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Fig and goats cheese vol au vents

That’s right – vol au vents. We’ve done some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff and landed squarely in the ’70s.

Fig and goats cheese vol au ventsMaybe it’s because I wasn’t around for their orange-tinted heyday that I have a soft spot for a bite-size foods. Or it could be that they leave your other hand free for a drink. The actual reason I like canapés? There’s a lot of scope for using cheese, in more ways than you could with one of those cheese boards that only feature as many varieties as cheese knives in that long-abandoned box (four).

It’s the tooth-squeak of a grilled halloumi skewer. The tongue-tingle of a good quality cheddar paired with pineapple. The nutty quality of an aged Comté. The soft ooze of burrata. If it came to it, I could give up steak, or bread, or pasta. Just don’t torture me, alone(y) without torta mascarpone.*

The cheese of the hour is goats cheese. To some people, it tastes “like a farm”. (When and why and where have all these people been licking barnyards?) But truly, it delivers an unbeatable tang that sits so wonderfully alongside sweet fruits and honey. Here, a soft goats cheese nestles with lightly honeyed caramelised onions and jammy fig to make a vol au vent that’s very much for the modern age.

*sorrynotsorry. Side note: if you ever see torta mascarpone, grab it while you can, for it is a rare and beautiful thing.

Yields 32 vol au vents

Ingredients

500g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
2 large white onions, sliced
1tsp honey
4 figs, cubed
125g soft goats cheese, cubed

Method

      1. Preheat the oven to 170C and liberally flour your worktop. Roll out the pastry to around 6mm thick. Cut out circles with a 6cm cutter, then use a 4cm cutter (or the top end of a piping nozzle!) to mark out an inner circle, without going through the pastry. Prick the inside of the inner circle through with a fork a few times.
      2. Blow any excess flour of the tops, and egg wash the outer circle of each vol au vent, and bake for around 15 minutes,  until risen and golden.* Cool on a wire rack.
      3. While the cases bake and cool, caramelise the onions in a large pan, in a knob of butter over a low-medium heat. Stir every 5 minutes or so, until a deep golden brown, which will take around 30-40 minutes.** Mix in 1/2 – 1 tsp of honey,  to taste, and set aside to cool.
      4. When the cases and onions are cool, use a small sharp knife to cut the inner circle of each vol au vent out, digging out a little of the pastry inside to make some room for the fillings.
      5. Use a small spoon to half-fill each vol au vent with caramelised onion, and top with a cube of fig and goats cheese, so they’re having a little cuddle. Serve the same day – if preparing in advance and refrigerating, allow them to return to room temperature before serving.
Notes: *Some might lean to the side like the Tower of Pisa. These ones are good for nibbling on while you work.  **There’s a great slideshow of the colours to expect when caramelising onions here.
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In Season: September

Anyone who’s been through a school system that kicks off in September knows this: it’s the real new year. As we dodge kids in too-big jumpers on the pavements, it’s hard not to get nostalgic about new bags and catching up with all your mates after some time apart and trying some “new year, new me” magic via the medium of shoes*. And for those of us who throughout the summer crave wool tights and cosy corners, crunchy leaves and steaming mugs of hot chocolate, the type that fit perfectly into the curves of your hand, it’s 30 days of hope and promise.

September, in food too, is the great month of overlaps, its bounty made obvious by a glance at the seasonal calendar**. It’s our last chance for several months to grab short-season gems like plums and blueberries, but our first chance to get in on some sweet butternut squash lovin’. It’s very nearly soup season. Today, we’re focusing on plum, courgette, and the sweet and jammy fig.  Continue reading

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Strawberry and pecan courgette cake

This courgette cake was a long time coming. Strawberry and pecan courgette cake // The Dinner BellThe cake stand in my kitchen had gathered dust. Perched atop the cabinets, it’s stood unloved since the Marvellous Night Circus cake, a state of affairs that 2012 me would never have predicted.

She also wouldn’t have predicted me being caught out with a cache of enormous courgettes that need eating.

Those ones went into courgette and Comté gratin (recipe tbc), but they got me thinking about courgette cake. When I said those words, people recoiled slightly, much like they did with avocado cake, but I’ve proven ’em wrong once and I’ll prove ’em wrong again.

This cake is perfect for this time of year, when strawberry season comes to an end, courgette gluts leave home gardeners desperately pressing the vegetable into the arms of visitors, and the clouds open to remind us that yes, we’ve had a delightful three days of summer but we are still in England, giving you just enough time to put the oven on and consider branching out into wearing sleeves again.

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Eating out: KERB Camden, London

There’s one thing in particular that made it a dead cert I’d head to KERB Camden when it opened this week: I’m a total sucker for a good Instagram picture. I’m far from alone from this, and you can call it voyeuristic or narcissistic or any other kind of -istic, but as a generation we love to keep an eye on what other people are doing and share what we’re up to. We love it even more than mums on Facebook love sharing baby photos or inspirational quotes. More than sexists love hounding women off Twitter. More than Thailand holidayers love using photos of themselves next to drug-addled tigers on Tinder to show how well-travelled they are. Eating out: KERB Camden, London // The Dinner BellThat’s how much we love posting photos of lattes and avocados and our own faces (this remains the best quote on selfies).

So as much I’ll roll my eyes at restaurants saying their food is “Instagrammable”, I’m happy to use social media to find new things and places. Which is exactly what happened with Blu Top ice cream (pictured above), which serves up ice cream cookie sandwiches slathered in sauce and lured me to the KERB Camden street food market launch.

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In Season: August

I’ve hit peak seasonal eating. All of my colleagues and friends have been bored to tears with it, me gesticulating wildly as I talk with way too much enthusiasm about brassicas and their buddies, but last week I did a very exciting grocery shop and have a lot of new flavours and ideas to play with. I’ve just finished up using every last scrap of a bunch of beetroot: burgers with the root; pesto with the leaves; and extra bulk for this week’s lunches provided by blitzed stems. It’s good to get back in the kitchen after a busy few weeks.

Those late crops we’ve had, delayed thanks to our bizarre climate, have hit the shops now, and this month we’re casting the spotlight on raspberries and broad beans.  Time to check out some cracking recipes.
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