Guinea fowl

We’ll soon be heading into the game season with the first grouse appearing on menus from August 12th, ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ and the first date of the shooting season.

While we’re waiting how about some guinea fowl? Like chicken, but more gamey in flavour, guinea fowl can make a lighter or more substantial meal. Guinea fowl is now widely available to buy and it’s not limited to any season. Free-range birds tend to offer the best flavour.

Originating from West Africa, this colourful bird has adapted well in Europe. These days France is by far the largest producer of guinea fowl (pintade in French) and it’s also farmed in the UK.

This is a particularly lean and healthy meat;  if you cook a guinea fowl, you’ll see very little fat in the roasting pan. I often cover the bird with bacon or cook it with a good stock as a casserole to ensure tender and tasty meat.

Today, in the hope that the sun breaks through, I’m preparing a lighter meal. I’ll be roasting a guinea, stuffed with fresh herbs including rosemary, and serving it with wild mushrooms. One guinea usually provides two generous portions with some leftovers.

Cooking the guinea:

Heat the over to 200C/gas mark 6 or a bit less if you have a fan oven, a gentle heat is what’s required.

Heat around two tablespoons of oil in the roasting tin then brown the bird breast down in the tin for 10 minutes on each side. Turn the bird the right way up and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes or a more*. Cook the mushrooms in a little oil and place them around the pieces of meat on a warm serving dish.

* As in the case of chicken, the juices should run clear when you poke a skewer into the thickest part of the bird.

Wine choice: Try an unoaked red wine such as Guímaro (vintage 2010) from Ribeira Sacra in north-west Spain. A perfect summer red and a good match for the gamey flavour of guinea fowl, this wine is made by made by Pedro Rodríguez Perez. Pour it into a big wine glass to fully appreciate its vibrant red fruit flavours and freshness.

Guímaro, priced around £14.50, is available from: Bottle Apostle Hackney, Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton, and from The Wine Society.

For further information about guinea fowl see: www.lapintade.com

Ratatouille recipe

The basic ingredients for ratatouille, the classic French vegetable dish, are all in season: aubergine, courgettes, red peppers and tomatoes. So why not try this tasty and versatile dish?

Here’s my version:

Ingredients:

4-5 tablespoons of olive oil or more if required

Two medium onions, sliced

Two cloves of garlic, finely chopped

One large aubergine or two smaller ones, sliced into thin rounds and then halved

4-5 courgettes, preferably small, sliced into rounds

2 sweet red peppers, chopped into smallish chunks

4-5 large, ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped or a tin of tomatoes, drained

Fresh herbs, such as parsley or coriander

1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, crushed

Method:

You’ll need a pan with a heavy base; a Le Creuset casserole dish works well.

The secret of a good ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately or at least by adding them to the pan in the right order. The latter is less time consuming and I’ve found that it works perfectly well.

Off you go. Heat the oil and fry the onions and until they are soft. Then add the aubergines and cook them for at least five minutes. Add more oil if necessary. The courgettes go in next followed by the peppers and garlic. Cook for at least 30 minutes and then add the tomatoes and crushed coriander. Cook for another 30 minutes or so until the ratatouille is soft but not mushy. Finally, add the fresh herbs and serve.

How to enjoy ratatouille:

This dish works well served hot with chicken, pork or lamb. Ratatouille is also delicious served cold, but remember to take it out of the fridge in advance. I think that ratatouille tastes even better a day after it’s been made when the flavours have really mingled.

Diego Jacquet’s beef empanadas

On visits to Argentina and Chile I’ve enjoyed empanadas – small savoury pasties – during visits to wine producers; they have often been offered as a welcome mid morning snack or before a meal. Indeed nothing beats a glass of well chilled Argentinian Torrontés wine and freshly baked empanada as you gather round waiting for the ‘parrillada’ grill or barbecue.

There could be several different ones served: beef, chicken and cheese are the most usual and sweet corn is often one of the ingredients.

South American empanadas are typically much smaller and more dainty compared to the Cornish pasty while the equivalent in Spain is flat, round, big enough for several people and most commonly found in the north, especially Galicia (more about those delicious versions to come).

With a barbecue planned for friends this weekend, I’ll be preparing beef empanadas. The last empanadas that I enjoyed, here in London, were made by chef Diego Jacquet of Argentinian restaurant Casa Malevo. He’s kindly provided me with the recipe. As Diego says, buenprovecho!

Casa Malevo is located in Connaught Village, London W2. www.casamalevo.com

Recipe  for 18 empanadas

For the pastry:

500 gr flour, 000 quality

125gr lard

1 egg

200ml water

1tsp salt

For the filling:

500 grs minced Argentine or British quality beef

500 grs minced onions

1 bunch spring onions

2 cups of potato brunoise (finely diced potatoes)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 tsp dried oregano

3 tsp chopped parsley

olive oil

salt & pepper

Procedure:

The secret of a good empanada is moisture! That’s why my recipe has the same amount of meat and onions.

1- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4

2- For the pastry dough, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.

3- Cut the lard into sugar cube sized chunks, add to the flour, and rub the fat into the flour until it forms fine crumbs. Add the mixed egg and water to form a soft dough. Set aside in the fridge to rest for an hour.

4- For the empanada filling, heat one spoon of olive oil in a large fry pan at medium heat. Add the onion and 2 spoons of fine sea salt, cover and let it sweat for 10 minutes.

5- Add all spices and meat and let it cook cover for other 15 minutes stirring continuously. Return the meat and juices to the pan and mix well, set aside to go cold.

6- Finally add potatoes, finely chopped spring onions & parsley let it cook only 5 more minutes. Take aside, rectify season and let it rest.

7- To fill the empanadas, take the pastry out of the fridge, and on a well-floured surface, roll out a thin sheet. Using a saucer or a tea plate, cut out discs of pastry.

8- On one half of the pastry circle place the filling, brush the edge with egg, fold over, and crimp the edges together. (if you are not used to, just press the edge with a fork)

9- Brush with egg and place on a greased baking tray.

10- Bake for ten minutes or until golden.

Nacho Manzano’s gazpacho of beetroot and red berries

Gazpacho, but not as you might know it… A few weeks ago I was invited to the relaunch of Spanish restaurant Ibérica in Marylebone which has been given a more Spanish and very classy new look – it is now ‘muy elegante’. Some delicious canapés were served including an original take on the classic Spanish soup, gazpacho, with beetroot and red berries. The recipe was created by consultant chef Nacho Manzano and, presented in a shot glass, it looked as good as it tasted.

You can find this delicious gazpacho on Ibérica’s new summer menu but, with a few tips from London-based Ibérica chef César García, I found it easy to prepare at home. You need fresh beetroot juice but if you don’t have a juicer or food processor to do this beetroot juice is easy to find in health food shops or supermarkets. Most larger shops also sell packs of frozen fruit berries. To find out more about Ibérica at Marylebone and Canary Wharf go to www.ibericalondon.co.uk

Gazpacho of red berries and beetroot by Nacho Manzano

For 1000g of gazpacho:

500g tomatoes (any kind of gazpacho is best when tomatoes are in season and fully ripe)

1 clove of garlic

120g peeled cucumber

100g spring onion

75g green pepper

430g red berries (redcurrants, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries)

60g Picual extra virgin olive oil

13g salt

30g Jerez vinegar

90g beetroot juice

For the cream (optional)

15g cream cheese

1 anchovy cut into strips

Chopped mint

Extra virgin olive oil

Method:

For the gazpacho, blend all the ingredients in a blender then add the extra virgin olive oil. Strain through a sieve or chinoise and chill.

If serving with the cream, pour the gazpacho into a soup plate, arrange with a ball of cream cheese in the centre, place some anchovies around the cream and scatter the mint on top. Finish with

Wines for British asparagus

Asparagus is best enjoyed as fresh as possible and, although you can buy asparagus all year round from other origins, I firmly believe that nothing beats British asparagus to really appreciate this extraordinary vegetable. Finding a complementary wine to go with it, though a little challenging, is the icing on the cake.

The British asparagus season has got off to a bumpy start. A warm spell in late March encouraged the young shoots to bask in the sunshine and for a while things were looking good. But the more recent cooler temperatures and heavy rain have played havoc in some regions and nowhere more so that the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire where most British asparagus is produced in a more favourable year.

We can cross our fingers and hope that warmer, sunny weather encourages the ‘dormant’ crop to spring back to life. Meanwhile many larger retailers do have home-grown asparagus on their shelves – I’ve been buying asparagus from Kent and Suffolk to see how it works with different wines.

Cooking asparagus: Wash the spears and snap off the ends where they naturally break. I’ve found that asparagus keeps its flavour and crunch well if you barely cover the stems with water and boil for a few minutes until tender. Warm a serving dish before placing the spears into it and toss them and toss in good quality olive oil or melted butter, just enough to coat the asparagus. Sprinkle parmesan over the top and season. Some other asparagus dishes are mentioned below.

Extra tip: Before use, keep asparagus in the fridge and preferably in a jar of water.

Wine matches: Youthful, aromatic whites with enough character and structure to stand up to the intense flavour of asparagus work best. I think that whites with oak should be avoided and I haven’t found a rosé that works well with asparagus – the merest hint of red fruit seems to result in a clash.

Here are my recent discoveries and there are more to come:

1. Muscat Tradition, Domaine Albert Mann, 2011, 12.5%, £13.99, Alsace. Available from: Les Caves de Pyrene, www.lescaves.co.uk

The best match I’ve found so far. This dry Muscat has wonderful persistence and the classic elegance of this French region. A thoroughly enjoyable wine with asparagus, a touch of olive oil and topped with crispy bacon.

2. La Croix Belle, Caringole Blanc, 2011, Côtes de Thongue, France, 13%, £7.95. Available online at : www.stonevine.co.uk

This generously fruity Chardonnay/Sauvignon blend from the Languedoc region is ideal for a simple asparagus starter as described above.

3. La Croix Belle, Le Champ des Lys, Côtes de Thongue, 2010, 13.5%, £8.95. Available online at : www.stonevine.co.uk

A more structured white compared to its younger sibling with Grenache Blanc and Viognier giving it delicious apricot and peach fruit. Try it with an asparagus risotto.

4. Evolution 15, Sokol Blosser, Oregon (USA), 12.5%, £11.99. Available from: Les Caves de Pyrene, www.lescaves.co.uk

Talented winemaker Alex Sokol blends nine undisclosed grapes to make this excellent non-vintage white which is bursting with tropical fruit yet delightfully fresh and food friendly. Pair it with a warm chicken and asparagus salad.

5. La Báscula Catalan Eagle, 2011, Terra Alta, Spain, 13.5%, £9.99. Available from: Noel Young Wines; Highbury Vintners, D. Byrne & Co; Woodwinters Wines and Whiskies

A rich blend of Garnacha Blanca (Grenache Blanc), Viognier and Roussanne, this wine is made from organic grapes by South African winemaker Bruce Jack. A stunning modern Spanish white, the wine is a fine match for an asparagus starter and fuller flavoured fish dishes – try it with José Pizarro’s sea bass baked over anchovy potatoes which can be found in the Spanish chef’s latest recipe book ‘Spanish Flavours’.

6. Yealands Estate ‘S1’ Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand, 13.5%. Available from: M&S stores for £12.99 and online at: www.marksandspencer.com for £11.95.

A sophisticated Kiwi Sauvignon with intense herbaceous fruit and racy acidity – a classy food wine and excellent with asparagus.

7. Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, Chile, 13.5%, £11.75

From vineyards close to the Pacific Ocean, there is lovely freshness here and delightful lime and green apple fruit. Ideal for asparagus, chicken, fish or simply just enjoying a glass outside on a warm summer evening. Available from: Berry Bros & Rudd: www.bbr.com (The same merchant also offers some excellent food-friendly New Zealand Sauvignons including Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2011, £14.95, and Isabel Estate, £13.95).

8.  Australian Chardonnay, 2011, 13%, £7.49

The generous fruit character of this Chardonnay and a slight buttery richness makes this wine another good candidate for asparagus and it offers great value for the price. Winemaker Brian Walsh has used fruit from the warmer Riverland and Barossa Valley regions and the cooler Adelaide Plains and, very discreetly, aged a small amount of the wine in oak. It works a treat. Available from M&S stores and online at www.marksandspencer.com

To find out more about British asparagus, where to find it and how to enjoy it go to: www.british-asparagus.co.uk

Verona Blog 1: wine, food and a good hotel

Following my recent visit to look at the 2008 Amarone wines, I can offer the following tips if you’re visting the delightful city of Verona for business or pleasure.

Where to stay:

Four-star Hotel Accademia is located in the heart of the city a short walk from, cafés, bars and outdoor market of the scenic the scenic Piazza delle Erbe. Traditional in style, this independent hotel is spacious and comfortable and the buffet breakfast is second to none. On my visit (January 2012) the staff were friendly and helpful. Double rooms from €135 (low season). Check for special offers. 12, Via Scala, www.accademiavr.it

Where to eat:

- Antica Bottega del Vino is one of Verona’s gastromic landmarks, and  as the name suggests, there’s an extensive wine list and cellar. Specialities include Risotto all’Amarone (see Verona Blog 2 for the recipe). Price guide: upmarket. 3, Vicolo Scudo di Francia, www.bottegavini.it

- Ristorante Greppia is a spacious family-run trattoria offering traditional dishes such as ossobuco (veal shank). Two courses per person with wine: €40, Vicolo Samaritina, www.ristorantegreppia.com

- Osteria dal Cavaliere is a contemporary wine bar where you can try some of the best wines of the region by the glass or bottle with ham and cheese including the delicious local cheese – Monte Veronese – or enjoy a more substantial meal. No booking required and good value. 3, Pizzetta Scala (off Via Scala).

Where to buy food and wine:

- Gastronomia di Via Stella: Feast your eyes on and extensive counter offering ready-made pasta dishes and hors d’oeuvres, local cheeses, salamis and more. You can’t come out empty-handed! 11, Via Stella, www.gastronomiastella.it

- Bread and cakes: Bread, fresh pasta and pizza, delicatessen and wine. Try the ricotta and spinach pie. Eat in or take away. De Rossi, 3, Corso Porta Borsari (near Piazza delle Erbe).