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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!

skirlie

Wild Garlic Skirlie

skirlieFollowing on from the fried porridge a few weeks ago, I have a bag of beautiful Flahavans oats in the house and an even bigger urge to eat oats than usual so I’ve been dying to try out a skirlie recipe for a while. Getting given a bag of wild garlic from a foraging friend the other week meant the time had come for a simple filling post Easter dinner.

Skirlie is a Scottish dish where oats are toasted in a hot pan before having water or stock added to plump them up and turn them into a chewy almost risotto like dish. Wholesome and incredibly filling, it’s a great way to use up odds and ends but without the constant stirring of a risotto.

A delicious dish, it isn’t much of a looker if I’m honest and it needs something green and gorgeous to lift it and make it more appetising. I usually wilt some spinach into it but wild garlic seemed perfect as it’s still just in season and adds tonnes of flavour. You could use any green leafy veg such as shredded kale, cabbage or beetroot tops.

Like most dishes a little bacon scattered through it is excellent but if you have some leftover haggis then you are in for a treat. It melts into the oats, adds a peppery kick and lends it all a stunning smooth creaminess that takes peasant ingredients and turns them into a dinner that feels extremely luxurious indeed.

Wild Garlic Skirlie (serves 2)

  • 25g butter, lard or bacon fat
  • 1 large leek
  • 1 small onion
  • 200g porridge oats
  • 400ml water
  • 100g haggis (optional)
  • 200g wild garlic

Melt the fat in a cast iron frying pan or skillet and when it bubbles gently, add the leek and onion and sweat it all down over a low heat for about 10-12 minutes. You could add a little fresh thyme here if you had any.

Once the alliums are sweated down and starting to reduce in size, add the oats in and stir well to coat them with the fat and toast them. Stirring continually, cook them for about 3-4 minutes until they soak up the fat and begin to smell toasty and golden.

Splash in a little of the water at a time, allowing it to soak into the oats each time. Stop and allow it to cook out if the oats start to look sticky. When you have about 50ml left, crumble the haggis into the pan as well. Add the remaining water and stir it all through. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Wash the wild garlic well and put it in the pan with the skirlie. Put a lid on it if you have it and allow it all to wilt down for a few minutes. Serve the skirlie immediately in bowls and eat. Peppery enough from the haggis it needs no more seasoning. Enjoy and marvel at how uncannily filling and simple skirlie is.

 

East meets West – wild garlic, Sichuan-style

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This week we went foraging for what’ll probably be the last of this year’s wild garlic. It’s rare to be able to gather it so close to the start of June, and after a late start – disrupted by the snows at the back end of March – this year’s ended up yielding a good crop. I’ve made plenty of wild garlic butter; there’s a kilner jar of pesto in the fridge, ready to add a splash of bright viridescence to a bowl of pasta; and we’ve sprinkled flowers over half the dishes we’ve eaten this week. Forget the adage of ‘make hay while the sun shines’… more like make the most of nature’s most abundant free food while you can.

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I love cookbooks, but it’s rare a cookbook excites and engrosses me as utterly as Fuschia Dunlop‘s Every Grain of Rice. Recommended by a swathe of foodie friends, I got it six weeks ago and have been rapt with attention… more so than her other writing. The sheer simplicity and balance of the many recipes chimes with my style of cooking; and the comprehensive yet conversational tone draws the reader in. As a result I’ve already cooked a broad selection of recipes from the book, with many more earmarked to try soon. However one recipe leapt out at me as soon as I opened the book… and it’s one of the very simplest. It’s called Stir-fried Garlic Stems with Bacon (La Rou Chao Suan Tai).

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Too good to stop eating

Feijoada – the ultimate pork and pulses dish?

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Ah, Feijoada: the national dish of Brazil, straddling the culinary and cultural tectonic plate boundaries of Africa, Europe and South America. Possibly the stoutest meal you’re likely to encounter, and enough to give any vegetarian a dose of the cold shivers.

Feijoada marries the southern European / Romance tradition of slow-cooked pork cuts and beans, but with the addition of west African and Amerindian flavours and techniques. It’s often described as originating from slave fare (the story being it was made up of scraps and offcuts of meat that plantation owners disregarded), but like many classic dishes comes loaded with myths and romanticised stories of its origin. Regardless, it reflects the melting pot culture of modern Brazil, which perhaps explains its extraordinary popularity across generation, class, race and region.

I vaguely remember reading about feijoada many years ago, amongst a glut of facts about Brazil gleaned from geography schoolbooks. At the time it didn’t really register…as a teenage boy I was focusing more on images of the impossibly gaudy and glamorous Carnaval and sugar cane-fuelled cars than meat-heavy dishes. A few years ago, as part of an impromptu South American-themed meal, a good friend brought her own version of feijoada, and that sparked my interest. Ever since I’ve resolved to make my own.

Regular readers are probably spotting a pattern here: yet another dish pairing pork products and pulses, and another opportunity to indulge in the joys of black pudding. Well yes, guilty as charged. And having access to some superb rare-breed pork from our friends at Porcus, I’m inclined to work my way through the world’s greatest pig ‘n’ bean dishes, one by one.

When it comes to feijoada there are a plethora of recipes out there. My well-thumbed go-to-guide for South American recipes, Felipe Rojas-Lombardi’s ‘The Art of South American Cooking‘, suggested one needs at least five types of pork in there, including the snout. Others suggest a bit of pork belly and sausage is enough. In the end I ploughed my own furrow, referencing recipes from the ever-enjoyable Flavours of Brazil blog and a smattering of others.

I’d previously procured a Tamworth tail and trotters (being able to source a pig tail generally points to it being raised ethically, as sadly most intensively-farmed pigs have their tails cut off) and had also set aside some artisan chorizo from the fabulous folk at Levanter Fine Foods. After visiting Miss South in Brixton, allowing me to pick up some genuine morcela de lamego from the wonderful Continental Deli on Atlantic Road, I was as ready as I’d ever be.

Here’s the final recipe: it took a day of preparation and cooking, but believe me, it was worth every minute.

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Pork chops and spring gems

After the harsh winter (thankfully an ever-more distant memory now we’re firmly into May) the recent bout of superb spring weather has brought welcome warmth and cheer in more than one way. Spring heralds two of our favourite fresh British delights: wild garlic, and asparagus. We’ve already written about both on several occasions, but with seasonal goodies this great, I’m not ashamed to sing their praises a little more. They provided the perfect partnership to prime Pennine pork last month.
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