Boozy prune clafoutis

January 18, 2013

Unbelievably, it has been nearly three years since I packed away my London flat, stacked up all my boxes in a storage unit in Brighton and strode off into the Turkish sunset. The sunset scenario didn’t exactly work out, and it’s taken me a while to find my feet again, but finally, I’m back on solid ground, in a lovely flat, with a lovely flatmate, and most excitingly, have all my wonderful kitchen things out of storage and back in their rightful place – in the kitchen.

I’ve been thinking about my blog and how to restart it for a long time now, and have made a few attempts at getting it going again. I’m not sure why, when I have such a great kitchen to cook in now, I’ve been feeling so blocked when it came to writing about my food again. But I’ve decided that, rather than making a big song and dance about it, I’m just going to slide gently back into the blogosphere and hope that a few people join me along the way.

So, prunes.

Now, take that look off your face. They’re not just what your granny eats to keep herself regular, okay? I admit that in my childhood they had all the allure of a dose of Benylin. But, due to the current popularity of Middle Eastern and north African food (thanks, Moro and Ottolenghi), prunes are fast becoming a store-cupboard staple in my home.

Prunes. Not just for your granny

Prunes. Not just for your granny

In fact, the reason I had a rather large tub of them in my fridge was because I’d used them in an Ottolenghi recipe for osso bucco with prunes and leeks. And the only prunes I had been able to find locally were in mahoosive quantities.

Last week, I was having lunch with a friend and, as my conversations often do, the topic turned to food, and what I could do with my leftover prunes. “I have just the thing!” exclaimed Zoe. “Stuff them with almonds, soak them in booze and make them into a clafoutis.”

Ooh, I’m not sure about that, I thought.

No, of course I didn’t. I thought, bloody hell, that sounds fantastic! And even better, the recipe Zoe suggested was gluten-free, which meant it would also perfectly suit my sensitively stomached flatmate.

Zoe had said she generally used Armagnac or Marsala for the soaking, but I chose Madeira (mainly because it was the only one I could find in relatively small and cheap bottles). And I think you could probably use any sort of strong-ish alcohol that takes your fancy.

Almond-stuffed prunes soaking in Madeira wine

Almond-stuffed prunes soaking in Madeira wine

So, put a whole blanched almond inside about 12 pitted prunes, stick them in a bowl and soak them in your booze of choice overnight.

Ingredients for boozy prune clafoutis

Ingredients for boozy prune clafoutis

Butter a baking dish. (The one I used here was, in fact, a little too wide and shallow. For these quantities, I’d suggest something about 20cm wide.) Then place the boozy prunes in the dish.

Almond stuffed prunes soaked in Madeira wine

Almond stuffed prunes soaked in Madeira wine

Whizz together 250g mascarpone, 30g ground almonds, 30g soft brown sugar and 2 eggs, until smooth and light. Then pour the mixture over the prunes. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake at 160°C for about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes. While waiting, pour the excess Madeira into a wine glass and glug. (Yum.)

Boozy prune clafoutis

Boozy prune clafoutis

Serve immediately out of the oven. In fact, just pick up a spoon and dive in. I’d say this should be enough for four – four very restrained people. In reality, Flatmate and I managed to scoff pretty much the lot in one sitting.

As it should be done.

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Clove at first sight…

January 9, 2011

Christmas and new year’s eve are pretty much non-events for me and Süleyman – mainly because he has to work both evenings, but also because there just isn’t the same emphasis on those particular holidays in Turkey.

I have to say, it doesn’t bother me too much, but what I do miss is the chance to cook something special for the two of us.

Luckily, it’s Süleyman’s birthday a week after new year, and that day he doesn’t have to work. So I always use the opportunity to make a fairly big celebratory meal.

This year, Süleyman expressed a desire to have something along the lines of the slow-cooked lamb shanks I’d made last year when our friends Meryem and Özgür came for dinner. But, said Süleyman, could I do it with cloves? It turns out he’d eaten a lamb dish with cloves in a restaurant a few years ago, and had loved it. I told him I was pretty sure I could come up with something.

What I did come up with was a recipe for duck with prunes, plus various other herbs and spices, one of which was cloves – courtesy of an old post by David Lebovitz. Looking at the list of ingredients – red wine, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, orange zest, pancetta (which I replaced with a spicy beef sausage called suçuk, as porky products are nigh on impossible to get here) and garlic – I saw no reason not to substitute the duck with lamb.

So, on the morning of Süleyman’s birthday, I set to work. I heated some olive oil in a nice deep frying pan, and when smoking hot, added the shanks and browned them all over.

While they were sizzling away, I started peeling some baby onions that I’d decided to add to the dish. And what a flippin’ pain that turned out to be. Not only were they fiddly beyond belief, but the fumes were so powerful I ended up with streaming red eyes. I only managed to deal with about half the bag, and I have a strong suspicion that the rest of those little buggers are going to be sitting in my vegetable rack for rather a long time.

Once I’d cried a river over the onions, I removed the lamb shanks from the pan, added pretty much a whole bottle of red wine, let it bubble away for a few minutes, then threw in all the other ingredients. David’s original recipe calls for the meat to be put in the oven at this point, but as regular readers will know, that’s not an option for me, being oven-less. So, instead, I simply put a tight-fitting lid on the saucepan, turned the heat way down low, and let nature take its course.

Cooking lamb shanks this way, I have found, is just as good as using an oven, but it does take a little longer to make the meat really soft and succulent. But, as the birthday boy and I had plans, after an hour or so of cooking, I turned off the gas, with the intention of finishing it later.

Süleyman and I then toddled off to Istanbul’s Pera Museum to see a stunning exhibition of the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. And, I have to say, the intense colour and passion in Kahlo’s paintings put me in the perfect mood for the intense flavours of the dinner waiting for us at home.

Another couple of hours of cooking was needed once we got back. So, while the lamb was gently simmering, and Süleyman and I were getting gently sloshed on some more delicious red wine, I somehow also managed to conjure up some mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. About half an hour before the lamb was done, I added about 200g of stoned prunes to the mix, which provided a gorgeous sweetness to the whole affair.

Dinner was served – and, if I do say so myself, it was truly scrumptious. Lamb in Turkey has quite a strong flavour (I get the impression the animals are slaughtered at an older age than in the UK), so it held up to the clove-y aroma wonderfully. And what’s more warming on a winter’s night than a spicy lamb stew? Not much, I can tell you.

L’heure de l’apéro

August 5, 2010

Having felt like something of a whirling dervish over the last couple of weeks (albeit one with the permanent fixture of a glass of wine in one hand), I’m now having a relatively settled week in France with my mum.

Inevitably, the glass of something, um, refreshing is still making a regular appearance. And, being France, an apéritif means there is always something to nibble on alongside whatever it is you’re drinking.

Last night, we sat outside and sipped a delicious cold glass of Muscat, while eating some lovely, rough local pâté on toasted bread from the boulangerie down the road, accompanied by crunchy cornichons and radishes.

The bread I hadn’t seen before over here – it’s called pain de meule and is made with a very finely stoneground French flour. The loaves are very long and sold in portions by weight, which is useful if you haven’t quite taken to the French way of consuming vast amounts of baguette with every meal.

The French way of l’apéro, however, I have taken to very easily…