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Summer pudding and brown bread ice-cream

Summer pudding and brown bread ice-cream

Don’t you sometimes wonder how a traditional dish or dessert came about? I certainly did when I made this dessert that combines two English classics – summer pudding and brown bread ice-cream. I had come across the recipe for the brown bread ice-cream a few months ago while trawling the internet and made a mental note to make it at some point. It’s basically a variation on cookies and cream with the distinguishing ingredient being crunchy caramelized bread crumbs. I wanted to know more about the origins of this ice-cream, but surprisingly, all I could find on the internet is that it dates back to Victorian times. I couldn’t find any more historical information so if someone knows more, please tell me!

As for the origins of summer pudding, one article I read describes it being called ‘hydropathic’ pudding because it was served at health resorts in the 19th century as an alternative to heavy puddings made with pastry. Interesting story but it seems that summer pudding was an early 20th century invention, first appearing in a recipe in 1902. Whatever its history, summer pudding makes delicious use of berries, packing them into a bread casing.

Yes, I know, this dessert has bread and bread but I already had the brown bread ice-cream sitting in the freezer and wasn’t about to make another type. In any case, bread is the common ingredient that links the two main things together <trying hard to convince readers>.

Summer pudding
adapted from “The Cook’s Companion”, Stephanie Alexander
serves 6

Use mainly red currants or raspberries. This is to give the pudding a nice crimson colour. Too many blackberries, blackcurrants or loganberries will produce purple juice. To be honest, I wasn’t too worried, hence the puddings are more purple in colour.

1 loaf thinly sliced white bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup water
100g sugar
500g mixed berries
some chopped unsalted pistachios

Put water and sugar into a non-reactive saucepan. Simmer until sugar has dissolved. Add fruit and give a good stir. Cover and bring to the boil, then remove from heat. Cool fruit completely.

Using a cutter, cut 6 slices of bread into rounds to fit the base of moulds, discarding excess. I used 9cm/3.5inch diameter ramekins as moulds but you can improvise and use what you have at hand. The final look will obviously be different. Line base of moulds with the round slices of bread. Slice more bread to line the sides of each mould, ensuring a good fit. Cut another 6 rounds to form lids and reserve. Spoon in fruit right to the top. Cover with reserved rounds of bread. Place moulds onto a tray and cover with cling film. Place another tray or baking dish over the top. If necessary, weigh down more with tins. Refrigerate puddings overnight or up to 2 days.

To serve, remove weights and invert puddings carefully onto serving plates. You may need to be a bit brutal and run a knife along the sides of the moulds to loosen. Scatter pistachios around plates followed by a scoop (or two) of brown bread ice-cream. You can use whatever ice-cream or sorbet you like instead of this one. Within reason, of course. Chocolate or plain vanilla would be nice but I wouldn’t go using a bacon and egg ice-cream. Leave that for another occasion!

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Summer pudding devoured

 

Very(!) rustic fig and ricotta crostata

 Fig tree

You may remember me complaining about the high prices of figs in a previous post. Well, I’m not grumbling anymore. It is now peak season for figs and because I’ve been lucky enough to know some people with fig trees, they have kindly given me some of their excess fruit. So of late, I’ve been gorging myself with figs, just by itself or with cereal at breakfast.

About a week ago, I was invited along with some others to a dinner to farewell a friend who had come back for a holiday. The dinner was held at his parents’ place in the hills just out of Perth. We went on an “excursion” of the property, picking and eating our way through each fig tree. Some were of the green variety, others purple. The green ones did it for me. They had a deep purple interior that oozed a thick sweet syrup. We were getting full even before dinner started! After the fantastic meal, we were given a couple of boxes of figs to take home. You can imagine my excitement…go on…try. I was pretty thrilled at the prospect of eating and using these in the days that were to come and not having to pay $3 for each fig!

Figs are great eaten fresh but I got a bit tired after a while and wanted to make a dessert. So the idea for this crostata came about. You could even use store-bought dough if you wanted to but this really isn’t difficult to make.

Rustic fig crostata

Fig and ricotta crostata

250g ricotta
10-15 medium sized fresh figs
250g plain flour (not strong bread flour)
120g cold unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon iced water
1 egg
5 tablespoons honey

Drain ricotta in a fine sieve for 30 minutes. Slice figs and set aside. Place butter and flour in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles the texture of breadcrumbs. Do not overprocess. Add iced water and process on low setting until dough just starts to come together. If necessary, add more iced water one tablespoonful at a time. From dough into a ball and wrap in plastic cling film. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200° C/400° F.

Beat drained ricotta and egg until combined. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a rough round about 3mm thick. Spoon ricotta mixture onto dough and spread evenly, leaving a border of about 5cm. Arrange slices of fig on top (overlapping slightly). Fold and pinch the edges of the dough up over the filling. Drizzle with honey.

Bake until crust is golden.

Rustic fig crostata

Enjoy this with a cup of tea/coffee or make it for an after-dinner dessert and have it with a nice glass of dessert wine or sweet liquer.

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A header of chocolate tarts

My “book of the moment” is Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy, a much appreciated present from Christmas last. I hesitate to call it a cook book because it’s more than just that. In the book are fascinating stories about ingredients, how-to’s on making things such as your own ice-creams and pasta and also details about Giorgio’s youth to his present day experiences in running Locanda Locatelli in London. I’m not one for reading a book like this from cover to cover so today, I read an article dedicated to chocolate. The story was an interesting one, especially the sections about the trading of chocolate (which sounded a lot like the coffee trade) and specialist chocolate makers who are making products which express the different chocolate varieties grown in particular geographical conditions, much like the single “crus” or single estate vineyards in the wine world.

Which brought me to the realisation that I really should write a post on the chocolate tarts that feature on the header you see on my blog. The recipe was taken from Gourmet Traveller, my favourite food and travel magazine. I made these little tarts quite some time ago as petit fours for a Christmas party and I remember they went down very well.

Chocolate tarts

Chocolate and clementine tarts
makes about 30
adapted from Gourmet Traveller

175 gm cold unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
75 gm almond meal
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
100 gm pure icing sugar
250 gm plain flour
3 glacé clementines or kumquats, cut into julienne

Chocolate filling
100 gm dark chocolate (45% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
80 ml (1/3 cup) Grand Marnier
250 ml (1 cup) thickened cream, lightly whipped

Process butter, almond meal, egg and vanilla in a food processor until just combined. Working quickly, add icing sugar, alternate with flour and a pinch of salt and process until pastry just comes together. Form into a disc and wrap with cling film. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll pastry out on a lightly floured surface until 3/4 cm thick and line fifteen 5cm tart tins, trimming excess pastry. Bake at 180° C for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Remove from tins and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container until required.

For chocolate filling, melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over gently simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth. Add Grand Marnier and, when almost cold, fold through cream until well-combined.

To serve, spoon a teaspoon of chocolate filling into each tart and top with glacé clementines.

Instead of the glacé clementines, I made my own with julienned kumquat peel.

Glacé kumquat peel
3 kumquats, peeled and julienned
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Place peel and water in saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add sugar and boil for another 10 minutes. Turn off heat and leave overnight. Next day, bring to boil and remove peel from syrup. Spread out on baking sheet.

The tarts work really well on a number of levels, the crunch of the pastry, followed by the soft filling, then a hit of citrus!

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Grilled figs

Fresh figs

Okay, I finally succumbed and splurged on some figs. At A$3 each (I bought 4), they weren’t exactly the cheapest fruit but I just had to get some! It’s strange – actually more an abomination since I forked out so much money – that these fruit cost the earth. I guess it’s to do with the fact that they are fragile and easily bruised. You can’t harvest them with a machine like apples or oranges. At least I don’t think so. Everytime I drive by a fig tree with fruit ready for the picking, I’m filled with jealousy and my thoughts turn into those of a thief, wondering when I could return and steal some before the darn birds get to them. My sister does have a tree in her backyard and has given me some before because she doesn’t like them! Well, I’m not complaining… Trouble is, I’ve recently moved to another state.

If I had some blue cheese around I would not have hesitated for one moment and eaten the two together. Figs with blue cheese is a classic combination and the flavour of the two is just divine. Another classic partner of figs is prosciutto. The cheese I did have was mascarpone. Some quick research work yielded some simple recipes which utilised this with figs. A few recipes included a balsamic vinegar reduction which sounded fantastic.

Grilled figs with mascarpone and balsamic vinegar

Serves 4

4 large, or 8 small, ripe figs
100g mascarpone
100ml balsamic vinegar

Preheat grill. Wash and pat dry the figs. Make two perpendicular cuts in the form of an X halfway into each fig. Place on baking paper and grill for 2-3 minutes until figs are nice and soft but not mushy. Transfer to a serving plate. At this stage, you can continue the cuts almost all the way down to the base so the figs open up like a flower. Or leave the figs like I did.

Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Continue simmering until reduced to a third.

Scoop mascarpone onto plate and drizzle balsamic reduction around. You could also spread mascarpone on top of the figs if they were cut into a flower shape.

Grilled figs

I liked the flavour combinations here a lot. The sweetness of the figs was tempered by the acidity of the balsamic reduction and the mascarpone added richness. For me, the grilling didn’t add anything special. Next time, I would just have the figs fresh.

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Fremantle sardines and regionality

Some people hate sardines…but not me. The humble sardine has a strong flavour and aroma that some consider off-putting but I love it for these qualities. In Western Australia, the sardines caught off the waters of Fremantle are well-known for being some of the best. A sardine festival is even held there annually which attracts many thousands of people.

Today, a group of us caught a ferry from Perth to Fremantle along the Swan River. It was a relaxing trip, passing million dollar homes of the wealthy along the way. After docking we made our way to the marina and had lunch at Cicerello’s, a seafood restaurant that was established way back in 1903. Among other fish, we had the famous sardines which were simply grilled. They were absolutely delicious, so fresh and smelling of the sea.

Sardines at Cicerello’s, Fremantle

This brings me to an issue which really interests me – regionality in food production and cooking. For me, one of the quintessential countries which demonstrates this is Italy, where I spent a year in 2003/2004. Of course, you could say the same for France, Spain or maybe where you live. Regional produce and cooking in these countries have developed from the confluence of elements such as climate, geography, culture and politics. Just think of the famous parmesan and prosciutto from Parma, or balsamic vinegar from Modena, and perhaps less well-known, the buffalo mozzarella from Naples and pistachio from Bronte in Sicily.

In Australia, I’ve begun to notice that regionality in produce is developing slowly, but surely. For example, the Barossa Valley, Kangaroo Island and Mt Barker are well-known for producing top quality chickens, Coffin Bay for oysters and the Yarra Valley for salmon. For me, regionality is about celebrating culinary traditions and diversity of produce amidst the uniformity of mass produced and uniform food found in most of our supermarkets. Regionality is also about where our food comes from and a sense of place, that certain produce come from particular areas because of various influences which allow them to grow well there. In terms of regional styles of cooking however, we’re not anywhere near the level found in countries like Italy and France. But maybe given time, something may develop…

A few days prior to our trip to Fremantle, I found some sardines in the freezer as I looked around the kitchen for ingredients to use for dinner one night. I collected these items:

  • frozen Fremantle sardines
  • fresh snow peas
  • frozen homemade pesto of coriander and cashew
  • potatoes that were starting to shoot

Yes I know, not very glamourous sounding ingredients! But you can turn even the most basic things into a decent meal. This is what I made:

Crumbed Fremantle sardines with warm salad of potatoes, snow peas and coriander and cashew pesto

I started by putting on the potatoes in some water and bringing to the boil. I then crumbed the sardines by coating the fillets in flour, then dipping them in an eggwash and finally coating in breadcrumbs. When the potatoes were about done, I threw in the snow peas and took them out along with the potatoes after around 2 minutes. I like the peas crunchy. While still warm, I added some of the pesto and a bit of extra virgin olive oil to the potatoes and peas and seasoned with salt and pepper. I then fried the sardines until golden brown in some grapeseed oil. To plate up, some of the warm salad followed by the sardines on top. A simple but tasty meal! And everytime I eat Fremantle sardines, I can say I’ve been to the area where they came from and even ate them there.

Crumbed sardines

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Chocolate marquise with blueberries and strawberry coulis and sorbet

Chocolate marquis with blueberries and strawberry coulis and sorbet

Being the height of summer here in Perth, I wanted to take advantage of the fruit in season as much as possible. I had already used peaches, boysenberries and red currants in a previous dessert so this time, I bought some blueberries and strawberries. But what to do with these? I hadn’t used chocolate for a while so I thought of combining it with the berries. There is something about this pairing which works so well. My mind goes back to the Bar Pompi in an unassuming area close to the Piazza Re di Roma and San Giovanni in Laterano Church in Rome, a shop which is considered to produce one of the best (if not the best) tiramisu around. They not only had the usual tiramisu but one with strawberries and white chocolate which was to die for!

Wanting to try a new recipe, I came across this recipe for a chocolate marquise which is similar to a mousse except it can be cut. It seemed a simple recipe with a low difficulty level, always good when you’re trying something for the first time. I used a 24x35cm rectangular tin lined with plastic wrap which produced a flat mix I could then cut into squares. To accompany the blueberries, which I decided to use fresh, I made a strawberry coulis and sorbet.

Strawberry sorbet
300ml water
200g white or caster sugar
400g strawberries, hulls removed

Make a sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stirring until the sugar is completed dissolved. Remove from the heat. Process the strawberries in a food processor, then mix the puree and sugar syrup together and place in the refridgerator until completely chilled. Put the mixture in an ice-cream maker and churn according to instructions.

Strawberry coulis
50ml water
50g white or caster sugar
250g strawberries, hulls removed

Make a sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stirring until the sugar is completed dissolved. Place strawberries and syrup in a food processor and process until smooth. Chill in refridgerator.

To assemble, remove the marquise from the mould by pulling up the plastic wrap and inverting onto a chopping board. Cut the marquise into squares and place on serving plates along with a scoop of strawberry sorbet, some of the coulis and scattered blueberries. To finish this off, I tore up some mint leaves which not only added colour but another flavour dimension which goes very well with fruit and chocolate.

Chocolate marquis with blueberries and strawberry coulis and sorbet

The mix, in turns out, was enough for 6 to 8 people, depending on how large the portions were. The marquise was a little difficult to cut up and on further research found this could be frozen to firm the mixture up more. I also thought the marquise was a bit dense. I was expecting something a bit lighter and airier. Maybe I overworked the chocolate and cream mixture a bit too much. In any case, I was really happy with the combination of ingredients.

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New Year 2007

Well, another year has passed. Welcome to 2007! Hopefully everyone had a good Christmas (if you celebrated it) or spent the holidays doing something nice. My Christmas was spent down in Dunsborough, a smallish town located around 3 or so hours south of Perth, at the home of my partner’s brother and his family. The coastline along Dunsborough is stunning – unspoilt beaches with crystal clear water set in beautiful landscapes. Christmas’ are a big thing for the household, especially this year with the marriage of a daughter. There were members from the groom’s side which made for a large gathering!

The Christmas celebrations started the night before, with around 25 people gathered for a meal of epic proportions. It was a big Italian do – meatballs, zucchini fritters, pizza, zipolli (deep fried fritters with anchovies), roast turkey, pork, lamb and seafood. Dessert then followed! Pavlova (a meringue with toppings of fruit and cream), traditional pudding with custard, mince tarts, biscuit…it goes on. There was enough food to feed a troop! All I can say is I’m glad there were lots of helpers around – helpers to prepare the meal, helpers to eat the meal, helpers to clean up after the meal…you get the idea. As you can imagine, I was pretty full at the end of this. But of course there were then the leftovers, some of which we had along with other goodies at another big meal during Christmas day lunch.

After lunch, the traditional exchange of gifts and unwrapping of presents and where you graciously accept things you then proceed to leave in the cupboard somewhere without touching it for the next year. I’m normally pretty lucky though, most people know I like food so I get bottles of wine (very practical and doesn’t stay around too long), cookbooks (always handy) and different types of food bits like biscuits, preserves, that sort of thing.

Here are some things I received:

Christmas presents

clockwise from top left:

  • bottle of Cullen Cabernet Merlot (one of the top wines in the country) – a splurge for myself, because I’m worth it
  • small panetonne – a traditional Italian Christmas sweet bread, much like a brioche
  • 2007 Little Britain diary – yeh but, no but
  • cookbook by Giorgio Locatelli – a famous chef from London

It’s also wonderful to get things which you can enjoy and reminisce over, like the panetonne and biscuits we got.

Enjoying Christmas goodies

Happy 2007 everyone!