Archive for May, 2011

I was feeling greedy again this evening – that is in the mood for some more Two Greedy Italians recipes. You know you’ve got a good cookery book when you find yourself going back to it time and time again wanting to cook recipe after recipe. I think this is one of a handful on my shelves which is building up to be well-thumbed and splattered.

The dishes I planned to cook when I wrote my book review earlier this month didn’t end up being on the menu today. Ah well, I’ll have to come back to them another time! Instead I prepared pollo casalingo al vino bianco (housewives’ chicken in white wine and vinegar), finocchi gratinati (fennel gratin) and patate arraganate (sliced roasted potatoes with tomato, oregano and basil).

All three dishes were incredibly simple to make. Once the small amount of chopping and assembly were done, they all sat happily on the hob or in the oven (smelling wonderful) whilst I got on with a few jobs.

The chicken recipe comes from the Piedmont region of Italy, and as the story goes farmers’ wives would prepare the ingredients in the morning before heading off to work in the fields. When they returned home, all that remained to do was to put the pan on the heat. The scent and flavour of the dish was surprising, tangy from the lemon and vinegar, aromatic from the clove, bay and peppercorns. It was reminiscent of sousing liquor, only the more familiar fish was substituted with chicken.

The fennel gratin had a delicious crisp and savoury topping from the breadcrumbs and parmesan which contrasted with the soft fennel. The potatoes were heady with oregano, crisp where they’d caught on the side of the baking dish and offered an occasional sweet, caramel treat from the red onion scattered amongst the slices of potato. Both complimented the chicken, as they would other chicken and fish dishes.

All in all, tonight’s meal was another thumbs up to the Carluccio and Contaldo Italian adventure.


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We were up and at it on Saturday morning, hitting the road early for a trip to Lyme Regis, home of Hix Oyster and Fish House. The Fish House has been on my ‘restaurants to visit’ list for a while now so I was excited to be on my way. Fresh British fish can be hard to beat and such a special treat, fitting for a belated birthday lunch.

The restaurant is in a prime location in Lyme Regis on the hillside overlooking the small harbour and, on a sunny day like Saturday, with a view for miles down the Jurassic coastline and out across the glistening sea. The modern ‘beach hut’ has floor to ceiling windows on two sides and the layout of the tables means that you can enjoy the magnificent view wherever you’re sitting.

The menu changes daily and, as you’d expect, is predominantly fish based, though on Saturday there were a few dishes for those who’d prefer meat and a couple of vegetarian starters. It was also great to see so many sea vegetables appearing on the menu.

We kicked off the meal with a glass of Prosecco and some rock oysters, one of each variety between us (Carlingford Lough, Brownsea Island, Portland Royals, Devon Yealms). Wonderfully fresh and tasting of the sea.

From the starters, we chose monkfish cheeks with peas, bacon and tarragon, Fowey mussel and Burrow Hill cider broth and soused Torbay gurnard with sea purslane.

The monkfish cheeks were meaty and tasty but the bacon and tarragon were lost in the peas. Such strong flavours, you’d expect them to stand out. The broth was delicious, topped with a few plump mussels, but to me was more a potage than a broth. More a criticism of the menu writing than the dish itself! The flavour of the soused gurnard was perfect, such a shame that the skin had been left on making it impossible to eat and that in parts the fish was still raw. When we raised the issue with the waitress, we were offered an alternative and chose the Fish House salad. This was a take on a Nicoise with mackerel fillets in place of tuna – nice but not spectacular.

For our main courses we chose grilled fillet of Portland Race sea bass with Atlantic prawns and sea spinach, grilled Dorset Blue lobster with wild garlic and chips (it was my birthday!), grilled Bigbury Bay dabs with green sauce and Barrington potatoes, and chargrilled lamb cutlets with deep-fried sweetbreads and wild garlic.

The sea bass was beautiful and a picture on the plate (the photo doesn’t do it justice).  Disappointing though that the Atlantic prawns had been replaced by clams without a word of explanation or a check to see if the subsitution was acceptable. The lobster was finger licking good and the wild garlic sauce a perfect combination, only to be let down by the seriously late arrival of the chips. The dabs and green sauce were tasty but a salsa verde made by hand rather than in a blender would have really elevated the dish. The lamb cutlets turned out to be one thick and slightly underwhelming chop, though the sweetbreads a crispy and interesting addition to the dish.

The kitchen, which we discovered at this point was running without a head chef owing to a serious knife wound, redeemed itself with the desserts; a refreshing blackcurrant sorbet, a palate cleansing lemon sorbet and a tangy, though untraditional (the cake base ran through the cheese mixture), cheesecake.

The food aside, the service is what let the Fish House down the most. When eating out and paying the relatively high price that this kind of restaurant commands, I like to be made to feel welcome and special. Instead I felt we were just another punter and an imposition, our waitress at her most cheerful as we said goodbye. The restaurant wasn’t busy during our visit and with three waitresses on hand a more personal and friendly touch could have been offered.

We’d heard good reviews before our visit and more since so maybe we just caught them on an off day. Perhaps we’ll be able to go again sometime soon and our experience will live up to the stunning setting. 

If you’re in the area on a bright day and wanting to give it a try, my recommendation would be to head outside onto the balcony with a glass of wine and a tray of oysters to soak up the view and take in the sea air. Watching people out there whilst we were eating, I couldn’t help but think that that’s the good life!

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After a rough week at work we were looking forward to our Friday evening getaway. We didn’t travel far, just 20 minutes or so in the car, but where we ended up seemed like a world away.

As we headed up the driveway to the car park of Berwick Lodge, we were greeted by the hotel’s chickens, rabbits bounded freely in the grounds, squirrels scrambled up trees and house martins swooped past as they dived out of their nest in the eaves in search of the next morsel of food for the chicks.

Privately owned and opened in 2009, Berwick Lodge has just 10 rooms and suites, a drawing-room, large dining room and gardens set among 15 acres. It is the luxury boutique hotel experience.

After swooning over the ginormous bed in our room and taking in the view from our private balcony, we made our way to the elegant drawing-room where we sipped our aperitif of pink champagne, nibbled on canapés, perused the wine list and soaked up the atmosphere.

We were shown to our table by the window in the dining room and our eight course tasting menu experience designed by head chef, Chris Wicks, began.

Chilled pea, asparagus velouté

This essence of pea and asparagus topped with a sour cream foam was served in a shot glass at room temperature. Refreshing, silky and a taste of spring. 

Salmon ‘mi cuit’, cauliflower, raisin, ginger

Lightly cured salmon with cauliflower puree, golden raisins and ginger jam. A beautifully presented and executed dish, sadly not my cup of tea. But there lies the excitement of a tasting menu – a chance to try new or interesting combinations some of which you’ll love and others you’ll be pleased you tried but may not pick again.

Diver-caught scallops, smoked pork belly, coco beans, chorizo, gazpacho

This one was a stand-out winner as soon as we read it on the menu and it was most definitely our favourite course. Bold flavours matched with delicate scallops, a combination of smooth, soft, crispy and crunchy textures and one of the best pieces of crackling I’ve ever eaten! Please sir, can I have some more?!

Coco beans, in case you’re wondering, aren’t chocolate! They’re tiny haricot beans from France, traditionally used to make cassoulet.

Snail garden, parsley purée, mushroom soil and baby vegetables

This was the fun and tongue in cheek dish of the evening. The snails, cooked in garlic butter, had been removed from their shells, the baby vegetables were lightly pickled and still crunchy to contrast against the parsley purée, and the ground, dried mushroom gave an earthy flavour to the dish.

Red mullet, pickled sea weed, artichoke, salsify, crab lasagne

Though incredibly tasty, there was a lot going on in this dish. The red mullet, artichoke purée and pickled sea weed worked beautifully together whilst the silky lasagne, generously filled with crab and salsify could have been a dish in its own right.

Creedy carver duck, beetroot, kumquats, foie gras, pain d’épices

The perfectly cooked duck breast with crispy skin, tangy kumquat sauce and beetroot purée were delicious. Served with spinach instead of pain d’épices, it was nonetheless wonderful.

I’m not a fan of foie gras and don’t agree with the production method but, on tasting it, could appreciate the part it had to play in making the dish a whole.

Sauternes verrine, crème caramel, caramel cream, william pear

A lovely palette cleanser, elegantly presented. The dainty glass was filled with layers of  pear sorbet, caramel cream and caramel sauce with Sauternes and finished with a crispy shard of caramelised sugar. 

Chocolate texture

A chocolate lover’s dream; rich chocolate ganache and chocolate ice cream. Need I say more?

Say cheese

As if that wasn’t enough, we decided to push the boat out further and see what the cheese board had to offer. The trolley was wheeled over to the table and the waiter presented each of the 16 cheeses. Several agonising minutes ensued whilst I made a decision. One goats cheese, one soft cheese, one hard and one blue. Then came the jaw dropping as the waiter sliced hunks of cheese and laid the plate in front of me! Obviously overwhelmed by what had just happened I forgot to take the photograph!

Three hours later, replete, we returned to the drawing-room where we were brought coffee and macaroons (pistachio, chocolate and cherry).

Time, then, to get acquainted with that large bed!

After a leisurely and small cooked breakfast, which included eggs from the Lodge’s chickens, we packed, checked out and drove off, leaving the peaceful tranquility behind. Sad to leave but rejuvenated by our stay.

We were dining and staying at the hotel on a Living Social deal. It was excellent value for money and the fact that we were there on a deal had no impact on the service we received. Our Berwick Lodge experience was dreamlike. There was no rush, no pressure, no snootiness, just pure indulgence.

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On first inspection this book, written to accompany the forthcoming BBC series, may appear to be not much different to many other Italian cookery books, or indeed, previous publications from both Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo. Numerous recipes and the ingredients will be familiar to any Italian food enthusiast or visitor to the country. Anyone stopping there would be, in my opinion, foolhardy and would undoubtedly be left disappointed. It’s only when you delve deeper into the content of the pages that you discover what makes their book stand out.

The reader is taken on a pilgrimage with the chefs across their homeland, remembering traditional and classic dishes, introducing us to unfamiliar regional recipes influenced by bordering countries, such as pancetta con crauti (pork belly with sauerkraut) or Apfelstrudel (Tyrelean apple pastry), and also discovering new and modern interpretations of the classics, some of which incorporate very new ingredients which are slowly being introduced into the Italian markets by immigrants in much the same way tomatoes, peppers, rice, pasta and maize, with which we associate Italian food, were introduced and adopted only a few centuries ago.

Short essays and introductions to the recipes by both chefs provide a deeper insight into the history, regionalism, culture, religion, family life, modern society and the changing face of Italian food. When once cucina povera, the poor man’s food, was the diet of resourceful housewives, finding a way to feed their large, hard-working families on a very tight budget, this style of cooking is now found at a high price in restaurants. How the tables have turned.

Asparagus Salad As you’d expect from an Italian cookbook, the recipes are simple and require few ingredients, though disappointingly many aren’t accompanied by a photograph over which to drool. It is the high quality of the ingredients which make for a sublime, tasty dish, as demonstrated by the insalata di asparagi crudi con parmigiano (raw asparagus salad with parmesan) I made, consisting only of fresh asparagus, parmesan shavings, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

The more I read, the more greedy I became, in good company with these two Italian chefs. Whilst I’ve so far only prepared the one recipe, there are many more likely to appear on the menu sometime soon, not least of which is the zuppa di carciofi con gnocchi di pollo (artichoke soup with chicken dumplings), lasagnetta con pane carasau (Sardinian bread lasagne) and tarallucci (savoury fennel biscuits).

Sit back, relax and find yourself transported to the kitchens of Italy old and new by the two greedy Italians.

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