Smoked Mackerel Makes a Magical Salad

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Smoked Mackerel Makes a Magical Salad

Lunch today was matching the mood of the day – a hint of sun, a waft of smoke from a spring bonfire and a spread of colours that exude April at its best. It is simple and it is filling for a light lunch. And its textures are a delight for fishy folk everywhere and possibly even for a few who are not! For me, the magic is in the pairing of the smoked mackerel from Cornwall with a vinaigrette. It works on all levels.

For 4

4 smoked mackerel fillets torn into several pieces
4 radishes thinly sliced
4 sweet mini peppers finely sliced
4 spring onions sliced
Salad leaves of your choice – I used rocket, lamb’s lettuce and mizuna – a good handful per person
8 baby plums quartered

For the vinaigrette

100 ml olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsps of Dijon mustard
A little sea salt and black pepper

All you need to do is make up 4 bowls – add enough salad leaves to each, plus the mackerel, tomatoes, radishes and spring onions. Toss gently.

Whisk the ingredients for the vinaigrette together and swirl over each of the bowls.

Serve with a seriously good crusty bread.

You could, as ever in the best Alfredo’s tradition, twiddle with this recipe, adding other salad ingredients that you have in, or even for a bit of bite, a sliced, deseeded red chilli.

But this was a fine lunch as it was – try it. Let me know if you like it!

Asparagus with Parsley Vinaigrette

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Asparagus with Parsley Vinaigrette

This is a new painting by Bonnie Lalley  (blalley.wordpress.com) and it reminded me instantly of a wonderful Spring starter that I came across in Daniel Galmiche’s excellent tome, ‘The French Brasserie Cookbook.’ Asparagus is without doubt one of my very favourite veg. Asparagus is a curious plant – from the lily family – and it has almost no leaves. Most unusual. The name itself can be traced back to a Persian word asparag, meaning a sprout. The word ‘sperage‘ was in use in the 16th and 17th centuries, but was displaced by ‘sparagus‘ and by the rather cute name of ‘sparrow grass.’ Pliny the Elder described asparagus spears grown at Ravenna in heavily manured soil as being ‘three to the pound’. rather larger clearly than modern asparagus! It had surfaced in France by 1470 and England by 1538. It was not grown in America on a large scale until the latter half of the 19th century.

It is expensive in the main due to the odd way it is grown. For the first two years after sowing it is unproductive. In the third year the shoots are thick enough to be marketed and the bed will continue to yield good specimens for 2 or 3 seasons. At any given time, a grower has half his or her land in an unproductive state. The French, Belgians and Germans tend to prefer their asparagus white. In this case the beds are earthed up to keep the shoots from going green. I like both but prefer, I have to say, the green variety.

Steamed and served al dente with a swirl of olive oil and a swoosh of lemon juice, it is possibly one of the most tactile and vibrant of starters.

This dish, however, sees the asparagus served cold. It is very, very tasty and fills you with a sense, like Bonnie’s painting, that Miss Spring cannot be far away – possibly hiding in the barn or chasing foxes through the woods. This dish will hurry her up for sure.

Asperges à la vinaigrette persil

500 gm asparagus, woody ends cut off and discarded
1 tsp of sea salt

For the vinaigrette:

2 tbsp of white wine vinegar
1 room temperature egg
2 tsp of Dijon mustard
100 ml of sunflower or olive oil
Small handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt and black pepper

Bring a small pan of water to the boil. Add a dash of vinegar. Lower the egg gently into the water to avoid cracking. Cook for 8-9 minutes. Drain and place under cold running water. When cool, peel and chop roughly.

Into a medium sized pan of boiling and salted water, place the bunch of asparagus tied loosely with string,, tips all facing the same way. Cook on a gentle simmer for 6-10 minutes – you want to keep a ‘bite’ to them.

Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice cold water and set aside. Put the mustard and vinegar in a bowl , season and mix well. Slowly whisk in the oil, then stir in the chopped egg and parsley.

Once the asparagus is cooked, remove the bundle and plunge it into the ice cold water bowl. Drain it, untie and arrange on a flat dish.

A stunningly simple starter, or snack. Great to eat with friends…. and with your fingers! I am eating it tonight…I cannot wait!

Right, just off to pour a sharp glass of Verdicchio…and maybe one for Miss Spring!

Mozart, Mushrooms, and The Three Kings…

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I can’t think about France without thinking of food. They are as inseparable as Asterix and the Gauls, Tin Tin and Snowy, Inspector Clouseau and the Pink Panther. I think my first forays into France was as a day tripper. I remember eating moules frites for the first time in Boulogne and marvelling at the vast array of food on offer at the markets. I holidayed in St.Malo and camped near the beach, living off barbecues, steaks and langoustines. I fell in love, in fact head over heels, with Rouen. I had never seen markets like it. There was a vast open air market that stood for centuries at the Place du Vieux, but there is now a covered market at the same spot and it is terrific. My favourite restaurant during the 1980’s was a place called Les Trois Rois. The owners were two guys, one always bedecked in bling and sporting long curly blond hair, the other, a rather sharply dressed, almost officer-type -both were real characters, and they used to click their heels together after taking your order. Slightly unnerving the first time! Their warm goat’s cheese salad with walnuts on a bed of the deepest green lettuce I have ever seen was exquisite. The dressings in France are always so simple and the most basic are often the best. The one on the salad was no exception.

My basic vinaigrette recipe is the one so common in France –

1 tablespoon of wine vinegar mixed with 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon of mustard, preferably Dijon. Just whisk together. My daughter likes me to add some very finely chopped shallots too.Any how, sadly the Trois Rois has long since closed down and another restaurant has taken its place. Not the same at all. Still, I managed to take my wife there before it closed and she agreed how special a place it was. It was just off a road by the Cathedral that Monet painted so many views of. Again, it was one of those magical places that I have experienced and will always live in my memory. I had some happy nights there in the bar too, drinking Wild Turkey bourbon and Jack Daniels with the barman…well, he just watched really! (Cue Frank Sinatra and ‘One for my Baby and one more for the road…..! )

Then in 2001 my wife and I bought a house in Hesdin in Northern France and we had a wonderful 4 years there. Hannah and Jack, my children spent most of their early years holidays there and they just loved the food too. We frequented a fabulous restaurant called Le Globe. It is still there but sadly the three guys who owned it are no longer there – a long sad story for another time. They were like the 3 musketeers when they were on form. Daniel, the owner, behind the bar, and Christian waiting on inside with Jean-Luc front of house on the terrace. The steaks there were truly to die for. Our favourite was the steak rossini, a very simple version of the classic tournedos rossini named after the Italian composer, Gioacchino Rossini. It was basically a fine rump steak with a slice of foie gras on the top placed on a pan fried slice of pain de mie.

The more expensive version, though ours was not cheap (!) has truffles, and the foie gras is pan fried lightly. Hey, but we still liked Le Globe’s version. Rossini is said to have given the recipe to the chef at the Cafe Anglais in the Boulevards des Italiens in Paris. He was not only a composer but a real lover of good food and he was equally well known in the field of gastronomy. He adored truffles in particular, which he enchantingly called, ‘the Mozart of mushrooms.’ I love that – the Mozart of mushrooms. No jokes, please about him being a ‘funghi’ to be around!

English: Photography of Gioacchino Rossini by ...

English: Photography of Gioacchino Rossini by Félix Nadar Français : Photographie de Gioacchino Rossini par Félix Nadar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)