Saturday, 14 June 2008

Summer Pudding...

Summer Pudding gets ticks in all the right boxes. It's an oxymoronic combination of a luxurious overabundance of delicious things, but where none of them individually is actually very luxurious. And it does seem to be something which has retained its place in the seasonal calendar - I still associate it with a summer glut of soft fruit, and it hasn't yet suffered from season-slip and started to appear on menus year-round, as with so many other dishes (mostly to the detriment of their quality, along the way). It is phenomenally easy to make, presents well, and is gloriously self-indulgent to eat......

Surprisingly - and maybe because it is so easy to make - it doesn't get much coverage from many of the greats. Mrs Beeton is quite vague on the subject, and merely refers to the need for ...'a pound of stewed soft fruit...' for the filling , without suggesting what the fruit might be, or even specifying how much liquid should be used in constructing the pudding. Very important, that last point, as you don't want the end result to be either too dry or too wet. Frances Bissell, while not bothering with a 'red' summer pudding, gives a recipe for a white one - gooseberries and white currants, rather than raspberries and redcurrants - which sounds interesting, but definitely for earlier in the summer than now. There are also two schools of thought about the shape of the finished pudding - either domed or flat; arguably, a flat version allows the pudding to be weighted evenly, and it also looks less as though it's pretending to be a zucotta!

Having done a fairly thorough trawl of the different methods which are out there, my preferred version is as follows:

For a Pudding 20 cm in diameter (enough for eight portions):

Ingredients: 8 oz red (or black) currants; 12 oz pitted Cherries; 8 oz Raspberries; 1/4 pint Water; 5 oz Sugar; 15 (or so) medium slices of White Bread, crusts removed*.

* The best kind of bread for this, I find, is a Swiss Bread called Zopf, which is made with a butter-enriched dough and is midway between bread and brioche. Brioche proper is structurally too weak to use in summer pudding, as it has a tendency to fall to pieces when soaked in the fruit juices.


1. Butter (or Trennwax) a 20 cm cake tin.

2. Combine the Fruit, Water, and Sugar in a small pan; bring to a simmer, and stir, simmering, until the Sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat and leave to cool. Separate the Fruit from the syrup.

3. Cut the Bread into triangles and rectangles, in order to be able to line the base and the sides of the cake tin, making as perfect a fit as you can manage. Brush the Bread lining with a little syrup once the base and sides are completely covered.

4. Spoon half of the Fruit on top of the Bread, and carefully pour onto it a third of the reserved syrup. Use half of the remaining Bread to make a layer over the fruit, and cover this in turn with the rest of the fruit, and pour another third of the syrup over the top. Finish the construction with a final layer of Bread, and the last of the syrup.

5. Place the cake tin in a dish with a rim - necessary to catch all the liquid which will inevitably ooze out - cover with clinngfilm, and then place a weighted* plate on top, of about the same diamater as the top of the pudding. Leave like his for an hour or so, then remove the weights, and refrigerate overnight.

6. Invert and unmould to serve, accompanied by delicious thick cream

* For wieghts, I generally use my blind-baking weights, poured into a shallow plastic container.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


One of the joys of Italian cooking: thin slices of veal, pork, turkey or calf's liver which cook in a second and can be prepared in myriad ways. A dish of spaghetti dressed only with oil and garlic as first course, an escalope with a Marsala & cream sauce, a fresh peach to dip in the last of the red wine: perhaps a salad if you are feeling like pushing the boat out. A minimalist dinner which anyone can cook in minutes, leaving plenty of time for a good bottle, a good coffee and a chat. Bliss. The good Dr Pomiane would have approved mightily....

There are, however, two absolutely critical steps. The first is to find a butcher who can cut straight. The scallop should be no more than 1/4" thick, preferably a bit less. Maurizio does this by hand in one smooth and effortless slice; his son resorts to the electric slicer - admittedly, with equally good results. In the UK, I watch with anguish as the butcher struggles first with the meat and then with the knife, delivering something 1/2" thick at one end and which tapers to a sliver at the other. Cutting meat appropriately and efficiently thin is a knack, and you need bags of practice - which English butchers don't get because customers don't ask, or if they do, they don't make the mistake a second time.

Failure in step #1 ensures failure at step #2: the meat should be barely cooked. In a hot frying pan with a little oil and/or butter ( I prefer both), just lay the slice in, first on one side then on the other until each surface is just cooked. The time is so short, you practically need a stop watch. The meat shouldn't brown, or stiffen but remain soft and flexible. If it stiffens or curls, it is over-cooked.

Finally, remove the meat to a hot plate and leave in a warm +/-60C oven while you make the sauce.

If the meat hasn't been cut thin and evenly, you can't cook it like this - the result will be one end cooked, stiff, tough and curling and the other raw and flabby.

But surely, I hear you say, what about a meat mallet? - batuto carne in this neck of the woods. Contrary to widely held belief - i.e that you can make good the badly cut piece of meat by hammeriing it into shape - thumping the bejabbers out of a slice of meat does not do it one bit of good: all you do is crush it, guaranteeing that it will be dried out when cooked. The Italians only resort to the batuto carne for involtini - small parcels of stuffing, rolled in paper-thin slices of meat and then stewed or sautéed. In that dish the meat cooks through completely for 20-30 minutes - it has to, or the stuffing would be raw - so it doesn't matter that the meat's texture has been broken down somewhat; the juices will run out and only improve the sauce.
But back to step #1: if the meat isn't cut evenly it won't cook evenly, the solution to the problem is simply to change butcher, not a frenzied attack on the blameless meat with a hammer!

Tonight's Dinner:

Sage & Lemon Risotto.

Bream, grilled and then served with a concassé of tomato, dill, rosemary, and onion.

Summer Pudding.