Popular music, or more specifically, The Beatles, would have you believe that all you need is love. I’m going to stick my neck out and disagree with those mop top boys from Liverpool and say that actually no, love is not all you need. Had they never eaten custard? If they had indeed eaten custard, what were they thinking making such a claim and not giving custard it’s rightful place in music history? Outrageous. I’m not someone who’s down on love, I get emotional listening to Beyonce singing about how awesome Jay-Z is (if those two ever split then I will lose all faith in humanity) and I’m pretty crazy about The Boyfriend, but a life without custard in it is not one I want to even consider. Custard, or Creme Anglaise if you’re running a gastropub, is easily my favourite topping for a dessert. It takes me back to being little on a Sunday night where after tucking in to a roast, me and my brother would anxiously await the cooking of the custard to go on top of the crumbles made with rhubarb grown in our garden. I know it isn’t culinary or very foodie, but I won’t hear a bad word said about Birds custard powder or the nuking of it in the microwave, it’s the taste of my childhood, and very likely if you’re English, the taste of yours too. Watching it bubble away in the microwave always seemed to take hours, and then being told by my mum to wait five minutes for it to cool down was pure torture. Was always worth waiting though. Since then though I’ve made custard from scratch (best recipe is from Jamies Cook, absolutely heavenly) and bought those fresh pots from the supermarket that are flecked with vanilla seeds and it’s hard to disagree that these are miles better than the powdered stuff. I certainly wouldn’t turn down Birds custard anytime soon though. Or a carton of Ambrosia. Which nicely leads us to the crux of the matter, last nights dinner.
Last night I had some friends round for dinner, and the one food that we can all agree on and eat is Italian, leading me to naturally cook from Nigellisima. Nigella is a friend to any cook who has invited people over for dinner on a work night as her recipes don’t require much faffing around and are designed to be easy to cook and tasty to eat. Italian sausage and chicken tray bake with gnocchi gratin certainly did the trick, although the Tesco near my work had no Italian sausages so I had to sub with pork and red onion sausages (red onion seemed the most Italian out of all the flavoured sausages) which I recommend you try as they were mighty tasty and went pretty well with the lemon zest and rosemary that I chucked all over them. Add in some chicken thighs and olive oil then cook on a high heat in the oven and hey presto, crispy chicken skin and a tasty, easy dinner. The gnocchi gratin was simple too, the boiled gnocchi is cooked in the oven in a mascarpone and Parmesan sauce and emerges from the oven with a beautiful golden crust and soft, spongy gnocchi that have soaked up the rich sauce. You don’t need me to tell you it’s good, but really, it is. If you were to give me the whole tray of gratin,a spoon and some privacy, this would be gone in approximately five minutes. I’d have to work out all day every day for the next year to work the calories off, but it would so be worth it. If there’s one thing you take away from this blog, let it be that you must try this dish.
For dessert, I went with a variation on the classic English crumble, which was plum and Amaretti crumble, again from Nigellisima. This looks beautiful even before it goes in the oven, with the cooked, sugary plums nestling in their ruby red juices and the sandy rubble with Amaretti crumbs sitting on top. While this dessert wasn’t perfect (plums weren’t quite ripe enough so weren’t as soft as I’d like them) it was pretty darn good and the almond-ey taste of the crushed biscuits went really well with the sweet yet sharp plums. The Boyfriend did make a genius suggestion of replacing the plums with cherries in future, which I would be more than happy to try one day. All this was naturally served with custard, I’d never serve crumble with anything else. Having made everything else from scratch, I didn’t have the willpower or indeed the ingredients to make a custard so I went with Ambrosia, which although lacking in vanilla seeds, does still taste delicious and totally hit the spot. On a cold, wet, windy day, nothing says comfort and home like custard does. Perhaps one day there will be a song in the charts paying tribute to the mighty custard, but I don’t hold out much hope.
PS- We were so hungry that everything was eaten up before I remembered to take a photo, so you will just have to make do with a beaming Nigella instead.