I kind of wish that supermarkets wouldn’t sell asparagus out of season – we’re all familiar with the tasteless, slightly limp kind whose sugars have long turned into starch, because the spears themselves have been bussed in from South America. Nothing’s going to taste good after that long in a cargo hold. It’s enough to make you forget just how good a sweet, fresh English stem of the stuff can be. The English season is short, but it’s worth ignoring asparagus for the rest of the year and waiting for early May. From now on, we’ll have about eight weeks of tender local asparagus in the shops.
I’ve got two great asparagus recipes for you this week. This tart is a doozy; it takes advantage of the lovely affinity between asparagus and goat’s cheese, and can be served hot or cold. I haven’t called it a quiche because I know some of you are squeamish about quiches…
To make one 20cm tart, you’ll need:
Shortcrust pastry – either buy a pre-made roll or make your own with:
A little water
3 banana shallots
50g pancetta cubes
200g fresh English asparagus spears
120ml creme fraiche
1 heaped teaspoon thyme leaves
200g goats cheese log (I used Neal’s Yard Ragstone, which is pretty strong – for a milder flavour use a younger cheese)
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
If you are making your own pastry, rub the fats into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, and add just enough water to make everything come together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll out on a floured surface.
Use the pastry to line your 20cm tart dish, and pop the whole thing in the freezer to firm up for 30 minutes while the oven heats up to 200ºC (390ºF). While the pastry is chilling, fry the finely chopped shallots with the pancetta cubes in the butter, until the shallots are golden.
When the pastry has had 30 minutes in the freezer, prick the bottom a few times with a fork, line the base with greaseproof paper, pour in some baking beans to hold everything down, and blind bake (this is just a way of saying part-bake; you’re doing this so that the crust is crisp and cooked) for 20 minutes.
Remove the tart case from the oven and turn the temperature down to 180ºC (350ºF).
Arrange the raw asparagus spears, chopped into pieces, to cover the bottom of the pastry case. Sprinkle over the pancetta and shallot mixture with the thyme. Use a fork to beat together the eggs and crème fraîche with half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper until smooth, and pour the egg mixture into the case. Finally, slice your cheese log into ½ cm pieces and lay them on the top of the tart.
Bake in the cooler oven for 30-40 minutes, until the filling has set and the top is golden. Serve hot or cold.
While recovering from flu, I’ve found myself turning to the wok even more than usual. It’s the perfect cooking implement when I’m feeling under the weather; there’s not too much washing up, you can get dinner on the table very quickly (you should be able to prepare this stir fry in under half an hour). Stir frying invites the use of powerful aromatics and savoury, fiery ingredients like soy and the chilli bean sauce I’ve used below – just what you need if you’re feeling a bit bunged up.
If you’re in a Chinese restaurant in the UK, you’re most likely to see cashew nuts paired with chicken. I prefer them with pork, which gives you a denser and more interesting flavour, and to my mind works much better with the sweet cashews. You’ll need raw, unsalted nuts. Most supermarkets seem to sell them these days, but if you can’t find any there, your local health food shop should stock them.
To serve three, you’ll need:
500g pork fillet
75g raw, unsalted cashew nuts
10 spring onions
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon chilli bean sauce (I like Lee Kum Kee’s sauce, which you’ll be able to find in any oriental grocer)
2 fresh red chillies
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 tablespoons ground nut oil
Salt and pepper
Chop the cylindrical pork fillet into bite-sized slices measuring about 4 cm by ½ cm. Put the slices in a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the rice wine, 1 tablespoon of the light soy sauce, the sesame oil, the cornflour, a large pinch of salt and several grinds of the peppermill until everything is well mixed. Leave to sit on the working surface to marinade quickly 15 minutes while you put together the rest of the ingredients and have a cup of tea.
Cut the white parts of the spring onion into thin coins, and put in a bowl. Chop the green parts finely and set aside. Chop the chillies finely, and make sure that the other ingredients are all within easy reach of the stove top.
Heat the oil to a high temperature in your wok, and stir fry the pork for three minutes. Remove the pork to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add the cashew nuts to the wok and stir fry until they are turning gold (about one minute). Now add all of the other ingredients except the green parts of the spring onions. Return the pork to the pan and stir fry everything for another two minutes. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the green parts of the spring onions.
There’s a reason you don’t see souffles on blogs very often. It’s not because they’re particularly difficult or prone to failure (to be honest, I find making a souffle much less of a faff than making a quiche). It’s because unless you’re making a reinforced, twice-cooked, single-portion sort of souffle, centimetres of gorgeous puffiness will subside between your getting the thing out of the oven and focussing the camera on it. Move fast with a souffle, and for maximum impressiveness, make sure everybody in the house is clustered around the oven when you take it out so they can do the “Ooo!” thing in the three seconds before it starts to deflate gently.
It will only lose a few centimetres’ height, but I wish I’d got a picture in a bit earlier. It looked fabulous on exiting the oven, rather than merely very fine indeed, as it does in the photo above. And, of course, it makes for a particularly fine supper, light in texture and dense in flavour all at once. A lovely springtime dish.
To serve 2-3 with a sharp salad and some good bread, you’ll need:
Preheat the oven to 190ºC (375ºF). Put the haddock (undyed, if you can find it – I couldn’t) in a small dish, and cover it with the milk. Put the dish, uncovered, in the oven for ten minutes until the fish is cooked lightly. Strain the milk into a jug, remove the skin from the haddock and use your fingers to flake the flesh, removing any bones as you go, and set aside. Grease the inside of a 2l souffle dish very generously, and sprinkle generously inside with grated Parmesan, rolling the bowl around to make sure the cheese sticks all over its inner surface. Separate the eggs, the whites in a large, very clean mixing bowl (any grease on your whisk or in your bowl will affect the lift you can get into your eggs), the yolks in a mug or small bowl.
Combine 50g butter with the flour in a saucepan, and melt them together into a roux. Make a white sauce by beating in the flavoured milk a little at a time over a low flame. Add the creme fraiche, mustard, 50g Parmesan, herbs and flaked haddock to the sauce with the separated yolks. Stir well to combine.
In your large, squeaky-clean bowl, use an electric whisk to beat the whites into glossy peaks. You’ll know when you’re there; tip the bowl. If the eggs are not whisked enough, they will move when the bowl moves.
Use a large metal spoon to add a spoonful of the whisked whites to the haddock mix in the sauce pan to loosen the mixture. Stir well. Now add a spoonful of the loosened sauce to the egg whites, folding it in with the edge of the spoon rather than stirring; you want to end up with as much air still in those whites as possible. Repeat, spoon by spoon, until all the haddock base is folded into the egg whites.
Pour the mixture into the greased and cheese-scattered souffle dish. Sprinkle the top with a little more Parmesan. Slide into the oven and cook for 35 minutes, until puffy, golden on top and a little creamy inside.
I was tempted to title this post “F***ing fantastic garlic bread”, because when people taste it, they tend to say something along the lines of: “Cripes. This is f***ing fantastic garlic bread.” But my Mum reads this blog and has a habit of looking horrified and exclaiming: “Elizabeth!” if I so much as say “Damn” in her presence, so plain old “Garlic bread” it’ll have to be. Sorry, Mum.
I wooed a boyfriend with this stuff once (and swiftly thereafter wished I hadn’t, but that’s by the bye). It’s powerfully good; you won’t go back to shop-bought garlic bread once you’ve tried it. The trick here is to simmer the garlic in the butter to sweeten it up and release its aroma before you let it anywhere near the bread, alongside the judicious application of some herbs. Use whatever loaf you fancy here. Something reasonably open-textured to soak up all that butter is a good move. This recipe will make sufficient garlic butter to anoint a whole baguette, but you can make a smaller loaf and keep any leftover butter in the fridge for up to a week. There were just two of us eating when I made this, so I used a ciabatta and steeled myself for leftovers – if you put the remains back together into something that resembles a cut-down loaf, rewrap it in the tin foil and refrigerate, you can take the recipe from the point where you put it in the oven again the next day.
2 large, juicy heads garlic
15g fresh chives
15g fresh flat-leaf parsley
15g fresh oregano
½ teaspoon salt
Several turns of the peppermill
Peel the garlic, and use a knife to mince it until you have a heap of garlicky rubble in the middle of your chopping board.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a very low heat, and spoon the garlic into it. Allow the garlic to cook very gently in the butter for about ten minutes, until it is soft and fragrant. While the garlic is cooking, chop the herbs and put them with the salt and pepper in a bowl.
Pour the hot butter and garlic mixture over the herbs in the bowl, and stir well to combine everything. Leave at room temperature for ten minutes, then cover with cling film and move to the fridge. Refrigerate until solid. (The butter doesn’t need to be rock-hard – a couple of hours should be sufficient.)
When the butter is stiff enough to spread, warm the oven to 150ºC (300ºF).
Slice the bread and spread each side of each slice generously with the garlic butter. Reassemble the loaf, and wrap it tightly in tin foil. Bake on a metal tray for 20 minutes, and remove from the oven. Unwrap and serve piping hot. You will be unable to avoid getting garlic butter all over your chin as you eat, and possibly on your elbows, so have napkins standing by.
Pancake day is coming up on March 8. I’m all for a lovely dessert crepe, but this year, I feel like ringing the changes a bit and making pancakes a savoury course.
I’ve been obsessing a bit about Vietnamese food ever since tasting the best pho I’ve ever had in California last month. Conversations have been had on Twitter (which revealed that your best bet for a Vietnamese meal in London is probably Viet Grill in Shoreditch – I’ve not had a chance to go yet, but I’m assured by a huge number of London diners that it’s as good as you’ll find in the UK), and while mulling over just how well the Vietnamese work soup, sandwiches and other staples, it struck me that they also make a pretty damn fine savoury crepe, just right for Shrove Tuesday.
Banh xeo are a spectacularly tasty plateful, with a scattering of sweet prawns, tender onions and savoury pork – this is another use for any leftover roast belly pork you might not have got through in Monday’s stir fry – and a shatteringly crisp batter flavoured with coconut and turmeric. Rice flour is what glues the whole thing together and gives it its light crispness; despite the visual similarity to an omelette, there are no eggs in this particular pancake, which makes it a good choice if you’ve got someone who can’t eat them visiting at this time of year.
Chunks of banh xeo are traditionally eaten wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with some herbs, then dipped in a bowl of nuoc cham – a spicy, piquant, salty sauce made from fish sauce, limes, garlic and chillies. I’ve included a recipe for the sauce below. This is one of the few occasions on which an iceberg lettuce is a variety I’ll actually recommend – its texture is great here. Take the stem out with the tip of a knife and chop the lettuce in half . You can now separate the large leaves of the lettuce into cups just the right size and shape for wrapping things up in. I’ve suggested you use mint and coriander because they’re easily available in the UK, but if you can get your hands on any other Vietnamese culinary herbs, they’re wonderful here. Try Vietnamese Herbs for pictures and more information on herbs for growing and eating.
I used a 20cm non-stick frying pan to make these, and served two to each person. You’ll be working a bit of a production line, so you’re best off eating in the kitchen – serve each pancake as it comes ready, and be prepared to jump up and down a bit from the table to get the next one ready as you eat. To make eight pancakes, you’ll need:
375g rice flour
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric powder
400ml coconut milk (1 can)
400ml cold water
1 teaspoon salt
350g roast pork belly
350g raw peeled prawns
2 medium onions
Flavourless oil or (preferably) lard, especially if you can save some from roasting the pork, to fry.
1 iceberg lettuce
1 large handful fresh coriander
1 large handful fresh mint
2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar or palm sugar
75ml fish sauce
Juice of 4 limes
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 fresh birds eye chillies
4 cloves garlic
The pancake batter needs half an hour to rest, which gives you plenty of time to get all the pancake ingredients ready to go. Everything should be chopped and positioned to cook immediately; things move quite fast once your ingredients are in the pan.
Sieve the rice flour and turmeric into a large mixing bowl with the salt. Combine the coconut milk and water in a jug and beat it into the rice flour mixture bit by bit with a hand whisk until you have a smooth batter about the texture of double cream. Set aside at room temperature to rest.
While the batter is resting, slice the pork belly into about 32 thin slices, and halve and slice the onions. To make the nuoc cham dipping sauce, pour the water, straight from the kettle, over the sugar and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Leave to one side to cook a bit while you chop the chillies and garlic, then pound them in a mortar and pestle. Add the chillies and garlic to the sugar and water with all the other liquid ingredients and put to one side until you are ready to eat. Put the lettuce leaves and herbs in a serving dish in the middle of the table.
When the batter has rested for half an hour (you can leave it for up to four hours if you want), get your frying pan as hot as you can on top of the stove, and melt a tablespoon of lard in it. Throw in four slices of pork, four prawns and a small handful of onion pieces (about a quarter of an onion), and stir-fry for a minute or two until the prawns are pink and the onion is starting to soften off. Use a ladle to pour a thin layer of the batter over the ingredients in the bottom of the pan, and scatter a small handful of beansprouts over the surface of the pancake.
Allow the pancake to sizzle away for 5-7 minutes, until the bottom is golden-brown and very crisp, and the softer top cooked through. Fold in half around the beansprouts and slide onto a plate to serve immediately, to be wrapped in pieces in the lettuce with some herbs, and dipped in the nuoc cham.
Chinese crispy belly pork, or siew yoke, is fabulous stuff, but it only stays crispy for a day or so. The day-two-wangy-crackling is, of course, also a problem with belly pork you’ve cooked in a western style, and this stir fry works really well with any leftover roast belly. You don’t need to strip the crackling off, but sadly, it will not be resurrected by any cooking method; it still tastes good, but if you’ve plenty of leftovers you might choose to remove it as I did here. Save any fat that renders out of the pork as you roast it to push the flavour of the pork in the stir fry up a notch.
Don’t keep your pot of tom yum paste (my favourite brand is Mae Ploy, which comes in a 400g tub you can keep for months in the fridge) just for tom yum soup. It makes a fantastic quick marinade for seafood, and works really well as a sauce ingredient. In this dish, it provides the spice and piquancy to make a great base for a sweet/sour style sauce, rather nicer than the mouth-puckering sort you’ll get at the local takeout because the sourness in the paste comes from lime and tamarind rather than white vinegar.
Rich pork and sweet peas work really well together. I’ve cooked this pork with sugary mange touts and sweet sugarsnap peas. If you can only get one kind of pea, substitute the other with frozen petits pois.
To serve 2-3 people, you’ll need:
500g leftover roast pork belly
200g mange tout peas
200g sugar snap peas
3 cloves garlic
10 spring onions, chopped
1 or 2 red chillies, to taste
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons tom yum paste
100ml Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
Juice of a lime
1 tablespoon rendered fat from the pork or flavourless oil to fry
Chop the pork into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Chop the garlic finely and slice the spring onions and chillies.
Bring the pork fat or oil up to a high temperature in your wok, and throw in the garlic, chillies and spring onion with the sugar. Stir fry for about ten seconds, then add the pork to the pan with the tom yum paste, rice wine and soy sauce. Continue to stir fry for two minutes, then add the peas, pop a lid on the wok and leave to steam in the sauce for a couple of minutes while you put some rice out, until the peas are bright green and barely cooked.
Remove the stir fry to a warm serving dish, and add lime juice to taste. Serve immediately.
So now you’ve got your hands on some really fine mayonnaise, you’ll be wanting to use it to make a really fine potato salad. The ingredients list here is a simple one. Use the best waxy little potatoes you can; I used Roseval, which have a sweet, yellow flesh sometimes tinged with red rings. Pink Fir Apple, all knobbly and smooth-skinned, are another favourite, but Jersey Royals are best of all, and this is a great way to showcase their delicate flavour during their short season (around May and June). Don’t peel your potatoes or scrub off their delicate skins when you clean them; much of the potato’s flavour is held just below the skin, and the tasty skins themselves are a good source of vitamin C.
You can boil or steam your potatoes. Many varieties of new potato are perfectly happy being boiled, but if you’re not familiar with the variety you’ve chosen, steam them – they’re less likely to crack or collapse this way.
The sweet red onions in this salad should be sliced as fine as you possibly can. They’re less harsh this way, and their flavour gently infuses the whole salad. If you have a mandoline (mine, which I love and fear in equal measure, was a present from my lovely in-laws – I am pretty sure they are not trying to kill me, but that rather, they imagine I’m actually competent around razor-sharp blades), set it to slice paper-thin. If you’re using a knife, sharpen it before you start on the onion to help you slice thinly.
To make enough potato salad for a side-dish for four, you’ll need:
500g new potatoes
3 spring onions
½ red onion
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 teaspoon nonpareil capers, drained of their vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped finely
Steam or boil the potatoes for 20 minutes, and allow to cool to a point where you can handle them. While the potatoes are cooling, slice the red onion into paper-thin half-moons, and chop the spring onions on the diagonal into 1cm pieces. Mix together the mayonnaise, crème fraîche, capers, mustard and parsley in a bowl.
Cut the warm potatoes into slices and toss them well with the onions in a serving bowl. Pour over the dressing, toss again and serve. You shouldn’t need any additional salt, but taste to check and season if you want to.
This is the second post in an occasional series on fundamental recipes which form the basis of a number of other dishes. The first recipe I posted was for Béchamel sauce, and I’ve gone with sauce again today. I know that making mayonnaise at home is one of those things that scares people stiff: you’ll have heard stories about it splitting and curdling from almost everyone who has made it, and most seem to avoid making it at home, relying instead on a jar of Hellman’s. It’s true that splitting can happen to the best of us (mine actually split when I was preparing this post – my own fault for taking a short-cut with the food processor), but what most people don’t seem to realise is that a split mayonnaise is the easiest thing in the world to rescue.
Mayonnaise is simply an emulsion of oil stabilised with egg yolks (raw, so the usual health warnings apply for those in at-risk groups – you know who you are), with a little lemon juice or wine vinegar. The sort of oil you use will affect the flavour; mayonnaise made with a strong-tasting olive oil, as with most European mayonnaises, will be fragrant and piquant. Sunflower oil is traditional in Russia, and gives a very different flavour. Many commercial mayonnaise manufacturers use flavourless vegetable oils and spike the finished product with sugar and other flavourings. Experiment, if you’re that way inclined – I rather enjoy a grapeseed oil mayonnaise, which has a delicate flavour and a lovely green tinge.
You’ll find yourself using mayonnaise as the basis for a huge number of other classical sauces. There’s garlicky aïoli, which becomes rouille when saffron is added. Sauce rémoulade, which you’ll find in cuisines from Denmark to Louisiana, has flavourings which vary from country to country, but which almost always include anchovy, herbs and mustard. Thick American salad dressings – ranch, Thousand Island, blue cheese – all have their beginnings in mayonnaise. Argentinian salsa golf is based around mayonnaise (and ketchup, unfortunately). One of my favourite mayonnaise-based sauces is tartare sauce (sometimes called tartar sauce); you’ll find a recipe for it below. Mayonnaise is essential in a number of sandwiches – and there are plenty of recipes from devilled eggs to potato salad which employ hearty dollops of the stuff.
I think Hellman’s mayonnaise is pretty good stuff, and if you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own, it’ll serve in all the recipes I mentioned above. But a home-made mayonnaise is a different thing altogether, and you may find that family members who think they don’t like mayonnaise at all will be brought round if you make your own.
Home-made mayonnaise will keep in the fridge for a week. The recipe below will make about half a pint (enough for the tartare sauce and a potato salad, for which I’ll post the recipe on Friday), but if you need more or less, reckon on using another 200ml oil per every extra egg yolk.
2 egg yolks
400ml olive oil (choose one you’d be happy to dip bread in and eat straight)
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 large pinch salt
To whip up a bowl by hand, use a hand-whisk or electric whisk to blend the yolks, mustard, salt and vinegar in a large bowl. Whisking all the time, add the olive oil at first drip by drip, and as the mixture thickens, in a thin stream. You’ll end up with a glossy, wobbly bowlful of golden mayonnaise. Taste it – you may want to use more vinegar or salt.
You can make mayonnaise in the food processor, whizzing the yolks, mustard, salt and vinegar together, then drizzling the oil in while the blade turns. I find it’s actually less reliable this way, perhaps because unless you’re making gallons of the stuff, the machine can have trouble liaising all the ingredients right at the start, so the mixture is more likely to curdle. You’ll be able to tell – it won’t thicken, and the oil and eggs will separate. If your mayonnaise does curdle, it’s easy to rescue: just remove the curdled mixture to a jug, give it a stir and start again in a clean bowl with one new yolk and a teaspoon of mustard. Continue as you would as if you were starting from scratch, but use the curdled mixture with an additional 100ml oil instead of fresh oil.
To turn the mayonnaise into a piquant tartare sauce, you’ll need:
This is as easy as anything. Dice the cornichons as small as you can, chop the shallots into tiny pieces and dice the shallot into pieces as small as the cornichon bits. Stir all the ingredients together and chill for an hour or so before serving to allow the flavours to come together. You’re probably used to tartare sauce with fish, but it’s also very good with breaded chicken and in sandwiches.
I’ve held off for couple of weeks post-Christmas on this, because I am assuming that today is approximately the day when most of you will be getting sick of your New Year’s resolution to avoid crispy skin, potatoes softened beautifully with goose drippings, and tender forkfuls of breast meat. Everybody else should herewith bookmark this page for Christmas 2011, by which time things festive will no longer cause your gorge to rise.
A goose this large will feed six or more, although you won’t have the great buckets of leftovers that turkeys generate. (All the better, to my mind.) And it turned out superbly; I’m not sure whether this goose or the obscenely juicy brined turkey from Christmas 2008 would win in a fight. Our goose was tender and moist, filled near unto bursting (you can see the straining of the gap where it was sewed shut in the picture) with one of the best stuffings I’ve ever made, all wrapped up in a golden, crispy skin. If you do end up cooking this for a family occasion, you’ll also find yourself the proud possessor of a massive tub of goose fat to pop in the fridge. My Mum suggested turning it into a fatball for the poor starving robins in the snow. I said pshaw, and chilled it in jam jars for future potatoes.
Geese were, of course, the upper-class Christmas comestible of choice in England until being supplanted by the filthy heathen turkey from America, which Dickens did a lot to popularise by putting one on the Cratchit’s table. Medieval swanks would spend a day’s wages on a fat goose (and they are fat, even if not raised for foie – be sure to remove the lumps of poultry fat from the body cavity before you begin cooking, and render them down in a pan over a low heat for the lovely drippings), which they would roast on a spit over a fire, the skin coloured with saffron in butter for a chi-chi golden tone. The goose tradition carried on until Dickens all but killed it with A Christmas Carol. These days, we all have ovens, and you can buy Heston’s gold leaf at Waitrose instead and poke at it gently all over the bird with a soft brush, if your family is the sort that really needs impressing, but I think the skin is perfectly golden enough if you cook it using the method below.
Potato stuffing is the perfect choice for a bird as fatty as a goose. Use a fluffy, floury potato; I chose King Edwards. The potato will soak up the bird’s delicious juices in a way that will astonish you, and takes on flavour from the sage, onion and pancetta it’s mixed with, which flavours also impregnate the flesh of the goose. A couple of sweet eating apples cut into small chunks and stirred into the mixture will collapse on cooking to give the whole stuffing a very gentle background sweetness which is glorious against the rich meat. Buy the best goose you can afford; the way your bird is raised, killed and butchered really does make a difference. We had a beautiful free-range goose, good-smelling even when raw, from Franklin’s Farm, which supplies my parents’ local farmers’ market.
To serve about six people you’ll need:
A goose weighing between 5 and 6kg
1 kg King Edward potatoes
2 Granny Smith apples
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Leaves from 1 stalk fresh rosemary
1 large handful (about 25g) sage leaves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt
Your goose should start off at room temperature, so make sure it’s out of the fridge for long enough to lose any chill.
Peel the potatoes, chop them into pieces about 1 inch square, and simmer them until soft (about ten minutes from the time they come to the boil if you start them off in cold water). While the potatoes are cooking, peel and core the apples, and chop them into small pieces. Peel and dice the onion.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan, and saute the onion, apple and pancetta together with the thyme and bay until the onion is soft and sweet, but not coloured (about 8 minutes – see the picture for the sort of texture you’re aiming for). Remove from the heat to a very large mixing bowl with the buttery juices.
When the potatoes are soft, drain them and add them to the mixing bowl with the rosemary, sage and salt. Stir the stuffing mixture well to make sure all the ingredients are blended.
Remove any poultry fat from inside the bird’s cavity – if you’re lucky there should be at least a couple of fist-sized white chunks in there. You can use scissors to snip it into pieces and dry-fry it over a low heat to render it down for a jar of goose fat for the fridge if you like. It goes without saying that you should remove the packet of giblets too – if you want giblet stock, simmer them without the liver (which does not make good stock) in some water. You can use that liver – my Dad and I have a bit of a tradition of chopping it up and cooking it along with some good curry paste in a little bowl sat in some water, covered with some tin foil, then spreading it on toast for Boxing Day breakfast.
Heat the oven to 225ºC.
Spoon all of the stuffing into the bird, and use stout cotton and a thick needle to sew the gap shut. If you can’t face it, you can also use skewers to secure it, but this will be much less neat. Weigh the stuffed bird and put it on a rack in a large baking tray.
Cook the goose at 225ºC for half an hour, then bring the heat down to 180ºC, taking the opportunity to pour off the fat that will have rendered out of the bird in that first hour – save it for spuds. After the initial 30 minutes at 225ºC, cook the goose at 180ºC for 30 minutes per kg stuffed weight, pouring off the fat regularly.
Check that the juices run clear by poking a skewer behind the thigh. The juices should run clear. Rest the goose for ten minutes before carving.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be feeling somewhat bloated and liverish after Christmas and New Year, so I’ll hold the roast goose recipe back until later in the week when our gall bladders have all recovered. I was racking my brains for a nice easy recipe to start the year with – something that’s simple to prepare, and has few ingredients, but that tastes great and will impress guests or a picky family. How about labneh, a soft “cheese” from the middle east, made in your fridge from thick Greek-style yoghurt?
Greek yoghurt is thicker than the sloppy variety by virtue of having been strained until much of the whey drains out, leaving you with a richer, thicker product. Labneh takes the process further, continuing to drain until almost all of the whey has gone, and you are left with a thick, sharp-tasting ball that looks like soft cream cheese. It’s not a true cheese because rennet is not used in making it, but I like to use it where you might use something like Philadelphia – and when it’s made by the method below, with fresh garlic, you’ll find that it’s a mighty fine substitute for Boursin, richer, denser and without the dusty dried garlic taste you get in the packaged stuff from the supermarket. Labneh is a great addition to a cheeseboard, either in a chunk on its own or in a bowl, splashed with olive oil. Experiment by adding herbs to the garlic: for a Turkish flavour, try some dill and chillies; chop in some mint with the garlic for a Greek platter.
My Mum made the labneh in the pictures at Christmas as part of a cold supper. It’s fantastic wherever you’d use cream cheese or with crudites, and great crumbled over rich middle-eastern dishes, especially those containing lamb; I’ve got a cheesecloth full going in the fridge at the moment which is destined to be spread on crusty bread and served with a Greek-style lamb shoulder.
400g Greek yoghurt (make sure that you choose a version without emulsifiers or thickeners; I like Total)
1 large pinch salt
2 cloves garlic, chopped as finely as possible
Line a sieve with a boiled cheesecloth, and put it over a bowl to catch drips. You can also use a boiled kitchen towel if you don’t have a cheesecloth – an old linen one which has been washed many times will be softer and easier to work with.
Stir the yoghurt, salt and garlic well in a bowl to make sure everything is well combined. You can leave the garlic out if you want a plain labneh; the garlic gives a lovely fiery kick to the finished cheese. Pour the yoghurt mixture into the lined sieve, bring the corners and edges up to form a bag around the labneh and twist together. You can secure the twist with string if you like, but it’s not really necessary.
Put the bowl and sieve into the fridge and leave the labneh to drain for between 24 and 48 hours, squeezing the bag every now and then. The cheese will be a pleasant, creamy texture after 24 hours, and leaving it for longer will make it even stiffer, and harder to spread.
To keep your labneh in the fridge, cover it completely with olive oil in a bowl. It will keep for two weeks, but I bet you won’t be able to stop yourself finishing it much sooner than that.