I just love mushrooms. I’m fascinated by their beauty and miraculous appearance not to mention their deliciousness. Nonetheless my passion for eating them and being haunted, as I am, by their potential to do serious harm, I have never been tempted to forage for them myself.
As autumn draws near, many others are looking forward to the thrill of the mushroom hunt, poking and peering into dark corners and shady recesses using their noses as well as their eyes to forage among the wet underwood in search of ceps, morels, chanterelles, shaggy ink cap (sounds poisonous from its name, but they are not) and common field mushrooms but there is still danger out there as someone recently said “All mushrooms are edible, but some you’ll eat only once”.
The only mushroom I would feel confident plucking from the ground, is the giant puffball. These are huge, white and loosely spherical with no stalk, reminiscent of overgrown marshmallows. Puffballs with their delicate flavour are perfect for soups, as they are easy to blend down nicely. They are a little like the pumpkins of the mushroom world, extremely profligate, with their spores, found in meadows and pastures often near hedges. When I walked my dog at Rushmore I would see them dotted all over the place; however, they were mostly covered in brown blemishes and should be avoided. When I first moved to Ludwell nearly sixteen years ago, my neighbour brought home a giant puffball, giving me a large slice the size of my hand. I cooked it slowly in a frying pan with butter and a little salt and served it on crunchy ciabatta toast. Recalling this delicious meal makes my mouth water and makes me want to get out there and find one of my own.
I have planted two Kentish cob trees in my garden which have been impregnated with truffle spores – summer truffle (Tuber aestivum), I presume, as it is the only truffle that grows in this country. According to the experts you need a trained animal to hunt for the hidden treasure. Fortunately, I know where I have planted mine and so won’t be buying a pig anytime soon. Fresh white truffle which is grown in north-western Italy, and is three times the cost of the more common black truffle from France, has flavour so intense that it is used very sparingly, shaved onto risotto or added to ravioli with cheese in minute amounts. There really is something truly seductive about truffles.
I plan to cultivate my own mushrooms this autumn. I learnt the simple method whilst on a course a few years ago. You need a supply of freshly cut hardwood logs and spore-impregnated dowels which you insert into the logs then leave them in a damp shady area for many months, then you ‘shock’ them by banging them very hard on the ground and, in a couple of weeks, out pop the mushrooms. Sounds straightforward. We will see, I shall be sure to update you via these pages. Happy hunting if you know what you are doing!
Mushroom, Spinach and Goats Cheese Lasagne
Approx. £8.95 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
This delicious lasagne will work with almost any mushroom you care to mention. Fresh ceps would be my first choice mixed with field or chestnut mushrooms, but use whatever is around. Dried mushrooms, shiitake for example, may be a little too strong for this dish.
800 ml Béchamel sauce, made with 750 ml milk and 175 ml cream
100 g Parmesan plus a little for sprinkling
½ tsp grated nutmeg
300 g spinach, washed, de-stalked, dunked in boiling water for 1 minute
2 cloves garlic, chopped
250 g goats cheese (mild, creamy) or use Ricotta
150 g shallots – finely diced
75 ml olive oil
500 g mushrooms – sliced
1 tbs fresh tarragon – chopped
Handful parsley – chopped
200 ml crème fraiche
Good glug Marsala or sherry
300 g fresh lasagne or 250 g dried and cooked (don’t use lasagne that claims you don’t need to pre-cook)
Preheat oven to 200°C / Gas mark 6 AGA top oven – middle shelf
1. Having made the béchamel, add the nutmeg, Parmesan and seasoning to taste. Whisk hard until smooth and put aside placing greaseproof paper on the top to avoid a skin forming.
2. Dunk the washed spinach leaves into boiling water for 30 seconds until wilted, refresh with cold water, dry and chop roughly, not too finely.
3. Add the goat’s cheese in lumps or teaspoons to the spinach, keeping it rough and loose, you want the cheese to be identifiable on the plate, so mix gently.
4. To make the mushroom mix, sauté the shallots and garlic in a large pan, using the olive oil. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat the mushrooms in the shallots and oil. Cook for around 10 minutes until the mushroom liquid has evaporated.
5. Add a glug of Marsala or sherry and cook hard until the liquid has been absorbed and breathe in the wonderful sweet aroma. Add the crème fraiche and stir well.
6. Now add the tarragon and parsley together with seasoning to taste (you can afford a good grinding of black pepper here).
7. To put the dish together, begin by spreading a little béchamel on the base of a rectangular dish.
8. Place a sheet of cooked lasagne on the top covering the base of the dish.
9. Spoon a thin layer of the spinach mix on the lasagne and add the mushrooms mix, building up all the components of the dish ending with a layer of béchamel. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan.
10. Cook for 45 minutes until golden. Serve with a crisp green salad.
A truly, truly scrumptious supper dish or for entertaining.
I have a dear friend of many years called Bhavna. Bhavna is a foodie of the Asian vegetarian variety and keeping her happy when out for a bite to eat, can be tricky. I would bet my entire cookery book collection on the fact that she will ask for the pepper mill at the same time as placing her order. Rarely does she get it, which probably says more about where we eat than anything else.
Bhavna’s fiftieth birthday party was an evening full of fantasy, colour and memorable aromas. We were greeted by fire dancers on the lawn and served champagne by masked men on stilts. There was a room set up like an Indian market where we could fill little tin boxes of fresh spices; ‘pick and mix’ style Indian sweets and many delicacies I have never seen before or since. Ladies, beautifully dressed in traditional costumes, draped the men with silk shawls and the women with colourful bangles. I didn’t think I had particularly fat wrists, but clearly I do, as I had to wear my bangles around my ears to join in the spirit of the evening. We had our palms (and any other bare flesh) painted with Hindu symbols of the sun, using Mehndi or Henna paste, mixed with turmeric. There was also a lady with snakes around her neck and arms – that was a little creepy so I kept well away. The meal was amazing and went on for what seemed like hours, course after course of large dishes of spicy or sweet vegetables and meat for us carnivores, salads, nuts and fruits. It was altogether a remarkable and delectable occasion. Another world.
Bhavna has been very unwell. She was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour last autumn and is enduring frequent visits to, and stays in, hospital. Eighteen months ago I saw a beautiful pepper mill in an antique shop in Honiton. It was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and slip into your handbag. I thought of Bhavna at the time so went back in November in the hope it was unsold. It was so I used my honed negotiation skills to see what they could do about the price and – mission accomplished – it was mine. Bhavna can now spice up her hospital food, and hopefully take it with her when we eat out and avoid her constant call for the pepper mill.
Of course, you can’t give someone a pepper mill without some pepper. I was sent a link to an amazing spice shop called ‘the spicery’ (www.thespicery.com) where you can order spices, blends and recipe kits in very small quantities. I ordered two of their gift-boxes (one for me and one for Bhavna) which consist of six 5g packs of very fresh pepper. Enclosed was Cuber Pepper;,Grains of Paradise, the weird looking Long Pepper, Sichuan Pepper, Kampot Pepper and Green Peppercorns. I have mixed three of them in my own pepper mill.
So, with Bhavna in mind, this month I give you the wonderful dish, Mejadra, from Arabia. All spices are available at Ludwell Stores, which has a good selection, so why not have a clear out of your spice cupboard (cumin dated April 2007 will taste of dust) and buy some fresh spices for 2014 and make yourself this warming, comfort food dish to serve as a supper on its own or as a side dish. Enjoy eating with friends and savouring time together. All the best for a happy, healthy 2014.
Mejadra – Spiced rice and lentils with crispy fried onions
Serves 6 as a main course
Approx. £4.80 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores
The crunch of nuts or seeds, sweet oiliness of the onion and perfect balance of the spices makes Mejadra a ‘master’ dish. It really is a star, and something I think would be great for a picnic in summer with finely sliced fennel and cucumber, dried cranberries and a dollop of natural yoghurt. My hero Ottolenghi describes this dish as the very ‘best comfort food’. I have to agree.
200 g basmati rice
4 brown onions, sliced thinly
250 g brown or green lentils
350 ml water
2 tsp cumin seeds
1½ tsp coriander seeds
1½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp ground allspice
1½ cinnamon stick
1 tsp sugar olive oil
75 g cashews (pine nuts or peanuts will do)
Handful of coriander leaves and natural yogurt for serving (see below)
1. Prepare your lentils by rinsing well first, then cook in a pan of boiling water for 12–15 minutes. They need to still have a ‘bite’ as you will be cooking them further with the rice mix.
2. Meanwhile, on high heat, in a large frying pan, brown off your sliced onions in olive oil in three or four separate batches. They must not sweat but rather fry until crispy. (Ottolenghi deep fries his with a coating of flour, but that uses a lot of oil). This can take 20 minutes and make your hair and clothes smell!
3. Wipe clean the frying pan then dry roast your cumin, coriander seeds and cinnamon. Remove from the heat when fragrant, then grind in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar (or bash them with a rolling pin).
4. Rinse your rice (to remove excess starch), then place in a pan on medium heat with your fresh ground spices, turmeric, allspice, sugar and cooked strained lentils. Add a generous glug of olive oil and stir.
5. Add the water, bring to the boil, place on a lid, then reduce to a simmer. Within 10 minutes, your rice should be ready. Allow to stand with the lid on for a further 10 minutes before seasoning to taste.
6. Fork half of the onions through the rice and lentil mix, then pile into a shallow dish and garnish with the remaining crispy onions and cashew nuts.
You can serve with coriander leaves, natural yogurt, cucumber and lemon wedges.
A truly, truly scrumptious and thrifty dish for a comforting winter evening.
“It never rains but it pours, well it certainly has over the last month, affecting major crops across the whole of the UK and Europe” ….and so started a worrying email about the state of the fresh seasonal vegetable supply to the UK. Compounding the problem, it seems more people are eating hot meals with winter type vegetables this summer, rather than salad (I’m guilty here). “Farmers are unable to harvest their crops dueto ground conditions with some crops under four inches of water”…and so it went on.
As part of my role, overseeing 15 million meals a year to a discerning group of older people in Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland, this is a real concern to me. It made depressing reading. “Broccoli and cauliflower crops are ruined – Germany is waterlogged with their swede harvest wiped out,” (who is eating swede now anyway?). Poor availability means costs are soaring and crops for the frozen market seriously depleted.
I imagine that vegetable gardens in the Donheads are no better. My runner beans haven’t emerged out of the ground – broad beans are looking healthy but no sign of any beans. I have a single courgette with potential, but soggy strawberries. My currants are healthy but lie flattened. Summer show entries? Not this year.
This time last year and many years previously, I spent my evenings harvesting vegetables, digging potatoes and stopping Lucy, my westie from stealing the lowhanging fruit from the trees and pulling up the cabbages from my tiny vegetable bed. She smelt my fresh carrots as soon as they emerged, and pulled them up by their feathery tops. Lucy would leave apples, pears, tomatoes, peas and beans half eaten, strewn all over the garden. She’d been known to pull a whole runner
bean wigwam over – all in search of something she knew was sweet, juicy and forbidden. I lost my rag with her on many an occasion as she proudly appeared in the kitchen, tail wagging with soil all over her head. Pea pods were one of her favourites.
And this brings me to this months’ recipe. Pea and mint risotto – eaten on it’s own it’s wonderful, or to accompany sausages, chicken – almost anything any time of the year. It is also a great store cupboard staple – especially if you have garden peas in the freezer, as every good household should in my opinion. (You certainly need them if you have a thieving terrier in the house). I knock this recipe up, with many variations when there is little in the fridge, or if I arrive home late and need some therapy… a soothing ‘stir’ by the stove, glass of wine in hand, reflecting on the day.
The best risottos are made with the best rice – Arborio has a fat grain and makes for a creamy risotto; Carnaroli, also excellent, holds its shape but is not so creamy. Cheese – parmesan is traditional but try hard goat or ewe’s cheese. Just experiment or use what you have. Stock cubes/powder is fine, vegetables and fresh herbs from your garden or frozen. Fortunately this year, you don’t need broccoli, cauliflower, swede or potatoes.
Lucy, dear girl, I miss you – RIP June 2012 aif
Pea and Mint Risotto
Serves 1 Approx. £0.85
This is ‘fast’ comfort food. Quantities and ingredients are approximate – this is not a precise recipe, however if you have not made a risotto before, there are very particular recipes available in many books and on the intranet. This will work if you follow the method and your taste buds, as it is as individual as you are, because itis for one. Add more of what you enjoy. This can also be made on the top of a barbecue; real fire in the woods or gas fire when camping. I’ve even made this in a microwave!
Small knob butter – preferably unsalted
Splash olive oil
1 small onion or equivalent – finely sliced and chopped
½ celery stick (optional) finely sliced
½ mug blanched fresh peas or frozen garden peas/petit pois
½ mug risotto rice of your choice – pearl barley or spelt even works
1 mug hot stock – vegetable or chicken is fine (you need double the volume of stock to rice – hence measured here in a mug.)
Big splash white wine (optional)
Lump (50g) hard cheese (parmesan/hard goats cheese or other well-flavoured hard cheese,) finely grated
Tsp chopped mint/tarragon/parsley/whatever you have (thyme/rosemary etc need to be treated differently)
Sprinkling toasted almond slivers (optional but adds a nice crunch and a little needed bitterness – alternatively try sunflower seeds)
1. Heat a small pan and melt the butter with the splash of olive oil.
2. Add the onion and celery if using, stirring gently to cook until soft – not brown, 5–6 minutes.
3. Add the rice of your choice and coat with the butter and onion mix, stirring over a medium heat for a minute or more.
4. Add the white wine if using and stir well until the rice mixture thickens.
5. If you are using a woody herb (thyme or rosemary, very finely chopped), add now.
6. Chill (that’s you!) Stirring constantly but slowly, add generous splashes of the hot stock until all the stock has all been absorbed, or you feel it is of the right consistency and nice and creamy. This may take 20–25 minutes.
7. Whilst still quite wet, add the soft herbs of your choice (mint / tarragon / parsley) plus peas (if using frozen, it’s best to have run them under water or through a sieve to rid them of any ice first) and stir well until it bubbles again.
8. Add two thirds of your grated cheese, black pepper and taste.
9. Serve in a bowl, sprinkled with the remaining cheese and sprinkle with toasted almonds.
A truly, truly scrumptious dish.
“Do you remember when…?” is one of those questions that can evoke nostalgic memories of events gone by. Although they need not be that distant a memory to make them worth delighting in again. One such event for me and hopefully my guests, was that of the Royal Wedding. Not having taken much notice of what seemed to be gripping the rest of the country in the preceding weeks, I awoke to its ‘momentousness’ and found myself inviting friends for brunch in front of the telly, giving myself very little domestic notice. Between the invite three days before the wedding I had to travel to North Wales, arriving back home very late and literally a matter of hours before my guests. The supermarket shelves were bare, however racking my brain for culinary ideas as I bombed down the M5, I remembered my freezer contained some smoked fish, the fridge, lots of eggs and the cupboard, as always stocked with essentials like rice and spices. I was going to take a risk and offer my guests a right royal, British brunch, if ever there was one. Kedgeree was to be the highlight of my celebratory menu.
Kedgeree is traditional and British, and at it’s height in the 19th Century when it was a staple of the Raj breakfast table. I have looked through my (over three hundred) cookery books and no one recipe is the same. Many use a rice and lentil mix, add peas or sultana’s; cinnamon sticks; nuts or turmeric, probably for its luminous colour rather than its flavour.
I chose kedgeree as a main course at Marco Pierre White’s restaurant, The Yew Tree last year, which was served quite wet. It resembled a creamy risotto, bit like porridge, with soft poached quails eggs cushioned in the rice. It was fabulous and I have tried hard to recreate it, without success. ‘Wet kedgeree’ is a dish of its own according to The Guardian’s ‘word of mouth’ blog and fairly close to what I propose here in it’s consistency, with the adding of a flavourful creamy curry sauce.
There’s no need to wait for another Royal occasion to make this, quoting Siri Owen from The Rice Book, ‘…it’s good for invalids or those with hangovers”. This recipe will certainly wake the palate and soothe the stomach. If serving for lunch or supper it’s great with a simple tomato salad. We can buy fish now from Buttlings, fresh in on Thursdays, or order fresh trout from Ludwell Stores. It is a great dish as a standby, just keep some smoked fish in the freezer for those surprise guests or empty fridge moments, as it’s quick to make and very satisfying. It freezes well too without the hard-boiled eggs as they turn to rubber.
After eggs Benedict and my specially named King’s Kedgeree, our Royal Wedding brunch finished with Scotch pancakes hot from the AGA plate with berries and maple syrup and we toasted the happy couple with Buck’s Fizz. A day and a brunch, fit for future Kings and Queens and now part of my ‘Do you remember when….’ moments, never to forget. aif
King’s Kedgeree - for breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper
£7.50 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell.
Serves 4 - adjust quantities to taste with more or less fish and or spices.
500g Smoked haddock or cod (if using smoked trout, ease up on the spices)
25 fl oz (generous pint) milk and water mix with a single bay leaf 1 tbsp sunflower/rapeseed oil
2 small onions, skinned and finely sliced (not chopped)
1 tsp medium strength curry powder
250 g long grain or basmati rice
3 hardboiled eggs or 4 fresh eggs for poaching
large handful of chopped parsley
Creamy Curry Sauce (mild) with a nod to Gary Rhodes
1 large onion; finely chopped with 2 crushed garlic cloves
1 tbsp Madras curry powder
300 ml chicken or vegetable stock
300 ml double cream
150 ml coconut milk (optional)
Squeeze of lime juice and seasoning
1. Remove the skin from the fish and feel the fish carefully with your fingertips, removing all bones. Cut into large chunks.
2. Put the fish into a saucepan with the milk, water and bay leaf, and heat gently until it just starts to simmer. Take the pan off the heat, cover and leave to cool.
3. When cool, strain the liquid into a jug and transfer the fish to a bowl.
4. Heat the oil and butter together in a wide based saucepan and add the finely sliced onions, cooking for several minutes until they are soft and transparent looking,
5. Stir in the curry powder and cook for a further two minutes.
6. Stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes more, keeping the mix moving, until the rice is coated with the curried oil and butter mix.
7. Pour in the strained fish liquid. (You will need a full pint if using 250g of rice - it’s always double the volume of liquid to rice if measuring in a cup) and stir to mix.
8. Cook the rice slowly and covered, until the liquid has been absorbed. (DO NOT STIR or it will go sticky) If using Basmati rice, once it has simmered for four-five minutes, take it off the heat and stand, covered for twenty minutes, and fluff up. Meanwhile make the creamy curry sauce.
9. Cook the onion and garlic in the butter without colouring for 5-6 minutes.
10. Add the curry powder and cook for a further 6-8 minutes stirring occasionally.
11. Add the stock and simmer fast, reducing the volume by half.
12. Add the cream and return to simmer, cooking for 10-15 minutes longer.
13. Add the coconut milk if using, and bring back to a simmer.
14. Add the lime-juice and season to taste. Sieve for a smooth sauce.
15. Fold the fish and the warm sauce into the rice, (careful not to break the chunks of fish up too much). Add the parsley and hard-boiled eggs if using and adjust to taste.
16. Top with fresh, soft poached eggs, one per serving, if preferred to boiled.
Truly scrumptious at any time of day - please join me by starting a kedgeree resurgence in the Donheads
With yet another rush to the head last summer, I offered to cook a celebration lunch for eight, as a ‘promise’ in aid of the Donhead St Mary fête. When the (very generous) winning bidder cashed this promise in, I was tasked with designing a simple three course menu that was special enough for a ‘Girlies' Celebration Lunch’, light enough for those who still had the school run to do, and most importantly, didn’t have me slaving over a hot stove for too many days beforehand. I believe I achieved the first two of these, although I was somewhat misguided about the latter.
‘Simple food’ is probably the sort I agonise over most. It is easier to have a disaster with a simple dish. That last little adjustment; too much fussing and tweaking and the invincible recipe that defies failure, but they still happen. I was determined none of my dishes would fit this description.
I arrived, reeking of organisation and cool confidence to find no one home. Heaven’s, it was today, wasn’t it? I let myself in and joined the dogs in the kitchen. To my great relief the hostess arrived from town, laden with flowers and wine. All was going to be fine as long as we could get rid of the dogs, which I caught eyeing up my creations.
The meal started with roasted figs, stuffed with a local cheese - Win Green from Cranborne Chase Cheese - deserved winner of the Gold award for British cheese 2009, available in Ludwell Stores. These were wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with balsamic vinegar before roasting for 8-10 minutes. I made some flowerpot bread with poppy seeds to mop up the warm juices, sliced, and then served back in their pots. Very rustic. Still trying to think ‘simple’ you notice. All okay so far.
To follow, they had poached chicken breasts with pistachio and parsley mousse on braised pearl barley with leeks, tarragon and lemon butter. Topped with sweet potato crisps (shaved length ways and deep fried) - they were bright orange - fantastic. Served together with a warm green bean salad. This was followed by an assortment of puddings, Orange Bavarois with rose petal shortbread; Fruit tarts with crème anglaise and Chocolate, hazelnut and cinnamon meringues with warm ‘Venezuelan Black’ 100% Cacao chocolate sauce, (from Willie’s Chocolate Factory recipe book).
The star of the meal was the ‘low-brow, truly simple peasant food’ - the braised pearl barley. It has real substance with fresh and deeply satisfying flavours. So here it is. If you choose to make this with hulled barley, whilst more nutritious, it may be a little chewy and will take longer to cook. I would stick with the pearled barley myself. Incidentally, there were no disasters although I broke my own rule about keeping it simple. Would you have noticed? Okay, …maybe. aif
Braised Pearl Barley with Leeks, Lemon and Tarragon (after Gary Rhodes) Serves 3-4 as an accompaniment / 2-3 as a main course Around £0.60p per portion, when all ingredients purchased at Ludwell Stores.
1 large onion, finely chopped
175 g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
900ml vegetable or chicken stock (Try Marigold stocks if not homemade)
1 leek, sliced finely
100g pearl barley – (best to give it a quick rinse)
1 teaspoon fresh chopped tarragon (try thyme or dill if preferred)
1-2 lemons; juice of…..(one is enough if large)
Glug of Marsala or sherry (optional, but adds a wonderful sweetness)
1. Cook the onion, without colouring but just softened, in 50g of butter.
2. Bring 600ml of your stock to the boil and add the leeks, cooking for 30 seconds only. Strain the leeks reserving both the stock and the leeks.
3. Add the rinsed pearl barley to the onions and cook gently for 2-3 minutes, stirring to coat the grains.
4. If using, add a glug of Marsala or sherry, and let it bubble, stirring for a further minute. (Breathing deeply to enjoy the vapours).
5. Add the hot stock that you cooked the leeks in. Cover the pot and simmer, stirring often, until the barley becomes tender and creamy – approx 30 – 40 minutes. (Up to 60 minutes if using hulled not pearled barley – this will be chewier but still good).
6. If, at this stage there is excess stock in your pan, pour this off into your remaining stock, of which you will have about 300mls.
7. Mix the remaining butter with the lemon juice and tarragon. (At this stage you can cool the barley mix and refrigerate everything, ready to finish before you serve)
8. To finish the barley, add a knob of your tarragon and lemon butter with all the leeks, and warm through, stirring vigorously to ‘froth-up’ a little.
9. Re-boil your remaining stock, reducing it by a third, then gradually whisk in knobs of the lemon and tarragon butter, until you have a smooth sauce consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Watch for salt content if you have used commercial stock cubes/powder).
10. Spoon the barley into the centre of warmed plates and pour the sauce around, before topping with roasted squash or mixed vegetables, grilled chicken or fish or a couple of Buttling’s award winning pork sausages, or simply enjoy as it is.
Once you have mixed the flavoured butter with the barley, it is not so great reheated, however if you must, just keep whisking it to stop the butter turning to oil, which would be horrid.
A truly, truly scrumptious, deeply satisfying dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.