We ate most of dinner with our fingers, tugging flesh from the shells of Scottish langoustines, dipping it into warm butter that we had melted with cracked pepper and lemon juice. We peeled the skin from tiny, baked beetroots still warm from the oven and dunked them into a quivering soufflé of ricotta, parmesan and thyme. Actually “soufflé” is the wrong word – it was simpler than that; a shallow pudding without the trauma of collapse. Just a soft, fragrant, light and savoury cloud of egg, herbs and cheese.
Those langoustines were simply tossed in olive oil and roasted for a few minutes in a very hot oven. We could have roasted chicken wings or steamed a net of mussels, anything not to involve the cold steel of knife or fork. Anything to feel the warm food in our hands.
This hands-on dinner had started earlier in the day when I made a dough for sticky buns – soft, freckled with fruit, with an extraordinary topping. Miso paste and sugar made a sweet and mellow frosting for the buns, which we also tucked into the next morning with coffee.
Baked ricotta with roasted beetroots
Chose tiny beetroots – the smallest you can find. The cheese pudding puffs up in similar style to a soufflé, but is less capricious. Oven hot, it is ready in minutes, when it is lightly firm but will still wobble when the dish is gently shaken. I like to serve it communally, but it is undeniably charming served in individual deep ramekins – you could make four and cook them for 7-10 minutes less. Serves 2-3
thyme leaves 1 tbsp
parmesan 95g, finely grated
butter a little for the dish
For the baked beetroots:
beetroot 500g, small
thyme 6 bushy sprigs
olive oil 3 tbsp
Start with the beetroots. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Wash the beetroots thoroughly, and trim away any leaves without cutting into the flesh. You don’t need to peel them. Lay a large piece of foil in a baking dish, add the washed, whole beetroots and the thyme sprigs, pour the oil over them, add a little salt and 2 tbsp of water, then loosely scrunch the foil together to seal. Bake for 45 minutes, depending on their size, until tender. Keep them warm, in their foil, while you make the baked ricotta
Keep the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Put the ricotta in a mixing bowl and add the thyme leaves. Add most of the grated parmesan, reserving a little. Break the eggs into a small bowl, beat them lightly with a fork , then stir into the ricotta and season with black pepper.
Butter a 20cm soufflé or baking dish, add the ricotta mixture and scatter over the parmesan. Bake for 35 minutes until risen, the surface tinged with gold.
Miso-glazed fruit buns
A straightforward sweet dough with milk instead of water and richness from egg and sugar. I used my favourite Chelsea bun recipe, but threw out the currants in favour of juicy sultanas and dried apricots, as the latter brings a welcome note of sharpness. The dough will rise best in a warm place, such as an airing cupboard or on a shelf above a radiator. That said, it will do so in a cool room as well, but it will take longer. The icing is possibly my favourite of all, with a soft caramel flavour. Makes 12
skimmed milk 220ml
white flour 550g
fast-acting yeast 7g
caster sugar 50g
salt ½ tsp
egg yolk 1, lightly beaten
lemon zest of 1
caster sugar 100g
golden sultanas, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots 200g (total weight)
For the topping:
white miso paste 2 tbsp
boiling water 40ml
icing sugar 175g
poppy seeds to scatter
Use baking parchment to line the base of a 20cm x 30cm baking tin.
Warm the milk and 50g of the butter in a small saucepan. Put the flour into a large bowl, add the yeast, sugar and salt. Pour in the warm butter and milk (it should be no hotter than your little finger can bear) and add the egg yolk. Combine thoroughly, then knead for a good 8 minutes by hand, or about half that if you’re using a mixer with a dough hook. Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a cloth and put in a warm place for an hour, until it has doubled in size.
Tip the dough on to a floured board, then roll into a rectangle about 45cm x 34cm, with the longest side towards you. Put the dried fruit into a bowl, add 50g of butter in small lumps, the lemon zest and the sugar, then stir to combine. Scatter the mixture over the dough. Roll the dough up towards you, as tight as you can. Cut the roll into 12 equal slices and place in the lined tin.
Set the buns in a warm place, covered with a cloth for about 30 minutes, until they are risen and touching each other. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Bake the buns for 35-40 minutes until nicely risen and golden, then remove them from the oven, but leave them in their tray.
To make the glaze, put the miso in a bowl, add the boiling water and stir to dissolve. Sieve the icing sugar into the bowl, beating with a small whisk or wooden spoon to a coating consistency. Trickle the glaze over the buns then scatter the poppy seeds over the top and leave to set.
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