Monday, 30 April 2012

Cannellini Bean and Escarole Soup

Cannellini Bean and Escarole Soup

Having woken to London's first sunny day in weeks, I considered not publishing this recipe for a warming soup.  However, just as one swallow does not make a summer, one sunny day does not mean we are out of these dismal weather troughs yet.  So here is a really simple, healthy bowl of 'beans and greens' to get you through the next few days.

I have to own up to stealing this recipe a couple of months ago from Dave Cook.  He passed on some of his vast kitchen knowledge to a handful of keen amateurs, of which I was lucky enough to be one.  Like all simple dishes, it relies on good ingredients.

For the 'beans' element, I prefer to soak and cook dried ones for this soup but you could use the bottled Spanish Alubia beans which come in excellent cooking stock.  The freshness of packaged dried beans is difficult to judge.  The 'best before' date on the packet sitting on your supermarket shelf will lead you to believe they will keep for a year or more.  Well, yes they will but the longer they are kept the longer they will take to cook, and they will not taste so good.  Italian and Turkish food shops are good places to shop for dried beans as they are used a lot in the cuisines of both countries.  For this reason there is likely to be a fast turnover of stock.  If the locations are good for you, I can recommend Leilla's shop in Spitalfields or Lina Stores in Soho.  Any white bean will work in this recipe. 

The 'greens' in this recipe is escarole, a broad-leaved endive which looks a bit like a large, frilly romaine or cos lettuce but it is a bit more robust.  Escarole is sweeter and less bitter than its endive relatives with which you might be more familiar.  You could use something like turnip tops (cima di rapa) if you blanch them in boiling salted water for a minute or two first then plunge into cold water to retain the colour.  As I had some turnip tops, this is what I used for the soup photographed.

Cannellini and escarole soup

250g dried cannellini beans (500g cooked)
1 whole carrot
1 whole stick of celery
Half a white onion
2 plump garlic cloves, sliced
1-2 small dried chillies, deseeded and crumbled
A handful of basil leaves, torn
a handful of parsley, roughly chopped
6 or more roughly torn escarole leaves
50g parmesan, plus more to serve
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water.  Drain and bring to the boil in a large pan of fresh water with the whole carrot, celery stick and half onion.  Boil fast for 10 minutes to remove toxins, skim off impurities then reduce to a simmer for an hour or more (depending on freshness of the beans).  When the beans are soft, discard the vegetables.  Remove a quarter of the beans, puree and then return them to the pan.  This will thicken the soup and give it a silky texture.

Fry the garlic and chilli in olive oil and cook without browning.  Add the basil, parsley and escarole and cook for 1 minute to wilt.  Add all to the beans pot.  Add grated parmesan and salt and pepper.  Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil and shavings of extra parmesan. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Dock Kitchen Cookbook by Stevie Parle

Dock Kitchen Cookbook
Stevie Parle

So many influences have informed Stevie Parle’s cooking at his Dock Kitchen restaurant in west London, on which this book is based.  Cooking in iconic London restaurants the River Cafe, Moro and Petersham Nurseries before working in New York, Tokyo, Malaysia and Sri Lanka is quite a mix.  Reading the Dock Kitchen Cookbook you quickly realise that despite being influenced by so many different cuisines, there is a common theme to these dishes.   Most, as Parle himself says, are "home cooking of one form or another from one place or another".  They are closer to "the cooking of the grandmothers of the globe" than much restaurant food.  Here we clearly have a chef who loves to eat as well as cook. 

The journey starts with a simple Iraqi White Bean soup and travels seasonally through Catalonian Fish Stew, Italian Chicken Roasted in Milk & Sage, southern Indian vegetable thorans, Thai Grilled Quail, Chinese Duck & Mushroom Congee and Mexican Pork Shoulder.  There’s a small but appealing chapter on Sweet Things, including a fragrant Persian Rice Pudding and a boozy take on the classic British Summer Pudding.  Wild Foods, Spice Mixes, Breads, Pickles & Chutneys are briefly covered too.  This book is all the encouragement you need to discover what to do with those dried limes or pomegranate molasses in your local ethnic food shop.  Helpfully, there is also advice on what to do if you can't find an ingredient. 

Most of the recipes are admirably concise, showing restraint both in elements and method resulting in an economical dish.  The Dock Kitchen Cookbook is packed with recipes I want to cook and eat.

Published by Quadrille
Book courtesy of Quadrille Publishing

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Barcelona Spring 2012

Barcelona old town

I've grown to love Barcelona at this time of year, even if the weather is less than reliable.  It's possible to shake off the tourists on las Ramblas and la Boqueria and wander the old town in peace.  I have to admit I was a little apprehensive when we touched down in the city this year.  How would this vibrant, multi-ethnic city be coping with an unemployment rate edging towards 24%.  We did see a couple of small-scale demonstrations, but on the surface life seemed little different.  Only if you asked the question did anyone volunteer that times were tough.  Barcelona is still its welcoming self, so go and spend your Euros.  It's a great city for a short break, but not too short as there is a lot to see and do.

Staying in the El Born area, two minutes from Mercado de Santa Catarina, it was tempting to spend all our time wandering the old town, but we were in a mood to explore.  So here are a few recommendations for places to see in the old quarters of Barcelona and a few to take you closer to, and north of, Av. Diagonal. 

First the old, south of Placa de Catalunya and north of Barcelonetta.  Mid-way between Placa de Sant Jaume and Via Laietana you'll find Calle Dagueria, a typical narrow pedestrian street in the Barri Gotic.  No. 16 is home to Formatgeria la Seu, stocking a fine range of Spanish cheeses, some you may not have come across before.  They are carefully selected direct from the farms of artisan producers by Scottish, long-time Barcelona resident, Katherine McLaughlin to grace the shelves of this must visit cheese shop.  Just a couple of doors down is the great little typical Barcelona hole-in-the-wall bar, Zim, at No. 20 selling wine and plates of cheeses and membrillo from the shop.  Very cosy and packed with a good mix of residents, students and tourists when we visited.  Squeeze in, they like it that way.

East of the Barri Gotic, crossing the Via Laietana brings you into the El Born district.  The pace is more leisurely here and you can truly wander through the labyrinthine pedestrian-only streets.  Deep in El Born is where you'll find the Museu de Picasso, with the Mercado de Santa Catarina a 5-10 minute winding walk north and the famous Cal Pep restaurant the same distance due south. 

Casa Torras
A few minutes further east of Cal Pep is the Placa Commercial and the interesting dried goods shop Casa Torras.  You'll wish you'd travelled lighter when you see what you can buy.  If you're in need of lunch, Commerc 24 is a few steps away on Carrer de Commerc (haven't been but heard good things).  Alterntively, you can take the weight off your feet in nearby Parque de la Ciudadela and watch the antics of the noisy green parrots.

When you've had enough of the closed-in feeling of the old town, go north of Placa de Catalunya into the Gracia and Eixample areas of Barcelona.  The Passeig de Gracia is great for Gaudi spotting and for fashion and furniture shopping.  Just off to the right on C/Diputacio is Tapas 24, sister bar to Commerc24.  You may have to queue but it's a reliable and buzzy place to eat.  Further up, at the junction with Av. Diagonal, is the little green haven of the Jardine del Palau Robert.  Crossing Av. Diagonal at this point will take you into the more heavily residential area of Gracia and to Placa Llibertat. 

Mercado de Llibertat
Here you'll find the very untouristy Mercado de Llibertat, a paired-down version of Mercado de Santa Catarina.  As you'd expect, there are fantastic fish stalls and grocers in this local covered market.  Look out for the stall, Lagrana, selling a huge range of nuts and dried fruits, and the fish stall with its own bar selling cooked seafood dishes.

Look too outside at the shops lining the Placa, in particular the egg seller and the dairy.  There's also a little cafe called La Pubilla catering to the market traders.  

Useful to know about if you are in the area but a jamon bocadillo and coffee at La Pubilla did cost the same (6 Euros) as at the outstanding Jamonisimo a 10 minute walk away.  Take the Trav. di Gracia west from Placa Llibertat and turn right onto C/ Muntaner. You'll find the exceptional Jamonisimo, at No. 328. A non-functioning website and the apparent closure of one of their three branches has caused some confusion but I can assure you this branch is open. They sell a fantastic range of the best Jamon Iberico from Andalucia, Extramadura and Salamanca either machine cut or hand carved. There's also a smart little cafe at the back of the shop. Expect charming, professional service. The neighbouring food shop Lleonart a couple of doors up the hill is also worth a look for ready prepared dishes.  Walk 10 minutes north-west to find El Bulli trained baker and chocolatier Oriol Balaguer at 62 C/ Benet Mateu, near Placa Sant Gregori Taumaturg.

Forn de Llibreria
Retrace your steps to C/ Muntaner and go east one street to C/ Aribau, dropping down into the Eixample area towards Placa de Catalunya. You'll find bakery Forn de Llibreria at No.22. Baking on-site, they sell breads, coques, croissant-like ensaimades, magdelene pastries and, when we were there, delicious sugar-coated bunyols.

There's just one more market you really should take a look at. Mercado de la Concepcio at 311 C/ Arago just by Metro Passeig de Gracia. It sells all kinds of food and co-habits with a supermarket and a flower market.

Good tapas is not hard to find, but when you come to crave a 3 course lunch rather than a few tapas, take a look at my post on Gresca.

Other posts from my previous visits which you may find useful:

Mercado de Santa Catarina
Barcelona Roundup

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Hop shoots - two bites of the bine

Risotto of hop shoots

If I lived in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Herefordshire or Worcestershire I'd probably be scouring the hedgerows for wild hops right now.  Since the 13th century these English counties have been centres of hop growing, mainly for use in flavouring and preserving ales.  Hops contain alpha-acids which turn sweet ale into bitter beer, a process first recorded in Bavaria in the 9th century.  Commercial growing in the UK is now more centralised but I'm told by those who forage that these fast growing perennial plants can be found in the wild.  I do know that hop bines grow vigorously and this 'cut-and-come-again' approach does no harm at this time year, and the young shoots make good eating.

April is the time of year when, apart from perhaps a few hardy salad leaves and some kohlrabi there is little in the kitchen garden to harvest. In my own allotment, apart from some overwintering onions and garlic, only a barely-there row of spinach, sown three weeks ago, signals anything growing to rival the weeds. The early potatoes, peas, broad beans and chard are at last in the ground but it will be several weeks before there is anything to show for our planting efforts.  If you are impatient for the English asparagus season to really get going - there is asparagus around early this year but the flavour is not yet really formed - then look out for wild hops at market now (or in the hedgerow perhaps).  Here is a really good YouTube clip to help you identify hops in the wild.

The top 10cm tendrils are what you need. The plant will continue to grow vigorously and be good for harvesting in September for beer making.  Hops share some of the earthy characteristics of asparagus and, after boiling in salted water for a couple of minutes, are similarly good with eggs, pasta and rice dishes. 

Nicholas Culpeper  wrote in 1695 of the hops' blood-cleansing properties and declared them of great value in treating a large number of ailments - everything from ringworm to "the French Diseases".    Hops were grown by the Greeks and Romans as a garden crop, the young shoots being eaten and other parts being used medicinally - as a poultice for boils.  Much more recently, from the Veneto region of Italy, came Riso con  i Bruscandoli - a risotto of wild hops.  Claudia Roden, in her book, 'The Food of Italy', states that "the Veneto is richer in vegetables than any other region" and reminds me that Venetians like their Risotto quite liquid in comparison with other regions of northern Italy.  After the excesses of Easter, a tonic which also tastes great sounds like a good idea to me.  If you can't get your hands on hop shoots then you could use asparagus or broad bean tops.  As soon as broad beans flower, nip out the top 3-4cm of soft growth which is so tempting to blackfly, rinse the tops and add them to the risotto for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking.

If you want to read more about the cultivation and use of hops in England I recommend 'English Hops' by George Clinch published in 1919.  You can find all 138 pages of it here.  It has a wonderful frontispiece showing a 1729 engraving of the "Hop Market in the Borough of Southwark" (site of the present Borough Market in south London) - close to where I buy mine today.

Here's my recipe for

Risotto of hop shoots
(serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are)

1 handful of hop shoots (the top 10cm tendrils of spring growth)
30g of unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely diced
1 large clove of garlic, sliced
150g of Carnaroli rice
50ml of white wine (optional)
About 800ml vegetable stock
A small pinch of saffron (optional - it's more for colour rather than flavour)
30g unsalted cold butter, diced
Salt & pepper
50g parmesan, grated + extra for serving

Wash the hop shoots thoroughly and cook in boiling salted water for two minutes.  Immerse them in cold water to preserve colour and bite.   Heat the stock to a simmer and if using the saffron, add it now. 

Melt the first of the butter in a large, round bottom pan and add the diced shallot.  Cook on a low to medium heat until soft then add the garlic.  Cook for another two minutes before adding the rice.  Stir for two minutes to coat the rice and until the grains become transluscent around the edges.  If using wine, add it now and cook until it has disappeared.  Add a ladleful of stock and some salt and pepper and stir.  Once the liquid has been taken up by the rice, add another ladleful and continue this way until the stock is used up and the rice is cooked (firm but tender without a chalky centre).  Add the hop shoots, roughly chopped, for the last 2-3 minutes.  

Once you start adding the stock, the dish should be ready in about 20 minutes. You don't need to stir the rice continually but do it often and towards the end make sure you stir it well.  The consistency should be creamy but, in the Venetian manner, quite loose.  Take the pan off the heat and stir in the diced butter and parmesan.  Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Serve with extra parmesan.

Monday, 16 April 2012

New pastries at Monmouth Coffee - Food Find

Parma Rose ham pastry
from the Little Bread Pedlar

Regulars at Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden, Borough and Maltby Street will have noticed a quiet revolution over the past few months.  The main business of Monmouth is to select coffees from around the world, roast and sell them wholesale and retail, but you can also pick up a take-away or drink in.  They've long offered a little something to eat along with the coffee.  The food was fine, if a litte unexciting.  A rethink has led Monmouth to work with bakery The Little Bread Pedlar on a small but perfect range of morsels to complement the coffee.  Most are sweet but now a wonderful ham pastry 'Parma Rose' has been introduced.  My favourite coffee roaster paired with  one of the most interesting bakers in the capital could be bad news for my waistline. 

Friday, 13 April 2012

10 Greek Street

Sample menu at
10 Greek Street
Having been warned we wouldn't be able to get a lunchtime table at 10 Greek Street, we did what we normally do and just walked in.  It doesn't always work but more often than not my timing is right and on this occasion it was good enough to score a couple of seats at the bar.  For me, it couldn't have been better as I hate to miss anything and, with the chefs right in front of me, nothing escaped my scrutiny.  In a good restaurant this can mean you want to eat everything you see, and this proved to be the case here.  If you have no sense of restraint, my advice is don't sit at the kitchen bar.

Three young chefs and a barman all exuded friendliness and enthusiasm in the small open kitchen.  These guys clearly love working together and it shows in the welcoming atmosphere and well-run kitchen.  Three front of house staff work the tables but, as we ordered and were served straight over the bar, I can only assume the other diners were as well looked after as we were.   I've heard some criticism of noise bouncing around the hard-surfaced dining room but we weren't aware of it.

Things started well with a good choice of wines, all by the glass, carafe and bottle.   A very reasonable Allegrini Valpolicella at less than £4 a glass (£20 bottle) went so well with our dishes that we stuck with it.  A small plate of Fried baby squid with a saffron aioli and simply grilled Sardines with a spoonful of romesco and wedge of lemon were great openers.  The freshest of fish cooked perfectly, what could be better?   Then came the tender Grilled Poussin, served spatchcocked with Israeli couscous, raisins and almonds.  For once the addition of pomegranate seeds made perfect sense.  The use of these jewel-like seeds has become so ubiquitous that my heart sinks when I'm presented with a plate 'scattered' with them, but here they actually belonged on the plate.  Pancetta wrapped monkfish came on the bone, cooked just right and served with a soupy stew of pale lentils (Italian, I think pepped with a fresh salsa verde.  A good Lemon tart could have been great but refrigeration had softened the fine pastry.  A great shame as there is a talented pastry chef at work.  A light rye bread and a focaccia, made in-house, were delicious.

Prices are keen at this plain, 35-seater.  They have to be in the heart of Soho where competition is fierce.  Small plates and starter-size dishes range from £3 for olives or almonds to £8 for something like Queen scallops and chorizo.  Large dishes are priced around £12-18.  When we were there a Welsh Black rib-eye with truffle mash and purple sprouting broccoli, at £35 for two, was hard to resist.  Having seen it go out of the kitchen, I hope it's on the menu next time I visit.  Sides are £3-4 and puds £4-6.  The daily-changing menu is a straightforward description of what will come out of the kitchen. Everything on the plate is necessary to the success of the dish.  There is no unnecessary ornamentation.

Opened in February this year by Cameron Emirali, formerly head chef of The Wapping Project, and Luke Wilson, ex-Manager of The Ambassador at Exmouth market, 10 Greek Street has quickly attracted an informed following.   To my eye, staff dealt with a completely full restaurant with great efficiency and charm.  I really should have taken more notice of the wine list but, from other reviews, I gather there is a separate list of finer wines.  Like the food prices, all are extremely reasonable.  I look forward to getting even better acquainted with both very soon.

10 Greek Street

Open: Monday-Saturday
Lunch - bookings taken
Dinner - walk-in only

Monday, 9 April 2012

Gauthier Soho

Monkfish with crisp chicken skin,
chicken jus, white asparagus and turnips
at Gauthier Soho
With all the new restaurant openings in London it's important not to forget the ones that impressed you a year or two ago.  New openings can ride on the crest of the buzz created by PR machine, bloggers and word of mouth and the old stalwarts have a loyal following, but it can be a tricky time for those whose honeymoon period has passed.  It's a time which sorts the wheat from chaff and restaurateurs have to be on their toes to build on their early success.  Gauthier Soho is one such.  A long overdue return recently reignited my enthusiasm for the classy French cooking of Alexis Gauthier. 

After covering all the bases in classic French cuisine, Gauthier entered the kitchens of Alain Ducasse and, as he puts it, learnt to cook by trusting his instincts rather than by following a recipe.  Carnivores are well catered for but Gauthier is also a chef with a love of vegetables and one who is not afraid to put them centre stage rather than as little background dressing.  This he does inventively with his 'Vegetable Menu', just don't expect it to be wholly "vegetarian" (unless you ask).  In fact four menus are offered - A la carte, a weekly-changing Seasonal Lunch/pre-theatre menu, Seasonal Tasting and Seasonal Vegetable Tasting menus.  Personally, I can do without the calorie count printed below each dish.  For those who care, Gauthier Soho has a Michelin star.

Yes the table linen is white and the napkins fine but the look is unfussy with all the attention on the food. This is not everyday eating, but it is real value for money. The £33 three course lunch including a half bottle of decent wine (£25 without wine), plus service is great value. You can also choose three courses from the a la carte for £40. A couple of small palate ticklers arrive unbidden during the meal but, mercifully, without any great fanfare.  The wine list extends to over 200 bottles with plenty of reasonably priced choices.  The menu changes weekly and though it's not everyday eating, it is great value for money. Gauthier's cooking is unmistakably French and the saucing is impeccable, but his passion for vegetables, and an enthusiasm for Eastern cuisines, brings another dimension to the cooking.

From the set -lunch menu comes a perfect Risotto starter made with the first English (grown under cover, surely) asparagus, a slick of chicken jus and a parmesan crisp. We could have chosen a Pea Veloute or a dish of foie gras. The a la carte tempted with a "Very Green Ravioli" which turned out to be a spinach (probably) ravioli with peas, asparagus, rocket and dandelion in a miso broth with Earl Grey tea and Yuzu.  Very light and virtuous but it didn't quite deliver the iron-rich hit I was expecting.

Set mains included Duck breast with an aromatic jus, and an Open Ravioli of Tofu. A comforting dish of Skate wing, served off the bone with fennel, both soft and crisp, and a light sauce was cut by lemon and capers.  It was the best use of this gelatinous fish I've ever experienced.  From the a la carte came meltingly soft Monkfish served with that gorgeous chicken jus, crispy chicken skin, white asparagus and baby turnips.

A tiny but delicious bowl of aerated yoghurt, poached rhubarb and fresh lime was served before dessert.  The chocolate pudding Louis XV is a fixture on the menu. It is undeniably good - a concoction involving praline, chocolate mousse and a chocolate couverture topped with gold leaf - and difficult to resist. But outside the sun was shining with a taste of spring so the first French Gariguette strawberries called to me from the a la carte menu. I know it's ridiculously early but Gariguette are always the first of the good ones so it was worth a try. They were served just warm in a lovely sticky sweet liquor flavoured with vanilla and star anise, which succeeded in bringing out their flavour. A delicate coriander tuille and a scoop of sharp lime sorbet on the side off-set the sweetness of the sauce.
Having taken over the narrow little townhouse, previously home to Richard Corrigan's 'Lindsay House', nearly two years ago Gauthier has created a warm and inviting little haven in the heart of Soho.  It's an awkward yet characterful space with great charm.  In its Lindsay House phase it never had that essential welcoming feel to me.  This could be something to do with being within earshot of a royal dressing down of some hapless chef in the kitchen on my last visit.  A recipe for indigestion, I think.  Gauthier Soho does not induce nervous tension.  On the contrary, the staff seem happy and confident.  Service is correct without any affectedness.  The ground floor dining room is a discreet and romantic space.  On the first floor the tables are a little more tightly arranged.  The quirkiness of the building allows for a number of small rooms available for private parties.

This lunch was a timely reminder to revisit those who not only start off promisingly but work hard to keep things fresh in the relationship between restaurant and diner.

Gauthier Soho
21 Romilly Street
London W1D 5AF

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Maltby Street & Spa Terminus - the doors open

The Butchery
Arch 11 Dockley Road
Spa Terminus
There was an air of excitement, expectation and a little trepidation amongst the Maltby Street traders as the doors opened on their new Spa Terminus location on Saturday.  Excitement that they now have arches with secure leases which give them control over their environment.  Expectation of welcoming customers old and new to their new homes, and a little trepidation that those treasured customers might not find their way. 

The Ham & Cheese Co
Arch 10 Dockley Road
Spa Terminus
All concerns proved unfounded.  There was a great turn-out of existing customers, mingling with a large number of locals checking out the new Saturday food shopping scene on their doorstep.  Just five minutes walk east from the traders' old arches which were centred around Maltby Street, the new ones are now a five minute walk from Bermondsey Tube station.

Whilst a few of the Maltby Steet award winning traders will not be moving until later in 2012, phase 1 has seen over half of the traders move home.  From Spa Terminus they run their wholesale businesses, supplying some of the best restaurants and food shops in the UK.  On Saturdays only (9-2pm) their doors are opened to retail customers. 

The area is spread over Voyager Business Park and Dockley Road.  Just as at Maltby Street, to cover all the arches at 'Spa Terminus' you need to move from the north side of the railway line to the south side.  At Voyager, you will find Kappacasein serving up their unbeatable toasted cheese sandwiches and Raclette alongside Neal's Yard Dairy.  Their neighbours are Mons Fromages, selling quality French cheeses, sharing an arch with Aubert & Mascoli, specialising in French and Italian wines.  Alongside you will find South East Fruits and Ice Cream Union.

The Little Bread Pedlar
Unit 5 Dockley Road
Spa Terminus
A walk under the bridge to the other side of the railway line brings you to a narrow gateway to the Dockley Road part of 'Spa Terminus'.   Here you can follow the aroma of baking to the unit housing The Little Bread Pedlar for some of the best croissant and brownies (and other treats) in London. The London Honey Company is alongside for all things apiarian, and close by is Fern Verrow for top quality biodynamic fruit, vegetables and meats.  Arch 10 is the new home of The Ham & Cheese Co, selling a fantastic selection of Italian and Basque cured meats, mozarella and the very best parmesan cheese.  The Kernel micro-brewery is right next door, brewing and serving up excellent pale ales, stouts, porters and more.  Last but far from least, is the arch housing The Butchery.  Here Nathan and Ruth run their 'nose to tail' butchery, buying in whole rare-breed and free-range carcasses to prepare for the counter.  You can even learn butchery skills on one of Nathan's courses.

If week one was anything to go by, Spa Terminus is now the place for your Saturday food shopping.  Don't forget, Spa Terminus is only five minutes from Maltby Street.  You can still find Tayshaw (Tony Booth fruit & veg), Monmouth Coffee, 40 Maltby Street/Gergovie Wines, St John Bakery, Jacob's Ladder Farms, selling fantastic biodynamic and organic meats, Topolski for Polish products, Kase Swiss, and Boerenkass for Swiss and Dutch cheeses, at their old locations on Druid Street and Maltby Street until they move to Spa Terminus later in 2012. 

UPDATE AUG 2012 - Monmouth Coffee pop-up now at Unit 3 Spa Arches Northside

Here's a map

Spa Terminus, Bermondsey SE16 :
Neal's Yard Dairy
Unit 1 Voyager Business Park SE16

Mons Fromages
Aubert  Mascoli
Unit 2 Voyager Business Park

South East Fruits
Unit 3 Voyager Business Park

Ice Cream Union
Unit 4 Voyager Business Park

The Little Bread Pedlar
Coleman Coffee
Unit 5 Dockley Road

The London Honey Company
Unit 6 Dockley Road

Fern Verrow
Unit 10 Dockley Road

The Ham & Cheese Co
Arch 10 Dockley Road
Arch 11 Dockley Road

Arch 11, Dockley Road

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Yorkshire Curd Tart (Take 2) - A recipe made for austerity times

Curd cheese, lemons & nutmeg

Some months ago I posted a piece on my search for the best Yorkshire Curd Tart recipe - Yorkshire curd tart - take 1.  The recipe I published fell a little short, I felt, and I was determined to continue searching.  The ill-documented history of this much loved regional tart made my research interesting and frustrating in equal measure.  After much exploration and inquiry, tasting and testing, I felt I was finally getting a little nearer to its origins.  I have, not without a little anxiety, published a recipe which comes close to my memories of this old English dish of my childhood.

Yorkshire Curd Tart
You can read the resultant article and recipe Waste not, want not - a short history of the Yorkshire curd tart on my favourite on-line food magazine The Foodie Bugle.  I hope you enjoy it and that you will try the recipe.  I'm sure those of us who are familiar with the Yorkshire curd tart have very different memories of it.  This being the nature of regional dishes born out of austerity - using what is available with a pinch of inspiration.  If you have your own family recipe I would love to hear from you.

I urge you to explore The rest of The Foodie Bugle which each month publishes articles on food and food related subjects.  The contributing writers are spread around the globe and write on a wide range of subjects,  making it an interesting and stimulating read.  The writing is often beautiful and the photography stunning.

Here is the article and recipe in full:

Yorkshire Curd Tart (TakeII)

In times of austerity most of us need to think a bit more deeply about what we spend our money on.  Whilst food shopping is the last thing I want to cut back on, the cost of food, food waste and food miles are much on people’s minds at the moment.  This set me thinking about how the home-cook coped in the past when money was tight and yet a sweet treat was called for which did not scream ‘frugal’.  The Yorkshire Curd Tart is a good example, but what exactly is it and why does it fit the bill? 

To a pot of curd cheese add sugar, a scattering of dried fruit, a pinch of spice, an egg or two and a little butter to enrich the mix, pour it into a pastry case and you have it.  Crunchy pastry, soft, sensuous filling and the fragrance of nutmeg filling  your kitchen as it bakes.  Balm for the soul on a cold winter’s day.  Simple it may be, economical certainly, but parsimonious it is not. Originally it may have been less sweet than later versions, given that cane sugar was heavily taxed until 1874.  It was not until the Napoleonic and First World wars that the growing of sugar beet in Britain took off, out of necessity.

A few months ago I wrote in another journal of my quest to find the perfect Yorkshire Curd Tart.  Versions can be found in many Yorkshire bakeries, particularly in the north of the county, but sadly many current recipes have drifted a long way from the original.   I titled my piece “Take 1” as it was my first attempt to capture the tart I remembered.  A trip to the London Guildhall Library for a browse through their extensive food history section confirmed to me that this dish has a little-documented history and there would be few pointers along the way to finding the definitive recipe. 

The narrative which resonates with me is that the Yorkshire Curd Tart was a happy by-product of the cheese-making process.  From a time when most smallholders would keep a cow and produce a few small cheeses, inevitably there would be some leftover curds and, well, in true Yorkshire style, ‘waste not, want not’.       

Clearly it originated in Yorkshire but the tart I remember from childhood came from a small County Durham bakery - now sadly no more.   A certain  amount of border-creep has taken place with this dish so it’s not uncommon to still  find it in Durham.  Joan Poulson’s book “Old Yorkshire Recipes” tells of them being traditionally served at “Whitsuntide”.  Thanks to PCD Brears' book “The Gentlewoman’s Kitchen – Great Food in Yorkshire 1650-1750” I learned of “Mrs Tasker” who took the trouble to write down her recipes.  Her notebook is annotated to show she lived in Brayton, near Selby close to the east coast of Yorkshire.  A recipe of 1741  tells of making the curd and, of “butter that is well-washed in rosewater”.  Whether the use of rosewater arrived in England with the Romans or we came to appreciate its delicacy after the Crusades  is debatable.  Both Romans and Moors have long histories of its use and rosewater as a flavouring was certainly documented in Elizabethan England.

I've tasted quite a few shop-bought Yorkshire Curd Tarts over the past few months, all made in Yorkshire .  As with most things, you usually get what you pay for.  The best of the bunch came from Betty's of York, but I've always had a taste for their version.  Good as Betty's is, I was hoping to find perfection somewhere out there.  My conclusion is that, these days, this is a tart best made at home.  I needed to put into practice what I’d learned.  Taking Jane Grigson's recipe in her book “English Food” as my starting point, I adapted it as my research took me deeper into the origins of the Yorkshire Curd Tart.  The pastry should be a fine shortcrust, the filling dominated by the soft, pillowy curd - not the egg -  and the fruit should, I think, be currants.  You will need much more nutmeg than you may think, unless you choose to add rosewater too – balance is all.  Some recipes call for breadcrumbs and, if your curd is very loose, I can see why but I prefer not to use any.  The addition of a little melted butter helps the tart acquire that rustic browning on top.  The following recipe is as near as I can get to doing justice to this singular tart.

Some writers advocate substituting “cottage cheese”  for curd.  Do not be tempted as the result will be nothing like intended.  Fromage frais is perhaps nearer to the texture.  The curd consistency is best when fresh (2-4 days old).  If you buy them from a cheese-maker the texture of this natural product will, of course, vary.  You could *make your own curds, or do as I did and get to know an artisan cheese-maker.   Now, just as way back then, they’ll have an amount of surplus curd just crying out to be made into a delicious, fragrant Yorkshire Curd Tart.

Yorkshire Curd Tart (Take II)

(makes enough for 2 x 22cm tarts)

250g (10oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) ground almonds
150g (6oz) butter
75g (3oz) icing sugar
Grated rind of half a lemon
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk

Filling (makes enough for 1 x 22cm tart)
300g (12oz) curd cheese
2 eggs
125g (5oz) caster sugar
50g (2oz) currants
Grated rind of half a lemon
A good pinch of cinnamon
Half a nutmeg, grated
1 tablespoon of rosewater (optional – if used, reduce the nutmeg a little)
25g melted butter

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the ground almonds.  Add the butter and rub in with fingertips.  Sift in the icing sugar, add grated lemon rind and mix.  Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and stir into the dry ingredients.  Mix until the paste just comes together, turn out and knead gently to smooth the surface.  (You will need half of this mixture for your tart so divide and freeze the other half for next time).  Cover and rest in fridge for 30 minutes.

Lightly butter a 22cm shallow tart tin.  Roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface and line the tin with it.  Prick the base with a fork several times and rest in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven).  Bake the pastry blind for 10 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and paper, turn down the oven to 180C (160C fan oven) and return the tart to the oven for another 4-5 minutes to fully cook the base.

Mix the curd cheese with the currants, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon rind (and rosewater if using).  Beat the eggs with the sugar then add to the curd mixture along with the cooled melted butter.  Pour into the pastry case and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the filling set.  Once cooled, serve with no embellishment.

*Make a simple lactic curd by bringing 1.5ltrs  of whole  milk (“raw” if you can get it) to just below boiling point, add juice of 1 lemon, leave overnight in a cool place (not the fridge) then pour into a muslin-lined sieve to drain the curds.