Plum Clafoutis

Plum clafoutis

Plum clafoutis

Last week my friend Sam was in the city and so came for dinner.  We had planned to go out in Peckham, but I had Band of Bakers the following day, so was chained to my kitchen whilst I proved and baked my malt loaf.  Luckily she’s pretty happy to sit at my kitchen table drinking tea whilst I cook, filling me in on life in the westcountry.

I had a punnet of plums that had been ripening on the kitchen counter since the weekend, which seems to be a constant feature in my kitchen at the moment.  Many of the fruits we have been enjoying for the past few months are rapidly going out of season and, instead of buying the imported varieties that are creeping on to the supermarket shelves, I am stocking up on good British plums, still very much in season and still in abundance at my local farmers market.

The plums I had were the most common type you are likely to find in autumn – the small, dark purple variety with orange flesh inside.  Similar to those I used for my plum upside-down cake.  They hold together well when sliced and cooked, so I thought they would be perfect for a clafoutis.

For those not familiar, a clafoutis is a dish of fruit baked in custard.  It solidifies to form something half way between a creme brulee and a flan.  It is most commonly made with cherries, although other soft fruits are often used.  It has to be baked in the oven for around 45 minutes – just set the timer if you have a friend over whom you’ve not seen in a long time, as you may forget it’s there.

Plum Clafoutis

6 medium plums, halved and sliced into wedges, stones removed
3 large eggs
65g caster sugar
250ml whole milk
1½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
60g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Butter a medium-sized baking dish.  Arrange the plum wedges at the bottom.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale.  Add the remaining ingredients and whisk on the lowest speed until fully combined.  Pour the mixture over the plums and bake in the oven for around 45 minutes.  When done it will be puffed up with no wobble in the middle.

Allow to cool a little and serve with a drizzle of double cream.

One Year Ago:  Sausage, Cider and Potato Pie

On the Subject of Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

It has been a very boozy and indulgent couple of weeks, not least because I have been the guest of BAFTA twice and have an uncontrollable penchant for free champagne and delicious canapes.  This has unfortunately coincided with my first wedding dress fitting which, whilst not a complete disaster, highlighted to me what I knew in the back of my mind already:  you would look a lot better in that dress if you dropped a few, love.

So with this in mind, I have set myself on a month of bleak deprivation, giving up cake, processed food, anything high in calories and my beloved booze (with a free pass, of course, for my hen night) in an attempt to be a leaner bride.  My consolation is that my just-booked honeymoon will be an opportunity to gorge on Spanish food and undo all of my good work:  pintxos in the Basque country, tapas in Andalucia and more Albarino and Rioja than I could ever drink.  In the meantime, I have had a complete purge of my fridge and cupboards and have replaced all of my favourite things with little more than fruits, vegetables and herbal teas.  The wine has gone into storage and Ollie has been under strict instructions to hide the gin in a place I will never find it.

On my first day of this regime, I decided to make myself a ratatouille.  Having become somewhat unfashionable in the mid-2000s and being merely an assembly of vegetables, I initially thought it unworthy of a blog post.  However, in these austere and health-conscious times, I reconsidered. 

The beauty of ratatouille is that it does not really have a set list of ingredients.  Of course, the traditional dish includes the usual combination of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes and onions, peppered up with some basil, but there is no real rule to say that this has to be the case.  I have a friend who dislikes courgettes and, when I have made the dish for her in the past, it has not suffered for the lack of them.  I have also found a ratatouille the perfect excuse to use up any old veg that has been taking up space in the veg drawer for far too long.  Yesterday, my ratatouille included half a punnet of slightly browning old button mushrooms and a handful of pitted green olives, left over from the last round of martini-making, thrown in at the last minute to add a little vinegary punch.  This freedom with ingredients also has the potential to make it a cheap dish – Peckham has a number of shops and market stalls that sell bowls of the aforementioned veg for a very small cost, so you could end up making a huge batch for little more than a fiver.

The quickest way of making ratatouille, of course, is to chop all of the vegetables and stew them together in a pan until soft.  This was the way I used to cook it when I first left home and started cooking vegetarian meals for myself, and until I discovered that actually reading the cookbooks, rather than just pulling out random recipes, actually makes you a far better cook.  I started to realise that many cooks advocated the method of cooking each of the individual components separately to preserve the unique flavour and texture, rather than stewing them together.  This made sense to me, as one of the problems I encountered was that each ingredient had a different cooking time; the mushrooms would start to brown before the aubergines had barely softened; and I could never get the right consistency of the ratatouille as a whole.  This is, of course, a lot more time consuming than the all-in-one approach, but it does give a better result.  The separate components are then brought together as a whole with a short bake in a hot oven – not necessarily to cook them any further, more to allow the flavours to merge.

Chop up your vegetables into large pieces.  Start by frying some sliced onions with some finely chopped garlic, and then fry each of the vegetables in turn until golden.  Combine in an ovenproof dish with a sprinkle of dried thyme and a generous amount of seasoning.  Bake in an oven heated up to 180°c / 350°f/ gas 4 for around half an hour.  Top with torn fresh basil and fresh oregano and, if you’re really naughty, some parmesan.

Ollie’s Moules Mariniere

Moules Mariniere

Moules Mariniere

The old rule that certain types of shellfish can only be eaten when there is an ‘r’ in the month means that I always endure the summer without a number of my favourite foods.  After reading an article in the New York Times that explained why this was – the warmer waters and algae present in the summer months lead to an increase in the potential for food poisoning – I have observed this rule ardently, despite the temptations from supermarkets who still sell the shellfish at these forbidden times.  My favourite shellfish of all is mussels, so almost as soon as the autumn rolls around, I visit my fishmonger for a bag.  The repeat visits often continue until the onset of spring.  There is something about the sound of them crashing against the sides of the pan, and the salty burst of steam when you open to remind you of holidays past and make you feel that you are in a French beach house somewhere, not in the midst of a British winter.

photo 2-2

Moules Marinere is such a deliciously perfect dish that I anticipate it in the same way that I do many of my other favourites – especially as I usually do not have to cook it myself.  When I first met Ollie, he would cook mussels for me all the time, with a side order of salted, skinny frites and a glass of cold muscadet.  His recipe is so excellent that I have yet to find one in a restaurant that I enjoy as much.  It has been a long time since he perfected it and he makes it so often that he knows it by heart, so to get my hands on it, I had to volunteer as sous chef for the evening whilst trying to write down each step in a wine-splashed notebook.  Not the most conventional way of recipe research!

There is very little out of the ordinary in this recipe, the only wildcard being the addition of some finely-diced carrot to to give the sauce an extra amount of sweetness.  The rest is your usual combination of white wine, garlic, shallots, cream and herbs that make the most beautiful mariniere you have ever had.

Moules Mariniere

  • 1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ medium carrot, very finely chopped
  • 3 eschalion shallots, very finely chopped
  • 5 medium cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 250ml dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Heat the olive oil in a very large saucepan and sweat the shallot and carrot until very tender – about 5-10 minutes.  Add the bay leaf and thyme and stir to coat with the oil.

Turn the heat up to high, add the wine and allow it to bubble away until reduced slightly. Keep the lid on the pan whilst doing this as it will create some steam with which to cook the mussels.  Add the mussels and cook on a high heat.  After a couple of minutes, pick up the pan and, holding the lid on tightly, toss to coat the mussels in the wine mixture.  As the mussels just begin to open, take them off the heat.

Carefully pour the liquid from the pan into a separate saucepan, leaving the mussels and vegetables in the pan.  Put the lid on the mussels and leave to one side.  Heat the sauce on a medium heat until it is reduced a little further and stir in the creme fraiche.  Season well and gently cook the sauce for a further ten minutes.

Pour the sauce back over the mussels, add the parsley and toss again.  Serve in bowls with skinny fries or crusty bread.