Proscuitto, Manchego and Balsamic Onion Quick Bread

Have you been watching the Great British Bake Off? It’s one of my favourite programmes of the whole year. It’s light-hearted and there aren’t really any expectations for the winner at the end, although some of them have gone on to do very well in the public eye, and some non-winners have too. Ruby Tandoh’s weekly column in The Guardian is one of my favourite sources of new and interesting recipes. I am a big fan of Nadiya and Tamal. I’d be very happy if either of them won!

After each episode I always feel very inspired to produce something from the week’s theme. I’ve got a lot of experience making cakes but I feel like cake week is the only one I’d be anywhere near my comfort zone within. I’ve noted down lots of recipes from the series so far that I want to try my hand at, and BBC Food are handily publishing 5 recipes from each week on their website. Today was the perfect opportunity to return to week 3 (bread week) and bake Alvin’s proscuitto, manchego and balsamic onion quick bread which basically sounds like heaven in an oven. I’ve never made a quick bread or soda bread before, and just the thought of the combination of ingredients and flavours here make me ridiculously hungry. They’re the the kind of toppings I’d go for on a pizza, or pull together on a cheese board.

I am very lucky where I live in Greenwich to have a couple of gorgeous independent shops about 30 seconds walk from my house. It’s all very English, there’s a fishmonger, butcher, florist, green grocer and cheese shop. The Cheeseboard is a teeny shop on the corner packed with wines, olives, chutneys, dairy products, bread and baked goods and CHEESE. They’ve never let me down so far no matter how esoteric the cheese is that I’m after.

There was a fair amount of preparation to do for this recipe. All that tearing of proscuitto and basil, dicing manchego and slicing onions. The actual breadmaking part feels very short! I suppose that is the beauty of a quick bread. Take your time over preparing the onions so that they become super sweet and juicy while cooling. It’s the presence of these onions that mean you could almost eat it without butter because there is already a chutney-esque flavour running through it.

After rubbing the butter and flour together, it’s important that all the dry additions are well distributed through the breadcrumby mixture because apparently quick breads shouldn’t be handled too much. You don’t want to be kneading it excessively with the aim of distributing the fillings. The picture above is what my dry ingredients looked like all ready to receive the buttermilk.

I used about 250ml of buttermilk to make the dough just come together rather than the full 300ml. It looked so appetising even before going in the oven! All the different flashes of colour are lovely.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil (olive, vegetable, rapeseed etc)
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 3 tbsp (45ml) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22.5ml) soft brown sugar
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tsp (5ml) bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp (5ml) salt
  • 30g cold, diced unsalted butter
  • 80g proscuitto, torn roughly
  • 200g manchego cheese, diced into roughly 1cm chunks
  • Handful of torn basil leaves
  • 300ml buttermilk (or 300ml milk mixed with 20ml of white wine vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp (15g) butter, melted, for brushing over the finished quick bread
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas Mark 6 and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Warm the oil over medium-high heat and when hot, add the red onions and stir. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar, increase the heat slightly, and cook, uncovered, for a further 5 minutes. Set aside to cool completely (this should take half an hour or so).
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large deep bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles very fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Put a small amount of cooked onions, manchego and proscuitto aside to top the bread with when it goes in the oven.
  5. Add the remaining onions, prosciutto, basil and cheese to the flour mixture.
  6. Mix the buttermilk with 25ml water. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture, I used about 250ml rather than the full 300ml and you’re trying to make a dough which just comes together. Add more buttermilk if the dough is too dry, or a little plain flour if it’s too wet.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, roughly shape and transfer to the prepared baking trays. Flatten the loaf to about 4cm thick. Score the top using a sharp knife and top with the reserved balsamic onions, proscuitto and manchego.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base. I covered the bread with foil 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to make sure it didn’t get burnt. If the bread sounds hollow when you tap its base, it’s done.
  9. Transfer to a wire rack and brush with melted butter. Allow to cool fully.

The fact that this quick bread already has a handful of meat and cheese in makes it delicious on its own rather than a bread for sandwich-making. I had it with a spread of goats cheese. I was actually impressed by how soft the crumb was, as I was expecting a rather more dense loaf given the lack of kneading and yeast. Quick breads keep well in airtight containers, in the fridge for a few days or frozen when fully cooled down. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the GBBO final next week!

Vietnamese Salad and Lime Marinated Salmon with Crispy Skin

I have found the weather in London over the last week or so to be uncomfortably muggy. There’s no pleasing Londoners sometimes. Winter never seems to end and then when summer does come the heat is too hot.

Summer calls for light meals and, for me, a seemingly unconscious move towards healthier and simpler forms of food. Tonight’s Monday night meal was a Vietnamese salad and lime marinated salmon with crispy skin. I have never made this dish before and I found it a frenzy of freshness, texture and bright, joyful colour. The pleasing crunch of the vegetables is complemented in each mouthful with the softness and mild citrus flavour of the salmon. Also, given that this dish is basically guilt-free, eating it in large quantities is allowed.

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I think that the salad is really made by the inclusion of mint. I overlook mint in much of my cooking apart from in the old favourites; blitzing into sauce for lamb or adding handfuls to Pimms. It’s great to use it in a dish where it is really at the forefront rather than an accompaniment. Secondly, I continually tasted the dressing for flavour, and leaving it for 30 – 40 minutes to mellow seemed to take the edge off the strong flavours of fish sauce and raw garlic.

This recipe makes more than enough for 2.

Ingredients

Dressing

25ml (approximately 1 and a half tablespoons) of fish sauce

4 limes, juice only

25ml vegetable or sunflower oil

25ml white wine vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely or crushed and chopped finely

Salt and pepper

Salad

1 red onion, sliced finely

2 carrots, sliced finely or grated

Half a small red cabbage and half a small white cabbage, sliced finely

Bunch of coriander, chopped roughly

Bunch of mint, chopped roughly

Generous handful of raw beansprouts

Salmon

2 salmon fillets, undressed and unflavoured

3 limes, juiced and rinds kept to marinade along with the salmon

1) Marinade your salmon in the lime juice and nest the rinds among the two fillets. Keep in the fridge until needed.

2) Make the dressing to give it time to sit and mellow. Add all the dressing ingredients to a deep bowl, stir and keep cool. I recommend tasting the dressing as you go to add more of what pleases your palate. I added more lime juice and a little extra red chilli.

3) Slice all your vegetables finely and layer in a deep salad bowl. Mix thoroughly to distribute the vegetables evenly.

4) After about 30 or 40 minutes, pour the dressing over the salad and toss thoroughly to cover all the vegetables with the dressing.

5) Serve with a fillet of salmon that has been marinated for at least 2 hours in lime juice. I oven bake the salmon fillet for about 17 minutes at 170 degrees fan, and grill it (skin side up) for a minute or so after cooking to crisp up the skin. For the carb lovers among us, some coconut rice would go nicely with this dish.

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Lucky me, I’ve got enough left for my lunch tomorrow. I’m going to team it with some shredded chicken breast.

An Evening at Wimbledon

Wimbledon is underway. I hail from south-west London about 15 minutes away from Wimbledon, so I’ve always been relatively close to the action for such a major sporting event. I do appreciate sport, and living with a boy has made me enjoy different types of sport much more than I would of my own accord. There’s something about tennis though which I feel has broad appeal; it is a civilised game with headline names and celebrated venues. Wimbledon is particularly full of tradition across the spectrum of wealth, whether it’s Lanson champagne and Debenture annual tickets, or the queue at 5am and a bag full of sausage rolls. Unsurprisingly I fall into the latter category.

I’ve been to Wimbledon every year since 2010. The usual routine is a 4.45am taxi to the Queue, haul ourselves to the end, marvel that people camping are already packing up their tents, and buy the Guardian and use the associated blanket to spread out on the grass and possibly catch 40 winks. This assumes that the weather is splendid, and to be fair, every year apart from one has been sunny, clear, and a little cold. Getting your queue card and seeing that you’ve made the first 5000 is relieving and allows for a more relaxed queuing experience.

However, this year I’ve chosen to dedicate my annual leave to various international jaunts so instead I’m using my evenings to catch some of the action.

As I mentioned in my last post, the weather is blissful at the moment. I picked up a bag of goodies from Whole Foods in Fulham (sorry bank account), including some fresh lemonade, baguette, cheeses, plump cherries and ice cold watermelon slices. Worth it!

It’s £18 for a ground pass after 5pm for the first few days. If you’re going under a ground pass ticket, the first couple of days are the best to go because this entry gives you access to courts 3-18, and as a knockout tournament, this is when the majority of matches on these courts are played. The price of a ground pass decreases as the Championships progress to reflect that you’re less likely to see as much the longer the tournament continues. We gained entry at about 6pm and proceeded straight to the famous Order of Play board to strategise. The majority of matches were underway, and the big names had played earlier in the afternoon. We caught Richard Gasquet on Court 18 in a close match against the Australian Luke Saville, a highly charged match between Maria Erakovic and Yulia Putintseva on Court 19, and Marsel Ilhan versus the towering Jerzy Janowicz on Court 5. I have to say, when you have access to the Hill (the Mound now?), a picnic and good company, the fact that you’re not watching the headliners doesn’t matter. Every court has world class tennis and an excitement around it. Every court we approached was full to the brim.

Oh watermelon. How I adore thee. Ice cold, crunchy, juicy and pink. I’m convinced everyone was looking at me enviously. It may have just been the slurping.

If you’re planning on joining the Queue of an evening during this year’s Wimbledon Championships, I would advise getting there no later than 5pm, and earlier if you can on a day where big names like Mr Murray are playing. Bring a picnic full of your favourite food and drink to save pennies on the familiar food-van type meals on offer inside the grounds, and make sure you’re stocked up with cash. Although you’ll spend much of the day sweltering, don’t forget a jumper as it can get cool in the shade. Don’t waste any time in the shop – get to those courts. I think even if you’re not a fan of the sport, it’s difficult not to get carried way with the jovial atmosphere. I’ll be visiting again this week and then keeping up with it on the television box and at the various live sites around central London. I’m aware that Murray is looking on good form, but personally I’d love it if Federer had it in him for a win!