Ginger nuts

Mad for a spicy Queen of Puddings; I can still sit a globe of stem ginger in a spoon, fill the remaining reservoir with double cream and... well, you can guess the rest

My good friend Martin Owen inspired one of the dishes in today's collection by doing a version of Queen of Puddings using marmalade instead of jam. Martin is a very good cook and is able, unlike me, to make three pheasants feed 10 or 12 people - and there are usually seconds. But I suspect that when he thought of the marmalade pudding even he didn't reckon only a few spoonfuls of jam left in an old jar in the cupboard would have been enough for a Queen of Puddings. So he used marmalade instead. Well, I hope that was how it happened - it is certainly the way yet another version occurred to me.

All I had was some ginger marmalade in the cupboard, which is nice, but not exactly blessed with that lovely burnt-orange flavour. Ginger marmalade is more of an excuse for getting ginger onto buttered toast just because you happen to really like ginger a lot. But when I remembered that I had a bit of fresh ginger sitting in the fridge (I usually always do, as it happens), I realised that here could be the answer to something really quite special. And when I also recalled a half-used jar of stem ginger in the cupboard (OK, there is always some of that there, too), that put the clinchers on it. Ginger Queen of Puddings it was to be.

Apart from its culinary use in Asian dishes, ginger has long been associated with sweet dishes, particularly in British food. Ginger (nut and snap) biscuits, steamed ginger puddings, chocolate gingers (Terry's of York still being the best) and, of course, gingerbread and gingerbread men.

These confections, however, usually utilise ground ginger in its spice form, which is only really fresh ginger root, dried and ground into the familiar golden powder. Christmas pudding and cake would not be complete without a spoonful or two. And thinking of Christmas just past, why do we - or, rather, I - never see those pretty blue Chinese jars of stem ginger in syrup any more, as gifts? Apart from the contents being packed into a silly little plastic bag, which was a sod to (stickily) extract the ginger from, it was a welcome addition to the festive guzzle. I can still sit a globe of stem ginger in a spoon, fill the remaining reservoir with double cream and... well, you can guess the rest.

Stem ginger and cream was a popular dessert in days of yore. Apart from it being easy for chef (tinned green figs and cream were often in the same repertoire), it was exotic and just the right-sized portion for the small glass dish known as a coupe; not many of those can accommodate more than about five globes. And the cream, as it curdled with the syrup, was divine.

The syrup, incidentally, is a most useful cooking condiment. In fact, the jars of stem ginger that are always in my store-cupboard don't often languish in that much syrup, as I am always tipping it off for use in various dishes. A few spoonfuls went into a sausage meat recipe recently, in place of the requested honey (I don't care much for honey) and was ripper. In fact, it can be used in place of honey on most occasions; think of honey roast ham for instance. It is also excellent in the making of a sesame dressing for a Peking-style chicken salad, the one known as "Bang-Bang". And the syrup, spooned over crisp bacon when served with the American breakfast of waffles and maple syrup, adds another dimension. Returning once more to desserts, when making a syllabub with stem ginger, use the syrup from the jar in place of the sugar. Ditto ginger ice-cream.

Before I give you some recipes, and so that you, too, don't end up with a cupboard full of jars of stem ginger drying out through lack of moisturising syrup here is a way to make home-made ginger syrup in it's own right, all on its own.

Home-made ginger syrup

450g/1lb granulated sugar

350ml/12 fl oz water

pith-less zest of one lemon (use a potato peeler)

150g/5oz fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated

Bring the sugar and water to the boil and cook for

2 minutes. Immediately add the lemon zest and ginger and stir together. Bring back to the boil for a few seconds and pour into a bowl. Cover and leave to infuse overnight. The following day, add 2 tablespoonfuls of water and warm through until liquid and pourable. Strain through a sieve and press on the solids with the back of a ladle to extract all the ginger and lemon flavours. Pour into a

screw-top jar and store until needed, preferably in a cool place or the fridge.

Spiced Sesame Dressing (as for bang-bang chicken salad), makes about 570ml/1 pint

250g/9oz of smooth peanut butter

75g/3oz sesame paste (tahini)

100ml/4fl oz soy sauce

5 tbsp lemon juice

5 tbsp sesame oil

3 pieces stem ginger + 3tbsp of the syrup

1 level tsp dried chilli flakes (less or more, depending upon your taste)

2 peeled cloves garlic, crushed

100ml/4fl oz water

To make the sauce, put all ingredients into a liquidizer and blend until smooth. Push through a fine sieve into a bowl. The consistency required is similar to that of bottled salad cream; if you think it a bit thick, simply whisk in a little more water. This sauce keeps well in the fridge for at least 10 days, stored in a screw-top jar.

To use for bang-bang chicken or similar, toss 2 tsp sesame seeds in a dry pan over moderate heat until light brown in colour and tip onto a plate to cool. Shred abut 350g/12oz of cooked chicken (or turkey, God forbid) and pile onto strips of cucumber and spring onion. Spoon sauce over and sprinkle with dried chilli flakes. Dribble over a little sesame oil and decorate with coriander sprigs. Serves 4

Ginger Queen of Pudding, serves 4

275ml/12 pint of milk

grated rind of 1 lemon

2 tbsp ginger syrup

pinch salt

50g/2oz fresh white breadcrumbs

2 eggs, separated

4 globes stem ginger, diced

15g/12 oz softened butter

3 tbsp ginger marmalade

65g/212 oz caster sugar, for the meringue (the 12 oz used for sprinkling over the surface of the meringue)

Warm the milk with the lemon rind, remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Add the ginger syrup, salt, breadcrumbs, egg yolks and stem ginger and mix together thoroughly. Lightly butter a baking dish and pour in the mixture. Leave for 15 minutes to allow the crumbs to swell. Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until set and firm to the touch. Leave to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until stiff, then start to add 50g/2oz of the caster sugar in a thin stream. Continue beating until thick and glossy. Spoon the ginger marmalade over the bready sponge, covering the whole surface, and then pile the meringue on top. Shape with the back of a spoon into soft peaks and sprinkle with the remaining half-ounce of sugar. Return the pudding to the oven for about 7-10 minutes, or until pale golden and the surface crusted. Leave to cool until luke warm. Serve with very cold pouring cream, sweetened a little with ginger syrup.

Ginger Syllabub, serves 4-6

Half a bottle fragrant, medium sweet white wine

75ml/3fl oz ginger syrup

2 tbsp Cognac

2 tbsp ginger wine

the thinly pared rind (absolutely no pith) of 2 small lemons and their juice

300ml double cream

4 globes stem ginger, finely diced

Put the wine and ginger syrup into a stainless-steel pan and reduce by half. Cool, add the cognac, lemon rind and juice. Cover with a lid or cling film and leave overnight to infuse.

The following day, strain the liquid into a jug through a fine sieve. Put the cream into the bowl of an electric mixer and slowly start to beat the cream (for an even better texture, hand-beat using a traditional wire balloon whisk). Add the wine infusion a little at a time, beating gently, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Do not over beat. Gently fold the diced stem ginger into the mixture, pile into chilled glass dishes and chill for 1-2 hours. Just before serving, drizzle a little extra ginger syrup over each portion and decorate with a thin sliver of stem ginger.

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