A Welsh feast, cooked by a Londoner, for the French … still with me? After our week on holiday in Somerset and Wales, eating traditional, local food and collecting cookbooks and treats from every place we visited, a Welsh themed meal was the only option when cooking for my lovely French friends, Odile and Sophie.
Odile and Sophie are both, it is fair to say, obsessed with British food. Their favourite shop when visiting London is Waitrose – they fill their baskets with sausages, baked beans, British cheese, marmalade, Sarsons vinegar, Colemans mustard and teabags. They introduce me to French classics when I visit Paris, so it’s only fair that I return the favour when they are in London.
As they were visiting me after a day at work (for us all, we work together), I wanted to prepare as much in advance as possible. My starter was leek (what else?) and Welsh goats cheese parcels, which were tasty and light as the goats cheese mix was wrapped in blanched leek. I served the parcels on beetroot salad, dressed with a mixture of rapeseed oil (from our holiday), white wine vinegar, Welsh honey, salt and pepper. The goats cheese I used was Pant-Ysgawn organic goats cheese which was soft but flavourful – if you have a cheese with a rind, I suggest you cut it off and just use the soft middle.
Fortunately for me, the main course of lamb Cawl improves the longer you leave it, so it was a perfect choice for our meal as I could make it the day before (which is ideal as you can allow the Cawl to cool and remove the layer of fat from the top of the dish before you re-heat it). Every Welsh household has their own recipe for Cawl, which is a light and flavourful stew – I made mine with lamb neck fillets but you could use gammon ham or beef. You cook the meat with a selection of root vegetables. I usually like mine with swede but as that is out of season now I went for onions, carrots, leeks and potatoes. I also added a handful of pearl barley to the stew as I love it.
The Cawl is traditionally served with crusty bread and Welsh cheese. I had bought some cheddar from Big Pit in Blaenafon (go there, it is a great day out) so we had that with bread from the Turkish baker down the road! Now, saying that Cawl is served with bread and cheese doesn’t really explain much – served with bread and cheese as a sandwich on the side / dipped in to the Cawl? And serving this to French people! It’s bad enough serving cheese to French people the British way AFTER pudding instead of before … so serving the cheese with the main course? Well, I was worried I might put them off for good. However, the cheese was creamy and strong, and melted like butter when dipped into the Cawl (encased in bread). In fact, it was the perfect cheese to have, and a combination we’ll definitely try again. Even the Frenchies were impressed – phew!
The Welsh are not, it is fair to say, renowned for their puddings in the same was as other nations. But in another one of my new books I found a recipe for rhubarb Tarten Planc, which is basically pastry-encased rhubarb cooked on a bakestone (the same way you cook Welsh cakes). So it was a good opportunity to pick the first rhubarb from our garden and stew it (with some orange juice and a little Welsh honey) in preparation for cooking these little cakes on the evening of our dinner. One of my books said that these cakes were best served hot, opened up and filled with cream and brown sugar. Well, as our trip had included a day out in Devon, I had no choice but to serve the Tarten Planc with clotted cream!
Our meal was finished with some Merlin cream liquor from Penderyn distillery – if you are ever in South Wales then I urge you to take the distillery tour which includes two free tastings at the end. Our guide on the tour suggested serving Merlin over ice with a flake. We were too full for the flake this time, but that’s definitely on my list of wants! Penderyn also make a variety of whiskies, which are honestly not my thing but I could taste the quality in the samples, and Brecon gin which is my thing, and is fabulous.
2 large leeks, 100g soft goats cheese (preferably welsh), a quarter teaspoon of lazy garlic, rapeseed oil, white wine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper, salad leaves and pine nuts (optional)
Keep the leeks whole and put them in a saucepan filled with cold salted water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until the leeks are tender, and then run them under the cold tap to retain the colour and flavour of the leeks. Peel the outer layers from the leeks without tearing them – you need 4 large leek leaves (is that the word?!) to wrap your parcels. Then finely chop the remaining leeks and mix with the goats cheese and garlic. Season with a little salt and pepper and divide into 4 portions. Place each portion in the centre of a leek ‘wrap’ and fold the leek around the cheesy mixture. Serve with a dressing made from 3 tablespoons of rapeseed oil (or any lightly flavoured oil), 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of runny honey (preferably Welsh), salt and pepper. I also sprinkled some toasted pine nuts over the top for a bit of crunch, and served the parcels on top of colourful salad leaves.
500g lamb neck fillets, 2 onions, 4 carrots, 2 leeks, 2 medium potatoes, a handful of pearl barley, 2 oxo cubes, water, bayleaf, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper
I have given approximate measurements here, but the beauty of Cawl is that you really just chuck in whatever you have / fancy. Most importantly, cook the lamb and herbs first in the water which you have crumbled in oxo cubes. I cooked the lamb for an hour and a half before adding the chopped onions, leeks and carrots, plus the pearl barley. After another half hour add the potatoes and cook until they are tender. Allow to cool completely and then skim off any fat from the top of the Cawl. The flavours of the dish improve after 2-3 days so don’t be afraid to cook it in advance.
Serve with chunks of crusty bread and thinly sliced Welsh cheese (cheddar or Caerphilly cheese would be good).
Rhubarb which has been stewed in orange juice and honey (preferably Welsh), 75g plain flour, 75g wholemeal flour, 75g butter, a pinch of salt, cold water, clotted cream, brown sugar
Rub the butter into the flour and salt until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then mix with enough water to form a stiff dough. Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for one hour. Once rested, roll out the dough thinly and cut into circles using a pastry cutter (mine were the size of digestive biscuits). Add a spoonful of rhubarb to the middle of a circle, wet the edges with water and top with another disc of pastry. Pinch the edges shut and then gently cook on a bakestone until golden on both sides. It took around 5 minutes on each side for mine to cook.
Serve by opening the edge of the Tarten Planc and filling it with cream and sugar!
Mwynhewch eich bwyd!