Saturday 27 September 2008

Recipe: Chocolate Zabaglione

I have a cold. I think a lot of people do at the moment - there's something going round. It's the sort of flu-type, slightly achey affair that doesn't exactly lay you out, but is quite debilitating and makes life in general noticeably more challenging than it would be otherwise. Hence, Chocolate Zabaglione...Dessert last night was intended to be Amaretto Soufflés, but when it came to the crunch I decided I just didn't have the energy,and took refuge instead in one of my standard fall-backs, Zabaglione. No prep, practically instant, and the sort of sophisticated comfort food that is perfect when you're feeling under the weather.

"Can it be Chocolate?" the Technical Department asked, when I mentioned the change of plan. I'm not sure where that came from - not having heard of such a thing previously - and neither was he, really...a vague memory of having read something, somewhere perhaps. I dismissed the idea of melting block chocolate and adding it to the Zabaglione mixture, as I'm sure that would have a disastrous effect on the final texture, making it heavy and glue-like, rather than light and unctuous. No...the way to do it is with a small amount of bitter chocolate powder, and replacing a little of the usual alcohol (Marsala or Sherry, depending upon which country I'm in) with some Creme de Cacao instead.

The result was dreamily excellent! Precisely what the doctor ordered....

For Two.

Ingredients: 2 oz Sugar (this is one time when you can't use Splenda instead - the texture is quite wrong); 4 Egg Yolks; 7 tablespoons of Marsala or Cream Sherry + one tablespoon of Creme de Cacao (or eight tablespoons of Sherry or Marsala, if Creme de Cacao isn't available); 1 generous teaspoon of dark Chocolate powder (I used Green + Blacks)


1. Combine all of the ingredients either in a zimmertopf or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk everyting together using a hand whisk (not an electric beater), and keep whisking evenly as you maintain a medium heat under the pan.

2. As the Egg Yolk cooks, you will see the mixture become thicker and emulsify into a satisfyingly dense texture. This takes perhaps five minutes.
The challenge with Zabaglione is knowing exactly when it's done - if you stop too soon, then the mixture will separate out once you've poured it into serving glasses, and if you let it go too far, then the result is a first cousin to scrambled egg. It should be ready to serve once it is the same unctuous thickness all the way through, so if in doubt you should reach to the bottom of the mixture with the whisk and beat once or twice energetically to see that there is no un-enmulsified mixture left at the bottom of the bowl.

3. Serve, poured into large wine glasses.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Recipe: Apple and Peach Tarts

A variation on classic French Apple Tart, this was an 'invention' from several weeks ago, when I discovered at the back of the crisper drawer a single peach which had somehow escaped notice and was very clearly at the 'use it or lose it' stage of its existence. Apple tarts were on the menu for supper that night, and - Scottish blood to the fore - I merely added the peeled and diced fresh peach to the chopped apple that was being cooked down to make the purée base for the tarts....and the result was quite splendid! The peach flavour doesn't shout at you, but, as with so many great combinations of unexpected ingredients, it adds an extra dimension to the finished dish which makes it richer and more delicious, and lifts it to a significantly higher level than the penny-plain version.

For two individual tarts.

Ingredients: 2 sheets of Phyllo Pastry, each 12" x 6"; 3 oz Butter; 2 tablespoons of flaked Almonds; 2 Apples; 2 peaches; grated rind of a Lemon (or a few drops of Lemon Oil); quarter of a cup of Sugar (or equal volume Splenda); half a teaspoon of ground Nutmeg; a generous tablespoon of Brandy.


1. Melt 1 oz of the Butter; use this to brush the sheets of Pastry, and cut each sheet into two squares. Grease (or Trennwax) two individual false-bottomed tart tins, and line each with a square of pastry, tucking the edges in all around. Divide the flaked almonds between the two tart bases and sprinkle them evenly, then use the remaining squares of pastry to make a second layer within each tart tin, and again tuck them evenly in around the edges. Fill the pastry shells with weights and bake blind for five minutes in a pre-heated 200 degree C oven, then remove the weights and bake for a furter three minutes or so, until the pastry is well browned. Remove from the oven while you prepare the filling.

2. Peel and core one and a half of the apples; dice the flesh and put into a saucepan, along with the diced flesh of the peeled and stoned peaches. Cover and cook over a low heat for twenty minutes or so, stirring from time to time.

3. Once the fruit has collapsed, remove the lid from the pan, turn the heat up, and add all of the remaining ingredients, apart from the reserved half apple. Cook, stirring all the time, for about ten minutes, until a thickish purée has been achieved. Divide this between the two pastry shells. Peel and core the remaining apple, and cut in two; very finely slice the two apple quarters, such that the slices retain the shape of the un-cut apple quarter, and then fan these out, and lay each quarter on top of one of the tarts.

4. Bake in the ot oven for another twenty minutes or so, until the edges of the apple slices begin to brown.

5. Allow to cool from the oven, and serve either still warm or else completely cold, along with a generous spoonful of whipped cream, or a scoop of ice cream.

Sunday 21 September 2008


And it’s monsoon! Officially, the rain was supposed to have stopped several days ago, but in practice there are intermittent downpours – which, in fact, yesterday were almost constant and dramatic, such that the normal view across the lake to the towers of South Mumbai was completely lost for much of the time in sheets of rain. The monsoon season is four months long, and the combination of damp air with tropical heat means that even in the marbled opulence of luxury hotels there’s a slight undertone of mould and rotting fabric that everybody politely ignores.

When I arrived, late on Sunday night, the rain actually held off for the duration of my slow journey from airport to hotel – in a local taxi, the greasy interior of which gave significant pause for thought – and we drove through jubilant crowds celebrating the last day of the festival of Ganesh, the day when all of the images had been immersed in lakes and in the sea, and even at midnight the streets were thronged with people and music and parties, and many many images of the elephant god himself. Vibrant, and noisy, and chaotic, and all very splendid.

By daylight, the next morning, crossing town in order to attend a meeting in a different part of the city, the extent of shanty-town living was evident, and as is so often the case in developing countries, the experience for the foreigner is of air-conditioned luxurious ghettos, with liveried staff and sitar players, and flower-strewn marble pools….whilst the poverty and the real-world experience is only viewed fleetingly and at a distance, through hermetically sealed car windows..

Hardly surprisingly, the food is excellent…with a subtlety and delicacy in the spicing which is often missing in Indian food back in London. The names of the dishes are recognizably the same as those at home – once you’ve navigated the phonetic spellings, that is – but the standard is generally comparable with the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten in the West. On Monday, we found ourselves at one of Powai’s best restaurants, called ‘Saffron Spice’ – obviously popular with middle class locals, and with only a smattering of other foreigners (probably all recommended by the concierge at our hotel, we concluded). The dishes were light and well-cooked, with a freshness that isn’t usual in Indian food in the UK…..and I was even able to order Chicken Tikka Masala, which I hadn’t expected. I’ve always understood that it was invented in somewhere like Rotherham several decades ago, and it was significantly tongue-in-cheek that I looked for it on the restaurant menu. It was there. It arrived. It was good. And I still have my suspicions that it hails from Yorkshire!

But the best food is the ‘small’ food – the mint flavoured broken crisps served with drinks, and the myriad anonymous offerings brought round at banquets: fried potato balls, pieces of fish or meat to be skewered and dunked in spicy sauces; and more different kinds of kebab than it is possible to remember. Reminiscent of the delicacies of an Ottoman pasha, these things have more the whiff of authenticity about them than plates piled high with rice and naan-bread and various kinds of ‘stew’.

Indians seem uncomfortable with silence, and at all times of day the reception areas in the hotel are ‘busy’ with noise of some kind or another: in the mornings, a boy sits cross-legged on the floor of the lobby and makes plinky-plink noises by hitting a stick against different-sized porcelain bowls filled with coloured water (a deeply unmusical effect which very rapidly becomes irritating rather than soothing); later on, a different youth works a sitar; and in the evenings, the space is filled with the syrupy tones of an improbably hennaed chap at the grand piano in the bar, mellifluously churning out the hackneyed romantic gush that’s been doing the global rounds for ever.

More evocative of the true spirit of the place, though, was the ten minutes or so I spent in the morning – between rain showers – in a pavilion down at the edge of the lake. Looking out across the expanse, where the lush marshy vegetation gradually gave way to the flat grey waters of the lake itself, and then to the city and the distant hills beyond, the view was striking in its desolate beauty. Timeless, and brooding. Kites wheeled above the water, dipping and soaring, while the distant sound of sitar playing could be heard from across the rain-soaked lawns behind me.

I can understand how people get hooked on this place…