06 September 2009

Autumn Already

Summer came late this year and would have been a welcome guest for a while longer but all too quickly autumn has arrived. Here in wine country, grape harvesting has begun and will continue for quite a while, until after the first frost to create the justly famous "ice wine''. Autumnal delights include new wine - grape juice that is just beginning to ferment and tastes differently every day - traditionally accompanied by an onion tart. A heady smell of wine whifts through our city, and, today, we took the children for our Sunday walk through a country-side filled with ripening grapes, roses, rosehips, elderflower... apple, pear and plum trees were heavy with fruit and I even spotted the first wild sloes. I will return to pick some later in the year for my home-made sloe gin.

Sloe Gin

If you find sloes growing near you, I can recommend this delicious recipe but only pick fruit you recognize clearly as edible - I will take no responsibility for your pickings! If in doubt, buy plums instead. The rest is easy: batter the fruit a little to release the juice, mix with sugar and store with gin in an airtight container. I cannot give exact quantities, I use about two hands full of fruit to a bottle of gin and am careful not to add too much sugar. Shake from time to time and leave to macerate for several months in a dark place. Filter and bottle. Such home-made liqueurs keep well, and their taste is unbeatable. This method can be used successfully with other fruit and other clear alcohol. Last year I made

Quince Liqueur
The principle is as above. You need to wash and cut some quinces - this is the hardest part - and let them macerate in vodka with sugar. Shake quite regularly at first so that the fruit soaks through quickly. The longer you leave it before filtering and bottling, the more intensive the flavour. Can I invite you for a glass of prosecco flavoured with quince?

PS. Reading up on quinces, I stumbled over the curious fact that quince seeds, like almond stones, are said to contain small amounts of cyanide! I cannot substantiate this either way but now you are warned, it might be better to discard the seeds. And naturally, I will take no responsibility for what you do with this (potentially) dangerous fruit.

And afterwards we must have a glass of new wine with a slice of onion tart. I suppose every cook has a few dishes which never quite live up to their ideas of them, I can think of two, onion tart and plum cake. Or should I say could? While I am still working on recreating the perfect plum cake from my childhood - contributions welcome! - I have finally arrived at THE onion tart, for the moment, at least. It came about on the spur of the moment and has convinced all who ate it. The secret ingredients are a head of kohlrabi amongst the onions which was not detected by anyone but prevented the onions being overpowering. The other is bacon - not unusual, only this time I used the fatty part and sweated it down to crackling. It stayed beautifully moist and was a much better ingredient than the meatier part which often turns hard as leather when cooked in a tart. Enough preliminaries, here is the recipe (for more details on the technique, read the chapter on "quilch").

Onion Tart
Make a short crust pastry to fit your chosen tart dish. I use 120 g flour, 60 g butter and 1 tea spoon salt. Knead into dry crumbs, then add very little water to bind. Leave to rest in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 200 C. In the meantime, cut the bacon fat into small cubes and sweat in a frying pan until you have crackling. Move onto a plate lined with kitchen roll to absorb excess fat, keep the remaining fat in the pan to fry your vegetables in it. Peel and chop three or four onions coarsely, peel and grate the kohlrabi finely. Fry in the bacon fat until soft but not coloured, set aside.
Roll our your pastry, line your tart tin and bake blind for 15 mins. Remove your baking weights, reduce temperature to 180 C, prick pastry base with a fork and bake open for a further 5 mins. Prepare the filling: combine 200 g cottage cheese, two eggs, some grated parmigiano or other hard cheese, the vegetables and crackling. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the pastry case with this mixture and cook in the oven for a further 45 mins, until nicely browned. Bon appetit!

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