Skip to content

TV Review: Jamie Cooks Italy

fullsizeoutput_1ae9

After making the Carrot Caponata a couple of nights ago from the book accompanying Jamie Oliver’s new TV series, Jamie Cooks Italy, it was fairly inevitable that I would be sitting in front of my TV at 8.30pm last night, tuned into Channel 4, ready to watch the first episode. I was very enthusiastic about the book; would I be as enthusiastic about the actual TV series?

Well, yes, I enjoyed it but it’s a pretty lightweight affair compared to the book, which is full of wonderful recipes with gorgeous photos and a cheerful text. I watch a lot of food programmes on TV – unsurprisingly! – and I felt a bit short changed. This is the problem with commercial TV – the ads! The running time is only 23 mins 46 secs (I checked on catch-up) from a half-hour programme. Take into account that the end of the first half spends time previewing what’s coming in the second, and then the second half begins with a review of the first … well, frankly, that doesn’t leave much time for the actual programme: 20 minutes at most? This may seem an odd way to begin the review, but I think that sense of rushing and lack of time played out in the actual watching. This is Jamie Oliver you’ve got, Channel 4, and moreover Jamie in Italy. To do this justice, the programme – taking into account all those minutes lost to ads – should be an hour-long.

The programme was as much about travel as cooking and as we watched Jamie and his mate Gennaro Contaldo speed round one of the Aeolian Islands, which lie north of Sicily, on their Vespa, I thought what a great place it would be to visit. One of the ‘themes’ of this series – apart from being set in Italy – is Jamie’s interaction with local nonnas as he travels round the country – nonna being the Italian word for grandmother. And of course we all know that nonnas know best in the kitchen! Last night Jamie watched as a Sicilian nonna in her nineties made a glorious stuffed squid dish with local capers; she told him off for wanting to hold the squid together with a cocktail stick – it needed to be sewn to stop the filling falling out. Later Jamie made a simpler squid dish for us back at home to try.

It was good to see Jamie leaving behind a lot of his Naked Chef pukka enthusiasm and calming down now he’s in his 40s, which for me made it easier to watch him. And he’s ever loyal to his former mentor Gennaro but this isn’t a duo act – it’s definitely Jamie’s show.

It was a fun programme – but not great. It was more of a taster than a serious look at Sicilian cooking; it was just all too rushed – a little bit of cooking, a quick chat with a nonna, the odd joke with Gennaro; a quick look at the island as the camera panned across the landscape while the men raced along on their scooter. Rick Stein offers us one hell of a lot more in his half-hour travel-cookery programmes, like Venice to Istanbul and Long Weekends. But then a BBC half-hour is a lot longer than a Channel 4 half-hour.

Carrot Caponata

63B280EC-71D4-443F-92E3-BBF5738C9D88

Here I am still in Italian mode. If it’s been a theme of the past week, it’s certainly a theme in my life – learning Italian, Italian friends, cooking Italian food more than any other, travelling to Italy at least once or twice a year … and being called Nonna (Italian for grandmother) by my little grandsons. Thus I’m getting a little bit excited about Jamie Oliver’s new TV series beginning on Channel 4 tomorrow (12 Aug) – Jamie Cooks Italy. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Jamie. I don’t much like his (now failing) Italian restaurants, I didn’t like his cookery schools Recipease (now closed), and while I admire his political action to bring good food to our kids, he is getting just a little bit too serious and earnest; I want to tell him to lighten up. You can do good and have fun too. But then there are the good points: the way he’s made cooking OK for men – well, not just OK, but, Go into the kitchen and get cooking, mate! I like his brilliant and usually authentic recipes. And, of course, he loves Italy too … ‘I absolutely love Italy, I just can’t get enough of it’, his new books opens. Jamie ‘does Italy’ better than most other TV chefs I can think of (although, we mustn’t forget the fabulous Giorgio Locatelli).

The book to accompany the new series was selling at half price in shops this week. I knew I’d want to buy it sometime so I bought it while the going was good price wise. And it’s full of wonderful recipes – I seriously think I want to cook every single one.

I began however with a vegetable dish. This was serendipitous. I wandered down to the local Twickenham Farmers’ Market yesterday morning. It’s a brilliant market but I don’t go often, merely because living alone I don’t stock up on lots of food; I do a lot of day-by-day shopping according to my plans and fancy. But yesterday I did go to the market and when I spied bunches of different coloured heritage carrots, I instantly remembered the recipe for Carrot Caponata I’d seen in Jamie’s new book. (I bought green beans and radishes too!)

Sicilian caponata is one of my very favourite dishes so this take on carrots particularly appealed. And I love carrots. I always buy organic and preferably still bunched as they always taste so much better. Non-organic and washed are invariably tasteless. My bunch weighed 500g so I had to halve Jamie’s recipe.

 

Carrot Caponata – Serves 4

  • 500g mixed heritage carrots
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • olive oil
  • 25g raisins
  • 25g pine nuts
  • sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey
  • 2 tablespoon red wine or cider vinegar

Scrub the carrots clean and trim ends. Jamie uses ‘baby heritage carrots’ but my bunch was a mix of large to tiny. Thus when it came to cooking them, I held the small ones back and added them later on.

Slice the onion and garlic. Trim the top from the red chilli, remove the seeds and cut lengthwise into quarters.

   

Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion, garlic and chilli and cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly. After a couple of minutes add the prepared carrots (if like me you have a mix of sizes, hold the small ones back for a few minutes and add once the others are starting to soften – test with a small sharp knife). Also add the raisins and pine nuts and a good pinch of sea salt.

   

Now … Jamie says cooking time is about an hour … and it did take almost that long. Stir fairly regularly and add a little water from time to time to stop the mix sticking to the bottom of the pan. Don’t use a lid. Once the carrots are al dente cooked – i.e. still have a little bite to them – and are beginning to caramelise, add the runny honey mixed with the vinegar. Give it all a good stir and cook for about another 5 minutes. This will give them a nice, slightly sticky glaze. You can serve immediately or cold as an antipasto dish.

   

I had son Jonathan round for supper and cooked the beans from the market in a fresh tomato and shallots sauce; I roasted thick slices of new potatoes in olive oil with fresh rosemary; and griddled two chicken breasts, which I’d briefly marinated in a simple olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning mix.

    

It was a colourful and very delicious supper!

We enjoyed the carrots with their sweet-sour effect and they were a great accompaniment to the chicken. This kind of dish, with the pine nuts and raisins, is typical of Sicily where the cooking has been greatly influenced by nearby North Africa, Spain and other countries due to their long history of being invaded. You could use just ‘ordinary’ orange carrots but it was nice to sample the slightly different flavours of the different colours.

I’d make the recipe again but I have to say it was a bit of a mission. It wasn’t a recipe you could just get going and then leave to gently simmer for an hour; it needed careful watching at all times for an hour! I thought maybe another time I could parboil the carrots but you would lose some of the flavour that way. So I guess it’s a dish for when you’re planning to be doing other things in the kitchen – and if you are, and you can get hold of a bunch of lovely heritage carrots, then do try this!

Italian Deli: Prezzemolo & Vitale

C8417DFF-17B5-484D-87E9-8C98626744DF

Wednesday was my Italian day. Fabio came for my fortnightly Italian lesson and I told him about meeting Lucia that evening at La Mia Mamma. That led to him telling me about Prezzemolo & Vitale, an Italian delicatessen, also in King’s Road, Chelsea. Fabio was enthusiastic about how good it was and as Prezzemolo & Vitale comes from Palermo in Sicily – where Fabio also comes from – I decided it must be worth taking a look before meeting my friends at the restaurant. The King’s Road is a long road but fortunately the two were quite close together – just a 5-minute walk apart.

Prezzemolo & Vitale began over 30 years ago in Palermo, a partnership between Giuseppe Prezzemolo whose family ran an artisanal grocery store, and Giusi Vitale whose family owned a small supermarket. They now have 6 shops in Palermo and one in London, with another due to open here soon. Meanwhile, if you can’t get to Chelsea, you can order online (click here).

The ‘marriage’ of artisan food and supermarket is evident as soon as you walk into Prezzemolo & Vitale. It is a bit like a small supermarket but everywhere you look you see wonderful Italian food of the highest quality.

I looked at the ready-made meal section first. This was full of gorgeous looking food: Aubergine Parmigiana, Sicilian Caponata, lasagna, seafood and chicken dishes. I hadn’t intended to buy anything. I only had time for a quick look and was then heading to the restaurant, but when my eyes settled on a dish of Pesto Genovese that looked as good as the kind I’d enjoyed in Genoa in May, I couldn’t resist buying some. While the woman behind the counter weighed some out for me, we chatted, then someone else came to talk. Everyone was so friendly!

I walked further round the counter and saw fabulous salads.

Then nuts, oils and jams. Fabio had told me their own make – Giù Giù – mandarin jam was wonderful. In my hurry I bought some jam but the wrong make, but I’m sure it will be good too.

I continued slowly walking round the shop. There was a wonderful display of cheeses, cold meats …

   

… fresh pasta and cakes.

   

In the fridge there were packs of cold meats and fresh cheeses like mozzarella and burrata. A lovely display of vegetables and fruit held some tempting huge, round aubergines. Aubergines are such a big part of Sicilian food – dishes like Pasta alla Norma and Caponata.

   

At the back there is a wine section. This included some bottles of top quality sparkling wine from Italy. We tend to think of Italian sparkling wine as prosecco, but there are some which are good enough – though more expensive – to seriously challenge champagne, including Ferrari and Franciacorta. The shop prides itself on stocking not only Italian classic wines but rarities of small winemakers.

   

At the counter where I paid for my two items, there were more lovely cakes, fabulous looking focaccia, and there was a coffee machine if you wanted to buy a coffee to take away. This is definitely somewhere to suit all food needs: a quick coffee and cake, takeaway lunch, takeaway evening meal, fabulous cheeses and meats, and great wine.

I plan to go back soon with my car and a large shopping bag! Meanwhile, I enjoyed the pesto I bought as a simple supper the next evening, stirred into some trofie pasta, a favourite in Genoa and perfect for pesto.

   

The pesto I had in Genoa was extraordinarily good – well, it does originate from there – and quite different from the kind we find in supermarkets here. The Pesto Genovese I bought in Prezzemolo & Vitale was so good that it instantly took me back to Genoa and what I’d eaten there. What a great find and a fantastic place for those who love Italian food. It really is like being in Italy!

Restaurant/Pub Review: The Anchor, Wisley

E1359CDA-CA70-4017-AEB8-9D95BECEB56D

I find that much of life is ruled by diaries and plans and thus a note of spontaneity is always a joy. So when my daughter, Nicola, rang me at around 10am to ask if I was free for a late lunch, I was pleased to be able to say that, yes, I was indeed free! Nicola and Rachael live in Worcestershire but were spending the week in a cottage in Sussex for a short holiday and she’d managed to get an appointment with our dentist, Marc, at Mortiboys Dental Spa in Effingham around lunchtime as they were reasonably close by. They had their Labrador, Willow, with them, so they’d googled to find a dog-friendly place to eat. And so we ended up at The Anchor at Pyrford Lock, Wisley – very close to RHS Wisley Gardens, and very close to Mortiboys. We agreed to meet there at 2pm.

It was my third time to Wisley in 5 days … my car needed no instructions … a visit to Wisley Gardens on Saturday with my son, my own visit to Marc on Tuesday, and then today for lunch with my daughter and daughter-in-law. It’s a familiar area and whenever I’m there I love to go into Wisley Gardens. But no dogs allowed, so not today. Looking on a Google map on my computer this morning, I could see it was an easy route to The Anchor, past the entrance to the Gardens, through Wisley village and staying on the same road – Wisley Lane – to the pub. I imagined a small quaint old pub by the river. For this Londoner it looked on the map – at the end of the Lane – to be in the ‘middle of nowhere’. I was therefore surprised to turn up and find a very large pub with a large – and almost full – car park.

Inside it was full too. We were told we’d have to wait 10 minutes for a table and sat in some nice comfy armchairs while we waited (clearly booking is a good idea if you’re not being spontaneous). It really was a short wait and the friendly waiter took us to our table and asked if we wanted him to bring drinks.

They have an extensive menu offering a full Starters/Main Course/Desserts lunch, Salads, Burgers, and a sandwich menu too. The ‘girls’ went with burgers. Nicola had a Chicken Caesar Burger with ‘smoked streaky bacon, melted Monterey Jack cheese and Caesar Mayo’ (£12.50). It looked good and apparently tasted very good! (You can also spy a wistful Willow in the photo below – ‘And what have you ordered for me?’)

Rachael, a vegetarian, went for the Falafel Burger with ‘double stacked falafel patties seasoned with Mediterranean herbs & spices topped with vegan burger sauce’ (£12.50). She also opted to pay extra for ‘Triple Cooked Chips & Malt Vinegar Mayo’ (£4). She said it was good and the falafels were great; often they can be dry but these weren’t – just really good.

I took a much healthier route. Not for any supposed virtuous reason but simply because I don’t like heavy meals at lunchtime. And the Vitality Salad did sound good: ‘tender stem broccoli, wilted rainbow chard, carrot, roasted beetroot, pomegranate seeds, rocket, spring onion, cherry tomatoes & toasted pine nuts’ (£10.50). What’s not to like! I also chose to add some Feta cheese for an extra £1.50.

It was really, really good. And a good size portion too. Everything was so fresh and tasty and I enjoyed it a lot.

So … having been ‘healthy’ for my main, I decided to throw ‘being good’ to the wind and have a dessert. Well, Rachael was having one too. Nicola – at 8-months pregnant – wasn’t sure she had room but maybe she could share mine? So an extra spoon was asked for.

I chose the Apple & Sultana Crumble (£6.25) which came with a choice of custard or ice cream. It was nice and I liked the topping with some added oats, but I found it a little too sweet – so Nicola got more than she might otherwise have done!

Rachael had St Clements Sponge – orange-flavoured sponge with custard, which she enjoyed.

Rachael and I had coffee to finish. It had been a very good lunch – what a find! And they were indeed very dog-friendly and so Willow was happy too. A perfect place to make a trip to for a lunch out on a nice day. A little sadly it was pouring with rain … the heatwave had turned to a cool day and downpour. However, by the time we’d finished our meal, the rain had stopped so after paying the bill, we went out the back way on to their terrace. This sits by the banks of the river Wey. A large raft of ducks were gently paddling along; a couple of narrow boats were moored nearby. It was such a lovely setting.

We took a slightly circuitous route back to the car park via the towpath, towards the lock. I went on to it to take a photo looking back.

The Anchor is open all day every day for breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, Sunday lunch and dinner. They also have a kids’ menu. The pub had been an unexpectedly great find at the end of a narrow Surrey lane … definitely somewhere to head to again.

The Anchor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: La Mia Mamma

C7723970-F9D7-434D-9FC6-35FB0D6814B6

When my friend Lucia invited me to join her and husband David for a meal at La Mia Mamma – a restaurant with real Italian mammas in the kitchen – it was an offer impossible to resist. Well, I did actually want to see my friends most of all! But the chance to enjoy an authentic Italian meal in the centre of London – King’s Road, Chelsea – cooked by a mamma, was an exciting prospect too.

The restaurant opened only recently and their concept is that every three months they celebrate a different region of Italy and ‘import’ a real Italian mamma from that region to oversee the kitchen, where her recipes will be cooked. Their first region is Sicily and that’s the food we enjoyed last night.

The resident mamma will be found in the window making pasta, or last night Sicilian arancini. She’d fried some freshly for Lucia and David as they walked in and so when I arrived, pretty much on time, they were already tucking in to some food. A real ‘mamma’ welcome! The arancini were delicious. These breadcrumb-coated rice balls filled with things like mozzarella and maybe some peas and meat, can sometimes be a huge disappointment – too dry, too heavy. But La Mia Mamma’s were excellent.

There are actually professional chefs in the kitchen too and you can choose to eat either the ‘Mamma’s Menu’ (a minimum of 2 people) with food from the current region, or A la Carte with dishes from all over Italy. Of course there was no question that we’d go for the Mamma’s Menu. This is priced at Antipasti + Pasta (£28), Antipasti + Main (£33) or Antipasti + Pasta + Main (£38). The antipasti is to share and the price also includes an Aperol spritz, dessert and coffee.

The interior is attractive in an informal, Italian trattoria way. We arrived quite early – 6.45pm – but it filled up and people who hadn’t reserved a table were being turned away.

Food came quite quickly. There were lots of antipasti dishes – some cold and a plate of hot. The Aperol spritz hadn’t yet come and so I asked about it; it was on its way. I’d imagined it was an aperitivo to have before the meal. I rarely drink anything stronger than wine but had thought it would be fun to begin. However, I wasn’t keen on drinking Aperol spritz actually with my meal so said I’d prefer wine and was told I had to pay extra for that.

All the dishes were explained to us by a friendly waitress. Ricotta with caponata, roasted peppers and courgettes …

   

… mozzarella with pistachio and balsamic reduction; a kind of baba ganoush, though not smoky, but delicious.

   

The plate of hot (well nicely warm) food included frittata, arancini, and a delicious fluffy potato ‘pie’.

It was all very good, clearly freshly prepared and cooked, but a lot of food. We were glad we’d gone for the first option of ‘antipasti + pasta’.

Lucia chose Pesto di pistacchi e ricotta – home-made pistachio pesto and ricotta with pasta. It was excellent – and luckily for me Lucia gave me a taste. The pistachio flavour stood out but didn’t overwhelm. It was a great dish.

David chose Cavatelli con pomodorini e pancetta di maialino dei Nebrodi – Pasta shells served with Sicilian cherry tomatoes & Italian bacon made from a breed of pig near Messina. He said it was very good but I didn’t take a photo – I’d thought he’d ordered the same as me and by the time I realised he hadn’t, it was too late for a photo!

I had Gamberoni e zucchine – pasta with king prawns and courgettes.

It was an excellent dish and I was particularly impressed by the prawns, which were so sweet and delicious and perfectly cooked so very tender.

For dessert, David had Mousse di coco e Nutella – coconut mousse with Nutella, which he said was very good, and Lucia and I had Ricotta e aranci – ricotta and oranges. This was a kind of cheesecake with the ricotta on some sponge. There was a nice orange flavour to it and I liked it a lot.

   

I finished with an espresso; my friends macchiatos.

It was a good meal and lovely to spend the evening with my friends. The food was excellent but the antipasti dishes were all heavy and rich; it was as if they were trying a little too hard to show off their skills. I would have been happier with less and certainly some lighter, fresher dishes included too. And I was a little peeved that I had to pay extra for a glass of wine, which took my bill to about £40 rather than £30, once service was included. If they’re going to include a drink in the price, to only offer Aperol spritz isn’t reasonable. Not everyone likes it and not everyone – like me – wants to drink it with a meal. But overall, La Mamma Mia is a great experience; a fun idea that works well and you can be guaranteed some authentic Italian food in a friendly and lively atmosphere.

La Mia Mamma Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Single Person’s Guide to Entertaining

After my ‘quick fixes’ yesterday, I thought it worth reblogging my guide to easy entertaining from 3 years ago. More time spent in the kitchen doesn’t necessarily translate to better food … and remember you’re supposed to have fun too!

Travel Gourmet

IMG_1464

I’ve been single for over 11 years now. It’s taught me a lot about life, love, friendship, running a home on my own, having to remove the cat’s offerings of dead mice and birds on the kitchen floor myself … and travelling, dining out and entertaining on my own. Life isn’t always what we think we would ideally choose, in fact it rarely is; life is what we make of it. Eleven years on, I’ve made mine into something I’m so much happier with. And the blog has been part of that. Of course, the change is part of getting older too. Things do look different from a higher rung of life’s ladder.

I bought Janet Street-Porter’s book, Life’s Too F***ing Short, a couple of years ago. It summed up how I feel about life now. I’m not always in tune with Ms Street-Porter but she does often talk much sense –…

View original post 1,617 more words

Travel Gourmet’s 5 Quick Fixes in the Kitchen

IMG_2289

My attitude to preparing meals is very ‘pure’ in the sense that I never buy ready-made meals, I buy good quality – mostly organic – ingredients and keep things simple; an emphasis on cooking Italian style with just a very few ingredients. When I was a young thing with a young family, I used to spend literally days in the kitchen preparing fancy meals from scratch to entertain friends – never now! Well, I don’t entertain much these days but when I do I keep it simple. As a single person, I also like to take into account that I don’t want to be an exhausted wreck by the time guests arrive, and I want to spend time talking to them, not slaving in the kitchen. See my guide to entertaining on your own: click here.

My kids were served fish fingers when they were little and copious amounts of baked beans were ladled on to plates; I haven’t always been totally ‘pure’ in the kitchen. I remember buying M&S’s coronation chicken regularly to serve with salad and new potatoes as a meal in the summer. I kept the odd ready-meal in the freezer. There were always plenty of packs of filled pasta – ravioli, tortellini, etc. – in my freezer.

I work freelance and a few years ago, for a year or more, I was regularly employed to spend a day a week in a London publisher’s offices in Euston. I left the house at about 7am and returned at about 7pm. The minimum journey each way was 1hr 15mins. I took to putting a ready-made meal in the oven when I got in. It wasn’t great, but it was easy; I do know what it’s like to arrive home hungry and tired. I don’t own (nor do I wish to own) a microwave so the cooking took on average 40-50mins. Hell, I wanted to eat now!! I’ve since learnt that I can easily put together a basic pasta with vegetable dish – which is much more delicious and nutritious – in about 15-20 minutes!

I don’t mean to show off here; I’m not meaning to be a food snob but the change in my food habits has been organic from an early love of food and cooking, to cooking quick meals after work when first married, simple meals to feed a growing family in my 30s, to fancy meals for friends at a time in my life when that was the thing to do, and now cooking for just myself or family and wanting to eat well – but not spend hours in the kitchen!

My ‘quick fixes’ in the kitchen tend to be a bit luxurious or are simply things where I think it’s OTT to make myself – like puff pastry or filo pastry. I do make my own stock regularly and invariably have homemade stock cubes in the freezer; otherwise I use water or liquid from soaked dried mushrooms if appropriate – e.g. for a mushroom risotto. I like making my own ice cream but having recently discovered Grom in Waitrose, I can see I might not make my own as much as I’ve done in recent years.

So, let’s look at my most common ‘quick fixes’:

1. Grom Gelato

I recently wrote about Grom’s first gelateria in London and since then have discovered Waitrose (no other supermarket; or not yet) sell it. It’s just too tempting! It’s great gelato and how could any gelato-lover resist keeping some in their freezer – especially during this long summer heatwave. I currently have Pistachio (which is amazing and my favourite!), as well as chocolate and strawberry. Yes, it’s more expensive than most (£6.50 a pot) but it’s the best, and I don’t want to eat a half tub, I want just a scoop or two. And really, it’s so special, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve to family and friends.

 

2. Paul Patisserie

The French are confident enough of their cooking to not be embarrassed to buy a dessert from the local patisserie and it’s quite common for them to bring some gorgeous cake or tart with them as a gift. Thus I don’t feel the least embarrassed to buy dessert in my local Paul Bakery in Richmond. Patisserie making is an art and pastry chefs spend years perfecting the art. I can make a pretty good fruit tart, wonderful (if it is immodest to say it) dessert cakes like Torta Caprese and Rhubarb & Almond Cake, but sometimes I’m just happy to concentrate on preparing a nice main course and take the easy route and go to the experts for dessert. Thank goodness for Paul Bakery close by! I have a particular addiction to their macarons too and will find any excuse to buy a box to accompany a dessert – maybe with some homemade ice cream.

 

3. Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils

Puy Lentils aren’t really that hard to cook. Unlike some lentils which require long soaking, Puy Lentils can be cooked straight away and don’t take long. However, when I discovered Merchant Gourmet’s vacuum packs of them ready to use, I couldn’t resist trying, and they’re a great standby in the kitchen cupboard. My Puy Lentils with Tomatoes, Red Onion, Herbs & Balsamic recipe from January 2012 is the 3rd most popular post of all time, with to date 9,261 views. You can roast all kinds of vegetables – aubergines, courgettes, carrots, peppers – anything you have in your fridge, and near the end of roasting tip in these lentils for a great tasty and nutritious supper.

 

4. Antipasti or Meze

I should confess that the photo above is of antipasti at Corto Italian Deli in Twickenham. But that’s where I go to buy cold meats for antipasti, which are sliced to order and are as fresh as fresh can be, and the best I can buy anywhere. I once tried to buy some the day before I needed the antipasti and they wouldn’t let me! ‘Come back tomorrow!’

I almost never make ‘starters’ now. I put starters together. They usually have an Italian antipasti theme or are a Middle Eastern meze selection. Though for a French meal I’ll buy saucisson and cornichons. I buy appropriate bread from one of the local artisan bakeries; a favourite is Paul Bakery’s olive fougasse. I buy cold meats. Depending on how ‘spontaneous’ the meal is I might buy ready-made hummus or similar ‘dips’ but often I’ll make those because a basic hummus or bean dip really doesn’t take long at all. And I like to sometimes make labneh the day before. Try mashing a ripe avocado with a fork, season and add a dash of Tabasco and lemon/lime juice for a quick ‘guacamole’. I always buy olives and would usually have some kind of vegetable, like a small bowl of cherry tomatoes or carrot or cucumber sticks. The quick fix is to have just 3 or 4 good quality things – which you can buy – and serve them nicely on attractive plates with some fantastic artisan bread.

 

5. Quick Pasta & Vegetables

I said above about how I finally realised I could put together a quick and delicious pasta dish from scratch in less than half the time a ready meal would cook in an oven. And because I love cooking, it’s also a great way for me to wind down and relax if it’s been a busy day. The recipe above – Orecchiette. Broccoli & Tomato – is typical of what I cook at least one night a week. Usually it’s even more simple than this recipe! Most of the pasta I buy takes about 13 minutes to cook. While the water is heating and I measure the pasta ready to go into the pan with some salt, I’ll start gently frying a sliced shallot in a pan. Then I’ll add some chopped tomato and let that cook down a little. To that I often add a few pine nuts – let them brown a little at the edge before mixing in – and depending on what ‘greenery’ I have, some spinach or tenderstem broccoli, but maybe just some frozen peas (another quick fix!). If there’s wine open, I’ll add a dash. I’ll add a little of the pasta water to swirl the sauce round. By the time it’s cooked and the vegetables are al dente tender, a small pool of gorgeous juices collecting at the bottom of the pan, the pasta will be ready. I’ll drain and mix all together well, transfer to a serving dish and grate over some Parmesan. Easy and incredibly quick – a great quick fix for a simple supper.

What are your favourite ‘quick fixes’ in the kitchen?

Aubergine Salad with Chilli, Capers, Mint & Parsley

B62785D4-CD6D-433B-B76F-2C5348248627

I bought Gino D’Acampo’s Hidden Italy on the spur of the moment; it was on offer in WH Smith for a bargain £7. I’ve got a few of Gino’s books now. Like a true and good Italian, he keeps things simple, reasonably authentic – and his recipes work! Which isn’t something that can be said of all TV-famous chefs!

The Insalata di Melanzane con Peperonicini Grigliati was one of the recipes that took my fancy when I first looked through – one of the contributing factors for actually buying the book! It’s taken me a few weeks to get round to trying it out.

I love aubergines. It seems slightly strange to say they are one of my favourite vegetables when they look so un-vegetable like with their dark purple skins and creamy-brown interiors. I was brought up to think good vegetables are green. So ingrained is my mother’s teaching that we all need to eat meat and two veg (one potato; the other green) a day that it’s taken me years to escape this moulding of my early culinary life. I certainly no longer each meat every day. There’s so much press for the wonderful nutritional value of those brightly coloured vegetables like carrots and broccoli that we can fail to see the value of less beautiful veg like potatoes, for instance, and the glorious aubergine. Actually I think a shiny, dark purple aubergine is quite beautiful. It is also a good source of ‘phosphorus, potassium, folic acid and beta-carotene … cleans blood, prevents strokes and haemorrhages and protects arteries damaged by cholesterol’ (source: The Food Doctor: Healing foods for mind and body by Ian Marber). We should be eating them all the time!

Actually, I almost do. Not generally quite as simply as this evening but because they’re an essential ingredient in some of my favourite dishes, like Moussaka, Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Pasta alla Norma and Ratatouille; or griddled with feta or burrata. I’ve made a great curry with them and a fabulous tagine. They are endlessly versatile.

Gino’s recipe used 4 aubergines to serve 4 so I adjusted it to make half that quantity. It did make plenty for 2 as a side dish in the end so I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Aubergine Salad with Chilli, Capers, Mint & Parsley – Serves 2 as a side dish

  • 2 aubergines (about 250g each)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 fresh medium-hot red chilli
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tablespoon capers (drained)
  • good pinch sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped

   

Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise. Place on a lightly oiled baking tray, skin side down. Brush a little more extra virgin olive oil over the top of the aubergine. Place in a 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4 oven for about 40 minutes. When a knife goes in easily and they’re soft, remove from the oven.

   

With a spoon and fork (take care – the aubergine will be very hot), spoon the flesh of the aubergine into a strainer placed over a bowl. Scrape all the flesh off and throw away the skins. Leave the aubergine flesh to drain, retaining the juice for later.

   

While the aubergine is cooling, place the chilli on a hot griddle and cook until lightly charred.

   

Remove and either chop into pieces or slice (which I did). I also threw away most of the seeds as they’re very hot.

Measure 30ml of the aubergine juice into a bowl. Add the lemon juice, capers, salt and 30ml extra virgin olive oil. Whisk thoroughly until thickened.

   

Now lay the aubergine flesh on a serving plate and chop up a bit – a spoon will work. Pour over the dressing. Garnish with the chilli, mint and parsley. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

I served the aubergine with a griddled lamb steak and rocket & radicchio salad.

   

It really was a wonderful salad. The aubergine flesh was so soft and silky and the flavours of the dressing with the chilli warmth was fantastic.

I’m so pleased I finally got round to trying it! You could serve it with chicken too, I think, and Gino suggests it goes well with fish. Or perhaps make it as part of a mezze meal with a selection of little sharing dishes. Whatever way you eat it, I’m sure you will love it.

France 2018: Lunch in Vieux Lyon

It was only a short 3-night trip to Burgundy but my friends Di and Tam filled it with some wonderful outings, always with an eye to good food and wine, and so it felt like a really good break. My flight home from Lyon on Friday wasn’t until late afternoon and so the plan was to look round Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) in the morning, take a trip up the funicular for a view, have lunch, and then they’d drop me at the airport.

Well, as we know, ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ (Robert Burns, translated from Scottish). A bouchon – traffic jam – doubled our journey time into Lyon from their home further north, past Macon, and thus by the time we’d parked in Lyon, the funicular ride and various other plans had to be dropped. Instead we just took a short stroll round Vieux Lyon near the restaurant where a table had been booked for lunch. It was however a lovely little walk. This was a different part of Lyon to where they took me last year and I loved it. I even contemplated that another time I should spend a couple of days in Lyon and combine it with a visit to them.

   

   

Vieux Lyon is the largest Renaissance district of Lyon and one of the most extensive Renaissance districts in Europe. It was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. The 5th arrondissement – where we were – was created in 1852 as one of five inaugural districts of Lyon and today is the most iconic and a major tourist attraction. Situated on the west side of the city, the 5th arrondissement lies at the base of the Fourvière Hill.

Lyon was established as Lugdunum in 43BC, a Roman colony built as a strategic location at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and four major roads were built around 20BC leading out to important destinations, including the English Channel. Lugdunum became a prosperous economic centre of Gaul (later France) and the most inhabited area was around Fourvière Hill. Despite this important history, the area was almost demolished to make way for new roads and concrete buildings in the 1960s, partly due to its sad state following a partial collapse of the Fourvière Hill in 1930, which killed 40 people. However, local inhabitants fought the mayor’s plans and the 5th arrondissement was saved. Which today visitors to Lyon can also be grateful for, as it’s a beautiful area.

It is, of course, given the city’s and Burgundy’s rich history of food and wine, a great place for the gourmand. Lyon is sometimes called the food capital of the world. Its traditional food is quite heavy and rich and definitely for meat lovers: andouillette (a sausage made from coarsely cut tripe), lots of things made from parts of pig, including their intestines; tête de veau – braised calf’s head. It you want to go native Lyonnais, eat in a Bouchon – no, not a traffic jam! But an informal restaurant serving typical, simple Lyonnais food, traditionally cooked by ‘mothers’ – les Mères Lyonnaises.

To be honest, this kind of cooking is not really my thing – especially in the middle of a heatwave! Thus Di and Tam suggested we go to Les Adrets, which they’d discovered by chance one day and liked a lot. It offers traditional Lyonnais food but of a ‘milder’ kind.

Where would you find a more typical French restaurant-brasserie? Just one look and if you love French food then you have to go in. Of course, this area of Lyon is full of similar restaurants and no doubt some are wonderful and some very disappointing. How do you choose? I was glad I had experts as my guide!

There is just one menu at lunchtime – Menu du Jour – at a bargain €18.50 for 3 courses including wine (25cl) and coffee. When my friends first discovered it in winter months, there was no choice at all – you just ate what was put before you. But now there was a choice – though only 2 starters, 2 main courses and then fromage blanc, cheese (a soft cheese speciality of Lyon – Cervelle de Canut – fromage blanc flavoured with herbs, shallots, olive oil and vinegar) or dessert. Saying it was a limited choice isn’t a complaint! How can you argue with such a bargain and I was happy to eat any of the dishes.

   

We were given a table close to the open windows which was perfect in the warm weather. There was no air con but in the long old building with wide open doors and windows, it was cool enough to be comfortable. The local wine – no label – was put on the table and we were told the menu – no written one, though I had photographed the day’s menu outside.

77DFD8A9-B4C1-4DD8-B0F3-00CDB1C0DB04

While we waited for food we sought out the toilets. Not something I usually bother to mention but when you have to ascend a stone medieval spiral staircase to go to the loo, then it must be worth a photo!

   

I chose a Salade Lyonnaise for my starter – bitter leaves like frisée, lardons, croûtons, a poached egg and vinaigrette. This is my kind of Lyonnaise cooking and I really enjoyed it. Di and Tam meanwhile went for Tarte au Veau et aux Cèpes – a tart of veal and porcini mushrooms, which they also liked a lot.

   

My main was Dos de Cabillard, Sauce, Safran, Fragola de Blé – cod in a gorgeous saffron cream sauce with fragola – a kind of small cubed pasta. It was wonderful. I’d had fish for lunch (through choice) three days in a row and although all had been good, this was the best. Di and Tam meanwhile tucked into Filet Mignon de Cochon, Sauce Miel et Curry, Mousseline de Patates Douces – pork filet mignon with a honey and curry sauce served with puréed sweet potato. They said this was exceptionally good. It also prompted a conversation with an American couple at the next table who’d ordered the same and we had a good chat for a while.

   

There was a slight mix-up over dessert due to the waitress trying out her English which was mixed with our less than perfect French. But no matter. My ice cream was delicious and a nice way to end the meal. The coffee was very good too.

   

It was an excellent meal and just a perfect place to head to in Lyon for a traditional but not too rich Lyonnais meal. In the evening, they offer a couple more menus and more choice. Anytime I’m in Lyon again I’m definitely going back!

It was a great way to end the holiday. We made our way back to the car over the Saône.

Then it was time to get to the airport and my flight home – another kind of traffic jam bouchon due to the thunderstorms raging over London, which caused a 2-hour delay. But after such a nice break, I managed to remain calm and philosophical about it and was merely content to have spent three lovely days in beautiful Burgundy with nice friends.

 

France 2018: Into the Heart of Burgundy

6F798AC0-6548-4615-A2FB-9001C2D85A47

To stay in Burgundy is to stay in one of the best parts of France, rich in history and tradition but also home to some of the best food and wine you will find anywhere in the world. Here you will find famous wines like Chablis, Meursault, Macon, Beaujolais, Gevrey Chamertin, and many others. And you can’t go further into the heart of Burgundy than to visit Beaune, the principal city of the Côte d’Or, its major wine area.

It’s such a beautiful and elegant city; the architecture quintessentially French – you couldn’t be anywhere else. To simply walk round it is a delight. But for the foodie and wine lover it’s a paradise. You walk past wonderful food shops with incredible displays of charcuterie, patisserie and cheese. We went into the cheese shop. I wished I had my car and a few ice boxes to load up.

   

   

In the heat it was fairly quiet everywhere. Di and Tam said the Saturday market is wonderful but we were here on a Thursday. But there was still plenty to see.

One of Beaune’s main attractions is the 15th century Hotel-Dieu, a hospital founded in 1443. Famous vineyards donated plots of vines to the hospital and the wine was auctioned to provide money to run it.

It’s a really stunning building.

   

Inside there’s a museum and you can see all kinds of things from pharmacy jars to the box beds where patients slept and were cared for.

   

I really enjoyed the visit. When we came out, it was time to head to Corpeau, about half an hour’s drive away, where we’d booked to have lunch.

   

The Auberge du Vieux Vigneron was a typical and very nice restaurant. We asked for a table on the terrace but then decided it was far too hot (37 C) to sit outside. It was cooler inside but also attractive. There was a fixed menu du jour for just €15 but with no choice. We decided to go for the €27 menu.

Di said eggs poached in wine was a local specialty and we all ordered Oeufs poches au vin blanc creme et pleurotes – eggs poached with white wine, cream and oyster mushrooms.

It was spectacularly good; absolutely delicious. The eggs were poached to perfection – the white cooked but the yolk gorgeously runny.

Di and I had brill fish with a Noilly Prat cream sauce and shrimps with seasonal vegetables as our main. This was delicious too.

Tam meanwhile had an excellent chicken dish.

Our dessert was Coupe Vigneronne – blackcurrant sorbet with creme de cassis and Marc de Bourgogne. This too was excellent.

   

We drank a local wine with the meal; wine from the vineyards of the restaurant. It was a great place; friendly service and good food.

We drove out into the vineyards, acres and acres of vines rolling across fields and hills before us. Every so often we passed recognisable names like Chateau de Meursault. For this wine lover, it was quite exciting, like finding yourself in a really special place – which I had!!

We found somewhere for a quiet coffee and post-lunch rest before going in search of wine to taste and buy. Di and Tam wanted to go to a vineyard in Puligny-Montrachet but it turned out to be closed. However, just round the corner we spied an alternative – Domain Jomain – and this turned out to be an excellent chance discovery.

   

One of the owners, Philippe Jomain, soon appeared and we were led down to the cellar and offered a wine tasting.

   

   

It was wonderful wine and a lovely experience as we sat sampling and talking wine with Philippe. At the end we of course had to buy some! Not because Philippe made us feel we should – he didn’t – but because we couldn’t resist. And this is just the nicest way to buy wine. I’ll have to wait a bit for mine as I’m not going to try flying back to London with it; not when Di and Tam are happy to bring it back to UK in their car in a couple of months time for me. It will be a great treat to look forward to – and a great memory of a happy and wonderful day.