Friday, 27 June 2008

Eco tips for summer kitchen

Most folk are unaware that this week has been Food Waste Awareness Week. Britain’s throw-away food habit produces £10 billion of food waste each year or enough grub at dinnertime to feed 19 million people.

A key reason for the waste is a lack of leftover know-how. Inspired exotic buys such as Thai spices, pak choi and mangoes often end up in the bin rather than on the dinner table and too many home cooks are slaves to sell-by-dates.

In her new book, How Green are my Wellies? (Eden Project, £14.99), The Times’ Eco Worrier Anna Shepard shares a few tips for frugal but delicious seasonal fare.

Save the woody bottom bits of asparagus stalks to drop into a stock for summer soups thickened with leftover mashed potato; whiz tough broad beans in a blender with garlic and a splash of olive oil to make a dip, or boil them and mash with rosemary, garlic and oil. Blend prolific garden rocket with pine nuts, parmesan and oil to make pesto sauce.

Remember that fresh fish fillets hold up well for three days in the fridge, and use spices and handfuls of herbs to pep up surplus ingredients. Finally, make jams and pickles from summer’s abundance of vegetables and berries and freeze any excess for later in the year.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The rise of the "Glasto-pub"

There was a time when the only sustenance at music festivals was a soggy heap of chow mein washed down with scrumpy.

These days, the food corner of any festival field worth its salt is more likely to resemble a farmers’ market than a greasy takeaway. The best of the food is wholesome and imaginative with stalls offering a range of gourmet fare from organic ostrich burgers with homemade redcurrant relish to Loch Fyne oysters, and seasonal berry smoothies.

At Glastonbury, which starts tomorrow, the Goan Seafood Company serves a breakfast kedgeree made with fish caught freshly from Mevagissey in Cornwall, while the Splendid Chicken “Glasto-pub” has free-range Moroccan tagines and there are hot smoked mackerel wraps from Hall’s Dorset Smokery.

The soulful Manic Organic Café and Tiny Tea Tent please the veggie crowd with homemade cakes, speciality teas and sparkling elderflower and wild nettle cordial.

For a handy main meal “to go” Pure Pie’s coconutty Thai pie and Pieminster’s Chicken of Aragon (laced with tarragon) are worth seeking out.

For liquid refreshment it’s all aboard the double decker cider bus for local hero Julian Temperley’s Burrow Hill Somerset cider which Laura in the festival office describes as “flat and pokey (as it should be) with no chemical fizzy crap”. Spot on. His Kingston Black is a bottle fermented sparkling Cider made by traditional method and is just about as good as cider gets.

Standon Calling, in Hertfordshire (Aug 1-3), has the pick of stalls from Borough Market, and Lovebox, in London’s Victoria Park (July 19-20), has its own farmers’ market.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Courgette flowers

Seasonal courgettes are one of the most versatile of the summer squashes. They are delicious cut lengthways, brushed in garlic oil, char-grilled and served with feta, peas and mint, or sliced in a courgette and Manchego frittata.

But it is their golden flowers that are prized by chefs. If you see these at a greengrocers or farmers' market, snap them up. Female flowers come with a mini courgette attached and male ones with a small stalk. The flowers don’t last so are best bought and cooked on the same day.

Stuff the flowers with batons of buffalo mozzarella, parsley and anchovies and shallow fry. At Salt Yard restaurant, in London (020 7637 0657;, they serve courgette flowers filled with Monte Enebro goat's cheese, drizzled in honey, lightly battered and fried with the vegetable still attached.

These tapas-style dishes work well with a Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana (£10.50; Jeroboams: 020 7288 8850). This single-vineyard aged Manzanilla has a crisp but well rounded flavour that complements the sweet oiliness of the dish.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

This season's seasonal menu at Ascot

Royal Ascot runs this week and if one is lucky enough to be in the Parade Ring hospitality restaurant here’s a sneak preview of the menu that’ll be served to 50,000 privileged punters over the five day meeting.

Sodexo may serve basic grub in hospitals and schools but the prestige end of its business is attuned to current trends. The coffee is fair-trade, the eggs in the sandwiches free-range and the cheeseboard has an all-British line up: Isle of Mull Cheddar, Win Green, Dunsyre Blue and Rosary Ash.

The main menu features seasonal foods, some of which have been locally sourced. Starters include dressed Cornish crab with avocado and bloody Mary ice cream, and poached English asparagus with pea panacotta and gazpacho verdi.

The seafood bouillabaisse comes with sea-salty samphire; the roast fillet of Scottish beef with a wild nettle risotto, and the double rib lamb cutlet is sprinkled with rosemary flowers. Clearly someone at Sodexo has been watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Spring.

A good bet to drink with the wild strawberry and pink champagne terrine is a rich, new rosé champagne from Bollinger (Berry Bros & Rudd, £55), six years in the making, and launched at Ascot 2008. Made from 60 per cent pinot noir it has delicate aromas of ripe red fruits.

Berry Bros: 0870 900 4300;

Talk and (balsamic) vinegar

Slow Food London continues its series of original events with a balsamic vinegar tasting at the Natural Kitchen, in London’s Marylebone (

Expert taster Manlio Guidetti grew up among the acetaie (sets of vinegar barrels) of Modena, in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna, and can spot a watery caramel-boosted fake a mile off, and tell you how to do so, too.

An excellent balsamic vinegar should be very well balanced in sweetness and acidity; not too dense but relatively fluid, and have a Guinness colour with a deep gold hue that is still transparent on a white plate.

Two good buys are a three-year-old Bellei at £4.10 for 250ml and a 12-year old 100ml bottle by Acetaia Sereni for £20 (Orrery Epicerie, Marylebone; 0207 616 8036).

The tasting will demonstrate how to use different ages and styles of balsamic vinegar with various foods.

For example, use a couple of drops of aged balsamic vinegar instead of sugar to marinate strawberries or fresh figs and melon and then serve with a dollop of mascarpone.

It’s officially the last week for asparagus in Britain so griddle some while you can and serve it with parmesan shavings, and tiny splashes of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

In Emilia Romagna eight-to-ten-year old balsamic vinegars are used to “pepper” simple regional dishes such as shelled broad beans with thin slices of pecorino; or to draw out some of the sweetness from the cured fat in an antipasto of San Daniele ham and Felinetto salami.

Murray’s in Clevedon, Somerset, recommends a ruby-red sparkling Lambrusco, Picol Ross from small producer Paolo Rinaldini (£10; 01275 341222). It’s a summer-friendly wine, best served chilled, with a hint of violet on the nose and sweet blackberry on the palate. Its acidic edge helps to slice through Emilia’s hearty cuisine.

Britain's new super berries

Around midsummer berries reign supreme in the seasonal fruit kingdom. The sweetly perfumed English strawberry may be king, but gooseberries are approaching their best towards the end of June and tayberries, a Scottish hybrid of the blackberry and the raspberry are ripening, too.

Gooseberries are tart and green early season but soften in taste and texture over summer. Use in crumbles or pies, poach then purée to make the classic fool, ice cream, or a tangy sauce for rich roasts like pork or oily fish such as mackerel.

Purple tayberries can be a touch sharp but work well, like blackberries and raspberries, in summer pudding, pies, sorbet, or in fruit sauces, jams and jellies.

There are now rivals to these traditional soft fruits. Growers of the new aronia berry (or chokeberry) on a farm in Angus, in Scotland, claim that it’s a “super berry” with more antioxidants than blueberries and cranberries. It’s available in juices and smoothies at Juice Almighty bar in Edinburgh (0131 220 6879).

And if you can’t decide between a punnet of strawberries or raspberries then Waitrose has the answer. Dutch-grown Strasberries originate from a wild strawberry breed but are smaller with darker seeds, hence the link to raspberries. Try them dipped in melted dark chocolate.

To match the tart-sweet balance of a creamy gooseberry and elderflower fool try a Coteaux du Layon from the Loire Valley. Yapp Brothers in Mere, Wiltshire (01747 860423), has a Château la Tomaze 1995 (£18.50) made from 100 per cent chenin blanc grapes. It’s a golden wine with unctuous raisin fruit and subtle honey and mineral flavours.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Fruitful year for farm shops

Farmers’ markets might have been at the vanguard of the good food movement in the past decade but a dozen stalls once a month in the town square is no longer satisfying our craving for farm-fresh local produce.

The farm shop has been around for years but is now smartening up its act. More than 234 farm shops have opened in the past year making it the fastest growing retail sector in the UK, a report showed last week.

Many have an authentic on-farm location, are open seven days a week and stock more than just free-range meat and freshly unearthed vegetables (expect peas, broad beans, gooseberries, strawberries and lettuce at this time of year).

Trailblazing farm shops such as the one in Occombe in Devon, Goldy’s in Dorset or Farndon Fields in Leicestershire offer homemade ready meals and ice cream and sell frozen peas, beans and raspberries bagged from last year’s harvest.

Most have a range of local wine, beers and cider. Middle Farm Shop, in East Sussex (01323 815043), sells a 100 per cent Pinot Noir (£11) from nearby Bookers Vineyard. It’s a quaffable cherry tasting red that marries well with the farm’s own chorizo.

Friday, 6 June 2008

California: destination food and drink

“Welcome to California: Land of Wine and Food” reads the state’s tourist advertising campaign. And for once it’s no exaggeration.

If any region in the US lives up to such a title – simple yet proud - then it has to be the Golden State. It may not be the meatiest swath of the US, but Salinas is known as the “salad bowl of the nation” and the Central Valley as the “nation’s fruit basket”. Note, too, that it’s “wine” before “food” in the tag, after all 90 per cent of America’s wine is produced there at more than 2,700 wineries.

What’s more, global culinary trends start there. Take farmers’ markets, independent farms and gardens growing specialty produce, eco-gastronomy and Slow Food. California has led the way, too, in producing an abundant range of affordable organic, locally grown produce.

California Cuisine comprises two key ingredients. The dynamic, ethnic diversity in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, with their international cuisine and world-class chefs, work side by side with the region’s agricultural producers. (Gordon Ramsay will have to be on his best seasonal behaviour when he expands his restaurant empire to LA in June.)

Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse is considered the pioneer of this fusion of world cooking styles with the freshest local ingredients.

“When my friends and I opened Chez Panisse in 1971 we thought of ourselves as agents of seduction whose mission it was to change the way people ate,” says Waters.

“We soon discovered that the best tasting food came from local farmers, ranchers, foragers and fishermen who were committed to sound and sustainable practices.”

Given the favourable climate – both literal and political - some restaurants even grow their own produce. The Parkway Grill in Pasadena has its own organic herb and vegetable garden, and at Zazu, a gourmet roadhouse restaurant in Santa Rosa, plenty of the menu comes fresh from the adjoining farm.

In typically enlightened Californian fashion, this concern to connect the pleasure of eating out with support of the local agricultural community has spawned a new West Coast concept: “locavores”. The aim is to eat only foods grown or harvested within a 100-mile radius of where one lives or is staying.

“It’s simple: we all realise that virtually anything can grow in California and we have a whole culture built around growing, buying and eating it,” says Napa Valley vintner Pat Kuleto of Kuleto Estate Winery.

To get a taste of locavore living, Market Foray tours in Santa Barbara show culinary tourists how to shop, buy and eat like a true local (

Otherwise, check out the piles of freshly unearthed vegetables at Wednesday’s giant farmers’ market in Santa Monica. Or the Ferry Building in San Francisco, a sprawling showcase for seasonal food and specialist cheeses, chocolates, breads, olive oils and wines. Break for lunch at Charles Phan’s nouveau-Vietnamese restaurant, the Slanted Door, whose menu makes artful use of the market’s bounty.

In fact, San Francisco has more Pan-Asian cafés than you can shake a chopstick at, plus destination eateries like The French Laundry, Jewish delis and some of the best Italian restaurants in the States. Just for fun, try celebrity spotting - between mouthfuls of an organic bison burger with rocket and homemade peach relish - at the Hollywood farmers’ market on Sundays.

Out on the road in the surrounding counties it’s not hard to find the idyllic landscape portrayed in the movie Sideways, filmed in Santa Barbara County: roadside stalls piled high with peaches the size of baseballs, bucolic farm-to-fork banqueting in the fields of a vineyard toasted with a glass of one of California’s big reds.

Over the years, food capitals have sprouted up across the state each known for different specialties: Garlic in Gilroy (there’s a festival in July); raw milk dairy produce and artisan cheeses in Tulare, including Bill Boersma’s award-winning Bravo Farms Cheddars; artichokes in Castroville; honeybees in Palo Cedro and horseradish in Tulelake.

Brilliant yellow mustard plants bloom each year between poppies and grape vines in Napa Valley’s vineyards, signalling the start of the annual Mustard Festival (; while Stockton hosts an Asparagus Festival in April (, and San Francisco Bay celebrates its Zinfandel Festival in January.

California has optimum wine-growing conditions. “The Mediterranean climate brings a coolness from the ocean while the interior has steady warm weather which consistently ripens grapes; at least eight or nine years out of ten you have a shot at making some of the best wine you’ve ever made,” says Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards at Cupertino.

Napa Valley, some 50 miles to the north of San Francisco, and Sonoma Valley bordering the ocean stretch of Northern California, are just two of the state’s numerous wine regions. As a rule of thumb – to which there are exceptions – the smaller producers often offer more character, memorable wines and less generic tasting bars than their corporate counterparts that line the wine trail highways.

The ivy-clad Hess Collection in Napa combines a winery with a
modern art museum built by the Swiss multimillionaire Donald Hess. Visitors can browse works by Frank Stella and Francis Bacon interspersed with views of fermentation tanks. If the art is depressingly expensive console yourself with a $10 tasting of four wines. The mountain cabarnets excel.

Go to the “Land of Wine and Food” and you probably will, as Governor Arnie propounds at the end of the promotional video, “be back”. If only to visit the restaurant or taste the vintage that you didn’t get round to on a first visit.

For more information:

Thursday, 5 June 2008

5 steps to the perfect cup of tea...

Tea connoisseur Don Mei tells me how to make the perfect cup of tea:

1. Take a purple clay pot - considered the best material for its high porosity that absorbs the flavour of the tea in the pot itself.

2. Pour hot water over all the cups and tea pot to bring them to a warm temperature.

3. Put loose tea in the pot and fill it with hot water (85C if delicate green or white tea; 100C boiling if red or black tea). Discard the water. This is called "washing the tea". The Chinese do not drink the first infusion. This process opens up the tea - unfurls the dragon. It is a good time to smell the aroma of the tea.

4. Pour in more water. Allow it to steep for 1.5 to 2 minutes.

5. Decant the pot into another vessel so that the tea is of an even strength throughout. Left in the teapot it is weak at the top and strong at the bottom where the leaves sit.

Tea is the new wine

If your idea of tea and food matching stops and starts with dunking a Digestive in a scalding mug of Tetley then a new exhibition may change that.

A small but informative exhibition on Chinese tea opens today (Weds) at Asia House in New Cavendish Street, London W1 at the start of a national tour (0207 7303 5454, £4). As well as tracing the 3,000 year-old history of tea there are displays of types of tea and exquisite porcelain tea sets.

A temporary outlet of Camden’s Chinalife tea mixology bar offers fresh brews to sample from its stock of more than 70 teas. Try jasmine tea with goji berries that plump up in the cup, popcorn tea, a green tea from Zhejiang province with roast brown rice, or a seasonal iced tea with jasmine, elderflower and mint. All go well with yam flour cookies.

“Tea is now rightly being treated like wine, with serious tea lists in hotels and restaurants that note harvests and vintage. Like wine the microclimate, soil, picking, processing and storage are all vital parts of the production of tea. It is a gourmet beverage that pairs well with all types of food,” says Don Mei, tea connoisseur and creative director of Chinalife (0207 307 5447).

For summertime, he recommends a chrysanthemum tea for its cooling and anti-inflammatory properties. Its delicate fragrant notes partner seafood dim sum or counteract the spiciness of fish with chilli.

The Tea Centre at Tregothnan in Cornwall offers a range of tea tastings and tutoring days (see previous blog; 01872 520000). Earl Grey and Cornish Yarg any one?

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Britain's new breed of "bar chefs" mix seasonal cocktails

People are becoming better informed about eating seasonal food but it’s a trickier proposition to drink seasonally, especially where alcohol is concerned.

This is where the summer cocktail comes into its own and mixologists or “bar chefs” are shaking up the scene with ingredients sourced at farmers’ markets.

Drinks are being embellished with mint leaves and edible flowers and infused with elderflower essence and crushed strawberries. They look beautiful, taste even better and presumably leave a clearer eco-conscience than having opted for the cocktail that uses tinned lychees flown in from China.

London’s award-winning Canteen (0845 686 1122) restaurants have a new cocktail list created by drinks’ pioneer Tony Conigliaro. Its Great British Bar offers prosecco Bellinis made with seasonal purees such as strawberry, raspberry or apple with lavender. A Rhubarb Collins has been reworked to create a refreshing pre-dinner drink using gin and lemon with a twist of rhubarb, and the Twinkle is a champagne cocktail with a floral elderflower note.

Canteen’s head chef Cass Titcombe says: “You can experiment with all sorts of berries and homegrown herbs such as mint and basil. Whizz the ripe fruit and and a few torn leaves in the blender and add dry prosecco.”

When the Vyse Room opens at Stoke Place manor in Buckinghamshire (01753 534 790 ) next week its drinks’ list will feature seasonal punches (summer cup garnished with borage) and cocktails made using herbs and flowers grown in the Capability Brown designed grounds. A gooseberry and lemon thyme Bellini adds a citrus bite to picnic favourites such as smoked salmon sandwiches or barbecued mackerel, says Nick Strangeway, cocktail consultant at Stoke Place.

Get fresh wet and smoked fish from Steve Hatt in Islington (020 7226 3963) or from the fish counter downstairs at Wholefoods, in Kensington (0207 368 4500). Both buy from day boats and are committed to sutainable fishing.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Pea shoots not rocket science

Move over mizuna and rocket. There’s a new salad leaf in the pack. If we’re to believe the hype, pea shoots will be cropping up everywhere this summer - at barbecues, in Pimm’s, even on the hats of ladies at Ascot - as this season’s favourite leafy garnish.

Pea shoots are the tender leaves of the traditional garden pea plant harvested after just two weeks when the plant is less than a foot tall. Grown in natural sunlight from April to October on Mullens Farm in Wiltshire, the plants have crunchy stems and delicate leaves, like watercress, and taste of freshly shucked peas.

Skye Gyngell is serving them at her delightful Petersham Nurseries restaurant in Richmond, London, with just about everything from crab cakes to roast pork belly. They work well, too, whizzed in a smoky bacon soup or crushed up in bubble and squeak.

Wine will depend on what the pea shoots are garnishing. A good match, particularly with seafood starters, is an Iona Sauvignon Blanc (Waitrose, £9.49) from South Africa. It’s a classic cool-climate white with a wonderfully aromatic nose showing fine mineral notes, hints of herbs and a touch of gooseberry fruit. On the palate it complements well the intense, fresh flavour of the delicate pea shoot leaves.

The brains behind pea shoots is the marketing team at Vitacress (turnover £70 million) who regularly scout for fresh ideas among the kitchens of California. Basically, an age-old allotment secret has been washed in spring water and repackaged for selected supermarkets. Very tasty but it’s not, err, rocket science.