Pumpkin Amaretti Ravioli

Pumpkin Amaretti RavioliHallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain….whatever you call it, it spells PUMPKINS, carved ones to be precise (or as the Americans call them – Jack O’Lanterns). There are many subtle variants to the legend of why precisely we carve ghoulish faces into squashes at this time of year (apparently the Irish traditionally use turnips or swedes instead) but ultimately the idea is to scare bad spirits away. Seems sensible enough to me, and I always loved the slightly gory feel of tearing out massive handfuls of fibre and seed from the pumpkin’s interior!

Many many years ago (2005 to be precise), when blogging was still quite niche rather than the first resort of any self-confessed ‘foodie’, Elise over at Simply Recipes ran a competition for the most creative way of using up the off-cuts from the pumpkin carving, and I won! With this picture no less:

Yes, really; hard to imagine that winning now isn’t it? These were the days before every blogger taken seriously had a digital SLR, home studio and props cupboard!

Anyhoo, as you can see from the first photo, I’ve reshot (though it’s still nothing Foodgawker or Tastespotting would consider acceptable), and have tweaked the recipe a bit over the years, omitting the pumpkin seeds (I like to dry-fry them with salt & chilli and serve them as pre-dinner snacks), and replacing the creamy sauce with a simpler sage butter and some fried amaretti breadcrumbs. So here at long last is my reprise of my favourite Hallowe’en recipe, reinvented for 2013….

Read on for the recipe…

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Chive flower tortelloni

Chive flower tortelloniChives grow abundantly in our garden and although the plants, at 3 years old, are a bit tougher and woodier than I’d like they still put forth a beautiful crown of purple flowers at this time of year, which is as attractive to me as it is to the bumble bees that frequent our herb bed in droves.  The flowers are even more delicious than the green chive itself, with a delicate perfumed garlicky-ness I find quite addictive.  If you don’t grow your own and can’t get hold of the flowers by any other means you could of course substitute fresh chopped green chives in this, just use a bit less to avoid them overpowering the other flavours. Half the flavour of the potatoes is in their skins so I leave them on as you want to get maximum flavour from the simple constituents of the filling here, and I like to use Burford Brown eggs for my pasta, as the orange yolks give a great rich colour.

Chive flower tortelloni with new potatoes and raclette cheese
Serves 8-10

500g ’00’ pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
4 medium eggs + 6 egg yolks
For the filling:
1kg new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
100g butter
300g raclette cheese (or any other good melty cheese)
5 tbsp chive flowers (approx 10 heads)
You will also need a pasta machine

Put the flour and eggs in a food processor and pulse until it forms a dough (or mix by hand on a clean worktop, breaking the eggs into a well in the centre of the flour and working in gradually). Knead the dough on a clean worktop for a few minutes until you have a smooth, pliable dough, then divide into eight portions, wrap well in clingfilm and leave to rest for an hour.

Read on for the rest of the recipe…

The joys of growing chillies AND May Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge!

Homegrown chilliesLast year was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of grow-your-own success for me: we had chillies in abundance but due to a failure in labelling the seedlings we ended up with 2 varieties growing prolifically, whilst all the rarer and more temperamental (hubby wanted me to say ‘horticulturally challenging’!!) lineages were unwittingly abandoned as being too small to be worth planting out. I shouldn’t complain though, our freezer is still chock-full of the remains from the 2011 crop, and thanks to the mild autumn even in January we were still getting harvests like this:

Homegrown chilliesThis year I’m growing 7 varieties: Poblano, orange Habanero, Hungarian hot wax, paper lantern, cherry bomb and the seemingly impossible hot chocolate Habanero.* They’re currently incubating next to a sun-soaked window by day and in a hot airing cupboard at night – a method I hit on when I realised that really, I should have started them off in erm….March, and I knew they were going to need a serious kick-start. Mind you, last year I was a chilli newbie and didn’t start my seedlings off until June and I still got a great crop, so it’s honestly not too late to start yours if you haven’t already, just pick low-maintenence types like cherry bomb and aji limone!

Sweet Heat Chilli ChallengeThis month I am excited to play host to Lyndsey’s Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge which, in case you are not aware, is a monthly bloggers challenge that anyone can participate in where the star of the show is of course, the chilli. As 5th May is Cinco de Mayo, this month’s theme is Mexican so start rustling up your tamales, ceviches, tacos, salsas and xocatl!

The Rules:
  • You must mention Sweet Heat in your post with a link back to this post and to the parent site Vanilla Clouds & Lemondrops. Please feel free to include the Sweet Heat logo, however it’s not mandatory.
  • Send your post url and a photo (or preferably a link to the image) of your creation to me by 25th May, and please CC in Lyndsey at vanillacloudsandlemondrops @hotmail.co.uk
  • You can create your own recipe or make your favourite recipe but please credit the original source if using someone else’s.
  • The round up will be done at the end of every month. The new challenge will be announced on the 1st of every month.
  • Most crucially: you must include chillies/chili/chile peppers of some type in your dish!

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*I’m not affiliated with the South Devon Chilli Farm by the way, they’re just where I get all my chilli seeds from and I can honestly say they rock!

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Cordial Few things capture the scent and flavour of early summer as well as elderflowers and homemade cordial is my favourite use for these aromatic beauties. There are hundreds of recipes out there, almost all of them based very simply on varying quantities of flowerheads, lemon, sugar and (optional) citric acid. The method is similarly very easy: measure, stir, steep is almost all there is to it, but there are a few key things to bear in mind which will ensure exemplary results….

1. PLAN AHEAD. Citric acid is often listed as an optional ingredient, however if you want your cordial to last more than a week or two it’s actually pretty darn essential, and generally not as easy to get hold of as most writers would have you believe. Recipes will tell you to seek it out in chemists but I checked with the chemists of all chemists – Boots – and they only sell it on prescription. You may have some luck with a small friendly non-chain store, or alternatively I’m told many kitchen/homewares stores selling home-brew kits will stock it. I buy mine from a lovely Warwickshire company called Fox’s Spices (01789 266420) – they don’t have a website but if you give them a buzz they’ll send you a catalogue in the post. Citric acid lasts almost forever, so buy plenty and then you wont have to worry next year.

2. PICK FRESH. Pick your elderflowers early in the morning on a dry day – rain does the flowers no favours and their aroma is stronger first thing. Whatever you do, don’t pick them until you have procured all your other ingredients, as the aroma vanishes within hours of picking.

3. PICK EARLY.  Avoid older ‘turning’ elderflowers – the smell is quite unpleasant in the finished product. Make your cordial at the beginning of the season in late May and early June (although this can vary – my Elder has already finished for this year, but elsewhere in the country they’re only just starting to bloom), and pick only the freshest-looking, bright white blooms.

Now you’re ready to make your cordial. I’d make as much as you possibly can, as it makes excellent presents (the commercial stuff can’t hold a candle to it, and your friends & relatives will love you forever). Most recipes will tell you it lasts at most a few months, but I’ve found (with this recipe at least) that it will easily last a year if you sterilise your bottles before decanting, and keep it nice and cool – I keep my sealed bottles in a box in the garage, and opened bottles in the fridge. There’ll be some sediment after a few months but just give it a shake before pouring.

Read on for the recipe…

Asparagus and super-easy Hollandaise sauce

Asparagus & Hollandaise sauceNothing signifies the return of summer cooking to me more than the first of the new season’s asparagus. That first plate of green delights from our British fields tells me it is time to put the cassoulets and hotpots away, and bring in light pasta dishes and salads.

Although a touch early (the British asparagus season is usually from the end of April-early July), I did indeed have that first dish of new season asparagus this weekend, the first cutting of the year, taken that morning. There is only one approach to take with asparagus at the beginning of the season and that is ‘keep it simple’ –  either drizzle it with molten butter, or dip it in luscious hollandaise. Later in the month I might start getting creative with tarts and pasta, but for now I want my asparagus whole, and mostly unadorned.

Lightly boil or steam your asparagus, and the freshest spears will need mere minutes. Then whip up a batch of my insanely easy hollandaise sauce, based on a recipe given to my father more than fifty years ago and still a family favourite, then devour – preferably with one’s fingers rather than knife and fork.

Easy Hollandaise Sauce
Serves 4 as an accompaniment

3 egg yolks
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
110g melted butter

Put all the ingredients except the butter into a blender or liquidiser and process briefly until mixed. Keeping the motor running, very slowly pour in the melted butter and continue to blend until foamy. Serve immediately.

Random things you never knew about limes

  • LimesSoaking washed okra in fresh lime juice for 15 minutes before cooking helps take away their sticky ‘glueiness’
  • The best way to save an unused lime half is to place it cut side down on a saucer of water and place it in the fridge
  • Adding a few drops of lime juice to the oil before frying fish reduces the amount of smoke given off, it also helps keep fishy odours at bay
  • Lime juice is a good stain remover for both cooking pans and for wooden furniture.

And my favourite…..

  • To get more juice from your lime, try beating the fruit with a hammer before cutting.

Thanks to the Brazilian Association of Lime Producers and Exporters for those *ahem* top tips.

Disclaimer: any activity involving citrus fruit & hammers is undertaken purely at the reader’s own risk!

Peter Rabbit & Mr McGregor’s garden pie

Peter Rabbit & Mr McGregor's garden pieHello, I’m B, aka the Other Half, the Food-hoover, Mr. Hollow-legs etc., occasionally referred to as Ben.  It’s me who gets to actually eat all the scrummy stuff featured on Souperior, and I’ll occasionally be paying for my dinner with words, like here.

I’m a little nervous about this post,  as it’s likely to rile some folk and my anti-trolling helmet is so far untested in real-world conditions, but there comes a time when a chap has to stand up for his right to eat small squeaky things.  Why on earth have we given up eating rabbits?  They’re tasty, healthy lean meat, they’re free range and abundant, in fact they’re a massive agricultural pest. From what my Grandma says, it seems the evacuee generation ate little else, yet somehow in the last half-century, town folk (i.e. most of us) have come to see them as untouchable; I blame Watership Down, nobody wants to eat something that sounds like dear old John Hurt.

One thing British rabbits definitely are not is a natural part of our landscape:  They are one of the earliest in a long line of introduced species, first brought over by the Normans around 1100AD for their fur.  At some point a pregnant doe escaped her hutch, and the rest is very familiar ecological history (though I came across one source that claims even up to the 19th century they were a rare sight inland1; looks like enclosure may have been hell for the peasants but worked a treat for bunnies).  At any rate, today they cost British agriculture well over £100 million a year2, which is getting off pretty lightly; talk to an Ozzie farmer about rabbits and watch his eye start to twitch.

Yes, there are pet breeds which are cute and cuddly, and I’d no sooner eat one of them than I would any other pet species.  But they’re a long way off the feral grey bundles of neurosis that infest hedgerows and give farmers such a hard time.  They’re nowhere near as cute as lambs after all, which we’ll be happily gorging ourselves on come spring.

Anyhoo, what brought this on was a rather good rabbit pie recipe Emma foolishly told me about:  After a week of badgering her, I was sent to the nearest game butcher for some diced rabbit.  I came back with a whole one, head, skin, guts and all, so was told to take it away and prepare it “THE WAY I ASKED FOR IN THE FIRST PLACE!” (it was the head that was the problem I think).  Of course this backfired, as I love doing anything that brings out the inner caveman.  Skinning and gutting were gleaned from Hugh F-W’s excellent The River Cottage Cookbook, and a quick Youtube search gave me a starting point for deboning – see the video here. Not a great deal harder than a chicken, and pulling the spinal column out in one go is immensely satisfying.  Plus the carcass looks like a face-hugger alien, providing hours of fun.  What you end up with doesn’t give you a lot of chunky muscle for dicing – the legs are good, and the loins are great- very similar dimensions to faux-fillet on a chicken – but there’s no real equivalent to the breast of a bird, obviously.  Nonetheless the remaining belly and rib meat may be millimetres thin but it’s tender and low on connective tissue,  so chop it up and use it – you’ll have yummy shreds as well as chunks in the pie.  Keep the carcass and head for game stock – or do what I did, boil the meat off the skull and keep it as a trophy of manliness.

And now for what to do with your pile of delicious meat, I hand you over to Emma and her recipe for the ultimate Peter Rabbit and Mr McGregor’s garden pie (so called because you braise the rabbit with all the yummy garden vegetables the eponymous rabbit was fond of stealing from the poor farmer’s garden).

Read on for the recipe….

Free food – Blackberries

Blackberries in the wildDespite being a huge fan of seasonal, local and home-grown food, I’ve never really gone hedgerow foraging. It’s something that I’m very keen on the idea of, but I’m always slightly worried that I’ll pick something inedible or even poisonous. But, today we were after something that even I can recognise in the wild…. blackberries (although Wikipedia informs me that they’re not actually berries, but aggregate fruits. I don’t entirely know what that means).

BlackberriesOver quite a short walk, and without trying too hard, we collected about 3-4 punnets of blackberries, some of which went straight into a pie, the rest into the freezer for future consumption. Yes, my fingers did get a bit purple (but that’s all washed off now), but that’s no hardship. More importantly, next time I probably wouldn’t go out wearing a brand new grey coat, but long sleeves are a must to save you from the prickles and stinging nettles to be found around the berries.
Blackberries
There is something immensely satisfying about picking your own food. Whether that is apples from a friend’s tree, courgettes from your parent’s green house, or tomatoes from your own pot, picking it yourself, and then using it straight away makes you appreciate the food that bit more (and often helps the taste immensely).
Apple & Blackberry pie
In this case, I picked the berries, and a very lovely mother in law then added them to some apple smush (made from last years apples and frozen) and home-made pastry. I’m not a huge fan of blackberries on their own, but the resulting pie, served hot from the oven and with a good dollop of custard, was delicious.

Cross posted at Moon in the Gutter

Insanity Chilli

There are those who scale Everest “because it’s there” and those who cheat on partners “because I could”, and then there’s the crazy olde people at Fiery Foods who decided to breed a chilli as excruciating as acid, just “because”. The full story can be seen here but to put it in a nutshell….the Bhut Jolakia (aka ‘Ghost Chilli’/Naga Jolakia/Dorset Naga) wasn’t hot enough apparently (at 1,041,427 scovilles), so some nutters have spent the best part of 2 years developing a chilli which is 19,558 units hotter. In case you don’t know, a scoville unit is the official method of measuring chilli heat (capsaicin), and is the amount of sugared water gram for gram it takes to dilute chilli heat to a neutral level. A regular bell pepper is usually around 100-500 units, a jalapeno around 2,500.

I have but one thing to say on this, which is…….why??? Being a serious ‘chilli head’ myself, I confess to a supreme addiction to the hot stuff, but I am also evangelical about the flavour. To me, there is no point in pure heat without taste. I tasted a few drops of a noxious compound called ‘devils sh*t’ at the Fiery Foods festival two years ago and – after I’d drunk half of East Sussex’s cider supply – all I was left with was a numb palate and a fierce desire for an antacid. Compare that with sipping a dropful of one of my favourite chilli sauces – St John & Dolly Smith’s or Devine Foods Coconut & Chilli. Both are hot, seriously hot, but they have such a beautiful flavour you want to go back for another taste, and another, and another. Chillis like the beautiful lantern-shaped Scotch Bonnet have such a stunning fruitiness it seems such a waste to ignore them in favour of sheer, masochistic, heat.

The perfect sausage

Welsh Dragon SausagesThere’s a lot of debate about how to cook the perfect sausage. There are those who favour a fast fry, those who like to do it long and slow in a cast iron pan, some who like to blister it on a barbecue* and others, in the far corner of the foodie room, who choose to do it under the grill or in an oven. Each method has its pros and cons in the great battle of the banger – how to get a beautifully crisp outside with a succulent and juicy inside.

The term ‘bangers’, incidentally, is commonly thought to have its origins in Britain during WW2, a time at which rationing meant supplies of meat were so scarce and expensive that sausages had an extraordinarily high proportion of ‘filler’ in the form of rusk or – some have claimed – sawdust. As renowned chef Heston Blumenthal discovered in his ‘In Search of Perfection’ series, a little rusk or breadcrumb in a sausage is really quite essential to both the texture and flavour of a good sausage, however at the proportions applied during the war, the filler would absorb moisture and expand as the sausage cooked, causing the sausages to explode with an audible ‘bang’. There are those who question this origin story for the word (although I’ve yet to hear a counter-explanation), but there is no doubting that a sausage that is made with inferior products, or which is cooked too fiercely, will indeed explode with a distinctive ‘bang’ – and a painful explosion of boiling fat. (Incidentally, I recently stumbled across an American website which claims that ‘bangers’ are a specific style of sausage in the UK, sold at Renaissance fairs and English and Irish pubs. Close guys, but no cigar – sorry!)

So for the perfect sausage – step one: find a decent sausage. I’m no food snob, you don’t have to go to a rare breed pork farmer and get something made exclusively from pigs raised on black truffles and champagne (although that would probably be amazing), but do make sure you get something with a decent meat content and not too much faff in the way of seasoning. A lot of rubbish goes into sausages these days (blue cheese and curry spices are two I’ve seen lately), and they really are unnecessary. Look for at least 85% pork if you’re getting something with some flavouring, 95% for a plain one (the remaining 5-15% percent is filler and seasoning, and possibly some preservative if you’re buying a supermarket sausage).

Step 2: method. I’m a hard and fast cooker when it comes to sausages. I know a lot of people swear by their ancient cast iron pans, or heat diffusers, or both, to deliver a perfect sausage but I just don’t buy it. I don’t want to be standing in the kitchen turning a slowly cooking sausage periodically for 40 minutes, and although supporters of this method include the great food writer Matthew Fort, who spoke about the subject at length on one of Nigel Slater’s programmes, I certainly don’t believe the cast iron-diffuser combo allows me to walk away and leave the sausage whilst I potter about elsewhere. How on earth is it going to get brown all over?

Cook your sausages in plenty of oil, in a pan with a decently heavy bottom, and give them 20 minutes at a medium-high heat. If your pink digits are thicker than mine they may need a smidge longer, in which case you can cover them and cook on a low heat for a little longer after they’ve browned all over. If you’re cooking for guests, always allow one sausage extra to be the sacrificial virgin – cut into it to check your sausage is done through, as nothing upsets a friend more than a wee bout of gastroenteritis the day after a dinner party.

And the real trick? The right utensils. Just as a sausage should never be pricked (you’d be leaching moisture from the start – the thing we most want to keep in), you should never use a fork, or other sharp utensil to turn your sausages. Sausage casings are extremely delicate, and they can’t take rough treatment. Even your regular tongs are too harsh (they do have thin metal edges after all) – invest in a pair of silicone-topped tongs like these. You need never burst a banger again.

*Oh, and for those wishing to take advantage of possibly the last barbeque weekend of the year – poach your sausages first. A gentle simmer in hot water for around 30 minutes will cook your sausages through, then you can slather them in your marinade of choice and finish over hot coals without fear of suffering from an unhappy BBQ tummy the next day.