Summer garden soup with lemon basil and pistachio pesto

This light soup features the freshest vegetables currently available from the garden. It is designed to be served à la minute, the vegetables barely being cooked to capture and retain the essence of the quintessential flavours of summer, with freshly picked home-grown vegetables and herbs from garden to plate in under 30 minutes.

Why are you posting about soup in the middle of summer you may ask? As a typical Brit, I am unnecessarily preoccupied with the weather. The UK mainland is currently experiencing an enviable heatwave and the hottest July since 2006.  Here in the Outer Hebrides, it is the antithesis: low cloud, rain / smir, mist / fog and wind.  Visibility is currently about 300m. I was supposed to be in Orkney for work this week, but this has not been an option due to the fog causing flight cancellations. We have also now had no mail for 3 days as the mail plane is also cancelled.

I’m not prepared to put a gloss on life here by suggesting the weather (and life here generally for that matter) is always amazing but I do usually resent leaving the island during the summer as there is no place better to be – when we have the weather that is. Once again, I feel so sorry for visitors that arrived in the last week as we have seen the sun for only about 1 hour since we returned from our mainland trip one week ago. In fact, we are trying not to feel sorry for ourselves as radio commentators talk about how glorious the weather is (almost) everywhere and how hot it is while I walk the dogs in the usual fleece and waterproof jacket. I am glad that we will not have more visitors until the weekend and hope the improving forecast is accurate.

In fairness, we had amazing summer last year while the rest of the UK was deluged with rain and floods.  Unfortunately, the relocation of the jet stream to its more usual position further south this summer means the weather is perhaps much more as we should expect it to be here.  That said, it is probably, on balance the worst summer we have had (in terms of sunshine and warmth at least) since we moved here.

Instead of wallowing in self pity (or vacating the island until the murk lifts – not that I can get off by plane!), I decided to celebrate the garden successes I am having with a summery soup and accompanying fragrant pesto. The success of some crops is surprising given the weather, but welcome and the harvest looks and tastes like summer, even if the sky and temperature indicate otherwise. I really enjoy cold soups, but given our current temperatures, a warm soup seems more appropriate.

summer soup garden

Summer garden soup

The vegetables were freshly picked, cleaned and prepared and given the gentlest possible cooking.  I used whatever was in prime condition for picking: chard, garlic, spring onions, chervil and parsley from outside, courgettes and flowers (I know, technically a fruit) and very tasty fine beans from the tunnel.

summer soup

Ingredients

A splash of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 onion, finely sliced

3 small courgettes (and flowers if available)

a handful of fine beans

a big bunch of chard (about 250g)

4 spring onions

a bunch of chervil

a bunch of flat leaf parsley

1 litre of vegetable stock

salt and pepper

Method

  • Wash, clean and roughly chop the veg (except the onion, finely chop it).
  • Add the oil to a large pan, then the onion and cook gently for a few minutes until translucent then add the crushed garlic and cook for another minute before adding the fine beans, courgette (not flowers), thicker chard stems and stock.
  • Simmer gently for about 5 minutes, add the chard leaves and cook for a further minute before stirring in the spring onions, herbs and flowers. Season to taste and top with some pesto.

summer soup 3summer soup 2

Lemon basil and pistachio pesto

One thing that has been a raging success this year is my basil.  I am growing 5 different varieties (Mrs Burns, Cinnamon, Red Rubin, Sweet Genovese and Italian Giant) and all have been producing well.  I therefore have been spoilt for choice and wanted to make a pesto with a distinctive tang.

Basil - Mrs Burns

Basil – Mrs Burns

basil - cinnamon

Basil – Cinnamon

Basil - Giant Italian

Basil – Giant Italian

Although I used 3 types of basil in this recipe, the variety Mrs Burns is extremely refreshing and lemony and I wanted the citrus zing of this variety to predominate, with cinnamon (more almost anise-like) and Italian Giant adding depth and complexity to the flavour of the pesto, each complementing the vibrant pistachio nuts included. This pesto also works really well with fish and we enjoyed it with baked brown trout.

Ingredients

50g Mrs Burns or lemon basil leaves

10g cinnamon basil leaves

10g Giant Italian basil leaves

50g fresh grated parmesan

50g pistachio nuts

2 cloves garlic, peeled

200 ml good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp salt

a few turns of pepper

Method

  • Put all ingredients in a food processor, pulse then blitz for a minute or so, until smooth.
  • Store in a jar in the fridge, keeps for about a week.

Nasturtium, basil and rocket pesto - green and glorious

Biscuits with Bartok 6 – Ma’amul

The concept of the weekly provision of a sweet treat for the musicians continues, allowing me to move away from the typical biscuit or cookie to something a little more out of the ordinary, Ma’amul.  Indeed the title of this series of posts is increasingly becoming a misnomer.  Bartok has been superseded in recent weeks by Telemann, the prolific late Baroque German composer – and there are a growing number of musicians.

There is something delightful and unique about sitting at my desk, working, listening to  music ebb and flow against the backdrop of the outdoor sound scape of birds, waves and wind. I hope it will eventually get warm enough to open the door so I can hear the pieces more clearly. Eventually, but for now it is still very cold, the wind swinging indiscriminately from south west to north and maintaining defiant persistence over the last 3 weeks.

Few seeds are yet planted outside, the soil temperature has dropped from 12 to 8 C.  I did try to plant some parsnip seeds, but they kept blowing out of the narrow drill.  I resorted to sowing small sections a few centimetres at a time and quickly covering them to ensure they stayed in the ground.

Dining out on fishing

Despite having more time indoors than I would normally care for at this time of year, I have had very little time over the last week to manage even one small blog post. Not only that, unusually, we have been out for dinner twice over the weekend.  Often, eating out is at houses of friends, but this was real dining out, on Uist. Imagine!

The annual dinners of North Uist Angling Club and South Uist Angling Club always occur back to back in the same weekend.  Friday night, we enjoyed a very well executed meal at Langass Lodge; smoked haddock risotto with samphire, hand dived scallops with cauliflower puree and lemoncello parfait with berries.  It really was spot on for a set meal for 35 people.  As current Chair of NUAC, I had to deliver a short speech, which was no hardship, and being Chair afforded us an invitation to the South Uist Club dinner the next evening at Grogarry Lodge, South Uist.  A tasty and comforting meal of salmon pate, venison and vegetables (significant portion and seconds offered!) and cheesecake was enjoyed and we were made to feel very welcome by the members of the club.

Sandwiched in between these dinners was our annual pollack competition on Loch Strumore, North Uist  when we attempt to catch pollack on the fly.  Always a challenge, the potential for some monster fish and a huge fight.  Two years ago we had a bathful of fish to deal with as a result and the winning angler caught an 8 lb beast that shredded his hand.  Alas, no monsters this year.  The weather deteriorated over the course of the day to intolerably freezing. I came home with a fish, as did The Man Named Sous, the only two pollack caught all day.  Another fishing trophy for my Dearest then as his was slightly bigger than mine.

pollack

As ever, when late spring arrives (the weather is allegedly supposed to improve about now), we have started to see our first visitors, from near and far.  I don’t expect therefore that I will get a huge amount of time to blog over the coming week, although my draft posts will continue to pile up (I have been experimenting with seaweed too – more on that in the next post). Tomorrow, we have a Swiss friend coming for dinner, musicians and more visitors the day after, who knows who else by the weekend. I will seize the moment to discuss the delights of ma’amul.

Ma’amul

Ma’amul (various spellings, commonly also Ma’amoul) is an appropriately windswept and interesting (as Billy Connolly would say) sweet experience. The innocuous looking shortbread-type biscuit conceals the surprise of a crumbly and aromatic exterior, which then relinquishes a sumptuous, sticky dried fruit and nutty rose-scented interior.  A definite curveball if you have not tried these before.

This is one of the most popular Arab cookies, eaten across the Middle East, particularly during Ramadan. They are rolled and stuffed with varying ingredients, commonly walnuts and dates, but also pistachios, figs and almonds. Ma’amul can be hand-rolled or pressed into decorative wooden moulds.  This reminded me of pressing shortbread into a wooden mould depicting a thistle, which I remember doing as a child, although, I don’t actually have that mould, so hand formed my ma’amul.

Texturally, I was looking for something different and I knew the main constituent ingredient of semolina would deliver an unusual textural experience while the flavours satisfy my continued love of all things aromatic, with the addition of orange blossom water and rosewater. The textures also extends to preparation and making ma’amul is a very pleasant quite unique tactile experience. Here I use a variation of the recipe from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem (I know, again, but I have been abstaining for a few weeks), altering the filling to include pistachios and figs instead of dates and replaced cinnamon with my preferred ground cardamom.

Ingredients

350g semolina

40g plain flour

pinch of salt

180g unsalted butter, cut into 3 cm cubes

2 tbsp orange blossom water

1 tbsp rose water

icing sugar for dusting

Fruit and nut filling:

150g pistachios

75g walnuts

45g dried figs

45g caster sugar

1 tsp ground cardamom

1 1/2 tsp rose water

1 tbsp orange blossom water

Preheat the oven to 190C

Method

  • Put the semolina, flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix.  Add the butter and work it to the texture of breadcrumbs.
  • Add the orange blossom and rose waters and 1/2 a tablespoon of water to bring the mixture together into a ball.
  • Knead on the surface until completely smooth, about 5 minutes.  By now it will smell refreshing and aromatic and you will get the sense of the distinctive texture.
  • Cover with a damp cloth and rest for about 30 minutes.

Now make the filling:

  • Put the pistachios, walnuts, figs, sugar and cardamom in a food processor, pulse then process until finely chopped but not completely ground.
  • Add the orange blossom and rose waters and pulse to produce a coarse paste.

Moulding your ma’amul

If uniformity of biscuits matters to you (as it does to me), it is always handy to have some very accurate scales to measure out each piece of dough before rolling the finished item.  I use jewellery scales. I know such scales are often associated with clandestine activities (I do not mean weighing jewellery-related items), but my original use for the scales was innocuous, albeit slightly obscure.

I bought these many years ago as a tool to weigh birds that I was ringing, unfortunately, I can no longer find the time to ring and the scales have been recycled into the kitchen.  These were ideal for accurately weighing small passerines such as goldcrests and wrens. Goldcrests weigh only 5 -7 grams, so 5 goldcrests are the same weight as the dough for just 1 biscuit, what a random fact!

Don’t be put off by the convoluted preparation description – the dough is easy to manipulate and reshape if you put your thumb through it the first time. Ma’amul can be decorated in many ways but I have opted for simply pressing across the tops with a fork.

Ma'amul cooking 001

Method

  • Get a small bowl of water and keep you hands moist to stop the dough from cracking.
  • Pick up a bit of dough about the size of a walnut, it should be about 25g, roll it into a ball between your damp palms.
  • Cup the dough in the palm of one hand and press the centre with the thumb of your other hand to form an indentation.  This is similar to producing a clay thumb pot, forming a space in the centre of the dough for the stuffing.
  • The sides of the ‘pot’ should be about 5mm thick and 2.5 cm high.
  • Keep in your palm and grab about 20g of the filling and place it in the ‘pot’.  Pull up the dough around the filling to enclose it within the dough and roll gently into a ball again.

Ma'amul cooking 003

  • At this stage, I rolled the balls into slightly tall cylinders so I could press them down with a fork on the baking sheet. Place each on a baking sheet lined with silicone sheet or parchment paper.
  • Press down gently  on the top of the biscuit with a fork to create a pattern across the top of each biscuit.

Ma'amul cooking 005

  • Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, until cooked, ensuring the biscuits take on no colour.
  • Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with icing sugar, if desired, before serving. Enjoy with a strong espresso.

Ma'amul 026Ma'amul 021Ma'amul 044

Rhurbarb and rosewater cardamom crumble

It is the end of the traditional rhubarb forcing season and to mark this season’s end, I have a recipe with a twist on the traditional rhubarb crumble. The flavours North Africa and the Mediterranean have been added, with the curveball of rosewater to surprise the palate.

I must admit that my forced rhubarb is not Hebridean in origin, but at least in justification, I am supporting an important and seasonal piece of British food history and our food industry by buying it. It hails from the famous Rhubarb Triangle, an area of West Yorkshire between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell famous for producing early forced rhubarb in the darkness of forcing sheds. So historically important is this area for growing forced rhubarb, it was awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the EU in 2010. The stems of forced rhubarb are crimson, delicate and sweet, quite a different animal the equally delightful outdoor thug that will be gracing the gardens and fields of the UK from now (well, if it warms up).

Of course, had the builders not dug out the foundation for the workshop while we were away on holiday, I would have had time to rescue our rhubarb. Alas, I have to start again by growing new crowns.

Crumble is so simple and delicious and of course, rhubarb crumble is hard to beat. Yes, it is patently a fairly rustic affair, but for something that tastes divine and takes no more than 20 minutes to prepare and 20 to cook, who could possibly resent the time spent to produce such cuddlesome comfort food. My time is very stretched just now, so crumble recipes are ideal for such busy phases.

To further bolster my argument, what better excuse to indulge in a comprehensive choice of delightful accompaniments of the dairy variety: ice cream, cream, custard, crème patisserie, crème fraiche or yoghurt. it really would not be the same without one of them, would it?

Rhubarb and rosewater cardamom crumble

I prefer to retain the sharpness of the rhubarb, so I don’t add much sugar at all, especially since the pomegranate molasses add sweetness.  This also applies to rosewater – don’t add too much or it becomes unpleasantly overpowering.

Preheat the oven to 180C

rhubarb crumble 3

Ingredients

Rhubarb:

250g rhubarb (it need not be forced)

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

2 tbsp water

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1/2 tsp rosewater

For crumble:

150g plain flour

50g caster sugar

100g unsalted butter, cubed

75g pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

1 tsp ground cardamom

rhubarb crumble 1

Method

  • Gently poach the rhubarb in a pan over a medium heat with the sugar, water, molasses and rosewater until it softens but still retains its shape and some texture.  This should take about 10 minutes for thin forced rhubarb.
  • Transfer the rhubarb to a gratin dish and sit aside for an hour to infuse the flavours together before topping with the crumble.
  • For the crumble, simply pulse then blitz the ingredients in a food processor, except the pistachios, but only enough to make them into a breadcrumb texture and no more.
  • Roughly chop the nuts and mix through the crumble before topping the rhubarb with the mixture. Bake for 20 minutes at 180C. Serve with your accompaniment of choice, I favoured single cream on this occasion.  The Man Named Sous went for home made Turron Ice cream, which worked too, apparently.

rhubarb crumble 2

Rosewater delectation: Pistachio and rosewater meringues with Turkish delight ice cream

I adore floral flavourings; elderflower, lavender, orange blossom and jasmine, but my favourite of all is rosewater. Rosewater has a long and illustrious culinary history. It is a stalwart of Middle Eastern and North African cooking, also featuring in Indian cuisine. When used with restraint, rosewater gives a characteristic flavour and alluring fragrance that takes you straight to the edge of the Med.

Rosewater is the leftover liquid or hydrosol remaining when rose petals and water are distilled together for the purpose of making rose oil, so it is a bi-product. It is also relatively cheap and easy to obtain from delis or wholefood shops and has a reasonably long shelf life, so it is always handy to keep in the store cupboard and a little goes a long way.

Bulgaria produces an estimated 85% of the world’s rose oil and hence is also a key producer of rosewater. I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful country a couple of years ago.  It was a conservation trip to look at how the Bulgarian government manages areas of high conservation value in national parks and other protected sites in Bulgaria, focussing on the Stara Planina in the Balkan Mountains, central Bulgaria, particularly the Central Balkan National Park. The beech, oak and hornbeam forests are stunning, as are the high alpine meadows.  These habitats hold impressive numbers of rare species of invertebrates, higher plants and fungi and I was fortunate to see a diverse range of each.

Coincidentally, driving south from the Balkan Mountains, we travelled through the Rose Valley. This valley is world famous for growing roses and for centuries has been the centre for rose oil production in Bulgaria. We stopped near the town of Kazanlak, centre of the rose oil industry and walked through the rose fields at the peak time for harvesting, early in June.

Bulgarian rosefields in full bloom

Bulgarian rosefields in full bloom

The intoxicating scent of the beautiful pink damask roses was everywhere. Honeybees covered the flowers, pollen baskets full, contributing to honey production, another industry that had formed a common sense symbiosis with rose oil production.

Rosewater is a versatile flavour and can be used in savoury and sweet dishes.  It is more aromatic and flavoursome uncooked, but still retains the essence of its aroma and character if cooked.

I have been including rosewater in numerous recipes recently, experimenting in order to get the flavour balance right.  Having some good quality Turkish delight in the house (rose flavour, of course),  I decided I wanted to make Turkish delight ice cream, one of my favourite flavours, but always such a rare find in all but the most comprehensively stocked gelaterias.

My expectation was that this would need careful addition of a little rosewater to the cream, as the Turkish delight was pretty pungent with rose flavour.  To balance this, and again having a look through Ottolenghi, I found the perfect accompaniment – pistachio meringues, a hint of rosewater included.

This is also a thrifty strategy since ice cream uses copious amounts of egg yolks and meringues egg whites, so the recipes marry economically too. The pairing of a cooked and uncooked rosewater sweet treat commenced.

Pistachio and rosewater meringues

This recipe is from Ottolenghi, his first book.  The Ottolenghi outlets in London are famous for their meringues, so after looking at the images, and anticipating capturing some of my favourite flavours within, there was no point in resisting…

The first thing the recipe states is that a good free-standing mixer is essential.  Following the demise of my 1960’s Kenwood Chef, I was without such a gadget.  I didn’t have much choice but to get on with it using my handheld mixer, which was pretty awkward, but worked.

The recipe suggests dolloping the meringue onto the plate of crushed pistachios and rolling it around.  This sounded like something you would need to be well practised at to master, and I didn’t even attempt it as I could only imagine how inelegant it might look.  I opted for the safer option of sprinkling / throwing the pistachios on / at the meringue after spooning them onto a baking sheet!

I cut the recipe ingredients by half.  I thought the quantities were excessive (10 egg whites) and by halving, I could neatly use almost all of the egg whites left over from making the ice cream. This made about 12 moderately large meringues.

Heat the oven to 200oC initially

Turn down to 110oC for meringues

Ingredients

300g caster sugar

150g egg whites (about 5 large eggs)

1 tsp rosewater

30g finely chopped pistachios

Method

  • Place the sugar on a baking sheet lined with parchment and heat in the oven for about 8 minutes until hot and dissolving at the edges.
  • When the sugar is almost ready, on high speed,  mix the egg whites until they start to froth, about 1 minute.
  • Pour the hot sugar slowly over the egg whites.  Once all the sugar is added, add the rosewater.
  • Whisk on high speed for 10 minutes or until the mix is cold.
  • The mix should be stiff and silky.  Taste to check flavour and add more rosewater, to taste.
  • Turn the oven down to 110oC and line a baking sheet with parchment paper, sticking it in place with a bit of meringue mix.
  • Dollop the meringue onto the paper.  Yotam recommends the size of an apple, mine were a bit smaller, about apricot size. They expand a lot during cooking so leave enough space between them.
  • Crush the pistachios using a food processor and sprinkle over the meringue.
  • Place in the oven for about 2 hours.

The meringues should be firm outside and a bit soft in the middle.  They will keep for a few days in an airtight container.

Pistachio and rosewater meringues

Pistachio and rosewater meringues

Turkish delight ice cream

After much deliberation, last Christmas we gave a present to selves of an ice cream maker.  The Cuisinart professional model we have has a built-in compressor, so is pretty straightforward to use and no need to freeze the bowl beforehand.  You can make this recipe without an ice cream maker, it just requires regular hand churning of the mix as it sets, which can be a time-consuming commitment.

Cuisinart ice cream maker

Cuisinart ice cream maker

The Man Named Sous would not mind me saying that he is pretty obsessed with ice cream. I must admit, I was fairly ambivalent to most and pretty selective about what flavours I consume and from where.  Home made ice cream is a revelation and extremely decadent. It should be accompanied by some sort of portion limiter and health warning as it contains shocking amounts of egg yolks, fat (in the form of cream) and sugar.  Oh well, everything in moderation, you only live once, and other similar excuses for indulging oneself.

For this recipe, I used a basic custard as I would for many other ice creams.  I favour the recipe and methods used in ‘The Perfect Scoop’ by David Lebovitz, so have adapted from that. Surprisingly, this marvellous book does not have a recipe for Turkish delight ice cream or my other all time favourite flavour pistachio (to be visited another time).

Makes about 1 litre.

Ingredients

250 ml whole milk

150g caster sugar

500 ml double cream (!)

pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks

1 tsp rosewater

natural red food dye (optional)

8 pieces of Turkish delight, cut into small chunks

A little icing sugar

Method

  • Warm milk, sugar and 250 ml of cream and salt in a pan and remove from heat once sugar has dissolved.
  • Pour the remaining 250 ml of cream into a large bowl and set a sieve over the top.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the warm mixture onto the egg yolks then scrape back into the pan.
  • Stir constantly over a medium heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
  • Pour the mix through the sieve onto the cream add the rosewater and a couple of drops of natural red food dye (if using) and leave to cool and refrigerate.
  • Once chilled, churn in an ice cream maker for about 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, chop up the Turkish delight and roll the small pieces in some icing sugar to coat them so they don’t clump as you add them to the ice cream. Fold the pieces into the ice cream when it is ready, just before you freeze it.

The meringues and ice cream worked well together and would probably have been enhanced by the addition of fruit.  Mango, plum, peaches or strawberries would work, either fresh or in a coulis.

Next aim is to make my own Turkish delight.

Turkish delight ice cream with pistachio and rosewater meringues

Turkish delight ice cream with pistachio and rosewater meringues

In celebration of the short and sweet – Ottolenghi style

I am looking forward to the new series starting next week on Channel 4, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feasts. I follow Ottolenghi’s regular column in The Guardian for recipe inspirations and only recently acquired my first Ottolenghi cookbook, his eponymously titled first book. I have hardly had my nose out of it over the last month. What a truly inventive chef, who has almost single-handedly revolutionised the UK perspective on cooking food inspired by North Africa and the Med.

Yes, when I find books by an inspirational chef it is always tempting to get onto the web and order everything they have published. Having done that, I know the resulting recipe saturation means I don’t really explore each book in depth and they become coffee table objects, gathering dust but no food splatters – the real mark of love on a cookbook.

After a visit to Nick Nairn’s Braeval restaurant in Aberfoyle back in 1996, my first real experience of Michelin star level fine dining (it was a genuine revelation), I indulged in almost every recipe from that first Wild Harvest book, which is now extremely dog-eared (and food splattered). I don’t use it so much now, but still leaf through the pages and revisit nostalgic memories of the flavours generated from within. I do use it to remind myself of his marvellous creme brulee recipe – the finest, easiest and most reliable I know.

So far Ottolenghi has inspired me to try 20 or so recipes over the last month, a mixture of savoury and sweet. Most I have enjoyed and would recommend and all without exception are unfussy and simple to prepare, part of the Ottolenghi philosophy. I plan more Ottolenghi cookbook forays over the next week. To celebrate the beginning of the long overdue TV series next week, here are a couple of the tasty sweet recipes I have tried and loved.

Pistachio shortbread

Much as pistachio is my favourite nut (well, vieing for the title with hazelnuts), the draw of this recipe is the aromatic inclusion of the ground cardamom, reminiscent of the decadent sweetness of baklava. Apparently Persian baklava typically has the essence of this sweet pastry that I favour – infused with pistachio, rosewater and cardamom.  I do not have a sweet tooth, but enjoy a modicum of this divine filo delight, preferably served with an authentic cardamom-infused Turkish coffee.

But cardamom with shortbread?  Oh yes, this turns my experience of this Scottish stalwart on its head.  I must admit, I veer away from some traditional recipes and I have never made shortbread. I remember helping my mum make it,  pressing the playdough-like sweet buttery mix into a wooden mould depicting a thistle, but I was never excited by its buttery decadence.  I was deterred further by the fact that traditionally, some recipes call for the inexplicable inclusion of fine semolina which is supposed to add a grainy, crumbly texture and is, in my opinion, a spoiler.

So, much as the pistachio and cardamom encouraged this shortbread virgin to give it a try, so did the inclusion of ground rice, to my mind much more refined and a superior choice than semolina.

The recipe suggests crushing the contents of 8 cardamom pods.  I wanted to know how much ground cardamom this equated to, as I also have ground cardamom in the store cupboard.  You can buy it online from the Ottolenghi store, but I also found it in our local North Uist independent shop at Bayhead.  They keep a surprisingly extensive range of herbs and spices. The cardamom I ground from the whole pods was, unsurprisingly, much more intense than the ground I had in store and amounted to about half a teaspoon, although I would add more if using pre-ground.

While making this recipe using the Kenwood Chef I inherited from my grandmother (a 1960’s model, I think), I was surprised to find how much icing sugar appeared to be puffing up out of the bowl.  Then came a whiff of electrical burning and I realised the motor on the old Chef had expired.  I thought of all the clootie dumplings my grandmother had made with it and I had killed it with my first batch of unconventional shortbread.  I can imagine what she would have said.  She was a bit scary.

Oh well, looks like I will need that new KitchenAid after all, but it will have to get in the queue behind the new washing machine, which broke the same day as I broke the Chef, helpfully spewing it’s soapy contents over my feet as I absent-mindedly opened the door.

I know shortbread is decadent with butter quantities that could reduce the European butter mountain, but a nice treat once in a while…enough of the pre-amble, although, one final warning.  Most of Yotam’s recipes appear to use every bowl in the kitchen, except this shortbread (see next recipe as an illustration). Here is the recipe:

Pre-heat the oven to 150oC

Ingredients

8 cardamom pods, split and contents ground in a pestle and mortar

200g unsalted butter

25g ground rice

240g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

35g icing sugar

60g shelled pistachio nuts

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tblsp sugar, vanilla flavoured, if available

Method

Crush the cardamom in a pestle and mortar.

Use an electric mixer (if you have one)  to turn the butter, ground rice, flour, salt cardamom and icing sugar to a paste. It’s a bit of a battle without the mixer, but achievable using a wooden spoon or scraper.

Take the dough, dust with a bit of flour and roll into a log 3-4 cm in diameter.  Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Chop the nuts reasonably finely, brush the log with beaten egg and roll in the chopped pistachios.  The dough is quite forgiving, so don’t be afraid to apply a bit of pressure to get a good coating.

Wrap and put the log back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes ( I forgot about it, but a couple of hours did it no harm).

Unwrap and cut the log into slices about 5 mm thick.  I experimented with the thickness, but found 5mm to be just right, 1cm too thick.

Put on a baking sheet lined with parchment, each about 2cm apart, sprinkle with sugar and bake.

Recipe suggests 20 minutes, mine needed about 28, but you have to know your oven and watch them as they shouldn’t be more than pale golden.

The dough can be stored in the freezer if you want to make smaller batches.  I got 23 biscuits out of the full recipe.

Pistachio shortbread – Does what it says on the tin – wonderfully short and aromatic.

Pear and Amaretto Crumble

Oven temperature: 170oC

150g apple (peeled weight) cut into 1.5 cm dice

150g pear (peeled weight) cut in the same way

30g toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

grated zest of a lemon

2 tblsp Amaretto

210g plain flour

3/4 tblsp baking powder

3/4 tblsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

45g ground almonds

3 eggs

180ml sunflower oil

230g caster sugar

1/3 tsp salt

120g crumble mix (see recipe below)

Method

Grease you loaf tin/s with butter and line with parchment.

Mix apple and pear with walnuts, lemon zest, and Amaretto. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Add the ground almonds.

Separate 2 of the eggs, keep the whites separate while mixing the yolks with the third egg.  Beat together the oil and sugar in yet another bowl for one minute.

Slowly add the yolk and egg mix, then add the sifted dry ingredients followed by the fruit.  Mix until just incorporated.

Whisk the egg whites with the salt to form stiff peaks (using yet another bowl – that’s 4 so far!) and fold gently into the cake mix. Put the mix in the cake tin and sprinkle liberally with the crumble.

Bake for 45 mins to an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when pushed into the middle of the cake.  If it gets a bit brown on top, stick some foil over it until it is ready.

Crumble recipe

300g plain flour

100g caster sugar

200g cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes

Method

Thankfully, no need for another bowl. Fling the mix into a food processor and pulse until it forms a breadcrumb consistency, or mix using your hands. If you use a processor, make sure it just turns to breadcrumbs and no more, or you will have cookie dough.

Put the excess in the freezer to use another time.

Pear and Amaretto crumble cake courtesy of Ottolenghi. Light and decadent.