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…

Glazed beetroot with honeyed goat’s milk mousse and candied cobnuts

funny gifsI know I haven’t blogged in a while, but let’s skip right over that as one of my pet peeves is people who apologise because they haven’t blogged recently (read: haven’t posted in 3 days), or write long tracts explaining that they’re going to be away on holiday so wont be able to post (for a whole 2 weeks – shock horror!). It just seems so…..egotistical. Like they think their readers will be stunned, bereft, inconsolable that they can’t read about a total strangers latest baking project on a daily basis. There’s a darn good reason I haven’t blogged recently and it’s this…..there’s been nothing noteworthy to blog about. My meals for the last few weeks have been homely, dull or downright nasty. We’ve eaten chicken wings with chilli sauce at least 5 times in a fortnight. When we haven’t been eating our own body weight in hot wings it’s been pasta. Pasta. And more pasta. And there’s been takeaways too, more than I care to admit, and all of them ranging from mediocre to piss-poor. Yes, I confess, I’m a foodie who occasionally, eats like a peasant (and I don’t mean an old rural Italian mamma who makes fresh pasta every day, I mean peasant as in definition no.2 from Google: “An ignorant, rude, or unsophisticated person”, the kind that shoves McDonalds through the school gates for her bratty monsters rather than force them to eat Jamie Oliver’s healthy school meals).

Christmas may seem like an odd time of year to be making virtuous resolutions about food, but actually it’s a (rare) time of year when I eat less – and generally healthier – than everyone else. When you’re in the kitchen all day for three days straight (I have a big family – I like to feed them!) eating sort of looses its appeal, and I tend to pick at the big meal itself, fortifying myself instead with whole orangeries-worth of clementines. So, to regain my kitchen mojo, improve my diet, and remount the blogging horse all in one go before the rest of 2012 slips away,  I would like to share with you the absolute antithesis to my dining of late, a dish with rather more swank than the recipes I usually post:

Glazed beetroot with honeyed goat’s milk mousse and candied cobnuts

Glazed beetroot with honeyed goat’s milk mousse and candied cobnuts
Serves 4

Although the instructions are long and it all looks a bit fiddly and poncy, this is actually a supremely easy dish to make – and creates an instant wow when it’s plated up. If I was the sort of person who served starters as part of the Christmas meal this would be what I’d do – everything can be prepped well in advance, and it’s not so heavy that you can’t manage a full-on main course afterwards. The mousse is deliciously creamy, contrasting fantastically with the earthy beetroot, and then the sweetness of the candied nuts adds an extra dimension.  The apple adds acidity, and extra crunch.  Be sure to be generous with the salt in both the beetroots and the candied nuts, to ensure this stays within the boundary of savoury, rather than becoming dessert-grade sweet.

For the honeyed goat’s milk mousse:
500ml fresh goat’s milk
2 tbsp honey
3 leaves platinum-grade gelatine
125ml double cream

Candied cobnuts:
50g shelled cobnuts (or hazelnuts)*
50g caster sugar

Glazed beets:
6 small cooked, peeled beetroots (if you buy them ready-cooked be sure to get the kind in natural juice, not vinegar!)
30g unsalted butter
1 tbsp caster sugar
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme
1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

You will also need: A sharp green apple (Granny Smith has the right level of acidity)

To make the mousse: Heat the goat’s milk in a small saucepan, simmering slowly and gently until reduced by half. This will take around an hour, don’t be tempted to raise the heat too high and boil it, as this will scorch the milk. Once the milk has reduced remove it from the heat and stir in the honey. Soak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water for a few minutes until soft and flabby, then stir into the hot milk reduction until dissolved, then strain through a sieve and set aside to cool. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then fold gently into the cooled milk. Pour into a small tub, cover and chill for 4 hours or overnight, until set. If you want to turn the mousse out and cut it into strips or squares, line the tub with clingfilm first to make it easier to turn out.

To candy the nuts: Line a small baking tray with greaseproof paper. Mix the sugar with 100ml water in a small pan on a low heat, stirring until it dissolves. Increase the heat and heat the mixture to a deep russet caramel colour, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring. When the caramel looks on the verge of being too dark remove from the heat, and stir in the nuts and a generous pinch of flaky sea salt. Spoon out the caramel-coated nuts individually onto the paper-lined baking tray, and allow to harden. They will keep for a day or two in an airtight container, but if you use cobnuts their moisture will gradually soften the caramel so you’ll lose some of the crunch.

Make the glazed beets: Cut the beetroot into thick slices or small wedges. In a small frying pan melt the butter with the sugar, 1 tbsp water, thyme leaves and a pinch of salt. Cook on a high heat until bubbling, stir in the balsamic vinegar, then add the beetroots and simmer, spooning the mixture over the beetroots constantly, until the liquids have reduced to coat the beetroots in a sticky, shiny glaze.

To serve – arrange either cubes or quenelles of the mousse on plates, then arrange the glazed beetroot and sliced apple around.  Scatter over the candied nuts and serve at once.

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*Cobnuts are sweeter, juicier and more tender than hazelnuts, but they really can be used interchangeably in just about any recipe. Whilst hazelnuts are easy to procure shelled, cobnuts are usually sold shell-on. You’ll need 200-300g shell-on cobnuts to yield 40g shelled.

Runner bean spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

Runner bean spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

Late summer is a time of abundance for British gardeners, the time of year when a vast majority of homegrown crops are at their peak and when keeping up with your edible bounty can be downright difficult! Runner beans have been a staple crop in my household since I was a child, and in good years we eat them almost every day, the plants putting out fresh batches of beans practically overnight.

Even if you aren’t growing your own, runner beans are everywhere now so it’s a great time to get some toothsome airmile-guilt-free food whilst it’s dead cheap.  This is a delicious and simple dish which is easily scaled up or down, depending on the number of people needing serving (and how big your glut of runner beans is!).  I wouldn’t bother cooking less than half of the tomato sauce – simply because it’s so easy and tasty you can use any spare sauce for other pasta dishes, stews or even on homemade pizzas. It keeps in the fridge for several days, or in the freezer for months.

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.