A French-themed post this week, but not a mountain of patisserie froth – instead I’ve gorn all savoury!
Prowling round the French brocantes (posh car boot sales), I’ve always got an eye out for second-hand cookery books and this year I found a great little paperback entitled Vosges Grannies Recipes (I paraphrase) – regional recipes from the mountains in eastern France, near the German border.
The booklet has lots of simple and comforting dishes, including this one, which I decided to include not only as a delicious, make-ahead meal, but also as a blueprint recipe for having up your sleeve or – more usefully – in your freezer.
I especially like this recipe because it isn’t rich. Too often a gratin dish is swimming in oil from fistfuls of cheese or cream. This is altogether much lighter and can easily be adapted to a variety of fillings, including vegetarian. It also doesn’t require a trolleyload of expensive ingredients, yet it’s packed with flavour, and is very simple to bring together.
The Anatomy of a Gratin
Using this recipe as an example, there is a bottom layer of lightly steamed leeks, followed by a tangy tomato and bacon layer, topped with a white sauce sprinkled with cheese. The tomato layer is bright from the fresh tomatoes, bold with the favour of herbs and tangy with bacon. All of the component ingredients can be prepared beforehand, then either hauled out of the fridge and assembled and baked, or assembled and frozen until required.
Imagine the joy of getting home of an evening knowing you’re just 30 minutes away from a delicious home-made meal that requires – literally – one minute’s preparation: stick your defrosted gratin in the oven, turn it on, go have a shower or read the paper, open a bag of salad, cut a slice of crusty bread and Bam! Supper is served!
It doesn’t have to be leeks – other options for the base vegetable are diced swede, turnip, carrots, parsnips) or a mixture of all of these), potatoes, celeriac, cabbage (Savoy, white, red, mixture), broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts – you get the idea.
If you’re vegetarian, you can substitute blanched samphire (its deliciously salty) for the bacon in the tomato sauce – add it whilst assembling your dish to keep some of its crunch.
Top with white sauce or for a gluten-free option, use low-fat creme fraiche.
Sprinkle with a cheese of your choice. Choose Comté or Gruyere for melty goodness, Grana Padano or Parmesan for punchy flavour. Whichever you choose, you don’t need a lot. People think a gratin is all about the cheese, and it’s not. The gratin in the photo had just 30g of Comté on the top, which was more than enough. The cheese is a garnish, if that. A gratin is about a crunchy topping. You can substitute breadcrumbs for the cheese, or a mixture of half breadcrumbs, half grana padano.
If you don’t have a stack of gratin dishes – who does? That’s my one-and-only in the photo – the supermarkets sell packs of aluminium foil dishes with cardboard tops, perfect for freezing. No washing up, either! These can also be used to heat the defrosted dish up in the oven. You wouldn’t be able to defrost them in the microwave, but being in a solid block they would be easy to decant into something suitable.
This recipe will make 4 portions of gratin. You can easily double or treble the quantities and make a stash of meals for the freezer.
Leek and Bacon Gratin
4 large leeks
200g smoked bacon lardons, or dice a large piece of smoked bacon or samphire
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic – sliced thinly
4 tomatoes – cut into 1cm thick matchsticks
2 bay leaves
1tsp dried thyme or 2tsp fresh leaves stripped from the stalks
salt and pepper to taste
25g unsalted butter
25g plain flour
salt and pepper
120g grated cheese, or breadcrumbs, or a mixture of both
- Bring a pan of water to the boil.
- Wash and slice the leeks into 2cm slices.
- Put the sliced leeks into a steamer pan and cook over the simmering water for 8 minutes. You can blanch them IN the water, but they do take on a lot of liquid this way, and you run the risk of your dish becoming waterlogged.
- Set aside to cool.
- Put the bacon into a pan and heat gently. When the fat has begun to run, add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme.
- Cover, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the lid for the last 5 minutes to allow most of the moisture to evaporate
- Taste, then season with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves.
- Set aside to cool.
- Put the butter, flour and milk into a pan and whisk gently over a low heat until it comes to the boil.
- Turn the heat down to a simmer and allow to bubble gently for 5 minutes to ‘cook out’ the flour.
- Season generously with salt and pepper.
- If not using immediately, cover with cling film so that it touches the surface of the sauce and set aside.
- Divide your components equally into the number of dishes you plan on using.
- In each dish, put a layer of steamed leeks – or cooked vegetable of your choice – in the bottom.
- Spoon over a layer of the tomato bacon sauce. Sprinkle your blanched samphire if using.
- Pour over a thin layer of white sauce to cover and sprinkle with your topping.
- Put your cold/defrosted dish into the oven.
- Turn the heat to 180°C/160°C Fan.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes if the portion-size is a single serving, 25-30 minutes if larger.
- When done, the cheese will have melted and browned and the sauce bubbling.
- Serve with a salad and crusty bread for mopping.
Here’s a delicious Deja Food recipe that we regularly enjoy in this house, whenever there is some Tandoori Chicken going spare. That in itself is quite a challenge, since both my husband and daughter love Tandoori Chicken with a passion, so I find myself making gargantuan quantities purely in order to have anything left with which to make Butter Chicken.
Invented at the Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearl), one of the oldest restaurants in Delhi, by Mr Kundan Lal Gujral, Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani to give it it’s proper name, was devised as a way of keeping Tandoori Chicken moist and flavourful from one day to the next. The dark, smokiness of the cooked chicken is enriched by the Makhani gravy of spices, ghee, tomatoes and cashews, especially if you can leave them marinading overnight. The recipe below is one that I’ve used for 5-6 years, tweaking slightly to reduce the fat content whilst still retaining the rich flavours of the dish.
I’m not going to tell you how to make Tandoori Chicken, because I’d only be repeating the most excellent words of Madhur Jaffrey. Her recipe appears in Indian Cookery, a well-thumbed copy of which is gradually falling apart on one of my many shelves of cook books, but it is also available online HERE. I’m glad she has stopped advocating the lurid food colouring – it always unnerved me somewhat to see incandescent pieces of chicken on the plate. To get a little more red into my chicken, I add a generous amount of sweet paprika – the Rajah brand here in the UK gives fiery colour without the fiery heat – but since it will ultimately be lovingly enveloped in sauce, I shouldn’t fret too much about this.
A couple of points on ingredients: I strongly recommend hunting out a tin of ghee, as its almost perfumed aroma greatly enhances the dish, and dried fenugreek leaves are a must for that authentic taste. Add hot spices if you like, but I prefer it without.
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger – peeled & chopped
6 fresh chillies, red or green – deseeded
6 cloves garlic – peeled
50g ghee or clarified butter
4 x 5cm cinnamon sticks
3 black cardamom pods (if not available, use 10 green cardamom pods in total)
6 green cardamom pods
1 tbs cloves
4 bay leaves
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – pureed smooth
100 g raw cashew nuts
1-2 tbs honey
1-2 tbs tomato paste
paprika to taste (optional)
chilli powder to taste (optional)
2 tbs dried fenugreek leaves
50 g ghee or clarified butter
60 ml crème fraiche
- Make a paste of the ginger, garlic and chillis by blitzing in a food processor with 4 tablespoons of water until well chopped.
- Melt the ghee/butter in a large frying pan and add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves and bay leaves. Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
- Add the ginger/garlic/chilli mix and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
- Add the pureed tomatoes, stir thoroughly, then turn the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and pick out the whole spices or sieve the sauce to remove them. Discard the spices.
- Pour the sauce into a blender and add the cashews, paprika, chilli powder (if using), honey and tomato paste. Puree until thickened and smooth (about 2 minutes). Stir the contents thoroughly and puree again for 30 seconds.
- If you’re making this to freeze, then stop now. Pour the sauce into suitable containers (this will make about 900 ml of sauce – yes, we like this sauce a LOT – and having it in the freezer can bring a meal together in minutes), label and leave to cool before freezing. If you’re preparing ahead, add your sauce to your cooked/cold Tandoori Chicken, stir, cover, and chill overnight in the fridge, otherwise add the chicken and proceed as below.
- To Serve
- Heat gently in a suitably large pan.
- Add the remaining ghee and the dried fenugreek and simmer for five minutes.
- Stir in the crème fraiche just before serving and sprinkle a few more fenugreek leaves as garnish
Serve with plain rice and naan breads (to mop up all that lovely sauce!)
I’m going full-on retro this week, with the tweak of a classic from my days as a bistro waitress, back in nineteen tumpty-tum *waves hand vaguely*
Created in the early years of the 20th century in the United States and named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini, it is usually found on late-December tables made with leftover turkey and a can of condensed soup. *shudder*
This, however, is an altogether more delicate affair with fresh herbs and mushrooms and a splash of wine.
I love this dish for lots of reasons – it’s easy, its versatile, you can cook it from scratch, but it can also be created from cold chicken and cooked pasta, which means it can be assembled in a relatively short amount of time. The sauce – if I say so myself – is AMAZING: I could quite happily eat it by itself. If you’re in a hurry, then it can be served straight from the pan as a pasta sauce – but if you have the time to make it ahead, it can also sit in the fridge in a casserole and then heat through in about 30 minutes when needed, with no need for any further attention.
I don’t usually fuss too much with specific types of ingredients, but for this recipe I strongly recommend using the chestnut mushrooms if possible – other mushrooms tend to turn the sauce a rather unappetising grey. Fresh thyme is also preferable, but 1.5 tsp of dried thyme can be used instead.
The amounts of both chicken and mushrooms can be varied according to taste or availability. Since the cooked mushrooms have a meaty texture, they mix well with the chicken, and can easily make a small amount of chicken stretch to a family meal. The pasta can be any shape, but shells (conchiglie) and twists (fusilli) hold sauce the best. Alternatively, egg noodles are quicker.
300-500g cooked chicken, diced
2 tbs vegetable oil
250-500g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
5 shallots – finely chopped
5 cloves garlic – finely chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves – chopped
150ml white wine
1 litre milk- warmed
Up to 4 tsp chicken stock powder (bouillon)
freshly ground nutmeg
A handful of chopped parsley – or more to taste
600g cooked pasta or cook 450g of dry pasta.
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
- Put the diced chicken into a bowl and set aside.
- Melt the butter and oil in a large pan.
- Add the mushrooms and cook over a medium heat until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and the mushrooms become pale golden. This will take about 10 minutes.
- Add the shallots, garlic, and thyme, and cook until the shallots soften and become translucent.
- Stir in the wine and simmer until it has evaporated, then add the mushroom mixture to the chicken.
- Melt the butter in the now empty pan and scatter in the flour to make a roux for the sauce.
- Stir the mixture for 3-4 minutes to cook the flour, then remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time. NB – removing the pan from the heat while adding the milk will help reduce the chances of lumps forming.
- When all the milk has been added, return the pan to the heat and continue to stir while the sauce comes to the boil and thickens.
- Gradually add the bouillon powder, tasting between each addition to make sure it’s not becoming too salty.
- Finally add a good grating of nutmeg and the parsley.
- If you’re eating immediately, add the chicken mix and pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Turn the heat to low and let simmer gently while everything heats through. When thoroughly warmed, serve in bowls with a side salad or vegetables – broccoli and cauliflower go well .
- To serve later, turn off the heat once the sauce has thickened. Allow to cool before stirring in the chicken mix and the cooked pasta. Pour the mixture into an oven-proof dish.
- Mix together the cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Cover with foil and refrigerate.
- To serve, put the dish onto a baking sheet (in case the sauce bubbles over) and put in the oven.
- Turn the oven on to 180ºC, 160ºC Fan and allow to warm for 25-30 minutes, or until the dish is thoroughly heated and the sauce bubbling.
- Remove the foil after 20 minutes so that the topping can become crunchy and brown.
Peas go very well with this recipe, either as a side dish or stirred into the sauce itself.
Turkey – This is equally amazing when made with turkey – a welcome standby to have when faced with mountains of Christmas leftovers.
Vegetarian – just omit the chicken and increase the amount of chestnut mushrooms to 1kg. Use vegetable bouillon powder when making the sauce.
Pasta – consider using long, flat pasta such as linguini.
Final Festive Food recipe this week, and it’s fantastic!
Fruity, spiced, zesty with candied peel, suet-free and thus vegetarian, less than 2 hours in the making/baking – and over 300 years old!
I found this recipe in the manuscript recipe book of Elizabeth Philipps (circa 1694), when I was hunting for Christmas recipes. The recipe’s full title is “An excellent Plum Pudding Hot or Cake Cold”, which is just the kind of two-for-one recipe that our modern Christmas needs – especially if you’re running late and missed stir-up Sunday. Excellent example of Deja Food too!
The recipe is marked with the annotation “daughter Green”. I think this must mean the recipe was passed on by her daughter, whose married name was Green – although there were unusual naming conventions back then; perhaps Mistress Philipps had a rainbow of daughters? We can but guess. As if the title wasn’t endorsement enough, a later hand has also awarded a tick and the comment ‘good’. This made this recipe a culinary ‘dead cert’ in my opinion: something that was so delicious when tasted, the recipe was requested and recorded by hand in the family recipe book, and this approval was then endorsed by a third party coming across the recipe at a later date.
You can bake this in a regular cake tin, but a ceramic pudding bowl works just as well, and makes the resemblance to a Christmas Pudding much clearer. The hour-long baking time creates a wonderfully dark and crunchy crust, which contrasts dramatically with the light, pale insides. You can also bake it in individual pudding bowls (the recipe makes 10 small puddings), which looks very sweet too, although the shorter cooking time makes for a paler outside. This would be too much traditional Christmas Pudding for one person, but this pudding is a yeast-raised, light, fruited, cake texture, and much more refreshing to the palate as well as being easier on the stomach.
I’ll be putting up a Festive Food Index at the weekend – suggestions from the blog over the years, including this year – on a single handy page, but apart from that, this is the final blog post this year.
Happy Holidays to all and I’ll see you in 2015!
375g plain flour
1/3 nutmeg, grated
1 tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground cloves
1 sachet fast-action yeast
40g granulated sugar
150g unsalted butter
50ml cream sherry or mead
2 large eggs
60g mixed candied peel 
40g flaked almonds
- Mix the flour, yeast and spices.
- Put the sugar, butter and milk/cream in a pan and warm gently until the butter is melted.
- Add the sherry or mead.
- If the mixture is still hot, let it cool a little first, then whisk in the eggs.
- Add the liquids to the flour and mix thoroughly. It should form a soft dough. Add up to 150ml more milk if you think it is required.
- Set somewhere warm to rise for 30 minutes.
- Stir in the fruit and almonds until thoroughly combined.
- If you are making small, individual puddings, each mould or aluminium foil cup will take about 125g of dough. Otherwise, generously butter a 1.6 litre pudding bowl and add the dough.
- Set aside for 15 minutes while the oven warms up.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- a single, large pudding for about an hour. Turn the basin round after 30 minutes and check for done-ness at 50 minutes.
- the small, individual puddings for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
- Run a spatula around the sides of the basin to loosen the pudding, and carefully turn out onto your serving plate.
- Serve warm, with double cream.
- For later: Even though this pudding is nice cold, it really is at its best just warm, so for serving later, zap slices/individual puddings in the microwave for 30 seconds before serving.
 I used 20g each of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit, rinsed of excess syrup, which I made using the recipe on the blog. Do try it!
Haven’t done one of these for a while – it’s Deja Food!
Softly spiced vegetable ‘meatballs’ in a rich and creamy onion gravy.
Actually, the ‘gravy’ is worth making by itself – it’s SO creamy and SO flavourful, I could eat it as is with bread to dip and a crunchy salad – Nom!
Many Malai Kofta recipes have the cheese grated and mixed with the vegetables and potatoes. I prefer to have a cube of sharp-tasting cheese in the middle to act both as a surprise and to cut through the richness of the sauce. The downside of this approach, of course, is that without the cheesy ‘glue’ to hold them together, the vege-balls are a little less sturdy. Chilling in the freezer and gentle handling whilst cooking on the pan should reduce the possibility of them falling apart. Alternatively, grate the cheese and fold in with the rest of the ingredients.
This recipe is perfect for using up leftover vegetables and potatoes, yet glamorous enough to pass off to the family as a freshly-created dish.
*poker-face* Not that I’d ever do that.
The recipe can be adapted to whatever vegetables you have to hand. Suggestions for alternative ingredients are given in the recipe.
Originally published in The Guardian Readers’ Recipe Swap: Meatballs.
Cheese-Stuffed Malai Kofta
Serves 4 children, or 4 adults as a starter, or 2 hungry adults as a main course, or 1 peckish adult and 2 ravenous children, or a family of 4 as a side dish, or….you get the gist.
For the kofta:
400g mixed cooked vegetables
200g cooked potato (1 large)
0.5tsp coarse-ground black pepper
0.5tsp garam masala
0.5tsp amchoor (dried mango powder) or sumac or 1-2tsp lemon juice
1 heaped tablespoon cornflour
60g cheshire/feta/goat cheese or paneer or vegetarian cheese – cut into 12 cubes
3tbs oil for frying
- Chop the vegetables.
- Grate the potato.
- Mix together with the salt, pepper, spices and cornflour.
- Divide into 12 x 50g balls.
- Make a hole in each ball and press in a cube of cheese.
- Mould the vegetables around the cheese and shape into a ball.
- Put the koftas onto a plastic tray and place in the freezer to firm up while you make the sauce/gravy.
For the gravy
2 large onions
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
60g cashew nuts
60ml plain yoghurt
1tsp dried fenugreek leaves
2tsp garam masala
60g tomato paste concentrate
1tsp chilli powder (optional)
250ml double cream or crème fraîche or unsweetened evaporated milk
- Peel the onions and the ginger and blitz to a puree in a food processor.
- Make a puree of the cashews and the yoghurt with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
- Heat the oil in a pan.
- Add the onion mixture and fry over a low heat for several minutes until translucent.
- Add the cashew mixture, spices and tomato paste. Stir for 2-3 minutes until thoroughly combined.
- Add the cream and milk and stir thoroughly.
- Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
- If you prefer a smooth sauce, give it a quick blitz either with a stick blender or in a liquidiser. Additionally, if the sauce is a little thick, add water to thin it to the right consistency.
- Return to the pan and set aside to keep warm while the koftas are cooked.
1. Heat 3tbs oil in a wide, shallow pan.
2. Add the chilled koftas and brown them on all sides. Toss gently, otherwise they might break apart.
3. Ladle the sauce into a warmed serving dish and arrange the koftas on top. Alternatively, go crazy and arrange the koftas in the warm dish and pour the sauce over the top.
4. Serve with naan breads to mop up all the sauce.
Something very different for you all this week, that I discovered on my shiny, SHINY new favourite recipe source – Coquinaria – an online resource of Dutch Medieval recipes.
Now is the season for Quince and whilst I love their fragrance perfuming the house, and the two-for-one recipe combination of ruby Quince Jelly and aromatic Quince Paste (membrillo) that you can make from just one batch of fruit, I’ve made them both for the past five years. I was looking for something different to use these fabulous fruits and this is the treasure I found.
It comes from the Manuscript UB Gent 476, which dates from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and which corresponds roughly to the end of the Wars of the Roses and the start of the Tudor reign in England and Wales.
As far as tweaking the recipe goes, I’ve added a pastry crust and a decorated pastry lid, sprinkled with nib sugar. Reasoning that fruit nowadays is probably much larger and better formed than that of five hundred years ago, I halved the number of quince required to just three and also cut down on the butter, egg-yolks and sugar – it’s practically health food! 😉
Actually, just a further word about the ingredients – you can treat the curd/almonds/raisins/egg quantities given as the midpoint on a sliding scale, depending on how you want your cheesecake to turn out. If you reduce them all to 60g and just use 2 yolks, then the flavour of the quince really comes through sharp and strong, and the texture is quite light. If you increase them all to 120g and add an extra yolk, then it’s very rich and complex, with no one flavour dominating, and a much firmer texture. The quantities given strike a nice balance, I think, but experiment!
Peering over my shoulder at the Middle Dutch original text, my husband commented that an accurate translation of the title would be something along the lines of Weird/Peculiar/Eccentric Tart, but that’s not going to get anyone excited, so I’ve opted for a name both tempting and recognisable.
For the pastry
225g plain flour
60g cornflour or rice flour
ice cold water
3 large-ish quince
85g curd cheese – drained
85g ground almonds
3 tablespoons white sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
3 large yolks
60g clarified unsalted butter – melted
Apple jelly or apricot glaze
- For the pastry
- Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Tip the mixture onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
- Divide into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
- Take the smaller of the two pieces of pastry from the fridge and roll out until it it large enough to cover your intended tart tin. I used a 20cm loose-bottomed flan tin. This piece of pastry will be for the decorative lid. Don’t roll the pastry too thin, or the lid might curl up during baking – no thinner than 5mm. Slide the pastry onto some baking parchment.
- Take the tart tin you’re going to use and lay it upside-down onto your pastry. LIGHTLY score around it with the tip of a sharp knife. This will give you an outline for your decorations.
- Using a knife, or mini cutters if you have them, cut a design into the pastry lid. Don’t make the cutouts either too large or too close together – you still need to transfer it onto the top of the tart and whilst a lacy design is, without doubt, breathtaking, getting it from your work surface onto the tart would be a nightmare.
- Cover the lid with cling film and return it to the fridge to rest/chill while you prepare the filling.
- For the filling
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil.
- Remove the fluff from the quince by rubbing them over with a clean cloth.
- Gently lower the quince – whole – into the boiling water and turn the heat down a little to a gentle simmer.
- Simmer – uncovered – for 20-30 minutes until the fruit are tender (test with a cocktail stick). The motion of the hot water should have the fruit gently tumbling as they simmer, so they should cook evenly. The skins will split, but that’s fine, as long as the boiling isn’t too rough, they won’t fall apart.
- Lift the poached fruit out of the water and set onto a sieve to drain/cool.
- When cool enough to handle, remove the skin – it’ll peel off easily, like tomato skins – and cut away from the core all of the cooked and softened buttery-yellow flesh. The cores are larger than, say, an apple core, with the flesh closest to the core becoming quite gritty – you want to avoid using this gritty part.
- Mash/blend all the cooked quince to a smooth puree. I got over 450g from just three quince. If your fruit isn’t as bountiful, consider scaling down the rest of the filling ingredients.
- Add the drained curd, ground almonds, sugar and spices and mix thoroughly.
- Taste and adjust sweetness/spices if necessary.
- Stir in the yolks, raisins and the melted, clarified butter.
- To assemble the tart
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Remove the larger piece of pastry from the fridge and roll out to a thickness of 4-5mm.
- Line your tart tin and use a fork to poke holes over the pastry at the bottom. Make sure there is enough pastry to hang over the edges of the tin.
- Line with baking parchment and beads/rice and bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove parchment/beads and reduce oven temperature to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
- Pour the filling into the partly-baked case and smooth over.
- Dampen the edges of the tart and slide the decorated tart lid onto the tart.
- Press the edges together firmly, crimp as desired, then trim the excess pastry.
- Brush the tart lid with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the filling has set and the pastry has browned.
- Brush the pastry lid with warmed jelly/glaze and sprinkle with nibbed sugar. I spent time fishing sugar nibs out of the lattice holes, but there’s no need to be so precious about it 😉
My local supermarket recently set aside some shelves for non-traditional items. I’m guessing it’s on a trial basis, but I’m always curious to see what’s new and exciting in the land of food retail. (Hey, you have to get your jollies where you can).
One of the items that caught my eye was a big bag of corn meal (corn flour), and I decided I’d see if I could bake myself some ultimate American cornbread. Simple, you’d think? Well, that’s what I foolishly assumed when I began my searching, but what I discovered was it’s a real minefield out there, with devotees for variations from both north and south, sweet and salty, and with various additions including actual corn kernels, corn puree, cheese, bacon grease and chillies.
I was in a fog of indecision until I stumbled across this recipe from an old farming magazine from 1847. Several things about the recipe appealed to me, not least because it claimed the resultant ‘cakes’ would be light and honeycombed. Other details that made it stand out from the many other recipes I had been seeing were that it was yeast raised, sugar free, fat free and gluten free. In addition, unlike many of the modern recipes, it contained solely corn meal and unlike the modern gluten-free recipes, there was no additional alchemy required in the form of different flours and additives to put in.
The method varied too, with the batter being set to rise overnight using yeast, and then, once the other ingredients had been added, being poured into a cold pan before baking. Actually, the original recipe didn’t specifically say that it should be a cold pan, it just said to bake it, but since all of the other recipes were most insistent that the pan be roaring hot before adding the corn mix, that’s what I did for the first trial run. It wasn’t a success. The extreme heat killed the yeast on the edges, so while the middle rose delightfully, the edges were heavy and hard. Subsequent trial runs with a cold pan were much more successful, as the picture above illustrates. I used my non-stick, heavy 24cm diameter saute pan to bake the bread in the oven, because the handle is removable.
Excuse me for banging on, but this recipe is yet another example of why I love old recipes so much. Simple, wholesome ingredients that can be enjoyed without the need for complicated additives or specialised components. The only requirement for this particular recipe is time – remembering to mix up the corn meal and yeast the night before – or in the morning if you want to enjoy it with your evening meal.
It was delicious warm from the oven, with butter and honey, for breakfast. Other uses are as an accompaniment to, for example, chilli, gumbo, jambalaya. It’s best eaten warm, but once cold, can also be easily reheated with a quick zap in the microwave or oven. I turned the remainder into crumbs and froze them, ready to use in meatballs, stuffing and as coating for home-made chicken nuggets and fish fingers.
Feel free to customise this to your own tastes by adding whatever flavourings take your fancy, but I hope you’ll try it just once as is, in all its splendid simplicity.
Jenna in Ohio – I hope you approve! 😀
450g corn meal
1 sachet easyblend yeast
warm water to mix
- Put the corn meal, salt and yeast into a bowl and add enough water until the mixture is easy to stir. It varied, depending on the moisture content of the corn meal, but you’ll need to add between 600ml – 1200ml (1-2 pints). It will have the consistency of a loose batter.
- Cover with cling film and leave overnight or for at least 8 hours.
1 large egg
2tbs milk 
2tbs plain yogurt 
1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Grease a 24cm deep, heavy pan or skillet.
- Whisk the ingredients for Mixture 2 together and then whisk it into the cornmeal.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the pan around after 20 minutes to ensure even colouring. Check for done-ness by inserting a cocktail stick into the centre.
- If the top seems to be browning too quickly, slide a sheet of either foil or parchment over the pan.
- Serve warm from the pan.
 You can use 60ml or 4tbs of buttermilk if you prefer.