Olie, Olie, Olie……

 

Growing up in my Anglo Celtic family, as much as food was always a social lubricant, we didn’t have much in the way of a New Year’s food tradition. Sure we had lots of the usual nibbles, drinks and maybe a bottle of Champagne at midnight, but there was no one thing you could single out as being unique to each and every New Year’s celebration.

oliebollen

In complete contrast, my wife’s family couldn’t be more different. Without exception, every New Years we are treated to Traditional Dutch Oliebollen,  – delicious little dried fruit beignets. In past years there were also apple fritters or Appleflappen but these seem to be less frequent (they are more a winter treat anyway)

So when “Oma” turned up yesterday with this year’s supply of freshly fried, fruity donuts, dusted with icing sugar, they lasted just long enough to make some coffee and snap photo above before they too disappeared. Judging by the response to my instagram post when these arrived our family is not alone in loving this annual Dutch treat which is now firmly part of my family tradition.

omas recipe

 

 

frying oli

 

Of course celebrating food traditions is useless if these recipes and customs are not passed down, shared and actually made. So this year I made sure “Oma” wrote out her recipe for me. Like all good recipes Its truly simplicity itself, a basic yeast raised batter with dried fruits and diced apple, fried in spoonful’s until deep golden and dusted generously with powdered or superfine sugar.

Like all home baked yeast goods, these Oliebollen need to be eaten as soon as possible after making, simply because they aren’t loaded with preservatives, emulsifiers and other commercial nasties, but then again eating them quickly has never been a problem in our house, and the batch below we knocked up to test the recipe this afternoon will  be history long before you read this post!!

 

Oliebollen

12g                yeast – dry
330ml          milk – lukewarm
330g             plain flour
pinch            salt
175g              dried fruits – currants, sultanas
1                    granny smith apple – peeled, cored and diced
1 litre           vegetable oil – for deep frying
Icing or caster sugar for dusting

Method

    • Mix the yeast, milk and ¼ of the flour to a batter, cover and allow to double into a frothy mass.
    • Mix the salt into the remaining flour, mix the frothy batter into the flour to form a smooth stiff batter.
    • Stir in fruit mixing well, cover and leave to double in bulk
    • Using two oiled spoons fry spoonful’s of the batter in hot oil (170c using a candy thermometer) until golden on both sides ensuring oil is deep enough to fully submerge.
    • Drain well on kitchen paper, dust with sugar and enjoy ……Lekker!

Note:

If you take the time to make these, I’m sure you wont be disappointed  but if you’re intimidated by baking with yeast maybe you should book into our 2 day Artisanal bread and yeast goods workshop over the Australia Day long weekend.

olie olie olie

Its in the blood

Long before it became trendy to serve black pudding with scallops and other seafood in that weird, trendy surf and turf, black pudding has been my soul food. You see I may be Australian by choice but I’m British by birth, Celtic by heritage and importantly black pudding has long been a favored family treat. Getting the right black pudding or one that tastes of my memories has however been a little more difficult with blood puddings varying greatly between pork consuming cultures, each having their own delicious variations on the theme.Black Pudding

For starters, the Silesian pudding of my adopted homeland of South Australia’s  Barossa Valley is more commonly referred to as Ricewurst and while delicious it has a fine grainy texture very different to the sausage I am so fond of. Similarly San Jose smallgoods in nearby Adelaide make an amazing Spanish style morcilla that eats like a delicious hot liver pate, but it is far richer than I am used too. Then there are the seriously spicy black puddings served as part of a Balinese  Babi Guling feast,  and of course not to be forgotten the French by have their beautiful feather light boudin noir rich with cream and bound with white bread crumbs, but none of these measure up to memories of the black pudding of my childhood.

For a long time I wondered how real the food memories of my youth were,  especially after re-reading Jane Grigson’s disparaging comments about British style black puddings in the classic book Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery (still the definitive authority on the subject for my money!) for her they are too solid, stodgy and  heavy with oats and barley  to be enjoyable but she included a recipe just for comparison.

Interestingly the recipe she reproduced is the closest I have seen to one given to me by my Irish grandmother when I first started  cooking professionally over 35 years ago. Culturally Nanny Mac’s  recipe sits about halfway between the English and French variations, heavy with barley and oats as the British but fragrantly spiced and lightened with cream like the French.  I have made this recipe in the past a few times with varying levels of success, however recently I decided to revisit the recipe and the results were  fantastic.

black pudding in the panSo what was different….Yes I had taken  a little more care with measurements, used  a finer grade of oatmeal and  adjusted  salt and seasoning levels, but a key difference was that the blood I used no longer came via a local butcher. Rather following a conversation with sausage guru and colleague Neil Jewell I discovered a new source . Neil recommended I try  pigs blood jelly (congealed pigs blood, available at most  Chinese grocers) suggesting it should  easily liquefy in a blender and could then treated as fresh blood.

The results as mentioned were a triumph, so much so that when a group of local winemakers recently requested a short charcuterie workshop, I included my reworking of Nan’s black pudding as part of the class and I’m glad to say the results were better than ever.  The texture and taste were exactly as remembered, firm but light, crispy and lacy with meltingly tender cubes of fat. More than that the slices  were not in the least oily or greasy, kept their  shape in the pan and didn’t crumble like so many others.

So following is Nans recipe, it has a little more detail than the original which called for a pint of blood, half pint of cream and a couple of handfuls of oatmeal, all heavily seasoned, but it is essentially one and the same. Moreover it is ridiculously simple and can easily be prepared in even the most basic kitchen with just a stick blender, some scales, bowls, a jug and a funnel. So try them either with fried apples, potatoes and onions (pictured below) or as I most fondly recall, if the season permits with sweet ripe tomatoes fried until mushy in lard with lots of white pepper.

black pudding with apples

 Nanny Mac’s Irish Black Pudding or Drisheen

1 runner  of large hog casings 
80g                  pork back fat – in small dice
45g                  onion – chopped fine (approx. ½ small onion)
250ml             cream
20g                  salt
8g                    pepper
2g                    nutmeg
2g                    thyme
2g                    ground coriander
Pinch              ground clove
500ml            pig’s blood (or 1 pkt Pig’s Blood Jelly)
250g               fine oatmeal
100g               barley – soaked and cooked
 

Method

  • Soak runners (sausage skins)  overnight in plenty of cold water with a little lemon juice
  • Render half the fat in a small pan and gently sweat onion until soft – do not colour, add cream and all seasonings and simmer for 2-3 minutes, using a stick blender process smooth – allow to cool and reserve
  • If using blood jelly, process smooth and add cooled cream mixture – mix well, Stir into oatmeal and add cooked barley and remaining reserved fat
  • Knot one end of runner and using a jug and funnel pour blood mixture into casing allowing room for expansion during cooking (to at least twice its size) tie off other end making sure no air is trapped.   Tie off into sections or loops using string ensuring each sausage section is only half filled
  • Place a large pan of water on the stove and bring to a simmer, place  puddings into water just below simmering point and allow sausages to set for about 15 minutes – do not allow to boil or sausages will burst
  • Remove sausages from pot and transfer to a pan of cold water for 5-10 minutes to arrest cooking. While still warm rub with melted lard to seal pudding and prevent drying out, refrigerate until required.
  • When cold slice about 1cm thick and fry in a hot pan until crisp on each side.

Whats with the Figgin seasons…..

figs

As I sit here in late March, the sense that vintage in the Barossa is all but over is very clear. The general consensus for 2013  seems to be that it was a lighter crop than usual, early, fast and furious and even nature itself seemed to be caught offside. Let me explain, in the twenty years we’ve lived in this valley, and through the twenty vintages we’ve seen come and go there has been one constant  indicator that the Shiraz vintage was about to hit full swing, every year that is except this 2013.

This magic barometer of vintage that I speak of is an ancient, gnarled fig tree in our garden,planted well over a hundred years ago we believe with our block having been settled in the 1860’s. Apart from its girth and height, there is nothing unique about the variety, it being the same black fig that is spread far and wide across the district. In fact these figs were one of the ubiquitous plantings of settlement in “New Silesia” and have along with quinces, pears and almonds naturalised themselves, frequently going feral in these parts.

Initially it took me a few years to notice the coincidental timing, but as our old tree only produces one flush of ripe fruit each season, and this is something that I keenly await the sense that things were happening in tandem was too clear to ignore. Most years the fruit hangs small and green for what seems an eternity and then as the rumble of grape trucks and mechanical harvesters picks up, and the white grapes start to be harvested, as if by magic the first figs start to swell to ripeness. Light in flavour and richness and even a little dry, even at this stage  they are still a welcome addition to the table.

However they are at their best several weeks later when they become  the true indicator that Shiraz around here in the Western Barossa is fully ripe. Normally, without fail, the figs come on in a sudden flush and the branches positively groan with giant, jammy, dark figs oozing stickiness. Most critically this seemingly occurs almost overnight, and after this initial flurry things slow into a more constant rhythm over the next month or so as the  Grenache and Mataro  come off. Then as the first cold snaps of late Autumn kick in, things grind to a halt as the leaves fall and fruits dry up  becoming simply fodder for the birds.

But as vintage gets earlier as it has for the past few years, the pattern described above,  typically starting in late February and generally  all over by late April early May, has become more confused. This year the Shiraz harvest was just about over by the time our figs first ripened and the cooling and light showers of the past couple of days has seen them already start to slide into the slow down mode, and its only the third week in March and hardly a fig has been picked……

But, we take what we get, while we can, and despite our old tree being a little out of sync this year it is clear that it still acts as a indicator of the vintage, albeit a little differently. So as if to echo the words  of the many winemakers that have already made comment on 2013,  in regards our figs….. “the crop has been light, picking finished very early, but the fruit was fully ripe and full of flavour”….and when all is said and done , I’m just glad im not a farmer!

Ripe black figs with lachs-schinken and cress

figs and lachshinken

Simplicity itself, just  cut ripe figs  into quarters or sixths

Drape with some thinly sliced lachs-schinken from Linkes Central meat in Nuriootpa*

Scatter with a little wild watercress, season with a  sprinkle of sea salt and a little grind of  black pepper

Finally drizzle with a delicate extra virgin olive or nut oil and enjoy.

*Note

If your not lucky enough to live in the Barossa then you will probably have to make do with Prosciutto or Jamon)