Wednesday, 26 November 2014

General Store, Peckham

General Store

The opening of any independent grocery store is something to be celebrated.  Almost 4 years ago to the day I wrote about Leila's Shop in Spitalfields and said "every neighbourhood should have a shop like this".  Back then, as much as I wanted to see it happen, it seemed a bit of a forlorn hope. The grip of the supermarkets was vice-like and becoming ever-more insidious as they moved into corner-shop territory with smaller neighbourhood stores.  Now the big 3 are facing their own competition and shoppers are realising there are alternatives involving not only other multiples but small and local too.

Small independents are never going to be able to compete line-by-line with supermarkets on price, but that doesn't mean they can't have better prices on individual items.  With good quality they can offer better value.  They can also identify and form close personal relationships with local producers and specialist suppliers and this is the direction that General Store in Peckham has chosen. Actively seeking out the locally produced wherever possible, there's a commitment to supporting other small business allied with a commitment to quality and provenance.

On the shelves
at General Store

So, what is on the shelves?  London produce includes sourdough Cafone loaves from Bridget Hugo's BreadBread bakery in Brixton; breads and pastries from Bermondsey-based The Little Bread Pedlar; Coffee from the Clerkenwell roastery of Workshop Coffee; fine British and French cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy and Mons Cheesemongers, matured under railway arches in South London; jars of honey from Bermondsey's The London Honey Company; some of the best preserves in the capital from Lily O'Brien's Hackney-based London Borough of Jam; and bottled beers from Kernel Brewery who were at the vanguard of London's recent micro-brewery movement; and natural wines are now available from Gergovie Wines too. Then, there's a good range of Spanish foods from importer Brindisa; rice from The Real Basmati Rice Co; organic flours from Shipton Mill; chocolate from bean-to-bar makers Pump Street Bakery in Suffolk sit alongside bars from influential Mast Brothers of Brooklyn; and, always, a selection of top quality seasonal fruit and vegetables.

at General Store

Then there's the service.  The young owners, Merlin and Genevieve, get the balance just right.  If you're happy to browse, that's fine.  If you want help or advice, it's knowledgeable, and friendly. Look out for their 'Meet the Supplier' events.  As see from a flyer that in the run-up to Christmas you'll find Neal's Yard Dairy setting up table outside on 6th December, followed by Mons Cheesemongers on the 7th.  Christmas orders can be placed up to the 15th December with specials like smoked salmon from Hansen & Lydersen's Stoke Newington smokery; Melrose & Morgan Christmas Puddings and Cakes; and special prices on wines and beers by the case.

Peckham is up-and-coming but still rough around the edges so perfect hunting ground for those looking for more bang for their buck property-wise.  The General Store is a great addition to the Asian, African and Caribbean stores. Shops like Persepolis, bring A taste of Persia to Peckham. There is also traditional British butchers Flock and Herd.  For more about food shops in Peckham, The Skint Foodie has a great list.

Fruit & vegetables
at General Store

Trying to compete directly with supermarkets is still a road to nowhere.  Independent grocery stores are a different breed from what they used to be but, little by little, they are returning to a neighbourhood near you - grocers for the way we live now.

General Store
174 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4BW
Tel: 0207 642 2129

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Hot Gingernuts

Hot Gingernuts

In my last posting Breakfast, Lunch, Tea I promised you a recipe based on one from Rose Carrarini's first book, and here it is - Hot Gingernuts.

It must be the change of season.  Root, powder or crystallised, I can't seem to get enough of warming ginger at the moment.  The truth is I've been enjoying these hot little ginger nuts for years at 40 Maltby Street without knowing that Kit, the maker, based his recipe on that of Rose Carrarini.  And hers, in turn, is based on a Sally Clarke recipe, kindly gifted for the opening of Rose Bakery in Paris.  In the way of most recipes, each baker has tweaked the original here and there.  True to her principles Rose's recipe turns up the flavour a notch with extra ginger and reduces the sweetness.   In her pursuit of flavour here she has maximised the quantity of ginger, and even suggests a touch of cayenne pepper.

Hot Gingernuts
ready for the oven

In the spirit of "feeling free" I leave out the cayenne but would suggest unless your ginger is really good quality and fresh, you might need to add a little bit more than is shown in the recipe below. On Kit's advice, I roll the balls of uncooked dough in demerara sugar before baking for extra crunch. The quantities of both ginger and bicarbonate of soda seem a lot but it does work.  They're meant to be crisp on the outside and soft within.  If you want completely crisp biscuits leave them in for a few extra minutes, but watch they don't burn.

Hot Gingernuts
- large and small, cooling

Hot Gingernuts
(makes about 24 large or 48 small)

200g (7oz) unsalted butter, softened (plus a little extra to grease trays)
440g (16oz) self-raising flour
150g (5½oz) caster sugar
3 tablespoons ground ginger
1½ tablespoons bicarbonate of soda
240g (8½oz) golden syrup
40g (1½oz) treacle
A little demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan)/325F/Gas 3.  
Butter and line trays with baking parchment.
Mix all ingredients, except the golden syrup and treacle, in a food processor until well mixed.  If you're not using a food processor, cut the butter in small pieces, rub into the dry ingredients and mix well.
Warm the golden syrup and treacle together in a small pan.  Add to the mixture and stir to form a stiff, glossy dough.
Break off pieces and roll in your hands to form smooth balls.  The size is up to you, but I like them on the small size, about 2cm across.  Roll the balls in demerara sugar or sprinkle a little on top, placing them well apart on the prepared trays and bake for about 10-12 minutes depending on size.  They will rise then fall back.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Once cooled they should be crisp on the outside and chewy soft within.

Recipe based on Hot Gingernuts in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini, published by Phaidon
Rose Bakery (no website)
46 rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris
and now branches in London, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Tel Aviv and New York

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini

Page of Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini
- Broccoli Cake

Not to have recommended Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carraini, first published in 2006 by Phaidon, until now is a serious omission.  In truth I bought two copies, the first before I started writing this blog and a second copy from one of its several re-prints.  Why two?  Water damage.  A neighbour.  Don't ask...  It was only when I bought Rose Carrarini's second book, How to Boil an Egg, published in 2013, that I remembered I had to catch up on my favourite book reviews.  So, anxious as I am to tell you about the second, I need to get my books in order.

A little about the author.  In 1988 the Anglo-French team of Jean Charles and Rose Carrarini set up one of the most influential food shops cum café/restaurants in London.  With their treasure of an epicerie fine, Villandry (not to be confused with the present Villandry nearby), they drew people from all over the capital to their little space. It was one of the few jewels in what was then a rather jaded (imagine that) Marylebone High Street.  Jean Charles and Rose Carrarini were pioneers and everyone in London who aspired to open their own deli checked out Villandry first.  I've written about the Carrarinis before so click on here if you want to read more about their time in London and Rose Bakery which they opened in Paris in 2002.  

Rose Carrarini is not a trained chef and this book is not simply a list of recipes but an expression of her learning and instincts; a philosophy if you like.  As with Sally Clarke who opened her inspirational restaurant in Kensington Church Street 30 years ago, Rose cites Alice Waters as a strong influence.  Richard Olney and Elizabeth David informed her thinking, too, as she evolved her own pursuit of simplicity, seasonality and intensity of flavour. Breakfast, Lunch, Tea is based on the seasonal food prepared every day at the tiny one-time chartil which is Rose Bakery.  The book conveys a deep love of good ingredients and Rose's passionate belief that "life is improved by great food and great food can be achieved by everyone".

Not many cookbooks stress the importance of feeling "free to add different ingredients or change things as you go along" to suit your own tastes, because "That is what cooking is all about".  But it's important to remember, "the secret to getting a wonderful result lies ultimately in the ingredients.  So choose them well."  The Breakfast section of the book includes recipes for Fruit Taboulé, a delicious alternative to a bowl of muesli; pancakes from classic to gluten-free and vegan; Maple Syrup Scones; no-nonsense Perfect Scrambled Eggs; as well as juices, smoothies and cereals.  The chapter on Lunch keeps things 'light' to suit both the way Rose Bakery customers want to eat in or take-away.  Soups include Spiced chickpea and lemon soup and Cold Beetroot soup with a hot potato; Salads such as Carrot and seed and Quinoa and pepper are packed with flavour; the Pastry section includes recipes for Rose Bakery's singular square vegetable tarts like Artichoke and pea tart and Ricotta, tomato and thyme tart and a take on Pissaladière; Rice features, including a new combination to me Tomato, Aubergine and mint risotto.  I love the idea of a main course dish of Cod in tomato water (alternative white fish are suggested and sustainability emphasised).  This takes us through to Tea, and a much longer recipe list including Chocolate, orange and ricotta tart; Pistachio cake; Brocolli cake; Almond, cinnamon and meringue biscuits; Jam sandwich vegan cookies; coconut custard slices; and puddings including classics like Apple Brown Betty and Summer Pudding; and finishing off with a Japanese influenced Red Bean sorbet.

This is a very freeing recipe book.  It's not prescriptive and hand-holding to the point where you feel you must follow the recipes slavishly.  Rather, it encourages you to follow your instincts.  It's my kind of cookery book.  The photography is by Toby Glanville.  From a flour-strewn pastry table to a portrait of 'Jacob, our kitchen assistant', he captures the mood of Rose Bakery perfectly.

Check back in a couple of days for a favourite recipe from the book.

Coming soon, book two, How to Boil and Egg.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Fern Verrow

Crab apples
at Fern Verrow

Like many people I find I'm eating more and more fruit and vegetables these days so I thought it was time to write about some of my favourite places to buy what I can't grow.  I'm lucky to have a small biodynamic allotment.  It's impossible to explain biodynamics in one sentence but both organic and biodynamic gardening has an emphasis on the soil rather than, as in conventional gardening, the plant.  The idea is to work with nature rather than try to dominate or subdue her. Biodynamics goes further than organics in that, as the Biodynamic Association puts it, practitioners believe "vital soil = vital food".  Follow the link to the Association if you want to know more.

at Fern Vera

I know from talking to friends there are many good independent greengrocers in London, so if I'm going to tell you about some they had better be pretty special.  I'm starting with the cream of the crop, Fern Verrow.  Before I got my hands on an allotment where I could put my enthusiasm into practice, I bought from Fern Verrow every week.  Back then they set up stall at London's Borough Market on Saturdays.  The 16 acre farm, in the foothills of the Black Mountains in Herefordshire, is farmed by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley to biodynamic principles.  Truly seasonal, almost everything is outdoor grown with one greenhouse for tomatoes, cucumbers and some salad leaves. The farm produces over 300 varieties of vegetables. Pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry are reared. These days Fern Verrow harvests on a Friday and makes the round trip to London setting out their produce on Saturdays at Spa Terminus  in Bermondsey.  Almost everything you will find is grown on the farm.  Anything that isn't is carefully selected from like-minded organic and biodynamic producers.

'Custard' Pattypan squash
at Fern Verrow

As a biodynamic grower I can appreciate the amount of effort that goes into the produce harvested from this system.  If you are in any doubt about biodynamic growing being worth the effort, just take a look at the produce here. Squeaky-fresh cabbages follow the seasons from pale green Spring to autumn/winter's spectacularly beautiful green/purple January King; heads of super-fresh lettuce keep for days, not because they've been kept cold in bags pumped with gases but because they are bursting with real freshness and goodness; summer sees sweet soft-necked Florence Red onions and courgettes, straight and crook-necked; soft fruit arrives in the form of raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, jostaberries and, if you're lucky, their own farm-grown peaches.  From late summer, potatoes make an appearance and several varieties take the season right through into the following year.  In autumn/winter squash and pumpkins take centre stage along with leeks, parsnips, chard, and brassicas.  These are joined by apples and pears.  Apart from a scant few weeks in mid-winter, the seasonal bounty keeps on coming all year round.  Some excellent meat from the farm's pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry also makes it to the table.  From spring to autumn there's a stunning selection of flowers thanks to a cutting garden and meadow.

at Fern Verrow

Seeing what Fern Verrow grow has inspired my own planting over the years.  I almost wish I didn't grow quite so much myself so that I could sweep up the bounty from those laden trestle tables each week.  Growing biodynamically is as labour-intensive as cultivating can be. Food of this quality doesn't come cheap but Fern Verrow really is as good as it gets.  Even though, or maybe because, I grow some of my fruit and vegetables biodynamically I am in awe of what Fern Verrow achieve.  I do  grow a fair proportion of what my household needs but, sometimes, a few special things still find there way into my shopping bag on a Saturday.  If you want the very best, it's definitely to be found in this little corner of Bermondsey.

Fern Verrow
Tel: 01981510288

Fern Verrow trade Saturdays 8.30-2pm at:
Spa Terminus
Unit 10
Dockley Road Industrial Estate
London SE16 3SF

Spa Terminus map 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Chocolate Brownies

Double Chocolate Brownie 1

I never thought I would post a recipe for chocolate brownies.  There are a million-and-one takes on the brownie out there but not one has lived up to my expectations.  There are the tooth-jangling over-sweet versions, the much too 'cakey' ones, the brownie that's really a chocolate and the 'let's throw everything in' options.  Finding a recipe that suits everyone is a challenge.  The kids don't like the chocolate too bitter; the adults don't want it too milk; others can't abide nuts.  I give up.  At least for a while.  Then inevitably someone utters those dread words "can we have brownies", and I'm back on the quest for a good recipe.

Double Chocolate Brownie 2

I reach for my cuttings file - am I the only person who still does this in the age of the internet?  Biscuits to Vegetables by way of Eggs, Game and Preserves, scraps of paper carefully filed away in case they should disappear into the ether of the on-line world, or a fat finger should find the delete button.  There it was, an, as yet, untried recipe filed under 'Puddings, incl cakes' (such is my patent filing system).  OK, I didn't have all the ingredients - the wrong chocolate and nowhere near enough walnuts - so a bit of artistic licence would be coming in to play.  But look where sticking rigidly to recipes had got me up to now.

Double Chocolate Brownie 3

So thank you Tom Kitchin for the sound recipe, and excuse my tweaking it out of necessity.  By using two-thirds dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) and one-third milk (34% cocoa solids), hardly any walnuts and going easy on the vanilla, I produced a brownie everyone liked - even me.  Finally, I've got my recipe.  Just need to make sure I file that scrap of paper.

Double Chocolate Brownie (adapted from Kitchin Suppers by Tom Kitchen)
(makes 15 pieces)

200g unsalted butter, diced
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
100g milk chocolate (34% cocoa solids), chopped
90g plain flour
A pinch of sea salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
3 medium eggs
250g soft dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g walnuts, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 170C (Fan 150C)/Gas 3.  Line a 30 x 20cm x 4cm baking tin with baking parchment.  
Put the butter, 150g dark and 50g milk chocolate in a heatproof bowl and place of a pan of simmering water until melted.  Stir until smooth then remove the bowl from the pan and allow to cool a little.
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together into another bowl and set aside.
In a third large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until slightly thickened. Fold in the melted chocolate/butter mixture then gently fold in the sifted flour followed by the remaining chopped 50g dark and 50g milk chocolate and the chopped walnuts.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking tin, gently spreading it into the corners. Bake for 20-25 minutes.  The top should be nicely crusted but the brownie still soft in the middle.  Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.  Carefully lift the cake out of the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting into 15 squares.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Give a Fig - stuffed and roasted

Roasted stuffed figs

It's peak fig season and if you were in any doubt that this has been an exceptional summer in the UK, check out the English figs reaching markets this year.  Yes, keen gardeners do plant fig trees but outdoor grown figs at best amount to a semi-ripe handful of fruit; at worst, a maddeningly unripe crop of waxy green globes.  Summer's lease usually expires right when we're thinking just one more week of sun, please.  So, if you don't have your own fig tree, the chances of getting even a single English-grown fruit is, usually, a forlorn hope.

The fig is a member of the mulberry family.  Notable European figs include Black Ischia, (dark purple in colour with golden flecks and a luscious violette-red pulp); Adriatic, (a green fig tinged with purple or red with a deep red interior); and the sweet Marseilles, (coloured yellow/green with green flecks and a white pulp).
"... couldn't give a fig"
meaning: to care little, or not at all

The Romans brought figs to England but very few of the more than 800 recorded species can be grown in our damp, cool climate.  They can do well grown in containers if placed in a sunny spot and brought into a cool frost-free place to over-winter.  Unlike Mediterranean areas where two harvests a year are expected, we're lucky to get a single useable crop.  Figs will not ripen after picking so fruits need to be harvested when they are yielding to the touch between September and October.  A droop in the stalk is a good invitation to try your luck.  RHS advice is to remove any large fruits that have failed to ripen in autumn but leave any pea-sized embryonic fruit.  If they survive the winter, these are the fruits that could provide you with a useable crop.  Fruits formed in the spring may ripen on trees grown in a greenhouse but rarely on outdoor trees.

Ripe fig

The best varieties of fig for our English climate are Brown Turkey.  Its skin ripens to a rich coppery-brown with whitish flesh shading to pink or light red; Violette de Bordeaux is a small purple/black fruit with a strawberry coloured pulp; Madeleine de Deux Saisons bears yellow, amber-tinged fruits with flesh a delicate shade of pink; and the Brunswick fig which ripens to yellow with red flesh.  If you yearn for your own fig tree, you might enjoy this recent piece by Anna Pavord on the subject.

Figs respond to both sweet and savoury pairings.  They go deliciously with a good pecorino or a slice of prosciutto.  As a dessert, a perfectly ripe fig is perfection just as it is.  Some need a little help to bring out their best, but less is definitely more - a sprinkle of sugar or a spoon of honey and a little heat work wonders.  If you want it to look like you've made an effort, try these almond stuffed figs. This recipe is based on a memory of a Rose Carrarini way with figs, which must go back 10 years or more.  I looked in vain for the recipe in her book Breakfast-Lunch-Tea.  My recollection is bound to be not quite accurate, but this buttery, orange scented almond mixture works for me.

Stuffed & Roasted Figs
(Serves 4)

8 large (or 12 small) ripe figs
50g (2oz) unsalted butter, softened
25g (1oz) unrefined caster sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
50g (2oz) almonds (skin on), roasted then ground
Zest of 1 orange

Pre-heat oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4.
Beat the butter and sugar until pale in colour.  Incorporate the ground almonds and orange zest.  Slice the top of each of the figs and keep to one side.  Scoop out a teaspoon of pulp from each and mash it into the creamed mixture.  Spoon the mixture into the figs - pile it high - and replace the caps.  Place in a baking dish and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Test if ready by giving a fig a gentle squeeze - if it feels soft and releases a little juice they are ready.  Serve straight away with a little cream or crème fraîche.  However, you choose to treat them, give a fig!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Autumn in Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Can four years really have passed since I was in Berlin?  Four years since that visit during the spargel  (asparagus) season when there was no time to take a train to Dessau to see the Bauhaus Foundation.  Ah, well next time.  So, let's try again.  A visit to the icon of modernism had to be top of the list.  But first it was time to get our bearings and renew acquaintances.  You'll notice there are very few photos of food in this piece.  It just doesn't feel right in Berlin to be photographing your food, so let's eat. Maybe it'll start a trend!

Kreuzberg, Berlin

We left our bags at the hotel and headed south into Kreuzberg where the Turkish influence is strongest.  There are many things to like about Turkish culture but, for me, Turkish Coffee is not one of them so we held out until we found the 'Coffee Roastery and Cake Shop' Five Elephant on Reichenbergerstr.  A couple of cortados each and a slice of walnut and honey pie were life savers, but, but ...  there was such a difference in the delivery of the the two coffee orders that I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a lack of consistency - perhaps just down to different baristas.  The pie had a good filling but was spoilt by too much pastry.  I'd say it's worth a try if you're in the area but I'd probably head for Companion Coffee 5 minutes away on nearby Oranienstr.  OK, they don't roast their own coffee but they do brew up some fine guest ones including one of my favourites, a roast from Denmark's Coffee Collective.  Sometimes it's Square Mile or Workshop from London.  The Belleville (Paris) espresso, on when we visited, isn't one I'd seek out but there's no doubting the care and attention Companion Coffee pay to what they do.  They also serve up a delicious banana cake and the set up, in Voo clothing shop in a quite yard off the main street, is a bit of a haven.

The Barn, Berlin

I've saved the best for last.  The Barn roast their own coffee and it's the place in Berlin that reminds me most of my favourite London roastery, Monmouth Coffee.  I don't know The Barn well enough, yet, to be sure but there's a similar sense of sincerity that translates from what they say about themselves to how they deliver - keep close to the farmer and focus on quality and service. The Barn describes their roast style as "rather light" but it has never been too light-roast for me and I have an aversion to the new light roasts favoured by some roasteries.  The Barn, we soon learned, was the only place to go when breakfast called - a cortado goes rather well with a pot of Bircher müsli.  Sandwiches and cakes here are very good too.  Expect consistent standards.  It's tiny, so also expect to spill out onto the stools outside.  

A Mitte roofline, Berlin

There are a couple of useful places in Mitte district worth knowing about, particularly if you're looking for German/Austrian cuisine with its emphasis on meat.  Aigner close to Gendarmenmarkt serves up very good Beef Consommé, Wiener Schnitzel and various game dishes with, maybe, plum dumplings to finish.  The Kupferkessel (copper kettle) way with beef is particularly good.  Everything is done very properly but without fuss.  Rotisserie Weingrün is Aigner's sister restaurant where the, mostly meat, menu's success is down to careful sourcing and the flame grill.  Both restaurants stock good wines, some from their own 'Horcher' vineyard.  

Restaurant Pauly Saal, again in Mitte, had been recommended to us more than once.  Housed in a former Jewish girls' school, just down the road from The Barn, it's an easy place to miss.  An understated frontage conceals a courtyard dining area, a gentleman's club like bar and murano chandelier bedecked dining room.  No reservation and a pretty off-hand delivered "two hour wait" meant we went down the road to Cordobar instead.  This German/Austrian collaboration proved much more welcoming, despite the place being rammed with locals and no tables available.  OK, it's a bar but with really good wines, some natural and biodynamic served without making a big thing of it.  As partner Willi said to us, what's most important to them is that they "serve good wines".  We really enjoyed the natural wines we tried, all from Austria, all delicious, and none we had tried before. The fine glassware helped the flavours develop nicely.

A regular changing menu of small sharing plates is titled "Cold Bites, 'Warm Bites' and 'Sweets'.  I am, seriously, recommending you order the Bread & Butter - the best rye bread I've tasted comes with a bowl of whipped butter and it's a heavenly combination.  A Fritz Blomeyer cheese plate  was an eye-opener as to how good German cheeses can be (regrettably, I don't think these find their way beyond their homeland).  I would have liked a little more generosity for 15 Euros but every portion was perfect and the fig chutney was beautifully spiced.  You might find Oysters with almond emulsion & dill flower or Ribs with Jerusalem artichoke chips & a smoked vanilla dip on the menu, and maybe a chocolate cake with passionfruit cream.  If we'd had a table instead of standing at the bar we'd certainly have ordered more food.

Autumn in Tiergarten, Berlin

Despite several visits to Berlin we'd never managed to penetrate Charlottenburg in Berlin's far West.  So we walked along Unter den Linden, passed through the Brandenberg Gate and ambled through Berlin's green lung, the Tiergarten.  My expectation of a more conspicuously wealthy Western Berlin was turned on its head.  The former West looks much like the former East to my eye, the architecture being quite functional and there is generally a lack of conspicuous wealth.

Smoked Sardines at Rogacki, Berlin

Rogacki deli has been around since 1928 and here on Charlottenburg's Wilmersdorfer Str. since 1932.  It's very green - in colour rather than in credentials - and I have to agree with Foodie in Berlin that if it was in London it would have had "half a dozen facelifts" by now and probably be the worse for it.  Needless to say it's a German institution.  Although I'd give some of the food counters a miss - bakery and cheese are particularly underwhelming - the meat, poultry, game and fish sections are musts.  In their raw state they're impressive enough but the variety of smoked fish in particular is outstanding.  We paused for lunch at one of the standing bars where I confidently decided 'Krabbentoast' had to be Crab on Toast - it turned out to be prawn salad!.  Fortunately the staff are hugely tolerant of non-German speakers and, with the help of local diners, we were offered either North Sea (peeled prawns) or German Sea (brown shrimp) . The firm favourite that day was clearly the Fish Soup so that's what I had.  A huge bowl of good mixed white fish in a clear broth topped with chopped dill, the brown shrimp salad, bread and two glasses of Reisling and the meagre bill was under 20 Euros.

Manufactum, Berlin

Charlottenburg is also home to a Manufactum store.  With two floors of traditionally made household and gardening products, food and clothing, its presence just off Ernst Reuter Platz was like a honeypot to a bee.  Expect to see everything from a boot scraper to a dinner gong.  All is top quality and not necessarily German.  The prices reflect the quality, but it makes compelling browsing.  There's also a good-looking bakery/cafe next door called Brod & Butter which I wish we'd had chance to try.

Bauhaus Dessau 1

Bauhaus Dessau was calling and this time I would make it.  The train from Hauptbahnhof in Mitte takes less than 2hrs.  Once clear of Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf it cuts through the 827km Naturpark Hoher Fläming so the ride is far from tedious.  I'd waited so long to see the Bauhaus building and suddenly, 5 minutes after stepping off the train, it was right in front of me.

Bauhaus Dessau 2

A collective that lasted only 14 years, 7 of the most productive in Dessau between 1925-1932, the Bauhaus movement continues to influence art, architecture and design.  Recently restored, the building is once again brought to life with students attending classes in the Bauhaus Lab, College, Summer Schools and Workshops.  It's also now occupied by the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.

Bauhaus Dessau Masters' Houses

The Bauhaus building and the nearby Masters' Houses, designed, furnished and worked in by their occupants - including Walter Gropius, Laszlo Moholgy Nagy, Lyonel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - are open to the public every day. You can even eat in the newly re-opened Bauhaus Canteen (though I have to say there is still room for improvement on the food front), and stay overnight in the Studio Building.  Well worth a 2-hour journey.  I made it!

Back in Berlin, Museum Island will keep you occupied for days.  A central area of the City where the greatest of Berlin's treasures are gathered - the architecture is a big draw in its own right.  My pick would be the Neues Museum, recently restored by the British architect David Chipperfield, where the surviving war damaged parts of the building have been beautifully integrated into the new.  Amongst its great works is the famous, and stunningly beautiful, bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti presiding over a room of her own.  Frustratingly, although we joined the queue for the Pergammonmuseum, we simply ran out of time to visit so this is top of my list for next time.  The closed-in architecture of the Jewish Museum Berlin adds to the experience making this the most affecting museum I've ever visited.  If you can't catch the train to Dessau, you can get a Bauhaus fix at the Bauhaus Archive right in the centre of Berlin.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Hedone London Sourdough - Food Find

Hedone London Sourdough Bread

There are sourdoughs and there are sourdoughs.  There's the one that has a good crumb texture; the one that has great flavour depth; and the one that has the perfect chewy crust.  Rarely do all three come together - unless you're making it yourself, of course.  I'm not one of that happy band. For some of us, the search for the perfect sourdough is almost as obsessive as the search for the perfect baguette in London - you feel it must be out there but doubt it will ever surface.

For a while, Mikael Jonsson has been producing sourdough for his restaurant, Hedone, and I knew it already had its own fan base.  It was a fantasy sourdough for me.  One I knew, sometime, I'd have to try - but Hedone is located in Chiswick so I was never going to be a regular.  It surely wasn't going to turn up in Bermondsey, where I do my Saturday shop, was it?  Well, it just did.  Amongst the many excellent traders at Spa Terminus is Dynamic Vines, which just happens to supply wines to Hedone and many other good restaurants.  Three weeks ago I spotted the fabled sourdough amongst the wine bottles.  A nice bit of cross-border cooperation is going on and right now it's making this shopper very happy.  

The flours used are declared free of additives and chemicals and natural slow fermentation techniques are used.  The process is a high absorption one which means a wet dough which is more difficult to form so loaves vary a bit in shape.  The complex flavours range through nutty and dark treacle to an almost liquorice one reminiscent of some of the best Parisian sourdoughs.  Truthfully, in London now there are some pretty good sourdoughs but I think this one from Hedone is exceptional.  Now, how about that elusive baguette?

Nb.  Spa Terminus is open for retail sales Saturdays only.  Check the Producers List for individual trader hours.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Summer to autumn by way of Fried Courgettes

Fried courgettes (Zucchini scapece)

Jane Grigson credited Elizabeth David with introducing Brits to courgettes, asserting "She was the first to relieve courgettes of their italics".  David wasn't actually the first to offer a recipe to the British market but before David wrote her book Mediterranean Food in 1950, courgettes were largely unknown of here.  The Cucurbit genus came to us mainly in the form of marrows and, if you had access to a greenhouse, there were cucumbers and melons to try growing.  It is only in the last few decades that we have also come to appreciate the merits of pumpkin and squash.  If only we hadn't been focussed on growing those large, watery marrows we wouldn't have taken so long to appreciate the courgette.  These days, there are specific seed varieties bred for courgette and marrow production although they come from the same family and a courgette can still grow to marrow proportions if you let it.

At this time of year those of use who grow our own can never get enough recipes for using courgettes.  Fruits the size of stubby pencils can swell to monstrous proportions within 2-3 days if you don't keep a close eye on them.  If growing is not your thing you'll want to skip to the end of this piece for the recipe because this is the one time of year when I have the time and opportunity to share some gardening photos taken over the past week.  If you do read on, however, you will find links to earlier recipes you might like.

Yellow courgettes

I never seem to get around to writing about the allotment in June or July.  There's far too much planting and picking to get time to write about it.  Looking back, it's May and August when I feel the urge to tell you what's happening on Plot 45.  Unlike this time last year, there's no denying there's a touch of autumn in the air.  The first sign for me is a change in light rather than temperature, but cooler nights have definitely arrived.  This time of year suits me, not least because I can sleep at night.  Growth has slowed down a bit, no more frantic picking of luscious raspberries before they tip over from perfect to spoiled in the space of 24 hours; no more trying to hide my precious blackcurrants from marauding birds; and no more livid scratches on arms earned reaching for the last of those sweet golden gooseberries... Until next year.

Raspberries 'Autumn Bliss'

Not that I'm finished with raspberries yet.  Autumn Bliss is just getting into it's stride, but it's slow-pick-pick-slow for autumn fruiters.  They may be less prolific than the high-summer berries, but their deeper flavour more than makes up for that.  It's earlier than last year but a reminder of Blueberry & Raspberry Mascarpone Pots seems appropriate now that we may be gathering the last of the berries and you need to make a little go a long way.

Borlotti Beans

And now come the borlotti beans.  Definitely a harbinger of late summer.  My favourite way of using them freshly picked is in, punchy, Borlotti Bean Bruschetta.  Dried in their pods for a couple of weeks, they store really well for re-hydrating and adding to soups and stews when the temperature really drops.  This year's crop was grown from a handful of beans squirrelled away last autumn. The wigwams of lush green growth hide long, broad green pods which turn to deep pink with white marbling maturing through to purple/red if you leave them long enough before picking.  Once you can feel fat beans inside the pods, get picking.

Changing seasons fruits

This week's haul of late raspberries, juicy wild blackberries and unknown varieties of plum and apple makes it difficult to argue summer is nearly over.  It is the perfect excuse for looking to this Almond, polenta and lemon cake with Blackberry Compote or this Plum Tart, or even Raspberry Ripple ice cream if you have enough berries.


Growing calendula (marigold) on the allotment is the best way to hold onto summer.  It's the plant that just does not want to stop flowering.  Once planted, it will also never go away as it self-seeds prolifically.  Having to weed out new plants that come up just where you don't want them next spring is a small price to pay for the joy of having the yellow/orange blooms right through into late autumn.

Courgettes and Pumpkins

Growing biodynamically, I'm constantly on the look-out for slime trails and white dust in the cucurbit patch but courgettes and pumpkins are going strong and, incredibly, are pretty much free of slug/snail damage and powdery mildew this year.  Once courgettes get going they come thick and fast so here are a couple of favourite recipes: a surprisingly creamy Courgette Soup and Courgette, lemon & thyme linguine.

Happily for us Brits, by the time Elizabeth David was ready to publish here book French Provincial Cooking in 1960 she could write "Enterprising growers are supplying us with little courgettes as an alternative to gigantic marrows".  So, here's another recipe.  Fried courgettes or more properly Zucchini Scapece (meaning marinaded in vinegar and mint) as it is surely the Italians who are the courgette's greatest appreciators.  It's based on the the recipe in Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy.  My copy is the original 1989 version so hopefully the recipe is in the new updated version published earlier this year.  I know in Italy it would be served as a separate course but I also like it alongside roast lamb.

Fried Courgettes (Zucchini scapece)
(Serves 4)

500g (3 medium) Courgettes sliced diagonally, about 4mm thick
1 clove of garlic, whole
1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small dried, deseeded, chilli crumbled
A handful of fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon wine vinegar (I prefer Moscato vinegar but red or white wine vinegar will do)

Salt the sliced courgettes lightly and leave them to release water for up to an hour (if the courgettes are small you won't need to salt them but do let them release their water).  Pat dry thoroughly with kitchen paper.
Use enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of a large frying pan.  Add one clove of peeled garlic and heat to soften and brown lightly before removing and discarding it.
Fry the courgette slices in batches to brown on both sides.  Drain on kitchen paper.  Layer in a serving dish with the chopped garlic, chilli, mint and vinegar.  Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Courgette, lemon and thyme linguine

Courgette, lemon & thyme linguine

At this time of year it sometimes feels like we've been abandoned in London.  There's a flurry of "see you in two weeks" from friends and family then silence. - sand and social media don't mix.  Fact is, I love it.  There's altogether more space to breathe and no pressure to do anything at all.  The tourists are still with us, of course, but although they know the trendiest places to eat, they don't know the best places to eat.  We can walk into a restaurant - "No reservation?  No problem."  We can sit in a cool, dark cinema watching a film without a disapproving "Why do you want to do that in summer?".  We can travel on the tube without fighting for a square inch of space - though, in the heat of a London summer, we'd rather not.  And when the heat of the city gets too much, we can take the train from St Pancras to Rye for a Camber Sands cooling sea breeze - but just for the day.

"Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea ....."
Trebetherick by John Betjeman

First courgettes

All in all, summer in the city is good.  Here, glorious deep blue skies in the early morning morph into washed-out denim by mid-afternoon.  On bad days a sticky oppressiveness settles over the city.  Everything that involves moving is done as early as possible and here I am in the late afternoon sitting cross-legged in cool cotton pyjamas - well I'm going nowhere and nobody's around to be shocked.  What cooking is done is of the 'little energy used' variety and mostly composed of whatever's cropping on the allotment.  How anyone who has an allotment can go away at this time of year is a mystery to me.  There's fruit to pick, potatoes to be dug and onions to be pulled.  And there are the courgettes - slender little flower-topped fingers one day turn to monster mutants the next.

So, I guess my audience for this post, at this time, will be small, but probably like-minded.  I've kept it short because we stay-at-homes also want to enjoy the short, precious period of languor.  In this spirit, here's a recipe for the courgette glut that will hardly raise a bead of moisture on a fevered brow.  Cut your courgettes into the finest strips you can.  A mandolin will make life even easier if you have one.

Courgette, lemon and thyme linguine
(Serves 2 as a main course)

150g dried or fresh linguine pasta per person
1 medium sized or 2 small courgettes (a mix of green and yellow is good), cut into fine strips
50g unsalted butter
1 fat clove of garlic, thinly sliced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Finely grated rind of half a lemon and a squeeze of juice
1 courgette flower, sliced (optional)
Salt and pepper

Boil the pasta in a large pan of salted water for the required cooking time, depending on whether it is fresh or dried.  Whilst it's cooking, melt the butter in a separate pan and add the garlic to soften. Add the strips of courgette and cook for no more than 2-3 minutes.  Take off the heat and add the cooked and drained pasta, a couple of spoons of pasta water (unless the courgettes have released enough water), the thyme and lemon rind and toss well.  Add the sliced courgette flower, if using, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Serve with grated parmesan.