Thursday 15 February 2007

The London 'I'........

People tend to assume that Italy is incomparable for food in every way imaginable - and although it certainly has its good points, there are some definite positives about eating and cooking in London as well. Duck, for one is much better in England than Italy - where it tends to be rather rubbery, and to be avoided either in the shops or on restaurant menus - also lamb, also beef, and definitely cream! Mention 'cream' to any expat Brit in Italy, and expect to unleash a flood of invective. Italian cream has negligible fat content, as you rapidly discover when you set out the first time to whip cream into a rich lusciousness. After bruisingly endless whisking, you end up - if lucky - with a rather bland froth, which merely collapses into a disappointing puddle if unwisely prodded. To manage expectations, remove mousses and souffles glaces from your list as soon as you travel south of the Alps..... And indulge without moderation every time you travel north of them!

And the other culinary highlights of London: ethnic restaurants! We're off this evening to see how Star of India is faring since its recent refurbishment.....although not normally a fan of high profile decoration in restaurants, the Etruscan theme that Reza has had in 'Star' for the past decade or so is quite spectacular. I worry that he's merely got bored with it, and ordered the place to be whitewashed for a change! Ultimately, though, as long he hasn't tinkered with the menu and it remains as good as it has been for as long as I can remember, then I'd forgive even the possibility of whitewash......

Otherwise, London can have its challenging moments. Yesterday morning, for example, in the rain, trying to get a urine sample from a Welsh Springer who had his mind on other things, whilst juggling two dogs, an umbrella, and a rather strangely moulded yellow plastic receptacle!

Last night's dinner: Globe Artichokes with Lime Mayonnaise; Confit of Duck (made at the weekend); and Tartes aux Pommes. Reza Mohammed's responsibility.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

Recipe: Ravioli of Crottins de Chavignol, with Red Pepper Coulis

For Four.
Ingredients: 2 Crottins de Chavignol; Half quantity of Pasta dough, rested and rolled into strips 3" wide and left to dry; 3 large Red Peppers, cored and seeded; half a Leek; 4 Shallots; 1 Bay Leaf; 1 teaspoon dried Thyme; 1 oz Butter; 2 cloves Garlic, minced; Sugar; Salt & Pepper; 15 fl oz Tomato Juice.


1. Halve each Crottin horizontally, leaving four neat discs. Cut eight 3"x3" squares from the sheets of pasta, and position each Crottin-half in the centre of a pasta square; lightly brush the edge of the pasta square with cold water, and press a second pasta square over it, to make four Crottin ravioli.

2. Finely dice the Peppers, Shallots, and Leek. Melt the Butter in a saucepan, and sautee the diced vegetables in the melted butter along with the Garlic and herbs. When this mixture is tender, season lightly and add a little sugar. Add the Tomato Juice and continue to cook over a medium heat until the Peppers start to break down.

3. Liquidize the Pepper mixture for twenty seconds or so, and then push through a fine sieve.

4. Cook the ravioli six minutes in a large pan of boiling, salted water; gently reheat the Pepper coulis at the same time.

To serve, divide the coulis between four soup plates, place one ravioli on top of the coulis in each soup plate, and sprinkle with finely chopped Parsley and freshly-ground Black Pepper

Sunday 11 February 2007

Appetites satisfied....

Back to London, and a busy weekend. This morning, to the Royal Academy for their new exhibition 'Citizens and Kings'. I thought the underlying thesis about styles in portraiture reflecting profound changes in society was a nice idea..... but in practice, I wasn't persuaded. Some magnificent pictures from the usual suspects - Lawrence, David, Gainsborough, Reynolds - and some fairly surprisingly awful things too, such as the menacing Ingres of Napoleon which is the first thing to greet you on arrival, and in fact looks as though it belongs in the pages of a comic book! The best thing of all was a portrait of Isabey, the painter, by Gerard.
As ever, the RA on a Sunday morning started with an hour of calm in the Friends' room, devoted to the Sunday newspapers, a reviving cup of coffee, and a Pain au Chocolat that was as light as air, with merely the suggestion of vanilla and butter, before discovering the rich nuggets of chocolate inside. Since it was largely comprised of air, it can only have been dietarily sound......and so, I had a second one. You can't do Art on an empty stomach....

Last night, we saw the new Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett film, 'Notes on a Scandal' . Excellent - although one couldn't help but feel sorry for the Cat! Followed it with a post-cinema supper of Cheese souffle (see below for the recipe - the Egg White mountain has once again achieved outsize proportions), Smoked Haddock with Coriander, and Baked Apples with Sultanas. Very Home and Hearth....Here now for the next ten days. Building work has started in Italy, and the ten day gap should give them a chance to get the noisy bit finished while we aren't there! (Note the operative word, 'should'.........)

Tonight's Menu:

Ravioli of Crottin de Chavignol, with a Red Pepper coulis.

Grilled Duck Breast, marinated in Thyme and Garlic.

Lime and Pistachio Posset.

Recipe: Egg-White Cheese Souffle

For Two generous servings.
Ingredients: 6-7 Egg Whites; 6 oz Gruyere; 5 fl oz Cream; one and a half oz Butter; 1 oz Flour


1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. In a zimmertopf, melt the Butter, then stir in the Flour, and add the Cream, to make a roux.

2. Cut half of the cheese into very small cubes, and grate the rest of it.

3. Whisk the Egg Whites until stiff. Stir a quarter of the whisked Egg Whites into the roux, and then fold this mixture back into the remainder of the Egg Whites. At the same time, fold in the cubed and grated cheese,retaining a couple of tablespoons of the grated cheese for the top of the souffle.

4. Pour the mixture into a greased 8" souffle dish, top with the remaining grated cheese, and place in the pre-heated oven. Immediately you have put the souffle into the oven, reduce the temperature to 190 degrees C.

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the souffle has risen and the top is a rich dark brown.