Made in Dorset: Ratatouille

IMG_20140921_104138We’re still going strong with homegrown tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines here in Dorset, and with the addition of a solitary, ripe pepper this week (yes, just the one) the whipping up of a ratatouille seems unavoidable.

Now, if Jacques Médecin is to be believed, each of the vegetables should be cooked separately before being combined into the final mélange, and I’m quite taken with the Ligurian tendency to throw in a few toasted pignoli (pine nuts) at the end for added crunch.  I like to sprinkle on a few pitted black olives or a crumbling of fresh goat’s cheese just before serving.

This is a dish that benefits from a bit of sitting around before you indulge.  Let it cool to room temperature and the flavours will marry all the more. Or leave it until tomorrow for the best results.  Serve it cold with a hunk of focaccia, hot with a plateful of beautiful swiss chard gnocchi or as the ideal late summer filling for a vegetarian lasagne.

And what about a wine match?  We’re trying something we’ve never drunk before called Ormeasco – a light, red wine from the Imperia area of Liguria. Virtually impossible to find away from the Riviera, it is also known as Dolcetto in Piedmont, and is widely available outside Italy under this name.  So I would track down a bottle of that if you can.  What do you like to drink with a late summer veggie recipe like this?



IMG_20140927_140312 (1)Ratatouille
Lunch for two or a side dish for four

4 baby aubergines, cut into 1cm discs or 1 large one, sliced and quartered
6 baby or 2 medium-sized courgettes, cut into 1 cm discs
1 red pepper, cut into fine slices
15 small to medium tomatoes or 6 large ones
Extra virgin olive oil (we used a Ligurian oil)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A few drops of balsamic vinegar
A few sprigs of oregano or basil
Toasted pinenuts, black olives, and / or fresh goat’s cheese to garnish

To kick off, cut a cross into the bottom of each tomato, place them into a pan and pour over boiling water.  The skins will soon start to come away from the flesh and as they do, pour off the hot water and cover the tomatoes in cold water so that you can handle them shortly.  Peel off the skins and chop the tomatoes finely. Set aside.

Sauté the thinly-sliced peppers in the olive oil on a low heat until they soften. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Do the same with the aubergines and then the courgettes, setting them aside when they are soft and lightly browned.

In the same pan, lightly sauté the chopped garlic for a minute or two then add the chopped tomato.  Simmer for up to half an hour until the sauce thickens a little.  Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Add the reserved vegetables to the tomato sauce and mix together.

Place this final mixture into a serving dish.  Add chopped basil or oregano and your choice of garnishes.


Wednesday’s Wine: Reporting from the Riviera (part 2)

AltaviapicThe second tasting of our recent trip to the Riviera saw us heading up another steep hillside, this time on the Italian side of the border and high above the medieval town of Dolceacqua.  Altavia Vineyard has been going for eight years, producing the local wine, Rossese di Dolceacqua, and experimenting with grapes from further afield very successfully.

We had tasted the Rossese di Dolceacqua at home in the 2009 vintage and you can see my post on that wine here.  In situ, we tried the 2010 which was much lighter in body and our charming and knowledgable host, Chiara, told us about the local dish of rabbit, coniglio in Italian, cooked with Rossese wine. We wished we could have stopped in the restaurant she recommended down in the town which had this speciality on the menu, but we had to give in to a most persuasive argument from our children who favoured the pizzeria nextdoor. Hopefully there will be a next time.

We loved Altavia’s white wine, Noname 2013so called because they simply couldn’t come up with a name for it.  It’s an exciting blend of the widely-grown local Vermentino grape, and the meatier Rhône grape, Viognier. With herby, aromatic and citrus flavours from the former and an added floral, zingy dimension from the French grape, the resulting wine is ideal for pairing with punchy seafood dishes, perhaps featuring a hint of chilli and spice.

Amongst the reds, we were intrigued by the recently-bottled Touriga Nacional, a grape associated with Portugal and port wine with its propensity to add structure and concentrated flavour and this 2005 single varietal is proof in point. Big, bold, black fruit dominates, but the tannins have softened sufficiently to make it just the thing to go with a hearty winter casserole or roast, preferably in January and not too far from a roaring log fire.


The tasting room at Altavia looks out over the valley with the same idyllic views as can be witnessed from two stone holiday villas on  the property which are available for summer rentals.  Located in the olive groves with vines on all sides and sharing a swimming pool, they offer true get-away-from-it-all stuff.  For more information, check out the Altavia website.

Some of the Altavia wine range is available to buy in the UK at Red Squirrel Wines and the vineyard has an online shop. I was keen to buy some bottles from the cellar door and, despite much muttering from my husband about having to leave a child behind on the Riviera, I did squeeze a case selection into our boot together with some of the property’s extra virgin olive oil made from their own taggiasca olives.  Now being tasted in Dorset!

Black Jam


I’ve been consulting my provençal cookbooks again, this time for jam recipes as there are loads of plums, blackberries and other fruit just waiting to be preserved around here and I thought it would be fun to try something a little bit different this year.  I was intrigued to see a couple of recipes suggesting the use of aubergines.  Apparently they add bulk.  OK, why not?

The Confiture Noire of Provence is typically a mix of whatever fruits and nuts are available locally, including figs, melons, quinces and walnuts, according to Mireille Johnston in her book ‘The Cuisine of the Sun’.  I’m going for black fruit as Clare Ferguson suggests in ‘Flavours of Provence’, and I’m including the aubergine but omitting the nuts.  The result really is black jam and we’re onto the second jar already – it’s a hit with all the family so another blackberry-picking session may follow imminently.


Black Jam
Makes three x 300ml jars

400g black plums, stoned and chopped into bite-size chunks
300g blueberries
300g aubergine, chopped into bite-size chunks
150g blackberries
150ml water
100ml white wine
Juice of a lemon
500g jam sugar
Sterilized jam jars (see note below*)

Place all the ingredients in a preserving pan or sturdy saucepan, and bring to a rolling boil.  Stir regularly for ten minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook for a further 20-30 minutes or until the mixture is dark and sticky.

To test the set of the jam, place a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes. Remove it and pour a small spoonful of jam onto it.  Leave for a couple of minutes and come back to it – the jam should be thick and crinkly, not runny when you touch it.

*To sterilize the jars, you can put them through a hot dishwasher cycle. Alternatively clean them thoroughly in very hot, soapy water.  Rinse them and dry in the bottom of a very low oven.



Tomatoes, cobnuts and rocket – late summer pesto

IMG_20140903_160429It’s full-on tomato season here in Dorset, and hugely satisfying to see so much ripe, red fruit both in the garden and the greenhouse.  We might even be saved from the usual gallon of green tomato chutney this year.   Over the summer we’ve munched our way through successive pickings of wild rocket grown from seed.  The flavour is so fresh and peppery, the leaves so crunchy when just picked so it’s been a delight to mix up simple salads with this come again crop.  Out in the lanes behind the house, blackberries and cobnuts are suddenly ready for picking, but if yesterday’s blackberry hunt with the kids is anything to go by there will be more eaten along the way than brought home for cooking. Anyway, more on the blackberries in my next post.

One of the recent comments that came back when I asked friends and family what they thought of the blog was that I should probably write a bit more about pesto and pistou.  That is the blog’s title after all.  Good point.  So I’m sharing my recipe for oven-dried tomato, rocket and cobnut pesto, a great sauce for late summer and a tasty way to use up a glut of ripe tomatoes. The tomatoes take three hours to dry out sufficiently in a low oven but you could use jarred sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil if you’re in a hurry. Go for pine nuts if you can’t get cobnuts.  Kentish cobnuts are available now in the UK but the season is pretty short.

No need to serve the pesto with anything complicated. Simply scoop a generous spoonful over linguine, add a few rocket leaves and top with a dollop of ricotta or a few torn strips of mozzarella. Why not add a spoonful to a bowl of fresh tomato soup or spread some over a fillet of grilled salmon or chicken?

Let’s raise a glass to all this delicious late summer produce.  Mine’s a soft red to go with the pesto –  a Barbera from Piedmont I reckon and lightly chilled.  Salute!


Late Summer Pesto

For oven-drying the tomatoes:

500g ripe plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthways
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Place the tomatoes on a greased baking tray, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle generously with the extra virgin olive oil.  Bake in a low oven – 140°C – for three hours but do watch them to make sure they are not burning.  Remove from the oven when done and leave to cool.  NB You can also jar up these dried tomatoes, cover them with olive oil and add a selection of herbs such as bay leaves, rosemary and thyme, and then you have your own oven-dried tomatoes to use during the winter.

For the pesto:
(makes approx. 300g)

The oven-dried tomatoes from the above recipe or 150g sundried tomatoes, drained of oil
25g rocket leaves
50g cobnuts (about 150g before shelling), chopped and toasted (or the equivalent of pine nuts)
50g pecorino romano
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
75ml extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt

Place all the pesto ingredients in a blender and whizz until mixed.  Add more salt and oil as required.



Wednesday’s Wine: Reporting from the Riviera (part 1)

IMG_20140819_165126 (2)As you may have gathered, we spent some time on the Riviera last week and before leaving home I had booked in visits to a couple of my favourite vineyards.  Cue much yawning from the children.  So this Wednesday’s Wine post describes how we got on at Saint Roman de Bellet, in the hills above Nice, and I’ll tell you about our second wine tasting in Dolceacqua, a few miles inland from Ventimiglia, in a forthcoming post.

The wine area of Bellet is a small one with ten producers making wines from only 60 hectares of vines.  Much of the wine produced is consumed in the finer restaurants of Nice, but my local wine merchant here in the UK, Yapp Brothers, imports the wines of Domaine de la Source and I have come to know and love the red, white and rosé from this vineyard, made predominantly with grapes found only in Bellet itself.

Carine and Eric Dalmasso gave us a wonderful welcome and took us into the vines which slope down the hillsides with the most idyllic views across the valley. The Braquet grapes for the rosé already had a gorgeous light red hue and looked plump and ready to pick although Eric explained that the harvest would probably start in mid-September for the rosé and white Rolle grapes, and that the Folle Noir and Grenache for the red wine might be picked as late as early October.

After a quick peek at the cave, a tasting followed in the garden, complete with trampoline to keep the kids entertained. In the heat of the late afternoon with a gentle breeze and incredible light on the hills, we tasted through two vintages of rosé (2012 and 2013).  Carine told us that the later vintage made a great aperitif whilst the 2012 was probably at its best when paired with seafood and niçois dishes.   The 2013 Rolle (white) was so refreshing, dominated by grapefruit and distinct mineral nuances, that I could just imagine it being sipped delicately in a fancy fish restaurant down in the Nice port area, accompanied by a plate of oysters or langoustines.  We rounded off the wine element of the tasting with the 2011 red which was full of warmth and sunshine, mid-weight and well-suited to heartier dishes based on mushrooms or game.  Drinking well now, it will age gracefully over another ten years our hosts explained.  We also had a sneak preview of the 2012 red which was due to go on sale three days after our visit.  The reds are matured for some eighteen months in barrel before bottling, and the oak is so subtle and well-integrated leaving the flavours spicy flavours with cherries and liquorice to the fore.

Our tasting also included the domaine’s extra virgin olive oil made from the Cailletier olives grown on eighty olive trees that are scattered around the estate.  The oil and the olives have been awarded Appellation d’Origine Protegée  status under the AOP Olive de Nice et Huile d’olive de Nice for products that meet the grade anywhere from Grasse to Menton, on the coast or up in the mountains.  The Dalmasso oil was delicate and soft with almond and artichoke flavours, followed by a strong kick of pepper on the finish.   Carine also makes a range of four preserves using fruit and olives grown at the domaine and sells them to calling customers.  The black olive paste and the lemon confit were my favourites, but she also makes preserves using figs and oranges which went down well with those in our group who have a sweeter tooth.  I loved the fact that the ingredients had travelled virtually no distance at all and that you could taste a definite burst of sunshine in each of the four varieties. This diversification from the main wine-growing activities seems like clever business.

To meet Carine and Eric, to see the vines, the cave and to taste the unique wines made on this beautiful estate was a great pleasure and I heartily recommend Domaine de la Source to you.   We headed off back down the hill towards Nice, but not before swinging by the entrance to the domaine a couple more times, the satnav having become rather confusing.  I can only hope our hosts didn’t spot the mad English people getting spectacularly lost in the hills.

Domaine de la Source
303, chemin de Saquier
Saint Roman de Bellet
06200 NICE

Open daily from 10am to 7pm without appointment.


Ventimiglia Market

IMG_20140822_112219The Friday market in the Riviera border town of Ventimiglia is quite a sight to behold, but if there were one piece of advice I would give you, particularly in August, it would be this:  go on the train.  We enjoyed a beautiful drive along the coast road from Roquebrune Cap Martin, passing through Menton, where we paused for a moment to gaze at the view that heads this blog, before sailing over the border into Italy to be greeted by more glorious glimpses of the Med. Ventimiglia itself, by contrast, was gridlocked.

Fortunately, my husband and son bravely agreed to battle through the traffic to find a parking spot while my daughter and I disappeared into the crowds and quickly browsed perhaps a kilometre of stalls along the seafront which were selling mostly shoes, clothes and bags.  A tiny section of stalls on this stretch were piled high with pasta of assorted colours, huge hunks of parmesan, hams, salamis and olive oil based preserves.  But this was not the Ventimiglia market we were looking for, so we headed back into town to seek out the covered food, vegetable and flower market (fish too) on Via Roma.  We stopped briefly en route to pick up some slabs of pizza (tomato & anchovy and my favourite, gorgonzola) at La Boutique del Pane Mondino, also on Via Roma – no. 38.  Their focaccia and farinata (chickpea pancake) are definitely worth a try if the awaiting crowd – I won’t call it a queue, we’re in Italy here – was anything to go by.

At the covered market, the boys finally joined us and we spent a happy half hour wandering through the cornucopia of fresh produce. The market was bustling; it almost exploded with colour; it was noisy with chatter, and money was changing hands for beautifully wrapped bundles of the highest quality baked and fresh goods.

After much debate we settled on two types of focaccia (olive oil and cipolla – onion), a ball of burrata wrapped in vine leaves (a mozzarella-like cheese that is unctuously gooey in the middle), and some gorgeous little ravioli, one box filled with salmon, the other with rabbit.  With the pizza we’d bought earlier, that was lunch and supper sorted and supper for the next day too, all for around €32 for four people.  Had we not been heading north the following day, I would have added fresh artichokes and borlotti beans to the basket and hunted out some recipes from my Riviera cookbook collection.

And so to lunch which was contemplated with greedy anticipation on the way home in the car. We enjoyed it slowly with a view of the Med and a bottle of rosé.  Siestas soon followed.  By the pool.




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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.




Aubergine Salad

IMG_20140726_161055Since waxing lyrical about the recent English weather in Wednesday’s post, it seems a prolonged, warm and dry spell was not on the cards after all.  Today it has mostly rained.  Never mind – in the garden summer vegetables are starting to ripen and it’s time for aubergines, courgettes and tomatoes to shine in the kitchen.

I knocked up this simple aubergine salad pretty quickly the other day and it’s delicious served either with grilled meats or (and this is my preference) with some fresh, burrata cheese and a hunk of crusty bread.  The ingredients make enough for a side salad for two hungry people. Do give it a try.

Aubergine Salad

1 medium aubergine, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
12 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
A few leaves of basil
Salt and extra virgin olive oil

Pour the red wine vinegar over the chopped onion and leave this to sit while you prepare the other ingredients.

Fry the aubergine pieces in a little olive oil until they have softened and browned a little.

Combine the aubergine and quartered tomatoes with the onion and vinegar mixture.

Add a tiny pinch of salt to taste and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir and top with torn basil leaves.  Serve with your choice of accompaniments, not forgetting a glass of something pink and chilled, naturally.


Wednesday’s Wine

IMG_20140728_173707We seem to be getting through gallons of rosé thanks to la canicule here in the UK, and with no sign of a let-up in this prolonged hot spell, I was starting to fret about where further stocks of new and good-quality provençal pinks might be found out here in the sticks.  So I was relieved to read in the August issue of Decanter Magazine that a Tasting Panel had been set up to do some of this some of this terribly difficult research for me. Their subject: Côtes de Provence rosés in the 2013 vintage.  Two of the top three wines tasted are from merchants I sometimes visit and as I happened to be passing the doors of Majestic Wine in Yeovil that very day, I dropped in to pick up some of tonight’s wine, the Famille Abeille 2013 from Château Riotor.  Located in the small commune of Cannet des Maures, 40-odd kilometres north-west of Saint-Tropez, the Château is a family-owned estate making predominantly rosé wines.

The rosé in question is one of those beautifully pale pink wines (although colour is not always a guarantee of elegance the Decanter article warns us), and beautifully refreshing with soft summer’s day fruit flavours.  First off think picnics and crab sandwiches, but we proved it had sufficient body and crispness to handle something a little heavier with our alfresco supper of ratatouille-style stuffed aubergines topped with black olives.  Heavenly. And then I sneakily enjoyed the last slosh from the bottle the following day with an aubergine and cherry tomato salad for lunch – recipe to follow in the next few days.

IMG_20140728_203837Château Riotor, Famille Abeille rosé 2013
We bought ours at Majestic Wine – £9.99