Lemon Polenta Cake with Amaretto Syrup

lemon polenta cake

I never consciously intended to put a lot of gluten free recipes on this blog, but given that my partner is on a gluten free diet, inevitably a lot of them come up.  I’ve mentioned before the awful commercially produced gluten free versions of wheat products, and I think there is something to be said for avoiding these duplicates and just incorporates the best food available that fits within the dietary requirements.  In fact, this could be extended to any diet – why would a vegetarian want to eat a plastic sausage when there are so many fantastic vegetables available all year round? I once ate a nut replica of cheese in a vegan restaurant – at first it was quite a novelty, but when they brought out an entire ‘cheese’ course with three nutty pasty varieties, I was tempted to hide it in a fellow diners handbag…

So this is a recipe that is gluten free, but has not been adapted – it has always been gluten free.  There are a variety of recipes around the web for lemon polenta cake, which is a traditional italian recipe, but all generally involve the same quantities of butter, caster sugar and ground almonds (around 200-250g), half as much polenta (100g), 3 eggs, baking powder and a lemon syrup poured over the cake at the end.  Variations are plentiful – Nigella keeps it simple and includes syrup, River Cafe double the size (with a touch of vanilla and salt) and puts the lemon in the cake instead of as a syrup, Nigel Slater halves the size (emphasis on a light and fluffy texture) and fills with cream, others increase the lemonyness to the bounds of decency and load it with alcohol.  I’ve tried to take a little something from all of them, and include a little twist of my own – Amaretto liquor, which brings out the sweet almond flavour (especially if you are using freshly ground almonds).

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
200g ground almonds (if you have the time and inclination, you would benefit from grinding your own using blanched almonds)
100g fine polenta (if you can only get coarse, you could grind it finer in a clean coffee grinder or food processor)
1 tsp baking powder (gluten free, of course)
zest of 2 lemons (also juice for syrup)
3 eggs
a few drops of lemon extract
pinch of salt

Syrup

juice of 2 lemons
4 tbsp Amaretto (I use Lazzaroni Amaretto, which is flavoured by soaking with Amaretti biscotti, also gluten free)
125g icing sugar

  1. Line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin with baking parchment and grease the sides with butter.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180 C/gas mark 4.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and creamy.
  4. Combine the almonds, polenta, lemon zest and baking powder and add gradually alternating with an egg, and beating thoroughly.  If you want a lighter texture, you can separate out the yolks and whites, add the yolks only at this stage, then whip the whites separately until not quite stiff and fold in at the end.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, then hold the side and tap the underside to level out the mixture.
  6. Bake for around 40 minutes – the cake will shrink away from the edge when it is done.  Cool in the tin on a wire rack.
  7. Make the syrup by warming the icing sugar, lemon juice and amaretto together until clear.
  8. Prick the cake all over with a skewer or cake tester, then pour over the syrup and leave to cool.
  9. Remove the cake from the tin then turn upside down onto a plate (so all the holes are at the bottom and the syrup will start to move back through the cake).
  10. Serve with clotted cream and grated lemon zest.

Tips & Confessions

– I didn’t separate out the yolks and whites – it was still light and fluffy (I did beat everything quite thoroughly though).
– I couldn’t get fine polenta, and I didn’t grind it.  There was no discernible grittiness, and tasted great.
– 4tbsp of Amaretto is a guess, I think I just chugged the bottle into the mix a few times, try more or less to taste.

Wild Mushroom & Madeira Sauce

 Wild Mushroom & Madeira Sauce

I feel somewhat guilty about calling this ‘wild’ mushroom sauce, having read Mark Williams post on his excellent and informative site Galloway Wild Foods about restaurants habitually claiming any remotely unusual mushroom ingredient to be ‘wild’ when they are no more wild than than a punnet of mushrooms from the local supermarket.  I accept it entirely – I’m only adding on the wild bit because it sounds better than ‘mushroom and madeira sauce’.   Shameless really, though I do recommend if you can actually find some wild mushrooms this autumn then use them instead of the shitake. I tried it with dried porcini but they took over the flavour too much, which is a shame as then I could have legitimately called it wild mushroom sauce…

Anyway, guilt aside, it’s a lovely rich yet light (is that possible?) sauce that would go fabulously with lamb or as a gravy for a vegetarian sunday roast.  This recipe is dedicated to @moretomushrooms and their hard work throughout October, the month of mushrooms!

Ingredients

1 finely chopped shallot
1/2 finely chopped carrot
same volume of finely chopped celery
small cube of butter and 2tsp olive oil
1tsp sea salt
1 tbsp worcester sauce (vegetarian and gluten free version if needed)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
500ml vegetable stock
1.5 tbsp cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 ‘sprigs’ of sage
200g shitake mushrooms (wild looking ones)
butter and olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon
100ml of madeira
1 tsp of cornflour
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

  1. Mix madeira and cornflour thoroughly and set aside.
  2. Lightly saute first 5 ingredients in small saucepan for 10 minutes
  3. Add stock, worcester sauce, balsamic vinegar, sage and bay leaves.
  4. Cook mixture until reduced by 1/3, add cider vinegar, continue to cook for 5 minutes
  5. Meanwhile, tear shitake mushrooms into 3 pieces per mushroom,
  6. Heat small cube of butter and olive oil in pan then add the mushrooms. cook for 5 minutes, turning only a couple of times.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze of lemon juice, then add the reduced stock, and the madeira/cornflour mix, check and adjust seasoning.
  8. Add parsley just before serving and stir.  Serve with lamb or roasted portabello mushrooms.

Gluten Free Hoisin Sauce Recipe

This is a work in progress recipe, I make it every so often in place of hoisin sauce in other recipes.  I’ve followed various recipes and found I’ve always needed to adjust them.  This is dedicated to @peanutbutterboy, someone who knows the potential for peanut butter to enrich our lives…

3 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp tamari (gluten free) or dark soya sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar/honey
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar if not available)
2 tsp sesame seed oil
Tabasco sauce (to taste)

Mix together thoroughly – start with peanut butter and mix a little liquid in at a time to stop it being lumpy. Experiment with more peanut butter, more sugar or vinegar or soy sauce until the taste is right. Everyone let me know how you get on!

Five Minute Gluten Free Flatbread

gluten free flatbread

Gluten free baked food products tend to either aim for a vague approximation of the original, or completely bypass it and settle themselves happily into the category of ‘mysterious wad’.  Until recently, most gluten-free breads have tried earnestly (and very successfully) to replicate cardboard rather than a genuine loaf (thank God for Genius). Cakes and biscuits are usually more successful, relying less on a well-formed gluten structure than bread, though occasionally they can be mouth-numbingly dry.

Home recipes can meet with a similar range of results, from unusual brown dollops in the bottom of a baking tray, to fantastic fresh rustic (and often unusual) loaves that have to be greedily gobbled down with butter while still warm. Even the best recipes can be inconsistent though (in my experience), except for this little gem I discovered last week.

So then, 5 minutes before dinner is ready (minestrone soup, since you ask), what do you do?  Set the table? Open a bottle of wine?  Sensible ideas, but not me, I decided to ‘have a go’ at gluten free flatbread.  Never done it before (not in 5 minutes anyway), but hey, why not.  And how was it?  It was fantastic, incredibly easy to make and definitely one of the best savoury gluten-free recipes I’ve ever cooked – crispy and light with a delicious fresh bread flavour.  You can use whichever shop bought gluten free flour blend with xantham gum you can get (e.g. Doves Farm in the UK, Bob’s Red Mill in the USA), I use my gluten free flour blend here, which gives measurements by weight (g or oz) or volume (cups).

Gluten Free Flatbread

150g gluten free flour blend (my recipe here)
Warm water
Olive oil
Sea salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds

  1. Preheat the grill to as hot as it will go.
  2. Add water gradually to the flour in a bowl and mix until the mixture is the consistency of creamed butter and sugar (i.e. like cake mixture).
  3. Oil a baking tray (or grill pan) with the olive oil.  Spoon the mixture roughly on to the tray, then drizzle oil over the top.  Oil your hands too.
  4. With your hands, flatten the mixture out into a rough rectangle – it should be as thin as you can get it, with areas where the dough is almost translucent (“windowpaning”).
  5. Sprinkle sea salt over the top and then put under the grill.  Keep an eye on it – the dough will start to bubble and char in places – take it out and turn it over.
  6. Before the dough is charring on the other side, take it out and scatter cumin seeds over the flatbread, then place back under the grill until it is lightly charred.
  7. Cut into smaller rectangles and scatter with parsley or basil. Serve immediately with soup or dips.

Tips

You may find the dough lifts up at the edges after turning, and start to cook too quickly – in this case, just wait until the edges have browned then cut them off and carry on cooking the remainder.

Experiment – you could try black onion seeds or fennel in place of cumin, or even pine nuts and rosemary. Heck, I reckon if you get the moisture levels of the tomato sauce right and the grill hot enough, you could turn this into a decent thin and crispy pizza.  Somewhere between Jeff Varasano’s epic pizza recipe and Heston Blumenthal’s home pizza method lies the answer.

UPDATE: Just as I suspected, this makes great pizza – here is my quick gluten free pizza recipe.

Mango Pavlova

Mango Pavlova

A couple of posts ago I mentioned a recent trip to Riverford Field Kitchen in Devon, where amongst other delights there was a beautifully light but deeply satisfying Mango Pavlova.  Amidst the chaos of sunday lunch yesterday we decided to give it a go, so here’s our version:

Meringue
6 egg whites
300g caster sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Topping
500ml double cream
2 mangoes
1 tsp caster sugar

 

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C (fan oven)
  2. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the sugar gradually, continue beating until shiny and stiff.
  3. Add the balsamic vinegar and gently fold through until thoroughly mixed.
  4. Put onto a large baking sheet or baking tray into a vaguely rectangular shape – don’t smooth over, leave the top fairly rough.
  5. Put in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 150 C.
    Cook for about 1 hour 10 minutes. The meringue will be ready when the edges are crisp but light pressure on top should suggest softness underneath.
  6. While the meringue is cooking, peel and chop 1 mango roughly.  Add 1tsp sugar Puree with a stick blender and set aside in the fridge.
  7. When the meringue is cooked, turn off the oven, open the door and allow to cool (this prevents the meringue from cracking excessively).
  8. Whip the double cream and spoon onto the cooled meringue base evenly.
  9. Chop the other mango into 1cm cubes (or smaller), scatter over the cream and pour the reserved mango coulis over the top. Serve immediately.

Tips

– For beating egg whites use a glass, ceramic or a metal bowl ideally (or best of all, copper) – plastic bowls can harbour tiny droplets of oil which can stop the whites from beating correctly.

– The size and form of the meringue is up to you – ours was a rectangle, you could make a circle if you like. It’s also up to you whether you smooth over the top or leave it rough – the method above gives an ‘undulating landscape’ of meringue which results in thicker and thinner areas of cream and topping, and makes for an interesting contrast.

– Children may appreciate some additional sweetening in the mango coulis, so add another teaspoon of caster sugar to the mix.

– If you don’t allow it to cool in the oven (we didn’t, it was in the midst of cooking sunday lunch), it’s not a disaster, you’ll just get more cracking.

– While we’re being honest, we could also have made our meringue a bit thicker.  The balance of flavours was perfect, but you can always afford more squishy meringue goodness…

Golden Manchego & Polenta Tomatoes

Polenta tomatoes
In the spirit of Nigel Slater’s programme last night on soft and crisp food textures, this is a great recipe that combines the winning combination of tomato and basil with that most desirable of things – crispy cheese.  You know when cheese pools in the bottom of the grill pan and forms that delicious hard disc of salty cheesiness, the kind of stuff that wars could be started over?  Well that’s what you’re getting on each of these tomato slices. The tomatoes cook down and intensify in flavour, the cheese bubbles away and the polenta soaks up all of the flavour from everything else and seals it into a crunchy coating. Just fabulous.  I last made them in Spain, so Manchego cheese seemed the right thing to use, but you could also use a firm goats cheese, or even a crumbly English cheese like Lancashire, Cheshire or Wensleydale.  Ideal for when you need to cook something both vegetarian and gluten free.

INGREDIENTS

6 tomatoes
250g coarse polenta
Manchego cheese (or alternatively a firm goats cheese)
Basil
1 egg
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

 

  1. Cut the tomatoes into slices – try to keep them uniform, put the ends aside and use them in a salsa instead.
  2. Put the tomatoes in a colander over a bowl with 2tsp salt and leave for around 20 minutes until liquid has formed in the bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the manchego cheese into small squarish slices around two thirds the size of the tomato slices. Set aside as many single basil leaves as there are slices of tomato.
  4. Season the polenta with pepper only (the tomatoes will already have enough salt) and put into a dish, whisk the egg and place in another bowl next to the polenta. Put a grill rack to the other side of the polenta dish.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200 C and dry the tomatoes on some kitchen towel.
  6. In one motion, dip each tomato in the egg, then into the polenta on one side only, then place on the rack.
  7. Place a basil leaf on each tomato slice, followed by a slice of cheese:tomatoes ready for the cheese
  8. Brush over with the remaining egg (I didn’t have a brush, so had to just fling the egg in the general direction of the tomatoes, but they still came out fine).
  9. Scatter more polenta generously over the tomatoes, then tap the grill rack to dislodge any loose grains.
  10. Transfer the tomatoes to a lightly oiled oven tray or baking tray, then drizzle olive oil over the top.
  11. Cook in the oven for around 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes are golden brown (you can finish off under the grill briefly to add some colour).
Serve hot with aioli and big smiles.

Smoky Chipotle Paella – Warming Autumnal Fare

smoky chipotle paella

After a summer trip to Valencia, and a rather beautiful Paella Valenciana, I’ve been inspired to come up with my own alternative interpretation.  Paella was traditionally cooked over wood from orange trees which gave it a smoky aroma, so I’ve used smoked ‘Chipotle Meco’ chillies to try and reproduce this effect.  Chipotle Meco are Jalapeno chillies that have been smoked for long periods of time (often several days) to impart a really smoky and rich flavour that can do incredible things to a dish.  They’re quite rare, and most of them don’t get outside Mexico (the chipotle more often seen in the UK are the smaller and cheaper ‘Chipotle Morita’ variety).  Handily I have a small store that I sell them through on ebay, so I always have plenty to hand!!

The dish is medium hot, a mild version can be made by using only 1 chipotle meco chilli.  This version contains no meat, but is richly flavoured thanks to the chipotle chilli – feel free to use chicken stock and add meat if you like, I’d recommend rabbit or hare in the spirit of the original recipe (they’re also at their best in Autumn), duck is also an option.  Use seasonal greens, and add green beans or runner beans if they’re still in season.  Remember – whatever you think the authentic paella is, it probably isn’t, so experiment!

RICE

1 shallot
2 carrots
1 long red pepper
1 small chilli pepper, deseeded
olive oil
1-2 chipotle meco chillies
1 pint (568ml) vegetable stock
1 tsp tumeric
1tsp paprika
250g short grain rice (paella rice or
arborio)

GREENS

1 handful sliced kale (cavolo nero if in season)
1 handful sliced pointed cabbage or savoy cabbage
small handful frozen green peas
juice of 1 lemon

CHIPOTLE FINISHING SAUCE

1 tsp fennel seeds
9 black peppercorns
1-2 tsp sea salt crystals
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tsp red wine vinegar
soaked reserved chipotle from
above

1. Put the chipotle meco chillies into a pan with the hot vegetable stock and turmeric and keep on a low heat.

2. Meanwhile, dice the shallots, carrots, peppers and chillies and fry in olive oil with the paprika over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes.

3. Add the rice, stir for 5 minutes until coated.

4. Remove the chipotle chillies and reserve, then add the vegetable stock to the rice mixture. Put the lid on and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, slice the greens and place in a bowl with frozen peas and the lemon juice. Set aside.

6. Grind the dry dressing ingredients then add the reserved chipotle chillies, olive oil and vinegar and puree.

7. Add the greens to the rice mixture and cook for a further 5 minutes.

8. Take the rice mixture off the heat, stir through the finishing sauce, serve and enjoy!