There are three ‘triffid’ type plants growing in my vegetable bed this month, taller than me and certainly wider. A plant I had discounted as a crop, has taken me by surprise. I am growing three very tall, wide and beautiful angelica plants. The flower heads are enormous and the hollow stems as thick as a mature tree branch.
Perhaps angelica is best known as ‘crystallised candy’, but its seeds are also one of the principal flavouring agents in vermouth, Chartreuse and gin, and thought to be the ‘secret ingredient’ in certain Rhine wines. The leaves can be used as a salad leaf or a substitute for parsley – or so I was led to believe, however I don’t recommend them – horrid, horrid, horrid! They can however be used to flavour fish, poultry, cooked fruits, soups or stews. Its stems, cut and prepared like asparagus, can be chopped and stewed with rhubarb and apples, or crystallised to serve as decoration on cakes and deserts, which is no doubt the angelica form most of us will be familiar with.
Ever an explorer of new things to prepare and eat, I felt I should explore how to prepare crystallised angelica. You are required to cut your stems into strips, soak them for eight hours, boil them with baking soda, drain then remove the stringy bits, cook in a syrup then soak in the syrup for 24 hours, dry, cook, soak, dry, cook, soak, dry and then, after four or five days of this repetitive process, roll in caster sugar and leave until completely dry and glossy. Now, that is what I call a palaver, but I intend to try it!
One thing that could never be called a palaver, is the 4 Villages Spring Fête, which we have successfully held at the Remembrance Field for another year. I write this the day after this great event. Still exhausted with feet throbbing, I realised I needed to feed two happy helpers at lunchtime today, who had volunteered to move car boot loads of stone to line my pond and to dig a few holes. I raided the freezer and came up with a rather delicious tart, that I give you this month. We enjoyed the tart with Buttlings sausages and partridges cooked on the BBQ (strange what you find in the freezer). We enjoyed this eclectic mix of food with a leaf salad, beer won on the bottle stall and rhubarb cake from the cake stall – an impromptu, welcome and tasty lunch eaten in the drizzle. Summer is here. Enjoy what it brings.
Spinach and Cheese Tart
Approx. £5.50 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
Ingredients 1 tbs oil
1 large red onion
400g fresh spinach (substitute part with purple sprouting, chard etc)
500g ready made all-butter shortcrust pastry
2 large free range/organic eggs, beaten plus extra for brushing
400g cheese – a mix is good – I used parmesan, cheddar and Kings Favourite – feta would be good here too
2 tbs fresh herbs, thyme, rosemary, tarragon or dill
Seasoning lots of black pepper, but ease up on the salt depending on your cheese choices.
Preheat the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6. (AGA roasting oven, bottom shelf with cooling shelf above)
1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onion for 5 minutes until soft and translucent.
2. Add the spinach leaves or chard, if using, and cook until wilted, and set aside.
3. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a floured surface and use to line a greased and floured 20cm loose bottomed round tin, leaving a generous 3–4 cm hanging over the edge.
4. Transfer the spinach and onions to a bowl and fold together with the grated or crumbled cheese, the herbs, seasoning and the beaten eggs.
5. Spoon into the pastry case and fold the excess pastry in towards the centre – this gives it a rustic look yet you still see the spinach and cheese in the centre.
6. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 30–35 minutes until golden and set.
7. Serve warm with salad and new potatoes, or chill, wrap in foil and pop into a lunch box.
A truly, truly scrumptious lunch, picnic or lunch box treat
I’m sitting on a train heading to London, in cattle class, but at least at a table, back to the engine and in the aisle seat, which I believe is the best position to travel. I can’t understand those who need to see where they are going when not in the driving seat – I like to know where I have been and avoid all those jerky eye movements to focus on those nearby things whizzing by. Neither do I like the claustrophobia of a window seat just in case I am unfortunate enough to find myself penned in by someone who is ‘malodorous’.
Opposite me by the window is an older lady who is eating a home-made ham sandwich. With my head down reading, the smell of it hits me first before looking up to watch her unwrap it from its tight aluminium foil packaging. The bread looks okay although meticulously machine sliced, and the ham is in thick chunks, as far from machine sliced as you could get. No mustard that I can see or smell. She must be 180. Her ham sandwich reminds me of my great-uncle Ifor who lived next to Lake Vyrnwy in deepest Wales. I recall, when very young on our only visit to his home for tea, he served us thick ham sandwiches. They were easily made with equal quantities of hot English mustard to ham. My sister and I swallowed politely with our noses running and eyes smarting. This was our introduction to the colourful but harmless looking substance for which a health warning should be issued. I haven’t touched it since.
The eating habits of the very British elderly travelling from who-knows-where are quite different from commuters travelling from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, which is the next leg of my journey. Four passengers (I’m on my fourth train of the day) to my left are eating an array of hot spicy somethings, one of which looks like Leon’s Thai chicken curry (I know this to be excellent), and is filling the carriage with wonderful aromas. A young man in view behind the party of four is eating sushi from the popular food bar, Wasabi. He has an array of little dipping pots, presumably of soy-sauce, chilli or wasabi paste.
Main train stations now offer fantastic fresh, fast food options. I had spent a good ten minutes in Wasabi looking at the delicately wrapped parcels of sticky rice, salmon, avocado, crab and much more, turned into their wonderful sashimi, nigiri, maki and yakitori sets. Tanmen or soumen are rice noodles soups with crisp vegetables, pak choi, bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage, mangetout, red chillies etc., in a delicious clear hot broth. The aromas of the soups and curries were intoxicating and left me lingering and being annoyingly indecisive about what to take away for my supper. I was overwhelmed, so boarded my train empty handed thanks to my dithering. All these wonderful choices – yet not a ham sandwich to be seen.
Mustard, horseradish and wasabi all have the same pungent and volatile properties that require goggles, breathing masks and fire retardant gloves to prepare. I already have a horseradish plant in the garden so I bought a wasabi plant to grow alongside. Wasabi is also known as Japanese horseradish and grows wild along stream-beds in the mountain valleys of Japan. Whilst still in its pot, the rabbits ate all the leaves which is surprising as the leaves are said to have the same spicy flavour of the roots, which when grated is similar to hot mustard. I’ve clearly not had the chance to try it, but apparently it’s great for the nasal passages, so good on you Mr Peter Rabbit.
Do try this month’s recipe or grate some of the horseradish root into a bloody Mary – it’s not as lethal as it sounds.
Roast beetroot and smoked mackerel salad with horseradish dressing Serves 4
Approx. £9.50 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores (This works equally well with rare beef slices or cold shredded smoked chicken rather than mackerel)
500g small beetroots
4–6 garlic cloves, unpeeled but bashed
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Sea salt / freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs rapeseed or olive oil
For the dressing
100ml crème fraiche
100ml thick yoghurt
squeeze of lemon juice
1 tbs fresh grated horseradish (Ludwell stores sells it ready grated in jars) – or substitute wasabi paste
2 tbs finely chopped chives, plus a little more to finish
To serve (for a more substantial salad, add cold new potatoes)
4 smoked mackerel fillets / rare beef or shredded chicken
Chicory / crisp lettuce
Preheat the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6 (AGA roasting oven, middle shelf)
1. Scrub the beetroots well, but leave them whole, then place on a large piece of foil.
2. Scatter with the garlic, thyme leaves, bay leaf and some salt and pepper, then trickle over the oil. Scrunch up the foil to make a baggy but tightly sealed parcel.
3. Place parcel on a baking tray and place in the oven.
4. Roast until tender – about 45 minutes for small ones, though this may take longer. The beetroots are cooked when a knife slips easily into the flesh.
5. Leave to cool, then top and tail them and remove the skin. Cut into wedges and place in a large bowl with the new potatoes if using.
6. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients and season to taste.
7. Turn the beetroots over gently into the dressing.
8. Divide the beetroots between four plates piling on top of the chicory or lettuce. Flake the mackerel / beef strips or chicken over the top.
9. Scatter on some more chives, season to taste and serve with lemon wedges.
A truly, truly scrumptious and dramatic looking salad for late summer entertaining
Our third guest contributor is Alyson Peacock, known to many as past Ludwell School governor, keen gardener and one of the stalwart team who got Ludwell Orchard project off the ground. Alyson has lived in the village with her family for over 25 years and believes in the 'You are what you eat' philosophy, so enjoys a mostly vegetarian diet, hence her scrummy recipes below. (Nonetheless, I know Alyson can weaken at roast chicken and crispy bacon....much like the rest of us!) aif
When I agreed to contribute to these pages some time ago now, I thought it would be easy. I could just regurgitate a favourite recipe (what an unfortunate image for a cookery page!) …tell you all how delicious it is and urge you to make it.
Now here I am looking at a blank white page and I find it’s not that simple. I’m not permitted to duplicate recipes from well known chefs and these are the starting points for many of us – these, or our mother’s tried and trusted recipes which come from so far in the past they can no longer be attributed to a published cook.
I find I have quite productive and successful periods in the kitchen that last for several weeks, then there are fallow periods when I simply can’t even remember what I have cooked before and feel bereft of inspiration. That’s how I’m feeling now about this article so I thought why not let the whiteness of the page be my starting point? I searched through my kitchen notebooks to find a few ways I’ve cooked white vegetables over the years; celeriac, parsnips and the humble potato. All are perfect accompaniments to roasts this Christmas.
The celeriac recipe is a meal in itself and is delicious with crusty bread and a green salad, especially peppery watercress salad. If necessary it can be cooked several hours before serving and is easily reheated. The crusted parsnip cakes recipe is a Swedish idea originally intended for potatoes but I think they are much tastier made with parsnips. They can be served as a vegetarian dish with a little crème fraîche or sour cream, or as an accompaniment to other dishes. The spicy fried potatoes are great with curries of course but equally good accompanying sausages, other meats and vegetarian burgers.
If you would like to be a guest contributor to Truly Scrumptious, please let us know firstname.lastname@example.org.
Celeriac and Walnut Gratin
1 Celeriac – large
2 tbs Walnut oil (or olive oil)
300 ml Vegetable stock Walnuts – chopped (generous handful)
100 g Stilton or Bleu d’Auvergne cheese
Salt and Black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C / gas 5.
1. Slice the bottom of the celeriac to stabilize it and peel off its skin with a sharp knife. Quarter it and then slice very thinly.
2. Toss the slices in the walnut oil and season.
3. Place in a gratin dish and cover with stock.
4. Cook for 40–45 minutes or until celeriac is tender.
5. Remove from the oven and scatter over the crumbled cheese and walnuts and then return to the oven for a further 15 minutes until crisp and golden.
Hazelnut Crusted Parsnip (or Potato) Cakes
4 Large parsnips, chopped into large chunks
½ tsp Turmeric
110 g Hazelnuts coarsely ground (cashews, almonds or pistachios are fine)
60 g Fine breadcrumbs – wholemeal
1½ tsp Cumin seeds
Salt and Cooking oil
1. Boil or steam the parsnips. Drain them well and leave to cool.
2. Mash well and add salt to taste and turmeric.
3. Toss the nuts with the breadcrumbs, cumin seeds and ½ tsp of salt.
4. Scoop up handfuls of the parsnip mixture; press into the nut mixture to coat both sides, at the same time flattening them into thin patties.
5. Heat oil in a skillet and fry the cakes over a medium heat until they are browned and crusty. Potatoes with Sesame Seeds
2 kg Potatoes – firm or waxy
6 tbs Vegetable oil
2 tsp Cumin seeds
2 tsp Black mustard seeds – whole
2 tbl Sesame seeds
1. Boil the potatoes in their skins. Drain and cool. Cut into 2 cm dice.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over a medium heat. When oil is very hot put in all the seeds.
3. When the mustard seeds start to pop add the potatoes and seasoning and fry until some of their surfaces are golden and crispy.
All Truly scrumptious at any time of the year
Many thanks Alyson
“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
‘Toast’, the story of a boy’s hunger, by Nigel Slater has to be one of the most endearing, nostalgic and moving books ever written about a boy’s experience of ‘everything edible’ in the 1960’s. Nigel’s book is divided into no less than 69 chapters, each focusing on a food horror or delight. Fairy drops, peach melba, grilled grapefruit, butterscotch Angel Delight, Cadbury’s Smash, sherbert fountains, pickled walnuts, tinned ham and so on.
Incredibly descriptive memories, some that prick the eye, make you shudder or laugh out loud. An excellent read, but an even better audio-book narrated by Nigel himseIf. I listen to this whilst travelling. Driving up and down the motorway or on those monotonous train journeys when the only food experiences that come my way are buffet trolley sandwiches and Ginsters pork-pies.
I was therefore rather disappointed with Lee Hall’s adaptation of the book for the BBC, broadcast over Christmas. Although a brilliant cast, specifically Helena Bonham Carter as Joan, (the voluptuous cleaner and soon to become step mother to Nigel, with such a passion for baking and ‘feeding’ people, that it eventually killed his father,) but this just didn’t hit the mark for me. I did not feel we got the same musings on food, its texture, feel, taste and smell as you do in the vivid writings of Nigel Slater. And what makes me anxious is that you may hold back from reading the book, thinking that that’s all it offers. I urge you to read it, or download the audio-book. Listen out for the Walnut Whip episodes and the moment of ‘being found out’ in the lay-by and that cringing embarrasment he relays, in front of his father.
Priceless. I have a number of Nigel Slater’s recipe books and his musings are as evocative in his recipe books as his autobiography. I turn to his writing for inspiration for this months recipe. A tart packed with flavour for lunch, supper, starter or nibble for a February party seems just the thing. It’s that time of year when the long hours of darkness can seem very bleak in terms of fruit and vegetables. So I look to the beautiful, deep purple rings of the red onion, mingled with crisp pastry, thyme and melting cheese; Gold Hill from Cranborne Chase (this is pricey but worth every penny in this dish), Taleggio, or any semi-soft cheese. A sharp goat’s cheese also works well against the sweetness of the onions.
Whilst this recipe calls for puff pastry (bought, naturally - you would have to be out of your mind to want to make your own), there is no reason why a homemade shortcrust in a tart case shouldn’t be perfect if you want a tidier, crispier base or more formal tart. You could also use these ingredients and method to make a red onion tarte-tatin by sealing the cooked onions (cut in half only, sliced side down) and sealing them in when cool with thick puff pastry and baking until golden; before carefully turning upside down on a platter and slicing in wedges. Great with a roast or cold meats or a meal on it’s own. aif
Red onion; thyme and Gold Hill cheese tart.
Serves 4 as a light lunch / supper or 6-8 as a starter
£8.00 when all ingredients purchased at Ludwell Stores.
(These quantities can easily be increased - e.g. when using a 500g pack of pastry)
6 Red (or white) small to medium onions, approx 800g in weight.
60g Butter - a thick slice will suffice
1tsp Soft light brown sugar
1tbls balsamic vinegar
375g Puff pastry - ready rolled is fine but rather thin
1 Gold Hill cheese - or 100g equivalent semi-soft or goat’s cheese
1 tbls Chopped fresh thyme or rosemary Ground black pepper
1. Peel the onions and cut them in half from stem to root, then into thick segments
2. Melt the butter in a large, shallow heavy based pan and add the onions
3. Cook over a low heat (they must not fry or brown in any way) until translucent and sticky. Give them time, pointless to hurry as this is a slow, gentle process, approx 30 minutes depending on the wateriness of the onions
4. Add the sugar, black pepper and balsamic vinegar, stirring frequently until all the liquid evaporates. Put aside to cool slightly. Preheat oven to 220°C / Gas mark 7 / AGA grid shelf on the lowest set of runners of the top oven.
5. Roll out your pastry on a lightly floured cold surface to no thicker than a 50p piece. At this point you can sprinkle some thyme or rosemary onto the pastry and give a last gentle roll, so the herb is embedded into the pastry (great tip for short crust too, home or ready made). Transfer to a large floured baking sheet.
6. Using a blunt knife, score a border of about 2 cm in from each edge and prick all over with a fork. Chill the pastry at this stage, until you are fifteen or so minutes away from eating.
7. Tip the onions onto the pastry, pushing them almost to the scored edge.
8. Brush the rim with some of the buttery juice or a little oil.
9. Slice the cheese, then break into small pieces and tuck them in amongst the onions. Scatter over the remaining thyme or rosemary
10. Bake until the pastry is golden and puffed up and the cheese and onion begins to brown - Keep an eye on this, may only take 15 - 20 minutes
Serve with a pile of wilted spinach or steamed curly kale, splashed with fresh lemon juice and sprinkled with roasted pine nuts. Alternatively serve with a mixed salad and jugs of cold cider in the summer.
Alternatives for toppings: use leeks rather than onions; mushrooms; tomato and basil; pancetta and parmessan or add some shredded chard to the onion mix at the last moment. A truly, truly scrumptious dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.