Ever been at home and experienced a mascarpone emergency? You know, that feeling you get when you really need a tub of thick, luscious cultured cream but you know the corner shop won’t have any and you can’t be bothered going to the supermarket? Well, let me save you. Here’s a dead easy way to make mascarpone at home that doesn’t require faffing about with straining through layers of cheesecloth and other such hassles. This is a two-ingredient wonder that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Homemade mascarpone

There are more recipes for mascarpone than you can shake a stick at – and a lot of argument about which method is better, or more authentic. I’m not interested in wading into that quagmire, especially since I don’t have any claims to knowing the secrets of Italian grandmothers. However, I do know the way my mother used to make it and it works a charm. All you need is a thermometer and a bit of patience.

1 litre cream

1/4 tsp tartaric acid

Pour the cream into a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the cream reaches 90C. When this happens, add the tartaric acid and stir for 30 seconds. Remove the pot from the heat and stir for another two minutes (at a leisurely pace, don’t work up a sweat), then remove the bowl from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Unless you’re in a very warm climate, you can safely leave the cream at room temperature for about four hours. By this time the cream should have thickened considerably. Give it a stir, then cover and put it in the fridge for at least three hours before using – ideally overnight.

I find it thick enough by this point, but you can always strain it through a layer of new cheesecloth or similar if you want the end result to be very thick. The resulting cheese will keep for more than a week in the fridge – but since I can just about eat it straight from the bowl I never have a problem with using it up. If you need more inspiration, there’s this Black Doris and white chocolate tiramisu, this tagliatelle with smoked trout and mascarpone and this breakfast dessert option – raspberries, walnuts and mascarpone on toast.

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!

If you are lucky enough to live in a hot climate, or at least one where hot summers are guaranteed, you can’t begin to imagine how incredible it is to suddenly be blessed with blazing sunshine and balmy temperatures. After Wellington’s dismal effort last summer (grey skies, rain, wind, occasional flooding), which was so miserable I started seriously considering moving to Auckland or even Hamilton, everything has changed. It’s seriously hot (I’m writing this in a bikini, while eating an ice cream sundae) and I love it all over again. I don’t think I’m the only one. Just before Christmas I bumped into a former Wellingtonian who now lives in Sydney. He was laughing at how relaxed the city and its inhabitants were as a result of the better weather. “Everyone is so happy,” he said, “it’s like we’ve come somewhere completely different!”

There are downsides to this weather – there’s a water ban, so my garden is slowly dying (while my naughty neighbours keep their lawns lush with irrigation systems in a flagrant display of privilege), it’s been too hot to sleep at night and my sourdough making is taking a hit – but I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m off to the beach with a bottle of my icy-cold homemade ginger beer. Here’s how to make it (it will ferment and be ready in super-quick time if you’re similarly blessed with good weather). Happy holidays!

Homemade ginger beer

Makes 1.5 litres

For the syrup:

2/3 cup caster sugar

3cm fresh ginger, finely grated

1 tbsp ground ginger

Finely grated zest and juice of two lemons

1 cup boiling water

For the yeast:

¼ tsp dried yeast

½ tsp sugar

2 tbsp lukewarm water

Make the syrup first by putting the caster sugar, fresh and ground ginger and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the boiling water and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

Put the yeast, ½ tsp sugar and warm water in a cup and set aside until it is bubbly.

Set a sieve over a funnel into a clean 1.5 litre plastic soft drink bottle. Pour in the syrup, followed by the lemon juice, pressing down to extract all the syrup from the grated zest and ginger. Fill the bottle with cold tap water until about 5cm from the top. Shake to mix, then add the yeast mixture. Cover tightly with the lid. Leave in a warm place (the kitchen will be warm enough in summer) until the bottle feels hard when you squeeze it. This will take about 24-36 hours. Chill in the fridge before opening.

Once you’ve got the ginger beer made, you can either drink it straight, add it to gin or vodka-based cocktails or use it in this classy shandy…

Ginger panaché

Ginger beer + crisp lager = instantly refreshing pick-me-up. If you’re too cool to be seen drinking a shandy, tell everyone it’s a panaché (that’s what you call a shandy in France).

1 x 375ml bottle lager, very chilled

1 ½ cups (375ml) homemade ginger beer, very chilled

1 lemon, sliced

Ice

Half-fill two tall glasses with ice. Half-fill each one with ginger beer, then top with an equal amount of lager. Stir to mix, garnish with lemon slices and serve immediately. Repeat as necessary with remaining lager and ginger beer. Santé!

“Angela lifted the toast on to the table. “I got Antoinette to make anchovy toast for us,” she said. “It looks good, doesn’t it? Take a slice, Anne-Marie.”

Anne-Marie took the top slice. It seemed to have rather a peculiar smell. Anne-Marie looked rather doubtfully at it.

“It’s all right,” said Alison, seeing her look. “Anchovy always smells a bit funny I think.”

She and Anne-Marie took a good bite out of their toast at the same second. The shoe cream tasted abominable.”

This is one of my favourite-ever scenes in Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s boarding school series, which comes after “fun-loving French girl” Antoinette pays out the mean fifth-formers by spreading their toast with shoe polish instead of anchovy paste. To add insult to injury, she then tells Matron of her ‘mistake’ so the three girls end up getting a dose of Matron’s nasty medicine while Antoinette gets cosseted with chocolate by Mam’selle.

I’ve been thinking about this scene a lot recently after discovering what might be one of the loveliest cookbooks I’ve ever come across. It’s The Little Library Cookbook by Australian/Londoner Kate Young and it is utterly perfect. 

 

As the name suggests, Kate’s book is a collection of recipes inspired by books old and new – from roasted pheasant inspired by Danny, Champion of the World, to spaghetti and meatballs inspired by The Godfather. There are lots of recipes from books I know and love (I Capture The Castle, The Goldfinch, Americanah, The Pursuit of Love) and lots from books I’m now desperate to read (How I Live Now, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The End of the Affair). Each recipe deftly weaves together a little about the book, a little about Kate’s relationship to it, and a lot about the food. It’s such a good idea – and so beautifully executed – that part of me wants to force-feed Kate shoe polish on toast because I’m so jealous of her cleverness. But mostly, I just want this book to be a roaring success so she writes another one.

In the meantime, here’s my homage to Antoinette’s anchovy paste (a rather more palatable version that won’t send you running to Matron).

Anchovy and black garlic paste

Black garlic gives this its rich, shoe polish-y colour, but you can omit it if you don’t have any.

1 x 50g tin (or 80g jar) anchovies, drained of their oil and chopped

50g softened unsalted butter

2-3 cloves black garlic

2 tsp capers

2 tsp pink peppercorns

Put everything in a small bowl (or, the bowl of a blender, if you’re lazy) and mix together to form a smooth-ish paste. Scrape into a jar (add optional ‘shoe polish’ label for kicks) and store in the fridge. Best served on very thin and crisp hot toast.

If anchovy paste isn’t to your taste, you might like to watch Kate making ‘An Enormous Round Chocolate Cake’, inspired by the one the Trunchbull forces hapless Bruce Bogtrotter to eat in Matilda. I think this is in my future these school holidays…

If I was the sort of person who did things by the book, I’d be planting my garlic today. But after the failure of last year’s crop – I’ll never know if it was too much rain at the wrong time, the wrong sort of compost, or just bad luck – I’m a bit reluctant. Serves me right for being so smug and getting it in on time last year, I suppose. Traditional garden lore says it should be planted on the Shortest Day, but apparently it can be planted any time from May until the end of July. That’s especially useful information for people like me, who don’t fancy going out in the dark tonight to get the job done.

In the meantime, I’m indulging in some extremely moreish black garlic grown and cured in Marlborough. Black garlic, or ‘garlic noir’ as it’s sometimes called, is fermented for a month to create a kind of super garlic that has double the antioxidants of the ordinary stuff. The fermentation process also changes the texture and flavour profile – black garlic is soft and almost chewy, with a sweet and smoky flavour that reminds me of molasses or fresh dates. It’s extremely moreish and I often find I have eaten a couple of cloves while slicing it up for something else.

 

The clever people who make it at Marlborough Garlic suggest using it as part of an antipasto platter, but I’ve also been adding it to vinaigrettes, or as a last-minute flavour boost to risotto, as it doesn’t need to be cooked. They also suggest dipping it in dark chocolate, which I was unsure about until a recent lunch at the sublime Wharekauhau Lodge where pastry chef Yannick Beaurienne devised a gorgeous black garlic chocolate mousse with kumara and pear brunoise, kumara ice cream and garlic caramel, as seen below.

Yannick’s version was beautiful, elegant (and extremely labour-intensive). Here’s my much-simplified version for the home cook.

Black garlic chocolate mousse with black garlic toffee
Don’t be afraid – the black garlic just deepens and enriches the chocolate flavours. This was a huge hit in my household, to the point that there was barely any left to photograph.

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate
2 cloves black garlic (about 8g)
400ml cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the black garlic toffee:
3-4 cloves black garlic, finely sliced
4 Tbsp caster sugar
20ml (4 tsp) water

A little extra cream, for drizzling

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a heatproof bowl. Put half the cream into a small pot and heat to nearly boiling point. Pour over the chocolate and set aside for five minutes.
Mash the garlic to a paste and stir through the chocolate and cream until the mixture is smooth.
Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the cooled chocolate mixture,  then pour into a large bowl or divide between six small serving dishes (I use Great Aunt Shirley’s whisky glasses). Cover and put in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

For the toffee, spread the sliced garlic on a piece of non-stick foil or baking paper. Put the sugar and water in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let it bubble away for five to 10 minutes, until it turns a dark golden colour (don’t wander off, this will happen sooner than you think!) Pour the toffee over the garlic and leave to set.

To serve, remove the mousses from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving. Break the toffee into pieces and use to decorate each one. Drizzle a little cream over the top and serve.

Are you planting garlic this winter? Do you have any top tips for failed growers?