Lulu kebabs with tzatziki (see July recipe)

monthly recipe

January: Normandy Fish Pie

Serves 6
I have lost count of the number of times I have cooked this at our farmhouse in Normandy. It's one of those comforting kitchen suppers, but glam enough for when people are coming over, the joy being that you can prepare it lock, stock and barrel well in advance and pop it into the oven half an hour before you want to eat. It boasts seriously rich mash, haddock which provides succulent flakes that hold their shape, and the luxury of a few scallops and prawns thrown in. But don't be constrained by this, base it on whatever your shopping offers up.

Fish
800g haddock fillets (skin on)
250 ml milk
1 bay leaf
sea salt, black pepper
250 g scallops
60 g unsalted butter
50 g plain flour
150 ml dry cider
150 g crème fraiche
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
200 g shelled cooked prawns
1 tbsp small capers, rinsed
Mash
1.5 kg maincrop potatoes, peeled and halved if large
100 g crème fraiche
50 g unsalted butter
2 large egg yolks

Place the haddock fillets in a large saucepan. Pour over the milk, tuck in the bay leaf, season and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid leaving a gap for the steam to escape and cook on a low heat for 4 minutes. Strain the cooking liquor into a bowl, and once the fish is cool enough to handle, flake it as coarsely as possible discarding the skin. If any additional liquid is given out at this point throw it away. Pull off the white gristle at the side of the scallops removing the surrounding girdle, cut off and reserve the coral, and slice each scallop into 2 or 3 discs.

To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a medium-size non-stick saucepan, add the flour and allow the roux to seethe for a minute. Very gradually work in the cider, the fish cooking liquor, then the crème fraiche and the mustard. Bring to the boil stirring constantly and simmer over a very low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If any butter separates out simply stir vigorously until it is reincorporated. Taste to check the seasoning, then fold in the haddock, scallops, prawns and capers. Transfer the fish to a 35 cm oval gratin dish or other ovenproof dish with a 2.5 l capacity that affords a large crispy surface. Leave the fish to cool which will help prevent the potato from sinking in when you smooth it on top.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the potatoes until they are tender. Drain them into a sieve or colander and leave the surface moisture to evaporate for a minute or two. Pass through a mouli-legumes or a sieve back into the pan. Heat the crème fraiche with the butter and some seasoning and beat this into the mash, and then the egg yolks. Smooth this over the top of the fish, forking the surface into furrows.

To cook the pie, heat the oven to 180 C fan oven/200 C electric oven/Gas 5 and bake it for 35-40 minutes until crusty and golden on the surface. You can cover and chill the pie until required, providing your fish is fresh for up to 24 hours. In this case it may need a little longer in the oven.

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February: Spaghetti Puttanesca

Serves 4
Famously this derives from the slums of Naples, named after those ladies of the night. But more famously in our house it is the one and only pasta dish my husband and son can cook, so it sees many an outing, normally when I feel I've cooked my last and they realise they're unlikely to get fed unless they take to the stove. We nearly always have the necessary to hand, it is one of the most delicious and convenient spaghetti dishes. And, should the occasion be a last minute supper when a friend's dropped in, they are unlikely to feel hard done by.

400 g spaghetti
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
6 salted anchovy fillets, sliced
1 x 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
1 small dried chilli, finely chopped
1 heaped tbsp capers, rinsed
110 g green and black olives, stoned and sliced
2 heaped tbsp chopped parsley
sea salt
freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil for the spaghetti. Add it to the pan, stir to separate it and cook until just tender.

At the same time heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the garlic and anchovies and cook for a minute mashing the anchovies into a paste. Add the tomatoes and the chilli and simmer for about 7 minutes until the sauce is glossy and thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in the capers, olives and parsley and cook for one minute longer.

Drain the pasta but not too thoroughly, return it to the saucepan, add the sauce and toss. Taste for seasoning and add a little salt if necessary. Serve straightaway. I like the tiniest sprinkling of Parmesan, but not too much.

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March: Quiche Lorraine

Serves 6
The ultimately suave take on bacon and eggs, that will do you proud whatever the supper. It's probably a little more work than you will want to go to after a frazzled day at work, but there again maybe not if you've run up your pastry the evening beforehand. That lightly set custard will certainly soothe any nerves, set with salty snippets of bacon within a warm crumbly shell of pastry. Just gorgeous. The secret is all to do with the ratio of cream to eggs, heavy on the former and light on the latter.

1 x 23 cm x 5 cm pre-cooked tart case (see below)
Filling
250 g smoked streaky bacon, rind removed, and sliced into 1 cm dice
175 g grated Gruyere
300 ml whipping cream
150 ml milk
3 medium eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp grainy mustard
black pepper

Heat the oven to 180 C fan oven/200 C electric oven

Place the bacon in a large frying pan separating out the pieces and cook over a very low heat until the fat begins to render, then turn the heat up to medium and cook, stirring frequently until it begins to colour and crisp. Scatter the bacon over the base of the tart case.

Whisk together all the remaining ingredients, putting half the cheese to one side. There's enough salt in the bacon and cheese to season the tart, and shouldn't be any need to add any extra to the custard mixture, simply some pepper. Pour the custard into the tart case, scatter the reserved cheese over the surface and bake for 35 minutes until golden and puffy. Leave the tart to stand for 10 minutes. The quiche is most delicious hot, but also good at room temperature.

Shortcrust Pastry for 23 cm tart case
225 g plain flour
a pinch of sea salt
150 g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 medium egg, separated

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor, add the butter and reduce to a fine crumb-like consistency. Incorporate the egg yolk, and then with the motor running trickle in just enough cold water for the dough to cling together into lumps. Transfer the pastry to a large bowl and bring it together into a ball using your hands.

Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill for at least 1 hour. It will keep well in the fridge for up to a couple of days.

Heat the oven to 180 C fan oven/200 C electric oven. Knead the pastry until it is pliable. Thinly roll it out on a lightly floured surface and carefully lift it into a 23 cm tart tin with a removeable base, it is quite durable and shouldn't tear or collapse. Press it into the corners of the tin and run a rolling pin over the top to trim the edges. Reserve the trimmings to patch the case after it is baked. Prick the base with a fork and line it with a sheet of foil, tucking it over the top to secure the pastry sides to the tin. Now weight it with baking beans – dried pulses will do nicely.

Bake the case for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and baking beans. If any of the sides have shrunk more than they should, use a little of the reserved pastry to patch them, as the tart can only be filled as far as the lowest point of the sides. Brush the base and sides of the case with the reserved egg white, then bake it for another 10 minutes until lightly coloured. This glaze helps to seal the pastry and prevent the custard from soaking in.

Tart Tins Given that pastry sometimes shrinks, it is a good idea to start off with a tart tin about 5 cm deep. Failing that, you could forego the crimped edges and use a cake tin with a removeable collar, you can always trim the sides after cooking if they seem too deep. But I'd avoid china quiche dishes, that are rarely deep enough and make it difficult to serve the tart without breaking it.

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April: Pistachio Brownies

Makes 16 brownies
A small sliver of brownie makes a great end to lunch or dinner when you want a sugary little something without going the whole hog of getting out the pudding bowls and spoons. Actually it doesn't even have to be small, pile them high and wide on the biggest plate you can find.

The secret is to bake them for just twenty minutes, until they appear slightly cracked and risen around the outside but still gooey in the centre. Leave them to cool for a few hours and then chill for another few hours or overnight. If however you want something soft and crumbly to eat slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, then leave them in the oven that little bit longer, say twenty five to thirty minutes in all, before sticking a skewer into the centre. This should come out clean with just a few moist crumbs clinging, without actually coating it.

Brownies
300 g dark chocolate (about 50% cocoa solids), broken up
180 g unsalted butter, diced
180 g light muscovado sugar
4 medium eggs, and 1 egg yolk
115 g ground almonds
1/4 tsp sea salt
115 g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
3 tbsp fresh orange juice
75 g shelled pistachios
Cream (optional)
75 g white chocolate, broken up
1/2 tbsp shelled pistachios
75 ml whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 170 C fan oven/190 C electric oven. You need a 23 cm square tin 4 cm deep, or the equivalent in size. Provided it is non-stick there is no need to butter and flour it. To make the brownies, gently melt the chocolate with the butter in a bowl set over a pan with a little simmering water in it. Remove from the heat, add the sugar and stir to combine. Add the eggs and yolk to the chocolate mixture - one by one and beating after each addition, until the mixture is very glossy and amalgamated. Gently fold in the ground almonds and salt, then sift over the flour and baking powder and fold in without overmixing. Stir in the orange juice and fold in the pistachios.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the tin, and bake for 20-30 minutes (see above). Run a knife around the edge of the tin, leave the cake to cool for several hours, then cut it into 16 squares, or half that size for children.

The brownies will be delicious as they are, but if you want to take them one step further, gently melt the white chocolate in a bowl set over a pan with a little simmering water in it, then remove and leave to cool to room temperature. Finely crush the pistachios in a pestle and mortar, or alternatively in a food processor. Whisk the cream until it is stiff in a bowl, then gently fold in the cooled melted chocolate. Spoon a rounded teaspoon of this on top of each brownie and crown with a little ground pistachio. They will keep well in an airtight container for several days, though it is best to scatter over the nuts close to the time of eating.

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May: Crispy Chicken and Caper Pie

Serves 6
Any potato-topped pie does it in our house, whether it's a smooth as silk mash, thin slivers of potato that curl and turn golden at the edges, or here where coarsely crushed potatoes splashed with a little olive oil turn divinely crispy at the tips. The method of cooking the chicken may not seem conventional, but trust me on this one.

Chicken
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt, black pepper
12 free-range chicken thighs
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed to a paste
3 heaped tbsp flour
150 ml white wine
225 ml chicken stock or water
4 sprigs of thyme
a couple of strips of lemon zest
125 g crème fraiche
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
Potato
1.3 kg medium or large waxy potatoes, e.g. Charlotte, peeled and halved or quartered as necessary
4 tbsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat, season the chicken thighs and colour them on both sides, half at a time. Just before the end of cooking the second batch, drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat, then stir in the garlic and cook for a moment. Return all the chicken to the pan, sprinkle over the flour and turn the chicken to coat it. Add the wine which will thicken as it blends with the flour and let this seethe for a moment. Pour in the chicken stock or water and stir, don't worry about a few tiny lumps as it's sieved at the end. Add the thyme, lemon zest and some seasoning. Bring the sauce to a simmer, cover and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring once.

Remove the chicken pieces to a bowl. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and coarsely shred the flesh. Skim any fat off the surface of the sauce and strain it into a small non-stick pan. Simmer to reduce by about half, then stir in the crème fraiche and capers, and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the chicken and transfer this to a roasting or ovenproof dish (e.g. a 20 x 30 cm).

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the potatoes and simmer until tender, then drain them into a colander and leave for a few minutes for the surface moisture to evaporate. Now mash them very coarsely, partly chopping them with the side of the masher. Stir in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt, and then the parsley. Spoon the potato on top of the chicken. The pie can be prepared in advance, in which case leave it to cool, then cover and chill.

Heat the oven to 180 C fan oven/200 C electric oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden and crisp at the tips.

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June: Caesar Salad

Serves 4
I love this salad as much as anything for the legend behind it. So travel back in time to Tijuana, Mexico in the 1920s when chef and restaurateur Cesar Cardini had all but run out of food after a weekend spent cooking for a group of Hollywood movie stars. When their departure was delayed one more mealtime, he rustled up a salad with Romaine lettuce, very lightly poached eggs, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, grated Parmesan and croutons. Quite where the anchovies came from is a mystery, and cause of much debate. I prefer to leave them out if Parmesan is included, but there are no rules. Whichever way you play it, the salad lends itself to endless interpretation – be it slivers of roast chicken, roast peppers, avocado and crisp sheathes of bacon, or Belgian endive in lieu of the Romaine lettuce with crumbled Roquefort.

Dressing
2 medium eggs
1/2 garlic clove, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
sea salt, black pepper
Salad
1 x croutons (see below)
4 Romaine lettuce hearts
70 g freshly grated Parmesan

Prepare the croutons as below. To prepare the dressing, bring a small pan of water to the boil, carefully drop the eggs in and cook for 1 minute, then remove and cool them under cold running water. Shell them into a liquidiser, scooping out the cooked white that lines the inside of the shell. Add the remaining ingredients for the dressing and whizz to a pale and creamy emulsion. The salad can be prepared to this point in advance.

To serve the salad, separate out the lettuce leaves, discarding any outer leathery or blowsy dark green leaves (these can be saved for a soup or puree, or trimmed for slicing into another salad). Arrange the Romaine leaves on 2 large platters or 4 dinner plates.Pour over the dressing and scatter over the Parmesan, and finally the croutons. Serve straightaway.

CROUTONS
Both styles of crouton have something going for them. Fried and they are luxuriously crisp and rich, while toasted ones are lower in fat and less demanding to make. So take your pick.

Fried Croutons
groundnut oil for frying
2 large slices white bread, 1 cm thick, diced

Heat about 1 cm of groundnut oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat until a cube of bread immersed is surrounded by bubbles. Add half the cubes and fry, tossing now and again, until golden and crisp. Transfer them using a slotted spoon to a double thickness of kitchen paper and leave to cool. Cook the remainder likewise.

Oil-free Croutons
2 large slices white bread, 1 cm thick, crusts removed and diced

Heat the oven to 180 C fan oven/200 C electric oven. Lay the bread cubes out in a single layer on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 17-20 minutes, giving them a stir halfway through. Remove the tray and leave them to cool.

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July: Lulu Kebabs with Tzatziki

Makes 8 kebabs
These kebabs are a big favourite with children, and great barbecue material. I quite often keep a few in the freezer, they defrost within the hour at the ready to grill for supper. The tzatziki allows for a tablespoon per person, so if serving it as the main salad you could double the quantity.

Kebabs
700 g minced lamb
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp each of ground cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg
sea salt, black pepper
Tzatziki
250 g Greek yoghurt
extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a paste
2 tbsp finely sliced mint
a large pinch of caster sugar
1 cucumber

Select eight 20 cm skewers. If using wooden skewers then soak them first for 10 minutes in cold water. Combine all the ingredients for the kebabs with one and a half teaspoons of salt and some black pepper using your hands, then divide the mixture into 8 balls the size of a small apple. Shape each one of these into a long, flat sausage 10-12 cm length and about 3 cm wide and slip a skewer lengthways through the middle so the tip is just concealed by the end of the kebab. Set these aside on a plate, they can be made up to 24 hours in advance, in which case cover and chill them.

To make the tzatziki, blend the yoghurt with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, garlic, mint, sugar and a little seasoning in a bowl. Peel the cucumber, slit it in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds using a teaspoon. Now slice it into halfmoons and stir these into the yoghurt mixture. Taste to check the seasoning, then pile it into a clean bowl and pour over a little olive oil. This can be made up to a couple of hours in advance, in which case cover and set it aside somewhere cool.

To the cook the kebabs barbecue them for 15-20 minutes in total, turning them as necessary and cooking them on all 4 sides. Accompany with the tzatziki.

INDOORS Heat a ridged griddle over a medium-high heat and grill the kebabs for about 15 minutes in all, cooking them on all four sides. You may need to cook them in batches.

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August: Oven-Roast Ratatouille

Serves 6
There is little more insipid than a ratatouille of stewed vegetables, they need frying first and that can involve hovering over a hot frying pan, the last thing you want in serious heat. I find that oven-roasted ratatouille is the solution, not only do you colour the veg but their flavour is concentrated at the same time, and it's rustled up in no time.  As ever this is a building block, you could pile some rocket lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil on top, and it goes beautifully with goat's cheeses, olives and cured meats.

1 kg beefsteak tomatoes, halved
Approx. 500 g aubergines, stalk-ends trimmed, halved lengthways (or quartered if large) and thickly sliced
extra virgin olive oil
4 red peppers, core and seeds removed and thinly sliced lengthways
Approx. 500 g courgettes, ends trimmed and thickly sliced
sea salt, black pepper
3 red onions, peeled, halved and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
a handful of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 200 C fan oven/220 C electric oven. You will need three good-sized roasting dishes that will fit in the oven together. Arrange the tomatoes in a tightly-fitting single layer in one. Brush the aubergine with oil on both sides and arrange with the peppers and courgettes in another couple of roasting dishes in a crowded layer, they will shrink as they cook. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of oil over the tomatoes, and about 6 tablespoons over the other veg and season everything. Roast all three dishes for 1 – 1 1/4 hours, stirring the onions and garlic into the peppers and courgettes after 30 minutes. Gently stir or turn them again 15 minutes later concealing any well-coloured vegetables below the surface, and continue to roast until well-coloured. Leave all the vegetables to cool.

Remove the skin from the tomatoes, and nick out the hard core, then coarsely chop using a knife and fork. Combine all the vegetables including the chopped tomatoes in a serving dish, gently folding in the parsley.

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September: Plum Pie with Vanilla Custard

Serves 6
Plums are a fruit that I rarely eat raw, but would be my first choice to encounter beneath a lid of sweet buttery pastry. They relax into this richly flavoured compote when you cook them, spilling out sticky juices that soak into the pastry. And this is a particularly fine custard, that doesn't have to be vanilla, a little cinnamon, ground cloves, cardamom or splash of liqueur can be used to bring out the best in whatever fruits are starring.

Sweet Shortcrust
150 g unsalted butter, softened
150 g golden caster sugar
2 medium eggs
400 g plain flour, sifted
50 g ground almonds
Vanilla Custard
300 ml full-cream milk
6 medium organic egg yolks
75 g golden caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, slit and cut up
150 ml whipping cream
Plums
900 g plums, stoned and quartered
125 g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp plain flour
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Milk for brushing and caster sugar for dusting

Cream the butter and sugar for the pastry together in a bowl using a wooden spoon until soft and fluffy. A food processor or mixer will make light work of this. Beat in the eggs until well combined, then gradually add the flour and ground almonds and bring the dough together. Wrap it in clingfilm and chill for at least 2 hours - it will keep for several days.

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, then whisk in the milk. Return this to the pan and heat gently until you have a thin pouring custard that coats the back of the spoon, taking care not to overheat it. Pour it straightaway into a bowl. Add the vanilla pod to the custard, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave to cool.

Liquidise the custard and pass it through a sieve, then whip the cream and whisk it in. Cover and chill the custard until required, and give it a good stir before serving.

To make the pie, toss the plums with a couple of tablespoons of the brown sugar in a bowl and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out any excess juice, then drain them. Preheat the oven to 180 C fan oven/200 C electric oven. Allow the dough to come to room temperature for a few minutes, and then knead it until pliable. On a lightly floured surface, thinly roll out two thirds of the dough. Use this to line the base of a 1.7 l pie dish (I use an oval gratin dish), letting the extra hang over the sides. Don't worry if the dough tears and you end up partly pressing it into the dish.

Toss the plums with the remaining brown sugar, the flour and lemon zest, and tip them into the pie dish. Roll out the remaining pastry, incorporate any spare trimmings, paint the pastry rim in the dish with milk and lay it over the top. Press the pastry together and trim the sides, then crimp the edge using the tip of your finger or else the tip of a knife. Brush the surface of the pastry with milk, cut several diagonal slits in the centre and dust with caster sugar. Bake the pie for about 35 minutes until the pastry is golden and the plums are tender. If the fruit needs a little longer then you can cover the pastry with foil to stop it colouring any further.  Serve hot about 10 minutes out of the oven, or at room temperature, accompanied by the custard.

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October: My Mum's Lemon Cheesecake

Serves 6-8
My brothers and I grew up on this one, long before the fashion for 'lemon tarts', it was a welcome equivalent. It's blissfully easy to prepare, with that retro touch of a digestive crust, so apt in a cheesecake.

Crust
50 g unsalted butter
150 g plain digestives
Filling
350 g full-fat cream cheese
150 g golden caster sugar
4 medium eggs
finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp vanilla extract
300 ml sour cream

Heat the oven to 180 C fan oven/200 C electric oven. Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Place the digestives inside a plastic bag and crush them to fine crumbs using a rolling pin. Tip them into the saucepan with the melted butter and stir to coat them, then transfer to a 20 cm cake tin 9 cm deep with a removeable base and using your fingers or the bottom of a tumbler press them into the base.

Place all the ingredients for the filling except the sour cream in the bowl of a food processor and whizz until smooth. Carefully pour the mixture on top of the biscuit-crumb base, you can use the back of the spoon as a chute to avoid disturbing the crumbs. Bake the cheesecake for 30 minutes until it is just set and slightly risen, it may also be starting to colour. Remove and leave it for 5-10 minutes for the surface to level, then smooth the sour cream over the surface and return to the oven for 10 minutes. It may still appear slightly shiny and liquid but should firm up on cooling and chilling.

Remove and leave the cheesecake to cool, then cover it with clingfilm and chill overnight. Serve the cheesecake chilled.

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November: Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4
This is the classic chicken noodle soup, almost worth developing a cold for the treat of supping it propped up in bed, it's the great restorative. If vermicelli soup noodles prove elusive, then you can gently crush vermicelli nests between your fingers to break them up. Otherwise there are all manner of tiny soup pastas that will provide the right degree of comfort.

25 g unsalted butter
3 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
150 ml white wine
1.2 l fresh chicken stock
sea salt, black pepper
60 g short vermicelli or other soup noodles
2 chicken breasts, skinned
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
freshly grated Parmesan to serve

Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over a lowish heat and fry the leeks for 5-7 minutes until starting to relax, stirring occasionally. Add the wine, turn the heat up and cook to reduce it by half. Pour in the chicken stock, season and bring to the boil. Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring in the vermicelli soup noodles halfway through – if you are using a different type of soup pasta then adjust the time accordingly, bearing in mind they should be lovely and soft rather than al dente.

While cooking the soup base, cut out the tendon from the lower side of the fillets and slice them into two thin escalopes. Now slice across into thin strips. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the chicken and fry for a minute or two to seal it, stirring frequently, then turn the heat up and fry a few minutes longer until starting to colour, seasoning it towards the end.

Stir the parsley and chicken into the soup, taste for seasoning and serve straightaway in warm bowls, accompanied with grated Parmesan.

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December: Chicken Liver Parfait

Serves 4
If you have to choose just one pate to have on hand over Christmas, this supremely simple buttery parfait will see you through. And as with other pates, a green salad, some toasted sourdough and a jar of chutney alongside and you have supper fit for a king.

225 g unsalted butter
225 g chicken livers, fatty membranes removed
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
sea salt, black pepper
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp sweet wine or sherry
2 tbsp armagnac or brandy
1 tbsp crème fraiche
freshly grated nutmeg
1 x 15 g jar summer truffles, finely chopped (optional)
bay leaves and green or pink peppercorns to decorate

Melt 25 g of the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When the foam starts to subside add the chicken livers and the herbs, season and sautee for 3 minutes until they are golden on the outside but still pink in the centre, turning the livers halfway through. Discard the herbs and tip the livers with any juices into a blender, add another knob of butter to the pan and sweat the shallot and garlic for a couple of minutes until glossy and translucent. Add the sweet wine or sherry, and brandy to the pan and simmer until it has all but disappeared. Tip the contents of the frying pan into the blender, add the crème fraiche and puree. Leave this to cool for about 20 minutes.

Dice and add the remaining butter and blend until the parfait is really smooth and creamy. Add a grinding of nutmeg and adjust the seasoning. I like to pass the parfait through a fine sieve to ensure it's as silky as possible, but you don't have to. Stir in the truffle if including. Spoon the pate into a bowl, smooth the surface, and decorate with bay leaves and peppercorns. Cover and either freeze or chill. It keeps well for several days in the fridge. Leave it for 20 minutes out of the fridge before serving for it to soften.

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© Annie Bell 2010. All rights reserved.