Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Raspberry Conserve

Raspberry Conserve
If, like me, you grow your own fruit in the south of England, you may be experiencing a mild bout of panic as all of our fruits seem to be ready at once this year.  Normally we can confidently expect to be picking gooseberries, followed by strawberries, then raspberries.  Well, not this year.  Strawberries were an incredible three weeks early, gooseberries seemed to appear at about the right time but, judging by mine, will not fruit into August as normal.  The bushes hang heavy with the golden globes more associated with late gooseberries, and it isn't even the end of June yet.  As for summer raspberries, I'm picking several pounds every couple of days and my autumn raspberries are already starting to fruit too.  Help!

If you don't grow your own you will think this is a nice problem to have.  If you know a grower, ask how their raspberries are doing.  They don't keep well and believe me they will be happy to give some away this year.  So what to do once you've had your fill of just-picked rasps?  Well, you can make a light sugar syrup and add the raspberries for a 30 second 'cook'.  Then they'll survive in the fridge for 2-3 days and be delicious with yoghurt.  Or you can go the whole hog and turn them into 'jam', or better still 'conserve'. 

There is a difference between the two, although there is no absolute definition of a conserve.  For me it means a higher fruit content than a jam and consequently a looser set.  The fruit is steeped in the sugar before cooking and the resultant conserve tastes more intensely of the fruit and has a great colour.  It will not keep quite as long as a jam but if you sterilise your jars properly this conserve should keep for at least 6 months in a dark cupboard.  It will taste so much better than jam that it won't stay on your shelf anyway.  Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within 4 weeks.

This recipe is both quick and easy.  Even though raspberries are supposed to be a fruit naturally low in pectin, I find there's no need to add commercial pectin for this recipe.  A little lemon juice provides the necessary acidity.  The ratio is two-to-one fruit to sugar and I use a jar as my measure.  You can make as little or as much as you like but I have given the recipe based on four jars of fruit.  Conserve/jam making is not an exact science.  Pectin levels in fruit vary depending on type and ripeness - the riper the fruit the lower the pectin levels.

Once your jars have cooled, on tilting, if the contents appear looser than you would like, don't worry, just label it 'compote' and enjoy it as a dessert.  Opening a jar of this preserve in the depths of winter is far more rewarding than digging a bag of raspberries out of the freezer.

Raspberry Conserve
4 Jars of raspberries
2 jars of caster or granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of lemon juice

Empty four jars of raspberries into a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add two jars of sugar and leave to macerate for 30 minutes or so.  Wash your jars and lids in clean soapy water and rinse.  Place the jars in an oven at 160C for 10 minutes to sterilise them.  Remove them and leave to cool.  Place a saucer in your ice-box/freezer to use for testing the jam set.

Bring the contents of the pan to the boil on a fairly high heat, stirring from time to time to ensure the sugar doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan.  Skim off the pink foam which gathers round the edges of the pan and boil until the bubbles become a little thicker in consistency - this could be in as little as 10-15 minutes.  Lift the pan off the heat and take your saucer from the ice-box/freezer.  Place a small dollop of the mixture onto the saucer and leave for 1 minute before moving the mixture with a finger. You're not looking so much for a wrinkling, as you would with a jam but more of a containment.  If it's runny, place the pan back on a high heat for another couple  of minutes and repeat the test.  Take the pan off the heat and stir in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.  Fill your jars and screw the tops on tightly - careful the jars are hot!  Label and feel self-satisfied.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Auberge de Chassignolles: heart of the Auvergne

View from the Auberge

If we were in any doubt about the purity of the air in the tiny hamlet of Chassignolles we had only to look at the lichen-covered branches of trees in the surrounding forests.   Lichens are extremely sensitive to atmospheric pollution and, at 950 metres above sea level in the Haute-Loire, an exquisite filigree form decorates this part of the Livradois forest.  The perfect place for long walks to work up an appetite for the gutsy terroir cooking at the Auberge de Chassignolles.

Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding areas, their region number being chalked on a slate.  The emphasis is on seasonality and taste and the balance of the meals is perfect.  Consider a trio of croutes: Nettles; Anchovy and herb pesto; Brandade, followed by Riz au champignons, roast Canette (duck) with greens, peas and turnips, a refreshing salade des champs then Auvergne cheeses and finishing with Cherry tart with a sorbet of cherries.  The mushrooms and nettles had been foraged locally by Steve, an Auberge chef.  After meeting him the next day gathering wood sorrel, that night we ate the Auberge's charcuterie with radishes and cornichons, Leek vinaigrette with egg and wood sorrel, Roast pork with Amaranth and baby turnips, Salade des champs, Auvergne cheeses and Savarin with raspberries and Chantilly cream.  €24 per person seemed a small price to pay for a set 5-6 course dinner, even in France, and with glasses of local wine starting at €1, we were very happy.  The wine list is interesting and extensive with many natural and local wines.  Having earlier been caught in a heavy shower, Harry appropriately recommended a delicious 'Mauvais Temps' local wine which matched dinner perfectly.

Breakfast is a substantial buffet.  So often the heart sinks at the word 'buffet', but not here. The table was laden with fresh local cherries, apricots and melons, juices, yoghurts, fruit compotes, jams and honeys, crusty baguettes and buttery croissants.  With plenty of cafe au lait on offer we were set up for a day of walking but, not being the best map readers in the world, we took a pique-nique just in case.  A stainless steel tiffin box was packed with crudites, brandade, sauccisson sec, cornichons and pate, the lower section filled with fresh strawberries and apricot tartlets.  Packages of cheese, bread and langues de chat biscuits were a fine ending after all the wild strawberries and bilberries we had feasted on in the woods.

An early evening arrival was the perfect introduction to the peace and quiet of the deepest reaches of the Auvergne, south of Clermont Ferrand.  The Auberge de Chassignolles is at the heart of the village, overlooking the 13th century Romanesque church.  Swifts and House Martins sliced the air and Nora, the Auberge's Pyrenean Mountain dog, came to say hello and keep us company on the terrace as we enjoyed a glass of local Rosé.  English owners Chef Harry, and Artist Ali Lester have run the Auberge for the past 5 years, raising a family and steadily building up a loyal following.  With eight rooms, the Auberge is simply furnished, clean, comfortable, unpretentious and very welcoming.  See also Alastair Sawday's entry. You may be familiar with Harry's style of cooking from the Anchor and Hope in London.

So if you like simplicity, good food and wine, generous hosts, tranquillity - the chimes of the church bell being the loudest sound you will hear - clean air, forest walks, pathways edged by wildflowers and ribbons of cornflowers weaving through wheat fields, the Auberge de Chassignolles is the place for you.  And if you think it might be a little quiet for your taste, there are foraging and charcuterie courses later in the year so you can eat and drink well and learn at the same time.  Just before Harry drove us back to the train station, Steve and pastry chef, Elaine, gave us a taste of the wild cherries they had found which they planned to turn into a traditional Cherry Clafouti.  Maybe next time we'll sign up to learn more on a foraging course.



Sunday, 19 June 2011

Dallaway's Kent-grown Cherries - Food Find

It's early but the first of the delicious Kent-grown cherries from Michael Dallaway were at Marylebone Farmers' Market today.  Expect to see them there for the next 5-6 Sundays, and at both Islington and Queen's Park markets, growing conditions permitting.  Dallaway's also expect to be at Borough Market on Saturdays from the 25th.  See the website below for more info, and for how to rent your own tree.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Gooseberry Meringue Pie

Gooseberries and Elderflower

Gooseberries grow best in cool, damp climates.  England is excellent, in Scotland it's even better (where they are known as 'grosarts'), but they grow unhappily in France, hence their low status there.  The northern French do at least appreciate them as a sauce to cut the oiliness of fish such as mackerel, but certainly not as a dessert fruit.

Needless to say, the gooseberry has nothing to do with goose, the name being a mishmash of grosart, groser and groseille (French for currant), all of which go back to the German Frankish 'krûsil', meaning crisp berry.  The are the first fruits of Spring and the prickly shrubs can produce into August.  For me, it's the sharpness of the young green fruits of the plain old' Invicta' gooseberry that appeals.  Later they turn yellow and need less sugar to bring out their flavour, but nothing beats the crisp freshness of the early pickings.  There are around 300 varieties, some of which are naturally sweet enough to be eaten straight from the bush.

Elders come into flower just as the first goosberries appear.  I don't know who it was who first thought to pop a head of elder-flower into a pan of gooseberries and sugar but the pairing is exquisite.  If you do so, make sure you choose a flower from an elder which grows in clear, unpolluted air, dust off any insects and wrap it in muslin.  Once the fruit is poached you can remove the flower head to leave a heavenly scented compote.

Gooseberries are packed with vitamin C, and are rich in pectin, making them excellent for jam making.  Poaching the fruit until it just bursts, the resulting compote can be used for fruit fools, parfaits, syllabubs, tarts and cakes.

Gooseberry meringue pie

Here is a take on Lemon Meringue Pie, a delicious pudding in its own right, if a little rich.  This one is a bit lighter.  The essentials are a crisp, buttery pastry and a sugar meringue topping sandwiching a sharp filling.  Now that I'm picking gooseberries from my one lone bush (yielding 12lbs last year), it's time to ditch the eggy-lemon filling in favour of a sharp fruity one.  Melting the sugar in a little butter before adding the gooseberries enriches the juice and means you don't have to cook the fruit for long, helping it to hold its shape.  I noticed when I was cooking this that Jane Grigson has a richer meringue version 'Gooseberry Meringue Tart' in her invaluable 'Fruit Book'.

Gooseberry meringue pie slice

Gooseberry meringue pie
(20-22cm loose-based tart tin - Serves 6-8)

Sweet Shortcrust pastry:
110g (4oz) soft butter
55g (2oz) icing sugar
2 tablespoons beaten egg
170g (6oz) soft plain flour
pinch  of salt
A little coarse polenta to scatter on the baked pastry base

Goosberry Compote:
600g (20 oz) gooseberries, topped and tailed
30g butter
2 tablespooons soft brown sugar

Meringue Topping:
2 egg whites
125g caster sugar

For the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, then gradually add the flour and salt, mixing to a smooth paste.  Cover and rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.  (This makes a very fragile, buttery pastry which is best if not handled).

In a wide-bottomed pan, melt the butter and sugar together.  Add the prepared gooseberries and cook until their green colour mellows, they burst but generally remain whole.  Remove from the heat and put aside.

Butter the tart tin lightly and press pieces of the pastry into the tin to form a thin layer- you will probably have more pastry than you need, the important thing is to apply it thinly. .  Push a rolling pin over the top of the tart tin to leave a clean edge.  Prick the base with a fork and place in the fridge for another 30 minutes (this helps to reduce shrinkage in baking).   

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan).  Bake the pastry case blind for 15 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and return the tin to the oven for a further 5 or so minutes to make sure the base is lightly browned.  Remove from the oven.  Reduce the oven temperature to 140C (120C fan). 

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form then add half the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is firm and fluffy. Gently fold in the rest of the sugar with a metal spoon.  
Scatter a thin layer of coarse polenta over the pastry base to soak up excess juice from the fruit.  Place the gooseberry mixture into the case and spoon the meringue on top taking it right to the edges of the pastry to cover the fruit completely.  Bake for about 40 minutes, until the meringue is browned.

Best served at room temperature to appreciate the flavour of the gooseberries. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Gergovie Wines Update - Food Find

From 24 June 2011 Gergovie Wines change the Friday night formula from a sit-down set dinner to wines with food at the bar from 5.30pm.  I anticipate a scaled-up version of their popular Saturday (from 10.00) bar-with- food so you get more opportunity to taste the expanding range of natural, organic and biodynamic wines.  Expect high quality seasonal food matched to the excellent wines.

Gergovie Wines

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Ham & Cheese Co.

The Ham & Cheese Co.
For many years now I've been buying chunks of creamy parmesan, wafer-thin slices of Prosciutto and soft, glistening globes of mozzarella from Alison and Elliott at The Ham & Cheese Co. stall on Borough Market.  Though these days, thanks to Borough Market Management's bizarre decision to evict some of the best of their traders, I shop at the railway arch maturing rooms at in Bermondsey(currently Saturdays only).  It's taken me a while to get around to posting on them because I've got to know Alison and Elliott over the years and, well, it's  very easy to lose your objectivity.  A good time then to step back and take a long cool look at the range of products they now sell, which has grown over the years.

Starting out as The Parmesan Cheese Company, it was with a single-herd parmesan that they established a reputation for carefully sourcing a top quality product.  The Swiss Brown cows producing the milk are pastured in the foothills of the Apennines by the Avanzini family.  Fed on GM-free cereals and alfalfa grown organically on the farm, the cows produce enough milk for only 3-4 wheels of parmesan a day.  The aged finished product is rich and creamy but with a satisfying slightly-salty crunch to the texture.  It's still, I think, the best you will find in the UK.

After three years of searching, a Prosciutto di Parma finally met Alison and Elliott's high standards and the business turned into 'The Ham & Cheese Co'.  The Parma hams are produced by the Montali family using traditional methods which have largely been abandoned by mass producers.  Demand far outstrips production of this lean, tender and sweet meat.

The Mozzarella di Bufala is sourced from Campania but from the river plain of Piana del Sele.  South of Naples, this is still a largely agricultural area, rather than the more industrial plain north of the city.  Using unpasteurised milk, the production process is mostly by hand, creating creamy, velvety 100g and 250g globes.

Recently a Culatello de Zibello has been added to the table.  The Culatello ("little backside") is the most prized part of the pig and, therefore, the most expensive.  The Po river valley of Bassa Parmensa is renowned for its Culatello production.  The ham is matured in Polesine by l’Antica Corte Pallavicina.  This 14th century estate where the hams are cured is perfectly placed to take advantage of the fogs which roll across the river plain.  The specially constructed medieval cellar ensures perfect levels of humidity and allows for the longest ageing process of any Culatello produced today. With a drier texture and fuller flavour than Prosciutto, the 30-month aged ham selected by The Ham and Cheese Co is very special.

There is also a range of Basque country salamis made by Pierre Oteiza in the Aldudes Valley.  Having worked with local farmers to save the once endangered Cochon Basque, Oteiza raises his pigs outside all year round.  Foraging on the wooded hillsides for nuts and roots, their diet is supplemented by grains and beans to encourage them to remain close to the farm where they are brought down to straw-covered huts to farrow.  The Jésus du Pays Basque is a particular favourite.  Its moist texture and deep flavour is enhanced by the addition of peppercorns.

From buying a weekly hunk of parmesan I'm now spoilt for choice when shopping here.  The range has grown over the years but what you can be sure of is that each addition has been sourced with the greatest of care.  See the informative website below for the full range and to locate a market stall where you can taste and buy.  Look out for The Ham & Cheese Co at some of the best food fairs too.  If you can't go to them, they do mail order.

The Ham and Cheese Co

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Djaouzia (white nougat) - Food Find

I was recently introduced to this fabulous soft white nougat - Djaouzia.  Called "La Ruche" it's made in Algeria by Dar Kasentina.  You can't buy it in the UK but anyone visiting Algeria should look out for it to bring back as a gift.  Made in traditional copper pans from honey and top quality walnuts, this artisan product is packaged in beautiful boxes hand-painted by students from the Algerian School of Fine Arts.