Since I last wrote about Jonathan cooking on his new Weber gas barbecue he’s been experimenting with rotisserie chicken. I say experimenting, but actually his first attempt was wonderful and he repeated it for us last night as we gathered as a family, with Nicola down from Birmingham, for Jonathan & Lyndsey’s last meal at my house before they move into their own today. It was an appropriate meal really, although it hadn’t been planned that way, for rotisserie chicken so vividly summons up memories of holidays in France, renting gites, when Nicola & Jonathan were small. We’d often go to the local butcher or deli to buy a rotisserie chicken for an easy supper. Nicola even mentioned this, so for us, ‘rotisserie chicken’ is about ‘family’.
Meat cooked in this way dates back to Medieval times; a form of roasting when the meat is skewered on a spit over an open fire and turned continually so that it is constantly basted, resulting in a wonderfully moist and tender meat with a crispy outside. The French word ‘rotisserie’ has been used since meat cooked in this way appeared in Paris shops in the middle of the 15th century. Of course, in Medieval times a servant boy – known as a ‘spit boy’ – was sat by the fire and his job was to turn the spit by hand. The chef responsible for the cooking is known as a rotisseur. Fortunately last night our rotisseur Jonathan had no need of a spit-boy or girl to sit for an hour and a half and turn the spit for him. Thanks to modern engineering and Weber, it was simply a matter of switching the rotisserie on while we watched in awe and some excitement as the chicken slowly turned and gradually became browner. Well, we didn’t watch all the time as the ‘oven’ has to be closed during cooking, but when we checked to see how it was doing.
While the actual cooking was easy, the preparation of the chicken was given some thought and care. Jonathan prepared a mixture of fresh rosemary, garlic, lemon, red onion, olive oil, salt, black pepper and some of Yiannis’s Greek herbs to stuff the chicken so that their flavours would seep into the chicken as it cooked.
He smeared the outside of the chicken liberally with extra virgin olive oil, seasoned it with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and a few more of the Greek herbs. The chicken was then put on the spit.
Timing obviously depends on the size of your chicken but ours took about an hour and a quarter. You set the oven to a standard temperature as you would an ordinary oven – so Jonathan cooked ours at 200C/Gas 6.
We might have been having a ‘French’ main course but our starter was more eclectic – ‘European’ as Jonathan described it. I made a small salad of beans, red onion, lots of parsley, seasoning and mixed with olive oil and cider vinegar (perhaps a touch of France here). We also had Spanish hams with French cornichons; Italian focaccia stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes from Your Bakery, Italian olives, and drank Spanish Cava.
Everything was easy because it had been a busy day: Jonathan, with Nicola’s help, transporting stuff from storage to Jonathan and Lyndsey’s new house; Lyndsey unpacking; and I was on ‘Nonna’ duty with 21-month old Freddie and ‘dog’ duty looking after Zeph, who seemed more disturbed by being in a new house than Freddie, who just thought it was all great fun. I decided to do a one-pot roasted vegetables to accompany the chicken. I’d had in mind roasted ratatouille but in the end decided against adding aubergine and added fennel instead, with some baby potatoes that I’d parboiled first. It was a glorious mixture of bright orange and yellow peppers, green courgettes, red tomatoes, onion, potatoes and fennel, all tossed in extra virgin olive oil, seasoned with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of dried oregano. It went into a hot oven (220C/200 Fan/ Gas 7) for about 45 minutes. I turned them a couple of times but mainly just left them to cook and caramelise.
When the chicken was ready, Jonathan left it to ‘rest’ for a few minutes and then carved it into portions.
We drank some Beaujolais-Villages with the meal.
The meat was gorgeous, so moist and tender with a lovely, caramelised crispy skin. The rotisserie really works well and makes a simple chicken into something special.
Earlier in the day Jonathan had discovered a bottle (50cl) of Monbazillac dessert wine in the bottom of a cupboard. ‘Let’s have this tonight,’ he said.
This is a particularly fine Monbazillac that I’ve been buying for years from Waitrose. Not that we drink it often – that bottle had been in my cupboard for a couple of years! – but I love the wine, it’s not too sweet and it also brings memories of long-ago French holidays when we visited Monbazillac, which is on the left bank of the Dordogne River, near Bergerac. To do it justice, I bought a whole Tarte Normande from Paul Bakery in the morning.
What a wonderful meal we had; a celebration of being together, Jonathan and Lyndsey’s new home, and having had their company for nearly six months. But they’re not far away … a 20-minute walk … which means I shall hopefully be regularly invited to sample more gastronomic delights from Jonathan’s barbecue!
The plan to eat at Rick Stein’s most famous and prestigious restaurant, in the place where his empire was born, Padstow in Cornwall, began with my birthday. Nicola and Rachael gave me a lovely card, a print of a view of Padstow harbour, and promised me a trip there to eat at The Seafood Restaurant. The fact that my birthday is in April and it took us six months to get here isn’t important – a special and good thing is always worth waiting for. And of course one can’t spend 5 or so hours driving across the country for one meal, however good it is, so the meal turned into a weekend away.
Nicola and Rachael had eaten at the restaurant before, being regular visitors to the area, and had decided it would be nice to arrive early so we could have an aperitif in the glasshouse at the front. They ordered a bottle of Camel Valley ‘champagne’, made from Pinot Noir grapes in nearby Bodmin.
I can tell you that Cornish sparkling wine is excellent. Some complimentary little mackerel appetisers came too and very good Kalamata olives.
When we moved through into the dining room, it was a large open space with white walls and an eclectic selection of paintings on the wall. In the centre is a bar area – apparently a no-booking seafood bar. It’s an attractive mix of informal and sophisticated with a nice atmosphere, making it a relaxing place to eat.
We had different starters. Nicola chose Lobster & Fennel Risotto which was delicious (she gave me a taste), with a lovely creaminess, rich flavour and the rice perfectly al dente, just as you’d find in Italy.
Rachael chose Langoustines served simply on ice.
My choice was Seared Scallops with Salt Baked Celeriac, Apple Purée au beurre de Cidre.
These were gorgeous: sweet and perfectly cooked so still tender.
Nicola and I chose the same main: Grilled Whole Boned Red Mullet, Stuffed with Crab Meat, Chilli and Basil, served with chargrilled fennel.
I chose this partly because Rick Stein often says red mullet is his favourite – or one of his favourites – fish, so it seemed appropriate. It’s also a fish I like but rarely think to buy. It was a lovely combination of flavours. Rachael had opted for Fillet of Hake Goan Curry.
She said it was delicious and offered me a taste, but I didn’t think it would go well with what I was eating so took her word for its excellence. We drank some Gewürztraminer with our meal. The waiter had been very helpful about recommending wine to match our food, and as each dish had some spiciness to it, this was a perfect choice and really delicious.
Even when you’ve eaten well and are quite full, a special meal can’t end without dessert – or as the girls decided, cheese, for they shared a plate of local cheeses.
I took the sweet option and ordered chocolate fondant that came with coffee creme Anglaise and ice cream. I asked to swap the Bailey’s ice cream (because I would never eat anything flavoured with Bailey’s – not my thing) to simple vanilla, which I thought would go better. This was no problem.
It was one of the best chocolate fondants I’ve ever eaten: gorgeously soft and gooey inside and a wonderfully light sponge outside. The staff (who were throughout friendly and efficient) picked up this was a birthday celebration (they didn’t know how late!) and we were delighted when a little celebration plate arrived for me.
It was definitely worth waiting six months for such a lovely present. I’ve wanted to go to The Seafood Restaurant for such a long time and had a wonderful evening of great food with two of my favourite people.
Nicola and Rachael are my guides on this trip to Cornwall, having come down together a few times. They are taking me to places they know I’ll like too and it’s rather nice to have decisions about where to eat made for me when it’s by people who know me well.
I’d heard a lot of good things about the original Prawn on the Lawn in Islington, North London and tried to go there once with a friend but couldn’t get a table. So I was particularly interested to hear from Nicola that the Padstow branch is one of their favourite places to eat here. A fishmonger by day, the small shop turns into a restaurant by night. When we arrived last night there was even some fish left on the display front.
There are only 24 covers and the kitchen at the back is tiny, but that doesn’t stop them producing wonderful food. The menu changes daily reflecting the seasons and what was caught locally that day, and is displayed on a blackboard on the wall. They work with local suppliers to bring the best – and mainly sustainable – fish and seafood found here.
The most popular way of eating here is to choose a selection of sharing plates, so this is what we did. It’s a great way of enjoying a meal together but also getting a chance to try lots of different things. It was suggested that 2-3 plates per person was the right amount.
Nicola and I wanted some local oysters. They were wondeful, so tasty and creamy. Of course we had to have a plate of Prawn on the Lawn which is a modern take on prawns & avocado – this one with an Asian twist with chilli and lime.
It was really good – made all the better for the high quality of the prawns. We also had some Szechuan prawns.
The flavour was amazing. These were one of my favourites of all the lovely dishes. Most have an Asian influence with that gorgeous balance of spice and freshness. This followed through with the Crab Som Tam, a fabulous crab salad.
I loved the cool freshness of this. Rachael chose a whiting fish curry.
This was also a delightfully fresh curry, light and smooth but with a gorgeous spicy flavour that nicely complemented the fish.
The baby gem salad with truffle oil and shavings of Gran Padano cheese was heavy on truffle, which Nicola found too much but Rachael and I liked. The Crushed Spiced Potatoes were wonderful.
They were light and fluffy inside and beautifully crisp and spicy on the outside. We indulged in desserts too with Nicola and Rachael sharing a salted caramel pot with creme fraiche and raspberries.
I chose Affogato – espresso to pour over ice cream.
We’d shared a bottle of Muscadet with the meal and had glasses of Monbazillac with our desserts. It was a fabulous meal in a great informal setup and atmosphere. The fish and seafood, as expected, were top quality and I can see why it’s become a favourite with Nicola and Rachael. I think I must definitely try out the Islington branch once back in London.
After a lazy morning in Ashburton with Lynn, I got back into the car and set Google Maps on my trusty iPhone to take me across to the far side of this lovely peninsula that juts out at the end of England into the Celtic Sea to the north and English Channel to the south. Its wild landscape of moors and dramatic coastline, its beautiful sandy beaches and picturesque villages, offers some of the most glorious landscape you’ll find in UK. I crossed from Devon into Cornwall across the impressive Tamar Bridge that spans the River Tamar just outside Plymouth. Nicola and Rachael were driving down from Birmingham and suggested we meet at The Cornish Arms in St Merryn, just outside Padstow and another member of the Rick Stein empire of pubs, restaurants, shops and hotels that have taken over this area. As a fan of Mr Stein I’m very happy to eat at any of his eateries. And The Cornish Arms lived up to all expectations.
The pub has been here for 90 years but Rick’s ownership is obviously recent – since 2009. Pub food has improved considerably over recent years but even though we’ve grown used to good food in gastro pubs, here you’ll find top-notch food and service. The prices while not cheap for a pub are really good value for what is more like restaurant food. And it’s dog friendly. So Willow, Nicola and Rachael’s red fox Labrador, could come too.
The pub had been extended and refurbished since Rachael came here as a child with her family – pre Rick days – and we sat for a late lunch I the barn-type area at the back overlooking fields out towards the sea. At the front of the pub, it still has the feel of a traditional Cornish pub and even has a pool table.
And just as a good pub should, they have an impressive choice of beers on offer.
Nicola and Rachael drank pints of the interesting sounding Overkill is Underrated ale, which was apparently very good, while I stuck to sparkling water as it was lunchtime and I knew there’d be more drinking to come in the evening.
Rachael went true pub lunch style with a Ploughman’s, but a very upmarket Ploughman’s with lovely local cheeses, chutneys and gorgeous sourdough bread.
Nicola and I chose a special of the day – hake on a bed of spring onion mash.
This was fabulous and the fish as good and delcious as one expects in a Rick Stein restaurant with the sea in sight and the smell of salt on the air.
We had a table booked for 9pm in the evening so we counted the hours and decided we could definitely have dessert. There were still 6 hours to go until the next meal! Rachael chose Treacle Tart, which she said was very good.
Nicola and I went for Apple & Rhubarb Crumble.
It was a good sized portion, served with vanilla ice cream. The crumble had a slight tartness to it which I like, rather than an over sweet pudding.
We finished with espressos and then followed winding narrow roads just a couple of miles down the road to the converted Methodist Chapel in Trevone, where we’re staying.
When Nicola and Rachael invited me to join them in Padstow for the weekend, I decided it would be an excellent opportunity to catch up with my friend Lynn, who moved to Devon a few years ago and I hadn’t seen for ages. It’s more than halfway along my journey, a 4-hour drive from London, leaving me just a shorter journey of a couple of hours to cross over from Devon into Cornwall to join Nicola in Padstow this morning.
I took the scenic route down via the A303, avoiding motorways apart from the first part of the journey. The mileage is less than other routes but because it’s an ‘A’ road, with some parts single carriageway, one can get caught in bad traffic jams. However, it’s such a beautiful journey, across the Salisbury Plain, a close view of Stonehenge, and on into Devon, that I can never resist coming this way. Who wants motorways when one can enjoy driving through one of the most lovely parts of England at a slower pace. The weather was good with sun and clear skies and the view of Stonehenge as I crested a hill was worth battling any heavy traffic.
Lynn lives in the lovely town of Ashburton. Her pretty cottage looks over Mill Meadow.
Arriving at tea time we sat over mugs of tea and slices of gorgeous carrot cake from a local artisan bakery and caught up on life and it felt as if the intervening years when we’d kept in touch mainly via Facebook had only been weeks. She’d booked a table for us to eat that evening at a new restaurant just down the road – less than five minutes’ walk away. The young chefs had been working at another place that closed, opened their own pop-up that proved such a success they’ve now opened permanently in what was the old library – hence their name: The Old Library Restaurant.
Inside it’s simply but attractively decorated with tables made by local craftsmen. A jug of water put on our table unusually had a slice of cucumber in it; it made a lovely refreshing addition. The menu was very appealing and I could have happily chosen anything from it, but decided to start with Squash; Pickled, Mousse & Roasted.
It looked fabulous and didn’t disappoint: creamy squash mousse, slightly tart pickled squash and richly caramelised roasted squash. Lynn meanwhile enjoyed her Tempura ‘fish of the day’ & Dark Thai Sauce.
I chose Confit Duck Lef, Puy Lentils & Spiced Plum Sauce as my main.
I love confit duck and this was perfectly cooked, great with the lentils and a gorgeous sauce. Lynn had Slow Roasted Belly Pork, Sage & Apple Purée & Celeriac Fondant.
Lynn said this was delicious and we had sides of Sea Salt & Rosemary Chips and Roasted Vegetables.
The desssert list was impressively tempting but as we’d indulged in cake earlier, neither of us had space for more. We sat with coffee talking on for some time, the atmosphere convivial; the thought of the cold outside not so inviting. Including glasses of wine, our bill came to £35 each once we’d added a tip. It was an excellent meal, really good, and such a warm and welcoming place to spend an evening and catch up with a lovely old friend.
On Saturday morning I woke to news of Leonard Cohen’s death. Of all the famous who have died this sad year, none has touched me as much as Cohen’s. I ‘discovered’ him in a youth hostel in France – in Quiberon, Brittany – when I was 19. A heaving communal room where we ate sparingly and drank too much late into the night and Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room played endlessly on the turntable, his gravelly voice and mournful tone filling the room. It’s where love first touched me as in the crowded space I felt eyes boring into my back and turned to see Jean, a French guy I barely knew, looking at me. Don’t ever tell me that a spark of electricity between people doesn’t exist; I know it does.
My love for Cohen’s songs led to me buying books of his poetry, his novels, but he came in and out of my life over the years and only recently, when in his late 70s he returned to the stage, was I touched again. Wow! Dylan may have been awarded the Nobel Prize (and I love Dylan’s words too) but Cohen is just as powerful, just as amazing; his words just as beautiful, touching parts of you that you didn’t know yearned to be recognised.
Leonard Cohen loved Greece and it was on the island of Hydra that he wrote so many of his most famous songs, like Bird on the Wire, and where he met Marianne. Later, of buying his home there, he said: ‘The years are flying past and we all waste so much time wondering if we dare to do this or that, the thing is to leap, to try, to take a chance.’
As Cohen’s songs blasted through my house on Saturday morning, a Greek meal was being prepared. Nicola and Rachael were on their way from Birmingham, willing to chance getting into Twickenham despite the 82,000 rugby fans invading the streets for England v. South Africa. Jonathan came back from Waitrose with a chicken in hand, keen to try out his new monster of a gas Weber barbecue, delivered in the week.
We discussed how to cook the chicken. I said why not season it with some of the new batch of Yiannis’s herbs that arrived recently, a gift from the lovely DeeDee who so kindly bought some in Kardamyli for me and then posted them once home.
I promise you, you will never find dried herbs more wonderful than these, picked by Yiannis where they grow wild in the mountains behind Kardamyli and then dried in his shop. I opened the pack and the glorious smell filled the air. Jonathan sprinkled some over the spatchcocked chicken with olive oil, lemons and seasoning.
He made a tahini sauce to go over the chicken and also cooked the rest of the kofte I made the other day (click here). I’ve teased my son mercilessly about his new ‘toy’ but have to say that the proof of its worth was in the cooking. Jonathan is an excellent cook – not just barbecue – but this food was exceptionally good … despite my complaining that gas wasn’t real barbecuing …
This has to be the best way to cook halloumi or other Greek cheese. It’s brilliant!
We left Greece for dessert. Early in the morning I’d baked a Rhubarb & Almond Cake, which we ate with crème fraîche and strong espresso.
Leonard Cohen was still playing in the background. So long Leonard … thank you for your wise words, which will live with us for ever.
‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’
I received an invitation to this year’s Gusto Italia show via my friend Antonella Sciortino (click here for more info). The show is a chance for Italian food and wine producers to showcase their products. It’s put on for caterers and food shops and aims to make sure the best Italian food and wine reaches UK. At a Gala Dinner on the final night, attended by celebrity Italian chefs and sommeliers, awards are given to Italians of excellence working in the UK food and drink industry.
Due to a busy morning, I didn’t arrive at the show until about 3.00, which was a pity, because I should have arrived at lunchtime, ready to make the most of all the gorgeous food on offer. Downstairs in the ballroom at the Grand Sheraton Hotel in Piccadilly, the room was packed with people and stands displaying all kinds of Italian products: olive oil, pasta, hams, cheese and wine.
As I went round, I soon discovered that almost no one spoke English, so in my best Italian I explained that I was a blogger and wrote about food and travel – especially Italian food and travel. Of course, I was surrounded by people tasting and considering buying for their hotels, restaurants or delis, but everyone was happy to give this blogger a taste too. It was just a shame I couldn’t buy!
These lovely boxes of fresh Sicilian fruit and vegetables you can, however, order from Vita.
I couldn’t possibly try everything on offer and certainly didn’t want to drink too much wine at 3.00 in the afternoon, but I did try some delicious things and so this post is about the highlights of what I found – but there was so much more, and everyone was so kind and friendly. Another time I’ll go very hungry!
Unfortunately I didn’t get a taste of these taralli, which are my family’s favourite snack! I’ve never been a sweet biscuit fan but often tuck into a taralli with an afternoon cup of tea, as well as for aperitivo.
One table had lots of different pasta shapes laid out. The Italians are very particular about the shape and size of their pasta, which must match the sauce they are to be served with. That’s why Italians are horrified when Brits serve ragù with spaghetti – it just isn’t right and tagliatelle is the correct pasta because the sauce clings to the flatter pasta better. These were from a company called Divine Creazioni.
A little further along, some ragù and pasta was being kept warm and ready to try from Gourmio.
Gourmio sell boxes of food ready to cook. Everything you need is included and weighed out, so you can produce an authentic Italian meal at home. Boxes come direct from Italy and will be delivered within 24 hours. The pasta dish was very delicious. I have to confess the idea isn’t one that appeals to me personally, as I’m happy buying my own ingredients and working from home makes it easy to cook in the evening. But for people out at work all day, or anyone just wanting an easy supper (all meals are for two) that’s a lot better than a supermarket ready made meal, then this is great for something a bit more special. These kind of boxes are becoming popular and Jamie Oliver is connected to the HelloFresh brand.
Food was being prepared, ready for tasting everywhere.
There was cheese from the Dolomites.
I saw the wonderful sausages from Siena that I buy in my local Italian deli – Corto Italian Deli – which are another family favourite.
At the Etna Coffee stall, serving Sicilian street food, I saw cannoli being piped and filled. There’s a branch in Victoria with another about to open in Baker Street.
I saw the Rummo make of pasta which I bought at Mercato Metropolitano a few weeks ago.
At the Grottone stall, I found cheese from the south of Italy. This is a semi-hard cheese with an aroma of hazelnuts. It was very good.
There were wheels of Pecorino.
At the Cibo Deli counter I tasted the most glorious extra creamy Gorgonzola – best eaten with a spoon!
The extra virgin olive oil from Sicily at the Vasadonna stand was delicious. I was told the preparation from picking to the pressing of the oil happens in just a day.
The Risoristano stand was great, selling rice from Sardinia and saffron.
They kindly gave me a packet of rice to bring home and a crocus bulb from which I can grow my own saffron!
I tasted hams, saw amazing huge round aubergines – that you’d never find in a UK supermarket – and lovely green tomatoes.
It was a fun outing with lovely food; I saw chefs wandering around trying things and there were cookery demonstrations at various times of the day. I can see this is a great event for anyone serving or selling Italian food in UK and wanting the authentic products. Tonight I’m invited to the Gala dinner so have more Italian food to look forward to!
I’ve been wanting to make the lovely Aubergine & Tomato Tagine I put on the blog back in January 2012 for Jonathan & Lyndsey. It’s such a delicious recipe, and we all love aubergines, so I knew they’d like it. It makes a good mid-week vegetarian supper served with just couscous but as it was Friday, and the beginning of the weekend, I knew Jonathan would appreciate a meat addition. Lamb kofte seemed an obvious choice; aubergine, lamb and tomato are a classic combination. For years I’ve used a kofte recipe from Moro East but yesterday decided to change things a bit and use a recipe from Ghillie Basan’s Tagines & Couscous, which is where I got the aubergine tagine recipe from. I’ve had this book for a few years now and use it a lot. My favourite two cuisines have to be Italian and North African/Middle Eastern.
The last time I was in Morocco – a holiday to Marrakesh – was in 2008. It was then I ‘discovered’ that great Moroccan spice mix – Ras el Hanout. At that time I had some made up freshly at a stall in the spice market recommended to me by the lovely Mohammed Nadir with whom my friend Tina and I did a cookery class.
Nowadays ras el hanout is easily found in supermarkets. Mine is from the Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients range. It’s very good and you can even see little bits of dried rose petals in it.
- 800g lamb mince
- 1 large onion, very finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons dried mint
- 3 teaspoons ras el hanout
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Put the lamb mince and all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly by hand. Do not be tempted to use a food processor or you’ll end up with a paste, which won’t be right.
Grease your hands with a little olive oil then take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and roll around in your hands to make a roughly walnut- to golf-ball sized kofta. I then flattened mine out a bit and tapered the ends so they’d be easier to griddle.
This made 22 kofte. I’d more than doubled the amount of meat in the recipe and adjusted other ingredients. We cooked 12 and I froze the others. I love having kofte in the freezer as a standby. You can defrost and use for a barbecue, griddle them as we did for this meal, or – one of my favourite things – is to brown in a pan with a little oil then put in a tomato sauce and cook for about half an hour and serve with rice or pasta.
After making the kofte, I kept them in the fridge until needed at suppertime. Then I made the Aubergine & Tomato Tagine (click here for recipe).
I made this a little in advance too and just reheated gently when we were about to eat. Jonathan griddled the kofte for us, nicely browned on the outside but moist within.
I spooned some of the tagine into a bowl and dolloped on some natural yogurt and sprinkled over some chopped mint and fresh coriander (reserved when making the tagine).
We had couscous and a green salad to accompany it.
It was a lovely meal. Some of my favourite flavours bringing an exotic touch of Morocco to our evening and we all enjoyed it a lot.
I was at the local Twickenham Farmers’ Market last Saturday and saw a ‘Seriously Italian’ stall selling fresh pasta. I’ve bought their pasta before and it truly is ‘seriously good’ as well as ‘seriously Italian’. There were a few interesting filled pasta choices but in the end – after consultation with Jonathan – I went for ravioli filled with roasted beetroot.
I thought I’d probably use them soon but just in case I didn’t, I popped them in the freezer so I could keep them for a while. Today I decided to make a pasta bake with them. It’s feeling quite wintry now with darkness falling around 4.30 – even though it’s unusually mild for the time of year – so a pasta bake seemed a perfect, comforting supper. I thought about what to put with it and remembered making summery beetroot salads with goats’ cheese and walnuts and decided there was no reason not to take the same flavours into my more wintry dish.
There was no weight on the packs but each had 14 ‘units’ of ravioli. I cooked them according to instructions – 3 minutes in salted boiling water – and drained. Then I made a béchamel sauce with 50g butter, 50g flour and almost a pint of milk. I added seasoning and a good grating of nutmeg – partly as I like this in a béchamel sauce but also because the ravioli had some nutmeg seasoning in them and it was nice to pick this up in the sauce.
I put the drained ravioli in an ovenproof dish and poured over the béchamel sauce. I cut a thick slice of goats’ cheese into pieces and dotted over the top of the sauce.
Roughly chop 30g walnuts and sprinkle over the top. Then add a good grating of Parmesan. Put into a 200C/180 Fan/Gas 6 oven for 30-40 minutes until bubbling and nicely browned on top.
Serve with a green salad on the side.
This was so different to my usual pasta bake of béchamel and tomato sauce. A little more sophisticated, I think! Whatever … Jonathan judged it wonderful and it was a great success for supper. It was a fabulous combination of flavours and I liked the crunchy texture of the walnuts with the creamy sauce.
Most people associate Twickenham with rugby. As home to England Rugby with a stadium that seats a crowd of 82,000 for a big match, it’s most visitors’ reason for coming here. However, Twickenham has other claims to fame and just a fairly short walk along the Thames from Eel Pie Island, just off the high street in Twickenham, to Richmond Bridge (about 3km/2 miles) is a good indicator of all that Twickenham has to offer in terms of history and a beautiful location in SW London.
I set off soon after 9am this morning. It had been a foggy start as you’ll see from my photos, but by the time I got to Richmond Bridge, the fog had pretty much burned off revealing sun, blue skies and the promise of a fine autumn day. It takes me about 10 minutes from my house to head down to the centre of Twickenham where from King Street, I took a side road – Wharf Lane – down to the Thames and saw Eel Pie Island in front of me.
It’s said that Eel Pie Island may have been a ‘courting’ ground for Henry VIII. It gained its name from as far back as the 17th century when day trippers picnicked on pies made from locally caught eels. In more recent history, it became a famous venue for music in the 1960s when fans flocked to its hotel to hear bands such as The Who and the Rolling Stones when they were starting out.
The hotel closed in 1967 and was burned down in 1971. The island is private property and although you can cross the footbridge (built in 1957) on to it, you can’t access much of the island. It’s now home to small local business and there’s an artists’ community where many artists and crafts people have studios and workshops. Twice a year, during Art Open House weeks (June and December), you’ll find more of the island open to take a proper look.
There are lots of rowing and sailing clubs and so you’ll often see canoes or small sailing boats out on the river.
Walking along from the Eel Pie Island bridge towards Richmond, you’ll soon come to the Barmy Arms pub on your left.
The pub has a 400-year history and was previously called the Queens Head but when an owner started putting a Christmas tree there upside down, it was given the name ‘Barmy Arms’ – ‘barmy’ being the word for an eccentric or fool. The pub also has a music history and groups like the Rolling Stones, Genesis and Rod Stewart played there back in the area’s rock heydays in the sixties.
Just past the Barmy Arms you’ll see a passage leading to the Mary Wallace Theatre.
This tiny theatre is home to the Richmond Shakespeare Society, which was founded in 1934. The society regularly put on productions of Shakespeare plays but other plays too. In the summer they often perform in the nearby York House Gardens.
Just a little way further along Embankment, you’ll see the slightly raised area known as Champions’ Wharf with a sculpture park and ‘beach’ play area for children, complete with a ‘viking boat’ kids can play in.
As you make your way round from the river on to a road, to get into the park, you’ll see St Mary’s Church to your left. The 18th century poet, Alexander Pope, is buried there and gives his name to many local road like Pope’s Grove and Pope’s Avenue.
A sign high up in the wall, just to the left of the road sign, indicates the height the river flooded to in the 18th century – very high indeed! It no doubt accounts for the name of a nearby road: Flood Lane.
Walk up Church Lane and you’ll see the Twickenham Museum (open on Tuesdays and Saturdays) on the left.
At the top end of this road, to the left, is Church Street, one of the prettiest roads in Twickenham full of lots of small independent shops and cafés and restaurants (see: Masaniello, Corto Italian Deli, Pinchos, Osteria Pulcinella). On summer weekends evenings, the road is closed off and restaurants put chairs and tables outside for diners, bringing a touch of the Mediterranean to Twickenham.
Take a little wander down a number of small alleyways nearby and you’ll find pretty cottages and views.
Going back to the river, take the steps up into Champions’ Wharf and cross diagonally to an archway that takes you to a path alongside the river.
This is such a beautiful view. A little way along on the left, a path leads into some gardens, part of York House. There, to your left, you’ll be confronted by most amazing sight of a very elaborate fountain with sculptures.
The ‘Oceanides’ were carved in Rome in the 19th century and brought to UK in 1904 and then to York House by its last owner in 1909. York House is no longer privately owned, but local council offices.
Backtrack through Champions’ Wharf and back on to Riverside road. You’ll pass under a stone footbridge that leads from the gardens with the fountain into the main York House gardens. Further on, you’ll find The White Swan pub on your left.
The pub dates back to the 17th century. It has a large terraced area that’s great for drinking and eating in the summer with a view over to Eel Pie Island.
A little further on you’ll pass Orleans House to your left (the photo is from earlier in the year as at the moment the house is covered by scaffolding).
This palladium villa was built in 1710 for a politician. Nowadays it’s owned by the local council and is home to two galleries – in the main house and one in the stables at the back. There’s also a café. Although small, the galleries often display some interesting exhibitions.
Taking some steps up towards the river, you’ll find yourself entering the Marble Hill gardens.
In the distance you’ll see a children’s playground and café. This is where I used to bring my son and daughter when they were little; now we bring my grandson Freddie. To the right and the river, a little part of the towpath juts out with a great view.
It was still a little foggy this morning but in the far distance you can see the top of Richmond Hill and the famous Star & Garter Home. Until recently the Home was a place for wounded and disabled service men and women to convalesce – and enjoy one of the best views in London. Sadly it’s recently been sold to developers and is being turned into luxury flats! On the opposite bank to where you’re standing, you’ll see Ham House.
A very dark photo, I’m afraid, and at this time of the year, the house largely hidden by trees. The house was built in 1610 and is one of the most perfectly preserved houses from the Stuart period of history. The owner supported the king in the Civil War and was made 1st Earl of Dysart for his loyalty. It’s now owned by the National Trust – and said to be the most haunted house in England. Having had some rather disturbing experiences there, I have to say I think it is – and I’ve no great wish to go back!
If you want to cross to the other side, you can take a ferry at this point – just a few steps further on.
A ferry has crossed the river here since the 17th century. Today’s ferry, Hammerton’s Ferry, was started by Walter Hammerton in 1908. For £1 (cheaper for children) you can take a little boat across to Ham and Petersham.
Walking on you’ll soon see Marble Hill House on the left.
This Palladium House was built between 1724 and 1728 for Henrietta Howard, mistress to the Prince of Wales, later George II. On the far side of the house, bordering the park to the left, you’ll find Montpelier Row, said to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Britain.
The house on the far left was home in the 19th century to famous poet Alfred Lord Tennyson; in the 20th century it became home to famous rock star Pete Townshend of The Who for a few years. Nearby in another house, the poet Walter de la Mare lived. Twickenham has a rich history of poets and artists living here.
Back down on the river, if you continue towards Richmond, just past the view to Marble Hill House above, you’ll find a gate into the park and directly on the right a large black walnut tree.
It’s thought the tree was planted around 1720 and it’s the third oldest and largest tree in the country.
Continuing along the towpath, you’ll soon see the river opening up a bit and on the far side are Petersham Fields and you can see the top of Richmond Hill.
The view from the top has been famously painted by many artists; most famously by JMW Turner who lived in Twickenham – or it was where he had his country residence. His house, Sandycombe Lodge, built in about 1812, is the only house designed by Turner who early in his life wanted to be an architect. The house is currently undergoing renovation and will soon be open to the public.
A number of people live in boats moored along the river. I saw some barges with lots of solar panels on top, which seemed a great idea.
The riverside was becoming more built up. Across the river I could see a former pub that has now been turned into apartments – something that’s happening a lot around here.
In this next photo you can see houses on Richmond Hill along the top; to the right, the building with white paint on the bottom is the Bingham Hotel; its restaurant has one Michelin star.
By now I was close to my destination. To the left of the towpath I passed a children’s playground and café; behind are flats which are part of a development where once Richmond’s famous ice rink stood. A new ice rink was supposed to be built at another site in Richmond, but sadly that’s never happened.
Richmond Bridge was now in sight. The sun had come out and the stillness of the river meant there were lovely reflections on the water of the bridge, buildings and boats.
It’s a beautiful walk. I used to do it regularly but hadn’t in a while so it was nice to revisit all the views. It took me about 40 minutes. From here I headed into Richmond itself for a coffee, then took the bus home back to Twickenham.
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