Friday, 29 November 2013

Pumpkin Soup - Bocuse via Hopkinson

Pumpkin Soup

Squash and pumpkins come in all sizes, from 'Baby Bear' and 'Jack be Little', both around 10-18 cm in diameter, to the monstrous 'Atlantic Giant' which has been grown to over 300kg.  They come in all shapes and colours too - the muted flesh coloured butternut; steel blue teardrop-shaped 'Blue Ballet'; dark green 'Table Queen' shaped like an acorn; fiery round 'Rouge vif d-Etampes'; dusky orange-brown 'Moschata Muscade' tasting faintly of nutmeg; the blue-black of the well-named 'Ironbark'; and the  extravagantly top-knotted yellow/green/orange/white 'Turk's Turban'.

Although the French and Americans prize them, until fairly recently in the UK we mostly stuck to growing summer squashes.  The simple reason for this is although pumpkins are easy to grow, a dry, warm period is needed to harden the skins for keeping through winter.  A warm dry autumn here is not something we can take for granted but this year has been exceptional and harvests have been good.

'Uchiki Kuri' Pumpkin Squash

Personally I have no need for enormous pumpkins so I tend to stick to growing 'Butternut' or 'Uchiki Kuri', each of which grows to around half a kilo to a kilo in weight.  The flesh of both is deliciously sweet but the 'Uchiki Kuri' has a lovely chestnut flavour and a vibrant orange colour which just makes you want to tuck in.

Pumpkin soup straight from the oven

This adapted recipe comes from Simon Hopkinson's book The Vegetarian Option.  Based on a classic Paul Bocuse recipe, Simon Hopkinson has paired back the original reducing the dish to its essence of pumpkin, cream and cheese.  My adaptation is slight.  Apart from reducing the quantities to work for a smaller pumpkin, I added some fried sage leaves at the end.  They work but are they necessary?  Frankly, no but if you want an extra something, sage makes a good partner for pumpkin.  Like Hopkinson, I think the word 'soup' doesn't really describe this dish well.  It's more of a creamed pumpkin.  Whatever you want to call it, it is rich and absolutely delicious.

I used an 'Uchiki Kuri' weighing barely 500g here which was enough to serve two people but 'Jack be Little' would be a good choice if you wanted to serve individual ones.  It also has the advantage of a softer, edible, skin.

Pumpkin Soup (Bocuse via Hopkinson)
(Recipe Serves 2 but can be easily scaled up)

1 pumpkin weighting 500g (1lb) or 2 smaller pumpkins
150ml  (¼ pint) double cream
1 small garlic clove, flattened and peeled.
Salt and pepper
50g (2oz) Gruyere or Beaufort cheese, grated
A few sage leaves, fried until crisp (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C)/Gas 6.
Heat the cream with the garlic, salt and pepper until it barely simmers.  Take off the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.
Slice off the top of the pumpkin a quarter of the way down to make a lid and keep to one side.
Scoop out the seeds and stringy membrane.
Strain the infused cream into the cavity and discard the garlic.  Add the cheese. Top with the lid.
Bake in a roasting tin in the oven for about 1 hour until the flesh of the pumpkin is tender when pierced with a fork.  The skin should be lightly browned - turn the heat down slightly if it is becoming burnt.  Lift off the lid and add the crisped sage leaves for decoration (if using).

Serve with a crunchy salad.

Friday, 22 November 2013

KäseSwiss - Swiss cheese appreciation

Le Sousbois

One of the great joys of living in London is that it is a magnet for the best producers and traders. That's not to say there aren't parts of the country where you can find a great mix of local producers. Because the market in London is vast, producers want to trade here and the competition tends to drive up quality.  When it comes to cheese, this is something I particularly appreciate.  

There are some great cheese shops around the UK now, but in London I can buy the best British and Irish cheeses at Neal's Yard Dairy; try out the new from Kappacasein; choose from the great range of French cheeses at Mons; and the best the Dutch have to offer from Boerenkaas. All of these businesses trade within a couple of hundred metres of each other.  Alongside them is the outstanding Swiss cheese importer KäseSwiss.  Each business sells its cheeses wholesale, some around the world, so you may be buying it in your local specialist cheese shop but being able to buy directly from the maker, importer or maturer every week is a real treat.  And then, of course, there's the 'cheese chat' - but maybe you have to have worked in a cheese shop to enjoy that!

Before I encountered Rachael Sills, the founder of KäseSwiss, my knowledge of Swiss cheese extended little beyond Gruyère and Vacherin Mont d'Or (which is made from pasteurised milk as opposed to the French version which is generally unpasteurised).  Both admirable cheeses but, as I now know, it's a shame to stop there.  Rachael started her career in cheese in 1995 at Neal's Yard Dairy.  A move to Zurich saw her seeking out the best Swiss cheeses and then in 2005 she formed KäseSwiss to bring traditional artisan cheese to the UK.  For the past three years Rachael has judged the World Cheese Awards and this year she formed the British Cheesemongers Guild.  

Appenzeller, L'Etivaz, Emmentaler and Stilsitzer had not previously attracted me.  There being so many fantastic British hard cheeses around they'd have to be really good to impress.  Quality and expert maturing matter hugely, of course, and the ones KäseSwiss source are right up there on both counts.  Apart from these, and the best selection of Gruyères, you may find a deliciously sticky textured Vacherin Fribourgeois or a creamy Tomme Fleurette on the counter.  Right now you can get a punchy little cow's milk Le Sousbois, matured in a pine-bark collar.

KäseSwiss open the shutters on Druid Street, Bermondsey every Saturday 09.00-2pm to sell alongside like-minded businesses.  If you miss that opportunity, you can buy their cheeses from Patricia Michelson's excellent Marylebone branch of La Fromagerie (which also stocks some Neal's Yard Dairy and Mons cheeses).

If you aren't impressed with the Swiss cheeses you're tasting, try KäseSwiss.

104 Druid Street

Friday, 15 November 2013

Quince & ginger sponge pudding


The first time I cut into a quince the unyielding flesh, gritty with stone cells, and its pale, off-white, unappealing colour tending to oxidise made me despair of making anything from it.  It was the flowery aroma with notes of tropical fruit that made me buy it.  There it sat, for at least a week, perfuming my kitchen until I plucked up courage to cook it.

Poached Quince
Most of that distinctive aroma is concentrated in the skin and, like the apples and pears to which it is related, its skin cooks down well.  In Middle-Eastern cooking the quince is usually added, unpeeled, to meat dishes which are then cooked for several hours.  In the West we often remove the skin, seemingly only for aesthetic reasons, just as we regularly peel apples for cooking.  Note to self: think twice before peeling.

Picked when it turns a pale yellow, long, slow cooking with sugar softens the natural astringency of the quince and turns the flesh ruby-red and translucent.  High in pectin, it makes wonderful jam, jelly, syrup and fruit cheese or Membrillo.  It was used by the Portuguese to make the original 'marmalade' (marmelo being Portuguese for quince) before it was usurped by the Seville orange. In 16th century France quince were stored immersed in honey.

The Quince has long been associated with love. Brides scented their breath with a bite of quince.  Poets referred to it in their love poems.  Despite searching long and hard, I can find no better love poem than the one Jane Grigson recommended.

" …When it stood fragrant on the bough and the leaves 
had woven for it a covering of brocade,

I gently put up my hand to pluck it and to set it
like a  censer in the middle of my room. 

It had a cloak of ash-coloured down hovering over
its smooth golden body,

and when it lay naked in my hand, with nothing more than
its daffodil-coloured shift,

it made me think of her I cannot mention, and I feared
the ardour of my breath would shrivel it in my fingers…"

                                                                          Shafer ben Utman al-Mushafi

Quince & ginger steamed sponge pudding

From Moorish Andalucia to England.  To mark the change from autumn to winter,  I've married a favourite simple ginger steamed sponge recipe with a vanilla scented poached quince for a very English style steamed pudding.

Quince & ginger steamed sponge pudding
with cream

Quince & ginger steamed sponge pudding
(Serves 4-6)

About 400g poached quince, including syrup
115g (4oz) softened butter
60g (2oz) soft dark brown sugar
2 medium eggs
115g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 knob of preserved stem ginger + a little syrup, OR, 1 tsp ground ginger
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon milk

Lightly butter a 550ml (1 pint) pudding basin and in the bottom place the poached quince (and preserved ginger if using) with the syrup.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together.  In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, (powdered ginger, if using) and pinch of salt.
Cream the soft butter with the sugar well then gradually add the eggs, beating well - add a tablespoon of flour if the mixture begins to curdle.  
Gently fold in the dry ingredients followed by the milk.
Spoon the mixture on top of the quince.
Cover the basin with a square of buttered greaseproof paper (folded into a pleat) and tie in place.  Top with a pleated square of kitchen foil.
Steam for 1 hour.

Good served with a thin custard or cream.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

England Preserves

Seasonal Specials
at England Preserves

The renewed interest in home preserving is a trend I hope will long continue.  A desire to be more self-sufficient and, hopefully, a little less wasteful has in recent years sent many more of us foraging and gleaning, reaching for the jam pan and bottling our finds.  Eliza Acton, Constance Spry, Jane Grigson and the Women's Institute were where most of us turned for guidance when faced with a hedgerow harvest or a glut on the allotment.  Often, these days, the first port of call is the internet. However, some good preserving books have hit the shelves over the past couple of years.  Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke is one of the best I've found.

Allotment harvest

Having an old tried and tested recipe for strawberry jam is a wonderful thing, but, in the pages of these more recent books lies inspiration for preserving the less obvious pickings.  These recipes are also more likely to retain the flavour of the prime ingredient at the forefront.  This may mean the preserve won't keep so long.  Times change and our tastes change too.  

Bergeron Apricot Jam
from England Preserves
Preserving is not all about jams.  However, as the fruit:sugar ratio of that preserve has excited so much debate recently, I will come off that particularly sticky fence and declare myself in favour of using less sugar.  I'm more interested in tasting the fruit than having jars of sweet unidentifiable spreads lining my larder.  My level of preserving is modest so I'm no expert and I'm always on the look-out to see who's doing it well.  It's a crowded market and I've tried and tested aplenty before settling on a personal favourite.

Sky Cracknell and Kai Knutsen began making jams in their home kitchen in 2001.  Selling initially on Farmers' Markets, their England Preserves are now stocked by an impressive list of food shops, cafes and restaurants.  Fruits are sourced as close to their Bermondsey base as possible.  At this time the focus of their attention is the apple, pear and quince harvest.  They take full advantage of the fantastic crops from Brogdale in Kent.  Fruit butters such as 'Salcott Pippin & Cinnamon' and 'Beurre de Beugny Pear butter with Vanilla' are favourites in our house right now.  We are also just coming to the end of our stock of Bergeron Apricot Jam.  The vibrant colour and stunning apricot taste of this jam convinced me I'd found my favourite preserve-maker.  Jams, fruit-butters and fruit-cheeses (Damson, first this season, and now Quince) are made in small batches, cooking the fruit gently to retain "flavour and colour" and using as little sugar as possible.  It's a sympathetic approach which I can relate to.  When my own fruit harvests are exhausted, England Preserves is my larder.

England Preserves
See website for list of stockists.
Also open Saturdays for direct retail sales from their production unit at:
Arch 4 Spa North
London SE16 4EJ