Thursday, 7 January 2021

Pears in phyllo jackets, stuffed with figs & orange


Meltingly soft pears, inside a light, crisp phyllo jacket, on a buttery biscuit base..  and inside them, a dense filling of orange-flavoured figs. It can be prepared in advance to the final baking stage. Serve with a scoop of mascarpone.

On the plate, the pears need to offer no resistance to fork or spoon, which means that they either need to be very ripe when you start, or, if not, that they should  be poached in a bland syrup for ten minutes or so, before being cored and stuffed, in order to render them appropriately soft.

For two.

Ingredients: two ripe pears; syrup, to poach the pears (optional)two or three dried figs (assess the quantity in relation to the size of the pears, and the likely quantity of stuffing that will be needed); 1 orange; 1 sheet phyllo; 20g butter; small quantity pastry (either puff or shortcrust, whatever you happpen to have - you need enough to cut out the equivalent of two digestive from a  tart shell from another recipe are probably best; mascarpone, to serve.


1. Dice the figs finely, and put in a small pan along with the juice and grated zest of the orange. Reduce over a low heat until the juice has all been absorbed.

2. Peel the pears. At this point, use a toothpick to test whether or not the pears need to be poached, or if they are soft enough to use as they are. If poaching, then leave them for sufficient time afterwards to be cool enough to handle.

3. From the base, use a small sharp knife to cut out the core of the pears, and into the cavity stuff the mixture of diced figs. Cut a thin slice from he base of each pear, to ensure that they will stand upright without support.

4. Grease two individual flan tins, and prepare each with a foil strip, which you can use subsequently to remove the pears from the tins, once cooked, whilst keeping them upright.

5. Roll out the pastry, and cut two circles to fit inside the flan tins.

6. Melt the butter and use it to brush the sheet of phyllo, which you should then cut into thin strips about an inch wide. Carefully wind the strips of phyllo around the pears, completely to enrobe them - you should have enough phyllo to make three layers of phyllo on each pear.  Once wrapped, stand each pear on a pastry circle in a flan tin.

7. Bake for half an hour at 180 degrees C. Allow to cool somewhat before serving. These can be served either warm or cold.

Monday, 16 November 2020

The Garden in November...

 In no particular order...

Peering past the grapefruit tree, heavy with ripening fruit, onto the agrumi terrace. That cyclamen will now sit there and happily flower right through Christmas and New Year, and possibly even through the whole of January.

Nerine Isabel (I's so long since I planted the bulbs that I've rather forgotten which is which)

Nerine Stephanie (probably.....see above...although equally, it could be Alba, except that I'm fairly certain those were planted in the crinum bed, and in fact the Alba bulbs have done nothing)

Hydrangea Q. Quercifolia  - one of the many Quercifolias around the garden, but the only one so far properly to have got into full autumn garb

Parthenocissus Quinquefolia, climbing over the trunk of the late-departed red plum, which turned up its toes last winter, and is due for a successor to be planted (elsewhere in the garden, though)

Pink and white ground-cover roses (tappezanti); in fact, they're called Pink Fairy and White Fairy. There should be a special circle of Hell reserved for people who give plants names like that....

The Technical Dept has christened these The Spice Girls...delivered recently by an antique-dealer from Piedmont, they're waiting to grace the new garden (when we get possession, next year, all-being-well), which will be  an extension to the existing garden, and is destined to be a labyrinth of walkways and gardens-within-gardens and vistas (half-viewed and full-on). Until then, they stand sentinel outside the sitting room window, and worry the four-footed.

Very late flowering hibiscus - they did nothing much, earlier in the year, and then began to flower energetically as soon as summer was over...still dripping with buds, as yet unopened

One of our two mature Cacci; it's perhaps a measure of how long we've now lived in Italy, that I begin to see the point of Cacci, and can by now even eat them with pleasure. These trees produce particularly excellent fruit.

One of the particularly excellent fruit...once cut open, the flesh is slightly gelatinous, and is eaten with a spoon.

Uve Fragola. The vine is out of control, and gets everywhere, with bunches of fruit appearing, like these, in the most unexpected of places. This outbreak is in the middle of a section of climbing roses. I grab handfuls of them and consume them as I do my rounds of the garden...

Tonight's Dinner:

Coddled Eggs, with Ham & Mushroom

Chicken, braised with garlic, sherry-vinegar, and dry Marsala; puree of Fennel and Cream

Vanilla Bavarois, with fresh Raspberries

Friday, 25 September 2020

Quince & Apple Pie


I like the idea of quince- and the blossom on the tree in spring is exquisite - but the reality of the fruit is often challenging. Rarely is it that I cut into a quince without finding I then have to dig out all the wormy sections, and the road-kill remnants that I then have to work with are not a noble sight. I can well-understand why it is that this fruit is no longer grown commercially! On occasion, though, I come across a recipe which restores my faith in the things.....and this is one such. The flavours are subtle and complicated, and the combination of spice and rich fruit is comfortingly reminiscent of Christmas. It has much to recommend it.

Ingredients: 3 medium quince, peeled, cored and quartered; 6 medium apples, cox or similar, peeled cored and thinly sliced; 3 oranges; 2 lemons; 3/4 cup sugar, + 2 tbs sugar; 2 tsp cinnamon; 16 prunes, quartered; 1/3 cup sweet white wine; 20 peeled, blanched almonds; shortcrust pastry, made with 10 oz flour and 8 oz butter (this will leave enough over for the base of a different tart on another day).


1. Roll out the pastry to line a 28 cm diameter false-bottomed tart tin. Freeze the base for twenty minutes, and then blind bake it at 190°C  to biscuit crispness. Roll out the remaining pastry to a size and  shape large enough from which subsequently to cut the top for the pie, and refrigerate this pastry, to firm up.

2. Grate the jest from the oranges into a bowl and set aside. Into a saucepan of medium size squeeze the juice from the oranges and lemons; to this, add 1 tsp cinnamon and 3/4 cup of sugar, and the sweet wine; add the quince quarters, cover with water, bring to the boil  on the stove, and then cover and simmer until the quince pieces are properly soft (perhaps 15 minutes). Remove the quince pieces to a bowl, and over a low heat reduce their poaching liquid until it is a syrup, and allow this to cool.

3. Combine the apple slices with 2 tbs sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon and the grated orange zest. Use half of this mixture to line the base of the baked pastry shell, and then place on top first the quince pieces, than the quartered prunes and the almonds; spread the remaining apple mixture over the top. 

4. Take the remaining pastry from the fridge, and cut out the top for the pie, using a lattice template if so inclined (I generally do). Put the top in place, pressing down with a rolling pin to attach it firmly to the top of the pastry shell, and to cut off the excess pastry around the side. Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg-white, and then bake for forty minutes.

5. Allow to cool properly before you remove the pie from the the tin. Serve warm or cold, with a spoonful of the reduced poaching liquid as a sauce. Be warned: one slice is not enough!

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Stuffed Aubergine


The ingredient which makes this dish is, surprisingly, the 1/4 tsp of allspice, which gives it a whole additional dimension, as well as hinting at some elusive 'other'....which could be Athens or it could be Marrakech. Whichever it is, these are best served cold, with at least the suggestion of a hot summer's day in the background.

For two:

Ingredients: 1 large aubergine; salt & pepper; 30 ml olive oil; 1 medium onion, chopped; 1 large garlic clove, minced; 1/4 tsp ground allspice; 16g sultanas; 1 medium tomato, diced (or 1/2 tbs tomato puree...but a fresh tomato is preferable); 3/4 tbs red wine vinegar; 1 tsp sugar; scant handful of chopped parsley; 75 ml water.


1. Halve the aubergine; cut out as much as possible of the flesh, then salt the shells and leave them upside-down to drain of liquid for twenty minutes or so, before blanching them for 2-3 minutes in boiling water.

2. Heat the oven to 200° C.

3. Sauté the onion and garlic in 2 tbs oil, until soft, then add to this the chopped aubergine flesh, salt, pepper and allspice. Cook over medium heat for 3 - 4 minutes, then add the sultanas and tomato, vinegar and sugar. Cook together for about five minutes, until it becomes a thick stew;stir in the chopped parsley.

4. Arrange the aubergine shells in a baking dish in which they fit snugly, and fill them with the mixture. Mix the remaining oil with the water and pour over the filled shells. Bak for about an hour, and then leave to go cold before you serve them.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Blackcurrant Mousse Gateau


This might seem like a complicated recipe, but as long as you're organised, in fact it is quite straightforward. Looks good, and tastes excellent!

The version I made which I photographed for this post used genoise sponge as a base; by preference I would use a biscuit crumb base, as in a cheesecake, not least because in this house something this size is never going to be consumed at one sitting, and so you really want a base which won't go soggy if left for more than several hours.

These ingredients make 1 x 23 cm gateau.

Biscuit crumb base, using ten digestive biscuits (approximately) and 50g butter- blitz the biscuits along with the melted butter in a food processor, and then press into the base of a lined 23 cm spring form mould, and bake for ten minutes in a 180 degree C oven.

Mousse: 6 tsp powdered gelatine; 400g blackcurrant puree; italian meringue, made using 190g sugar, 45 ml water and 100ml egg white; 150 ml whipping cream.

Glaze: 2 tsp powdered gelatine; 50g sugar; 150 ml creme de cassis; 1/4 cup fresh blackcurrants.


1. Grease a 23 cm spring form tin, and line the base with greaseproof paper. Make the biscuit base, and allow it to cool in the tin.

2. For the mousse, heat the puree and powdered gelatine together in the top of a double boiler; once you are sure the gelatine has all dissolved, take off the heat and allow it to cool.

3. Make the italian meringue: heat the sugar and water together over medium heat until they reach 122 degrees C; whisk the egg white until it begins to be dense, and then pour the sugar syrup into it, whilst whisking, and continue to whisk until it is properly stiff, and has significantly cooled (perhaps five minutes of whisking); fold into this the cooled blackcurrant puree, and then fold into this the cream, which has been beaten until it holds its shape. Pile this mixture into the tin, on top of the biscuit base. Smooth the top, and refrigerate for at least four hours, to allow the mousse to set.

4. To make the glaze, add the  sugar to the cassis and the blackcurrants in a small pan and heat gently, until the sugar has entirely dissolved; . Off the heat, stir in the gelatine, and gently pour the glaze over the top of the mousse, making sure that the blackcurrants are more-or-less evenly spaced. Return the tin to the fridge for a further hour or so, until the glaze has also set.

To un-mould, run a warm knife around the inside of the tin, to free the mousse before releasing the tin. 


Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Apricot Cheesecake


Pockets of apricot puree, waiting to be discovered within a delicious vanilla and citrus cream filling. I find this is best left for 24 hours after ithas been made and before you serve it -if you can! -  the texture becomes creamier over that time.

Ingredients: 600g cream cheese; 1 cup + 1/3 cup sugar; 100g dried apricots; 7 medium eggs, separated; juice and grated zest of 1/2 lemon; 1 tsp vanilla extract; 1 cup cream; 9" crust, made from 8 digestive biscuits and 50g butter, melted.


1. Heat oven to 180 degrees C. Blitz the biscuits along with the melted butter, in the food processor. Grease and line the base and sides of a 9" spring-clip pan (I find this cheesecake can be tricky to unmould,hence the advice to line the sides as well as the base of the pan). Press the biscuit mixture into the base of the tin, and bake for ten minutes. Allow to cool. 

Lower the oven temperature to 150 degrees C.

2. If the apricots you have are not soft, simmer them for ten minutes in 1/2 cup water to soften them. if already soft, omit this step. Add 1/3 cup sugar, and liquidise (add a little water if the puree seems too thick)

3. Beat the egg whites until stiff.

4. in a separate bowl, beat the cheese with the sugar, then add to it the lemon zest and juice, and the vanilla. Beat, to mix thoroughly, and then fold into this mixture the beaten egg white.

5. Pour a third of this mixture onto the biscuit base, and then dot half of the apricot puree over the top, in spoonfuls. repeat this process, and finish with a layer of cheesecake mixture. 

6. Bake for forty minutes, and then leave in the cooling oven for an hour with the heat off. Allow to cool thoroughly before you remove the cheesecake from the tin.

Monday, 31 August 2020

Timbale of Tarragon and Zucchini


Light, delicious, quick, and easy. For a dinner-party, or to snack on, from the fridge...

Serves Six.

Ingredients: 4tbs chopped parsley; 1 medium onion,chopped; 6 tbs olive oil; 500g zucchini (courgette), chopped, but not peeled; 3 medium eggs; 150ml cream;1 tbs grated parmesan; 2 tbs dried tarragon; 50g fresh white breadcrumbs; 1 tbs white wine vinegar; 1 tsp dijon mustard; salt and pepper. 


1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease a 1 litre loaf pan, and line the base and short sides with a long strip of baking foil, for ease of removal of the finished timbale. Use 2 of the tbs of parsley to stick to the greased sides of the loaf tin.

2. In half of the oil, cook the onion and zucchini until tender, with half of the dried tarragon and a further tbs of parsley; in a covered pan, over low heat, this should take ten minutes or so. Allow the softened vegetables to cool a little, once done.

3. Process in a processor the cooled vegetables, eggs, breadcrumbs, parmesan, and cream. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf tin, place in a bain marie, and bake for fifty minutes. Once cooked, allow to cool completely, and then refrigerate.

5. Make a dressing, using the remaining oil and tarragon, along with the vinegar and mustard; add salt to taste.

Slice the un-moulded timbale, and plate, before dressing with the tarragon dressing, and garnish with the remaining parsley.