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Lamb Ciste

Lamb CisteTucking into some boiled mutton last week simply gave me more of a taste for lamb and made me determined to try this traditional Irish recipe for Easter.

A lamb ciste* (pronounced with a hard C) is the biggest festival of meat I’ve seen in a long time and I think we all know I am pure carnivore these days. You layer lamb chops and lamb kidneys with lamb mince and then top it all with a topping of suet pastry and put your hands over the eyes of any passing vegetarians just in case.

I have never heard of the dish before stumbling across it on a random online search for slow cooked dishes and I have no idea if it’s actually that traditional or Irish, but I can tell you that it’s utterly brilliant in every single way.

I used shoulder chops, made the mince rich with a gravy using stock from the boiled mutton and then baked it all in the oven to give that perfect chewy lightness that only suet can give pastry. I served it as Easter lunch and it was fantastic and very easy to make in advance.

Lamb Ciste (serves 6)

  • 8 lamb shoulder or saddle chops
  • 750g lamb mince
  • 3 lamb’s kidneys (optional)
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 150g celeriac or 3 sticks celery, diced
  • 1 onion, diced (if not fodmapping)
  • 150g swede, diced (turnip for our Scottish and Norn Iron chums)
  • 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • 200ml lamb stock
  • 3 anchovies
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 450g plain flour
  • 250g suet (not the ‘veggie’ stuff)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 250ml milk

I made the meat part of this the night before and the suet pastry just before serving as it works best freshly made. It made for a really easy and impressive Sunday lunch which required little effort beyond opening a bottle of something fizzy while it cooked.

Season the lamb chops well and seal in a hot frying pan for about 3 minutes each side. Rest in the dish you intend to serve the ciste in.

Seal the lamb mince in the same frying pan you used for the chops. You might need to do it in two batches to stop it from boiling in its own fat instead of sizzling.

Once it’s about halfway cooked, drain the fat off and then put all the lamb mince together in the same pan and scatter in the tablespoons of plain flour, the anchovies and Worcestershire sauce. Add the lamb stock and allow the mince to thicken into the gravy. Season well.

Tip it all into a bowl and pour the reserved fat back into the frying pan and soften the diced vegetables in it for about 15 minutes. Add the lamb to them all and mix well. Take off the heat

Core the white part out of the kidneys and cut each one into 4 pieces and stir through the lamb mince mix. Spread the mince mix over the top of the lamb chops and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight if needed.

Allow the meat to come back to room temperature next day and allow the oven to heat to 180C. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl along with the salt and pepper, mustard and suet and baking powder. Add the milk half at a time and bring the dough together until it just comes together cleanly.

Roll it out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 3/4 inch thick and big enough to roughly cover the dish you are using. Drape over the dish and pull any overhanging bits off and patch them onto any gaps. Brush it all with a bit of milk.

Bake for 45 minutes and then turn the heat to 200C for ten minutes to give the top a golden sheen. Serve immediately. Your lamb chops should still be slightly pink if they are quite thick but the mince and kidneys will be smooth and rich.

I served mine with roast potatoes and parsnips but honestly I think some peas or kale would be more apt as it’s a very rich dish. We had generous lunch portions and I had three decent goes at leftovers too. I might have finally reached my lamb limit (for this week at least) but my mince love is back in action for sure!

This post was inspired by #livepeasant for Simply Beef and Lamb. *And I’m told by the fantastic Wholesome Ireland that ciste in Irish means ‘treasure chest’ which fits this dish beautifully!

 Irish Lamb Ciste

Pastiera or Easter Ricotta Tart

pastiera whole I really admire those organised food bloggers who manage to post seasonal recipes before the event. I’m not quite sure what their secret is, but when it comes to Christmas or Easter or Halloween, I need to find out because I’m posting a recipe for the classic Easter dish of pastiera a week late instead.

The good news though is that it’s only a traditional Easter dish if you hail from Naples so technically there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make it in the next few weeks if you like the sound of it. Pastiera is made from pastry filled with cooked wheatberries, eggs and ricotta flavoured with cinnamon, candied peel and orange blossom water and it tastes deliciously of springtime sunshine and light evenings. It’s also much easier to make than I originally expected.

I had difficulty getting wheatberries or grano cotto so I used pearl barley instead. Several recipes suggested using cooked rice as well and I think it would be a wonderful way to use up leftover rice pudding. You do need to make the pastiera a day in advance to allow the flavours to combine but as I am not a proper Neapolitan nonna I didn’t take the traditional three days to create mine. Make it on a Saturday night before tucking in for Sunday lunch for something a bit different. I won’t tell if you don’t.

Pastiera (adapted from this Food 52 recipe here)

  • 250g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 150g cold butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 30ml ice cold water
  • 100g pearl barley (uncooked weight)
  • 250ml milk
  • 50ml cream
  • 100g candied peel
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 350ml ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 200g sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • generous pinch of sea salt
  • icing sugar to serve

Begin by making the ricotta filling for the pastiera. Wisdom has it that freshly cracked eggs make it rise so you need to rest them overnight. I wasn’t that organised, but I did find that chilling the mixture for at least an hour made it easier to handle so don’t skip that stage.

Beat the ricotta, whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and orange blossom water together well with a fork. It will be alarmingly liquid at this stage and you’ll panic that you’ve done something wrong. You haven’t. Chill it in the fridge and it thickens nicely.

Next make  your pastry. I always always use Dan Lepard’s recipe for it and despite not being especially pastry confident, it works best for me. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until it disappears well. Beat the egg yolks into the water and add to the flour, mixing it in well. Combine to make a surprisingly soft and wet dough and then wrap it and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the barley for the filling by covering it with cold water and bringing to the boil. Skim any froth off the top and cook for about 20 minutes. Reserve the cooking water to make your own version of barley water, but drain the barley well before returning it to the pan.

This time add the milk and the candied peel and simmer it gently until the barley thickens into a porridgey texture and the fruit swells slightly. This took about 5 minutes for me. Take it off the heat and add the cream and lemon zest and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.

Flour your work surface well and then roll out your pastry to fit a 9 or 10 inch springform cake tin. Don’t cut the overhang yet and allow the pastry to chill for 20 minutes more in the fridge.

Combine the barley with the ricotta mix and stir it all together well. It will, frankly, look unappetising in colour in texture. Ignore the nagging voice that tells you this was a bad idea. It wasn’t. Carry on making it and  preheat the oven to 200℃.

Pour the barley ricotta mix into the chilled pastry shell and trim the overhang on the pastry neatly. Lay strips of pastry across the top of the pastiera to make a lattice effect, sticking them on with the leftover egg whites if needs be. Mine sank a bit as I think I cut them too wide and therefore too heavy. But it was nearly midnight at this stage and I didn’t care.

Bake the pastiera for 60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the pastry is biscuity beige. You need to turn it half way through to make sure the colouration is even on both sides if you are bothered by such things. Take it out and cool completely in the tin.

Chill until needed and then remove from the tin. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve in slices. The filling is surprisingly light in texture but is is quite rich so do what we did and start with small slices and work up to seconds. The pastiera will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. I loved the flavour of the cinnamon and orange blossom water together as both were subtle but effective. It made a lovely change from chocolate or marzipan Easter treats!

pastiera slice

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns

hot cross bunsI used to be very strict about only eating hot cross buns on Good Friday as tradition dictated and then Marks and Spencer brought out their limited edition chocolate and caramel ones and I had to start cramming as many in as possible in a short space of time to make the most.

This year, they don’t seem to be doing this variety at all and I am highly disgruntled. I had a little sulk and then I tried the stem ginger ones to see if they hit the spot. They didn’t, so I decided I would revisit one of the very first things I blogged and make my own hot cross buns instead of waiting for someone else to fulfil my baked goods needs.

They were going to be dark chocolate and ginger and then I realised that I didn’t have any crystallised ginger, but I did have a big bag of prunes and what goes together better than chocolate and prunes? The recipe is adapted from Dan Lepard’s Spiced Stout Buns which are actually very easy to make despite what I thought a few years ago as a novice baker.

Dark Chocolate and Prune Hot Cross Buns (makes 18)

  • 325ml warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fast acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 875g plain flour
  • 50ml dark rum or brandy
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 250g prunes, stoned and chopped
  • 250g mixed dried fruit
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 50g melted butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 200ml cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

You need to start the buns the night before. Measure out 325g of the flour into a large bowl along with the yeast, spices and warm water and mix it all well together. Cover with a clean teatowel and leave to prove overnight.

In another bowl , put the chopped prunes (I cut mine into pieces just bigger than the raisins) and your dried fruit. I used a hotchpotch of raisins, golden sultanas, currants and candied peel. Add the booze and the golden syrup and allow the fruit to soak up their flavours overnight

Next morning, melt your butter and add it and the egg to the fruit mixture and then add the chopped chocolate. Add it all to the bowl of yeast batter and stir in the remaining 550g flour, the salt and sugar and about 150ml of the cold water. Mix until it forms a dough. It should be soft and slightly ragged but not sticky. Allow it to sit and breathe for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes (or however much longer it takes you to tidy your work surface…) tip the dough out onto an oiled work surface and lightly knead for 10 repetitions. Leave it where it is and repeat this action twice at 10 minute intervals, then return the dough to a clean bowl and leave it covered for 1 hour.

Line a baking tray or two with greaseproof paper and then measure the dough out into 100g balls per bun. I just pulled lumps off the dough and roughly shaped them between my hands so they were a bit more rustic looking than they could have been if I was the kind of person who is a neat baker. Put the buns on the baking tray touching each other and leave to rise again by half their volume. Mine took about another 30-40 minutes in a warm kitchen while the oven heated to 200℃.

Mix 3 tablespoons of plain flour with about 5 tablespoons of cold water until it is a smooth but not sloppy paste and put it in a piping bag. Pipe a long line of the paste across the buns from top to bottom and then from side to side so each bun has a cross. Doing this individually gets really faffy in comparison. Bake the buns for 25 minutes and remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

To glaze the buns, mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar and hot water together and brush over the buns while they are still hot. Repeat twice to build up a nice glossy top and then allow the buns to cool on a rack. Serve slathered with butter and with a good strong cup of tea to hand. They will keep for several days in an airtight container or freeze well. I’m going to enjoy the heap I made since it’s not like I can go completely untraditional and make these again before next year. That’s just too much…

half hot cross

 

Three beautiful duck eggs on display at the Todmorden Agricultural Show

Cracking stuff: in praise of the duck egg…

Three green and one white duck egg

So that moveable feast, Easter, is well and truly behind us for another twelve months or so. It’s a time of the year which is synonymous with eggs – as a symbol of life, of change, as a treat or gift, and as the rebirth inherent during spring. Our modern Easter is a convenient, contradictory and sometimes conflicted mélange of pagan, Christian, and (increasingly) consumerist influences; and there’s plenty of scope for debate about the origins of many of the things we associate with this time of year. Sidestepping much of the ideology and etymology, I’d just like to talk about eggs…*

Actually, it’s hard to think of a more elemental, universal and iconic foodstuff than an egg. Considering eggs (and duck eggs in particular) are one of the favourite and most-used ingredients in my kitchen, it surprised me to realise we’ve never written a piece in praise of them.

They crop up in plenty of our recipes; they’re the first thing I buy when I go to the market each week; they’re my number one packed lunch item (the ultimate self-contained foodstuff). So this is a celebration of eggs, and especially the duck egg, which is indelibly wrapped up in my past memories and modern routines.

Three beautiful duck eggs on display at the Todmorden Agricultural Show

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Simnel Cake Ice Cream

Simnel Cake ice cream

I am not religious, but I do enjoy all the major Christian holidays, chiefly because they are all held together with copious amounts of marzipan. I love marzipan. I’m that person that will eat the spare almond paste off your Royal icing when you’re defeated by Christmas cake or buy a block of it to eat slices off. And don’t get me started about those exquisite little fruits modelled from the stuff you get in posh grocers and Fortnums. I am definitely in the pro-camp.

I spend a lot of time wanting to increase the ways I can get marzipan into my life, so Easter and its siren song of Simnel cake pleases me hugely. I toyed with these mini ones from Nutmegs Seven which look light as a feather, but I’ve also been fiddling around with trying a marzipan ice cream for ages and suddenly it came together and I realised my world needed Simnel cake ice cream immediately.

You could of course bake a Simnel Cake and break it up into homemade ice cream and bob’s your uncle, but I have a deep shuddering hatred of wet cake. Things like trifle and tiramisu make me feel funny inside. So I needed something more deconstructed, but simple and I think, with this recipe, I’ve cracked it:

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