Blue heaven: Mark Hix cooks with berries
Have them raw or cooked, for dessert, dinner or cocktails – the uses for blueberries are limitless
With the British blueberry season well underway, more and more new growers are coming out of the woodwork around the country. Of course, in my eyes, Dorset blueberries are still the most consistent – not that I'd ever be biased in favour of my home county.
Blueberries are versatile little fruits and can be utilised in anything from a smoothie to a gamebird garnish. They are also perfect for breakfast, scattered over granola or muesli – or simply eaten with yoghurt.
If you live in the countryside you may well know where to pick wild blueberry varieties, like blaeberries, josterberries or bilberries. They have the same uses as more common blueberries, and can be preserved in alcohol or frozen down to use in dressings for salads.
Pigeon and wild blaeberry salad
Pigeons are very good value compared to a grouse, and this is a great way to get several servings out of them. The birds are at their best now, after a summer of feeding on wild berries. If you can't find blaeberries or little wild blueberries, then elderberries would also work well.
Once you've made this dish, you can make a nice broth with the bones.
Two oven-ready pigeons
60-70g butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A small handful of blaeberries
A few handfuls of small flavoursome salad leaves and herbs
For the dressing
1tbsp red wine vinegar
½tsp Tewkesbury or Dijon mustard
4tbsp rapeseed oil
Pre-heat the oven to 240C/Gas mark 8, season the pigeon and rub the breasts with butter. Roast for about 12-15 minutes, keeping them nice and pink, then leave to rest.
Meanwhile make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together and seasoning to taste.
To serve, remove the breasts from the carcass and cut them into half a dozen slices and remove all of the leg meat and shred it. Arrange the leaves on four serving plates with the pigeon and blaeberries and spoon over the dressing.
Canapés with blueberries and mascarpone
I always keep some of these pastry canapé cups in my larder for inspiration and emergency snacks. You can buy them from Waitrose and plenty of other good food shops or delis.
The filling can be sweet or savoury; up to you. This option is dead simple – all it takes is a little softened mascarpone or cream cheese with a couple of blueberries on top.
20 canapé cups
Approx 150g blueberries
½tbsp caster sugar
50-60g mascarpone or cream cheese, softened
Put about a quarter of the blueberries into a small pan with the sugar and half a tablespoon of water. Gently heat them and simmer very gently for a minute or so then remove from the heat and push the blueberries and liquid through a fine strainer with the back of a spoon. Leave to cool.
To serve, place the mascarpone into the canapé cups, arrange the blueberries on top and spoon the syrup over.
Blueberries with zabaglione
This is a British version of the classic Italian dessert of eggs, sugar, and wine beaten to a frothy mousse; I've used perry here instead of Marsala. In posh restaurants zabaglione was traditionally made in front of you at the table. If you have a portable gas burner and a nice copper bowl and want to show off to your dinner guests, you could try it at home – but not if I'll be held responsible.
For the zabaglione
4 medium egg yolks
5tbsp caster sugar
A third of a vanilla pod, split and the seeds scraped out
To make the zabaglione, put the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla seeds in a round-bottomed steel or Pyrex bowl (not aluminium or it may go a nice grey colour). Beat well with a whisk for 2-3 minutes then mix in the Marsala. Hold the bowl with a cloth and f rest it over a pan containing 3-4cm of simmering water. Whisk continuously for a few minutes (use an electric whisk if you prefer) until the mixture is thick and frothy.
To serve, put the blueberries in bowls or plates and pour over the warm zabaglione.
This is a bit of a take on our house cocktail, the Hix Fix, which uses Julian Temperley's apple eau de vie mixed with Nyetimber sparkling wine from Kent.
If you can get your hands on Julian's morello cherry eau de vie then great, otherwise you could use crème de mure or cassis.
20 or so blueberries
500ml or more of cold Nyetimber
Put the blueberries in a jar with the crème de cassis and store for a week in the fridge or other cool place. (In fact it's well worth making a good batch of this to use through the winter.)
To serve, spoon some blueberries and liquid into 4 champagne coupes or similar and top up with the chilled Nyetimber sparkling wine.
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