Archive | fruit RSS feed for this section

NOPI’s burrata with peaches and coriander seeds

15 Sep

peaches, burrata, nopi

Being grown-up means eating Coco Pops whenever you want. It means buying unfashionable clothes for comfort. It starts with a desire to move to the countryside.

Being grown-up seems to mean more responsibilities, more spreadsheets. Except that when we were children, we didn’t dream of more chores, but more choices.

I have been canvassing friends for their opinion on adulting, whether they consider themselves to have reached adulthood yet or not. I got silly and sensible answers, each with a ring of truth. Mostly they didn’t revolve around the obvious milestones – marriage, children, graduation – they were instead more intangible realities. Like being in a position to teach an intern, to explain an illness, to create a new life in a new country. Not feeling guilty about not finishing projects. The freedom to drink a beer in your own garden.

At least this last week, my idea of being an adult has included:

Going out to dinner at my favourite restaurant in London, Ottolenghi’s NOPI. I had been once before, with friends and family, for my 22nd birthday. This time I paid, and it was worth every penny. We had polenta truffle chips, blackened aubergine with basil, one shortrib with caramelised horseradish, the lightest courgette fritters, and of course, the burrata, with peaches and coriander seeds. Going home with the recipe book, gilt-edged, like a precious manuscript.

Spending an afternoon in the Luxembourg gardens with ice cream, talking about adulthood, memories, the initial sparks of a friendship. A second ice cream on the same day, as a treat for an excitable three-and-a-half year old, and for us as well, because why not? This involved waving at metros (and the driver waving back!) and making ourselves moustaches out of the black sesame ice cream.

Taking the time to queue at the Italian delicatessen, to buy pancetta, pecorino, scamorza, delivered fresh from Italy the day before. Buying extra burrata, knowing that we would be having it on Sunday anyway. Not taking the time to sit down to eat it, tearing it apart while standing up in the kitchen with my flatmate. (We both rate burrata as our number favourite cheese of all time. If you have never had it before, it is like a generous mozzarella with an extra creamy centre. If you have never had it before, we may not be able to be friends with you. True friendship, as previously defined in our household: allowing the other person to eat more than half the burrata.)

Cooking nicely presented meals for one, spaghetti cacio e pepe, with a neat green salad.

The film Youth, by Paolo Sorrentino. Trampolining as a sport. A sculpture class. Speeding through Paris on a bike, and noticing a dozen things from my new perspective.

A meeting of the Grape Leaves Club, leaning on the kitchen counters, glass of white wine in hand, as we sterilised jars, simmered plums and sugar, and ladled jam into jars. Teaching the above almost-four year old to say JAM for confiture. Sitting down to supper and nearly weeping with laughter at some inanity. A moment of quiet as we each took a bite of our first course, burrata again, seasoned with dukkah, and served with sliced peaches à la Ottolenghi.

In summary, adulthood for me seems to mean mostly… dairy products? So the last word to my wisest friend of three and three-quarters: “no-one knows the difference between a kid and a grown-up,” but the latter “seems to have a lot of difficult things to do.”

~~~

Burrata with peaches and coriander seeds

A simplified version of the recipe from NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (no lavender oil). If you can’t find fresh burrata, buy the best mozzarella you can get your hands on. And if you have some dukkah on hand, it makes for a wonderful, toasted, spicy crunch on top. Otherwise coriander seeds, as in the original recipe, are great.

serves 4-6 as a starter

2 fresh burrata, 300g each

2 peaches

olive oil, lemon juice, salt

2 tsp coriander seeds OR 2 tsp dukkah

Boil a kettle. Gently score the peach skin as if you were about to cut the peaches in quarters. Place in a bowl. Pour the hot water over the whole peaches to cover. After thirty seconds, test to see if the skin slips off. Run peaches under cold water, peel and slice thinly. Toss the slices in a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt, to taste. Toast the coriander seeds in a small frying pan until fragrant. (No need to toast dukkah as it has been toasted already.) Gently tear the burrata in half/thirds and place a piece on each plate, sprinkling the coriander or dukkah on top. Add peach slices.

~~~

To buy burrata in Paris: Cooperativa Latte Cisternino – 108 rue St Maur, 11ème / 37 rue Godot de Mouroy, 10ème/ 46 Rue du fbg Poissonière, 9ème / 17 rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, 5ème. Delivery from Italy on Thursdays.

Advertisements

breakfast borscht

8 Jul

beetroot raspberry smoothie

There was a woman falling asleep on the metro today. Her head nodded slowly towards the shoulder of the man next to her until she would catch herself, then stumble again into sleep. At one point she leant over so far that you could see her name, ADELE, handwritten on the label of her brown dress. Her black, patent-leather shoes were coming apart a little at the seams.

That’s about how I feel in the mornings, even though I no longer leave with the first metro. Now I allow myself a full fifteen minutes to roll out of bed. Enough time to at least bring breakfast with me instead of relying on croissants. Most days that is a variation on a beetroot smoothie, in an attempt to balance out the inevitable charcuterie plate-rosé that is a Paris summer supper, on a terrasse or in a park. (Because of the heatwave – la canicule – that Parisians are so enjoying complaining about, a few of the biggest parks are going to be open all night on weekends, including les Buttes-Chaumont just up the hill. Which means no more park guardians with whistles peremptorily ordering us out mid-picnic. Which means more rosé! Less sleep!)

In the fridge, we normally have a packet of steamed beetroot, and raspberries in the freezer. Then whatever other fresh fruit and dairy lying around gets thrown in as well. Just the right balance of sweet/tart/earthy/creamy. I like to think of it as breakfast borscht, not least because the French way of pronouncing smoothie – smoo-zee – makes me a little twitchy. And it is a bright wake-me-up pink, cold and fresh enough to stop me nodding off in the metro.

~~~

Not really a recipe for a beetroot smoothie

serves 1

One small cooked beetroot. A handful of frozen raspberries. Something juicy (a ripe peach, half a peeled cucumber, a large chunk of watermelon). A few tablespoons yoghurt, fromage blanc or lait fermenté. A splash of apple juice or water to thin it to desired consistency. Blend in a large widemouth jar until smooth. Add straw and screw on lid for portable breakfast. Done.

raspberry tangerine jam

5 Dec

raspberry tangerine jam

In Perugia, I lived in an apartment with big windows and cold floors. My flatmates would force slippers onto me when I walked around barefoot in the morning. Then they would make me coffee, and in the evening, spaghetti. Sometimes pasta twice a day. Around this time of year, November December, we might just have roast chestnuts and vino novello for supper.

One of them – I can’t remember which one – used to leave the skin of tangerines, peeled in one long strip, on top of the radiator. So that the house would smell like citrus. Which reminded me of the passage below, from M.F.K. Fisher.

(I have a recipe for raspberry tangerine jam, which is a delightful combination. Perfect with toast or porridge, or in buttery cookies. You should make it on a December afternoon to warm up the house.)

But Fisher tells such a good story, I will leave her the last word. Enjoy. From Serve it Forth:

I discovered little dried sections of tangerine. My pleasure in them is subtle and voluptuous and quite inexplicable. I can only write how they are prepared.

In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.

Listen to the chambermaid thumping up the pillows, and murmur encouragement to her thick Alsatian tales ofl’intérieure. That is Paris, the interior, Paris or anywhere west of Strasbourg or maybe the Vosges. While she mutters of seduction and French bicyclists who ride more than wheels, tear delicately from the soft pile of sections each velvet string. You know those white pulpy strings that hold tangerines into their skins? Tear them off. Be careful.

Take yesterday’s paper (when we were in Strasbourg L’Ami du Peuple was best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on top of the radiator. The maid has gone, of course – it might be hard to ignore her belligerent Alsatian glare of astonishment.

After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but –

On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.

All afternoon you can sit, then, looking down on the corner. Afternoon papers are delivered to the kiosk. Children come home from school just as three lovely whores mince smartly into the pension’s chic tearoom. A basketful of Dutch tulips stations itself by the tram-stop, ready to tempt tired clerks at six o’clock. Finally the soldiers stump back from the Rhine. It is dark.

The sections of the tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell.

– M.F.K. Fisher

Raspberry Tangerine Jam

We often used frozen raspberries in the bakery, especially when they are going to be cooked down to make puree. They still have a lot of flavour. The first time I made this I used the whole peel but because of all the pectin in it, the results were quite stiff. Just use half, put the other half on the radiator.

makes 1 large or 2 small jars

400g frozen raspberries

1 tangerine,  preferably seedless

250g jam sugar

Sterilise your jars. (Since I don’t have a dishwasher, I fill them with boiling water.) Put some spoons in the freezer for testing.

It is a small quantity of jam, so it can be made either on the stove or in a microwave. If you try the latter, keep an eye on it as it sets quickly. Heat the raspberries gently to defrost. Blend half the tangerine peel and all of the pulp (remove seeds first) with a spoonful of the sugar to make a puree.

When the raspberries have softened and started to liquefy, add the tangerine puree and the rest of the sugar. Bring to the boil and let it bubble for about 5 minutes. The bubbles should sound a tone deeper, the mixture more syrupy than before. When you drag the wooden spoon across the bottom, it should take a second for the liquid red sea to come back together. If in doubt, test the consistency on a frozen spoon: when the jam is at room temperature it should hold its shape instead of sliding quickly over the spoon, it should form a slight skin that will wrinkle slightly when you push it. You will see the jam sticking around the edges of the pan and on the wooden spoon too.* Carefully pour into jars, to the brim, close and turn upside down to cool.

*Plagiarising self from last post about jam.

strawberry vodka ice-lollies

13 Jul

 

DSCF1239

The extraordinarily nice French flatmate left for a sojourn in Argentina, so for now I am living with a wise-cracking American. We have frequent arguments about pronunciation (thorough, amenities, flaw) and lexicon (ice-lolly/popsicle.) If I risk winning, she plays the ace up her sleeve. The British are terrible because colonialism. My trump card is normally, I cook for you.

Besides that, we have a nice system going on: a box of grocery money that we top up each month. We go the market for exorbitant amounts of fruit and veg. I make packed lunches for our respective workplaces and she does the washing up. From our market haul last week we had tabbouleh full of fresh herbs; roast vegetables and coriander hummus; spicy lime chicken; and cauliflower soup and boiled eggs with faces drawn on them in felt-tip pen.

The strawberries though, at three punnets for one euro, unsurprisingly started going bad about half an hour after we brought them home. Beware a bargain. So the next day I bought a litre of vodka for my favourite summer drink, having finally run out of the stash in the freezer. Hulled and halved the berries, throwing away the mouldy ones. The rescued strawberries bobbed in their alcohol bath at the back of the fridge.

A few days later, we strained it, tested the pale pink liqueur (glorious) and wondered what to do with the remaining, pale and boozy berries. Seemed a shame to waste them…

Strawberry vodka ice lollies

inspired by Smitten Kitchen‘s strawberry-tequila popsicles – can also be frozen in ice-cube trays then blended to make more cocktails

1 litre vodka

500g strawberries, ripe

130g sugar

juice of 1/4 lemon

1/4 tsp black pepper

Hull the strawberries, remove any bad bits and halve any large berries. In a large plastic container, leave strawberries and vodka to steep for 3-5 days in the fridge. Strain the liquid into jars and keep in the freezer.

Heat the remaining berries with sugar, lemon and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Cool, then blend. Pour into ice-lolly moulds or for a DIY version, half-fill plastic cups with the liquid then when half-frozen, push in the wooden lolly sticks. Or freeze in ice cube trays. Either add toothpicks later for mini lollies or blend into new and delicious summer cocktails.

cherry and mint compote

25 Jun

DSCF1222

Buy two kilos of cherries at the local market, so cheap! Remember that you are only one person and cannot eat all the cherries.

Stone a kilo of cherries. Wish you had asked for a discount because of all the stones. Put cherries in large saucepan. Admire scarlet-stained hands, briefly pretend to be Lady Macbeth, or a character from Scandal. Re-evaluate recent culture consumption.

Add a handful of sugar (do not measure, it’s Sunday) and a handful of torn mint leaves. Squeeze in the half a lime left in the fridge. Since it already resembles several of your favourite cocktails, add a generous tablespoonful of vanilla-infused rum. And slice a nub of ginger, about the size of your first thumb joint. (Don’t slice your thumb though.)

Teach flatmate the word “macerate.” Go running with her in the sunshine. Discover free sparkling water fountain near your house. Rejoice.

Come back from run, find a jar of ginger juice in the freezer. Drink it, grateful to your past self, while heating cherries. Let the mixture bubble gently for five or ten minutes until cherries are the desired degree of done: soft but not totally collapsed.

Serve warm with mascarpone and meringues for an afternoon snack. Serve cold over yoghurt for breakfast. Especially good with soft, mild goat’s cheese.

Use the syrupy cherry juice leftover to make jelly: for every 100g juice, soak 3g leaf gelatine in cold water. When the the gelatine is soft, stir into the warm (but not hot) cherry juice to dissolve. Pour into little cups or pots. Leave to set in the fridge.

Or just use the juice for cherry-mint cocktails, add vodka or gin, more mint leaves and free sparkling water.

Let the summer begin!

espresso banana smoothie

23 Mar

espresso banana smoothie - illustrated recipe

Once I asked a Japanese colleague, in a mixture of French and English and mime, why she had begun her career as a pastry chef. She thought about it and said,

“Butter…sugar…flour…” (points at each) “….MAGIC! (stretches arms out wide)

I felt the same – and still do, luckily – about patisserie. And this smoothie inspires the same emotions. Such simple ingredients, disproportionately delicious together. Espresso, banana, almond and coconut milks. Cinnamon optional. How have I never thought to put coffee in a smoothie before?

A friend served it at an elegant brunch the other day – with pancakes and four kinds of maple syrup. But it also works on its own, before you rush out the door to work.

It helps me pretend I am succeeding at adulthood. A nutritious, caffeinated breakfast I can make in two minutes. (I get the same smug feeling when I remember my past self has hidden lunch for me in the freezer: chicken mole or the Wednesday Chef’s Chinese celery and beef were recent, happy discoveries.)

Plus it saves on expensive-chain-store-coffee-drinks. And it’s vegan! Everyone is happy. Except the chain-store-coffee people. Win-win-win.

~~~

Espresso-banana smoothie

adapted from CocoJenalle – I’ve doubled the amount of coffee, because. Use any combination of milks you prefer – soy, normal, rice etc – but the coconut does add a nice richness.

makes 1 large breakfast-size, or 2 small brunch-accompaniment-size

1 banana, frozen*

60ml espresso (2 shots)

125ml almond milk

125ml coconut milk

Optional additions: 

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp maple syrup

1/2 tsp chia seeds

If you are super organised, the night before: peel and chop banana into small chunks. (Your blender will thank you for it.) Freeze. Make your espresso according to your preferred method.

In the morning: blend banana, coffee, milks until smooth. Taste. I like it plain. But add maple syrup if you have a sweet tooth. Cinnamon if you wish. More coffee if you are a caffeine addict. Chia seeds if you are a health nut. Blend again, serve.

*If you forget to freeze the banana, just add a few icecubes when serving.

nigel slater’s spiced bread pudding with fried bananas

20 Mar

spiced bread pudding

After a sleepy Saturday wandering from the Buttes-Chaumont  to the Marais, all I wanted was to curl up in my favourite wine-cardigan with something restorative. Luckily Nigel Slater understands me. When I opened his Kitchen Diaries, not only did the Spiced Bread Pudding jump out at me, but the accompanied story almost exactly mirrored one of my own. His recipe is inspired by a visit to Kerala, where he was stuck in “a teetotal oasis” for which he was unprepared: “twenty years ago the lack of alcohol came as a jaw-dropping disappointment after our long, dusty and dangerous drive from hell.” But the pudding made up for it.

We were also in Kerala when we took a six hour bus journey up into the mountains to the tea plantations of Munnar. I had packed a book, but for the first half of the journey I just wanted to watch out of the window, chin pillowed in the crook of my arm. The windows didn’t have any glass, just metal shutters. The dusty air swept in, a salve from the heat. We crossed lagoons that stretched to the horizon, passed banana plantations and busy villages. School-children, whole busfuls, waved at us and shouted HELLO HOW ARE YOU? Each town had at least one temple, mosque and church or shrine with a glass alcove housing a life-size St George and the dragon. Sometimes a few in a row. Trucks thundered by with their colourful head-dresses, painted slogans and flowers. On the back, “Horn Please OK.”  The two-lane road had an invisible third passage in the middle, constantly available for overtaking. The driver would beep and go and somehow the rest of the traffic would flow around us. Once the bus stopped and the passengers all filed out – us worried about our luggage – because apparently the bridge was too fragile. First the bus went across, empty, then we did.

Around halfway we stopped for a chai-break. Around four or five hours in, it got dark all of a sudden as the sun disappeared. Bella distracted me as you might a bored toddler, with iphone games of Clumsy Ninja and Trivial Pursuit. After six hours and a half hours, we scrambled off with our backpacks some way out of the town centre – where there was no-one to direct us to our hotel in the old British club, the only place with a last-minute vacancy. The Lonely Planet had promised us a quaint place perfect for gin and tonics. Sadly, due to licensing issues the three bars in the club could only serve lemonade. We came in just in time for dinner, just in time to read the Club Rules that forbade sandals and panic.

“You haven’t taken any chicken, please take! Come!” The manager barked. Two of us scurried back to the buffet obediently. He was an affable but abrupt character who might have been Basil Fawlty’s brother in another life. Hands in pockets, he gave us a tour of the club: lounge with leather armchairs and obligatory animal heads, library with table-tennis table. “You play? Yes? You will play now, for forty-five minutes.” It wasn’t a question. We could only acquiesce and laugh. It was an uncomfortably British time-warp. Even without our gin-and-tonics, we slept so well that night, totally exhausted.

The next day we visited the factories of the DARE initiative that teaches the differently-abled children of tea-planters: it included a textile workshop for dyes and prints, one for hand-made paper products, a jam factory, a bakery and a kitchen garden. The quality was absolutely incredible, especially the Aranya silks – all-natural, local dyes made of tea-waste, banana leaves, pomegranate skins, Indian madder. The workshops were surrounded by the hills planted with tea bushes, whose crazy mosaic pattern and bright green colour made it feel like we had wandered onto a Tim Burton set. Kerala is full of plantations, tea, coffee, cardamom, coconut palms. Pepper, vanilla. Bananas. Most of the delicious things in life in fact.

A long story to say: this pudding will remind you of exotic climes AND a really comfortable armchair. It works scaled down as solo supper or scaled up for an easy brunch. (Much simpler than pancakes or French toast if you have to feed a crowd – one dish you can prepare ahead.) I like using brioche for extra luxe, but bread and butter will work too. It isn’t too sweet nor too stodgy, more like a creme caramel than a slab of sponge pudding. It offers the intoxicating scent of cardamom and coconut, barely any resistance to the fork as the brioche soaks up the custard, just a few crisp, sugared points poking out. And the fried bananas, sticky and slightly caramelised around the edges, are delightful. It will cure a hangover, the ennui of a recently-returned traveller or the aches and pains of a long commute. Enjoy.

~~~

Nigel Slater’s Spiced Bread Pudding with fried bananas

Slightly adapted from Kitchen Diaries Vol II. If using brioche slices, omit the butter. Great for using up egg yolks if the whites are needed for meringues or macarons.

serves 4 for brunch or 6 for dessert

300g sliced bread or brioche (about 10 slices for me)

a little butter for spreading (not necessary for brioche)

6 green cardamom pods

1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1/8 tsp cinnamon

400ml coconut milk

400ml milk

2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks

OR 7 egg yolks, about 140g

80g light brown sugar

pinch salt

a sprinkle of sugar for the topping

for the bananas:

50g butter

4 bananas

2tbs sugar

zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a baking dish (approx 22cm diameter, but more or less is fine). Lightly toast the bread or brioche until golden-brown. If using bread, spread with butter. Cut slices diagonally and arrange the triangles in the dish, points up, overlapping slightly.

Remove cardamom seeds from the pods and crush in a pestle and mortar or with the end of a rolling pin. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Mix cardamom, vanilla seeds, cinnamon, both milks, eggs and sugar in a large bowl to combine.

(If you are preparing ahead – stop now. Clingfilm the bread, put the custard mixture in the fridge. Then all you have to do in the morning, or at the end of the main course is heat the oven, pour over the custard and bake.)

Pour custard over bread/brioche. Sprinkle a little more sugar over the points that stick out. Bake for 25 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned and the custard is set. Let it cool for 15 minutes or so before serving. (Equally nice reheated later or the next day.)

For the bananas: cut in half length-ways. Heat the butter in a large frying pan and cook the bananas on both sides until golden and soft. Sprinkle over the sugar and cook for a few more minutes until they start to caramelise around the edges. Stir in orange zest and serve immediately with the bread pudding.

(For a slightly lighter dessert, serve simply with oranges peeled and sliced into rounds.)

ripe for the picking: spiced plum chutney

2 Oct

plums on branch

Back in Hereford for the weekend, I found myself in an overgrown garden. Since I arrived in England I had experienced comically heavy rain, bursting like a cartoon thundercloud whenever I stepped out the front door. Now the rain had just stopped, the sun sparing us a few rays. The garden was sodden. The plum tree in the middle was weighed down, its boughs bending all the way to the grass. Some had already gone over, mould blooming, carefully tracing an intricate map of decay on the dark pink fruit. The rest were different shades of sunblush, pale yellow and dusty speckled rose. Some were small enough to pop straight into my mouth (for an extra plummy accent?), some heavy enough to fill a palm. A few beads of clear sap dotted the plums, Some had cracked, bursting out of their skins.

I started picking absentmindedly, making a sling out of my square cotton scarf. Somewhere else in the garden came the snip and crack of secaturs, voices. I was within the bowed arms of the tree by now, hidden. With so many plums I vacillated from one branch to another, this one, that one, leave one take one. The toes of my boots were damp, my cuffs soaked with the drops of moisture that rolled off the surface of the plums. I cradled several kilos in my arms, in the scarf.

Later that morning we arranged the flowers and greenery picked in the garden into aesthetically pleasing groups, a harder task than I had imagined. There are formulas for flower arranging: odd numbers of individual blooms, threes and fives, the total height to be one and a half times taller than the vase. Like taking a photo you can use the rule of thirds as a guideline, but then you need skill and practice and an intangible feel for an image. The same way I leave white space when drawing, or add a simple asymmetrical decoration on the side of a plate or a cake. Too much frou-frou ruins the effect, too little leaves the dish unappetising, the bouquet flat. Finally we added a plum branch to the table, harvest festival style, their tawny colours brightening that corner. They were Victorias, my mother told me; it is her name too.

For lunch we had the miracle of a whole half hour of sunshine. (What is it called, my mother asked, the thing in the play with weather and emotions? This I knew: pathetic fallacy.) With our sun, we had bread, butter and cheese and a pot of chutney marked hot apple and shallot, and a number that might have been 2005. It had turned tar-black, but was sweet, subtle. Not too hot, just right. In between bites of cheese and chutney, in that farmyard that belonged to a real ploughman once, we relaxed a little and reached for fresh plums, heavy with juice.

After a long drive back home through the drizzle, I lugged my plums into the kitchen. First there was crumble, then a clear pink jam. There was still a kilo left to stone and cook. Chutney, it had to be chutney. Onions, sauteed in a little oil. fruit simmered with water until soft. Then sugar, vinegar and spices. It felt like alchemy, being a little girl playing at witches. Chutney mellows and develops so over time the flavours deepen and blend, twist into new combinations. You can only really guess at the results. Last time I made plum and apple with fresh ginger and a little cinnamon. This time I added cinnamon, cloves, chili and turmeric.

The mixture gradually went yellow-orange, and turned from a watery, lumpy minestrone into a thick ragu. Watch it as it bubbles, drag a spoon over the bottom every now and then. Try not to breathe in too many vinegary fumes and wait for the moment, not long after, when the mixture is thick enough to leave tracks after the wooden spoon. When it takes a second for it to fall back into place. Turn off the heat, carefully pour into a jug and decant into glass jars, right to the brim.

The jars were turned upside down and left to cool and I went upstairs for a bath, for the weather really had turned chill. Later I added a label in masking tape, ‘Granny’s Victoria Plum Chutney, 2013’ a name that has both my mother and grandmother in it. For the best flavour, I will have to wait a month, or better three. (Make some now for it to be ready in time for Christmas presents.) When it is finally opened, probably for bread and cheese, I will be able to taste the results of my alchemy and of that wet morning in the overgrown garden.

~~~

Spiced Plum Chutney 

makes three or four jars – also nice with half plums, half apples and 3cm fresh ginger, grated

2 onions, diced

900g plums

100ml water (more or less)

200g sugar

200g vinegar

spices, choose any or all:

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp turmeric

a pinch of chili powder

Use a large, heavy bottomed pan – this will help it cook quicker and stop it sticking and burning. Sautee the diced onions in a little oil, until translucent but not brown. Stone and quarter the plums. Add plums and water (more if your plums are unripe) and cover. When the plums are soft, add the sugar, vinegar and spices. Bring the mixture to the boil, and let it bubble uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the mixture looks more like a thick tomato sauce than minestrone soup. The chutney should be thick enough that you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir, it will take a second to come back together after the spoon. Decant into a large jug and pour into clean glass jars, right to the brim. Screw the lids on tight and turn upside-down to cool. Label, and do not open for at least a month, better three.

a campari cocktail for ferragosto

14 Aug

grapefruit campari

You can find a microcosm of France in its swimming pools. The outdoor ones are only open for two months in the summer – certainly no quibbling, heatwave or not. Rules are important, even in leisure time. Once I dared to ask to borrow a kickboard – un kickboard, apparently – and the (admittedly Parisian) lifeguard explained patiently that, since the pool would close in September, they had already given away all the equipment. This was at the beginning of July. . .

Here in the south, the water is beautifully warm. Our visits to the local pool mark an otherwise lazy day in the garden, planning what to eat next. Normally we go to the market first, stock up on warm baguettes and enormous tomatoes. Today we found “pineapple tomatoes” with succulent yellow flesh, perfect with ripe avocado and a sprinkling of salt. The lady at the vegetable stall was the best dancer at the annual garlic festival, I whisper to my mother. Which one? The diminutive sixty-something lady, with a twinkle in her eye – she was leading the line dancing last year.

When we have bought a case of peaches, tasted all the cheeses, and walked past the duck stall two or three times to swipe a bit of melting rillettes on toast, we go down to the swimming pool. It opens at twelve o’clock precisely, when most people go home for lunch. It is empty enough for us to do laps, for my stuntman brother to practise turns and jumps. In the afternoon there will be crowds of kids bombing down the slides, then begging for icecream. At midday there are a few locals, a granny or two and most notably, the man with one hairy shoulder. Every year, we try to figure it out. Only one shoulder. Hairy enough to wave like seaweed in the water, while the other is bare. Mystery.

Anyway, the most French of all these routines is that of the pretty lifeguard. She takes two weeks off in August. Even in high holiday season, she must have her break too. The pool is only open for two months, and she takes a holiday. Bien sûr!

My brother and I had swimming lessons every summer in France when we were small. He hated it – he hated not understanding the French. I acquiesced. The lifeguard had a different bikini for every day of the week, and a long pole she used to stop children from clinging to the side of the pool, not unkindly. No coddling. Probably why our neighbours’ kids are so well-behaved: they sit at the table for a dinner party and make polite and funny conversation. I was glad to see that nothing had changed twenty years on – a new lifeguard, but still a shivering child with floats around his waist, and a long pole.

Tomorrow is the quinze aout, or the Italian ferragosto – a sacred holiday in memory of the Annunication but mainly for the time-honoured right to faire le pont and take Friday off too. Two of my favourite Italians are coming to visit for the long weekend. We will be drinking my new favourite  summer cocktail, invented on one of the hottest days. A generous measure of Campari, half a glass of pink grapefruit juice and the rest topped up with sparkling water. Plenty of ice, of course. I’m afraid I couldn’t come up with a better name than ‘The Spinster’ since it is pink and gloriously bitter. I revel in the sharp tang of the long cool drink. It reminds me of all the Spritzes I have drunk with said Italians, in the days when we were all single, if not yet spinsters.

Possibly the pool will be closed tomorrow – it is the quinze aout after all – but if not, we will go for a splash there, and come home in time for sunset, where we will sit on the terrace with clinking glasses and wonder what is for supper.

~~~

The Spinster

makes one very generous long drink

50ml Campari

200ml pink grapefruit juice

200ml sparkling water

In a very large glass, mix all ingredients. Taste, adjust, add ice. Garnish with a slice of orange or grapefruit.

strawberries and shortbread

22 Apr

005

Making fun of the French is all too easy. It has become a bad habit that I wear as easily as my shapeless duffel coat. What can I say? Their typically closed-off rule-following ways make for good anecdotes.

There was the time I went to the department store BHV and needed to ask five (famously snooty) shop assistants before one would deign to point me in the right direction for a cake stand. There are the continual awkward encounters with neighbours, who have made small talk about the weather with me for two years, who have all accepted free cakes from my bakery – but will never introduce themselves. I know that the couple on the 6th floor has a cat named Carlos. They have given me flowers to thank me for said cake. But they still don’t feel obliged to share their names.

Then there is the insistence on correct grammar, a reverence for words that I totally understand but still find amusing when upside in a hot yoga class and a student takes the time and breath to correct the American instructor: it’s la cheville not le. 

My first year in Paris, my year abroad, I wanted to integrate. I actively avoided anglophones. However this led to living and working with only Italians, a pleasant and unexpected consequence. I learned how to salt pasta water (heavily) and that una forchettata (a forkful) means a good 150g portion. I practiced some French, tangentially, with friends of friends or as a stilted common language with the rare German or Polish colleague, all confused and a little annoyed to find themselves in the crossfire of Italian chatter in that most French of institutions in the very heart of the city, in the Louvre.

004

The second time around, a year later, I tried again. Granted, I was living with another Italian girl, the charming flatmate. But we made an effort to meet Frenchies, joined capoeira class, made small talk at soirees. Slowly slowly though, I started meeting English-speaking friends, an American, a couple of nice Canadians. Several girls from my tiny hometown of Hereford, all escaped to France in search of adventure. And I got to be myself a little more – my voice is squeakier and much more prissy in French, whereas in English (I hope) I am funnier, more relaxed.

Maybe my frog-mocking is just self-protection: it’s hard to fit in with the French. To break the ice without asking what someone does for a living, to slip in the subjunctive like it’s no big deal, to know how the latest thoughtful and depressing movie fits into the director’s back catalogue. It’s a little like tagging along with a sophisticated older sibling, trying to keep up. Just like brothers and sisters, the French and the English seem to be endlessly in competition, always making fun of each other more or less affectionately. That’s my excuse anyway, for pandering to stereotypes, which do nonetheless have a small grain of truth in them. And they do it too; how many times have I admitted to being English only to hear an often misinformed diatribe about how terrible our food/weather/national character is. (Oh dear, I am being a bratty little sister: ‘He does it too! He started it!’)

In the end though, the fact that I am still here has to count for something. I like all of the other cliched ideas about France, that its people take art and aesthetics, fine food and wine so seriously. I have become the Parisian who wouldn’t live anywhere else, wouldn’t give up all the city’s expos and vernissages, its street theatre, but still relishes a weekend in the French countryside with its rustic charm and simple meals. I love going to market and peering at the heaping mounds of produce, asking for that one to be ripe for tonight’s supper and another for three days time. Their care and attention when it comes to food is a kind of open-house hospitality, welcoming you in for the best they have to offer. You taste the cassoulet and mi-cuit foie gras from the farm next door and you notice immediately their pride in their culinary heritage.

007

All the eating is part of a larger whole, the expectation that having followed those rules, paid one’s dues – the reward is rest and relaxation. Though the two hour wine-soaked lunch is becoming less common, the French have three bank holidays in May alone (in the sunshine of course) and still make the most of their five weeks holiday a year, preferably for a long August vacation. The state is very generous with unemployment benefits – which includes free entry into museums and cultural institutions – with health insurance and with help towards paying the rent for students and those on a low wage, even for foreigners like me. Provided you fill in all the forms of course, that is the classic stumbling block. Once you have cleared that hurdle, you are free to wander the streets and markets, pretending to be French, hoping that your charming accent will go unnoticed for two more minutes.

On the subject of fresh ripe fruit from the market, the gariguette strawberries are finally in season. I rather bossily ordered a friend coming to dinner to pick me up a punnet or two for dessert “and definitely not any of those Spanish monstrosities.” Gariguettes are small and delicate and sweet, a more translucent red than the aggresively farmed ruby berries from Spain that are available all year around. These ones come out around March to June, and are extremely sensitive. They must be handled with care for they bruise easily. (Here I could make an unflattering parallel with a prissy Parisian, but I won’t.) They collapse in a puddle of juice when bitten into, releasing a sweet perfumed flavour that I had forgotten over the winter. Like having Italian sun-ripened tomatoes after months of those tough supermarket orbs, you remember when eating gariguettes what strawberries are supposed to taste like.

Though I was planned to make a fancy mousse cake with a jelly middle, iced and beribboned, in the end I left the strawberries whole and fresh in all their glory. We ate the shortbread base plain with some icing sugar, perfectly crumbly from the subtle addition of rice flour. The fruit was dipped in melted chocolate and honeyed cream. I should be promoting the extravagant cake, but really there is nothing nicer after a big meal than sharing big bowls of fruit, reaching across the table to grab at chocolate, making a pile of strawberry, shortbread and mascarpone for each bite. It was very companionable. In fact, this improvised pudding has the best of France, England and even Italy in all its basic ingredients.

006

Strawberries and shortbread

technically feeds six polite people at a dinner party, but I like the shortbread so much I can eat most of it in one sitting (full disclosure, it comes from my mother’s book Seasonal Secrets)

125g butter, room temperature

50g caster sugar

125g plain flour

50g rice flour

1/2 tsp salt

zest of 1 lemon

to serve:

500g fresh ripe gariguette strawberries

more sliced fruit – kiwis or mangoes are good for colour contrast

200g dark chocolate, melted

250g mascarpone (or clotted cream)

3 tbs milk

1 tbs honey

Heat oven to 175C. Cream the butter and sugar, stir in flours, zest and salt until it just starts to come together. Line a tin with baking paper – I used a 22cm ring on a baking sheet to make  it easy to emove when baked – and press the dough firmly into it. Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden and just brown around the edges. Let cool.

When ready to eat, melt the chocolate gently over a pan of simmering water. Mix the mascarpone with the milk and honey to make a smooth dipping consistency. Cut the shortbread into diamonds and dust with icing sugar. Slice any other fruit neatly, serve the strawberries as they are. Plonk everything in the middle of the table and hand your guests skewers or fondue forks, let them help themselves.

%d bloggers like this: