Friday 4 November 2011

Recipe: Fond d'artichauts with foie gras & mushroom stuffing

This might sound extravagent, but it really isn't. For two servings, it takes only 50g of foie gras, which we regularly buy raw at Metro - the local cash-and-carry - and home cure. One foie served with brioche is appropriate for six people, and this sort of recipe is an excellent way of then using up any leftover trimmings. The combined flavours are first class, and although the presence of the foie gras is clearly detectable within the mix as a rich and unctuous undertone, it doesn't brashly push itself forward for attention.
This dish has the added advantage of being (low-carb) dietarily sound, as well, since it avoids the otherwise necessary consumption of carb-rich brioche. (And for those readers in Kent who recently, and repeatedly, made negative comments about my weight dynamic, I'll have you know I've gone down almost two notches in my belt within the past month!)

For Four servings.

Ingredients:12 prepared fond d'artichauts; 100g foie gras trimmings; 30g Butter; Olive Oil; 1 tablespoon Flour; 100 ml Milk; 1 shallot; 125g Mushrooms; 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan; Seasoning.


1. Cook the fond d'artichauts in boiling salted water for about ten minutes, until tender (omit this step if using bottle fonds, which will already have been cooked).  Drain, and place in a baking  dish (in fact, I divide  them between individual egg dishes to bake,  which can then go directly to table for serving).

2. Melt two-thirds of the butter in a small saucepan, and gently sauté the diced shallot; once the shallot is wilted, add to it the finely chopped mushroom, raise the temperature, and cook for a couple of minutes until the mushroom liquid has been released and cooked away. Take off the heat.

3. Melt the remaining butter in a simmertopf or bain marie, add to it the flour, and then whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring, until it thickens, then remove from the heat, and stir into it the mushroom-shallot mixture. Check and adjust seasoning as necessary.

4. Divide the foie gras between the fond d'artichauts, and then spoon over it the mushroom sauce. Sprinkle grated parmesan over the top, and then bake in a 190 degree C oven for fifteen minutes. Allow to rest outside the oven for a few minutes before serving, to avoid burned mouths!

Thursday 3 November 2011

Autumn is upon us

Glorious, mellow sunny days. The garden rich with the deep colours of parthenocissus, drooping in great swathes from the branches of the cypresses, and in curtains hanging down from gutters and wires. Doors and windows are left strategically open in the course of the day, but firmly closed by nightfall, and the evening air is crisp and now carries with it the unmistakeable smell of woodsmoke.

 The winter gardening timetable has begun, now that the days are cooler, and the endless hours spent watering in summer can be devoted instead to more productive tasks. I've just completed the first tranche of bulb-planting....crocuses, and pushkinia, narcissus, bluebells, aconites, muscari, nerine, cyclamen, alliums, and snowdrops. The tulips will have to wait until the end of the month, when I should also have the new climbing roses to plant on the north pergola, as well as some more ground-cover roses to go in amongst the camellias. We've added another dozen azaleas to those already lining the entrance walkway, and all of the rododendrons have been moved from behind the church, where they got far too much sun and struggled in the summer heat, to the welcoming shade beneath the palm trees and pines at the southern edge of the woodland area.

 The quince harvest is pretty much finished, the cachi trees are heavy with fruit (industrial quantities of the stuff, and since we don't have a taste for them, the Pauli - and all of their friends and relations, and indeed anybody else they can think of  -  have been invited to come and pick), and the blossom on the nespole is hosting an impressive display of pollinating activity from bees. The orange and lemon crops are coming on well - just now beginning to swell and to take on some colour - and even the bitter orange crop in January should be pretty good.

Since the clocks have changed (much to the confusion of the four-footeds and their dinner hour, for which they work on God's time, and they've been much put out since they still haven't entirely adjusted to the change ) it's dark by five-ish, which means gardening is forced to finish for the day, and a great deal more time is available once more to be devoted to dinner. Generally after a welcome soak in a hot bath for half an hour, accompanied by a glass of prosecco and an improving book; I'm just finishing a deeply irritating work on the design of early Medici gardens, by somebody called Rafaella Fabiani Giannetto - lots of interesting information that she uses to support an extremely stupid thesis....Oh, well.

I've also been working through Joel Robuchon's recently published 'Complete', which I can't recommend highly enough. A lifetime's experience at the rockface distilled into a treasure trove of splendidly practical recipes. To-date, I've tried his version of pintade au chou (twice, in fact!);  rabbit roast in mustard, with a cream sauce; clams & mussels in curry-flavoured cream; courgettes, sautéed with mushrooms and broad beans; and a tart of tomatoes and peppers, about which the Technical Department hasn't stopped raving ever since!

And now, since the sun is streaming in, I think I'd better make the most of it and finish demolishing the oldest of the compost heaps, to be used as top-dressing round all of the hydrangeas. The forecast is for days of rain as from tomorrow...

Tonight's Dinner:

Fond d'artichauts, stuffed with Foie Gras, in  a Mushroom sauce

Salmon fillets, larded and baked, served in a horseradish-cream sauce; Fava beans

Fresh Pineapple

Sunday 30 October 2011

Elizabeth David knew nothing about cooking...

Or so the 1951 review in the Manchester Guardian of her second book 'French Country Cooking' stated, with great disdain. "Recipe Books come in two sorts," it declaimed, "the decorative, and the practical...and Mrs David's work falls clearly in the first category". The recipes were merely copied from elsewhere, it went on, and it seemed unlikely that ED had actually ever cooked many of them; her quantities were wrong, her techniques suspect, the timings were out....and, all in all, she really didn't have a clue.

The reviewer was somebody called Lucie Marion, who happened to be French (nose out of joint, perhaps, at feeling her home turf was being invaded?), and had recently published one recipe book, and had another one on the way at the time of writing. Could it be that she didn't relish the competition? Not that her work and La David's bear much resemblance to each other - I have a copy of her second one, The Home Chef, which focuses quite a lot on the constraints of cooking 'in these difficult times' when butter was still unavailable, and fingerbowls had not yet emerged from the deep storage they'd gone into at the start of the war. Lots of household hints, as well, such as keeping a bowl of oatmeal beside the sink at all times as a drying agent for one's hands, in order to avoid them ever looking red or, perish the thought, chapped! And a fundamental premise for Ms Marion was that there should always be a quarter of an hour free at the end of preparing dinner, during which time, the hostess (or mother, or housewife) could compose herself, change her frock, and powder her nose, before presenting herself once more to her guests or family. Somehow, I can't imagine Elizabeth David ever actually using the word 'frock'.

As for what La David made of the review, history appears not to relate. Given the ironclad Grande Dame image that she presented in later years, it's hard to think she would have bothered very much with Lucie's pointed criticisms, though. She-who-must-be-obeyed in Belforte once had a run-in with ED when she had her shop in the Kings Road, many years ago, and although I can't remember exactly what the bone of contention was, I do recall that SWMBO came out of it distinctly the worst. Which says much.

And if Ms Marion's nose was out of joint at the appearance of the first of the David oeuvre, I can't imagine she got any happier over the years, as the David star rose ever higher in the firmament, until the grande dame acquired practically mythical status. And the ironic thing is, LM's original criticisms - unfortunately snippy though they were in style - were largely correct...the quantities were sometimes off, and you couldn't entirely rely on her timings...but then, I would have said that's probably true of almost any serious recipe book ever written - they're supposed to function more as a guide than as a precise technical manual. Otherwise, one might just as well be adding an egg to a Betty Crocker instant cake mix, for all the skill that might be required.

I tried to find out what happened to Lucie Marion downhill of 1951. Without much success. In all, she published three books, all much at the same time, in the early fifties, and then seems to have disappeared without a trace. Not even a Wikipedia entry - which, in this day and age, is almost eery. I can only hope she went back to France, where she wouldn't have had to watch with increasing bitterness as the 'decorative' output of Mrs David reached out to an ever larger and more appreciative audience over the years...

Tonight's Dinner:


Pintade au Chou

Petits pots a la crème au Chocolat