Friday 26 May 2017

Rachel Allen's top tips and recipes for blueberries

We're coming into blueberry season, so Rachel Allen has some delicious ways to use this purple-hued, nutrient powerhouse of a fruit. Photography by Tony Gavin

Rachel Allen with a bowl of delicious blueberries. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen with a bowl of delicious blueberries. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel's blueberry jelly recipe

Rachel Allen

Deliciously small and sweet, the blueberry is a lot more powerful than its modest size would lead you to believe. Nowadays hailed as a superfood, the blueberry has been enjoyed for many centuries by the Native Americans, who have long realised its potency in terms of high levels of antioxidants, as well as being hugely beneficial for the nervous system. It has also been claimed that the little purple berry packs a powerful punch for general brain health too, especially for improving memory - there's an incentive for anyone who, like me, walks into a room for something and then cannot remember what that something is!

To get the maximum number of benefits of blueberries, however, they do need to be consumed raw, so make sure to keep a few punnets in the freezer for throwing into smoothies, juices and mueslis. It's true, though, that the blueberries in the cheesecake recipe, opposite, are baked and so they are not as nutritious as raw berries, but the recipe is too divine to omit. The blueberry jellies, also opposite, are gorgeous, wobbly delights that both children and adults will love at the end of a meal, while the blueberry coulis recipe is a deliciously fresh, fruity sauce to pour over ice cream or even into the bottom of a glass of Cava - now there's a good way to get your five-a-day if ever I heard one!

Blueberry jelly

Serves 4.

(Pictured)

You will need:

250g (9oz) blueberries, fresh or frozen

Juice of 1 lemon

50ml (2fl oz) water

75g (3oz) sugar

2 sheets of gelatine

Place the fresh or frozen blueberries, whichever you're using, and the lemon juice in a liquidiser and whizz for a few minutes until the mixture is very smooth. Then push it through a sieve and set it aside.

To make the syrup, put the water and the sugar in a saucepan on a medium heat. Stir it just until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil, boil for 1 minute, then remove the saucepan from the heat and set it aside.

Place the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water and leave them to sit for 3-4 minutes, until they have softened. Then squeeze out the excess water and add them to the hot syrup. Stir until the gelatine leaves dissolve, reheating the syrup if it has cooled down. Once the gelatine has been added, allow the mixture to cool until it is almost at room temperature. (If it's too hot, it will cook the blueberry and lemon mixture you add next, ruining the flavour.)

Add the blueberry and lemon mixture you set aside earlier to the gelatine syrup and stir together well, then divide the jelly between four glasses or cups and place them in the fridge to set - this should take about 3 to 4 hours.

Blueberry and strawberry smoothie

Serves 2-3.

You will need:

75g (3oz) blueberries, fresh or frozen

75g (3oz) strawberries

2 bananas (200g (7oz) when peeled)

200ml (7fl oz) natural yoghurt

Juice of 1 orange

2 teaspoons agave syrup or honey

Simply whizz up the fresh or frozen blueberries, whichever you're using, the strawberries, the bananas, the natural yoghurt, the orange juice and the agave syrup or the honey, whichever you're using, in a blender or food processor and serve the smoothie on its own or over ice.

Baked blueberry and ricotta cheesecake

OK, so the blueberries in this recipe are baked, which means a bit of their powerful antioxidant properties will be lost, but having said that, this baked cheesecake is still completely divine and well worth whipping up.

Serves 8-10.

You will need:

50g (2oz) butter, melted, plus extra for greasing

150g (5oz) (about 12) digestive biscuits

1 x 500g (1lb 2oz) tub of ricotta cheese

200g (7oz) creme fraiche

3 eggs

175g (6oz) caster sugar

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

275g (10oz) blueberries, fresh or frozen

Icing sugar, for dusting

You'll need a 20cm (8in) diameter springform tin. Preheat the oven to 180°C 350°F, Gas 4. Grease the sides and base of the cake tin with butter.

Put the digestive biscuits in a food processor and blend them until they are quite fine. Alternatively, place them in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin to break them up. Mix the crushed biscuits with the melted butter and tip the mixture into the prepared tin. Press the biscuit mixture down into the base of the tin to form an even base layer.

Wash the processor bowl and blade, reset and add the ricotta cheese, the creme fraiche, the eggs, the caster sugar, the lemon zest and the vanilla extract. Blend for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and well combined.

Next, using a fork, ever so slightly crush 100g (3ƒoz) of the blueberries and then stir them into the mixture in the food processor.

Pour the mixture from the food processor onto the biscuit base in the tin and gently shake and tilt the tin so that the ricotta mixture forms a level layer (minding the loose bottom of tin!). Bake it in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until the cheesecake is pale golden and wobbles slightly in the middle when you gently shake the tin. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and set it aside to completely cool before storing in the fridge overnight. Don't worry if the top has cracked when you take it out again, as the remaining blueberries will cover this.

Run a knife around the edge to loosen the cheesecake and remove it from the tin. Transfer it to a serving plate and scatter the remaining blueberries on top. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Blueberry Coulis

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

300g (10oz) blueberries, fresh or frozen

Juice of 1 lemon

1-2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey

Vanilla ice cream, to serve

Champagne, to serve (optional)

Put the fresh or frozen blueberries, whichever you are using, the lemon juice and the agave syrup or honey, whichever you're using, in a liquidiser and whizz until fine. Then push the mixture through a sieve and serve over vanilla ice cream, or pour a teaspoon or two into the bottom of a glass of bubbly!

Rachel recommends

It's great to hear that freezing blueberries does not affect their high antioxidant level, so make sure to leave a space in the freezer for a few punnets of the Irish-grown version, so that all year round you can have delicious fruit at your fingertips for juices, smoothies and puddings. I always try and seek out those grown at Derryvilla Blueberry Farm near Portarlington in Co Laois.

Rachel's tip

If you want to use powdered gelatine instead of leaf gelatine, you'll need one teaspoon of gelatine in place of one gelatine leaf. Using a small bowl or measuring jug, sprinkle the powdered gelatine onto two tablespoons of water and set aside for 3 minutes. When it is  sponge-like, place the bowl or jug in a saucepan of simmering water and let the gelatine dissolve. The gelatine is now ready to be used in whatever recipe you're making.

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