Category Archives: nuts

summer three-bean pesto

three beans




2014_07233107140013This summer has brought with it optimum growing conditions – a combination of warmth, plenty of sunshine, and a reasonable frequency of showers has resulted in a glorious abundance of produce in the fields, hedgerows, and gardens.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been almost overwhelmed with both wild and homegrown fruits – and still they keep coming! My jam store has never looked so bountiful.

But in the past fortnight or so, we’ve started to reap a large harvest of beans, too. After a shaky start following a slug onslaught, plus a couple of worrying days and nights of storms, the runner beans have been doing very well, and the broad beans have now largely caught up with them. Add to those a few peas, and we have the makings of quite a bean fest.

Given the amount of time I’ve spent lately making jam over a hot stove, the last thing I feel like doing in the evenings is expending much effort for dinner. A simple pesto, full of summer flavours, is often just the ticket. But there’s no reason why it should be made just with herbs. Why not try beans for a change?

Here’s how I make mine. You’ll need a small handful each of fresh broad beans, runner beans, and peas. Blanch them by tipping them into a pan of vigorously boiling water for one minute, and then draining and plunging them into ice-cold water. This will perk up their colour and help prevent spoiling.

Then put the beans in food processor, and add half a peeled garlic clove to the cold beans, grated parmesan (or Lord of the Hundreds – a Sussex cheese closely resembling parmesan), chopped walnuts, a generous pour of good quality olive oil (or rapeseed, if you want to stay local), parsley and mint, sea salt and black pepper, and a dash of lemon juice – all to taste. (Don’t be tempted to overdo the garlic – raw garlic is both pungent and rather astringent, and can ruin an otherwise delicious pesto if used overenthusiastically.) Blitz until you have your preferred texture. Taste, and then tweak your ingredients, if necessary, for the balance of flavours you’re after.

As with ‘normal’ pesto, it’s great with pasta, but it’s try it with other foods, too – it’s delicious stirred into new potatoes, for example, or as a dip for flatbreads. Experiment!

chestnut, mushroom, and bean ‘cassoulet’

Since the weather is beginning to get distinctly nippy now, and I’m delving into my wardrobe for properly warm jumpers, it seems that it’s also time to start pulling out some suitably wintry recipes from my archives.

At this time of year, a combination of meat and root vegetables – in a stew or casserole – is a fine way to fend off the cold. But, more and more frequently these days, I’m asked for a vegetarian alternative. The following reworking of a French cassoulet is a wonderful meal for non-meat eaters and carnivores alike. I’ve been making it for twenty-odd years now, and on every occasion I’ve made it, the meat lovers have lapped it up just as quickly as the vegetarians!

It’s full of robust earthy and slightly sweet (from the chestnuts) flavours and needs nothing more to go with it than a green or bitter-leaf salad and some fresh bread to mop up any leftover juices.

450g tinned cannellini or flageolet beans (or a mix of both), drained
150ml olive oil (NOT extra virgin)
4tbsp tomato purée
1 medium onion, studded with cloves
1 garlic clove, crushed
large pinch dried oregano
large pinch dried thyme
2 bay leaves
100g vac-packed chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet, available from most supermarkets)
half a head of fennel, or 3 celery sticks, chopped
225g button mushrooms
1 large beefsteak tomato, chopped
1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
1.5 tbsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Tip the beans into a large pan or flameproof casserole. Add the oil, tomato purée, onion, garlic, herbs, and bay leaves, and enough cold water to cover the whole lot completely.

Bring to the boil on a hob for 15 minutes, then cover and turn the heat down, and simmer away over a very low heat for 2 to 2.5 hours.

Remove from the heat. Take out and discard the onion. Add the chestnuts to the pan with the fennel (or celery), mushrooms, tomato, sugar, salt and pepper. Continue to cook for another hour or so until the juices have thickened nicely, but the cassoulet has not turned dry. Serve with bread and salad.

‘haggis and neeps’

If I had to live anywhere other than Kent, the chances are that it would be Scotland. I lived there for a year back in the nineties, and came close to moving there 5 years ago. There’s something about the landscape that draws me in – from the Gothic grey of urban buildings to the rich green and purple hues and spectacular vistas of the countryside.

And then, of course, there’s the food. Scotland plays to my weaknesses for big flavours and hearty sustenance. I have fond memories of – to name only a few – mutton pies, Fife haddock, Caboc cheese, and all manner of sweet baked treats. None of it was good for the waistline, but it was mighty good for the soul.

At this time of year, of course, it’s all about Burns, haggis, neeps, and tatties – and the obligatory whisky. It’s not for the faint hearted, but then why would it be? As Burns himself said, the Scots aren’t the type for lily-livered food. Instead, “Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care, and dish them out their bill o’ fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware that jaups in luggies: but, if ye wish her grateful prayer, gie her a Haggis!”

I may be Kentish, but I commend that spirit.

But just in case you can’t eat a whole one, or you’re not mad on the texture of haggis, here’s a variation on the theme. I’ve used turnips for ‘neeps’. I know there’s an ongoing debate about whether neeps comprise swede or turnips, and I confess that I typically eat the former with haggis – but here, turnips work far better. The idea is that they make a dip along the lines of the Greek skordalia. If you want more punch to it, leave the garlic raw.

‘Haggis and neeps’ (for 2)

1 small haggis, cooked as per instructions, and left to cool
A bowl of 2 beaten eggs
A bowl of plain flour, seasoned
A bowl of white breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil , enough for deep frying

4 turnips, peeled, boiled, and left to steam and cool, then mashed
8 peeled garlic cloves, poached for 5 minutes in milk, then mashed
Ground almonds
Olive or rapeseed oil
Lemon juice, a squeeze
Salt and black pepper

Get the turnips ready first. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the turnips, garlic, and ground almonds together. Add the ground almonds to your taste and texture preference – you will probably need up to 50g or so. Then add a little olive oil to loosen. Finally, add a pinch of salt and a generous twist of black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste, and adjust the flavours as necessary. Don’t stint on the pepper – turnips love it!

For the haggis, heat a deep pan, wok, or fryer filled with vegetable oil – it’s ready when a small piece of bread turns golden brown in a matter of seconds.

Using your hands, scoop up some of the cooled haggis, and roll it into a ball – aim for golf ball size. If it’s too wet, and keeps breaking up, add some breadcrumbs, and use an egg yolk to bind the mixture. Repeat until you’ve got as many balls as you want to eat.

Lower the balls into the hot oil – don’t overcrowd the pan, so fry in batches if necessary. They should turn golden within a minute or so. Remove from the pan, and drain onto kitchen towel.

Eat and enjoy while crisp and hot, with the neeps dip. Wash down with a wee dram of whisky.

wild mushroom and cob nut galette

With all the upcoming Christmas festivities in prospect, it’s time to make sure that everyone’s catered for. Delicious in its own right, but particularly perfect for a non meat-eater at Christmas, this mushroom and cob nut ‘galette’ is simple to make and full of seasonal flavours.

If you’re quick, it’s still possible to get hold of Kentish cob nuts for Christmas from Farnell Farm or Potash Farm. You can use hazelnuts instead, but cob nuts have a much richer, creamier, and – dare I say – nuttier hit that’s worth going the extra mile for. Similarly, although I prefer wild mushrooms, you can happily use other well-flavoured mushrooms instead, such as chestnut or portabello.

This recipe is a much simplified adaptation of one by the Irish food writer and restaurateur, Denis Cotter, from ‘Wild Garlic, Gooseberries, and Me’. If you want to try your hand at more unusual vegetarian food, or if you’re looking for a Christmas present for a keen cook, then I thoroughly recommend any of Cotter’s books.

Anyway, to the recipe… It may look a little fiddly, but it’s really quite straightforward and quick to make. Serves 4.

300g or so wild mushrooms, coarsely chopped
100g cob nuts, coarsely chopped
1 large celeriac, peeled
100g mascarpone
small bunch flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
400ml red wine
200ml passata
1 tsp brown sugar
2 sprigs thyme
about 50g butter
seasoning, to taste

First, make the red wine and passata sauce. Put the red wine, passata, thyme, and sugar in a saucepan, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, and leave to simmer until reduced by half. Remove the thyme. Set aside.

Slice the celeriac as thinly as possible, and trim to the size and shape you want (mine were about 7cm squared). Shallow fry the slices, one at a time, in hot oil until tender and golden. Drain on kitchen roll and set aside.

In a large frying pan, heat a generous knob of butter until it begins to foam. Add the mushrooms to the pan, and sauté briskly over a high heat, until cooked and browned. Add the chopped parsley and 1 chopped sprig of thyme leaves right at the end of the cooking, and stir in.

Leave to cool slightly, and then add the mascarpone and chopped cob nuts, and mix in until properly incorporated. Season the mixture to taste.

Layer the galette, starting with a slice of celeriac, then a mushroom and cob nut layer, and so on, finishing with a slice of celeriac.

Reheat the red wine and tomato sauce, and whisk in a small knob of cold butter, so that the sauce becomes glossy. Carefully spoon it around the galette. Serve!

apple, butternut squash, ginger, and cobnut trifle

After a couple of hearty courses, the thought of a hefty pudding often defeats me. But a trifle… well, a trifle can always tempt me!

At this time of year, though, it seems fitting to make a version that’s in keeping with the seasons, rather than using frozen berries for a summer trifle, or rushing into clementines and sherry for a traditional Christmas or winter style one.

So here’s my offering. A late autumnal trifle using local apples, butternut squash, and my favourite Kentish cobnuts. It is simple to make, and utterly delicious. If nothing else (and if you’re not a trifle fan), I urge you to make the butternut squash sponge as an alternative to the more usual carrot cake.

You will need (for 4 people):

Apple purée – 3 or 4 large Bramleys, chopped. Put them in a saucepan with a splash of water and sugar to taste (a couple of tablespoons or so). Cook until the apples have become purée and all the water has disappeared.

For the butternut squash and ginger sponge – I simply used this recipe as my basis, and added 3 finely chopped balls of ginger in syrup. And, instead of using muffin tins, I poured the cake batter into a 20 x 20cm square tin. The result is a flattish sponge, perfect for cutting up and using in trifle. Soak the sponge in your preferred alcohol – I’d suggest dry cider or brandy.

For the custard: use your preferred recipe. A custard which incorporates cornflour, for a thicker, more stable custard, is ideal when making trifle. I also added a couple of spoonfuls of ginger syrup to mine.

Double cream: you’ll need however much you want – whipped until it reaches firm peak stage.

Cobnuts: a couple of generous handfuls, roasted in a warm oven (180C) for about 15 minutes. When the nuts have cooled, rub them between your hands to rid them of the as much of the skins as possible. Then chop coarsely.

Assemble your trifle however you like, but finishing with a layer of the whipped cream and a topping of chopped cobnuts.

an Autumn feast

Autumn. It’s when we come over all ‘season of mists’ as the final leaves fall from the trees and the mornings start to have a distinct chill to them.

As we approach the end of November, summer and harvest festivals already seem a long time past. There are still several weeks to go until Christmas. And yet… it’s a wonderful time for the food lover, bringing as it does new crops of comforting fruit and vegetables alongside the last throes of earlier seasonal ingredients.

It seems an ideal time, then, for a celebration – a feast to brighten the longer, dark evenings, to make the very best of autumnal produce, and to mark a kind of midpoint between harvest time and Christmas.

I suppose ‘feast’ conjures visions of lavish expense, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Since we moved to our current house 2 years ago, I’ve been constantly surprised at how much we can grow (and I’m no expert!) for ourselves, and how much we save on food shopping expenditure as a result. We don’t have a large garden, but we’ve put in small fruit trees where we can, dug out a couple of dedicated vegetable patches, and planted a lot of herbs and fruit bushes in the borders.

Growing our own also means I’ve become even more aware of seasonality and the rhythms of the year, and how much better everything genuinely looks and tastes when it’s grown at the ‘right’ time. As I say, I don’t regard myself as a gardener, but I can’t imagine not growing my own now.

Anyway, enough talking, and more feasting. What follows is 3 courses, but I’ll be blogging about pre- and post-prandial nibbles and drinks shortly, just in time for Christmas! And for those who don’t eat meat, I’ll post alternatives to the starter and main course soon, too.

To start: pan-fried mackerel with fennel and mint slaw, orange, and pomegranate

Next: roast mallard with red wine-poached pears, roasted celeriac, parsnips, wild mushrooms, and sautéed kale

To finish: butternut squash, apple, ginger, and roasted cobnut trifle

If you want help with planning a garden design that will give you your own seasonal fruit and vegetables to feast on, it’s worth thinking about getting expert help. Floral & Hardy specialises in contemporary garden design and tailors gardens to meet the needs of the consumer. They take on many challenging gardens of all sizes and have an expert team who work out how to use space effectively.

With thanks to Floral & Hardy for their kind sponsorship of this post.

roast cobnut torte

Well, Autumn seems to have come around very quickly this year, and almost as soon as I’d got used to the sight of our wonderful Kentish cobnuts, they’re disappearing again…

I’m just about at the end of my small stash of golden cobnuts now, but I thought I’d make the most of them by putting them in a torte all of their own. If you haven’t got any cobnuts, hazelnuts are a good alternative.

Roast cobnut torte
250g shelled and lightly roasted cobnuts
120g butter, softened
250g light brown sugar
4 medium eggs, separated

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.

Put the nuts in a food processor and pulse until they are the size and consistency of breadcrumbs.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until thoroughly blended, and then stir in the pulsed nuts.

Add the yolks to the cobnut mix one at a time, stirring them in gently until incorporated.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold one third of the whites into the nut mixture, to loosen it. Then carefully fold in the remainder of the whites.

Pour into a greased and lined 22cm cake tin, and bake for about an hour (but test it sooner, to allow for variations in oven temperatures). The torte is ready when a skewer or knife comes out clean.

Serve with apple purée stirred through yogurt, or with crème fraîche – the torte is quite sweet, so you need something with tang! Either that, or a good, strong cup of coffee.

green walnut liqueur

I imagine that walnuts probably wouldn’t top many people’s lists of best-known Kentish produce, but nevertheless, they’ve been growing here for hundreds of years. Archaeological records suggest that the Romans may have been eating walnuts (along with filberts, or cob nuts), and we know from Aelfric’s (Archbishop of Canterbury) writings that from grafting was introduced around the sixth century AD to improve walnut and fruit orchards.

But in recent years, it’s cob nuts that have been enjoying a revival of interest, whereas walnuts have struggled to claim their share of the limelight. Still, that may yet change. Cob nut farms, such as Potash and Hurstwood Farms, are actively growing walnuts now, and sales of walnut trees to the public have been on the increase, too, perhaps boosted by our ever-milder climate.

I love the versatility of walnuts. You can use them green, ‘wet’, and dried, and they’re really not just for Christmas! (In fact, I usually find dried Christmas walnuts pretty disappointing – much more enjoyable, to my mind, are creamy, sweet, and tender wet walnuts. Do try them if you’ve never been convinced by the dried ones.) Kent-based condiment producer, Opie’s, pickles wet walnuts – and they’re a big seller. If not eating them raw, I use walnuts principally in sauces and baking, and but this year, when I found 3 old trees growing about half a mile from my house, I wanted to try something different. Spurred on by fellow Kent Twitterer and supperclub chef, @emwilco, I thought I’d have a go at making a Mediterranean favourite – green walnut liqueur.

Apart from the rather hazardous task of chopping green walnuts, making the liqueur couldn’t be much easier (this recipe from Paris-based food writer, David Lebovitz, was the one I opted for). It’s the waiting for it to be ready – about 2 months from now – that’s going to be the problem…

Kentish cob nut and carrot top pesto

It’s at this time of year that I tend to make pesto out of almost anything fresh, green, and leafy – not just herbs, but beet greens, radish tops, spinach… you name it. So when @CarlLegge tweeted brief details of a version that he’d made from carrot tops, I felt compelled to try it for myself.

carrot top pesto 1

But since I have a kitchen filled with Kentish ingredients, the challenge of tweaking Carl’s recipe to make a more local version also tickled my fancy. And, of course, its adaptability is in any case part of pesto’s appeal. Ask a hundred Italians, and you will hear a hundred different methods of making the stuff!

I also decided to keep the carrot tops raw in order to harness as much of their essence as possible. Together with the sweet golden Kent-grown cob nuts, cold-pressed buttery rapeseed oil from north Kent (Quex Estate), and umami-tangy Lord of the Hundreds cheese (which tastes somewhere between Parmesan and pecorino, and is made in East Sussex), my version makes for a fragrant and wonderfully flavoursome pesto which captures all the goodness of summer’s carrots.

carrot top pesto 2

Kentish cob nut and carrot top pesto (serves 4)
(I give inexact quantities quite deliberately. For me, pesto is all about playing with your ingredients until you achieve the flavour and texture you prefer.)

A large handful of fresh, well-washed carrot tops (about 100g) – they need to be as fresh as possible, as older tops will introduce an unwelcome bitterness. Discard any particularly thick stems, as they will be overly fibrous
A handful of shelled cob nuts (about 50 – 75g)
About 75g or so of Lord of the Hundreds, or any cheese similar to Parmesan or pecorino
As much rapeseed oil as you need for your preferred consistency – probably 150-200ml or so
Half a garlic clove
Sea salt and black pepper

Roughly chop the carrot tops and garlic, and put them in a food processor together with the cob nuts, cheese, oil, and seasoning.

(Note – if you want a more toasted flavour to the pesto, pre-roast the nuts for about 20 mins in the oven at about 160C, or by ‘frying’ them in a pan on the hob for a few minutes. Watch them very carefully, though – once they start releasing their oils, they burn very quickly.)

Pulse until you have pesto! As Carl says, be prepared to scrape down the processor every so often to ensure everything is properly blended. Taste as you go along and adjust the quantities of your ingredients to suit. You may also want to add a squirt of lemon juice at the end.

If you don’t eat it immediately, spoon the pesto into a jar, and seal it with a layer of more oil – half a centimetre should be fine. This will stop the pesto deteriorating and will help it retain its colour.

carrot top pesto 3

Use as you would do ‘normal’ pesto. With pasta is probably the obvious choice, but I also like to stir a couple of tablespoons through puy lentils, served with (confit) roast pork belly.

The original, slightly shorter version of this post first appeared in Permaculture online.