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Tonight we had to make something quick as Mr Rigg was heading out for a bike ride with Buddy. So I made our favourite scrambled eggs on delicious Campanou bread (a French country style loaf) from Barbakan.
I boiled some asparagus, fried mushrooms in butter and added some pretty pink thyme flowers, before lightly frying the asparagus in the mushroom pan to give it a bit of glisten! All on top of the scrambled eggs and soft bread it was lovely.
Our allotment is beginning to take shape – finally it looks like an allotment. That might sound funny, but it’s true. Until the other week it wasn’t much more than a strip of motorway verge. All overgrown and unloved.
Now it has a small lawn (currently suffering under the baking sun) for us to sit and eat lunch on, a herb garden (thyme in full flower), potatoes about to flower, sunflowers, courgette and pumkin plants, slender sweetcorn plants, and the beginnings of bark pathways. It is so exciting!
I can’t believe that I never finished my food memories of Italy. Last September we were there! And now we’re almost into June. Terrible. I shall try to pick up where I left off and share more of the lovely food we found and ate in Italy.
After our first night in Naples (see Part 1) we made our way by bus to the Amalfi Coast. The journey by bus along the coastal roads was hair-raising! Suddenly we went over the top and there was the sea far far below…
Every journey by bus after this I discovered that I had to eat in order not to feel sick as we wound backwards and forwards along the coast – bags of airy cheesy flavoured Wotsit-type crisps were my life saver.
We stayed at an agriturismo called Sant Alfonso in Furore. It was all the way at the end of a very long road, down which we dragged our luggage in the heat.
Our room was cool with a stunning view over the coastal hillsides and sea beyond. Twice a day, every day, we would hear these bells, gently clanging across the valley. A herd of goats would head up into the hills and back down again at night. Blissful.
For breakfast there was a generous spread of pastries and cakes. I always find breakfast in other countries fascinating and unfamiliar. I always seem to try to make a familiar breakfast out of what there is available, and sometimes it doesn’t quite work!
Cute heart-shaped sugared buns.
Over the next few days we often had lunch and dinner at Sant Alfonso. Dinner I must say was unmemorable and often quite heavy going as we felt we should eat four courses every night – a starter, pasta course, main course and dessert! Phew! Whether we were supposed to eat all four courses or whether the Italians thought us all very strange for eating so much I shall never know!
The lunches however, under the shade of the terrace with a cool sea breeze were lovely. Delicious platters of antipasto - salami, ham, mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, grilled artichokes, pasta, melon, bruschetta, and delicious pickled aubergine with olives.
All served with crusty bread. If only we could eat like this every day.
The farm grew grapes, their vines stretching out along the terraces which were cut into the steep hillside all around. They also had some friendly goats and a fig tree that dropped sticky ripe fruits everywhere.
We also discovered a number of wild herbs growing naturally. I think this was thyme sprouting from cracks in a wall…
And wild fennel along the road to the farm – this was used in quite a number of dishes we saw on menus.
And on our first night on the Amalfi Coast, in a quiet corner of the softly lit garden, looking out across the black sea and twinkly lights below, Mr Rigg got down on one knee and asked if I’d marry him.
A busy day of gardening both at home and the allotment.
We planted out some pea seedlings that Buddy had tried to destroy previously – fingers-crossed they will survive. They are supported with some chicken wire and bamboo canes.
I went to Kenyon Hall Farm and spent large amounts of money on beautiful herbs, more pea and broad bean plants, two Delphiniums and some asparagus for tea.
At the allotment I planted out six types of thyme:
As you can tell I love thyme!
Next followed two chive and two heartsease plants.
These are added to the lavender, tarragon and sage plants already dug into my new herb beds.
Brie and Onion Tart
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter
200g puff pastry
In a large frying pan heat the butter. Peel the onions and cut into segments. Cook the onions in the butter on a gentle heat until they are meltingly tender and slightly caramelised. Let them take their time.
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Roll out your puff pastry until it is only a couple of millimetres thick. Carefully place the pastry onto a baking tray and score a border around the pastry about 2cm for the edges. Prick with a fork.
Once the onions are cooked, spread them out over the pastry leaving the border free. Brush some of the remaining oniony butter from in the pan around the border – this will help it to go lovely and golden.
Cut the Brie into pieces and scatter over the onions. Sprinkle over some thyme leaves and a little salt and pepper.
Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the cheese has melted and oozed amongst the onions.
Eat with a big pile of crisp and crunchy salad tossed in a tangy homemade dressing – just a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is all it needs. Scrumptious.
This delicious recipe is taken from the fabulous Nigel Slater’s Appetite.
So when the sun briefly appeared last week, our stomachs grumbled for the delights of fresh summer salads and dinner on the patio. I whipped up three easy salads – I call them salads, but in fact they could also be side dishes, or part of another meal – some toast and cheese.
My three ‘salads’: Piemontese Peppers, Marinated Green Beans, and a Mixed Tomato and Basil Salad.
*These are my version of Tamasin Day-Lewis’ Piemontese Peppers, minus the anchovies as we didn’t have them, and done under the grill…I couldn’t wait 40 minutes for them to cook in the oven!*
Feeds 2 as part of a meal
1 red pepper
couple of small tomatoes (cherry ones are great)
1 clove of garlic
some feta cheese
extra virgin olive oil
sprig of thyme
salt and pepper
Preheat your grill on a medium setting.
Cut your pepper in half and carefully remove the stalk and seeds. Halve them again and place on your grill pan.
Dice up the tomatoes and pop a few chunks into each quarter of pepper.
Next, thinly slice the clove of garlic and add a couple of slithers to the peppers.
Sprinkle over some thyme leaves, followed by a good drizzling of olive oil and season with salk and pepper.
Bung under the grill and cook until soft and starting to char at the edges (don’t forget about them like I did or you’ll have to remove some of the more singed bits!).
Remove to a plate and crumble over some feta cheese.
Serve warm or at room temperature – also a great dish you can prepare ahead of time and pop in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
Up next: Marinated Green Beans
This is my recipe for homemade tomato soup. It’s got a nice tang to it from the addition of some sundried tomatoes, and is a delicious meal in winter or summer. There’s so many ways you can serve it – with crusty white bread spread thickly with butter, a dollop of cream cheese, crème fraîche swirled through it, a drizzle of olive oil, toasted pitta bread, a sprig of basil. Or what I really liked as a child was to put a big knob of salty butter into the middle, wait for it to melt and then swirl it in – probably not very healthy, but I loved that extra smooth salty edge it gave the soup.
Homemade Tomato Soup
2 small shallots or 1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 sundried tomatoes, chopped
Tin of plum or cherry tomatoes
Bunch of thyme, leaves only
400-500ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Start by softened the chopped shallots over a medium heat. Once they have softened and started to turn translucent, add the sundried tomatoes and thyme leaves.
If you can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to pick off all the leaves, pop the whole sprigs in to impart their flavour - just before you blend the soup remember to remove the sprigs or you’ll end up with bits of twig in every mouthful…it’s not pleasant!
After a couple of minutes, add the tinned tomatoes and break them up with a wooden spoon.
Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.
Turn off the heat, remove any sprigs of thyme if left whole, and blend to a smooth puree.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and eat straightaway however you wish.
This year is set to be the summer of salads, I’m sure of it. The heat here in England is incredible at the moment, our office temperature gauge said it was 29°C! Far too hot to be working.
At home we are relishing salad after salad, and I am enjoying creating these light, wholesome salads to fill our bellies. With this heat no one wants to eat much, just a few lovely salads and some grilled meat, or a bowl of simply dressed pasta with a side of green leaves. We have had friends round for barbecues and my parents visited for a day, so I have been perfecting my salad making skills. And when I say salad, I don’t just mean a bowl of leafy greens, I mean plates of spring vegetables, prepared with different flavourings and complimented with cheeses and herbs.
The first of these salads that I’m going to showcase is a dish of roasted spring carrots with cumin and feta cheese. I serve this warm or room temperature, not hot. Like so many of my favourite recipes, this is so simple and easy to do – a real ‘no fuss’ dish. I discovered some bunched English baby carrots at my one of my local farm shops, which were a perfect size for what I wanted – if you can’t find baby sized carrots, just take normal sized ones and cut them into slender batons.
Trim and scrub the carrots. Bung them in a roasting tin, drizzle with oil, add a grinding of black pepper and some salt, and finally sprinkle over a teaspoon or so of cumin. Give them a good toss to coat with all the yumminess an pop them in a moderately hot oven. They should only about 20-30 minutes, and are ready when they are tender.
Because I like to serve the carrots warm not hot, it means you can cook them in advance, turn the oven off and leave them to cool. When you’re ready to serve the salad, take a pretty serving plate, spread out the carrots over the plate, crumble over the feta cheese, sprinkle over some fresh thyme leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
If you fancy, you could always serve the carrots in a tortilla wrap or mashed up a bit and served on a crostini.
Hope everyone else is enjoying some sunny evening meals in the garden!
This is how I made my Spring Chicken Pie that I created especially for Mother’s Day. The recipe can be found at the bottom of the post.
To start with I softened a couple of onions.
Sliced the baby leeks lengthways and sauteed them very briefly in a little oil and butter until their yellowy-green colour started to pop – you just know it when you see it.
Next I finely sliced the spring greens and savoy cabbage (the bunnies were SO pleased with the leftovers of this meal) and gently cooked them in oil, butter and a splash of boiling water to give a sort of steaming effect. Again, these were very briefly cooked, as they would go into the pie which would spend 30 minutes in the oven anyway.
We stuffed her – affectionately named Bertha – with onions and lemon and a big handful of fresh thyme. She was roasted for about 3 hours until the meat was falling off the bone. N was already imagining his roast chicken sandwiches made from the leftovers.
To compile the pie, I placed the gently cooked veg into my pie dish (I used a large terracotta dish) as I fryed it. So softened onions first, then the leeks, then half the springs greens and cabbage.
Next I flaked large chunks of roast chicken over, and covered it with the remaining greens. A big handful of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley and it was almost ready to be encrusted in its pastry lid.
The final ingredient for the pie was a white sauce with a subtle hint of cheese. I’m not going to post a recipe for white sauce here, because I just make it up, cross my fingers and hope for the best. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s one of those things I just don’t have the patience to measure out properly and follow a recipe. I know the basics of how to make a white sauce – melt butter, add flour, which makes a roux, stir for a minute or so to cook out the floury taste, add milk (I have started adding warm milk in a bid to reduce the risk of the dreaded lumps!) and stir vigorously until thickened. I remember my mother telling my to continuously stir her white sauce until it had thickened to prevent lumps, and hers always turned out nicely. To my white sauce I add a grating of fresh nutmeg, some salt and pepper, and a little bit of strong cheddar – this I adjust until the sauce has just a slightly cheesy hint.
Pour this over the pie. All that was left was to roll out the puff pastry, cut out a lid, place it securely over the pie, cut a few air holes, and then create a few unnecessary but satisfying details – namely pastry leaves. Just before I put my pie in the oven (at about 180°C) for 30 minutes I glazed it with an egg yolk. Sadly, I was in such a rush to get the damn thing onto the table, along with the new potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli (which wasn’t co-operating) that I didn’t take any pictures. It was truly beautiful, a flaky, golden delight, its pastry leaves glowing. You shall have to imagine it, although I’m sure you have all made/or seen such a pie.
Spring Chicken Pie
Makes 1 large pie, enough to feed 4-6 people
To roast the chicken:
1 large organic chicken
3 lemons, quartered
2 onions, quartered
Bundle of fresh thyme
For the pie:
2 onions, finely sliced
6-8 baby leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced lengthways
1 medium savoy cabbage, sliced
Couple of handfuls of spring greens, sliced
Bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Packet of good quality puff pastry
1 egg yolk
Rub your chicken inside and out with butter. Stuff your chicken with the chunks of onion and lemon, and the big bundle of thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken (approximately 45 minutes a kilo, plus 20 minutes) – we cover ours in foil until the last 20-30 minutes when we remove it to crisp up the chicken. When the chicken has cooled, you can get your handy boyfriend/husband to remove all the tender chicken.
In a large frying pan, soften the onions in a little oil. Transfer them to your prepared pie dish and spread out over the bottom. Next, add a knob of butter and the sliced leeks. Cook for a couple of minutes until they just start to soften. Season with salt and pepper then spread over the onion. Next, add a small knob of butter and a splash of boiling water to the pan and add half the sliced spring greens and savoy cabbage. Heat through until this also just starts to soften. Spread over the leeks. Add the remaining springs greens and cabbage and cook as before. Turn off the heat. Spread a good layer of roast chicken pieces over the veg, and top with a final layer of greens and cabbage.
Make your white sauce. Add some grated cheddar and a grating of nutmeg and mix well before pouring it over the pie. I let my pie cool a bit before covering in the pastry topping because I wasn’t going to bake it straight away and I didn’t want the heat from the veggies and sauce to make the pastry soggy.
When you’re ready to bake your pie, preheat the oven to 180°C.
Roll out your puff pastry. Cut out a lid that is slightly wider than your pie dish. I wet the rim of my pie dish, and using some off-cuts of pastry I created a pastry rim to which I could attach my lid. Next, carefully lay your pastry lid over the pie and pinch the edges to secure it. Use a sharp knife to cut a couple of air vents to let out the steam as it cooks. For a final flourish you can use any spare bits of pastry to decorate your pie with leaves or some other finishing detail.
Just before you put the pie in the oven, beat an egg yolk and brush it all over the pastry top. This will give your pie a beautiful golden glaze. Bake your pie for about 30 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden, and the sauce bubbling out from under the pastry lid. You are only really cooking the pastry and warming all the ingredients through as they are pretty much pre-cooked anyway.
We served our chicken pie with new potatoes gently tossed in a knob of goat’s butter and a pile of steamed purple sprouting broccoli. Serve the pie at the table to make sure everyone appreciates your pastry leaves!