The weather is all over the place at the moment, one day I’ve made cooling Vichysoisse and the next it’s been cockle-warming Roasted Red Pepper and Shallot Soup. Highlight of the week, though, was the arrival of a big bag of Cornish Earlies (@seasonal_spuds), Cornwall’s lesser-known rival to Jersey Royals. Unbelievably, it is exactly 2 years since I started writing My Week in Food. I’ve decided to take a break from it but will be writing regularly in the Writings section and posting recipes. Next week my conundrum is eating late after a very early start.
In the fridge from a recent big shop at the fishmongers (www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk) I have nets of mussels and clams waiting attention. Both have been cleaned in several changes of water and loosely wrapped in several folds of wet newsprint piled into a mixing bowl. I decide on mussels tonight and fancy a classic Moules Mariniere, the juices stirred at the end with a spoonful of crème fraiche. I cook chopped onion and garlic in a smear of olive oil and add a few sprigs of thyme with a couple of bay leaves from my burgeoning tree in the back garden and a generous splash of white wine. I know June is not good for shellfish but this is the first time I’ve bought mussels when every one of them is forming a new shell. I’ve never seen this so uniform before but we are in June; so no ‘r’ in the month. As it turned out, mine were pristinely clean, the new-giving-way-to-old shells without barnacles, the mussels inside were plump and succulent, really delicious with crusty bread and butter to chase the mouthfuls and mop up the last of the soup at the end.
Time is running out for the clams, so decide to cook them with butter beans and a hint of chilli making a simplified version of fabes con almejas, or Clams with Butter Beans. Do check out the recipe, it really is worth trying; a lovely spoon and fork one pot dish. Don’t forget the dispense bowl for the shells.
The beautiful, huge, knobby pink spider crab in a bottom drawer of the fridge is beginning to make its presence felt (or, should I say, smelt) but I don’t want to throw him out until I’ve contacted the fish shop. I want to find out if these monster crabs were boiled in Newlyn then dispatched or sent up live and cooked at the shop. Either way, I think the problem is under cooking because what should be firm, delicate meat in the claws is molten and unrecognisable as something good to eat. Turns out that Johnny, my main man at the fish monger, also took a spider crab home and found the same thing and agreed it wasn’t cooked for long enough, claws not set. ‘More coming tomorrow’, he says, ‘shall I save you one’. The dustmen will get a shock when they collect the rubbish tomorrow, and open the food bin I put out and see a huge knobbly monster crab staring up at them. Make more Oven Ratatouille and roast tomatoes (2 big ones), couple of shrivelled Romano peppers, half a dozen shallots to make Roasted Red Pepper and Shallot Soup. This has become a favourite super-easy soup, made by roasting the veg together then leaving them to cool briefly before ripping off the sheets of pepper skin and swiping away the seeds, blitzing with the tomatoes and shallots squeezed out of their skins. With a generous pinch of saffron and 500ml chicken stock, this liquidizes into creamy nectar that resembles that famous cream of tomato soup I sometimes buy as a childhood memory treat (yes, Heinz; only Heinz will do). With the rats (as ratatouille is known in my kitchen), I’m cooking pork chops and some of those gorgeous Cornish potatoes. I usually griddle or grill pork chops but consulted a lovely big tome called Pork & Sons by Stephane Reynaud published beautifully by Phaidon (my favourite publisher) with plenty to read and beautiful photos of tempting dishes, farmers and restaurant chefs. The photos of pork chops fried in butter was so tempting that I copied the idea. First, though, I nicked the fat running down the side of chop so it wouldn’t buckle as the chops were cooked. The French style, of course, is to trim away that fat, but The B likes to eat it golden and crusty. I failed to make crackling out of the skin but never mind, the chops were delicious with home made Apple Sauce (so useful), lukewarm rats and mustard (French and English).
Make Vichysoisse, that gorgeous chilled leek and potato soup invented by Louis Diat in the 1920’s when he was chef at the Ritz-Carlton. There are many versions of this, often too heavy on the cream but I am very pleased with this version made with slightly more leek to Cornish earlies with very good jellied chicken stock and half as much milk with just a couple of tablespoons of slightly lemony crème fraiche. It looks very pretty with its garnish of finely snipped chives to sharpen up the flavours. I long for the first new season peas to arrive, looking forward to popping them out of their shells as I sip a glass of chilled white wine in the garden. No such luck yet, so it’s reliance again on frozen petits pois; something I am rarely without. I have roast tomato halves in a plastic box in the fridge and chicken thigh fillets awaiting their destiny. The result is a colourful, easy-cook stewy sort of dish finished with basil. My not very original name for it is Chicken with Roast Tomatoes and Peas. It was a huge hit, delicious with more of those (now widely available) Cornish new potatoes.
As we emerged from the last lock down, there was feverish building work going on in Chiswick House on the patch of land where wedding and party marquees go up and down all through the year. What emerged, is a very smart, very large white semi-permanent lux-marquee that has been launched as The Garden Pavilion. It’s run by Food Show Events, who have apparently also taken over at the adjacent Café with its pop up bar. New seating, new parasols and a new smartness attends the Café these days and tonight we are having dinner at the newly opened (Thurs-Sun, with afternoon tea menu Fri, Sat and Sun) Garden Pavilion. We sit outside and it’s barmy enough to be very pleasant indeed. We took Red which proved a mistake, as an nearby table had a little lap dog with small dog issues (ie barked a lot). Anyway, Red eventually settled and our meal of foie gras and Gressingham duck terrine with strange but delicious bread rolls, followed by new season duo of lamb. The lamb was a tiny piece of deliciously tender, pink cannon over shredded very well-cooked pressed belly, with potato galette (sort of Dauphinoise), peas and baby courgette that had been balled with a melon baller, one side cut and dipped in something bright yellow so the balls played a trick on eye and tongue, quite unrecognisably courgette with the texture of water chestnuts. Intriguing. The staff are attentive and friendly and there is a big outside terrace; inside could house a huge party. £48.50 for 3 courses seemed reasonable for the surprisingly well-executed food produced from a little kitchen at the rear and probably relying on a certain amount of sous-vide.
The poshest restaurant we have in Chiswick is La Trompette, very close to where I live. It has risen to the challenge of the need for outside space by extending it’s street-private terrace and installing new fold-back windows/doors and can leave the kitchen doors at the rear open, so there is a good breeze rushing through the now two room restaurant. It first opened in 2013 and is related to Chez Bruce, the utterly brilliant restaurant that was once owned by Marco Pierre White in Wandsworth with favourite chef Bruce Poole at the helm and the The Glasshouse by the river in Putney. The B who has been working so hard on such a big case for some time now, has been trying to get a Friday or Saturday night table for weeks and finally succeeded tonight. We kicked off with a dirty martini made with local Sipsmith gin and a very chirpy sommelier bounced up to discuss wines. The menu was shorter than I remember and blessedly so, virtually everything a possible choice. I settled on Paignton cock crab and scallop tortelloni with dulse butter. It was utterly delicious, the silky pasta parcel stuffed to the gunnels, the seafood intensely flavoured with a cappuccino-style frothy butter that was so good I couldn’t waste a drop. Dulse is seaweed and something to explore at home, it’s flavour intensely of the sea. I will be buying some and experimenting. We both had aged Cornish duck with superb little turnip gratins, cherries, hen of the wood (a pale, frilly fungus that grows at the base of some trees, most particularly on oaks and tastes like chicken) and rainbow chard. This was a superb meal and very good value at £65 for 3 courses. We were too complet (as they say in France) to order desserts but they brought us truffles (to die for).
I’m defrosting a huge Packington chicken for Dinner Tonight. We love a roast chicken dinner and I particularly want to cook it tonight rather than the more usual Sunday night, so I have a starting point for next week’s Cook Now for Later in Writings. It was the full Monte, with a few cocktail sausages, proper home-made bread sauce, more gorgeous Cornish new potatoes, petits pois and white wine gravy. I roasted it the usual way, over chopped shallot and a bundle of aromatic herbs from the garden, stuffed with lemon shucks that had been squeezed over the bird with white wine salt and pepper. We call it a wet roast and it’s always moist and lusciously succulent after its rest before carving. As usual I’ll be making stock from the carcass, making salad lunches and some sort of hot dish with the remains of the stripped bird.