Friday 18 May 2007

Recipe: Dry-Roast Almonds

Makes sufficient for serving with pre-prandial Prosecco over the course of several days - if you can manage to keep them that long!

Ingredients: 500g whole blanched Almonds; 1 teaspoon good Olive Oil; 1 generous teaspoon powdered Paprika (try and find paprika with a good strong flavour - I use Paprika Dolce, from Carrefour); one and a half teaspoons of granular sea-salt.


1. Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C.

2. Tip the Almonds into a large oven dish or roasting pan; spread them out as widely as the pan will allow.

3. Roast the Almonds in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, until they begin to colour. Meanwhile, grind the sea-salt to a powder using an electric coffee or spice mill (appropriately cleaned out first).

4. Once the Almonds have begun to colour, add the Oil to the pan and roll the Almonds around until they are all evenly coated with Oil.

5. Combine the Paprika with the ground sea-salt and add this the Almonds; again, roll the Almonds around, until coated with the mixture, and then return the pan to the oven for another five minutes or so.

Allow to cool before serving. Best served immediately, although they can be kept in an air-tight container for several days if you wish.

Wednesday 16 May 2007

If God....

...had meant us to spend time whitewashing vaulted ceilings, he would have designed us differently! With much longer arms, for example, and most probably with a sort of umbrella attachment to the head. Even despite the design deficiencies, this morning I still decided to go ahead and paint the Tinello ( the name we rather dubiously apply to the snug) which spent the winter accumulating fumes from endless open fires, and as a result the walls of the room were filthy. I'd been meaning to do it for months, but while the Brazilians were still creating chaos and mayhem on the first floor, I somehow couldn't bring myself to add to the general level of mess.

And so.......after three hours of increasingly bad-tempered wrestling with various rollers and brushes and paint pots and ladders and plastic sheeting and newspaper and paint-spills, it was sufficiently done for me to call it a day.......while the technical department regarded the trail of disaster in my wake with a jaundiced eye, and (verbally) said nothing. The most irritating part about it was the tendency for the old layers of paint to flake off under pressure of the roller, exposing large gaps of frescoed wall-surface beneath. Which is par for the course in these parts, as any wall that's more than sixty years old will have spent much of its previous existence covered completely in many different generations of frescoed decoration; I don't think we have a wall in the entire house which doesn't have remnants of fresco on it somewhere. And as everybody in this town knows, the first thing you do when you come across something like that is to slap some paint over it as fast as you can - otherwise, before you know it, the Belli Arte have slapped a preservation order on the place, and your life thereafter ceases to be your own!

As a form of catharsis, I now intend to spend an hour or so making Rabbit in tecia, following a classic venetian recipe which uses rosemary and a mirepoix of the standard aromatics. After a 24 hour rest, it should be in fine form for tomorrow night's supper, and I should have recovered from my Michaelangel-esque travails of this morning. I've also just been sent a strudel recipe which has a filling of hazelnut mousse and seedless grapes. Sounds interesting. Watch this space....

Tonight's Menu:

Asparagus 'Oscuro' - a slightly purple variety, that I've only ever seen here; more strongly flavoured than the more normal green type.

Maurizio's Salsiccie Lunghe, with Aubergine sauteed with Garlic and Parsley.

Chocolate Souffles.

Tuesday 15 May 2007

Recipe: Sauteed Fennel & Radicchio

The combination of these two vegetables is excellent, where the bitterness of the Radicchio splendidly offsets the sweet aniseed flavour of the Fennel.

For Four.

Ingredients: 1 oz Butter; 1 tablespoon Olive Oil; 1 large Fennel; 1 large Radicchio de Treviso (the long variety rather than the round one - these have a milder and less astringent flavour); 1 small Onion; Salt & Pepper; half a cup of dry White Wine.


1. Heat Olive Oil and Butter in a saute pan, then add Onion, finely diced, and heat until softened and golden.

2. Remove the 'fingers' and a thin slice from the base of the Fennel, and cut the Fennel itself into approximately 1 cm dice; trim the base of the Radicchio and slice it once lengthwise, and then cut it across into 1 cm slices. Add Fennel and Radicchio to the pan and stir thoroughly. Cook gently, covered, for about ten minutes, until the vegetables have thoroughly collapsed.

3. Add the Wine, stir, bring to the boil over high heat and boil to reduce the liquid slightly, then reduce the heat. Simmer, still covered for another ten minutes.

4. Raise the heat and cook, uncovered, to reduce any remaining liquid. Add seasoning to taste, and serve.

Sunday 13 May 2007

A must-have......

....for any kitchen is an efficient cherry pitter. The bit of kit, I mean, rather than the poor unfortunate (normally) who has to wield it. And more than just any old cherry pitter, it should be a Westmark cherry pitter, for the simple reason that they are amazing. Using mine yesterday evening, I was struck by how every cherry was pitted perfectly every time, completely effortlessly, and with none of that fumbling with every second or third fruit to try and see whether the stone actually had come out because I couldn't be quite certain, by the end of which my hands are usually stained deeply with cherry juice, and half of the cherries are in shreds as a result! I am painfully familiar with this process, as the pitter I have in London is not a Westmark, but something nameless and of inferior quality.

Westmark are German - somehow, not surprisingly. They have a website (, from which you can ascertain more about the science of pitting cherries (and plums, and olives....) than you would ever have thought possible. I'm not terribly interested in that, I have to confess - but I am interested in the fact that I could perfectly pit all the cherries I needed for clafoutis for two (and to have blended the batter) in the time it took to bring a a pot of Claudia's Papardelle to the boil, which was definitely under five minutes!

I bought my Westmark pitter as an impulse purchase at David Mellor in Sloane Square - always a silly thing to do, as I remembered once I reached the cash desk - but I see that now you can get them for quite reasonable prices in all sorts of places. Amazon in Germany are offering them for only four and a half euros a go........

The Kitchen has definitely taken second place to the Garden over the past few days, as this week we are first on the agenda in the 'James Bolton Garden Tours' spring visit to Tuscany - hence much effort has been devoted to slashing, and hacking-back and pruning and weeding, and generally making things presentable. Which explains even more focus than usual on labour-saving efficiency in the kitchen. A combination of lack of time and an aching back!

Today we celebrate - if that's the right word - Pisa's annual Marathon. They started from Pontadera at 8.30 this morning, and by 9.45 the first runners were pattering past our front door, through an otherwise completely, eerily deserted street (Italians do not do Sunday mornings......not for anything). By the time the first few hundred had gone by, several hours later, there were a few more people around - although the response from the passers by was more one of wary bemusement than of awed respect. Today was undoubtedly the hottest day of the year, so far, and clearly the general feeling was that these people were in need of some kind of help. Mind you, Pisani are pretty good at sophisticatedly disinterested apathy about these sorts of things. We have a boat-based Palio every June, with the requisite banner-tossing and medieval costumes, and as far as I can see nobody over the age of fifteen takes the slightest notice of it, but all take the opportunity of a day off to head out to the beach instead. Not sure I blame them.

Tonight's Menu:

Almonds roast with Oil and Paprika, as an amuse-gueule

Ravioli of Mucco and Tartufo.

Baked Sea Bass, with sauteed Radicchio and Fennel.

Iced Gingerbread and White Chocolate Parfait, with poached Prunes.