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.

Hugs and Biscuits

“Can I give you a big hug?” asked my son the other day. “Of course” I replied. A hug is something we all need now and again. I love how children, naturally more uninhibited, will just ask for a hug, or in my son’s case just offer one. The feeling of being embraced is often all that is needed to solve a problem, or to change one’s mood.

Last week, the children and I ended up getting a coffee and biscuit in the great Caffé Bar Italia di Napoli down the road. I’ve never been to Italy, but it strikes me that this cafe is pretty much as the cafés of Naples (the proprietor’s home town) are like. The coffee is good and the range if biscuits and antipasti super. To accompany our drinks we had some small biscuits which were half chocolate and half vanilla. Deliciously crisp and crumbly, yet not overly sweet, they’re called Abracci. The name translates as ‘hug’, and the vanilla and chocolate halves clasp each other as if they are hugging.

Having looked online, I found a number of recipes (including a recipe from the commercial makers Mulina Bianco) and tracked down what seems like a key ingredient; potato starch, which helps the dough to keep its shape when baking, and maintains the ‘hug’. Whether they are served with a coffee or tea, they are a delicious light biscuit and like a hug bring a smile to your face.

Abracci (makes 72 biscuits)

What you will need
Cream dough:
200g flour
50g potato starch
100g of sugar
50g of butter
45g of margarine
3 tablespoons of fresh cream
1 tablespoon of honey
Knife tip of vanilla bean paste
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt

Cocoa dough: 
200g flour
50g potato starch
120g of sugar
40g of margarine
60g of butter
30g cocoa powder
40g of fresh milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt.

You need to prepare the two flavoured doughs, then combine before baking. First mix the margarine, butter and sugar until creamy. When light and fluffy, add the cream, vanilla and the honey and mix thoroughly. Finally fold in the flour, potato starch, salt and the baking powder, mixing until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined in a dough.  For the cocoa dough, repeat the process of creaming the butter, margarine and sugar, before adding the milk and egg. Fold in the remaining dry ingredients to make a dough. Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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Take the dough from the fridge and roll to form 30cm sausages. Divide each sausage into 3cm pieces and then combine one cocoa and one cream sausage to form the ‘hug’ shape shown in the photo above. Bake at 180 ° C for 10-15 minutes. The biscuits are ready when the cream part has started to turn golden brown.

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Penne with Cime di Rapa

The Cime di Rapa on the plot has reached maturity and I’ve begun to harvest the quick growing brassica. One of the classic dishes of Puglia is Orichiette con Cime di Rapa and to me it seemed a good plan to start eating the Cime di Rapa in this classic Italian pasta dish.

Looking online (as I tend to do to get ideas for meals) I found that, although the basic recipe was the same, there was quite a bit of variation in ingredients to accompany the Cime di Rapa. Some included cherry tomatoes, and the plot has a surfeit of them at the moment, so I included them. So I ended up with my own version of the dish, which I hope has some authenticity to it.

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What you will need (serves 2)
200g Penne (we had Penne in the cupboard, so used this instead of the classic Orichiette)
100g Cime di Rapa (trimmed to include thinner stalks and the floriferous heads)
3 anchovies (finely chopped)
10 cherry tomatoes (cut into halves)
1 clove of garlic (finely chopped)
Small pinch of chilli flakes
Handful of chopped parsley and grated Parmesan to finish the dish.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta (adding the Cime di Rapa after the first five minutes). Cook the penne until al dente, draining and retaining a small amount of the pasta water. As the pasta cooks fry the garlic, chilli flakes, anchovies and the chopped tomatoes. Once the pasta is drained, add to the sauce and toss to thoroughly mix. At this point I added a little of the pasta cooking water to bring the sauce together, then stirred in the Parmesan and parsley before serving.

A Little Rhubarb and a Portuguese Custard Tart (pastéis de nata)

When I visit cafés, I often look longingly at the pastries and wonder whether I could produce something similar in my own kitchen. One of my favourites is the Portuguese custard tart – Pastéis de nata. So, when this week I was left with a half a block of puff pastry and a grey day in which to bake, I set about having a go. Bought puff pastry is so easy to use, and it wasn’t too long before a mini batch of these luscious, egg custard filled, crispy tarts.

What you will need
Butter, for greasing
150ml double cream
250ml milk
Zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp of vanilla bean paste
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornflour
125g caster sugar
150g chilled ready-made puff pastry
Flour, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 190°C, gas mark 5 and grease a 12-hole mini muffin tin. The mix is enough for 24 mini tarts, so you could make a dozen larger muffin size ones instead. Put the cream, milk, vanilla bean paste and lemon zest in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then take off the heat and set aside. Next whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar in a bowl until it comes together in a paste. Pass the milk mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl of egg paste. You need to be quick and thorough at mixing the cold egg paste with the warm milk mixture to prevent you creating a sweet scrambled eggs. once mixtures are combined, pour back into the saucepan and heat over a moderate heat until it thickens – do not let it boil.

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The custard made, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface as thin as you can manage (the thinner you mange it, the more crispy the pastry). Roll the pastry up into a long sausage shape and cut it into 24 discs. Roll out each disc to about 6cm in diameter and press them into the holes of the muffin tin. Before filling with the custard mix, use a fork to prick the bases with a fork and fill with the custard mixture until half full. Finally, place the tarts in the oven for about 18-20 minutes until browned on top.

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As a child we often had rhubarb with our custard tart, so as we still have a bit if rhubarb at the plot, I decided to serve the little tarts with a bit of roasted rhubarb. To sweeten it I used a combination of a bit of sugar and some runny honey, roasting the chopped rhubarb for 20 minutes until soft, but not falling apart. The sharp taste of the rhubarb contrasts well with the silky sweet custard, but the tarts go equally go well with an espresso.

Season of soups and mellow fruitfulness

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
John Keats, Ode to Autumn

Before I started Spadeforkspoon I looked around the blogosphere and found many which gave me food for thought when it came to what went into my blog. One of the blogs I love is The Little Button Diaries, produced by my friend Laura, and her friend Tia. Its mix of craft, baking and babies was inspiration for my own dual focused blog. So I was excited to be asked to write a guest post for them and decided on my own Ode to Autumn – a season I absolutely adore, a season of soups and mellow fruitfulness.

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Cime di Rapa

My wife and I really like Purple Sprouting Broccoli and grow it at the allotment. However, we can’t grow it all year round and refuse to pay for the imported crops out of season. Earlier in the year I discovered an alternative – Cime di Rapa. This is basically a variety of broccoli (despite the name referring to turnips) and although not known in this country is widely grown and eaten in Italy. One of the key advantages if this brassica is its speed of growth – different varieties range from 30-90 days from seed to harvest. The fantastic Franchi Seeds sell a number of varieties (I grew Cime di Rapa Quarantina, a 40 days variety).

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I sowed the seeds with 10cm gaps between each station (sowing a few seeds at each stop). Once sowed Cime di Rapa does pretty well left to its own devices. I’ve thinned some of the rows to get larger plants; but as the leaves alone can be eaten as greens, this is not necessarily needed. When the plants are at a reasonable size the flower heads can be picked and used as you would Purple Sprouting Broccoli. In Italy, it’s often eaten a part of a pasta dish, Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa is one of Puglia’s signature dishes.

I’ve used the Cime di Rapa as an accompaniment to Pork Chops stuffed with sage and bacon. The greens were treated very simply; steamed, then tossed in garlic infused olive oil and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice. The slightly bitter flavours contrasting brilliantly with the sweet pork meat. The wilted greens also make a great bruschetta topping.

Writing this post has reminded me – I’m off to the plot in a moment to sow some more Cime di Rapa.

Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose

The kids both love the books of Julia Donaldson and the illustrations of Nick Sharratt, and so really enjoyed Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose. The title of this book has led to all chocolate mousse in our family being referred to as “chocolate mousse for greedy goose”. Yesterday, asked what he wanted for pudding, he asked for the aforementioned mousse – so I got about finding a recipe.

Whilst searching around for a quick and easy mousse, I came across the blog of Nick Coffer – My Daddy Cooks. This is a man after my own heart, enjoying time spent cooking with his young kids. What’s more, he had a recipe for chocolate mousse (using yoghurt instead of the egg yolks often found in recipes). The recipe really is quick and easy – there is even a video to show the process (although the video is clearly sponsored by a well known Greek Yoghurt brand). I actually used homemade yoghurt, as I find it cheaper to make my own yoghurt.

Anyway, they went down well judging by the chocolate faces that greeted me across the kitchen table. Perhaps next time we’ll experiment with flavoured chocolate.