Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Country Matters

Start with a country-style soup which originated in Denmark, this version appearing in 1863 made especially for Princess Alexandra when she married Edward Prince of Wales because she was so homesick for the country she had left. So you see, it doesn't matter how frugal a soup can be. If it finds favour at the top tables, then why not go for it?
Gale Aerter (Danish split pea soup) : serves 6
4 0z (100g) dried split peas, soaked overnight
3 oz (75g) pearl barley, soaked overnight with the peas
2 pints (1.1 litres) vegetable or chicken stock
1 oz (25g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
3 tblsp tomato puree
5 fl oz (300ml) single cream
finely chopped parsley
After the split peas and barley have been soaking in plenty of water for at least 8 hours, drain well and add to a pan of boiling water. Boil for five minutes, then drain well.
Put the butter into a large pan over medium heat, and when melted stir in the butter and fry gently until golden, then stir in the peas and barley and the stock. Season to taste then simmer for half an hour. Stir in the tomato puree and simmer for a further half to one hour until the peas and barley are very tender.
Blitz in a blender/processor and/or rub through a sieve to make a smooth soup and stir in the cream, up to but not quite boiling. Thin with a little milk if still too thick. Adjust the seasoning and serve up in bowls with a garnish of chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

A dish to use up cooked beef or lamb (other than the ubiquitous Cottage or Shepherd's pies) is always welcome. This was very popular around Victorian times although the addition of tomatoes is a twentieth century updated version. The used of cooked dried beans makes it economical, but instead of starting from scratch, canned (drained) beans could be used.
Hashed Meat with Beans: serves 4
8 oz (225g) dried beans (butter, haricot, red or a mixture)
2 oz (50g) butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 oz (75g) mushrooms, sliced
8 slices cooked beef or lamb (any fat removed)
salt and pepper
1 - 2oz (25 - 50g) flour
1 pint (600ml) beef or lamb stock*
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight, then drain and put into a pan with fresh water, and simmer for half an hour until just becoming tender, but not over-cooked.
Melt half butter in a pan and fry the onion until softened. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper, then put the onions in an ovenproof casserole. Add the mushrooms to the frying pan and fry, adding a little more butter only if necessary. Spoon out and place on top of the mushrooms, then lay the sliced meat on top. Season to taste. Melt the remaining ounce of butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, then add the stock, a little a time, whisking until thickened to a smooth gravy. Drain the cooked beans and lay these over the meat and sprinkle with the mixed herbs. Stir the canned tomatoes, with their juice, and the sugar into the gravy and pour the lot over the beans. Season again to taste, and cook, uncovered for 30 - 40 minutes in an oven at 180C, 350F, gas 4. Serve with rice or crusty bread, and a green salad.

In olden days, when sugar was very expensive, the sweeter vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips, were used to make sweet pies which were served as a dessert. This one is particularly good, the filling being very similar to lemon curd. If the parsnips are large and old, remove the woody core before cooking. The tradition goes that in the spring, in Kent, it was decorated with sugared primroses, tucked inbetween the lattice.
Parsnip Open Tart: serves 4 - 6
8 oz (225g) shortcrust pastry
1 1/2 lb (700g) parsnips, peeled, quartered
2 tblsp thick honey
1 tsp ground ginger
half tsp mixed spice
grated nutmeg to taste
2 egg yolks
juice and zest of 2 lemons
Roll out the pastry and line an 8 or 9" (20 - 23cm) flan tin. Put the parsnips in a pan of boiling water and cook until softened. Drain well and mash to a soft pulp. Blend in the honey, spices, egg yolks and the lemon juice and zest. When thoroughly mixed, spoon into the flan case. Gather together the pastry trimmings and roll out again. Cut into strips and place across the flan in a lattice pattern. Bake for 20 -25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6. When cold, serve with cream.