People often ask me about trends in food. And usually, I stutter and stall as panic shuts my brain down and all thoughts of the various fads, trends, infatuations, developments (call them what you will) that I've happily been discussing with fellow food-loving friends flee from my mind.
But one thing that I'm pleased to see growing and growing over the last year or two is the interest in and popularity of Scandinavian cuisines.
It was way back in the fifties and sixties when Brits developed an abiding love for beautifully crafted, contemporary Scandinavian furniture. It so perfectly reflected the growing interest in modern interior design. Since then the Scandi look – pale, natural woods, sleek clean lines and chic lighting – has become synonymous with modern living. Whilst upmarket Scandinavian furniture, not to mention home furnishings and quirky kitchenware is readily available (check out Skandium, Shannon and Isak), for many Brits our love of Scandi style has culminated in our wholesale adoption of the Ikea phenomenon. How many of us can claim to have not a single Ikea item in our home?
But as far as Scandinavian food goes, until very recently most of us Brits knew little more than pickled herring, meatballs and rye bread. (You'll see from this wonderful post by my friend Scandilicious that the twitter food community does a little better but only a little).
My thoughts on Scandinavian food are perhaps atypical for a Brit, having made several visits during my childhood years to Lidköping in Sweden, where my dad took a busman's holiday working as an anaesthetist in the local hospital. Mum, my sister and I always went with him and whiled away our days walking around town, visiting the (frankly marvellous) municipal library, swimming (I learned to swim in Sweden!), assembling pictures from felt pieces glued onto hessian, playing in the snow and of course, shopping for and eating food. Through pop's work, we also made some good local friends with whom we played, ate, laughed and felt a part of the small Swedish community we regularly became a part of.
Of course, I was introduced to köttbullar (meatballs, similar to Danish frikadeller, but usually a little smaller and with the addition of allspice) served with a creamy gravy and lingonberry jam. I loved those!
And I quickly came to adore punschrulle too. Also known as dammsugare ("vacuum cleaner"), these sweet parcels of gooey gorgeousness are made from a mix of crushed biscuits, butter and cocao, liberally flavoured with punsch liqueur, wrapped in a coat of green marzipan and dipped at both ends into melted chocolate. What's not to like?
Perhaps more surprising might be the utter amazement and delight I took in skogsbär (fruits of the forest) yoghurt – it seemed so exotic to a Luton girl familiar only with natural, strawberry and artificial vanilla flavours. It was so very delicious! To this day, fruits of the forest remains a favourite flavour of mine, whether for yoghurt or ice-cream or just a fruity sauce.
Only my dad developed a taste for surströmming, the fermented (rotten, more like!) herring that, once canned, continues to ferment, making the cans bulge most alarmingly. It's potentially so explosive that some airlines ban it from their flights altogether.
So, back to the present, and the growing interest in Scandinavian food here in the UK.
In part, perhaps this stems from the general continuing urge to find new flavours, new ingredients, new tastes, new preparations, new cuisines…
In part, it may also be driven by the interest in healthier eating; the Scandinavian nations being some of the healthiest in the world.
A cursory search on Amazon reveals a plethora of titles released in the last couple of years, with the majority published in 2010: Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, The Scandinavian Kitchen, The Food and Cooking of Scandinavia, Foods of Scandinavia, The Nordic Diet, Scandinavian Gourmet Cooking, Swedish Breads and Pastries, Simply Scandinavian: Travelling in Time with Finnish Cuisine and Nature, All of Scandinavian Cooking and the adorable Moomins Cookbook (which is based on Finnish cuisine, yes really).
Whilst it's not quite as luxurious a print production as Snowflakes and Schnapps, which I reviewed recently, it is a really beautiful book.
Trina Hahnemann is often described as the Scandinavian Delia, though I find this a rather condescending label – we could just as readily describe Delia as Britain's Trina Hahnemann, no?
In any case, Hahnemann's background is quite different from Delia's – she trained and worked as a chef, ran her own catering company (for the rock music and film industries) and founded a successful lunch business running in-house canteens and staff restaurants for other corporations and government bodies. The comparison to Delia comes about because she has also made many media appearances as a chef and is also well known as a food writer and cookery book author.
Hahnemann divides the recipes by calendar month, leading us gently through a year of changing seasons and ingredients. Her text and recipes bring Scandinavian food and it's related culture and traditions to life, providing not only appealing and straightforward recipes but also sharing tiny excerpts of her life not to mention teaching us more broadly about Scandinavian living. I am very taken by the intimacy of her writing.
The book is further lifted from the ordinary by the absolutely gorgeous photography throughout, not just of the dishes but of captivating Danish landscapes, stylish and colourful interiors and all kinds of random but enchanting little knick-knacks (like the gnomes on page 213). Lars Ranek is a famous Danish photographer and his images give the book a real sense of place, as well as a wonderfully welcoming warmth. And of course, the food photography tickles the tastebuds – mine salivate as I turn the pages.
Looking for something relatively simple and quick, which would work well with a light salad harvested from our garden, we chose the Swedish cheese tart, reasoning that it would work hot, warm or cold as we felt like it.
Swedish Cheese Tart
about 250 grams puff pastry
butter, for greasing
150 ml whole milk
300 grams Västerbotten cheese, or strong hard cheese such as Cheddar, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
Note: We didn't have Västerbotten so we substituted.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C (Gas 4).
- Butter a 20 cm-diameter tart tin (preferably one with a perforated base, to help make the pastry crunchy).
- Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface until thin and use it to line the tart tin.
- In a bowl, beat the eggs and milk and stir in the grated cheese, salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.
- Pour the mixture into the tart case.
- Bake for 45 minutes.
Hahnemann recommends serving the tart warm with a crisp green salad and slices of Skagen ham, suggesting Serrano or Parma as substitutes.
I wondered whether the tart would stand out from the school-dinner-style cheese flans we'd made before, especially as we used Cheddar rather than Västerbotten cheese. But I needn't have worried. The higher cheese to egg ratio of this Swedish recipe gave the tart a distinct taste and texture which we very much liked.
And it worked well with a crisp salad of raw sugar snap peas and red onion alongside slices of Parma ham, with their veins of creamy fat.
I do wish we'd had a tart tin with perforated bottom, as Hahnemann suggested – the pastry base was a little soggy, though I found I didn't mind it.
And I can vouch for how good the tart is cold too. It made a fine packed lunch to take to work the next day.
Of course, there are many other recipes I'd like to try next: marinated salmon, cardamom buns, biff Lindström. homemade white herrings, brunsviger, fish cakes, walnuts in wine, caramel potatoes and rice pudding with warm cherry sauce, to name a few.
This is a book I can see myself coming back to…
The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann is published by Quadrille. It is currently available from Amazon for £12.99.