Baby broad beans, goat’s cheese and gremolata

IMG_20140807_175651Greetings from Burgundy, our home for a week or so before we head south to the Riviera.  It’s fantastic to be here, don’t get me wrong, but strangely for such a Francophile my departure from Dorset was tinged with some regret because the garden in the UK was suddenly awash with ripening veggies much earlier than expected.  Our friends who have kindly agreed to keep the plot going while we are away will certainly be ‘picking their own’, but their bounty will not include the broad beans from the dwarf plants I have been tending with care these past months.  I harvested those and brought them with me.  I couldn’t resist.

I’d been watching the beautiful, green pods emerging for a few weeks, wondering whether our summer holidays might clash with their ripening so it’s fair to say that I probably picked them a little too soon.  They are undoubtedly baby broad beans.  Recipe ideas from the Riviera for these delicious pearls of goodness are numerous, and I have gone for something that shouts summer: baby broad bean bruschetta with fresh, Burgundy goat’s cheese, – Baratte made near Macôn – and basil gremolata.  It goes down a treat with a glass of Bourgogne Aligoté, a fresh, simple, dry white wine with lots of citrus going on and well-suited to the kick of the garlicky gremolata which itself makes a great contrast to the ‘meaty’ broad beans. Give it a go and, by the way, there’ll be more on the wines from round here in next week’s Wednesday’s Wine post.

Baby broad beans, goat’s cheese & basil gremolata (on toast)
Makes enough for two as a light meal or for four people as canapés

120 g podded broad beans
50g fresh, young goat’s cheese
A few slices of country bread
The leaves from 4 large sprigs of basil
Extra virgin olive oil for mixing and drizzling
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste

Put the broad beans in a saucepan of water and bring to the boil.  Turn the heat down and continue cooking for a minute or so until the beans are softened but still have a little ‘crunch’ when you poke them with a knife.

Meanwhile, zest the lemon, finely chop the basil and crush the clove of garlic. Mix these ingredients together with salt to taste – this is your gremolata.

Drain the beans and refresh in cold water then peel off the outer skins.  Mash them roughly with a little extra virgin olive oil and the juice of the lemon then set aside.

Cut four slices of medium-sized country bread and toast.  Leave to cool slightly.  Cut into your desired size depending on whether this is lunch or pre-dinner nibble nosh.

Spread the toast with the goat’s cheese, top with the crushed broad beans and sprinkle over some gremolata.

Finally, a teeny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil wouldn’t go amiss.

I hope you enjoy this taste of summer. Mozarella, fresh ricotta or feta would be good cheeses to match with the broad beans in the absence of fresh goat’s cheese.




A rather English pesto

IMG_20140718_150045These last two summers I have successfully grown watercress from seed in large tubs at home, starting the crop in the greenhouse and then moving it outside once the threat of a late Dorset frost has passed in May.  When I first mentioned to friends and family that I was experimenting with this tangy, peppery green leaf, there was much raising of eyebrows and several snorts of derision.  Watercress? In the garden of a country home? Doesn’t watercress need meadows and constant running water?

Well if my experience is anything to go by the answer to those questions is a resounding ‘NO’, but in the early stages I was inclined to think that these doubting Thomases might be right.  For weeks after sowing the seed nothing happened.  Finally a few specks of green appeared in the tubs, but I managed to convince myself that they were probably weeds.  By July, however, a healthy crop of strong-tasting watercress was flourishing and replacing itself quickly after initial pickings.  Admittedly my homegrown watercress does need constant watering, but this is a small price to pay for fresh, peppery salads, and the surprise on friends’ faces when presented with a pot of homegrown watercress pesto.  My 14-year-old daughter, chief pesto taster and aficionado, claims it to be the best pesto I’ve made and I make a lot, be assured.

My recipe is below.  We love to drizzle it over roasted salmon, but our most recent discovery is to boil a few new potatoes, toss them in a generous spoonful of watercress pesto, and top this mouthwatering mixture with a few freshly podded peas to finish.  This warm potato and pesto salad idea comes courtesy of my cousin Belinda who told me about her potato and mint pesto salad – another delicious, summer combo that we shall soon be trying.

Watercress Pesto

50g watercress, thick stalks removed
25g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
20g pecorino romano, finely grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
A pinch of salt 100ml extra virgin olive oil

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz on high speed for a few seconds to form a paste.  Stir in more olive oil if you like a slightly runnier consistency.


Wednesday’s Wine

altaviarosseseThe wines of Liguria are little known beyond its boundaries but local grapes like Rosesse (red) and Pigato (white and related to Vermentino) are well worth hunting out.  Picking up on a recent tweet from wine critic, Jamie Goode, who had tasted some Ligurian wines on sale in the UK, I was straight onto Red Squirrel Wine’s website to check out their range.   Not long afterwards, my order of Ligurian wines arrived here in Dorset, and very promptly too I might add – great service!

The Azienda Agricola Altavia is based in Dolceacqua in Western Liguria, a medieval village in the hills above Ventimiglia. Tonight’s wine is their Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore 2009.  Rosesse has been grown in this area since it arrived from Provence, just over the border to the west.  It is grown almost nowhere else in the world, and is now thought of as the red grape of Liguria, giving wines that are deeply coloured and sometimes compared to Languedoc reds such as Minervois or Fitou. In a region that is dominated by aromatic, fresh white wines, it was good to try something a bit different – I can’t remember when I last drank a Ligurian red wine.  Maybe this is my first (of many I hope)?

The Altavia Rossese is bold, earthy and blackcurranty with bags of Mediterranean herb flavours and a savoury edge that worked well with our mushroom-based pasta supper.  The recipe for Tocco di Funghi, a mushroom sauce with a base of pine nuts, garlic and rosemary crushed in a mortar and pestle, from Fred Plotkin’s book ‘Recipes from Paradise’ was genuinely perfect for this unusual and distinctive wine.  Can’t wait to try Rosesse in situ when we visit the area in August.  Salute!


Altavia Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore 2009
We bought ours at Red Squirrel Wines – £14.99
The Azienda also has an online shop

Pesto Pistou…how it all started

Tomatoes & Pesto

Since a stint living in Nice in the 1990s, I am often drawn back the distinctive flavours and very individual recipes of the Riviera coastline which stretches from Nice in France, across the Italian border into Liguria and on to the Tuscan border, passing Genoa, the home of pesto, along the way.  Whilst it’s not possible to truly recreate the ‘cuisine of the sun’ miles away in the UK, I’ve set up this blog as a way to record my experiments with similar ingredients albeit with a British twist from time to time.  Thrown in too, some tasting notes on the local wines, little known away from the Riviera itself.  How I look forward to being back there again…..

So, where to start? It would seem apt to kick things off with a post to explain the name of this blog so here’s the lowdown on the provençal sauce, Pistou and its Italian cousin Pesto Genovese.  Their recipes share many ingredients, namely garlic, basil, olive oil and cheese (usually pecorino and/or parmesan).  Writing in his book Cuisine Niçoise, former Mayor of Nice, Jacques Medecin explains the key difference between the two – it’s all about which side of the Franco-Italian border you reside on:

“I make no attempt to settle the question of whether pistou migrated from Nice to Genoa, or vice versa, but let me simply say that the Ligurians like to add 100g of pine nuts to the ingredients pounded in the mortar”.

The reference to the pounding of the sauce in the mortar is an important one.  Pistou, a word from the Nicois dialect, means “pounded” as does the Genoese word Pesta.  To this day, purists use a pestle and mortar believing that the use of a blender causes the capillaries in the basil leaves to close up which stops them from releasing their full aroma.  The blender method has become acceptable in today’s modern kitchen however, and the speed of making it means there is always fresh pesto (or pistou) in my fridge just waiting to top a bowl of pasta or a vegetable soup.  The pounded version is well worth it when time allows.

Pasta & Pesto

Recipes for both pistou and pesto vary widely depending on the cook or the village where it is being made, and the debate about whose sauce is best rages on.  How much garlic should be used? Which cheese works well and how strong should it be? In Liguria, some add cream, others ricotta.  One thing that everyone is clear on though: the sauce should never be heated up on its own prior to serving.  Simply stir a spoonful into hot pasta or soup at the very last minute.

Here is my version of basil pesto which will keep well in the fridge (best used within two days of making) and the freezer if frozen the same day. I’ll be posting a variety of pesto recipes in the coming months together with ideas for dishes they can be added to.  But we won’t just concern ourselves with pesto here.  The blog is about the food (and wine) from across the Riviera – think socca v farinata and salade niçoise v cappon magro – and we will touch on tips for travelling in the region as well.

Thanks for taking the time to look at the blog.  Feedback will be happily received!

Basil Pesto

25g basil leaves
20g pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan
10g pecorino romano
10g parmesan
1 small clove garlic, crushed
40 ml extra virgin olive oil
tiny pinch salt

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz on high speed for a few seconds to form a paste.  Stir in more olive oil if you like a slightly runnier consistency.

Basil Pesto