Cooked Cheese Recipe – Tartiflette

To serve 2

4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and sliced about the thickness of a £1 coin

100g smoked streaky bacon lardons or pancetta

Olive oil

1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced

Butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Thyme

Small glass of white wine

50 ml single cream

250g of Reblochon cheese

You will need an oven proof frying pan for this dish.  Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C and boil a saucepan of water to par-boil the potato slices.

Heat the frying pan with just enough olive oil to stop the bacon sticking.  Over a low heat add the lardons and cook them gently until the fat starts to run.  Add the sliced onion and continue to cook slowly.  Meanwhile par-boil the potato slices for about 5 minutes, until they are just starting to soften, then drain.

Add the garlic and drained potato to the pan with a little butter if needed (it will really depend upon how much fat your lardons have contributed).  Continue cooking everything together gently for 5 minutes and then pour on the wine and cream.  Season the dish with pepper but go very easy on salt because both the bacon and cheese will have plenty of this.  Cover the pan with slices of Reblochon and transfer to the oven for about 20 minutes by which time the cheese will have melted and formed a golden crust.

Serve with a green salad and a glass of white wine before finishing the meal with something stronger to help digest all that cheese!

For more ideas on cooking cheese see here.

Shepherds’s Pie and other recipes

Shepherd’s Pie and other recipes for using up cooked meat

The names Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie are frequently interchanged but it is generally accepted that a Shepherd’s Pie should contain mutton or lamb whilst a Cottage Pie is made with beef.  There are earlier references to Cottage Pie than to Shepherd’s Pie, for example the diarist Reverend Woodford recorded that he had eaten Cottage Pie for dinner in 1791 (although it is not clear precisely what this contained).

Potatoes were first introduced to England in 1520 but they did not become widely accepted until the 18th century and it is probably during this century that both dishes were invented as a way of using up and eking out leftover meat.  Shepherd’s Pie originated in the north of England or Scotland, where there were the greatest numbers of sheep.  The oldest recipe using this name is dated 1886.  Food historian Alan Davidson states that the phrase “Shepherd’s Pie” dates back to the 1870s, when mincing machines made the shredding of meat easy and popular.

First I think it is worthwhile reading in full account of making Cottage Pie, written in 1894 by Lizzie Heritage in Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book.  Note that she uses a layer of potato on the bottom of the dish to protect the meat from drying out as well as the more familiar potato topping.

“…Required: a pound and a half of cooked potatoes, half a pound to three-quarters of cold meat, seasoning and gravy as below.  Cost, about 9d.

The potatoes must be nicely cooked and mashed while hot… They should be seasoned and beaten until light with a wooden spoon.  A pie dish should be greased, and potatoes put at the bottom to form a layer from half to an inch in thickness.  The meat should be made to a thick mince of the usual kind with stock or gravy…or it may be mixed with onion sauce or any other which might be sent to table with meat.  The nicer the mince, the nicer of course will be the pie.  The meat doest next, and should be put in the centre of the bottom payer, leaving a little space all around.  The remainder of the potatoes go on top, beginning at the sides – this prevents the boiling out of the gravy when the meat begins to cook.  Rough the surface with a fork all over, because it will brown better than if left smooth.  It may just be brushed with melted dripping or a coat of beaten egg, part of which can then be used in the mashed potatoes.  As soon as the pie is hot through and brown it should be served.  There are many recipes for this pie, or variations of it, and in some directions are given for putting the meat in the dish first and all of the potatoes on top.  The plan detailed above will be found the better, because the meat, being enveloped entirely in potatoes, runs no risk of becoming hard as it would do if exposed to the direct heat of the oven.  Any other cooked vegetables may be added to the above, but they should be placed between the meat and potatoes, both top and bottom.  If a very savoury pie is desired, make the mince very moist and allow a longer time for baking. The potatoes will absorb some of the gravy and found tasty.  In this case the heat must not be fierce at starting, only at the end for the pie to brown well.  For a richer pie allow a larger proportion of meat….”

Modern recipes certainly do tend to include a much greater proportion of meat.  For example, Jamie Oliver uses 1¾ lb of meat for 6 people and recommends a 2″ layer of meat topped with a 1″ layer of potato.  With less people cooking joints of meat, it is often made now by cooking minced fresh meat, although shredded meat from a cheaper cut cooked slowly on the bone gives a better flavour and more interesting texture.  My own preference is to use shoulder of hogget (lamb over a year old), stripping the meat from the bones with the aid of a couple of forks after eating Sunday lunch, before the meat is completely cold.  The bones are put immediately to making stock.  Make sufficient gravy with the Sunday lunch to reserve a half pint for making the Shepherd’s Pie.

SHEPHERD’S PIE

Serves 4

3 pint/1.75l capacity dish that is at least 2 inches deep. (see notes below)

Approx 1lb/500g of cooked lamb, shredded (about a shoulder from a larger lamb)

½ pint of left over gravy

For the vegetable base:

1 large onion

3 carrots

½ stick of celery

salt and pepper

thyme

For the potato topping:

2½ lb floury potatoes

¼ pint whole milk

1 small onion

bay leaf

thyme

¼ tsp salt

4 peppercorns

1 egg yolk

Shred the meat from the bones using a couple of forks.  It should be shredded reasonably finely so that no cutting is required and to double check that all the meat used is tender.

Finely chop the onion and celery, season with salt, pepper and a few thyme leaves, and cook gently in a little of the lamb fat until soft and lightly coloured.  Cut the carrots into half rings and cook these briefly to soften slightly.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the peeled potatoes until soft.  Meanwhile gently heat the milk with the flavourings and leave to infuse.

When the potatoes are cooked drain them into a colander.  Remove the flavourings from the milk and put the milk into the hot saucepan in which you just cooked the potatoes so that the milk is warm (re-heat if necessary).  Put the potatoes through a ricer into the milk.  Blend the egg yolk with a tablespoon of cold milk and stir this into the potato.  Mix until smooth.

Place the cooked vegetable base in the bottom of the dish and then cover this with the meat.  Pour on sufficient gravy to barely cover the meat.

Top with the potato and rough the surface with a fork to help it brown.  Place on a baking tray (to protect the oven from spills) and place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C.  Cook until the top is nicely browned and the whole dish is bubbling hot.

Notes

The prepared Shepherd’s Pie may be covered and refrigerated once cool for cooking the next day.  In this case remove the dish from the oven to bring it up to room temperature before cooking and allow a little longer cooking time to ensure the meat is thoroughly re-heated.

The quantity of potato required will depend on the exact dimensions of the dish used.  The dish needs to be at least 2 inches deep to allow sufficient room for the three layers but a deeper dish will give a greater proportion of meat to potato.

RISSOLES

Rissoles are a perfect solution when you haven’t enough meat left over to make a Shepherd’s Pie.  Do make sure you chill them for at least half an hour between shaping and cooking- it helps keep the mixture together.

8 oz cooked lamb

1 small onion

1½ oz fresh breadcrumbs

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

2 level tbsps chopped parsley

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small egg, beaten

salt and pepper

Either mince both the onion and the meat through the finest blade of a mincer or chop them finely in a food processor.   Then add the rest of the ingredients and combine thoroughly.

Divide the mixture into six portions and shape each into a round cake shape with your hands.  Coat each rissole with seasoned flour, cover and chill for at least half an hour.

Shallow fry for 5 minutes a side.

Variations: you can make rissoles with any meat you choose.  For spicy rissoles add half a red or green pepper and use chilli powder in place of the cinnamon – serve with chilli sauce.  For a Middle Eastern flavour try adding ½ a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander and serve with Tzatziki.

CROQUETTES OR SAVOURY PANCAKES

The following sauce will bind 1lb of minced meat or any solid ingredients you wish to use.  I think ham and cheese are particularly good.  Form into croquettes, which are then deep fried, or use as a filling for pancakes.

2 level tbsps butter

4 level tbsps flour

7 fl oz milk

1 level tsp finely chopped onion

1 level tsp finely chopped parsley

salt and pepper

Make a roux with the butter and flour then add the milk, onion, parsley, salt and pepper and cook until the sauce is thick, stirring all the time.

Combine the sauce with the minced meat and pour onto a greased baking tray.   Chill for at least half an hour or until required.  Shape the mixture into sausages or balls and then dip into an egg beaten with 2-3 tablespoons of water then roll in breadcrumbs that have been lightly dried in the oven.  A second coating is advisable to prevent the filling from oozing out during the cooking.

Deep fry the croquettes until evenly brown all over.

Speltotto (and stuffed vegetables)

Spelt is one of the most useful ingredients to have in your store cupboard.  I have written a whole article about it here .

Speltotto is one name for a sort of “risotto” made with spelt rather than rice (Frumenty is another old English version, usually sweetened).  You can buy British grown spelt in many forms from Sharpham Park, the pearled grains are what I use for my speltotto and also to make the filling for stuffed vegetables such as peppers.  It is heartier than rice and a lot more forgiving to cook, plus as I have already mentioned – British.

I make many variations of the following recipe, one of which is included in the Spelt article, but this following is good when you have just a small quantity of meat to use up.  If you are stuffing vegetables you do not necessarily have to add so many of the flavouring I have included for the speltotto.

Olive oil

Mirepoix of chopped onion, carrot and celery

160g pearled spelt

Salt and pepper

1 tin of tomatoes

Approx 300 ml stock (to match whatever meat you are using)

Diced meat (as much or as little as you have available)

Optional extra ingredients: leek, garlic, a handful of raisins, herbs to complement meat

Gently sweat the mirepoix of vegetables in olive oil until they are softened, then add the spelt, salt and pepper, and the tin of tomatoes.  Add sufficient stock to cover, give it all a stir and then leave to simmer.  Give it a stir every now and again to stop the spelt sticking and add more stock if the mixture is getting a bit dry.  After 10 minutes add the diced meat.  It will take about another 10 minutes for the spelt to be cooked – taste to check.  If you are using the mixture to stuff peppers you can do this a bit before the spelt is fully cooked and the mixture still has some surplus liquid.

As with risotto, some parmesan cheese when serving is good.

NASI GORENG

Nasi Goreng simply means fried rice and is found throughout Malaysia and Indonesia.  It differs from Chinese fried rice in that the Chinese mince their meats and garnishes into tiny pieces and fry them with the rice whilst in Nasi Goreng the meat and vegetables are fried in larger chunks before the rice is fried in the same oil and only near the end of the process are all the ingredients combined.  It is almost impossible to list what may go into a Nasi Goreng as almost no two dishes are ever quite the same.  Here is one version:

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

vegetable oil

8 oz/225g long grain rice

½ level tsp ground coriander

½ level tsp caraway seeds

½ level tsp chilli powder

1 level tsp curry powder

2 tbsps soy sauce

1 lb/450g cooked pork, diced

½ lb frozen peas, freshly cooked

1 egg

2 tbsps water

salt and pepper

Fry the onion and garlic in the oil until soft.  Meanwhile boil the rice until cooked but still firm then drain and rinse under cold water.

Stir the spices and soy sauce into the onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the meat and heat through thoroughly then add the cooked rice and re-heat before adding the peas.  Meanwhile make the omelette.

Mix the egg with the water and add salt and pepper.  Lightly grease a frying pan and heat until hot.  Pour in the egg and cook until set in a thin omelette.  Turn out and cut into thin strips.

Serve the nasi goring garnished with strips of omelette.

Other relevant articles

Monday’s Supper

Lovely Leftovers

Pheasant Rissoles

Making Stock

How to Cook Perfect Beef

The French call the British “les Rosbifs” and various surveys confirm that this remains our all time favourite meal.  In fact despite, or perhaps because of, BSE, Foot and Mouth disease and repeated calls for us to cut down on our meat consumption, beef seems to be more popular than ever.  I say that the dreadful crises of Foot and Mouth and BSE might actually, perversely, have contributed to the rise in popularity of beef from my own observations during the two year ban of beef on the bone.   Roast rib of beef became the most fashionable dinner party dish you could serve at that time – essential to prove that you had a trusted relationship with a good butcher, where beef on the bone could still be obtained, by those “in the know”.

Whilst good beef is expensive, a Roast Beef dinner is such a British icon that everyone should know how to cook this classic for high days and holidays and certainly for serving to foreign visitors!

Here are my tips for this and the other most frequently enjoyed beef cuts in the UK – steak and minced meat.

Traditional Roast Fore Rib of Beef

Depending on how many ribs you have in your roast, you should be able to offer your guests a choice of how well done they would like their meat – from well done on the outside to rare in the middle.  But it is well worth investing on a meat thermometer to check this, as identical weights can be quite different in size as well as ovens quite variable in their efficiency.  So whilst I can give you guidelines for how long a joint might need in the oven, a thermometer is the safest way to ensure it is cooked as you wish.

  • Remove the joint from the fridge an hour before cooking. Check the weight.  Preheat the oven to 230˚C.
  • Lightly flour and season the fat covering the joint.  The bone at the base will act as a rack.  Place the joint in a roasting tin and cook at 230˚C for 15 minutes.
  • At the end of this time turn the oven down to 180˚C and baste the joint with the fat that has already rendered.
  • Put the meat back into the oven and time the cooking from this point – 15 minutes per pound for medium beef, 12 for medium-rare, 18 for well-done and 10 for rare.
  • Insert a probe thermometer into the joint (being careful not to touch the bone).  60˚C = rare, 70˚C = medium, 75˚C = well done.  If you don’t have a thermometer you could do a rough test by inserting a skewer and holding it against the back of your hand to see how warm it feels.  Rare will feel cool, well done very hot, so medium just warm.
  • Place a sheet of foil loosely over the joint and leave it to rest in a warm place whilst you turn up the heat, make the Yorkshire Puddings and finish browning the potatoes.  After 20 minutes resting the temperature of the joint will actually have gone up a few degrees, so don’t worry about it getting cold!

The trimmings:

Yorkshire Pudding

An absolutely essential accompaniment, I can’t believe though that anyone buys these ready-made!

  • Make the mixture in advance and keep it in the fridge (a cold batter will rise better when put into the fridge).
  • A light flour is important, this is one occasion when industrial roller-milled white flour is actually preferable to stone ground.  Take the trouble to sift into the mixing bowl.  100g will make 6 or 7 large individual puddings, more if they are small.
  • Add a pinch of salt and then break 2 small to medium eggs into the centre.
  • If you have full-cream milk it will need watering down for this recipe, or use semi-skinned. A total of 140 ml of liquid will be about right for 100 g of flour, if the milk is full-cream use about 100ml of milk and top it up with water.
  • Begin whisking the eggs into the flour and gradually add the milk as you bring flour form the outside of the bowl to the centre.  Keep whisking until all of the liquid is incorporated and the batter is quite smooth.
  • When the meat comes out of the oven to rest, turn the oven temperature up to 220˚C.  Put a little bit of beef fat into each container and put into the oven.
  • As soon as the oven reaches temperature, put the hot tin on top of the cooker and pour in batter to no more than two-thirds full.
  • Return the trays to the oven for 10-15 minutes for small puddings, 15-20 for larger individual ones.

Gravy

This is another task to complete whilst the meat is resting.

  • Roasting vegetables, especially onions or shallots, around the meat produces a lovely caramelisation that helps with browning the gravy.  Depending on the size of the onions, add these to the pan about 45 minutes before the meat is cooked.
  • Remove the meat to a warmed carving tray for resting, and the vegetables to keep warm or continue cooking, then pour off all the fat into a dish – some can go straight into the Yorkshire Pudding tins.
  • Sprinkle a level tablespoonful of plain flour over the surface of the roasting tin and place it directly on the hob.  Stir with a wooden spatula for a minute, and then add a glassful of red wine.  Stir this around the tin to lift off all the caramelised deposits and then mix with the flour to make a smooth paste.
  • Now gradually add homemade beef stock – stirring as you go.  Depending on how thin you like your gravy, you will need between a pint and a litre.
  • Strain the stock through a sieve into a jug for serving – that will get rid of any lumps or burnt debris!
  • For notes on making stock, which you absolutely must do with the leftover bones from this joint, see here.

Horseradish Sauce

I will excuse you making this if you promise to buy a very good one, as fresh horseradish root is not readily available unless you grow your own.   For those that do, this is how to use it:

  • Freshly grated horseradish will irritate your eyes beyond belief.  The best was to do this is to use a food processor so that the fumes are contained, but failing that peel and finely grate the root under water.
  • Grated horseradish can then be stored in a jar, covered with white wine vinegar to which a teaspoonful of salt has been added.
  • If going straight to making your horseradish sauce, all you need to do is mix the grated horseradish with soured cream.  I find crème fraîche a little too thick, although many people like this, so I sour ordinary double cream with a little white wine vinegar (from the jar if the horseradish has been preserved this way).  Add salt and pepper taste.

Beef Dripping

After the expense of the joint you might have to live on Dripping on Toast for the rest of the week but that would be no hardship!  It is amazing how many young people turn their nose up at the very idea yet they happily spread their toast with butter and might even have eaten the Italian speciality Lardo.  Beef dripping is wonderful spread on toast, sprinkled with salt and perhaps some chopped herbs – sage or thyme.  At least give it a go! Beef dripping sets very firm and so can easily be lifted from any meat juices.  The fat can then be kept in the fridge and used to cook beef in future recipes.  I know many people from the North would disagree – but I don’t think beef fat is very good for frying.  The best roast potatoes are made with goose fat and I deep fry in sunflower oil.

How to cook the perfect steak

Which cut?

The Ginger Pig Meat Book has a lovely section to enable you to find out which steak suits you best, categorised by such tongue-in-cheek descriptions as “Sirloin – the City Boy or Snob’s steak”.  Each is then followed by helpful information about where exactly on the animal each cut comes from and how each ranks on the tenderness v. flavour continuum.  In addition to the well known cuts – Fillet, Sirloin, Rib-eye and Rump, in order from the most to least tender (Rump requires a longer hanging period than the other cuts to make it tender) I draw your attention to some lesser known (and therefore far more reasonably priced) cuts that are suitable for cooking as a steak.

The first of these is usually called the Point Steak, or sometimes the Rump End.  It comes from the thin, pointed end of the rump, where it joins the sirloin.  Its triangular shape does not make for the easiest even cooking, but it has all the flavour of the rump with the tenderness of the sirloin.

Then there are a range of cuts that come from joints that you would not normally associate with steak, however, when cooked rare, they can be served and enjoyed in exactly the same way as the premium cuts.  Notes however, that once cooked beyond a quick sear they need long slow cooking to render them tender again.  The first of these is called the Feather Blade – it has a piece of fat running through the centre, from which the fibres of the meat feather out.  It comes from the shoulder blade.  Then there is the Goose Skirt or Bavette – it is by its French name that it is often served in restaurants.  It is a flat sheet of meat, from the inner flank at the bottom of the diaphragm.  Another cut that is popular in France but less known here is Onglet.  This is a large, fillet shaped piece from the centre of the animal, next to the diaphragm but at the other end to the Goose Skirt.  Because of its size it is often carefully cut into and opened out flat.  Best served thinly sliced.

With these lesser known steaks you usually buy the whole cut, whilst the prime steaks cuts should be cut to order.  The key thing here is to make sure they are cut thick enough.  This means about an inch and a half (4cm) thick.  If you skimp on this you will find it very difficult to cook the steak any other way than well-done as by the time you have a good crust on both sides it will be cooked through to the middle.

Cooking:

  • Take the meat out of the fridge an hour before cooking to let it come to room temperature. Dry the surface with kitchen paper.
  • Heat a barbeque, cast iron skillet or griddle until they are “white hot” (this phrase refers to the embers, but it is useful to remember when you are cooking indoors – you should not be able to hold your hand anywhere near the surface of the pan.  NB A proper barbeque will take longer than the hour you needed to get the steak to room temperature to reach “white hot” – a cast iron pan or griddle will take about half of this time on a steady medium heat.  Don’t just whack the heat up high immediately before you want to cook.
  • Don’t oil to the pan or the steak.  As long as it is placed over a hot enough heat, the surface will seal immediately and not stick.  The oil will only smoke.  I once cooked a steak on a griddle in a flat.  The skylight was wide open above the cooker to let the inevitable smoke out.  Within minutes, much to my chagrin, a fire engine arrived – thankfully I had not been the cause!
  • Season the steak with pepper, but not salt as this will draw the juices.
  • Put the steak down onto cooking surface and after 30 seconds turn it over.  If you had the heat high enough a crust should have formed on both sides.  This might be all that is needed for really rare steak (especially the internal cuts).  You can season the meat with salt now that the crust has formed.
  • If you want your steak cooked more than this, continue flipping the steak every 30 seconds each side.  This keeps the cooking even.
  • It is impossible to give exact timings because this depends on the thickness of your steak and the temperature at which it is being cooked.  But a rare steak will still feel very soft and fleshy, whilst by the time it is medium rare there will be some resistance when it is touched.  Remember that the steak will go on cooking a little when it is rested.
  • Turn the steak onto its edge to brown the fat.  It is best to prop it like this with tongs, at the edge of the barbeque or somewhere where the flesh will no longer be in contact with the heat.
  • The steak needs to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.  If it was cooked for longer than this, let it rest for an equal length to the cooking time.  This resting is essential to let the muscles relax again after they have contracted with the heat.
  • Use good sharp steak knives.

How to Cook Minced Beef

From the luxury of steak to the everyday minced beef.  I have chosen this because it is the most popular way of buying beef, I bet most families make something with it every week!  This is good for the farmer and butcher too as it uses meat from parts that might not be ordered in their original form.  There are, of course, differences in the quality of minced beef, but I am assuming that we are looking at good quality pasture reared meat.  The biggest mistake that people make when cooking minced beef is to assume that it is quick to cook.  That, after all, is why so many choose it for a weekday meal.  I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people saying they are going to make a quick Spaghetti Bolognese when they get home from work.  They think the meat can be cooked in the same time as the spaghetti.  Wrong!  A good Ragù as the Bolognese meat sauce is called in Italy takes a good 3 hours to make properly, but don’t let that put you off.  It is definitely a sauce worth making in quantity and freezing in smaller amounts for future meals.  The same sauce is used in Lasagne, and could be used in a Cottage Pie, although I prefer to make this with leftover cold meat from a roast.  The principles can also be applied to Chilli con Carne (although with different flavourings), so master the slower cooking and numerous dishes will be greatly enhanced.

The reason minced beef responds best to slow cooking is that the cuts it contains are usually of the “stewing” type  – just minced up small.  Although the initial stage is to brown all of the separate strands, quickly and in a large frying pan, and the browned meat may indeed no longer be raw in side, this needs to be followed by long, slow cooking to make the dish meltingly tender and to allow all the flavours to mingle and marry together.

Here is my recipe for Ragù – in Italy it is usually made with more than one meat, often minced pork.  This gives a greater depth of flavour, but is not essential.  One further tip if you intend to serve this with pasta – choose a flat ribbon shape of egg pasta, Tagliatelle is the one that they would use in Bologna.  Spaghetti Bolognese came into being in the UK in the days when this was the only long pasta you could buy here, but the sauce falls of the round strands, instead of being wrapped in them as happens with Tagliatelle as you twist it around your fork.  The egg pasta also echoes the richness of the sauce.

Ragù (Bolognese Sauce) Best made a day in advance

1 lb minced beef

½ lb minced pork (or good sausage meat) (or make up with diced bacon/chicken livers)

1 large onion

1 stick of celery

1 carrot

2 mushrooms

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 wineglass of white wine

1 tin of tomatoes

¼ pint beef stock (or water)

bay leaf

salt and pepper

Begin by gently cooking the finely chopped onion, celery, carrot and mushroom in olive oil in the pan in which you intend to make the sauce. (A heavy based cast iron casserole is best).

Meanwhile, heat just enough olive oil in a frying pan to prevent the meat sticking. The meat has its own fat, which you will release as you cook.

Fry the meat in small batches, so there is enough room to keep stirring and breaking up any lumps and so that the heat in the pan doesn’t drop and cause the meat to steam rather than brown.  Season each batch with salt and pepper.  As each batch is browned drain off the excess fat and add the meat to the vegetables.  The finely chopped garlic can now also be added.

When all of the meat has been browned, pour on the wine and let it bubble away before adding the tomatoes and stock.  When the liquid begins to simmer, add a bay leaf, cover and cook, very gently, for 3 hours.  You can if you wish, transfer the pot to the oven for this stage of the cooking.  Check the liquid level every now and again and add more water or stock if it is drying out.

Recipes Using Early Forced Crops

Forced Seakale – looking somewhat like celery, but with a flavour more akin to globe artichoke.  The shoots (including the leaves) can be cooked and eaten in the same way as asparagus.  Boil for just a couple of minutes so that some bite remains. Melted butter is the classic, simplest, and possibly best, way to appreciate the delicate flavour.  If you want to be more ambitious try a hollandaise sauce made with a good cider vinegar.

Chicory with Stilton Cream Sauce

Simply halve each chicon and blanch in boiling water until the tip of a knife will just penetrate the root.  Drain and dry on kitchen paper.  Heat some butter in a frying pan and fry the chicons, cut side down, until they are lightly golden.  Turn over and add cream to the pan.  When the cream is bubbling, break lumps of Stilton cheese over the dish.  The cheese should melt slightly, but not completely.  Season with black pepper (the cheese should provide ample salt) and scatter chopped parsley and walnuts over before serving.  Some good bread to mop up the sauce is all that is required to make a complete supper dish.

Witloof Chicory can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, which reduces its bitterness.    If the chicory is to accompany a meat dish cook as above but omit the sauce.  It is particularly good served with beef braised in beer.

My favourite of the Red Chicories is Radicchio Rosso di Treviso Tardivo (pictured left).   Seeds are available from Seeds of Italy (see contacts).

I usually use the leaves in salads but they can also be simply grilled or brushed with oil and placed on a hot griddle.

Radicchio with Blood Oranges and Olives

Retaining the colour of Forced Rhubarb

Forced rhubarb has such a wonderful pink colour, care needs to be taken during cooking to retain this. The first step towards even cooking is to get pieces of similar size.  Cut the stems (excluding the leaves) into 3 cm lengths, adjusting this up or down according to the thickness of the stem so that all the pieces will cook within a similar time.  Rhubarb contains a high percentage of water, which is drawn out during the cooking, so no more than a tablespoon should be added.  Simply sprinkle with 100g of sugar per 500g of rhubarb.  Add a tablespoon of water or orange juice to prevent the rhubarb sticking before its own juices are exuded.  Cover the pan and cook over a medium heat, shaking occasionally, until of all the sugar has dissolved.  Bring the juices up to the boil, then switch off the heat and leave the pan covered.  The rhubarb will continue cooking in the residual heat and should be perfectly cooked by the time it is cool.

The perfect Rhubarb Fool

A classic that is hard to better.  The acidity in rhubarb cuts the richness of the cream, making a perfect partnership.  But the quality of the cream makes all the difference.  I buy thick unpasteurised cream from Guernsey cows (see www.hurdlebrook.co.uk ). About 200 ml of cream to 500g of puréed rhubarb (without its juice) makes a fantastic Rhubarb Fool, which I serve with homemade shortbread.  To ring the changes I add either orange zest or stem ginger to both the fool and the shortbread.

Rhubarb and Cream (in this case Pannacotta)

For information about growing and forcing see here.