Happy New Year from Proof of the Pudding! Or is it bad form to wish you that when January is already nearly over? January can be a hard month, especially where I live as we know there are still a couple of months of dark mornings and evenings to get through, and if we’re to get a bad snow storm this year then it’s yet to come (EDIT: I spoke to soon, it seems this weekend is our first of the season). Sometimes you feel ready to jump into January with gusto: stocking up the cupboards, fridge and fruit bowl with healthy foods, pulling on your gym gear to work off that Christmas dinner and diving back into work at 9am on Monday morning, to-do list at the ready. But sometimes it takes a few sluggish days, or even weeks, to get back into a routine and not want to rush home every evening and immediately get your pyjamas on. However your January started, I hope it’s ending well. Let’s all look forward to February and longer days and Pancake Tuesday!
Now I’m not going to try and pretend that this is in any way a healthy recipe (see double cream and sugar), but it’s certainly refreshing and might be a welcome change from all that trifle and chocolate and Christmas pudding. This is also a satisfyingly straightforward ice-cream recipe which doesn’t require you to have an ice-cream maker (although if you do then by all means use it). The freeze-blend-freeze method ensures that the ice crystals are broken up and gives a smooth texture. Make sure you buy very ripe mangos for this recipe, for both texture and flavour. The squishier the better really. In particular, if you can find alphonso mangos these have an incredible, sweet flavour.
One year ago:
– Minestrone soup
– Courgette antipasto rolls
Ingredients 3 large ripe mangos (approximately 1kg) 300ml double cream 100g caster sugar ¼ tsp vanilla extract (optional)
50g frozen raspberries, defrosted
Method 1. Peel and chop the mangos into chunks.
8. After a few hours in the freezer, scoop or cut the ice-cream out into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth again.
9. Pour the mixture back into the tin or tub.
This is a great little recipe if you need a dessert in a hurry. It’s basically a cheats apple tart, and isn’t much more than an assembly job, especially if you use ready-made puff pastry. It’s a great way to use up eating apples, of which there are many different British varieties in season at the moment. Don’t use cooking apples as they will become mush during the baking, but any eating apple will do – ours actually came from an overhanging tree in the Mitchell’s back garden (with neighbour permission of course!). Lemon juice stops the apple slices from browning and the brown sugar brings the sweetness back up and adds a caramelised toffee flavour. Then it’s just into the oven for a quick bake and a little glaze of jam at the end. Done and dusted in half an hour.
A special mention has to go to Natasha and Josh for their gift to me of a beautiful jar of homemade plum jam – with plums from the garden and all. The perfect topping for these fruity little tarts.
Ingredients (makes 6-8 small tarts)
400g puff pastry (or follow the quantities and method here) 4-5 eating apples Half a lemon 2 tsp soft brown sugar 1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp plum or apricot jam
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Roll your pastry out to about half a centimetre thick. Using either a pastry cutter or a small bowl and a knife, cut out rounds of pastry and lay onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. You want the size of the pastry circles to be a little bigger than the height of the apples. Pop into the fridge while you prepare the apples.
2. Cut the apples into thin slices and toss in the brown sugar and the juice of half a lemon.
3. Arrange the apple slices on top of the pastry circles, overlapping in the middle. Brush a little egg around the edges of the pastry and bake for 8-10 minutes until the pastry has puffed up and the apple has started to caramelise.
4. While the pastries bake, heat the jam gently. Use a pastry brush to dab the melted jam over the top of the baked tarts.
Serve warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream, or leave to cool and have with a steaming hot mug of tea.
There is something utterly intoxicating about the smell of fresh pesto: the fragrant scents of basil and pine nut oil, mixing with the heady smell of garlic and the pungency of parmesan is enough to drive me c-razy. I really think I could eat an entire batch with a spoon, straight from the blender container. Spread it on some toasted sourdough and top with cherry tomatoes: divine. Stir it through fresh pasta and sprinkle with extra parmesan: I’m in food heaven. Obviously you can use whatever pasta you like – fresh egg pasta from the shop or just dried store-cupboard pasta. But if you’re feeling like a real treat then you can follow my recipe for homemade pasta dough. I cut the pasta on the thinnest setting, because it reminds me of the fresh pasta that my parents would always buy from a local Italian deli when we had fresh pesto for dinner, and that makes me happy.
To call this a recipe is really a gross exaggeration. We’re basically grabbing a pile of ingredients and letting the blender do all the work. I’ve given you the rough quantities that I used in our pesto on Sunday, but there’s no right answer here and it can change from batch to batch. This is my mum’s recipe and her classic answer to a question about quantities is “some”, which tells you all you need to know about making pesto. You can make your pesto personal to your own taste by adjusting the amounts of all the different flavours after the first blend. You can even go fancy and toast the pine nuts or add other green leaves like rocket, but in my opinion this is the best version of pesto. Ever. Keep it simple folks.
The only secret here is good quality ingredients: use the best olive oil and parmesan that you have or can afford and it will lift the flavour of the pesto by an unimaginable amount. You will need a surprising amount of basil leaves, and so it’s probably most economical to buy a couple of plants from the supermarket, cut most of the leaves off to use in the first batch, but keep enough on the plant so that you can water it and bring it back to life: hey presto, pesto all summer!
Ingredients (makes a generous serving for 4) Basil leaves from 2 – 2½ plants (or 2-3 small bunches of basil) 3 small handfuls of pine nuts 2 small handfuls of grated parmesan 3 crushed garlic cloves 4-6 tbsp good quality olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Method 1. Cut the leaves from the basil plant, or from the stalks if you are using bunches of picked basil. Squash the leaves inside the blender container and top with the pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, olive oil and a generous amount of seasoning.
2. Blend until smooth. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust as you like.
Use on the day of making, or you can put it in a jar or tupperware container, drizzle the surface with olive oil and store in the fridge for at least a week.
We had the pesto with my homemade tagliolini, and a simple green salad. With a bottle of wine and some lovely company, it was the perfect Sunday dinner.
Do you have your own pesto recipe? What do you do differently?
Crumble has to be one of the ultimate comfort-food puddings. It’s simple, sweet and stodgy, plus anything that can be served with custard is already winning. The choice of the crumble base can be whatever fruit you fancy – apple crumble is a classic, gooseberry is my personal favourite and in the autumn it’s amazing with a seasonal combination of apples, pears, plums and brambles. Rhubarb is in season, roughly, between late December and June. Forced rhubarb, which has been grown in the dark, has beautiful bright pink stalks and pale yellowish leaves and is available in the earlier months of the year. This was what I saw on the shelves on Sunday and it had to be mine. The smell of fresh rhubarb reminds me of being little and dipping raw stalks into mounds of sugar – sometimes the simple things in life are the best.
This was my first attempt at home made custard, and I have to say it was easy-peasy. This is not a boast – I guarantee you that, provided you can whisk and stir, you can make homemade custard too.
I think that one of the nice things about crumble is that you can tailor the topping to your own tastes and whatever you have in the cupboards. If you like a plain topping then just go by my mum’s basic recipe of 250g flour, to 125g butter and 60g sugar. Otherwise get creative – oats, ground almonds, flaked almonds, pine nuts, desiccated coconut, sesame seeds, even granola, are all delicious.
Ingredients (serves 6 to 8) 4 sticks of rhubarb, about 400g 40g golden caster sugar Zest of 1 orange 1 star anise
A few grinds of ground vanilla beans or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
150g plain flour 50g ground almonds 125g chilled butter, cut into small cubes 40g oats 30g pine nuts
60g light brown muscovado sugar
500ml milk 4 egg yolks 70g caster sugar
1½ tbsp cornflour
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Chop the rhubarb into pieces approximately 2-3 inches long. Lay snuggly in a baking dish and sprinkle with the golden caster sugar, orange zest, star anise and vanilla.
Roast for 20 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and the sugar has melted into a pink syrup.
2. Add the chopped butter to the flour and ground almonds. Use your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour and almonds. The aim is to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients so that you are left with a “breadcrumb” texture.
3. Mix in the oats, pine nuts and brown sugar.
4. Whisk together the egg yolks, caster sugar and flour. Heat the milk in a saucepan until just at the boiling point, then remove from the heat.
5. Add the hot milk to the egg yolks a little at a time, whisking continuously – no scrambled eggs here please! Put the mixture back on a low heat for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you stir constantly and remove from the heat as soon as the mixture is thick, so as to avoid the horror of lumpy custard.
6. Spoon the crumble topping over the roasted rhubarb and bake for 30 minutes (still at 200C/180C fan/Gas 6) until the topping is golden brown and the rhubarb juice is starting to bubble up the sides.
If you want to make the custard ahead of time then a good tip is to transfer the custard to a jug or bowl and cover with cling film directly touching the custard. This stops the custard forming a skin on top. When you are ready to eat, put the custard back into a pan and reheat slowly. Or serve the custard cold – this might gross some people out, but personally I think cold custard is the food of gods.
We enjoyed this on Sunday night after dinner, sat in front of the last episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones (mum and dad are catching up). So excited for the new season to start!
Would you put crumble near the top of your comfort-food list? What are your favourite crumble flavours?