Armies of red squirrels can’t be wrong

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I know I’ve written about this before, but every year the produce from the two walnut trees in our garden astounds me.

I’m ashamed to say that walnuts aren’t my favourite nut by a long way – I find their taste too bitter. We inherited the trees from the previous owner who must have planted them thirty five years ago, and they’re both thriving.

So having a couple of large boxes of perfectly healthy organic walnuts to use up each year is always a bit of a challenge, and I’m steeped in guilt if I can’t find something to do with them.

Apart from support a veritable army of red squirrels, that is, which we manage magnificently in our laziness.

Enter side left Walnuts in Honey.

Shelling walnuts can only be described as a tedious job, necessarily aided by copious amounts of wine on a sunny day. However, this or live with the guilt.

Cracked walnut pieces in a jar. Topped up with honey infused with fresh lemon or orange peel pieces. Sealed and left for a few weeks to macerate, sweeten and tempt appetites when evenings are cold and apple pies, crumbles and sticky sponge puddings beckon.

Figgy Heaven

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I love it when the figs are ripe.

We have four fig trees in the garden here in France, all old and normally prolific in their crop, and between me, the wasps and the birds there are easily enough to go around, especially as partner thinks that they are the fruit of the devil and swears that they shall never pass his lips.

All the more for me then. :-)

This evening I ate lovely black figs (as we call the purple ones) with soft fresh ewes cheese, pistachios, fresh mint leaves and a drizzle of honey.

It may only last a month or so, this figgy season, but whilst it does I’m not ashamed to gorge gluttonously on these wonderful fruits.

I never freeze, can or dry them as I know you can- for me there isn’t anything that can surpass the succulence of a perfectly ripe fresh fig and I’d rather do without for the rest of the year than taint my memory of them at their best.

Signing off now to return to Figgy Heaven.

And how fabulous to have them in your very own garden.

Plain Jane

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As the wheel of the year turns and colder evenings start to draw in, food thoughts turn to more substantial fare.

A few weeks ago in a London Gastro pub, I found myself ordering this. It was black-faced poached lamb sliced onto beans, barley and root vegetables.

How English, I thought.

No garlic. No hot seasonings or herbs that I could taste other than parsley and a tiny bit of rosemary. Some salt and pepper.

White beans, barley, vegetable stock, onions and carrots. Like a lamb hotpot but without the potato topping, and the lamb had been pot-braised but then lifted out whilst still rare, sliced, and returned to the plate.

I almost never cook like this these days, always mixing up flavours and adding garlic, mustard, balsamic or pimento for flavour, but this was good, really good.

The Plain Jane of culinary fare, and none the worse for that.

The flavours still shine when the ingredients are good and the cooking is simple.

Little balls of Succulence

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Arancini.

You’ve got to love those Italians for creating these, if for no other reason on the planet.

Little crispy, deep fried breadcrumbed balls, filled with squidgy, moist risotto rice and a core of something delectable.

Yesterday evening that something delectable was molten mozzarella, but it got me to thinking that we could ring the changes here and go for something a bit more adventurous.

Mushrooms and taleggio, or chestnut and garlic, or caramelised onion and peas. Or roasted and pureed butternut squash. The season is just right to start thinking of amazing taste combinations to tuck into that glorious little central taste pocket of an arancini.

A few of these are often served with drinks or aperos in Italian bars and restaurants, but if there were various fillings I could seriously eat a whole meal made up of these.

In fact, I can feel a serious arancini making session coming on this weekend…

Spitting the Bones

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The first mouthful of this took me back to early childhood in Scotland- a remembrance of my mother feeding me this and impressing upon me how this was a good, local dish.

I sat there silently and laboriously spitting the bones out into my napkin, making agonised faces and thinking how cruel life was that I was forced to eat such things!

A buttered thick slice of white toast as the base to sop up the juices.

Smoked fillets of mackerel, marinated overnight in vinegar (soused) then simply grilled.

A generous scoop of savoury, lightly herbed creme fraiche.

Ok, so the original forty years ago wouldn’t have had the dollop of seasoned cream, but believe me, the rest was almost identical.

Isn’t it amazing how taste and scents can take you back so instantly and so strongly to a memory so long forgotten. For the first time in forty years I remembered the table I was fed at and the shape of the salt and pepper pots.

Soused mackerel memories. I now love the taste.

But I still spit the bones :-)

Do you have the same?

The Time In Between

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I love this time of year – those few weeks betwixt summer and autumn that can’t quite make their mind up what they are.

Still hot days, with the swallows still wheeling in the skies but with birds also gathering on the power lines at dusk like strings of black pearls, ready to take off for warmer places soon.

Still warm enough to eat outside on the terrace and swim in the pool, but with mornings that are crisply cold and with grass heavy with dew and spiders webs.

Still time to feast on salads but also the time to start sneaking in an occasional casserole and to think of things to do with the walnuts that are starting to ripen and fall.

I made the first casserole of the season this weekend with guinea fowl, mushrooms and shallots in a wine and garlic reduced stock. Slowly simmered in the oven and eaten simply with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

It’s too soon to say goodbye to summer – what little we’ve had so far – but nice to beckon in the time in-between and to contemplate the mellowness of autumn.

Honey vanilla roasted pears

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I’m having trouble moving past this recipe for pears, I must admit. Although it’s so simple I’m embarrassed to call it a recipe.

I keep cooking it.

Every autumn. Every time the pears ripen.

I’m sure that there are a thousand pear recipes equally worthy of a try, but every time I see a pear I think of this. And I find it so perfect that I don’t bother looking any further.

Perhaps it’s a deeply seated thing from the roots of a childhood in the Seventies: tinned pears and ice-cream – it probably is.

Anyway, nostalgia aside, these pears were bought from the market on Saturday and were so ripe that they weren’t going to make it past the weekend.

They were peeled, cored, smeared with vanilla seeds still sticky from the pod, drizzled with local acacia honey and baked in the oven at 200 degrees centigrade for forty minutes.

Served with good vanilla ice cream they so surpassed my remembrances of tinned pears and ice cream from the Seventies that I just know I’m going to bake them again.