Mrs. LF and I invited three good friends over for dinner on Friday. She did all of the cooking – unfortunately, not much new there – although I was working all day. We had a wonderful evening, which was part inspired by Ottolenghi and part inspired by the French countryside. Not a bad combination, I say!
The starter was directly from the Ottolenghi cookbook, which my wife swears is the best cookbook she has ever bought, and I can attest to the results – bloody excellent every time, and she’s made about 10 recipes so far.
The dish she chose was ‘Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes and manouri’, although we substituted halloumi for the manouri cheese as we can’t find it nearby our place. Although it looks like a simple salad, as with many of Ottolenghi’s recipes, there is more to it than meets the eye, and it did require quite a bit of prep work, and had a lot more ingredients than you would imagine…but that’s what makes their food so tasty, memorable and recognizable.
As an aperitif and to go with the starter, I had selected a slightly chilled Georges Deboeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau, which was really excellent (you can get it at Whole Foods for a discount right now).
The main course was made possible by Mrs. LF’s cousin, whose parents own a large country home in France and whose mother grows her own vegetables and keeps her own chickens. She stayed with us a few week’s ago and brought a freshly slaughtered chicken in her bag on the Eurostar (how do they allow this, I know?!), so we had been keeping it in the freezer to bring out for a special night with more than just the two of us…as it was one big bird.
The chicken was very ‘free range’, as you could tell when you saw the joints and bones, which were larger and darker than any chicken you can get in UK supermarkets. The meat was also generally darker and a bit tougher than a UK supermarket chicken, which is the way it should be, and it really had a great flavor running through it. As usual, Mrs. LF had roasted it to perfection, with the skin thin and very crispy, and the bird moist throughout. It was served with fresh green beans, roasted potatoes (which is a secret recipe from her mom) and garnished with roasted garlic and a mish-mash of apples, onions and such. Delish!
We still had some Pouilly Fumé left over from our wedding earlier this year, and thought it would go nicely with the chicken, which it did. To me, it had the trademark ‘cat piss’ smell on the nose, and was very citrusy and acidic, which cut through the sweetness of the fruit/onion accompaniments and melded well with the bird.
The dessert was also an homage to Ottolenghi, and was a re-creation of what is probably our favorite of their desserts, the dangerous and renowned lemon and marscapone tart. This was Mrs. LF’s first attempt at making pastry and it turned out well overall. One of the secrets to this tart – and, by the way, they don’t tell you how to directly make this dessert in their book, but do give you the three processes of pastry, lemon curd and marscapone cream in different places throughout the book (!) – is the lemon zest in the pastry shell and the subtle crunchiness (maybe of semolina) that it has when you buy it in the store. It didn’t turn out as an exact copy of the version you can buy in their shops, but it was still darn tasty. I will let the picture do the talking here – ’nuff said!
Our guests wanted a dessert wine, and unfortunately I didn’t have one that would work with the lemon tarts in my little faux cellar (and Mrs. LF said I was not to buy anymore wine, as she wants us to drink what we have first…urgh!).
In any case, we opened a bottle of some really lovely white sweet wine that we found on our travels to Switzerland last year around Christmas time. We had a remarkable Swiss Syrah wine when having a steak at the legendary Café de Paris in Geneva, and liked it so much that we hunted down the winemaker (Bernard Coudray of Domaine La Tourmente) and set up an appointment to go and visit him in the Valais canton the next day, even though he was officially shut. We bought some of the Syrah, some of a red blend which is the only one he ages in oak, and some of this, the very fruity and acidic Johannisberg. While it didn’t go with the tart (way too acidic and therefore cancels out the fruit taste of the wine), it was still nice to have, and I drank it more as an after-dessert drink.
Well, after that we finished up with a digestif of Thunder toffee vodka (I know, a bit strange, but we had bought some at Taste of London and wanted to see how it was), which had been in the freezer for days. It definitely tastes more like vodka than toffee, but it does have a subtle burnt caramel taste to it…not bad.
All in all, it was a wonderful way to end the week and usher in the weekend.