Saturday, 8 June 2013

Week 18- Getting Red-dy For Summer

At last, some interesting fruit and vegetables are coming into season- not to mention lots more fish, herbs and salad leaves. Early season cherries, strawberries and tomatoes have begun to appear on roadside stalls along my route to work, the sun is out- and has some warmth in it- and people's shoulders and noses are starting to turn red from this unaccustomed spell of, dare I say the word, summer?

So, just as last week I celebrated the green-ness of spring, this week I'm looking at all things red: tomatoes, peppers, beetroot and summer fruits.

This week's menu starts with vegetable crumble ( a ratatouille with cornbread crumble topping ), and is followed by salmon on a bed of chilli noodle salad with ruby slaw. Dessert is a fruit tart, filled with creme patissiere and summer berries.

This meal is made mostly from leftovers- the ratatouille uses up some roasted veg which accompanied a meal during the week and the cornbread crumble topping uses some cornbread from the freezer ( see blogpost 'Take Half a Dozen Eggs' for the recipe.) The chilli noodle salad uses cold noodles in a chilli and tomato sauce, mixed with grated carrot, beetroot and cabbage-plus some chopped mangetout (also now in season.), spring onions and cashews.

If making the starter from scratch, roast some vegetables in a little olive oil and salt and pepper in a tray in a hot (190 degree oven). I used onions, quartered, sliced courgette, red pepper, aubergine, a few garlic cloves, some baby new potatoes and tomatoes.They are done when tender and starting to caramelize nicely. Mix with a strong tomato sauce (made from reducing 1 can of chopped tomatoes with  a little red wine vinegar in a saucepan until thick, blitz with a stick blender (or leave chunky if you prefer) and toss the veg in.
Veg ready for roasting

Pour into a gratin dish or individual ramekins. Meanwhile, blitz together 2 slices of cornbread with a knob of butter, some grated cheddar or gruyere cheese  and some parsley or herbes de provence. Place again in a hot oven (190 degrees) for 10-15 minutes until bubbling and golden on top. Serve with a green salad .

Vegetable crumble with cornbread topping

The main course features an ingredient those that know me might find surprising. My hatred of beet root is well known. As a child I lived In the Far East until I was 5 years old and returned to a chilly Norfolk winter in 1963. The weather ( the coldest winter ever in the uk) didn't faze me. I embraced the delights of snowmen and sledging with joy.

 Not so the austerity of Norfolk County Council school dinners- they left me with severe food trauma. I was unused to dairy products and root vegetables, pickles and vinegary sauces- and these seemed to be the mainstay of their so-called salads. Over the years I have learned to love some dairy products, though am still wary of many cheeses. I love most root vegetables now- but vinegary pickles and beetroot rank high on my list of food hell. Just conjuring up the image in my mind of a blob of cold mashed potato, stained with a pool of pickled beetroot, salad cream and grated cheese makes me re-live the experience of feeling like an alien from another planet in a hostile world.

So why does my main course feature beetroot? Well, it was a mistake- but one that worked out quite well. I was cooking in someone else's kitchen, so for convenience sake, I bought a bag of ready prepared 'ruby slaw'. I prepared my dish, served it, ate it and enjoyed it- all the time blissfully ignorant of the secret ingredient.

Here's how it goes: boil some egg noodles for 2 minutes until tender and then refresh with lots of cold water. When just warm, toss in a chilli dressing made from sweet chili sauce and some tomato puree loosened with a little rice vinegar. Add chopped cashews or peanuts, some chopped spring onion, chopped mangetout and the 'ruby slaw' ( 1 carrot, 1 beetroot and 1/4 of white cabbage all grated together in a food processor.)

This salad made a lovely base for a fillet of cold poached salmon.

Poached salmon with chilli noodles and ruby slaw

The dessert features creme patissiere- cold confectioners custard- in a pastry case and topped with some summer fruits.
Bake a sweet pastry case blind and allow to cool completely. Make the custard by bringing 500ml of milk to the boil in a pan with 4 tbsp of caster sugar. In another bowl, mix 2 egg yolks and 1 egg together with 4 tbsp of caster sugar and 4 tbsp of cornflour until smooth. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, return to the saucepan and gently heat until thickened. Whisk in 25g of butter and 1 tsp of vanilla and allow to cool completely in the fridge.

Fill the case and top with fruit of your choice.

Summer Fruit Tart

This quantity of custard is more than you need for the tart- so I also made a rhubarb fool with the leftovers: poached rhubarb mixed in and served in a pretty glass with ginger biscuits
Rhubarb fool with ginger biscuits

These are the easiest biscuits in the world to make: 6 oz of self raising flour, 4 oz of soft brown sugar, 2 oz of melted butter or liquid Flora, 1 tsp of ginger, 1 tsp of bicarb of soda, 1 tsp of golden syrup, 1 beaten egg.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl, add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. 

Line a baking tray with baking paper and place walnut sized balls of the mixture on the sheet. Space them well apart as they spread as they cook. After 10 minutes in a medium oven (170 degrees), they should be looking golden and round. Cool on the paper and lift off with a pallet knife.

I use this recipe too for gingerbread men when cooking with children, as they love the way the dough magically spreads out and gets 'fat'- like a real gingerbread man coming to life!

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