Friday 19 October 2007

Recipe: Timbales of Smoked Salmon & Celery...

This was one of the first recipes I ever came across from Bruno Loubet, and it remains one of my favourites. It encapsulates all that is great about his work - an unexpected combination of flavours and textures that works supremely well: refreshing, and simple, and complex, and rich, all at the same time. This would be equally in place as part of an al fresco summer lunch-party as it would be as the first course for Christmas dinner.....

For four.

Ingredients: 200g Smoked Salmon (better to use good quality salmon for this; I've tried it using either pre-flaked salmon or pre-packaged 'trimmings' - the difference is noticeable); 2 stalks of Celery; 500g of peeled plum tomatoes (1 standard can of italian tomatoes is fine); a Cucumber; Salt; 1 clove of Garlic; half a slice of White Bread; 2 tablespoons of Red Wine Vinegar; Celery Salt; Tabasco; 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil; 4 large fresh Basil leaves; chopped Parsley (for garnish)


1. Make a Gazpacho by liquidizing the Tomatoes, Bread, half of the Cucumber, Vinegar, and Garlic. Pass this through a sieve, then add Celery Salt and Tabasco, to taste (I'm quite generous with both, but then I like the Gazpacho to have quite a bite - it's all a matter of personal preference). Stir in the Olive Oil, then leave to chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

2. Finely dice the Smoked Salmon and the Celery. Mix together in a bowl, then set aside.

4. Line 4 ramekins with four large squares of cling-film, the top side of which has been greased.

5. Peel the remaining Cucumber and slice it into paper-thin slices (a mandolin is best for this, but sliced by hand is fine as long as the slices are very, very thin). Line the insides of the ramekins with the Cucumber slices, on top of the cling-film linings, as though lining a charlotte mould.

6. Just before serving, chop the Basil leaves and mix thoroughly with the diced Salmon and Celery; spoon this mixture into the Cucumber-lined ramekins, pressing the mixture firmly down into each ramekin.

7. To serve, invert each ramekin into the centre of a soup plate, and remove the ramekin and cling-film; surround with a ladleful of chilled Gazpacho, and garnish with chopped Parsley.

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Pull at a thread.....

......and before you know it, you're wondering where half the afternoon has gone!

Further musings on Ben Ryé have left me uncertain whether I'm in the middle of Six Degrees of Separation, or else caught up in a game of Chinese Whispers! For a start, when I was surfing for information on Ben Ryé the other day, I came across references to a Praline Ben Ryé which had been designed (if that's what you do to a chocolate) by 'world-famous chocolatier' Paul de Bondt.

Except that I don't really think of him as that, but rather as the jolly dutchman that we encountered at one of the first Eurochocolate festivals in Perugia in 1998, when he was using one of our chocolate-tempering machines as part of a chocolate demonstration......Depending on who you speak to, apparently he's now generally considered to be one of the top ten, if not one of the top eight chocolatiers in the entire World.......

And as though that isn't enough, he turned out by chance to be based in Pisa, where we fell across his shop several years ago, nestling in a back street not far from the station (although he's just moved to much more prestigious premises on the Lungarno, just along from the Victoria Hotel). He and his wife have a workshop, it appears, in Gello, which is an eminently unremarkable conurbation on the outskirts of Pisa, on the flatland that runs between us and the Monte Pisano. I'll think of the place with renewed respect, now that I know it is home to something other than merely the pizzeria belonging to Paolo Pirelli, Massimo's father-in-law......

And having wallowed indulgently through all of that, I was tempted to go and see what the Donnafugata website had to say about it all.........and that was my downfall! At that point, my afternoon was completely shot! Splendid website, bursting with intriguing comments, and detail, and images, and information......and a page of recipes to accompany their best wines.....I loved their explanation that the woman's head that seductively graces every bottle from the estate is in fact that of Maria Carolina, Queen of the Two Sicilies - when I'd taken it for granted all along that it was supposed to be Claudia Cardinale, from the 1963 film of The Leopard! I can't speak too highly of either the wine or the website - both are well worth sampling for yourselves...And the website at least is only a click away, at Highly recommended long as you're not short of time, that is......

Tonight's Dinner:

Timbales of Smoked Salmon & Celery, served with spicy Gazpacho (an old favourite from Bruno Loubet)

Supremes de Volailles with Archduke Sauce, on a bed of Spinach

Pear & Chocolate Tarts

Monday 15 October 2007

Recipe: Scallop Mousseline....

This recipe is quite simply spectacular! Served hot, the flavours are strong, clean and sophisticated, while the texture is firm, but wonderfully light. Served cold, after a night in the fridge, this is one of the most 'more-ish' things I've ever eaten. Beguiling and intense, the first mouthful is a show-stopper........and each mouthful thereafter is just as good, leaving you licking the pattern from the plate at the end of the process.
Eminently dinner-party-able, this can be prepared in its entirety and left in the fridge up until the point that it goes into the oven, or else can be served cold, having been cooked the day before. The choice of sauces to go with it is varied: hollandaise works well, as does a sieved watercress sauce......or even a light tomato sauce delicately flavoured with tarragon... Up to you.

For four.

Ingredients: 400g Scallops, without the coral (for this dish, it's fine to use Scallops which have been frozen); 2 teaspoons of Salt; a dozen grindings of Black Pepper; 1 Egg plus 1 Egg-white; 500 ml of Cream.


1. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C.

2. Generously butter four individual ramekins.

3. In the food processor, process to a fine purée the Scallops and seasoning; add the Egg +egg-white, and process some more, then finally process the Cream into the mixture. If necessary, use a spatula to clean the mixture from the sides of the processor bowl from time to time, to ensure the ingredients in the mixture are all entirely incorporated.

4. Divide the mixture between the greased ramekins, then cook in a bain marie in the pre-heated oven for thirty minutes. Loosely cover the bain marie with a sheet of aluminium foil before you place it in the oven, as this will prevent a skin from forming.

5. If to be eaten hot, unmould the mousselines into heated shallow bowls, and surround each one with the sauce of your choice. If to be eaten cold, allow the mousselines to cool, then chill them in the fridge and serve them cold in the same manner the following day.


Sunday 14 October 2007

The Wine that launched.....

.....a thousand ships? I mentioned recently the bottles of Ben Ryé which had generously been provided by some Brancoli dinner guests, a couple of weeks ago, and the fact that it was both delicious and historically interesting, since it came from Donnafugata, the ancestral Lampedusa family estate in Sicily where The Leopard had in part been set. A little further digging, and the historical underpinning for the wine becomes ever more intriguing......

The grapes for Ben Ryé - which in arabic means 'Son of the Wind' - come from vineyards on the small island of Pantelleria, which is halfway between Sicily and Libya. Pantelleria had historically been part of the Lampedusa estate, but had come adrift as the family fortunes unravelled, and it was only in the 1990's that it once again became part of the Donnafugata fattoria, when the Pantelleria vineyards were bought by the Rallo family, the new owners of Donnafugata. Until that time, the sweet wine produced on Pantelleria was a Passito, politely described by the experts as rather 'figgy' (i.e filthy) and it is only after the various changes by the Rallos to the production method that we have the wonderful Ben Ryé product of today - an extraordinary wine, with a deep caramel flavour and a complex body.

Pantelleria is a desolate little rock - both windblown and arid, with no water source other than rainwater. The vineyards are comprised of ancient vines, many on pre-phyloxera root stock, growing in the greek style - i.e either on the ground or on low trellis in depressions where there is a little shelter from the wind. That you can grow vines at all in such conditions is a tribute to the persistence and ingenuity of the islanders. The grape from which Ben Ryé is made, Zibibbio, is also ancient and can be traced back to Egypt, before the fog of history closes in.....

The production method on Pantelleria is exactly the same as that found in the islands of the Cyclades where the growing conditions are similar, it is far too windy in summer to do otherwise. The grapes are also allowed to dry after harvesting and the resulting wine which is similar in taste to a slightly odd Dubonnet is also thick and
Not far from the Cyclades, the island of Limnos,opposite the site of ancient Troy, is the only place in Greece where the Zibibbio grape predominates. The original inhabitants of Western Sicily, where Donnafugata is located, were the Elymians, who founded Erice and Segesta, are credited with bringing wine-making to Sicily, and - according to the ancient Greeks - were descended from those Trojans who had fled the smoking ruins of Troy.....

Elymians? Limnos? Zibibbio? Figgy wine? Could it be that the direct ancestor of Ben Ryé was the wine of the Trojans? Fanciful, of course........but no less engaging for all that.

It isn't often you get given a bottle of wine with three thousand years of history behind it......!

Tonight's Dinner:

Is courtesy of the Brancolis-in-London