Among a handful of books recommended by the London Review Bookshop today is The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think by Julian Baggini which "articulates a thorough and wide-ranging philosophy of food, one to eat, drink and live by. This is not primarily a philosophy of rules and principles but one of virtues, ... dispositions, habits, traits, skills or values that help us to live better lives."
Alexander McCall Smith says of it, "Julian Baggini has that rare but wonderful gift of being able to be at once profound and highly entertaining. This remarkable book combines the pleasures of the table with those of philosophy, and this most engaging of philosophers has achieved a perfect balance."
I've been reading the beginning via Amazon's preview feature and am keen to read on; on a side note, I'm pleased to see that among the cheeses the author rates highly (for there is a practical element to the book, too) is the excellent Stichelton which is not easy to come by (see stockists) but which we found most recently at The Mainstreet Trading Company's delicatessen. (Cheese-lovers may be interested in the Stichelton video.)
We popped into Centotre for some mid-morning refreshment yesterday, and I tried the Amalfi lemon, orange, cinnamon and rosemary infusion - delicious! A peep inside the pot revealed a couple of slices of both lemon and orange, two fat cinnamon sticks (you could re-use them) and a generous quantity of rosemary sprigs. Definitely one to try at home, sweetened with honey if you like.
I found these in Earthy, and shall do as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtsall suggests in his fruit book, that is either roast them with herbs (to go with lamb or pork, or put in a salad with walnuts and goats' cheese), or poach* them "until they are completely tender and yielding [when they will] be luscious, full-flavoured and have their own delectable syrup".
Meanwhile, I'm enjoying their lovely honeyed fragrance
*He also recommends topping pizza with slivers of poached quince and crumbled blue cheese ...
No runcible spoons in evidence (nor mince, actually), but I did have quince purée with my roast pork at supper at Moro the other day. I've never eaten quince other than as membrillo, so this was a first, and it was delicious* - it was the reason I chose the dish.
That was our second visit to Moro, the first one having been seven years ago (and I see I chose the same things then ...); no Michael Palin to chat to this time, though.
Granola, before baking and afterwards; and very moreish it is.
The basic recipe is Monty and Sarah Don's, but I've adjusted it according to what was in the cupboard, so here's what you see above:
50g. flaked almonds
60g. walnut pieces
20g. sunflower seeds
50g. pumpkin seeds
25g. sesame seeds
20g. poppy seeds
25g. agave nectar (or extra honey)
3 tblsps. sunflower oil.
Combine the dry ingredients; bring the honey, nectar (if using), and sunflower oil to the boil, stirring vigorously to emulsify, then pour that over everything and mix well. Spread on a lined baking tray and bake in a slow oven (gas 2) for 45 minutes to an hour. I put it on the rack on the floor of the Aga's baking oven for 10 minutes, then moved it to the simmering oven for half an hour, then back to the baking oven for another 5 minutes until it was golden brown because I like it well done. Leave to cool, and add dried fruits if you will.
A first outing for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new book River Cottage Fruit Every Day!, and I can thoroughly recommend the Red Cabbage* and Apple Salad with Dried Cherries - the cherries are soaked in orange juice for a couple of hours to plump them up, then some of that liquid is added to the salad dressing. It's raw, crunchy, sweet and tart, filling, healthy, and very good, and we had it, as Hugh suggests, with bread and cheese.
Here's the bread, improvised from what was in the cupboard:
or Cookery and Pastry As Taught and Practised by Mrs. MacIver, Teacher of Those Arts in Edinburgh (1789 edition), and had a great old browse.
As you'll see from this post, all the books at Innerpeffray are there to be handled and read by visitors, and you're encouraged to ask for particular volumes and study them for as long as you like during opening hours.
While I couldn't bring home this fascinating cookery manual (though I see Barter Books have a copy of the 1800 edition, should you be feeling flush), I did buy the library's booklet A Taste of the Past to give away:
This is a small selection of recipes from three of the books in the library's collection, Mrs. MacIver's, Acetaria or A discourse on Sallets, 1706, by John Evelyn, and Mrs. Rundell's book, and if you'd like to know how to make 'A Good Scotch Haggis', 'A Curd Florentine" (this and the recipe for 'House Lamb Steaks, White' have a detailed modern version beside the original), 'Venison Pasty' or 'Green Meagre Soup', look no further!
As always, I can send this - and the set of library postcards I'm giving away on Cornflower Books - anywhere in the world, so to enter the draw to win the booklet, just leave a comment here naming a favourite, much used and loved cookery book, and I'll pull a winning name out of the hat soon.
And if you're ever in Perthshire and have some time to spare, do follow the winding backroads to Innerpeffray and the tiny, unique library, and enjoy some of its treasures - I'm going to seek out The Countrie Farm (1600), and The Scots Gard'ner (?1683) by John Reid on my next visit.
"A little book of straightforward, contemporary recipes, quick or particularly easy to get to the table. A collection of recipes that are fast, simple and, I hope, fun."
That's from Nigel Slater's introduction to his new book (out today!) Eat - The Little Book of Fast Food. I've been poring over it, earmarking dishes to try, and they are all so uncomplicated and delicious-sounding that I'm spoilt for choice.
The recipes are written in the form of extended tweets, NS says, and that gives some indication of their simplicity, but many also come with extra ideas, notes and suggestions which allow for variations, so the repertoire of those sought-after 'on the table in under an hour' dishes is even further extended. I also like the tags Nigel has added to many of the recipes, summing them up in three or four words, for example, on Chocolate Oat Crumble (apricots and raspberries flavoured with elderflower cordial and baked with a chocolate-y, oaty topping) he comments, "heady, crisp, luscious", and for Poor Man's Potatoes (potatoes, peppers and onion simmered in vegetable stock), he adds, "frugal, rich, nourishing" - what more could you want?
I make pizza often, and it's often been featured here - see, for example, Polpo's courgette one, their red onion and thyme, Leon's bianca, Hugh F-W's asparagus and even his kale and onion version. I'm constantly trying to perfect what is essentially a very simple dish, and thus every iteration, variation of flour, cooking time, and so on, is scrutinised and compared.
Last week in Oxford I had pizzette from the wood-fired oven at Gee's (and I'll come back to Gee's in a later post), and they were very thin of crust, and with their goats' cheese and garlic or prosciutto and black olive toppings, very good indeed.
I couldn't hope to replicate the cooking conditions in a domestic kitchen, even though the Aga's roasting oven is very hot, but I thought I'd try for a thinner pizza than usual, so I turned to Hugh F-W's magic dough recipe (from River Cottage Veg Every Day, but I used only strong plain flour instead of the mixture he specifies) and did the following:
- let the dough rise for a good hour and a half
- divided it into four pieces rather than my usual two (for 4-5 people)
- rolled them a bit and shaped them by hand until they were roughly the same diameter as my usual two, i.e. half as thick as normal
- pre-heated the (oiled) baking sheets
- baked the pizzas without any topping for 3-5 minutes
- gave each one a 'suggestion' of tomato sauce (Hugh's roasted tomato sauce from the Veg book again)
- added the toppings (the same ones as Gee's) and then baked them for around 8 minutes, by which time they were nicely brown, crisp, and still pleasingly thin.
There was much swapping of trays in and out and from oven floor to rack, and then to the simmering oven while the later pizzas cooked, so there was a bit of a production line going (and no chance to take pictures), but it was worth the extra faff because although I say it myself, they were the best I've ever made.