Yuzu and yoghurt cheesecake with bergamot

Yuzu, a fruit which you may well have tasted but rarely seen, is a popular Asian citrus variety with a beguiling and exotic flavour – somewhere between a sweet mandarin and a fragrant grapefruit. Until recently I had only ever tasted it in Japanese restaurants, usually combined with savoury flavours – it is excellent with fish – or in salad dressings. I am now delighted to discover you can buy hand squeezed fresh yuzu from thewasabicompany.com, along with other more mainstream suppliers, like Waitrose. At this time of year, thewasabicompany.com also sells the whole fruit, a small and deeply wrinkled orb shaped citrus indigenous to Japan and Korea, which is in season now. The zest is prized for its strong flavour and is often used instead of the juice. The benefit of the juice over the whole fruit is that a whole bottle can serve several recipes, is less expensive and keeps for longer.

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Yuzu fruit

So for this recipe, I’ve substituted the yuzu zest with bergamot. Another exotic fruit, but one which is grown in Europe and therefore much more available and also in season this time of year. It has a slightly sweeter, more fragrant flavour than lemons, the zest is highly perfumed (traditionally used as the scenting oil in Earl Grey tea). Bergamot zest adds a delightful flavour to the cheesecake mixture and the sweeter yuzu juice adds a good balance with both flavours contributing exotic and unusual elements.

If you end up buying more than one bergamot and need other ideas of ways to use it, Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie, one of a few retail stockists of bergamot, recommends making bergamot syrup to add to prosecco or sparkling water. She also likes to slip slices of bergamot into a cup of Earl Grey and single- estate Ceylon tea. Or recently I ate a beautiful pudding of poached quinces with whipped bergamot-infused cream at Sally Clarke’s restaurant, Clarkes.

With Thanksgiving this week, I looked to America for pudding inspiration. A cheesecake is not a dessert I grew up with and one which took me some time to come to like, probably because I’d never had a really good one. Challenged by this, I thought I’d introduce these new flavours to something classic and try to give it a lift. I’m a fan or Mascarpone but it can create too heavy a filling, so I’ve used half yoghurt to balance it out. The yoghurt also gives a subtle sourness to temper the richness of the cream cheese. More importantly, it’s light, delicious and really simple to make – with an impressive outcome, if nothing else, that’s worth giving Thanks for.

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Yuzu juice and bergamot fruit. Picture credit Leila Amanpour

You will need:

20cm springform tin

A roasting tray large enough to fit inside surrounded by water

tin foil

Serves 6

160g plain digestive biscuits

75g unsalted butter, melted

300g thick Greek style yoghurt

300g mascarpone

130g caster sugar

3 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

4tbsps yuzu juice

½ bergamot, zested

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Picture credit Leila Amanpour

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.
  • Using a pestle and mortar or a food processor, crush the biscuits until they are the texture of coarse crumbs, then mix with the melted butter.
  • Line the base of the springform tin with baking paper and wrap the bottom of the tin with a single sheet of tin foil which covers and seals the base and sides. Repeat with another sheet for double protection. Press the biscuit and butter mixture into tin, using your hands or a spatula to form an even surface. Place the tin in the oven for 8-10 minutes to toast the biscuits and form a crisp crust. Remove from the oven and cool.
  • Put the yoghurt, mascarpone and sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer and beat to combine. Add the eggs, yuzu juice and bergamot zest and continue beating until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.
  • Place the tin in the roasting tray and pour the cheesecake mixture over the biscuit base in the tin. Boil the kettle and fill the roasting tray with water so that it comes at least halfway up the sides of the cake tin, but be careful it doesn’t seep over the top of the tin foil.
  • Carefully place the roasting tray in the oven and bake the cheesecake for 40 minutes then reduce the temperature to 150°C and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Remove the cake when the top still feels slightly wobbly.
  • Carefully lift the cake tin onto a wire rack and allow to cool before removing the foil. When the cheesecake is cooled to room temperature, chill in the fridge for an hour or so before removing the springform tin.
  • The cake can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days.

 

 

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Puffball mushrooms

Grilled Puffball with rosemary and garlic

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Last weekend I discovered a puffball. It was the first one I’ve seen this season and a very welcome sight it was, too. Fairly big, it needed two hands to cup it and it looked in prime health. Puffballs remind me of giant marshmallows and indeed the texture is not dissimilar.

They are excellent to cook and behave much better than many other mushrooms, mainly because they don’t release masses of liquid when you put them in a hot pan. They are perfect to grill and because their flavour is mild, they are all the better with a good marinade.

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I crushed garlic and mixed it with olive oil to brush generous amounts over both sides and studded the soft flesh with rosemary. Lots of salt and pepper is necessary and a fairly long time grilling on both sides, then finished with some good olive oil. Simple but delicious.

There are many other ways you could try too. Other herbs such as thyme or savoury would taste good and another good tip I’ve been given is to fry them in salty smoked bacon fat for breakfast. Definitely worth a try.

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1 puffball mushroom, sliced lengthways into pieces about 1cm thick

Garlic, crushed to a paste with a little salt

Rosemary sprigs

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Mix the crushed garlic with some olive oil and brush it over both sides of the mushroom. Push the sprigs of rosemary into the flesh and season well with salt and pepper.

Heat a griddle pan or frying pan and cook the slices on both sides for 3-4 minutes or until well coloured and soft.

Pour over some good olive oil to serve.

 

Lemons for Summer

When I think of lemons, I think of Italy: my favourite country to travel to, with a cuisine that celebrates these beautiful citrus fruit in every way. There is a wonderful book, written by Helena Attlee – The Land Where Lemons Grow – an exploration of both Italy and its extraordinary production of citrus fruit, which I read a few years ago. I’ve since re-read it several times, to squeeze out every last word of this evocative, informative odyssey into my two great passions: Italy and lemons.

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I first encountered real Italian lemons as a child when I visited family friends in Northern Italy one summer. All along the terrace, which stretched the length of the front of the house, were huge terracotta pots holding lemon trees, covered in deep green leaves and hanging with bright yellow fruit. I had seen a million lemons in fruit bowls before but I had never seen a lemon growing from a tree. When I picked one, I saw the skin was thick and covered in deep pores, unlike the smooth wax-dipped British imports. Just holding the fruit in my hands made the citrus oils seep out onto my skin, perfuming them with a fragrance of zest, sunshine and freshness.

Italians have known these pleasures for thousands of years and although we often associate citrus growing with southern areas like the Amalfi coast, I later learnt in Attlee’s book that historically a thriving business also had operated close to where I was, around Lake Garda. Here the cooler climates produced lemons with an acidity which appealed to the Northern European market. The reason the lemons I saw were growing in pots, was not just a way to decorate the terrace, it was so the trees could be moved, when the temperatures drop dramatically in the winter, into purpose built limonaia or insulated lemon houses.

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Wild garlic frittata with herbs and ricotta

If you go down to the woods today or any day in the next week or so, you should find swathes of wild garlic. Right now is the time to pick it, while the leaves are young and at their most tender for cooking.

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Although it looks more beautiful later on, when the small white flowers pierce out from amongst the lush greenery, it becomes a little more fibrous to eat.

Even if you aren’t able to go foraging for it yourself in the woods, this delicate wild plant has now become available in farmers’ markets and specialist shops, so it’s worth seeking it out to enjoy it during the short season. Although called ‘garlic’, its flavour is more like a gentle spring onion and when cooked, it is only softly pungent and enhances other flavours, rather than overpowering them.

Supplemented with a few spinach leaves from my garden (still going strong despite being overwintered), all I needed were fresh eggs, a spoonful of ricotta and fresh herbs to make the perfect early spring dish.

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Nettle ravioli

Even though my vegetable patch is looking pretty sparse at the moment, outside of the garden the first opportunities of foraging are beginning, starting with nettles. Stinging or common nettles (ortica dioica) are a great wild gift of early spring and right now is the time to gather them, when the first tender leaves are starting to sprout.
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Few things can be as menacing yet desirable as the stinging nettle. Their flavour is delicious, a bit like an intense, rich spinach and they’re full of health giving vitamins and iron. You need to pick just the tops off each plant, where the leaves are at their most tender and once cooked for 2-3 minutes in boiling water, they’re free from the sting. If you don’t cook them long enough, you can still get a harmless little tickle on the tongue.

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Blood orange and pomegranate margarita

Every time I cut open a blood orange, I marvel at its strange, dark beauty. The best blood oranges are grown on the volcanic plain surrounding Mount Etna in Sicily, where the soil and the fluctuation of temperature between day and night cause pigments called anthocyanins (which are high in antioxidants), to develop. So it isn’t just the evocative names of the varieties: Moro, Tarocco and Sanguinello to tempt me, the fruit is a superfood too.

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The ruby red seeds of pomegranates, also cultivated in Sicily and probably introduced by the Arabs, have a high anthocyanin content due to the same blood-red pigmentation. Fortunately both of these wonderful fruit varieties overlap seasonally, so around this time of year, my fruit basket is filled with these two exotic and health giving ingredients.

 

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Eggs, a love letter: my piece in the Guardian

Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

They’re the beating heart of a kitchen, the ideal bed partner for many ingredients, and breed endless possibilities for the curious cook. Yet eggs are strangely undervalued. With the launch of my book, EGG, in the U.S. it feels like the right time to give eggs the praise they deserve.

Eggs are magical things. These beautiful ovoid forms are one of the greatest gifts nature ever gave to the cook. No other ingredient can perform in such a complex way. They are simple and yet protean, indispensable but taken for granted, sometimes treated harshly and misunderstood, and yet continue to be the cornerstone of cookery.

Underneath the shell – that perfect vessel both to store and protect it – the egg gives us not one, but two ingredients: yolk and white. These parts can be separated and used either individually or together, both of which offer unique elements that perform in completely different ways. Yolks can emulsify to make thick, creamy sauces, while egg whites can be whipped into a foam and grow into great clouds. Whole eggs can be poached, fried, boiled, baked; or beaten together to give body and lightness to cakes.

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