Monthly Archives: October 2011

Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero

Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero

Sometimes a dish comes along that reminds me how wonderfully flavoursome, satisfying and comforting good vegetarian food can be.

Fagioli all’ Uccelletto, or “beans made in the manner of little birds”, is a Tuscan dish classically made with cannellini beans served in a rich tomato sauce. The name is derived from the herbs (particularly sage) used to season small game birds so dear to the Tuscany culinary tradition.

I came across this dish at Silvana de Soissons’ Foodie Bugle lunch party earlier this month. She prepared her fagioli all’ uccelleto with a mix of borlotti, haricot and butter beans, along with cavalo nero (my favourite type of kale). This was by far my favourite dish of the meal.

Cavalo Nero

When Silvana came ’round to serve the beans, she said, “to me, this is lunch”, and I couldn’t agree with her more. This is precisely the kind of food I love and live on, and this dish reminded me that some of the most deliciously wholesome food in life comes from the combination of just a few simple, quality ingredients.

This is also the type of dish that might inspire people who are usually mystified by vegetables like kale to use more of these ingredients. The beans and tomato sauce really bring the cavalo nero into its own. Forget River Cottage Veg, THIS is what everyday vegetarian cooking is all about.

Thank you to Silvana for sharing the recipe with me and allowing me to reprint it here. I’ve already made a batch once, and suspect I’ll be making it many times again.

Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero

Recipe courtesy of Silvana de Soissons. You can see a picture of her version on Flickr.


  • 400g cooked beans (butter, haricot, borlotti all work well or a mixture of all)
  • 250g cavolo nero
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp. of finely chopped sage or rosemary needles
  • Zest and juice of an unwaxed lemon
  • 250g fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped into small pieces (can be tinned tomatoes if that’s all you’ve got)


  1. If you are cooking dried beans, soak overnight in water and then drain them. Boil in fresh water for an hour or more, until they are cooked and soft. If using jars of cooked beans then just drain and rinse.
  2. Wash the cavolo nero and tear off the leaves in small pieces. Discard the tough stalks. Blanch the cavolo nero in boiling, salted water for about 2-3 minutes, then drain.
  3. In a large sauté pan heat quite a generous amount of olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic and chilli for about 5 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper.
  4. Add the cavolo nero, the tomatoes, the beans, lemon zest and the rosemary or sage. Mix well and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot with a drizzle of more olive oil and lemon juice, hot bread or crostini.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 272 Calories | 11.2 grams Fat | 34.6 grams Carbohydrates | 11.7 grams Protein | 9.9 grams Fiber

Cider Making Update

Taste the difference?

Another session of apple pressing at Court Farm in Somerset last Wednesday, and another 15L of apple juice en route to becoming cider. This time: crab apples (there’s quite a few crab apple trees scattered around the farm).

There’s an amazing colour difference between the crab apple juice and the juice from the eating apples I picked from the orchard (the crab apple juice is on the left). Interestingly, both the crab apple and orchard apple juice had the same sugar content (SG 1.045), about 10% sugar, which should yield a cider of about 5-6% alcohol.

I posted this photo on Facebook and it evoked a few comments about alcohol content and apple differences, so I thought I’d blog the outcomes of that conversation:

On alcohol content, you can actually get a higher alcohol content by adding sugar to the juice (more sugar = more “food” for the yeast to eat and turn into alcohol). However, I’ve kept mine unadulterated – 5-6% alcohol is plenty for me (most of the beers I drink are less than 5%).

Then there’s the matter of FIZZ. Right now, those airlocks are letting all of the carbon dioxide out of the containers (CO2 is a byproduct of yeast eating sugar). Eventually, the sugar will be used up, and all of the yeast will have settled at the bottom (you can see some of it already). At this point I will “rack” the cider into clean jars and let it mature for another few months. After this, I can pursue the fizz.

Making fizzy cider is pretty simple: I’ll take the matured cider, add a bit of sugar, and put it into sealed bottles. This sugar will kick start another cycle of fermentation. But now that the bottles are in sealed containers, the CO2 will get trapped, and hopefully give me fizzy cider.

The other question is – what’s the difference? Why crab apples vs. eating apples? Crab apples have more tannin than eating apples, and are closer to real “cider apples”. The tannins are said to give cider a greater range and depth of flavour. So we shall see! The nice thing about brewing cider from different apples separately is that I can taste all the differences, then play with blending ciders to get the taste I’m after.

Of course, this is all assuming that the process WORKS. I’ve added no additional chemicals or yeasts to control the process, leaving my cider to the fates of the natural yeasts in the air and juice.

Having said all this, I’m totally learning this cider stuff as I go. My first lesson was from James at Court Farm a few weeks ago when Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea and Real Cider Making on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax. The latter has a nice flow chart that has helped me come to grips with this process.


Next steps for me are to get a siphon, a funnel and a clean jar, as it’s almost time to rack off the first lot of apple juice. I’d also like to get a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity (and thus sugar) of my cider as it progresses. All in all, the whole process is pretty cheap, and with luck, I will have a LOT of cider to share with friends and family at the end of it. Very excited.

Let the fermentation commence.

Read how it all began: Apple pressing at Court Farm

My crab apples, the true beginning:

Crab apples

Roast Quinces

Roast quinces

The only thing I don’t like about quinces is the word itself. “Quince”, the word grates on my ears, much like the word “panties” or “moist”. Maybe it’s because I’m American, and I’m just not accustomed to the sound. Quinces are rare in North American due to its susceptibility to fireblight disease, but in England they flourish and seem to be very popular this time of year. They were first recorded in about 1275, when Edward I had some planted at the Tower of London and are still grown successfully as far north as Scotland.

I had my first quince two Fridays ago at Silvana de Soisson’s epic Foodie Bugle Lunch Party. Silvana has a bountiful quince tree. Some of those quinces made their appears at the dessert table, cooked in a spiced sugar syrup, delicious with the various cheeses making the rounds.

One of the highlights of the lunch was going outside and watching Silvana shake her quince tree, resulting in a rainfall of quinces (only one of which gave her dog a nasty bonk on the head).

And so, that’s how I ended up with six quinces and now that they’re here, I’ve gotten to know them a bit better.


Quinces are a very hard, astringent fruit that give off a strong but pleasant fruity aroma (potpourri be damned!). They are too hard and tart to eat raw, but they can be cooked into some amazing things, often jam, jelly or membrillo, the Spanish word for “quince” used to denote a fruit “cheese” classically served with Spanish sheep’s milk manchego cheese.

Quinces can also be stewed, baked or roasted, which is what I decided to do with three of mine using Nigel Slater’s recipe for roast quinces with star anise, cloves and maple syrup. Quinces require lots of sugar to cut through their tart astringency, but once roasted, they take on a soft, pear-like texture and a delicate flavour that works well with the warming spices. They were delicious for dessert last night with a bit of cream. I think they’d also be good for breakfast with muesli and yogurt.

All that’s left to do is get used to the word, because as much as I don’t like how “quince” sounds, I do love how they taste. For my last three quinces, I think some classic quince jam is in order. Thank you, Silvana.

Roast quinces

Roast quinces

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe for roast quinces. Before roasting, the quinces are poached in sugar and water so that the flesh becomes “melting and almost transparent”. You could also add something boozy to the mix. Stuart Vendent, also a recipient of Silvana’s quinces and an excellent food photographer, suggests Pineau des Charentes, port or sherry.


  • 4 heaped tbsp sugar
  • 500ml water
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 smallish quinces
  • ½ a lemon
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup


  1. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the cloves and star anise. Peel and halve the quinces and rub them with lemon to stop them browning.
  2. Lower the quinces into the sugar syrup and let them simmer till tender. They may be ready in 25 minutes or perhaps take a little longer, depending on their size and ripeness.
  3. Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 5. When they are tender to the point of a knife, lift the quinces out and put them in a shallow baking dish or roasting tin. Take150ml of the cooking liquid, add the maple syrup and, together with the aromatics, pour over the quinces.
  4. Bake for 30 minute or so till very soft and tender. Serve with their cooking juices.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 60 minutes

Yield: 1 serving

The Foodie Bugle Lunch Party

Many cheeses

I love that my work affords me the flexibility to spend an entire Friday afternoon immersed in the most epic lunch of all time.

And so it was: The Foodie Bugle lunch party for contributors to the magazine, held at the venerable Silvana de Soisson‘s picturesque country home in deepest Wilshire.

Of all the times in my life I’ve ever wished I hadn’t driven to an event, this was it.

The party started with drinks in the parlour where Silvana actually had – I kid you not – a negroni table. But in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t have an excuse to tie one on, because then I would risk forgetting (or embarrassing myself in front of) all of the lovely people I met. I’ve never met a more sociable group of people.

The Foodie Bugle Lunch Party

As I nursed my small glass of champagne and Campari, I got to know “official barman” Martin Yarnit (@martinyarnit) of Taste for Bologna, Ben Vear (@benjaminvear) of Winstones Ices ice cream, Dan Vaux Nobes (@essexeating) of the popular Essex Eating blog and Montpelier Basement supperclub in Bristol and Emma Bond (@emmmab) of Bath Garden Design and Bath Gardening School. I also caught up with my friend and colleague Rachel Demuth (@demuths) of Demuths Restaurant and Vegetarian Cookery School, and that was all before lunch was actually served.

Dan the man

So let’s talk about that lunch. We started with a beautiful “the end of summer and the beginning of Autumn” tomato and butternut squash soup served with Silvana’s delicious focaccia and crostini. The rest was a communal food fest, with plenty for vegetarians and fans of “dead barnyard animals and birds” alike.

Tomato and butternut squash soup

Fagioli all uccelletto was my favourite dish, made with haricot, butter and borlotti beans cooked with garlic, chilli, tomatoes, cavolo nero and rosemary (Silvana as generously shared the recipe with me which I shall share in a separate post):

Fagioli all uccelletto

Also up for grabs were a green salad with fregola, nasturtiums and pinenuts and Silvana’s famous beetroots cooked with apples, red onions and toasted hazelnuts

Animals and birds included lamb shanks cooked in Manzanilla sherry and fennel; peposo – shin of beef with garlic and black pepper cooked in Chianti; saffron scottiglia game hunter’s stew; and chicken liver pate on crostini

I quite liked this Languedoc white Torta di Capri – chocolate and almond cake Rose

Soup Winstone Ices Ice Cream After the feat

My dinner neighbours included Charlie Lee-Potter (@eggsontheroof) of Eggs on the Roof and Urvashi Roe (@BotanicalBaker) of Great British Bake Off fame and the Botanical Baker blog. Lots of chat about food, photography, journalism, blogging, baking, and, well, just the sort of topics you’d expect amongst a group of food-obsessives. I was also introduced to Pascale Cumberbatch (@extrarelish) who takes phenomenal pictures of food and has a beautiful blog called Extra Relish.

The Foodie Bugle Lunch Party

Dessert was a meal onto itself:

  • Pistacchio Cake
  • Apple, raisin and Amaretto di Saronno cake
  • Torta di Capri – chocolate and almond cake
  • Quinces roasted in a lemon zest, vanilla seed and thyme sugar syrup
  • Honey and coconut kisses
  • Lemon biscuits and mini meringues
  • Winstones Ices Ice creams

Plus about 12 different cheeses from Quayles of Tetbury, Paxton and Whitfield, Woefuldane Organic, Legges of Bromyard and Trethowans Dairy. Heaven for a cheese lover.

Pistachio cake

Many cheeses

Honey & coconut kisses

The afternoon ended as well as it begin, gathering quinces from Silvana’s bountiful tree. I took home a few handfuls and have great plans for roast quinces and quince sorbet. The Foodie Bugle lunch lives on!

Gathering quinces

There were quite a few other people who I didn’t get to talk to as much as I would have liked – Rebecca Bernstein, Francoise Murat, Tory MecTernan, Cinead McTernan of The English Garden, Mark Glynne-Jones of Jump To, Camilla Wilson of Daylesford Organic, Georgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers, Pam Lloyd, Sofie Boddy, Sir William and Lady Ali Hanham of Deans Court – it was a big party. All the more reason to look forward to next time.

With the quinces and the food and the people and the party, well, it probably goes without saying that Silvana is one of the most generous people you will ever meet. She’s also a damn fine chef and keeps a gorgeous house. It’s the foodie dream, which I continue to chase, along with her quinces.

View all of my photos from The Foodie Bugle lunch on Flickr.

Jablecznik: Polish Apple Cake

Jablecznik: Polish Apple Cake

The apple theme continues. This time, apple cake. There’ve been loads of recipes making the rounds and three have caught my eye which I plan to try this season:

My first cake, chosen purely because I had the ingredents, was Carla’s Jablecznik. The 25% of me that’s Polish was giddy at the thought.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not really a big cake eater, or fan of sweets in general. But this apple cake suited me perfectly, largely because it’s less like “cake” and more like a sweetened apple frittata: think layers and layers of apples held together by a luxurious egg- and flour-based batter. The moisture from the apples give the cake an almost custard-like quality.

Jablecznik: Polish Apple Cake

This is the kind of dessert food I like: rustic, full of fruit, layered with texture and not overly sweet. Being Polish, I feel compelled to add creme fraiche, but it doesn’t need it. It does, however, really enjoy the company of a hot cup of coffee or tea.

Jablecznik: Polish Apple Cake

A true celebration of apples. I’ve halved the ingredients of the original recipe to fit a 20cm spring-form tin, which serves about 8. For Carla’s original 25cm cake, check out her recipe on Facebook.


  • 135gr plain cake flour or Italian ’00’ flour
  • 1.25 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 100 gr of granulated sugar
  • 55 gr soft unsalted butter
  • 125 ml full fat milk
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 4 large apples peeled cored and thinly sliced

For the topping

  • 22 gr cold diced butter
  • 25 gr granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon


  1. Line a 20cm cake tin with parchment paper (if you don’t know how, read this).
  2. In a large bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Than add the sugar,butter, milk and eggs. Beat well till smooth. The batter should be of a soft dropping consistency.
  3. Pour half of the batter into the cake tin, spread it out and layer on just a bit more than half of the sliced apples. Spoon half of the remaining batter on top and then add the rest of the apples. Dot the rest of the batter on the apples.
  4. With your fingertips work together the cold butter, sugar and spice till you have “butter crumbs” and scatter on top of the cake.
  5. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden and the apples poking through the top have started to brown.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving: 262 Calories | 9.6 grams Fat | 42.5 grams Carbohydrates | 3.6 grams Protein | 2.6 grams Fiber

Apple Pressing at Court Farm

Apples washed and ready

Apple chutney be damned.

I’m lucky – the cottage I live in sits facing an old English orchard owned by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (who also own my property, aptly named “Orchard Cottage”). Few people know the orchard is there, and I’m free to enjoy as much of its fruit as I can bear. And this year, there’s been a LOT of fruit.

Last weekend I took a stroll and counted 17 apple trees and 2 pear trees, most of which were bursting with fruit. It is both awesome and overwhelming. People on the interwebs have been sharing their ideas for various apple chutneys, cakes, jellies and so on, but these things don’t excite me so much. Then I started getting curious about pressing apples into juice, not so much because I care about juice, but cider – now that’s interesting.

Awaiting their destiny

Twitter is amazing. I mentioned something random about wanting to press some apples and before I knew it, Sam of the fantastic Sam’s Kitchen & Deli in Bath introduced me to his stepdad, James, who lives on a fantastically picturesque farm in Somerset called Court Farm. He rents part of the farm as a holiday cottage, and has converted another part into a small apple pressing “factory”.

Court Farm

Court Farm's Apple Juice

James has been making juice and cider for 5 years and has just upgraded his kit to include an electric mill and hydropress which makes the juicing process really fast and easy. James is very keen to grow his “small band of enthusiasts” and invites people to come in and, for a very small fee, use the press for their own apples.

So last weekend, I picked about 43 kilos of apples and visited James who very kindly showed me how to turn the apples into juice. It was all very simple: rinse the apples, pulp the apples in the electric mill, then press the pulp into juice using a “hydropress”.

Pulping apples Pulping apples Pulp goes into the hydropress
More juicing Voila! Apple juice! James in his element

The hydropress is an ingenious little device: a bladder sits within a porous cylinder, which you fill with apple pulp. Then you fill the bladder with water and the pressure pushes out the juice. So simple.

What's left

The juice is then strained, and then pasteurised UNLESS you plan to turn the juice into cider – that’s when things get interesting.

With James’ help, I was given the know-how and tools I needed to get started making cider. In this first step, all I needed to do was put unpasteurized cider into demijohns topped with airlocks. What should happen in the days to follow is this: the juice starts fermenting and releases carbon dioxide. To avoid a scary explosion, the airlock is filled with a bit of water so that carbon dioxide can bubble out, but oxygen in the air can’t get in.

CIder on the go

Then what? Well that’s what I need to find out.

I’ve got two demijohns, 20 litres worth, of cider on the go (plus another 30ish litres of pasteurised apple juice to drink at my leisure). In three weeks time, I’m going to have to do something with my cider. I’m not sure what, but I plan to do a lot of reading between now and then to learn how to finish the process.

Per James’ suggestion, I ordered Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea. One of the Amazon reviews said “Great if you’re a biochemist”. You know what: I think this is what I’m going to like about cider making. When James was showing us his own kit, he used a hydrometer to measure the sugar content (which indicates alcohol content) and is a way to measure how the cider is progressing over time. He also talked about making ciders with different apples and combining them to achieve the perfect taste. I love this chemistry-set aspect of cider making. So I very well could have an expensive hobby on my hand. It’s just as well the apples are free.

The results of my labours

Next steps: learn more about making cider and return to Court Farm with some crab apples, which I hear make an excellent cider, and there are plenty of untouched trees around the farm whose fruit would love a home.

If you live in the Somerset area and have lots of apples to spare, get in touch with Court Farm. James and Helen are the friendliest of people. I’m so moved by their generosity in sharing their tools and their knowledge with folks like me. It’s people like them who make living in this part of the world such a great thing: there’s a real excitement about the ingredients and the process of creating something from start to finish, something that’s bigger than the sum of its part. A real celebration of the country. And a fantastic way to spend a beautiful Sunday.

P.S. Court Farm is beautiful and I especially enjoyed meeting the happy pigs. Thank you, James and Helen.

James and happy pigs

Photoset on Flickr: Turning Apples into Cider