Playing With Porridge Oats

Since my last blog post just short of three weeks ago, I’ve barely been home. I’ve been to Florence, London, Milan and today I’m packing my bag again for a whirlwind weekend to Piedmont. I don’t mean to show-off; I know I’m lucky to travel so much but when you’re in a place for a very short amount of time, you don’t get to see much and it becomes exhausting. (Especially when you’re hoping and praying that the snow doesn’t cause too many delays…)

Yesterday, finally, I’d caught up with most of my work and my sleep and so I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen, playing around.

First on my to-do list was setting aside some lemons to eat during the summer months. I made preserved lemons this time last year too, but tragically I found out the hard way that there’s too much humidity in the walls of this old house (and not to mention, there aren’t any foundations) to support any kind of shelf. My glass jar full of salt and lemons ended up shattering on the floor.

Last week, I picked up a new jar in the sales and am determined to learn from last year’s lesson. I’m going to keep these precious preserved lemons at the back of my kitchen cupboard.

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Lemons, topped, almost quartered and sprinkled with sea salt and a little sugar.

Because we’re driving to Piedmont tomorrow and because I had a ton of porridge oats that I wanted to use up, I decided to make some food to take on the road with us. We English have a traditional tea-time snack called flapjack. It was one of my favourite treats from the bakery when I was a kid. There are two main types of flapjack: thick and often dry or thin, crispy and sticky. I always preferred the latter. 

Loosely speaking, a flapjack is made of oats, butter and golden syrup… sometimes currants. (There’s a good recipe here from BBC Good Food or here on Delia Online.) For my taste now, they’re overly sweet so I needed to adapt my childhood memories into something more palatable.

I made two versions because I wanted to test two different techniques: one heated with butter (but no golden syrup because it’s the equivalent of liquid gold here in Italy) and the other with banana. Whatever you want to call them – flapjacks, oat bars, cereal bars, granola bars, traybakes – they’re essentially the same thing and they’re super simple to make.

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Oats, candied ginger, dark chocolate and orange peel.

For the first version, I put a handful of sultanas in a small saucepan along with squeeze of orange juice (I wanted to rehydrate them somewhat to avoid them becoming shrivelled and burnt.) I added a thumbnail of fresh orange and lemon peel, a spoonful of brown sugar and a generous stick of butter. I very gently simmered this mixture until everything had melted.

Then, because I will always try and economise on the washing-up, I stirred 130 grams of porridge oats into this liquid mixture and sprinkled a very light dusting of cinnamon.

As a result of the heat and the stirring, the oats puffed up really nicely before they got spooned into a lined baking dish (21cm diameter) and then flattened down.

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Puffy oats with sultanas and citrus peel, easily filling the dish.

I had read on The Kitchn (here) that banana alone was enough to provide sweetness and bind the notoriously rebellious porridge oats together.

So, I mashed up a banana and in a mixing bowl, stirred in 130 grams of porridge oats and a sprinkling of candied ginger, dark chocolate and orange peel.

After I was satisfied that the banana was evenly spread throughout, I added the smallest drop of olive oil (just for luck!) and spooned this mixture into an identical baking dish.

Both were baked in the oven at 180°C (fan oven) for 16 minutes.


The result? The puffed up oats were the more aesthetically pleasing and it tastes good… but it crumbles too easily. Clearly a little golden syrup is needed.

The addition of a banana was a really good call. It really does bind the oats together well… despite it also lending a slightly greeny-brown colour…. you probably can’t detect that in the photo but you can see it in real life.

That said, I also like the difference in textures and flavours with the ginger and chocolate. It feels more sophisticated, if that makes sense?

What would I do if making this again? I’d repeat the flavours in the ginger and chocolate version but would find a way of heating up the oats (maybe in a little butter?) before adding the banana as my binding agent.

 

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Because the oats hadn’t been pre-cooked, it remained far more compact than in the other version.

Projects: To Grow, To Make and To Cook.

At risk of sounding like a snob, I don’t like going out to restaurants for mediocre food.

If we leave, having paid upwards of 50 or 60 euros (for two) for a dinner that I feel that I could have cooked myself, I am disappointed. I would rather go out once and be faced with a bill of 100 euros for an exceptionally good meal and a memorable experience than go out twice for sub-standard offering.

I choose to go to places which offer food that I can’t or don’t want to cook at home. For example, unless it’s so fantastic that it will knock my socks off (a very English expression!) I will rarely order a pasta dish in a restaurant. We have pasta for lunch nearly every day. Pizza, however, is a completely different kettle of fish because pizza costs between 6 and 9 euros and is cooked at temperatures that my home oven (even with a pizza stone) cannot rival. Similarly, I will happily order fish (well, probably not on a Monday) because when I cook a beautiful salmon or bouillabaisse at home, the smell remains with us for two more days at least. Am I the only one like this? Continue reading “Projects: To Grow, To Make and To Cook.”