Blackcurrant Jelly and Ice-cream

It’s blackcurrant season and for the first time ever, that I have noticed anyway, Riverford are supplying their own. These specimens are actually from my allotment where we have produced a bumper crop this year. Blackcurrants tend to need cooking (unless you are my son Daniel who eats them, along with the gooseberries by the fistful.)

Blackcurrants from the Allotment

With some fruit such as bananas or raspberries, they are so perfect as they are it seems a bit of a waste of time to start fiddling around with them. But blackberries need a bit of sugar and removing some of the pips certainly makes them more palatable to me. When I was a kid on holiday in the South of France, of all the vast selection of fantastic ice-creams and sorbets on offer, it was the Cassis sorbet that was my absolute favourite. The perfect balance of sweet and sour and bursting with the deepest flavour. But I recon I have found a recipe to beat it – Blackcurrant Jelly. When I tasted the results I was instantly transported back to being 11 years old, bright sunshine, relishing in the amazing intensity of flavour, like nothing I had tasted before. Of course all jelly needs ice-cream and a good quality vanilla is the perfect accompaniment. Save back a little of the syrup when making and add to a glass of Champagne (or Prosecco) for a Kir Royal.

Blackcurrant Jelly 1

Blackcurrant Jelly
400g Blackcurrants
350g sugar
300mls water
1 sheet of gelatine (25g each sheet) for every 100mls (about 6)

Tip the blackcurrant into a large pan with the sugar and water and bring gently to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes and mash with a potato masher to break up the fruit. Tip into a sieve and press with a spatula to remove all the juice. Tip into a measuring jug. You should have about 500 mls to 600 mls. For every complete 100mls use one sheet of gelatine. Soak the gelatine in cold water until really soft. Remove and squeeze out any excess water with your hands. Reheat a little of the blackcurrant puree in a saucepan. When hot add the gelatine. Stir until completely dissolved. Mix in any remaining puree and stir well. Pour into Dariole moulds or ramekins and put into the fridge to set. When set, quickly put the containers in a bowl of boiling water, making sure none comes into contact with the jelly itself. Turn upside down and release the jelly with your finger into a bowl. Serve with ice-cream.

Kohl Rabi

This week I started with a medium vegbox less roots which contained wet garlic, bunched onions, broad beans, garden peas, swiss chard, mixed salad leaves, mini cucumbers, red pepper and the dreaded kohl rabi,

I decided to get to work straight away on the Kohl Rabi as it is one of those vegetables that no one really knows what to do with. Looking like an unwanted alien, it is of the cabbage family but with the smell of mild turnip. It actually doesn’t taste of anything much but it has a great texture. So many recipes seem to be merely an excuse to get rid of it, so I wanted to try embrace it but use gutsy enough flavours to hide the rather unappetizing smell – unless you are a turnip lover. On the plus side, kohl rabi is really good for you. Higher in vitamin C than oranges it is a powerful antioxidant and contains phytochemicals which appear to have an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

I have researched long and hard on your behalf and come up with three salads which most celebrate the Kohl Rabi.

Kohl Rabi Remoulade

Kohl Rabi Remoulade
Remoulade is usually made with raw celeriac and delicious with cold meats.
1 medium kohlrabi
A squeeze of lemon juice
4 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Grain mustard
4 tbsp. Mayonnaise

Peel the kohlrabi and cut it into matchsticks about 3mm thick, either by hand or using a mandolin. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Season well and mix in the kohlrabi.

Asian Coleslaw with Peanuts & Chilli

Asian Coleslaw with Peanuts & Chilli
½ large kohl rabi, peeled and finely grated
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 red pepper, de-seeded and thinly sliced
100g beansprouts (optional)
2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
1 bunched onions, finely sliced
Small bunch coriander
For the dressing:
1 tbsp thai fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp lime juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 red chilli, finely diced

Whisk all of the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside. Pick the leaves from the coriander. Mix together all the vegetables, add the coriander leaves and toss with the dressing. Pile on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the roasted peanuts.

Kohl Rabi and Fennel Salad with Dill

Kohl Rabi and Fennel Salad with Dill
Great with fish, especially fatty fish like salmon or mackerel as the sharpness of the lemon cuts the fattiness of the fish.
I head of Fennel, tough outer leaves, stalk and tops removed, very finely sliced preferably on a mandolin
½ Kohl Rabi, peeled and very finely sliced preferably on a mandolin
½ lemon, juiced
Very good extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Small bunch of dill, finely chopped

Mix the lemon juice with a good pinch of salt. Mix well and add the olive oil, about 3 times as much oil as lemon. Taste and adjust. Add the fennel and kohl rabi and most of the dill. Serve with a little more dill or fennel fronds sprinkled on top.

Kol Rabi

Spinach and Feta Filo Pie

Finally for this week – spinach! The types of spinach available from Riverford vary throughout the year and although they will work with any spinach recipe, the cooking methods will change.

With true spinach or baby spinach it wilts easily and can be cooked without blanching. Simply melt a little butter in the bottom of a heavy based saucepan. Make sure the bottom is coated with butter as it will stop the spinach sticking. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and cover. Steam for a minute or two. Remove the lid and stir. Cook covered for one or two minutes more until all wilted. Tip into a colander, spread out well and allow to drain. Perpetual spinach is actually a chard and from the beet family. It has a much longer season and is easier to grow. This type needs to be blanched in salted boiling water for one to two minutes. Remove and spread out on a dry tea towel to drain. When cool, use the tea towel to squeeze excess water from the spinach. This then should be lightly sautéed with olive oil or butter and seasoned to taste.

Today we are making a Spinach and Feta Pie based on the Greek classic “Spanakopia” and it occurred to me that it could also be easily made using spring or summer greens which I promised you more recipes for. I love this pie, still warm, for lunch with a side salad.

Another way I like to use up my spinach is in Spinach Empanadas. I simply cook the spinach and add some grated Parmesan and salt and pepper. That is it. You can buy ready-made Empanada pastry oinline which comes frozen and you keep in the freezer until wanted just like Filo. I might try experimenting with some different filling for those too as it is a great way of getting vegetables in the kids and they can go in their lunch box too. Cornish pasties are the English version and just as delicious. Let’s face it – anything in good, golden brown, flaky pastry is going to be yum!

Filo and Feta Pie in dish

Spinach and Feta Filo Pie
400-600g spinach
Large knob of butter
4 spring onions
50g freshly grated Parmesan
200g crumbled feta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
60 g (2 oz) butter, melted
8 sheets filo pastry

Depending on spinach cook as above. Heat some butter in a heavy-based frying pan and add the shredded spring onions. Cook for a few minutes and then add the drained spinach. Cook for a few minutes to remove all excess water. Season well to taste with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Allow to cool. Add the beaten egg and stir well. Next and the Parmesan and crumbled feta. Preheat the oven to moderate 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Lightly grease a 20 × 30 cm baking dish, preferably metal. Lay 4 sheets of filo pastry on the bottom, brushing between each sheet with a butter. Top with the spinach and cheese mixture. Finally top with the remaining filo sheets making sure each one is well brushed with butter. Brush the top with any of the remaining butter. Bake for about 30 minutes in the bottom of the oven or until the top is golden brown and the bottom is cooked through as well. Cut into pieces and serve warm.

Spinach

Shakshuka

Next this week I turned to the peppers. Peppers are one of those veg which sometimes seem to hang about in the bottom of the fridge until they are no longer looking their best.  No more – this is one of our favourite Brunch recipes and is especially good for a bit of a hangover, although it is not essential.

In Israel they eat it for breakfast and specialist restaurants serve nothing else. Originally from North Africa it is best eaten with chunks of really good bread to soak up the sauce. The vegetables can be cooked beforehand but the eggs must be done last minute to get your exact preference of perfection. I like mine yoks runny but the whites firmly set. If you have a glut of fresh tomatoes, it is great for using those up too along with your peppers, but if you have none to hand then you can use tinned.

Shakshuka in bowl

Shakshuka
Serves 2
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium brown or white onion, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium green or red bell pepper, sliced
2 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 1 can (14 oz. each) good quality tinned tomato
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Cayenne
Pinch of sugar (optional, to taste)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 eggs
1/2 tbsp. fresh chopped coriander (optional, for garnish)

Heat a deep, large skillet or frying pan (one that can go in the oven) on a medium heat and the olive oil. Add chopped onion, sauté for a five minutes or until the onion begins to soften. (You can cover the pan to help it along.) Add garlic and continue to cook a minute more. Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes over medium until softened. Add spices and sugar, stir well. Add the tomatoes (if you are using tinned add ¼ tin of water too.) Stir and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes till it starts to reduce. Meanwhile pre heat oven to 170⁰C. Taste the mixture. Add seasoning and more chilli if necessary. It should be fairly hot. Make little holes in the sauce and crack the eggs, one at a time into each one. Pop in the oven until eggs are just set and the sauce has reduced. Sprinkle with Coriander and serve with fresh bread or Pitta.

Shakshuka with spoon

Pea & Prosciutto Cannelloni

This week I ordered a small vegbox (less roots) with bunched carrots, garden peas, perpetual spinach, cos lettuce, mini cucumbers and red and green peppers. I have to admit the veg was somewhat muddy and reminded me of the early days of vegboxes when you somehow felt that the muddier the veg the fresher they must be. Thankfully, this is not usually the case with Riverford veg and they typically turn up fairly clean, but not today.

The pea season is nearly at an end so I thought I would celebrate this by giving them a dish of their own. I had completely forgotten about ready to fill cannelloni pasta until I was asked to make a spinach and ricotta version for one of my clients the other day. It was super quick and simple to make and would have worked well with the spinach in this week’s box. I thought I would try it out with peas and ricotta instead and add some crispy prosciutto too but if you are vegetarian you can omit it. I recon there are all sorts of vegetable fillings I could think up. I might try one out with spring greens. I spent quite a long time playing around with the recipe and I would love to know what you think. You can do a tomato layer as well if you like but I didn’t think it needed it. I did think of adding mint but I don’t really like cooked mint – it can end up tasting a bit like toothpaste so I added a few sprigs to the salad instead.

Pea and Proscuitto Cannelloni and salad

Pea & Prosciutto Cannelloni
Serves 4
100 g prosciutto, slices separated
2 cups shelled peas
250 g fresh ricotta
Box of Cannelloni tubes (about 15)
100g grated Parmesan
Cheese Sauce
50g butter
50g plain flour
500mls milk
200g grated cheddar
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180°C fan. Cover a baking tray with greaseproof paper and lay out your prosciutto slices. Bake in the oven until crisp (about 5 minutes). Leave to cool and then crumble up into tiny pieces. Place peas in a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 2 mins. Drain and cool slightly. Mash the peas lightly with a potato masher. Combine prosciutto, peas, ricotta and parmesan in a medium bowl and season with plenty of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Tip all your mix into a piping bag (or you can use a large freezer bag and cut off one corner) and pipe the mix into the cannelloni tubes. This seems a little awkward at first but once you get the hang of it, it is quite simple. Arrange in an ovenproof dish as you go.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Remove and stir in the flour. Return to the heat and cook until sandy. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk. Return to the heat and whisk until thick. Boil for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and add the cheese. Stir until smooth and season well with salt and pepper. Poor over the cheese sauce and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and the pasta is tender. A blunt knife should easily insert. Serve with a salad maybe with a sprig or two of mint.

Pea and procuitto cannelloni

Potato Salad

Finally for this week – New Potatoes – and what better in this heat than a delicious potato salad. I got a bag of Lady Crystal in my box which are particularly good for salads. No need to peel, just wash well and boil in plenty of salted water until tender. A blunt knife should insert easily. I like to cook them whole but make sure that you choose similar sized potatoes so that they cook evenly. I cut them into bite sized chunks as soon as they are cool enough to handle. You can leave your potatoes to cool in the boiling water or drain them but never refresh them. What you add to your potato salad is up to you. I like to think what it is accompanying: with a nice piece of salmon I might add dill, with a steak, some capers and thyme or a handful of finely slice spring onions, with a lamb chop some mint or rosemary and a few shelled broad beans. With cold meets I might add some finely diced pickle cucumbers, with a piece of roast cod, some freshly shelled raw peas and some basil, with BBQ chicken some tarragon and lemon zest. The possibilities are endless. What I never use however, is mayonnaise. I much prefer a base of a nice mustardy vinaigrette made with Dijon mustard, maybe with a little grain thrown in too, red wine vinegar and good olive oil. Always season well with sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Try and dress the potatoes whilst they are still warm and they will drink up some of the dressing and don’t refrigerate as it tastes much better room temperature. And there you have it – the perfect potato salad!

Spring Onions

Use-up Stir-fry

Spring greens are a thing of beauty, however I do understand when you have seen your hundredth one turn up in your veg box, you may not continue to think so.

I got a couple this week in my small fruit and veg box along with more carrots, another veg that often accumulates, spring onions, sugar snap peas and new potatoes. On the fruit front there was apples and raspberries. So to make sure that you do not despair of summer greens, I will be concentrating on them over the next few weeks starting with a fabulous use-up dish this week. This is the sort of recipe which clears out your fridge before your next veg box arrives because there are so many variants of ingredients you can use. And of course you could add some prawns, or chicken, pork or steak if you wanted.

I started with my spring greens, sugar snap peas, carrots and spring onions but I also discovered half a left over red pepper, some mushrooms and a few bunched onions, which all went in. The only staples that you really need are chillies, ginger, garlic and coriander and a lime, Teriyaki sauce and noodles.

There are several varieties of Teriyaki sauce. My kids like Waitrose own best probably because it is particularly sweet but if you want a healthier option Clearspring make an organic one. The sweetness is counteracted with some lime juice and if you want more salt, add a little soy or Nam Pla (Thai Fish Sauce) is also particularly good. On the noodle front, any will do. I used some old Pad Thai noodles which  where hanging around in the cupboard. More important is the ratio of veg to noodle. Your cooked veg quantity should be about equal to that of noodles otherwise it can get a bit heavy going. I have given you a rough recipe below but really it is up to you.

The only other thing which really is of help in use-up stir-fry is a Wok. If you don’t have one, don’t splash out on an expensive one. I got mine about 25 years ago for £10 and it is still going strong.

Stir-fry in bowl

Use-up Stir-fry

Serves 2 very generously

150g Pad Thai noodles (or any will do but vary cooking as instructed)

1 head summer greens

1-2 fresh red chillies

Large knob of ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled

4 spring onions

2 small bunched onions

4 carrots, peeled

8 mushrooms

100g sugar snap peas

½ a red pepper

Sunflower oil

1 lime

Teriyaki sauce

Sesame oil (optional)

Soy sauce, Nam Pla or salt

Small bunch of coriander

Boil the kettle and pour boiling water all over the noodles so that they are submerged. Leave for 15 minutes. Meanwhile shred your summer greens, wash and drain well. Grate the carrots. Thinly slice the mushrooms and red pepper, removing any seeds. Remove the outer most layer from the spring onions and bunched onions and finely slice. (Don’t forget to use the green of the spring onions too.) Top the sugar snap peas and string if necessary. Finely chop the chilli, removing the seeds. With a teaspoon remove the outer layer of the ginger. Grate the garlic and ginger. Drain the noodles. Heat your wok or large frying pan with a little sunflower oil. Add the garlic, chilli and ginger. Fry for a minutes, stirring well. Add the spring onions, bunched onions, mushrooms, sugar snaps and red peppers. Stir-fry for a minute or two more. Next add the summer greens and carrots. Stir-fry until the veg has wilted. Finally add the teriyaki sauce and noodles and mix really well. Take off the heat and stir in your chopped coriander. Squeeze over the lime and drizzle with Sesame oil if using, Taste. If it needs more salt add soy or salt. Make sure you have the balance of sweet, salty and sour. Serve with a wedge of lime.

Stir Fry in Wok

Gazpacho

Salad in a bag

I started this week with a salad bag which had two fat red peppers, a couple of baby cucumbers and some cherry tomatoes, two lovely baby gem lettuce and some cherry tomatoes and I immediately thought – soup!.  What with the sweltering weather this week, of course it had to be cold soup and nothing is more refreshing for lunch on a hot day.

Gazpacho is nothing more than a liquidized salad and you can add all sorts of different ingredients from lettuce to radishes to celery but the basics are red peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. I like to add a small red onion and one garlic clove but be careful because raw onion and garlic, if added too enthusiastically, can overpower the other vegetables. My only other addition apart from salt, pepper, Spanish olive oil and vinegar is a red chilli.

Gaz Salad

So simple, so quick, so delicious and so good for you. Just make sure you take the time to peel the vegetables before liquidizing to get a nice texture. You need a really efficient peeler for this so make sure you invest in a good one with a sharp edge. So many times I see people struggling away with a completely blunt peeler. I like the D shape ones best but if you can’t find a basic one then OXO always seems to make good equipment.

The balance of vinegar is important but just add a little at a time. It should be gutsy and not bland. I use a blend of half-half red wine vinegar to sherry vinegar. You can find some very good sherry vinegar in the supermarket which is worth the money, but for the red wine vinegar you can just go for the cheapest. Finally, it must be very cold. Add an ice cube or two when liquidizing if you are in a hurry.

Gaz in a Bowl Small

Gazpacho

1kg really ripe tomatoes

2 Red Peppers, peel of as much skin as possible with a peeler, de-seed and roughly chop

2 baby or one large cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped

1 very small red onion, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove

1 fresh red chilli, peeled and seeds removed

A generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

A generous glug of sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (I like to use half/half)

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make a small cross on top of each tomato with a sharp knife.  Blanch the tomatoes by placing them into a pan of boiling water for a few minutes.  Remove them and refresh in cold water.  Remove the skins.  Add all the other ingredients and either puree in a liquidizer or simply use a hand held blender.  Whiz until completely smooth.  Check seasoning and add more salt, pepper or vinegar to taste.  Chill in the fridge and serve very cold.

Braised Summer Greens with Pulled Ham Hock, Broad Beans, Peas & Lentils

I am very excited about peas in salads at the moment, especially baby fresh, uncooked ones. They are like a little crunchy explosion in your mouth. My pea harvest at my allotment has been particularly good this year and some have even managed to make it to the table. In past years the entire harvest has gone straight in the kids mouths. Anyway, back to this week’s box – summer greens and broad beans to use up, I came up with this rather successful recipe. Not quite salad, not quite a side, not quite soup, we ate it as a main and it was very enjoyable. As always with my recipes, it is easily adaptable and any greens would do including chard, kale or any sort of cabbage. You may have to adapt the cooking of the greens with a tougher variety of green such as kale but this method of cooking greens with olive oil and garlic is my favourite and is delicious just on its own.

I am a great fan of ready pulled ham hock. Although I know it is an easy enough to make your own and you end up with all that lovely ham stock, anything that saves a little time in the kitchen, helps. You can now buy it quite readily from good supermarkets or indeed, Riverford do their own.

When it comes to lentils for salads the ones from Le Puy in France are the most superior. They hold their shape and texture far the best and although you may see cheap imitations they are never as good. Merchant & Gourmand stock some fine ones and although they also do a ready cooked variety they are never as good as cooking them yourself.

With the weather as it is this June it is hard to know whether you want to eat salad or soup – well, this recipe really can be either, add some lettuce and you have a salad, add some stock and you have soup. I am always amazed how much the two can have in common.

Braised Summer Greens with Lentils, Broad Beans etc

Braised Summer Greens with Pulled Ham Hock, Broad Beans, Peas & Lentils

1 packet of summer greens

100g of cooked broad beans (boiling water for 2 minutes and refresh in cold)

A handful of fresh shelled peas or frozen

50g Puy lentils

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 cloves of garlic, very finely sliced

1 packet pulled ham hock

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shred the spring greens finely and wash well. Do not remove too much of the water. Put the lentils in a saucepan with plenty of cold water and cook gently for about 15 to 20 minutes until tender. Drain off some of the water, but not all. Stir in the mustard and add a glug of good olive oil and season with salt to taste, whilst they are still warm. Heat a large saucepan with a good glug of olive oil. Add the very thinly sliced garlic and cook until the garlic is golden brown. Add the greens and sauté for a few minutes until the greens are tender. Season with salt to taste. Meanwhile shell the peas and slip the broad beans out of their skins. Mix the lentils with the greens and the ham hock. Check seasoning. Heap into bowls and scatter with peas and broad beans and serve.

Broad beand shelled

Courgette & Tomato “au Gratin”

Courgettes are one of those vegetables that needs help. There is no getting away from it – they are bland and watery. You can guarantee that if someone tells you they make a delicious courgette soup, pasta or risotto, there will be something else key in there to help the courgettes along: garlic, cream, butter, cheese or herbs, something to lift its dullness to a new height. They also benefit from grilling or frying which will intensify their flavour and helps caramelise their natural sugars. They do however have great texture and take on other flavours well and are best used as fresh as possible, so don’t push them to the back of the fridge; use them first and they will reward you.

I also got a free bunch of basil in my Medium Vegbox (less roots) this week. I just whizzed it up straight away with some good extra virgin olive oil using a hand blender. This will keep in the fridge now for at least a week and can be used to elevate all sorts of dishes from pasta to soups, marinades or sauces.

Talking of hand-blenders, it is time for my “Gadget of the Week”. Please invest in a good one. Do not be tempted by the economy range version for £5.00. It will last a month. Instead, invest in the best and it will reward you with years of hard work and save you hours of washing up. They are particularly good for pureeing a small amount of something and can make light work of even ginger and lemongrass. Also, it is just so much easier to blend a soup straight in the pan than have to decant it into a liquidiser. Rant over!

Courgette and Tomato au Gratin

Tomato and Courgette “au Gratin”

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

5 ripe beef or large tomatoes

4 courgettes

6 tbsp olive oil

Bunch of basil

2 clove garlic

40g parmesan cheese

40g parmesan

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350F, 180C, gas 4. Top and tail the courgettes and slice them thinly, on an angle to get a larger surface area. Put them into a bowl and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Heat a grill or griddle pan or use a frying pan. Either grill or fry the courgette slices on both sides until tender. Slice thinly the tomatoes thinly.

Very thinly slice the garlic, (A mandolin is good for this.) Whiz up the basil and the remaining olive oil until you have a smooth sauce.

When you can handle the courgettes, start layering the veg. starting with the courgettes put a layer almost standing up at the end of your gratin dish. Next almost cover them with a layer of tomatoes but leave the top still showing. Keep going, adding some garlic slices between each layer. Push the layers together to give you more room to a add more. You want to get in as much as possible. When finished, season with a little more salt and pepper and drizzle basil oil generously over the top. Mix the grated parmesan and the breadcrumbs together and bake for 30 minutes in the oven until golden on top.

Cougette and Tomato Gratin