Sunday 28 October 2018

Pear and Almond Cake

Italian Pear Almond Cake

This year's pear harvest was the best yet, with wonderfully juicy fruit coming from a succession of different trees over several months. (We also had a splendid apple crop, whilst peaches were definitely fewer than normal, plums ditto, and apricots and almonds non-existent - presumably all a reflection of the stage the various trees were at when the Beast from the East hit, in late Spring. Hazelnuts were pretty good, come to think of it, but nectarines made almost no appearance, likewise walnuts, and the quince harvest was definitely light; Cachi are ripening only just about now, and although Paola did manage to present me with one a week ago which was sweet and  inoffensive, I have still to be convinced about them as an idea.)

Poached pears, Tartine Perigourdine, Tarte Bordaloue, Pear Sorbet, Pear Souffle, Pear Strudel...and this recipe. I found it on an american blog, and I came back to it time and again in the course of the summer - to the point that I realised that I really ought to write it down, before it mysteriously disappears, as things on the internet have a habit of doing. The writer called it 'Italian', which I rather doubt - in my experience, Italian baking tends to be noticeably  'solid', whilst this cake is light and airy and generally delicious. I have replicated the original in using volumetric measures for all ingredients except the almonds, where inexplicably the measure is given as a weight - I could have gone to the trouble to translate this also into a volumetric measure...but, then, so I suppose could you. I've also added in a dash of almond essence, as I generally do when a recipe calls for ground almonds, since they rarely have any decent flavour these days. The marscapone cream is an entirely optional serving suggestion, but it is delicious (and works very well, too, with apple pie...)

Ingredients: 9 tbs butter; 9 tbs sugar; 3 medium eggs; 7 tbs plain flour; 3.5 oz ground almonds; 1 tsp almond essence; 0.5 tsp baking powder; 2 medium pears, peeled, cored and quartered;  a light handful of slivered almonds. (for the  marscapone cream: 100g Mascarpone;  grated zest of one orange plus tbs orange juice; 2 tbs marsala; sugar, to taste)


1. Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees C.

2. In a food processor, cream together the butter and sugar, and then add the eggs, followed by the flour, almonds and essence and baking powder. Process briefly.

3. Transfer the mixture to a prepared 20 cm cake tin (buttered, and with a disc of greaseproof paper in the base). Place the pear quarters evenly around the top of the cake, and sprinkle with the slivered almonds. 

4. Bake for around 30 minutes, until done. Leave to cool in the tin, and dust the top with icing sugar to serve.

5. For the mascarpone cream, whisk together all of the ingredients until thoroughly amalgamated.

Thursday 26 July 2018

The Path Less Travelled...

Finally, after years (literally) of dithering, we bit the bullet, and came to a decision about making a proper path between the agrumi terrace and the centre of the garden. You'd think it would be a simple decision.....ha! Gravel? Brick? Grass? Width? Length? Design? Oh, no...this was about as complicated a process as setting up the League of Nations.

And, of course, the decision was made and then instituted just as we entered the hottest period of the year. Which meant that Giancarlo would manage two spadefuls of whatever, before lapsing into dazed immobility, as he stared into space and contemplated nothing. Every time he disappeared for lunch (which was often), I would pick up his tools and get another chunk of work done before his return, several hours later - but, in the end, we had to suggest that he left the finishing-off stage of the work to us,  to be done in the relative cool of the evenings.

The path terminates at what will be (soon, I hope) a new fountain, situated perfectly centrally to the entire garden. Having arrived there by walking between the agrumi garden and the Woodland, the fountain (which, for some reason, we're calling 'the Well')  then gives onto the North and South Lawns, with access to the left to the start of the pergola and to the right to the steps which lead down to the box-edged paths. I wanted to call it The Well of Loneliness...but TD, for childish reasons of his own that we need not go into,  has christened it instead 'The Abastanza Pozzo'.

He is still sorting out the paving around the Well, itself - although, creation of all the pieces of the jigsaw is complete, and so we're really at the final stages of installation, and even the power supply from which to run the fountain has been checked and found to function  properly.

The feline four-footeds decided to try out the 'jigsaw' for size...

But rapidly got bored, and concluded instead that it made a surprisingly comfortable place for a snooze. 

Soon, the calming sound of plashing should populate that part of the garden. And, come the autumn, the path will be planted densely on both sides with a collection of lacecap hydrangeas ( a hybrid of macrophylla and serrate, to take the relative shade beneath the citrus trees).

Tonight's Dinner:

Ham & Melon (at this time of year, incomparably good!)

Pork Boulangère

Tarte Bourdaloue (we're in Pear season - four tress currently fruiting heavily in the North Garden)

Saturday 24 March 2018


Do people ever make kedgeree, any more? I suspect, only very rarely. And I can't remember the last time I had it served to me by somebody else.
A memory from childhood, when I suppose we were occasionally (very occasionally) given it as a breakfast treat, it remains one of those dishes that comes as close to perfection as I can think of: the flavour, the texture and the quintessential more-ish-ness of the thing. For years, I suppose I'd almost forgotten its existence, before re-discovering it not so long ago and firmly placing it back within my repertoire, generally to be served as a supper first course, and on high days and holidays as something to be served for breakfast. As the centre-piece for a Boxing Day brunch, IMHO, it cannot be bettered.
This version is a slight re-working of a recipe set down, several decades ago now,  by Frances Bissell.

Serves 6.

Ingredients: 1 tbs olive oil; 1 medium onion, diced; 6 cardamom pods, crushed; 3 cloves; 340g basmati rice; 850 ml fish stock ; 340g smoked haddock, skin-removed; 3 eggs, hard-boiled; 1 tsp curry powder; 1 tbs cream; seasoning.


1. Heat the oil in a large pan (one which has a lid) and cook the diced onion until it has properly softened - about five minutes.

2. Grind the cardamom and cloves together in a pestle-and-mortar, and add to the pan, along with the rice; stir to amalgamate everything thoroughly. Add the fish stock, bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Covered, let the rice cook for about twenty minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

3. Flake the fish and mix it, along with the curry powder and the chopped-up eggs,, into the rice; with the lid on the pan, let it heat through for a further four or five minutes. Add seasoning, to taste. Stir in the cream, to give a firm but unctuous texture.


Some finely chopped parsley as a garnish doesn't hurt, if you have any to hand.

Let's hope this dreary winter is over...!

Two weeks ago...

And, three days ago:

Tonight's Dinner:


Steak frites (which is possible, since we're in dreary dismal London for the weekend, whilst the aged parent - who can't deal with steak any longer - is sitting back in balmy Italy...we can wallow self-indulgently in food-with-no-threat-to-false-teeth!)

Chocolate Mousse, with fresh raspberries

Monday 5 March 2018

Catching up...

Ten days ago, Spring was significantly advanced...

And we were confident that we were free of the danger of any further cold weather.

And, then, of course, three days ago...

foolish complacency was swept aside...

Along with the first flurries of snow!

And the Beast from the East wrought havoc with crinums and acanthus and any other soft-leafed plants which had naively assumed that only balmy warmth was now to be expected, and had let their guard down, accordingly.

Oh, well. In fact, the snow was all gone by lunchtime, and with any luck that will be the last we'll see of it for another few years. All very decorative, but there isn't much more to be said for it than that.

Tonight's Dinner:

Baked endives, wrapped in ham, and coated with a cheese sauce.

Fegato alla Veneziana.

Spanish Apple Puddings, with Creme Anglaise.

Thursday 4 January 2018

And so, that was Christmas....

The tree. It was the right height, as measured in the nursery, but turned out, once it had been delivered and unwrapped to have grown up rather than out, and had a rather punk-straggly look, that we did our best to cover with the many, many (many) baubles and beads that have accumulated over decades of Christmases.

In the end, though, it came down early. Of its own volition, as an unexpected gust of wind toppled it, late in the evening on New Year's Day.  We'd thought it would be stable enough, jammed as it  was against the ceiling of the barn...but, unprecedently, the wind came from the east (from which direction it had seemed well protected) and actually blew the thing further into the barn, and so free of its attachment to the roof beams. For next year (note): attach it with a nail, and not merely with informed optimism. Not too much damage, as I think only half a dozen or so of the glass balls were smashed - although, I suspect we might find when it comes to doing it next year that a few of the loops and hooks will need to be repaired or replaced before those particular ornaments can be used again.

Christmas calm continues, though, as the town is still on holiday until Ebufana, on the 6th, and we still have parcels to dish out every morning which come (although only putatively now) from under the tree. We do one a day for each and every one of the Twelve Days. For me: Books (Portuguese recipes, and a collection by Anne Willan of recipes from Taillevant to Escoffier; two maverick volumes, one published last week about urban poverty,  and the other published in 1893 about the state of things in Central Southern Africa, and strangely, both were by chippy Scots with little good to say about anyone or anything, and a firm self-opiniated belief in their own world view which in fact was entirely anecdotal in basis; and finally, after those,  a rather charming modern take on Madame Bovary); a variety of obscure kitchen implements, of varying degrees of practical use; and splendid shoes, and shirts ....and still there are two more days to go, with promise  of further treasures still to come!

 New Year's Eve was the usual bean-feast, although this year somehow more complicated than it had been previously: an array of canapés, and then smoked salmon timbales in Gazpacho, followed by crisply fried breaded ris de veau with tartare sauce, and then a borscht sorbet, which was followed by the central dish, of Boeuf en croute, along with Oxtail served in mushroom caps, and slices of spit-roast Beef-cheek, as well as pommes soufflés, and salsify in cream; and then a wonderfully mature Vacherin, served with Walnut bread...

and a break for fireworks at Midnight, before coming in again for an Omelette Norvegienne (flambéed, for good theatre at table) which was layers of lemon and hazelnut and pistachio ice-cream, separated by crisp layers of bitter chocolate, all kept in place  between further layers of Pan di Spagna, and covered with italian meringue. And for those who  were still standing, we thereafter served coffee along with chocolate-dipped crystallized ginger and poached baby figs.  The wines were splendid: Viskovska, with the salmon, and a South African Sequillo with Ris de Veau and sorbet; a glorious Barolo 2007 with the Beef, and one of the last bottles of my father's 1970  Port with the Vacherin. I think nobody realised that it wasn't champagne being served with canapés, but in fact a surprisingly good equivalent from the Jura - which was actually rather better than the over-hyped 'branded' champagne that was drunk at Midnight (and cost only around an eighth of the price, too!)


Leftovers have kept us going for several days...but the fridges are now looking agreeably organised, once more, and so cooking for 2018 can now start in earnest!

Tonight's Dinner:

Tomato & Pepper Tarts

Celestine de Boeuf, with a mirepoix of aromatic vegetables

Passion Fruit Soufflés