Monday, 30 September 2013

Warm Plum & Citrus Compote

Warm Plum & Citrus Compote

Jane Grigson wrote in 1982 of the ubiquity of the Victoria plum.  Since 1840, when a stray seedling was found in Sussex, the Victoria has been grown for its qualities as a good cropper rather than for its flavour. Even today, more than 30 years on from publication of Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, we seem reluctant to acknowledge its inferiority and so we have reached a point where it's difficult to find other varieties of plum. That's not to say Victoria plums can't be made palatable by cooking, but to eat one straight from the tree is invariably disappointing.  Grigson agreed with Edward Bunyard  (Anatomy of Dessert).  He said, of plums intended to be eaten uncooked, that there was little "encased in red, black or blue" worth growing.

Neither Edward Bunyard nor Jane Grigson seem to have rated the dark, dusky Damson plum.  It is a personal favourite of mine, not just for making Damson gin.  In a Damson souffle its sharp, bitter qualities are hard to beat, but a yellow- or green-skinned plum is my first choice for most other plum dishes.  These range from the tiny intensely sweet Mirabelle, its yellow skin blushed with a fingertip of rouge as its season progresses, to the honeyed flesh of the green/gold Greengage.  I've previously written about Greengages so rather than repeat myself, here's a link to that post which includes a recipe for Plum Tart

The recipe below is based on A Warm Compote of Plums with Honey and Orange from The Art of Cooking with Vegetables by Alain Passard.  Unsurprisingly, Passard uses French Reine Claude plums (Greengage) for this dish, as do I.  The citrus fruit pairs surprisingly well with the Greengages.  However, I've found, if the plums are a little on the tart side, then the quantity of lemon needs to be reduced.

I think it's time I planted a Greengage tree.  Perhaps it should be a self-fertile 'Early Transparent Gage', or, better still, the elusive 'Coe's Golden Drop', if I can only find a source.

Warm Plum & Citrus Compote
(Serves 4-6)

1kg (2lb) ripe Greengages or other plums
40g (1½oz) salted butter (or unsalted with a pinch of salt)
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp runny honey
1medium unwaxed (or well-scrubbed) orange, cut into segments with skin intact
1 small-medium unwaxed (or well-scrubbed) lemon, cut into segments with skin intact

Choose a lidded frying pan large enough to eventually take the plums in a single layer. Gently melt the butter (and salt if using), honey and sugar in the pan, stirring to amalgamate.  Add the orange and lemon slices.  Partially cover with the pan lid and cook gently for 15 minutes. Wash the plums and add them whole to the pan in a single layer. Partially cover again and cook gently for 30-40 minutes - the fruit should be tender but not mushy.  Take off the heat, remove the lid and leave to stand for 10 minutes.  
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or double cream.  An almond biscuit goes well too.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Gathering the last of the berries

Blueberry & Raspberrry Mascarpone Pot

On this day of the autumnal equinox the temperature is hovering around 20 degrees C throughout most of the UK.  Plums, apples and pears have made a welcome appearance but English blueberries are still in the shops and I can't be the only person to be still happily harvesting Autumn Bliss raspberries.  These two berries go together so well and need only the lightest sprinkling of sugar to marry the sweet of the raspberry with the slight tartness of British blueberries.

I have absolutely no idea where the recipe at the end of this post comes from.  It's one I've been making for years and, try as I might, I cannot discover its origin.  Having spent a happy hour searching through my favourite go-to books for inspiration on fruits does, however, give me the excuse to share a peek at the work of Patricia Curtan.  I have a bit of a thing about food illustrations and, if only I had the talent, I'd probably abandon photographing - and maybe even talking about - food, swapping it for the illustrative life.  One of my favourite artists is Patricia Curtan who's best known for her beautiful colour relief prints which illustrate many of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse books.  The two below appear in Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters.  You can luxuriate in more of Patricia Curtan's work by going here 

Photo of Raspberries Illustration by Patricia Curtan
Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters

Raspberries are not just for summer and they really are the easiest of fruits to grow.  The trickiest thing about raspberry canes is curtailing their ambitions - they love to spread their roots and produce new canes if you let them.  Planting an 'autumn' fruiting variety can extend the season right up to the end of September or even early October.  'Autumn Bliss' is a great choice, producing large flavoursome berries.  The canes start fruiting before 'summer' raspberries are quite over.

Photo of Blueberries Illustration by Patricia Curtan
Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters

Blueberries are a fruit I've toyed with growing but they need light, free-draining, acidic ground to grow well. London clay won't do and I'm not a great fan of trying to change the pH balance of soil.  An alternative is to grow the plants in pots filled with ericaceous compost and apply a high potash feed.  There's still the problem that birds love them even more than raspberries.  Hmm, maybe one day I'll grow them but for now I'll leave it to the experts.

Here's the recipe.  It's got to be the easiest in my repertoire and perfect for when you have to knock up a quick dessert.  If anyone does recognise where it comes from, do let me know as I'd love to be able to attribute it.  If you have by now moved on from soft fruit, I think some stone fruit would work for this dish - a barely-sweetened compote of plums for instance.  The grill warms the fruits beneath the molten mascarpone just enough to bring out their fragrance.

Blueberry & Raspberry mascarpone pots
(Serves 4)

A 50/50 mix of blueberries and raspberries (quantity depends on the size of your ramekins)
250g mascarpone
50g demerara sugar

Wash the blueberries and mix with an equal quantity of raspberries.
Fill 4 ramekins to just below the top.
Spoon mascarpone over the fruit 
Sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Place ramekins under a hot grill until the topping starts to caramelise.

Serve with a crisp biscuit, if you like - an almond one will go well.

Friday, 13 September 2013

La Grotta Ices - Creating ice cream memories

Apricot & Nougat choc ice
La Grotta Ices

A battered copy of Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere sits on the bookshelf.  That instant connection over a shared love of a book bodes well for my visit.  My own, admittedly less-well used, copy has survived house-moves and floods.  The pages of my copy have tell-tale marks of sticky kitchen adventures into the mysteries of curds and crepes , sherbets and souffl├ęs.  The copy on this shelf bears the traces of more serious professional study.

I wrote about Kitty Travers a couple of years ago focusing on her influential ice cream making course at The School of Artisan Food.  Since then, despite the fact I buy ice cream from La Grotta Ices almost weekly, I've simply tweeted my addiction.  In the time following my course, Kitty Travers has been featured in more influential publications than mine, but I have the advantage, I think.  None of the writers can have given the ices quite such a thorough sampling!

La Grotta Ices
Flavour Board

So, in the interests of further research, I accepted an invitation - maybe with a tad too much alacrity - to visit the ice cream 'shed' of my dreams.  My friend, the hugely talented food illustrator Anna Koska joined me (examples of her work can be found at Anna Koska Illustration).  Aprons and hairnets donned, hands scrubbed and hygiene instruction received, we pitched in.

Four companionable hours of chopping and stirring, questioning and story swapping disappeared in the blink of an eye.  It was easy to see why Kitty finds this such a satisfying and rewarding way to spend her day.  Then it seemed only fair to leave her to get on with the real work. We felt very privileged to get our hands on such quality seasonal ingredients under such expert guidance.  Right now the fruits include peaches, nectarines, figs, autumn raspberries, blackberries and plums.

What's so special about La Grotta Ices, and why do I keep returning?  I'm really not into the sweet slipperyness of most ice creams.  What I do appreciate are top quality ingredients with a high fruit/low added sugar content.  I want vibrant, imaginative flavour combinations (that's imaginative, not wacky) for my ice creams, parfaits, sorbets and granitas.  So how about Blackberry & Violet; Melon & Jasmine; Gooseberry & Almond Nougat; Pink Grapefruit, Verjus & Bay; Peche de Vigne & Tomato; Chocolate, Mollases & Black Fig; or naturally sugar-free Apricot & Chamomile?  Some scary sounding combinations in that list.  In the right hands, it's an ice cream revolution and I'm very happy to be onboard.

Kitty has travelled profesionally from pastry kitchens to ice cream parlours, from London to New York via Nice and Rome.  After nearly four years in the kitchen of St John Bread & Wine, her life in ices began to take shape, initially out of a desire to recreate memories of her travels.  Starting out by selling at London Farmers Markets and pitching up outside Neal's Yard Dairy in her tiny Piaggio Van, she now sells most Saturdays from her 'hole in the wall' outlet at Spa Terminus in Bermondsey.   You might also be lucky enough to find her at various Fairs around London (Frieze Art is one that's coming up soon).

Mulberry Granita
La Grotta Ices

La Grotta Ices is about more than making ice cream.  Kitty Travers is an ice cream maker who wants to "create memories" via the medium of ice cream.  Well she certainly succeeded in re-creating one for Anna Koska this week.  It took just a spoonful of Raspberry & Fig Leaf ice to evoke a powerful sense of brushing past the fig tree in her beloved Sussex garden.  

La Grotta Ices
Unit 11 Dockley
Between Spa Road and Dockley Road
London SE16 3SF

Saturday 9-2pm

Spa Terminus Producers and Map

Monday, 2 September 2013

LeCoq - London

Roast chicken & Caponata

After far too many lean years London has seen a spate of quality chicken restaurants opening in the last 2 years, from fried chicken in Brixton to chicken schnitzel in Soho.  Mostly they've left me cold.  The American chicken and 'slaw formula just doesn't do it for me - let alone the German twist.  The chicken joint I was looking for, it seemed, just didn't exist in London.  My dream place has a warm neighbourhood feel; the aroma of well-reared chicken turning slowly on a spit, potatoes beneath soaking up the chicken fat; something acidulous alongside to cut the richness; an uncomplicated, yet gutsy red wine to drink with it.  It seemed this was too much to ask of London.

Finally we have LeCoq, the perfect, no-booking, 40- (or so) seater, only a few doors down from Islington's excellent Trullo.  It's handily close to Highbury & Islington underground and in the rapidly developing food hub of N1.  I don't know if this is the chicken restaurant London has been waiting for, but it's definitely the one I've been craving.

LeCoq is owned by sisters Sanja (a founder of Salt Yard Group) and Ana (Bocca di Lupo, Rochelle Canteen) Morris.  Ben Benton left Stevie Parle's Dock Kitchen to head up the kitchen.  The menu is admirably simple.  A couple of starters, a main of rotisserie chicken served with something to complement and cut the fattiness, and two puddings.  Although focused firmly on chicken, the menu changes weekly and, on Sunday,s a different roast meets the flame of the rotisserie.

Ricotta, fig leaf, Strega ice cream

Starters, on our visit, were an artichoke dish and some Pico charcuterie but we'd already spotted the puddings so something had to give.  The chicken, cooked to juicy perfection, was firm-fleshed, the way well-reared outdoor chicken should be.  That day it came with a portion of knock-out caponata, a jug of juice and spoonful of tarragon mayonnaise alongside.  A side dish of potatoes and garlic cloves cooked in the chicken fat was more than worth its £3.75, a salad ordered proved unnecessary.  The house red, Nero d'Avola, at a very reasonable £4.50 a glass, was just right.  Puddings were a good Chocolate Tart scattered with honeycomb or a very good Ricotta, Fig Leaf and Strega ice cream (made for LeCoq by Sorbitum ices).

More about those chickens, as these things matter a lot to me.  The birds come from Kennel Farm in Sutton Hoo.  Slow-growing, fed an additive free diet and allowed to forage freely with plenty of room to stretch their legs (far more space than any EU law on "free-range" directs).  The quality shows on the plate. Two courses for £16, a couple of side-dish and a glass of wine each brought the bill to a very satisfying £47.25 excluding service.  That's what I call a bargain.  Added to which, the care taken over every aspect ensured a swift return is certain.

292-294 St Paul's Road
Canon bury
London N1 2LH
Open Tues-Sun 12-2.30pm & 6-10pm

PS  Takeaway coming soon.