Friday, 26 June 2009

In the veg patch - Part 2

It's all happening in the veg patch and the greenhouse this week as things suddenly start to flower and fruit. This weekend, I think we'll be ready for homegrown potatoes and I ought to do something with the gooseberries but I've been putting it off as I'm really not a fan. The gooseberry bush is prolific, despite a very shady spot, and is something we inherited from the previous owner of our house. Every year I gaze at those plump little green fruits and usually end up giving them away to one gooseberry fan or another. This year it will be different - to mask all that gooseberriness, I have an idea to boil them, to within an inch of their lives, with the aim of making some kind of chutney to accompany hard cheese. I'm still working on the recipe and will report back when it's finally perfected. Apologies to all you gooseberry lovers out there - please let me know if you have any great recipes that might encourage a gooseberry sceptic.

Another inherited plant (or tree, judging by the size of it hanging over our garden) is the elderflower. It wasn't there when we moved in seven years ago and now it's a beast! Last weekend, my husband was adamant that he was going to go round and remonstrate with the neighbour about it and have it chopped down. "Not before I've made elderflower cordial", I barked, and so I did, for the first time ever. So successful was the experiment that it is likely to become a regular annual feature chez nous - it's deliciously fresh and just shouts 'Summer' at me.

This week has been a long one so I think I might try the cordial with a slug of gin tonight and, thanks to the weather, make the most of being saved from the most herculean of tasks - watering the garden.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Somerset Cheese Tasting

Last night we tried the Somerset cheeses that I bought from the local farmshop on Friday and tried to match them with some different wines. Here's what we tried:

Pennard Ridge Goat's Cheese - a very salty, hard, white cheese
Green's Cheddar from Pennard - a pretty strong cheddar
Smoke Acre from Galhampton - a very tasty, smoked cheddar

We tried them all with a 2007 white Hautes Côtes de Beaune, a 2007 red Côtes du Rhône Cairanne and a 15-year-old Verdelho Madeira.

The goat worked well with both the red and the white wines, particularly the white. The Madeira didn't like it at all. The Green's Cheddar was too much for all the wines - the white became flat and the red lost its fruit. The Madeira was the only wine to put up a fight but it wasn't an ideal match for this very strong cheese. It came into its own, however, with the Smoke Acre, the slight sweetness and smokiness of the wine balancing well with the saltiness of the cheese. The white was also tolerable with the Smoke Acre but the red became pretty bland.

We all agreed that the cheese of the tasting was the Pennard Ridge goat's cheese and that it also provided the best match - with the white Hautes Côtes de Beaune. I'll definitely be enjoying this pairing again.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

A Supper of Farmhouse Sausages

Our local farmshop, at Stourhead Gardens (a National Trust property), is a favourite stopping point for excellent local meat and cheeses. Yesterday I called in for some hard cheeses for a cheese tasting but, as usual, I came out with a bag full of extras having been unable to resist their plump and succulent Cumberland sausages and a few other goodies.

An idea had immediately sprung to mind for the sausages and, later in the evening, I got started on preparing a puy lentil accompaniment for them. It's very simple - fry some chopped red onions and garlic in a little olive oil and add chopped sundried tomatoes, capers, seasoning and then a slug of red wine. I also threw in a few chopped fresh tomatoes to bind the sauce. To this, add some cooked puy lentils (I use the Merchant Gourmet pre-cooked lentils for speed) and let the whole thing simmer gently for a few minutes while grilling the sausages. Chop some fresh oregano and add it to the lentil mixture, leaving a little for garnishing. We enjoyed this with a watercress salad and a bottle of Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Cairanne 2007 (red). 2007 was an excellent vintage in the Southern Rhône and this juicy Cairanne went perfectly with the rustic simplicity of the dish.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Summer Vegetable Pilaf (in the rain)

It was looking fairly summery outside this morning when I planned tonight's supper but, now I'm cooking, the rain is coming down. Still, this old favourite should brighten up the evening - a light pilaff, using basmati rice, with asparagus, freshly-podded peas, lots of lemon (juice and zest), spring onions and fresh basil and oregano. My husband can't resist some grated pecorino cheese on the finished dish but take care as they can mask the flavours of the other ingredients. I'm chilling a bottle of white Saint Pourçain from the Auvergne - a blend of Chardonnay, Aligoté, Trésallier and Sauvignon - a fine, fresh match for the pilaf.

To follow, there's some Saint Marcellin cheese and crusty bread which should also work with the Saint Pourçain.

Monday, 15 June 2009


After yesterday's meatfest on the barbecue (homemade lamb and mint burgers with pork ribs marinated in maple syrup, garlic, paprika and tomato puree), I find myself, of a Monday evening, with yet more lamb mince to do something with. We also had aubergines, broad beans, feta cheese, mint and olives. So here's what I concocted:

I fried an onion with some garlic (5 big cloves - I do like a lot of garlic) and then added the lamb mince. Once browned, I threw in some cinnamon, cumin and dried thyme, chopped black olives and some aubergine that I had sliced, brushed with olive oil and grilled. The aubergine was chopped into smaller pieces before being added to the lamb. I simmered the whole lot for 20 minutes or so in some fresh vegetable stock and seasoned it well.

At the same time, I boiled some broad beans, took them out of their thick, outer shells and added crumbled feta, chopped mint, lemon juice and a drop of extra virgin olive oil.

We scooped up the lamb and broad bean salad into toasted pitta bread - messy but delicious. To drink, we had a young Spanish red from Tempranillo which worked fairly well although I think, given the richness and oiliness of the lamb, a crisp Loire Chenin or even a Jurançon Sec might have been more interesting and a bit different.

I would try this again with pieces of shoulder or neck of lamb, slow cooked and served with couscous but I would stick to a red wine for this heavier style of lamb.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

A fish barbecue

The minute the sun comes out everyone is barbecuing and we are no exception although we are fairly traditional in our practices here - no gas barbecues or easy-to-light coals in our garden! The weather looked fairly promising this morning and, having acquired some whole rainbow trout, we decided to barbecue them, stuffed with thyme, sage and lemon juice, with some Jersey Royals (par-boiled first and then finished on the barbecue on wooden skewers) and English asparagus. All this was accompanied by homemade lemon mayonnaise and a green salad of Lollo Rosso straight from the greenhouse. My wine choice was Gavi, a fairly aromatic white wine from the Piedmont region of North-West Italy. It's made from the Cortese grape and today's bottle is a 2007 - very fresh and lemony.

NB I have been asked to mention, by my husband, that the trout was excellently cooked and filleted to perfection. I find myself compelled to agree. Like most men, the caveman tendency reveals itself whenever a fire is lit.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Summer Fête Season

Today I've been helping at my children's school summer fête where my job was to look after the cake stall. I also was tasked with making two dozen scones for refreshments. Some friends tell me that homemade cakes are banned at their school fêtes for reasons of hygiene. I find this unbelievable and completely over the top and, considering that the only worthwhile cake on a cake stall is a homemade one, the act of presenting me with a shop-bought cake (as many parents did) is an outrage.

Anyway, I shall get off my high horse now and go and make paella. With it, I'm going to have one of my favourite wines - a full-bodied rosé from Irouléguy, a gorgeous village in the foothills of the Pyrenees in French Basque country.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Another summer tart success!

Last night's feta, tomato and basil tart was great summer food. This time I went for (homemade) shortcrust pastry rather than my usual favourite, puff! After baking the shortcrust blind for 15 minutes with my baking beans, I ladled on some sliced onions, chopped garlic and baby courgettes that I had browned lightly in olive oil. Then I added some sliced baby plum tomatoes, crumbled feta and some finely grated Grana Padano and poured over a mixture of beaten eggs (3) and double cream (150mls). The whole lot went in the oven for about 20 minutes at which point I added a bit more crumbled feta and some torn mint and basil before baking for a further 5 minutes. Delicious and doesn't need much with it - just a big green salad with perhaps an olive oil and balsamic (or lemon) dressing.

As for a wine accompaniment, we had some Chilean Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon open but it wasn't the best of matches as I had thought. Today, I've had cold leftovers with a white Rully 1er Cru 2007 (Burgundy Chardonnay) which was a much better partner.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Lunch at Le Givry in Givry (Burgundy)

It doesn’t seem possible that it’s a week since we enjoyed a great lunch at Le Givry in Givry – a town in the Chalonnais wine region known for its reds from Pinot Noir and the rarer whites from Chardonnay. Slightly panicked by a loud whining noise coming from the car as we parked it in the town, we decided there was nothing to be done about it at lunchtime and that the best thing to do was to face it later and on a full stomach!

After heading in completely the wrong direction on foot, we eventually came across the restaurant in a small square looking out at the Halle Ronde, a round building as the name suggests which houses a covered market.

Two waitresses were very attentive and installed us outside, overlooking the Halle Ronde, and after my husband nearly did himself an injury trying to put the patio umbrella up over the table, the Patron came out and remonstrated with it – there was clearly a knack. A bottle of red Givry 1er Cru 2006 from Domaine Mouton was brought out after we had chosen our dishes and it was delicious – soft, full of fruit and perfect with our selections from the short but varied menu. The list also featured wines from Domaine Joblot, a well-respected name in Givry.

So to the food – my husband went for a fillet of beef in a Pinot sauce. He asked for it to be cooked ‘saignant’ which is usually slightly rarer than ‘rare’ would be in the UK. When it arrived, it was nearer medium but my husband pronounced it to be delicious and it was served with a potato purée, very fine asparagus and a little round of puff pastry with ratatouille. I went for an open ravioli with a velouté of three types of mushroom and ‘escargots’ which looked like not much more than a mouthful in the large plate on which it was presented. Under the ravioli, however, was an abundance of mushrooms and snails and the velouté was divine – light yet creamy and full of flavour.

The children were catered for with stuffed tortellini with a slightly spicy pesto sauce followed by ‘deux boules de glace’ – chocolate of course! Both main course and pudding disappeared in no time.

So if you are looking for a relaxed lunch in that part of the world with good local wines and excellent cooking, I can highly recommend Le Givry. Oh, and by the way, the car was fine when we returned to it but gave up the following day and is still in a garage in Chalon-sur-Saône nearly a week later while someone sorts out who should repair it – the French garage or a UK one. Thank God for the AA!