Flavours of August

Thursday 5th August 2010 14:31

The variety of home-grown fruit and vegetables available this month is almost limitless and much of it is in the wild. Madalene Bonvini-Hamel, creator of the online recipe diary Britishlarder.co.uk, demonstrates what can be done with the UK's midsummer bounty.

This month is predicted to be a scorcher. There is no doubt that gardens will be wilting under the fierce sun, but some seasonal fruits and vegetables will welcome it with open arms. They will flourish and we will be able to enjoy tasty sun-ripened fruits and vegetables.

August is the month for pickling and preserving, and there is no better place to look for ingredients than in our hedgerows. They bear some fantastic seasonal wild plums, blackberries, rosehips, elderberries and sloes. During August look out for the beautiful yellow greengages and the early dark-purple damsons and bullaces.

Driving through the countryside you only need to look around to see how well it provides for us: row upon row of carrots, beets, onions, leeks and potatoes will be lining up in the fields. It's a fantastic sight. We can't survive solely on home-produced food, but it's great to see all this locally grown seasonal produce.


KOHLRABI

Classed as a brassica, kohlrabi is an unusual vegetable cultivated from the cabbage family. Selected for its swollen stem, it is not a fussy plant and will grow nearly anywhere and is easily maintained.

Kohlrabi is a versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw or cooked. Eaten raw, it's crunchy, like a crispy Granny Smith apple without the sweetness but with a taste of raw broccoli. Sautéd in nutty brown butter and then braised in port, it takes on not only a fantastic colour but also has a unique and wonderful sweet taste that complements the duck in the pan-roasted duck breast with port-braised kohlrabi recipe (opposite).


PLUMS

The Victoria plum is said to be the queen of plums. First cultivated in Sussex in 1840, Victoria plums quickly became the nation's favourite. There are more than 300 cultivated plum varieties available in Britain, plus the wild plums such as damsons, bullaces, sloes and mirabelles.

This time of the year one should always be on the lookout for wild plums in the hedgerows - you are bound to find something useful. Plums freeze well, so keep them for the colder months when stone fruits are less regularly available.

Plums have a high pectin level and are ideal for making jams and jellies, as in this honey plum and blackberry jelly with plum sorbet recipe (page 27). They are synonymous with sweet recipes but equally known for use in savouries and work wonderfully with rich meats such as duck.


DUCK

Farmed ducks are available year-round. The wild species such as mallard, teal and widgeon come into season later in the year, from October to December.

Britain is well known for producing some of the world's finest eating ducks, with our prize home-grown species, and it's incredibly important that we choose the best - not only for the eating quality but also from a welfare point of view.

Aylesbury ducks from Buckinghamshire are perhaps the most well known as they have been bred since the 18th century. Pure Aylesbury duck is prized for its tenderness and less-stringy meat. With the introduction of Peking ducks during the 19th century people started to cross-breed. Aylesbury ducks are less fatty than Peking ducks and are also good egg layers. However, they are becoming scarcer, so less easy to find for eating.

Goosnargh ducks from Lancashire are a cross between Aylesbury and Peking ducks with their fairytale white feathers and yellow beaks. They are ideal for the table as there is a good balance of meat to bone.

Gressingham ducks from East Anglia are a cross-breed between wild mallard ducks and Peking ducks.

As duck has a natural thick layer of fat it's important to render the fat side down well in a dry, hot-but-not-smoking pan. This will ensure a crisp golden fat layer.


GREEN BEANS

Green beans have many names, and with 130 varieties to choose from it's understandable why. Some call them common green beans, others call them string beans or dwarf beans, but the most commonly known variety is the finer and thinner French bean.

They are easy to grow and the yield is good. Here in the UK we also grow the bobby bean, which is a fatter variety of the green bean with a sweet and fleshy texture. The green bean season is long and stretches for most of the summer months. Most gardeners manage to plant two crops of green beans per season.

Cook green beans al dente in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water and refresh them in ice-cold water to ensure they keep their bright green colour. Making a green bean pickle might sound bizarre but it's absolutely delicious in this herring escabèche and pickled green bean salad. The recipe is ideal for preserving runner beans. It can also give a cheese and pickle sandwich a completely new lease of life.


HERRINGS

Herrings have graced our tables for centuries and have been a staple food since at least 3000BC. Atlantic herrings are one of the most abundant species of fish on the planet. Moving in large schools, these small silver-skinned fish are mainly food for the larger predators such as halibut, tuna, salmon and, of course, humans.

Herrings are preserved in many ways, such as pickling, smoking and fermenting. They are most commonly eaten in the UK for breakfast in the form of smoked kippers. In other European and Scandinavian countries they are even more popular pickled and sold as rollmops.

Herrings are delicious either way - preserved or eaten fresh. This herring escabèche and pickled green bean salad recipe is a delicious way for preparing fresh herrings.


BLACKBERRIES

Blackberries in Britain are highly prized as an edible fruit produced from several species of the rubus genus of the rosaceae family. Blackberries are not a true berry, but an aggregate fruit. They are also referred to as brambles due to the vast number of species. Wild blackberries normally have small fruit with a highly perfumed fragrance and taste, but when cultivated they have a larger body and sometimes a more elongated shape with a slightly diluted taste.

Loganberries, raspberries, boysenberries, dewberries and tayberries are all classed as brambles and mostly grow on thorny bushes.

Blackberries can be expensive, so using them with other fruits is a sensible idea, as in this honey plum and blackberry jelly with plum sorbet recipe. Brambles work well with most game and poultry, as in the classic combination of pheasant and blackberries - wild birds feast on brambles, as they are highly nutritious.


AUGUST'S SEASONAL DELIGHTS

Artichokes, aubergines, apricots, blackberries, bobby beans, buckler-leaf sorrel, beetroot, blueberries, broad beans, brill, carrots, chard, crayfish, cherries, cod, crab, courgettes, cucumbers, clams, Dover sole, early damsons, English lamb, fennel, French beans, grey mullet, greengages, grouse (12 August), gooseberries, garlic, haddock, hare, halibut, herring, John Dory, kohlrabi, lobster, langoustines, loganberries, lemon sole, monkfish, mackerel, nectarines, new potatoes, onions, peaches, potatoes, plums, plaice, rabbit, rocket, runner beans, redcurrants, radishes, raspberries, sorrel, sweet corn, scallops, sea bass, Suffolk samphire, sardines, sea purslane, salmon, spinach, salad leaves, turnips, tomatoes, venison, wild mushrooms (especially when it's damp and humid), wood pigeon


PAN-ROASTED DUCK BREAST WITH PORT-BRAISED KOHLRABI

INGREDIENTS
(Serves four)

For the pan-roasted duck breast
• 4 duck breasts
• Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
• 200g green beans
• 200ml duck sauce
For the port-braised kohlrabi
• 2 kohlrabi
• 20g unsalted butter
• 150ml port
• Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the parsnip cream
• 300g parsnips
• 20g unsalted butter
• Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
• 50ml double cream


METHOD

Port-braised kohlrabi

Peel the kohlrabi. Use a metal ring and cut a tubular shape 5cm in diameter. Use a mandolin and slice the kohlrabi 4-5mm thick.

Heat the butter in a large non-stick frying pan. Once it starts to foam place the sliced kohlrabi in the butter and season.

Sauté the kohlrabi until it starts to turn golden. Deglaze the pan with the port, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Braise the kohlrabi slices until they are tender.

Reduce the port until it glazes and coats the kohlrabi.

Parsnip cream

Peel and finely slice the parsnips. Place the sliced parsnips in a vacuum bag, add the butter and seasoning. Seal on hard vacuum.

Bring the water to boil in a large saucepan and place the vacuum bag in the water, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and leave to simmer for 40 minutes.

Purée the parsnips in a blender until very smooth, then add the cream. If it's still too thick, add more cream.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Transfer the purée to a squeeze bottle.

Pan-roasted duck breast

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Prepare the duck breast: remove the silver skin if it's attached, trim and score the fat.

Season the duck breast generously with the salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Heat a large frying pan till hot but not smoking. Place the duck, fat side down, into the pan and sauté until the fat is rendered and golden brown. Turn the breast over and seal it on the meat side for one minute.

Place the duck on a tray in the preheated oven for 5-6 minutes, until pink. Let the duck rest on a cooling rack for 5 minutes.

Carve the duck and serve.

To serve

Blanch the green beans; slice some of them in half. Place the kohlrabi on warm plates, place the blanched beans on top of the kohlrabi and slice the rested duck breast and place that on top of the beans. Place droplets of parsnip purée on the plate and scatter some of the cut green beans around. Heat the sauce and spoon over the duck before serving.


HONEY PLUM AND BLACKBERRY JELLY WITH PLUM SORBET

INGREDIENTS
(Serves six)

For the honey plum and blackberry jelly
• 600g very ripe plums
• 300g blackberries
• 100g caster sugar
• Juice of ½ lime
• 25g honey
• 150ml water
• 1 vanilla pod
• 6 leaves gelatine
For the plum sorbet
• 500g ripe plums
• 80g caster sugar
• 50ml lime juice
• 1 free-range egg white

METHOD

Honey plum and blackberry jelly

Wash the plums, remove the stones and cut into quarters. Place the plums, blackberries, water, vanilla seeds, sugar, lime juice and honey into a vacuum bag and hard-seal.

Bring the water to boil in a large saucepan and place the vacuum bag in the water. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and leave for 30 minutes.

Remove the bag from the water and leave to cool and infuse overnight.

Pass the cooled syrup through a fine sieve or hang it in muslin for one hour to drain.

Discard the fruits and keep the juice. Measure the juice, and for a turn-out jelly soak 6 leaves of gelatine per 600ml of juice. If you set the jelly in glasses, then use 5 leaves of gelatine per 600ml of juice or 4 leaves for 500ml.

Soak and, once soft, melt the gelatine and add it to the plum and blackberry juice.

Pour the jelly into 8cm x 3cm moulds and set in the fridge.

Plum sorbet

Wash the plums. Remove the stones and cut them in quarters. Freeze them individually until hard. It is important that the frozen plums should be kept separate.

Place a clean container in the freezer and chill the Thermomix bowl in the fridge.

Weigh the sugar into the Thermomix bowl. Grind the sugar and spice for 30 seconds on speed 10.

Add the frozen plums and lemon juice. Insert the Thermomix spatula. Gradually turn down the speed to 9 and blend the plums for 1 minute.

Scrape the sides down and repeat this process until the plums are smooth.

Add the egg white and blend for 30 seconds on speed 8. Scrape the sides down, insert the butterfly whisk and whisk the sorbet on speed 4 for 30 seconds.

Scoop the sorbet in to the cold plastic container and store in freezer until needed.

To serve

Turn the jelly out on to a chilled plate. Place a teaspoonful of chopped pistachio nuts on top and finish with a small quenelle of plum sorbet. Garnish the plate with fresh blackberries.


HERRRING ESCABECHE AND PICKLED GREEN BEAN SALAD


INGREDIENTS
(Serves six)

For the herring escabèche
• 6 herring fillets, pinbones removed
• ½ bulb fennel, finely sliced
• 1 onion, finely sliced
• 1 carrot, finely sliced
• 1 clove garlic, lightly crushed
• 2 star anise
• Pinch of saffron
• 3tbs olive oil
• 1tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
• Maldon sea salt
• 1tsp caster sugar
• 1 sprig summer savory
• 1 bay leaf
• 75ml cider vinegar
• 200ml white wine
For the pickled green beans
• 300g green beans, sliced
• 115ml malt vinegar
• 2tsp curry powder
• 1tsp turmeric
• 115g light brown sugar
• 115g onions, diced
• 1tsp salt
• Freshly cracked black pepper
• 1tbs corn flour
• 1tsp Coleman's English mustard powder
• 10g golden syrup
• 1 clove garlic, crushed


METHOD

Herring escabèche

Prepare the fish: remove the pinbones, wash and pat dry. Cut the herrings into the desired sizes and lightly score the skin.

Place the herrings in a wide, shallow container and glaze the fish with half the olive oil. Add the bay leaf and summer savory and set aside for later.

Heat a medium saucepan and toast the coriander seeds and star anise in it. Remove from the heat.

Return the pan to the heat with the remaining oil and sweat the onions, fennel, garlic, carrot and toasted spices until it turns transparent and colourless. Lightly season and add the sugar and saffron.

Add the white wine and vinegar. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes.

Season the herrings with the Maldon sea salt and ladle the pickling liquid over. Let the herrings cool completely. It's best to leave them in the fridge for 12 hours for the flavour to develop.

Pickled green beans

Top and tail the beans and slice on an angle.

Bring the salted water to a boil in a large saucepan and blanch the beans for 1 minute. Refresh in icy cold water.

In a separate medium saucepan mix the malt vinegar and cornflour till smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the refreshed blanched beans and bring the mixture back to the boil for 1 minute.

Transfer the pickled beans to a sterilised clean container. Cool and refrigerate. Refrigerated, they will keep for up to two months, if unopened.

To serve

Serve the herring escabèche and pickled green beans on a plate. Garnish the plate with some of the pickling vegetables and juices and add a few sprigs of watercress.


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