Friday, 15 June 2007


In the deli where I used to work making pesto was my favourite job. Picking over the basil in the sun was a lovely way to pass a quiet half hour. The ingrediant themselves are delicious: basil, olive oil, parmesan, toasted pine nuts and garlic. They add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Making basil at home isn't really something its easy to do unless you grow your own, or find a cheap and plentiful supply. My own basil plants got summarily slaughtered by a band of maurading slugs, but riverford had big bunches of basil, so I ordered a load and got stocked up with pinenuts and parmesan in preparation.

A. did a trial run a couple of days ago, with a pot of basil from tesco. Very good it was too so I followed his recipe, with the addition of a bit more olive oil to help it keep better.

4 cloves of garlic
80g of basil
50g of pine nuts
50g of parmesan
Olive oil to loosen

Toast the pinenuts until golden in a low oven, keeping a close eye on them as they burn quickly. Then grate the parmesan and add all the ingrediants to a food processor and blend until combined. To keep the pesto pop it in a jar, smooth over the top and cover with a layer of olive oil to keep out the air. The top of the pesto will oxidze a little and go brown, but will still be good to eat.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Duck with petit pois

This is my father's recipe, adapted somewhat from an Elizabeth David cookbook if I remember right. He makes it with duck legs, but I decided to try it with a whole duck, making the confit slowly over the afternoon. The melting richness of the duck contrasts perfectly with the fresh spring peas. The whole duck works, although duck legs are easier to confit as turning them over is easier.

Take the duck out of the fridge and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Leave for at least an hour, then sponge off any dampness on the skin with a paper towel.

Melt a tin of duck fat in a large casserole, and when hot add the duck, browning all over. Turn the heat down, or remove to a very low oven and, continue to cook for at least 2 hours, perferably more, checking every half hour, until the meat is tender. Meanwhile use the giblets, a onion and a bay leaf to make a little stock. Once the duck is cooked and tender take it off the heat. At this point strain off the fat and reserve for cooking at a later date. Remove the duck from the pan and place to one side. If you wish you can at this point cover the duck with the fat and keep it in the fridge for several weeks to reheat at a later date.
Dice an onion finely (or two if you have a lot of duck) and add to the pan the duck was cooked in. When the onion is cooked add a large quantity of petit pois, fresh or frozen, and the strained stock. Place the duck on top, skin side up to brown, and place in a high oven until the liquid is just beginning to bubble and the duck skin is crisp.

Season and serve with mashed potato.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Rhubarb with Creme Anglaise and Shortbreads

I made dessert recently at my father's house, and we had a load of friends around for dinner. There were raspberries in the shops, and at first I was thinking hazlenut daquoise with raspberries and cream. But my brother was adament that he wanted to make creme anglaise, which I love, so we settled on triflesque layers of raspberries, creme anglaise and crumbled meriangues studded with hazelnut. The meriangue was sort of taking the place of the sponge and toasted almonds all at once, crumbled on the top of the creme anglaise. It was very good, but unfortunatly I made the mistake of going with the trifle theme and adding a dollop of whipped cream on top. Don't ask me why. As a friend of the family commented, it just took away from the beauty of the creme anglaise.

So when I got a load of rhubarb in the organic box this week I decided to keep it simple. Far too hot for crumble, but rhubarb compote, cooled and served with chilled creme anglaise and a plain shortbread seemed to hit the spot. No messing around, just good milk, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla pods. And a sharp rhubarb compote shining through.

I've been wanting to try out a new way of cooking rhubarb: roasting it in the oven. I can't remember which blog I read it on first, but its certainly been making the rounds. I was hoping it would allow the rhubarb to cook without breaking down into pulpy mush. My only worry was it getting too dry, so I popped it in a little le creuset pot with the lid on, on a low heat until it was tender. It worked pretty well, although I think I need to perfect the technique slightly: my rhubarb was a little overcooked and disintegrated on touch.

For the creme anglaise you'll need

6 egg yolks
500ml of milk - or equal parts milk and cream depending on how rich you want your custard
a vanilla bean
100g caster sugar

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until combined and slighly paler. Meanwhile bring the milk/cream and vanilla pod to the boil. Once it has boiled leave to steep for a moment, then, when it is cool enough to handle, fish out the vanilla pod and split it lengthwise, using the point of a knife to get out the seeds. Pour vanilla pod, seeds and milk/cream onto the egg yolks in a gentle stream, whisking all the while to combine. Pour back into the pan and, on a very gentle heat cook until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Now is the time for attention and patience. If these aren't your strong points then its a good idea to have a bowl ready to pour the custard into when it is done. You will notice it thicken slightly, to the consistency of double cream. If you start to get what appear to be small granules, or lumps, then you have overcooked it and the egg has seperated. Immediatly pour it into the bowl so it stops cooking if this is the case. Ideally though you should notice it thicken, perhaps slightly coating the end of the spoon as you stir the bottom of the pan. When it does this remove it from the heat and leave to chill.

My shortbread recipe is pretty much all in the eye now. I crumb good butter, caster sugar and flour together in rough proportions. Then I shape the shortbread into balls and pat it down with my fingers. It needs to be baked in a low oven, at about 140 oc until it is light gold in colour. I use about 300g of flour and 70g of sugar to 200g of butter. In this case I left the shortbread plain, but I often substitute ground nuts for some of the flour: ground hazelnuts are particularly good.