Food

Nigel Slater’s recipes for onion pickle, stilton puffs and roast duck salad

Monitoring Desk

I want to tell you about a jar of pickle I made this week. Red onions, sliced thinly and marinated in red wine and malt vinegars, a little salt and sugar and a scattering of peppercorns, cloves and dried fruit. The result is a tangle of soft, garnet red onions that is as happy alongside a miniature pasty of apple and stilton as snuggling up to a pork chop. This isn’t really a “keeping pickle” – though you could if you wished – it is simply something to put together in 10 minutes to add a sweet-sour jolt to a lunch of bread and cheese or perhaps a pork pie.

This is the answer to those who are not fond of commercially made pickles yet have no wish to mess around making their own. I am exceptionally fond of making the odd jar myself – plums, figs, runner beans or sauerkraut, but sometimes I want my hit of homemade sweet-sour accompaniment at speed. Red onion is the way to go. Pickles also sat with a salad of roast duck and ripe cantaloupe.

Sometimes, steeping things in vinegar and spices is about dealing with a glut, or putting a taste of summer away for winter, but on other occasions it is simply about adding a touch of instant piquancy to a dish.And that is exactly what happens here.

Red onion pickle

I cannot tell you how useful this pickle is. This week alone I have used it with the duck salad and the cheese and apple pastries. It will live, happily, in a stoppered jar in the fridge for weeks. I usually make this with golden sultanas – less sweet than large, dark brown raisins, but went with some dried mulberries instead. They offer the same pleasing jolt of sweetness among the vinegars.

Makes 1 medium jar

red onions 2
lemons 2
caster sugar 1 tbsp
red wine vinegar 3tbsp
malt vinegar 1tbsp
water 200ml
black peppercorns 10
sea salt 1 tsp
cloves 5
raisins or dried mulberries a handful

Peel and thinly slice the onions, put them in a stainless-steel saucepan and add the juice from the lemons, the caster sugar and vinegars. Add the peppercorns and cloves, water and salt. Bring the mixture to the boil, lower the heat to a simmer, then cover with a lid and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Keep a watchful eye on the liquid level, adjusting the heat as necessary. Stir in the dried fruit and set aside. Transfer the hot pickle to a clean storage jar, seal and store in the fridge.

Apple and stilton puffs

Little puff-pastry dumplings with the time-honoured filling of apples and cheese. The onion pickle adds a pleasingly sharp note. They are almost as good cold (packed lunch, autumn picnic, midnight snack) as they are when eaten hot. It is worth taking care to seal them tightly to stop the filling leaking as they bake. Makes 16

apples 500g (3 medium apples)
water 3 tbsp
stilton or other blue cheese 150g
puff pastry 1 x 320g sheet
egg 1, large, beaten
poppy seeds 2 tsp

Peel and core the apples, then roughly chop them. Put them in a stainless-steel saucepan with the water and simmer over a moderate heat until soft. Stir them occasionally to stop them sticking, then crush them with a fork. You are after a filling that is soft, but not runny. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Cut the pastry in half. Then, on a floured board, roll out one half to a square measuring 32cm x 32cm. Cut the pastry into 16 equal squares. (Each will measure roughly 8cm.) Crumble the stilton and stir into the apple, then place 1½ heaped tbsp of the mixture into the centre of 8 of the squares of pastry. Brush the edges of each square, then place the remaining squares of pastry over the filling and seal each one tightly with your fingertips or by pressing around the edges with a fork. Transfer the little dumplings to a baking sheet and keep cool. Repeat with the remaining pastry, again making 8 dumplings. Brush each dumpling with beaten egg and scatter with poppy seeds.

Bake the pastries in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then serve while they are still warm.

Roast duck, melon and blackberry salad

‘The melon is a refreshing contrast to the rich flesh of the duck’: roast duck, melon and blackberry salad.

‘The melon is a refreshing contrast to the rich flesh of the duck’: roast duck, melon and blackberry salad. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

Hot, crisp-skinned duck rubbed with a herb salt containing thyme and juniper. The melon – ripe and juicy – is a refreshing contrast to the rich flesh of the duck. The blackberries introduce a flash of sourness.The dressing is made from the juices in the roasting tin. Keep an eye on their progress as the duck legs roast, topping up with a little more wine or stock as necessary. Serves 4 as a light main course

white or red wine (or vermouth) 125ml
duck legs 4
olive oil a little
thyme leaves 1 tbsp
juniper berries 10
sea salt 1 tbsp
melon 750g, ripe
red wine vinegar 2tbsp
blackberries 150g

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. First, make the herb rub. Put the thyme leaves and juniper berries in a mortar, add the salt then grind coarsely.

Place a wire rack over the top of a roasting tin, then put the duck legs on the rack. Moisten them with a little oil, then rub with the thyme and juniper salt. Roast the duck for 20 minutes, then remove briefly from the oven, pour the wine or vermouth into the tin, then return to the oven. Lower the heat to 180C/gas mark 4 and cook for a further 40 minutes or until the flesh is moist and the skin is golden.

Remove the peel and seeds from the melon, then cut into thin slices and place in a serving dish.

Remove the duck from the oven, check for tenderness, let it rest for 5 minutes, then slice the skin and flesh from the bones and keep warm.

Make the dressing: remove the rack from the tin, place the roasting tin over a moderate heat, pour in the red wine vinegar and stir with a wooden spoon, letting the dressing bubble, scraping at the tin with the spoon as you go. Toss the duck meat into the warm dressing, then tuck the meat among the melon. Add the blackberries and serve.

Courtesy: theguardian

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