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Latest Letter from N&Q | Summer eating and an apricot tarte recipe

13 September 2022

The latest Letter from Nettle & Quince is out on Substack!

Before landing firmly into September, it’s a look back to the summer and how we eat on holiday. Feasts occasionally, but more often simple food that slots in easily with the holiday mode. Quick lunches, tins of fish, many tomatoes, and plenty of tartes, including this superlative and super easy apricot tarte with a lemon verbena syrup — recipe below.

You can find the link HERE.

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Apricot tarte with a lemon verbena syrup
I love the combination of verbena and apricot. It was a chance improvisation some years ago and I return to it every year. It’s one of my favourite.

All-butter pie crust, either home made or store-bought
Ripe apricots, enough to fill the pie when cut in half
200g ground almonds
75g sugar

For the syrup
200g sugar
A few sprigs of fresh lemon verbena

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F).

To make the syrup, pour the sugar into a small saucepan with just enough water to wet it completely. Heat until the sugar is entirely dissolved and let simmer for a few minutes. Add the sprigs of lemon verbena to infuse at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, assemble the tarte.

Place the pastry in a pie dish (or on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper). Dot the pastry with holes (for example with a fork) so that it doesn’t puff up while baking.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ground almonds and sugar. Cover the pastry with this mixture. Add the washed apricots, cut in half and stoned, onto the almond/sugar mixture.

Carefully drizzle the syrup over the apricots, taking care not to create big puddles. (If you want to decorate the tarte with verbena leaves, first dip them in the syrup so they crystallise while cooking rather than burn.)

Bake the tarte for 25 to 35 minutes.

Serve cool, with thick cream or just like that.

12 things to cook | in midwinter

29 January 2022

In January, I’ve realised, I often cook by colour. The light is softer then, better. Colours don’t blaze, they gleam, they glow from within. It isn’t that, at other times of the year, colours don’t matter. Perhaps they are less conspicuous, or simply taken for granted!

But the sudden appearance of a fluorescent purple or a tender green against the muted winter grays instantly makes one notice. So at this time of the year, when I choose what to eat, the question is often — what colour is my mood?

Here are some of the dishes I circle back to often, by tone.

BRIGHT — Salads, of course, and citrus!

Winter technicolour salad

Endive salad

Cabbage slaw

Marmalade cake

Orange and clementine salad

GREEN — Leaves and herbs

Soup in shades of green

Soba noodle soup

Kale and cauliflower gratin

BROWN — Low and slow cooked things

Slow cooked pork belly

Slow roasted pork shoulder

Baked apples

Three ginger cake

Quick and easy kombu miso noodle soup

27 January 2022

Snowdays were the magic of New York winters, here in London, it’s the flowers. Flowers in winter! I had never noticed.

Perhaps living most of my adult life in cities where temperatures in January usually sink far below freezing is to blame. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking. I have over the years gone from a reliable killer of every indoor plant, to a tentative balcony pot tender, all the way, most recently, to a mildly obsessive pruner, mulcher, planter, and general garden observer these past couple of years when there was Absolutely. Nothing. Else. To. Do. Somehow I hadn’t really realised that some flowers bloom in the dead of winter, and not because of climate anomalies.

This has changed my view on January. I don’t bemoan the absence of snow, or gripe at the soggy, bone-chilling but stubbornly above freezing — ‘this isn’t proper winter!’ — temperatures.

The camelia I was given last year (the day I also discovered these life-altering sourdough discard scones) has just begun to bloom. Hellebores are unfurling. And tiny tightly bound buds have appeared on all the mimosa trees nearby.

— Magic!

Quick and easy kombu miso noodle soup
This has become my favourite easy, one-pot, 40-minute (but only because the kombu needs to soak for half an hour) lunch.

A 5 to 15cm piece of kombu

Per person —
1/3 to 1/2ltr (1 1/2 to 2 cups) water
75g rice or soba noodles
100g-ish of tofu or salmon or boneless chicken thigh (or breast)
2 Tbsps miso paste
4 to 5 spring onions (scallions)
Tamari soy sauce
Favourite form of chilli (flakes, paste, rayu, …)

Let the kombu soak in the cold water in a saucepan for 30 minutes. => choose a pan that will hold about 3 times the amount of water.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients: (It’s important to prep everything in advance as the dish comes together in bare minutes at the end)

Cut the tofu/salmon/chicken into bite size pieces. NOTE: These pieces could be seared in a pan, which would be very good, but it creates an additional step and uses a extra pan that will need to be washed… For simplicity I added them directly to be cooked with the noodles.

Remove any damaged outer layer and chop the spring onions (scallions) very thinly (discard both ends).

Once the kombu has soaked for half an hour, turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Remove the kombu just before the water starts to boil (when there are just tiny bubbles forming around the kombu, before they erupt into a full boil).

Scoop a tablespoon of miso paste into each bowl, add just a spoonful of hot kombu water and mix well until the miso has dissolved (this will prevent the miso from forming clumps in the broth).

Put the noodles into the boiling water — the cooking time is usually just five minutes. Watch carefully and taste for doneness.

Tofu option: place the pieces of tofu inside the bowl with the miso.
Salmon or chicken option: put the fish/meat in the pan with the cooking noodles during the last few minutes of cooking — the chicken should take 3 to 4 minutes to poach, the salmon just 1 or 2 minutes so add this at the very end!

As soon as the noodles are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and pour the soup (and noodles) into each bowl.

Sprinkle a small handfull of spring onions over the soup and season with tamari or soy sauce and a spoonful — or two — of chilli.

Best scones, made with sourdough discard

13 January 2022

I am beginning to suspect that these scones are justification alone for nurturing a sourdough mother in the first place. They are so good, quite a notch above any other scones I have ever made or tried. They came into my life unexpectedly, thanks to a friend who made them for a (licit!, low-key) birthday gathering in the park last year. I quickly asked for the recipe. And immediately began playing around with ingredients.

The original recipe is with chocolate chips but I’ve been riffing on them brazenly since the beginning (I don’t love chocolate chips). Some sweet, some savory, all of them spur-of-the-moment improvisations, usually with what’s in the house.

The first were with pancetta and wild garlic, I made them for Easter last year (first and last photos). This weekend, guided again by vestiges in the fridge, it was leek, chorizo, and pecorino — so good! (even though I forgot to put in half of the leeks. Always running out of time and doing everything at the very last minute…). Cheddar and leeks would be great too. Or chives and smoked trout!

The sweet versions have remained more constant: sultanas, corinth raisins, and walnuts is a perfect combination. But I can imagine slivered almonds with little bits of dried apricots. Walnuts and figs. Pistachios and barberries…

The possibilities are endless.

Were homemade sourdough to disappear from my life, these scones might be the most missed casualty.

Sourdough discard scones adapted from Little Spoon Farm
This is a basic recipe which includes ingredient suggestions for either sweet or savory versions. Begin by choosing the type of scones desired before starting out. If I were to make plain scones I would follow the sweet recipe and include sugar at the very least, and probably vanilla extract and lemon zest too.

Wet ingredients
125g (1/2 cup) sourdough discard
1 egg
2 Tbsps heavy cream (plus 2 Tbsps to brush the scones before baking)
1 Tbsp yogurt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients — sourdough discard, egg, cream, and yogurt. Set aside.

Dry ingredients
250g (2 cups) flour (I usually use white spelt)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsps baking powder
113g very cold butter (this is important as it will be grated into the dough)

In a large bowl, whik together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Grate in the cold butter and use fingertips to crumble well into the flour mix until it ressembles something like coarse crumbs. Set aside.

***** *** ***** *** ***** *** *****

Components for sweet scones
2 Tbsps sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest from 1/2 lemon
160g dried fruit and nuts (for example: currants, sultanas, and walnuts; finely chopped dried apricots and slivered almonds; finely chopped figs and walnuts; chopped pistachios and barberries; …)

Components for savory scones
A handful of green: chopped wild garlic or finely sliced leeks (these I sear in a little oil in a pan for 3 to 4 minutes) or finely chopped chives — all well washed.
A handful of meat: finely diced pancetta (lightly browned in a small pan), finely cubed chorizo (can be left raw), finely cup smoked trout or salmon
A handful of grated cheese: Parmiggiano, cheddar, pecorino, … (though I might omit the cheese if using smoked fish)

***** *** ***** *** ***** *** *****

Mix the chosen components into the dry ingredients and combine to distribute evenly.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix by hand just enough to create a dough that holds together. It will be quite dry but there should be no need to add any liquid.

Create a ball, then flatten it into a very thick pancake. Place the ‘pancake’ onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cut it into eight pie wedges. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and place in the fridge for at least half an hour and up to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

Brush the scones with heavy cream (and sprinkle the sweet scones with sugar if desired), slide into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes until golden.

The scones are best eaten immediately, if possible still warm!

Galette des rois with almonds and apple sauce

6 January 2022

Was it acceptable to eat a galette des rois on Tuesday 4th January 2022?

My former self never thought of galette before the 6th, which is the official date of Epiphany. For Christians, it is the 12th day of Christmas on which Jesus was presented to the magi (wise men, or ‘kings’). For us heathens, Epiphany is the excuse for galette. I was always scrupulously attached to the date, but this year, things are different. Enticed by my father who mentioned they were having a galette on Sunday (last Sunday), I decided to shatter conventions and invite friends over for an end-of-the-holidays, delayed-return-to-school, afternoon galette goûter on Tuesday. In France it is acceptable to eat galette anytime in January, is it not?!

Not so simple. My friends immediately accepted, though they were, I learned, a little confused by the invitation. Galette on the 4th? Was this acceptable? We did the research. As it turns out, like a number of countries in which Epiphany is not a bank holiday, France, since the Concordat of 1801, benefits from an official exception awarded by the Catholic church to celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday (i.e. nonworking day) that falls between the 2nd and the 8th of January. It has therefore been acceptable, this year, to eat galette since Sunday 2nd January — Phew!

In any case, it is advised to continue buying, baking, eating, and sharing galettes until the end of the month.

You can find more galette stories and traditions here and here.

After the classic version with almond filling, and a venerable one with poached pears, I have cracked the almond and apple sauce recipe attempted last year. Here it is!

***** *** ***** *** ***** *** ***** *** *****

Galette des rois with almonds and apple sauce
For a galette about 30 cm (12″) in diameter
I make a very tart unsweetened apple sauce, as anything else would be too sweet.

2 sheets puff pastry (best, pure-butter, store-bought kind, or self-made)
75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
At least 6 very tart apples (Russet are great)
100g (1 cup) whole almonds (for this galette I like whole almonds with the peel that are home ground, but for ease almond flour would work too)
75 g (1/3 cup) sugar
25g candied orange or citrus peel, or zest from 1/2 orange
Pinch salt
1 egg
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 tsp rum

1 egg yolk and 2 Tbsps milk for the eggwash
1 fève (dried fava bean or small porcelain figurine)

Take the puff pastry out of the freezer, if applicable.
Let the butter soften in a warm spot (not too hot, it shouldn’t melt!) until it becomes easy to beat with a spoon.

Meanwhile make the applesauce. Cut, core, and peel the apples in quarters. Cut each quarter in half crosswise. Place the prepared apples in a saucepan, with a milimeter of water at the bottom to help it not stick. Cook the apples over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until all the chunks are soft. Take off the heat and set aside.

Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse grind until fine. Add the sugar and, if using, the finely cut candied fruit or the orange zest, and process a few minutes longer.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy.

Add the almond/sugar mix to the butter and mix well before beating in the eggs, one at a time, combining each thoroughly into the batter. Stir in the salt, almond extract, and rum. Refrigerate if possible (Anywhere from half an hour and up to 24h until ready to use.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into two circles of the same size (about 30 cm or 12″). Use a tarte dish or other to trim the circles into neat edges.

Place one circle of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread the almond cream on the dough, leaving an edge of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) along the circumference. Place the fève randomly onto the cream. Spread a layer of apple sauce on top of the almond cream. (There may be some left over, all the better!)

Make an egg wash by beating 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk lightly with a fork. Brush the egg wash along the circumference of the dough. Carefully place the second round of dough on top and press along the edge thoroughly to seal. (Reserve the rest of the egg wash in the fridge.)

Place the assembled galette in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or overnight).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C) and remove the galette from the refrigerator. With a sharp knife, etch a design onto the galette, then brush generously with the rest of the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown.

Serve warm (lightly reheated if necessary). The person who finds the fève is queen, or king, for the day!

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