I made a light batter with flour, egg whites and iced water, and used it to fry asparagus and squid to a crisp. Each little morsel rustled like leaves on our plates and we dipped each one, almost too hot to eat, into a mayonnaise we had turned green with finely chopped herbs and wasabi.
It wasn’t dinner, or even lunch; this was cooking purely for the fun of it – something I hadn’t done for months. Two of us, sitting within arm’s length of the stove, dropping battered vegetables into the hot oil with chopsticks. You could barely call the coating “batter” – so thin and light was it – but it held our catch of spring vegetables and fish crisply.
The cooking for fun extended to a bit of baking, too: pinwheels of puff pastry we had spread with a green paste of chopped spinach and miso paste. Eaten within minutes of coming from the oven, these were rather addictive little pastries and I wish we had made more.
There was no real reason to bake, other than that of passing the afternoon doing what I love: hands in the flour, music on, a kitchen filled with the smell of baking.
Vegetable and seafood tempura
I find it best to cook tempura for no more than two. While it is fun to lift a few, crisp parcels of squid and asparagus from the bubbling oil, a larger batch is unlikely to get to the table crisp and hot. The logistics are not in the cook’s favour. A kitchen thermometer is essential here unless you are an experienced deep-fryer or have an electric version. Neither of which has a home in my kitchen. Serves 2
For the batter:
plain flour 90g
ice-cold water 175ml
egg white 1
carrots 2 medium
radish or mouli 250g
squid 250g, cleaned and prepared
For the mayonnaise:
capers 2 tsp
mayonnaise 6 tbsp
wasabi paste ½ – 1 tsp
Make the batter: put the flour and cornflour in a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the iced water and beat lightly. There is no need to beat out any lumps. Cover and set aside for an hour.
Make the mayonnaise: remove the leaves from the parsley, finely chop them, then add them to a mixing bowl with the capers. Finely chop the cornichons, then stir them into the parsley together with the mayonnaise and wasabi paste. Set aside.
Scrub and then finely slice the carrots. Each slice should be thinner than a £1 coin. Now do the same with the radishes. If you are using the larger mouli then slice thinly into large coins.
Trim the asparagus, removing any tough bits at the end of the stems, then cut into short lengths.
When the batter has rested, beat the egg white until thick and frothy – stopping before it is stiff enough to stand in peaks – and fold into the batter. Dry the squid on kitchen paper.
Heat the oil in a deep pan – it must be deep enough for the oil to bubble up once the vegetables are added. The heat should be at 180C.
Add the vegetables and squid, a few at a time to the batter then lower them into the hot oil. Let everything fry only until it is tender – the batter should barely colour.
Lift out of the hot oil, drain briefly then serve with the wasabi mayonnaise.
Miso and spinach pastries
The process of rolling puff pastry spread with a savoury paste was inspired, of course, by the Danish pastry. Originally of butter, sugar and raisins, I have previously adapted the filling to one of green olive paste and feta and now with a mixture of cooked spinach, spring onions and miso. The majority of these were eaten warm, straight from the baking tray with bottles of beer from the fridge, though a few made it into a lunch box the following day, tucked among the cream cheese and watercress sandwiches. Makes 12
spring onions 6, thin
white miso paste 4 tbsp
puff pastry 300g
egg beaten for brushing
Wash the spinach and discard the thickest of the stems. Without shaking them dry, put the leaves into a large pan over a high heat and cover tightly with a lid. Let the leaves cook for a couple of minutes in their own steam, then turn them over with kitchen tongs, replace the lid and let them cook for a minute or so longer, until the leaves have softened. Drain in the colander, then squeeze dry. Roughly chop the leaves, then put them in a mixing bowl.
Finely slice the spring onions, then stir them into the spinach. Add the miso paste, a little salt and a grinding of black pepper. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.
On a lightly floured board, roll the pastry to a rectangle measuring 32cm x 22cm. Turn the pastry so the short edge is facing you. Spread the miso spinach mixture on to the pastry leaving a thin border of bare pastry around the edges.
Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. With the short side facing you, roll the pastry into a tight cylinder. Brush the outside of the roll with beaten egg. Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Slice the roll of pastry in 12 equal slices then place them flat on the parchment, leaving space for them to swell a little as they bake.
Bake the pastries for 25 minutes, until they are nicely browned and lightly risen. Remove them from the baking sheet and serve them warm.