Wednesday 2 May 2012


...from the rain. Days on end of it. And yesterday, being May Day, and a public holiday, it redoubled efforts, and bucketed down the entire time. So, of course, this morning (not a public holiday) dawned clear, bright, and sunny.

The rain must have carried on late into the night, as the garden was still dripping when I took the four-footeds out first thing, and drops of water glistened in the sunlight across the shrubs and the lawns. And the garden, of course has loved general, I think I've never seen it happier, after the cold weather in February despatched hordes of evilly-intentioned bugs, and then weeks on-end of glorious rain has soaked into the ground. There are thousands upon thousands of buds on all of the roses...

..the bearded irises all fat with promise..jasmines already heavy with blossom, and trachelospermum about to break out in carpets of flowers...
We think (for which read 'fingers crossed') we've found a prodotto which deals with rose chafer beetles, those little b******s which last year chewed most of the roses into tatty oblivion as soon as they flowered. I freely admit I am not a green gardener, although I'll happily try the 'green' option as a first go at any garden blight. But thereafter, if the problem persists, I'll reach for the industrial product with no hesitation whatsoever. Which is why I dutifully watered nemotodes into the lawn last year, as the politically correct method of dealing with chafer bugs. The Technical Department thought it the extreme of emperors-new-clothes, as in fact it was difficult to see that there was actually anything inside the nemotode container before dutifully adding water to the watering can and carefully watering diluted air into what I thought were the affected areas. Complete waste of time, of course, as we came across our first chafer bugs several weeks ago - exactly at the time one would expect them -  and so sought help from that nice chap with the limp who runs the vivaio up at Gello. Bingo! Or, so it turned out. After last year's failure, I was sceptical, but dutifully made the first application to the entire rose population in the garden about ten days ago. And for the past week, the only chafer bugs we've been picking off the blooms are either dead or very nearly so. And not a shredded rose bloom in sight!

Oh, and it isn't entirely un-pc, as, used carefully, it apparently shouldn't have any harmful effects on the bee population either. Which matters.
In Italian, the stuff is called 'Axoris Concentrato', and the active ingredient is something called thiamethoxam. Having been in despair about these foul pests, this time last year, and found many other people on the web similarly at a loss, this has been a major discovery!

So, we're now due several days of sun, which will mean weed-pulling on a grand scale. The noxious things sprout prolifically in the rain, but with the advantage that as long as weeding takes place soon afterwards, they pull out of the wet ground as though from softened butter.

And the other thing at the moment, of course, is the scent. For several weeks, as the barn was garlanded with wisteria, we had that heady smell wafting over the terrace....and as that has passed, the smell now is of orange blossom, both from our own trees outside the office window, as I sit here at the machine, but also the scent which wafts in downstairs from the trees which hang over the garden walls on the other side of the lane. And the scent of jasmine coming in from the courtyard, outside the dining room windows.. and the heady smell from the roses, which are starting to bloom thickly on the entrance pergola ...

OK. Weeding summons...

Tonight's Dinnner:

Phyllo Tarts with Chicken Livers and Mushrooms, in Marsala Cream

Veal Chops, grilled with Onions, and garlic-roast Tomatoes

Bitter Orange Souffl├ęs

Sunday 29 April 2012

Spiced Kumquat Ice Cream

An adaptation from something I tried first of all with some chinotti in syrup that the Pauli gave us at New Year - chinotti are a small citrus, which I think one is supposed to spear with a cocktail stick and eat carefully (beware heavy drips of syrup!) along with a cup of coffee, but which in fact are too sweet for modern taste to do anything of the kind. Much better to cut a couple of them into fine dice and add, along with a spoonful of syrup, when churning some homemade vanilla ice cream. The end result is delicious. As it is with the spiced kumquat version. The Brancolis gave us a bag of kumquats from their tree when they came to dinner, several weeks ago, to which I decided to give the same treatment. Simmered  for twenty minutes in syrup (for one pound of kumquats, use two cups of water and one of sugar) to which has been added five cloves, three crushed star anise, half a tablespoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla, the kumquats should then be bottled; reduce the syrup by about half, until noticeably thickened, then strain and cool slightly before pouring over the bottled fruit, along with a quarter cup of brandy. Seal, shake to mix the syrup and brandy, and refrigerate for a fortnight before use.

To make the ice cream:

For four servings:

Ingredients: 6 egg yolks; 250 ml milk; 250 ml cream; 50g sugar; half a vanilla pod, or a teaspoon of good vanilla essence; 2 kumquats, preserved as above, along with a tbs of their syrup.


1. Heat the milk and cream together in a bain marie or simmertopf. If using vanilla bean, then carefully scrape out the innards and add them, along with the scraped bean, to the combined milk and cream.

2. Beat together the egg yolks and sugar until light yellow in colour, and thickened. To this, add the heated milk and cream, mix, and return to the simmertopf. If using vanilla essence, add it now. Cook over gentle heat, stirring constantly,  until thickened sufficient to coat the back of a spoon, then return to the mixing bowl to allow to cool down.

3. Once cooled, remove the vanilla bean (if used) and churn in the ice cream machine. At the start of churning, add the kumquats, finely diced, and their syrup. Continue as for making any ice cream.