In homage to all things apple Lucas Hollweg, a fellow West-Somerseter and one of my favourite recipe writers, has provided us with the perfect apple- based dinner. Here are a couple of his delicious creations…
Roast Pork Belly with Cider, Juniper and Apples
You could also add the odd halved pear or quartered quince to the pan with the apples.
3 plump cloves of garlic, crushed
Fine salt, sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper
4 sprigs of rosemary
15 juniper berries
2 tbsp olive oil, plus a splash extra
1.5kg boneless pork belly, skin scored into 1cm strips
2 bay leaves
6 small eating apples
3 red onions, peeled and quartered through the root
150ml dry cider
250ml chicken stock
In a small bowl, mash the garlic with a good pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Strip the leaves from two of the rosemary sprigs and put on a chopping board. Add the juniper berries and chop both well. Stir the rosemary and juniper into the garlic, then mix in the olive oil.
Place the pork, skin side down, in a large, shallow roasting tin. Poke a few holes in the fleshy side with the point of a knife, being careful not to go right through and massage the garlic mixture evenly into the meat. Turn skin side up, tucking the bay leaves underneath. Leave at room temperature for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 240C/Gas Mark 9. If the skin of the pork doesn’t look properly scored, use a very sharp knife to make a few more slits. Dry it thoroughly with a clean tea towel or a bit of kitchen paper. Scatter one tsp fine salt evenly over the skin and massage it lovingly into the crevices. Rub with a splash of olive oil, then scatter over a few pinches of sea salt flakes.
Put the pork in the preheated oven and cook for 25 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180C/Gas Mark 4 and leave it alone for 30 minutes more.
Meanwhile, cut a line through the skin of the apples around their equators – this will help them stay roughly in one piece as they bake rather than splitting their sides in a dramatic explosion.
Add to the roasting tin around the pork, together with the onion quarters and remaining rosemary, and quickly toss the fruit and veg around so they are coated in the fat.Return the tin to the oven for another hour, by which time the meat should be cooked through, the onions caramelised and soft and the apples on the verge of collapse.
The crackling should have popped as well, but if it hasn’t quite done its thing, carefully slice it away from the top of the meat and return it on its own to the oven, turning the heat up high, until it bubbles and crisps. Transfer everything else to a serving dish and keep warm for 10 minutes while you make the gravy.
Place the roasting tin on the hob, pour in the cider and allow it to bubble away for a couple of minutes, scraping all the caramelised bits off the bottom. Pour in the stock and bubble for about 5 minutes more until the gravy thickens a little. Taste and season.
Carve the pork at the table, giving everyone an apple and some of the red onion, or just pile everything back into the serving dish and let people help themselves. A jug or bowl for the gravy would be a good idea.
Somerset Cider Brandy Burnt Cream
Julian Temperley’s excellent Somerset Cider Brandy is sold in some branches of Waitrose, as well as good drinks shops and by mail order.
5 egg yolks
75g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 vanilla pod
450ml double cream
3 tbsp Somerset cider brandy
Heat the oven to 120C/Gas Mark ½. Fold a tea towel to fit into the bottom of a large roasting pan. Take four wide, shallow ramekin dishes and put them on top of the towel. Leave to one side.
Put the egg yolks into a mixing bowl and add the caster sugar. Slit the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the seeds with the tip of a sharp knife and add to the bowl. Whisk together until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has become pale and fluffy.
Tip the cream into a saucepan and heat, without boiling, until bubbles start to form around the edge. Remove from the heat and whisk into the bowl with the egg mixture, then beat in the cider brandy. Pour the whole lot through a fine sieve.
Boil a full kettle. Ladle the cream mixture into the ramekins — still in their roasting tin — and place in the oven. Pour boiling water into the tin until it comes two-thirds of the way up the sides of the ramekins, then close the oven door.
Cook for 30 minutes, or until the cream mixture has just set — it should still have a bit of wobble in the centre. Allow the ramekins to cool, then place them in the fridge to chill.
When the custards are cold, dig out a kitchen blowtorch from the back of the cupboard. Sprinkle 2-3 tsp caster sugar evenly over the top of each ramekin and quickly blast with heat until the sugar bubbles and caramelises. Return to the fridge for 30 minutes for the ramekins to cool and the caramel to set, then serve.