I've been a fan of rapeseed oil for a few years now, ever since I discovered Hill Farm rapeseed oil in Suffolk when writing my book British Regional Food.
I've never advocated it as an alternative to olive oil as it's completely different in flavour and aroma and each have distinct uses. Like olive oil, though, rapeseed oil needs to be used with care as its unique flavour can overpower a dish or dressing. There are lots of rapeseed oils now nudging their way on to the condiment shelves. Some are great and others so-so. I'm still a big fan of the Hill Farm brand as its flavour has an appealing freshness and, of course, that fantastically bright yellow colour, so evocative of the fields of rape flowers that we see in the British countryside each summer.
Rapeseed farmers' potatoes
This dish can be adapted in several ways to suit the occasion. Top the potatoes with some grated hard cheese and make them in individual serving dishes for a simple starter or a light lunch snack with a tossed green salad. Omit the bacon and use the potatoes as a base for a whole roasted fish such as a sea bream or bass, or just serve it as an accompaniment to any main course.
For a vegetarian alternative, add instead either wild mushrooms and Parmesan or rosemary and garlic.
8 medium-sized waxy potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
150ml rapeseed oil
100g streaky bacon, finely diced
6 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Lightly brush an ovenproof dish or non-stick frying pan with a little rapeseed oil. Lay the sliced potatoes into the dish and build up the layers; season every couple of layers with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little more rapeseed oil, scattering with the bacon, shallots and thyme as you go.
Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes, brushing the top with a little rapeseed oil every so often.
Orecchiette with sprouting broccoli
I've had a go at growing sprouting broccoli again this year in Dorset and the plants seem to be harvesting tiny spears at the moment which work rather nicely in a dish such as this.
This is a nice, summery pasta lunch from Puglia that is pretty quick to make. It traditionally uses regular broccoli, but I do like using the sprouting variety. If you want to be really flash you could use romanesco, which is an odd-looking green cauliflower with pointed florets.
240-250g orecchiette pasta or similar
250g sprouting broccoli, trimmed of any woody stem
5-6tbsp rapeseed oil
25g pine nuts, lightly toasted
25g raisins, soaked in boiling water for an hour
4 canned anchovy fillets, finely chopped
Cook the broccoli in boiling salted water for a few minutes, until tender, then drain.
Remove the heads and cut down into smaller florets, if they are large, and thinly slice the stalks on the angle.
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water according to the instructions, then drain in a colander.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and rapeseed oil in a wide, heavy-based saucepan, add the hot broccoli, pine nuts, raisins and anchovies and toss it into the orecchiette; season with salt and pepper.
Serve with grated Parmesan if desired.
Sichuan sea bass
This is a fiery dish that you often get in Sichuan restaurants, but don't worry, it's not as hot as it sounds and will only give you a slight tingle on your tongue.
In Sichuan cookery a light sesame oil would be used but rapeseed oil, once infused with the dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns, will certainly take on this interesting combination of spices.
I've used sea bass here as they are in abundance at the moment down in Lyme Bay, but you could use other firm-fleshed fish such as grey mullet, or even small flat fish such as dabs or flounder.
4x 250g sea bass fillet portions, boned and with the skin left on
250-300ml rapeseed oil
3tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
30 small dried red chillies
A couple of tablespoons of sea salt
A few sprigs of coriander
Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the Sichuan peppercorns, chillies and salt. Add the sea bass to the oil and cook for a couple of minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and let the fish sit in the oil for another minute or so. You are not actually deep-frying the fish but rather just simmering it in the oil.
To serve, remove the bass from the oil with a few chillies and Sichuan peppercorns and place on to some kitchen paper. Serve scattered with some more chillies and Sichuan peppercorns and a little oil and a good sprig of coriander.
Gluten-free gooseberry, saffron and rapeseed oil cake
Makes 1 medium cake
More and more people are discovering they have gluten and wheat allergies, but panic not, companies such as Dove Farm are producing gluten-free flours to side-step these allergies and allow those afflicted to join in cake eating with the rest of us.
Olive oil, instead of butter, is used for baking in Mediterranean countries where there are a lot more olive trees than dairy cattle, but here we have plenty of rapeseed oil and if your cholesterol is a tad high as well, then rapeseed is a perfect substitute – so you don't need to feel too guilty about snacking on cake.
150g granulated sugar
175ml rapeseed oil, plus extra for oiling
A couple of good pinches of saffron strands, soaked in 2tbsp milk overnight
3 medium eggs, beaten
175g caster sugar
175g gluten-free self-raising flour
Put the gooseberries in a pan with the granulated sugar and cook on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the gooseberries are just cooked – not mushy; then transfer to a strainer set over a bowl to catch the juices. Put the juice back in a pan and simmer until you have 2-3 tablespoons.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Lightly oil a round 18-20 x 6-8cm deep, loose-bottomed cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.
Put the saffron-infused milk, gooseberry juice, eggs and caster sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk until light, fluffy and doubled in volume.
Slowly stir in the rapeseed oil, then fold in the flour with a spoon until well mixed; now gently fold in half of the gooseberries and pour the mixture into the tin.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes – if a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, it's done. Leave to cool for 15 minutes, then remove from the tin and transfer to a cooling rack. Serve with the remaining gooseberries and crème fraîche or mascarpone.