Tuesday, November 23, 2010

pickled walnuts

Have you noticed how the French have a tendency to make exaggerated Stan Laurel expressions of disgust at the mention of British food? They must imagine we eat unspeakably vile things, for they aren't able to articulate what they are when challenged.

Which is a bit rich considering they eat  tête de veau and rognons blancs and where all manner of things that could have been pulled from a vet's bucket are on display in supermarkets and boucheries. 

Back by popular demand

But I have to admit, even I was reluctant to try these pickled walnuts, a traditional English accompaniment to strong cheese and cold meat, especially after seeing them at the drying-out stage, when they resembled cremated golf balls. But once they're placed in spice-infused vinegar and left to mature for a bit, they wheeze back into life.

These are last year's vintage, so the harsh vinegary taste has been replaced with a top note of oriental spices. Even my French amis enjoyed them - begrudgingly.

2 kg young green walnuts (you should be able to slice through them easily with a knife)
brine to cover (150 g of salt per litre of water)
1 litre malt vinegar
400 g brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cloves
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 tsp coriander seeds

1. Prick the green walnuts a few times with a fork. (Be careful: the juice stains any porous surface dark brown and you may want to wear rubber gloves.) Place the walnuts in a bucket and fill with enough water to cover. Stir in the salt. Soak for 1 week, then drain and make the brine again. Soak for 1 more week.

2. After the second week, drain the walnuts and lay them out on trays to dry in an airy place. In 3-5 days they will turn black. Once they have all turned black, they are ready to pickle.

3. In a large pot, stir together the malt vinegar, brown sugar, allspice, cloves and cinnamon. Bring to the boil and then add the walnuts. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

4. Spoon the walnuts into sterile jars and fill with the syrup to within 1 cm of the top. Seal with lids and rings. Store in the refrigerator or sterilise in a hot water bath for 10 minutes before cooling to room temperature and storing in a cool dark cupboard.

Monday, November 8, 2010

chou-rave gratin

This is not Ann Widdecombe. I lied. It's a chou-rave (kohlrabi or cabbage turnip in English) and I'd never seen one until Nainbo gave me some from his garden last week. The bulbous part looks like a small white cabbage, but it peels like a turnip and has the same texture and firmness; and it tastes like cabbage and turnip but slightly sweeter and milder than both. The leaves can also be eaten -raw in salad or cooked in the same way as spinach.

You're supposed to pick them when they're golf ball-sized or they can be woody, but here in the mountains they like to wait until their vegetables are growing bark, so this one was a little past its prime.

But like the plucky Ann, I set about making a meal of it - and made a potato and chou-rave gratin.

You want equal quantities of chou-rave and potato. Peel and thinly slice the veg and cook in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Drain and place the veg in a shallow ovenproof dish and cover with single cream, a couple of handfuls of grated cheese and top with seasoned breadcrumbs. Place in the oven on a medium heat for about 25 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are crispy and the veg is cooked.

♫ Cook along to: The Troggs Wild Thing

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ann Widdecombe and Anton Chou-Rave Gratin

Is it a vegetable - or Ann Widdecombe doing the paso doble? That's what I wondered when I saw this:


Funny looking thing, isn't it?

For those of you not in the know, Ann Widdecombe is a former British cabinet minister (shadow home secretary) who's currently appearing on Strictly Come Dancing - the UK version of Dancing with the Stars. And what a star she is!

I'm sure it's Ann in that photo. The fabulous fiery silk confection she wore may have been toned down using Photoshop, but there's no mistaking that thin desperate arm (on the right) hanging on to Anton Du Beke as he drags her round the dance floor like the Statue of Liberty.

It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen on telly.

To be continued ...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

fennel remoulade

My copy of Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook finally arrived today. I've been on postie alert for days now because the book doesn't have a hard cover and I feared the post lady might try to wrestle it into the mailbox in the manner of my monthly magazine and other bulky items, rather than exerting herself by getting out of the post van and taking a couple of steps to our front door.

As it turned out, it arrived by courier (DHL), but they seem to have the same attitude to customer service. At least the postie comes to within a few feet of the door; when the DHL guy phoned up, he said our little village was too far out of his way (read: wanted to slope off work early) and that he'd leave my package in the newsagents 12 km away.

The joys of living in the mountains!

This is where I should segue into a recipe from the book (which is full of anecdotes accompanying great recipes from around the world - she said, shamelessly promoting it), but I'm not going to because this week I've been in a remoulade groove.

Remoulade is a mayonnaise-based sauce flavoured with mustard and lemon juice generally, but it can also include capers, anchovies, herbs etc. Here in France it's commonly used in céleri rémoulade - grated celeriac in a mustard-flavored remoulade - which we had at the beginning of the week, but today I made it with two fennel bulbs I found lurking in the bottom of the fridge. It's a great way to eat raw veg - as a starter or with fish.

Fennel remoulade

Serves 2
2 fennel bulbs
lemon juice
grain mustard

1. Remove the outer leaves of the fennel and thinly slice the remaining leaves.

2. Combine the lemon juice with the mayonnaise, mustard and salt and adjust to your taste (I used 1 dsp mayo, the juice of half a lemon and a tsp of mustard).

3. Add the sauce to the sliced fennel a little at a time and toss until the fennel is lightly coated.

♫ Cook along to: Ben Folds Gracie