I made a second batch of the pumpkin seed and parsley pesto (see my last post on pumpkin soup). It had raw garlic rather than fried, just a single clove in a sizeable batch of pesto. Supermarket gnocchi, halved sprouts stir-fried until browned in patches, and pesto – a quick tea if you’ve pre-made the pesto. It works well as a combination, the starchy comfort of the gnocchi contrasting with the firm texture of sprouts that haven’t been boiled into submission; the pesto brings both richness from the seeds and the oil, and a lively freshness from the garlic and parsley.
I love pumpkin soup. A good pumpkin – not one of the stringy, watery orange-skinned ones grown for carving at Hallowe’en – will blend into a velvety soup, sweet and just slightly earthy in taste. Pumpkin isn’t blessed with the strongest of tastes and so a helping hand is needed. Pumpkin soup takes well to being spiced – and as a predominantly autumn and winter dish the warmth of spices is very welcome – but more often these days I flavour it with rosemary.
Whether savoury with rosemary or sage, or spiced with chilli and cumin and ginger, do not add cream. It deadens the flavour, enhancing the pumpkin’s blandness rather than its richness.
I had a pumpkin that I referred to yesterday. I cut away the portion where the skin had broken and the flesh had become mouldy, and the rest of it was fine. I made pumpkin soup topped with pumpkin and bread croutons and a pumpkin seed and parsley pesto. If I was a chef trying to win a Michelin star, I’d call this Pumpkin Three Ways. But I’d have also used the seeds of the actual pumpkin, rather than some ready-hulled ones that I had. And toasted pumpkin seed oil, rather than the untoasted sesame oil plus avocado oil combination I used. And the fried pumpkin dice, while nice to look at bringing a caramelised note, didn’t offer much textural contrast. So many, many reasons why I am not and will never be a Michelin-starred chef.
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 small onion, finely sliced
The heart of some celery that was going flaccid in the fridge, finely sliced
1 pumpkin, minus the bit that had gone off, peeled and cut into roughly 1cm-thick slices – cut each slice into a few pieces so that they will fit quite snugly into the pan.
A small handful of picked fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
Vegetable stock (I used bouillon powder rather than home-made stock)
This will make 6 to 8 bowls of soup if your pumpkin is the same size as mine (and your bowls too).
Fry the garlic over a low heat until it is browned all over. I tilted the pan so that there was a pool of oil in the bottom and the garlic was just covered enough to deep-fry. Remove and set aside.
Still over a low heat. fry the onion and celery until it starts to brown. Add the rosemary and fry for a few seconds more. Add the pumpkin, and enough stock to almost cover it. Cutting the slices so that they will fit fairly snugly in the pan will give the right ratio of pumpkin flesh to liquid so that when you blend the soup it is the right consistency.
Turn up the heat a bit, and simmer the pumpkin until it is soft. Blend the soup and add salt and pepper to taste (I’d suggest going very easy on the pepper, enough to give it a hint of warmth but not so much that it is a prominent flavour).
Wear an apron if you are as clumsy as I am with a stick blender.
Pumpkin seed and parsley pesto
A handful of pumpkin seeds
The 3 cloves of fried garlic from the soup recipe above
Several stalks of flat-leaf parsley, chopped (including the stalks)
Oil (see above – toasted pumpkin seed oil would be the obvious choice, but anything suitable for a dressing should be okay) – not sure how much, I’d guess 4 tablespoons
1 teaspoon lemon juice
This made enough pesto for about 8 bowls of soup, so don’t fret too much about the oil, especially as the soup uses only very little and doesn’t have cream etc. (The fried pumpkin and bread cubes I added did of course use a bit more oil.)
Grind the pumpkin seeds with a very big pinch of coarse salt in a pestle and mortar until finely powdered. Add the garlic and grind into the pumpkin seeds. Add the parsley and grind to a paste – unless your pestle and mortar is huge you’ll need to do this in stages.
Add the oil and mix to incorporate it evenly. Add the lemon juice and maybe a splash of water to loosen the pesto slightly. Taste and add salt if it needs it – it should be a bit too salty on its own so that it works well when it is atop the soup; likewise the slight bitterness of the seeds will counterpoint the sweetness of the soup.
The important question: does it look better in a black bowl or a white bowl?
As you may well know, foods are given either a ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date. The instruction to ‘use by’ is given to foods that spoil quickly and which may well not be safe to eat after the date – generally high-risk foods such as cheese and fresh meat. ‘Best before’ means just that – it may be better (in taste and texture) before the given date (which is somewhat arbitrary – nothing magical happens overnight to a tin of beans with months or years between production and ‘best before’).
I’m writing this post partly as a response to a discussion about out-of-date and ‘spoilt’ food that we had at home. There was some concern at my eating an orange, lemon and apple jam that was made in 2010. I’m writing this in advance of cooking soup with a pumpkin that has been happily (for it and me, at least – consternation has been expressed by another party on the idea of keeping it for so long) sitting in the pantry for a couple of months. In a recent shuffle-around in there it sustained a cut to its skin, where it has now bloomed a bit of mould. I will cut around the affected area and see if the remaining flesh is still good. [SPOLIER ALERT: I’ve now checked out the pumpkin and made the soup. Further blog post to follow soon.] And a couple of weeks ago I was given a brace of panettone that went over their best before date somewhere in the middle of 2017; a description follows of the tasty way I used one of these up.
But first, a diversion on one of my favourite subjects…
For hard cheeses, I tend to have a very casual attitude to use by dates. I keep them in the fridge, and avoid getting them out to warm up to room temperature (where the taste is at its best) only to return them to the fridge, instead making an educated guess on how much to cut off and use. So: I’m not fat, I’m just very well-educated…
I have in the fridge, sealed in a box that I have promised not to open if anyone else is in the house nor likely to be within 24 hours, two pieces of cheese that have been in my posession for a long time – we’re talking years rather than months. These merit a blog post in their own right, which I will get to one day. (They’re close to meriting recognition as sentient beings, come to that; and one has so much funk it potentially merits inclusion in the rock and roll hall of fame…)
For soft cheese I am to an extent more cautious (as I understand it, the higher moisture content of softer cheeses makes them better breeding grounds for microbes). Soft cheeses typically don’t survive nor mature as well as harder cheeses, losing some of their rich, fudgy texture and fresh lactic tang. However, brie and camembert – at least those from the supermarket – tend to be at their best a week or two after their use by date. I do adhere to the rule of eating them within a day or two of opening them. Semi-soft cheeses like a good pecorino fresco will also be fine for a while (there is also a whole other blog post waiting to happen about my favourite cheese-maker. Though as it is mid-December and I am planning to go vegan for January’s ‘Veganuary’, these various posts will have to wait a while.)
Panettone bread pudding
There’s panettone and there’s panettone. Buy a cheapo one from the supermarket if you wish, but what you’ll get will very likely be rather dry and underwhelming. A step or two up from there are the sort that come sealed in plastic in tins. Some years you can get good examples of these in Aldi or Lidl – though I can’t claim to know how to tell whether it will be a really good example or not. Two of these came to me following a back-of-the-pantry clear-out. I opened one to see how it had fared in the probably two and a half years since it had been made; it was a little dry, though still richer and less underwhelming than many a cheapo supermarket fresh one I have tried. But, enough of a drop in quality to not feel guilty about making it into something else.
The British classic bread pudding is not to be mistaken for bread-and-butter pudding. Bread pudding is dense and cakey and not at all custardy and souffléed. Recipes sometimes call for milk to soak stale bread, but often just use water. The bread is torn up rather than sliced, soaked, mixed with sugar and dried fruit and sometimes egg, and baked into a solid, squidgy cake. If you fetishise light, airy, risen cakes that can be described in terms of their crumb rather than their propensity for sinking battleships, this may be a good point to stop reading.
Unlike the kind of baking that needs precise measurement to make the science work its magic [apologies to so many good friends for this line!], this is a recipe that is very forgiving. The bread that would normally be used would be drier than the panettone I used. You could dry the panettone out in the oven for a bit, I guess.
1 panettone, around 18 months past its best before date
1 pint of milk
A stick of cassia bark [or cinnamon], a few cardamom pods, a few threads of saffron
A good pinch of cinnamon powder once you realise that the cassia stick and cardamom didn’t really have long enough time in the milk
A good knob of butter – about 30g/1oz
1 egg, beaten
About 5 dessertspoons of golden caster sugar
A further dessertspoon or so of golden caster sugar for sprinkling over at the end
A particularly bad day for taking photos, even by my low standards
Heat the milk, cassia, cardamom and saffron until it just reaches a boil, then turn the heat off and leave to infuse for 15 minutes or so. With hindsight, maybe heat the milk and spices very very slowly and leave to infuse for 30 minutes or so, to have a fighting chance of actually being able to taste the cinnamon and cardamom.
Hack the panettone into pieces. Remove the spices from the infused milk. Pour the milk over the panattone. Mix together into a glorious mush. Add the sugar and extra cinnamon. Leave to stand for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 165°C.
Add the beaten egg to the mix and stir in well. Put the mix into a buttered baking tin. Bake for around 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, and sprinkle the remaining caster sugar over it. Once cool enough to handle, cut into pieces. Eat it warm, or leave it to go cold. The sugar will dissolve in the steam coming off the pudding, so if you want to you could wait until it is completely cook before adding this topping.
Ironically, I have no sense of how long this will last before going off. With the milk and the egg, probably best to eat within a day or two.
I got given a load of apples a couple of weeks ago when I went to see my family. They have two old trees that between them produce enough fallers to be worth collecting (or, perhaps, enough fallers to make it treacherous not to collect them as the rotting apples coat the paths). I have made some spiced apple butter and some curried apple chutney.
The spiced apple butter is something I have made before, many years ago. Last time around I cooked it a bit longer than I should, with a bit too much sugar, and ended up with something that was rather sweeter and more bouncily set than I had intended. This time around I didn’t really follow a recipe but the concoction seems to have hit the right level of sweetness. It hasn’t, however, set as much as I intended this time (despite my having acquired a kitchen thermometer since last time… I got a bit impatient!) and so I have something more like a sweet, spiced apple sauce. How well it stays preserved in its mould-free state remains to be seen; I sterilised the jars so hopefully the half-dozen or so jars will keep for a little while yet.
The chutney was even more of an invention – I’ve never made it, nor indeed any chutney, before. I kept the apples fairly chunky and cooked them gently with vinegar, sugar and salt plus a mix of chilli, fennel seed, black onion seed, thinly sliced onion, ginger and turmeric. Again, fingers crossed… The small amount that didn’t fill a whole jar tasted good straight away, so I am hopeful that a few weeks maturation will give it chance to really come into its own. Again, fingers crossed that this doesn’t include playing host to a colony of mould.
I’d promised myself I would post something on this blog at least once every month, but last month failed to do so. My excuse (also to myself – nobody else is holding me to this target*) is that I’ve been writing, mainly about food, elsewhere. Visit Leeds Living to see where most of my energies have been directed. You can search ‘Thomas Chalk’ to find articles by me, or of course you can have a look at whatever’s current on there by whoever has been writing most recently.
* Not least because hardly anybody is reading this blog. Hello to those who are.