Thursday, 29 September 2011


'Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.' - Peter Clemenza, The Godfather

I've had a little obsession for the little tube like Sicilian pastries ever since watching Christopher Moltisanti impatiently waiting for his baked goods in a scene from The Sopranos (itself based on a scene from the Godfather) a few years ago. 

Originating in Palermo, and very popular with Italian American communities (I've tried decent versions in both Boston and New York), they don't seem to have really travelled over here.  In fact, despite eating many cornetto, sfogliatelle and bomboloni, I don't remember seeing them too often in mainland (mid) Italy either.  One problem is the fried dough tubes are both fragile when unfilled and prone to going soggy quickly once filled.

Luckily for me the rather fabulous Italian Continental Stores in nearby Maidenhead stocks a selection of crunchy, golden pre-fried tubes, all ready to stuff with your own fillings at a later date.  Of course a dedicated cook may scoff at the idea of pre-made, make their own dough, roll it out thinly, wrap it round a metal cannolo mould and deep fry... But the idea of messing about with pastry, oil and piping hot metal tubing seems a rather fraught with dangers, especially for somebody who manages somehow injure themselves in the kitchen on an almost daily basis.

If you feel up to it there's an easy enough looking recipe in Jacob Kennedy's Bocca book (he even suggests lengths of copper piping from a hardware store as a stand in for cannolo moulds) otherwise try an Italian deli or ordering shells online.

Traditionally they are filled with highly sweetened sheep's ricotta, although American versions may also use marscapone or even custard.  I use cow's ricotta, as it's easily available, and sweeten it quite lightly with icing sugar. Shards of chocolate, pistachios, cherries and finely diced candied peel can be combined into the cheese mixture, or just used to decorate the ends.  As a bit of an experiment I also used some of my candied watermelon rind in this batch, along with some finely chopped dark Ritter Sport with hazelnuts. Delizioso!


6 Large or 12 small cannolo shells (see above)

250g tub of ricotta
Icing sugar to taste
A selection of -
Finely chopped dark chocolate
Pistachios, candied cherries/peel.

Place ricotta into a bowl, sift in icing sugar to taste.
Mix a handful of chopped chocolate/nuts/fruit into ricotta mixture, saving some for decoration.
Fill shells with mixture using either a teaspoon or piping bag (you can use a plastic food bag with a corner snipped off)
Decorate ends with remaing chopped chocolate/nuts/fruit.

Serve immediately.

Alternatively you can provide unfilled cannolo shells, along with teaspoons and bowls of sweetened ricotta and chopped fillings, and allow people to assemble their own.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Greengage and Almond Cobbler

This autumn we have been besieged by stone fruit.  First a colleague of the Ewing very kindly bought us some Cambridge gages from the Cotswolds, then we spent the Bank Holiday Monday stocking up on  plums at Millet's PYO farm just outside Abingdon, and finally we have been foraging in the woods, along with my Dad and a borrowed dog, for sloes and damsons.

Apart from the obligatory 'stick them in a bottle with some sugar and gin and leave them until Christmas' (an approach that never fails) the Ewing's been, poaching them with a little sugar and cinnamon, to eat along with her granola and oats in the morning.  All very wholesome, but I prefer my stewed fruit served hot, preferably with a crisp, buttery topping and lashings of custard.

Although it's hard to go wrong with a good old crumble I thought I'd try something a bit different with the pile of greengages that were feeling somewhat sorry for themselves in the fruit bowl.  As I didn't have any eggs in the house this cobbler recipe was perfect. (although it did mean using up the rest of the Ewing's yogurt; leaving her with the leftovers of this for breakfast, instead of her usual, more virtuous option)

The recipe was adapted slightly from the BBC website. I halved the amount of cobbler mixture, which made the perfect amount for 3/4 portions, and used greengages instead of purple plums.  Hot, crumbly, sticky, sweet and tart.  The perfect pud.

Greengage and Almond Cobbler

12/15 ripe greengages, stoned and halved (or use plums)
100g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
1 cinnamon stick
zest and juice 2 oranges
30g ground almonds
150g self-raising flour
pinch salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
45g cold butter, cut into cubes
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
75g pot natural yogurt (full or low-fat)
2 tbsp double cream
handful flaked almonds

Double cream, ice cream or custard to serve

Heat oven to 200C.
Mix  together plums, sugar and 1 tbsp flour a small baking dish. Splash over the orange juice, add cinnamon stick, cover with foil, then bake for 20 mins until the fruit has softened.
Mix the ground almonds, zest and flour with the salt and baking powder in a food processor, then whizz in the butter until it disappears.
Mix in the sugar, tip into a large bowl, then make a well in the middle.
Warm the yogurt, milk and vanilla together in the microwave for 30 seconds; it should be hot and may well go a bit lumpy-looking.
Tip yogurt into the bowl and quickly work into the flour mix using a cutlery knife. Don't overwork the dough or it may become tough. The mix should be stiffish but spoonable.
Take the plums from the oven, uncover, then top with spoonfuls of batter.
Scatter with flaked almonds and a little sugar. Bake for 30-35 mins until topping is golden. 
Serve hot with plenty of cream, ice cream or custard 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Roasted Corn and Chilaca Salsa

I had completely forgotten our local annual food festival was happening until I walked into town a few weeks ago and found Theo Randall setting up a cookery demonstration outside my work.  After overcoming my mild bemusement I gave the Ewing a call and she came to meet me for lunch and a little stroll around.

Although it's not particularly big or exciting it was good to see a few local businesses there, including the lovely Les from Roots Deli.  After a chat and a few samples we ended up buying some of the delicious Barkham Blue and, rather excitingly, a jar of dried Espalette pepper from the French Basque region. (still unopened as I write this, but have a few ideas brewing...)

After stopping for banana cake and brownies from Flour Power City, and some Italian salami with garlic and fennel, I headed for the Chillies2U stall, a small chilli farm in Oxfordshire.  The Ewing had bought me their Carribbean Hot sauce a couple of years ago and I wanted to stock up on some more spicy stuff.  Rather excitingly they had fresh chillis for sale and I picked up a big bag of Padron peppers and some rather interesting looking, long green/black chillis.

These beauties were labelled as 'pasilla', but a little bit of Googling revealed that the fresh version is called a chilaca, while the dried version of the same chilli are known as the pasilla or chilli negro.  They are a mild, thin-skinned, chilli that are rarely seen undried.  The man at the market suggested adding them to a chilli or stir fry, but I wanted to roast them and combine with some of the new season's corn in a simple salsa.

Not only does this go nicely with steak chicken, chops or fish it's a cinch to put together.  The real bonus though is the wonderful smells that fill the kitchen when you grill the corn and peppers.  The corn as a rich, nutty smell, like a farmer's field at the end of long summers day; while the chilacas have an extraordinary fresh grass and liquorice aroma.  If you can't find chilacas then use poblanos, or even jalapeƱos.  (check how hot they are first!) 

I liked this salsa smoky and simple, with the coriander and lime bringing freshness and a dash of chilli powder and some onion for a bit of 'bite'. You could also add a little diced tomato, avocado or even some tinned black beans.

Roasted Corn and Chilaca Salsa

2 Sweetcorn cobs
4 Chilaca chillis (or use 2 poblanos)
1 Small red onion
Small bunch of coriander
Juice of half a lime
1/2 tsp Chilli powder (optional)
Olive oil

Roast the corn and chillis, either under a grill or on the barbecue, until they are nicely blackened but not burnt. Leave to cool.
Stand the cobs on one end and remove the corn kernels with a sharp knife.
Cut chillis and onion into dice.
Place veg into a dish and season with lime, salt and chilli powder to taste.
Finish with chopped coriander and a little olive oil.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Dulce de Leche Ice Cream with a Blackberry Malbec Ripple

For the past couple of months I have been enjoying the bounty from the bramble bushes outside my front garden.  As well as hurried mouthfuls on the way to work (and again on the way home again), bramble jam and fantastic crumbles I decided to use some of the fruit to make an impressive looking, simple and extremely moreish ice cream.

The wild berries have a lovely sour edge, so I decided to pair them with the classic South American toffee spread dulche de leche (you can also use a tinned condensed milk caramel). To keep the South American theme I reduced some spicy Malbec wine along with the fruit, and then swirled it into a simple frozen caramel and cream mixture. If you're berries are on the sweet side, add the juice of half a lemon to cut through the richness. 

The high sugar content means this ice cream will stay quite soft and smooth, even if you refreeze it after churning.  A pretty dangerous thing if you happen to be in the vicinity of the freezer with a spoon in your hand... I also added a splash rum to my first attempt at making this; it made the texture even softer, but gave a nice grown up spin to a childhood classic.

Dulce de Leche Ice Cream with a Blackberry Malbec Ripple

1 (397g) tin of condensed milk caramel (or equivalent amount of dulche de leche)
450ml whipping cream
150ml milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Splash of rum (optional)
100g blackberries
100ml Merlot, or fruity wine (or water)
1 tbsp brown sugar

Lightly whip cream and vanilla extract then gently stir in caramel, milk and rum (if using).  Chill mixture.
Bring blackberries, wine and sugar to the boil and simmer until berries have broken up and mixture is thick and syrupy. 
Strain to remove seeds and thoroughly chill syrup.
Churn caramel mixture in an ice cream machine. 
When it is ready place half the frozen mixture in a container and swirl in half the syrup.
Repeat with the other half of the ice cream/syrup and freeze until firm

Friday, 9 September 2011

Watermelon Rind Pickles

I love watermelon.  Eating it makes me imagine the Deep South in high summer; sitting on a front porch in a rocking chair, sipping a mint julep and spitting the black pips for the dog to chase across the lawn.  Back in the real world I have to make do with sitting on a rickety deckchair in my urban garden, but even that does not diminish the fun.  As Caruso said ''s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face'.

When I was growing up I somehow came into the possession of an old, battered copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Farmer Boy', a book about her future husband Alonso's childhood on a farm in upstate New York.  In it they ate grape jelly, made watermelon pickles and grew pumpkins; all things that seemed very exotic and mysterious to a girl growing up in the leafy Home Counties.

It was only this summer, after my successes last year making strawberry jam, chutney and pickled green tomatoes, that I decided to branch out into the unfamiliar and use some of the piles of watermelon rind  that would normally go onto the compost heap.  To keep the American 'feel' to the idea I had in my head I decided to use lots of cinnamon, and a few cloves and mustard seeds, for a sweet and spicy watermelon/cinnamon flavour combination.

It's a very simple recipe, (although you have to remember have to pare the green skin from the rind and soak in brine the night before) and fills the kitchen with a lovely warm and spicy fug as it bubbles contentedly away.  After leaving to mature for a couple of weeks I've served this with hot pork, cold ham and in cheese sandwiches.  It's pretty versatile stuff and can also be used in sweet dishes, but more of that in a later blog.

Watermelon Rind Pickles

750g Watermelon rind
1 tbsp Salt

For pickling
750g Sugar
350ml Cider vinegar
350ml Water
2 Cinnamon sticks
6 Cloves
1 Tsp mustard seeds

First carefully cut all the green skin from the melon, leave a bit of the red flesh for colour, and cut rind into dice.
Half fill a bowl with water, add salt, stir and then add rind.  Leave overnight in the fridge.
Drain rind, rinse in cold water then place in a pan.  Add fresh water, bring to simmer and cook until the rind is tender (about 30mins)
Drain rind again and add sugar, spices vinegar and water back into the clean pan.
Bring mixture to the boil then add rind and simmer gently until brine is syrupy and reduced and just covering the rind.  Add more water if necessary.
Pour hot mixture into clean, sterilised jars, seal and store for two weeks before eating.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Meeting Palace, Wealdstone

Bank holiday weekend and we had no plans.  As I had to work on Saturday we decided, rather democratically, that I could choose what we did on Sunday, and the Ewing on Monday.  Which is how we came to be driving through deepest darkest Harrow on the way to a Sri Lankan style Sunday lunch.

Positioned on the rather unlovely Wealdstone High Street, the restaurant looks pretty ordinary from the outside.  The inside is much fancier, featuring a colonial style decor with Sri Lankan art on the walls, decorative wooden screens, carved elephants and a buffet area with clay pots under a mini straw canopy.  Despite the surroundings service was very laid back and friendly, with our waiter keen to help us navigate the unfamilar dishes on the menu.

After being deprived of breakfast, (I was determined to get there as the doors opened in case of an unexpected deluge of people, which predictably never materialised) the Ewing was glad of a glass of Nelli Crush.  This tradition Sri Lankan drink was described as being 'gooseberry' flavour by our waiter, but tasted nothing like the tart berries I know, and instead more like those strange, brightly coloured and very sugary soft drinks you would be bribed with on holiday as a child.  Slightly odd, but pleasantly nostalgic. I stuck with the Lion lager, a refreshing choice to go with all the chillies and spices in the food.

From the appetisers the Ewing chose the crab claws (the breaded, reformed kind which bear little resemblance to a crustacean, but were hot and crispy and nice enough when dipped in chilli sauce) and the Marsala vadai.  These were lentil 'doughnuts' flavoured with onion an spices and served with coconut chutney.  Good, if a little dry.

The mutton Ceylon was good; chunks of succulent, lean meat in a rich spiced coconut gravy finished with the crunch of fragrant deep fried curry leaves .

The Ambulthial fish, while being the least photogenic dish of the day, was certainly the most interesting.  Meaty chunks of fish (confirmed as tuna by our waiter) thickly covered in a very peppery marinade that bought to mind the flavour of a Caribbean jerk paste.  A little unusual at first, but the tuna stood up to the strong flavours well and I really enjoyed this.

Chicken 65 is a traditional deep fried dish that I was keen to try, but wasn't expecting it to be as exciting as the more exotic fare.  In the end it was one of my favourite parts of the meal; the chicken was covered in a moreish, spicy paste and was crisp on the outside and tender and within.

The green banana bhajee was standout.  The green bananas have a starchy, savoury quality, quite unlike their riper yellow counterparts and had been fried with chillies, spices, toasted coconut and curry leaves.  I'm planning to try this with plaintains from the West Indian stall at my local market.

As they didn't have any red string hoppers we chose uthappam (a thick fermented rice and lentil pancake) studded with onion and chilli.  It had a pleasing sourness and light and spongy texture that soaked up the vegetable sambar and chutney served alongside.

And finally a feather light parotta.  Originally we confused this with the more common, and thicker North Indian paratha, but it seemed flakier and crisper.  Some googling later revealed this to be a South Indian version, made by forming thin, circular layers of batter mixed with ghee.  Very light and extremely rich, it was a bit like mopping up your curry with pieces of buttery puff pastry.  Next time I would like to try it prepared as Kothu Roti, a famous roadside dish of meat, egg and parotta that is cooked together on a hotplate while being 'chopped' with a heavy iron spatula.

As usual we ordered far too much, even for our vast appetites, but our waitress was very happy to box our leftovers to take away.  With friendly and helpful staff, interesting and tasty food and keen prices (our meal came to £40 and there was plenty for three or four people) it also represented a bit of a bargain. Certainly worth venturing to the wilds of Wealdstone for.