Stewed Pakistani dried apricots with a spoonful of double cream

22 June 2021

The advent of summer (yesterday — ?) is no reason to shun dried fruit. These tiny, intensely fragrant apricots — which must be soaked and briefly stewed — make the most perfect dessert to punctuate a hot evening outdoors with friends. There was one just a few weeks ago, before it started to rain, again. (Now even my garden, sopping, seems to say ‘enough!’)

I first saw mention of these remarkably small apricots, famously from the Hunza valley in northern Pakistan, by the food writer Jenny Linford on Instagram some weeks ago. They are dried directly on the trees and become so hard that they need to be soaked — coaxed — overnight back to tenderness. I am quite a fan of dried fruit, as a couple of recipes on these pages can attest, and started hunting for them immediately.

It is no hyperbole to say these are entirely unlike any apricot — fresh or dried — I have ever tasted. Emphatically, they justify breaching the attempt to eat as locally as possible. Some exceptions are worth it.

To accentuate the aroma of the apricots I created a faintly sweet, barely cardamom syrup.

Stewed Pakistani dried apricots recipe

These apricots are sold with kernels, and I left them in so the fruits stayed round and plump when cooked, but opinions differ. If you wish to remove the kernels the best time to do this is after soaking and before cooking.

400g apricots
3 Tbps golden caster sugar (or similar)
2 whole cardamom pods
Thick double cream to serve

In a bowl, soak the apricots overnight in about double the amount of water needed to cover the apricots, as they will swell and soak up the water. Add water if necessary so that all the abricots stay submerged.

The next morning, transfer the apricots to a saucepan and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the apricots with a slotted spoon or ladle and set aside. Add 3 heap tablespoons of sugar and the seeds from two cardamom pods, lightly crushed in a mortar. Simmer for 10 minutes (or longer for a more intense cardamom flavour).

Strain the syrup and pour over the apricots. Let the apricots cool completely then place them in the fridge for at least a couple of hours and before serving.

Serve with spoonfuls of thick double cream.

Green asparagus with spring onions

10 June 2021

Some dishes are ideas more than recipes, they creep into our lives unawares.

I have had a few favourite asparagus recipes, and written about them, each time touting their priviledged status and every time I was completely sincere. And here I am, with yet another ‘favourite’. Seasons and appetites change, new preferences do not preclude lasting affections.

I made this simple dish last year, probably guided by the entrails of our fridge: asparagus and spring onions being (again this year) our spring staples. It remained etched in the margins of my cook’s memory. This year, it’s all I’ve wanted to do with asparagus.

Perfect company for an easy barbecue, it could also be cooked on the fire, but our balcony-intended cast-iron grill is too small and barely fits steak for six, so I make it in a skillet on the stove.

Asparagus with spring onions recipe

A rule of thumb for quantities is one third spring onions to two thirds asparagus

Asparagus (see note on quantities above)
Spring onion (see note on quantities above)
Olive oil
Soya sauce
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim the tough ends of the asparagus stalks; rinse in cold water.

Trim the roots and leaf tips of the spring onions (I like to also remove one layer if it’s starting to wilt). Rinse the onions to remove any grit. With the blunt side of a wide knife, flatten (crush) the spring onions lengthwise.

In a large bowl, combine the asparagus and spring onions with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a discreet splash of soya sauce, pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper. Toss to ‘dress’ the vegetables.

If using a barbecue, grill the vegetables / if using a skillet, add a bit of olive oil and fry over high heat for 5 to 7 minutes until the vegetables are nicely coloured and still firm.


So much better than its name suggests olive oil cake

16 May 2021

I have, since, been pointed in the direction of other excellent-sounding olive oil cakes, but this one has the advantage of being completely dairy-free, which was what I was looking for in the first place. If I’m honest, I can hardly imagine it getting any better than this.

We’ve been seeing friends again, and my favourite invitation is ‘goûter-apéro,’ somewhere between a kid’s afternoon snack and early evening drinks. It’s the best way to see families, and justifies meeting — and drinking — early, before the evening chill sets in. We’re just a day away from indoor gatherings again, but I bet outdoor meetings will continue, as the world bursts fully into spring and we’ve become inured to the nip.

Last Sunday I needed a dairy-free cake, and an online search quickly yielded this Olive Oil Cake by Claire Saffitz from Bon Appétit magazine. It is flavoured with a subtle trio of lemon zest, vanilla extract, and — the key — a real dash of alcohol. I used sweet vermouth, which is always on hand in our house. Madeira would also be good, but I think I’d choose either over the other, more overt, suggested options in the recipe, amaretto and Grand Marnier. I like the structuring, delicate, nearly unplaceable aroma of the vermouth.

Olive Oil Cake, barely adapted from Claire Saffitz’s recipe in Bon Appétit magazine

300ml (1 1/4 cups) olive oil (I use a mix of a mild and a more peppery one)
175g (1 cup) sugar
250g (2 cups) flour
40g (1/3 cup) almond flour / ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
Zest from one lemon and 3 Tbsps of juice
2 tsps vanilla extract
3 Tbsps sweet vermouth, or another fortified wine or liqueur such as Madeira, amaretto, Grand Marnier…

NOTE: The oven is preheated to 200C (400F) and then lowered to 175C (350F) just before putting in the cake —> Do not forget to lower the temperature (as I did, once), as — even if it doesn’t burn — the cake will loose its incredibly fluffy texture!

Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

Line the bottom of a 23cm (9″) spring-form cake tin with parchment paper. Coat the parchment and the sides of the tin faintly with olive oil, and then a sprinkling of sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, just enough to eliminate any lumps. Set aside.

Put the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest in a large, deep bowl or stand mixer. *** I don’t have a stand mixer so I used a a manual whisk once (lots of elbow grease), and on another occasion the whisk attachment of a handheld mixer (much easier!). Any one of those works. ***

In a small bowl, stir together the alcohol, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

Whisk the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest vigorously, until the mixture becomes foamy and pale and begins to thicken => 3 to 5 minutes. Add the olive oil in a steady drizzle, all the while continuing to whisk energetically. The mixture will continue to thicken and gain in volume.

Now incorporate the flour and alcohol mixtures into the egg/sugar batter according to the following pattern:
With a wooden spoon, stir in a 1/3 of the flour mix, then half of the liquids, another 1/3 of the flour, the rest of the liquids, and the rest of the flour. Stir through just enough to combine. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake tin, sprinkle lightly with sugar, and slide into the oven without forgetting to lower the temperature to 175C (350F) !!

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a knife or skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Apparently this cake keeps well for at least 4 days, but here so far it’s barely lasted overnight.

Wild garlic pesto and the latest letter from N&Q

4 May 2021

Spring has been slow in establishing itself this year. It’s been sunny and dry — too dry if you ask gardens and plants — but also very cold. We’ve probably noticed it more than usual, as meeting friends is still confined to the great outdoors (for just a few more weeks!) which has made us yearn all the more for that mildness in the air.

I wrote about this forced but gleeful embrace of outdoor socialising in my latest newsletter, which you can find here if you haven’t seen it yet.

In it too is this recipe for wild garlic pesto — that most welcome signal that the earth is waking up and spring has finally arrived.

Wild garlic pesto

A bunch of wild garlic leaves
Grated parmigiano
Nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, almonds)
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper
Good olive oil

When I make this pesto it seems too fiddly to measure the ingredients precisely, but I do have rough ratios in mind.

3/5th wild garlic
1/5th grated parmigiano
1/5th nuts

Wash and coarsely chop the wild garlic.

If using almonds, start by chopping them briefly in the food processor before adding the other ingredients. If using walnuts or pine nuts it isn’t necessary to do so.

Place all the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse blend, slowly pouring in a drizzle of olive oil. Continue adding the olive oil gradually until the ingredients have formed a paste that has the desired consistency.

Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.

Store the pesto in a jar in the refrigerator with a protective layer of olive oil over the top.

Leek and wild garlic quiche with trout or pancetta

30 March 2021

Spring has sprung and it is time for quiche. ‘Why?’ you ask. I’m not sure, but that is how it works in my mind.

Perhaps it is the still tentative but now perceptible promise of picnics. Maybe the hankering for boisterous post-egg-hunt Easter brunches from another era, which somehow disappeared with the move to London. Or is it just the availability of leeks, to the near exclusion of all else … ?

Well, it is unmistakably spring, and had we no calendar there would be no mistaking it. Magnolias have burst, the daffodils are already waning, wild garlic is abundant.

And so, I’m making quiche.

In addition to the leeks and wild garlic, I’ve used another leaf, erbette spinach (aka erbette chard or perpetual spinach), which adds herbaceousness and really melds everything together. I found it available from my local farm delivery, but it isn’t all that common. Regular spinach or chard leaves would also work well.

I’ve tried versions of this quiche both with pancetta and with trout, and I’m hard pressed to decide which is the better one. I think it depends on the mood, and the availability of one or the other. So this recipe offers both options, I leave it up to your inclination.

Leek and wild garlic quiche recipe

Pastry crust (or store-bought)

4 to 5 leeks (about 750g)
Pat of butter and olive oil

Salt
50g wild garlic
150g erbette (perpetual) spinach (alternatively, spinach or chard leaves)
120g hot smoked trout fillet (alternatively, pancetta)
4 eggs
300g crème fraîche (or sour cream)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated cheese such as Gruyère if using pancetta (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F)

Roll out the pastry and transfer it to a buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork, and place it into the refrigerator while preparing the filling for the quiche.

Trim the leeks, wash, slice thinly, and rince again. Drain as much as possible.

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy skillet, add the leeks, a generous pinch of salt, and cook over slow to medium heat until softened but if possible not browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and thinly slice the wild garlic into a ‘chiffonade.’ Wash and coarsely chop the erbette (spinach or chard).

When the leeks are softened, add the spinach and wild garlic just for a minute or two, until wilted.

If using pancetta, transfer the leeks etc. to a bowl and set aside, and brown the pancetta to the desired hue in the (wiped) skillet.

In a medium or large bowl, crack the eggs and whisk them well with a fork. Add the cream and mix well. Then stir in the leeks, spinach, and wild garlic, with a generous squeeze of lemon.

Take the pie crust out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle the trout or pancetta evenly on the dough. Pour over the egg/cream/vegetable mix. Smooth the top.

Sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and grated cheese, if using.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling just set.

Enjoy with a green (or red or yellow) salad.


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