Pud In A Flash: Strawberry Jam Sponge

Firstly, let me apologise for my 2 month absence. I’ve honestly not been inspired to post as much lately.

However, why throw in the towel? This isn’t Bake Off or MasterChef. Not everything has to re-invent the wheel or be worthy to be the top trending topic. I am a home cook first and foremost, and I started this blog to appeal to other home cooks.  Anyway, I’ve pontificated enough and onto the recipe.

Snobs will carp, I’m sure, because this recipe is cooked in a microwave. Yes. The slovenly’s best kitchen friend. I can make a sponge pudding the ‘proper way’. But they can also be made perfectly acceptable via nuking. And you can have a home made, classic British dessert on the table in less than 10 minutes. And you don’t have to open one of those flat Heinz tins or raid the chiller cabinet. Chances are you’ll have all the ingredients in.

Sponge puddings are seen as dowdy these days. A hangover from the 1950s school dinners. Dull. Bland. Full of sugar and cheap jam that barely contains any fruit. They’ve been shunned by the Bake Off brigade and haven’t even been subject to the trendy 2010s baking revival with new, hipster flavours. But like other British baking classics that I’ve written about, why not? Made well, they can be fantastic. Yes, even in the microwave. It’s still homemade. And the harried midweek cook can have a proper dessert on the table in the time taken to brew a cup of tea, or to heat up a shop bought one – why wouldn’t you?

The closest thing to this that’s become popular over the past few years are mug cakes, which is along the same lines really.

You can of course use any jam you like for this, preferably one of decent quality; (I was lucky enough to have some home made stuff courtesy of my partner’s mother) , no nasty cheap ‘mixed fruit’ sugar bombs here! Or, you could forsake it altogether and replace 1-2 tbsp of the flour with cocoa to make a chocolate pud (though I’d recommend using dark brown sugar in place of the caster and maybe put chocolate chips in the mix too).

You will need a medium sized plastic pudding basin, and the sponge is made using the all-in-one method, so no need to get out the mixer. If you’re using butter, make sure it’s soft, but margarine or any spread that states ‘suitable for baking’ on the tub is absolutely fine – in fact, here, it’s recommended for speed as no softening required. Easy, quick, tasty and homemade.

Strawberry Jam Sponge Pudding

IMG_1680.JPG

1 large egg

2 oz caster sugar

2 oz butter/margarine

2 oz self raising flour

Splash vanilla extract – NO synthetic essence please.

Splash milk

1 dessertspoon good quality strawberry jam

 

  1. Place the jam in the bottom of a medium sized plastic pudding basin (the kind left from a bought Christmas pudding that most households use for microwaving things in).
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, margarine, sugar, flour together until smooth. Add milk to loosen it to a soft dropping consistency if it behaves impossibly.
  3. Spoon and scrape onto the jam and level the top.
  4. Place in microwave and heat at full power for 5 minutes (for an 800W unit – check your oven and adjust accordingly). A cake tester should come out clean.
  5. Upend onto a plate or saucer – it should come out easily without any need to have greased the basin, be aware the jam will be volcanically hot -and serve as is or with cream or Greek yoghurt.

 

 

Cucina di mia madrina: Eileen’s Lasagne

Choosing my favourite food is about as easy is growing money on the apple tree in my back garden. Who has the time to think about such things?

I eat everything pretty much.

But if there’s one meal that always gets me weeping with gratitude every time, it is lasagne. To me it sums up comfort food. The sight and sound of bubbling cheese. The rich savouriness and creaminess beneath the crispy top and velvety sheets of pasta (especially if it’s verdi)….it’s rare that I’ve had a bad one….maybe a ready meal but then they’re all shit if you ask me. Pardon my French.

And I don’t think I’ve ever met one person who doesn’t like it. There’s versions for vegetarians, versions for lactose-intolerant, low-fat, even low-carb and gluten free. Everyone can enjoy lasagne. Except perhaps Calgary Avansino or any of that lot. But if you’re on this blog you shouldn’t care for those delusional stick insects’ food fascism anyway.

I feel there’s no need to explain lasagne (though interestingly the American spelling ‘lasagna’ means single pasta sheet’ whilst the way us Brits spell it is the plural form) but it originated in Naples.

The northern Emilia-Romagna region (also famous for being the home of Ferrari,, Pagani, Maserati and Lamborghini)’s intensive farming economy resulted in plentiful dairy and meat products, and their commonality in regional cooking – more so than the olive oil found in southern regions of Italy. Pastas from Emilia-Romagna and its capital, Bologna, are almost always served with a ragù, (hence why it’s called a bolognese sauce) a thick sauce made from ingredients such as onions, carrots, finely ground pork and beef, celery, butter, and tomatoes.

I have numerous ways of approaching this simple baked pasta dish, from various sources – my way which is essentially similar to how my mother made it; I’ve also once made a chilli con carne lasagne (I had leftover chilli and was looking to extend it) in a surprisingly effective example of fusion food done good – the heat and earthy pungency of the chilli matched up pretty damn well to the rich bechamel sauce.  The Calabrian take, as published by Nigella Lawson is another regular on my repertoire, and it dispenses with the bechamel altogether and uses sliced ham and eggs between the layers along with finely cut mozzarella cheese.

So why am I sharing a recipe for something most people know? Simple, the amount of pre-made and heinous ‘lasagne dinner kits’ available now infuriate me and it’s frankly not a complicated dish to put together – never equate difficult with time-consuming. It was one of the first ‘proper dinners’ I made sure I knew how to cook before going to university as it ages well and can last a good 2-3 days so even if you live alone, you can still make it yourself.

The recipe I’m sharing here however, comes from my maternal aunt and godmother Eileen Maturi, and as I understand it, came via her father in law who was Italian. I will put up my own version in due course should anyone have a burning desire to make it.

I remember having this as a child numerous times whenever we visited hers, and it was literally a case of seeing ricotta, one of the ingredients,  on the supermarket shelf a few years back and being suddenly hit with a flashback to this and subsequently reaching out to my mother to contact my aunt (whom I since have on Facebook and will tag in this post) for her recipe to see if I could recreate it.

The ingredients as prepared. I am unashamed in the obvious austerity present - as Jack Monroe rightly says, the value-brand items are mere building blocks of a finished dish. it's how you put them together that counts.
The ingredients as prepared. I am unashamed in the obvious austerity present – as Jack Monroe rightly says, the value-brand items are mere building blocks of a finished dish. it’s how you put them together that counts.

I tend to make lasagne somewhat on the wet side just for fear of dryness but if you want it to come out in picture-perfect slabs, reduce the ragu for longer or use less liquid.  You will want enough there for the pasta sheets to absorb and cook in, so try not to make it too dry.  Another way, as shown in the abysmal third photo below, is to allow it to rest for 15 minutes-half an hour if you have stronger willpower than me, as this will make it a bit easier to cut clean and retain its characteristic layers.

A final note, if the mince you’re using is pretty fatty (especially on top of the fat from the bacon and the cooking oil for the vegetables) then pour off any excess, but because you’re twice-cooking the meat I recommend not bothering, as the fat will keep the mince moist as the lasagne bakes and it won’t make it greasy.

This is the order in which you build the layers - ragu, a blob of ricotta-egg mix in each corner and a scattering of chalkily stringy mozzarella. You don't need to drown it in béchamel either, just 1-2 serving spoonfuls trailed across will suffice.
This is the order in which you build the layers – ragu, a blob of ricotta-egg mix in each corner and a scattering of chalkily stringy mozzarella atop that before the white sauce. You don’t need to drown it in béchamel either, just 1-2 serving spoonfuls trailed across will suffice.
IMG_2051
Be sure to alternate the direction of the sheets – for example, for the following layer to this, place the vertical sheet on the right hand side as opposite to the left as shown here. Overlapping is desirable as it helps with the structure.
An appalling image of the served-up result. I was too hungry to wait. Ideally you want to allow a cooked lasagne to rest a while (like a roast joint it improves upon standing) as this makes it easier to cut clean if aesthetics are of importance. Patience is not a virtue I was blessed with unfortunately so initial serving was somewhat imperfect and wet. Once cooled for the following day it will slice like a dream for that better Instagram shot.
An appalling image of the served-up result. I was too hungry to wait. Ideally you want to allow a cooked lasagne to rest a while (like a roast joint it improves upon standing) as this makes it easier to cut clean if aesthetics are of importance.
Patience is not a virtue I was blessed with unfortunately so initial serving was somewhat imperfect and wet, because I dished up very soon after it left the oven so naturally the distinct layers were lost.. Once cooled for the following day, however,  it will slice like a dream and retain said layers better for that better Instagram shot.

Eileen’s Lasagne

IMG_2052

Serves: 4-6

For the ragu:
8oz /250g minced beef
3 large mushrooms (finely chopped) or around 200g regular size, sliced
1 regular onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
2 rashers streaky bacon, roughly diced, or 1 small pack pancetta cubes or lardons
1 large carrot, diced
Half a pint/280ml beef stock
3 tbsp tomato puree
Bay leaf
Dried basil, to taste
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
Red wine, to taste

For the béchamel:
4tbsp butter
4tbsp plain flour
500ml milk
Around 50g grated cheddar (optional)

For assembling lasagne:
1 x 250g tub of ricotta cheese
1 x 250g pack grated mozzarella cheese
Lasagne sheets

1. Sweat chopped onion, celery, carrot and bacon in 2tbsp oil until soft .

2. Add mince and cook until raw red colour disappears.

3. Pour in tinned tomatoes, basil and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Mix the tomato puree in with the stock and pour in, if necessary use this to swill out tomato tin. I recommend keeping a bit of the stock back in case you need to add more later. Bring to boil.

4. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

5. Add wine to taste and a little bit of sugar if needed if it’s a bit too acidic. Continue simmer and reduce for about 20 minutes more, but do not let it go too dry. If necessary slacken with any remaining stock or just add some water. Once it’s reduced sufficiently, remove from heat and set aside. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

6. To make the béchamel, first, heat the milk in the microwave or on the stovetop (this will stop lumps forming in the sauce) and set aside. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and add the flour, whisking to make a roux.

7. Pour in milk and stir constantly with a whisk to stop lumps until sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season well with salt, pepper and nutmeg. You can add grated cheddar cheese if you want to.

8. Whisk egg into the ricotta cheese with a fork to make a smooth, droppable consistence, and then place an ovenproof dish on a baking sheet and get ready for the grand assembly.

9 .Place a bit of white sauce in the bottom of your dish, put Lasagne sheets on top. (don’t worry if there’s overlapping) .For the bottom layer add some (about 1-2 ladles) of meat sauce, put a little ricotta on ( I usually blob a bit in each corner)followed by a handful of the mozzarella, then pour a little white sauce over. Cover with more lasagne sheets.

10. Repeat (about 2 or 3 more times) until the ragu and ricotta are used up – which is why I haven’t given a specific weight for the lasagne as it depends on the size of your dish – be sure to leave some mozzarella for the top . It’s a good idea to alternate the direction of sheets to help it stay together.

11. Put a layer of sheets on top of the final ragu layer, pour the rest of white sauce over, and the remaining mozzarella cheese.

12. Bake for 45mins – or until golden and bubbling on the top and cooked through (easy way to test is stab the centre with a knife and if it slides down easy, all the pasta has cooked). Rest for a few minutes before cutting into fat slabs.

ENJOY
X

Marion’s Malt Loaf/Harvo Loaf

IMG_1997

Family recipes are something we should all treasure. They are a building block of our formative years and no off-the-shelf cookbook, no matter how good, will ever conjure up the same warmth and comfort than making food that’s as intrinsic to your own past as something your mom, aunt, or nan (or these days, could also be your dad, uncle or granddad) used to make.

And yet it will never taste the same as when they made it. But yet I somehow want to share with anyone who reads this, recipes from mostly my mother’s side of the family. This one, from my great-aunt Marion via my mother’s battered recipe journal, is a classic and will probably be familiar to some. It has been much made by me (indeed, it was partly the bass line for my Irish Porter Cake recipe) both rigidly to the original and with numerous variations.

So what is the recipe?

What was wrong with it (bob-a-job week) was that people like you were getting little lads to shift pianos and double-glaze the French windows…..in exchange for nine pence ha’penny and a slice of malt loaf.”  – Jean, dinnerladies episode ‘Catering’, by the late Victoria Wood.

Malt loaf.  That squidgy, fruited, malty brown cross between cake and bread so unique to Britain. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it, or ‘sticky bread’ as I first encountered it in Jon Carrie Nursery School (when I didn’t get sent home for severe homesickness-induced tantrums…). Malt loaf was also known as ‘Harvo loaf’ in Birmingham but I’ve never come across this pretender to Manchester-based Soreen’s crown (probably because Harvo went bust in 1973.)

harvo
About the only photo I can find of the original ‘Harvo loaf’.

I still call this recipe Harvo loaf anyway owing to my Midland roots, and perhaps to lend it a false air of rose-tinted legacy.

This recipe, like the Porter Cake, doesn’t require scales, creaming of fats and sugar, folding, sieving or any of that nonsense. All you need is a mixing bowl, a 2lb loaf tin and a regular-sized 200-250ml tea mug (no dainty bone china or big Starbucks type mugs!) as your unit of measurement. You may have encountered this type of thing as ‘Weetabix cake’ or ‘All Bran cake’ as breakfast cereal is one of the ingredients. The recipe, as taken from Auntie Marion, calls for All-Bran, but I have also used Bran Flakes, Shreddies, Weetabix or Shredded Wheat in its place. You can get that squidgy Soreen flavour by adding malt extract and wrapping up and leaving for a day or so before diving in, but All-Bran or bran flakes will give the malt flavour already.  It contains no eggs and no butter, so fat free, yay. Unless you slather it thickly in good real butter, of course, which is not compulsory, but highly recommended.

Of course like many simple cakes, you can tweak the recipe to suit your own tastes. Use any mix of dried fruit you want, and the same with the type of sugar used. I cannot recommend classic dark brown soft enough, but again, feel free to do a mix of brown and white, light brown, dark muscovado, whatever you like or have on hand. Same with the milk – whatever you have as it’s just the wetting agent but obviously will push the fat content up or down. And if you’re catering for a vegan or dairy-intolerant crowd, simply use any alternative, or failing that, strong black tea.

If you can’t find malt extract, then a couple of spoonfuls of Horlicks powder would also be a good addition to boost the malty taste. The world’s your pickle, as Laura Vitale says.

However, be aware that you may have to bake the loaf for longer depending on the size of mug and tin you used. Just check to see when the tester comes out clean but in my experience it never takes longer than 1 hour 15 minutes. 1 hour 20 at a push.

It keeps well, up to a week, and is best served thickly sliced with a brew and with that optional butter.

The loaf shown in the photos was the last time I made this recipe and used Weetabix (or Waitrose’s rip-off imitation version). It was for work so never got around to taking photos of it sliced! However I find that for the true Soreen taste, All-Bran is the best bet.

As made the 'correct way', with All-Bran. Takes on a more Soreen-esque colour and taste.
As made the ‘correct way’, with All-Bran. Takes on a more Soreen-esque colour and taste.

 

Marion’s Malt Loaf / Harvo loaf

IMG_1996

1 x mug mixed dried fruit

3/4-1 x mug dark brown sugar

1 x mug All Bran cereal (the plain stick-shaped one beloved of the elderly please)/Bran flakes/Weetabix/Shreddies

1 x mug milk (any kind will do, depends how virtuous you’re feeling. Dairy-free milk will make this vegan but check your cereal box as well if you’re baking for vegans)

1 x mug self-raising flour

Optional:
1 tsp mixed spice
1-2 tbsp malt extract, plus extra for glazing
1 tbsp black treacle
Nib sugar, for sprinkling atop before baking

  1. Soak cereal of choice, fruit and sugar (and treacle/malt if using) in the milk for 6-8 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4/160C fan/180C.
  3. Add the flour (and spice if using) and mix to combine.
  4. Pour this somewhat stiff mix into a greased and lined 2lb/900g loaf tin, sprinkle with nib sugar if using, and bake for 1 hour-1 hour 15 minutes (depends on size of mug used and tin – the mixture can vary in consistency too) until risen and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  5. Cool in the tin for a little while and then remove and finish on a wire rack. If using malt extract to glaze, smear this over whilst still warm.
  6. Slice thickly and smother with proper butter if desired and enjoy with a brew.

Rocket Fuel: Chocolate Concrete

IMG_1999

IMG_1999

School dinners of the mid-late-20th century have experienced somewhat of a nolstalgic revival in recent years, especially in the post-Jamie Oliver crackdown. What were once reviled as days of sulphurous overboiled cabbage and lumpy custard are now looked back on extremely fondly as simple yet evocative fare. I’m perhaps slightly too young to be part of this era of school dinners but I still own a copy of Becky Thorn’s hard-to-get School Dinners cookbook on Kindle and have attempted a few.

This recipe however, came from a childhood friend’s mother in 2001 who worked in a primary school in Birmingham. I was 12 and remember her cooking it for us one visit 2 years previous and asked her for the recipe. I found it many years later in my mother’s recipe file in 2013 and copied it into my own. It has lost NONE of it’s charm.

Chocolate Concrete, or Chocolate Crunch as it’s sometimes known, was a popular dessert amongst schoolchildren, and Giles Coren and Sue Perkins showed it on a Supersizers feature on school dinners if I remember correctly. It is essentially a crude version of shortbread, served warm in glorious brown slabs with chocolate flavoured custard poured thickly over the top. However it can also be served cold and eaten like any other biscuit/cookie. I have taken it into work before and it received rave reviews – one colleague christened it ‘rocket fuel’ as it packs a calorific burst and childhood chocolate hit, perfect to get you through the rest of your shift.

It is a very simple recipe and very cheap to make – obviously it was designed be made quickly and served in large quantities out of those epic square tins. Don’t worry though – this recipe fits a small roasting tin and you won’t have stale pieces haunting you 10 days later! You will most likely have all the ingredients to hand in your store cupboard.

Final word of note – the standard recipe is gratifying enough, but feel free to substitute ingredients to take it from misty-eyed school lunchtimes into something more grown-up – use dark muscovado sugar instead of regular, for example; wholemeal flour for extra texture; replace some of the flour with rice flour a-la some shortbread recipes; add vanilla extract to the melted butter; add some salt to cut some of the juvenile sweetness; replace some of the cocoa with a little instant espresso powder to add adult bitterness – the list is endless. You can even forego the cocoa entirely and make a blonde vanilla concrete sister version. I will be bossy though and insist an oblong tin is compulsory, and it shall not  be served in any way other than being cut into dense, crunchy squares.

 

Chocolate Concrete

IMG_2001

8oz flour (can be plain or self-raising)

2oz cocoa powder

4oz sugar

4oz melted butter or margarine

  1. Preheat oven to gas mark 3/140C fan/160C electric
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  3. Add melted butter or margarine. Be warned that you may need more as flour can annoyingly vary in its absorbent qualities; or add a little water if the mixture behaves impossibly.
  4. Mix (No?!). Best started with a regular dessert spoon and then finish it with your hands. You won’t get a full dough, but rather a mixture resembling damp soil. Be careful to not overmix.
  5. Tip this glorious mound of Aztec earth into a small rectangular baking tin, (ungreased  but lined with parchment if you intend on serving it cold as a biscuit for easy lifting out) and press in with your hands or the back of a spoon. Compact it down as hard as you can.
  6. Brush the top with water and sprinkle with some caster or granulated sugar.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes. When cooked, leave to cool in the tin – like cookies and shortbread, it will harden as it cools.
  8. Best eaten warm on the same day, cut into equal squares with some chocolate custard -(good old Bird’s custard, please, to which a few squares of cooking chocolate is added) or left to cool completely before cutting.

Bergamot Chicken

8CE5B0FD-A6E0-4395-85EB-A647EE92BC65

Firstly, let me apologise for the long absence between posts. Had a few personal issues to deal with for the last few weeks (or is it months? Oh God.). Anyway, this was a recipe that I should have put up last month but never got round to it.

Orange chicken is a Chinese restaurant staple, as is the similar-in-style lemon chicken. It’s essentially chicken pieces stewed in a citrus and cornflour sauce with some aromatics and served over rice or noodles. I’ve seen plenty of crimes against this dish but it’s actually really simple to make. If you don’t like fruit in savoury dishes, look away now.

My local Waitrose started selling bergamots in packs of two last month. For those who don’t know, the bergamot is a type of bitter orange with a strong and distinctive fragrance. It’s oil is used in the cosmetics industry as well is being the main flavouring in Earl Grey tea. The juice of the bergamot also goes very well in gin cocktails, but more on that later.

IMG_1552
Available from your local Waitrose. No advertising contract given.
IMG_1554
They might be ugly, yellowish-green and mottled, but they are a kind of orange and don’t be fooled by their appearance. However don’t peel and eat fresh as they are sour and bitter.

 

Anyway, never one to pass a curious new ingredient by, I bought some and looked to find a way to cook with them (they’re inedible and sour raw) and pondered how well it would work as an exotic subsitute for orange in orange chicken as I’ve also replaced the orange with lemon in the same capacity and got decent results before.

Firstly, the basic recipe is not mine, but from the charismatic (and beautiful) Italian-American YouTube cook Laura Vitale, of whom I am a huge fan.  So 75% of the credit goes to her.  Which is why the measures are in US cups. You’ll find the smell of these ugly, mottled, not-orange-coloured oranges overwhelming but I promise you, this really works! Though don’t be tempted to go too mad and use more than 1 orange otherwise you’ll be in sickly bubble bath territory. Try it before Waitrose takes them off sale. Serves two over rice.

 

Bergamot Chicken

IMG_1551

3-4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into cubes.
1 egg white
2 Tbsp cornflour
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1-2 tbsp any flavourless cooking oil

For the sauce:
1 cup (250ml) chicken stock (from a cube is fine)
1  bergamot orange, zest and juice (makes about 1/4-cup but obviously depends on the fruit. Don’t be tempted to go overboard!)
3 tbsp light soft brown sugar
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar (any will do. Rice vinegar is probably the best)
1 tbsp ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp cornflour slaked in 1 tbsp water

 

  1. Mix egg white and cornflour in a bowl and add chicken. Season with salt and pepper, stir to coat and set aside for 10 minutes.
  2. Add bergamot zest & juice, chicken stock, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar to a jug and stir to combine.
  3. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat and add the chicken, turning with wooden spoon to prevent sticking together, but sear long enough to get a good colour. When nicely browned, add the ginger and garlic and cook for a minute or two more.
  4. Pour in the sauce ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for 10 minutes until sauce has reduced.
  5. Pour in slaked courflour slurry and cook for a few minutes more until sauce has thickened. You want a bit of ‘gravy’ but the chicken should be well coated.
  6. Serve over rice.

 

Homage to Nigella

Featured Image -- 277

This is one of the many reasons why Nigella is above all my favourite food writer. She is a home cook, and her recipes ALWAYS work. I have virtually all her books and have cooked numerous from all of them.

FoodieTales

Today I will be writing about some of my favourite recipes I have been cooking recently from Nigella Lawson’s new book Simply Nigella.

If I had to choose I would probably say that Nigella is my favourite writer to go back to again and again. No disrespect to “Saint Delia” (as a famous female vicar once called her), as her Complete Cookery Course is my go to bible for all basic recipes that I find myself in need of. But in terms of the food I like to eat and where I am with my cooking at this moment, Nigella just hits the spot.

The main reason that I go back again and again is that her recipes ALWAYS work. I can only think of a couple of her recipes out of the huge number I have tried where I have had to tweak them. They are all obviously…

View original post 536 more words

Culinary Chatter: Don’t cook your goose, cook your fruit.

This time of year, the miserable January, where most of us are on the health kick and trying to stave off the cold by diving into salads when all we want are casseroles.  I find myself craving dessert after dinner more when it’s the bleak midwinter, which is fine, but how do I satisfy a sweet tooth during the week (weekends are where such delights as crumbles  and cake are allowed) and when just a piece of fruit won’t cut the mustard.

Fresh fruit is fabulous – don’t think I’ve gone so far against the hideous ‘wellness’ cult led by Paltrow and Avansino that I now even reject one of life’s simplest and healthiest puds -but I think, why limit yourself to just eating it out of hand? There is life beyond the smoothie. (and I say that as a massive smoothie fiend; so much so I think I ought to own shares in a banana plantation and be on the direct mailing list of Sainsbury’s Basics frozen mixed berries suppliers)

Of course, nothing beats the evocative saccharine burst of a ripe English strawberry in June, or the joy of sinking your teeth into the juicy flesh of a ripe pear, nectarine or peach, or the re-assuring crunch of an apple,  but much of the fruit we buy over here, especially during January is out of season so therefore flown in from all four corners of the earth and mostly tasteless and so hard it could be used as war ammunition. We want to eat more fruit, we should eat more fruit (unless you’re one of the truly delusional ‘wellness/clean eating’ lot who seems to believe it’s bad for you now) and if all we have are Belgian pears, South African plums and Egyptian strawberries, we may as well find ways or restoring that ripe taste to make it feel more pleasurable and less of a punishment.

Of course, some fruit is only edible cooked – cranberries and quinces are just two such examples, along with British classics rhubarb and gooseberries – but cooking often will breathe new life into seemingly lifeless specimens. Poached pears are seen as a simple yet luxurious winter dessert in an age where many of us have forgotten what a truly ripe, fresh one tastes like. We all know what crumbles and pies can do for fruit so I don’t need to harp on too much there (but IMO you’ve never lived if you’ve not tried Nigella Lawson’s plum and amaretti crumble, or her strawberry, vanilla and almond one. Both bring summery ripeness to the hardest, sourest imported offenders.)

So I’ve been experimenting with new and exciting ways with fruit without adding needless calories for quite some time now. In the summer, I discovered the delight of grilled peaches (and underripe ones, which are usually what you find on the shelf anyway even in the summer months, work best here as they hold their shape and you wouldn’t know once they’ve seen the fierce heat of a hot grill or the smoking embers of a barbecue as the heat brings out their luscious sweet summeriness) at a friend’s barbecue and as a result got a bit hooked on them for a while, eating them several times a week.

I’m amazed how common fresh apricots seem to be nowadays – I love them dried but never have been convinced by eating them raw, finding them fibrous and bland. A few minutes under a hot grill will change all of that and they taste like apricots SHOULD – just like their bagged, dried brethren only juicier. Like their peach (or nectarine) relatives, they do not need any adornment save for perhaps some fat free Greek yoghurt or fromage frais and a light frosting of granulated sweetener.

IMG_6879
Stone fruit is one of the worst offenders for being barely-edible billiard balls, but show them to a barbecue or hot grill/broiler and restores the lusciousness and fragrance back to unyielding peaches and nectarines. If you’re going to a barbecue or throwing one this coming summer, have some punnets of peaches on hand for a quick dessert. Trust me.

IMG_6727

Stone fruit is one of the worst offenders for being nothing more than edible billiard balls even in season. The grill works its magic and will make it taste as it should. Peaches and nectarines are simply wonderful thrown on the barbecue.
 I couldn’t eat a fresh apricot but cannot get enough of grilled ones.

 

Alternatively, poaching can also restore the taste of summer to peaches - here are Nigella Lawson's divine Mint Julep Peaches.
Alternatively, poaching can also restore the taste of summer to peaches or plums – one of my (many) favourite recipes of Nigella Lawson – her divine Mint Julep Peaches.

This week I made an impromptu dessert with two apples and two plums out the fruit bowl, cutting them into medium-sized pieces (halving the plums) and roasting them with just a light sheen of oil and pinch of cinnamon at 200 degrees C for 11 minutes until lightly scorched. The apples, which weren’t that bad fresh (but one was quite shrivelled and past its best for eating raw), seemed to be sprung back into fragrant, perfumed life and tasted far better than Sainsbury’s pitiful Basics bagged offerings had any right to be. The oven once more had performed a miracle.

Roasted apples and plums - far, far more than the sum of its parts.
Roasted apples and plums – far, far more than the sum of its parts.

A semi-regular supper I cook is roasted pork tenderloin with fruit from Chowhound, which roasts the lean meat alongside sliced pears and figs (though I’ve rung the changes and cooked it with apples, plums and peaches depending on what’s in the house) as the ‘vegetable’ side. It works so well that you don’t even need to steam or boil some extra greens, and I always do far more fruit than the recipe suggests.

IMG_6878
Roast Pork Tenderloin with seasonal fruit – you don’t need a veg side as the fruit, heady with its own sweetness plus the savoury pork juices is more than up to the task.

There are so many ways to cook fruit that it’s impossible to go through them all here, but I will try and come up with some new and exciting ways to do this. I’m also currently looking at many ways to use those out-of-season plums; and maybe even bring a new twist on a modern deli-counter/antipasti classic using the humble strawberry…the sky’s the limit.

So next time you’re out trying to get your five a day, and you’re bored of either waiting for stuff to ripen in your fruit bowl, or sick of making smoothies, have a think to see what you can do to make eating fruit just that little bit more interesting….promise it’s worth it.

T x