Oh my word I’ve never seen so many herbs in the garden! This spell of warm wet weather has sent everything into a growing frenzy. The rocket is living up to its name – ‘wild’. The parsley is going to need mowing if it grows another inch. And the chives, which I thought had given up the ghost after several years of valiant service, have resurfaced and are going great guns. It’s all a bit much to be honest.
Still, at least I can use herbs in everything. No, really. Everything. Add a bunch of mixed herbs to a sauce, roast, heck even a pudding (see below) and you’ll have created a little flavour bomb. The knack is to keep the story straight when combining herbs. For example, if the story is Mediterranean (i.e. if you’re cooking pasta sauce, pizza dishes) then stick with Mediterranean herbs like marjoram, oregano and basil. If the dish is more English and springlike in vibe (roast anything, quiche, braised lettuce etc) then go for light, frothy, green English herbs like parsley, dill, chives, mint and so on. If you were to mix, say, oregano and rosemary with mint and chives, you’re going to mix up the stories and it isn’t likely to taste that nice. Don’t cross the streams, basically.
This glut of herbs coincides with my current preoccupation – choux pastry. Don’t ask me why. It’s just been on my mind of late. I had a similar phase with pickling last year. It goes away eventually.
I decide to combine the herbs and the whole choux thing to make two beautiful little dishes as follows.
You’ll only need 1/2 batch of choux pastry for each of the goodies below, so I suggest either making both at the same time or make a load of choux buns then freezing half for when an uncontainable profiterole urge strikes you. The best choux pastry recipe I have ever found is Nigella Lawson’s in How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I’ve changed the cooking time a little (longer) but apart from that, it’s unaltered:
- 200g Italian 00 pasta flour
- 350ml water
- 150g diced unsalted butter
- pinch of salt
- 4 large eggs, beaten
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Sieve the flour. Put the water, butter and salt in a large saucepan on a hob and heat until the butter melts and the water has begun to boil. Take the pan off the heat and beat in the flour with a wooden spoon. As the goddess herself points out, don’t fret about lumps, just keep beating until it comes away from the sides of the pan and is a silky smooth ball.
Now beat in the eggs a spoonful at a time making sure the liquid is well combined before adding more. Keep going until you have a smooth, gleaming dough that is soft enough to pipe but still holds its shape. Nigella cautions that you may not need all the egg, but I certainly did.
Spoon the dough into a piping bag and pipe little rounds onto silicone-lined baking trays. I needed 3 and used around 1 tbsp of dough for each puff ball. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and dry inside. Prick each ball with a skewer when you remove them from the oven to let the steam escape and prevent sogginess.
Herby Goats Cheese Cream Puffs
- 10-12 choux buns (from recipe above)
- 6 tbsp soft goats cheese
- 2 tbsp full fat creme fraiche
- Handful of herbs. Any combo of parsley, rocket, mint, chives, dill
- Salt and pepper
Finely chop the herbs. Mix them, together with the creme fraiche and cheese in a bowl and season to taste. Spoon into a piping bag, poke a hole in the side of each choux bun and squeeze around 1tsp of the filling into the middle. Serve immediately.
Thyme and Pear Custard Cream Puffs
- 10-12 choux buns (from recipe above)
- 2 egg yolks
- 30g caster sugar
- 10g corn flour
- 7g plain flour
- 2 tsp thyme syrup (I got mine in France yonks ago – best before 2010, whatever – but you can make it by dissolving 50g sugar in 50ml water, with a bunch of thyme and leaving to infuse)
- 175ml milk
- 4tbsp icing sugar
- 1tbsp pear juice
- a few thyme leaves
Start by making the custard. Mix the caster sugar, egg yolks and flours in a saucepan until smooth. Pour in the milk and thyme syrup and whisk well. Set over a medium heat and cook, whisking all the while until just boiling at which point it will thicken (you want tinned custard thickness). Transfer into a piping bag and set aside.
For the icing, simply mix the icing sugar and pear juice together. It should be thick but not stiff. Spoon into a piping bag.
To assemble, poke a hole in the side of each choux bun and fill with thyme custard. Pipe a drizzle of icing over each bun and top with a few thyme leaves. Serve immediately (i.e.: before the chef scoffs the lot).