Forced Rhubarb

Forced Rhubarb

Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb


Each year in early January slim soft-pink through to ruby-red Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb stems begin to appear at market.  A native of Siberia, there is evidence that rhubarb was grown for its medicinal properties – thought to be effective in gut, liver and lung problems - at least as far back as 2700BC.  It was grown in the UK for around 150 years for use as a purgative before it became valued as a food in the early 18th century.  Garden-grown rhubarb is a much more muscular proposition than ‘forced’ rhubarb.  Its thicker, darker red/green stems need a little more cooking and extra sugar to make it palatable.  But it was the accidental ‘blanching’ of rhubarb, caused by gardeners at the Chelsea Physic Garden piling up waste plants over winter, that led to the growing of ‘forced’ rhubarb.  By the time the roots were uncovered, tender stems had pushed through towards the light and these were found to be far tastier than outdoor, uncovered rhubarb stems.  


The method was embraced and developed into the use of ‘forcing’ sheds, after the roots have experienced a blast of frost first in the fields, to produce an earlier, more delicate tasting crop.  In Yorkshire, rhubarb farmers were able to produce such a good crop, and get it to market so efficiently, that growers in other areas of the country gave up trying to compete.  Today forced rhubarb continues to be grown in a small area around Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield in Yorkshire known as "The Rhubarb Triangle".  It’s labour-intensive work which means the crop commands a relatively high price.  One of the oldest growers is E Oldroyd & Sons Ltd.  Oldroyd's forced rhubarb still finds its way to London markets and to our shelves.


Rhubarb is valued for food from Russia through Turkey, Pakistan and the Middle East.  Persian cooking values it for balancing meat stews, particularly lamb.  A lightly sweetened compote is a good accompaniment to cut the fattiness of pork or oiliness of fish, like mackerel.  For desserts, the tender stems can go into cakes and tarts.  The most versatile way with forced rhubarb is to gently poach it to make a sweet compote - 5 parts fruit to 1 part sugar is about right if you don’t want it too sweet.  Additions you can make when poaching include a vanilla pod; a little preserved ginger; orange zest and/or juice; or a single clove.  Alternatively you could add a teaspoon or two of rosewater just before serving.  Fold into lightly whipped cream, or a mix of cream and yogurt, to make a rhubarb fool.  If you have some meringues and a little cream you have the makings of a take on Eton Mess.  Rhubarb also makes a good cordial, though you’d be better waiting for the cheaper outdoor-grown variety for that.


Yorkshire Rhubarb    Photo © Puntarelle & Co

Yorkshire Rhubarb

Photo © Puntarelle & Co

Fennel

Fennel

Fennel bulbs    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Fennel bulbs

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Fennel


A member of the Carrot family, along with celery, Fennel differs from them in its strong aroma, owed to its close relation, anise.  This makes the fennel bulb, also known as Florence Fennel to distinguish it from the feathery herb, a more dominant and less versatile vegetable than carrot or celery.  But if you embrace its licorice-like qualities and its lemon notes this crunchy, refreshing bulb can be served from the start, through the middle, and even to the end of a meal.  The strength of the anise flavour does vary according to growing conditions and should you want to ramp it up, cooking with a splash of Pastis or some crushed fennel seeds does the trick.   


The outermost layer of the bulb is always tough, as are the stems, but both are good used in soups and stocks.  Any frondy tops can be used just as you would use the fennel herb.  The bulb can be eaten raw or cooked.  In Italy, Florence fennel is sometimes served raw at the end of a meal just as you might serve a piece of fruit.  Fennel and orange is a typical Sicilian combination that is perfect for the winter months as crunchy Florence Fennel bulbs come through our doors along with crates of new season Sicilian oranges.  A salad of thinly sliced crunchy, aromatic fennel, sweet oranges sliced or segmented, and salty, fleshy black olives is classic.  There is a recipe in Rachel Roddy’s book Two Kitchens: Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome for this salad, where she mentions that sometimes sliced red onion is added or pomegranate seeds could be considered for extra acidity and visual allure.  Florence fennel also ferments particularly well.    


Quartered Fennel bulbs can be baked or fried in butter until just coloured, then covered and cooked with a little lemon juice until tender.  Cover with parmesan or a 50/50 mix of parmesan/breadcrumbs, and pop in a medium-high oven until the topping is golden; the bulbs are very good simply sliced and braised in some olive oil and a little water, cooked lid-on until tender then lid-off until the liquid evaporates.  Serve with fillets of fish, like sea bream or sea bass - add to the fennel pan if you like, cover for 5 minutes before turning the fish and cooking for a further 2-3 minutes; Claudia Roden, in her book The Food of Italy, suggests simply boiling trimmed and quartered fennel in salted water until tender (not floppy), then drain, transfer to a buttered oven-proof dish, sprinkling with salt, pepper parmesan and double cream and bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes until golden brown – delicious alongside roast chicken.  In Tim Siadatan’s Trullo: The Cookbook there’s a simple and tasty recipe for Braised fennel and purple olive dressing which introduces a hint of anchovy and a little chilli heat to the dish.  Brindisa: The True Food of Spain book has a recipe for Vegetable broth with salt cod and fennel.  The bulb also makes a satisfying cream of fennel soup or an aromatic risotto.  And in Peter Brears Cooking and Dining in Medieval England you will find Sops in Fennel – sliced fennel, finely chopped onion, olive oil, salt and a little cinnamon simmered for 30 minutes until soft then poured over thick slices of toasted white bread.

Returning to the theme of fennel as an end to a meal, the chef Florence Knight, in her book One: A cook and her cupboard, gives a recipe for candying slices of fennel and serving them with chocolate sorbet.

Fennel & Blood orange salad   Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Fennel & Blood orange salad

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Artichokes

Artichokes

Globe Artichokes in prep    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Globe Artichokes in prep

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Artichokes


As I write this in the second week of January, the Artichokes are already arriving.  Globe Artichokes are not much grown as a commercial crop in the UK.  Here they are mostly grown on allotments and in private vegetable gardens but in recent years we have been able to get some English-grown ones for our customers.  In southern Europe their harvest runs from May through to September and many Artichokes produce two crops a year.  In late winter and early spring, when colour is surely a welcome addition to our roots and greens, Artichokes like the large bulbous romano or mammola from Italy with their violet-tinted leaves are a welcome sight.  We can also see purple baby artichokes and spikey Sardinian Spinosi.  Right now, it’s the Romano Artichoke that is bringing colour to our arch.  


The Artichoke, or Globe Artichoke, is the edible immature flower of a cultivated thistle.  They grow readily in dry conditions and light soils and spread prolifically in Mediterranean areas.  The Arabs named them al-kharsuf, from which comes the names carciofi in Italian, alcachofa in Spanish, and artichoke in English.  But it was the Italians who developed the varieties of artichoke with less bitter notes than the original that became prized in Europe.  The first real evidence of artichokes being commercially available is in records from the beginning of the 15th century showing they were shipped from Sicily to Florence.  By at least the early 17th century they were grown and appreciated in England, before mysteriously falling out of favour for a while towards the end of the 1900’s.  Maybe it was increased travel that revived the British taste for the artichoke’s well-guarded heart.  Along with Asparagus, the Artichoke is considered one of the finest vegetables we can grow.


How do you tackle an Artichoke?   First, unless they are tightly closed, soak them upside down in a bowl of salted water to dislodge earth or insects.  Have half a lemon to hand to rub any cut surfaces as you prepare them, or prepare a bowl of acidulated water.  If the artichoke is the spikey type, you’d be well advised to snip off the vicious tips.  Larger Artichokes can be trimmed and their stems peeled then steamed.  Alternatively, boil them whole and serve with a bowl of aioli to dip each leaf into (the base of the leaves being the edible part).  Unless you are planning to eat them whole, the outer, tougher leaves should be removed and the top third of the flower cut away.  Check to see if there is any fluffy ‘choke’ in the centre and, if so, scrape it away with a teaspoon.  Cut the stem, leaving a good few inches of the tenderest part, then peel it along with the base of the flower.  


Young artichokes are very good eaten raw – very thinly sliced, immersed in acidulated water then dried and dressed with a squeeze of lemon, a little salt and some good olive oil (truffle oil is good if you have it).   There is an English recipe in Good Things in England by Florence White, dating from the early 1700s for ‘A tart of Artichoke bottoms’ – a pie filled with the most cherished part of the artichoke, a little “minced” onion, and “sweet herbs”, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  When cooked, a white sauce thickened with yolk of egg and sharpened with tarragon vinegar is poured in.  But it’s in the cuisine of Italy where you will find most recipes.  Cook them slowly Roman-style (Carciofi alla Romana), stem end up, until soft in a scant broth of water, olive oil, white wine, a garlic clove, parsley, mint, salt and pepper until the liquid has been absorbed.  There is a traditional dish amongst the Jewish community in Rome called Carciofi alla giudea.  Small, trimmed, whole artichokes are deep-fried at a high heat so the crispy brown leaves open like a flower.  Serve with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.  

 

Soon the Artichokes will be joined by early broad beans and peas.  Then you can make Vignarola, the classic Italian spring vegetable stew – prepare the artichokes, cut the base and stems into quarters and add to a pan of sliced spring onions, softened in olive oil, adding a little wine or water and a pinch of salt .  Cook, covered, for 15 minutes before adding peas and blanched broad beans.  A ball of milky mozzarella di bufala or creamy burrata is often served with it.

Globe Artichokes    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Globe Artichokes

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

January News 2019

January News 2019

Italian Oranges & Lemons    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Italian Oranges & Lemons

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

January

December ended with early new season unwaxed Italian citrus in the form of Sicilian Pink Grapefruits, Oranges and Clementine Mandarins.  And, of course, there were all the staples essential to the Christmas festivities.  We are back from the Christmas break to get your New Year off to a healthy start with plenty of fruit and vegetables including some big-hitters when it comes to delivering vitamin C.  Here is the key short-season produce you can expect to find at Puntarelle & Co in January, along with all the usual staples:

Seville Oranges for marmalade    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Seville Oranges for marmalade

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

For the first week in January, we have the first Seville Oranges of the season.  There are Blood Oranges too this week, the Spanish ones, as ever, arriving first.  Later in the month we will have Sicilian bloods for you.  Meanwhile, we do have Italian Mandarins, Clementines and Pink Grapefruit which are pretty special as it is difficult to find unwaxed Grapefruit in the UK and their skins make the most delicious candied peel.  We also have fabulous Lemons from Sicily in this first week.

Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb is on its way and we expect to have it the second Saturday in January.

Pomegranates are still coming in from Italy.

We have a selection of English Apples still coming from the stores of our favourite farm in Kent, and which should be available through the winter.  Some English Pears too, though they will come to an end soon as they do not store as well as apples.

Winter Lettuces    Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Winter Lettuces

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Highlights on the ‘greens’ shelves this month include crunchy, mineral Italian Barba di Frate which goes so well with fish, Cima di Rapa, Broccolo Fiolare Minestra Cabbage for warming soups, bitter-leaved Chicoria and juicy Puntarelle.

There is English Rainbow Chard, Black Cabbage/Cavolo Nero, Brussels Tops, Cabbage, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Kale.

The cold weather Chicory salad leaves are arriving in greater numbers now, including the red Radicchios like Tardivo, Treviso and yellow/cream red-speckled Castelfranco.

 Camone and Marinda Tomatoes, their crunchiness and salinity should see us right through winter.  

Root Vegetables include Turnips, Parsnips, Carrots , Leeks , Celeriac and Potatoes.

London Fermentary News

Water Kefir  Photo ©Puntarelle & Co

Water Kefir Photo ©Puntarelle & Co

The fridges at Puntarelle & Co have been re-stocked with London Fermentary Ferments, including our new introduction ‘Spiced Arabica Kraut’, and Water Kefirs, in flavours of Rhubarb, Blood Orange, Sicilian Citrus.  Our next Inspirational Fermentation Course is on 16 January and is a rare opportunity to learn fermentation in one day, rather than our usual 3 sessions over 3 weeks course.  As I write there are only 3 places left.  Visit our website for how to sign up.


Ribollita    Photo and recipe ©Evie Saffron Strands

Ribollita

Photo and recipe ©Evie Saffron Strands

Our recipe this month is the perfect way to banish all memories of Christmas over-indulgence.  We may have passed the shortest day in the northern hemisphere but that only marks the start of true winter in the UK and thoughts turn to warming  soups.  With a good mix of vegetables, some beans, bread, a little cheese and a big hit of iron-rich greens, you have a whole nutritious meal in a bowl.  What's more its flavours simply get better should you have any leftovers for the following day.

The Italian word ribollita means re-cooked, or re-boiled and every area of Italy has its own version.  In Tuscany it refers to a dish of leftover minestrone (soup) with the addition of cabbage and bread. This list of ingredients is not prescriptive and if you have other vegetables to hand, it takes well to substitutions – celeriac or pumpkin, perhaps.  The soup should be quite thick and hearty.  The toasted bread can be completely submerged in the liquor, which is more traditional, or placed on top.  

Ribollita
(makes about 12 servings)

250g dried Borlotti or cannellini beans, soaked overnight, brought to the boil and simmered for 1-2 hours depending on quality, or 1 x 400g tin of beans, rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3-4 sticks of celery, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium leeks, halved and sliced
2 medium potatoes
2 large handfuls (about 500g) of Broccoli Fiolare (minestra cabbage), cavolo nero or other cabbage, shredded
1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes
Water to cover
Slices of good sourdough bread or baguette
Best quality extra-virgin olive oil to serve
Parmesan

Having first prepared your beans, fry the onions carrot and celery on a medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the leeks, garlic and the potatoes and fry for a further 5 minutes.  Add the plum tomatoes, broken up, with their juice and add water (do use the cooking water from the beans if you have it) to fully cover the vegetables.  Add the cooked (or drained) beans, bring to the boil, season, then simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the cabbage and simmer for a further 15 minutes, top-up with more water if necessary but keep the soup quite thick.  Check the seasoning.

Allow the soup to cool a little to appreciate the full flavours.  When ready to serve, fill the bowls, top with toasted sourdough bread or pour the soup over the bread and add a good slick of your best olive oil.  You may want Parmesan cheese on the table. 


Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

***CHRISTMAS OPEN DATES***

We will be open at Spa Terminus Thursday 20, Friday 21 & Saturday 22 December 08.00-13.00 each day.

We will be closed between Christmas and the New Year and 

Re-open on Saturday 5 January at 08.00


We wish all our customers a Very Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for 2019

Brussels Sprouts    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Brussels Sprouts

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Brussels Sprouts


Brussels Sprouts are the bitterest of leaves in the Cabbage family and quite a strange looking development in the Wild Cabbage family.  Looking like elegant miniature cabbages, their small tight heads cluster around a long stalk.  It’s the plume of large leaves which shelter the rosettes that confirm the cabbage origins of the Brussels Sprout.  First mentioned in 1213, listed in market regulations, and again recorded in the 16th century on Flanders, it  seems safe to assume they were developed around Brussels.  Thomas Jefferson, after spending time in Paris as Minister to France in the 1780s, probably enjoyed them - he planted the first Brussels Sprouts in America in his Monticello garden in 1812.  It seems they took a while to catch on in Britain.  The first known recipe for Brussels Sprouts appeared in Eliza Acton’s book Modern Cookery published in 1845.  Today the Christmas Day feast is unthinkable without Brussels Sprouts on the table.

 

Sprouts are the bitterest of leaves in the Cabbage family.  Their challenging compounds – much reduced in modern day varieties - are concentrated in the centre of the sprout.  Pungent and bitter notes works as a defence against being eaten by insects and animals but, in this case, these qualities are good for us.  The mantra ‘Eat your Greens’ turns out to be good advice.  The sulfurous qualities of the cabbage family are more pronounced in warm weather and less so in winter, and frost acts as a positive sweetner.  Some cooks advocate cutting them in half before boiling to allow this bitterness to leach out – which does explain why many of us have memories of being served soggy sprouts at the Christmas table.  If you hate Brussels Sprouts, it may well be an aversion to the mushy texture of the overcooked ones you remember rather than their flavour.  


Cooked well, Brussels Sprouts have a sweet, peppery flavour.  Eat them shredded, or pulled apart into individual leaves, then briefly cooked in duck fat or oil and you may change your mind about the bitter quality of Sprouts – a spritz of lime to finish is good.  You could add sliced raw sprouts to fried bacon or pancetta and some cooked chestnuts.  

The cabbage family has an affinity with juniper and caraway.  It’s good to remember that cream, mustard, lemon, blue cheese, soy sauce or Worcestershire Sauce are good ingredients to counter any lingering sulfurousness after cooking.  If you’re still not convinced about Brussels Sprouts, try Kalettes, also known as Flower Sprouts, which are a milder flavoured brassica created by crossing Brussels Sprouts with Kale.


Don’t dismiss ‘Sprout Tops’ either.  For some, this is the best part of the plant.  Treat them as you would cabbage leaves.


Cabbages

Cabbages

Cabbage ‘January King’    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Cabbage ‘January King’

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Cabbages


From the sweet, loosely-packed leaves of ‘Spring’ Cabbage early in the year through tight-pointed ‘Hispi’ in the summer to the stronger flavoured, tightly-packed heads of crinkly ‘Savoy’ in winter, no wonder there are so many ways to use a Cabbage


In the wild, Cabbage originated in Mediterannean coastal areas.  Its thick, waxy leaves stand  up to the salty, sunny climate.  Wild cabbage grows by the coast in Northern France and the UK too and was eaten by the Celts before the Romans introduced cultivated varieties.  Jane Grigson describes the wild cabbage as “very nasty indeed”.   Its domestication 2,500 years turned it into a vegetable that is tolerant of cold climates and turned it from something which may have been eaten as a medicine – the old addage ‘if it tastes bad, it’s good for you’ – into palatable food.  The Cabbage family is quite various.  Members of Brassica oleracea include Kale, Black Cabbage, Collard Greens and Portuguese Tronchuda, all of which resemble the wild cabbage in that they bear separate leaves along a fairly short, thick main stem.  The Cultivated Cabbage, which we are focussing on here, forms a head of closely nested leaves at the tip of the stalk.  All have various degrees of pungent sulfurous characterists producing a bitterness that isn’t to everyone’s taste.  Children almost always dislike the taste but, like a rite of passage, most of us learn to love it.  We have to mention here Brussels Sprouts, which were developed from the cabbage.  Producing many small tight heads around a long stalk, they are the bitterest of leaves in the family.  The challenging compounds being concentrated in the centre of the sprout, many cooks advocate cutting them in half before boiling to allow this bitterness to leach out – which does explain why many of us have memories of being served soggy sprouts at the Christmas table.  There are Asian cabbages (Brassica rapa) too, Chinese Cabbage being the most obvious but including Bok Choy and its variants.


There are so many varieties of domesticated Cabbage, from smooth to deeply ridged, ranging from white through green to deep red and, in the case of the ‘January King’, eye-catching pale and dark green with purple markings.  In spring and summer the sweetness of cabbage can be appreciated eaten raw in Coleslaw. Cooked well, cabbages have great texture and a sweet, spicy flavour.  They have an affinity with juniper and caraway.  Cream tempers their bitterness.   Mustard, soy sauce or Worcestershire Sauce peps things up nicely.  


Here we have a few favourite dishes using cabbage:  Bubble and Squeak (traditionally, fried beef and cabbage), Champ (buttery mashed potatoes mixed with greens including cabbage), and Irish Colcannon (fried potatoes, cabbage and onion) being variations on a theme.  Cabbage stands up particularly well to the strong flavours of duck, pork and game.  There’s a hearty soup from southwest France called Garbure which demonstrates the virtues of long-cooked cabbage: generally cabbage, onion, leek, turnip, carrots, potatoes, salt pork or green bacon and confit duck or goose leg, it is cooked gently for anything between 2-4 hours.  The French also have Chou Farci:  stuff a whole, blanched, cabbage with fried minced pork, or chopped roasted chestnuts, and poach in a vegetable stock.  Impressive, but an easier version is to blanch individial leaves until pliable enough to use as wrapping for the stuffing then poach the parcels in stock.  And, of course, you can ferment cabbage into Sauerkraut.


As Christmas is fast approaching you might want to check out Nigel Slater’s recipe for a winter slaw ‘A slaw of red cabbage, blue cheese and walnuts’.  And here is an intriguing recipe which seems ideal for the festive season.  It’s from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book and comes from Schleswig in Germany where it’s eaten with sausages or pork chops:


1 large firm cabbage

125ml double cream

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon


Slice and wash a firm cabbage.  Put 2cm of water in a pan and bring to the boil.  Add the cabbage and boil until just cooked (around 5-6 minutes).  Drain and cool in a colander.  Squeeze out the moisture and chop fairly finely.  Return to the pan, mix in the cream, heat through gently, season with salt and pepper.  Allow everyone to help themselves to a sprinkling of sugar/cinnamon to their own taste. 


Cabbages at Christmas    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Cabbages at Christmas

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

December Seasonal News

December Seasonal News

January King Cabbage    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

January King Cabbage

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

December


Through November our shelves groaned with the weight of English Apples and Pears and colourful Crab Apple branches decorated the arch.  Pumpkin Squash varieties increased and nutty-flavoured Fenland Celery arrived for its short season.  A touch of early frost brought good flavour to Cabbages but we were happy too for the warmth of Italy where our Persimmons and Pomegranates had been grown.  


It’s now three short weeks to Christmas so, with your festive shopping needs in mind, our December Report concentrates on the zesty, tasty and colourful must-haves to take us into the holidays.  It’s definitely looking and smelling like Christmas here in our Spa Terminus arch. Here is the key short-season produce you can expect to find at Puntarelle & Co between now and Christmas along with all the usual staples:

Italian Citrus    Photo ©Puntarelle@CO

Italian Citrus

Photo ©Puntarelle@CO

Sicilian Grapefruits    Photo ©Puntarelle & Co

Sicilian Grapefruits

Photo ©Puntarelle & Co

Just arrived and filling the arch with zesty, festive aromas is our Citrus delivery from Italy.  Novelino Oranges are now perfectly sweet and juicy; the earlier delivery was a little underripe for our taste.  

We have our first, and only, delivery of new season unwaxed Sicilian Pink Grapefruits.  These are pretty special as it is difficult to find unwaxed Grapefruits in the UK.  The skins make the most delicious candied peel.  Get them while you can.

We have sweet, juicy Nova Clementine Mandarins too.  In our opinion, a box would make a wonderful Christmas present.  

Cavolo Nero/Black Cabbage    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Cavolo Nero/Black Cabbage

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

British grown greens are benefitting from the colder weather and we are getting particularly good Cabbages including purple/green hued January King, crinkle-leaved Savoy, juicy Red Cabbage and earthy Black Cabbage/Cavolo Nero.  Also expect to find Brussels Sprouts, Sprout Tops and Kalettes.  More greens available through to Christmas include Cima di Rapa, and heads of Puntarelle with their juicy centres that are perfect for salads (particularly with anchovies) and beautifully bitter outer leaves for adding to soups and stews.

Sicilian Flat Onions    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Sicilian Flat Onions

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Root vegetable offerings are Parsnips, Swede, Turnips, Salsify and several varieties of Potatoes are here.  Carrots too, including easy to prepare baby Heritage and the French Sand-grown Carrots which are sweet and store really well.  Silky-textured British Leeks are alongside sweet, flat Sicilian OnionsCipolla Ramata - that are so good roasted whole. 


Castelfranco Radicchio    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Castelfranco Radicchio

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

For salads, new season Chicories are arriving, including members of the Endive group like large-leaved Escarole and tight-leaved Belgian Endive along with some of the Radicchio group - Tardivo whose red and white leaves curl into a twist at the top, looser-leaved Treviso and yellow, red-speckled Castelfranco which is the mildest of the bitter-leaved chicories.   


We have Cranberries, both fresh and dried, Vacuum-packed Chestnuts, Walnuts in their shells and a selection of other Nuts and Dried Fruits.

Christmas specials from London Fermentary

Christmas specials from London Fermentary

London Fermentary news:

As usual we have a range of Water Kefir flavours in our fridges but, for Christmas, we have created two special edition Water Kefirs available in one-litre bottles.  You can choose between flavours of Mulled Wine or Mince Pie, both created with a mix of warming and uplifting natural seasonal spices.  We will also have our Cranberry and Chilli Water Kefir available in the run-up to Christmas for those who like their Water Kefir hot!  We also have a Fermented Sauce made from fresh and dry cranberries fermented with chilli and garlic.  These are worth considering when you are looking for the perfect present for a food lover.


Our recipe suggestion this month is the perfect solution to when you just want a little something, rather than yet another big Christmas meal.  It uses Leeks, which are very much in season, for a delicious take on the dish ‘Welsh Rarebit’.  This recipe is based on the one in Rosie Sykes’ The Sunday Night Book which is full of easy, comforting recipes.  This one has a kick of mustard to wake up a jaded palate.


Leeks with Caerphilly and mustard    made according to the recipe in The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes    Photo and recipe ©Evie Saffron Strands

Leeks with Caerphilly and mustard

made according to the recipe in The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

Photo and recipe ©Evie Saffron Strands

Leeks with Caerphilly and mustard

(serves 2)


2 medium size leeks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 few sprigs of thyme

1-2 tablespoons grain mustard

100g grated Caerphilly cheese

2 thick slices of bread

1 clove of garlic

Salt and pepper

Ketchup or chutney to serve (optional)


Trim and cut the leeks into 2cm slices, wash well.  Heat the olive oil in a large pan with a lid on medium heat, add leeks, thyme and 3 tablespoons of water, salt and pepper.  Stir, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the leeks are very tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking (add a little more water if necessary to soften but you want them just juicy, not watery).  

Pre-heat your grill.  

Lift out the thyme sprigs and stir the mustard and cheese into the leeks. 

Toast the bread lightly, both sides.  Rub one side with the cut garlic clove.  Pile the leek and cheese mixture on top and toast under the grill until it bubbles and starts to brown.




***CHRISTMAS OPEN DATES***

We will be open at Spa Terminus Thursday 20, Friday 21 & Saturday 22 December 08.00-13.00 each day.

We will be closed between Christmas and the New Year and 

Re-open on Saturday 5 January at 08.00


Leeks

Leeks

English Leeks    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

English Leeks

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Leeks


Leeks are very tolerant of cold and, in the UK, can be harvested throughout the winter.  Mounding up the soil around the leaves as they grow – which is why you should always wash leeks well - results in an increase in the prized white portion but all parts of the Leek can be eaten, including the roots.  A member of the Onion (Allium) family, which includes shallots, onions, garlic, chives and ramson, it’s the inner leaves and roots of the Leek which have the strongest flavour.  The dark green tops tend to be tougher and have more of a brassica-like flavour which makes them valuable for adding to soups and stews.  If you’re looking for herbs to go with leeks, think of tarragon, chervil or thyme.  And if the leeks you buy still have their roots, they are delicious pickled or fermented , like London Fermentary’s  “Luscious Leeks”.


Members of the onion family share a strong, often pungent, sulphurous flavour when raw - garlic in particular.  These are excellent qualities when it comes to deterring animals from eating the plants.  Cooking transforms this chemical defence into a savoury, almost meaty quality which is valued by many cultures in in thousands of dishes.  The cooking method and temperature affect the flavour balance of alliums.  Cooking at high temperatures in fat produces a stronger flavour while baking and drying generate trisulfides which have the characteristic notes of overcooked cabbage, and pickling results in relatively mild flavours.


Nigel Slater describes the Leek as “the onion’s refined sister” … “for the times you want the latter’s silken texture but less of its bold sweetness”.  Leeks cook best in butter.  Sliced thinly and cooked until soft and lustrous, they are delicious added to a bowl of steamed mussels; add a little cream to leeks cooked in butter and you have the filling for Flamiche, or Flemish Leek Pie, which is encased in puff pastry;  chicken and leeks make a very good marriage as a creamy filling for a pie or in a brothy soup or stew; creamed leeks partner beautifully with smoked haddock, top off with mashed potato.  You can briefly boil whole small leeks until tender, drain them and top with a dressing of shallots, vinegar and oil with cornichon and chopped hard boiled eggs and you have Leeks Gribiche.


Leeks love cheese you can serve them gratineed – boil the leeks for 3-4 minutes until just tender, drain well, place in a shallow buttered dish, make a cheese sauce and pour over, top with a little more grated cheese and bake in a hot oven for 30 minutes.  There’s Leek and Potato soup, of course, or a Scottish cock-a-leekie soup, both perfect winter warmers.  In Rosie Syke’s book, The Sunday Night Book, there is a delicious take on Welsh Rarebit using leeks and Caerphilly cheese.  Check out our next Monthly Report, which will be out on 6 December, for how to make it.

Leeks with mustard and Caerphilly    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Leeks with mustard and Caerphilly

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Pomegranates

Pomegranates

Sicilian Red Pomegranates    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Sicilian Red Pomegranates

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Pomegranates


The word Pomegranate means ‘apple with many seeds’.  Cut into it and you find what Jane Grigson describes as “a closet of juicy seeds”, the fruitlets nestled in seemingly randomly arranged clusters separated by a creamy-white membrane.    Skin colour can vary according to variety, from ivory to gold and pink, through deep red to maroon.  Seeds, too, vary from white to deep wine-red, their colour being a guide to the balance of acidity (white) and sweetness (red), though Pomegranates can be sweet, tart, and often astringent, all at once.  They are packed with beneficial anthocyanins and antioxidants.  


As the seeds of the fruitlets are so prominent, they are often juiced for drinking or cooked down to make a syrup or molasses.  The juice can also be fermented into wine.  In northern India, they are dried and ground for use as an acidifying powder.  Juicing the whole fruit, rather than just the seeds, makes it much more tannic.  In fact, the rind of the fruit is so rich in tannins that it was once used for tanning leather.


Pomegranates are native to arid and semi-arid regions of the Mediterranean and Western Asia.  They need a very hot and dry climate to ripen fully and are now commercially grown in countries like Iran, Turkey, India, China, North Africa, Sicily, Spain and the Central Valley of California.


Choose fruits that are heavy for their size as they will have more seeds and less membrane.  Pomegranate juice is good for tenderising meat and the seeds add colour, flavour and texture to salads and desserts.  Scatter the seeds over a green salad with grilled spatchcocked quail, duck breast or lamb chops; the Barrafina cookbook suggests making a dressing from oil and pomegranate juice to dress chicory, and serving it with mojama (wind-dried tuna) and some seeds of the fruit; Jose Pizarro, in his book Seasonal Spanish Food, scatters the seeds over a smoked beef salad; and in Brindisa – The True Food of Spain, Monika Linton has a luscious-looking recipe for slow-cooked pheasant with sweet aubergine and pomegranate.  The juice can also be frozen to make a wonderful granita.  Kitty Travers, in her book, La Grotta Ices combines the juice of pomegranate with bitter orange for a deep, dark granita ice that can be tempered, if you like, by a spoonful of zest-spiked whipped cream.


How to de-seed a Pomegranate?  There are >29 million entries on the Internet.  It’s really not that difficult!


image2-2.jpeg

Persimmons

Persimmons

Ripe and almost fully ripe Persimmons    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands       Persimmons      You need to know that not all  Persimmons  are the same. The orange tomato-like fruit,  Diospyros kaki , originated in China and thereafter became highly valued in Japan at least a thousand years ago. They fall into two types: the astringent  hachiya  persimmon and the non-astringent ones like  fuyu  or  Jiro . You sometimes see persimmons labelled as  Kaki  or  Sharon  to identify them as the non-astringent persimmon developed in the Israeli Sharron Valley (though these days much of that commercial crop is grown in Spain). The non-astringent fruits can be eaten at any stage from firm (good used sliced in salads or baked), through to soft, when they can be eaten uncooked as a dessert.     The astringent  hachiya  persimmon, on the other hand, is way too sharp to eat until the juicy, almost jellied flesh is practically bursting out of its skin. They tend to be larger than their cousins. The plum-like shape settles into a voluptuous round when very ripe. Whenever possible, we buy persimmons from Italy where they are known as Cacchi. Late October to December is their season. Sometimes they arrive still a little firm, which means our customers need to keep them a week or so until they ripen. At other times they come through our doors at their ripe, honeyed best, nestled in protective trays, looking like translucent deep-amber jelly bombs. Handle with care!     In Italy, the provinces of Salerno, Napoli and Caserta are particularly persimmon growing regions. The writer Patience Gray, in her book Honey from a Weed, writing in the 1980s, describes the persimmon trees being of “great splendour”, their fruits pale green turning to “burning gold remaining on the tree long after its leaves have fallen”. She remembers the Tiber Valley and the valleys between Naples and Benevento being illuminated by them in late autumn. Gray also recounts being told how, in Japan, some fruits are left on the tree deliberately until the frosts arrive and turn the soft pulp into instant sorbet. And dried persimmons have long been an integral part of traditional Japanese New Year celebrations.     There is a smaller, plum-sized, variety of Persimmon native to America –  Diospyros virginiana  – which, when found growing in the wild by settlers, was described as like a medlar or sorb which must be left to break down until soft and pulpy. It was then commonly used in stewed fruit puddings. There’s a Mexican persimmon too, known as the  black sapote or black persimmon , also known as the  chocolate pudding fruit  for its taste resemblance.     With both main types of persimmon we see here, when ripe, you need do very little to them. You can peel the ripe fruits and freeze the pulp for a sorbet – no added sugar required. The pulp also makes a good base for a steamed sponge pudding or can be used wherever a thick fruit puree is needed – a fool or mousse for instance. But best of all, if you have a persimmon at bursting point, is just to slice the fruit in half and dip your spoon in – maybe adding a little cream.

Ripe and almost fully ripe Persimmons

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands


Persimmons


You need to know that not all Persimmons are the same. The orange tomato-like fruit, Diospyros kaki, originated in China and thereafter became highly valued in Japan at least a thousand years ago. They fall into two types: the astringent hachiya persimmon and the non-astringent ones like fuyu or Jiro. You sometimes see persimmons labelled as Kaki or Sharon to identify them as the non-astringent persimmon developed in the Israeli Sharron Valley (though these days much of that commercial crop is grown in Spain). The non-astringent fruits can be eaten at any stage from firm (good used sliced in salads or baked), through to soft, when they can be eaten uncooked as a dessert.


The astringent hachiya persimmon, on the other hand, is way too sharp to eat until the juicy, almost jellied flesh is practically bursting out of its skin. They tend to be larger than their cousins. The plum-like shape settles into a voluptuous round when very ripe. Whenever possible, we buy persimmons from Italy where they are known as Cacchi. Late October to December is their season. Sometimes they arrive still a little firm, which means our customers need to keep them a week or so until they ripen. At other times they come through our doors at their ripe, honeyed best, nestled in protective trays, looking like translucent deep-amber jelly bombs. Handle with care!


In Italy, the provinces of Salerno, Napoli and Caserta are particularly persimmon growing regions. The writer Patience Gray, in her book Honey from a Weed, writing in the 1980s, describes the persimmon trees being of “great splendour”, their fruits pale green turning to “burning gold remaining on the tree long after its leaves have fallen”. She remembers the Tiber Valley and the valleys between Naples and Benevento being illuminated by them in late autumn. Gray also recounts being told how, in Japan, some fruits are left on the tree deliberately until the frosts arrive and turn the soft pulp into instant sorbet. And dried persimmons have long been an integral part of traditional Japanese New Year celebrations.


There is a smaller, plum-sized, variety of Persimmon native to America – Diospyros virginiana – which, when found growing in the wild by settlers, was described as like a medlar or sorb which must be left to break down until soft and pulpy. It was then commonly used in stewed fruit puddings. There’s a Mexican persimmon too, known as the black sapote or black persimmon, also known as the chocolate pudding fruit for its taste resemblance.


With both main types of persimmon we see here, when ripe, you need do very little to them. You can peel the ripe fruits and freeze the pulp for a sorbet – no added sugar required. The pulp also makes a good base for a steamed sponge pudding or can be used wherever a thick fruit puree is needed – a fool or mousse for instance. But best of all, if you have a persimmon at bursting point, is just to slice the fruit in half and dip your spoon in – maybe adding a little cream.


Seasonal news November

Seasonal news November

November


Autumn finally arrived here in the UK in the last week of October.  The unseasonably warm, sunny days have been tempered by brisk northerly winds, though blue skies  and sunshine haven’t totally abandoned our isles.  Here at Puntarelle & Co we see the change of seasons clearly, and not just in the chill morning start to our day.  Our choice of fruits is paired-back now.  Yes, we could select southern hemisphere strawberries and peaches but we choose not to.  Our customers recognise and appreciate the seasonal shift in foods and so do we.  And there is so much to enjoy through November.  


Here is the key short-season produce you can expect to find at Puntarelle & Co this month along with all the usual staples:

Rainbow Chard    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Rainbow Chard

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

British Produce

Apples from brothers Ken and John, who grow fruit on our favoured farm in Kent and have been topping off our fruit crates with the most beautiful boughs of crab apples this year.

Pears, from the same source, include Doyenne du Comice and Conference. 

The English Quince crop is outstanding this year.  The weather has suited them particularly well producing large, good-keeping fruits.  We expect to have some of the French crop soon too.  

Our display of Organic varieties of Pumpkin and Winter Squash is growing by the day.  Click on the link to our focus piece from last year to find your favourite. 

Sweet, nutty Fenland Celery has arrived this week. It will be with us for just a few short weeks.

Our favourite greens at this time of year has to be Rainbow Chard , its vibrant stems of orange, pinks and reds are standing out amongst the Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Cavolo Nero/Black Cabbage.  Though the colourful Kale varieties are giving some competition for colour so early in their season. 

Cabbages have had their first nips of frost, making Primo, Red and White all taste fantastic now and you can expect to see Brussels Tops and Brussels Sprouts right through the cold months along with Heritage Carrots, Parsnips, Celeriac, Parsley Root and Turnips.  

Potatoes at the moment are waxy Pink Fir Apple, King Edwards for roasting and mashing and Cyprus which is a good all-rounder.

We have small amounts of Chanterelles and Girolles Mushrooms from Scotland. 

Sicilian Pomegranates    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Sicilian Pomegranates

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Italian Produce

We are getting beautiful Sicilian Pomegranates this year, large and sweet/sharp juicy with great colour.

Flavourful Fennel is coming directly from Verona right now.  

Hard to believe but we are still getting crunchy Romano Courgettes and some tasty Sorrento Tomatoes as I write this at the very start of November.  

Beautiful Persimmons are arriving from Italy now, some perfectly ripe which are very difficult to transport, and others which need only a week in a warm kitchen to come to perfection.

Fragrant, zingy Bergamots began arriving in late October and we expect to have them throughout November

The bitter cold-weather leaves are now arriving.  Mildly bitter, juicy Puntarelle is in, so good served with an anchovy sauce. Broad-leaved Cima di Rapa and Chicoria, with its dandelion-like leaves began arriving in late October.  Both great winter greens to serve up alongside our English root vegetables.

We have sweet-fleshed Delica Squash in now.  They have a rich, nutty flavour and are very plentiful.  

We always look forward to the varieties of Chicory leaf that begin to arrive after the first cold snaps.  Expect to see green/yellow Endives like curly Frisee, large floppy-headed Escarole alongside colourful Radicchios like speckled Castelfranco, deep red leaved Tardivo and Treviso and the pink Rose Radicchio from November onwards.

On the Citrus front, apart from Bergamots and some Miyagawa Mandarins, we are receiving new season Navelina oranges but we will have to wait till December for the blood orange season to get going.

Seasonal specials this month are: Fresh Cranberries, Walnuts in their shells and vacuum-packed chestnuts.

Puntarelle & Co News:

We have been concerned for some time about the amount of packaging there is in our dry goods section.  We recognise that, like most food businesses, we still have a lot to do to get to where we want to be on the sustainability front.  Visits to Italy, where dried pulses are often sold scooped from the sack rather than pre-packed, have inspired us to do the same.  A visit to Puglia this August, where selling loose pulses is commonplace, provided us with the spur to adopt this more sustainable model. We have sourced Italian grown beans, rice and grains which our customers will now be able to scoop-up in the quantities they want into reusable bags.

We are also pleased to announce that we have sourced our first organic cold-pressed olive oil from Campania / Italy, by Bufano olive oil mill. This oil has been bottled specially for us by .  We should have this for sale the second week in November.

London Fermentary news:

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We are very happy with how London Fermentary is developing and excited to announce that we have nutritionist Olga Bonde joining our team.  She will be working with us on production and as a consultant to help us develop our brand.  

Some of you will already have met Oona who has been running customer tastings every Saturday morning for the past few weeks.  Please pop in to try our fermented food and drinks between 09.00-13.00.  


Our Inspirational Fermentation Courses are proving to be a great success so we have developed a ONE full-day workshop for people who cannot commit to the 3-week course.  The first course will run on 16 January 2019.  Click to find out.

Seasonal Water Kefirs this month include:

Apple, Beet & Ginger

Honey & Camomile (with a hint of ginger and turmeric for their healing properties)

Bergamot & Orange

Lemon & Juniper

Quince & Calendula

Pomegranate & Rose Petals

The english Apple crop is so good this year, not only is it plentiful but the fruits are crisp and delicious throughout the varieties.  So, this month we have a recipe for using these fantastic seasonal fruits.

Buckwheat Pancakes with apples, raisins and walnuts    Photo and recipe ©Evie Saffron Strands

Buckwheat Pancakes with apples, raisins and walnuts

Photo and recipe ©Evie Saffron Strands

Buckwheat pancakes with apples

For the filling:
About 500g of warm apple compote + a few raisins
(peeled and chopped apples – whatever you have -  cooked down with a knob of butter and sugar to taste.  Add a handful of raisins while the apple is still hot)
A handful of shelled walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)

For the pancakes:

(pancake mixture makes around 12 x 20cm thin pancakes)

120g buckwheat flour
50g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 medium egg
175ml full cream milk + 175ml water
30g melted butter


Combine the flours and salt.  Make a well in the centre and add the egg and a little milk then start to draw in the dry ingredients to the wet, adding more of the milk and water gradually until you have a smooth batter.  Add the melted butter and mix in.
 
Lightly butter a 20cm heavy-based frying pan and heat to medium-hot.  Keep the heat at this level throughout.  Pour in enough pancake mixture to quickly swirl it around the pan and lightly coat it and cook until the underside is lightly browned. This is a sacrificial one as the first pancake is always poor so discard it.  Add just a little butter before cooking each pancake.  Pour about 2-3 tablespoons of batter into the pan and quickly swirl it around the pan to coat it thinly.  Brown lightly and turn the pancake to lightly brown the other side.  Repeat the process and when each pancake is light browned on both sides add it to a plate and keep warm in a low oven until you have used up all the mixture.

Spoon a heaped tablespoon of the warm apple and raisin compote onto each pancake and add some of the chopped walnuts folding the pancakes over.  Serve with cream.

Puntarelle

Puntarelle

Puntarelle

Puntarelle, our namesake, is a member of the chicory family (Cichorium).  This Cichorium Catalogna is also sometimes referred to as Asparagus Chicory.  It’s a cold weather crop, usually at its best between November and February and, as it is coming into its prime season, it’s a good time to focus on it.  


Grown in Italy, it’s a crop particularly valued by Romans who have a taste for the bitterness of all Cicorie.   

Pick up a Puntarelle and you’ll be surprised by its weightiness. The long, jagged, dandelion-like leaves embrace a heart of hollow, pale green, knobbly shoots looking a little like short, fat, pale asparagus spears.  The vibrant outer overlapping leaves are sweet with a welcome touch of bitterness that comes through particularly when the leaves are cooked.  They deliver a welcome astringent punch in the depths of winter to add variety to our diet of home grown greens.


Salads of bitter greens are often dressed with something salty as salt not only balances the bitterness but actually suppresses our perception of bitterness.  The knobbly, juicy heart and the inner leaves make a delicious salad.  The classic Italian way is to toss the raw thinly sliced shoots in an anchovy vinaigrette.  The tougher outer leaves can be braised in a pan with a splash of water, a pinch of salt and a knob of butter until just wilted.  Delicious mixed with some fried bacon or pancetta and piled on toasted bread. 


Carrots

Carrots

Carrots    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Carrots

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Carrots


Carrots are such a staple of the kitchen that it’s easy to take them for granted.  Once, they were as exotic here as aubergines, courgettes and peppers were before Elizabeth David’s influential A Book of Mediterranean Food, (widely credited with creating demand).  The familiar bunch of orange carrots we pick up as part of our weekly shop derive from a purple carrot grown first in Afghanistan in the 7th century.  The Moors are credited with its spread to Western Europe along with a yellow mutant root.  It’s thought the Dutch, brought the two together to produce the now ubiquitous bright orange carrot that, since the 19th century, has been a common standby vegetable in British kitchens.  After many years of breeding ever sweeter and more uniform carrots, we are now seeing a return to more interesting varieties like Chantenay, Violet and De Djerba as we find a new appreciation for the more earthy, darker-hued carrots from which they originate.  A variety we are always happy to see is the Sand Carrot (Carotte de Créances or Carotte de Sable).  Grown in an around eight villages in the Créances Basin on the west coast of Normandy, they are deep orange in colour.  Their flavour owes much to the sandy soil which has been fertilised with seaweed for generations.  The legendary fruit and veg man Charlie Hicks, who sadly died in 2018, has more to say on the subject of Sand Carrots here.


The gentle frying together of onion, carrot and celery (and sometime one or two other ingredients) occurs in many cuisines – in Italy it makes a soffritto, in France and in Britain it’s a mirepoix, Spain has its sofrito, while Germany’s mix is Suppengrün.  This combination is often referred to as the aromatics and is the start to a huge number of European dishes.


The carrot’s sugar content is relatively high – it can be as much as 5% - which means it lends itself to inclusion in both savoury and sweet dishes.  Later in the year they grow a little less sweet.  In milder areas carrots can be left in the ground well into winter if their tops are cut off to avoid being nipped by frost.  When buying carrots, the green of their tops is a good indication of how freshly they have been dug. However, carrots keep better with their tops removed, loosely wrapped and placed in the coldest part of your fridge.  


Carrots take to spices very well.  Coriander, cumin and caraway are particularly suited.  Very sweet carrots can benefit from the zing of acidity a splash of orange juice brings.  Summer-harvested carrots need only to be washed and eaten raw or lightly cooked.  Peeling is often unnecessary.  A plate of raw carrots, cucumber, fennel and radish served with bowls of Hummus or aioli is redolent of summer picnics.  In France it’s almost mandatory to have some dressed shredded carrot on the school lunch plate - some roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds is a nice addition.  Simon Hopkinson, in his book The Vegetarian Option, has a fresh and zingy Carrot salad with coriander and green chilli – toss 300g of peeled and grated carrot in a mix of 1½  tsp of sea salt,1½ tsp of sugar and the juice of 1 lime and leave to macerate for 30 minutes.   Toast and lightly crush 1 tsp of coriander seeds.  Chop some coriander leaves and a green chilli together and mix them with the carrots.  If you have the barbecue going, or a grill pan, parboil carrots whole, toss in a vinaigrette dressing and grill them until just tender.


As the year moves on we look for different ways to use carrots.  Nigel Slater has a recipe for Carrot and coriander fritters.  The carrot, grated with onion and garlic, is bound with egg, cream, cheese and a little flour before being shallow fried.  In autumn, when roasted with other root vegetables, like turnip and parsnip, the carrots’ sweetness tempers the stronger earthiness of the other roots.  They bring an earthy sweetness to many of the soups and stews we start to crave.  The classic French Potage Crecy or Carrot and Coriander soup have stood the test of time. Braised or boiled Beef and Carrots is more of a British classic and caramelised carrots are a beautiful accompaniment to a rich Oxtail Stew.    


Harnessing the sweet nature of carrots, there’s an 18th century ‘English Carrot Pudding’, which today we’d see as an open pastry tart, filled with grated carrot, breadcrumbs, eggs, cream, butter, a little sugar and brandy.  There’s classic Carrot Cake with its lightly sweetened cream-cheese topping, of course.  In India, there’s fudgy Halwa – grated carrot softened in butter, condensed milk and ground cardamom.  Meera Sodha, in her book Fresh India, serves her Halwa with caramelized garam masala pecan nuts.  


Versatile carrots also preserve well as jam/marmalade, chutneys, pickles and ferments.  


Carrot Kraut    Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Carrot Kraut

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Beetroot

Beetroot

Red Beetroots    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Red Beetroots

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Beetroot

Beetroot is not the prettiest of vegetables in the box but once cooked their jewel-like colours reveal themselves.  Beet leaves, or Chard, have been eaten for thousands of years.  The roots of specialized varieties were valued in ancient Greece.  Initially, the roots were either red or white and grew long and tapered.  German gardeners are credited with developing the roots in the Middle Ages but it wasn’t until the 16th century that we saw depictions of fat, round red varieties.  Today we commonly see pink, red, yellow and orange Beetroots.  They all have an earthy flavour and their relatively high natural sugar content (around 3%) is why beetroots lend themselves to being paired with chocolate in cakes.  They are a good source of folic acid, fibre, manganese and potassium.  The leaves are high in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw if small or cooked liked spinach or chard.


Depending on type and size, Beetroot can take 45 minutes - 2 hours to cook so it makes sense to choose even-sized roots.   Prevent, particularly red varieties, from ‘bleeding’ their juice by cooking them with any whiskery roots and 2cm of stalk intact.  Roasting at no more than 180C in a foil-covered tin retains the most flavour, but they can be boiled in salted water.  Resist the temptation to test for doneness with a knife tip to avoid ‘bleeding’.  They are cooked when the skin wrinkles and comes away easily.    


Salty foods balance out the innate sweetness of Beetroots.  Anchovies, capers or goat’s cheese are perfect for this.  Oily salted fish like herring, or smoked salmon are good to.  The grassy notes of the herb dill respond to the beetroot’s qualities and they are often paired in Eastern European cuisines, soured cream bringing the two together most successfully.  And the go-to spices for Beetroot are smoky, citrusy cumin or musky toasted caraway seeds.  A good dollop of hot mustard peps-up beetroot no end.  


What to make?  With nothing to temper its earthiness, raw Beetroot is not to everyone’s taste – though Chioggia or Candy varieties are milder than the dark red varieties - but juicing them is the healthy way to go.  Recent medical studies have shown drinking beetroot juice is a natural way to reduce blood pressure.  Grated raw roots are good mixed with grated carrot and an oil and citrus dressing, or with celeriac and a mustardy mayonnaise dressing.  Make a Scandinavian Beetroot and Herring salad: salt herrings, boiled beetroot, cooked potato, apple, raw onion, hard-boiled eggs and parsley.  A classic salad of vinaigrette-dressed Beetroot and Goat’s cheese with walnuts - plated at the last minute so that the lovely white of the cheese isn’t too marred by the bloody beets.  An Indian Beetroot Raiti, on the other hand, positively celebrates the vivid result of beetroot meeting dairy.  And, of course, there’s Borscht, the celebrated beetroot soup that originated in present-day Ukraine.  Beetroots also respond wonderfully well to being fermented.  If you don’t want to do this yourself, take a look at our London Fermentary fridge – definitely good for your health! 


Chioggia Beetroots    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Chioggia Beetroots

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Seasonal news October

Seasonal news October

SWISS CHARD    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

SWISS CHARD

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

October


Summer holidays have come to an end but summer seems reluctant to morph into Autumn here.  Apples and pears are coming through the doors in abundance, yet Sweetcorn is still arriving.  


But now October is here we can see a seasonal shift.  Here is the key short-season produce you can expect to find at Puntarelle & Co this month along with all the usual staples:

English Quince    Photo © Puntarelle & Co

English Quince

Photo © Puntarelle & Co

British Produce

Apples coming from our favoured farm in Kent include Early Windsor, Greensleeves, Spartan, Orange Pippin, and Worcesters.  Pears too are plentiful and include Doyenne du Comice, Conference and Triumph of Vienna - an old French variety with red flush, russet-patched skin and smooth, juicy white flesh.  

The English Quince crop is looking particularly good this year and you will find them on our shelves now.

We have fantastic Rainbow Chard, Swiss Chard, and Purple Sprouting Broccoli right now along with Cavolo Nero/Black Cabbage, Cauliflowers and crunchy Kohlrabi.  

Brussels Sprouts seem to appear earlier and earlier each year and, yes, they are in already.  Some Pumpkin and Winter Squash are starting to arrive too. 

We have Chanterelles and Girolles from Scotland and expect to have them throughout the month. 

French Produce

Wet Walnuts arrived in late September and we expect to have them through October.  Black Figs are still coming in although, surprisingly, the crop hasn’t been good this year.

Coco de Paimpol beans are still with us.

Some of our Autumn Mushrooms may come in from France too.

Porcini from Italy    Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Porcini from Italy

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Pomegranates from Puglia     Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Pomegranates from Puglia

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Italian Produce

This month Italian Peaches and melons give way to strawberry/exotic fruits-flavoured Fragola Grapes and delicate-pink Pomegranates from Puglia.  They may not be as eye-catching as the deep-red Turkish variety but are a beautiful lead-in to the full pomegranate season.

The start of the new citrus season always excites and, happily, zingy Miyagawa Mandarins and early, unwaxed, Navelina Oranges are already in . We’ll have to wait for the new season Italian lemons but expect Bergamots to be in this month.

Persimmons are just beginning to arrive as I write.  

New season Artichokes, bitter-leaved Chicoria and Cima di Rapa are on the shelves and we can expect to have them throughout October.


In our London Fermentary fridges in October you can expect to find seasonal Water Kefir flavours like Fragola Grape and zingy Green Mandarin.  

Water Kefir London Fermentary    Photo © London Fermentary

Water Kefir London Fermentary

Photo © London Fermentary

Pears with maple syrup and vanilla    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Pears with maple syrup and vanilla

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

With such an amazing crop of Apples and Pears coming into the arch right now, we have to point you to this simple recipe that tastes so perfectly seasonal.  You can find a full version in Nigel Slater’s book Tender: Volume II.  It’s delicious but if you want to add a little texture, a scattering of a few toasted almonds is good.

Pears with maple syrup and vanilla

(serves 4)

4 large pears

4 tablespoons sugar

750ml water

4 tablespoons maple syrup

2-3 drops vanilla extract


Peels the pears, cut in half and scoop out the cores.  Bring sugar and water to the boil, add the pears and reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 10-15 minutes until just beginning to feel tender.  Lift the pear halves from the syrup and discard the liquid.

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/Gas 4.  

Place the pears in a shallow baking dish.  Drizzle them with the maple syrup and the vanilla extract.  Bake them for around 1 hour or until the pears are meltingly soft and pale gold here and there.

Serve with or without cream.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Porcini/Ceps/Penny Buns    Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Porcini/Ceps/Penny Buns

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Mushrooms for Autumn

We always have cultivated mushrooms but September sees the arrival of the wild Chanterelles and Girolles from Scotland, soon followed by Ceps from France and Italian Porcini.  

With mushrooms, common names can be confusing, particularly when it comes to Chanterelle and Girolle.  Chanterelle refers to a whole family of wild mushrooms (Cantharellus) which includes the Girolle (C. cibareus), but the Girolle is often sold under its own species name.  Either naming is correct but the Girolle is distinctive, being yellow with meaty, white flesh when cut and a slight aroma of fruit, likened to apricots.   It retains its texture when cooked.  Whereas the Chanterelle species we most often get has a brown cap with a spindly yellow stem and cooks to a soft brown mass.  We can expect to see both coming through our doors well into November, mostly from Scotland where they are happy growing in moss-covered ground.

Porcini/Ceps mostly come in to us from France and Italy.  Growing near oak, beech, birch and coniferous trees, they can range hugely in size.  They have a cap that looks like a crusty bread roll - which is why, in the UK, they are also known as Penny Bun - and a stem that is thick and swollen.  Underneath, its fine white pores age to yellow, then become green and spongy.  It’s hard to disagree that this is the king of mushrooms for its firm texture and earthy, mildly meaty flavour.  The small ones are good sliced and eaten raw. 

Frying is the best way to cook mushrooms.  The oil or butter should be heated to sear the mushrooms and seasoning should be at the end of cooking as salt will draw out their water content and result in a stew rather than the desirable caramel sweetness.  Sautéed mushrooms with chopped shallot and garlic, with chopped parsley added at the end, needs only a slice of toasted bread, or, maybe, some scrambled egg.  Add fried mushrooms to a buttery pasta or Risotto.  Sliced mushrooms fried in butter can be layered with diced potatoes that have been boiled until soft.  Simply add salt and pepper, pour over some cream and bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes for a deeply savoury gratin that needs nothing more than a green salad for accompaniment.  Thinly sliced Lardo draped over fried Porcini is a luscious option.

Girolles

Girolles

Chanterelles

Chanterelles

Pears

Pears

Russett Beurre Hardy and Williams’ Bon Chretien Pears    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Russett Beurre Hardy and Williams’ Bon Chretien Pears

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Pears


Pears, like apples, are uninteresting if all you can taste is sweetness.  A good balance of sweetness, acidity and musk is essential to reveal the pear’s gentle flavours.  It was largely thanks to the passion for fruit and vegetables of Louis XIV of France that Pears reached their high level of appreciation.  Royal patronage oversaw pear production change from difficult-to-manage open orchards to tamed espaliered trees. These allowed for easier and effective control of shelter, warmth, hybridisation and harvesting.  A need to please a King created a passion for pears.  


Although the pear tree, Pyrus communis, is not native to our islands, it has been grown in the UK since at least the 10th century.  Some say they arrived, even earlier, with the Romans.  Pear trees can still be found growing wild in hedgerows.  Improved pear cultivars were brought into the UK from France and Belgium and new varieties then began to be developed here too.  The trees are particularly long-lived and can survive for up to 250 years.  By the 17th century we were grafting pear tree cuttings onto quince rootstock, making it easier to grow pears in our typically wet spring climate.


Records show varieties of pear under cultivation in the UK increased from 64 in 1640 to 622 by 1826.  Today the National Fruit Collection website lists 530 varieties but very few are under commercial cultivation.  Concorde and Conference, and to a lesser extent Williams’ Bon Chretien (called Bartlett in the USA), make up most of the UK’s commercial crop.  The last of these is still known in Berkshire, where it originated, as ‘Stair’s Pear’ in acknowledgment of its original cultivator John Stair, a local schoolmaster, rather than Mr Williams and Mr Bartlett who introduced it to a wider audience and, modestly, named it after themselves.  There’s little chance of finding red-skinned Laxton’s Early Market or russet-skinned Mrs Seden for our customers now, but they could well still be growing in someone’s back garden.


Here at Puntarelle & Co we source English-grown Pears through the autumn months. Varieties include russet-skinned, silky-textured Beurre Hardy and Triumph of Vienna - an old French variety with red flush, russet-patched skin and smooth, juicy white flesh.  We also buy Italian ones like Abate Fetel and buttery, melting, Doyenne du Comice from France.  Beurre Bosc and Beurre d’Anjou are late varieties that are relatively good keepers so we tend to get this type into the New Year.


Pears need to be picked when firm then ripened off the tree, but they store far less well than apples.  Once bought, keep at room temperature until the fruit gives very slightly around the stem, indicating ripeness.  Pears love chocolate and spices like cinnamon and vanilla, and partner well with cheese, particularly a blue like English Stilton or Stichelton, a French Roquefort or Italian Gorgonzola.  


What to do with them: assemble a salad of chicory leaves, sliced pear, blue cheese, walnuts or toasted hazelnuts dressed with a vinaigrette; slice and bake pears in a pastry tart or galette; pickle the sliced fruits with sugar, white wine vinegar, cloves, allspice and nutmeg to serve with roast ham or pork; peel and poach them whole in red or white wine with a little sugar; bake halved, cored pears in a little marsala or maple syrup; use in an ‘upside-down’ cake; or instead of apples for a tarte tatin; then, of course, there is the classic dessert Poire belle Helene – pears, chocolate and ice cream.

Jargonelle Pears growing in an English garden    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Jargonelle Pears growing in an English garden

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Figs

Figs

Green Figs in Puglia    Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Green Figs in Puglia

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Figs


In late August the most luscious black Figs usually arrive from France.  Many fig trees, when grown in the hot and dry conditions of a long summer, produce two crops a year.  The first fruits, known as breba, develop in Spring on the previous year’s shoot growth and are harvested in early summer.  The second crop develops mostly on current season stems.  These fruits, grown at the hottest time of year ripen in late summer into autumn and have an unparalleled honeyed sweetness.   


The fig is a member of the Mulberry family and is more flower than fruit; being a fleshy flower base that has folded in on itself.  The inner female florets develop into small individual dry fruits that crunch like seeds.  They contain a surprisingly large amount of calcium for a fruit.  Notable European fig varieties include Black Ischia, (dark purple in colour with golden flecks and a luscious violet-red pulp); Adriatic, (a green fig tinged with purple or red with deep red interior); and the sweet Marseilles, (coloured yellow/green with green flecks and a white pulp).


The honeyed quality of their flesh means figs are not only good for desserts but match beautifully with savoury ingredients like anchovies, poultry and air-dried meats.  They pair equally well with pungent creamy cheeses like Gorgonzola or Stilton, or a milder soft goat’s cheese.  Thyme is a herb that mingles happily with figs.  For a sweet end to a meal, they are delicious just as they are – particularly if they are so luscious they have begun to split - but they go well with chocolate, nuts and orange and spices like aniseed, cinnamon and vanilla.  Less ripe ones are delicious baked in the oven in red wine, sugar and spices and maybe a little orange zest too.  And don’t forget, figs make wonderful chutneys and jams. 

Italian Black & Green Figs    Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Italian Black & Green Figs

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

This recipe is a seasonal marriage of green beans and figs, both of which are at their best at the same time.  You could use Runner Beans, French Green Beans, or the Bobbi Bean variety.  If all you want is those beautiful figs, I can’t think of anything better than to cut them in half and eat with a spoonful of ripe Gorgonzola.    


Salad of Green Beans and Figs

(Serves 4)


300g Runner Beans or Green beans or Bobbi Beans

4 ripe figs

1 good handful of Rocket leaves

60g Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler


Dressing:

1 tablespoon Moscatel vinegar

1 teaspoon runny honey

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Mix the Dressing ingredients.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and salt it.  Top and tail (and slice if using Runners) the beans.  Add to the water, bring back to the boil and cook for 2-3 minutes until the beans still have a little bite.  Drain, plunge into cold water (to retain the colour) then dry on kitchen paper.  

When ready to serve, re-emulsify the dressing, toss the beans in it then divide them between four plates.  Briefly place the rocket leaves in the dressing left in the bowl then add to the plates.  Quarter the figs and arrange on the plates.  Add the shaved parmesan and pour over any remaining dressing.


Apples

Apples

Discovery Apple    Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Discovery Apple

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Apples

 

By mid-September the English Apple harvest is fully underway with ever more varieties joining the Discovery, which came to our shelves in mid-August.  It’s now that the stone fruits of late summer, ending with dusky Damson plums, give way to northern hemisphere Apples and Pears.  

 

Apples grow well in a temperate climate and English apples are hard to beat.  There are over 2,000 varieties – dessert, cooker and in-betweener.  Sadly, only a tiny number of these are commercially grown.  Flavours and textures vary greatly depending on the variety of apple.  Deep red apples are beautiful to look at and tasty if eaten freshly picked, but it’s the green/brownish-skinned ‘Russet’ family and those streaked green/red that improve with keeping.  

 

In 2018 for the 5th year running, we bought our seasonal apples and pears from Foxendown Fruit Farm in Kent.  We start collecting their harvest of ‘Discovery’ apples in August and finish in late January.  John, the owner of this small family run farm, guides us and helps us choose from his 20 varieties of dessert apple and 3 cooking apples (along with his shorter season pear crop of Triumph of Vienna, Conference and Comice – in now and through October).  Dessert Apples we take include:

 

Laxton Fortune, a Cox/Wealthy apple cross which is juicy, crisp, aromatic and a little sweeter than a Cox’s Orange Pippin, with us through September

Worcester Permain another early-mid season apple; can have a light strawberry flavour and is picked to the end of September.

St Edmund’s Pippin, a richly-flavoured Russet apple picked to the end of October

Early Windsor, a cross between a Cox and a Dr Oldenburg: similar to, and a little earlier than, the Cox’s Orange Pippin and should arrive up to mid-November.

More apples will follow, including those Cooking Apples that need a little longer on the tree.

 

For the kitchen, it’s hard to beat a Bramley for a classic apple pie or crumble but where less acidic, firm-fleshed apples are needed, reach for varieties like Laxton Fortune, Cox or Russet varieties or the later Braeburn.  All have a good balance of sour and sweet.  Good spices for apples are anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.  Clove too if used sparingly.  A few apples added to a pan of roasting pork together with a few sage leaves is a wonderful thing.  A simple apple puree cooked with dried fruits and cinnamon is a fixture in my kitchen during autumn and winter – so good with yogurt and a spoonful of honey.  A whole baked Bramley, cored, stuffed with dried fruits and a little sugar, is the simplest of desserts.  Just add cream.  Everyone should have a good apple cake recipe.  Replace some of the flour with ground hazelnuts and you won’t be disappointed.  And then, of course, there’s Tarte Tatin!