Mostarda di #Allotment

Glistening in righteous expensiveness in the upper-crust supermarkets, lives Mostarda di Cremona. What we can buy, while still the genuine article, is the lower end of the range. It’s a strange substance, candied fruit preserved  in a mustard syrup. The Real Thing is split by region (there are many Mostardas) and also by specified fruit. You’d choose the one to go with your cheese or cold meat, like we would make a choice between quince or cranberry or mint jelly. It’s as much texture as flavour, some are chopped small and are more like an old English chutney, but I like the ones that look like a box of Newberry Fruits tipped into a bottle of glycerine.

When we were making Courgette and Pineapple jam, I loved the crispness of the courgette pieces in among the clear syrup, and I thought then that I’d have a go at a Courgette Cremona. Starting to research recipes, I discovered what my main problem would be. Authentic Mostardas are flavoured with mustard essential oil, which you can get in Italy but not here. There were compromise versions with dry mustard powder dissolved into the liquid, or spice bags filled with mustard seed boiled up with the fruit, but I was stomping my Ickle Foot of Tantrum. Why can’t I get it here? My Indian cookery books all talk about mustard oil with gay abandon, surely I could find it in Sheffield.

And I did, sort of. Mustard oil IS sold in Indian shops, in with the almond oil and hair tonics. It has “For External Use Only” written on the labels in bright red letters. Apparently under EU regulations it can’t be sold as a foodstuff, as it has a high amount of erucic acid. But they haven’t put anything in it to make it unusable, just a label saying Ooooh, Aren’t You Naughty. There’s a wonderfully tactful explanation on the Spices of India website. I wasn’t sure what the mustardy strength of my massage oil/hair tonic would be compared to this mythical Italian essential oil, so we took it slowly and tasted as we went.

Following the original jam recipe, I put 2 lbs of peeled and degorged courgettes, green and yellow, into a bowl and added about 1.5 lbs of caster sugar. I’d found that to be incredibly sweet when I made it before, so this time I added 2 fl oz lime juice as well. Stirred it up well, and left it overnight. The sugar brings out the juice, crisping up the courgette and also making a clear syrup. The idea is that now you boil the mixture, and it turns into jam. I wanted to stop partway through that process, while there was still plenty of liquid. It took a while to get there, but eventually I had some nicely candied courgette in hot syrup. I added a small tub of glace cherries (rinsed), 4 oz diced peel (not the regular industrial mixed peel, some candied citron, orange and lemon peel strips cut to the same size as the courgette), and simmered that for just a few minutes to meld it all in.

Now came the tricksy bit. The one thing I did know about mustard oil from my reading is that it is pungent in the bottle, but loses that and becomes sweet when you heat it. Fair play, regular made-up mustard does that too. So I didn’t want to heat it too much when mixing it in with the syrup, but I did want to get it emulsified before anything started to caramelise.

I waited until the syrup was warm enough to stick a finger into, and added 1 fl oz mustard oil. It tasted fine, sweet and slightly warming, but not anywhere near a full mustard hit. The mixture didn’t separate, though. Let it cool down a bit more, taste again, add some more oil. Over the course of a couple of hours I added 4 fl oz in total. The syrup is tangy rather than hot, certainly not piccalilli strength. It made a 1-litre jarful, and it looks beautiful. The light colours of the courgettes are set off by the deeper yellows and oranges of the peel, and the scattered bright red of the cherries. I was concerned that the syrup and oil would separate when it cooled thoroughly, but it doesn’t seem to have yet. Which means the mustard oil is slowly finding its way into the fruit …

The traditional Italian time to eat Mostardas is autumn, but I think for UK versions it’ll be Christmas. With ham, with Wensleydale, with cold turkey. Glazing a ham with it, even, or studding the top of a terrine – decorating the top of a warm whole Camembert.

We have a lot of butternut squash coming off the allotment, and I am tempted now to try a cross between candied pumpkin and a mostarda, but using the dry powder variant to see if I can get it stronger.


Simple Pork in Cream Sauce

This is loosely based on Cotes de Porc Sauce Nenette, from Julia Child. It’s very forgiving, and usually needs very little shopping. Extras freeze well, and you can double up the sauce without a problem.

You want pork shoulder steak, or thick chops – something that isn’t too tender like a medallion, or too fatty like belly. If you ask the butcher (or look on the packet) for something that would take 15-20 minutes to grill, you’re on the right track.

For the sauce, you need garlic, tomato paste, wholegrain mustard, and creme fraiche.

Brown the meat in a little bit of oil in a heavy pan, on both sides. When it’s seared, tip in a chopped clove of garlic, 2 teaspoons of tomato paste, and 3 of wholegrain mustard. Stir it around well, and add 250ml of creme fraiche (a whole small tub). Stir again and get it up to a lively simmer, leave it for about 20 minutes (with the lid off).

The sauce should thicken and concentrate. Taste it near the end and add salt if you think it needs it. If it gets too thick, a bit of chicken stock of water will loosen it up. If it’s not thick enough when you want to serve it, take the meat out and keep it warm while you boil the sauce down.

This amount of sauce will do for about 3 big chops or four small steaks. You could also get cubed casserole meat (leg or collar), start if the same way and then stew it slowly in the oven for a few hours.

If you like added veggies, you can put chopped red and yellow peppers, or onions, or mushrooms, in while the meat is browning. And you can increase the garlic to taste.

I sometimes put chopped fresh herbs in at the very end – basil if I’ve used peppers, parsley with mushrooms, tarragon or chives if it’s plain.

It’s good with plain rice, potatoes, pasta, seasonal veggies or a crisp bitter salad.

Preserved Courgettes

So far we’ve got three different kinds of preserved courgettes.

Courgette and Pineapple Jam – yellow courgettes, seeded, peeled and cut up small. Set aside overnight dredged with sugar. It makes a syrup, and next day you boil it up with added tinned pineapple and a bit of lemon juice to help the set. It was very very sweet, I’ve added some lime juice. The fruit is almost crystallised and the jam is very clear. I’m wondering if putting in more glace-type fruit and citrus peel, and adding mustard might make something interesting in the cremona line.

Marrow Mangoes – we did the giant courgette soaked in vinegar and stuffed with spices for 10 days, straining and boiling every day. Now they’re sliced, and bottled with some of the vinegar boiled up with sugar. They’re supposed to sit now for three months.

Courgette Chutney – there was some vinegar left over from the “mangoes”. It went in a pan with some white and some brown sugar, 3 large yellow courgettes, one red and one white onion, two large cored cooking apples, and a handful of sultanas. Fruit and veg chopped fairly small, courgettes and apple unpeeled. The vinegar was sharp rather than warmly spiced – it had sat with fresh ginger, onion and horseradish in it – so I didn’t add spice, but did put in some peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (a fat piece about 3 inches long) and a good sprinkle of salt. It took a few hours to cook down – I started with a small amount of sugar and added more as we went along until it was the right sweetness and thickening well. It’s got a right punch, which I suspect will only increase as it matures. It’ll make great cheese sandwiches.

Bloody Courgettes

Yeah yeah yeah, I KNOW. But we only planted a few, although probably a few more than we thought we’d want in case of early death. And the little young ones were delicious, and we treated them with reverential care.

Now? Buggrit millenium hand and shrimp.

It didn’t help that J went away for a couple of weeks, and I Was Not As Assiduous in Allotmenting As I Might Have Been. My Bad. So now we have marrow-sized courgettes, and new ones coming all the time. We’ve had them every day in some form or another, and I’m fishing now for ever more exotic ideas.

Lifesavers have been:

Riverford Organics (who were our veggie box people until we got the allotment, and deserve splendiferous praise) maintain a recipe section on their website which is wonderful for me – it features new recipes for seasonal produce, a “what to do with the last … in the box” feature, and general hints and tips on dealing with fruit and veg. Currently on the stove is their Mexican One-Pot Courgettes, ready to be re-heated tomorrow with some pulled pork and cheese quesadillas. And there’s enough for another go-round later, as part of a Mexican feast along with some pork crackling and guacamole. I’m also thinking of offloading some of their bbq recipes at a birthday party this weekend.

The Penguin Book of Jam, Pickles and Chutneys by David and Rose Mabey. I’ve just nearly had a heart attack looking at where you could get a copy of this online, and you’re looking at a minimum of £40, even on Ebay. I feel I should point out that other books by the same authors are available. Jeez. I had a copy years and years ago, it vanished somewhere, and I found a very battered one for £1.99 in Oxfam last summer. It’s a slim little paperback, but it’s packed with shedloads of information, and excellent recipes. I’ve just potted up their bramble jelly, and used the pulp for a bramble cheese to go with the Wensleydale at Christmas. For courgettes, I’ve started this very evening a thing called “marrow mangoes”. You peel a giant courgette, cut in half lengthways and deseed it. Then you stuff the insides with onions, ginger, spices etc, tie it back together and steep it in vinegar for a week or so. Take it out, cut it open, chop the marrow and bottle it with a hot syrup made with the steeping vinegar. Won’t be able to report on success with this one until Christmas when it will be just ready. I’m also tempted by their marrow and pineapple jam, which looks easy and cheap for something quite unusual.

As usual the Dr Gourmet website has a twist, this time in the form of Zucchini Pizza Crust, which I am saving for the final stretch. Literally a giant disk of grated courgette held together with the minimum of egg and flour, baked until set and crisp and then baked again with pizza toppings.

I’ve started doing a thing I call a Roast Traybake – putting a variety of veg and some small joints of meat (chicken thighs, pork or lamb chops) in a shallow tray, drizzling with oil and appropriate seasonings, and bunging it in at Gas Mark 4 for an hour or so. “Appropriate seasonings” have include a paste of garlic, lemon juice and tarragon (with some chicken); cumin, coriander and oregano with some tomatoes and pork; mustard seeds, fenugreek and ginger with some lamb. Courgettes always feature – in lumps or slices – but we’ve also had peppers, carrots, big runner beans, tomatoes, and onion wedges. Beetroot and turnips will be joining in soon as we start harvesting them.

Hiding shredded or grated courgettes in things is also useful. I don’t bake, usually, but even I am contemplating muffins or cakes based on carrot or beetroot recipes, with added or substituted courgette. Having watched the bread episode of the British Bakeoff, though, I know to make sure it’s well dried before it goes in, or a soggy mess is the most likely result. I’ve been adding them to green salads, sandwiches / wraps, or yoghourt / hummus sort of things for dips and dressings.

John is back from The Allotment with a new batch, and assures me that while the green ones have gone into remission, the yellow ones are coming into their own. Aaaaaargh.

Happy World Book Day

There’s a meme going round about Book Day, and I’ve done it elsewhere for general reading books. It needed tweaking a bit for this, so here goes:

The cookbook I am reading for pleasure: in the downstairs loo are several books about cooking in the tropics, or books that I picked up in Australia last year. Currently I’m enjoying Masterchef The Cookbook (Vol 1).  It features popular recipes by contestants, and some of the dishes the chefs challenged them with.

The cookbook I love most: this is really really difficult. The first Madhur Jaffrey, Nigel Slater? Ones with narrative or without? Something that introduced me to a whole new world, or is the perfect reference for the classics? Aaargh. Then there are the self-published ones from groups of friends, that include recipes I’ve eaten, and the voices that I heard describing them. The Christmas ones that have helped me form my own traditions. In the end, having dweebled all day, I have chosen The Wholefood Book by George Seddon. I was given it for a birthday present at university over 30 years ago, and have constantly been amazed at how every time I revisit it, recipes with modern twists and trends spring out at me.  And the essays are full of advice on using fresh, local produce, reared organically and with respect.  I’m not saying I’d trust all the recipes – it’s not a Jane Grigson or even a Delia – but most are interesting and simple. Deffo one that comes down off the shelf over and over.

The oldest cookbook I have: mmmm, is that oldest in terms of content, or the earliest one that came into my possession? Oldest content is in the Roman Cookery of Apicius, trans/ed by John Edwards. First that I actually bought with my own money may well be Cuisine et Gastronomie de Bretagne, by Louis le Cunff, which I got on a teenage holiday in Brittany. Not sure I’ve ever used either of them to cook from.

The newest cookbook: Again, most modern or the latest that I’ve acquired? Most modern is a tie between Ministry of Food – Thrifty Wartime Ways to Feed Your Family Today by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, which accompanied the Ministry of Food exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, and Our Family Table by Julie Goodwin. Julie was an Oz Masterchef winner, and I got a signed copy of her book in Melbourne last year. The latest one is also the winner of the next category:

The nearest cookbook: Apricots on the Nile, a Memoir with Recipes, by Colette Rossant. As yet unread. It wasn’t a deliberate purchase, Dad is having a big clearout and I got it in with a load of other books. It’s the nearest because it’s waiting to be catalogued.

Christmas Fig Chutney

I was very taken, watching HFW and the River Cottage Christmas Fayre programme, with his Christmas Chutney. But when I went looking for it, it was the one recipe that wasn’t up on his website, bah humbug.

I’ve been meaning to try some recipes from my new (second-hand) copy of Jams, Pickles and Chutneys, and there’s one in there for Dried Fruit Chutney.

So from what I remembered from the telly, what I’d got in the cupboard, and using quantities from the book, I took:

8 oz baby dried figs, cut roughly
8 oz dried sweetened cranberries
4 oz pitted prunes
4 oz raisins
soaked together for about 20 mins with the grated rind of 2 oranges and the juice of half an orange

While that’s soaking, chop 12 oz each onions and apples. That was about 3 onions, 1 Bramley and a couple of red eating apples. Add 4 small cloves of crushed garlic. Fry them in a tiny tiny drop of oil, just to get them started, until they’re soft and you can’t smell the raw onion any more.

Tip in the fruit and juice, and add about half a pint of cider vinegar along with the rest of the juice from the 2 oranges. Stir and cook until the fruit is starting to plump up and soften and the vinegar is getting well absorbed.

Add another half pint of cider vinegar, and 2 good tablespoons of balsamic glaze flavoured with orange oil.

Bung in the spices:
a thumb joint sized piece of fresh ginger, chopped small
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander
0.5 tsp ground cloves
pinch paprika
2 tsps ground cardamom
2 tsps ground ginger

Stir all up well, let it come back to simmer and stir in, slowly, 24 oz muscovado sugar.

Simmer slowly until it’s thick and pulpy.

Update: it made a very large and two smaller jars. Dark and fruity, almost chewy in spots. It was ready to eat straight away, but about 6 weeks down the line the ginger is starting to come through more and the flavours are really developing. It’s not dried out as much as I was afraid it would, but it’s not a sopping wet chutney. Just right for cheese sandwiches.

Gordon Effing Ramsay

There’s a downside to the Use It or Lose It philosophy.

I’m watching Channel 4’s Ramsay’s Best Restaurant, which has got to the semi-finals stage. Two places I really like, and recommend regularly, and get to when I can, have made it through.

One is The Milestone, Sheffield’s up-and-coming Michelin prospect. The other is Prashad’s, the Gujerati vegetarian restaurant/deli in Bradford. Although I’m proud and pleased for both of them, there have already been some unpleasant changes.

I’ve seen the results of Gordon’s handiwork around here before, when he rebranded the Runaway Girl into Silversmiths. I worked on that street,  and he didn’t tell you anywhere near the real story.

It’s a dead end, behind a student pub, and the car park next to it backs onto the Student’s Union and a Spearmint Rhino. Not exactly where you expect to find fine dining. The main thing he did to the menu was to take away the tapas and bring in that gourmet extravaganza – Pie Nights. And I can still hear the screams of laughter when Sheffielders found out that they could get a pie supper for JUST £8.50.

He talked about chain restaurants in the city centre as being the competition, and not about any other independent restaurants. The area he compared it to was Leopold Square, which is a new development surrounding a boutique hotel – not being rude, but it’s the sort of place secretaries go for lunch, or you get pissed in at happy hour before moving on. It’s already on the bogoff and email vouchers skids.

The real competition was Cubanas, which serves tapas with a Caribbean twist, loud, noisy, full of salsa music, clicking heels, smart wooden floors and loads of yellow glossy paint. Bright and vibrant, and Runaway Girl had already managed to get their chef. Ramsay re-branded Silversmiths to go up against our existing award-winning restaurants run by respected professionals serving locally-sourced, organic food – the Walnut Club, Rafters, Thyme, Milestone, up to The Vicarage which has a Michelin star. However, if you are in the city centre at night to eat, chances are you are out on the razz, or grabbing a bite before or after the theatre, and all the places you’re interested in are right in the city centre, not down a side-street on the way to the station.

Everyone went for a bit because Gordon had been there, and it perked up again for a few weeks when the tv show was on. But it doesn’t open regularly at lunchtime, and local views seem to be that the menu is unoriginal and not high quality. Lots of groups of staff going out for Christmas lunch choose places like Cafe Rouge or Ha-Has over Silversmiths. Their own website doesn’t feature any press reviews later than 2008, that’s not good. If he did such a good job, how come Milestone is in this competition, and Silversmiths isn’t?

We went to Milestone a few times back in the early summer, when it had a fine dining restaurant upstairs and a bistro menu downstairs. Now, post-Ramsay, the top end of the menu has gone, and it has settled into being a two-storey gastropub. Although the menu is still good, the progress towards a Michelin star has been set way back. Ramsay was critical on the first-stage show about the coaching / mentoring that they do in the kitchen, as being distracting, and it would be a real shame if that were to get sideswiped too.

I love Prashad’s food, but I don’t always have the time to stop for a meal when I’m in Bradford. I rely on the deli half of the business – it’s one of the few places I know that does patra, for a start. Or, rather, it was. Last time I popped in, it was to discover the deli vanished, and a poster on the door explaining that due to the Ramsay factor they had closed it to enlarge the restaurant. And expressing a hope that they might be able to open a separate deli nearby in the future.

So although I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone does on the show next week, I really hope they don’t fall for his bullshit. You know your local markets, guys, don’t let him faze you. One of the reasons I love your food is that you both have really strong ethics and ideals, thoughts about what a business should represent to family and community. You already win local and regional awards on a regular basis, and we’re looking forward to how you choose to develop yourselves. But I’d like to be sure that came from your heart, and not Ramsay’s little prejudices.