I was too ill (only with a bad cold) to visit Nicola and Rachael as planned last weekend, so Nicola changed her plans for her birthday weekend a bit so they could come to my house for lunch today. And because it was her birthday yesterday, it turned into a birthday lunch. And Jonathan and Lyndsey came too, which meant of course Freddie as well. And because he’s now 9 months and wants to join in the mealtimes, it required a visit to a local Mothercare to buy a high chair – so we’ll have to have plenty more family meals now!
The big thing about entertaining on your own is that the priority is to have time for your guests; to look after them and enjoy their company, not to be busy in the kitchen with last-minute cooking. My kitchen is small and doesn’t accommodate onlookers; it’s not one of those big commodious kitchens where guests can stand around talking to you while you cook, with a glass of wine in hand and maybe helping out with the odd little job. It’s a be-in-the-kitchen-on-your-own type of kitchen. So it’s even more important not to need to be in it once guests have arrived!
With this in mind, all the food were things I could prepare in advance. I had a bottle of champagne to open when everyone arrived but bought just simple things to eat as snacks with it: some olive fougasse bread from Paul bakery, salted almonds, olives, taralli, hummus (that I actually bought rather than made as usual).
The main course would be Ottolenghi’s recipe for chicken with clementines and fennel, which is such a brilliant recipe (click here). I prepared it first thing in the morning and left it in the fridge in the marinade. It’s all the better for a few hours marinating and we were having a late lunch. All I had to do about an hour before we planned to eat was transfer it to a hot oven. Due to Freddie having a longer afternoon nap than usual, we were a bit later eating than planned, but the dish was very accommodating: I turned the oven down very low and it kept warm until we were ready to begin.
I served it with a brown basmati and wild rice pilaf and a green salad.
The course that I spent most time on was dessert. I made our usual family celebration cake – Torta Caprese – but decided to add to the usual recipe by making a chocolate ganache icing. It’s basically the same recipe as for chocolate truffles but the ratio of chocolate to cream differs according to how you intend to use the mixture. For truffles you want more chocolate – a 2:1 ratio of 2 parts chocolate to 1 part double cream. For a thick icing – as I wanted – you use a 1:1 ratio. You want the same weight cream – which isn’t the same as volume. Thus, my 170ml carton of double cream weighed 160g, so I used 160g dark chocolate with it. You also need really good chocolate of at least 70% cocoa solids.
Chocolate ganache icing: Warm 170ml (160g) double cream in a small saucepan gently until you just begin to see little bubbles round the edge. Don’t let it boil. When you can still put a finger in without burning yourself, but wouldn’t want to leave it in too long, then it’s hot enough. Remove from the heat and add 160g finely chopped dark chocolate. Stir a bit and leave for a couple of minutes for the chocolate to start melting in the warm cream. Then gently mix it altogether with a spatula, turning as you stir it in. Stop as soon as it all comes together and leave to cool. Don’t, however, let it get very cold; you need it to be spreadable, not hard, for icing the cake. The cake, of course, should be completely cold – baked earlier. Spoon the ganache onto the top of the cake and spread evenly across the top. I didn’t want to go down the sides but just follow the line of the heart-shaped cake.
When the icing had almost set, I sprinkled over some pretty dried and edible rose petals (which my friend Linda bought me earlier in the year when she was visiting and I’d been waiting for a good opportunity to use them!). I also added two candles for the birthday girl.
Nicola blew the candles out and cut slices for us – making a birthday wish too, of course! There was crème fraîche to go with it – more suitable than cream, I think, for its tangy sourness contrasts better with the rich cake.
Freddie wasn’t old enough for chocolate cake but seemed happy enough with the healthier option of cubes of fresh pear and other fruit Lyndsey offered him. As for us adults, well there’s really nothing we like better than Torta Caprese. We never seem to tire of it. And the addition of the ganache icing made it even more gorgeous than usual – and the pretty rose petals made it more special for the beautiful birthday girl!
I’ve had a cold for a week so my energy is a bit depleted, but I couldn’t resist heading to Kew Gardens this morning for a walk with the sun shining brightly in the crisp wintery air. I was also running out of time to do the November post of my A Year in Kew project and having come this far with it, I didn’t want to be derailed as I neared the end by something as mundane as a cold.
The weather literally changed overnight here in London when the unusually warm temperatures we’ve been experiencing this November nosedived on Friday night to freezing temperatures and even a flurry of snow on Saturday morning. In Kew, winter was much in evidence. Despite arriving slightly later than usual, it was remarkably quiet with few other people taking advantage of the sunny morning. The autumnal colours of October were giving way to bare trees and branches, but still the odd leaf hung on determinedly.
But many had fallen.
Finding colour was a slight challenge but nevertheless to be found:
And in the distance across the pond near the Palm House:
While bright winter cyclamen stood in trays brightening up the shop:
One of my favourite places is the lake:
There are quite a few special events going on for Christmas at Kew. For more information visit their website: click here.
The lovely people at Waitrose got in touch again last week. Last year they asked me to take part in a project about mulled wine, this year, in the run-up to Christmas, they’re looking for bloggers to write about family foodie traditions at Christmas.
As soon as I heard about the project one word came to mind: Panettone. There was simply only one foodie tradition that sums up what Christmas is for my family: eating panettone on Christmas morning with a pot of good coffee (and tea for the non-coffee drinkers) while we exchange presents with other members of the family. As a small mountain of torn wrapping paper collects on the floor, crumbs of panettone scatter across plates as we break off pieces of this delicious sweet Italian bread to eat and enjoy. There is always music in the background: a CD of the King’s College Cambridge choir singing Christmas carols. Lights twinkle on the Christmas tree. We take it all slowly. Families are about love, nurture, care and attention. Never take anyone who is important to you for granted. Each person takes their turn to open presents while the others look on. Thus each present is fully appreciated – love and thanks, and hugs and kisses given.
The panettone tradition has been with us for so long, I can’t actually remember when or why it began. I can only think it began because of our love of Italy: the people, visiting the country, the musical language, the wonderful food. I think we used to buy croissants to warm through on Christmas morning, and then one year panettone arrived and we’ve never looked back. The tradition continued for many years with me buying panettone classico from various places in search of the ‘ultimate’ version and then sticking with one we liked best. When my daughter-in-law Lyndsey started joining in the Christmas celebrations I had to make a slight adjustment as she doesn’t like raisins and candied peel and I began buying a small, individual chocolate panettone for her. Then one year, I bought just one large chocolate version of panettone. Although it was delicious, my son and daughter felt they’d missed out on the ‘real thing’ – a panettone classico. Last year I bought a large classico, and a small pandoro (plain sweet bread) for Lyndsey. But before Christmas Day arrived, my daughter said, ‘But Rachael doesn’t like raisins, so she’ll want a pandoro too.’ So we ended up with one large panettone and one large pandoro. Which in all honesty is just a little too much sweet bread! Yes, I know you can make wonderful bread and butter pudding with panettone and the bread lasts a long while. But I’m someone who believes you can sometimes have too much of a good thing and life is often better for a little moderation.
So, when Waitrose got in touch with me, the solution to our family Christmas dilemma was obvious: make my own panettone but bake as individual ones with different fillings. That way, every family member would be happy.
I’ve often said on these pages that I’m not a great baker. It’s not so much that I can’t bake well, but I’m not into baking in a big way. I rarely make cakes and usually only dessert kinds, like Torta Caprese. I almost never attempt to make bread, except occasionally for entertaining or parties and I think it’s fun to make some focaccia. Thus it was perhaps with some naivety that I began to search for recipes for panettone. I assumed it would be very easy. It turned out that actually finding a recipe wasn’t easy – my large collection of cookery books wasn’t helpful. On the internet I came across recipes requiring literally days of cooking. Of course, most of those long hours were proving. Some requiring the dough to prove overnight or even 20 hours! Now, that really wasn’t my kind of baking. If I’m going to bake occasionally, I want it to be simple.
Eventually Gino D’Acampo came to the rescue in the form of a much simpler recipe. It still needed a total of three and a half hours proving in three stages, but it could be done relatively quickly. I did in the end change the recipe a bit, although stuck to his basic instructions, and of course I was going to cook a recipe for one large panettone as a few little ones, and thus have to guess the timing. Other recipes I’d looked at had flavoured the basic dough with vanilla, and orange and lemon zest, so I did this too. My plan was to make a good basic dough that would taste great on its own, but add different flavourings to some of the little panettone.
I went shopping, of course, in Waitrose! They’d provided me with a generous gift voucher to buy ingredients, but in all honesty it’s where I go anyway – some of the things, the caster sugar, even the Italian mixed peel, I already had. My plan was to make three kinds: classico, chocolate and plain (pandoro). I thought I’d make them in muffin cases but found some wonderful ‘tulip’ cups in the baking section of Richmond Waitrose which were perfect for panettone. (I should have bought two packs as later I saw I was supposed to use a double layer of greaseproof paper when baking, so improvised by putting the tulip cup filled with dough into a muffin case. That had an advantage though, for by using three colours, I could identify the three different fillings easily!)
- 7g pack Easy Bake yeast
- 125ml full fat milk, warm
- 400g strong white bread flour
- 2 pinches of salt
- 2 eggs
- 80g caster sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 150g soft unsalted butter, plus extra for brushing (please don’t use margarine!)
- zest of 1 orange
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
- 30g sultanas soaked in 1 tablespoon brandy
- 30g Italian mixed candied peel
- 30g chopped dark plain chocolate
Melt the yeast in the warm milk. Set aside 2 tablespoons flour then sift the remaining into a large bowl. Sprinkle over salt and make a well in centre. Pour in the yeast and milk with the 2 whole eggs and gently mix it all together. It makes a very thick ‘batter’.
Sprinkle over the 2 reserved spoonfuls of flour then cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place for 35 minutes. I just left mine in the kitchen, which I decided was about as warm as anywhere in the house but if you have a warm airing cupboard, that’s a good place. Don’t leave in a hot place though – too fast rising spoils the dough.
Measure out the butter and sugar and add the zests, egg yolks and vanilla to the sugar and mix together. Add it all to the dough. Knead for 5 minutes with an electric dough hook until smooth and elastic. If you don’t have an electric mixer, you can do this by hand, but getting to the right consistency will take a bit longer. You can test it’s done by pressing a finger into the dough and seeing if it pops straight out again – that shows it’s elastic now.
I tipped it onto a floured surface and just briefly kneaded and shaped into a ball. I then put it into a clean, oiled bowl, covered with cling film and left in a warm place for 2 hours. While the dough was rising, I got my muffin tin ready with the tulip cups. I’d planned to make 12 small panettone but in the end the mixture was perfect for just 9 – 3 each of 3 different flavours.
As I said above, it should be a double layer and because I hadn’t bought enough tulip cups I sat them in muffin cups of three different colours for the three flavours. When the dough has doubled in size after 2 hours, tip onto a floured surface and knock back, then divide into three. I used scales to make sure this was accurate.
Take the first third of dough and divide (using scales again) into three. This will be the pandoro – plain and just flavoured with the added zest and vanilla. Put each piece into one tulip cup. Take another third of dough, sprinkle over the candied peel and sultanas and knead into the dough well. Now divide into 3 and put into 3 cups. Take the final third of dough and knead in chopped chocolate pieces, divide into three and put into the final 3 cups. Cover with a couple of layers of cling film as best you can and leave in a warm place for 1 hour. By then they should have risen nicely. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of each panettone. Brush with a little melted butter. Then transfer to a preheated 190C/170 Fan/Gas 5 oven. Cook for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 180C/Fan 160/Gas 5 and brush the tops of the panettone with a little more melted butter. Cook for another 15 minutes. They should be risen and golden. Check they’re cooked through by gently inserting a small sharp knife into one and leave in the oven for another 5 minutes, if necessary. Mine were fine though after 15 minutes, and I brought them out to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Then transfer to a cooling rack.
When completely cold, sift over a little icing sugar. Traditionally, this is usually only done to pandoro, but I thought it would be nice (and easier) to just sift some over all the little panettone. Then transfer to a large plate or container for keeping them. Some of the recipes said panettone could be ‘matured’ over a month, but I think these ones are for fairly instant eating, though will obviously keep for a few days – if you can resist them!
They looked pretty amazing. But how did they taste? I felt slightly nervous about it. If they were a disaster then I’d have to try again, having taken on the challenge for Waitrose and accepted their kind gift. I made the panettone on Saturday. I was planning to visit family in Kent for lunch on Sunday but suggested I stopped en route at Jonathan and Lyndsey’s for morning coffee and to try out the panettone. My son is a kind but honest critic.
I held my breath as I cut into one and divided it into half.
Phew! Cooked through and a nice, open texture. As for the taste, we all thought they were amazing. Really, really good. Wow! Adding the vanilla and zests had given the base a delicious full flavour, but of course adding chocolate to one and the peel and sultanas to the other matched the base flavour well. I was very excited they were such a success. I took more down to Kent where they were also approved and appreciated. But I’m definitely going to have to ‘practise’ for Christmas again soon and make more of these. I think we now have a new family tradition and ‘panettone three ways’ – plain, classico and chocolate – in individual sizes will be joining us at our present opening this coming Christmas Day. Classico for my son, daughter and me; chocolate for Lyndsey and Rachael; and I think little grandson Freddie (who will be 10 months by then) will love the little pandoro plain variety.
Many thanks to Waitrose for asking me to do this … and a very Merry Christmas to all!!!
For more great Christmas traditions ideas visit the Waitrose website: click here.
This post is for my lovely niece and nephew, Clara and Leo. At 12 and 10 respectively, they are already great foodies and Clara a keen cook. Thus they were perfect companions on my first visit to a Valentina restaurant. I’d offered to drive down to Kent and take them out and with Sevenoaks close to their home, it was a good place to head to find lunch. I’d thought a Carluccio’s would be a good choice and had forgotten there isn’t a branch in Sevenoaks but while looking at a list of restaurants in the town came across Valentina – and that seemed an excellent choice, so I booked for the three of us.
While Valentina may be relatively new to Sevenoaks, the company has been going for 25 years and for most of those years they were based solely in East Sheen, SW London … just a couple of miles away from my home. I’ve always known them as an excellent deli where I’d sometimes go in search of good, authentic Italian food. Then in 2008 after a refurbishment, they opened out the back of the shop into a restaurant. Since then, 7 other delis/restaurants have followed and another is to soon open in Battersea. Just like the original Sheen shop that was opened in 1991 by the Zoccola and Arcari families, the other outlets are family affairs with some family members running them and selling some of the families’ products, like the olive oil from their farm in Saint Elia Fiumirapido in the Lazio region. They sell their own product groceries too plus a choice of some of the finest brands of pasta, wines, charcuterie and other foods.
The Sevenoaks branch is run by family members Marco and Antonio. We entered to a warm welcome and were shown to our table. The waiter brought the ‘bambini’ menu but I said straight away, thank you, but I knew my companions would want to choose from the main menu. Even five years ago at my son’s wedding, aged on 7 and 5, they didn’t want a children’s menu but the same as the adults! Still, it was nice of the waiter to offer and the service all the way through was friendly and efficient.
It was decided we’d order a couple of antipasti dishes to share while waiting for our mains. Clara and Leo drank some fruity Pellegrino drinks while I had Pellegrino water.
Our choice of starters included a dish of ‘Antipasto Siliciana’ – marinated olives, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, artichokes and gherkins.
Clara immediately commented that it was a very good marinade – and it was. They were delicious – so delicious and such a success that I offered to buy some for them to take home from the deli on the way out. Our other choice to begin was ‘Pizza Fritta’ – fried strips of pizza dough sprinkled with rock salt and cracked black pepper.
I’d never had these before and they were really good; a notch up from ordinary dough balls; crisp on the outside and soft inside. Needless to say, they all disappeared fast! Then our mains arrived. Clara had chosen a Pizza Margherita.
She said this was very good. Leo and I had chosen ‘Linguine with crab, artichoke and cherry tomato’.
Leo tasted his and told me it was very good. And yes it was excellent. Well, we’d all eaten quite a lot after that … but then how does one resist dessert? Clara and Leo each chose sorbets while I went for the dessert + coffee mix of ‘Affogato’.
Vanilla ice cream with a small jug of hot espresso on the side to pour over the top. My perfect dessert! It was a really good meal. We had fun chatting generally, talking about food and what we were eating or liked cooking. Clara and Leo asked what some of the Italian words were and how to say things in Italian. On the way out we stopped in the shop area to buy the antipasti.
There were lots of temptations but we managed to not get too carried away! Valentina is such a great place I’m sure to be going there again when visiting my niece and nephew!
Sometimes I get a bit carried away when I’m food shopping and forget there’s generally just me to cook for or that I might be going out a few times in the week ahead. So there I was with a beautiful organic cauliflower I bought a few days ago sitting in my fridge and I thought I should do something with it before it started to spoil.
It’s taken me a long time to truly appreciate cauliflower. As a child it was only ever served boiled (and over boiled because vegetables always were then) with a white sauce, usually to accompany a Sunday roast dinner. Later, in my twenties, cauliflower cheese was a popular dish, which carried on into my children’s school days for an easy midweek supper. While there is a certain beauty to a cauliflower’s florets it is also at first glance a rather dull vegetable in its whiteness. I love colour: deep red tomatoes; bright sweet peppers in yellow, green and red; rich orange carrots; emerald green spinach. You can imagine how these bright vegetables are full of good things but the humble cauliflower doesn’t convey anything exciting or healthy at all. But this is to misjudge it. From Ian Marber’s The Food Doctor: Healing Foods for Mind and Body, I learn that cauliflowers are a good source of calcium, magnesium, folic acid, potassium, boron, beta-carotene and vitamin C.
One of my favourite cauliflower recipes, discovered in recent years in an Antonio Carluccio book, is Cavolfiore Affogato – Drowned Cauliflower. It’s a southern Italian recipe and the cauliflower is literally ‘drowned’ in olive oil as it cooks with spices, pine nuts and raisins (click here for recipe). I also make cauliflower soup a lot in the winter, but in the more traditional way on top of the stove (click here) and have never tried roasting the vegetable before. My good friend Linda roasted some cauliflower as a vegetable dish when we visited her and George in Spain in the summer and it sowed a little seed. Since then I’ve been meaning to trying roasting one myself but today opted to turn it into soup.
First of all I roughly chopped half a large onion (or use 1 medium) and softened it in a little olive oil in a large ovenproof shallow dish. I wanted to get the onion started before adding the cauliflower to make sure it cooked well to mellow the flavour. Then I added the florets of a medium-large cauliflower to the pan with a pinch of saffron (first soaked for 5 minutes in a little hot water), ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon sweet paprika, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
I gave it all a good stir to coat the cauliflower well in the oil and spices then put into a 200C/180 Fan oven for about 30 minutes, or until the stems of the florets tested tender with a small sharp knife. I also stirred it all a couple of times during the cooking so that the onions, spices and florets cooked evenly and didn’t burn. Then I removed it from the oven and tipped in a little stock so I could scrape round the edge of the pan and not waste any tasty caramelised bits, and cooked it on top of the stove for a couple of minutes as I did this. I transferred to a medium saucepan and tipped in the rest of the stock – I added 750ml stock in all. I used the vegetable stock I made the other day (click here) but you could use light chicken stock, or just water if you don’t have any stock. The stock just covered my vegetables and I added the leaves of a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley at this point (left over from when I used the stems for the stock!).
I brought it to the boil and simmered for 5 minutes for all the flavours to amalgamate. Then I turned off the heat and blitzed the mixture with a hand-blender. Finally, I checked the seasoning.
To serve, I spooned the hot soup into a small bowl and drizzled in a little single cream – just because I happened to have some open. Not essential but a nice addition. It was a perfect lunch for a rainy November day with some delicious sourdough bread and French butter. The rest of the soup can be frozen in single portions for another day.
Back in August, I booked a ticket for a curator’s lecture on the current major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery: Giacometti Pure Presence. I started going quite regularly to the Portrait Gallery a couple of years ago and ended up buying a Friends’ season ticket because it made sense to do so. I love the place. Apart from the wonderful exhibitions, it’s a fantastic place to be on Late Shift Nights (Thurs and Fri) when the gallery is open until 9:00pm and there are lots of extra activities: bars, live music, art workshops and generally just a great buzz of cultural excitement.
I’d heard many times how wonderful the Portrait Restaurant was with its marvellous views across Trafalgar Square and excellent food. It seemed like a good plan to add an extra treat to my visit for the lecture by enjoying an early evening dinner there beforehand. So, a couple of weeks ago I booked a table. Perhaps the fact that only the pre-theatre set menu is available from 5.30-6.30 should have been a clue to the formulaic nature of the food served at that time.
I’d booked for 5.45 as I wasn’t sure I could get there earlier, but in fact turned up at 5.30 and they were most welcoming and quite happy to seat me early. I wanted to be finished by 6.45 so I could get down to the theatre in the basement area where the lecture was to take place, and be seated without having to hurry. It was already quite busy, and I could see a couple of women finishing their Afternoon Tea. The menu was brought and there was a choice of three dishes for each course: 2 courses @ £19.50; 3 courses @ £23.50. I made my choices and ordered a glass of French Merlot and asked for tap water. It wasn’t a long wait until my starter came, but they brought the bread at the same time and it would have been nice to have this come immediately with the wine and water.
The warm rolls were good; a generous slab of butter was served on a small slate. For my starter I’d chosen Cod & Salmon Fishcake, pickled cucumber, fennel and spiced mayonnaise.
The fishcake was OK but really nothing special and I’ve tasted many better. The pickled vegetables were actually not very nice; the fennel surprisingly tasteless. The spiced mayonnaise was a bit like the kind of marie rose sauce served in pubs without the ‘gastro’ prefix. I was hoping things would improve when my main came. I’d ordered Confit duck leg, braised red cabbage, prunes, gratin potatoes.
This is very classic fare; classic French food, which was why I chose some French wine to go with my meal. The duck was OK but the vegetables not great. I was instantly reminded of that kind of catering food that one suffers sometimes at events: mass produced. It was all tired as if prepared long ago and thus, much like my starter, not very pleasing. I was uncertain about having a dessert but I was getting through the meal quickly (a hazard of eating alone) and with some time to go before the lecture started, I thought I might as well. It turned out to be a bit of a saving grace. I chose Vanilla & Grappa panna cotta with caramelised clementine.
The panna cotta had a perfect wobble to it and was beautifully creamy and soft with a good hit of vanilla and grappa. The caramelised clementine wasn’t so good because the end slice I was given was too chewy with all the membrane that surrounds each slice. What a pity they didn’t segment it properly – which in a restaurant that boasts such fine food ambitions, should have been a natural thing to do.
The meal was, as you’ll have realised, a huge disappointment. And not cheap – not for a pre-theatre meal in the Covent Garden area where there are lots of fantastic deals to be had and much better food at cheaper prices. Of course, the Portrait Restaurant boasts the view, though maybe I should have gone at lunchtime for that as all I could see were some lit-up landmarks like Nelson’s Column and the London Eye in the distance. And the service was friendly and attentive. But then one doesn’t go to a restaurant just for that.
Fortunately, the lecture turned out to be wonderful; really excellent. I’d seen the exhibition last Friday with my friend Elsa and it’s superb.
Regular readers of my blog will know I’m a stock snob – I never use stock cubes. I’m always amazed when famous TV chefs tell you it’s OK when they really should know better. To compare a stock cube to real homemade stock is like comparing a good coffee made from freshly ground coffee beans to an instant coffee. You can like stock cubes if you like, and you can like instant coffee, but please don’t call them real.
Having had my rant, I’ll get back to why I decided to make some vegetable stock tonight. There is a connection! I’ve run out of real homemade chicken stock which I keep iced in cubes in my freezer (for as instant a hit of stock as any cube), and haven’t managed to get to the farmers’ market recently to buy a good organic chicken. And while making soup or risotto – as I’ve done in recent days – works perfectly fine with water, it doesn’t quite have the depth of using stock. Also, I do eat quite a lot of vegetable-only meals – pasta with vegetable sauces, vegetable risottos, vegetable curries – and so I decided that having some vegetable stock to hand would be a great idea. I had all the ingredients in my fridge and, unlike a chicken stock, a vegetable stock can be ready in half an hour. I wasn’t planning to use it tonight, however, but want to freeze it – for convenience is cubes, as it then melts quickly when I want some and also I can use as much or little as I need.
I had an idea of what I should put in to the stock but it’s so long since I’ve made a vegetable stock I can’t be sure I ever have! I checked some books and then pretty much used Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s recipe from his Veg book. I also liked his idea – not standard – of gently frying the veg in some oil before pouring the water in. He says it helps mellow the onion, but I also felt it would add to the flavour, like a soffritto, which is the base of many Italian recipes. He grates his veg but I wasn’t so sure about that and decided to finely chop mine. I chopped 2 large carrots, 1 large onion, 2 sticks celery and 1 large clove garlic and also added the stems of a small bunch of parsley, a few black peppercorns and a heaped teaspoon of sea salt.
I poured some extra virgin olive oil into the bottom of a large cast-iron pan.
I heated the oil and then tipped in the finely chopped vegetables.
I gave it all a good stir and cooked gently – you only want to soften them a bit, not brown them – for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Then I poured in 1 litre of boiling water.
I mixed well, brought back to the boil, and then turned down to a moderate simmer – so you could see a few bubbles popping but nothing too energetic. I left it simmering for 30 minutes with the lid off. I checked seasoning (and it tasted pretty good but needed just a little more salt) then I drained it all through a large sieve into a jug.
I was left with 750ml of stock. Hugh had made twice as much; maybe that was a good plan! But I wasn’t sure how much I’d want to use over the next month or so. Having tasted it – and it’s very delicious! – I can see that next time I’ll follow Hugh’s example and double up the quantities. It has a nice depth of flavour. It will really enhance vegetable dishes, especially vegetable risottos. I’ve left it to cool. Later, I’ll put it into the fridge and when it’s cold, I’ll freeze it in an ice cube tray. I use a tray with quite large cubes – each cube takes 2 tablespoons (30ml) of stock. Then next time I need stock – or especially vegetable stock – I can take out a few cubes, however much I need, warm them through in a small saucepan and fairly instantly I’ll have a delicious stock to hand!