Tag Archives: Nigel Slater

Blackberry supper

BLACKBERRY SEASON is making me a little nostalgic. Blog-nostalgic, that is (though I still think blog is a particularly ugly word), as I wrote my first post on Toby’s Kitchen Notes nearly seven years ago, toward the end of berry season, with my recipe for Blackberry Cobbler No. 8.

It seems hard to believe I’d made eight versions of blackberry cobbler in 2009, but I did, along with some other must-have fruit desserts. This year, as I write, it’s just the beginning of blackberry season, and the other day I had a couple freshly picked pints on hand. I really wanted to bake something with them — but not a dessert. Aha — it remembered Nigel Slater’s marvelous recipe: Blackberry focaccia.

blackberry foccacia slice

Blackberry focaccia has only a hint of sweetness, from sugar sprinkled atop the dough.

Half the recipe would be plenty, I figured, as there were only two of us eating it, and it doesn’t keep well for leftovers. (I wrote of this before, so the recipe is here.)

blackberryfoccin progress

The yeast dough is easy, but does need gentle handling, especially when you fold in half the berries after the first rising. The rest of the berries are strewn on top; then, it rises again and you drizzle olive oil and sprinkle demerara or sparkling sugar on top.

blackberry foccacia

Once out of the oven and cooled just a bit, you can sprinkle with confectioners sugar if you like.

We had a choice: ruin our appetites by devouring the focaccia immediately or wait a few minutes, make a green salad, and call it supper.

saladandslice BF

We chose the latter — and it wasn’t a sacrifice. Calling it supper gave it a certain sense of legitimacy, if not outright virtue.  (More nutritious than pancakes with syrup for supper, anyway.) And yes, it was delicious. I plan to repeat this combo!

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A plum welcome to summer

plumsontowel

I HAVE WRITTEN BEFORE about the marvelous Santa Rosa plums of early summer, and my gratitude to Luther Burbank for developing them. But again I feel the need to praise these plums. If I were to have just one fruit tree, it might have to be a Santa Rosa plum, not only for their deliciousness at the start of summer, but also because they are so hard to find in the market.

I had enough, briefly, to eat plenty of plums au naturel and to make British cookbook writer Nigel Slater’s brilliant plum tabbouleh. (I did substitute a pinch of crushed red pepper for the small red chile he calls for). I even made some plum crumble with a topping of butter, brown sugar, flour and hazelnuts.

plumtabbouleh

The plum tabbouleh drew me back to one of my favorite books, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard, and to Nigel Slater’s lovely homage to plums.

“When I find the perfect plum, jelly-fleshed and incandescently ripe, its golden skin flashed with crimson freckles, I make a great fuss of it,” he writes. “I have even been known to get out a small plate and a napkin. I eat slowly, imagining time stopped. More usually, I come across such a fruit without warning, having little alternative but to eat it from the hand, spitting the pit into the long grass below.”

And why are these plums so hard to find? Although Slater is speaking of Britain and not of Santa Rosa plums, I think his sentiments could apply to the U.S. as well.

“It breaks my heart to think of the plum orchards we have lost in the last two decades,” he writes, “but what else can a farmer do when the crop is no longer profitable, consumers have more interest in peaches and nectarines, and the stores continue to sell imports even during our own brief season? I salute the British plum grower.”

Well, I salute all plum growers, and in particular my friends John and Cathy who gave me the pleasure of a few days full of plums from their Santa Rosa plum tree. What a happy welcome to summer!

plateofplums

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A jewel of the farmers’ market

currants

If you are lucky enough to find some currants at the farmers’ market, as I was today, treat them like the precious little jewels they are. These ruby pearls burst with color and flavor.  Nigel Slater uses them to brighten a lentil salad, which sounds like a good idea. I haven’t tried it yet, but I am thinking of sprinkling some into my next bulgur salad — tomorrow!

kale&cMeanwhile, since I’d also bought a nice bunch of kale at the farmers’ market, I made a chopped kale salad, dressed with olive oil and a sweet raspberry vinegar, and topped with toasted almonds and the fresh currants.  It tasted delicious and those ruby red currants looked very festive against the dark green. Christmas in June?

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Mid-August blackberry binge

August 15 is Ferragosto, festival of the Emperor Augustus, a celebration of the late summer and a day when everyone in Italy takes a holiday.

Here in the Northwest, it’s time for the annual blackberry binge (my daughter, who’s living in Virginia, tells me that East Coast blackberries cannot compare).

There’s a wealth of wild brambles near our house, loaded with plump deep-purple berries (as well as red and green berries that will ripen in the weeks to come).  In the mornings and evenings, we ramble to the brambles to fill up our containers, return home with scratches and stains, and I make blackberry sauce, blackberry jam, blackberry sorbet, blackberry crisp, blackberry cobbler (in fact, I wrote my very first blog post ever at the end of blackberry season, when I’d made 8 versions of blackberry cobbler). I also freeze a lot of the blackberries to enjoy through the winter.

This summer I was inspired to try a new blackberry recipe by my current favorite food book (which I wrote about earlier) Nigel Slater’s “Ripe.”

Besides the beautiful photos and writing, Slater has some wonderful recipe ideas… and one of the most unusual is the one for blackberry focaccia.

It’s not very sweet or very rich, and it’s so good–the blackberry juice bursting through the dough– it’s hard to stop eating it.
The first time I made it, three of us devoured the whole focaccia which Slater writes is “enough for 8.” I served it with some chilled white wine and a green salad on the side and called it supper.
The second time, I made half the recipe and served it with tea. I imagine it would also make a satisfying breakfast or a hearty contribution to brunch. Here’s the recipe, below. It’s just fine to substitute whole wheat flour for up to half of the bread flour.
Blackberry focaccia
Ingredients
  • 3¼ cups (450g) bread flour
  • 1 package (2 teaspoons/7g) quick-rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
  • 1½ cups (350ml) warm water

for the topping:

  • 1¾ cups (8 ounces/250g) blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons superfine or demerara sugar
  • Confectioners sugar, for dusting

Put the flour in a large bowl, add the yeast, the sea salt (if you are using coarse salt, crush it finely first), then the sugar and warm water. Mix with a wooden spoon, then turn the dough out onto a generously floured board and knead lightly for five minutes or so. You need not be too enthusiastic. A gentle pummeling will suffice.

Once the dough feels elastic and “alive,” put it into a floured bowl, cover with a clean cloth or plastic wrap, and leave it somewhere warm to rise. It will take approximately an hour to double in size. Once it has, punch it down again, knocking some of the air out. Tip it into a shallow baking pan about 12 inches (30cm) in diameter. Gently knead half the blackberries into the dough, scattering the remaining ones on top. Cover the dough once more and return it to a warm place to rise.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Once the dough has expanded to almost twice its size, drizzle over the olive oil, scatter with the sugar, and bake for thirty-five to forty minutes, until well risen, golden brown, and crisp on top. It should feel springy when pressed. Leave to cool slightly before dusting with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into thick wedges and eat while it is still warm. It will not keep for more than a few hours.
© 2012 Nigel Slater

Buon Ferragosto!

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Plum lucky

Thanks to Mr. Luther Burbank for developing the marvelous Santa Rosa plum in the late 1800s — at his home in Santa Rosa, California.

Burbank developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants, including 113 varieties of plums and prunes.

It’s hard to find Santa Rosa plums in the market at perfect ripeness (or sometimes at all)  so count yourself plum lucky if you have a bowlful …. or more.

They don’t stay in that state of perfection very long, so if you have a lot, you could do what my friend Cathy does and make Alice Waters’ recipe for plum upside-down cake, and invite some friends over to eat it with you.

I was inspired once again by Nigel Slater, who makes a tabbouleh with plums (and another with peaches or nectarines) that is quite wonderful.

I’ve already made it a couple times. So here is the recipe, which I’ve tweaked a bit. Adding some lemon to the water when soaking the bulgur makes it more flavorful, but if you don’t have enough lemons, just use all water.

Plum tabbouleh

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 6 large juicy plums (or more, of course, if they’re small)
  • 6 green onions
  • a bunch of parsley (Slater says 8 bushy sprigs)
  • a bunch of mint (or 8 bushy sprigs)
  • a small red hot chile (I used a jalapeno pepper)
  • several lemons for lemon juice
  • olive oil
  1. Put the bulgur in a bowl and pour over 1 cup of boiling water and a scant half cup of lemon juice. Cover and let rest for half an hour or till the water is absorbed.
  2. Finely slice the green onions, and chop the mint and parsley
  3. Chop the chile finely (mince, really) — you may want to use only half of it at first and add more if to your taste– and add to the onions and herbs
  4. Halve, pit and coarsely chop the plums and add to the onion-herb-chile mixture. Pour in 1/3 cup lemon juice, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper.
  5. Rough the bulgur up with a fork, making sure it’s absorbed all the liquid. Crumble it into the plum-onion-herb mixture, stir in another glug or two of olive oil (and/or more lemon juice if you like — of course, I like it lemony, but you should taste it to make sure it’s right). The mixture should not be wet, though. Add more salt if needed, then serve.

And if you have only one plum — just enjoy it!

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A fresh summer jam session

I’m in love with fruit, and summer is a great celebration of it.

The other day I went to a you-pick farm “out in the county” and picked eight pounds of strawberries in hardly any time at all, while Steve took a nap in the car.  We ate a lot of fresh strawberries over the next few days, and gave some to friends and put them in our yogurt and granola and in our salads too.

But I still had plenty left over to make a small batch of fresh summer jam.

Anybody who’s made jam knows that it takes an appalling amount of sugar. Even the low-sugar jams require a significant amount, needed to preserve them.

But if you plan to eat it right up, you can make a nice loose summer jam — between a sauce and a jam — with just a little bit of sugar. I was inspired by Nigel Slater’s marvelous book, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard.

So, I crushed about a pound-and-a-half of strawberries in a good size pot, added a quarter-cup of sugar (you can add more to your taste — Slater uses 1/2 cup) and a couple squeezes of fresh lemon juice.  I cooked it over medium heat for 15 or 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming off the pink foamy stuff. When it thickened up (it doesn’t really set like regular jam) it was ready.  It kept well in the fridge for a few days, but I liked bringing it to room temperature or even warming it up to serve.

I swirled this crimson strawberry jam into vanilla yogurt for dessert (it would be lovely with whipped cream or ice cream as well) and served it on buttered toasted baguette to our friends.  I put a little jar of it in the freezer to see if I could thaw out a taste of summer sometime in November.

Now there was just enough jam left for breakfast this morning.

That jam seemed to call on me to make a batch of biscuits.

A Sunday morning in summer, with biscuits and fresh strawberry jam. Yum.

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