Friday, August 27, 2010


Last week, I had the best ragu I've ever eaten out of Bologna. In fact, it may have even been better than Da Mario's - a lazy Sunday afternoon risto just outside the old Bologna walls where we'd talk and drink, and eat steaming bowls of spaghetti ragu.

A couple of months ago, I ranted on how there is no Bolognese anymore...or at least, no one really knows the true recipe. This could-be Italian version was built up and simmered down to a soft and livery texture which melted as soon as it touched the tongue. So I think I take what I said back on this account. We shared a small amount between nine but the flavour was so spot on that it was all we needed. You know you've hit a good one when you're happy with savouring just a little (unless you've hit a bad one and you'd rather have none).

Trying to recreate this beast of a recipe in my own way, I switched beef for pork and apple sausages which slightly sweetened the rich sauce, but still held the fantastically earthy flavour of the original. I uuurrrrge you to try this. It takes a while to get it really good, but you can - though it would be a crime to - skip the slow-cooking. A perfect way to spend a day-off, and by the time you eat it, your house will be dripping with good smells, enough to make you want to lick the wallpaper.

REAL RAGU: Sausage style.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
12 large pork and apple sausages, meat removed from skins
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
200ml chicken stock
1/2 750ml bottle white wine
100ml milk
pinch of grated nutmeg
pinch of oregano

1300 HOURS: In a large heavy based pan or casserole dish, gently fry the onions in the olive oil until soft. Add the garlic. Having removed the meat from the sausage skins, add to the onions and break up with a wooden spoon. Fry until the meat has become crumbly and light in colour.

1330 HOURS: Pour in the wine and turn up the heat so that all the alcohol burns off. Be careful not to let the meat stick, by stirring gently. Add the chopped tomatoes, stock, milk, herbs and spices. Place a lid on the pan and leave to simmer on a low heat for as long as possible, or place in a low heat oven or Aga.

1900 HOURS: Leave it to rest an hour before you eat, and spoon off some of the excess fat which will have risen to the top of the pan.

2000 HOURS: Serve with spaghetti or large penne cooked to al dente, a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan and a large glass of something good.

If seven hours seems daunting, you can take it off and carry on the next day. Or leave it, have lunch, read a book, make pudding, have a snooze, go for a...and it'll be ready for supper. Good from frozen too, but I doubt you'll need to.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It's raining sideways in a typically late-August way. I have my best selection of over sized autumnal-coloured clothes on, giving up but not forgetting the summer that has just swept past us. This always happens after my birthday. Tuesday was all bright sunshine, windy but warm; presents were unwrapped in the garden and dinner was crammed into a open-windowed, open-doored wooden hut, with candles and wine the only fire to warm us through. Next day, and the sky has well-and-truly let loose.

As an eater rather than a gardener - as much as I try from my flat window - I have never quite appreciated nor liked the phrase: 'Oh yes. We've been needing this rain'. How could anyone truly think that? Surely England could do with more sunshine than anything. The harsh reality is, if I am to continue being the eater that I am, it is well-worth training myself to nod happily at the heavy downpour, because as we all know, what we eat needs to eat too.

So, in my oatmeal jumper, red shorts, grey tights, thick socks and brown boots, I am slowly warming to the arrival...ahem, sorry...continuation of big rain.

To celebrate the almighty rainstorm, as it turns plums from green to red, and brings blackberries to the bushes, here is my recipe for:


ingredients for

80g softened butter, unsalted
80g light brown soft sugar
enough halved plums to cover the base an 10 inch tin. (approx 15 small Victoria plums)

250g softened butter, unsalted
125g dark brown soft sugar
125g light brown soft sugar
4 medium free range eggs
juice of half a lemon
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
80g ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

In a large cake tin, preferably a 10 incher, paste the base with the softened butter and sugar. Having halved and stoned the plums, place them side-by-side, skin side up, on top of the butter mix. Depending on your harvest of plums, try to fit in as many halves as you can as the fruit makes the cake. If your plums are not fully-ripe don't panic. Mine weren't. The slight sourness complements the sweetness of the batter and the plums will be caramelised by the sugar and butter beneath them.

In a large bowl mix the sugars with the butter until light and fluffy. Crack in the eggs one at a time, mixing in each one thoroughly before adding the next. The mixture will be wet and ready for the flour.

Sieve in the flour, baking power and salt and gently fold into the egg mix with the ground almonds. Do not over-mix. You don't want the flour to stiffen the other ingredients.

Carefully pour the contents of the bowl into the tin to cover the plums. Place into the oven for 50 minutes. If the cake starts to burn on top cover with a grease proof baking sheet. Test with a metal skewer - if it comes away clean, bingo. If not, whack it back in for a bit. Turn carefully onto a wire rack and cool. Serve warm.

The rain will be enviously tapping on the door for some before you know it...A serious cockle warmer.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


The figs are just coming into bloom on the Island now; the flesh soft, sweet and earthy.
Breaking into them raw seems risky, clenchingly persuading oneself that the pink giblets in the centre are not worms, just the fruit. 'Whatever's in there will have only been eating fig anyway': words that are thrown confidently across the table. Oh what a relief we are eating by candlelight.

Few and far between the figs fall: some already eaten, and still being eaten by god-knows-what, some picked unripe from the tree by little hands trying to help harvest the sparing yield. Every year they are savoured. They'd be wasted on jam; 'FRESH AND FRESHLY BAKED ONLY'.

Apart from eating them as they come - unwashed, unpesticided, unchecked - there is another way to eat the figs that, in a whisper, taste better than the original. Eaten for breakfast with fried bread and bacon, or for pudding with marscapone, I welcome whole-heartedly the season for...


Serves 4.

2 large GREEN figs
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to a low-medium heat - about 100 degrees C.

Slice the figs long-ways and lay them on a baking tray. Sprinkle evenly with the sugar, then drizzle over about 1 1/2 tbs worth of good balsamic vinegar. You don't want to drown the flavour of the figs - there should be just enough tang to complement the natural flavour without ridding it altogether.

Place in the oven and cook for 5-7 minutes until the balsamic turns sticky. Turn the figs over, and cook for another minute. The figs will be soft in the middle, slightly sticky and truly scrumptious.

We ate ours with smoked streaky bacon on fried white bread - toasted in the bacon juices - and a dollop of creme fraiche for a second breakfast at midday... Ever so naughty.

Monday, August 9, 2010



Usually braving the waves in Easter, this year I am treading water in warmer seas. No, nothing as daring as 'out of the UK', but going West to the wondrous British holiday destination that is Cornwall.

We're heading down to the beautiful home of Rodda's clotted cream, blow-your-socks-off Rattler cider, and the one and only Padstein. And yes, last year I did get good old Steiny to sign my much-loved Seafood book, only to be sympathetically chuckled at when I requested a recipe to cook on my caravan hob...

This year, Rick would have a field day - crrrryyy with laughter, wet his knickers. We're tenting it. HA IMAGINE. Dinner for two under a cramped and smelly tarpaulin. How very romantic.

But it's not going to be soggy sarnies and salty tea. I've got a gas cooker, pans, a kettle and, boy!, am I going to show them some Cornish love.

But I need your help please. Your suggestions, if you would be so kind, of where to buy, what to cook and where to eat it. We have no plans apart from to roam the winding roads of the Northern Regions of Cornwall (Padstow and around), so by the end of the week I want to have fished and chipped (homemade style) in every little Cornish nook and cranny I come across. Don't hold back on the restaurants either - it will rain.

So while you unload your thoughts underneath this blog, here is a fishy recipe to whet your jealousy and imagine you''ll be in Cornwall with me!


Recipe adapted from Skye Gyngell's Crab cakes


3 free-range egg yolks

½ tbsp Dijon mustard

juice of 1 lemon

250ml mild extra-virgin olive oil


250g fresh salmon

squeeze of lemon juice

4 new potatoes, mashed

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced

50g fresh white breadcrumbs

200ml very clean, neutral-tasting oil such as sunflower or corn

lemon wedges, to serve

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Bake the salmon fillets for about 20 minutes until cooked through.

Cook the new potatoes in pan until soft. Remove the skin, and mash with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile make the mayonnaise. This will go into the fish cake mix to make them suupppper moist. Whisk the egg yolks with the salt, mustard and lemon juice. Trickle in the oil, very slowly to begin with, whisking all the time. Continue until all the oil is incorporated. You should end up with a lovely, bright yellow, bouncy mayonnaise.

Once the salmon has cooked and cooled slightly, break into small flakes with a fork. Squeeze over the lemon juice and add the chilli, the mashed potatoes and a large pinch of salt. Stir in 100ml of the mayonnaise until evenly mixed in. Cover and place in the fridge for an hour. This will harden the mixture slightly and make it easier to roll into fish cakes.

Spread the breadcrumbs evenly on a clean work surface. Shape the salmon mix into evenly sized patties or balls. Roll in the breadcrumbs, making sure the surface of each cake is well covered. Return them to the fridge for another half an hour.

To cook the cakes, put the sunflower oil in a shallow, heavy-based saucepan and place over a low to medium heat. Heat the oil gently until it reaches about 60°C (check with a thermometer). Gently - and CAREFULLY - drop the cakes into the oil in small batches and cook for two minutes on each side; they should be golden and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Serve with fresh chilli oil, the remaining mayonnaise, and a wedge of lemon. Devour either as a starter, with a warm Nicoise salad - soft boiled eggs, spinach, peas, new potatoes - or serve in brown paper for a Gourmet take away (much like what I hope to be doing on my Cornwall camping escape).

Might I briefly add that it is always VERY wise to turn OFF the heat when the cakes are cooked...I managed to set the pan alight. Nicht gut. That's enough of that memory -but the fish cakes were worth it.

Enough scoffing, now for your beachside, camp fire, pub bench tips.