Flavoured salts – part two

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[Updated]

In the first part of this series on flavoured salt mixes, I explained a little about the types of salts available, where they come from, how they’re harvested, what gives tinted salts their colours and how to select salts for different uses. So, if you missed that post I do encourage you to read it first before continuing here as it gives the full background and a much better understanding. You can access flavoured salt mixes part one here.

In this second part I’ve included a couple of absolute classics – Italian and French herbs. However, the Italian mix does include the optional addition of adding dried tomato paste. This kicks the mix up a couple of notches if you can be bothered to try drying tomato paste – I recommend you do try. It’s also a great way of elongating the shelf life of an opened can, tube or jar of tomato paste as it can just be sprinkled into foods while cooking.

On a slightly madder theme I’ve included a “recipe” that involved DRIED MARMITE! Yes, I actually spent one afternoon inventing the perfect dried Marmite. I wanted to include that ultimate umami taste in a salt mix, but of course I couldn’t include it in its normal gooey state. This is an AWESOME mix – I use on tons of things. You’d never know that it is entirely vegetarian! It’s particularly great to give an intense BBQ flavour to vegetarian foods and it brings out an incredible flavour on chicken and steak in particular. There is a BBQ mix on the part one post, which is entirely lovely, but this one knocks your socks off.

Almost equally mad, but not because of an individual ingredient, rather the whole mix is the English Summer Sweet mix. Sweet and salt is not a new flavour combination, but it’s still rather unusual in this form and takes some getting used to. This is a beautiful looking mix, full of pinks, blues and yellows. The trick is to use it for taste but not waste it’s good looks buried inside a dish. It is lovely in a short pastry tart, sprinkled over the top of a pavlova or meringue kisses before they go in the oven or in an ice cream. It also goes nicely sprinkled on the top of a pasta ripiena/pasta in brodo dish or on tapas or similar.

Do you have any salt mixes that you have created yourself, or is there any that you think you’d like to see? Perhaps you use sme pre-made ones, such as those from the Cornish Salt Co, but are itching to have a go at creating your own. Please let me know in the comments below 💙

Notes

  • Anything you add to a salt needs to be dry – very dry! Although that comes with a caveat – in my English Summer Sweet mix below I’ve found that both calendula petals and lavender flowers are perfectly fine putting into a salt mix fresh – the only other thing I’ve found so far that will work fresh is chopped up rosemary leaves. Everything else needs to be dried. Either start with pre-dried herbs or dry out your own ingredients in your oven or de-humidifier. I’ve given the timings and temps for ingredients I use where I can
  • Buy a high quality base salt for these, as cheaper salts do tend to have added extra ingredients (mostly to enable the salt to stay free flowing) and are more processed, thus taking out or negating any beneficial additional minerals
  • I’ve given ingredients and ratios for a typical flavoured salt, but if you’re aiming to use a lot less salt in your cooking then don’t add quite so much as I’ve given
  • Think what you’ll use the flavoured salt for – most typically these will be as a last garnish to a dish. For most of these it will be best to buy a rock or crystal salt, but if you’re using the flavouring within the early stages of a recipe there’s less need for an expensive crystal salt as it will dissolve
  • You can store these in anything that will keep moisture out, such as a click lock plastic tub but they do look really gorgeous in tiny Kilner jars. However, if you’re leaving a salt out on the dining table as a pinch pot, then it really doesn’t matter what you store it in (an old cleaned out jam jar for instance), just present it in a nice little bowl on your table

Equipment

For each ‘recipe’ you’ll need measuring spoons or a digital scale, a small bowl and a sterilised jam jar or Kilner jar. Most will need a pestle and mortar and some other ‘recipes’ need an extra item which will be explained in each method.

Sterilising glass jars

Put pre-washed clean glass jars in the oven at about 130˚C for 20 minutes or put them through a dishwasher cycle on your hottest setting

Be careful handling the hot jars out when done

NB:  don’t put any rubber seal in the oven; it’ll just melt. Wash these in hand-hot water and leave to dry on a kitchen towel or clean tea towel

Drying the herbs

Dried herbs are easy to get hold of and it’s likely that a keen cook will have most of these in their cupboard already. For the unusual herbs that you’ve grown yourself, it’s best to let herbs dry naturally in a sunny, dry spot (I hang mine in my little green house or my kitchen window). However, you can dry them out in your oven enough for these salt mixes. Place a single layer of the herbs you need on a baking tray: that is, don’t overlap them and it doesn’t matter if there are different types of herbs in one go. Bake on the lowest setting for an hour and test to see how dry the herbs are – herbs will dry out at different rates. Leave any in for another hour that have not dried yet. Crush in a pestle and mortar or a quick whizz in a blender (both before adding to the salt).

Tip: if any herbs are proving difficult to crush, add a little of the rock salt or salt crystals to the pestle and mortar. The salt acts as an additional surface to tear the herbs more effectively. Don’t tip all the salt in though, or you will pound this to a fine dust along with the herbs, and you want to keep the integrity of the salt (otherwise you may as well use fine table salt).

“Recipes” – all are vegetarian

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Italian herbs

Ingredients are:

  • Rock salt or crystal sea salt – 2 tablespoons
  • oregano – 1 teaspoon
  • rosemary – 1 teaspoon
  • fennel or fennel seeds – 1/4 teaspoon
  • basil – 1 teaspoon
  • thyme – 1 teaspoon
  • lemon balm – 1/2 teaspoon
  • black pepper (freshly ground) – several turns of the grinder to taste
  • dried tomato puree – 1 teaspoon (optional but well worth the effort)

Method: Smooth two tablespoons of tomato puree as thinly as possible on a sheet of greaseproof paper and place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven at 70C for 1 hour. If after this time there are still some ‘rubbery’ bits of tomato puree then put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes and try again. The tomato puree with crisp up and go almost black. When fully baked, leave to cool and then crush or chop finely.

When the herbs and the tomato puree are dried, mix them with the salt and place in your container.

Some uses: in bread baking, for savoury pastry, pasta dishes, risotto and its also a nice addition to most meats and casserole-style meals.

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Umami / intense BBQ

Notes: There is a BBQ salt recipe on the part one post, but though that is good, this one is awesome, highly unusual and includes my unique mad-kitchen-scientist dried Marmite powder. It tastes very meaty and rich, but it’s entirely vegetarian (and as such I throw it copiously on any appropriate veggie meals I make).

Ingredients are:

  • smoked sea salt – 2 tablespoons
  • vegetable bouillon – 1 teaspoon
  • garlic granules – 1 teaspoon
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon
  • smoked paprika – 1 teaspoon
  • soft brown sugar – 1 teaspoon
  • parsley – 1 teaspoon
  • dried Marmite – 1 teaspoon
  • smokey chipotle powder (optional) – 1 teaspoon

Method: spread two tablespoons of Marmite on to a sheet of baking paper and then place on a tray in the oven. Bake at 70ºC fan / 90ºC conventional for about 25 minutes. It will puff up and it’ll really smell (fine if you love Marmite!) – don’t panic: it’s fine! Leave to cool then crumble (with dry fingers) before mixing with the other herbs and spices and the stock cube in a pestle and mortar.

NB: With this salt mix it is better to have finer salt particles that match the other particles of the mix ingredients. I ground the smoked salt with a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have smoked salt, you may as well use normal table salt here, then you don’t have to grind or crush anyway.

Some uses: great as a dry rub, or with a little oil as a wet rub. Also lovely in a chilli, in jambalaya etc, for other Cajun dishes (especially those with prawns) or to brush over meats (mixed into oil) for the barbecue. Just on almost anything savoury and great for livening up vegetarian dishes… this is my total favourite salt mix.

Also – this one is fabulous when mixed in with cornmeal or polenta (ration about 10:1) and used as a crispy coating on chicken or for wedges!

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French herbs

Ingredients are:

  • Sea salt flakes/crystals or sel gris – 1 tablespoon
  • tarragon – 1/2 teaspoon
  • rosemary – 1 teaspoon
  • parsley – 1 teaspoon
  • thyme – 1 teaspoon
  • bay – 1/2 teaspoon
  • chives – 1 teaspoon

Method: Chop a dried bay leaf into tiny pieces (it won’t crush with a pestle and mortar well). The other dried herbs need crushing together (take the leaves off the woody stalks of the rosemary and thyme first) before adding to the salt. If you need to dry your herbs quickly see the note above.

Some uses: use in place of bouquet garni or Herbes de Provence. Also useful for fish, lamb and beef (especially steak) dishes.

English summer salt mix recipe e- Lynn Clark / Inksugarspice

English Summer Sweet

Notes: I’ve purposely kept the salt low in ratio as compared to the other ingredients, because of the uses of this mix. Dried borage flowers and rose petals are easily obtained from a Turkish or Middle-Eastern supermarket or online, if you don’t grow them yourself (they are also more tricky to dry successfully in an oven than other herbal ingredients – if you have a dehydrator this would not be an issue. If you don’t have much luck drying these yourself as they’re so tricky, do buy pre-dried).

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan pink salt, fine sea salt flakes or a good quality table salt – 1 teaspoon
  • calendula petals (edible marigolds) (need not be dried first – see method) – 1 teaspoon
  • dried rose petals – 1 teaspoon
  • dried borage flowers – 1 teaspoon
  • lemon zest (need not be dried fully first – see method) – 1 teaspoon
  • lavender flowers (need not be dried first – see method) – 1/2 teaspoon

Method: the calendula petals and lavender flowers do not need to be dried in an oven, as they are dried by the salt in the pot. The lemon zest can be dried in a 50C oven for 30 minutes at least or just leave it overnight between two sheets of kitchen paper which you have weighed down with a book or other weight. The rose petals and borage flowers need to be oven dried as per the lemon zest (or bought pre-dried) as they are more delicate and are prone to either making the other ingredients wet or looking very dishevelled if you don’t dry them first. Mix all lightly together so as not to crush the delicate ingredients before potting up.

NB:  This is another salt where it is better to have finer salt particles (the hit of crunching into a large piece of salt would be too overpowering in a sweet mix). I actually have a salt grinder with Himalayan salt in, so I just ground the right amount. Also you can use a pestle and mortar. Alternatively, use normal free-running table salt here.

Some uses: sparingly in things like ice cream or meringue. Sprinkle a little on fruit or desserts or use in sweet pastry baking, such as tart cases or shortbreads. Gives a twist to savoury dishes nd particularly good with pasta and fish or sprinkled over salads or tapas for a pretty finish.


You are welcome to use these recipes for your home cooking (that’s why I write these things up online so others can try!)


However, please do not recreate them as a recipe anywhere or pass them off as your own (specially relevant for commercial use eg chefs, cooks, Home Eds, food stylists, restaurants etc). If you show them anywhere on social media you must credit me @inksugarspice.


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Flavoured salts – part one

salts2-2[updated]

It’s all the food fashion at the moment it seems to have a pot of two of flavoured sea salt, with salt companies clambering over each other to bring them out. Take a look past the hype and you’ll see that salt mixes are exceptionally useful in the kitchen and can even be used to bring down your salt intake a little.

I’ve been concocting my own for a while now, mostly fuelled by the vast number of different herbs I grow in my garden. (I have to explain that I’ve not got a big garden: most herbs are in single, small pots as they don’t need much space and I’ve done this cheaply by saving seeds, taking cuttings, swapping herbs with friends and buying the occasional herb plant or seed packet. Herbs are for my money the easiest group of plants to grow and you need next to no space to grow four or five of your favourites).

Salt mixes can be costly when bought pre-made but it’s exceptionally easy and much cheaper to make your own. You can use the herbs in your garden, herbs bought from the greengrocer or the dried herbs and spices you already have in your kitchen.

I have a second post planned with some of my more ‘mad’ mixes, seasonal flavours and a couple of absolute classic combinations but you can easily go on to experiment with your own.

Notes

  • Anything you add to a salt needs to be dry – very dry! Either start with pre-dried herbs or dry out your own ingredients in your oven or de-humidifier. I’ve given the timings and temps for ingredients I use where I can
  • Use your own fresh herbs and dry them (timings in the ‘recipes’) or substitute for pre-dried herbs: it doesn’t matter
  • Buy a high quality base salt for these, as cheaper salts do tend to have added extra ingredients (mostly to enable the salt to stay free flowing) and are more processed, thus taking out or negating any beneficial additional minerals
  • I’ve given ingredients and ratios for a typical flavoured salt, but if you’re aiming to use a lot less salt in your cooking then don’t add quite so much as I’ve given
  • Think what you’ll use the flavoured salt for – most typically these will be as a last garnish to a dish. For most of these it will be best to buy a rock or crystal salt, but if you’re using the flavouring within the early stages of a recipe there’s less need for an expensive crystal salt as it will dissolve
  • You can store these in anything that will keep moisture out, such as a click lock plastic tub but they do look really gorgeous in tiny Kilner jars. However, if you’re leaving a salt out on the dining table as a pinch pot, then it really doesn’t matter what you store it in (an old cleaned out jam jar for instance), just present it in a nice little bowl on your table
  • These are the ratios I’ve come to like in my salt mixes, but if you really love a particular ingredient I’ve included (or hate it) adjust to your preference

Salt – a sprinkling

There are 20-30 types of salt in the world, but it’s difficult (or impossible) to get hold of most of these, depending where you live some will be easier than others. Also, realistically, you can live with using just table salt, however if you have a couple of extra types of salt it will provide a few more options. If you want to make your own flavoured salts or use them for different purposes then four to five salts are a good arsenal to have in your kitchen.

All salt is sodium chloride (NaCl). Salt in anything other than small quantities is known to be bad for health. But use it sensibly and it can be included in a healthy person’s diet (anyone with high blood pressure or similar conditions will have been given advice on salt intake by their GP). Food can be entirely bland and disagreeable without it and it serves as a natural preserving agent. By making flavoured salts myself I believe I use a little less overall in my food as I am effectively making a dry stock – adding flavour that’s not all just salt. I don’t think it’s much of a saving, but even a little helps.

Cutting down on salt?

All salts are salty… you’ll be thinking I’m mad writing that here but there’s a preconception that some are much better for us than others as they’re more about the minerals than the salt. Don’t be fooled. Some do have added minerals but that doesn’t change the salt itself: the minerals are ‘extra’ not ‘instead of’. If you want to watch your salt intake further, then do look out for lo salt. It’s a medium-grain table salt but can easily be swapped into all the recipes below if you’re concerned (though of course you’ll lose the texture and some flavourings like the smoked salt). I believe it’s about 1/3 the sodium level of normal salts as it replaces some sodium chloride with potassium chloride and anti-caking agent. Personally I just try to use a little less salt and use other flavourings instead (hence the birth of all my salt mixes).

There are basically only two types of salt – sea and rock. All the myriad variants of salt from the stuff in the plastic salt cellar in the chip shop to Fleur-de-sel to Hawaiian red salt come from either of these two sources. I have added table salt as it’s such a difference kettle of fish because of its addition of other ingredients and its use.

Sea salt

Sea salt comes in various crystalline forms (from small flakes to fascinating pyramidal structures), but it’s all salt harvested from sea water. However all sea salt is not created equally (though in my opinion I don’t think there’s much taste or use differentiation, but I have not yet tried Fleur-de-sel). Most sea salts will be refined to get rid of impurities and ‘nasties’ from the sea water, with companies usually now harvesting direct from the sea and processing in a shore-line plant or an underground plant (see this from the US Salt Assoc.).

See this clip from the Cornish Sea Salt Company on YouTube:

However, the eye-wateringly expensive Fleur-de-sel is a little different. Sea water is driven off into a basin-shaped area and allowed to evaporate. The fluffy crust (the ‘flower of salt’) that forms is scraped off by hand and packaged without refinement. This only produces a small amount at each salt gather (so hand gathering + small amounts = the high price). Fleur-de-sel is not just collected in France, but in other countries too such as Portugal and Southern Russia. Due to its natural state it’s unlikely to be pure white.

After the Fleur-de-sel is taken away, the rest of the water is allowed to evaporate and larger sea salt crystals are formed, this is gros sel, which again is not refined but is more easily harvested and in larger quantities so is about 1/10th the price of Fleur-de-sel. Salt of this kind which has a lot of additional minerals to make it darker in colour is sel gris – grey salt.

Other sea salts have minerals or colours added, such as the red Hawaiian Alaea salt, which is sea salt plus red volcanic (edible) iron oxide-rich clay.

I have (or have used) sea salts from Maldon, the Cornish Sea Salt Company, Halen Môn from Anglesey (I like to keep it British, as you can tell, as far as possible), and interlopers: Falk (Swedish) and the cheaper Tidman’s (which actually is now owned by Maldon but is less expensive for pretty much the same thing – go figure?!) and the budget brand Saxa.

Rock salt

Rock salt is mined halite, a form of sodium chloride – it’s a very different salt to sea salt. Salt deposits that have naturally occurred (mostly but not always from ancient dried up seabeds and salt water lakes) are mined like other aggregates and broken up into usable granules or ground, then purified and recrystallised when necessary. Depending on where the salt is found geographically it will have taken on some minerals and ‘impurities’ from the surrounding area, although the term impurities could actually mean beneficial minerals. Rock salt is refined to remove harmful impurities to make it fit for human consumption, although there are some very pure sources. See this short article from erocksalt.com explaining the extraction and purification: http://www.erocksalt.com/where-rock-salt-come-from/

This is a You Tube video by Colin Morris on the Winsford Salt Mine (Cheshire, North West England):

Rock salt includes unusual salts with differing colours such as pink Himalayan salt, tinted pink from the microorganisms that once lived in the sea water in what is now known as the Punjab (note: not actually the Himalayas! That’s just a marketing ploy, apparently) it also includes chromium, iron, zinc, lead, and copper before refinement.

Kala Namek (often labelled as Indian Black Salt) is the ‘proper’ Himalayan salt as it actually does come from that region in India and Nepal. It is a dark purple to a black colour, and goes purplish-pink when ground. It’s supposed to be a bit smelly as the colour is due to sulfates. I have not tried this salt, but I’ve read that it is used not only in cooking but also Ayurvedic medicine and is considered more akin to a medicinal herb than a spice or condiment. (I’m including kala namek to show the range of colours and properties that can be seen in different rock salt due to the chemicals found in the salt, not because I have used it).

Coloured and single flavour salts

Black sea salt crystals - Ink Sugar Spice

Black (carbon) salt is sea salt which is processed with additional carbon (all edible). It’s no different to other salts but is really for show. I have some myself and I love using it though you do get black fingers after sprinkling it (it does just rinse off). My salt is from Falk, a Swedish company, and I use it on deserts to give a bit of an impact and to top finished foods, like the top of breads, quiches, in salads etc. It’s wasted ‘in’ foods – it just dissolves and the colour dissipates. Relatively expensive, but I only use a minimal amount and of course salt doesn’t degrade (when kept dry) so you can have a pot that lasts for years. It’s basically following the trend for carbonised, black foods but it is a little fun – I like to sprinkle it on as the final flourish on a bright dish for some contrast: it’s basically all about the visual impact rather than any taste difference.

Smoked Sea Salt - Ink Sugar Spice

Smoked salts: it doesn’t sound like smoking salt should be a ‘thing’ but it’s dry smoked so it honestly does work. My smoked salt is from Maldon, the Essex-based company, and it’s got a distinctive, lovely smell and flavour which does carry over in to the food. Great for the smokier salt mixes and I always use this in chilli con carne etc and when barbecuing. It’s lasts a while, though I do go through it more quickly than the black salt (it has more applications) and is a little most costly than normal sea salt flakes, but I think it’s worth keeping on hand.

Table salt

A free-running salt with very small granules. Usually exceptionally cheap and made from sea salt. Table salt comes with an anti-caking agent and sometimes even iodine added to ensure it stays free running, so check the pack and buy a reputable brand – even with a brand name it shouldn’t cost much more. Useful for adding to bread dough (as it’s so fine), adding to simmering water for pasta and veg etc (because of its cheapness) – and for putting round the garden to discourage slugs!! I keep a large packet of Italian table salt, from Amato, as I mostly use this in my bread making and baking, and I’m sure you know I do a lot of that…

Equipment

For each ‘recipe’ you’ll need measuring spoons or a digital scale, a small bowl and a sterilised jam jar or Kilner jar. Most will need a pestle and mortar and some other ‘recipes’ need an extra item which will be explained in each method.

Sterilising glass jars

Put pre-washed clean glass jars in the oven at about 130˚C for 20 minutes or put them through a dishwasher cycle on your hottest setting

Be careful handling the hot jars out when done

NB:  don’t put any rubber seal in the oven; it’ll just melt. Wash these in hand-hot water and leave to dry on a kitchen towel or clean tea towel

Drying fresh herbs method

My method is to bake the herbs on a layer of greaseproof paper in a 50°C oven (or your lowest setting) for 40 minutes, then crush.

“Recipes” – all are vegetarian

Mermaid salt mix recipe on Ink Sugar Spice

Mermaid mix

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan pink salt or Cornish sea salt – 1 tablespoon
  • Seaweed mix‡ – 1 tablespoon
  • Black or multi colour pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • Dried borage flowers – 1 teaspoon (don’t pack tightly and pick the bluest ones)
  • Dried rose petals – 1 teaspoon (don’t pack tightly)

‡ either a pre-packed seaweed mix or use a mix of dulse, nori, wakame, kelp and/or sea spaghetti (whatever you can find).
I have the Sea Salad mix from the Cornish Seaweed company

Method: the dried seaweed does need to be in small particles to match the salt. If you’ve bought each seaweed separately or the packet mix is large pieces, break up the seaweed in a pestle and mortar, or put it in a plastic food bag and roll a rolling pin over it to break it up. The dried borage and rose petals may need chopping up slightly.

Some uses: in Chinese and Japanese inspired recipes, fish dishes, shellfish dishes, fish pie, great on homemade crisps.

Fiery chilli salt mix recipe - Ink Sugar Spice

Fiery chilli (hot, hot, hot!!)

Ingredients are:

  • Himalayan (keeps the pink/red colour of the mix) or normal white rock salt – 1 tablespoon
  • dried birds eye chilli – 2 chillies
  • paprika – ¼ teaspoon
  • chilli flakes – ½ teaspoon
  • chilli powder – ¼ teaspoon
  • cayenne – ¼ teaspoon
  • black pepper (freshly ground) – ¼ teaspoon
  • onion granules – ¼ teaspoon
  • garlic granules – ¼ teaspoon

Method: pound the dried birds eye chillies in a pestle and mortar before combining with the rest of the ingredients.

Some uses: curries, chilli con carne and other Mexican dishes, paella, mixed with some oil it makes a great rub for barbecue or roast meats and is excellent on wedges or chips.

Mushroom salt mix on Ink Sugar Spice

Mushroom

Ingredients are:

  • Rock salt – 1 tablespoon
  • dried porcini mushrooms – 4g
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon

Method: the dried porcini mushrooms need to be either whizzed in a blender or crushed in a pestle and mortar. If using a pestle and mortar, put the rock salt in with the mushrooms as it gives extra grip and makes it easier. Do not rehydrate them (keep them dry). Once the porcini are crushed into a powder/small pieces you can mix them in with the salt and the garlic and onion granules.

Some uses: for risotto, for added oomph to vegetarian dishes or meat casseroles, good with chicken and pork.

Asian style salt mix on Ink Sugar Spice

Asian-style mix

Ingredients are:

  • Black sea salt – 1 dessert spoon (10ml)
  • black onion seeds – ½ teaspoon
  • seaweed mix – 1 ½ teaspoons
  • Szechuan peppercorns – ¼ teaspoon
  • Chinese five spice – ¼ teaspoon

Method: crush the Szechuan peppercorns in a pestle and mortar, including the seaweed at the end if it needs crushing smaller. Mix altogether.

Some uses: Thai, Chinese and Japanese style recipes where you want a little kick (Szechuan peppercorns are quite something!!) or add to a dark soy sauce as an Asian-style marinade for tofu, fish, chicken or pork.

Lynn's Season All herb and salt mix recipe on Ink Sugar Spice

Lynn’s Season-all

Ingredients are:

  • Fine sea salt flakes – 1 tablespoon
  • garlic granules – 1 teaspoon
  • onion granules – 1 teaspoon
  • fresh ground black pepper – ½ teaspoon
  • vegetable bouillon powder – 1 teaspoon (or use a low sodium a vegetable stock cube)
  • dried orange zest  – ½ teaspoon
  • dried parsley (see note above about drying fresh herbs – ½ teaspoon

Method: Zest an orange (or more) and follow the drying method for herbs above. Combine with the rest of the ingredients once the zest is cooled.

Some uses: basically this is a pumped-up vegetable stock cube! Use wherever you would normally use a stock cube but don’t want to add two. Also this is great when mixed with flour or breadcrumbs as a batter or breadcrumb coating for vegetables and meats.

herbsAndSpices

“Mothers ruin” chutney

chutney2_2018Tapping fingernails on the table and looking wistfully through the window: I wondered what can I do with all those stubbornly-still-green tomatoes left on the vine in the greenhouse (or in the greengrocer’s) at this time of year?

They’re plump, juicy with a shiny skin but are just totally colour-change refuseniks. No matter how sunny your windowsill they just won’t budge their coloration now. You could fry them off or add to casseroles, but they’re a little too tart to eat like a fully scarlet tomato so I’ve turned my glut of green goodies into a gin-soaked unctuous and fruity chutney. Hence the mothers ruin title, and the gin does make it a rather delish yet not-so-ordinary relish.

So, here’s praise to autumn and the excuse for bottling and preserving all of nature’s generosity and a hearty Cheers! to green tomatoes. And that toast is not something you hear everyday when applying a dollop of chutney to a cracker!

Notes

  • You need to prep the fruits the day before and leave to soak overnight
  • Makes four full sized jam jars (typically these are between 330mml – 390ml)
  • I’ve stopped wanting to make huge volumes of chutneys, pickles, jellies and jams as I don’t sell them on. I think three to four jars of something is enough for us. This is one to open now, a couple to keep me going and one to give away. But then I don’t have an allotment so I’ve not got kilos and kilos of produce to use up, just a greenhouse and a few planters’ worth. This recipe does multiply up easily, so if you have that enormous allotment glut of tomatoes (and an outlet for the many jars you’ll produce) then do double, triple (or more) the quantities
  • You can use red tomatoes for this recipe, no problem at all
  • You can use any gin – but a fruity one is most suitable. I’ve used Brockman’s which has a considerable taste of blackberry to it

Sterilising glass jars

Put pre-washed clean glass jars in the oven at about 130˚C for 20 minutes or put them through a dishwasher cycle on your hottest setting

Be careful handling the hot jars out when done

NB:  don’t put any rubber seal in the oven; it’ll just melt. Wash these in hand-hot water and leave to dry on a kitchen towel or clean tea towel

greenTomatoes

Equipment

  • Large, heavy bottomed saucepan or pickling pan
  • Large wooden spoon
  • Knife, cutting board
  • Small bowl
  • Cling film or plastic bag
  • Four clean, sterilised jam jars (see notes above)
  • Shallow, large container or dish

Ingredients

  • Green tomatoes – 600 – 630g
  • Fine salt – 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon
  • Red onion, large – 1
  • Celery – 1 stick
  • Sultanas or golden raisins – 100g
  • Dates, chopped – 70g
  • Sharp eating apples, 2 (such as Granny Smith or use 1 x cooking apple)
  • Brown sugar – 150g
  • Ground ginger – 1 teaspoon
  • Allspice – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Chilli flakes – 1 teaspoon
  • Black onion seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Cider vinegar – 225ml
  • Gin – about 60ml

ISS_painted

Method

  1. Douse the sultanas and dates with the gin in a small bowl the day before making the chutney. Cover with cling film and leave to soak up the gin overnight
  2. Wash and chop the tomatoes, place them in a shallow container and scatter over the tablespoon of salt and mix in lightly. Leave to one side for at least an hour
  3. After an hour or so, rinse the tomatoes of the salt and pat dry in a clean tea towel
  4. Chop all the ingredients into little cubes/pieces (or use a food processor if you have one but chop the ingredients in batches or you’ll process them too finely).
  5. Do not throw away any gin that was not soaked up by the fruit – you can pour this straight into the large saucepan for the next stage while you chop the ingredients
  6. Put everything in the large saucepan, give it a good stir and bring to a boil
  7. Boil for a couple of minutes and strain off any scum
  8. Turn down to a simmer and let it simmer away for 90 minutes, stirring and checking on it regularly (though you don’t need to stand guard for the whole 90 minutes, please don’t leave it for more than a few minutes at a time as it will catch on the bottom of the pan)
  9. It should reduce to a moist but not soggy chutney. If the ingredient pieces are too big for your liking, you can use a stick blender to chop them further, but do use this by pulsing it rather than having it on constantly or you’ll have a pulpy preserve, rather than one with nice chunks of fruit and veggies in
  10. While still hot, carefully decant into the pre-sterilised jars
  11. Leave until fully cold

chutneycloseup

 

Lean pasta sauce – Salsa magro

This is my adaptation of a tomato-based sauce by Pellegrino Artusi to account for my more modern palate and cooking methods. The original appears in the 1891 “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene” (Kitchen science and the art of eating well).

It’s described as ‘magro’ which means lean/skinny, but I’m making the assumption that ‘lean’ applied to the low number of fairly cheap ingredients, meaning it was more for ‘lean days’ rather than lean as in ‘diet’ or low in fat. His original use of 70g of butter may make you question the number of calories, but that divided between the five servings he suggests really isn’t that bad. It could also mean that it was a thin sauce, but as it’s served with spaghetti (not as a brodo/broth for pasta ripiena/filled pasta) I doubt that’s the case as it needs to have some body to it.

I’ve adapted it to use the more heart-healthy olive oil amongst other tweaks. I have also included the original recipe (translated) as a comparison and which you may want to try as it is a good recipe.

You may think it odd that an older pasta sauce recipe uses butter and not olive oil, but it’s not because olive oil is now everywhere, it’s because of the variety of climate in Italy and many northern regions traditionally using butter. The terrain and climate of the north favours dairy farming and not the growth of olive trees. Artusi himself came from Emilia-Romagna, a region known globally for Parmigiano Reggiano made from cows’ milk – the same milk which is used for the region’s butter. So, Artusi grew up in a region that favoured dairy farming and the production of butter.

Personally, I like both butter and olive oil (and other oils like rapeseed), but I do have a preference for their use in certain situations. Where I can I will go for the heart-healthy olive oil, but sometimes butter is needed, or indeed lard or dripping (though I use these very rarely and normally just in pastry). Olive oils I have begun to choose selectively by their quality and taste: that is, I’m not using extra virgin only because ‘it’s the best so I just buy that’ but I’ll select a light oil for a dessert recipe, a deeply fruity oil when I need the taste to come through, a classic for ‘everyday’ cooking etc. I appreciate this sounds like a lot of money to have a variety, but actually it is cheaper in the long run. Because milder, later pressing oils are significantly less expensive I use those when I can and save the posher, more expensive oils for when the time’s right and a little will do (rather than using up the expensive stuff on frying for example).

Notes on my tweaked version

  • Serves 4 with pasta (a more typical serving size than 5)
  • Also useful as a sauce for fish or chicken – will serve 6-8 in this case (add in capers for fish and sage or rosemary for chicken)
  • Also great as a perfect tomato sauce for pizza
  • This is an easy sauce; easy but fairly time consuming. It requires time to bring out the flavours. I’ve changed the tomatoes to pre-packaged passata which has cut the time down dramatically though
  • It’s a nice sauce to have simmering away while you prepare something else, perhaps making for tomorrow alongside tonight’s meal (once cool keep it in the fridge)
  • Alternatively, you can freeze it – I find freezing sauces easier and more convenient in ice cube trays. Once frozen you can pop out the cubes of sauce into a freezer bag so you can re-use the ice cube tray. It also means you can select the right amount easily and cubes defrost quicker than a large block, or you can just pop one frozen cube in a plain sauce to enrich it
  • Omit the anchovies to make it vegetarian/vegan

 

Note about ribbon pasta suggested in recipe and appropriateness

To be fair, there’s little reason for anyone who is home cooking to worry much about which pasta goes with which sauce unless you’re really interested and a) want to be authentic and b) want to learn about regionality. There is some basic guidance about which shapes work better with what, such as cupped shapes are good for chunky veg or spaghetti gets nicely covered in oily sauces (for example). Aside from that, it’s better to not worry about which pasta and just make the food, rather than worry about it so much it puts you off making the meal. Chill… use what you’ve got (penne, linguine, fettucine nests – though it won’t work with tiny shapes). And, if you do want to know, this may help:

Spaghetti is suggested by Artusi. Of course this is readily available, used throughout the whole of Italy and quick to cook. If you want to choose another ribbon shape or want to make your own instead (wider ribbons are easier to make by hand) I’ve suggested tagliatelle or trofie as close regional alternatives.

As mentioned above, the butter in the recipe (and Artusi’s homeland) suggest the recipe could have come from Emilia-Romagna and at least is a northern Italian dish. Tagliatelle is common to the same region (and also Marche, another northern area), which would link in with this assumption too and make it a reasonable choice.

Other ribbon pasta can be substituted, such as fettucine which is practically the same and you’d only know the difference if they were side-by-side or you were so familiar with either (or both of them) you’d ‘just know‘. Tagliatelle is typically a smidge wider and less likely to be found dried: northern region pasta is usually made fresh and eaten as the climate isn’t as amenable to drying, so any dried tagliatelle is a factory ‘construct’ and should properly be labeled fettucine. Fettucine is the Roman/central Italian version which also may be made and eaten fresh, but is much more likely to be the ribbon pasta found in dried nests.

Trofie are the little elongated and tapered short strand pasta shapes that are made by hand and then ridged, either with a knife or scraper or with the side of the palm to create sauce-trapping ridges. Trofie originate from Liguria, another northern Italian region. So, not Emilia-Romagna itself but the two regions share a long border, therefore trofie are a reasonably appropriate substitute if you want to make a hand-made artisan shape for this sauce.

NB although I’ve given appropriate region-based ideas for pasta shapes I have to tell you I’ve served this lovely sauce with all sorts of shapes (I really like it with orecchiette) and have included it in lasagne and on pizzas. It’s a great way to make up a tomato-glut from your garden in late summer instead of straight tomato passata or sauce. Just use enough tomatoes to equal 1 kg of passata.

Ingredients for my tweaked version of salsa magro

  • Dried spaghetti or fresh pasta (suggest a ribbon or strand shape such as tagliatelle or trofie – see above)  – 400g
  • Passata – 2 X 500g bottles
  • Chestnut or button mushrooms – 80g
  • Olive oil, extra virgin or gusto fruttato  – 140ml
  • Olive oil, mild and light – 2 tablespoons
  • Pine nuts – 60g
  • Anchovies 4 to 6, depending on how much you like anchovies
  • Two shallots, finely diced or one small red onion
  • Red wine vinegar – 1 1/2 tablespoons
  • Corn flour – 1 teaspoon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Parmesan rind, chopped
  • Fresh basil and thyme

Method

  1. First toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over a low heat until they start to go a golden brown (careful they don’t burn as they change colour quickly)
  2. Crush the pine nuts with a pinch of salt and the teaspoon of cornflour in a pestle and mortar or use a blender
  3. Gently fry the chopped shallots in the mild and light olive over a medium heat until they are just about to start going translucent – this will be about 10 minutes. Agitate or stir occasionally
  4. Dice up the anchovies and add them to the shallots and keep frying until the anchovies start to melt. Again, you’ll need to stir or agitate from time to time
  5. Now add in the tomatoes, the parmesan rind, the mushrooms, the fruity olive oil and season with salt and pepper and the large pinch of sugar
  6. Let simmer until the juice starts to dry off, stirring occasionally, and then add 120 ml of just boiled water
  7. Leave to simmer for 30 minutes, checking on it regularly to ensure it’s not catching on the bottom. If it’s drying out too quickly add a little more water
  8. You should know when it’s done when all the tomatoes have fully dissolved and the sauce is as thick as (lumpy) custard
  9. Add in the chopped herbs and taste, adjusting the seasoning to your taste
  10. Can be served immediately with pasta or gnocchi or it’s also nice to use as a sauce over chicken or fish (add a few capers or cornichons with the anchovies) or even for a vegetable bake or lasagna. Store in the fridge if not using immediately or freeze (see notes above)

Pellegrino Artusi’s original recipe – serves 5 (apologies for my translation – I’m a rusty reader but enough for most recipes, I can listen a little into conversations, but I’m appalling at speaking Italian myself)

  • Spaghetti – 500g
  • Mushrooms – 100g
  • Butter 70g
  • Pine nuts – 60g
  • Anchovies – 6
  • Tomatoes – 6 or 7 (large plum tomatoes)
  • Onion, finely diced – a 1/4 of a large onion
  • Plain flour – 1 teaspoon

Place half of the butter in a saucepan and sauté the pine nuts. Remove the nuts [once lightly browned with a slotted spoon to reserve the butter], dry and crush them with a pestle and mortar with the teaspoon of flour. Finely chop the onion and place this in the saucepan, when this is frying rapidly, add the chopped tomatoes, season with pepper and a little salt. When the tomatoes are cooked through, pass them through a mouli or sieve. Put this sauce back on the heat with the mushrooms and a little water, plus the rest of the butter. Boil for 30 minutes, adding water to keep the sauce liquid. Finally, melt the anchovies in the sauce [at a simmer]. Cook the spaghetti and dress with the sauce. Add parmesan if you want it richer.

Cider and olive oil crackers

crackers.jpgThere are plenty of crackers on the supermarket shelves to choose from. Go further afield to your local deli and there’ll be packs of posh versions with arty designs and hipster names. But have you ever made your own? They’re incredibly easy, and in an additional stroke of luck, the more ‘rustic’ the shape the more artisan they look.

You know me by now that I normally can’t help twiddling with and artifying my food (whether I need to or not).  Sooo not needed with these: the less bothered you are about how you roll them out, the nicer they are. #Result

I know it seems odd putting cider into crackers, but bear with me. You just get that little apple tang which makes a real difference. I originally thought they’d taste a lot more cider-like, so, during my first try of recipe development, I used a 50:50 cider and water mix. I was disappointed with the weak taste, so went straight in with all-cider with the next bakes. I’m not 100% sure this is true but I have suspicions that the fizziness of the cider actually made them slightly crisper as well as tastier as compared to the first batch. (I wonder if this is akin to the trick of using fizzy mineral water in batter?). I may be deluding myself but it’s difficult in a home kitchen to ensure you can get a perfect comparison.

So, you need a ‘decent’ cider. By that I mean something strong, but please not scrumpy-level and steer clear of flat. It’s not a waste of a good drink – by the time you’ve taken out what you need from a bottle there’s still enough for a glass for the chef. Cheers 🍻

I used my favourite cider, which is Aspall’s Premier Cru, but I also tried one version of the recipe with a fruited cider which came out well, but I suggest that if you do go that route, that the crackers really just suit being pared with cheese or as a bread replacement in a ploughman’s lunch. The plain cider versions go great with cheeses and dips of almost any kind. Try my roasted pesto butternut squash dip with them.

Notes

These crackers won’t fit on less than three baking trays, so if you’ve got a large oven, great, but if not you’ll need to bake them in batches. If you use the same baking tray for each batch, the baking tray will still be warm from the first batch so reduce the cooking time by 1 minute for subsequent batches. This is because the crackers will start cooking as soon as they are laid on the hot sheet as they are so thin.

I made this recipe and the roasted pesto butternut squash dip recipe together, so they are a lovely pairing, although either recipe works on its own.

Notes

Makes 16, made to about 25 cm (about 8 inches) long and about 4 cm (3 1/2 inches) at the widest part.

About 20 minutes preparation and 9-10 minutes cooking time per batch (you may get all done at once if you have a big oven: I did mine in two batches)

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Measuring jug
  • Rolling pin
  • Large baking tray, lined with greaseproof paper or baking parchment
  • Pastry brush

Ingredients

  • Plain flour – 225g
  • Cider – 105 ml (please note that your may need a little more if your flour has a high protein content)
  • Olive oil – 2 tablespoons (you don’t actually need Extra Virgin for this, though you can use it. My preference is to use something more moderate in taste and lighter in colour like the Classic or the Organic Olive Oils that Filippo Berio makes
  • Salt, fine – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Mustard powder – 1/4 teaspoon
  • Smoked paprika – 3/4 teaspoon
  • Onion granules – 1/4 teaspoon
  • Black pepper – several turns of a pepper mill

 

  • Additional rock salt or crystal salt for sprinkling – about 1 teaspoon
  • Additional olive oil for drizzling

Method

  1. Turn your oven on to 210 ºC / 230 ºC conventional
  2. Weight out the flour, fine salt, mustard powder, smoked paprika, onion ganules and black pepper into a bowl
  3. Gently pour in the cider (if you tip it in it will really fizz) and start to bring the dough together with your fingers or a table knife
  4. Once the dough is starting to form, add the olive oil and bring the dough together with your fingers and the heel of your hand, picking up all the flour from the bowl as you go
  5. Tip out onto a clean surface and knead until the dough has come together in a ball, which should only take a minute or so. Don’t over knead
  6. Prepare your baking trays by lining with greaseproof paper or baking parchment and brush a little olive oil over the paper
  7. Cut the dough into 16 equal sized pieces (the easiest way to do this is by cutting it like pizza slices)
  8. Lightly flour your work surface and roll each piece of dough out lengthways. No need to turn the dough or roll it from side to side, as you want to produce a long, lanky cracker
  9. Each rolled out strip should be as thin as possible – around 2mm thick and be around 25 cm long
  10. Place each strip on the prepared baking sheet as you make it and roll out the rest of the strips
  11. Brush a little more olive oil over each strip of dough and sprinkle over the rock salt
  12. Bake each batch in the oven for 7 minutes, take out and flip crackers over on to their other sides, then bake for 2 minutes more
  13. Leave to cool, and they can be stored in an airtight container for about a week

Olive-oil-crackers-2

 

Pesto and roasted butternut squash dip

raostingButternutSquash.jpgThis delicious, easy-to-make dip is rather more than meets the eye. Although it’s amazing with crudites, bread sticks or crackers –  such as the cider and olive oil cracker recipe I created to go with it – as you’d expect, it can be transformed in to a lot more besides.

The dip can also be used as a pasta filling such as for ravioli, as the basis for a pumpkin risotto, and alternative to tomato sauce on a pizza base and, when thinned with a vegetable stock, turned into an amazing veggie soup (or go carnivore by adding chicken stock instead).

Notes

In the instructions I’ve detailed preparing the squash by cutting it into eight wedges lengthways, having first de-seeded it, and layering these skin side down in a dish (as in the image above). You can also roast the squash by taking the skin off first, then cutting it into large chunks.

10 minutes to prepare, 40 minutes (hands off) cooking time.

This recipe has been kindly featured on the Filippo Berio recipe page.

Equipment

  • A large roasting tin or casserole
  • A blender, food processor or stick blender (or a mooli/potato ricer)
  • Large sharp and heavy knife for the squash

Ingredients

  • One butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and diced into large chunks * see notes above about whether to roast with skin on or not
  • Red (tomato) pesto – 3 tablespoons
  • Olive oil: a good quality olive oil but not extra virgin – 3 tablespoons
  • Rock salt – two tablespoons (or fine salt 1 ½ teaspoons)
  • Garlic cloves, peeled – 4 – 6  (depending on how much you like garlic)
  • Paprika – 1 teaspoon
  • Dried chilli flakes – 1 tablespoon
  • Water – around 70ml (you may need to add a touch more if the butternut squash was particularly large)
  • Additional extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Method

  1. Turn your oven on to 170 ºC / 190 ºC conventional
  2. Use 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to coat the bottom of your roasting dish
  3. Prepare the squash by halving, removing all the seeds and chopping each half lengthways into four so you have eight wedges in total (see the top image). There is an alternative method for taking the skin off first, whish is outlined in the notes above
  4. Place the squash on the oiled roasting dish and coat with the pesto
  5. Crush the peeled garlic cloves slightly and scatter over the squash, together with the salt, paprika and chilli flakes and finally drizzle over the rest of the olive oil
  6. Bake for 40 minutes or until the squash is soft and yeilds all the way through when you press it with a fork
  7. If you did leave the skin on the squash, remove it now and discard
  8. Place the roasted squash, all the spices, the roasted garlic and all the oil left in the bottom of the roasting dish into your blender or food processer
  9. Add the additional water and whizz until smooth
  10. (If you are using a stick blender you will need to transfer the ingredients into another taller container before adding the water and blending. Alternatively, pass it all through a potato ricer or mooli, then combine the water by mixing it in)
  11. Leave to cool and then serve in a bowl, drizzling the top with extra virgin olive oil and scattering over a few toasted pine nuts if desired

dip4

Unctuous plum chutney

chutneyFullNot sure about you, but I love a good chutney. I can quite easily leave dressings off my salads – in fact I prefer them ‘naked’ – but I have to have a chutney, pickle or a decent sauce with my cold meats and cheeses. It’s just not right to have a quality slice of ham or a good cheese without them being paired with a preserve that makes them really shine.

This is one of my favourite preserve recipes to keep stocked up. It’s also a really lovely coloured chutney, with a warm red hue. I only mention this because many chutneys are necessarily just ‘brown’ because of their ingredients – not that there’s anything wrong with a brown chutney – but it’s nice to have a jar of something a bit more colourful!

The recipe is best when made with British in-season damsons in autumn, but any plums will do at any other time of year. This a great use for any hard plums you’ve purchased that require further ripening at home. In late spring, foreign imports of very hard plums start to appear so it’s a great time to make a chutney, a jam or a compote.

I really think the nigella seeds add to this, so I would urge you not to omit them. However, if you are finding it difficult to obtain them, then black onion seeds could be substituted but they do impart a slightly different flavour. In this case I would only chop up one of the onions to balance the flavour of the chutney out better and crush up a quarter teaspoon of fennel seeds and add those in too.

Equipment
  • Large heavy saucepan
  • Three empty, clean and sterilised 180-200g glass jars with lids
  • Cutting board, knife, spatula
Ingredients
  • Plums, stoned and diced – 300g (weigh after the stones are taken out)
  • Carrots, peeled and very finely diced – 60g
  • Red onions, two small onions, finely diced – 2 whole
  • White wine vinegar – 100ml
  • Red win vinegar – 90ml
  • Chilli, a red mild-ish chilli, finely chopped (seeds and all!) – 1 long or 2 smaller chillies
  • Fresh ginger, grated – about a 1 cm piece
  • Dried chopped apricots – 80g
  • Nigella seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Tomatoes, chopped – 60g (I used baby plum tomatoes)
  • Salt – 1 teaspoon/5g
  • Soft brown sugar – 300g
Method
  1. Put the pre-diced/chopped plums, carrots, onions and both amounts of vinegar in your saucepan and bring up to a simmer
  2. Cook at this level (please no heavy boiling) until the vegetables and fruits start to soften a little – about 12 minutes
  3. Now add in all the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined
  4. Let it all simmer, stirring regularly (to ensure nothing catches on the bottom of the pan) until the chutney becomes sticky and unctuous
  5. While it is simmering, keep an eye on it to turn the heat down as the liquid evaporates to keep it at a gentle simmer – you don’t want it to boil
  6. This simmering stages takes one hour to get to the right consistency (providing you are simmering and not boiling the hell out of it!)
  7. Arrange your sterilised jars (see my recipe post for lemon curd about notes on how to sterilise jars at home) so they are close to hand and uncluttered  by anything else (clearing a space and having them close minimises your chances of fumbling and burning yourself)
  8. Carefully tip the chutney into the jars, using a jam funnel if you have one. Please be careful not to burn yourself, although chutneys are not quite as lethal as jams and marmalades
  9. Gorgeous with cured meats or cold chicken, this chutney also is a good marriage for a strong cheese and can be stirred into sauces to make a rich accompaniment for game

ChutneyJar.jpg

Spiced biscuit spread

biscuit spreadI developed this recipe to go along with my Mont Blanc recipe. I used a ready made biscuit spread (OK, Biscoff) to make the first batch, and as you may know, it’s not like me to use a proprietary product when I can make it from scratch myself.

In the USA this type of recipe is referred to as ‘cookie butter’. I think I read one too many Viz comics as a teenager and I can’t bring myself to refer to it as that (if you’d read a Viz, you’d know – and you’d be left scarred as I’ve been!!).

I started with blending up the biscuits, working from that point to recreate the taste and texture as closely as I could. I didn’t look at any other recipe until after I was happy, but when I did look online they’re all much more complicated than how I created mine…

I saw recipes that use some things I don’t think are needed – lemon juice, oil and evaporated milk, for instance, and some that required cooking. This is simple, creamy and uses the minimum of ingredients to recreate the original jar of Biscoff.

You can use your own homebaked speculaas biscuits or shop bought Biscoff/alternatives. Both will work. Alternatively, use digestives and two teaspoons of speculaas spice mix.

This makes about a typical jar full, and is enough for the Mont Blancs. Keep in the fridge and use within about 3-4 days as it includes fresh cream without being cooked.

This is a totally no-cook recipe.

Equipment

  • A blender or food processor. (Sorry – for this one you really need it. You may be able to get away with crushing the biscuits in a pestle and mortar but I am not sure – also if you’re using it for the Mont Blancs, then I don’t think you’d get it fine enough to be able to pipe this way)
  • Flexible spatula

Ingredients

  • 300g spiced biscuits (your own, a speculaas biscuit, Biscoff etc)
  • 6 tablespoons of dark brown sugar (
  • 6 tablespoons of double cream
  • 45g of unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 60ml water

Method

  1. Break the biscuits up a little into your blender and whizz until they are as fine crumbed as possible
  2. Add in everything, except the water and pulse until it all comes together. The heat from the blender blade friction will be enough to loosen the ingredients and help them mix together
  3. Pour about 3/4 of the water into the blender and continue to mix – it will obviously now loosen
  4. Stop the blender (turn off at the switch to be careful) and test the consistency of the spread – it needs to be a little softer than smooth peanut butter
  5. Add more water if it’s still too stiff a mixture or stop where you are if it’s already the right consistency. I expect you will need all the water
  6. Using a flexible scraper to get it all, scrape out and store in a jar or bowl in the fridge

 

 

Nasturtium pickles

nasturtiums3.jpgThis is a very old-school type of recipe but it feels like it ought to be ultra-modern, something that an experimental chef would devise.

It’s so easy, so cheap and provides such a great addition to your store cupboard, so it’s worth spending the time to make a jar or two. It only actually takes a few minutes of actual hands-on time, but there is a 24 hour pre-soak and the finished jars need to be laid down for a while for the pickling and flavours to take effect.

IMG_1218I confess, though I’ve known about making nasturtium capers since I was a little girl, I assumed it was a very ancient recipe – and much older than it actually is. This is because I also incorrectly believed nasturtiums were native Northern European (they look the part don’t they?) so I expected it to be a recipe from the middle ages. You know, making use of the scarce decent natural resources, a make-do-and-mend kind of attitude. But, no; the plants were brought over (like so many things) from South America in the late 1600s and then cultivars were developed in the Netherlands within just a few years. The earliest historical records of nasturtium pickles being used are from the late 17th century, so not long after they were introduced as a plant to Europe. The Oxford Companion to Food states that in the 17th century nasturtium capers were the ‘excepted accompaniment to leg of mutton’. Not sure why, but I find that amusing – I think it’s because of the grand term of ‘accepted accompaniment’. I can imagine you’d be ostracised for serving anything else once it was in vogue. Weird times.

I do like these little pickled seeds – and they’re practically free (give or take a few pence for the vinegar and herbs and spices). They add a peppery bite to salads – and ideal with a salad that also features the beautiful leaves and petals from the nasturtiums. They can be used in any dish where you’d reach for ‘normal’ capers (for example, tartar and other sauces for fish) and are great added to burger meat etc or a few added to a curry. I also just love the flowers as hot colours are my most favourite and I grow a huge amount of nasturtiums every summer.

Don’t be put off by the fact that you can forage these from your own (or a willing neighbour’s) garden. Traditional capers are just the seeds off the mediterranean caper bush, and those are typically prepared in a very similar way. Not sure why these have earnt the moniker ‘poor man’s capers’ because presumably normal capers get foraged in just the same way (when not being mass farmed) and were probably ‘poor man’s’ foraged food in their own right.

Equipment

  • Jug
  • Sieve
  • Clean jam jar (doesn’t need to be sterilised, but it won’t matter if it is)

Ingredients

  • Fresh picked nasturtium seeds – about 75g-90g (this is about as much as you can hold if you cup both of your hands together)nasturtiums
  • Cider vinegar or white wine vinegar (I’ve not given an amount as it depends on how big your jam jar is)
  • Salt – about two tablespoons
  • Black peppercorns – about half a teaspoon
  • Mustard seeds – about half a teaspoon
  • Bay leaf – 1 large or 2 small (preferably fresh, but dried will ‘do’)
  • Your choice of 1 or 2 woody herbs – pick the ones you like the taste of – or try to think what you’ll use the capers for. Will it be mostly fish? Then which herbs do you like to enhance fish dishes – dill? Tarragon?
  • Do not use ‘soft’ herbs that will go mushy over time like parsley or basil
  • My suggestions to choose from are: rosemary, lavender (one flower head – don’t use if they are already going to seed), tarragon, hyssop, chives, sage, thyme, marjoram or add a couple of dried chillies or a small cinnamon stick or a star anise

Method

  1. When you pick the nasturtium seeds select only the fully grown ones and discard any that aren’t a nice green colour (you don’t want old-looking ones, the little unsuccessfully grown ones or those with a yellow or red blush on them)
  2. Pick off any stems or dried bits of the petals and give them a good wash
  3. Fill a jug with water, add the salt and stir to dissolve
  4. Add the seeds
  5. Leave for 24 hours
  6. Drain the seeds and try them with a piece of kitchen towel or a tea towel
  7. Put the seeds in the jam jar and fill up with the vinegar – I always use cider vinegar for nasturtium capers, but white wine vinegar is fine too
  8. Add in the peppercorns, the mustard seeds, the bay leaf/leaves and a max of one or two more herbs. In the images I’ve just added tarragon to give a citrussy hit for fish dishes. I have another pot of nasturtiums capers made in the last few days in which I’ve added dried chillies and a star anise
  9. Leave for at least a month and ideally about three (I’m laying mine down now for opening around Christmas). I’d suggest using within a year and as long as you used a clean spoon to fish the little gems out each time they should keep that long in the fridge after the first opening

nasturtiums2