Wind-dried fish might not be every young girl's favourite treat, but, on my visits to Iceland as a child with my mother, who's Icelandic, I used to guzzle down the hardfiskur (harofiskur) like it was chocolate. I also adored the pickled herring, served on boiled potatoes with a sweet mustard dill mayonnaise.
Since then, I've always had an affection for Nordic and Scandinavian food, with its big, bold, rustic flavours, and endless enthusiasm for all manner of different cured fish. The recent rise in popularity of Scandinavian food has been fairly inescapable. Known as 'New Nordic', it has been strongly influenced by Noma, the restaurant in Copenhagen that won the World's Best Restaurant award from 2010 to 2012.
Noma uses seriously local ingredients, such as foraged moss and seaweed, to create a unique dining experience. There's also Faviken, in Sweden, and a whole host of other restaurants with a similar ethos. While I would really like to eat at any of those restaurants some day, I'm still more than happy eating 'old' Nordic – classic Scandinavian dishes that have stood the test of time, even if they don't include ingredients I've foraged from the local coastline!
The Nordic appreciation of cured oily fish is as impressive as it is varied. The wind-drying technique is used to cure haddock, cod and flounder. This hardfiskur is sometimes served with boiled potatoes and bechamel sauce; at other times, it is spread with butter or even eaten just by itself. Gravlax is another Nordic speciality. It is an ancient dish in which salmon was fermented by salting it and burying it in the sand. Gravlax literally means "buried salmon".
These days, gravlax is no longer fermented, but cured with a dry marinade of sugar, salt and dill. It makes for a delicious Scandinavian alternative to smoked salmon.
The flatbread recipe, opposite, is for tunnbrod "thin bread" – a Scandinavian bread that is flavoured with the aniseed taste of fennel seeds. It makes for a great base, to which you can add any ingredients you'd like. I've used gravlax with dill, capers and other flavourings. You could, of course, use smoked salmon if you can't get hold of gravlax.
The Swedish dish of Jansson's Temptation is such an excellent side dish that we've made it at Ballymaloe from time to time. Jansson, who was a 19th-Century opera singer, would use pickled sprats of herring (of course!) in his dish, but anchovies make a fine replacement. They are easier to get hold of and add a gorgeous richness to this dish. It goes very well with meat, particularly lamb.
Swedish bakeries are such fabulous places, full of lovely little treats and beautiful, hearty breads. A Swedish bakery is homely and inviting, rather than the sometimes intimidating fanciness of a French patisserie.
The Swedes have a real affection for cardamom, which is one of my favourite spices to add to desserts. I first tried these cardamom cookies, below right, in Sweden and became instantly addicted.
This dough is great to keep in the fridge in its log shape, to cut as you need cookies. It will keep in the fridge for two weeks or in the freezer for three months.
This recipe makes 12 flatbreads, but the topping quantities are for four people. Extra flatbreads can be stored in airtight containers, where they will keep for a few days, or they can also be frozen and reheated as needed.
You will need:
600ml (1pt) milk, warmed to room temperature
50ml (2oz) butter, melted and cooled until 'finger warm'
50g (2oz) sugar
2 x 7g (¼oz) packets active dry yeast
½ teaspoon salt
550g (1lb 3oz) strong white bread flour
100g (4oz) rye flour
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Olive oil for greasing the bowl
To serve 4, you will need:
125g (4½oz) cream cheese
200g (7oz) gravlax or smoked salmon
Handful of capers, rinsed
3 radishes, thinly sliced
2 gherkins, cut in to small dice
1½ tablespoons chives, chopped
Good handful of dill sprigs
To make the tunnbrod, pour the warmed milk and the melted, cooled butter into a bowl. Mix in the sugar, the dry yeast and the salt, and allow to stand for about 20 minutes.
In a separate bowl, mix together the strong white bread flour and the rye flour with the ground fennel seeds and the baking powder.
Next, either using a stand mixer with a paddle, or by hand using a wooden spoon, add the flour mixture a handful at a time to the milk, butter and yeast mixture, stirring all the time, until you have added everything and a rough dough has formed.
Now, either exchange the paddle for a dough hook and knead on medium high speed for about 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and glossy. Or use your hands to knead the dough until it is smooth and glossy (about 10 minutes).
Transfer the dough to a bowl that has been lightly oiled with olive oil, then cover it and allow it to rise until it has doubled in size (about an hour in a warm place). Next, divide the dough into 12 roughly equal portions, then roll out each piece as thin as you can get it.
Heat a heavy (ideally, a cast iron) frying pan or griddle pan over a medium heat until it is quite hot. Prick each dough piece well with a fork, then put on the pan and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Alternatively, you can bake them in the oven on baking trays at 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6, for about 6 minutes, turning them over halfway through.
Once the flatbreads are cooked, cover with tea towels and allow them to cool slightly.
To serve, spread each tunnbrod with the cream cheese, then add the gravlax or smoked salmon pieces, whichever you're using, followed by a sprinkling of the capers, the sliced radishes, the diced gherkins, the chopped chives and the dill sprigs.
You will need:
Butter, for greasing
1kg (2lb 3oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into 5mm (¼ in) slices
3 x 50g (2oz) tins of anchovies, drained and rinsed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
400ml (14fl oz) cream
100g (4oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
100g (4oz) Gruyere cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6, Butter an 18cm x 26cm (7in x 10in) ovenproof dish.
Divide the peeled and sliced potatoes into four lots, and divide the anchovies into two lots. Arrange a quarter of the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, then place half of the anchovies on top of these, in three lines, evenly spaced across the width of the dish. Season with salt – not too much, as the anchovies will be quite salty – and some freshly ground black pepper.
Add another layer of potatoes, then three more lines of anchovies, running the opposite direction to the previous layer. Season again, then add another layer of potatoes.
Next, add the finely chopped garlic, sprinkling it evenly across the potatoes, season again, then add the last layer of potatoes. Pour the cream into the dish, then sprinkle the grated Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses over the top.
Cover the dish with tinfoil and put it in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the tinfoil and cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a skewer and the surface of the dish is golden brown and bubbling.
SWEDISH CARDAMOM COOKIES
Makes about 40 cookies.
You will need:
225g (8oz) butter, softened
125g (4½oz) icing sugar
275g (10oz) flour
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons ground cardamom, see my Tip, above left
1 teaspoon orange zest, finely grated
Pinch of salt
200g (7oz) chopped pecans or sugar crystals/nibs – (coloured, if you like, available in some speciality food shops) (optional)
Put the softened butter in a bowl and beat until it is soft. Add in half of the icing sugar and continue to beat, then add in the other half. Keep beating until it is all incorporated. Next, add in the flour, the beaten egg, the ground cardamom, the finely grated orange zest and the salt, then continue to beat until everything is well combined.
Roll the dough out into a log shape approximately 4cm (1½in) wide and about 35cm (14in) long.
Roll the dough in the chopped pecans or the sugar crystals/nibs, whichever you're using, if you're using them, then transfer the dough to a large piece of parchment paper or cling film and roll it to cover it. If you have used pecan nuts or sugar crystals/nibs, press them in to the sides of the dough.
Put the dough in the fridge for a few hours or leave it in it overnight.
When you want to cook some, or all, of the cookies, cut the dough into ½-¾cm slices then lay them flat on a parchment-lined tray. Cook in an oven preheated to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4 for about 15-24 minutes (the cooking time will vary, according to thickness), or until a light golden colour. Carefully lift on to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Rachel's clothes, Brown Thomas
Make-up by Roisin Derrane for Lancome, using the Lancome Spring 2014 Colour Collection
Hair by Jennifer Lil Buckley, Brown Sugar
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