Roasted Quince with Bath Blue Cheese & Lentil Salad

Last year I spotted a quince tree, laden with fruit in a Bristol garden as I parked up my car. Quinces are mysterious things; they’re too hard and too sour to consider eating raw. You can’t even whip up a tart or a crumble as you might with an apple because the flesh takes so much longer to soften and mellow. So, many a forgotten quince languishes, unloved on a tree in this country until it rots and drops. I posted a note through the door of the house where I’d eyed them up, offering some cash and even a good slice of membrillo, but never heard a thing.  This year I got a message from some wonderful friends Mike and Viv in Bishopston who offered me a few of theirs. I jumped at the chance, grabbed my basket, slipped on my quince-yellow top (who can miss a photo opportunity?) and set off.

Mike was ridiculously generous and I finished up with at least a dozen quinces. They’ve been sitting in a bowl filling the kitchen with their unforgettable perfume and looking so beautiful that I could barely bring myself to cook them. You can see why they are reputed to be the original golden love apple of Aphrodite.
I’m going to make some membrillo (the solid quince paste that the Spanish love to eat with cheese – particularly Manchego) later in the week, but yesterday I baked a few of the fruit until deep coppery red and as  tender as a canned pear.Quinces perfuming the kitchen

Baked Quinces

100 g butter
4 heaped tbsp of soft brown sugar
4 medium quinces
1 stick of cinnamon.

Now these really couldn’t be simpler. Pre-heat the oven to a medium temperature around about 170º C. Place a heatproof dish in the oven with the butter and sugar just to melt and dissolve a little.
Meanwhile peel and quarter the quinces (unless they are very tiny and you might like to leave them in halves) I used my trusty melon-baller to remove the cores but you could just use a knife.

Take the dish from the oven and roll the fruit around in the sugary butter. Add a stick of cinnamon  and then cover tightly with foil. Put back in the oven for 2-3 hours until the fruit is really tender and a deep brick-red. It’s wise to take a peek at hourly intervals just to check that there’s a bit of moisture in the dish, your packaging may not be as steam-tight as you think. Just add a slosh of water (or wine/Masala) if it’s looking rather sticky and dry – you musn’t let those precious juices burn.

Eat warm or cold.

Baked quince with cinn

And what to do with those baked quinces:

I would always recommend baking a few quinces at a time and then using them in all sorts of different ways. Play around with the flavours adding any, but not all, of the following : vanilla, star anise, wine, port, Creme de cassis, honey or maple syrup.

*Serve warm with clotted cream, Greek honey with yoghurt, vanilla ice cream or rice pudding.
*Add some cooked quince to an apple pie or crumble – about 1/5 quince to 4/5 apple (it’s quite a strong flavour)
*Stir into a simple lamb tagine instead of apricots – I’ll type up my favourite recipe sometime but here’s one to keep you going from Jill Dupleix. Just add roasted rather than poached quinces.
* Serve with a blue cheese and lentil salad as I did at The Great Bath Feast.

Baked Quince, Bath Blue and Lentil Salad (serves 4)

1 x simple lentil salad (below)
1 baked quince ( as above), diced into 1 cm squares
200 g Bath Blue cheese, or any creamy cow’s milk blue
1 handful of walnut halves
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
100 g watercress

Carefully stir about 2/3rd of your quince, blue cheese, walnuts, celery and watercress into the lentils. Be gentle you don’t want the cheese to collapse and make the entire salad look milky.

Spoon onto individual plates or onto a large serving platter and sprinkle over the remaining ingredients.

The Basic Lentil Salad (from my new book PULSE)

250 g/9 oz Puy, Castellucio lentils, or other tiny green lentils – rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 small red onion
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
salt and black pepper
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
Place the lentils in a pan with the bay leaf and cover with cold water by about 5 cm/ 2 inches . Bring them up to the boil and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes until tender but still intact.

Pour the vinegar over the red  onion and leave to soak. The onion will turn fuschia pink and become softer in both texture and flavour.

Drain the lentils, reserving their cooking liquid, and whilst still warm add the vinegar, olive oil and season well with salt and black pepper. Once cool stir in the chopped parsley and add a little cooking water if the salad seems dry.

And -you can of course use this basic lentil salad as the base of dozens of variations eg beetroot and feta, chicken and avocado, Piquillo pepper and Montenebro goat’s cheese. The best place to look for these ideas is without a doubt (you guessed it) my new book!

If you came to my demo on Sunday in the great Bath Feast Pavilion then you may be wondering about the chickpeas too. You can go to the fabulous Borough Market blog (I teach there too) and just add a bit of Orchard Pig cider to this recipe.

Seizing the Day and Lucky Lentils

I’d be lying if I said that 2016 has got off to a great start; it’s one of those strange situations when Pete, Imi and I are doing fine but other people I truly care about just aren’t. There’s that wierd conflict between feeling sad and helpless in the face of other people’s tragedies and, realising how fragile life can be, seizing the day.

12565568_517857278397199_6466019848023937389_nChildren are so great at living in the now. I adore this picture of Imi in Bath last weekend. She skips, she sings and can’t resist a bollard- she’ll leap frog it or do a high kick and, whilst I don’t quite have her flexibility (or the flamingo legs to go with it), I can only hope to soak up some of her innocent joie de vivre.

Luck plays such a huge role in our lives; our destinies do seem to change at the role of a dice and so I’m going back to those lucky lentils that the Italians dive into every New Year. I’m just starting my year again and every one of those tiny seeds is going to bring us all good fortune. Superstition apart, lentils are genuinely capable of bringing prosperity and fine health; eating legumes is incredibly economical and they’re so very good for you.

I always prepare food that I like to eat rather than counting calories or assessing nutrients, if it happens to be packed with goodness, well, that’s a bonus. Lentils are loaded with fibre (keeping you feeling full, helping to regulate blood sugar levels and of course, keeping you regular). They provide valuable protein as long as you throw some grains into your diet along the way (it doesn’t have to be at the same meal) and cost a fraction of the price of meat. Consider all the calcium, iron, folate, zinc and potassium they bring with them and yes, we could give them that irritatingly clichéd title of a ……….SUPERFOOD!

There are a few lentil recipes for you to explore on my blog already, just give them a click.
How about?
Simple lentil salad

Quince, Bath Blue and lentil salad

Rhubarb and lentil curry

There are obviously dozens more to discover and enjoy in my book PULSE (how’s that for some shameless self-promotion?)

January’s been pretty full-on writing for all sorts magazines, blogs and campaigns, spreading the word about The International Year of Pulses (hence the “quiet” January on my own site), including Meat Free Mondays, Coeliacs Uk, The World Wildlife Fund and Borough Market.Jenny Chandler in Borough Market, photograph by Simon Rawles

I’m going to share the Borough Market lentil recipe that I created for their blog (I know that it’s a marketing faux-pas to send your readers elsewhere but hey, I’m generous like that and it’s a great place to go for ideas and a good read.  I love working for them; the monthly demonstrations are an excuse to explore, shop, eat and work in one of the world’s finest food markets.

Here’s a chance to use seasonal Seville oranges (be quick – they’re not around for much longer) if you really don’t require more marmalade. Imi and her Brownie friends got so excited last year that we over produced and still have a mountain to munch through. You can use sweeter oranges for the lentils too but you may require a bit of lemon juice to sharpen things up.

Tangy orange lentils

I’m using the little brown Spanish Pardina lentils because they seem an appropriate match for Seville oranges but any small, firm lentil will do.

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1-2 chillies, finely chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small sprig of of rosemary, leaves very finely chopped
250 g/9 oz Spanish Pardina lentils, or another tiny hold-together variety
Juice of 1-2 Seville oranges and zest to taste
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 large handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp Crème fraîche  or extra virgin olive oil

Take a large pan and fry the onion and carrots in the olive oil until soft.

Stir in the chillies, garlic and rosemary and continue to cook until the garlic just starts to colour.

Add the lentils, the juice of one orange, a good pinch of zest and enough water or stock to cover them by a couple of inches/5 cm. Cook until juicy and tender ( about 20-25 minutes), do keep an eye as you may need to top up the water.

Drain the lentils if necessary and then add the mustard, parsley, salt and pepper and enough of the remaining orange juice to balance the lentils. The crème fraîche or extra virgin olive oil are up to you, the creamier version is great with ham, lean pork chops, or just served as a salad with piles of watercress whilst the extra virgin olive oil works better with rich belly pork or duck.

 

One or Two Lentil Facts 

Legumes can keep you feeling full for an extra 2 to 4 hours, meaning that you’re less likely to be foraging in the biscuit tin.

Lentils are not just a cheaper source of protein than meat, gram for gram they have higher levels of protein than beef (as long as you also consume grains which contribute the missing essential amino acid). If you’re a resolute carnivore try adding lentils to stews, curries or cottage pie to eek out the meat. Better for you, better for the planet.

Red lentils are actually hulled and split brown lentils. So, since their protective skin has gone they collapse easily making them fabulous for dal or any creamy soup. They contain much less fibre (as that’s mainly found in the skin) and so are easier on the digestion making them ideal for baby food. Just cook up a pan-full in some stock until soft and mushy and add to different vegetable purées. 

Real baked beans and a walk in the woods

_DSC6717Last weekend my kitchen turned into a baked bean factory. A great friend of mine, Clare Hargreaves, who runs Feast with a Chef (bringing amazing Michelin-starred chefs out to strut their stuff in a village hall),  was organising a dawn chorus walk in the woods and a fabulous breakfast to follow. Clare asked me to provide some proper baked beans to accompany the carefully sourced sausages and bacon and, since she addressed me as the “bean queen”, how could I refuse? I promised early risers that I’d post the recipe and here it is,  if you nip down to the bottom of the page.

For those of you who might need a bit of encouragement when it comes to getting out into the woods here’s a quick glimpse of our little walk earlier on today; there are bluebell woods all over Britain and now’s the time to get your wellies on. If you’re reading this blog abroad then please forgive my showing off a little, we may have plenty of dank, dark days in the UK but we get our rewards too; there really is nothing more beautiful than a glade of bluebells.

Prior’s Wood sits above the village of Portbury, just a few miles from Bristol. There are carpets of wild garlic, just beginning to flower with its lacy  white starbursts of blossom, and then the swathes of bluebells. It’s unimaginably beautiful.

There’s a carrot dangling at the end of the walk too, just to help you up the hills. Every year there’s a fabulous cake stall set up in the driveway by the footpath; villagers bake cakes in aid of St Peter’s Hospice, the church and school. Let me tell you, there’s quite a selection: fruit cakes, lemon drizzle, brownies, marmalade cake, chocolate cake, banana and chocolate chip, coffee and walnut, Victoria sponge and the cakes just keep arriving. This year we actually managed the walk before the cake, but it does take some self discipline. The cake stall will be open this year until 15th May 11am -5pm at weekends and on the bank holiday Monday ( I thoroughly recommend the banana and chocolate chip)

 

Should cakes not be your thing, or perhaps you can manage a quick cider after your cake (we did), then just a couple of miles down the lane is one of the West Country’s most glorious pubs, The Black Horse at Clapton-in-Gordano. It’s a proper pub that’s managed to escape the poncey -fication of recent years, no light oak and carefully placed prints, just an open fire, old chaps downing the scrumpy and the odd Adge Cutler ( he of Wurzel fame) album cover on the walls.

So that’s your next weekend’s walk and refreshments sorted and now I’d better get down to the beans.

Real Baked Beans

Serves 4 -6

750 g preferably home-cooked or 3 x 14 0z tins haricot beans
1/2 tsp English mustard powder
1 tbsp soft light brown sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1  x 400 g can of chopped tomatoes
200 ml of good beer (I used Bath Ales – Gem)
2 small onions, peeled but left whole
4 cloves
350 g pork belly, in thick strips, rind removed
salt and pepper
Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 140 c/275 F/Gas Mark 1

Drain your beans, if using home cooked you’ll be using the liquid as stock later, if using canned just tip the gloop away and give the beans a rinse.

Pour the beans into a large cast iron pot or casserole.

Mix up the mustard, treacle, sugar, tomatoes and beer and tip over the beans. Stud your onions with the cloves and toss those into the pot too.

Now, nestle the piece of pork down in amongst the beans with a good teaspoon of salt. Grind over plenty of black pepper.

If the beans are not completely covered with liquid then add a little bean cooking liquid or water. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid or be creative with the tin foil (you just don’t want to lose all those delicious juices) and place in the oven for 3 hours.

Remove the lid and have a taste, this is when to up the salt and pepper then, ( to play around with a dash of Worcestershire sauce if you feel the need (and usually I do). If the beans seem a little dry do add a splash of water but the end dish wants to be thick and sticky.

Pull out the pork and chop it into large chunk, stir it back into the beans and then put the pot back into the oven, uncovered this time, for another 45 minutes to an hour.

Serve with crusty bread .

Veggie Beans
The veggie beans had a sofritto of onion, carrot and celery (fried until soft in olive oil) added with the treacle etc and then were finished off with a some Shiro miso to taste. The miso is absolutely wonderful at creating that Umami  (savoury) depth of flavour.

AND PLEASE DON’T FORGET NEXT WEEKEND…….. Bristol, Food Connections Festival

Sunday May 1st –  No 1 Harbourside, 4.30-7pm
Get your pulses racing!
I’ll be taking part in a fun cook-off with a selection of local chefs. Ideas on how to make beans, lentils and chickpeas the centrepiece of so many really tastey dishes. Click here for info

Monday May 2nd – College Green, 2.00-3pm
Finger on the pulse
Ten chickpea dishes in under an hour. Family-friendly, super-tasty, cheap, healthy,  quick to prepare. Come along and let me inspire you; from simple hummus to Tuscan soup and Punjabi curry. Book here.

Easter in The Languedoc – Roquefort and Walnut Salad.

Languedoc Vines and PoppiesI’m trying not to feel too blue today but I’m having a job after our chilled Easter holiday in France. I can’t believe how quickly my brain seems to get swamped by all the things I feel that I “ought”to be doing now we’re back home: the garden’s a shambles, I haven’t done my accounts for months, I have a huge pile of stuff ready to be flogged on eBay and dozens of classes to plan. If only I could just settle down for 1/2 an hour in my hammock (I’ve used it once in 2 years) with a good book and a glass of rosé and clear my brain ….but hell, the protestant work ethic kicks in and I’d be appalled with myself.

So, I’ll lose myself in a spot of reminiscing and try not to be the post-holiday bore with the blow by blow account of market trips and restaurant meals, in fact the pictures tell the story so much better. This wasn’t a Provençal boutiquey hotel vacation, we’d opted for a less fashionable (and rather cheaper) week’s hire of a slice of an old olive mill in The Languedoc. I have to say that many of the local villages have a bit more of the Carrefour tracksuit about them than Gallic chic, but with that comes a reassuring lack of nick-nack shops selling lavender bags, pottery and ludicrously expensive tapenade. Although I did, I’m almost ashamed to admit, have a bit of a lavender moment myself as you can see from my holiday purchases.

We managed a bit of beach time, some moules & frites and Imi found an ice cream shop with over 50  “parfums” …she went for the Cola (quite revolting, but then she could have gone for the terrifyingly turquoise Red Bull option). I’d definitely go to the port of Sète again, where we had fabulous Italian influenced seafood and quite the best scallop linguine that I’ve ever eaten, I’ll have a play around and give you a recipe very soon. But, rather predictably for me, the highlights of the holiday weren’t sight seeing or restaurant trips but mornings in the local markets collecting bits and pieces to eat for lunch in our shady little garden- nothing exotic just sauscisson- sec, cheese, pâté, olives, poulet rôti and very good bread. We gorged on local asparagus, radishes and strawberries and slung back PLENTY of  wine – The Languedoc region apparently produces more wine than the whole of Australia. And, I know that the French have often been a bit sniffy about rosé but there’s more and more of it produced and there’s nothing that screams holiday-in-the-sun quite so loudly for me.

I’d conveniently forgotten my bathing things for our river swimming excursion, although I did rig myself up a dodgy suit out of a sarong (pictures will not be published) but Imi swam and Peter did the lifeguard bit in the icy waters at Roquebron. The town is a magical place with a beautiful old bridge across the river, a sort of stony river-beach and a microclimate that allows oranges, lemons and plenty of Mediterranean plants to thrive despite the distance from the coast.

Once we finally sat down at Le Petit Nice Restaurant  over looking the river it was suprisingly hot and all I felt like eating was a salad . It’s years since I’ve had a Roquefort and walnut salad and it just reminded me that it really is a fabulous mix, the sheep’s cheese (which incidentally comes from the Languedoc too and could even be the elixir of life if you believe what you read ) is really sharp and salty so you don’t want much. You probably don’t need a recipe – but just in case? (and it does give me an excuse to have some for lunch)

Roquefort and Walnut Salad  ( for 2)

3-4 large handfuls of salad leaves – preferably including a bit of radicchio for some colour and a touch of bitterness.
150 g of walnut halves
150 g Roquefort cheese

For the dressing: 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 – 1 tsp honey, salt and black pepper

No rocket science required here- just shake up the dressing in a jar and balance it well, keeping in mind that the cheese is sharp and salty.

Toss the salad leaves around in a bowl with the dressing, then divide between the plates and sprinkle over the cheese and walnuts.

Suggestions– Now I did love the fact that the salad was SO very simple, and we Brits do often tend to overcomplicate things, but the salad would be very good indeed with
– Some smoked lardons and sourdough croutons (fried up in the bacon fat) -sprinkled over whilst warm.
– Ripe pear and a few chopped chives.
– Roasted beetroot, roasted red onions and a few cooked Puy lentils

And here we are enjoying our salad OUTSIDE in the English sunshine- birdies cheeping, bluebells out and Crab apple blossom on it’s way. You’ll be pleased to see that Peter is sporting some French holiday footwear (with socks of course!)

And, just in case you’re heading to The Languedoc anytime soon here were a few of my highlights-
Pézenas has a fabulous Saturday market, loads of giftee shopees but still a stunning town.
Sète was a real surprise for me,  a bustling port with loads of canals and bridges and really., really great seafood.
St Chinian has one of those dappled-shady market squares ( Thursday and Sunday market),  beautiful little back streets and very chilled atmosphere. A.O.C also home to some great red wines.
Roquebron – I’ve mentioned above and is really worth a visit (don’t forget your swimming things)