Winter

Butter me up

You can only eat two food items for the rest of your life? For me easy – bread + butter.

Last week we flavoured Pepe Saya butter with truffles and this week I’m adding some herbs along with the truffle.

Pierre Issa is the man behind the Pepe Saya cultured butter and is sooo good at what he does, if you haven’t tried his butter you’re holding him up on his mission to ensure everyone in Australia has. They do a truffle butter using Duncan Garvey’s truffles and our own version uses those from Borrodell on the Mount in Orange.

This spot overlooks the Towac Valley and I think the best views in all of Orange. Great wine, lovely restaurant, and right now fresh truffles and all sorts of truffle value added products. If you have a chance visit Gaye, Borrie and Louisa and see what a vision and a green thumb can achieve.

Truffles are expensive but a little does go a long way. You don’t need fancy equipment, I just used the kitchen grater.

truffle

But truffles are just one, luxurious, end of the flavoured butter spectrum. Butter is the best flavour carrier for everything from the intensity of chilli to the subtlety of a herb like chervil or the lemony taste of sorrel (pictured). It was such a 70’s thing to use flavoured butters that they may have dropped from favour as a flavour for being passe rather than passed on.

sorrell

We will serve our flavoured butter this weekend with bread (of course), soft boiled quail eggs and olives marinated and then warmed through with some  mandarin and red onion slices.  Herb butter on a simple dry roasted potato or tossed through steamed veges is just as good.

quail eggs

We’re so used to being able to buy butter cheaply that it takes a little re-focus to realise that even luxury butter is good value for the pleasure and simplicity it provides.

Herb butter

500 grams good quality butter

2 tablespoon mixed fresh herbs, finely chopped (use whatever is best at the moment, I’m using sorrel, parsley and chervil)

a little cracked pepper

sea salt if your butter is unsalted

a little grated lemon if you wish

 

Combine everything. Roll into a log shape if you wish to be able to slice easily. Store in baking paper and then foil. If you cant use it in a period of a couple of weeks place it in the freezer and use from there whenever you want to add a flavoured butter to your cooking.

To make garlic butter add a few chopped cloves or roast a whole head of garlic then squeeze the soft centres of the cloves into the butter. Dont be restrictive –  what’s in season, what do you like, what are you cooking?

 

 

Settling into comfort food

I’m taking a classic French summer dish and turning it into a classic winter dish – all by stealing from my best friend.

clafouti cooked

Rhubarb clafouti is the new darling dessert of The Zin House, it came about because Lesley Russell, the Orange Regional Cook, was telling me about the photo shoot for her forthcoming cookbook and mentioned the recipe. ‘What a great idea!’, said I before promptly putting it on the weekend’s menu.

Now some cooks might think it a bit cheeky to steal your mate’s recipe before she’s even published the book. But I know that won’t be the case with Lesley because she has this quote hanging in her kitchen.

No mean woman can cook well for it calls for a light head, a generous spirit and a large heart.’ Paul Gauguin

We have talked often over the years about how you don’t ‘own’ a recipe, but rather are obliged to share good food, and therefore recipes, as widely as possible. Why would you want someone to cook less well!

The courtesy is to acknowledge the last custodian of an idea, which is why you will find Lesley’s name pop up often when I’m writing about food.

You should also rush out and buy her book when it’s published because unlike me, Lesley measures and that means her recipes will always work!

clafouti batter

Rhubarb is gorgeous at this time of year, the colour is vibrant and it seems to respond well to the cold. I’ve planted it and failed many times so don’t give up, when you find the right spot it will flourish with equal quantities of compost and neglect.

rhubarb

Clafouti is traditionally made with cherries by pouring an eggy batter over fruit. This version is a much better contrast of tart and sweet.

clafouti and cream

Rhubarb Clafouti

  1. 6 eggs
  2. 600 ml cream
  3. 2 extra egg white (optional) 
  4. 1 cup sugar
  5. 1/2 cup self-raising flour
  6. 1/2 cup ground  hazelnuts
  7. Dash of vanilla extract or scraping of a bean
  8. Several stalks of rhubarb, finely chopped
  9. For the pan, butter and  extra sugar 

 

Whisk all the ingredients 1 -7  together. yep, that’s it!

Now line  your oven proof baking dish really generously with butter, so that there are bits of butter visible. Cover the butter with a good sprinkle of sugar and shake it to coat the butter. This step will create a nice caramel effect in the oven, allowing you to flip the clafouti like an upside down cake. That’s why small teflon pans like the ones I’ve used in the photo are good.

For every person use about 1 kitchen spoon of rhubarb and two of batter. (A kitchen spoon is two tablespoons, or four dessertspoons or 8 teaspoons if you want to do it the hard way.)

Scatter the rhubarb over the base of the dish and cover with the batter. This works best with smaller amounts rather than trying to put it all in a small dish – wide and flat is good.

Because we have so many guests with gluten intolerance I always use a gluten free flour and I think it actually improves this dish.

Hazelnuts (Lesley’s suggestion) are regional for us, use any nuts that are fresh or leave them out.

The extra egg whites are used in my kitchen because we always have surplus from the ice-cream. They give an extra lightness and height to the dish but are not necessary.

This amount will feed at least 10 people but before you half the recipe remember you can keep the batter in the fridge for days and have it on demand. And then you could try it with some other sort of fruit, maybe from your neighbours backyard…

 

Show us your nettle

After years of reading about nettle dishes I finally decided I wasn’t much of a forager if I didn’t give it a go.

If a chook won’t eat something you’d think that a fair indicator of inedibility. But according to fans of stinging nettles (and Google) my chooks are missing out on excellent doses of vitamins by turning their beaks up at the infestations on their doorstep.

Mistake number one was to think food handling gloves would be sufficient, as I got more enthusiastic in my harvesting and applied more pressure the stings made their way through and also whacked my arms. As a child we were told dock was an antidote to nettle stings but by this stage I just wanted to get back to the kitchen and get this over with.

nettle blanching

I picked the tender tips from the plants and steeped them briefly in boiling water, this is the bit that takes the sting out of them and turns the leaves a vibrant green. The nettles are now ready to be treated in any way you might use spinach.

As an experimenter rather than a convert I decided to make a pesto to top a roast winter vegetable soup, I reckon anything full of olive oil, garlic and parmesan is going to taste delicious regardless of a small weed invasion.

Verdict: herby, green, spinachy, chewy, pleasant enough. A perfect foil to the sweetness of vegetables caramelised by the roasting.

nettle menu

In a world with a million recipes for soup I think it more important to remember the principles rather than any detail. In this instance season and roast with olive oil whatever vegetables you have (I used pumpkin, potato, cauliflower, carrot, sweet potato and loads of garlic and onion). Then put them in a heavy bottomed pot with fresh herbs (I’m likely to have used rosemary, thyme and bay) and cover with good stock. Cook slowly for 20 minutes or so and then mash or puree it all. Adjust the seasoning. Add some cream before serving if you wish. Top with nettle pesto or stir it through.

Stinging Nettle Pesto

1 cup blanched nettles
1 cup rocket &/or parsley
1 cup roasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
a few cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt flakes
a few turns of a pepper grinder
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients, bar the oil, in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add the oil in a stream until well combined. Store with a layer of oil on top and add wherever you need a dose of vesty green flavour.