Saturday 29 December 2007

Recipe: Crêpes Suzette

Another dish that appears inexplicably to have fallen from grace, and certainly from restaurant menus. Speaking of it over dinner last night, somebody referred to Crêpes Suzette as 'that quintessentially sixties dish' (before proceeding to relate a story of a Mrs Murray, châtelaine of a grand Scottish country house, who managed to ignite herself along with the dessert, which had been brought to table by the butler for her to apply the match. An excess of hair lacquer explained the rest - another manifestation of the sixties, I suppose - and, having been extinguished by the quick-thinking and damask napkin of one of her guests - for the remainder of dinner she had to sit beneath the ruins of her coiffure, to which absolutely no comment was made by her fellow diners).
Anyway, the dish is another one long overdue for resurrection - the velvety richness of the pancakes in their delicious and unctuous sauce is quite incomparable, and the process of making them could hardly be more straightforward......

For four.

Ingredients: 2 Eggs; 80g Flour; 80g butter (melted and cooled); 150 ml milk; a pinch of salt; 3 tablespoons of Oil;10 tablespoons Cointreau (or Maraschino, or Grandmarnier - depends which you have to-hand); finely-gated rind of one Lemon; 4 tablespoons Sugar; 40g Butter (for reheating the Crêpes).


1. In a blender, combine Eggs, Flour, Milk, melted Butter, and Salt. Process for about thirty seconds until thoroughly combined (if necessary, use a spatula to clean from the sides of the blender jar any flour which has stuck there, and process again, to ensure all is completely mixed in).

2. Oil the base of a frying pan, and over a medium/high heat use the batter to make eight Crêpes, re-oiling the pan in between each one. (Some authorities would have you let the batter rest for 30 minutes before use - personally, I've never seen the point and use it straightaway).

You can either use the Crêpes immediately, or else cover them in cling-film for use later in the day - best not to leave them until the following day, though.

3. Fold each Crêpe in half, and then in half again, to make a fan shape.

4. Melt the Butter in a large frying pan, then add the grated rind and half of the Cointreau. If cooking on an electric hob, use a match to light the alcohol; if using gas, merely tip the pan in order to let the alcohol fumes catch. As the alcohol burns off, gently tip the pan, to ensure the base of the pan is entirely covered in the butter/cointreau mixture.

5. When the fumes have died down, place the folded Crêpes in a single layer in the pan; sprinkle them with Sugar, and then pour over them the remaining Cointreau. Repeat the process of lighting the alcohol, and gently rotate the pan to baste the Crêpes with the flaming liquid. As soon as the flames have died down, serve. (NB: if your pan isn't large enough to accommodate all Crêpes in a single layer, do them in two stages; do NOT try to cook them in two layers, as they won't heat through properly!)

Thursday 27 December 2007

Belforte, for Christmas…….

A gloriously sunny day, the beech woods in the valley below the village a rich, subdued russet. Bright and crisp and cold enough that the vapour rising from the power-plant many miles away is clearly visible, looking for all the world like the sulphur springs on an Etruscan wall painting; the skyline beyond, a timeless profile of rolling Tuscan hills. The only sounds which break the silence from time to time are the two, unsynchronised, village clocks chiming the hours and the half-hours.........and the occasional sound of gunshot from the surrounding countryside – two days after Christmas, and the boar-hunters are out in force!

I think Elizabeth David would have approved – two days of sybaritic self-indulgence with an emphasis on little-but-good (actually, not so much ‘little’ but at least not wild and untrammelled excess). We feasted for lunch both days on smoked salmon and Parma ham, helped on its way by a bottle or so of Verdicchio di San Gimignano. Afternoons - for me - were spent beside the fire, in the company of a cat or two, immersed in the pages of Harold Acton’s ‘Last of the Medici’ – essentially, wallowing in the tabloid gossip columns of three hundred years ago – and an additional log tossed on the fire from time to time, as necessary. One of the neighbours had delivered an offering on Christmas Eve of a cake about half the size of a ping-pong table, made with apple and pine-nuts and cinnamon which – unusually for Italian cakes – was light as air, and into which inroads were made at teatime each day – around the hour when people materialised from wherever they’d secreted themselves for the afternoon and it became appropriate to start to do things in the kitchen for dinner.

Christmas Day: an Onion Risotto to start (we’d planned on Risotto of White Truffle, but were met with raised eyebrows in Vettovaglie last weekend when we’d gone truffle-hunting, to be told that there were no more to be had, not even ‘ per milliardi’ – which we weren’t about to spend in any case); followed by slices of the neck of the Goose, stuffed with pâté de foie gras, served on a crouton, and with a sauce of raisins and sweet wine (delicious!); then the Goose itself, boned and roast, stuffed with prunes and served with stuffed Cabbage leaves; and finally Crêpes Suzette (the assembled throng – mainly Dutch - had sampled Christmas Pudding in the past, and had decidedly vetoed it this time around…). Two bottles of a 1997 Château La Commandèrie later, and everybody was about ready to call it a day….

Boxing Day: lazy cooking. A Cassoulet which did its thing in the oven over a number of hours, and released delicious smells throughout the house during the day. Preceded by flamiches, made with leeks pulled that morning from the garden, and tasting all the better for it, and finishing off with an uncomplicated and perfectly satisfying Chocolate Mousse. Some of the last of the 1988 Haut Gravère ……..and that was Christmas done and dusted for another year.

Except that we return to Pisa this evening, where the tree and the remaining twelve days’ of presents are awaiting attention, right through until the night of Ebufana on January 6th , when all the children get their presents, and the decorations only and finally come down.
Our habit these days is to spread present-giving over the
entire twelve days – 6.30 each evening brings a glass of prosecco and an exchange of presents – rather than to have a glut of the things all on the 25th, and then a denuded tree looking rather sorry for itself and clearly wondering why it’s still there as the New Year comes and goes, and the decorations looking increasingly like guests who’ve forgotten to leave….Our strategy means the tree has purpose right through until the bitter end!

Tonight's dinner....ought to be a dry crust and a glass of water........but is in fact:


Sausages of Cinta Senese,

Frozen Hazelnut Mousse

Sunday 23 December 2007

Recipe: Parmesan Crisps

This is one of those things where the process is so simple that it barely merits being called a recipe, and yet so delicious that the end result can stop you in your tracks. Perfect to be handed round with drinks - and the understated way in which you can do so, arousing no comment along the way, is the perfect preparation for the first bite, and the raised eyebrows as the taste buds register what's happening!

Makes approximately 40 Crisps (depending upon how finely you grate your parmesan)

Ingredients: 150 grammes of Parmesan


1. Grate the Parmesan finely. (The finest Microplane grater does a good job because it produces thin ribbons, not granules.)

2. Put a sheet of greaseproof paper (or a silpat sheet, if you have one) over the back of a baking tray (better to put it over the back than inside the tray, as it is easier subsequently to slide the Crisps off if you don't have to negotiate the rim of the tray at the same time).

3. Using a 2" circular pastry-cutter, place the cutter on top of the greaseproof paper and sprinkle a heaped teaspoon of cheese inside the cutter to make a complete disk; make sure the edge of the disk particularly is well covered. (Do NOT press the cheese down into place - it will melt and collapse delicately into itself as it bakes.)

4. Move the cutter along, and repeat the process. Continue until the greaseproof paper is covered in cheese disks. Leave a few millimetres between each disk - they don't spread in baking like biscuits do.

5. Bake at 175C for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. They start to brown when they stop bubbling, so watch them carefully. When golden brown transfer them to a wire rack to cool and crisp. Store in an air-tight container, and try not to eat too many before you have to serve them to your guests!