Beignets de feuilles

IMG_20150531_174805This is a very quick post for a very quick and easy canapé dish that showcases the abundant crop of green salad leaves and delicate herbs flourishing at this time of year.  Here in Dorset, we have wild rocket, basil, chives, mint, peashoots, wild garlic and sage in the garden and the local woods, so I have been making the most of them.

Recipes for beignets are common to all my provençal cookery books be they recent publications or older, more traditional recipe collections.   Most of the recipes I have consulted involve frying a single piece of vegetable such as courgette or aubergine, but we need not limit ourselves here.  A myriad of ingredients lend themselves to battering it seems.  I’ve come across recipes featuring anchovies, salt cod, potatoes and courgette flowers (see my chickpea flour version of the latter here) and let’s not get sidetracked right now by sweet beignets…..

Eggs are almost always used in the batter mix but the simple recipe below uses just ’00’ pasta flour and sparkling water to bind the chopped herbs and leaves.  These herby fritters are packed with spring flavour and the simplicity of the batter makes them light and not too filling.  Serve them hot, just out of the pan with a glass of rosé (Tavel worked for us) or fizz.  A little aïoli, pesto or fresh tomato sauce on the side as a dip is always popular too.

I used rocket, basil, chives and a little sage for my beignets this time but you can use whatever you have to hand or what’s available locally.  Spinach and chard work well with some flavoursome herbs to accompany them in the mix.

Beignets de feuilles (makes 16)

30g rocket leaves
A handful of basil leaves
A handful of chives
6 large sage leaves
100g 00 flour
150ml sparkling water
A good pinch of salt
Groundnut or sunflower oil for frying

Rinse the leaves, pat them dry and then roughly chop them.

Whisk together the flour, sparkling water and salt, then add the leaves to the batter and mix thorougly.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and, once it is hot, add a teaspoon-sized, test ball of the batter.  If the batter mix sizzles nicely, you know the oil is ready. Gradually add desertspoon-sized portions of batter, but don’t overcrowd the pan – four to five at a time works well.  Turn the fritters in the oil until they are crisp all over and lightly browned. The kitchen will be filled with the aromas of the various herbs by this stage – my family came running from all ends of the house and garden!   Drain the fritters on kitchen towel and serve immediately with your choice of dip.

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Tomatoes, cobnuts and rocket – late summer pesto

IMG_20140903_160429It’s full-on tomato season here in Dorset, and hugely satisfying to see so much ripe, red fruit both in the garden and the greenhouse.  We might even be saved from the usual gallon of green tomato chutney this year.   Over the summer we’ve munched our way through successive pickings of wild rocket grown from seed.  The flavour is so fresh and peppery, the leaves so crunchy when just picked so it’s been a delight to mix up simple salads with this come again crop.  Out in the lanes behind the house, blackberries and cobnuts are suddenly ready for picking, but if yesterday’s blackberry hunt with the kids is anything to go by there will be more eaten along the way than brought home for cooking. Anyway, more on the blackberries in my next post.

One of the recent comments that came back when I asked friends and family what they thought of the blog was that I should probably write a bit more about pesto and pistou.  That is the blog’s title after all.  Good point.  So I’m sharing my recipe for oven-dried tomato, rocket and cobnut pesto, a great sauce for late summer and a tasty way to use up a glut of ripe tomatoes. The tomatoes take three hours to dry out sufficiently in a low oven but you could use jarred sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil if you’re in a hurry. Go for pine nuts if you can’t get cobnuts.  Kentish cobnuts are available now in the UK but the season is pretty short.

No need to serve the pesto with anything complicated. Simply scoop a generous spoonful over linguine, add a few rocket leaves and top with a dollop of ricotta or a few torn strips of mozzarella. Why not add a spoonful to a bowl of fresh tomato soup or spread some over a fillet of grilled salmon or chicken?

Let’s raise a glass to all this delicious late summer produce.  Mine’s a soft red to go with the pesto –  a Barbera from Piedmont I reckon and lightly chilled.  Salute!

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Late Summer Pesto

For oven-drying the tomatoes:

500g ripe plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthways
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Place the tomatoes on a greased baking tray, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle generously with the extra virgin olive oil.  Bake in a low oven – 140°C – for three hours but do watch them to make sure they are not burning.  Remove from the oven when done and leave to cool.  NB You can also jar up these dried tomatoes, cover them with olive oil and add a selection of herbs such as bay leaves, rosemary and thyme, and then you have your own oven-dried tomatoes to use during the winter.

For the pesto:
(makes approx. 300g)

The oven-dried tomatoes from the above recipe or 150g sundried tomatoes, drained of oil
25g rocket leaves
50g cobnuts (about 150g before shelling), chopped and toasted (or the equivalent of pine nuts)
50g pecorino romano
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
75ml extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt

Place all the pesto ingredients in a blender and whizz until mixed.  Add more salt and oil as required.

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