Last week, Raymond Blanc’s new book, Kew on a Plate, came out with the corresponding TV series starting on Monday on BBC Two, presented by Blanc and Kate Humble (“terribly flirtatious”). Blanc was given an area of Kew to transform into a fruit and vegetable garden: “Because I’m a Frenchman I like to tease my British friends I loved the idea that at the very heart of this royal British garden would be a French republic vegetable garden – it was perfect.”
The series and the book look at the history of Britain’s fruit and vegetables as well as featuring recipes using the 250 types of fruit and vegetables they grew. “The garden is part of my culture, my parents told me that a garden is crucial. If we embraced these values of local food in Britain, we would be far better off for it. You pay half the price if you wait for the season instead of importing, you help the farmers to keep their jobs and the village to keep its post office. There are so many wonderful elements to the programme – it’s about seasonality, growing food every season in changing landscape, it’s about the craft and knowledge of gardening, about connecting with one’s soul and history. It’s about Kew and the brilliant team there – the greatest centre of science and horticulture. It’s all these elements put together with cooking.”
Blanc mentions an elaborate plot he put together to prove that French strawberries are superior to English ones by buying in French strawberries to plant in Kew secretly: “When I was about to come and cook them, to show the French strawberries are so much better, they were not there! Someone had eaten them. I had to transform into Inspector Clouseau and do an inquest. I think we have found the guilty party now but I was bamboozled. I had to buy strawberries and it was such a shame I couldn’t prove French strawberries are better.” He did try a similar experiment with garlic – “crushed garlic with some beautiful sourdough bread – makes you feel like singing La Marseillaise” but concedes you can grow excellent garlic on the Isle of Wight.
Once Blanc got started waxing lyrical about the various types of fruits and vegetables it was difficult to get him to stop (not that you would want him to) – and I learned that the Red Duke of York potato is the best all round potato. Blanc is also passionate about the importance of understand the food that we eat: “It’s so important we understand every molecule of food we eat connects with one of our functions and our health. We all want to live for 200 years and if you eat well – which is very simple – it will help.”
Although a staunch defender of French produce, Blanc does sing the praises of the humble gooseberry though, “a very British fruit” that he hadn’t cooked with before. They grew four varieties of gooseberry at Kew and Blanc used them to create a cheesecake – “something a Frenchman would never do”. Below we have an exclusive extract from the book of the cheesecake that Blanc created – enjoy.
GREEN GOOSEBERRY JELLY CHEESECAKE WITH RED GOOSEBERRY COMPOTE (Serves 10 - 16)
The Kew garden has enabled me to discover many British heritage fruit and vegetables, which had been unfamiliar to me. The tartness of a gooseberry is a strange concept for a Frenchman but the challenge of trying to conquer its sourness and create flavoursome dishes from it was attractive. I must modestly admit that I feel this cheesecake is a triumph and I’m now happy to adopt these northern green berries in my cooking. This dessert is based on two varieties of gooseberry – the gooseberry jelly, made using the green heritage variety Invicta, is dry and acidic; the accompanying compote is made from a hybrid red variety, Hinnomaki, which is much sweeter and I found it didn’t need any sugar. This recipe has allowed me to celebrate the revival of an almost forgotten British culinary treasure; I feel a much better Frenchman for it.
Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus chilling
Cooking time: 40 minutes
For the oat biscuit base:
80g rye flour
100g wholemeal flour
80g unsalted butter
2g bicarbonate of soda
40g caster sugar
95g jumbo oats
1 egg, beaten
For the filling:
300g cream cheese
130g crème fraîche
1 tbsp Vanilla Purée or good-quality vanilla extract
juice of 1⁄4 lemon, plus an extra drop for the egg whites
2 gelatine leaves
100g caster sugar
5 tsp water
4 medium egg whites
For the gooseberry jelly:
200g green gooseberries, washed, stalks removed and cut in half
10g caster sugar
21⁄4 gelatine leaves, softened in water then drained
For the topping
about 10–12 firm green gooseberries, stalks removed
Preheat the oven to 180oC/Gas Mark 4. Have ready a 20 x 4cm pastry ring or cake tin.
For the oat biscuit base, put the flours, butter, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl. With your fingertips, crumble the ingredients together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the oats and egg and mix well, then knead until it comes together.
With a rolling pin, roll the biscuit mixture out between two sheets of baking parchment to a thickness of 5mm. Lift on to a baking tray and remove the top piece of paper. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 2 minutes. Using the pastry ring or cake tin, press down into the biscuit, cutting through the bottom. Leave to cool completely before using for the cheesecake. Remove the excess biscuit from around the ring; this can be used to crumble on top, if wished.
For the filling, in a large bowl mix the cream cheese, crème fraîche, vanilla purée or extract and lemon juice together.
Place the gelatine in a small saucepan with 2 teaspoons of water, melt over a gentle heat to a liquid. Once slightly cool, briskly whisk into the cream mixture.
In a small saucepan dissolve the sugar in the water, bring to a boil and continue to heat to 121°C.
Meanwhile, in a food mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using an electric hand whisk and a bowl, whisk the egg whites, adding just a single drop of lemon juice at the beginning. Whisk to soft peaks.
Turn the whisk to a medium speed. The best technique for making this kind of Italian meringue is to pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl in a single thread so that it mixes beautifully. Otherwise the speed of the whisk will spin the sugar and solidify it over the whisk and bowl. Continue to whisk on a medium speed for a further 5 minutes until the mixture is glossy – the hot syrup will partially cook the egg white making it stable. Rest the base of the bowl in a bowl of iced water and continue to whisk by hand until the mixture is completely cool. When cool, add half the egg whites to the cream filling mixture and briskly beat with a whisk until smooth, then add the remaining egg whites and fold together.
Place the ring with the biscuit base on to a baking tray or plate and pour the filling into the ring, leaving a gap of 5mm from the top of the ring and level the surface flat using a palette knife or the back of a spoon. Refrigerate for 2 hours to allow the mixture to firm up before adding the gooseberry jelly.
For the gooseberry jelly, put the gooseberries into a bowl and macerate with the sugar for 15 minutes. Transfer to a small saucepan on a medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes, covered with a lid, then pour into a blender, with the softened gelatine and water and blend on full speed for 1 minute. To make sure the purée is smooth, pass it through a fine sieve into a bowl, forcing it through using the back of a ladle. Rest the base of the bowl over a bowl of iced water to cool, stirring all the time, and once the mixture starts to thicken, spoon it over the chilled cheesecake.
For the topping, top and tail the gooseberries and cut each one crossways into slices 2mm thick. Arrange 16 slices of gooseberries around the edge of the cheesecake on top of the jelly. Chill the cheesecake overnight or until set completely.
For the compote, cut the gooseberries in half. Taste one – if sweet enough, there is no need to macerate them, if they are a little sour, put in a medium mixing bowl with the sugar and leave to macerate for 15 minutes.
Transfer to a medium saucepan on a medium heat and cook for 10 minutes with a lid on, stewing them at a gentle bubble; stir from time to time to prevent the compote catching on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely, taste and adjust with a splash of water if it’s too acidic or a little sugar, if needed.
Serve the cheesecake with the compote alongside for your guests to help themselves.
Should you want to make the gooseberry flavour of the cheesecake stronger, you can stew 100g gooseberries until soft, then purée them and stir them into the filling mixture at the end.
Kew on a Plate with Raymond Blanc is out now from Headline for £25.