Elderflower Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Elderflowers give a beautiful perfume to a dish, and add something special to this classic panna cotta. This is a desert which, despite its appearance on fancy restaurant menus, is a simple one to make. All you need is time for the gelatine to do its thing and set the sweetened cream.eledeflower and strawberry panna cotta

You will need (serves 4)
100ml milk
50ml double cream
2 tbsp. elderflower cordial
20g caster sugar
knife tip of vanilla paste
2 leaves of gelatine
150g yoghurt

100g strawberries (sliced)
1 peach (sliced)
1 tbsp. elderflower cordial

Stir the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla together in a pan over a lowish heat until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is just starting to boil. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Soak the gelatine in cold water for five to 10 minutes, then remove from the water and squeeze out water. Add to the warm milk and cream mixture and stir until dissolved. Pass through a sieve into a bowl and leave to cool. Mix in the yoghurt until smooth. Pour the mixture into small glasses, cover and chill for four hours. Meanwhile, hull and slice the strawberries and put in a bowl with the elderflower cordial. Leave to macerate for 30 minutes. I tend to serve these panna cotta in the glasses, with the fruit on top; but if you want to turn out of the moulds, dip the glasses in hot water for a few seconds, then turn onto a plate.

strawberries and elederflower panna cotta

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

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Little Swiss Chard and Stilton Tarts

I love Swiss chard. There I’ve said it. It has to be my “go-to veg” when sowing at the allotment, if there is a space it’s filled with chard.  As a plant, it’s hardy and forgiving, and just keeps on going. Added to this, it has a beautiful form and, if you sow rainbow chard as I do, the colours are so vibrant. I remember being blown away by the chard at the Eden Project; they’d got it growing in rows like a bedding plant, and it was so beautiful. Swiss chard is also a great vegetable to eat; we just don’t eat enough of it in this country. In Italy, its appreciated more and both the leaves and the stalks are cooked extensively.

With a limited amount to harvest at the plot, Swiss chard has appeared regularly on the table (often in the form of a chard pilaf). The other day though we had some stilton leftover from something, so I combined the two ingredients in a little tart. Blue cheese has a natural affinity with chard; the iron rich leaves complimenting the twang of the cheese. Combined with the creamy blanket of the egg custard, it makes a delicious tart.

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You will need (makes 4 small tarts)
250g Swiss chard, washed and stems stripped from the leaves
150g Stilton (or any other strong blue cheese) chopped into small dice
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
350ml double cream
salt and pepper

For the shortcrust pastry
250g wholemeal flour
50g walnuts
125g unsalted butter
A pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
30ml (approximately) milk

Start by making the pastry (it needs time in the fridge to rest before being rolled out). Put the walnuts in a food processor and whizz until a fine powder. Add the flour, salt and butter and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, then (with the food processor going) slowly pour in the milk until the dough starts to come together. Remove from the bowl and knead a little before wrapping in cling-film and chilling for at least half an hour.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface; you want it pretty thin to help get a crisp finish. Use pastry to line four 10cm deep tart cases, line with greaseproof paper and baking beans, and place in a preheated oven at 170°C. Blind bake for 15 minutes. Take out of the oven, remove the beans and paper, and lightly prick the base; before returning to the oven for a few more minutes until the base is dry but not too coloured. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C.

Blanch the chard in boiling water, drain, chop lightly and leave to one side to cool a little. Once cool, divide the chard between the four tart cases, topping each with a quarter of the cheese. Put the eggs, egg yolks, cream and salt and pepper in a jug and beat until smooth. Pour the custard over the filling of the tarts and bake in an oven for half an hour, or until they are slightly browned on top, but still have a slight wobble to them. Remove from the oven and serve warm (or indeed cold if you can wait that long).

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A Simple Christmas Dessert

The early apples we have, Beauty of Bath, really don’t keep. However, our plot is overhung by the most wonderful eating apple tree, and these apples keep pretty well. As a child we often had baked apples, stuffed with sultanas and Demerara sugar, for desert and I decided to have one the other day for lunch. Being that it is Christmas, and we had an open jar of mincemeat in the fridge, I chose to fill the centre of the fruit with some of this festive fruit and nut mix. Teamed with a splash of cream over the hot apple, the sharpness contrasts brilliantly with the sweet mincemeat.20131218-122415.jpg

You will need

1 Cooking Apple (A Bramley is ideal)
1 tbsp Mincemeat
Cream to serve
 
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Core your apple and fill the space where the core was with the mincemeat. Bake for 30 minutes until golden on top and soft and fluffy inside. Serve with a splash of cream.

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Jerusalem Artichoke & Apple Soup

November has traditionally been a month when our allotment’s harvest is limited; although this year I seem to have succeeded in keeping the cropping season going for longer. There are brassicas ready for accompanying a hearty stew and plenty of the bright and earthy beetroot and chard. However, one crop which I always grow and often fail to take advantage of are Jerusalem artichokes. They are not artichokes like those found in delicious Italian antipasti, but those which are tubers below a sunflower type plant. Indeed the Jerusalem part of the name comes from the Italian for sunflower, Girasole, whereas the artichoke part is down to their taste being similar to globe artichokes. Whatever their origins they are one of the easiest plants to grow; planted as tubers in spring, they grow up to 2m in height with small sunflowers on top. The tubers can be dug from September, and as long as you don’t dig out all the tubers (it’s almost impossible to find every one), they’ll come back year after year to provide you with colour and a great screening plant.

In terms of flavour they are similar to the globe artichoke, but nuttier, and apparently are one of the best non-meat sources of iron. We’ve made a delicious gratin of Jerusalem artichokes in the past, but a the weather was cold I decided on a soup and teamed the nutty artichokes with sharp apples to make a velvety soup.

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What you will need
1 tbsp  lemon juice
450 g  Jerusalem artichokes
3 tbsp  butter
1 onion, chopped
4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tsp  salt
1/4 tsp  white pepper
500 ml chicken stock
Chopped chives to garnish

Jerusalem artichokes are usually pretty knobbly, but this year they seem to have grown quite smooth. Even so, they need to be peeled and sliced and then put into a bowl of acidulated water (1 tbsp. of lemon juice in a pint of water) to maintain their creamy white colour. Meanwhile, gently sweat the onion in the butter until it is soft and translucent, at which point add the sliced artichokes (retaining the lemon water for use later). Cook for a few minutes before adding the apple, salt and pepper. After a further five minutes add a little of the lemon water and the chicken stock and simmer until the artichokes are soft. Blend the mix into a smooth soup, adjust the seasoning and serve with a garnish of chopped chives.

Autumn Fruit and Chestnut Frangipane Tarts

One of the things I love to do is collect chestnuts from the countryside. We forage around under the sweet chestnut tree, and on finding the glossy brown nuts, break open the shells to get at the sweet nuts. I’ve noticed them piled high outside our local grocers too – for those times when I can’t forage for them.

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Although I love the nuts fresh, I wanted to use them cooked and use them to flavour a dessert. So, after roasting and peeling I whizzed them in the food processor to create a seasonal alternative to ground almonds in a frangipane. Combined with some poached winter fruits they made a sophisticated tart inspired by an Angela Hartnett recipe.

What you will need
Pastry
225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
110g butter
110g caster sugar
3 medium egg yolks, lightly beaten
Frangipane
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g ground chestnuts (roasted and peeled)
1 tbsp plain flour
Poached Pears and Quince
250g caster sugar, plus 2 tsp extra
2 good-sized pears and 2 quince
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
3 cloves
1/2 lemon
2-3 strips thickly pared orange zest
1/2 vanilla pod

First make the pastry by adding the butter, flour and sugar into the food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks into the mix slowly, until the dough comes together in a ball – you might need to add 1 teaspoon cold water if the dough is very crumbly. Wrap the dough in cling film and pop into the fridge for 30 minutes or so. To make the frangipane filling cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy (or whizz in the food processor). Gradually beat in the eggs, one at a time, then fold in the ground chestnut and flour. Mix well and chill until needed. To poach the pears and quince put the sugar in a saucepan, pour in 500ml water and place over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Peel the fruit and add to the pan, along with the cinnamon. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan and add the squeezed lemon and orange zest. Split the vanilla pod in half, scrape out the seeds and add to the pan with the pod. Add some more water to just cover the pears. Simmer for 25 minutes, then remove the fruit to a plate with a slotted spoon. Set aside for 15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

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Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan170°C/gas 5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a circle large enough to line the tart tin. Don’t worry if it breaks up, as this is a very short, crumbly pastry – you can just patch it together in the tin , making sure it is even all over. Trim off any excess pastry and spread the frangipane evenly on top. Cut the fruit in half lengthways and, using a teaspoon, scoop out and discard the core from the centre. Cut each piece of fruit into slices and arrange on top of the frangipane filling. Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is golden and the filling is set (I made smaller tarts, so baked for a sh0rter period). Sprinkle with the extra 2 teaspoons caster sugar and bake in the oven for a further 15 minutes to finish off the browning. Cool in the tin slightly, then remove and transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dribble of cream.

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Gnocchi

I love these pillow soft potato dumplings. Up until now we’ve bought them, but with some leftover mash in the fridge I decided to have a go at making them myself. Not only was it really easy, the resulting gnocchi were even better than any shop bought ones we’ve had.

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Like many families, we eat a lot of pasta. Not many days go by without a dish of pasta pesto, macaroni cheese, or pasta with a tomato sauce. Gnocchi gives us a different vehicle for our range of sauces. Today the gnocchi were split, with the children having them with pesto (a firm favourite with my son), and my wife and I having them combined with crown prince squash and blue cheese.
What you will need (makes enough for 4-6 people)
1kg potatoes
Salt and pepper
1 egg
250g plain flour (you may need more flour depending on the water content of the mash)
Flour for dusting.

Peel and dice the potatoes and bring to the boil, cooking until tender. Cool a little, then mash, and allow to cool completely. Combine the cooked potato with the other ingredients to form a sticky smooth dough; it is best to work the dough quickly to give the gnocchi a light structure. Sprinkle flour on a surface and roll the dough into long sausage shapes. Cut into 2cm lengths, using a fork to press the distinctive ridges in the gnocchi (the ridges allow the sauce to stick easily). If you want, you can open freeze the gnocchi at this point, cooking them straight from frozen for twice as long. To cook the dumplings, bring a saucepan of salted water to boil, drop the gnocchi in, and simmer until they all rise to the surface (about 2 mins). Take the gnocchi out if the water with a slotted spoon, drain well and add to your sauce of choice.

Crown Prince Squash, Blue Cheese Gnocchi
1 Crown Prince Squash
1 red onion (peeled and cut into 8)
3 garlic cloves
1 handful of rosemary leaves
75g blue cheese

Peel and deseed the squash, and chop it into 2cm dice. Place in a roasting tin and add the onion and garlic, as well as half of the rosemary. Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes at 180C until they are soft and slightly coloured. When the squash and onion are soft and cooked, add the remaining rosemary and the blue cheese in small chunks. Allow the cheese to melt a little, then combine with the cooked gnocchi and serve.

Arancini – worth having leftovers for!

Ever find you make too much risotto? I’ve become pretty good at portion control – enabling us to not waste too much food. We’re also good at using leftovers in other meals; leftover Hunter’s Chicken for example, makes a super sauce for pappardelle when pushed through a sieve and combined with a bit of the pasta cooking water

That said I always end up making too much risotto; the usual 500g packets provides enough rice for a couple of overly generous meals for two, but not three sensible sized meals. Luckily leftover risotto can be transformed into delicious Arancini; balls of risotto encased in crispy breadcrumbs. I like them so much I subconsciously over cater every time I make risotto. Arancini are easily made and comfortably use up any amount of leftover risotto.

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What you will need
Leftover risotto
Flour for dusting (seasoned with salt and pepper)
1 egg (beaten)
Breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil (or other oil suitable for deep frying)

Take your leftover risotto and form into golf ball sized balls. It helps to have wet hands to prevent the mix sticking to you. if you have some mozzarella, you can put a small piece in the centre of each ball at this point. The cheese will melt in the heat of the oil later, giving you a gooey cheesy centre. Once your rice balls are formed place them in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up. Coat the balls with breadcrumbs by rolling in the seasoned flour, then beaten egg, and finally breadcrumbs; before returning to the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil to frying temperature (a few breadcrumbs dropped into the oil should crisp in a few seconds). Lower the rice balls into the oil and cook until golden brown. I always use a saucepan, so I fry three or four balls at a time. Remove them using a slotted spoon and place on a piece of kitchen towel to absorb any excess oil. Serve warm with a tomato sauce, on their own, or cold as a great snack.

Like me you’ll be making too much risotto before you know it.