Right, I have an exam this afternoon so writing a blog post is definitely not what I should be doing this morning. But, I’m aware that you’ve probably been in a state of anticipation for weeks waiting to find out how Keith, my newborn sourdough starter, is fairing (I know you haven’t, I just need another excuse to delay opening my textbook – yesterday I spent an hour peeling almonds to make dukkah – more on this later). I was going to wait until the weekend to give a full update, complete with photos to convince you of my state of bread brain (similar to baby brain, but probably less sickening because I have the potential to provide you with fresh bread), but I made a great dinner last night that I need to share before I forget it, and so here we are.
I left you at day 3, jubilant that Keith was bubbly, feeding and not smelling like a mixture of sour milk and beer (in keeping with my previous comparisons to having a real human baby, I can’t guarantee you’ll experience the same delight. Babies, in my opinion, smell pretty vile, perhaps not beery but certainly a bit like off milk and sick. Another reason to ditch the real thing and go for a bread baby). This, however, was merely a glorious peak before a trough of inactivity, deep concern and yet more Google consulting.
At day 5, Keith wasn’t tripling in size as per the instructions I was following, nor actually, was he doing anything. It had been 2 days and Keith was giving me no sign of life. Sheer panic ensued. I consulted Mum, a beacon of knowledge having raised her own child (real, not bread) of moderate normality (reading this back I question this, normal adults don’t sleep with a sourdough starter next to their bed). Her answer, ‘it’s disgusting, chuck it and go to a bakery’ was neither helpful nor comforting, so I had no option but to log back onto Breadnet and consult the other hypochondriac bread mothers of the world.
I think this point was the equivalent of when mums start reading those quacky health books and start eating raw turmeric root believing it’ll filter through their boob milk and make their baby ultra-intelligent, and invest in a ridiculously expensive ergonomically designed cot that promises to cleanse your baby of nasty impurities present in every other commercial piece of furniture. I changed his flour for organic stone ground rye, I started actually paying attention to when I fed him (9pm every day, the Love Island opening credits are my cue), but – most importantly – I started pouring half of him away before feeding him.
See, what I didn’t realise as I blindly poured in Keith’s daily mix of flour and water, was that as I added more and more substance to him, he would need more food each day to feed all the billions of bacteria trying to survive. My 50g of flour was only enough to feed embryonic Keith; unless I sacrificed half of him a day down the sink, foetal Keith would become inactive and die. Again, this is not how a human baby works. Don’t sacrifice half of your baby in favour of feeding it the same amount every day – just feed it more. It will stop growing. Keith won’t.
And like magic, foetal Keith woke from his starvation-induced slumber and began churning out more tiny, beautiful bubbles. So thank you, quacky Breadnet mums, I’ll remember this if/when I have an actual baby and someone tells me to start munching on turmeric and drinking charcoal tea. Actually, no I won’t. There’s real science behind the feeding of Keith. I’m not sure there’s science behind turmeric boob milk.
So, roughly a week into this new regime of regular feeding and sacrificial pouring and Keith’s doing all the things that a proper, real life sourdough starter should be doing. That is, apart from actually making bread. You’ll have to tune in to next week’s instalment to see whether the fruits of my labour is an edible loaf or the dense, overly sour brick that I’m fully expecting.
For now, I urge you to make the recipe I’m including below. I made it last night after trying to think of ways to use the huge jar of dukkah I spent the morning making to avoid revision, and I genuinely think it wouldn’t look out of place on the menu of one of those cool, low lighting ‘natural wine and seasonal plates’ kind of restaurants in London (just read that back and cringed at how ridiculously middle class that sounded). But seriously, it’s good and quick and quite cheap, so make it.
First, you’ll need to dedicate a few minutes to make this Nigel Slater recipe for hazelnut dukkah. I know I said that I spent the whole morning making it, but this is because I’m unbelievably stupid and decided to buy almonds and hazelnuts with the skins on – as per the instructions in the recipe – without the knowledge that this requires me to spend a painful amount of time individually skinning 100g of almonds and 70g of hazelnuts. Buy ready-blanched ones and save yourself the torture.
Courgette, spring onion and fennel freekeh with ricotta and homemade dukkah for 2
1 large courgette
1 large fennel bulb
4 spring onions
Small handful of olives
Freekeh – enough for 2, maybe 100g? (I actually had a mix of freekeh, quinoa and bulgur wheat that I got from Sainsbury’s that I highly recommend)
1 veg stock cube
Handful of dill
Few sprigs of chives
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive Oil, for drizzling
1 tub of ricotta
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dukkah – you can buy it if you don’t have time to make the above recipe
- Preheat the oven to 200C. Slice the fennel bulb lengthways into thick slices, and place in a baking tray. Drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, prep everything else.
- Slice the courgette into thick slices, and then halve them into half moons. Chop the bases off the spring onions and then chop them into three. Halve the olives, and roughly chop the dill and chives.
- Bring a saucepan of water to boil and drop in the stock cube, stirring to dissolve. Once boiling, add the freekeh/freekeh mix and cook as per the packet instructions (mine took 12 minutes).
- In the meantime, heat a drizzle of oil in a frying pan on high, and once hot, add the courgettes. Toss after a few minutes, and add the spring onions. Fry until the spring onions and courgettes are nicely charred, before adding them to a mixing bowl with the dill, chives and olives.
- Once the freekeh is cooked, drain well and add to the bowl. Take the fennel out the oven and add this too. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add a good glug of olive oil. Mix everything around until nicely combined, seasoning to taste.
- Serve the mixture warm with a dollop of ricotta and a liberal sprinkling of the dukkah mix.