An Ode to Broad Beans – Habas con Jamon

May and June always meant two things for me when we were living on the Welsh Borders: our spring holiday escaping to the mountains in Southern Spain for the May half term; and the first broad beans in my vegetable garden, ready to pick in June when we returned. They are inextricably linked in my mind by one recipe – Habas con Jamon.

The Jamon would be a huge leg of Jamon Serrano, a speciality of the Alpujarras Mountains in Southern Spain. The mountains are famous for their salted air-dried hams, with the best coming from the highest village of Trevelez. While not cheap (even back in those days),  the flavour was excellent. Invariably, we would be tempted and buy a whole leg. Slater would board the return plane with a rucksack on his back containing an entire ham with the pigs trotter gently nudging the back of his head! Continue reading “An Ode to Broad Beans – Habas con Jamon”

The Legendary Cassoulet

The cassoulet in its cassole
The cassoulet in its cassole

Cassoulet is a legend here in the South West of France. Quite literally. It was supposed to have originated during the Hundred Years War when the English were besieging the nearby town of Castelnaudary in 1355. The story goes that the inhabitants cooked up what was left of their beans, bones, scraps of meat and dried bits of ham, then went out and beat the English!

Like many of my favourite dishes, I suspect it has its real origins in “peasant food”, namely cooking whatever is to hand, but over the centuries, it has become a complex and truly wonderful dish. It takes its name from the large earthenware pot in which it is cooked and served – “le cassole” – hence “Cassoulet”. When it’s cooked for you by my good friend, Philippe Seguier then it is, quite simply, probably the best cassoulet you’ll ever taste. Continue reading “The Legendary Cassoulet”

An Ode to Carrots

Some of the ingredients for carrot and cardamom pilaf
Ingredients for carrot and cardamom pilaf

Carrots have been one of my favourite vegetables since way back when. As a child, I was never keen on meat, especially beef. I hated all that chewing and would end up with dry indigestible lumps hidden in my cheeks like a hamster. Muttering that I had finished, I would leave the table and head for the toilet to spit out the offending lumps. So my mother wisely compromised by serving me potatoes and carrots covered with the meaty gravy which I would then mash together. For a four year old, it was my idea of the perfect meal.

In those days, carrots were the inevitable pairing with potatoes – mashed, roasted or boiled – for the traditional ‘meat and two veg’. My grandmother sliced her carrots in roundels and boiled them, as did my mother. Generation after generation of us eating sliced carrots… Continue reading “An Ode to Carrots”

To Market, To Market To Buy A Fat Pig, Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

Le Marché Couvert, Albi
Le Marché Couvert, Albi

I confess I have never bought a fat pig at a market – chops or sausages, yes – but for me, markets are more about fresh seasonal vegetables and fruit. On that front, I have been very lucky – living just around the corner from the Marché Couvert in Albi I have been able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables six days of the week. A real luxury! Continue reading “To Market, To Market To Buy A Fat Pig, Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig”

An Ode to Chard

Ingredients for Chard with Parmesan & Lemon
Ingredients for Chard with Parmesan & Lemon

This is in praise of the humble chard – a vegetable that I never tasted until I was in my early twenties. Despite my mother growing vegetables and always keeping an eye on the costs, for some reason, chard never turned up on our plates. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed when I first tasted this dark, green leaf in a meal cooked in Andalucía by my formidable future mother-in-law. Continue reading “An Ode to Chard”

One Step, Two Steps – Peas In A Pod

Peas in a pod
Peas in a pod

Back in 2012, I was asked to test this recipe for pea and courgette salad by my step-step-grand-daughter Niaomh, who was editing and publishing The Deptford Community Cookbook. Since then, the salad has become a spring-time favourite of mine. But before we get into peas and their pods, I suspect you’re trying to work out what is a ‘step-step-grand-daughter’? Let me explain… Continue reading “One Step, Two Steps – Peas In A Pod”

I’m going on a Food Hunt and I’m going to Catch…

I couldn’t leave New York behind without trying to do it a better service – foodwise, at least. It’s a city that is heavy on shoe leather, being one of the most walkable cities in the world. Once you’re on the grid it’s almost impossible to get lost, almost. Walking through the 843 acres Central Park is a joy, dwarfed as you seem to be on all sides by monumental buildings reaching far up into the sky. After a day’s walking, I was only too happy to rest my exercised feet on the rails of a cocktail bar and sip my way through a few old favourites before attempting the climb to our top floor eerie. Continue reading “I’m going on a Food Hunt and I’m going to Catch…”

Foreign Food and Foreign Kitchens

I’ve been visiting New York since the mid 80s, in the days when you were advised not to wear conspicuous jewellery and to keep your ‘purse’ close to you at all times. There were stories of cab doors being pulled open at stop signs and baubles being ripped off the necks and ears of women. Mayor Rudy Giuliani cleaned up the city in the mid 90s and now it’s a safe, vibrant city, teeming with immigrants from diverse cultures. In a city where the game is hustle, those born here could be considered to be brash and pushy, but it is a city driven by service where twenty percent tips are the norm. Like any European, I sigh at this excess, but it doesn’t stop me at jumping at any chance to visit this shiny Big Apple. Continue reading “Foreign Food and Foreign Kitchens”

“La Tuaille de Cochon” – Part 1

Albi
Albi

I have now lived in the south west of France for nigh on fourteen years, and have made many French friends here in Albi. Most of the good times I have shared with them revolve around food or drink – an invitation to ‘boire un apéro’, ‘faire un barbecue’, or simply ‘boire le café.

But one invitation that made me feel I had really become ‘une Albigeoise’ was an invitation to the annual family pig kill – “le Tuaille de Cochon”. Continue reading ““La Tuaille de Cochon” – Part 1″

Do Not Trifle with a Truffle

Ingredients for an 'Omelette au Truffes'
Ingredients for an ‘Omelette au Truffes’

I am a truffle virgin.

The closest I’ve got to cooking with truffles was a recipe for Cauliflower Soup by John Burton-Race which demanded – or rather, insisted – on a swirl of truffle oil in the soup just before serving. He swore this made all the difference, so I splashed out on a very expensive small bottle of truffle oil. He was right. That ribbon of golden perfumed oil whisked through the creamy cauliflower soup worked magic. My  guests asked me what had I done to make the soup taste so delicious?

But experimenting with truffle oil was as far as I ever got back in the UK – truffles aren’t exactly two a penny on the Welsh Borders. So last week, when I came across some truffle sellers in Albi Market promoting a Fete des Truffes at the nearby village of Villeneuve-sur-Vere the following Sunday, I knew I had to go. Continue reading “Do Not Trifle with a Truffle”