with the onion, garlic, brassica mix, then top with the two cheeses. Bake for 7-8 minutes until they are crisp and golden.

Spicy Parsnip Soup

With the cold weather finally arriving in the South-East this week, the draw of a steaming bowl of soup is a strong one. Added to this is the fact that two TV programmes I watched last week extolled the virtues of soup in a healthy diet; citing evidence that soup fills you up more successfully than a conventional meal with the same ingredients.

Spicy Parsnip SoupSo, unsurprisingly, I’ve rekindled my love of soup this week. The cold weather is also good for the key ingredient in this particular soup. Parsnips; sown months ago, and slowly growing over the summer and autumn, taste infinitely sweeter once they have experienced Jack Frost’s icy touch. They bring an earthy sweetness to this comforting spicy dish. The addition of the North African nut and spice mix, Dukkah, sprinkled on top adds a crunch to contrast with the velvety soup.

You will need (serves 4)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
4 good sized parsnips (roughly 800g), peeled and chopped
A couple of knobs of butter
700ml boiling water
salt and pepper to season
Dukkah and yoghurt to serve

spicy parsnip soup

Heat the oil in a large pan and saute the onion and garlic until softened, before adding the spices and stirring through. Add the parsnips and the butter, and gently cook for five or so minutes to slightly soften the parsnips. Add the water and bring to the boil. Simmer the parsnips for a further 20 minutes until cooked through, adding a little seasoning if necessary. Allow to cool slightly before whizzing in the food processor and adjusting the consistency of the soup by adding extra water (or cream if you’re feeling particularly indulgent). Warm through in a pan and serve topped with a spoonful of yoghurt and a sprinkling of dukkah.

Favourite Five Chestnut Recipes

Across Europe and the US, people have been out and about on the streets, frantically shopping for presents and visiting the sales. Many will be fuelled with piping hot chestnuts, roasted in barrels and sold by street vendors. The piping hot nuts are a Christmas tradition across the northern Europe and beyond. Chestnuts are a great ingredient for our home cooking too; whether in sweet or savoury dishes, they are a seasonal highlight.

Chestnut & Sage Soup – Sauté half an onion in a little oil and butter until soft and translucent. Add a few chopped sage leaves and a finely chopped clove of garlic, before 100g cooked chestnuts, a couple of chopped large potatoes and 1/2 litre of vegetable stock. After 30 minutes of simmering, whizz with the blender, then add 25ml of milk, reheat and serve topped with a few sliced chestnuts and crispy sage leaves.

Sweet Chestnut Purée – In a saucepan, combine 300g nuts, 220g sugar and 250ml water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25-35 minutes until the majority of the liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat, add a little vanilla paste, then strain the nuts (reserving the liquid). Whizz the nuts in the food processor until smooth, before adding the syrup slowly to get the right consistency. Chill and use to fill your next sponge cake.

Chestnut, leek, apple and Stilton crumble – This is based on a great recipe from Leiths Vegetarian Bible. Sauté an onion and a couple of leeks, stir a little flour into the mix, cook for a minute, before adding 300ml of stock. Add a 225g pack of chestnuts, a little thyme, and bring to the boil, simmering for a 15 minutes until the chestnuts are tender. Peel, core and quarter a couple of apples and add them and the chestnut mix to an ovenproof dish. Make a crumble from 110g flour and 55g butter, adding some Stilton into the crumble once made. Top the chestnut mix with the crumble and bake for half an hour at 190°C.

Chestnut Stuffing – A simple traditional stuffing for the festive bird (or just to have on its own). Mix a good sausage-meat with chopped chestnuts, an egg, some breadcrumbs, a little fresh sage, salt and pepper. Cook in the roast, or in a dish separately for half an hour.

Quince & Chestnut Frangipane Tart – Although a version of this tart was included in the Favourite Five Pear recipes; this chestnut version is great. Swapping the usual ground almonds for ground chestnuts gives it a lovely nuttiness and the perfumed quince is perfect for a cold winter’s evening.

Favourite Five Pear Recipes

Our little pear tree has been a real success this year. So small that there is no way it could support a partridge for a Christmas card photo shoot, it has had a really good crop of beautiful fruit. I’ve come to pears late in my life; as a child I always saw them as grainy, crunchy and not entirely appealing, but as an adult I’ve grown to appreciate the moment in time when a pear is a perfect sensuous fruit. There is little better than a perfectly ripe, juicy, pear just sliced and eaten; but they’re a brilliant ingredient too and appear in some of the family’s favourite dishes.

Roasted Roots, Pears and Lentil salad – Roasted pears are a warm, sweet, caramelized delight, and combined with earthy vegetables like beetroot and carrot, and nutty green lentils, make a super winter salad. This salad is an adaptation of the salad posted the other day, using pears instead of apples and blue cheese instead of goats cheese.

Gluten-free Pear and Chocolate Tart – This has become a big hit with my son and is made by both his grandmothers whenever he goes to visit, indeed one of them was the first to make it and it has been passed around the family and enjoyed by all. Having made a gluten free pastry case, the filling to this tart is made of quartered pears in a chocolate almond. To make the sponge, combine 125g ground almonds, 125g softened butter, 95g caster sugar and two eggs, before mixing in 185g warm melted chocolate. Place the quartered peeled pears in the blind baked pastry case, then pour in the filling. Bake for 45 minutes at 190°C.

Pear, Red Cabbage and Walnut Slaw – Fruit in slaws is a real favourite of mine. I love how apple adds a contrasting sweetness to my beetroot and carrot slaw. This version is a nod to the classic Waldorf salad. Combine shredded cabbage, thinly sliced pears, sliced celery and some roughly chopped toasted walnuts. Add a splash of cider vinegar to some mayonnaise, season, then add to the fruit and veg. Make sure the dressing is distributed evenly, then serve.

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Poached Pears – Such a simple dessert, but one which really enhances the flavour. Combine 3 cups white wine, 3 cups of water, a knife tip of vanilla paste and 3 cups of sugar to make a poaching liquid. Warm the poaching liquor, peel the pears and place in the saucepan. Use a piece of baking parchment to form a lid and poach for 10-15 mins (depending on how ripe you fruit is). When soft, take off heat and serve immediately, or pop in the fridge with the poaching liquid until needed. Super as a pudding, but equally good on top of your breakfast porridge.

Pear Frangipane Tart – I love frangipane, and it goes brilliantly with pears. In the past I have used ground chestnuts instead of the usual almonds, giving it a slightly sweeter nuttiness. Use just pears, or combine with poached quince for a more autumnal decadent tart.frangipane tarts (2)

 

How to make Gluten-Free Pumpkin Cupcakes

GF Pumpkin cup cakesThe pumpkins and squashes we have in the UK almost always end up in delicious savoury dishes, like those mentioned in my Favourite Five recipes, but in the USA and Canada they also have a tradition of using pumpkin in sweets and cakes. Famously this is in the form of pumpkin pie, which interestingly actually originates on this side of the Atlantic, with pumpkin pie recipes being found first in English cookbooks’such as Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1675).  Given our transatlantic cousins’ love of the sweet use of the pumpkin, I thought it was about time I embraced it too. Cupcakes are always a big hit in our family; so, with pumpkins ripened on the allotment, and children (and adults) keen on an after-school snack, I made these Gluten-Free Pumpkin Cupcakes.

You will need (makes 24)
Cakes
300g self-raising gluten-free flour
200g light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2tsp mixed spice
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g sultanas
A pinch of salt
4 beaten eggs
180g unsalted butter, melted
zest 1/2 an orange
1 tbsp orange juice
300g pumpkin purée. (I roasted the pumpkin in two halves, then puréed the flesh, and used the leftover purée for soup)

Icing
100g icing sugar
1 tbsp orange juice
splash of food colouring

Heat your oven to 160°C and prepare the muffin/cupcake tin with paper cupcake wrappers. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl and add puréed pumpkin.  Beat the eggs and combine with the melted butter, orange zest and juice. Stir the dry ingredients into the dry mix, ensuring that it is thoroughly mixed.  Pour the batter into the muffin tin, leaving a little space for the mixture to rise in the oven. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden and brown, place on a rack, and allow to cool. To make the icing, combine the orange juice and icing sugar to get the desired consistency, then carefully add the colouring, before mixing. Spoon the icing into a piping bag and pipe the cobweb design.

Favourite Five Pumpkin & Squash Recipes

Last weekend we went to the Slindon Pumpkin Festival, enjoying the amazing display produced using these autumn fruits. Nothing says autumn more than a pumpkin or winter squash. They echo the changing colours of the foliage of our trees; transforming from the green of the summer to the blue-grey, orange, cadmium, gold, and yellows of autumn. As an ingredient, they bring an earthy sweetness, bringing a warming richness to a plethora of dishes. I love them and never manage to grow enough on the plot, despite annual attempts to have vast numbers of plants. Still, with the various pumpkin and squash I do grow, I like to make these Favourite Five dishes.

Blue Cheese, Squash and Rosemary Gnocchi – I love the pillowy lightness of good gnocchi. They’re soft and go brilliantly with the punchy flavours of squash, blue cheese and rosemary. Simply roast the squash and a few quartered red onions, combine with blue cheese and rosemary and mix into cooked gnocchi. For more details check out this post.

Butternut Squash Soup – Soup is perfect for this season, and simple to make. Heat some olive oil and throw in a finely chopped onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary leaves and a a few chilli flakes. Cook for ten minutes, until the veg is sweet and soft. Add in the peeled and chopped squash, a litre of good chicken stock and simmer for roughly half an hour. When the squash is tender, remove from the heat and whizz in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a few crispy sage leaves on top.

Pumpkin Risotto with Sage and Walnuts – Start by making a simple risotto bianco, before adding pumpkin purée to the rice during the last few minutes. In a separate pan heat some butter until frothing, adding a few sage leaves until they are crispy. Remove and add some chopped bacon and walnuts, frying until nicely coloured. When the risotto is almost finished, take off the heat, add a good knob of butter and some Parmesan, put the lid on and leave for a few minutes. To serve, ladle out the risotto and top with the walnuts and bacon, and the crispy sage leaves.

Roasted Squash and Puy Lentil Salad – Roast a squash, cut into 2cm cubes, with rosemary and garlic for 30 minutes until soft and just starting to brown. Meanwhile, cook some Puy lentils and then mix with mustard and honey dressing. Toss lentils with the squash, season and serve, with the addition of a few toasted walnuts.

Roasted Pumpkin Purée – Peel and cut your pumpkin or squash into large chunks and place in a roasting tin. Toss with olive oil, a few sprigs of rosemary and a couple of cloves of garlic. Roast in a medium oven for 40 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Peel the roasted garlic and whizz the contents of the roasting tin, seasoning as required. Delicious as an accompaniment to sausages.