I am not Welsh. Well, officially I am a quarter Welsh, as my maternal grandmother was born in Aberdare (although she didn’t sound Welsh, and the only Welsh-ness I really remember from her is her love of Neil Kinnock). Plus my boyfriend is 100% Welsh, despite being born in Ipswich (he says he was born in the Welsh embassy there, which some people scarily believe). As he lived in Wales from age 3 months until we started university, was educated in Welsh, and has supported the Welsh national rugby team throughout all the highs and lows of their existence, I think we can safely agree that he is, indeed, Welsh.
The fact that I have embraced all things Welsh has endeared me to his family. From the moment you enter our house and wipe your feet on the ‘Croeso’ doormat, you will see vases of cheerful daffodils in springtime, or hear the national anthem blaring from the speakers if you arrive on a match day. I might serve you a cup of coffee in my favourite ‘Cwytch’ mug, and you’ll eat dinner from our table which has been laid with Welsh slate mats and coasters. You will dry your hands on a Welsh flag towel, and may even see Andrew’s Welsh socks or rugby top drying on the radiators.
So for St David’s Day (which falls on 1 March each year) I planned to reinforce my ‘Welsh by default’ credentials with a feast of Welshness. I have previously successfully cooked Welsh food for my French colleagues, and I make welsh cakes quite frequently and have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like them. This time, I wanted to try some new recipes, and found some great options in my range of Welsh cookbooks.
I decided to make cockle chowder to start, as I had never made a chowder before and last year in Tenby I had eaten a delicious one from a pub there. I wanted a less creamy version as it was going to be served at the start of a 3 course meal, so cooked the bacon, onions and potatoes in vegetable stock and then added a dash of cream with the cockles just before serving. The chowder was flavourful and so simple to make because I used ready cooked and shelled cockles from Waitrose. Next time I’ll make a substantial lunch version by hollowing out bread rolls and serving the chowder in them – just like what we had in San Francisco. If you are not a fan of shellfish, the cockles could be easily substituted with smoked haddock. Or you could avoid fish entirely and use lardons and sweetcorn to make the chowder.
At the table I topped our soups with Welsh caviar – dried laver seaweed which tastes slightly of the sea and is perfect for seasoning soups, fish and eggs.
For our main course I slow-roasted a half lamb shoulder using a Tom Kerridge recipe where the meat is roasted on a pile of sliced potatoes and onions which have been covered in stock. It’s a wonderful recipe for sticking in the oven and ignoring for several hours until you are ready to eat – and the leftovers are insanely gorgeous. I served the lamb with roasted leeks which were nice, but I probably should have used more oil to cook them (I was trying to be healthy) as they were a little bit stringy!
For pudding I made a plum cobbler. I don’t know how Welsh a cobbler really is, but I took the recipe from a Welsh cookbook I own. However, I made a few tweaks because the cobbler dough called for hazelnuts, which I didn’t have, so I replaced those with porridge oats and that worked very well.
We started our feast with Brecon gin and tonics. The gin came from Penderyn distillery which is right by Brecon. Andrew and I went there last year for a distillery tour, and discovered then that as well as whisky they also make their own gin, vodka and cream liquor. All are excellent, and if we’d have had space in our tummies at the end of the night then I certainly would have ended the meal with some of their cream liquor, which is in my opinion far superior to Baileys.
Like all the best food, each recipe was extremely simple to make, with relatively few ingredients. Here’s what I did.
90g pack of cooked cockles, 1 veg stock cube, 1 diced potato, 1 diced onion, 2 diced smoked bacon medallions (or very lean bacon), water, a splash of cream, salt and pepper. Welsh caviar to serve
Boil the onion, bacon and potato in the stock until the potatoes are tender. Add the cockles, cream and seasoning to the pan but do not allow to boil or the cockles might turn tough. Serve with parsley or Welsh caviar (or crumble some nori seaweed sheets onto the top of the chowder).
2 thinly sliced potatoes, 2 thinly sliced onions, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, 1 pint of beef stock (made with an oxo cube is fine), 1 tsp lazy garlic, half a lamb shoulder, salt and pepper
Lay the sliced onions and potatoes in the bottom of a casserole dish or baking tray. Mix the stock with the garlic and thyme and pour that over the potato and onion mixture. Lay the lamb shoulder on top and season well. Bake in a 140 degree oven for at least 4 hours until the potatoes are soft and the lamb meat starts falling away from the bone. This is a very rich dish so I would advise just serving it with some green vegetables.
Plum cobbler – serves 6
800g plums (or whatever you have!), 225g plain flour, 50g butter, 50g oats, 2 tbsp demerara sugar, plus extra for sprinkling, 1 egg, milk
Halve the plums and lay them face down in a baking dish – roast them in an oven at 1600 degrees for around 15 minutes until they have softened. Allow them to cool before removing the stone. Alternatively you can use stewed plums which are already cooked. In a bowl crumb the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the oats and sugar and mix, and then add the beaten egg and milk until you have a stiff but spoonable batter (like a wet scone mix). Dot this cobbler mixture over the top of the fruit and sprinkle with some extra sugar. Bake for 30 minutes at 180 degrees until the top of the cobbler mixture is crisp. Serve warm with cream or ice cream.
Right, now I am off to make some Welsh cakes for Andrew and me to take to the office tomorrow.