Friulian apple, nut and poppy-seed pie

I made this based on a recipe I got some time from one of my sources. The ingredients just sounded too good to ignore. I searched for it online and found it in the Telegraph’s recipe section.

Ingredients:
Serves 8

250g (9oz) plain flour
125g (4½oz) butter
100g (3½oz) caster sugar (I used 90g as it’s my policy to use 10% less sugar than any recipe calls for – it tends to bring out the other flavours)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cold whole milk
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tart eating apples (didn’t use tart ones, which wasn’t a problem but will use at least one more to make the filling a bit more moist)
1½ tbsp grappa (of course, I used 2 tbsp, otherwise what’s the point of even opening the bottle!)
60g (2oz) raisins (didn’t have enough raisins so added cranberries and chopped figs)
175g (6oz) walnuts or hazelnuts, chopped
3 tbsp poppy seeds, plus extra to serve
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
ground seeds from 4 cardamom pods
icing sugar, for dusting (didn’t use but recommend as the cake it not sweet at all)

Instructions:
To make the pastry, put the flour and butter into a food processor and whizz until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and baking powder and whizz again. Add the milk and half of the lemon zest and process again. The pastry should come together in a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5 and put in a metal baking-sheet to warm.

On a floured surface, roll out two thirds of the pastry and use it to line a 23cm (9in) spring-form cake tin so that the pastry comes about 4cm (1½in) up the sides. Roll the other piece of pastry into a circle slightly larger than the tin and put on a floured metal sheet. Refrigerate the cake tin and the circle for an hour.

Peel and core the apples and grate the flesh. Mix with the grappa, raisins, nuts, seeds, spices and remaining lemon zest. Pile into cake tin and put the circle on top. Pinch the edges together, then indent the rim with the tines of a fork. Cut a star in the centre to let out the steam.

Cook on the baking-sheet in the oven for 30 minutes. Let it cool in the tin then carefully remove. Sift icing sugar over the top and scatter on poppy seeds. Offer cream whipped with grappa.

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Tagliatelle al ragu

As a student I perfected my own version of spag bol – who doesn’t! It came to mind as I had another of those dinners coming up when I couldn’t really be away from my guests before or during the meal and needed something hot and delicious in a pot to plonk in the middle of the kitchen table. Spag bol seemed like a good option but given my recent cooking escapades it seemed appropriate to search for a ‘proper’ spaghetti bolognese recipe. And that is how I came across tagliatelle al ragu, which is apparently how the real Italians do it. One of the surprises was the amount of vegetables that went into the pot – I was doing 4 times the recipe below. Another surprise was the subtlety of the flavours and juiciness of the meat. This is no spag bol!

The recipe that appealed to me most was from Gustoso:

Italy’s most loved but misinterpreted dish has to be tagliatelle al ragu. When it left Italy’s shores it somehow become spaghetti bolognese. The real bolognese dish is made by tossing a little rich, slow-cooked ragu (a meat sauce, usually veal and pork) through fresh egg noodles.

There’s a number of tricks to an outstanding ragu sauce. First you really need to let it simmer for a good 3 hours to allow all the flavours to meld together and fill your house with divine smells. A dash of milk is added to the ragu sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and wine.

My own trick for browning minced meat is to do it in red wine instead of using oil. The flavour is noticeably richer and arguably healthier – substituting fat with alcohol…

Ingredients:
Serves 4

30g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped or grated
90g pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
220g minced ground veal or beef (I used half pork/half beef mince)
220g minced ground pork
2 sprigs of oregano, chopped or 1/4 tsp dried oregano
pinch of nutmeg
½ cup dry white wine
3/4 cup milk, or soy milk
400g tin chopped tomatoes or fresh (I used tinned ones)
250ml beef stock (I didn’t use stock, there was plenty of liquid).
400g tagliatelle
grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion, celery, carrot and pancetta. Cook over a moderate heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the minced beef, pork and oregano to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and the nutmeg. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mince has browned slightly.

Pour in the wine, increase the heat and boil over high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the wine has been absorbed. Stir in the milk and reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tomato and half the stock, partially cover the pan and leave to simmer gently over very low heat for 3 hours. Add more of the stock as it is needed to keep the sauce moist.

Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the tageliatelle, toss with the sauce and serve with grated Parmesan.

Mash potato

As I cook a lot of casseroles and pot roasts, mash is often the best way to enjoy the dishes with all their juices. I have a generic way of making potato mash but I will be adding recipes for more sophisticated mashes, such as celeriac and potato mash or sweet potato with brandy and smoked bacon mash…

For the simplest mash, take 3 medium-sized potatoes per person. Quarter them and put in boiling water for at least 20 minutes or until soft. Over cooking is not a huge problem but you don’t want them falling apart otherwise you’ll get potato slush as you drain them – a far cry from a tasty mash.

Add a bit of butter 25-30g and mash it in with the potatoes. Add salt and pepper. Keep mashing as you are adding milk, gradually, until you get the texture and creaminess you want.

At the end, I always add mustard, both english mustard and moutarde de Meaux Pommery or creamed horseradish.