Arancini

Not your obvious kids meal I know. In fact I probably shouldn’t be posting this at all, rather should banish myself to a corner and repeat “Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick.” as that is quite possibly what you might already be thinking.

But in my defence this was a total one off and it took less than 15 mins to throw together. Also Amelie has reached that delightful age where she will only eat if she can fist the food into her mouth herself. Anything presented to her on a spoon is met with shrieks of outrage as if the very idea of her mother trying to keep her alive through feeding her actual food is some form of child abuse!

I love anything that uses up leftovers and anything that means I can eat the same lunch as the kids. Although, note to self, deep-fried balls of risotto is not what Mama should be eating for lunch if she ever wants to shift the baby-weight!! (Can you even still call it baby-weight when said baby is nearly a year old??!!)

Ingredients:

  • leftover risotto
  • plain flour
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • dried breadcrumbs
  • flavourless oil (vegetable/sunflower)

Wet your hands with cold water and, using about a dessertspoonful at a time, roll the risotto together until it forms a small ball. You should be aiming for it to be about the size of a ping pong ball. Keep going until you have as many as you need.

Put the flour, egg and breadcrumbs each in their own separate bowl or plate – if you are cooking these for adults you would do well to season the breadcrumbs at this point. Gently roll the risotto ball first in the flour, then in the egg, and finally in the breadcrumbs shaking off the excess as you go. Set aside on a clean plate. Repeat with all balls.

Meanwhile have about 5cm of oil warming in a deep saucepan. To check you’ve reached the correct temperature drop in a small piece of bread and watch if it sizzles and bubbles. You want it to do this gently, if it’s too aggressive the arancini will burn.

Using a slotted spoon drop one of your risotto balls into the oil. Use this as your tester to check the temperature of the oil is correct. It should take about 5 mins for it to cook and you are aiming for a golden brown colour. If you’re happy with the temperature then carry on cooking the rest of them. The amount you cook at one time will depend on the size of your saucepan (and the size of your balls!) but be careful not to crowd the pan as it will lower the temperature of the oil.

Remove with a slotted spoon and leave to drain on kitchen paper.

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Super NATURAL

There are many elements of the wine world about which I know little or nothing about. One of these is natural wine.

My time in the wine trade was spent working for a huge national retailer and an international producer. Natural wine didn’t have a place in either of these worlds and was often viewed with suspicion and scepticism. This is not an uncommon stance when it comes to natural wine. Along with the terms “organic” and “biodynamic” it can spark controversy and a varied response depending on your audience.

And, indeed, depending on the wine!

Things are changing though and natural wine is becoming more and more accessible. Not only is it more widely available than it has been before – even Oddbins have announced this week that they are rolling out a range of natural wines in selected stores – but winemaking practices have improved and natural winemakers have harnessed a deeper understanding of their craft.

For those of you who, like myself, lack experience in this field then here is a brief description of what natural wine is:

  • Like conventional wine, natural wine is made from grapes, which are crushed and then fermented into wine.
  • Fermentation takes place spontaneously using only yeasts that are naturally occurring in the vineyard rather than cultured yeasts.
  • Minimal intervention in the winery allowing the wines to follow their own natural course as much as possible.
  • SO2 levels are either extremely limited or not used at all except for those that come naturally from the vineyard.

What you’re left with at the end of this process is a wine that is completely stripped back to nature. We have been making wine for thousands of years and it is only recently that science and man have intervened to the extent to which we have all become accustomed.

One of many criticisms of this process is that it regularly results in an unstable wine full of faults, which masks the things that we have come to know wine for such as the grape variety and terroir. But I suppose this depends on your definition of ‘fault’ in a wine. Another is that it is a practice which is still largely unregulated. This is something that will undoubtedly change in the near future and will certainly go a long way to gaining the confidence of both the consumer and the trade.

I was lucky enough to find myself at a portfolio tasting last week full of almost exclusively natural wines. As with any tasting there were some that struck more of a chord than others and some that were just altogether not my bag. But a good handful were some of the most startling, expressive and exciting wines I’ve tried in a long time.

I would urge you to keep an eye out for natural wines when you’re out and about. And if you ever tire of drinking the same old bottle of reliable Malbec then rest easy in the assurance that there is a whole world of arguably more interesting wine out there.

 

Further reading – www.rawwine.com, www.isabellelegeron.com

Further drinking – Duck Soup Soho, The Winemaker’s Club, Terroirs, The Remedy

Salon Brixton

Salut tout le monde! I appreciate that you may be a little surprised to hear from me after almost 3 years of silence (!!) but I just have to tell you quickly about the completely delicious dinner I had at Salon in Brixton last night.

Salon has been around for a little while but I don’t get out much these days so am a bit behind the times. The upstairs dining room sits above what used to be Canon & Cannon on Market Row and is a shabby-chic sort of set up with about 25 covers. The focus here is on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients supported by a cracking wine list that would benefit from a few more offerings by the glass.

We were encouraged to take the set menu but settled on ordering a selection of things to share a la carte. Crispy and spicy ‘Nduja croquettes (I didn’t know either but ‘Nduja is a spicy type of sausage) with aioli were an excellent beginning followed by pork rillettes – one of my faves! A beautifully cooked plate of skate balanced perfectly with the appley tang of kohlrabi and the subtle delicacy of samphire. Alongside this some grilled asparagus with almond sauce and wild garlic and a dish of heritage tomatoes with black olive and basil. All these plates were beautifully presented and executed and completely and utterly delicious. Pudding was a total showstopper – strawberries with a balsamic jelly and black pepper sorbet.

The Weissburgunder Pinot Blanc that went with all this was a cracking accompaniment. I would have liked more time with this wine list – a definite old world focus but an imaginative offering nonetheless and it is lovely to see a Portuguese white as the second wine on the list rather than the predictable Sauvignon or Pinot Grigio and a Spanish region such as Mencia being represented rather than Rioja.

I will definitely be back here again, and soon.

Watch this space… you may be hearing from me again!

Nyetimber

Nyet Lineup

I really love the English wine industry. I find it both intriguing and charming and I never tire of hearing, normally with a note of surprise, how someone or other had a bottle of English fizz the other day and how delicious they thought it was. Because it is Sparkling Wine on which we are solidly building our reputation as a country that is able to produce a high quality product, capable of competing with the best that Champagne has to offer. One such producer is Nyetimber who have been making fizz for over 20 years. They are based in West Sussex near Pulborough, about 15 minutes away from where I grew up.

The reason that English fizz can be compared directly with Champagne is because it is made in exactly the same way; the same grapes are used – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – as are the same vinification techniques. Perhaps most importantly the exact same strain of chalk that runs through the soils of Champagne continues under the channel and through the vineyards of Kent and Sussex meaning the terroir can be almost replicated. You will no doubt have heard rumours of blind tastings where an English Sparkling Wine has beaten the best of what Champagne has to offer and fooled all the experts into thinking it was the real deal! Well it’s all true!

Nyet MagNyetimber produces a Classic Cuvee, Blanc de Blancs, Rose and more recently a Demi-Sec. Interestingly each Classic Cuvee is made as a vintage wine rather than the more common non-vintage (NV) in Champagne. This is a brave move as although it means you can end up with an outstanding wine in a good year, it means there is nowhere to hide in a bad one. And there are plenty of bad years in the UK! In fact last year Nyetimber (and I believe they were alone in doing this) scrapped the entire vintage and publicly announced that they would not produce any wine from 2012. As I said, a brave move.

What sets Nyetimber apart is that they have pitched themselves at the luxury end of market. Having gone through a recent rebranding their products certainly look the part and have price tags to match. They, perhaps wisely, have chosen to compete with high end, well recognisable Champagne brands rather than trying to slip in as the cheaper offering. I will be very interested to see how this works out for them as sadly the vast number of Englishmen and women would rather spend their hard earned money on a Champagne they have heard of (which therefore must be good) rather than an arguably better quality English Sparkling Wine.

We had the pleasure of trying the Classic Cuvee 2005 and 2004, the Blanc de Blancs 2003 and 2007, the Rose 2009 and the Demi-Sec. As suspected the difference in vintage really shows – for me the Classic Cuvee 2005 was the best; it had a creamy nose with a lovely round body and without the overwhelming acidity you can sometimes find with English wine. The 2004 was much more citrusy and just not quite as good. Similarly the 2003 Blanc de Blancs was way better than the 2007 and had great fruit concentration and a very good length. Apparently it won ‘best Sparkling Wine in the world’ in 2009 which is quite an achievement. The Rose was pleasant enough with a nice body but lacked any real depth of flavour which was a shame as I have really liked this wine in the past. The Demi-Sec was popular with everyone; a nose of passion fruit and a lovely nutty sweetness that balanced well with the acidity.

Nyet with glasses

Overall I though Nyetimber were very impressive and they are obviously running a very slick operation. I wish them well against the big guns in Champagne and look forward to many more years to come of an English Winery winning the best Sparkling Wine in the world.

Scallops and Lemon Sole Supper

I can’t seem to go to my local market in Herne Hill without spending about 50 million pounds. It really is just TOO GOOD. The fish man is always what gets me as it’s the only place I can get fresh fish locally that hasn’t been flown in from God knows where. Last weekend there were some particularly delicious looking hand-dived scallops which I couldn’t resist and by the time our conversation was over I’d walked away with a couple of lemon sole as well.scallopsandsole

The best thing about the fish man (formally known as the Portland Scallop Company) is that he always suggests new ways to cook whatever it is you’re buying which is normally incredibly simple and incredibly delicious. So the below is all thanks to the fish man and his fantastic fishes.scallops

 

This recipe only really works for scallops if you can find them in their shells as that’s what they cook in. Detach the scallops from their shells using a teaspoon. Add a small dollop of garlic butter to the shell and a mere sprinkling of cayenne pepper on top of the scallop. Grate some parmesan on top. Place under a hot grill and let them cook in their shells until the Parmesan bubbles – a matter of a few minutes. Serve the scallops in their shells.

scallops parmesanscallops cooked

The lemon sole was just as simple. Make several diagonal slices on the skin side of the sole. Season well and then place under a hot grill, tummy side first. Cook until golden brown (approx 4/5mins) and then remove from the grill and turn over. Smear a generous amount of garlic butter onto the skin side of the fish, making sure you work it well into the incisions. Squeeze some lemon juice over the fish before returning it to the grill for another 4/5mins. This would work just as well on the barbecue and is just brilliantly easy. Serve with a salad or summer greens.

solesole cooked