Sunday, October 25, 2009

pasta heaven

I've just made pasta for the first time and it was a huge success - a floury adventure with a happy-ever-after ending. I was nervous about making it, but Jamie Oliver whispered reassurances from the pages of his book, telling me he really wanted me to make this, that it was quick and simple and something I was going to be extremely proud of. And he was right.

The inspiration was a plate of spinach and ricotta-stuffed tortellini with chestnut sauce that I ate in Mamma Rosa, a tiny cramped pizzeria tucked away down a narrow cobbled street in Lisbon on my way back from the Azores. I watched a raisin-faced man pummelling the dough behind the counter before coaxing it into dainty tortellini shapes and as soon as it passed my lips I knew I had to recreate that pasta heaven.

I resisted the temptation to splash out immediately on a pasta machine, fearing that it would join that graveyard of 'things-I-have-bought-and-used-once' (windsurfer, roller blades, exercise bike to name but a few) and invested instead in a €4 rolling-pin - which only heightened my gratification at the end result.

I made the pasta in a food processor using Jamie's Everyday Quick Pasta Recipe and filled it with spinach, ricotta, sweet chestnuts and parmesan. Wicked (as Jamie would say).

Ravioli of spinach, ricotta and sweet chestnuts

Quick pasta
Serves 4
1 lb/500 g strong pasta flour
5 fresh eggs
semolina flour for dusting

9 oz/250 g ricotta
5 oz/150 g cooked spinach
2 oz/50 g cooked sweet chestnuts, smashed up
2 oz/50 g finely grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the flour and eggs in a food processor and switch on. Leave until it all comes together into a ball. Take it out (the bowl should be clean) and work by hand for 2 minutes or until smooth, silky and elastic. Wrap in clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.

2. Mix all the filling ingredients together. After an hour remove the dough from the fridge and divide into 2 balls. Re-cover one of the balls and with the base of your palm, flatten the other one slightly. Lightly flour a clean surface and roll out the dough until you have a very thin sheet of pasta about 1-2 mm thick.

3. Cut the pasta sheet into circles (about 10 cm/4 inches - or whatever size you want). Place a teaspoon of filling just off centre, brush the edges of the pasta with water and fold in half. Press down the edges with a fork.

4. To cook, place in a pan of boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes.

PS: That giant chestnut in the picture is from the same tree as the tennis ball-sized chestnut that looked like a medieval spiked battle flail.

Friday, October 23, 2009

honey revisited (because I like the pictures)

A dieting friend came for lunch today and it pains me to say this, but at her request and under duress we ate grilled chicken with steamed vegetables. The pleasure of food has as much to do with the preparation as the eating as far as I'm concerned, and tossing some veg in a steamer and a couple of chicken breasts under the grill doesn't quite cut the mustard. We may as well have feasted on roasted woodland troll with sautéed bladder wrack on a bed of straw for all the sensual enjoyment it gave me - but hey, there are people starving so I'll quit whingeing.

I could've joined BB in slow-cooked chevreuil (roe deer, shot last weekend by Roquin) with red wine, bacon and onions, the sticky tender meat falling off the bone like wet toast, but I didn't want my friend to feel left out. Instead I took vicarious pleasure in watching BB devour it, salivating like a dog waiting to be thrown a bone.

The garden produce that's been sitting in the kitchen for the last two weeks has been dispatched freezerwards in various incarnations and all that's left to do (for the moment anyway) is make green tomato chutney with the last of the tomatoes.

I leave you with a recipe for venison cooked in red wine à l' Elizabeth David - so simple, so slow and oh so delicious.

2 lb shoulder or flank of venison
4 tbsp port (or red wine)
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flour
1 large onion, sliced
6 rashers of bacon
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Tie the venison in a sausage shape and leave to marinate in a large bowl with the port (or red wine), vinegar and olive oil for 24 hours.

2. Take the meat out (reserving the marinade), roll in the flour and place in an ovenproof dish. Place a layer of onions on top and then cover with the bacon rashers. Pour over the marinade, season with salt and pepper, cover with greaseproof paper and the lid and cook in the oven at a low temperature ( 140°C/ 310°F) for 4 - 4½ hours.

3. Serve with a purée of celeriac and potatoes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


This gold medal-winning honey is made here in the village by the father (or rather the father's bees) of a friend of ours. It tastes like the distillation of toffee, Alpine meadows and mountain forests and looks like a liquid jewel. Perfect with fresh baguette and butter for breakfast. Lovely!

Monday, October 19, 2009

cider house rules

What do Hoary Morning, Slap-Ma-Girdle, Pig Snout and Hangy Down Cluster all have in common?

The answer is: they're all varieties of apple and I know this from googling "cider making" searching for technical terms to describe how we made ours yesterday.

A few people in the village still have traditional cider making equipment and an elderly couple (relatives of Mini-B) offered to let us use theirs. This is what it looks like:

To begin with, we crushed (or 'scratted', to use the technical term) the apples in a 'scrattter' - a wooden box with two rotating drums studded with nails in the bottom resembling a medieval torture device (photo 1). This one has been fitted with an electric motor to turn the drums instead of by hand using the wheel on the left. As the apples are thrown into the box they pass between the drums and emerge underneath as a rough pulp known as the 'pomace' (or pommage) which is placed in the press (photo 2). The pomace is then covered with a layer of straw and wooden blocks, cut to fit the barrel, are placed on top which squeeze out the juice by applying equal pressure when the screw at the top is turned (photo 3). The bottled juice will now be left to ferment for three weeks au naturel.

We made cider for the first time five years ago and some of the plastic bottles we'd brought into the house from the woodshed exploded because we hadn't left the tops unscrewed. We came back from the bar one night to find every surface - walls, ceiling, floor, furniture - shining with tiny points of bright light as if the glitter fairy had been in. That time we made 150 litres of the stuff and what we didn't drink (or the house didn't wear) we turned into Calvados the following autumn.

I made an apple cheesecake using some of the unfermented apple juice and some puréed apples which was yummy, although I have to admit it tasted more of lemon than apple.

2 oz/50 g butter
2 oz/50 g caster sugar
4 oz/100 g scratted digestive biscuits

8 oz/225 g full fat soft cheese
2 eggs, separated
4 oz/100 g caster sugar
grated rind and juice of ½ lemon
¼ pint/150 ml crème fraîche
½ pint/300 ml apple purée
1 x 11 g sachet powdered gelatine
8 tbsp apple juice

1. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan and stir in the biscuit crumbs. Press evenly over the bottom of a greased loose-bottomed 7-8 inch/18-20 cm round cake tin.

2. Soften the cheese in a large bowl. Beat in the egg yolks, 2 oz/50 g of the sugar, the lemon rind and juice, crème fraîche and apple purée. Put the gelatine and apple juice in a small heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water and stir until the gelatine has dissolved. Beat the gelatine into the cheese mixture and leave until on the point of setting.

3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and whisk in the remaining sugar. Fold lightly into the cheese mixture and spoon into the tin. Chill for 3-4 hours until set.

♫ Cook along to: Divine Comedy Something For The Weekend

Thursday, October 15, 2009

folders\dream house\dream on\round kitchen

We're on to fun things like kitchen design now and working out where services will go. For years I've been cutting pages out of interior design mags and adding them to my "dream house" folder and these have been passed to BB for approval.

My dream house has a round kitchen in it, as per the glossy magazine article on a round house in my folder, but BB said putting a round kitchen in a square room would be like putting a round peg in a square hole - i.e. it wouldn't work - so I've had to file that particular dream in a subfolder called "dream on". There's still much remaining in the parent folder however, swimming pool and wine cellar (amongst others) having been given top-level approval.

The kitchen table is groaning under the weight of apples and sweet chestnuts from our trees, the last of the red tomatoes and green peppers from the garden, caulis and turnips from Roquin and a large wild boar casserole I made with sanglier given to us by one of our hunter friends. So there's much to do in the kitchen at the weekend - and we may have a go at making cider.

Serves 4
2 lbs/900 g wild boar (or beef), cut into 2 inch/5 cm cubes
1 small onion, sliced
1 small carrot, cut into chunks
1 celery stick, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup/225 ml plus ½ cup/110 ml red wine
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup/225 ml veal stock
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
8 oz/225 g smoked bacon cut into cubes
4 oz/110 g button mushrooms fried in a tbsp butter
chopped flat leaf parsley to serve

1. Place the meat in a large bowl with the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cover with 1 cup/225 ml of red wine then cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate for 24 hours in the fridge.

2. Drain the liquid from the marinade and set aside to use later. Reserve the meat and vegetables separately. Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof dish and once hot, add the butter. Brown the meat in batches and set aside.

3. Add the reserved vegetables and brown over a medium heat until caramelized. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the the red wine vinegar and the remaining red wine and reduce by half, then add the veal stock, the reserved marinade, the herbs and the meat. Bring to the boil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 2 hours at 150°C/300°F.

4. Fry the bacon to colour slightly and set aside. Gently fry the mushrooms in the butter for 2-3 minutes. Add the bacon and mushrooms to the casserole and cook for a further hour. When ready to serve, garnish with the chopped parsley.

♫ Cook along to:
Aerosmith Dream On

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Autumn is here and it seems to have arrived with the suddenness of the guillotine. Maybe it's because I've just returned from the Azores where everything is cast in the spectrum of Dulux Paradise Green, but I'm sure there wasn't so much Ginger Glow, Flame Frenzy and Delhi Bazaar this time last year. There's frost on the car windscreen at 6 a.m. (this is hearsay obviously!) and the comforting fragrance of wood smoke with a base note of apples in the air.
We went to order the windows and doors today and it will work out cheaper to engage a professional to fit them than to do it ourselves: 5.5% TVA (VAT) as opposed to 19.6% to be exact because it's a renovation - and we can reclaim 25% on "green items" (e.g. high insulation windows - which all of ours are) against next year's tax bill. Bit of a no-brainer really.

It's not really the kind of weather for chilled puddings, but I recently acquired an ice-cream maker + a couple of kilos of figs = fig ice-cream, which was pretty amazing (I thought so anyway, for a first-time ice-cream-maker) but I used such an amalgam of recipes that I can't remember what I did - so you'll just have to make do with the picture I'm afraid.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Singaporean fish wraps

Help ma boab (quelle surprise)! The roof is finished. While I've been rainbathing in the Azores, BB has been toiling under the relentless Savoyard sun, et voilà - 4,000 slates, €15,000 and three months later ...

The window problem alluded to in his brief email was this: the glass had to be removed from the Velux windows before the brackets could be fixed, then reinserted. So he had to hold the glass with one hand (weighing 70 kg - or two sacks of cement) while trying to disengage two small pins in the hinges with his other three in order to slot the glass back in. All whilst balancing at a precarious angel on the roof!

He then realised that he'd put the copper flashing on incorrectly on the first two windows and had to take all the slates off above them (200) to correct the mistake and put them all back on again. This is his fourth - and last - roof and the relief is palpable. Not bad for someone who's petrified of heights. Windows and doors next.

I came across this recipe for Singaporean fish wraps in a Homes & Gardens magazine recently which uses banana leaves. But since banana trees are hard to come by in the French Alps (unless you grow them in your front garden like Poire) I substituted vine leaves which I picked when we helped Roquin with la vendange (grape harvest) just before I left for the Azores. The result is a kind of light fluffy fish mousse with all those amazing Asian flavours - although I should have blanched the leaves first to make them more pliable because it was a bit like wrestling with live bats, the leaves were so tricky to tie up.

Serves 4-6
25 g fresh ginger
750 g boneless, skinless white fish cut into chunks
2 tsp ground turmeric
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp chilli oil
2 tbsp fish sauce
150 ml coconut cream
fresh banana leaves (to be used as wrapping only)
peanut or corn oil
1 kaffir lime leaf, shredded

1. Peel and finely slice the ginger and put in a food processor with the fish, turmeric, garlic, sugar, chilli oil, fish sauce and coconut cream. Blitz for 30 seconds to form a paste.

2. Brush the banana leaves with oil on one side and cut into rectangles. Place a teaspoon of paste in the centre of each rectangle and top with shreds of kaffir lime leaf. Fold the parcels and secure with string. Cook under a very hot grill for 2 minutes each side.

♫ Cook along to: Meat Loaf Bat Out of Hell

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Azorean diary - a quick olá

Well, here I am with my chums At Flores in the Azores.

I'd like to be able to give you (and me!) an update, from afar, on the building work back home but when I emailed BB to ask how things were progressing (and to tell him that my lost luggage had turned up) I received the following chatty missive: "roof good. velux bad." Four words, leaving me to assume that there are problems putting the roof windows in. On vera.

My hosts are fellow foodies and it makes a nice change having someone else do all the (fabulous) cooking. Yesterday we gathered watercress from the riverbank and made Delia's watercress soup, which we all agreed was in our top 5 soup hits.

Serves 6-8
8 oz/225 g watercress, de-stalked (reserve a few leaves for garnishing)
4 oz/110 g butter
white parts of 5 leeks, chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 pints/1.75 litres stock made with vegetable bouillon powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a large pan and add the leeks, potato and watercress. Stir around to coat with the butter.

2. Add some salt, cover with a lid and leave the vegetables to sweat for about 20 minutes.

3. Add the stock, bring to simmering point and simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes. Leave to cool and liquidise.

4. To serve, reheat and garnish with some watercress leaves.