Coconut panna cotta.

This little number finished off our nice get together last Sunday. The Gray’s come over for Sunday lunch, a meaty one ( we had some steaks, some grilled lamb shoulder, some sausages and some burgers, plus a few sides).

6 panna cottas were made out of a 400 ml can of coconut milk, 250ml of double cream and about 120 g of caster sugar all heated up together, then once off the heat 3 soaked gelatine leaves went in. Cooled mixture went into the moulds and set in the fridge. Before serving I grated some lime zest on top, crushed some ginger biscuits for the texture and some freshly sliced mango. It received great reviews! 🙂

Pesto, a bit more sexy than usual.

Every now and then I flip through my recipe folder and find things that excite me. And although shopping was delivered yesterday, I went out this morning to get some bacon( and place order at the butcher’s for an upcoming Vegetarian Feast with the Gray’s on Sunday) and basil.

Normally pesto in my kitchen is freshly made and served with spaghetti or tagliatelle, today it was rigatoni and crispy bacon and fresh cherry tomatoes were added. Excellent idea, we agreed, especially the tomatoes, which, said Florek, made the dish more lively and vibrant. `

Thumbs up. 🙂

Back to Marlborough.

Steve and Christina were here this weekend, after last night filled with pizza (5 pizzas, to be specific) and wine, today we drove to Marlborough, back to Rick Stein’s. What a treat that was, again. I was actually ready to order early last week, when Steve booked us a table, a sole meuniere on the main menu stood out for me and that’s what I had, but started with some lovely fresh crab. It’s been a long time since I had it that good (Dinings, perhaps?). I even enjoyed the seaweed!

Then the sole, might have been the most expensive item on the menu at £40, sole meuniere, which was taken off the bone for me, yum. Really enjoyed it, it could have done with a touch more salt I thought, as well as maybe more inspired sides- the buttered potatoes were ok, the cabbage they shouldn’t have bothered with.

But the pud was a dream. Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream, which we shared was probably the best I’ve ever had. Trying to find that very recipe online and not having much luck for the moment. Might be the next thing I bake, one way or another. Yum.

This place is a 10 out 10 for me, I have to say. It is expensive, but the service is brilliant, the food inspiring and the ambience just perfect, not overcrowded, beautifully decorated and comfortable. A real treat! 🙂

L’anatra Italiana.

While having lunch in Lucca’s Piazza del Anfiteatro, one of our last lovely meals of this holiday, I went for a duck breast and ended up having one of best meals in a long time. This piece of duck was a little like a duck steak, if there is such a thing! The skin was nearly cremated, but the meat beautifully pink and nicely rested. It came with a pear and ginger sauce, some sad cucumber pickle- wasn’t pickled enough, didn’t really do anything and some fried leeks, tasty, but stringy and difficult to eat. I had a glass of rose to go with the dish and I absolutely loved it. More duck is needed! 🙂

And then there was pistacchio gelato. Some British ice cream makers should be shown this photo just to see, what it should look like, not a bright, radioactive green colour we can sometimes get at home. Like this;

Pizza bianca with mushrooms and truffles.

While visiting Siena, we had a lovely lunch on Piazza del Campo. Mine was this glorious pizza that I shared with a fellow truffle lover- as seen on the picture. Pizza bianca, so no tomato sauce, but lots of mozarella, some excellent fresh mushrooms and a good smear of black truffle paste. Finished with black pepper. What could make it even better would be some fresh thyme! The Jaye’s are coming over for the last weekend of August, I think I’ll have a go at such a creation, Christina likes truffles too. And I have thyme in the garden! 🙂

Olive bread and other quarantine highlights.

We’ve made it to Italy. Through covid uncertainty, cancelled flights, tests, we’re now in our favourite spot in Castelnuovo, but we need to stay at home for 5 days before taking another set of tests to be released safely to the public. In spite of being fully vaccinated. :-/

So we’ve done a very substantial shopping in Esselunga and I have been busy. Busy baking a lovely, simple olive bread, for instance.

I brought a small packet of instant yeast from home, chucked it into roughly 400g of a random Italian flour, added salt, water, olive oil, combined it all well and gave to Florek to knead for about 10 minutes.

It’s risen beautifully within an hour, outside on the terrace, in those glorious temperatures we’re experiencing and then baked for about 40 minutes in 220 degrees. Good little loaf!

Also made was a lovely tomato sauce, made exclusively of fresh tomatoes, skinless. I took my time with it, until wonderfully rich and tomatoey, went great with gnocchi.

Impatiently awaiting some eating out in Lucca. 🙂

Also worth mentioning is this little invention-one walks in to a supermarket and finds a lovely, fresh, risen pizza dough, ready to use and enjoy, at a modest cost of less than 2 euro.

Must of course mention sensational parma ham with equally sensational melon, Izzie’s favourite. Yum!

Rhubarb creme brulee

I was sorting out my cookbooks the other day, with the intention of taking some of them to the charity shop. There were some that I have not used in more than 10 years, some that were pretty useless – The Cocktail Cook, I’ve not been into cocktails for years, apart from a good mojito every now and then. “Classic Italian Cooking” went too, as my perception of what’s classic and Italian dramatically changed since I got that book 15 or so years ago.

“Gordon Ramsay’s Sunday Lunch” was on the pile too, but as I was having lunch I flipped through it and decided to hold on to it, especially as a tweak to my favourite creme brulee came to my attention. I normally make a simple, vanilla one, but the rhubarb idea appealed to me a lot. I took 2 nice pieces from the garden, cleaned them, peeled, chopped and quickly cooked them down with some sugar and butter. Then went on to make my brulees the usual way, 4 egg yolks whipped with about 3 tbsps of sugar and vanilla sugar, while 250 ml of double cream and 75 ml of milk infused with vanilla paste were heating up. Once hot enough, cream and milk mixture went onto the egg yolks slowly, then the foam got discarded.

On the bottom of the ramekins went the rhubarb, then the custard, then into the oven ready at 140 degrees in a bain marie for about 30 minutes. I always take them out when there’s still a bit of a wobble.

The rhubarb seemed to have infused the custard nicely. Good stuff!

Linguine alle vongole.

This is one of my favourite pasta dishes when on holidays in Italy. I can never get enough of the simply delicious, clammy pasta. Having watched a few episodes of a vlog I recently discovered, by a British expat living in Positano, I decided to have a go at this dish myself. I was convinced that clams in Waitrose will be wonderfully cheap, as I don’t remember paying more than 10 euro for a plate of vongole in Lucca, but no, this is Britain and a bag of Dorset clams set me back £14 (!!!). One can sometimes get dover sole cheaper than that, but I went ahead with it.

About 30 minutes before I started cooking I followed Angela Hartnett’s recipe and soaked the clams in some cold, very salty water. Good call, as there was a lots of grit and sand left in the sink, rather than on the bottom of the plate.

I infused slowly my olive oil with 2 cloves of garlic, some fresh chili as well as chili flakes – one can never be sure how strong will the chili be- then threw a handful of cherry tomatoes and cooked it all down. A good splash of white wine and the lid went on. Pasta was cooking, so I could then chuck the clams in, cover them and cook them till they opened. Combined the pasta, clams and juices together, topped with lots of parsley, a bit of extra salt and it was done.

Florek, who can only take a certain amount of seafood without suffering did have a good go at my vongole, but was not blown away and neither was I, if I’m honest. I finished it, but was I transported to Lucca while eating my efforts? Not quite. In a month or so I should be able to have the real thing! 🙂

Courgette and chili pasta.

One of our favourites, especially when courgettes are in season. This summer I have some lovely, sweet, yellow ones in the greenhouse and I used one of them today, alongside a green one. The job starts with toasting off some pine nuts, I like toasting them even when the packet says “toasted”. In another pan a red onion, some fresh chili and chili flakes get chucked in. A handful of cherry tomatoes. Grated courgettes, roughly grated, some texture is essential. This cooks down nicely with a little bit of chicken stock, seasoning of salt and pepper, but also a drizzle of sesame oil, which might seem controversial, but in my kitchen I respond to myself only, so I use my beloved sesame oil for this extra oomph of smokiness.

Pasta gets cooked and thrown onto the veggies, tossed well, finished off with pinioli and parmigiano. A final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is never a bad idea.

This is a pasta dish I can eat A LOT of. I did today! 🙂

Kibou Cheltenham.

Last Sunday we dropped off Izzie at Funky Warehouse for a friend’s birthday party and decided to pop out for a child free lunch. We went to Kibou, for the first time in 2 or 3 years I guess, Covid restrictions helping with it being that long.

Soft shell crab roll was delicious. Fresh, with shiso in there, crunchy and moreish. Yellowtail sushi was a hit; our homemade sushi are mostly rolls with ocasional salmon sashimi, but white fish never graces our table in raw form. I also tried a duck bao ban, but I found it on the dry side, much more sauce was needed to make it exciting.

We finished with a matcha creme brulee and £58 later headed back to Funky Warehouse. Pleasant, but not mind blowing.

On the joys of cooking and eating