Tag Archives: Fennel

Procrastination Pâtisserie

Strawberry and fennel tarts

The Kind Of Procrastination That Leaves a Sweet Aftertaste

At the time that I cooked this, I really should have been packing for a work trip. I have also been so busy since I got back; including dealing with a gaping hole in my kitchen ceiling through which my neighbour’s shower leaks, and a recalcitrant landlord; that I have not really had the time to blog. Procrastination is a big theme in my life. Both mine and that of others, unfortunately.

You may also have noticed that I have had a little bit of an obssesion with pairing  things with fennel of late. I had briefly considered strawberries with candied fennel, a long time ago, but instead it became Rhubarb and Fennel Foolish, following some inspiration from Mister Kitchen at the Rollende Keukens.

I had some fennel stewed rhubarb leftover a while back. I had it for breakfast with some yoghurt and the first of the year’s strawberries, and discovered another match made in heaven. The seed of an idea was planted, and then I put off enacting it until I had something else I wanted to put off doing.

Unlike most procrastination, this did not leave me grumpy, nor with the slightly sour taste of panic in my mouth. Instead, it was a delicious treat for the last meal with the Big Guy before I left for the Philippines for a work trip. If only I’d got around to blogging it sooner…

Strawberry and Fennel tart in Profile

A Treat You Shouldn’t Put Off

I’m really very proud of this tart, it tastes like it is full of complex techniques, but it really is pretty simple. Even the crème patissière is not as complex as it sounds, since the flour in it means it thickens much quicker than it heats, so the risk of splitting is much less than with normal custard.

In fact, I thought that this little treat would be  great first entry into the Made With Love Monday blog challenge, hosted by Mark at Javelin Warrior because it was all my own work, and was made and shared with love.

Recipe: Fennel and Strawberry Tarts

Makes 6 small tarts

Ingredients

For the Crème Patissière:

½ tsp fennel seeds

350 ml milk

4 egg yolks

65 g caster sugar

15 g plain flour

15 g cornflour (or use 30 g cornflour)

For the Sable Pastry

25 g icing sugar

100 g plain flour

30 g ground almonds

50 g cold butter, cubed

1 egg yolk

A splash of cold milk to bind

For the Tarts:

15-18 Strawberries

2 tbsps rose petal jelly or  strawberry jelly (not jam)

1 tbsp water

Method

Crème Patissière

Add the fennel seed to the milk, bring to the boil, turn off he heat and allow it to infuse for 20 mins.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together until pale. Whisk in the flour and cornflour until thick and glossy.

Once the milk is infused with fennel flavour, bring it back up to boiling point, and strain through a sieve. Let it sit for about a minute. Slowly add to the egg yolk mixture. Don’t add it too fast or the eggs will scramble.

Return the custard to the pan, and bring to the boil, whisking constantly, and pretty rapidly. Once it starts to cloy on the whisk, take it off the heat, pour into a waterproof container, whisk a little more until it is thick. Sprinkle a little icing sugar over the top, so that it doesn’t form a skin.

Cool quickly by dipping the bowl in iced water (don’t get water in the custard). Refrigerate until needed. I did mine the night before I needed it.

Cheekily hoover up the scrapings in the saucepan, like you were 5 again. You won’t regret this step, I promise.

Sable Pastry

Sift the flour and icing sugar. Add the ground almonds. Rub through the butter, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Mix in the egg yolk. Add very small splashes of milk, until you can just bring the pastry together. You won’t need a lot, this pastry is quite soft.

Wrap the pastry in paper or clingfilm, and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 40 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200°C.

Roll the pastry out thinly. It’s a delicate pastry, it should be really short and buttery when cooked, so don’t add loads of flour when you roll it out. Instead, roll it on a lightly dusted sheet of baking paper (wax side up).

Grease 6 small tartlet tins. I find the ones with the removable bases are the easiest to use.

Line the tins carefully with the pastry. If your pastry is really short, you could make a sausage from it, cut into thin discs, and then overlap some discs and press them together to thin the pastry. Or you could roll it thinly, use a saucer to cut out rounds of the pastry, and slip it into the tart tin using your baking paper. Either way, carefully push the pastry into the flutes of the tin, using a little bit of scrunched up spare dough. Trim the pastry by rolling your rolling-pin over the top of each tart tin.

Cut squares of baking paper (you can use the same stuff you rolled the pastry on) a bit larger than the tart tins, and scrunch each of them up, as if you are going to throw them in a bin. This will help the paper sit better in the tart case, so that you can get the blind bake into all the nooks and crannies, ensuring that none of your pastry can rise.

Gently prick the bases of the pastry cases with a fork. Unscrunch the baking paper, and line the top of the pastry cases. Line thickly with ceramic beans, dried beans or rice and tap on a work surface to get them into the fluting of the cases.

Bake the tartlet cases in the oven for 10 minutes. Then remove the blind bake, and return to the oven for a further five minutes until the pastry is  crisp and lightly browned all over.

Set aside for five minutes, and carefully remove from the tins. Allow to cool completely.

Tarts

Once your pastry and crème patissière are completely cool, you can assemble your tarts. Slice the strawberries in a way you find aesthetically pleasing. Put some of the crème patissière into each tart case, and spread over the base. Arrange your strawberries prettily over the crème patissière.

Make a glaze by heating the rose petal jelly and water gently until the jelly has melted. Mix well, and brush it over the strawberry arrangement.

Enjoy as a slightly unusual treat, with or without friends.

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I Want (Fennel) Candy

Candied Fennel

Sweet and Fresh

Having been inspired to start blogging again, I have been making the most of recent inspiration for the next few Feast posts. The cooking and recipes, as always, are my own, but credit for the dishes are definitely due elsewhere. I take a magpie approach to food, often finding shiny little pieces here and there. Maybe one day I’ll enter the 21st century and get myself a smart phone, but for now, I forage for ideas, as well as edibles, and record them all in a series of notebooks, which I have to go digging through in order to remember the inspirations. Does anyone else do this? Please tell me that I am not the only one scribbling things down furtively in restaurants, shops and even the street. For me, it is like foraging and farming in note form, and as much of an obsession as they are for me in real life.

I’m sure we are all familiar with candied peel, and even crystalised angelica, if you are fond of cake decoration. These days , it seems that candied vegetables of all nature are appearing on both sweet and savoury dishes in restaurants and pop ups up and down the country. One of the first, and the one that instantly caught my magpie eye was candied fennel. I have also seen candied celery and beets (especially chioggia beets) among other things on menus, although I find the idea of them much less appealing.

Fennel is one of my favourite vegetables, and I love it in risotto, soup, and salad, braised, roasted and raw. This is a great way to use the tougher outer leaves and stalky bits if you are not keeping them for stock, too.

This version is really simple, despite my fears that it may require multiple exposures to sugar syrups of varying strengths, it isn’t the case. I kept mine plain, but they are also good served as sweets, and sprinkled with sugar.

Today’s recipe was inspired by Simon Rogan, who is a far better forager and cook than I could ever hope to be. I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but I suspect it was on a cookery programme, because  I have written down “candied fennel, Rogan. V. interesting, possibly for strawberry tarts? Experiment”. I finally got round to making this, as part of an even wider experiment, that does not involve strawberries or tarts of any kind, but you’ll have to wait until my next Feast post to find out more about what I wanted them for. This cliffhanger is not quite of Eastenders Duff Duff proportions, but hopefully, you’ll want to keep reading.

Recipe: Candied fennel

Ingredients

50 g sugar

50 ml water

1 tbsp lemon juice

Half a fennel bulb diced

Method

Make a simple sugar with the water, sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the fennel. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer until the fennel is translucent, but retains some texture. It took me about 15 minutes, but it depends on the size of the dice,  and how much bite you want them to have.

Remove from the heat, and strain off the cooking syrup. Don’t discard this, it is perfectly good for other uses, and you know it’s a shame to waste such a tasty sauce.

Put some greaseproof paper, wax side up on a baking tray, and spread the fennel dice out into a single layer. Allow to cool on the tray, then store in an airtight container before use.

Enjoy them on their own, with sugar or as part of something delicious.

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Risotto “Masterclass”

Versatile flavours

So many flavours from one basic dish

I was talking about risotto the other day, when a few friends persuaded me that I should do a ‘risotto masterclass’. I suspect the fact that I have a larger than average kitchen (not difficult in a city where a ‘kitchen’ constitutes having a microwave on a shelf and a hob in many of the flats in the rental sector!) also had something to do with it, but I was flattered enough to go ahead.

We made three flavours of risotto – fennel, lemon and ricotta; pumpkin; and mushroom.

This is not to say that I made three risottos initially. My friends wanted to have a class so I wanted to show them how versatile risotto is with adding flavour, and how simple it is as a method. So, I started with a simple, white risotto, and we took it from there.

A good time was had by all, and I hope that they went away feeling more confident in making risotto, and experimenting with flavour.

Of course, there are more complex ways of building up flavour within the risotto, but adding ingredients at the end is a good way to get started!

I do most of my cooking by eye – especially as I wanted to make this one large enough to split into three, but the recipe that I give below should be enough to serve 2 people with leftovers. Leftover risotto is so versatile, that it really is worth making the extra.

Recipe: White Risotto

Ingredients

150 g risotto rice (risotto rice comes in a number of varieties, or is probably labelled just ‘risotto rice’ in your local supermarket. We used arborio for this one)

1 medium chopped onion,

1 tbsp olive oil

1 glass white wine (or you can use vermouth or another spirit relevant to your flavouring, such as Pernod, etc)

750 ml – 1 l stock (the stock you use can depend on what you are going to add. On this occasion I used vegetable stock)

Thyme

Knob of butter, or dash of cream or oil

50 g parmesan, freshly grated

Method

Sweat the onion in the olive oil until it is translucent, but not coloured. Add the rice, and stir until the rice is slightly translucent round the edges. Add the thyme at this stage too – the leaves but not the stalks.

Meanwhile, Bring the stock to the boil, and then leave it on a gentle simmer. I always make my own stock and freeze it in roughly  500 ml portions, so I use one of these, then add hot water as I run out. If you want a particularly ‘meaty’ flavour in the risotto, there is no reason why you cannot use all stock. It is important that you are adding warm stock to the rice, so I just leave it on the hob while I am cooking the risotto.

Turn up the heat a little and add the wine. Allow the alcohol to burn off and the rice to absorb the liquid. If you don’t want to have alcohol, this step can also be missed out altogether.

Add your stock, starting with just enough to cover the rice. Allow this to absorb completely before adding more, then add more a ladleful or so at a time. You will need to stir the risotto to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan. Much better chefs  than me (well, chefs, in fact) say that the more that you stir it, the creamier it will be, especially at the end stages. This will reduce the amount of butter or cream that you need to add at the end.

Taste the rice as you go. Before it is ready, it has a chalky quality to the grains. It is ready when this chalkiness is lost, but the grains are still a little al dente (especially important if you don’t want claggy leftovers). At this point, stop adding more stock.

Take it off the heat, ad beat in the butter or cream (which must be cold). Add the parmesan and seasoning. You will need quite a lot of pepper.

This is the basic recipe. Then you can flavour it by adding herbs, veg, meat. Whatever you like really.

The flavours I added for the three risottos were as follows:

Fennel, Ricotta and Lemon

I sliced a fennel bulb thinly, lengthways. Then I braised this gently in olive oil, with 2 garlic cloves, also sliced thinly. I added all the vegetables and the oil to the rice, mixed in a little ricotta, and the grated zest of the lemon. I then added the lemon juice, a little at a time to balance out the other flavours. I added the chopped fronds of the fennel as a garnish.

Pumpkin

I made a large dice of about 1/4 of an orange fleshed pumpkin, and roasted this, with some unpeeled garlic cloves, and some crumbled dried chillies in some olive oil with sprigs of thyme. This took about 3/4 hour at 180 degrees. I stirred these in at the end of cooking the risotto, and served with taleggio. If you wanted you could halve the above pumpkin, and boil half. Adding it with some of the last stock, which will make the risotto orange, and help build up the flavour. Roast and add the rest as above.

Mushroom

I fried a selection of sliced mushrooms in butter and garlic, with a generous amount of thyme leaves. I stirred them in at the end of cooking the risotto, and stirred through some fresh chopped tarragon. To build up the flavour even more, you could use a mushroom stock, or add the soaking liquor from dried porcinis to the stock as you cook it.

The recipes are simple, as I said, but adding your favourite flavours like this is an easy way to make a risotto recipe your own.

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