Rhubarb Panna Cotta

Rhubarb is really good at the moment. It is in season so widely available and very versatile. I love a rhubarb and apple crumble but this panna cotta makes a delicious alternative and would make a great dessert four a dinner party. Panna cotta can be quite tricky to serve because you usually need to turn it out of the basin or other container that you’ve chilled it in to serve. This recipe avoids this because you set the panna cotta in a small glass with rhubarb at the bottom and serve it in the glass. The panna cotta needs to set for at least 2 hours but can be left to set overnight and served the following day. Easy!
You might wish to adjust the amount of sugar you add to the rhubarb f you like it on the sweet side.
The recipe serves 4. You will need:
4 sticks of rhubarb trimmed, washed and sliced into 1cm chunks.
A knob of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of light muscovado sugar
250 ml double cream
250 ml whole milk
4 leaves of gelatine
50g of caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
To make:
1. Melt the butter over a medium heat and add the rhubarb. Cook for 2 minutes and then add the muscovado sugar. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb soft but not mushy. Set aside while you make the panna cotta.
2. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes.
3. While the gelatine leaves are soaking, pour the milk and cream into a pan.
4. Split the vanilla pod in half and scrape the seeds into the pan. Add the pod to the pan as well.
5. Bring the mixture to the boil and then leave the mixture so that the vanilla can infuse.
6. Take the gelatine out of the water and squeeze it to remove any excess water. Remove the vanilla pod from the pan and stir in the gelatine.
7. Add the sugar and heat gently until the gelatine and sugar have melted into the cream mixture.
8. Divide the rhubarb between 4 glasses and pour over the panna cotta mixture. Allow the panna cotta to set for a minimum of 2 hours before serving.


Courgette, Asparagus and Hereford Red Tart

Another asparagus recipe! This is a delicious savoury tart that celebrates some great ingredients from around the Worcestershire and Herefordshire area. If you can’t get Hereford Red, Red Leicester or Double Gloucester make great alternatives. This tart is a bit of a family favourite. During the asparagus season, we often have it on a Saturday lunchtime, served simply, with a green salad. Blind baking the pastry case is really important. To do this, once you’ve chilled the tart shell in the fridge for about an hour, fill it with grease proof paper and then put baking beans, dried pasta or lentils on top of the paper. Put this in the oven, preheated to 190 degrees centigrade for about 8 minutes until it is a pale golden colour. Then remove the paper and baking beans, pasta or lentils and cook for another 4 minutes. This should avoid any possibility of the dreaded soggy bottom!!
To make the tart shell you will need:
For the pastry:
500g of plain flour
200g of cold butter, cut into cubes
30g of grated Hereford Red Cheese
About a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves
2 large free range eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons of milk
This will make plenty of pastry. You will certainly have some left over which can be frozen for later use. I always make the pastry in a food processor.
For the filling:
2 large free range eggs, beaten
50 grams of grated Hereford Red Cheese
8 asparagus spears, chopped into 1 inch pieces and with the woody end part snapped off.
1 large courgette, cut into slices
A good lug of olive oil
300ml of crème fraiche
Salt and pepper
To make the pastry case:
1. Put the flour, cheese and butter into the food processor and pulse until you have a fine, crumbly mixture.
2. Add the eggs, milk and thyme and pulse until the pastry comes together in a lump. This normally takes me about 30 seconds. You may end up with one large piece of pastry with a few bits left in the bowl of processor. Remove these and press into the larger piece.
3. Flatten the pastry into a disc about 1 inch think, wrap it in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about an hour. Chilling the pastry stops it shrinking when you cook it.
4. Take the chilled pastry out and roll it to fit a 23cm round tart tin. You need to aim for pastry that is about 3mm thick. A loose bottomed tin works best for this type of pastry case.
5. Place the rolled out pastry over a rolling pin and use this to put it over the tin. Press the pastry into the tin so that it fits well and then chill the pastry case for another hour.
6. Preheat the oven and blind bake the tart shell as described in the introduction.
To make the filling:
1. Put the olive oil into a frying pan and heat it over a medium heat for a minute or so before adding the washed courgettes and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper and fry for about 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat and beat together the eggs, crème fraiche and cheese in a bowl.
3. Add the fried courgettes and asparagus to the crème fraiche mixture and stir in.
4. Pour the mixture into the tart shell and flatten out gently.
5. Bake the tart in the pre heated oven on 190 degrees centigrade for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the filling is golden and has set.
6. Remove from the oven and serve cut into wedges with a green salad.

A simple loaf cake for when cake is required!

Last Saturday, I decided it was time for cake. Sometimes, you need something sweet and only cake will do. The girls agreed with me but were divided on whether I should make a chocolate or coffee cake. We couldn’t decide and on the basis that it’s difficult to have too much cake, I made one of each. I needed a quick recipe because I also needed to cook dinner so I used this all in one method loaf cake recipe which would work really well with lots of flavours. The recipe that follows is for a chocolate version. If you want to make the coffee version replace the cocoa powder with about 2-3 tablespoons of espresso coffee powder (we like our coffee cake on the strong side) and omit the chocolate. You could also flavour this cake with stem ginger or lemon – you’ll get a great result with minimum effort.
You will need:
175g very soft unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
175g of self raising flour
3 eggs
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of baking powder
200g of dark chocolate cut into small, nuggety chunks
2-3 tablespoons of milk
1. Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade and grease and line a loaf tin approximately 22cm by 12cm in size.
2. Put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl and make a well in the middle.
3. Add the butter, eggs and vanilla extract to the dry ingredients and mix together until you have a smooth mixture. Add the milk to the mixture to loosen it up a bit. I use an electric mixer to mix the ingredients.
4. Add the chopped chocolate and stir well.
5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-45 minutes. The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
6. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.

Asparagus Risotto

The asparagus season has got off to a slow start this year but there now seems to be plenty around. One of my favourite ways of cooking asparagus is to add it to a risotto with plenty of parmesan cheese. The rich flavour from the cheese works really well with the almost nutty flavour of the steamed asparagus.
Here’s what you need to serve 4:
About 15-20 asparagus spears, trimmed and sliced into pieces about an inch long.
Olive oil
A glass of dry white wine.
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into a fine dice
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 litre of vegetable stock
300g of Arborio or other risotto rice
A small amount of flat leaf parsley
A good handful of grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
To cook:
1. Bring the stock to the boil and then allow it to simmer gently. Add the asparagus and cook for about 5 minutes until tender. Remove the asparagus from the stock with a slotted spoon and reserve. Keep the stock simmering on a low heat.
2. While the asparagus cooks, put a good lug of olive oil in a frying pan and add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Fry this gently for about 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened.
3. Add the rice and stir until it is coated in the oily vegetable mixture.
4. Add the wine and bring this to the boil. Boil until the wine has almost disappeared.
5. Begin adding the stock, a ladle at a time, to the rice. Add another ladle of stock once the previous one has been absorbed by the rice. Try to keep stirring of the rice to a minimum to ensure that you do not break the grains of rice down too much. After about 20 minutes of cooking in stock, the rice should have a creamy texture but still be reasonably firm to the bite –al dente.
6. At this stage, add the parmesan and cooked asparagus. The asparagus will warm through while the parmesan melts. Cook for about 2 minutes.
7. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chopped flat leaf parsley. Drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil to give the dish a glossy, peppery finish and serve.

Asparagus, Courgette & Feta Salad with Parma Ham

I had my first chance to buy some of the new season’s asparagus a few days ago so made my way to a farm shop near Evesham to see what I could find. I left the shop with a handful of fresh asparagus, cut from a field a mile and a half from the shop the previous day. I found some small courgettes, feta cheese and some wafer thin slices of parma ham. Just the thing for a lunchtime salad.

“Keep it simple” is a good principle to work to with asparagus. You want these tender green shoots to be the star of whatever dish you are cooking so I grilled them on a fiercely hot griddle for about 5 minutes until they were softened but still retained a little firmness in the bite. A word on preparation before moving on. You will need to trim the asparagus to remove the woody end of the stalk. I find the easiest way to do this is to hold the asparagus at the base of the stalk and snap. This will remove the woody part at just the right place.

I grilled a couple of courgettes as well, after cutting them into thin slices. They only need a couple of minutes cooking. You can take them out of the griddle pan when they have some good marks from the bars, giving that chargrilled look.

To serve, simply pile the vegetables on the plate and top with crumbled feta and sliced parma ham. I made a basic salad dressing using olive oil, grain mustard, a little wine vinegar and honey and drizzled this over the salad after seasoning the vegetables with plenty of black pepper. You could certainly add salt as well but I didn’t. The ham and feta are quite salty as they are.

I served the salad with some crusty bread. It made an excellent lunch.

St George’s Day: Time for Asparagus

It’s St George’s day and that means the “official” start of the asparagus season.  Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables and to enjoy at its best, you need to eat it around this time of year.  One of my local farm shops informs me that, depending on the weather, the traditional asparagus season runs from today to Midsummer’s day – June 21st.

Readers of my blog know all about my love of local ingredients and we have lots of great asparagus around Worcestershire. Evesham asparagus is particularly well known.  This week, I’ll be buying asparagus from one of my local farm shops and there are loads of different ways of cooking it.  It is a versatile vegetable that works well in lots of different dishes.  Saying that, it works at its best when cooked really, really simply.  Grilled or steamed with melted butter, with olive oil and parmesan and some salt and pepper, in a risotto with pancetta or maybe just dipped into a boiled egg, there are loads of ways to eat asparagus.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of my favourite asparagus recipes. Please take a look and feel free to post your own suggestions.

Monday blues….. Chocolate needed…. Double Chocolate Muffins

Another Monday. The weekend seems a long way off. Tempted to reach for a bit of chocolate to cheer yourself up? Well, why not? In fact, why not try baking these chocolate muffins? Using a bar of chocolate cut into nuggety chunks makes a big difference. They’re much better than chocolate chips because you get a range of different sized chunks, some of which will be small, others larger and only justed melted during the cooking process. Kids will also love making these. Just make sure you have more than 100g of dark chocolate available to compensate for the amount that they eat!

You will need:
100g dark chocolate cut into nuggety chunks
250g self raising flour
30g cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
75g caster sugar
200ml of milk
1 egg

1. Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade and place 12 muffin cases in a muffin tin.
2. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
3. Mix together the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and cocoa powder in a bowl.
4. In a jug, mix the egg with the milk and then add the butter, mixing this in.
5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl containing the dry ingredients and mix together.
6. Add the chocolate and combine this with the muffin batter.
7. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and cook for 20 minutes.
8. Let the muffins cool in the paper cases on a cooling rack.
9. Eat greedily.