Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pumpkin Soup

According to the BBC's Wheel of Hunger Pumpkin Soup is the most searched for recipe this week. Look no further, this is a sublime soup and ethereally beautiful to boot. I heard Heston Blumenthal on Women's Hour last week - yes I'm obsessed but it was actually by chance. He was talking about the delights of this soup and its relative simplicity to make and its resulting complexity when you taste it. With the recipe posted on the BBC site (I seem to be getting my licence fee's worth this week) I couldn't resist.

I love pumpkin, always have. It's a wonderful veg to roast or mash with cream, its vibrant colour brings joy to curries and soups, particularly this time of year as the days get shorter and colder and wetter. We ate it a lot when I was a kid, my mother was a huge fan, with a particular fondness for a type called Queensland Blue. It's a huge beast with steel blue skin and riotously orange flesh, with a good texture and not too sweet. It's only negative is the skin is spectacularly difficult to cut through - I was endlessly trapping a big knife halfway through cutting unable to take it further or get it out again.

Friday I set out to hunt me a piece of pumpkin, a proper tasty thing like we used to eat. I knew Brixton Market would have a good selection and would cut me a hunk to match my specifications. Though there was no chance of the Aussie favourite I was looking for similar - and found a lovely steel blue specimen that turns out is called Crown Prince. Smaller and neater it still has a wonderfully ridged exterior and a smooth orange interior. Perfect.
For some reason I assumed it would be easier to peel than the ones of my youth but no, just as infuriatingly difficult as I remember. But worth it.

I was faithful to the Heston version Friday night, coating the inside of the bowls with a nubbly aromatic mix of rosemary, breadcrumbs and hazelnuts but for lunch next day I simply toasted some nuts and crushed them before scattering them over the soup with dots of pepper oil and a light sprinkle of salt chrystals.

This is a wonderfully complex soup with incredible depth of flavour. I must warn you to start early - it takes a while to put it all together but you will be richly rewarded. I can imagine it served in tiny bowls at the start of a long meal, perfect for Christmas Day perhaps at the end of a long bracing walk.

Pumpkin Soup by Heston

It seems odd to weigh liquids but it's actually quick and easy

850g Pumpkin flesh

Olive oil

250g Unsalted butter

3 Onions, peeled and finely sliced

400g Whole milk

4 sprigs of rosemary

Pinch of cayenne pepper

40g Sesame oil (or to taste)

40g Balsamic vinegar (or to taste)


20g Hazelnuts, toasted until golden brown

½ sprig of rosemary

20g coarse dry breadcrumbs

1 tbsp melted brown butter (see tip below)

1 Red pepper, de-seeded, roasted and peeled, then cut into diamonds

Pumpkin seeds

Red pepper oil (see tip below)

Thinly slice half of the pumpkin on a mandolin and cut the other half into large cubes. Roast the large cubes of pumpkin drizzled with a little olive oil at 180 for 40 minutes.

Melt 200g of the butter in the saucepan and sweat the onions and pumpkin slices for approximately 10 minutes.

In the meantime, in a second pan, heat the milk until almost simmering. Turn off the heat, add the rosemary, allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid and discard the rosemary.

When the onions are translucent, add the rosemary milk, 600g cold tap water and the roasted pumpkin, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes until the sliced pumpkin is soft. Remove from the heat, liquidize and pass through a fine sieve. Season with cayenne, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar and salt.

When ready to serve, combine the toasted hazelnuts with the rosemary and blitz to a coarse powder. Combine with the breadcrumbs. Brush the inside rim of the soup bowls with the brown butter and coat with the hazelnut and rosemary mixture.

Place some red pepper diamonds and pumpkin seeds in the bottom of each bowl.

Warm the soup, add the remaining 50g of butter and aerate with a hand blender. Ladle into the nut-encrusted bowls and garnish with drops of red pepper oil.

Brown Butter

Melt unsalted butter in a medium pan over a gentle heat, whisking continuously, until the solids turn golden brown and give off a nutty aroma. Take the pan off the heat immediately, strain the butter through a coffee filter and store in the fridge.

Red pepper oil

1 Red pepper, de-seeded, roasted and peeled

100g Groundnut or grapeseed oil

Put the pepper and oil in a liquidizer and blitz until fine.

Strain through a fine sieve and pour into a bottle. Keep in the fridge for 4-5 days only.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I wanted...I bought...I made

Really enjoyed these lentils and kale, perfect autumn food

I know I have been a bit intermittent - can you be a bit intermittent? - with this section of the blog of late. It is mostly because now that I am at home, making sweet Wolfe things for the stall at Brixton or for my new clients, I have less need for an overarching plan each week as I can pop out for things when I need to. It is also, it must be said, because Borough is becoming less home cook friendly - I have mentioned before the loss of Booths - my once favourite place for vegetables whose removal made the weekly shop unbalanced, like a wheel had fallen off my trolley. Many of the people working there are new and it takes time to know them though often they are too busy for that to be realistic. It is though still a treasure trove of good things and it will have to change much more before I could contemplate not heading there each week. So I guess I need to try a bit harder with this round up!

Friday I want pumpkin soup, from a recipe I heard on Women's Hour with Heston Blumenthal - ah the joys of working at home. There is half a rye loaf in the freezer that will be the perfect accompaniment. Thoroughly fabulous. Saturday the man is threatening to have to work so perhaps sausage and mash would be a cheering sight on his return - he worked Sunday so Saturday we had his favourite of cold collation, bits and pieces of cheese and olives and saucisson with good bread to go with. Sunday I think roast lamb - we have some in the freezer kindly given to us by the man's sister and brother in law from their farm, needs roasted root veg and perhaps a parsnip puree - we also had pork spareribs in the freezer I noticed as I fossicked so I steamed them with black beans, did cabbage with ginger and served the lot with rice. Monday the man is out so might just have an omelette had an exceptionally good lentils with minced pork, garlic and curly kale, Tuesday I think butterbean puree and steamed aubergine, perhaps a beetroot salad to fill pitta with a little more of the lamb we had the lamb from Trew farm roasted with root veg and potatoes dauphinois. Wednesday noodles actually a simple pasta with tomato and balsamic sauce, I still love noodles, and Thursday tortilla - more freezer treasures we had grilled pork chops with mashed swede and wilted greens for a very wonderful autumn repast. Should be a tasty week.

The market was busyish Friday morning, started at Neals Yard and bought milk, yoghurt and cream but no spaghetti as they had run out, spent £9.70

At Ginger Pig John was back from his holiday, cheerful as ever. Bought smoked bacon, minced beef and pork chop - all for the freezer in the end - for £13.87

A pork pie from Mrs Elizabeth King - I had a sudden hankering and the moment I got home I cut me a huge hunk for my lunch, ah the fabulous smell, the amazing textures of meat and jelly, the rich pastry, no surprise they won gold at this year's Melton Mowbray awards. All that joy a mere £5

Cheese from Gastronomica - a rich old Pecorino, a creamy dreamy rocchetta and a crumbly chunk of Parmesan - £19 the lot

Round to the fish man and joy! he was there but hadn't made a plan for fish so bought a tranche of smoked bass to be getting on with - £3

From Lizzie at Wild Beef I bought eggs and sausages, not as a breakfast surprise but should have! £7 She was telling me about getting a kindle and wanting a particular book which turns out is not available till January, so she has put the kindle away

Fancied salted almonds so wandered through Brindisa - £4.50 a pack - definite treat territory

Then to Fresh Olive where I was told with some certainty that Friday may be cold but Sunday would be 20C. I doubted but I was wrong! Bought a tub of luques £3.50

That was all - bought veg from the organic stall at Oval Market Saturday - spent £65.57 at Borough

Caramelised Onion Tart

Have been busy lately and out and about and my cooking has mirrored that - sometimes thought through, sometimes rushed but usually interesting! I found the recipe for this on Splendid Table, I think, though I know it comes from Grand Central Bake, and anything New York will always snag my attention at least for as long as it takes to decide it's level of fabulousness. Loved the sound of this so copied it to my recipe file which, often as not, is where my untried recipes stay, sometimes for months, other times for going on forever. This one, however, hung around the edges of my mind partly because I am a total sucker for caremalised onions with anything and partly because theoretically I am trying to expand the great meat free dinner repertoire. But it was mostly the onions, you understand.

So this week, when I had half a carton of cream to use and plenty of onions I couldn't resist. Definitely one of my better ideas - all manner of textures and flavours, a lot of them associated with the last taste of summer, it made for a great supper and good next day for lunch.

Caramelised Onion Tart with Roasted Vegetables

Serves 4 with salad

20 x 30 cm ready rolled puff pastry sheet, defrosted if frozen
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup cream
1 egg
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
250 – 300g sliced (to coin thickness) courgettes and tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions and sprinkle in salt. Cook onions until they release some liquid and begin to develop a few dark spots, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat and continue cooking until onions are soft and toasty brown, 35-45 minutes. Do not stir too often during the caramelizing process. Instead, give the pan a good shake about every 5 minutes to redistribute contents. Allow onions to cool. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Whisk the cream and egg together and fold in cool onion mixture and parmesan cheese.

Pull puff pastry from the refrigerator and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment – or a silicon mat if you have one. I used to have one, never used it, gave it to the charity shop, and now have many times I wish I hadn’t. Pfff. Use a paring knife to trace a smaller rectangle on the puff pastry, leaving a 1 cm border. Be careful not to cut all the way through the dough. The border will puff up and be the edge of the tart. Use a fork to poke small holes in the centre rectangle.

Spread onion filling in centre of tart inside the central rectangle and arrange tomato and courgette slices decoratively on top. Chill tart for 20 minutes.

While tart is chilling, preheat oven to 400F/Gas 5. Bake tart for 15-20 minutes. Turn oven down to 350F/Gas 4 and bake another 10-20 minutes or until pastry is rich golden brown. Garnish with fresh basil after baking. Serve warm from the oven or at room temperature.

We had it simply with alfafa sprouts for a really clean fresh crunch.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Barbecued Vegetable Salad

Autumn is peeking over the parapet and then ducking away in London at the moment. We have cool grey days and, soon as the cardies are definitely out of the closet, the high cloud dissipates, the sun shines down and the cardigan is redundant once more. At leastun til the next day. Hot enough for sleeveless tops and flip flops one day it's coats and boots a few days later but either way it's clear that summer is gone. Pffff.

To treat ourselves to a small extension of the pleasures of blue skies and clear seas and lovely hot sunshine the man and I have been to Corsica, an extremely attractive island off the coast of France. There is a tiny frill of coast around the edges and all the rest is mountains rising steeply, scrubby green and criss crossed with madly winding roads, hairpin bends and stunning views. It is a wonderful place to catch the end of summer.

The local produce is wonderful. I didn't know the Corsicans are such extraordinary producers of charcuterie, exquisite pork products like the lonzu we bought on the first night, a lightly smoked pork loin that was delicate in both texture and taste. It came from a little village grocery where we also bought blood sausage and some wonderful sheep's cheese which made for a perfect supper on arrival. The local wine of Patrimonio was a good match.

Getting up to sunshine we found the barbecue in the garden, after we'd found the pool and the dining table on the stone flagged terrace. I am a woman who loves barbecue and don't indulge that love with anything like sufficient frequency. Most nights we ate at home. I couldn't resist the lovely vegetables - fat red slices of tomato on baguette for breakfast followed by generous chunks of sweetest canteloup melon, glossy aubergine, bulbous peppers and seriously pale courgettes cooked on the barbecue at night, dressed in nothing more than the local olive oil scented with the basil that came in huge fragrant bunches in every shop it sums up the pleasure of doing not much in a foreign land.

For those out there who are lucky enough to have summer on its way, here is a simple salad for the barbecue, and for those, like me who have a long time to wait till it's a good menu option it's something to keep us warm through the autumn.

Barbecued Vegetable Salad

100ml olive oil
Leaves from a bunch of basil
1 clove garlic, peeled but left whole
1 large aubergine
2 medium courgettes
1 tablespoon salt
2 red peppers
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to season

In a small pan warm the olive oil, basil leaves and garlic clove on a low heat till small bubbles appear in the oil. Turn off the heat and leave the oil to cool.

Slice the aubergine and peppers lengthwise into strips the thickness of a pound coin, put them into a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to drain for half an hour or so, then pat the vegetables dry with kitchen paper.

Put the vegetable strips onto a plate and brush with a little of the basil oil. Halve the red peppers and coat with a little more of the oil.

After the barbecue has been lit and burned for a while, about the point where the flames are just calming down and the charcoal is beginning to be a little ashy, lay the vegetables onto the griddle. Watch carefully, they will cook quickly, and turn them as they start to char, no more than a couple of minutes. When both sides are nicely charred take the vegetables off the fire onto a chopping board.

As soon as they are cool enough to touch, roughly dice everything and tip into a bowl. Gently stir through a couple of tablespoons of the basil oil, lift with a generous squeeze of lemon and season.

Let the salad cool a little while the meat cooks and serve with a glass of wine all the better to watch a glorious sunset.