“Ajo Blanco”, star soup of the Med Diet!

My Spanish born great grand-mother on my maternal side had a wonderful family recipe for “Ajo Blanco”, or so I am told because alas nobody recorded it and therefore nobody can recall its details… So, to complete my family recipe archives, I can only try to recreate this recipe with voices others than hers… Why does it seem so important to me to do so? Because Ajo Blanco is a bit of an iconic Andalucian soup and because it happens to be at the same time a very healthy and rejuvenating combination of almond meal and garlic. Popular and traditional cuisine often combine the qualities of being at once tasty and healthy and this very ancient recipe proves the point with its elegant simplicity.

I am just back from a long week end in Seville where summer was already warm and dry and the beautiful gardens of the Mudejar palaces where full of the most generous and fragrant blossoms. The photos below were taken inside the Casa de Pilatos in Seville Old quarter. But Seville is full of secret gardens that you can visit or sometimes just glimpse, past a patio of azulejos opening onto the heat scorched street… IMG_4397 IMG_4401

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Ingredients list

  • Raw peeled almonds ,200 gr
  • Garlic cloves,2
  • Olive oil, 70 ml
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Bread, 100 gr 70 gr de aceite de oliva virgen extra
  • Jerez or wine vinegar, 50ml
  • Water, 1L
  • Grapes or cucumber chunks to serve

This is a Thermomix adapted recipe but any good blender will do.

A fresh and crisp taste

A fresh and crisp taste for this “white garlic” soup

Soak the almond and bread in water separately for a few hours, if possible. Remove and do not use this water,

Mix the garlic, salt and almonds for 30 sec at speed 5. Add the chopped bread (no crust) and mix another 15 sec. You should get a sort of thick paste.

Keep at speed 5 and add the olive oil, followed by the vinegar and the water. Mix for 1 min at speed 7 to 8.

Season with a little salt and serve cold with the chopped cucumber or grapes to decorate and give a nice biting texture.

I like to serve this in glasses decorated with a mini skewer with fresh grapes and to sprinkle a few flaked almonds and some fried toast on top.

This is a strengthening, wholesome,  cold soup; a godsend in summer and a little miracle of health…

Favourite gardens in Seville:

  • Parque Maria Louisa – I had a beautiful morning run there, but you can take a horse carriage to it if you are no runner!
  • Los Jardines del Real Alcazar – The beautiful gardens of the moors kings… A treasure!
  • Gardens and patios of the Museo de Bellas Artes
  • Gardens of Casa de Pilatos – see pictures above.
  • And many more!!!

Chicken in white wine with lemon and garlic

In Spring, I like fresher and lighter meals but sometimes I still want these to have a wholesome, restorative content. This is a both a fragranced and subtle dish, perfect for springtime, but with lots of tasty and meaty juices. Use a crisp dry wine wine – something full of flowers like a Sancerre or a Gaillac would work a dream but a dry  Moravian Riesling such as ones we tasted in Prague a couple of weeks ago would have also been perfect. Of course,the winter version of this would be the very classic “Coq au vin”!

The combination of lemon, wine and garlic is irresistible and good for body and soul. The paprika lifts the lemony flavours nicely and prevent them from getting too sweet or syrupy, with its peppery kick.

Ingredients list:

  • One plump organic chicken
  • Lemon in brine or fresh sliced lemons (unwaxed)
  • Garlic cloves, 4 to 5
  • White wine, 500ml
  • Stock, 250 ml
  • Carrot, 1 medium
  • Bay leaves, 2
  • Paprika, 1 Tbsp ( choose a hot version)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Choose a nice organic chicken and a good dry white wine and this recipe is foolproof! Beyond these two ingredients, and so long as they are tip-top quality, you can relax and play around with the rest…

Hinting of flowers

A smattering of flowers

 

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This was inspired by a long sunny week-end in Prague where we tasted some fantastic local Moravian wines, all dry, crisp and wonderfully flowery ; a proud reflection the beautiful spring flowers adorning the city : From the lilac in blooms along the river  islands to slopes of blossoming orchards on Petrin Hill.IMG_3911 The lemon and paprika flavours are very present in Czech cuisine and so I decided to blend all of these memories into a simple and humble dish, such as this casserole. The sort of dish you will feel proud to put in front of your guests because of its wholesome quality and simple but stricking  flavours.IMG_3920

Wash and pat dry the chicken but leave it whole – it will be very easy to carve later. Fry the garlic cloves in a deep dish with a little rapeseed oil. Add the chicken and brown all of its sides in the garlic oil. Try not to burn the garlic so move things around briskly.

Add the wine, chopped carrot and seasoning and get it to a high boil then lower the heat and simmer, covered for  about 45 min to one hour, adding the stock along the way so there is always about 2 inches of liquid around the bird. Leave the chicken breasts down so they soak up the juices as they cook and infuse in the lemon and garlic flavoured sauce. If using freshly sliced lemons, put those slices in at the beginning but if using lemon in brine, put them in half-way through as they will cook quicker than fresh ones.

Serve when the meat is falling off the carcass and you have no need for a knife ! I accompanied this meat with a celeriac and sweet paprika purée (mashed with olive oil) which worked really well.

Here to enjoy a view of Prague in Spring, from the balcony room of Terasa U Zlaté Studnē.IMG_3955

My best restaurant addresses in Prague:

  • Terasa U Zlaté Studnē, GoldenWell Hotel, U Zlatē Studnē 4/166, 11800 Prague
  • Bellevue, Smetanovo Nabrezi 18, Prague 110 00, Czech Republic
  • Wine bar in Snemovni square, near Saint Nicholas church in Mala Strana
  • Letna Beer garden, in Letna park, overlooking Prague

 

Weekend in Prague

Weekending in Prague

 

Lamb shoulder in red wine and thyme like in Mallorca

A dish for spring:

Falling apart in the pot...

Falling apart in the pot…

A Mallorcan recipe of melting lamb in a reduction of wine, thyme and rosemary.

This is the perfect hot-pot to serve guests at a dinner party because you will have left it to cook in the oven all night and therefore only need to reheat and serve – leaving you lots of time to : A/lay a really lovely table, B/concentrate on pudding or C/ do your nails and get yourself pretty!

Spring is the new lamb season so this dish really comes into his own now but do check with your butcher that he is giving you a spring lamb and not anything he’s had in the freezer for a while. Though you can also try this with a tougher goat or kid joint and it would be just as delicious and tender.

Ingredients list:

  • A shoulder of lamb (with bone in)
  • A bottle of spanish Rioja or Mallorcan red (some body and flavour!)
  • A mix of diced carrots, onion and celery (or other root veg) to flavour the juices
  • A bundle of thyme and rosemary, tied in a string, with bay leaf optional
  • Salt and pepper to season (always towards the end)
  • OPTIONAL: Add 6 to 8 dry or fresh figs towards the end – you will love this!!!

Rinse and pat dry your joint.

Make a pretty bundle with the herbs, tie in string.

Brush and chop the vegetables. I do not tend to peel them. It is easier and healthier with skin on so why bother…

Put the ingredients in a large pot with a lid and pour the wine over. The liquid should be at two third of the meat. Add some water if needed.

Leave to cook, covered, in the oven for at least 8 hours at 160°. I put it around 11pm when I go to bed and stop it when I get up at 7:30.

Season with sea salt and black pepper. Leave it to cool, then remove the fatty blob bits that solidify at the surface – it is worth doing this if you have the time, to get a leaner dish.Taste then reheat just before serving, leaving the dish uncovered.

I promise you the house will smell like the farmhouse restaurant, lost in the hills of Mallorca, where I first tasted that dish. It was generously soaked in the rich wine juice and tasted as if the meat had been infused in thyme and grape juice for a long long time – which it had!

Spring lambs

Spring lambs

Valentine chocolates – gifts of love and health!

Winter bloom and chocolate

Winter bloom and chocolate

Valentine day approaching and the shops are tempting us with a cornucopia of very sweet and colourful confectionary – but if you are still sticking to your healthy New Year resolutions, the choice can be quite daunting… So here I give you a more virtuous but deliciously indulgent version.

These delicate chocolate flowers are made with raw chocolate, non dairy ingredients and they are still big in flavour and satisfaction…

Ingredients list:

  • Dates, 250g
  • 100g of 100% cocoa chocolate (Check out Chocolat Rabot in Borough Market)
  • Raisins, 150g
  • Vanilla bean, 1
  • Crystalised ginger, a few pieces, but only optional!

Cut the chocolate in squares, cut up the dates.

Than put all in your best chopper (I use my Thermomix for the smoothest result) and mix at high speed for a few minutes until you get a glossy paste. DO NOT overwork it or the chocolate will melt !

Put in silicone moulds for individual chocolates (as above) or just roll bite size chunks in your palms and present them in a nice box or sachet to your Valentine with his Valentine day coffee. Garantie to score brownie points with any health-conscious foodie!

No need to be vegan either to appreciate the soft and creamy result – But take the best chocolate for the best taste, as always… My writing buddies loved them so much that I dedicate this recipe to our blue-stocking group – and their Valentines!

HAPPY VALENTINE DAY EVERYONE! This year it falls on a sunday so plan to take him to a spa, an art gallery or just a favourite place / corner of the world- like Venice?!!!

Promise Venice and chocolate this year!

One of my handprinted Valentine cards/original print.

 

Butternut squash and ginger soup – make it fiery!

Ginger is still a running theme or obsession of mine currently, so there you go: another ginger recipe but fiery this time and velvety, and so perfectly suited to the cold spell we are having in London at the moment… Will it snow? Will it not?!

IMG_9600Ingredients list

  • Butternut squash
  • Ginger and lemongrass stock by Maggi
  • 200 ml of hot water
  • 100ml of coconut milk
  • 5og of coconut cream
  • 50g of soya cream
  • Fresh red chilli ( to taste)
  • Coriander to sprinkle

Slice the squash in large chunks and take all seeds out but do not peel it- This last step is much easier to take after roasting! No sweat! Take the easy route for once… You can also roast it whole in the oven and chop later, as in my picture!

Roast the sliced squash with a bit of olive oil- I use Olivio at the moment.In a hot oven under grill for 20 min should do. Take the opportunity to roast other roots vegetables or pepper and aubergines at the same time – you can always use those in salads or couscous later!

Peel the butternut slices when ready and soft.

Mix them in the food processor with the stock, boiling water and all the other ingredients – but do be careful with the chilli: you want a gentle kick, not a huge explosion!

If using a Thermomix, get it to heat at the same time as you chop (100°C/speed max/5 min).

Dilute with the cream and coconut milk especially if you find it too strong or too thick: it should be served creamy though, not watery.

Serve hot with a sprinkle of coriander.

IMG_2550While you sip, feeling virtuous and engaged, there is still time to write your New Year resolutions : Why not change the world this year?! One step at a time. Be bold!!! There is much that needs doing… Ok, more soup and wholesome food might be a good start; some exercise will not kill you; but do not stop at that, go further: the future is ours! Lets be ambitious. Lets save the world this year. I mean it. Find a platform, a charity, a movement and go with it. And above all: choose your motto!

No wars, no drugs, no hunger.

It feels good already just saying it.