RECIPE | WARM BORLOTTI BEAN SALAD WITH TOMATOES, ROAST FIGS, BLUE CHEESE AND WALNUTS

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A Cornucopia in Provence

Landing in Marseilles the plane doors opened and the warmth of the Provencal sun brought an instant smile to my face. Our bags all safely packed in the car and my stash of loose leaf tea accounted for ( you can take the girl out of England but ….) we set off for the drive to the house. The journey was littered with the glorious sights typical to the terroir; hectares of olive groves, fields of sunflowers, rows of hazy lavender, fig trees groaning  with ripening fruit and speedy trucks laden with sweet Cavaillon melons  – these alone are worth making a trip here for.

 

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On the first day of work I was up early and off to the food market at St Remy . From experience if you get there when it opens you miss the hoards, get to shop with the locals, practice your French and have time for a peaceful coffee and croissant. Giddy with excitement at all the produce on offer, sad I know but us chefs and foodies get a real kick out moments like these, I could hardly choose what I wanted to buy and cook with first. Then, across an increasingly crowded market, I saw them.

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The embarrassment has long since passed of picking fruits and vegetables up to examine them and give them a good sniff to check their quality, even if I do get odd looks from less hands-on shoppers and vendors anxious for the safety of the produce. This is the best way, short of nibbling some but this I feel takes inspection too far, to know what you are going to get. I had spied probably the world’s most attractive tomatoes. Their smell instantly transported me back to my childhood and the poly tunnels my grandfather grew rows of tasty unique shaped and colored ones in.  Round and red? Ha! These tomatoes were a world away from the dull uniform ones often found in supermarkets.  Kissed by the sun they are delicious simply with a pinch of salt and olive oil.  The family I am cooking for this summer grow olives to make their own olive oil so this simple preparation did make it onto the lunch menu.

 

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With guests coming for supper the next day I decided to prepare a starter with these tomato hunks, and include in the meal a few other delights like baby purple artichokes that I picked up at the market.  The menu read as follows ;

 

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Canapé

Chilled cucumber and creme fraiche shots with Cavaillon melon

Starter

Warm borlotti bean, fig and local tomato salad with walnuts, blue cheese and french dressing.

Main

Grilled Lamb with anchovy sauce and barigule ( a Provencal specialty with artichokes and white wine as shown above).

Dessert

Garden Apricots baked with honey and thyme served with home made cardamom ice cream, yogurt sorbet and hokey pokey.

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For this postcard I thought I would share the borlotti bean and tomato salad recipe;

Fresh Borlotti Bean, Tomato and Fig Salad.

serves 4 as a starter

Fresh Borlotti beans  – buy about three big handfuls of the pink pods

6 figs ( for those acutely aware of seasons these were ones picked from the garden last year and frozen – they survive extremely well, for this salad I roasted them for 15 mins at 180 with a little olive oil and seasoning)

your choice of tomatoes  – any color/shape will be lovely providing they are tasty.

a small handful of walnuts

150 g of blue cheese – its all about salty bleu d’Auvergne  for me at the moment

salad leaves for 4 people ( about 150g) – I like peppery rocket with this salad

 

dressing  –

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp dijon mustard

3 tbsp olive oil.

In a bowl place a pinch of salt and a little ground pepper, whisk while adding the vinegar and mustard then olive oil .

 

To cook the borlotti beans pod them and put the beans in a saucepan covered in at least 4 cm of cold water with a bay leaf, clove of garlic, grinds of black pepper, a dash of olive oil. Bring to the boil then simmer until soft  – about 40 minutes. When cooked, drain off the liquid until there is just enough to cover the beans – the cooking might have bought it to this level anyway,  season with salt, pepper, 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp red wine vinegar, this is always best done when the beans are warm as they soak up the flavor.

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Assemble the salad by gently tossing the figs, rocket, tomatoes and walnuts in the dressing, pile on a serving platter or individual plates,  spoon over some warm borlotti beans and crumble over some blue cheese – et voila !

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With the table cleared and the dishes washed and put away  I was ready for bed and to dream of what next would catch my eye while down in the south of France.

 

 

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LOCAL DELICACY | ARBROATH SMOKIE

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Heading for the Scottish hills

Having patted the dog, waved goodbye to my folks and navigated the hills and winding lanes out of the West Country I have to admit I felt slight pangs of loss.  What could I do to buck up my spirits?  Find a new taste sensation of course. My journey to Edinburgh to cook for a bon voyage lunch just happened to be perfect timing to visit the Royal Highland Show and so discover a tasty delicacy.

 

For those of you who have not been to this great event and own a tweed suit or even a Barbour, you have completely missed the party.  The Royal Highland Show is a celebration of all things country, indeed it is regarded as the highlight of the Scottish Farming calendar.

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Upon arrival, having first checked out the farriers, sheep shearers and country land owners tent I was heading off to find the gun dog demonstration when I became distracted by a queue of people calmly standing in billowing clouds of smoke.

Some Scots are known to thrifty , so it came as great surprise to witness a whole long line of them eagerly handing over their cash in exchange for a paper plate, a wooden spoon and a smoked fish. I joined the line, happily parted with three pounds and tucked into the flaky morsels of my first Arbroath Smokie. Wow, I had almost forgotten that smoked fish could be as good as this, no alarming orange flesh or acrid bite just a delightful creamy bronzed smokey fish.

 

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Now with geographical statues – i.e. you have to be a haddock, hot smoked in an up turned whisky barrel within 5 miles of the town of Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland, to win the title of the Arbroath Smokie, this delicacy has protection from poor imitations.  The internet shows many suppliers that will send Arbroath Smokies to your door, I was eating ones produced by the renowned Iain R. Spink  – http://www.arbroathsmokies.net.

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Having gobbled all mine I rejoined the queue and bought some for the lunch party the following day.

 

Setting out the table for guests to select from the groaning spread ( there was honey roast ham / new potatoes with basil mayonnaise, fried garden sage and toasted  almonds / celery, apple and fennel coleslaw / Lanark blue cheese, puy lentil and walnuts with crab apple jelly dressing / arbroath smokies and more..) the table looked like it needed just one more thing- a few bunches of flowers.  Heading outside, the garden had some magnificent lilacs which I knew would look great and then looking over the vegetable patch I had an idea.  The curly kale, now finished but bearing beautiful yellow flowers and about to go on the compost would make an excellent arrangement.

Feeling in an adventurous mood I nibbled  a few of the curly kale flowers on the way back to the kitchen, very edible I thought so sprinkled a few on the potato salad, decorative and edible; how useful.

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The next Postcard;

Hopping on a plane I am heading for warmer climates, swapping my old worn out Barbour for my summer dresses, sunglasses and flip flops I am off to one of my favourite regions to work in, Provence…

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RECIPE | WILD GARLIC WITH FREE RANGE SCRAMBLED EGGS

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A Wild Garlic Hunt

Well I have finished my job on the Emerald Isle and am off to Dorset to check in with the folks and see if I can catch the final days of one of my favourite foraged treats; wild garlic.

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Truffle and I ( Truffle being my sister’s dog) both had our noses stuck out the car window as we beetled along the narrow country lanes.  You can smell it before you see it and although we have not yet taught her to alert us to its presence, I am ever the optimist. The month of June is a little late in the year to be picking wild garlic, usually the little white  flowers are out and the leaves are not quite so tender as they once were.   Determined at least to try and find some I yelled excitedly to “stop the car”! as I caught a waft of that sweet smelling delicacy.   There, beneath the ancient woodlands, Henry  VIII ‘s old hunting grounds no less, there lay a patch of edible green shoots and white flowers.  I leapt out the car and began my picking.  Truffle took one sniff at what I was paying my attentions to and darted off into the woods – she clearly did not share my enthusiasm.

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A basketful later I called the dog so we could take this bounty back home and make a breakfast feast of wild garlic and scrambled eggs.  Before reluctantly jumping back into the car she reminded me of one of the rules of harvesting wild food by peeing on the patch I had just taken from – always wash thoroughly before use.

Dorset Wild Garlic with Scrambled Eggs

 

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Ingredients (serves 4 hungry people)

A very well washed and drained bunch of wild garlic 

8 free range chicken eggs

Bread for toast

A good knob of butter.

A splash of olive oil

Method

Roughly chop the wild garlic into 2 inch pieces and wilt in a frying pan with a splash of olive oil- it will only take about one minute, season with salt and pepper.    Scoop the leaves out onto a warm plate, pouring away any excess liquid (or better still reserve the liquid and add it to an appropriate soup or risotto )  while you scramble the eggs. To do this I always melt a little butter in the pan  then pour in the lightly beaten eggs and stir gently with a flat wooden spoon over a low to medium heat. Before the eggs look fully cooked take off the heat and fold in the wilted wild garlic. Serve on buttered toast.     

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It is hard to leave the comforts of home but with my adieus said I am now heading north ( having packed my rain coat) to take a trip to the bonnie hills of Scotland..

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RECIPE | IRISH SODA BREAD

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The Emerald Isle

I am extremely fond of Irish Soda bread.  Firstly because it tastes so good with butter, and secondly because it saved my arms from looking like the incredible hulks.

Back in my restaurant days I had to make a lot of bread.  I would go to work earlier and earlier to keep up with the demand. I kept telling myself all that kneading was like a free Pilates class sculpting my arms but it is hard to describe the joy after one of my customers  (a retired Vicar) offered to bring his Irish wife in to teach me to make soda bread.   Ten minutes in from them arriving for my master class the loaf was already in the oven and we were sipping our second cup of tea.

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Irish Soda Bread

In a bowl whisk together;

1 cup self raising flour,
1 cup wholemeal  flour,
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of Soda,
1/2 teaspoon of fine salt

then mix in with a wooden spoon 1 cup of buttermilk.

Use your hands to bring together into a loaf shape (  a round is traditional with a cross slashed into the top)

Bake for 30 minutes at 180 c in a fan assisted oven, its done when you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow. 

 

I frequently use this recipe and was not aware of any variations until I was on a recent job in Dublin. I was asked to make afternoon tea for some of the clients relatives who were to pop by later that day. In amongst the cheese scones, coffee eclairs and pots of Barry’s tea I decided to add the Irish Soda bread and serve it with horseradish butter, smoked salmon and lemon wedges, it was surely going to be a hit at this gathering….

Indeed the guests devoured it and as I was clearing away the empty platter and being complemented on the bread recipe the matriarch of the family chipped in that of course she always rolled her soda bread in oats before baking it. That sounds lovely, I thought, and then someone else said they always put caraway seeds in…again I thought that sounds delicious. My favorite idea however was had I tried making it with “the black stuff” …….Guinness, now you’re talking!

Guinness Soda Bread rolled in Oats with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Butter

Makes 1 small loaf

I use a measuring jug and do it all by volume.

1/2 pint self raising flour
1/2 pint wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoon brown sugar

Tip all these dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

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Pour in 1/4 pint of Guinness and 1/4 pint buttermilk.  Bring together into a round loaf, scatter some rolled oats onto a baking tray and roll the bread in them until it is coated all over.  Slash the top with a cross ( legends dictates this lets the evil spirits out  – I think it looks good) and bake for 35 minutes in a preheated 175 c fan assisted oven.

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Cool on a rack then slice, slather it in horseradish butter ( I mix 3 tbsp soft butter with 2 tsp horseradish sauce)   and serve with smoked salmon and lemon wedges.

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Job done! My bags are packed and next I am crossing the Irish Sea and am off to the west country …..

 

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