The Campaign for Cauliflower: roasted whole cauliflower with crème fraiche


Roasted whole cauliflower_25142495A few months ago now, Yotam Ottolenghi stepped down as leader of his one-man campaign to promote what he has described as “the most magnificent of vegetables”: the cauliflower. So, here in the UK, as we continue to discuss the results of all that other recent campaigning – associated with Britain’s General Election – it just seemed like the right time to highlight the end of Ottolenghi’s fight for this humble vegetable.

Being a big fan of both cauliflower and Yotam Ottolenghi, I have blogged about this inspired venture previously, but for those of you not familiar with the story it basically boils down to the fact that the man likes cauliflower. And he’s not afraid to admit it. In 2007 he declared that it was “exciting” (which to be fair is not a word that many people would have used to describe this vegetable back then). He has gone on to introduce us to countless innovative ways of cooking cauliflower, insisting that it doesn’t need to be dreary. Instead, he has said, it ought to be paired with vibrant, bold and daring flavours – the sort that work spectacularly well with a vegetable that is just waiting to soak them up. His writing is enchanting, and Ottolenghi tempts and inspires with wonderful stories of  cauliflower that has been cooked with ingredients that include cumin, chilli, paprika, saffron, mustard, dill, garlic, lemon, lime, pomegranate (and more). The good news is that there always seems to be a happy ending.

But, earlier this year, just as the campaigning for Britain’s General Election got underway, Yotam Ottolenghi suggested that his work was done. He declared victory on his pro-cauliflower cause, and although there’s no real way of telling what the outcome was – there were no votes to count – I’m fairly sure that he has won some kind of battle. But this isn’t exactly going to be the end of Ottolenghi’s campaigning, and it’ll be interesting to see exactly what it is that he’s going to do with some of the other marginal vegetables that he has mentioned, including things like turnip, swede and kohlrabi…

What follows is perhaps one of Ottolenghi’s simpler cauliflower recipes. And to be honest, it’s a bit of a no-brainer really – what doesn’t taste fabulous when it’s been roasted with this much butter? And a considerable amount of salt. Yes, this is a recipe for special occasions. But that’s what makes Yotam Ottolenghi victorious in all of this – the way in which he has promoted the cauliflower from a rather dull and uninspiring vegetable, to one which can take centre stage at a dinner party. That’s a fairly impressive accomplishment. Anyway, this really is a great dish for sharing and, as he suggests, it really does make a great starter. One thing he doesn’t mention though is just how fabulous it smells as it’s slowly roasting in the oven… And I really cannot do justice to how incredibly good it tastes. Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that this beautiful cauliflower cost me just 65p, which also makes it great value.


Other posts you may like:

“The most magnificent of vegetables”: Cauliflower soup with mustard croutons

Eat More Cauliflower: Chargrilled Cauliflower Salad

Recipe: Roasted whole cauliflower with crème fraiche

From: Yotam Ottolenghi (writing in the guardian)


Serves four as a starter

1 large cauliflower with its leaves intact

150g creme fraiche

1 tbsp lemon juice

70g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

3 tbsp olive oil

Coarse sea salt


Using a pair of scissors, lightly trim the leaves at the top of the cauliflower, so that about 5cm of the cauliflower’s head is exposed.

Fill a pan large enough to fit the cauliflower in salty water. Bring to a boil and carefully lower in the cauliflower exposed head down: don’t worry if the base sticks out a little. Bring back to a boil, cook for six minutes, then transfer the cauliflower to a colander, exposed head down. Set aside for 10 minutes, to drain and cool.

Heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3. Mix together the creme fraiche and lemon juice, and set aside in the fridge until required.

Mix the butter with the oil. Put the cauliflower stem side down in a medium baking tray and spread the butter mix all over the white flower. Sprinkle over a teaspoon and a quarter of salt, and roast for an hour and a half to two hours, basting the cauliflower with the buttery juices five or six times during cooking.

The cauliflower is done when it’s super-tender and a dark golden-brown, and the leaves are crisp and charred. Remove from the oven and serve with the lemony creme fraiche and a little extra salt for sprinkling on top alongside.


Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Starter, Supper, Vegetables | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Forged in Yorkshire: Artisan Gin


Sir Robin of Locksley GinAlthough I wouldn’t describe myself as a gin connoisseur, I do enjoy a good gin and tonic. I’ve been a fan of Bombay Sapphire – characterised (apparently) not only by juniper berries but also by exotic botanicals, as well as citrus and spicy flavours – for many years. I always dilute it with tonic and ice, and always appreciate a slice of lime. A good gin and tonic reminds me of good times, friends and warm summer evenings. Yet from a historical perspective, I think of gin – its distillation, trade and consumption – as being rather seedy, richly integrated into the social fabric of Britain in complex ways. And geographically, I have always associated gin – without doubt – with London.

Sir Robin of Locksley GinOf course, there is some basis to such understandings, and it is the case that by the early eighteenth century, government regulations allowing for the unlicensed production of gin meant that it had become the drink of choice amongst poorer populations. This was particularly the case in large cities (such as London), where gin became closely associated with urban depravity. Vast quantities of low quality gin were made from the grain that was considered unfit for brewing beer, and were flavoured with turpentine in order to enhance the piquancy of juniper berries – the ingredient that provides the essence (and basic flavour) of all spirits included in the broad classification of gin. Early attempts to tax gin retailers only worsened such problems, and it wasn’t until later in the eighteenth century that measures were introduced to successfully regulate its sale, thereby helping to reduce the social troubles associated with it.

Sir Robin of Locksley Gin - on the rocks with grapefruit zestMoving beyond this sordid past, gin has slowly gained a more reputable standing. And today, it is increasingly associated with small scale, boutique production, characterised by experimental flavourings – botanicals – that (thank goodness) no longer tend to contain turpentine. Instead, they include ingredients like coriander, liquorice, orange, lemon and other citrus peel, orris, angelica, cinnamon and cassia. This sort of gin, considered to be a premium – even ultra-premium – product (and priced accordingly), is described as aromatic, smooth, floral and mellow. Distillers are keen for their product to be seen as local, unique and carefully crafted. It’s quite impressive how far this spirit has come from the eighteenth century – its sleazy reputation transferred into something that is altogether rather more stylish and refined. But more than this – gin, it would seem, has once again become fashionable.

Sir Robin of Locksley Gin - on the rocks with grapefruit zestNew gin distilleries are opening across Britain, and Sheffield – although not a traditional producer of gin – is not being left behind. Recently, I have been introduced to the Locksley Distilling Company, which produces the wonderfully named Sir Robin of Locksley ‘distilled artisan gin’. Clearly imbued with a confident sense of belonging (as well as an element of good humour), this gin has been linked not only with the local legend of Robin Hood (Locksley – spelt alternatively as Loxley – is one of the locations claimed to have been his birthplace), it is also clearly labelled as having been “forged in Yorkshire”, a reference to the proud industrial heritage of Sheffield, often referred to as the ‘city of steel’. In line with other contemporary distillers, it is a relatively small-scale enterprise, and the company has aimed to produce a gin that is genuinely distinctive. In this respect, it is intended as a luxury product, one that should be enjoyed as an ingredient for cocktails, but also – importantly – on its own.

The tasting notes suggest that beyond the initial flavour of juniper, there is a more delicate aroma of elderflower, as well as cassia, dandelion and pink grapefruit, giving it a slight sweetness and a citrus finish. It is described as one of very few English sipping gins; as something that can be enjoyed neat or chilled. According to their suggestion, I first tried it with just some pink grapefruit zest (and a couple of ice-cubes). Much as I enjoy gin, I don’t generally relish the prospect of having it unmixed, and I was surprised to find that it was really rather enjoyable to drink – sip – it this way.

Encouraged by my first impressions, I also tried their version of a classic Tom Collins. Making a further play on the Robin Hood connection, their “Little John Collins” (get it!?), uses freshly squeezed grapefruit juice instead of lemon juice (and the accompanying garnish). I thought that it worked excellently, with the grapefruit developing and enhancing – rather than disguising – the complex and delicate flavour of this gin. (You can find recipes for both below). It’s definitely a cocktail that I’ll be making again, and one that I’m sure to be sharing with friends on warm summer evenings…

Sir Robin of Locksley Gin is available from various outlets (including boutique drinks shops, as well as restaurants, pubs and bars), and is priced around £30-35 for a 70cl bottle (40.5%). It is most easily found in South and West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, although it is possible to order a bottle on-line. You can also find it at the Gin Festival, which is currently travelling around sites in Britain (if you’re interested then make sure to book tickets – which are selling out fast – soon).

Sir Robin of Locksley Gin

Little John Collins


                                                                                          Quantities for one large drink

2 parts gin                                                                                                50 ml

1 ½ parts freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice                                     37.5 ml

½ part sugar syrup                                                                                   12.5 ml

Ice cubes

4 parts soda water                                                                                     100ml

A slice of pink grapefruit


Shake the gin, juice and sugar syrup (with ice) in a cocktail shaker

Strain into a glass

Top with soda and add a couple of ice cubes

Garnish with a twist of grapefruit

[Adapted from: The Locksley Distilling Company]


Classic Tom (John) Collins

(Incidentally – and rather confusingly – it seems that a Tom Collins might be more accurately called a John Collins anyway)


Ice cubes

50 ml dry gin

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp sugar syrup

100 ml soda water

A slice of lemon

1 maraschino cherry


Place a few ice-cubes in a large class.

Add the gin, lemon juice and syrup, and stir

Top up with soda water and stir again

Serve with a slice of lemon and a cherry

Posted in Drinks, Food, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pasta with Spring Greens, Garlic and Chilli

IMGP7426This is one of those invaluable weekday meals that is quick and easy to prepare, consists of a handful of inexpensive ingredients, tastes great, and – as if all that wasn’t enough – is also healthy and nutritious. Moreover, it’s likely that almost all of these ingredients are already in your store-cupboards and fridges, so there really can be no excuse not to give this a go…

Spring greens are a member of the brassica family, and like many of the other dark green leafy plants is a robust vegetable that works well with a range of strong flavours, including classic combinations like bacon and lemon. But spring greens are also a little sweeter than some of the most full-bodied winter cabbages, so they’re great for this time of year when we begin to want something just a bit lighter. This recipe makes the most of the compatibility between cabbage, chilli and garlic, and with such a quick cooking time – 3 minutes does little more than blanch the spring greens –the dish retains not only its full flavour, but also the wonderful deep green colour characteristic of this vegetable.

Just in case there happens to be someone reading this who isn’t aware of the virtues of the brassica family, then I should mention that spring greens – a close relation of that trendiest of winter vegetables, kale – also have an impressive vitamin and mineral content (including vitamins A, C and K, as well as calcium and iron), and a correspondingly high nutrient density. Spring greens are also high in fibre and even have an impressive omega-3 content. Together, this means that it is a vegetable with a commendable number of health-related benefits, including as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. For most people it’s an excellent vegetable to include regularly in your diet, and this dish is a great addition to any collection of spring green recipes.

Pasta with greens, garlic and chilli

Recipe: Pasta with Spring Greens, Garlic and Chilli


2-3 heads of spring greens, thick stems removed and roughly shredded

you can use kale or a savoy cabbage instead, if you prefer

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely sliced

½ – 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

or a couple of pinches of dried chilli flakes

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

300g pasta

I used wholemeal penne

Salt and freshly ground pepper

To serve:

Extra virgin olive oil

Parmesan cheese

Serves 4


Put a large pan of well-salted water on to boil, so that you’re ready to cook the pasta while the sauce is coming together.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a low heat. Add the onion and cook gently for 10 minutes, or until soft. Add the chilli and garlic and some salt and pepper, and continue to cook for about 3 minutes.

When the onion is almost cooked, add the pasta to the pan of boiling water and cook until al dente, adding the greens to the pan about 3 minutes before the end of cooking.

Drain the pasta and greens thoroughly and toss with the onion mixture in the frying pan. Check the seasoning, then serve, adding some extra virgin olive oil and a handful of grated cheese.

Seriously… How easy is that?

Adapted from: River Cottage Veg! Everyday, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Posted in Food, Lunch, Pasta, Recipes, Supper | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Waiting… And a Recipe for Pear, Parsnip and Ginger Cake

Pear, parsnip and ginger cake

According to Oxford Dictionaries, waiting can be defined as:

The action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or event: years of waiting

Although I’m sure that this is a perfectly legitimate definition, it does strike me as somewhat inadequate. Most obviously, perhaps, it lacks emotion. Here, the act of waiting is characterised not only by passivity but also patience – tolerance, even – apparently positioning these qualities as integral to our experiences of waiting. Think about it. What can this event possibly be? If there have been years of waiting (or even if these years of waiting are yet to come), and they have provoked such little reaction – I might suggest excitement, hope, fear, dread – I have to wonder if this unnamed event is actually worth waiting for at all.

I am waiting to move house. And although I do feel almost completely passive as I’m manipulated through the process of purchasing a home, I don’t feel in the least bit patient (it is definitely not my virtue). I do, on the other hand, feel frustrated, exasperated, irritated. Sometimes angry. Optimistic, enthusiastic, hopeful. But patient? No. Absolutely. Not.

When my husband was a little boy, he believed that moving house relied on a complex chain reaction that necessarily involved everyone in the country relocating on the exact same day. Happily, of course, this isn’t the case (I can’t even begin to imagine the mayhem, although it might be worth it just to see exactly how irritable Location, Location, Location presenter Kirsty Allsopp would become), but even a relatively short chain can cause chaos. So, I am perfectly aware of how lucky we are that our house purchase involves just three interested parties, and was delighted when initial predictions suggested a period of about eight weeks to completion. Sadly, estimates now point to an eight week delay, meaning that it will have taken a staggering four months to advance to the point where we can finally move in (and that’s assuming that the whole deal doesn’t just collapse somewhere along the line for some as yet unknown reason).

Whilst I’m waiting, I’m renting a small furnished apartment, and whilst I’m living here, I’m waiting to be reunited with the contents of our Los Angeles home, which were wrapped, packed and shipped back to the UK last year. Although everything arrived here safely (some months ago now), our personal belongings don’t currently fit into our lives. Located somewhere else – a storage unit across town – they are absent, physically missing from our day-to-day existence. And strangely, whilst in some cases this doesn’t matter (to be honest I probably couldn’t tell you what’s in most of the packages, although there are some that are obligingly sofa- or table-shaped which I assume is something of a clue), there are other things that I just can’t wait to see again. The entire contents of my kitchen are at the top of this list, including everything from crockery and cutlery, to pots and pans. I miss my recipe books. Initially, I found it surprising how much these possessions seem to mean to me, but on reflection I can see the ways in which I’m connected to them. They have been collected over many years, and have travelled with me (sometimes over great distances). I’m reminded of the stories that they tell, the people and places that they attach me to: of evenings sharing food with friends, of holidays and adventures, other places and countries, of my two beloved (and greatly missed) cats. I am reminded of home, which is – of course – exactly what it is that I’m waiting for.

With most of my kitchen equipment in storage, I find baking particularly challenging, and it has been some months now since I made a cake. So, as I’ve been getting tired of waiting, I thought that it would be appropriate to post this recipe, which is the last cake that I baked in LA before everything was packed into all those boxes. It’s a slightly unusual bake, using both fruit and vegetables for sweetness and moisture, but (as with all of Lily Vanilli’s fabulous recipes) it works really well and produces a cake that is absolutely full of flavour. If you don’t want to bother with making the pear crisps (although they are really tasty), then just scatter more toasted nuts over the top. It’s also worth noting that Lily points out that this cake is at its best the day after it’s baked, when all of the flavours have developed and come through.

Pear, parsnip and ginger cake

Recipe: Pear, Parsnip and Ginger Cake


  • Ÿ For the cake

250g peeled and cored mixed pears and parsnips, grated

100g raisins

20g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon

150g plain, wholemeal or wholegrain spelt flour, sifted

¾ tsp freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1 tsp baking powder

150g ground almonds or hazelnuts

3 eggs

150g light brown sugar, plus extra for topping

125ml olive oil

½ batch cream cheese frosting (see below)

50g hazelnuts, toasted, then roughly chopped (see below)


One 23cm round cake tin, greased and lined


  • ŸFor the pear crisps

120ml water

1tbsp caster sugar

A squeeze of lemon juice

1 reasonably firm pear, cored and finely sliced


One baking tray, greased and lined


  • Ÿ For the cream cheese frosting

(makes 650g)

125g salted butter, softened

200g firm full-fat cream cheese, drained of any liquid

250g icing sugar, sifted

1 tsp vanilla extract


  • Ÿ For the toasted nuts

Nuts of your choice

I used hazelnuts

One baking tray



  • ŸFor the cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan assisted / gas mark 6.

Use kitchen paper to soak up any excess moisture from the grated fruit and vegetables, then put them into a bowl with the raisins, ginger, lemon juice and zest, and combine.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder and ground almonds / hazelnuts. Set aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar until very light and airy – approximately 5 minutes on high speed – then add the oil, beating to incorporate. Beat for another 2 minutes before folding in first the flour mix, then the pear and parsnip mix. Transfer the mixture to your prepared cake tin and level out to the edges.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until risen and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre comes out with no more than a few sticky crumbs. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Spread the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cooked cake, then top with the chopped roasted hazelnuts and the pear crisps.

  • ŸFor the pear crisps

Preheat the oven to 110°C fan assisted / gas mark ½. Bring the water to the boil in a heavy-bottomed pan with the sugar and lemon juice. Turn off the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Dip the pear slices into the sugar water; transfer to the lined baking tray, and bake for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until dried out. Try to resist eating them all before you decorate your cake.

  • ŸFor the cream cheese frosting

Beat the butter alone for 4-5 minutes, then add the cream cheese and beat for another 2 minutes

Add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes, until smooth and evenly incorporated. You can add a further 50-100g of icing sugar for a firmer frosting if desired

  • Ÿ For the toasted nuts

Place the nuts on a baking tray in a preheated 180°C fan assisted / gas mark 6 oven. As there are only a few minutes in it, and toasting times will vary according to your oven, you should keep a close eye on them. Rough roasting times are as follows:

Flaked almonds: 5-6 minutes

Walnuts and hazelnuts: 6-7 minutes

Pecans: 7-8 minutes

In all cases the nuts are ready when they are aromatic and starting to brown.

From: Sweet Tooth by Lily Vanilli
Posted in Cake, Dessert, Food, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

In Praise of Onions: French Onion Soup

French onion soup

I can understand why onions are the number one selling vegetable in the UK. They are – of course – a fundamental ingredient in countless everyday dishes, and are considered essential across the world in both domestic and professional kitchens. There are several varieties, and although they all share a distinctive, pungent flavour, red onions (with their beautiful, papery, purple skin) are milder than brown or yellow onions. Between them all, there is an onion for every conceivable occasion. They can be eaten raw, as well as grilled, fried, baked, braised or roasted. Onions can play an important role as a garnish, or alternatively form the very foundation of innumerable soups, stews and sauces. I, like incalculable others, would be lost without onions, and yet I have a confession to make…

…I don’t particularly enjoy eating onion for its own sake. Perhaps I’m a bit odd in that respect, but to be honest, I’m really not sure that it matters very much. After all, it’s easy enough to avoid an onion garnish, and it hasn’t been often that I’ve caused serious offence by turning down the offer of a whole roasted or braised onion (at least as far as I’m aware). There is, however, one onion-focused dish that is the unconditional exception to that rule, and that’s French onion soup.

Prepared and cooked properly, French onion soup can be inconceivably – almost implausibly – wonderful. It is deep, rich and warm. It tastes earthy, sweet and is ultimately satisfying. Absolute. And made with just a handful of ingredients, the impact of a good French onion soup belies its simplicity. But the problem with French onion soup – and I know this from my own attempts – is that it can also taste remarkably ordinary (or worse) and if you’ve bothered to go to the effort of making it, then that can be incredibly disappointing. But after numerous inadequate and disheartening efforts over the years, I think I’ve finally got it right…

French onion soup is, like many others, one of those dishes with a thousand incarnations, reflected in a similarly large number of available recipes. All of which offer a slightly different list of ingredients, as well as various explanations of what to do with them. Perhaps most fundamentally, both the internet and my recipe books dedicate a bewildering amount of discussion to the right sort of onions to use, but they also reflect endlessly on garlic, alcohol, herbs and flour. However, if I’ve learnt anything about the process of making French onion soup, it’s that there are really only two critical rules:

  1. Caramelise the onions thoroughly (and in my experience that’s actually far more important than the type of onions used)

– It really is vital for the flavour of the soup to get the onions a deep, dark brown colour all over. And this is – time and again – the bit that I find hardest to get right. Most recipes suggest that it should take 20-40 minutes, but I’ve often found myself still waiting for a convincing caramelisation after 60 minutes or longer. I don’t really know why it appears to be so unpredictable (although I suspect that it’s because I don’t dare to turn the heat up high enough, which just seems to result in burnt onions, and is definitely not what I’m after). But, however long it takes, it is worth the wait – and a longer, more gradual process of caramelisation doesn’t seem to do any harm.

2.    Use a good beef stock

– Apologies to vegetarians, but I haven’t really found a totally convincing way to get around this

A third issue to consider (I know I said that there were only two rules, but rules – even rules about rules – are surely made to be broken), is the benefit of using a good quality gruyére in the final stages of preparation.

So, anyway. Here is my version of this classic dish. I hope that you enjoy it…

French onion soup

French Onion Soup


50g butter

5 medium sized onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp basalmic vinegar

400 ml white wine

600 ml beef stock

1 tbsp brandy

It turns out that, if you don’t have any brandy, Marsala wine seems to work just fine…

6 slices baguette

100g gruyére, grated

Serves 2 for lunch or a light supper


Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed pan over a low heat. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper. Leave them to soften for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the sugar and stir. You can turn the heat up a bit at this stage (if you dare), but you’ll need to keep an eye on the onions – and continue to stir them regularly and frequently – as they caramelise.

NOTE: As discussed above, it really is important to get them a dark brown colour all over (it’s absolutely vital for the flavour of the soup). If you use a higher heat, then this may happen in as little as 20 – 40 minutes, but a more gradual process of caramelisation is fine, although it can take a lot longer (60-90 minutes)

Once the onions are thoroughly caramelized, add the basalmic vinegar and 100ml of the white wine. Stir and scrape all the brown bits from the sides and bottom of the pan. Stir in the rest of the wine as well as the stock, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about an hour.

Turn on the grill and toast the baguette slices on both sides.

Add the brandy (or whatever) to the soup and check the seasoning.

To serve, ladle the soup into oven proof bowls and top with the baguette toasts, Sprinkle a mound of grated cheese over everything (make sure that there’s plenty) and pop under the grill until golden. Serve immediately.

Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Soup, Supper | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

The Rhubarb Festival: and a recipe for rhubarb and ginger biscuit bars

Rhubarb and ginger biscuit barAs I got out of the car last weekend, it struck me that holding a food festival in the middle of winter, in a small city in the north of England, wasn’t a particularly good idea. With temperatures hovering around 0°c, and a bitterly cold wind attacking any part of me unwittingly left exposed, it seemed like a pretty ridiculous notion, to be honest. So, I was feeling really rather grumpy as I walked out of the covered car park, hands stuffed deep into my coat pockets, and I couldn’t help wondering exactly when I might start to feel in a ‘festival’ kind of a mood. But as I stomped rather ungraciously along the pavement, I realised that I could hear music playing – the low heavy thump of a sousaphone, the distinctive reedy keyboard of an accordion. This was definitely reminiscent of a carnival, and as I rounded the corner – saw the band and smelt the food – started to feel rather better about the morning ahead.

The skiband - street band

Based in just a few small streets in the city centre, the Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb is an annual event that acknowledges and celebrates the tradition of rhubarb farming that is closely associated with this part of West Yorkshire. Although the festival itself is only in its eighth year, rhubarb has been cultivated – “forced” – in the area for closer to 150 years, and has been a significant part of the regional economy throughout this time. Although the so-called rhubarb triangle (originally based around Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford) is now only a fraction of the size it once was, the produce grown here remains an important and distinctive crop, and in 2010, forced rhubarb was awarded Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Commission (in the same way as Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Melton Mowbray pork pies, for example). The reason for the successful commercial cultivation of forced rhubarb in this area was – at least in part –because of the very weather conditions that initially made this day-out seem like such a ridiculous notion. A native of Siberia, rhubarb needs not only large amounts of water, but also a cold climate in order to thrive. And it just so happens that this area, situated close to the Pennines, can provide both. Of course it can. And while the development of a successful industry is always more complex than this suggests (conditional on such things as transport links, mutually supportive commercial / farming enterprises, favourable economic policy, a significant consumer base, and – in the case of forced rhubarb – a limitless amount of “night soil”), it’s important not to under-estimate the influence of such environmental conditions. So, as the drizzle, which had already turned to sleet, began to fall as snow, it occurred to me that this was exactly the right time of year for this small city in the north of England to be celebrating its rhubarb crop.

The pint-sized – and unexpectedly pretty – Wakefield Cathedral provided a fabulous backdrop for the market stalls, food trucks, cookery theatre, local and celebrity chefs, musicians and street entertainers forming the core of the festivities. Not surprisingly, of course, the focus was on rhubarb, which featured heavily amongst the produce and street food available there, and included: rhubarb liqueur, crêpes filled with rhubarb and crème fraîche, pork and rhubarb sausages, rhubarb and custard cupcakes, rhubarb burgers, pork pies topped with a chili and rhubarb purée, as well as a seemingly infinite assortment of jams, relishes, preserves and sauces. But the festival wasn’t just about rhubarb, with other local food producers presenting a wide range of specialist and artisan produce. It really was an impressive display.

As you might imagine, I came home armed with a range of assorted goodies, including some striking pink stalks of this wonderful early crop. And it wasn’t long before I had turned them into these tasty rhubarb and ginger biscuit bars. They have a great flavour, with the aromatic and spicy ginger complementing the sharp and fruity rhubarb perfectly. And I think that they look really rather pretty as well, with a thin layer of bright pink fruit sandwiched between a shortbread base and a nutty crumble topping. They are great on their own, and go equally well paired with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.

You can listen to the very jolly SkiBand here:

Rhubarb and Ginger Biscuit Bars


7 stalks of rhubarb, cut into 2cm chunks

3 tbsp caster sugar

½ vanilla pod (optional)

250g plain white flour

125g caster sugar

125g butter

a pinch of salt

2cm chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

a large handful of almonds, roughly chopped

Crème fraîche – to serve (optional)

Makes 8-10 squares


Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Warm a saucepan. Put the rhubarb, sugar and vanilla pod (if using) into the pan. (Warming it first means the sugar melts more quickly). Add 2 tbsp of water and stir.

Let the mixture simmer gently until it becomes a soft compote with soft chunks of rhubarb going through it. If needed, add more water as it cooks, but don’t add too much as you don’t want to make the mixture too wet. Set aside to cool.

Add the flour, ginger, sugar, salt and butter to a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Transfer half of the mix to a large bowl, and fold in the almonds. This is going to be the crumble topping.

Whizz the rest of the mixture (left in the food processor), until it forms a ball. Add a tablespoon or so of water, if needed, to help bring it together. (Just enough to make a dough – you don’t want to make it wet). Place the dough in a cake tin (lined with parchment / baking paper if it doesn’t have a removable base), and using the palm of your hand, press it into the base.

Bake this shortbread layer for 15 mins, until golden. Remove from the oven and leave it cool a little.

Remove the vanilla pod from the rhubarb mixture, and then spread the compote over the shortbread base. Scatter the crumble topping evenly over it. Return to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until crispy and golden.

Cool completely before cutting into it.

adapted from:
Posted in Dessert, Food, Fruit, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A Fresh Start: Pan-Fried Mackerel Sandwich with Rhubarb Coleslaw

Pan-fried mackerel sandwich with rhubarb coleslaw

I always think that winter rhubarb is something of a gift. With forced varieties appearing as early as January, it makes a welcome addition to the range of seasonal produce available just now, and adds both flavour and colour to the table: the long, elegant and edible stalks are vibrant – pink, crimson and red – and they taste sharp and sour, as well as intensely fruity. Although the leaves aren’t edible (actually they’re poisonous), they look beautiful – pale green and wonderfully textured.

Traditionally, its home in the UK lies within the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ of West Yorkshire, a region that has shrunk over recent decades to the extent that is now contained within an area of just nine square miles. The ‘forced’ method of cultivation that results in this early crop was developed more than 200 years ago, and is a process that always strikes me as mysterious. Magical even. At the very least – grown in total darkness, and harvested by candlelight – it appears clandestine: secretive and ritualistic. It’s an intriguing crop, and the annual rhubarb festival at Wakefield (in West Yorkshire) provides a great opportunity to find out more. And if you’re interested, but just can’t make it to Wakefield in February, then local producer E Oldroyd and Sons Ltd – who has been growing forced rhubarb for five generations – can tell you everything that you could possibly want to know…

As an ingredient, rhubarb is incredibly versatile, although almost all varieties are considered (by the majority of people) too tart to be eaten raw. Perhaps most commonly it is used in sweets and desserts, often with extraordinary amounts of added sugar, but it is also wonderful made into a wide variety of jams and chutneys. It can be excellent paired with orange or grapefruit, and vanilla works well too. Yet it is perhaps most commonly associated with the classic British dish ‘rhubarb and custard’, a delightful combination of tart and sweet, pink and yellow, which was once such a part of everyday life in the mid-1970s, that it inspired the wonderful, animated cult-TV programme “Roobarb and Custard”, featuring a green dog and a pink cat. Well. It was the 1970s, I suppose…

But it is also a great accompaniment to many savoury dishes, particularly fatty meats (especially pork), and oily fish – including mackerel, as shown by the excellent sandwich featured here. It’s both filling and relatively quick to make (even given the chopping and slicing that’s involved), and is perfect for a weekend lunch, or quick supper. Marinating the rhubarb, radishes and fennel in lemon juice makes a wonderful coleslaw that really cuts through the richness of the oily fish. As for the mackerel itself, it’s not only a relatively inexpensive fish, it’s also a nutritious option, and is high in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as being an excellent source of vitamins D and B12. And in addition to all of that, I think that it looks rather pretty as well.

Pan-Fried Mackerel Sandwich with Rhubarb Coleslaw:


Juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp caster sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ fennel bulb, trimmed and with the tough outer stalks removed

1 large stalk of rhubarb, washed and trimmed (and leaves discarded)

5 radishes

1 tbsp olive oil

300g mackerel fillets

Four slices of freshly baked bread

A small handful of rocket leaves

Serves 2


To make the rhubarb coleslaw, mix the lemon juice with the sugar, along with some salt and pepper, in a shallow dish.

Cut the rhubarb into medium chunks (perhaps 2-3 inches long), and then slice each one lengthways as thinly as possible. The radishes and fennel should also be sliced very thinly.

Toss them together immediately in the seasoned lemon juice.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Season the mackerel fillets and pan fry them skin-side down for 3 minutes over a medium heat. Carefully flip the fillets over using a spatula and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Divide the rocket between two slices of bread. Add the mackerel fillets, and top with the rhubarb coleslaw. Balance the remaining slice of bread, and enjoy!

Adapted from:
Posted in Fish, Food, Lunch, Recipes, Supper | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments