Saturday 26 May 2007

The Good News & The Bad.....

To Chelsea, for the last day of the Flower Show. Rain held off, and we just avoided succumbing to hypothermia in the midst of rose-festooned arbours and improbable banks of sweetpeas. Excellent show - although the Linnaeus Garden should clearly have taken the Gold, being not only rather beautiful but also (unlike all its competition) made sense as a real garden, rather than an over-extended floral fantasy.

The Good News........was the presence at Chelsea of Truffle UK Ltd, not only selling fresh truffles at an extremely reasonable rate, but also doing good trade in truffle-infected tree stock. I first read about the development of truffle-infected trees three or four years ago, and can recall the level of excitement it engendered. I think they were first developed in New Zealand. At the time, we tried to encourage the Brancolis to plant several dozen - they having the land on which to do so - and their lack of enthusiasm, on the basis that it would merely encourage heightened Wild Boar activity, was deeply frustrating. In any event, until now, I'd not realised that the concept had evolved to the level of being commercially so readily available. Bravo! The website for the producer can be found at

And the Bad News? The discovery in the supermarket of the most aesthetically perfect raspberries I have ever seen. Anywhere. Bar none. Plump and brightly coloured and blemish-free. Veritably, the platonic form of raspberries. Picture perfect.......and tasting of absolutely nothing! This is awful news, as it means that fruit farmers have discovered the means of producing raspberries which look mouth-wateringly wonderful, yet which bear no relation to the real thing. Just as they've already done in producing winter strawberries, which look - and even sometimes smell - correct, but which have the flavour content of a mouthful of tap water. These particular raspberries proudly announced that they came from Mereworth in Kent. To be avoided like the plague!

Tonight's Dinner:

Salad of Crayfish Tails in Lemon Juice, with Rocket and shavings of Parmesan.

Grilled Magret de Canard (having been liberally coated first with Garlic and Sea Salt), served with Puree of Broccoli.

Strudel of Apricot and Pear, with a Honey Glaze.

Thursday 24 May 2007

Recipe: Borlotti Beans in Cream

Borlotti have started to appear in the market. They must be from somewhere significantly south - Sicily, maybe - as the local crop won't be ready for quite some time yet. As well as being delicious, Borlotti are deeply satisfying for the ease with which they can be shelled.

For four.

Ingredients: 1 kilo Borlotti beans in their shells; 1 cup single cream; Salt, to taste (approximately a level tablespoon is appropriate, I generally find); 1 tablespoon finely chopped Parsley.


1. Shell the Borlotti. (You can subsititute with dried - in which case, soak them overnight beforehand - but I think the end result is nothing like as good as using fresh beans.)

2. Place in a saucepan, and cover generously with water. Bring to the boil, and cook until al dente - approximately ten minutes. NB. Do not add salt to the water with the beans; the salt should only be added at the next stage when the beans receive their final cooking, in Cream.

4. Drain the beans, and return them to the pan. Add Cream - it should just cover the beans - and Salt. Place over medium heat, and cook for a further ten minutes or so, until the Cream has reduced to a gluey sauce, and the beans are nice and tender.

Serve sprinkled with the chopped Parsley. Excellent with roast meat.

Tuesday 22 May 2007

Lunch in The Cinque Terre....

In Vernazza, to be precise. My parents (visiting for the weekend) had never been to the Cinque Terre, and it seemed a good opportunity to see more of it than we had previously. The vagaries of Trenitalia meant that we had an unplanned stop for half an hour in Riomaggiore, the first of the five Terre, which I know of old, and well remember the half-hour climb to the Ristorante al Sole at the top of the town, where the combination of the view and the anchovies in lemon juice is the stuff of memories!

When we actually got there, Vernazza, sadly, was already heaving with scantily clad people laden with backpacks and hiking paraphernalia. You could see what it once had been, but it took a healthy slug of imagination still to see the underlying reality through the tourist-focused development that has obviously overwhelmed the place. I know it's a sign of getting old, but I'm definitely with Harold Acton who was already wondering aloud, in pained tones, a good thirty five years ago, why it was that people these days appeared to travel 'in their underwear'. It certainly does nothing positive for the view.

Lunch, however, was excellent. Served by the eponymous Gianni Franzi, under myriad coloured umbrellas on the edge of the harbour. A selection of fish-based antipasti - calamari salad; deep-fried anchovies; stuffed mussels; fried croquettes; anchovies in oil and lemon - followed by Orate (Gilthead Bream) grilled to perfection. The Technical Department asked for - and got - an industrial quantity of grilled cuttlefish, which weren't even on the menu. All washed down with a bottle of Gavi, the lightly smoky tones of which couldn't have been bettered!

Tonight's Dinner:

Rabbit & Lemon Terrine (made a week and a half ago, and left to mature).

Boned Chicken, stuffed with Butter & Herbs, and roast.

Mint Ice Cream.

Monday 21 May 2007

Recipe: Pink Grapefruit Sorbet

For Four (not generous servings, but a small amount is very good on the palate)

Ingredients: 3 medium sized Pink Grapefruit; 2 Egg Whites; two-thirds of a cup of Sugar; half a cup of Water.


1. Using a sharp knife, slice the top and bottom off each Grapefruit, then cut away all of the skin and underlying pith. Cut the segments of fruit away from the membrane, holding the fruit over a bowl as you do so, in order to catch the juice.

2. Whizz the segments and juice in a blender at high speed for ten seconds.

3. Put the Sugar and Water into a small pan; place over low heat until the Sugar has dissolved, then raise the heat and boil for one minute.

4. In a bowl, beat the Egg Whites until firm, then slowly add the warm sugar syrup, continuing to whisk as you do so. Once the syrup is incorporated, add the blended Grapefruit and beat to mix in.

5. Allow this mixture to cool completely in the fridge for several hours, or even overnight. It will separate out in the bowl, but this doesn't matter, as the action of the ice-cream machine will counteract this.

6. Churn for twenty minutes or so in an ice-cream machine until firm, then freeze for an hour or so before serving.

I think I originally took this from Bruce Weinstein's Ice Cream Book, which is excellent for a whole range of sorbet recipes and is highly recommended!

Sunday 20 May 2007

Grappa time, once more....

For the past two days, the kitchen has assumed its regular temporary identity as a distillery, as grappa stocks (worryingly low by the end of last week) were restored to sigh-of-relief heaving levels once more. Twenty hours of drip-by-drip distillation and forty litres of wine later, and the pantry shelves are once more gleaming with ten litres of newly distilled firewater, and all is well with the World.

The first picture shows the setup, where the thing that looks like a cross between a Dalek and a Teletubby is in fact the evaporation chamber, and the other thing which appears to be attached to it by a copper umbilical cord is the distillation coil. Out of the picture are lengths of garden hose which attach the Still to a water tap, which ensures a constant through-put of cold water into the distillation coil, thus causing the vapour to cool down and emerge into the bottle positioned below.

Relatively simple process. The main thing to remember is to keep the temperature of the chamber as near as possible to 90 degrees C. Below about 78 degrees, you produce methanol, which in turn will likely produce blindness - thus not to be advised - and above 100 degrees will produce something merely undrinkable (although it can be tipped back into the Teletubby and can go through the process again, if you want to have a go at producing a better result).

Surprisingly for this house, the main challenge on this occasion was finding enough empty bottles into which to pour the finished result - not, I hasten to add, because we've all turned teetotal, but because the bin full of used bottles had thoughtlessly been recently emptied into the nearest bottlebank! After much scrabbling around , and even the judicious emptying (over lunch) of a couple of bottles of Pinot Grigio, we got there, and the drip was never without a home to go to.......

This time, hygrometer measurements indicated that the first few litres were rather stronger than desirable (coming in at around 57% alcohol) and the final few were rather weaker than desirable, so for the first time we adopted the expedient of chucking all of it into a large plastic jerry-can, and sloshing it all around together. The blended result, at exactly 50% alcohol, was absolutely on the money.

Tonight's Dinner:

Polpettone of Tuna and Spinach.

Arista (a rolled Pork loin, roast with Rosemary and Garlic), served with Carrots cooked in Marsala.

Frozen Hazelnut Zabaglione, with Wild Strawberries. (NB. Since the fat content of Italian Cream is so low and the water content so high, when making this dessert in Italy, I have adopted the expedient of churning it in an ice cream machine before putting it in a mould to freeze properly. This avoids the danger that the mixture will separate as it freezes, and you end up with an unpleasant layer of watery ice at the base of the mould.)