Spring is in the air but with a sharp nip and blustery rain so it’s hard to know what to eat. It’s asparagus, more asparagus, a cheat’s take on Rowley Leigh’s fabulous scallop and pea puree Kensington Place signature dish and a super-simple roast carrot soup.
The Chelsea Arts Club has always been very good at making the most of its large and very wonderful garden. Right now, while outside only visits are possible, there are two tented areas replicating the dining room and several outside tables for use weather permitting. There are also the usual benches and tables just outside the doors to the billiard room bar. The B organised a table for 4 as soon as this relaxation of pandemic rules was muted and our table is today. It’s a bright, sunny day, so all the extra outside tables are taken as well as the ‘inside’ ones, we have been put in the separate little garden house that overlooks everything. We wonder why, because 6 rather than 4 could have happily fitted in here. Anyway, it’s lovely and we have a delicious meal with a lot of wine. I loved my starter, something I make too, matching peas with tomato here with burrata and basil with flimsy crisp bread on the side. My main course was calf’s liver with mashed potato, pancetta, baby mushrooms and onions greedily wolfed down. This plate of food always reminds me of my childhood, particularly Saturday lunchtimes in my early teens when I’d walk home from my Saturday job at the bookshop/stationers on Royal Parade to the table set and mum just about to dish up. Other good choices around our table included asparagus with ham hock and chicken terrine, poached egg and a mustard dressing, whole baked plaice with tarragon sauce, spinach and slivers of pickled vegetables and roasted rump of beef with roast pots, Yorkshire pud, veg and gravy from the Sunday roast menu. The food has got very good again.
I’m still getting my newly decorated kitchen back in order but spent the morning on the British Charcuterie Awards, tasting all manner of cured British meats from British coppa and saucisson to terrine and foie gras. I was zoom judging with an Italian restaurateur who really knew his onions. Roberto runs a chain of restaurants-cum-butcher shops called Macellaio RC (www.macellaiorc.com for branches). I’ve yet to visit but The B and I often walk past the Old Brompton Road branch on our way to the Chelsea Arts Club. It’s as memorable for the meat in the window as it is for the inviting maroon sofa outside under its canopy. I’m back to work on another judging that I can’t go into as it’s top secret but winners will be announced later on in May by the Guild of Food Writers. Finally get round to cooking the scallops I’d brought back from Cornwall and amazingly, they have survived perfectly. I separate the huge corals from the white, slice off the hard muscle where the scallop joins the shell, rinse away sand, pat dry and store in a plastic box for cooking later. I’d also bought a tin of mushy garden peas from the Co-Op in Newlyn to doctor with mint and a little bit of stock (sorry Rowley, this really is a cheat on your Griddled Scallops with Pea Puree and Mint Vinaigrette; the real recipe is on page 159 of the Fish Store book). I used to order it every time I went to Kensington Place in Rowley’s reign but I served Seared Scallops with Pea Puree and Mint Vinaigrette as a main course with frites on the side.
I’ve been hard at it all day, steaming over a hot computer so come 6.30 I’m starving but very low on inspiration. In the fridge I have a few chicken thigh fillets and a bunch of asparagus. Should I beat the chicken into escalopes to have with the asparagus? Or turn the fillets into a risotto (Asparagus and Chicken Risotto)? PerhapsI could turn it into a pasta dish. In the end, I make a ragout with lardons from the freezer (it is actually very pleasing to fry them from frozen, the pile gradually tumbling apart as the heat melts the fat), making a gravy for the chicken with leftover pink wine, adding separately blanched asparagus and peas at the end. Ragout of Chicken and Asparagus with Lardons and Peas turned out very well. I’ll be making it again.
Another day and I’m happy to say, another asparagus supper. This time in a fluffy, cheesy omelette with frites (no wonder I have lock down pounds, largely due to my M&S frites addiction). Asparagus loves eggs and I love Parmesan Omelette with Asparagus.
My old but beautiful kitchen hans grohe mixer tap is spurting from its trunk when I demand cold water, so I’ve got Mark my plumber coming round at some point (plumbers hours are quite stretchy). While I wait, I make Pork Ragu again. I usually make it for the freezer but today I’m just making it, perhaps for supper tomorrow night (the flavour will mellow and enrich if left overnight) and maybe useful for lasagne which I really want to cook again. I’m defrosting lamb leg steaks for supper tonight, planning to cook them briefly oiled and seasoned on a griddle to pile up sliced thickly after a few minutes rest over minted crushed peas (frozen peas this time) with asparagus laid over the top. Simple, pretty and delicious.
Lucky me, I’m out to lunch to a dog friendly restaurant (Sam’s Riverside hard by Hammersmith Bridge) with 3 girlfriends. The sun is out and I’m early, so Red and I walk on to the River Café and buy The B a present of an Alessi parrot bottle opener. I’d seen it on line and was lucky enough to slip into their huge new shop/cum stockroom and pay with a credit card (thank you Vashti). It’s very cute. Back to Sam’s with plenty of time to spare (we have a 2.30pm table on their cleverly designed terrace with a heater and covering if necessary). We start by sharing their addictively good Parmesan churros, crab toasts (they need some brown under the pile of white, they’re tasting a bit dry and dull), scallops in the half shell with a Parmesan crumb (not very carefully cooked) and far too much Hedone brown sourdough with Keen’s butter. Two share the seafood platter piled high with lobster, crevettes, crab meat, cured trout and smoked salmon, I chose roast troncon of brill which looked very pretty piled with tiny brown shrimps and toasted hazelnut meuniere (brown butter), a few sprigs of rock samphire and a mega pile of kale. The fish was beautifully cooked but I found the combination very rich and rather wished I’d asked for fish without embellishment. 4 forks were requested for chocolate fondant with toffee milk ice cream, still one of the best puds ever, the chocolate dutifully spurting from its rich, dark sponge. We drank Soave and toasted our good fortune to be out and having a good gossip, a chance to get a bit dolled up. Thank you Clare. The B had spag bol for supper with some of the Pork Ragu.
Spent a very pleasing hour or so making Lasagne al Forno while The B was out visiting his mum. I can’t remember the last time I made lasagne as a recent cupboard tidy reminded me; my 3 packets of pasta sheets had been attacked by pasta mite so all had to go in the bin. Now I have 2 new packets and I’m delighted to say they can be piled with the stuffing without blanching in boiling water. I particularly like lasagne with a tomato layer and as I happened to have a buttery tomato stew made with peeled, chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper with a hint of sugar and a batch of Pork Ragu, it was perfect timing. Fresh concasse (diced, peeled, seeded and finely chopped tomato) or passata in a jar would be good alternatives. All I had to make was a well seasoned béchamel sauce and plenty of it, so the lasagne would end up creamy and squishy, the meat sauce bubbling up round the edges, the top crusty with cheese. Absolutely gorgeous.