Mixed spring sourdough grissini

Adventures in sourdough: pancakes and grissini

Mixed spring sourdough grissini

One of the things which seems to mark out people who care about their food is a love of proper bread. In some respects I came round to this rather late. Although we grew up enjoying bread from wee bakeries in Northern Ireland, with lovely batch loaves, bloomers, wheaten bread and more; we also ate a lot of cheap sliced loaves at home. I used to be a demon for toast, and sliced pan loaves were the only option to sate my cravings as a growing teenager.

Throughout student life cheap sliced loaves were a staple. After graduating I shared a house with a mate who never bought a loaf of pre-sliced bread. His stance wasn’t dogmatic – no deeply ingrained opposition to the Chorleywood process – he just liked half-decent bread, and the pleasure of being able to cut your own slice, to whatever thickness you desired. Thanks to him, I kicked the habit of rectangular loafs wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. Since then I’ve made an effort to try and buy decent bread (Barbakan in south Manchester was a particular inspiration), and I tempered my toast habit a bit…

Unlike Miss South I’ve never been particularly drawn to baking – a few experiments in the past led to some reasonably unimpressive loaves – and so have stuck to flatbreads, pizzas, coca bread and of course those Norn Irish staples we both grew up with. I’ve always been impressed and daunted in equal measure by tales of friends growing their own sourdough starters, but never made the leap to doing it myself.

However our mum gave me a bit of her starter earlier this year (a mother from my mother seems appropriate) and so I’ve been giving this sourdough malarky a go. I work at home, so I’ve been able to accommodate the routines of this relatively undemanding pet: feeding, stirring, growing, nurturing. Loaves have turned out pretty well, and I can relate to the satisfaction one often hears described which comes with slowly proving a loaf with rewarding, complex flavours. However there are lots of folk out there who bake sourdough bread much better than I do… so this is about other things made with sourdough instead.

Sandor Katz’s monumental ‘The Art of Fermentation’ was a recent welcome birthday present, and as I leafed through the inspiring recipes and writing I was immediately drawn to his suggesting of using up excess sourdough starter for savoury pancakes. It’s dead simple: to help stimulate your starter to grow, you need to chuck out the majority of the flour and water mix so you can feed the remainder with new supplies. Most sources advocate using it for baking, or chucking it away, but the waste-not, want-not approach which Katz outlines is great.


sourdough pancake and starter

They’ve become a firm favourite in the last few weeks, providing an easy and welcome vehicle to use up a bunch of fresh and not-quite-so-fresh things from the fridge. I love the slightly sour tang from the starter; it’s like an quick and dirty hybrid of injera and a Staffordshire oatcake, and they’re great for a quick lunch.

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Just pour out some of the sourdough ‘batter’ into a hot pan, and do like you would with traditional pancakes. Then fill, and wolf them down. Below are a couple of recent lunchtime five-minute wonders: blanched cavolo nero, diced salami and a squirt of sriracha in pancakes flecked with chives; and home-made slaw, salami and leaves. The contents are dictated only by your taste and what you have in. The only downside; roll ‘em like wraps and they disappear in no time.

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Outside, our rosemary bush has been flowering over the last few weeks. I’ve always wanted to make the most of these delicate, beautiful lilac flowers but never settled on the right option. They wilt and fade when roasted with lamb; they’re a bit much for a salad… but then I thought I’d try and pair them with smoked roast garlic and sea salt.

bumblebee on rosemary flowers

That, plus it being the tail end of wild garlic season in the Pennines, meant a making a brace of big umami-laced flavoured breadsticks. Which, oddly, don’t seem to last long in our house, especially when there’s a bottle open. Of the two, the rosemary flowers and smoked garlic was the standout for me. Well worth making…

Wild garlic, smoked garlic, rosemary flowers and sourdough mix

Spring sourdough grissini, two ways

(makes approx. 24 breadsticks)

  • 325g strong white flour
  • 150g sourdough leaven
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 220ml slight warm water
Rosemary flower, smoked roast garlic and sea salt 
  • 3-4 tablespoons of rosemary flowers (you could alternatively use dried ground rosemary leaves)
  • half a bulb of smoked garlic, roasted slowly for 40mins in an oven at approx. gas mark 4 / 180°C
  • a few tablespoons of sea salt to roll and coat the grissini in
Wild garlic, anchovy and black pepper
  • a fistful of wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets
  • fresh ground or crushed black pepper
  • olive oil

Roast the smoked garlic slowly. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool. You should be able to squeeze out the delicious garlic purée from the cloves. Chop the wild garlic leaves finely, mixing with a splash of oil and chopped anchovies in a bowl to create a paste.

Mix the flour and leaven together in a bowl, then slowly add the water. Sprinkle the teaspoons-worth of salt in as you add the water. Mix roughly in the bowl, then leave for ten minutes. After ten minutes, divide into two equal portions, and work each separately. It should be slightly wet and sticky.

Mix the rosemary flowers into one of the portions in a bowl, then add the roasted garlic purée. Knead and mix until the ingredients look evenly distributed, and you can feel the dough changing in your hands. I slap it around briefly for a few minutes, then left it, before returning after a suitable length of time (preferably at least 4 hours). The mix will have risen slightly and proved well.

With the other, stir in the wild garlic mix. You may find you need to add extra flour as the water from the wild garlic leaves makes the dough more liquid. Mix as above until it’s uniformly green and has changed texture, then leave as above.

When the proving has completed, divide each in half, roll into a rough sausage shape, and then divide further into six equally-sized pieces. Roll these pieces, one by one, between your hand to make long breadstick shapes. Be careful they don’t snap… and don’t sweat it if they are uneven. They should look pleasingly rustic. Keep each dusted lightly in flour, and place on a dusted baking tray.

I sprinkled sea salt on a baking tray and rolled the rosemary and smoked garlic grissini in these, so the crystals stuck roughly to the dough.

Bake in batches for 12-15mins in a pre-heated oven at 220°C / Gas Mark 7. Check to see they’ve firmed up and taken some colour. They should be firm enough to break rather than tear. Leave to cool, then enjoy with a drink or two!

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Two very different Christmas leftover soups

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Happy New Year! Well, that’s Christmas over for another year. The tree’s gone, the decorations are down, and the last hints of spice in the air are fading fast. Miss South and I made the most of the season in our respective locations… both making Christmas puddings for the first time; cooking up a great main meal and seasonal accompaniments; and getting creative with leftovers. After all, getting good mileage from leftovers is one of the best things about the holiday season, isn’t it?

Here are two recipes for Christmas leftover soups, based on main dishes we’ve previously posted about over Christmas. Both have proved their worth (and have been road-tested with others) and provide a good way of taking your leftovers in a different direction. After all, If you’re going to splash out on a large cut of meat, make sure you make the most of everything around it… from boiling liquid to bones. You can’t beat a warming soup in winter: it’s the best form of central heating around, and a great way to make ingredients and flavours go a bit further. Whether it’s a thick, hearty black pea and spiced beef soup, or the exotic joys of a fragranced Vietnamese-style pho bo, you should find something to whet your appetite.

Black pea and spiced beef broth (serves 6-8)

Black pea & spiced beef soup

Although it’s not based on a traditional recipe, this is a very northern dish in heritage and at heart. It’s got mixed Irish and Lancashire parentage, but I reckon a variation on this would feel equally at home in large swathes of Nordic or Eastern Europe too. It’d certainly keep the cold at bay. The spiced beef I used here followed our previously published recipe, which was based on Niamh Shields’. It’s established itself as a family tradition over the last three years!

We’re predisposed to pair pulses and pork on the blog as they’re natural BFFs, but here the sensuous spiced notes and savoury stock of the beef and its broth work really well with the dusky black peas* (not black-eyed peas).

Miss South and I first experienced black peas, parkin and cinder toffee on Bonfire night on a farm above Rochdale in the mid 1990s; that combination of frosty air and scaldingly-hot peas was a happy and formative memory for us both. When I moved to Manchester a few years later I visited Bury market and enjoyed the pleasures of a styrofoam cup of peas and black pudding on a winter morning (tip: you can fashion a spoon from a black pud link by biting the end off strategically).

Dried black peas

*Black peas (aka maple or pigeon peas) are a bit of a rarity outside of East Lancs and the South Pennines, and I’m conscious many readers might not’ve heard of them before. They’re delicious, and deserve to be better known. They’re on sale just over the West Yorkshire border here in Todmorden around Bonfire Night, but you might struggle to get them out of season, never mind outside the region. Even most of my books on regional British specialities (Andrew Webb, David Mabey, Laura Mason & Catherine Brown etc) don’t mention them; and while Mark Hix does in ‘British Regional Food’, he mentions the Lancashire black or parched pea alongside a differently cooked Lenten ‘carling’ or ‘carlin’ from Tyneside and the North East. (if you want to know much more about black peas, I’d suggest this well-researched and comprehensive piece here).

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh chilli
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 litres stock / liquid from boiling the spiced beef brisket
  • 250g dried black peas (you can substitute with marrowfat or other dried peas, but the taste is quite different)
  • 6 medium sized potatoes (I used Maris Pipers)
  • (optional) salt and pepper to taste
  • A sprinkle of finely sliced beef per person
  • A dollop of sour cream

This recipe assumes you’ve cooked the spiced beef already. Ensure you retain all the liquid you’ve boiled the beef in: it should last, properly covered in a cool place, for a few days. You may want to strain it through a fine sieve or some muslin, as you’ll likely get some bits from the ground spices at the bottom of the pan.

Start the day before, by soaking the black peas in a large bowl, covered in water with plenty of room for them to swell up. Add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to help soften them. Leave the peas to soak overnight. In the morning, rinse them well.

I had around 3 litres of stock from boiling up the spiced beef: I reduced this by a third so it was more intense. It was quite savoury; with the sugar, salt and spices really coming through strongly. I was concerned it’d be too strong, but those wee peas soak up liquid and flavour.

Cover the previously-drained peas with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and then boil hard for 10 minutes, before simmering for a further 30 minutes. Meanwhile sauté the finely chopped red onion and chilli slowly in a heavy-based pan, so it softens and starts to melt down.

Rather than continue to simmer the beans on the hob, I decided to make the soup itself in the slow cooker, but you could easily keep it in a pan. However making meltingly soft black peas is particularly good in the slow cooker as it’s self-contained and cheap as chips to run for hours. I left everything bubble for a few hours, then threw in the peeled, chopped potatoes for 30 minutes. Once they’d softened and cooked, I used a hand blender to process the soup, keeping it rough and textured rather than a smooth purée. Another 20 or so minutes just to soften everything down, and it’s ready to ladle into bowls.

Ideally serve with a dollop of soured cream, and sprinkle with chopped matchsticks of the leftover spiced beef on top. Garnish with some finely chopped chives or some flat-leaf parsley for a dash of colour.

Pho bo (generously serves 4)

Home-made pho bo

My first taste of a decent pho was when Miss South took me to one of the Vietnamese places on the Kingsland Road in London about ten years ago. I’d heard it was one of the best breakfasts known to mankind, and I was smitten on the first slurp. I’ve been going to Vnam Café on Oldham Road in Manchester since it opened to get my hit in the north, but making your own is extremely satisfying, and a great way to get the most from beef bones. In fact this was so good we made it twice within the space of a fortnight last Christmas (as my girlfriend and I had two family Christmas meals; one in Manchester, the other in Belfast). Both times we used beef forerib which we’d roasted as a joint for the main meal. This is the kind of recipe which can certainly improve with specialist ingredients, such as Thai basil, but we didn’t adhere strictly to this prescribed recipe either time, and it tasted fantastic. I’d defy anyone to turn their nose up at this after a night on the tiles over the Christmas period. Just don’t plan a big lunch if you have it for breakfast…

It’s based on this recipe which I suggest you follow; I’ve added some personal notes below. I’ve enjoyed Andrea Nguyen’s Viet World Kitchen blog for years, but it was her recipe for pho which prompted me to finally buy her wonderful book ‘Into the Vietnamese Kitchen’, which I can highly recommend. Her additional tips on making pho are as useful as the main recipe. However there’s no set rule for making this soup, so feel free to substitute or ad lib if required.

Ingredients

For the broth

  • Beef bones (in this case, from fore rib, but anything large and preferably with marrow is good)
  • some nuggets of fat from the beef
  • 300g brisket or similar beef cut
  • 2 mid-size onions, halved
  • 6-8cm ginger, sliced lengthways
  • 5 star anise
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons rock salt
  • 3 tablespoons rock or palm sugar

For the finished bowls

  • Noodles (ideally flat rice sticks, but we used rice vermicelli first time, and something like dried ramen next)
  • Fresh mint and coriander leaves, torn roughly
  • Beansprouts
  • Birds-eye chillies, sliced thinly
  • Beef (we cut thin slices from the cooked rare rib meat, and poured the hot broth over)
  • Scallions (spring onions), sliced and briefly blanched to take the edge off them
  • Limes, cut into wedges
A key tip for the start; char your ginger and onions. Slice them, then hold them over the gas flame on your hob until they char nicely round the edges. This gives a lovely richness to the broth. Then add salt, spices, sugar, fish sauce, bones and the cut of braising beef to the pot. First time I made this, I used normal granulated sugar. Second time, at our mum’s, we used rock sugar…and it was so much better. Alternatively you could use some panela, or at least some sticky muscovado to give more depth and aroma to the sweetness in the broth.
Bones, beef, salt. sugar and spice

First time, I used the slow cooker to make the broth overnight to allow all the flavours a chance to meld and mix wonderfully. Plus, the aroma you’ll wake up to is something else! At our mum’s we simmered the stock for several hours in the evening in a cast iron casserole, then let it cool overnight, before giving it some more time in the morning. This quicker cooking time was balanced out by being able to use more beef bones, giving a richer stock. However if you can, use the slow cooker for maximum flavour impact!

Strain the dark, delicious broth to remove any bits of spices and aromatics. You’re wanting to retain just the liquid. If you’ve used any braising cuts of meat in the stock you can retain it ready for a sandwich, shredded. Then put the broth back on the heat to keep warm.

The magic of pho for me is that tantalising counterplay between the slowly simmered, aromatic broth and the crispy fresh ingredients in the bowls. It’s bright and fresh, yet deep and complex. So ten minutes before you’re ready to serve, cook your noodles til al dente; then douse them in iced water to arrest their cooking further. Place them at the bottom of a deep, wide bowl; then add bean sprouts for crunch (I’ve also added mandolin’d carrot for brightness and bite). Add the meat, then pour over the hot broth. Let each diner garnish accordingly with fresh herbs, slices of chilli and scallion, and perhaps a squeeze of lime juice to taste. Happy slurping! Read more

Three Leaf Saag Aloo

kale alooThis is a saag aloo in the proper sense as it isn’t just spinach but slow cooked spiced potatoes with kohlrabi leaves, beetroot tops and kale. Or basically ‘the perfect dish for this time of year’. Fresh from all those greens, but warming with the spices and just the right side of stodge with the spuds, it’s early autumn in a dish.

I am not very good with what we think of as Indian food in this country (although I know we combine Bangladeshi and Pakistani food under that umbrella term as well.) We rarely ate much Indian food as when we were growing up and I’ve always found the taste of the generic curry powder or paste rather cloying. I also don’t like cumin, fenugreek or turmeric. And to top it all off, the only time I’ve ever been to a curry house was when I’d just started at university and it was a crash course in chilli oneupmanship, 19 year old boys drinking beer and girls worrying about calories. We only left to go to the Bonfire Night parade in Lewes and the naked anti Catholic sentiment there really didn’t make my korma sit well. Read more

Autumn Sesame Slaw

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For some reason the word ‘slaw‘ seems to enrage people who demand to know when we stopped just saying ‘coleslaw’ and muttering about hipsters. I, for one, welcome the arrival of slaw. It tends to mean freshly prepared vegetables filled with colour and flavour instead of that limp mayonnaise-sodden white and orange woodchip style salad of the 80s and 90s. If hipsters have made that occurrence less likely, then I’m all for it.

This recipe is definitely a slaw. There’s no cabbage in it so it can’t be coleslaw by that token. It’s a bright mix of kohlrabi, beetroot, carrot and apple, packed with flavour and a colour reminiscent of soon to be falling leaves. Lightly tossed in tahini and yoghurt and scattered with sesame seeds, we ate a batch of it in a friend’s garden on the last summer night of the season and then I tucked into more on the first cool wet day we’ve had. It worked perfectly for both.

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One Mangetout at a Time

25 mussels

I think we all know how I felt about Jamie’s comments about poor people in Britain, but just before I fell asleep, I panicked and jolted awake in horror. What if he was right and me writing off Sicilian peasant cuisine in south west London was short sighted? After all, my mantra about food poverty is that there is no one size fits all answer to such a complex problem and there was me, who does have a market just up the road ignoring the advice.

Luckily it was Wednesday ,when any batch cooking from the weekend tends to have run out, since I have a rule to only eat 2 portions of anything and freeze the rest so I don’t put myself off my staples and keep food enjoyable. I was also feeling well enough to get out of the house before half day closing in Brixton market to buy mussels, cherry tomatoes, pasta and those mangetout that attracted so much attention.

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