Blackcurrant Ripple Parfait

Blackcurrants are back! I love them. Just the smell of them transports me back to a child, on holiday in the South of France, eating my favourite sorbet – Cassis. Unbeatable, except maybe by this Blackcurrant Ripple Parfait. The intense, sharp and slightly sherbety flavour of blackcurrants combines beautifully with the creamy custard. And best of all, you don’t need an ice-cream maker to make it. Serve it in slices as a posh dessert or scoop in into cones for the kids.

Blackcurrant Ripple Parfait

Serves six.

3 large egg yolks

105g caster sugar

125ml water

300ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

350g blackcurrants

Put the egg yolks into the bowl of a mixer and attach the whisk attachment; or pop them into a mixing bowl and have a hand mixer at the ready.

Put 80g of the sugar and the water in a small pan over a medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil, without stirring, until it thickens and turns slightly syrupy, or until a sugar thermometer reads 110C. Switch on your mixer and start whisking the egg yolks. Slowly pour the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over the yolks, whisking continuously. Beat for about four minutes, until the mixture is thick, pale, glossy and cool – it should leave a ribbon trail in the bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the cream and vanilla to soft peaks and fold into the egg and sugar mixture. Pour this into a lidded plastic container and freeze for about two and a half hours.

While the parfait is freezing, put the blackcurrants in a saucepan, along with a dribble of water to get them started, and the remaining sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, until the blackcurrants are soft and the juices have run. Rub through a non-metallic sieve into a bowl, then chill.

When the parfait is chilled enough to hold its shape but soft enough to work a little, roughen the surface with a spoon and make several channels, grooves and holes in it. Into these, trickle little pools of the blackcurrant purée. Cut the mixture a bit to spread the ripples around, but don’t overdo it or they’ll get too mixed up with the parfait and you’ll lose your pretty contrasts. Smooth over the top and freeze again for another three hours, until solid. Allow to soften for about 15 minutes before serving in scoops or slices.

Courgette, Bacon, Basil & Parmesan Frittata

When I tell new customers that I write a blog with Simon, to help them use up their veg boxes every week, they always reply “But are the recipes quick and easy?”  So, this week, here are three variations on a theme.  Frittata, an Italian style omelette can be packed full of seasonal vegetables and makes a great lunch or brunch in no time.

Courgette, Bacon, Basil & Parmesan Frittata

Serves 2

Extra virgin olive oil

6 rashers of thinly cut smoked streaky bacon

3 courgettes, thinly sliced

75g parmesan, finely grated

Small bunch of fresh basil

4 large eggs, beaten

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 170C. Heat some oil in a medium non-stick, ovenproof frying pan. Cut the bacon into lardons and fry until golden brown and crispy. Add the courgettes and cook over a medium heat with a pinch of salt, for about 10-15 mins until completely collapsed, soft and golden. Add the basil and cook for a few minutes more.  In a bowl lightly whisk the eggs. Add the courgettes and season lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the parmesan. Wipe out the frying pan. Add a dash of olive oil. Put the pan back on a medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture and leave on the heat, just until the bottom and sides begin to set. Put in the oven until just firm, about 10 minutes. It is up to you whether you flip the frittata over or serve it the same side up. Cut into wedges and serve with a nice salad.

Raspberry and Almond Tart

You know Summer is here when the raspberries start and there is no better recipe than this one for using them up. This is a sort of Bakewell Tart but instead of adding jam, the fresh raspberries, sealed by the frangipane, cook themselves. Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche and you have the most perfect summer pudding I can think of.

Raspberry and Almond Tart

Pastry

175g plain flour

80g butter

1 egg

Frangipane

175g butter

175g sugar

175g ground almonds

1 tbsp. plain flour

2 eggs

Amaretto (optional)

400g fresh raspberries

Put the flour and butter for the pastry, and salt if using, in a food processor. Mix until you have breadcrumbs. Add the egg and just mix enough for the pastry to come together in a ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.  In the same food processor put the butter, ground almonds and sugar. Whiz until you have a smooth mixture. Add the eggs and Amaretto if using and mix again. Next add the flour. Mix briefly one more time. Preheat the oven to 170C.  Roll out the pastry and line the tart tin. Use a small piece f pastry dipped in flour to really push the pastry into the edges of the tin to avoid it shrinking. Get a round piece of grease proof paper and carefully cover the pasty with it. Folding it down over the top edge. Blind bake for about 15 minutes or until the pasty is very light golden brown. If it rises at all during cooking, push it firmly down. Tip the raspberries into the tin and spread across the bottom. Top with the frangipane mixture, trying to cover all the raspberries. Bake for 30–40 minutes until risen and golden brown. Serve warm with crème fraiche.

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A Modern Petits Pois à la Française

I love growing peas. They are so perfect from begging to end. The flowers are so pretty and there is nothing nicer than seeing the kids picking the pods and popping sweet, young peas straight into their mouths.

This Petits Pois à la Française is a classic dish of braised peas, but I like to make a rather more modern version, cooking it for much less time to keep it fresh and vibrant, both in colour and taste.

A Modern Petits Pois à la Française

(serves 4)

75g butter

1 large cos lettuce (I used Batavia)

400g freshly podded peas

The white part of 6 spring onions, sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Large pinch of sugar

Several mint sprigs

Wash and drain the lettuce.Melt the butter in a large, stainless-steel pan. Add the spring onion and fry for a few minutes without any colour. Add the peas and the lettuce to the pan with a pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sugar (optional). The peas should cook in the water released from the lettuce whilst it braises. This should only take a few minutes. If necessary, add a dash of water. When the peas are cooked and the lettuce wilted, add the mint sprigs. Check seasoning. Serve warm.

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Strawberry Ice-cream

I love this time of year with all the summer fruits. When it comes to strawberries it is difficult to beat strawberries and cream. Only one thing is better on a hot summers day – strawberry ice-cream!

Strawberry Ice-cream

Serves: 10-12

700 grams strawberries

175 grams caster sugar (plus 2 tablespoons)

500 millilitres full fat milk

500 millilitres double cream

1 tbsp. vanilla bean paste

10 large egg yolks

Hull and roughly chop the strawberries, put them into a bowl and sprinkle over the 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and leave them to steep and infuse with flavour.

Pour the milk and cream into a heavy-based saucepan, and add the vanilla. Bring the pan nearly to the boil and then take it off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk the egg yolks and the 175g / ¾ cup sugar until thick and pale yellow. Pour over the scalding milk, whisking the while. Pour straight back into the pan and return to a medium/low heat. By keeping everything hot at this stage reduces the cooking time. Stir the custard until it thickens. This should only take a few minutes if you take care. Make sure you keep the mixture moving constantly at the bottom where is comes into direct contact with the heat. When you see a very subtle slightly oily, darker yellow separation in the mixture. Immediately pour into another container to cool.

Puree the strawberries in a processor, and when the custard is cool fold in the  strawberry puree.

At this point you can either freeze the ice cream in an ice-cream maker, or in a plastic tub in the freezer. If you do the latter you should whip it out every hour for 3 hours as it freezes and give it a good beating, either with an electric whisk, by hand or in the processor. That gets rid of any ice crystals that form and that make the ice cream crunchy rather than smooth.

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Apricot Tarte Tatin

Another super easy recipe for summer fruits. As everyone know, who knows this blog, I am not one to give a day over to making my own puff-pastry. I spent too many hot summers in boiling hot restaurant kitchens trying to do my umpteenth fold, butter melting and no matter how much flour I used, puff pastry sticking to warm stainless-steel counters, to undertake that again in a hurry.

Now a days I am all for “Ready Rolled All Butter Puff” and you can knock this whole, delicious desert up in about ¾ of an hour.

Apricot Tarte Tatin

75g/2¾oz caster sugar

40g/1½oz unsalted butter, cubed

10 fresh apricots, halved and stoned

375g/13oz sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry

Crème fraiche or ice cream, for serving

For caramelising the apricots, you need a large ovenproof frying pan with a base that measures about 20cm/8in in diameter. Put the sugar in the pan and set it over a medium heat. Cook until the sugar first melts and then caramelises and turns golden brown. Try not to stir the sugar but swirl it around the pan every now and then. When you get to a deep golden caramel, add the butter and

stir in the butter with a wooden spoon. The caramel will be extremely hot so watch out for splashes. When the caramel is smooth, carefully arrange the apricots on top, cut-side up. Leave to cool for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Unroll the puff pastry sheet Place a dinner plate or 25cm/10in cake tin on the pastry and cut around it. Gently place the pastry on top of the apricots and tuck down the sides with your fingers.

Bake the tarte tatin for about 20-25 minutes until the pastry is well risen and golden-brown. Remove the pan from the oven using an oven cloth to hold the handle of the pan – don’t forget – it will be very hot. Leave the tart to stand for a couple of minutes to allow it to settle, then loosen the edges and place a large serving plate or board on top of the frying pan. Very carefully, but quickly, turn it over, using a folded dry tea towel to help you hold it, and allow the tarte tatin to drop gently on to the serving plate.

Serve warm with crème fraiche or ice cream.

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Red Onion and Rosemary Focaccia.

When I was making pizza dough this week, I made up an extra batch for Focaccia. Focaccia is quite simply an Italian bread, similar to a deep-pan pizza that, no matter the topping, should involve a generous amount of Olive Oil.  This acts to produce a golden brown, crispy crust that is to die for.  It has to be fresh out of the oven.  Don’t ever believe that it is worth buying a Focaccia from a supermarket shelf.  It will inevitably be a complete contradiction of what it is meant to be – slightly stale, dry and dreary.  You have to make it yourself. And it will be anything but!

I love this time of year when all the alliums are out and so I topped my Focaccia with caramelised red onions, which I just cooked slowly with some extra virgin olive oil, a great way of using up a glut of onions.

Red Onion and Rosemary Focaccia.

½ batch of pizza dough

6 red onions

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Malden sea salt

Rosemary

Lightly oil a large metal frying pan or a metal dish with olive oil. Press in the pizza dough. Allow to prove for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut your onions really thin. Use a food processor if you have one. Add to a heavy bottomed saucepan with lots of olive oil, a pinch of salt and some freshly groung black pepper. Very finely chop your rosemary and add that too. Cook over a medium heat until almost dissolved. Keep an eye on them so they do not catch. Cook them for as long as you have got. Check for seasoning. Preheat your oven to 200C. Add your onion mixture all over the dough, but not quite at the edges. Sprinkle with Malden sea salt. Bake neat the bottom of the oven to ensure that the top gets cooked in the same time as the bottom. Bake until deep-golden brown. Remove the Focaccia from the tin to allow the bottom to cool. Eat warm.

Mushroom Pizza

The sun is out and you want to be using the BBQ but it is sometimes hard to think up vegetarian dishes and also keep the kids content at the same time. I served up this Mushroom Pizza with a big salad on the side and for once everyone was happy. You will need a BBQ with a lid though, but the additional heat that a BBQ can go (around 400C) makes the pizza that much better and as close as I am ever going to get to owning a wood-fired pizza oven.

Mushroom Pizza

Mushrooms, thinly sliced

Mozarella

Pastata (I use Pizza Express)

Pizza dough

Fresh thyme

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garlic oil (made with peeled garlic cloves whizzed up with extra virgin olive oil)

Truffle oil (optional)

A pizza stone really helps when cooking pizza on the BBQ or in the oven as the pizza has a hot base to go onto and the bottom crisps up beautifully, but if you do not have one, preheat the BBQ or oven (as hot as possible) with a metal tray in side and transfer the pizza straight on to that.

Roll out the pizza dough as thin as possible. Place the disk onto a floured flat baking sheet. Shake the sheet to ensure the pizza is not going to stick. Add your toppings, tomato first and then mushrooms. Season lightly and add the mozzarella, fresh thyme and drizzle with garlic oil or truffle oil if using. With a quick decisive motion, transfer the pizza directly on to you hot surface. Quickly close the oven or BBQ to avoid heat escaping. Cook until bubbling and golden brown.

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Baked Blueberry and Vanilla Cheesecake

I like to have one or two definitive recipes for each seasonal fruit. Ones that I know will always work and when the season for that fruit comes around again I get excited and start salivating about making again. But up until now, I have never had one such recipe for blueberries. So, I set about rectifying the situation and the first thing that sprang to mind was Blueberry Cheesecake.

I am always a little apprehensive about making cheesecake. I think I have just had so many horrid ones, over sweet, gelatinous and gloopy! When I was a kid in the 70’s I even remember making one from a packet which was pretty disgusting. But then I went to New York and I will never forget the wondrous baked cheesecakes, topped with sour cream. Slightly grainy at the edges, totally wobbling creaminess in the middle. Mind-blowing. So, I was a little nervous of trying to recreate what I had reminisced. I scoured through hundreds of recipes to find one that sounded right, and never imagined that the first one I tried was going to turn out such perfection.

Baked Blueberry and Vanilla Cheesecake

150g digestive biscuits, smashed

20g caster sugar

70g butter, melted

Filling

800g Philadelphia cream cheese

150g creme fraiche

190g caster sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, or essence

4 eggs

30g flour

50ml milk

200g blueberries

100g creme fraiche

200g blueberries to decorate

Preheat oven to 170 C / Gas mark 4. Lightly oil a 25cm cake tin. I lined mine with grease-proof as I was frightened that otherwise it would leak.

Mix the biscuits, sugar and butter together and press evenly into the bottom of the tin to form a base. I used a potato masher.

Mix the creme fraiche, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla using an electric mixer. Add the eggs one after another and always mix well in between. Add the milk and flour and mix as well. Stir in the blueberries and pour into the tin. Bake for about 1 hour in the oven. The cake should be well risen, golden brown on top and just very slightly wobbly in the middle. Take out and allow to cool. After cooling spread the cake with 100g of creme fraiche and let it cool in the fridge for at least 3 hours. I couldn’t wait and ate mine after about an hour. Decorate with blueberries.

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Spicy Fennel, Sausage, Tomato Pasta

I hate to admit it but we eat rather a lot of sausages in our family. They are cheap and please everyone, which is always a bonus. I serve them up alongside all manner of vegetables and it is a great use up of whatever veg I have in the fridge, but I was I was thrilled to come up with this new way of serving them up and still managing to please the family.

Spicy Fennel, Sausage, Tomato Pasta

Serves 2

Extra virgin olive oil

2 heads fennel, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

8 good quality sausages or about 400g sausage meat

100mls white wine

1 tin plum tomatoes

Pinch chilli flakes

200g pasta, I used Conchiglie

Freshy grated Parmesan

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy bottomed saucepan gently fry the fennel with some olive oil. When beginning to colour, add the sausage meat. Squeeze it from the casings and break it up really well with a wooden spoon. You don’t want any large lumps. Turn up the heat and fry really well. It is nice if it begins to brown. Add the wine and use it to deglaze the pan. Scape the bottom to release any stuck on sausage. Add a pinch of chilli flakes and the tin of tomatoes. Rinse the tin out with a little water and add that too. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and let the sauce gently bubble away whilst you cook your pasta. Check seasoning before serving. Top with Parmesan.