Autumn Fruit Compote

I shall probably be drummed out of the food bloggers’ club for saying this, but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I mostly make cakes and desserts as presents and when we have guests. Unless it’s tarte au citron, I could eat my own body weight in that.

But I do enjoy fresh fruit and compotes like this: a delicately spiced mix of autumn fruits, it’s good on its own or with creme fraiche or ice cream as an easy pudding, can be used as the base of a fruit crumble or pie and is equally delicious spooned over yoghurt for a speedy breakfast fix. Any leftover juices can be used as the base of a smoothie or sorbet.

I used fruit from the garden but mix and match according to what you have available. Pears also work here, as do peaches and nectarines.

Autumn Fruit Compote

Image of prepping for autumn fruit compote

Ingredients:

12-18 plums, halved and stoned

A double handful of blackberries

2 small sharp eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

A handful of raspberries

50g sugar

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

Zest and juice of 1/2 an orange

Method:

Image of autumn fruit compote ready for the oven

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Put all the fruit except the raspberries into a deep oven-proof dish, scatter with the sugar and orange zest, squeeze over the orange juice and toss gently to mix.

Tuck the cinnamon and star anise into the fruit, cover tightly and cook for 30 minutes or until the fruit is cooked but not falling apart, lest your compote becomes compost.

Remove from the oven and scatter over the raspberries. Put the lid back on and allow to cool until tepid (or cold, if you prefer).

Image of compote served with ice cream

Duck, I’ll Be Waffling

Image of Aldeburgh food and drink festival

Image courtesy of Aldeburgh Food and Drink

It’s the annual Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival this weekend, where Suffolk producers gather to showcase what they grow, rear and make. I say Suffolk, but we let a few other East Anglians in too, if they ask nicely. I’m biased but I think it’s the best food festival in the country. For sheer quality it’s unbeatable.

Friends will know I can talk for Britain, let alone Suffolk, and for the third year running I’ll be acting as one of the comperes as some of the country’s top cooks take to the stage to demonstrate their skills. I get to meet my food heroes, taste their recipes and occasionally chop their onions (only if they’re desperate).

This year the lovely venue of Snape Maltings plays host to a wide range of chefs (this list may be subject to last-minute changes) including Dan Doherty of Duck and Waffle, the restaurant at the top of the Heron Tower in the City of London. Dan’s signature dishes include a foie gras crème brulee and a spicy ox cheek doughnut.

Image of Toast, Hash, Roast, MashThe food in his new book though is rather more accessible to a home cook. Toast Hash Roast Mash, published by Mitchell Beazley, contains the sort of dishes Dan says he likes to cook for friends and family.

So I thought I’d try out a recipe: a chicken and sweet potato hash with harissa and feta, just the sort of thing you might want to cook after a day wandering the stalls and watching the demos at the Maltings. Marinate the chicken the day before if you can.

Chicken, Harissa, Feta and Sweet Potato

Image of chicken and sweet potato hash

Picture copyright Anders Schonnemann

Ingredients:

2 chicken legs

3 tablespoons harissa

Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

1 large sweet potato

Olive oil

2 spring onions, finely sliced

Small can (about 200g/7oz) of sweetcorn, drained

25g (1oz) butter

2 eggs

Zest of 1 lemon

50g (1¾oz) feta cheese

Method:

Preheat your oven to 180C fan/200C conventional oven/400F/gas mark 6.

Cut the chicken legs through the middle, separating the thighs and drumsticks. Put them into a bowl, then add 2 tablespoons of the harissa and massage it into the flesh. Season with salt and pepper. Put the chicken into a roasting tray and roast for 45 minutes.

Pierce the sweet potato and wrap it in foil. Put it into the oven alongside the chicken and bake for 45 minutes. When the chicken is cooked, take it out of the oven and leave it to rest on a wire rack. Remove the potato and set it aside to cool.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the spring onions and cook for 3–5 minutes until soft, without letting them colour. Add the sweetcorn and the final tablespoon of harissa and cook for a further 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

When the potato is cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and cut into roughly 2½cm (1 inch) pieces. Flake the chicken, including the skin, into similar sized pieces, then add the potato and chicken to the frying pan with the spring onion and sweetcorn. Give a good stir and allow to sauté together for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in another frying pan and fry the eggs.

When the hash is ready, divide it between two plates, crumble over the feta cheese and finish with a grating of lemon zest. Top each plate with an egg, season with salt and pepper, then serve.

Crab Apple and Sloe Gin Jelly

Image of a basket of crab applesI’ve been drowning in fruit this month, with baskets of pears and crab apples all over the kitchen. It’s a lovely position to be in in many ways but the sheer volume can be a bit daunting, especially when you haven’t actually eaten all of last year’s bounty. I still have bottled pears and jars and jam and jelly in the store cupboard, in spite of giving quantities away to friends and family.

Luckily a friend came and did a bit of scrumping in the orchard but that still left me with more than four kilos of crab apples. As we have already made herb jellies of every description, as well as industrial amounts of chilli jelly, I wanted to do something slightly different.

This is what I came up with: the sloe gin gives the jelly an elusive hint of Campari bitterness which is very appealing. I think it will be good with game, lamb and duck, either as a relish or stirred into a sauce. It would also be a welcome addition to a cheese board. Or try it with a pâté, served with toasted brioche.

Be warned, crab apples contain a lot of pectin so it could reach setting point very quickly. Have your jars warming in the oven before you start.

Crab Apple and Sloe Gin Jelly

  • Servings: depends on quantity of crab apples
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Image of crab apple and sloe gin jelly

Ingredients:

A quantity of crab apples

Water

Granulated sugar (see method)

Sloe gin – 2 tbsp per 450g of sugar

Method:

Image of crab apples in pan

Halve the crab apples, removing the stalks and any blemishes. Place in a large pan and add enough water to barely cover the fruit. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the fruit is has broken down.

Strain overnight through a jelly bag without pressing on the fruit, otherwise your jelly will be cloudy.

Measure the resulting liquid and for every 450ml, weigh out 450g of sugar. Put both in the cleaned pan on a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Turn up the heat and add a small nut of butter. This will prevent too much scum from forming and will vanish into the finished jelly. Boil without stirring until it is close to setting point, when the jelly starts to form pearls as it falls off a wooden spoon.

Stir in the sloe gin and continue to cook until setting point is reached: 105C with a jam thermometer or when a spoonful placed on a chilled saucer wrinkles after a few minutes when you push it with your finger. Skim off any scum, pot into sterilised jars and seal straight away.

Jewelled Berry Tartlets

Image of old wedding photos

If it wasn’t for Sarah, I wouldn’t be married to Him Outdoors. She’s one of my oldest friends and in a rash moment nearly 20 years ago she invited me to a house party where I was introduced to one of her brothers. Our eyes met over a drain he was digging in their father’s garden and the rest, dear reader, is history. (I should say the digging wasn’t part of the festivities, it preceded them. There was a long queue for the bathroom that day.)

She was telling me about another party she threw recently, the sort where people drift in and out over many hours, often with their kids in tow. The food needed to appeal to all generations, be scoffable in a couple of bites and crucially, have staying power.

These … or a variation of them … were what she served as dessert. They are smart little tarts, setting tangy bites of fresh fruit in a fruit conserve, within a crisp pastry shell. High Street bakery chains do something similar but not half as well.

The appearance is improved if you use a clear jelly to set the fruit, rather than a jam. I used raspberry and redcurrant with the fresh raspberries, quince jelly with the plums and rosehip jelly for the blackberries (on the basis that blackberries and rosehips ripen at much the same time, although I felt this final combination was too sweet).

If you don’t want to make your own sweet shortcrust, ready-made is fine. I used shallow vintage patty pans but any jam tart tin will work.

Jewelled Berry Tartlets

  • Servings: makes about 14-20
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Image of jewelled berry tartlets

Ingredients:

350g sweet shortcrust pastry (see bottom of this post)

The berries or fruit of your choice, 1-3 pieces per tartlet depending on size, sliced if necessary

Caster sugar, 3 tspn

Lemon juice

The jellies of your choice, 5-6 tbsp of each, assuming 3 varieties

Method:

Image of tartlet cases lined with baking beansPut the different fruits in a series of bowls and sprinkle each with a teaspoon of sugar. Set aside for a few hours to let the juices run. NB: if you’re using raspberries, don’t macerate them or they’ll go soggy.

Lightly grease your jam tart tins then line with the pastry and chill for 15 minutes while the oven heats up – set it to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Prick the base of the pastry cases all over with a fork. Line with baking parchment and fill with ceramic baking beans or dried pulses.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until the pastry is firm, then remove the beans and lining paper and cook for about 5 minutes more, until golden brown. (They look paler in the pictures but were more biscuity than they appear.) Please bear in mind your oven will vary from mine, so check a little earlier in both cases. When they’re done, remove from the oven, cool for a few minutes in the tins then carefully remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Strain the fruits, reserving any juice. Put the juice with the corresponding jelly in a series of pans on a low heat and melt the jam until it is smooth and lump-free: adding a small squeeze of lemon juice will help it re-set. Remove from the heat and allow to cool enough to thicken slightly, then pour over the fruits in their bowls.

Put a spoonful in each of the tartlet cases, making sure you distribute the fruit equally. Allow the jelly to cool and set before serving.

Image of jewelled berry tartlets cooling on rack

Griddled Peaches with Goat’s Cheese and Honey

Image of Aigua Blava bay

We were in Spain last week, in Catalunya, at the northern end of Spain’s Mediterranean coast. I never go there without saying a silent (and sometimes quite vocal) thank you to my late in-laws, who bought an apartment in Aigua Blava in the 1960s.

It’s a beautiful region and fantastic for food. The produce in the markets is superb, with perfectly ripe fruit and veg, spanking fresh fish and cured meats of every shape and size.

Image of market scenes, Palafrugell

Out shopping, though, I accidentally bought a goat’s cheese log which contained honey. I very nearly spat it out when I first tasted it as I was expecting something savoury rather than sweet and I have an aversion to cheese that’s been mucked about with.

But we had been planning to make grilled figs with goat’s cheese and honey and I thought it would work perfectly with that. Sadly I never managed to find any suitably ripe figs and on our last night when we were clearing out the fridge, our friends Robin and Nick combined it with a stray peach from the fruit bowl, inspiring this recipe.

It is a last taste of summer and as the weather in Suffolk this week promises to be positively Mediterranean it felt like the perfect dish to carry us through to the English autumn and its homelier harvest of plums and pears, apples, quince and medlars.

If you’d like to make it more of a lunch than a starter, add a few folds of wafer-thin Serrano or Parma ham and/or a handful of soft salad leaves to the plate.

Griddled Peaches with Goat's Cheese and Honey

  • Servings: 2-4 as a starter or light lunch
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Image of honey being drizzled over griddled peaches

Ingredients:

2 ripe peaches, halved and stoned

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

100g soft goat’s cheese

Big handful of pecans or walnuts, chopped, with a few left whole to garnish

Runny honey, 2-3 tspn

Small bunch of herbs: try chervil, Greek basil or thyme leaves

Method:

Put a griddle pan on a medium-high heat and turn the grill to medium-high. Put the goat’s cheese in a bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste and mix well.

Brush the peach halves lightly with oil, season the cut side with a little salt and pepper and griddle on both sides until nicely striped with char marks.

Image of peaches being griddled

Put a spoonful of goat’s cheese into the middle of each peach half and place under the grill until the cheese has warmed through.

Remove to a plate, sprinkle with the chopped nuts and drizzle with honey. Scatter with herbs and eat while still warm.

Image of Griddled Peaches with Goat's Cheese and Honey

Carrot and Coconut Salad

Image of carrots and graterAn Indian-inspired salad, this is simple but good.

The toasted coconut complements the sweet, juicy carrots, the lemon juice and coriander add a citrusy balance. If you can make it with freshly-dug carrots, so much the better.

It’s good as a side with Indian food but also works with barbecued and griddled meats.

It’s best served lightly chilled, but don’t make it too far in advance or it’ll lose its crunch and turn into a mulch.

Carrot and Coconut Salad

  • Servings: 2-4 as a side
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Image of carrot and coconut salad

Ingredients:

3-4 medium carrots, peeled and grated

3 spring onions, including the green parts, finely sliced

2 tspn black mustard seeds

2 tbsp dessicated coconut

Juice of 1/2 a lemon, or more to taste

1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander plus more to garnish

Salt, to taste

Method:

Put the grated carrot in a bowl with the sliced spring onions.

Put a small frying pan on a medium heat and dry-fry the mustard seeds until they pop (careful, they’ll go everywhere). Add to the bowl.

Dry-fry the dessicated coconut until golden brown, stirring to stop it catching. Put it in the bowl with the other ingredients, then mix in the lemon juice and chopped coriander.

Season to taste with salt and chill in the fridge until just before serving. Garnish with a few coriander sprigs.

Image of carrot and coconut salad

Pork with Pink Peppercorns

Image of crushed pink peppercorns

Q. When is a peppercorn not a peppercorn? A. When it’s pink.

Pink peppercorns are actually the dried fruits of a shrub, Schinus molle, also known as the Peruvian peppertree and sometimes from the related species Schinus terebinthifolius, or Brazilian pepper. They are not related to our usual black, white or red peppercorns and – a word of warning – come from the cashew family so can potentially provoke anaphylaxis in anyone with a nut allergy. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

For the rest of us though, they are an interesting addition to the kitchen cupboard. They have a very mildly peppery taste, combined with a fruity sweetness, and can be used with much more abandon than regular pepper. Chew one and see, they’re quite soft. If you’re unsure, go for the smaller quantity given in the recipe but personally I’d go for broke.

I used them to give an aromatic crust to a couple of pork chops … an easy way to tart up a quick mid-week supper. You can de-glaze the pan with wine or cider for a quick sauce, serve the chops with apple sauce or, as I did, half-melt dollops of herb jelly over them. I felt they benefited from that extra touch of sweetness.

Pork with Pink Peppercorns

Image of pork chops with pink peppercorns

Ingredients:

2 pork chops, preferably free-range

Olive or rapeseed oil

2-4 tbsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushed

A good grind of black pepper

Salt to taste

A splash of white wine or cider to de-glaze the pan or a dollop of herb jelly

Method:

Image of pork chops with pink peppercorn crust

About 30 minutes before you want to start cooking, remove the chops from the fridge. Slash the rind every 2 cm to stop them curling up as they cook.

Rub with a little olive oil and press the crushed peppercorns into the meat on both sides, then season well with freshly-ground black pepper. Cover and leave to come up to room temperature.

Put a heavy frying pan on the stove on a medium heat (not too hot or you’ll burn the peppercorns). Season the chops on both sides with salt. Using tongs, crisp the rind by standing them on their side, then cook for 8-10 minutes, depending on thickness, turning every couple of minutes.

While they’re resting de-glaze the pan, if you wish, with a swoosh of hooch. I melted over soft-set garlic and rosemary crabapple jelly instead. Or push the boat out and do both, you mad, reckless creature.

Chicken Agrodolce

Image of giant jar of olivesI have been putting olives in nearly everything recently, thanks to this generous gift from a house guest (thank you, Tim). It’s a whopping 1400g jar of my favourite sort of black olives, fruity, wrinkled and salty. Any friends who suggest that could equally describe me should consider themselves removed from the Christmas card list.

Regular readers will know that my sister-in-law Sarah crops up often in these pages. She’s an exceptional cook and when we were scratching our heads over something interesting to do with a plate of chicken joints the other day, she suggested something like this. Sadly her visit here was all too brief and she had to go home before I got round to making it.

It’s my take on the Sicilian classic, pollo in agrodolce, or chicken in a sweet and sour sauce and it’s unbelievably good. The sauce reduces to a slick, sticky glaze, with flavour bursts of olives, capers and raisins (or in this case, sultanas, because I like them better) and the chicken is so good you’ll be sucking the bones. Try it and see for yourself.

I served it with Greek-style lemon potatoes, which I didn’t think worked all that well, so I asked Rachel Roddy for her thoughts. Rachel is the author of the superb Five Quarters cookery book written in her Roman kitchen and her partner is a Sicilian. She says her mother-in-law always serves the dish with bread while she favours rice. Either would be good though I think I’m with Rachel on this one. She is currently working on her second book so keep an eye out.

Chicken Agrodulce

  • Servings: 2 greedy people
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Image of chicken agrodolce

Ingredients:

2-3 tbsp olive oil

4 bone-in chicken thighs/drumsticks, skinned

2 small to medium onions, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp sultanas or raisins

2 tbsp sugar

12-18 black olives, pitted (or green, if you prefer)

2 tbsp capers

150 ml red wine vinegar

Orange or lemon segments to squeeze over

Toasted pine nuts and fennel fronds, to garnish

Image of ingredients for chicken agrodolce

Method:

Heat the olive in a deep frying pan (one with a lid) and brown the chicken joints on both sides. Remove and set aside.

In the same pan, cook the onions gently until soft and golden. Put the chicken back in and add the sultanas, sugar, vinegar, capers and olives. Turn up the heat and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. A spatter guard is handy here.

Image of reduced sauce ready for lid to go on

Turn the heat to medium-low, put on the lid and cook for a further 20-25 minutes. Check the seasoning and add freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste, though you may find it’s salty enough because of the olives and capers.

Squeeze over the citrus juice, scatter with toasted pine nuts and garnish with a few fennel fronds, if you have them, for an extra flavour dimension.

Image of chicken agrodolce, served

Grama’s Rosemary and Garlic Crab Apple Jelly

Image of apple treeWe have a small tree on the edge of our driveway, half buried in an overgrown laurel hedge. We barely noticed it until one year it started raining little green apples.

It turned out to be a sort of crab apple, or perhaps more correctly, a domesticated variety that had reverted to its wild state. Maybe someone dropped an apple core there many years ago.

The fruits are small and quite sour so I used them to make this jelly, which arrived in Suffolk from the United States via Northern Ireland.

I should explain. It began, from my point of view, with a Twitter conversation about jams and jellies with Erick from @picturebelfast. But the recipe, which he kindly shared, may go back much further. It comes from his grandmother, who he calls Grama, a lady called Carol Golden who lives in farming country in upstate New York. It is written on a small card kept in a tin bin where she stores recipes passed down through the family, from her own grandmother through to the current generation.

“She is the daughter of a dairy farmer,” Erick told me. “She’s known for being a grandma to everyone. She has cookie parties and canning parties for all the generations of kids to pass down her knowledge in a fun way.” If that makes her sound like a character from Little House on the Prairie, you should know she went to university after her kids were grown up and earned a master’s degree in early childhood education.

Grama adds, I’m told, a lot more garlic than is listed below so I don’t think she’ll mind if I say feel free to adapt it to your own tastes. Her family traditionally eats it with goose but it’s also excellent with lamb and pork. Recent guests at our house devoured an entire jar at one sitting.

The original quantities, given here with metric equivalents, are large so if you have fewer apples, reduce the amount of onions, vinegar, rosemary and garlic in ratio or to taste.

Grama's Rosemary and Garlic Crab Apple Jelly

  • Servings: makes 6-8 small to medium jars
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Image of jelly spooned from jar

Ingredients:

4 US quarts (about 2.25 kg) of crab apples

3 large onions

3/4 US cup (180 ml) white vinegar; I used white wine vinegar but cider vinegar would be good too

Handful of fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 tbsp finely chopped garlic (or more, to taste)

Sugar, equal to liquid after straining (see method)

Image of a basket of crab apples

Method:

Remove the stems, flower ends and any blemishes from the crab apples. Cut in half and add to a stock pot. Mine were bigger than normal so I chopped them roughly.

Peel the onions, chop into large chunks and mix into the crab apples. Add water to the level of fruit. Bring to a boil and simmer until apples are soft, about 30-45 minutes. Mash gently just to break open the apples “but not so much,” says Grama, as “to make mush”.

Image of the simmered apples and onions

Strain in a jelly bag overnight without pressing the juice through, or your jelly will be cloudy. Measure the resulting liquid and pour it into a clean pot. Add the vinegar.

For every ml of liquid measured, weigh out the same in grams of sugar (or if using US measurements, a cup for a cup). Add it to the pan, with the chopped rosemary and garlic. Bring it up to heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring to the boil and bubble until the jelly reaches setting point, 105C with a jam thermometer or when a spoonful placed on a chilled saucer wrinkles after a few minutes when you push it with your finger. Ladle into sterilised jars and seal.

For safety’s sake, Grama’s instructions are to cook until the jelly begins to sheet/set then heat the filled and sealed jars in a water bath for 15 minutes, but I didn’t and my original batch kept for 12 months without a problem … the choice is yours.

Image of filled jars

Courgette Tarte Tatin

The salad drawer is stuffed, the neighbours are avoiding me and Him Outdoors is mumbling about trip hazards on the garden path. Even the hens have developed an aversion. Yes, the courgettes are running amok again.

H.O. points out that if we grew fewer plants we wouldn’t have a problem. But I always worry that if we only plant a couple, the slugs will eat them and – shock! horror! – I would have to buy my courgettes. So I’m always on the look-out for recipes to use the surplus.

This courgette tarte tatin makes a tasty vegetarian meal for at least four people, needing only a salad on the side, though of course you can serve it with meat or fish if you want to.

You’ll need a pan about 24 cm in diameter. If you can source both green and yellow courgettes to alternate the circles, it looks rather pretty.

Courgette Tarte Tatin

Image of courgette tarte tatin

Ingredients:

2-3 tbsp olive oil

1 large or 2 small onions, peeled and chopped

4-6 small courgettes (about 400g in total), sliced into thick pennies

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

About 120g cheese, diced (I used a lightly smoked sheeps’ cheese but a hard goats’ cheese would work, or try a crumbled caerphilly)

1 sheet of all-butter puff pastry

Small handful of toasted pine nuts

Image of ingredients for courgette tarte tatin

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

Heat the oil in the pan and gently fry the onions until soft and golden. Season with salt and pepper, add the thyme leaves and remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set aside.

In the remaining oil, cook the courgette slices, in batches if necessary, adding a little more oil if required. When they’re just softened, remove from the heat and scoop onto a plate.

Make sure the pan is well-greased, including the sides, then once the courgettes are cool enough to handle, put them back in the pan, arranged in overlapping concentric circles. Grind over a little salt and pepper.

Image of courgettes arranged in pan

Scatter the onions evenly over the courgettes and top with the cheese. Try not to get any of the cheese in contact with the base of the pan or you will struggle to turn out your tart.

Roll out the puff pastry until you can cut a circle a little larger than the diameter of the pan. Place it over the vegetables and cheese, tucking the edges down and around. Prick with a fork. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until cooked and golden.

Image of tart before turning out

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes, but it’ll be easier to turn out while it’s still hot. Run a knife gently around the edges then, using oven gloves or a thick cloth, put a serving plate over the pan and invert it.

If any courgette sticks to the pan, just tuck it back in place. Scatter with toasted pine nuts and serve.

Image of tart, sliced