Category Archives: fruit

Wilting in Rome.

It’s too darn hot. At least it is for me. Vincenzo on the other hand is delighted by the soaring temperatures and assumes the Gecko position whenever possible. Such unreasonable weather however, like having your tonsils out, has a gastronomic benefit. Namely, that you can – with absolutely no need for justification or adherence to acknowledged meal times – consume as much ice-cream, sorbet, granita, jelly, ice-cold blancmange and panna cotta as you wish. In such weather it’s also permissable, advisable even when you feel the wilt, to stop whatever you are doing, roll up your sleeves and cut yourself a vast wedge – this is no time for dainty slices – of ice-cold watermelon. Vincenzo likes to squeeze some lemon juice over his. Shun all offers of cutlery and approach the eating of your wedge with slightly aggressive relish.

Until last year I’d never done anything with watermelon other than eat it in the manner described above. Then last year in Umbria my brother Ben and I made watermelon juice and then watermelon granita. Both were a great success, and thus my watermelon repertoire broadened from one to three; the wedge, the juice and the granita,

I’d read about watermelon and feta salad and watermelon and toasted haloumi salad and I’d been mildly interested but not convinced. Then a couple of weeks ago my Mum, Jenifer, rang with important news. Her voice was slightly urgent, and the line wasn’t terribly good. I felt the surge of panic that’s becoming more frequent and familiar as my parents get older and I stay in Italy.

It subsided as she proceeded to tell me with infectious enthusiasm the important news, green fingered news, the news about her garden. First the broad beans, and how they would be ready by the time I came back. ‘Don’t forget the pecorino when you come’ she said. ‘A nice big piece from Volpetti to eat with the broad beans.’ Then she talked about the gooseberries, the baby lettuces, the chard, courgettes, the rocket. Once I was fully up-to-date with garden progress, we talked about this, that, and a surprising and very good salad she had eaten at the Chelsea Physic Garden restaurant during her gardening course.

There were big pieces of ripe, sweet watermelon‘ she explained. ‘Surprisingly big pieces, with cubes of feta cheese, good feta, and some of those really wrinkled black olives, you know the sort?’

I think so‘ I replied. ‘You mean the wrinkled, very black, oven baked ones you used to buy from the Athenian grocer in Bayswater?

Exactly‘ said Mum. ‘There was some red onion, sliced very finely’ another long pause. ‘Oh and parsley, lots of parsley, chopped very roughly so you could really see the leaves.

Lemon juice? Olive oil?’

Of course‘ she said.

My Mum was right – she usually is when it comes to food related matters – it’s a surprisingly good salad. It’s delicious actually, good food for these searingly hot days. The crisp, cool, sweetness of the melon, the dark, briny olives, the creamy, salty feta, fragrant parsley, mild onion and the bright citrus make for a wonderful combination. I have made it several times now, tweaking and testing. Fresh mint makes an excellent addition, as many of you have already discovered, after all. this salad is well documented. On this occasion I added some cucumber which was nice, but mainly because it was such a tasty cucumber which is a rare thing these days. I suggest adding cucumber if you really like it – I do – otherwise it’s superfluous.

The watermelon should be ripe, sweet and well chilled, the onion red and mild. Toss the salad gently with your hands, it’s the best way. Serve immediately.

I have been eating this for lunch with bread, but I imagine it could be a good starter for a summer supper or part of a rambling BBQ.

Watermelon, cucumber, feta and black olive salad

Inspired by Mum’s Lunch at the Chelsea physic garden

Serves 2 as lunch, 4 as a starter. If this was a starter for supper I’d serve it alongside a plate of prosciutto.

  • a small, mild red onion
  • A handful of parsley
  • A sprig of mint
  • a few black olives (I use greek Kalamata or ideally the wrinkled oven baked ones)
  • 600g ripe, red, juicy watermelon
  • a small cucumber (optional)
  • 100g feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon or lime juice to taste
  • black pepper

Peel and chop the onion in two and slice each half carefully into slim half moons.

Pull the parsley leaves from the stalks, wash and pat them dry. Then chop the parsley very coarsely, you want nice leafy pieces. Do the same with the mint

Remove the rind and pips from the watermelon, and cut into approximately 2cm chunks.

Peel the cucumber and cut it into 2cm cubes.

Cut the feta into rough 2cm cubes. Stone the olives.

Put the watermelon, cucumber, feta, parsley, mint, onion and black olives into a shallow bowl. Then spoon over the olive oil, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and a twist of black pepper. Then using your hands toss the salad very gently so that the feta and melon don’t lose their shape.

Taste, and add more lemon or lime juice, olive oil or pepper if you think necessary.

Serve immediately.

37 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, parsley, recipes, salads, summer food, watermelon

Jammin

Our first strawberries this year, bought for a picnic on the first of May, were handsome, even featured, seductively heart-shaped, deep red things. They turned out to be terribly disappointing, taut, hollow and quite without taste. The berry equivalents of  tucked, toned, tight, plucked, perfect smile hollywood starlets. Strawberries more adapted to hurling than eating. Hurled they were. Then last week, punnets of scarlet fragole favette, reassuringly inconsistent in shape and size, arrived at Testaccio market from Terracina a coastal town south of Rome. Sweet, tender and as lovely as rose bud lips.

We ate these three just so, plump and juicy fine, quickly enough to avoid putting them in the fridge. I like avoiding the fridge. They only needed a tweak to pull out the green crowns and a wipe with a damp cloth – they were far too delicate to be drowned in water. The larger ones were sliced in two. They didn’t need sugar or lemon but Vincenzo had a twist of black pepper over his, insisting it brings out the flavour, something I am yet to be convinced of.

Talking of drowning, if we’d had some very heavy cream I’d have drowned  my third serving of berries in it, but we didn’t. I didn’t suffer its absence, not considering my imminent trip to London and the extremely large strawberry, scone and thick cream tea I intend to polish off with my sister Rosie and her new little girl, my first niece, Beattie.

On Saturday morning, to assuage my present compulsion to put food in jars I bought three kilos of strawberries to make jam. I have long harboured daydreams of having a cupboard full of French kilner and le parfait jars filled with pickles, preserves, compotes, tomatoes for a year, things under oil, things under alcohol. Vincenzo pointed out this larder was not going to suddenly materialise, and that if I wanted it, it was about time I started.

My mum is a great marmalade and jam maker, a very nice habit I took entirely for granted when I was growing up. I, on the other hand, am a very enthusiastic jam, jelly, conserve and preserve novice with a tendency towards stickiness and setting anxiety. I had a beer for lunch and then approached proceedings with a somewhat louche and cavalier attitude. I was working on the principle that even if it didn’t set, a deep red elixir of good strawberries and sugar, edgy with red currants and lemon juice would be delicious, even if it was poured.

Strawberry jam

Adapted from Jill Normans ‘ New Penguin cookery book‘ and my friend Ada.

  • 2kg strawberries
  • 250g punnet of red currants,
  • 1kg Jam/ preserving sugar,
  • juice of 2 large lemons.

Hull the strawberries wipe them with a damp cloth – wet fruit does not a good preserve make. Drain them well and cut them into pieces. Pull the stalks from the red currants and wash them. Layer the fruit in a large pan with sugar, ending with a layer of sugar. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to macerate for 6 hours.

Put 3 small saucers in the freezer for testing later. Put the pan on a low heat and add half the lemon juice. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat, add the rest of the lemon juice and boil – a rolling boil – for 1o minutes. remove from heat

Test by putting a little of the jam onto one of the cold saucers and put it into the fridge for a couple of minutes. Then push the jam with your finger, if it wrinkles it is set. If not, boil for 5 more minutes, remove from heat and then test again. If the jam is still not set, boil for another 5 minutes and test again. It will be set by now!

Wait for 15 minutes then pour the jam – carefully – into warm, clean sterilized jars, cover and seal while the jam is still warm to create a vacuum.

It set. Sour dough toast, lots of butter, sticky, sweet jam with a delightful kick of red currant – my jam, a pot of illy coffee, its scent curling around the flat, imminent arrival of English newspaper and crossword, option of going back to bed at any given moment. All’s well.

A woman in possession of a large quantity of strawberry jam and plans to make more is best advised to make a jam tart. Nothing fussy, a simple not-too-sweet pastry, filled with a puddle of jam. The pastry; 1oog butter, 30g icing sugar, one large egg, 200g flour. To make the pastry; put the butter, icing sugar and egg in a bowl (or food processor) and work together quickly. Blend in the flour and work together into a very soft homogenous paste.

Now working quickly with your fingertips, roughly – this is no time for neatness – push the soft pastry into a pie tin or tart case. The pastry needs to come up high enough to hold a pool of jam, you know the sort of thing I’m sure. Chill the case for 20 minutes or so. Spoon in the jam, making sure it is well within the pastry ridge.

Slide the tart into the oven – the one you have remembered to set at 180° – for 20 minutes or so, the pastry should be golden at the edges and the jam bubbling. Wait at least 20 minutes before slicing into the tart so the jam has time to settle back into some sort of firmness. Eat and Remember how much you like jam tart.

We’re jammin‘ –
To think that jammin’ was a thing of the past;
We’re jammin’,
And I hope this jam is gonna last.


26 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, jams and preserves, pies and tarts, preserves and conserves, recipes

5 years and a jelly

I have just spent a few days at my parents house near London. That’s my mum, well part of her, sitting at her kitchen table on Tuesday with oranges and pomegranates which I’ll come to later. Yes, more oranges, it must feel like citrus dèjà vu every time you come here.

It was a significant trip because last Sunday it was exactly five years since I took flight, in both senses of the word, from England to Italy. My departure on 6th March 2005 was a snap, a ping, a spontaneous decision that caused chaos at the time, but one that after much twisting, turning and the necessary amends, has led me to a very different, much happier and unexpected life here in Rome.

I’m not going to dwell on this, but it seemed important to mark the date with you all. Had it not been for that particular Sunday, I wouldn’t be in living in Rome teaching, cooking and writing in the way I do now, I wouldn’t have started this blog, I wouldn’t have become part of all this and met all of you. Good and happy things all of them.

The jelly

We are a family of Jelly dessert lovers, especially my Dad. I am not talking about the highly artificial, rubbery, lurid stuff that’s called jell-O or jelli and comes in gels, powders or ready- set in small tubs, boasting ‘only four ingredients; gelatin, water, artificial flavour and artificial colour’ – actually I do have a sentimental weakness for packet jelly so I shouldn’t sniff, especailly Rountree’s mandarin flavour with tinned mandarin segments that sit suspended in the rubbery gel like goldfish with rigamortis. I am talking about ephemeral, wibbly wobbly fresh fruit juice or alcohol jellies, ones scented with spices and softly set with gelatin or agar agar flakes, jellies which at least a nod to their honourable and intriguing history that dates back to medieval times.

My mum made such a jelly on Saturday night, a particularly wonderful and delicious one of oranges, pomegranates and cardamom.

A softly set, cloudy pink dessert, light, sweet and nicely sharp with the warm, fragrant, spicy undertones of the cardamom. Elegant but inherently amusing because jelly always is. Wobble wobble.

On Sunday I sat at the kitchen table copying the jelly recipe into my notebook, it is one of Nigel Slater’s that my Mum snipped from the Guardian back in December last year – an alternative christmas pudding, he also suggests prunes with chocolate and creme fraiche or a chocolate and chestnut terrine which were also duly noted down. Then Mum and I sat talking about jelly, agreeing it is abused, misunderstood, overlooked and discussing the endless possibilities.  Suddenly Mum leapt up excitedly and pulled a book off the shelf, a slim, hardback volume – with a lovely painting of summer pudding and a custard tart on the cover – called English puddings sweet and savory by Mary Norwalk. She turned to chapter two; Jellies, blancmanges and Flummeries.

A flummery indeed, more about that another day. First the jellies, after a fascinating introduction and insight into the history of jelly, there are recipes for lemon jelly, cider jelly, port wine jelly, Victorian apple jelly, milk jelly, little orange jellies served in orange skin baskets which were a favourite of Charles II apparently…… I scribbled so frantically my mum gave me the book to bring back to Rome. For a jelly lover like myself it was bewitching, the possibilities, in possession of gelatin and maybe some sugar you can set just about anything, into a quivering, delicate dessert.

It all very fanciful, jelly daydreaming.

Anyway back to the orange, pomegranate and cardamom jelly, which I made again on Tuesday the day before I left.

Basically you make some fruit juice (it could be alcohol or any flavoured solution for that matter)and set it with gelatin or agar agar. In this case it is orange and pomegranate juice, oh and a lemon too, to which you add some finely chopped zest. You don’t have to worry about stray pomegranate seeds or orange pulp, it can be a messy lumpy mass, you will strain it later. My mum has this cunning little tool called a lemon reamer which is well, cunning and I wish I had thought of it.

Then you crush 6 pretty papery grey- green cardomens pods with the back of a heavy knife so they split revealing the neat rows of jet black seeds, and then you scoop up pods and seeds and add them along with a little sugar to the pink juice. Now you warm the juice until it is just, but not quite boiling, you cover it and leave it to sit and the sultry cardomen infuse the fruit juice for about 15 minutes

While the juice is sitting quietly you soak 5 leaves of gelatin in cold water. You stain the juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardamom pods) and you slip the now floppy, gooey gelatin leaves into the just warm juice

You return the reserved cardamom pods into the juice – they will float around, apparently pointlessly, but will in fact discreetly give some of their flavour to the jelly as it sets. Finally you divide the juice between 6 or 8 little glasses and refrigerate them for a good 4 or 5 hours or overnight.

On Saturday night my Mum took Nigel’s advice and broke open the remaining pomegranate, separated the fruit and served each tumbler of jelly with a crown of deep red jewel like pomegranate seeds piled on top which was delicious and very beautiful.

Back in Rome and in my kitchen which seems very small, I have all the ingredients and my new lemon reamer. I will make this for supper on Saturday for after main course (beef, I think) and before the chocolate.

Last thing, if you are vegetarian (Gelatin is a protein produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the bones and connective tissues of animals) and using agar agar or vege -gel follow the instructions and quantities on the packet, then please let me know, I am really really interested in the results.

Orange, pomegranate and cardamom jelly

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Guardian

serves 6 or 8

  • 6 or 7 large, juice oranges (to give about 750ml juice)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 pomegranates plus another for serving
  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 5 sheets of gelatine or agar agar powder or

Cut few strips of oranges and lemon zest with a sharp knife and set aside then squeeze the oranges (you should have about 750ml of orange juice) and then the two pomegranates and the lemon.

Put the juice and the orange and lemon zest into a stainless steel pan along with the 6 cardamom pods you have split open by pressing them with the back of a heavy knife – add both pods and seeds – and the sugar.

Warm the pan gently over a low flame until the juice is bubbling and nearly but not quite boiling. Cover the pan, turn of the flame and leave it to sit for 15 minutes.

Once the pan has been sitting for about 10 minutes slide the gelatine sheets into a bowl of cold water to soften for 5 minutes.

Stain the now just warm juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardamom pods)

While the juice is sitting quietly you soak 5 leaves of gelatin in cold water. You stain the juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardomen pods) and you slip the now floppy, transparent gelatin into the just warm juice and stir them carefully and thoroughly into warm juice, the gelatine sheets will melt in seconds.

Add the reserved cardamom pods into the juice – they will float around, apparently pointlessly, but will in fact discreetly give some of their flavour to the jelly as it sets. Finally you divide the juice between 6 or 8 little glasses and refrigerate them for a good 4 or 5 hours or overnight.

IF you like you can break open the remaining pomegranate, remove the seeds and pile on top of the jellies.

48 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, jelly, Puddings, Rachel's Diary, recipes

Oranges and a lemon lunch

We have been buying, eating and squeezing citrus fruit rather compulsively of late, gloriously good and beautiful oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruits and clementines, lots and lots of clementines. Orange and yellow alternatives to one of those lamps for seasonal affective disorder, a citrus antidote to the dreary, damp and frankly miserable weather we are enduring.

I have also become rather obsessive about a certain lemon tree, the one with bright yellow fruit that sits in the neglected garden of a block of flats I pass at least once a day. Lately it always seems to be raining and very grey when I walk past this particular block and then blink, there it is! through the drizzle, startling and seemingly unfeasible, a tree heavy with sunny yellow lemons at this dark, damp time. For the last three years I have watched this tree, first the blossom; the delicate, pale, fragrant flowers and then after, later, the glowing fruit. Then for three years I’ve looked on in despair and frustration, through gaps in the flimsy but high fence, as the fruit shrivels, or falls and then lies abandoned on the ground. Last year I tried to enlist Vincenzo in a commandoesque plan to scale the fence late one night. But a reconnaissance mission and an assessment of the fence one afternoon confirmed his suspicions that we would bring the whole rickety thing down if we tried to go over.

Fence aside, I suspect Vincenzo was still reluctant to participate in any clandestine fruit collecting after a misguided afternoon of fig and blackberry foraging ended rather badly – insane dog, a weird rash and mild concussion – the year before,

A year on and the tree is full of yellow fruit again. Knowing I was going to write some sort of citrus post this week helped end my procrastination. On Tuesday I left a note (and a nice tip) with the porter of the building addressed to the owner of the lemon tree – who I am informed is rarely in Rome and is therefore partly forgiven for lemon neglect –  offering a home for the lemons and some lemon marmalade in return. We will see.

But now back to the plentiful citrus we already have, the ones sitting in the vast basket at the top of this post and the lemons sitting below, on the usual chair.

I bought these handsome Sicilian lemons at Testaccio market today, it was impossible not to, three vast crates of them sat at the front of the stall, big and heavily scented with bright shiny leaves and knobbly, lively, unwaxed skins. They are incredibly thick-skinned with powerful but slighty sweet juice which makes them seem much less aggressive than other lemons I’ve known. These are the kind of lemons that Vincenzo’s grandfather used to eat in Sicily, one each day, sometimes two, whole, as you would an apple, skin, pith, fruit, the whole lemon lot. These are lemons to make this one day.

Such nice lemons deserved some undivided attention so I made the lemon jelly I have been promsising myself – I am, as you may remember, extraordinarily fond of jelly –  then we decided on a lemon scented lunch, something we haven’t had for ages, tagliatelle with lemon and parmesan.

This is inspired by Nigel Slater’s recipe for linguine with basil and lemon and a lovely dish of pappardelle ( thick ribbons of fresh pasta) with lemon sauce we once ate in Sorrento. Both recipes are based on the premise that if you whisk lemon juice with plenty of olive oil and lots of freshly grated parmesan you create a thick, grainy, deeply flavoured lemon and cheese ‘sauce’ which you toss with hot pasta.

The flavours work beautifully together, the sharp, lip pucking acidity of the lemon is tempered by the parmesan and the olive oil lends it a silky glossy texture. All the ingredients come together into a surprising sauce which clings to each strand of pasta, creamy and delicious, a sauce which manages to be both soothing and vital in the same moment.

It is important you whisk the ingredients together in a warm bowl. especially on these cold days, the modest heat helps the ingredients come together and the flavours emerge.

The hot pasta continues what the warm bowl started and brings out the heady scent of the lemon juice, zest and the salty sweetness of the parmesan.

A lemon scented lunch, simple and deicious, just the thing for jaded spirits comforting but bright and vital food for grey days.

As usual I am very cautious about giving you exact quantities here and suggest some tentative experimentation, especially with the lemon juice. I say this from experience, the first time I ever made this I used (as Nigel suggests) the juice of a large lemon and even though we both liked it, there was quite alot of lemon shuddering. We now use the juice of a medium lemon (and our lemons are mild-mannered and sweet compared to the really aggressive ones I used to buy in London) slightly more parmesan and a pinch of the zest. Even though Vincenzo nods approvingly I know he would use even less lemon juice and more zest if he was as bossy as I am.

In summer a handful of torn basil leaves makes a lovely addition to this sauce.

Tagliatelle with lemon and parmesan

Serves 2

  • A pinch of zest and roughly the juice of a medium lemon
  • 80g freshly grated parmesan plus more for sprinkling
  • 75ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 220g dried or 350g fresh tagliatelle or linguine

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil.

If you are using dried pasta which takes about 8 minutes to cook then add that to the water now, If however, you are using fresh pasta which only takes 2 or 3 minutes then start making the sauce first.

Grate the cheese.

Warm a large bowl (warmed under a running hot water tap, then dried) and add the olive oil, some of the lemon juice, the zest and beat briefly with a little whisk until it emulsifies, Now add the parmesan, beat again, taste, add more lemon, taste and whisk again until you have a thick, grainy cream. Taste again, you probably won’t need salt with all the parmesan but if you feel the need add some

Once the pasta is ready (still al dente which means to the tooth and suggests the pasta still has bite and isn’t soggy) drain it and quickly toss it with the lemon and parmesan sauce.

Divide the pasta between two warm bowls, sprinkle with more (unnecessary but nice) parmesan and a grind of black pepper.

Update

We made this again the night after posting this adding a big healthy tablespoon of crème fraîche to the lemon, parmesan and oil cream. Vincenzo really liked it, saying the cream tempered the acidity, I did too but I liked the simplicity of the sauce before. It was certainly more indulgent and a bit more special….anyway just thought I would let you know.

Have a good weekend wherever you are

74 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, lemons, pasta and rice, Rachel's Diary, recipes

Pears poached in red wine

A couple of weeks ago

I posted about prunes poached in Marsala and spices and I rambled on – again – about how much I like poached, gently stewed and baked fruit, especially quinces, those prunes and pears poached in red wine.

Then I realised it had been rather a too long…..So long in fact that I’d almost forgotten how simple they are to make and how handsome and proud they look with their deep burgundy curves, especially when perched on a white plate in a little pool of thick, sweet syrup.

P1040903

The pear above was my breakfast on Sunday morning. Lovely leftovers from Halloween supper on Saturday for which I crafted a very wonky pumpkin and we ate poached pears with a blob of marscapone after the main course of slow roasted pork – which was good but not as delicious as the smells rolling from the oven all afternoon had promised or as I had hoped  – and before the little chocolate puddings.

Vincenzo looked disapprovingly at at my deep red breakfast, ‘the alcohol has evaporated‘ I reassured him, he still looked confused and then proceeded to made some toast which meant I ate both pears.

Whilst eating breakfast and marvelling at how delicious the sweet, plump, dense graininess of wine doused pears is and trying not to marvel at the sheer quantity of washing up from the night before that awaited me, I realised that not only were these my first poached pears in ages but also my first pears in ages.

I have all but given up on fresh pears you see, which is rather sad as I know they can be delicious, luscious and sweet…. especially with cheese. It’s just that I’m bored of being disappointed by either rock hard bullets or mealy, mushy specimens, and frustrated that the ’10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat’ Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of continues to elude me.

I also have a nagging suspicion that many pears today, even those from the nicest trees don’t even have that particular 10 minutes in them, even at their best (which I miss obviously) they are decidedly average.

This recipe is perfect for a cynical pear lover like myself and an excellent way to render even the most average pear delicious, because lets face it, there are alot of average pears around. You don’t have to worry about finding perfect specimens, waiting for the perfect moment while wondering if the wait is in vain anyway and risking another pear death in your fruit bowl.

P1040905

You just need some firm dessert pears, really firm, the kind that look rather unyielding and missile- like, as if they could take a burglar out – temporarily of course – rather than just splat in his face if he were to surprise you in the kitchen one day. You peel them, leaving them whole but with stalks in tact. You simmer the pears in a whole bottle of red wine – whole bottle of wine, what a lovely group of words – some sugar with a stick of cinnamon until they are translucent, soft and tender.

You let the pears cool in the cooking liquid and once they are cool you lift them from the liquid and set them aside while you reduce the liquid by about half into a thick, dense syrup. You then reunite the pears with the syrup and allow them to sit for at least a day and preferably two or three. You can turn them in the syrup every now and then. While they rest all sorts of nice things happen as they soak up more of the syrup and their colour deepens.

P1040908

Serve cold with cream, marscapone or thick greek yogurt.

Pears poached in Red wine

Serves 6 or even better 4 so you have two extra for your breakfast

Inspired by Elizabeth David – who I do wish people would make as much fuss about as they do about Julia Child.

  • 6 firm medium-sized pears – Bartlett and Williams work well
  • A big bowl of cold water with the juice of half a lemon squeezed in.
  • 200ml water
  • a bottle of young red wine 8 (I like cote-du-rhone or Pinot noir)
  • 300g /2 1/2 cups of sugar
  • a stick of cinnamon
  • 2 cloves
  • a strip of lemon peel

Peel the pears leaving them whole with the stalk intact. Drop each pear into the lemon water while you peel the next to prevent discoloring.

Put the wine, water, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and lemon peel into a large heavy based pan and over a gentle flame bring everything to a gentle boil. Keep stirring at the beginning until the sugar is dissolved.

Carefully lower the pears into the simmering water – Some people like to put a circle of baking parchment over the pears and liquid and then weight the pears with a plate so they stay submerged. I don’t as the pears bob around enough to cook evenly.

Cover the pan and allow the pears to simmer for 25 – 40 minutes (which will depend on how firm they were) until they are translucent and tender – but not soggy – when pierced with the point of a knife.

Remove the pan from the heat, leave it covered and let the pears cool in the cooking liquid.

Once the pears are cool lift them from the liquid and set them aside while you reduce the liquid by about half into a thick, dense syrup.

Reunite the pears with the syrup and allow them to sit for at least a day and preferably two or three – turning them every now and then.

17 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, Puddings, Red Wine

Muskily spiced Prunes.

P1040727

I really like Prunes.

Sticky, chewy, complex, concentrated, thick with the taste of intense fruit sugar, treacle and dark caramel, jet black, mysterious prunes….

My affection for prunes..……despite the obstacles which include 1. the English speaking worlds prune negativity and habit of sniggering and turning up of the nose at the mere mention of prunes (no wonder the French think we are unsophisticates) 2.their unfortunate association with the dreary food and bleak dining rooms of English public institutions and the breakfast buffet at fusty seaside B&B’s. 3.The enduring childhood idea that prunes are as funny if not funnier than a whoopee cushion……… started young.

My Grandma may have championed their curative qualities, she believed you not only ‘ate‘ but also ‘took‘ prunes, but she also adored them. So we did too because we adored her. She would stew prunes gently in a little apple juice and sugar until they were plump and soft, then serve them just warm in the stickysweet syrup with thick, creamy custard. ‘Not too many mind‘ she might have said knowingly in her soft northern lilt with a cheeky smile ‘you can have too much of a good thing‘ and we would promptly roll around laughing because we knew what that meant. She would also make a sticky, prune dense fruit cake best eaten in thick slices with a chunk of crumbly Lancashire cheese at tea time.

My youthful love of prunes however was cemented by a certain round, deep, metallic red tin with gold writing my Dad would buy from Fortnum and Mason for my Mum every christmas. The tin, which would be prised opened after christmas dinner contained 16 Pruneaux d’agen fourrès. 16 jet black, glossy, dried Pruneaux d’agen from southwest france plumped back into voluptuous roundness by a filling of prune cream. My childish lips were stunned, were they one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten ? The dark, chewy, deep seductive flavour of the prune bursting open to reveal a soft, luxurious prune cream,  I might even have declared that Fortnum and Mason Pruneaux d’agen fourrès were my favorite thing ever. – precocious ? moi? – maybe a little, but mostly at the mercy of something ambrosial.

Holidays in France, in particular a rather unhappy French exchange with a girl calld Carolyn when I was about 13 during which I eased my homesickness by consuming much fine French farmhouse cooking, served to reinforce my prune devotion. Nobody it seemed was sniggering in France they were simply relishing prunes in both sweet and savory dishes.  I remember pork garnished with rich juicy prunes, a prune tart, a prune clafoutis I think and best of all prunes soaked…I mean drenched in Armagnac of which I ate many, went rather pink and subsequently found climbing the stairs to be a rather confusing task.

Growing up my mum never doomed prunes with medicinal or worse a ‘healthy’ eat your greens albatross. It was quite the opposite in our house, prunes were a treat, a luxury, a delight. They were in the pantry all year long for snacks or nice cakes, the odd tart and appeared with pleasing regularity on the table on Sunday mornings, part of a fruit compotê to be eaten with thick yogurt. It was Christmas however when prunes came into their own, wrapped in bacon for the delicious treat that is devils on horseback, as stuffing for the turkey or soaked in brandy and then fried in butter if we were having roast duck. Then, the tin, the red metallic one with the gold writing…….

As I write this I have popped a couple of prunes in my mouth just to remind myself how much I like them, ‘not too many mind‘ I can hear my grandma saying ‘you can have too much of a good thing’…….

I imagine if you don’t like prunes you haven’t bothered to read this far. If on the other hand you’re still reading and you share my affection for these delicious wrinkly things you’ll probably like this recipe, Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Muskily spiced prunes…..prunes that is, agen prunes if possible, poached in a syrup of fragrant earl grey tea, Marsala and spices.

Muskily spiced prunes – what a good name for a pudding.

Or a breakfast with greek yogurt….

P1040725

You may have noticed I have a penchant for compotes, for poached and stewed fruit and they are often my pudding of choice. Well executed such fruit needs no adornment. However a big dollop of real custard, a blob of creme fraiche or yogurt, maybe a sable biscuit is rather nice. These prunes are nudged right up next to my other favorites; poached quince, pears simmered in red wine or apricots in Sauterne.

The recipe

You make a spicy tea syrup of earl grey tea, muscovado sugar, some marsala, a stick of cinnamon, a clove, a strip of orange peel and a star anise in which poach your prunes for about 20 minutes – tender bellied Agen are perfect. Then you let the prunes sit and steep in the syrup for 12 or 24 or if you can wait 36 hours when they are soft and drenched in sweet spiciness.

They are, as Nigella suggests, delicious with baked custard. I also like them with creme fraiche or thick greek yogurt, the tartness of both balancing the sweetness of the syrup.

The last thing….

…..we prune lovers know that prunes will never win unanimous support and people may well snigger. So I suggest you make this for someone you know will appreciate it or, just eat them all yourself. 250g is about 32 prunes thats gives you 6 to taste while they are steeping, 3 breakfasts and a random snack you can eat whist reflecting that you’re glad so many people are rude about prunes and don’t like them as that means more for you.

P1040731

Muskily spiced prunes

from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to eat’

To whom it may concern –why oh why did you change the book cover of ‘How to eat‘ and put that silly picture of her, we know she is beautiful and sexy, WE KNOW, but the other simple, understated cover was so much more in keeping with this wonderful erudite book.

yields 4 portions

  • 250g pitted prunes
  • 500ml boiling water and an earl grey tea bag
  • 150ml Marsala
  • a cinnamon stick broken in two
  • a star anise
  • a clove
  • the peel of half an orange pared from the fruit with a vegetable peeler
  • 100g light muscavado sugar

Make up 500ml of tea with the boiling water and the earl grey tea bag – discard the bag when the tea is strongish.

Put the tea, the Marsala, muscovado sugar, cinnamon stick, clove, star anise and orange peel in a heavy saucepan.

Bring the pan to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the prunes and allow them to poach for 20 minutes.

Leave the prunes for 12, 24 or best of all 36 hours – they get better and better so it is worth it.

After 36 hours remove the prunes and spices to another bowl with a slotted spoon and then pour the syrup into a smaller pan and reduce it over a lively flame until you have a thick unctuous puddle of almost treacle thick syrup. Once the reduced liquid is cool spoon it over the prunes.

Serve at room temperature with warm baked custard or cool yogurt.

12 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, Puddings, recipes

Italian plum and almond cake

P1040609

My copy of David Tanis’s ‘A platter of figs’ falls open in the most familiar way at page 171………there is even a faint, careless, circular coffee cup stain. Two clues which suggest I have made it dozens of times…….I haven’t….. I have just looked at page 171 rather alot.

Having said that…. it is a little strange. I have faithfully smoothed and stared at other pages, pored over various pictures with equal intensity. The page in question is not the middle of the book, the binding doesn’t seem to favour it and whats more, it is a volume fat with bookmarks – 4 posit’s, 1 postcard, a recipe I ripped out of the newspaper and a depressing bank statement – and it still falls open at page 171.

Anyway, I decided to take it as a sign, a message, maybe from the author himself.

I just needed to wait for Plum time…..

P1040585

…. which has arrived.

Nice plums have been around at the market since late July but apart from some tiny greengagelike delights which took me by surprise one-day, I didn’t buy any – being too preoccupied with cherries and then the peaches, nectarines and apricots before they disappeared for another year – Plums can wait I thought.

Until now that is, September, when are at their best, their sweet, juicy but robust flesh and dusty mellow colours fitting and right for these still warm but unmistakably autumnal days. We ate the first plums straight, they deserved it. Blue, black, oval ones called Stanley or Italian plums, golden globes called la giocca d’oro (golden drop) some flushed with scarlet and pale greeny yellow ones known here as regina claudia.

Then I flopped the book open and finally made the cake.

plum cake

It is a delight of a cake. Stanley, drops of gold and Queen Claudia Plums (David Tanis recommends you use all Stanley plums) baked in batter of ground almonds, sugar, eggs, melted butter, milk and just a little flour.  It is dense and compact. It is most certainly a cake but inside the texture is reminiscent of clafoutis or pancakes. This is because the generous quantity of plums studding the batter bake and collapse in the oven, becoming soft and jammy thus keeping the batter surrounding them moist and dense, slightly fudgy and almondy. Each slice is a delight as you meet pools of soft, baked plums. For this reason it is best served warm or within a few hours of baking.

A little after I took this photo the light faded alongwith the possibility of decent photos, rest assured we had two slices each and then Vincenzo shaved off about 3 more slivers. We thought about some ice-cream, or creme fraiche on top, but that would have meant leaving the house and neither of us wanted either badly enough to do that.  I will however get ice-cream, maybe almond, for next Thursday when I make it again for supper with some friends I know will appreciate a slice or two of warm plum and almond cake for pudding.

Now I used a smaller, deeper tin than recommended which meant longer in the oven was needed, with a little tin foil hat for some of the time to stop the top burning, it did work, but I will be interested to see what happens with a wider tin. Maybe the depth of my tin was also the reason all the plum slices drowned and sank in the batter rather than providing a pretty pattern on the top. Actually I didn’t mind them drowning and the lack of pretty patterns and perfect execution, it made the whole thing kind of rustic and easy which is how I like my food really.

P1040582

Just for the record my tin was 8″ across and I only used 700g of plums (it was looking very full) and I left it in the oven for 50 minutes with the tin foil hat to stop the top burning for the final 15 minutes. I have however given you the original page 171 recipe because it is David Tanis and it feels right, I am sure you will play around and experiment accordingly if you feel need, after all, I think we might all be making this quite alot.

Italian plum cake

Adapted From David Tanis’s ‘A platter of figs

  • 100g / 1 cup ground almonds
  • 100g /1/2 cup of fine sugar plus 50g/ 1/4 cup of sugar for topping
  • 75g / 1/3 cup of all – purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of whole milk
  • 4 tbsp of melted butter
  • 900g Italian/ stanley plums, pitted and sliced thickly

Set the oven to 180°/ 350F and butter a 10 inch tart dish or springform pan.

Mix the ground almonds, sugar, flour and salt in a large bowl.

Beat the eggs with the milk and then stir in the melted butter and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon and them whisk with a balloon whisk until the batter is smooth and silky.

Pour and scrape the batter into the pan. Arrange the plum slices on top in a circular pattern (!!!). sprinkle the extra 1/4 cup of sugar over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes until the top is golden and a skewer pushed into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Best served warm or within a few hours of baking.

19 Comments

Filed under cakes and baking, food, fruit, recipes, Uncategorized

Cherry compotê

Life is just a bowl of cherries, don’t take it serious, its mysterious. Life is just a bowl of cherries, so live and laugh and laugh at love, love a laugh, laugh and love.

Bob Fosse

cherries 1

At this time of year I am even less inclined than usual to make a real pudding. Actually my pretty limited pudding patience runs out in May, – this year it was about the 5th when I made this again. This is pretty fortuitous timing considering that as my Patience fades, nature throbs and thrives and steps in with the most superlative sweet bowlfuls. The equally superlative gelateria two minutes from our flat – the one someone runs to while the carnage of plates is being cleared from the table, the one that scoops out much icy- creamy flavoured gelato joy to all – provides good company for the fruit feast.

The first sweet bowlfuls are of strawberries, sliced and tossed with lemon and sugar to make them glisten and weep with flavour. Soon we will have bowls of golden apricots eaten just so or macerated in sweet wine, or rose flushed peaches sliced and served with Giolitti’s finest gelato di crema. Next should be the berries which I like straight with some thick cream and then the currants, black and red soaked in cassis, shirt stainingly beautiful. Then will come sweet, smooth skinned nectarines and finally syrupy sweet, luscious figs.

But right now it’s cherry time.

cherries new

We ate the first bag-fulls from the market and those still warm from our friends tree just so, devouring the tiny, deep red, fleshy globes greedily and just a little compulsively. Then, inspired by Sigrid (as I so often am) I gently poached some of our cherry bounty in a little water, some golden caster sugar,  a couple of strips of lemon zest, 2 couple of cloves, and a stick of cinnamon.

cherries before cooking

They needed only 10 minutes, just enough to render them tender but still holding their shape, I then scooped out the fruit from the deep red liquid and set it aside while the syrup bubbled and reduced away for a little longer before reuniting both fruit and syrup and letting them macerate and mellow in the fridge.

I think this compote is best served cold, so the syrup is thick and unctuous.

On Saturday we ate the compote spooned over some bitter, dark chocolate gelato then on Sunday morning we ate the left overs with thick, creamy Greek yogurt which was especially nice.

cherries for breakfast

I have been thinking I should really try and have a little pudding patience this summer because I think a spoonful of these would be delicious with this.

Cherry compote

  • 1 kg sweet cherries, washed de-stalked and slit to the stone on one side
  • 60g caster sugar
  • about 10 tbsp water (just enough to cover the cherries)
  • 2 cloves
  • a couple of strips of lemon zest
  • a stick of cinnamon

Put the cherries in a heavy based pan with the water, sugar, cloves, lemon zest and cinnamon.

Cook over a modest heat until the cherry juices run and the sugar had dissolved and then simmer gently for about 10 minutes.

The cherries should be paler and tender but still holding their shape.

Using a slotted spoon lift the cherries from the juice and set them aside in serving bowl and then increase the heat under the juice and let it boil and bubble until you have an intense, sweet, thicker syrup.

Remove the syrup from the heat and then pour it over the cherries.

Chill and serve as you like.


7 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, recipes

Jelly grows up

jelly-21

Before we talk about the grown-up jelly above – sorry it is not elegantly formed in a fancy mould by the way – a moment to recall our jelly years.

Jelly, just saying the word makes me happy.

When I was little I thought jelly was not only delicious – yummy was probably the word I used back then –  it was fun and encouraged all sorts of naughtiness and silliness. You didn’t just eat jelly, you giggled as it wobbled in the bowl and wiggled on the spoon, from which it often escaped, flopping on the table, splat, giggles dissolved into hysterics. You didn’t just swallow jelly, oh no there was serious squelching and gargling to be done before that.

‘She leapt up on the telly, she pirouetted on the cat, she gargled with some jelly and she spat in Grandpa’s hat’ Brain Patten ‘Gargling with Jelly

My mum used to make us happy, instant puddings with either a packet of  Rountrees concentrated orange jelly cubes and a tin of tangerines or red cubes. Red cubes of course, were strawberry, but at that age jelly was all about colour, you didn’t tell your best friend your were having lime jelly, it was green jelly which for obvious reasons was the funniest of all.

More than one of those packets never made it to the table, as it wasn’t long before we cottoned on to the fact a packet of concentrated jelly is effectively a great big bouncy gummy sweet. My brother and I would clamber up the pantry shelves to swipe one and then hide behind the sofa scoffing our jelly loot.

My jelly years like my childhood were happy. Even when I became a stroppy and rather unhappy teenager, asserting my independence and angst by pulling my sleeves down so far I appeared to have lost both hands, wearing industrial quantities of black eyeliner and dabbling in various food fads, I would happily forget to be fussy in the presence of jelly. My hands would appear and I would join my younger siblings in a gargle.

As we grew up, so did Jelly in our house. Mum started using leaves of gelatine and simmering up delicate jellies sweetened with fresh fruit and more often than not a generous dose of alcohol, Sauternes, muscat, port. I think I was about 15 when I first tasted Port jelly – grown-up jelly my mum said – deep ruby-red port and a little sugar simmered with leaves of gelatine and then left to set. I thought I was in heaven, delicate, deeply flavoured yet still wibbly and a bit silly, I seem to remember my dad winking at me as he raised the spoonful of quivering jelly to his lips, then almost imperceptibly he slurped, then squelched and I giggled and did the same. My palate had grown-up a little, but faced with jelly, I clearly had not and more importantly, nor had my Dad. .

Then I forgot about jelly, for the last 20 years I have been almost bereft of jelly. I seem to remember I ate a rather nice muscat jelly at a very serious dinner party once, but the company was tedious and nobody even smiled let alone giggled as it wobbled, so that doesn’t count. Oh and various trifles with a jelly layer but that’s not proper wibbly, wobbly jelly of the sweet gargling kind.

Then about a week ago, I found this recipe.

jelly-new-2

It’s from Simon Hopkinson‘s ‘Second helpings of Roast Chicken’

I managed to spray the whole kitchen with orange juice which was not entirely necessary. I arrived home after work, not only had it set but Vincenzo had cleaned up my mess, the two best things that had happened all day. We ate it for pudding, fresh, clean, fragrant, the slivers of oranges dissolving in your mouth. Grown-up jelly indeed, but with an unmistakable wibbly, wobbliness which made it impossible to take it too seriously.

Prosecco and orange Jelly

  • 8 good, juicy oranges
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 5 leaves of gelatine
  • About 200ml extra freshly squeezed orange juice strained
  • 250ml champagne or prosecco

Put the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water to soak until spongy.

Using a sharp serrated knife cut the skin and pith from the oranges. The best way to do this is to cut a slice from each end of the orange, stand the fruit on its end and then cut downwards in a curved motion.

Take a peeled orange in your hand and over a bowl slice between and against the membrane to allow a segment to fall out. You want delicate slivers without any pith or membrane.

Strain the juice created by segmenting the oranges into a measuring jug and top up with the freshly squeezed orange juice until you have 250ml.

In a small pan warm the orange juice and sugar over a modest heat and add the gelatine leaves. Stir until the gelatine is melted,

Take the pan off the heat and then slowly add the prosecco – it will fizz so stir very gently.

Line a terrine mould with cling film and pile in the orange segments. Pour over the orange and prosecco and gently nudge the segments around to distribute them evenly.

Put in the fridge to set for at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve dip the mould in hot water for a few seconds and then invert onto a serving plate. Slice carefully using a serrated knife dipped in hot water.

Eat and feel free to gargle and giggle.

5 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, Puddings, recipes

Sliced oranges and medjool dates

o-and-d-3

The sun came out today, for a while it was almost too warm for my thick woolly tights which have provided such comfort during the recent cold, damp days. I say almost, they remained firmly in place, I know they have many more days of work before they are consigned to the lowest drawer and my favorite maremeko cotton stripey socks are pulled into position.

It came out, warm on my back while I walked back from school, then it tucked itself back behind a big grey cloud which promised nothing but rain. And rain it did, nothing dramatic, but it rained.

It did not dampen my spirits though, oh no I had seen the sun, I had thought about stripey socks and best of all by the time the splatter of odd drops had officially become a downpour, I too was tucked away. Tucked under the rusting girders and glass of the down at heel but still charming and glorious Testaccio market surrounded by oranges and clementines and mandarins. Crate and crates of them, piles, mounds, heaps, even the occasional orderly display of startlingly orange fruit with deep forest green leaves.

It is not the first time I have admired the glorious orange abundance at the market, I have been observing it progress since October when seasonal fruit and vegetables of such colour began creeping onto the stalls. But today I really noticed…. it was beautiful.

I bought a slice and 2 brown paper bags full of orange happiness.

The slice was of pumpkin, carved from a vast specimen, oh but sweet as can be, I tasted a sliver – I do like to taste before I buy – I should make soup, I promised Vincenzo some soup. The Paper bag was of oranges, Navels from Catania for my Sicilian…..and me.

oranges

This, the first bag is for eating just so.

The second bag is for juice and slicing and serving with dates, the ones I bought yesterday, the ones I can’t stop eating.

dates

Sliced oranges with slivers of medjool dates. That’s it, thats the recipe, or should I call it an idea, yes, an idea.

It may only be an idea but I promise you it is a delicious one.

date-and-oranges

This is a pure and clean and sweet citrusy plateful to brighten even the most jaded palate. It celebrates two exquisite ingredients, allowing both to shine while nodding compliments to each other. Talking of fine partnerships you could serve this alongside your deep dark chocolate cake, cleansing the palate before you dive into your slice.

We ate this a few days ago after a good lunch of spinach and ricotta ravioli with sage butter, it was a fine lunch.

Sliced oranges and medjool dates

  • 4 oranges
  • 8 medjool dates

Using a very sharp knife you cut away the peel and pith from 4 of your most beautiful, flavoursome orange.

Cut each orange into thin slices – saving precious juices- and lay the slices on a large plate.

Open your dates and slide out the stone then cut  each date into fine slivers and scatter over the orange slices.

Pour the saved juices over the orange slices.

Serve cool but not too cold.

1 Comment

Filed under food, fruit, recipes