Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Carrots and Chard: The Start of Autumn Cooking

Carrots and Chard: The start of autumn cooking.
The change in the weather has been echoed by the change in vegetables arriving in the veg share.  As a natural response to this my cooking here at home has changed, with refreshing salads being replaced with comforting soups; richer umami flavours taking the place of the fresh crisp tastes of summer.  Today’s lunch consisted of the leftovers of last night’s cheesy chard tart and carrot and coriander soup.  Both are straightforward to make and seemed well matched to the sunny but cooler early autumn day.
Carrot and coriander soup
A quick recipe inspired by one by James Tanner from Ready Steady Cook, tweaked and multiplied up to feed four.  It is better with home made vegetable stock but I usually use the powdered one made by Marigold, made up slightly weaker than recommended.

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, chopped finely or crushed
4 tsp coriander seeds
400g carrots, chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
60ml double cream
60ml plain yoghurt
A good handful fresh coriander, chopped roughly

  1. Start by toasting your coriander seeds in a dry frying pan.  I use a cast iron one for this job.  All you need to do is put the seeds into the dry pan and heat them until they start to turn a toasted colour, release their fragrance and to jump about in the pan.  Watch them like a hawk, they’ll burn in seconds.  Take them off, put them into a pestle and mortar and bash them like mad until they go reasonably powdery.  How much you do this depends on how large you mind the spices being in the final soup, bearing in mind they soften as they cook.  I don’t mind a few slightly larger lumps of shell so just grind them until I get bored with the job.
  2. Saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes until they turn soften, then add the coriander and cook a bit more until they start to smell gorgeous and lemony.  This is the reason I insist on using whole spices rather than powdered ones, despite the extra work.  The fragrance is just impossible to match with the powder, and you really can taste the difference in the finished soup.
  3. Add the carrots and the stock, bring to the boil and then turn the heat down a bit, allowing the soup to simmer for a while – about 15 minutes should do it.
  4. Take the soup off the heat, and add the cream.  Allow it to cool a bit, then blitz thoroughly until the soup is smooth and glossy.  I like a stick blender best for this job.  I tend to wait to season with salt and pepper until this stage so that I can control the seasoning by tasting as I go.
  5. Add the yoghurt and the chopped coriander leaf.
  6. Either serve immediately, or if you’re eating it later make sure when you heat the soup you don’t let it boil to avoid the risk of splitting.
Cheesy chard tart
Inspired by the recipe in Nigel Slater’s wonderful Tender, but tweaked to accommodate my laziness.  This tart serves six in theory, but the two of us demolished it in two sittings – perhaps partly because Richard ate a third of it in one go for supper.  It is actually best served cold, but is also nice warm with a crisp green salad dressed with spring onion, lemon juice and olive oil.

Chard, with its strong earthy taste, responds best to bold flavours so I like to choose recipes that use strong cheeses or bacon.  I admit to being a bit of a chard shirker so the gentler treatments that rely on the unctuousness of cream are not for me, but may be worth trying if you’re a big fan.  Medium sized leaves, about the size that have been appearing in the veg share, are milder than the larger ones, and if you grow your own the tiny ones are very nice in salads.

The recipe asks for Parmesan.  There are several vegetarian alternatives to this.  The one by Bookhams marketed as Not Just a Pasta Cheese, previously called Twineham Grange works well.  Nigel Slater suggests Pecorino or Spenwood as alternatives.  The latter is a real artisan cheese and is made with vegetarian rennet, but I haven’t tried it yet.

For the pastry
175g plain flour (I used half white, half wholemeal, which gives a nice texture)
75g butter at room temperature
A pinch of salt
Half a teaspoon mustard powder
40g grated mature cheddar
A small bunch of thyme, leaves removed from the stalks
A little chilled water to bind

For the tart
About 200g medium sized chard leaves – washed well
2 large shallots sliced finely
50g mature cheddar, grated
40g parmesan, grated
2 large eggs
300ml double cream

  1. Start by making the pastry.  Put the flour, mustard powder and salt into a bowl.  Rub in the butter until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency, then add the thyme leaves and the cheese and mix in thoroughly.  Add water gradually until the pastry comes together.  Last time I needed 3-4 tablespoons, but it depends on the flour and all sorts of other factors.  Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and allow it to chill for half an hour in the fridge.
  2. Roll out the pastry thinly on a floured surface.  Put it into a flan tin about 25cm diameter. (Against all advice I use a ceramic tart dish, which is supposed to make the pastry soggy but doesn’t seem to in my experience).  Chill again in the fridge for another 30 minutes.  I know this seems like overkill but the first chill is to allow the gluten to develop, so the pastry is nice and elastic when rolling out rather than breaking up horribly; and the second helps to stop the pastry shrinking when you cook it.  Don’t bother if you don’t want to, but don’t blame me if it doesn’t work properly.
  3. While the pastry is chilling steam the chard until it’s wilted down.  Allow it to cool a bit, then squeeze it out to get rid of as much water as you can.  If you don’t it will send the filling watery.  Chop the dried chard roughly then mix the shallots in and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 200oC/gas mark 6
  5. Blind bake the pastry case for about 15 minutes until crisp and golden using whichever method you prefer (line with foil or greaseproof and weigh down with baking beans or use Delia’s method of stabbing the case all over with a fork to prevent air getting trapped).  If you used foil or greaseproof remove it for the last five minutes to give the pastry a chance to go crisp on the base.
  6. Put in the chard/shallot mix, then scatter the mixed grated cheeses over the top.  Finally whisk together the cream and eggs and pour over the whole tart.
  7. Return to the oven for 20-25 minutes.  When it comes out try to cool for a while to give the filling a chance to set properly. 
If you serve it with salad this one works well.  Go for simplicity so one or two types of leaves, torn into bite sized chunks and washed thoroughly.  I use my salad spinner to dry the leaves out afterwards.  Deeply unfashionable but by far the neatest and most effective method I know of.  Finely chop a couple of spring onions and put into a jar with the juice of half a lemon, about three times the amount of extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.  Put on the lid, shake like mad until emulsified then dress the salad lightly.  


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