Perfect ice cream

These days one can buy such good ice cream that I don’t often make classic, custard-based ice cream myself, particularly since I discovered how easy it is to make semifreddo. When we were on holiday in Verona many years ago we had a divine nougat semifreddo. So, as soon as we got home, I looked for a recipe in Claudia Roden’s wonderful The Food of Italy and found one for semifreddo al miele, which I have used ever since. She also gives recipes for chocolate and wine semifreddos, with slightly different methods.

Semifreddo is just a form of Italian ice cream which is rich enough with eggs and cream not to need churning, and I find it very easy and quite quick to make. This quantity is for 4-6 people – if you want to make less, it works fine with 1 egg and 2 egg yolks, and half the quantity of honey and cream. You can use whipping cream instead of double to make it slightly lighter.

  • 1 egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g orange blossom or acacia honey
  • 300 ml double cream

Bring some water to a brisk simmer in a medium saucepan. Put the egg, egg yolks and honey into a heat-proof bowl that will fit on top of the pan without touching the simmering water. Put the bowl onto the pan and whisk the mixture until it becomes thick and pale. I use a balloon whisk for this, but you could use a hand-held mixer. When it is ready you should be able to write your initial with the mixture dropping off your whisk, something which gives me a child-like pleasure.

Whip the cream until well risen and fold it into the eggs and honey. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for 6 hours or overnight. See what I mean about simple?

However, sometimes I want a classic ice cream and then I have turned to this recipe by Travel Gourmet, which is flavoured with brandy and sherry. If you have an ice cream machine it really isn’t difficult, thanks to Delia’s tip of using a little cornflour (or custard powder) to avoid the risk of the custard splitting, though it does need cooling and then churning so the preparation takes a bit longer. It is a delicious way of using up milk or egg yolks left over from other recipes. The vanilla ice cream below uses Travel Gourmet’s base, and is here to encourage me to make it more often!

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Beat the egg yolks, sugar, custard powder and vanilla with a whisk until thick and smooth. Heat the milk until it is just about to boil and then pour it slowly onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time.

Rinse out the pan if there is any sign of milk sticking to the bottom, then pour the mixture back in and heat it, stirring diligently with a spatula or wooden spoon until it thickens. Pour into a large bowl to cool. When the custard is cold, whip the cream until it is risen but still floppy, rather than stiff. Fold carefully into the custard using a large metal spoon or spatula. At this stage you can add any additional flavourings.

Unless you have a very fancy ice-cream maker, I find it helps to put it into the fridge for an hour or so to get really cold before you churn it. Then churn the ice cream until it is softly frozen, spoon into a container and put in the freezer to firm up. Remember to take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before serving to make it easier to scoop.

Nibbles, snippets or canapés

What do you call the small savouries served with drinks before dinner or at a cocktail party? Nibbles seems to be the most common description on menus for things like olives and nuts these days, but I first knew them as canapés or appetizers. In Spain they are, of course, tapas or pinchos, in Venice chicchetti. Then last week, when I was looking for ideas for celery and cheese canapés in a Katy Stewart cookbook of 1983, I found them described as cocktail snippets, a name I had never come across before. When I looked online to see whether the term had wider currency, I found a wonderful extract from The Reluctant Hostess. This priceless 1950s guide to entertaining etiquette by Ethelind Fearon was reissued a few years ago. Although I wasn’t tempted by many of the recipes, it is very amusing and full of down-to-earth advice on giving a cocktail party. So henceforth canapés will be referred to as snippets!

After all that, what snippets did I make? My dinner guests included one vegetarian and one pescatarian, so meat was out. The idea that led to my discovery of snippets was to have celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese and walnuts. After reading several recipes, this was what I made:

100g cream cheese
2 tbsps cream
pinch cayenne pepper
100g walnuts
handful flat-leaf parsley

Combine about 100g of cream cheese with 2 tablespoons of cream, then add a good pinch of cayenne pepper, salt and a grind of black pepper. Set aside 8 nice walnut halves, and finely chop the remainder (but see below). Finely chop the parsley and mix into the cream cheese with the chopped walnuts.

Wash 3 or 4 celery sticks and use a knife to peel off any tough strings, then slice a very thin bit off the outside of the stick so that its sits flat (thank Katy Stewart for that tip). Fill the  pieces of celery with the cream cheese mixture, cut into 5cm sections and top each one with half a walnut. The chopped walnuts made it tricky to fill smaller celery sticks, so next time I might opt for a 50/50 mixture of  cream cheese and blue cheese, or just well-flavoured cream cheese with a walnut on top.

I made a batch of Rachel Cooke’s wonderful Parmesan biscuits, as they are always popular (I always think I’ve made enough to have leftovers but there are rarely any left).

When I was in Manchester I had bought a packet of fabulous white anchovies, boquerones, from the excellent Catalonian delicatessen Lunya in Deansgate (there is also one in Liverpool). Boquerones are milder than the usual dark, salty anchovies, and have a lemony taste. Several recipes for making boquerones included parsley so, after carefully separating the fillets and blotting some of their oil on kitchen paper I covered the skin side with finely chopped parsley, wrapped them in pinwheels and secured with a cocktail stick.

Finally, we had a dish of lovely crisp French breakfast radishes, and some smoked salmon on thinly sliced sourdough. This selection of snippets went very well with a chilled bottle of champagne and some crisp rosé, with enough choice for vegetarian and pescatarian alike, and they were not too much work to prepare. As you can see, most of them got eaten before I got round to taking a photograph!

While I’m on the subject, my other tried and tested snippet recipes are:

Basil, mozzarella and tomato on cocktail sticks

Devils on horseback

Butter bean dip with dukkah and crudités

Not forgetting olives, marcona almonds and cheese straws.

Bon appetit!


Gado Gado with peanut sauce

When I first read about Gado Gado I didn’t think it sounded that appetising: a salad of cold cooked vegetables with hard-boiled eggs and cold crispy onions on top. And then I had Marlene’s version and it was absolutely delicious. So I persuaded her to tell me how to make it.

Marlene served it with rice and Babi Ketjap, but you can just have the salad on its own or with chicken satay. For a vegan Gado Gado, omit the eggs and add some firm tofu sliced and fried in a little olive oil until crisp. It is quite flexible, in that you can use whatever vegetables are to hand, though bean sprouts, cucumber, cabbage and green beans are usually included, and sugar snap peas are good. It is dead easy to make, though you do have prepare the vegetables individually – unless you have cooked vegetables that you’re eating up – and you’ll find two colanders (or a colander and a sieve) useful to drain everything.

Ketjap manis is Indonesian sweet soy sauce – if you can’t find it (or don’t want yet another bottle in your pantry) then use ordinary soy sauce with 1 tsp of brown sugar or honey. You should be able to find small tubs of crispy onions alongside the Thai or Chinese ingredients in the supermarket (Waitrose include them in their Cook’s Ingredients range). I’m not sure my dedication would extend to making them myself. Prawn crackers seem to live alongside crisps (oddly, to my mind – but maybe people do eat them as a snack with their beer).

Start by making the peanut sauce – I always make lots, even if I’m only cooking for me, as it is so delicious with lots of other things! Choose peanut butter with the highest percentage of peanuts that you can find (and without sugar). You can use raw peanuts if you prefer, in which case stir fry them in a wok in 100ml of vegetable oil until they are golden, then blend until smooth in a food processor. Anna Jones uses a different method, using roasted peanuts, bashing them in a pestle and mortar and then simmering in 200ml of water, and flavouring it with lemongrass and ginger – not authentic, but sounds worth a try.

Peanut or satay sauce:
2 shallots or ½ small onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (optional)
a little vegetable oil for frying
1 dstsp sambal badjak or 1 red chilli, finely chopped
½ tsp shrimp paste (terassi) or 1 tsp Thai fish sauce (optional)
250g crunchy peanut butter
Juice of about 1/2 lemon
1-2 tbsps Ketjap manis
100 ml coconut milk (optional)

Fry a chopped shallot or a bit of onion in a little oil until it is soft (you could also just use dried onion). Add the sambal or a chopped red chilli and, if you want, a little bit of terassi (Indonesian shrimp paste – notoriously smelly) or 1 tsp of Thai fish sauce, to add depth of flavour.

Stir in the peanut butter and dilute with water – you’ll need at least 200 ml and probably more. You can add the coconut milk at this stage, if you’re using it, which will make a richer sauce. Add 1-2 tbsps of ketjap manis (or soy sauce and sugar) and the lemon juice, then taste and keep adjusting the seasonings until you are happy with it. Serve warm. The sauce will thicken as it cools, so if there is any left over you may need to dilute it further with water.

Salad potatoes
Green beans
Cabbage (Chinese for preference)
Red pepper
Spring onions
Eggs (1 each)
Crispy onions
Chopped chives to garnish
Prawn crackers to serve

You will notice that I haven’t given quantities – this is because you really can use whatever combination of vegetables you have, and vary the quantities according to how hungry you are and how many people you’re feeding. When I made this for myself I used a handful of beansprouts, 2 charlotte potatoes, 50g green beans, ¼ of a Chinese cabbage, 2 spring onions, about 5 cm of cucumber and ¼ of a red pepper – and had leftovers.

Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add the potatoes and simmer until tender – about 15-20 minutes depending on size. Drain and cut the potatoes into chunks unless they’re very small. Bring another pan of water to the boil, top and tail the beans and blanch them for 4-5 minutes. If you’re using carrots, cut into batons and cook along with the beans – they’ll probably need a minute or two more than the beans, so put them in first. When they are  cooked, drain them in a colander and quickly run them under the cold tap to stop the cooking (and keep the beans bright green). Leave to drain thoroughly.

Shred the cabbage. If you’re using regular white cabbage you will need to steam it for 5-8 minutes until it is tender – you can do this over the simmering potatoes. Forget the modern habit of cooking everything al dente: the cabbage needs to be tender, and tastes better for it. However, I found the Chinese cabbage I was using was closer to lettuce and only needed a brief dousing in boiling water, like the beansprouts: just put them in a colander, pour boiling water over them (you can use the boiling water from the potatoes or beans), and leave to drain.

Hard boil the eggs in barely simmering water – I add the eggs (broad end pricked to reduce the risk of cracking) to boiling water, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 9 minutes. Then run under cold water until cool enough to handle, peel and cut in half. Wash the cucumber and red pepper. Slice the cucumber and then halve them if you wish. Marlene runs the tines of a fork vertically down the skin all round the cucumber first, which gives an attractive deckled edge. Core the red pepper and cut into narrow slices. Trim the spring onions and slice finely.

Arrange all the vegetables, except for the spring onions, in groups on a large shallow dish. Scatter over the spring onions and arrange the hard boiled eggs on top. Finish with a scatter of chives and serve with the peanut sauce, and dishes of crispy onions and prawn crackers for people to help themselves.

Pumpkin rice


This dish is based on the recipe for Jewelled pumpkin rice from the Moro East cookbook. It is the version I cooked for a big group of friends on holiday in Catalunya, where a few of the ingredients from the original (cardamoms and dried barberries, for example) were not available – hence the absence of ‘jewels’ (if you have barberries, or currants, then add 15g of them with the pistachios). I used paella rice, rather than basmati, which gives a slightly different – though I think equally nice – texture. I also reduced the quantity of rice and halved the quantity of butter to make the dish a bit lighter. In Catalunya the saffron came in a little folded paper packet, just the right size for a dish like this. The buttery saffron finish makes a big difference to the golden look and fragrant taste of the dish, so don’t be tempted to omit it, though you can use extra virgin olive oil instead of butter if you want to keep the dish vegan. This was the perfect dish to show off the beautiful home-grown pumpkin that our friends Sue and Steve had brought with them.

We served it with fillets of halibut that Steve had rolled (securing the rolls with toothpicks) and baked (at 190 C from memory, for 15 minutes) with just a little lemon rind, seasoning and olive oil on them: a useful way of cooking a lot of fillets in one baking tray, attractive and easy to serve. It was followed by a big green salad with some local cheese – queso curado, semi-curado and cabra – and a Tarte aux Reine Claudes. The quantities here serve 6.

500g peeled and seeded pumpkin or squash (from 750g pumpkin)
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
a big pinch of saffron
50g unsalted butter
6cm cinnamon stick
4 allspice berries (if you have them)
2 medium onions
50g shelled pistachios
½ tsp ground cardamom (if you have it)
200g paella rice (such as Bomba)
300ml vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 210ºC Fan/230ºC/Gas 8. Put the rice to soak in tepid salted water. The original quantity of rice for this amount of pumpkin was 300g – if you want to to make a more substantial dish use the larger quantity of rice and up the amount of stock accordingly (to 450 ml).

Cut the pumpkin into 2cm cubes (original recipe suggests 1 cm dice, but I prefer the pumpkin in larger pieces), toss with the olive oil, sprinkle over half the salt and spread in a baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes or until tender.IMG_2107

Mix the saffron with 3 tbsps boiling water, if using butter add 20g of it, which should melt, and put aside. Thinly slice the onions.

Heat the remaining 30g of butter (or oil) in a broad pan with a good lid (a le Creuset casserole or sauté pan is ideal) with the cinnamon stick and allspice until it foams. Add the onions and the rest of the salt and cook gently for 10 minutes or so until the onions are soft and beginning to colour. Now put in the pistachios and cardamom and cook for a further 10 minutes until the onions are golden.

IMG_2108Drain the rice and add it to the pan, stirring it into the onions before adding the hot stock. By now the pumpkin should be done. Scatter it over the top of the rice, cover the pan with a sheet of greaseproof paper and the clamp on the lid. Cook for a fairly high heat for 5 minutes, then turn down to a gentle simmer for a further 5 minutes. Remove the lid and the paper and drizzle over the buttery saffron liquid (or the saffron liquid and a good tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil). Replace the lid and leave to rest, off the heat, for a further 5-10 minutes.

IMG_2110The stock will all have been absorbed by the rice, the pumpkin tender and the whole dish looking golden – a perfect dish to celebrate the autumn harvest.

Pastenak and Cress Cream

Pastenak and Cress Soup

Here is the parsnip soup recipe I mentioned in my recent post on my top six winter soups. It is a soothing yet sophisticated soup with a pure parsnip taste and the lovely contrasting freshness and slight heat of mustard and cress. It was perfect for a winter lunch today with bread and cheese and clementines (or russet apples would be good) afterwards, but is equally at home served in small portions as starter for a winter feast. I found it in Elizabeth David’s Christmas (what, you mean you haven’t bought it yet? See this post if you’re new to the blog), and it has starred on several Christmas Eve menus. It is supposed to be served with a little bowl of croutons fried in clarified butter alongside, but I have to confess that I have never got round to doing this – I tell myself that it is because fried croutons are bad for me, but it’s probably more like laziness. This quantity serves four amply for lunch, or six as a starter.

500g small parsnips (approx 6)
600 ml thin, clear chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer)
1 level tsp rice flour, potato flour or arrowroot
1 punnet mustard and cress
60-90ml cream

Elizabeth David emphasises that you need young parsnips to make this soup. Scrub the parsnips. Cut out the stem at the top, trim the root and peel off any tough or unappetising-looking skin. You can do this after boiling the parsnips, and it may not be necessary at all if your parsnips are in good nick. I tend to cut them in half lengthwise, so that they cook a little more quickly, but the original recipe cooks them whole.

Put them in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until soft – 15 minutes if you have halved them, 25 minutes if not. Allow to cool a little (and you can rub off the skins at this stage if you wish – providing you have asbestos hands). Purée the parsnips in the blender (or mouli) with 300ml of the cooking water. I find it easier to get a smooth purée this way, rather than blending the parsnips on their own and then adding the cooking water afterwards as recommended in the original recipe.

Put back into a clean pan, add the stock and season with salt (I used 1 tsp, but the recipe suggests 2-3 tsp) and white pepper if you like (I do). Mix the rice flour or other thickener in a small bowl with a ladleful of soup, then stir this back into the pan and cook gently until it has slightly thickened the soup to the consistency of pouring cream and the soup is hot. Cut off the tops of the mustard and cress with scissors, chop and add to the soup with the cream.

This was originally a French recipe and Elizabeth David explains the derivation of the word pastenak – it is the medieval word for parsnips, a corruption of their Latin name pastinaca.

Ricotta and honey ice-cream

ricotta ice-cream with sliced orangesI nearly didn’t notice this recipe in the Guardian Cook section – it was in a feature by the Kitchen Cooperative on pineapple, which we don’t often buy. However, this very simple, no churn ice-cream is delicious with other fruit (or, indeed, on its own, scooped Nigella-style direct from the container, if you’re as fond of the taste of ricotta as I am!).

175g ricotta
250ml double cream
100ml floral honey

Put the ricotta, honey and 50ml of cream in one bowl and whisk the rest of the cream to soft peaks in another bowl. Beat the ricotta mixture together until really smooth then fold into the whipped cream.

Turn into a freezer container or loaf tin lined with cling film – the original recipe adds lime zest at this point and I did think about grating over orange zest but decided to leave it plain – and fold the cling film over the top. Put in the freezer for at least four hours (I made a small batch and it was at perfect soft-scoop consistency after 2.5 hours).

There, I told you it was easy!

Really good with sliced oranges (as above), and I think it will be superb with Lindsay Bareham’s Apricots with orange and vanilla.