Thursday 1 January 2009

And into 2009...The year of the dumpling!

...or it will be, if the Technical Department has his way. The appearance on the menu the other day of Porcini dumplings prompted a dewy-eyed meander through memories of 'dumplings of yester-year', and a general wondering aloud where they've disappeared to, and why. The answer to the latter, I suspect, is that they fell foul of the nouvelle cuisine brigade in the eighties, and nobody ever got round to resuscitating them afterwards. Until now.

In fact, there's a lot to be said for them, as part of a 'hearty fare' regime. The dumpling is much more versatile than say potato - and there are many different versions, both savoury and sweet. They take no time to make...and to start the ball rolling, here are two versions: one plain, and one which includes vegetables.

I. The Plain English Suet dumpling

Ingredients: 100g self raising flour (or 100g plain flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder); 50g Suet; Green Herbs of your choice (optional); Salt & Pepper; cold water to mix. Stock or water, to cook.


1. Blend the dry ingredients and herbs. Heat your cooking liquid (stock or water) to a gentle simmer.

2. When you are ready to cook the dumplings, add cold water to the mixture, stirring gently with a fork to make a very soft dough. Use a spoon dipped in cold water to scoop out a dumpling and drop it in the simmering stock.

3. Cook for up to 20 minutes, depending on size. Roll the dumplings over in the stock once or twice so they cook evenly. Serve immediately.
The raising agent starts working the second you add water, so don't add the water until you are ready to cook the dumplings. You can add any chopped herbs you like.


II. Spinach 'Canderli' from Alto Adige

Ingredients: 60g Onion, finely chopped; 1 garlic clove; 2 tbl butter; 100g Spinach - in Italy you can buy this or other greens already cooked; 2 eggs; 50ml milk; 30g cheese - cut in tiny dice - (any firm, but not hard, cheese will do: Emmental, Piave, Gruyere, Cheddar...) 1 tbl Flour; 150g stale bread, cut in tiny dice; grated nutmeg; Salt and pepper; grated parmesan and Butter heated until slightly brown (beurre noisette), to serve.


1. Fry the onion and garlic gently in butter until soft. Let cool and then use a fork to mix g
ently with all the other ingredients. For the lightest canderli, you need a light touch. Mix the ingredients lightly and form the balls with the very minimum of pressure. If the mixture is crumbly, add a little more milk. Let the dough sit for 15 minutes, covered.

2. Form into small balls and poach in water or stock for upto 20 mins depending on their size.

3. Serve with grated parmesan and drizzled with hot noisette butter.

Last night, we welcomed in the New Year with White Truffle Risotto (yes - it IS that time of year again; although the euro exchange rate gave pause for thought before investing in even the most diminutive truffle I could find in Vettovaglie), followed by Guinea Fowl stuffed with Ricotta and Chicken Livers, with Garlic and Potato cakes, and then fresh Apricots in a caramelised Pistachio Cream. The rain beating gently down outside put paid to the al fresco festivities that the Commune had had in mind - although there were still enough pyrotechnic explosions to cause the junior four-footed to think armageddon was upon us (while the senior four-footed, who is pretty deaf these days, merely dozed through it all).

Tonight's dinner:

Tartlettes of Mushroom and Chicken Livers, in Marsala Cream (I have pastry and Livers that need to be used up)

Osso Bucco, with Sage and Orange Sauce.

Coconut Rice Pudding.

Wednesday 31 December 2008

Recipe: Quail Consommé with Porcini Dumplings

This is the companion recipe to Roast Quail with Walnut Mashed Potato; the base for the Consommé is the remains of the sauce from that, with the addition of further quantities of good Chicken Stock, all simmered together for another half an hour or so. If you want to be uber-elegant, you can then clarify this with minced chicken breast and egg-white; personally, I don't bother (the idea that you throw away an entire uneaten Chicken Breast goes too much against the grain). If you want to make the Consommé from scratch, then you'll need the bones from 6 quail carcasses, carrot and leek to make a sofritto, 2 tablespoons of Soy Sauce, and about a litre of water or chicken stock.

The flavour of the Consommé is excellent! The 'dumplings', which in fact have the dense texture more of polpette, are little flavour bombs of porcini and tarragon...and the combination of the two is rich and beguiling.

For Four.

Ingredients: Quail Consommé, sufficient for four servings, made following one or other of the two methods given above; 10g dried Porcini; 2 Prunes; 100g cubed Pancetta; 1 egg; 2 tbs Milk; generous pinch of Baking Powder; 1 tbs chopped fresh Parsley and Tarragon, combined; 60g Bread, cubed; 3 tbs Flour; small clove of Garlic; Salt, Pepper and ground Nutmeg, to taste.


1. Soak the Porcini in hot water for 30 minutes to soften, then drain and rinse, to remove any grit.

2. Combine Porcini with all other ingredients (apart from the Consommé) in a food processor, and process for ten seconds or so, until it is a homogeneous mass.

3. Form the mixture into little balls, each about half an inch in diameter, and roll them lightly in Flour. You should have around 20 'dumplings'. Poach these for twenty minutes in simmering Chicken Stock or water.

4. Meanwhile, re-heat the Consommé, and check and adjust seasoning if necessary. When ready to serve, use a slotted spoon to place five 'dumplings' in each of four soup plates, and ladle hot Consommé over the top.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Winter Sunshine...

Lazy days. That wonderful doldrums period between Christmas and New Year when the days blend seamlessly together, and there comes a point when you can't quite remember which day it is any more. Punctuated by good food and wine, and walking the dogs, and reading beside the fire, and planning menus for the days to come...

For the most part, the weather is glorious. Sunshine fills the garden and streams into the house, with a Vermeer-like intensity. The blossoms on the Urophylla are opening en masse, in great cascades, and the cymbidium are on the verge of bursting into flower. The lemon crop is pretty good at this time of year, and we also have four glorious bergamot fruit ripening in the winter sun - although I'm still none the wiser about what exactly I can use them for. There are still a few blooms left on the Marie Pavie, but sadly last week's gale got rid of all the flowers on the Chinese Camellia; I imagine they're decorating a hedgerow somewhere in the vicinity of Livorno, by now.

The Loubet programme proceeds apace, with some pretty good discoveries along the way: already blogged are the recipes for rabbit en croute, and quails with walnut mash, but also to be recommended are his recipes for endives with orange, and fennel with allspice. Steak, topped with a confit of shallot and mustard was pretty good, too - as was pork, pot-roast with vanilla and coconut milk. He claims not to be particularly interested in desserts - although his recipe for iced white chocolate and gingerbread parfait is undeniably one of the best things I've ever eaten. Menu items for later this week include his rather wonderful Dark Treacle Tart, and an adaptation of his recipe for Peaches in Pistachio cream (but using fresh apricots, for which I've just located a supply in Via San Francesco).

Ok. Back I want to finish the biography I'm currently reading of Isabella de Medici, and then need to think about pruning the pomegranate tree. And of course, at six o'clock we have present-giving and prosecco - which takes place every evening between Christmas and Twelfth night, in order to avoid a five minute orgy of unwrapping on the morning of December 25th, following which the Tree sits around looking rather forlorn and seeming increasingly pointless.

Tonight's Dinner:

Consommé of Quail, with Dumplings.

Escalope de Foie de Veau Mauricette

Poached Apricots, with Pistachio Cream.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Recipe: Roast Quail with Walnut Mashed Potato

The secret to this dish is good organisation; quite a few stages, but nothing too complicated, and as long as you do everything in the correct order then the end result should be perfect. Succulent pieces of Quail served on a bed of walnut-flavoured purée, and a spoonful of richly complicated sauce which pretty much defies description. By the time you sit down to the first course, you can have the quail pieces and the finished potatoes warming in the oven, while the sauce bubbles away, just ready to be sieved and served.

For Four.

Ingredients: 6 Quail; 4 medium Potatoes; 2 tbs crushed Walnut pieces; 2 tbs Walnut Oil; 1 Egg; 1/4 cup of Milk; 1/2 thinly sliced Mushrooms; 1 large Shallot; 2 tbs Wine Vinegar; 2 tbs Soy Sauce; 1 tsp dried Oregano; 200 ml water; Olive Oil; Salt & Pepper; choppedParsley, for garnish.


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

2. Peel and cut up the potatoes and leave in salted water, ready to be cooked.

3. Film with oil the bottom of a pan that will subsequently fit in the oven, heat and then use to brown the quail lightly all over; season lightly with salt & pepper as you turn the birds to brown them. Once browned, place the whole pan in the oven to roast the quail for ten minutes.

4. Leave the birds to cool for a few minutes outside the oven, so that you can handle them, then quickly remove the legs and breasts and wrap them in a foil package and leave to keep warm inside a 60 degree C oven. Roughly chop the quail carcasses using either a cleaver or a heavy carving knife.

5. Heat some Oil in a pan, and use briefly to sauté the chopped Shallot and Mushroom; add the quail carcasses to this and brown altogether for about five minutes. De-glaze with Vinegar, then add the Oregano, Soy Sauce and Water, bring to the boil and then adjust the heat to simmer for half an hour or so.

6. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes, and once they are done pass them through the fine holes of a potato ricer; add Egg, Milk, Walnut pieces and Walnut Oil, and mix together. Check seasoning and adjust as appropriate. Keep warm while you finish the sauce.

7. Once the sauce has simmered for half an hour, sieve it into a clean saucepan and bring once more to the boil - you should have enough thick sauce for a generous spoonful per serving.

8. Put a generous spoonful of purée in the centre of each serving plate, arrange the quail legs and breasts around the purée and spoon the sauce over the top. Sprinkle with chopped Parsley, and serve.