St David’s Day is the 1st March, and a great day to celebrate the glories of Welsh food & drink. Whilst perhaps not having the most well known cuisine in the world, Wales can be justifiably proud of the quality of its produce. Welsh lamb is legendary, and their beef is pretty spectacular too. A great chunk of Wales is coast, so not surprisingly, the seafood is excellent, often served with Laverbread – a type of seaweed, which is also added to a traditional Welsh breakfast. Sea salt, harvested in Anglesey, was recently given protected status by the EU, lining it up beside Champagne, Prosciutto di Parma and Stilton as a product only allowed to be identified as genuinely originating in that region. Check out www.halenmon.com for details of their lovely sea salts, including smoked, vanilla, celery & plain.
Cheese is another fabulous Welsh product – Gorwydd Caerphilly – a citrussy, mild cheese; Organic Perl Las – softly blue and creamy; Cenarth Brie – a buttery brie ; Snowdonia Extra Mature Cheddar – rich creamy & salty; & Harlech – flavoured with horseradish and parsley; are just some of the delicious cheeses produced here. Have a look at www.liverpoolcheesecompany.co.uk for details of their Welsh selection. Of course, cheese leads me onto the wonderful Welsh dish – Welsh Rarebit aka posh cheese on toast. I make it old school style, melted in a pan and then poured over the toasted bread and browned – see below for the recipe.
What would St David’s Day be without a leek? A traditional symbol of Wales, this lovely onion relative has a milder flavour and is the main component of the velvety textured Vichyssoise soup, made with leeks & potatoes and served chilled in summer. As summer is yet some way off, I’ve given a recipe for a hearty leek & potato soup instead!
Bara Brith is a traditional Welsh tea bread, made with dried fruit and tea, and sometimes yeast but I confess to a weakness for Welsh cakes, a sort of griddle scone with spices and fruit, best served warm with lashings of butter…
25 g butter
25g plain flour
100ml strong dark beer (Welsh)
150 g mature Cheddar, grated (try the Snowdonia)
1 tsp English mustard (yes, English.. sorry!)
Melt butter in a small pan, add the flour and cook over a gentle heat until it’s starting to go golden. Slowly add the beer, stirring well to prevent lumps, and then add the grated cheese. Take off the heat and stir until all the cheese has melted into the beery sauce. If it’s not melting, put back on heat but don’t let it boil. Add the mustard and mix well. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then add the egg, well beaten.
Toast 4 slices of bread on both sides, then spread the cheese mixture over the bread and put back under the grill until golden and bubbling.
Hearty Leek & Potato Soup
1 small onion, chopped
3 large leeks, cleaned well (!) and chopped into quarters, then slices
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
900ml of chicken stock
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/2 tsp if using dried)
salt & pepper
100ml double cream
Melt the butter in a large pan, and add the onion and leeks. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring to keep from browning, until the leeks and onions are softening. Add the thyme and chopped potatoes, stir well and add the stock and bring to a simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Take off the heat and use a potato masher to break up and thicken the soup (you can use a hand blender if you prefer a smoother texture). Add the cream and adjust seasoning to taste.
Welsh cakes (recipe from: www.visitwales.com/explore/traditions-history/recipes/welsh-cakes)
225g plain flour
75g caster sugar
50g currants (or mixed dried fruit)
½tsp baking powder
¼tsp mixed spice
A pinch salt
A little milk to bind
Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter and rub into the flour. Stir in the sugar and fruit, pour in the egg and mix to form a dough, use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a biscuit. Use a pastry cutter to cut out rounds. Cook the cakes on a greased bake stone or griddle until golden. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle. Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter.