June 28, 2009

basil pesto

This is the recipe I use for basil pesto. Because pesto is simple to make, the smallest changes make a big difference. I use very little garlic - half a clove at the most, often less - because I find the taste overpowering when it's raw. The best thing is the addition of butter, which I stole from Maxine Clark's Trattoria. The pesto is a little richer and creamier, and melts with more enthusiasm over hot things. The amount of basil leaves depends, for me, on how peppery and strong they are. I prefer young, small leaves, and I'll use more of them.

My apologies for the lack of posts recently; I was distracted by the sun and Scotland (not necessarily in the same place at the same time).

Basil Pesto
adapted from Maxine Clark, Trattoria

1/2 garlic clove (or even less), peeled and diced
55g pine nuts
approx 55g fresh basil leaves without stalks
150ml good olive oil, plus extra for sealing
35g unsalted butter, softened
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Place a small pan over medium heat and add the pine nuts. Toast them, dry, for a few minutes, until they begin to smell nutty; be careful not to burn them. Remove from the heat.

If you're using a food processor, you can throw everything in at once and blend until the pesto is as smooth as you like. If you prefer a chunkier pesto, use the pulse setting. I use a blender, and find it easiest to add the garlic, pine nuts, salt and pepper, and a little oil to begin with. I then add the basil and more oil in gradual stages, until creamy and thick, and finally pulse in the butter and cheese.

Pesto will keep in the fridge in a jar, sealed with a layer of olive oil on top to exclude the air. Every time you spoon some out, re-seal with oil.

June 11, 2009

onion & mustard gravy for sausages

A suitably British meal for my first few days in England: bangers and mash with a gravy of caramelised onions, wholegrain mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Only my mash is really crushed and lightly buttered Jersey Royals, the princelings of English new potatoes, with skins so tender the machines used to harvest them are first tested on eggs. My sausages are local too: peppery pork Cumberlands, made in this area for centuries (although usually in long coils) and more highly spiced than other English sausages.

And all this local goodness is not because I set out deliberately to be gourmet or virtuous, but because these good ingredients were what was available at my local supermarket. This supermarket filled me with dismay initially, because it's the kind of tiny place in a tiny town that's designed for tourists and therefore heavy on alcohol and light on fresh produce. This will be a challenge during the summer, when I'm dreaming of bok choi and saffron, but when the available potatoes are Jersey Royals (only in season for a few more weeks) and the home-brand mustard is this grainy and good, I think I'll manage to make do.

The onion gravy is tart and full-bodied without being heavy. It uses white wine, rather than red, and next time I'm going to try using a pale ale. Don't be tempted to use a smooth mustard, because you really need the subtle punch of the whole grains. Most importantly, it's incredibly easy to make. The onions need to be cooked long and slow, and then everything else simmers away while the potatoes and sausages cook. We licked our plates clean of this gravy; it's that good.

Onion & Mustard Gravy for Sausages
serves 4 (but it's so delicious you might want it to serve 2)

2 large or 3 smaller onions, sliced thinly into rings
50g butter (just under 1/2 stick)
300ml chicken stock
100ml white wine
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
pepper & salt, if needed

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, from 1/2 to 1 hour (the longer the better). Try to keep them from colouring. About 15 minutes before you're ready to eat, turn up the heat to medium high and, when the pan is hot, add the wine. Allow it to sizzle and reduce in volume for 5 minutes, then add the stock, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning - you probably won't need to add salt. Serve hot.


To prepare crushed Jersey Royals: don't peel them, but do scrub them gently to remove any flaking skin. Halve larger potatoes, keep smaller ones intact. Cook in already boiling water for 10-15 minutes, testing with the point of a knife to check for tenderness inside the largest pieces. Drain. Crush lightly with a fork, then return to the hot pan with a knob of butter and some salt and pepper. Mix gently until the butter is melted, then serve.


To grill (broil) sausages: I love sausages baked and fried (and of course barbecued), but grilling is healthier and fast and can be just as delicious. I prick the sausages lightly once or twice and par-boil them for 5-10 minutes, then remove them from the water and prick them again on both sides. I sit them on a tray in the grill (broiler) pan and let the fat run underneath, where it's caught in aluminium foil and easy to clean up. The par-boiling keeps the interior plump and juicy and means you need only grill long enough at a medium heat to brown but not shrivel the skin, about 10 minutes.

June 10, 2009

white chocolate & pecan blondies

The last thing I cooked in my New Hampshire kitchen before leaving it forever: Nigella Lawson's white chocolate blondies. She uses macadamia nuts, but I used pecans because that's what I had left in my cupboard. There's more to recommend the pecans than my moving-house expediency, however. I like both nut combinations; the pecans, softer than macadamias and a little sweet, complement the fudgy white chocolate really well.

I'm in England now, spending the summer in the Lake District, with strawberries growing in my garden and food to plan for hikes and picnics and road trips to Scotland, among other adventures. Oh, these hills! This place is almost ludicrously lovely.

White Chocolate & Pecan Blondies

adapted from Nigella Lawson, How to be a Domestic Goddess

125 g unsalted butter (this will be just over 1 stick)
250g white chocolate, cut into chunks, or small chips
4 large eggs
1 tsp salt
350g caster/superfine sugar (ordinary granulated sugar will also still work)
2 tsp vanilla extract
300g plain (all-purpose) flour
250g pecans, roughly chopped

25 x 20 x 5cm brownie tin, buttered

Preheat the oven to 340°F / 170°C / gas mark 3. Melt the butter and chocolate either in a microwave or a double boiler. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the salt until light and beginning to whoosh up in volume, then add the sugar and the vanilla, and continue beating until really creamy and thick. Beat in the slightly cooled chocolate mixture and then add the flour and nuts, folding in gently. Pour into your prepared tin and cook for 35 minutes or until set on top and gooey in the middle. Leave for 3-5 minutes before cutting into small squares.