Skye Gyngell and Petersham Nurseries

2006 produced a raft of terrific cookbooks, some truly inspirational, but for me the most exciting ‘new’ talent to burst onto the culinary scene in the past few years is a wild young thing called Skye Gyngell.

When I say ‘young’, Skye is not exactly a teenager but she’s still got that wonderfully endearing hippy-like quality, the infectious enthusiasm of youth. She is completely passionate about food, real food, slow food, food fresh from the garden. Skye is totally seasonal in her approach and adores her vegetable and herb patch and draws much of her inspiration from it.

Not long before Christmas I went to her restaurant at Petersham Nurseries near Richmond, I can’t remember when I was last so enchanted by a restaurant experience. It’s a 45 minute taxi ride from central London, you can’t get a tube to Richmond but you may find it difficult to get a taxi to take you along the long winding lane beside Richmond Park in South West London . When you arrive, you emerge into what is truly a magical enclave of good taste.

Alongside fabulous plants, trees and shrubs there is antique garden furniture to break your heart and destroy your bank balance, old tools, beautiful containers and a fascinating mix of other enchanting artefacts and accessories sourced by the owners, Gael and Francesco Boglione.

The restaurant is in one of the greenhouses in the nursery, in fact it now spills into several. The eclectic mix of tables and chairs sit on the good earth in the midst of the tumbling plants and beautiful antique objects all for sale. It is the perfect setting for the café.

Skye is Australian by birth, she worked in a number of Sydney’s culinary hot spots, also in Paris and London and is Vogue’s acclaimed food writer. She also writes regularly for The Independent on Sunday. The café at Petersham Nurseries is rapidly acquiring a reputation for superb food in an outstanding setting. In 2005 she gained the restaurant its first award: Time Out’s Best Al Fresco Restaurant Award and early last year it received Tatler’s Most Original Restaurant Award.

We started with a glass of fresh raspberry Prosecco and then a variety of delicious dishes with fresh vibrant flavours. A plate of Mezze included a roasted tomato and red pepper puree, a tangy beetroot puree and a gorgeous unctuous chick pea puree with a salad of fresh and wild leaves, a few slow roasted tomatoes and a fresh lemony goat cheese – delicious original flavours.

Skye Gyngell Teaches at the Ballymaloe cookery school

www.petershamnurseries.com info@petershamnurseries.com Tel 004420 8940 5230 café@petershamnurseries.com Tel 0044 20 8605 3627

‘A Year in my Kitchen’ by Skye Gyngell, published by Quadrille Publishing Ltd. www.quadrille.co.uk

Slow Cooked Pork Belly with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and star anise.

This is a deliciously rich and unctuous winter dish. Skye likes to serve it with braised lentils, but it is also very good with lightly cooked Asian greens, such as pak choi.
Serves 6

2kg piece belly of pork (organic, free-range)
2 cinnamon sticks
3 star anise
1 tsp cloves
1 red chilli
3cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp chopped coriander, roots and stems
100ml tamari (or soy sauce)
75ml maple syrup
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil

To serve:
Braised lentils

Put the pork belly into a large cooking pot (or pan) in which it fits quite snugly and add cold water to cover. Bring to the boil, then immediately turn off the heat and remove the pork from the pan. Drain off the water and rinse out the pan.

One-third fill the pan with cold water and place over a medium heat. Add the pork, this time along with the spices, chilli, ginger, garlic and chopped coriander roots and stems. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the meat, add some more water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer very gently for 1½ hours until the meat is cooked and very tender. If you have the rib end, the meat will have shrunk back to expose the tips of the bones. With a pair of tongs, carefully remove the meat from the pan and set aside.

Turn the heat up under the pan to high and add the tamari and maple syrup. (If you don’t want the sauce to taste ‘hot’, remove the ginger and chilli at this point.) Let the liquid bubble until reduced by half, this will take about 20 minutes. As the sauce reduces, the flavours will become very intense, forming, a rich, dark sauce.

In the meantime, slice the pork belly into individual servings – one rib should be enough per person. Season the ribs with a little salt and pepper. Place a heavy-based frying pan over a high heat and add the oil. Heat until the pan is starting to smoke, then add the pork ribs and brown well on both sides until crunchy and golden brown on the surface. Strain the reduced liquour.

To serve, lay a rib on each warm plate (or soup plate) and spoon over the reduced sauce and warm braised lentils. Serve at once.

Braised Oxtail with ginger, five spice and garlic

‘I love slow-cooking cheaper cuts of meat and oxtail has a fantastic ability to absorb the wonderful aromatic flavours in this recipe. The result is a sticky, fragrant and beautifully rich meat dish that literally melts in your mouth. A sweet potato puree works really well with this dish or, if you want something a little gentler, steamed rice would be perfect.’
Serves 3-4

1kg oxtail, cut into large pieces
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
2.5cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
Bunch of coriander, washed
1 tbsp Chinese five spice powder (preferably freshly prepared)
2 x 400g cans good quality chopped tomatoes
1 litre chicken stock
50ml fish sauce
50ml tamari (or soy sauce)
75ml palm sugar or 5 tbsp maple syrup

Put the oxtail into a large pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, then pour off the water. Rinse the oxtail thoroughly under cold running water and set aside to drain.

Place a large cooking pot or flameproof casserole over a medium heat and add the oil. When it is hot, add the onions, ginger, chillies and garlic. Turn the heat to low and sweat gently for 10 minutes or until the onions become translucent.

Meanwhile, separate the coriander leaves from the stems and set aside for garnishing if you like. Finely chop the root and stems and add these to the pan with the five spice powder. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes to release the beautiful aromatic flavours.

Add the chopped tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer, then return the oxtail to the pan, ensuring that the pieces are fully submerged. Braise very gently for 1½ hours or until the oxtail is really soft and sticky.

Add the fish sauce, tamari and sugar or maple syrup. Turn up the heat just slightly and continue to cook for another 20 minutes or so. Taste and adjust the seasoning and flavours a little if you need to. Serve piping hot, garnished with coriander leaves if you so wish.

Sautéed Savoy Cabbage with Chilli and Garlic Oils

Savoy cabbage is a lovely, vibrant winter vegetable that works really well with slow-cooked dishes and vegetable purées, as well as simple grilled white fish
Serves 4

1 medium Savoy cabbage
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp Chilli Oil – see below
1 tbsp Garlic Oil – see below
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1½ tbsp very finely chopped curly parsley

To finish
1 medium red chilli, finely shredded
Or a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, plus 1 tablesp very finely chopped curly parsley

Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage, retaining those that you can as the dark outer leaves are really beautiful when cooked. With a sharp knife, remove the fibrous central core of the outer leaves and then slice the leaves crossways into fine ribbons. Slice the rest of the cabbage in half lengthways and similarly cut into ribbons (there is no need to remove the core as it is quite tender).

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add a very generous pinch of salt. Plunge the cabbage into the boiling water and allow to return to the boil. Immediately tip the cabbage into a colander, drain well, then place in a warm bowl.

Drizzle the chilli and garlic oils over the cabbage and add the lemon zest and chopped parsley. Toss to mix, then taste and add a little seasoning if needed. For an extra kick, scatter over some shredded red chilli. Alternatively, add a generous squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle with chopped parsley and a good grinding of pepper. Serve straight away while piping hot!

Chilli Oil

Skye says ‘I use this oil to give a dish a gentle kick, not an intense overwhelming heat. I therefore use the large red chillies, which are fairly mild in flavour, and always remove their seeds.

To prepare, halve 4 large chillies lengthways and remove the seeds. Slice lengthways into very fine strips, then cut across into tiny squares (almost mincing the chillies). Place in a bowl, add a pinch of sea salt and then pour over 200ml olive oil. Use within 1 or 2 days.

Garlic Oil

I am drawn to strong, clean flavours in food and love the gutsy punch of chopped raw garlic. I’m not afraid to throw raw garlic on to many dishes, especially if its rawness is slightly tempered by a really good quality olive oil. I often fold a spoonful or two of garlic oil into lemon mayonnaise or flavoured yoghurt to give it a kick. And a bowl of borlotti or white beans really comes alive if you stir in a spoonful or two just before eating.

To prepare, peel 10 garlic cloves, chop them very finely and place in a bowl with a good pinch of sea salt. Pour over 200ml extra virgin olive oil and stir to combine. Use the oil immediately, or within a day or two.

Blood Orange and Rosemary Jelly

A lovely, light, palate-cleansing dessert, this is jelly as it should be …wobbly, cool and not too sweet. Blood oranges are one of my favourite things. These beautiful, blackberry-scented jewels are usually around from December to March, but they are at their best during January and February – just when winter seems almost too barren to bear. You will need about 10 oranges to obtain the amount of juice you need, depending on their size. As the flesh of blood oranges varies in colour and pattern, so will the depth of colour of this jelly.
Serves 4

600ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice
100g caster sugar
3 rosemary sprigs
3½ sachets of leaf gelatine (or 11g sachet powdered gelatine)
Sunflower (or other neutral flavoured) oil, to oil

To serve
Blood orange slices and a little freshly squeezed juice

Put the orange juice and sugar into a saucepan. Lay the rosemary sprigs on a board and bruise to release their flavour by pressing them firmly with the handle of your knife, then add to the saucepan. Immerse the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water and leave to soften for about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, place the saucepan over a gentle heat to dissolve the sugar. As the juice begins to warm through, it will take on the flavour of the rosemary. When the sugar has completely dissolved and the juice comes just to the boil, take off the heat. Remove the gelatine from the cold water and squeeze to remove excess liquid, then add to the hot orange juice and stir to dissolve. Strain through a sieve into a bowl, to remove any pithy bits and the rosemary.

Lightly oil 4 individual pudding bowls and pour in the jelly. Allow to cool completely, then place in the fridge to set – this will only take 1 or 2 hours. I like to serve these jellies on the day they are made, as they continue to set if you leave them in the fridge for longer and can become too firm.

To serve, place slice of blood orange on each serving plate and squeeze over a little more juice. To unmould each jelly, briefly dip the base of the mould into warm water, then run a little knife around the rim and invert on to the plate. Serve straight away.

Foolproof Food

Parsnip Purée with thyme, mustard and crème fraîche

 Sweet and nutty in flavour, this is a lovely winter purée. It works well with simple grilled meats and with slow-cooked rabbit and chicken dishes.
Serves 4

1kg parsnips
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thyme sprigs
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
50g unsalted butter
2 tbsp. crème fraîche
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Peel and roughly chop the parsnips. Place in a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a good pinch of salt and the thyme sprigs. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the parsnips are really tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the heat and drain in a colander. Discard the thyme sprigs.

Tip the hot parsnips into a blender and add the mustard, butter, crème fraîche and nutmeg. Whiz to a smooth purée. Check for seasoning – you’ll probably need to add a little salt and a generous grinding of pepper. If the purée needs to be warmed through, return to the pan and stir over a low heat to reheat before serving.

Cooks Book

Larousse Gastronomique – in 4 paperback volumes

Since is original publication in 1938, “Larousse Gastronomique” has withstood the test of time and trend, to remain the world’s most authoritative culinary reference book.
Recently published in four paperback volumes by Hamlyn – Fish & Shellfish - Vegetables and Salads - Desserts, Cakes & Pastries - Meat, Poultry & Game – indispensable for the cook’s library.

Watch out for some nice fresh herrings and cook them simply as follows – from Larousse Fish and Shellfish.

Fried Herring
Choose small herrings weighing about 125g (4½oz). Clean, trim, score and soak them in milk for about 30 minutes. Drain. Coat with flour and deep-fry in oil at 175c (347F) for 3-4 minutes. Drain well on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve them with lemon quarters.

Grilled Herring
Clean and trim medium-sized herrings. Brush them with oil or melted butter, season with pepper and cook under a moderate grill. Sprinkle with salt and serve with maître d’hôtel butter or a mustard sauce.

Hot Tips

Green Box scoops tourism award
The Green Box is Ireland’s first integrated sustainable and ecotourism visitor destination. It recently achieved a ‘highly commended’ award for ‘Best New Destination’ at the First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards, which were part of the World Travel Market 2006, held in London in November. www.greenbox.ie  info@greenbox.ie  www.responsibletravel.com  

M E G A B Y T E S by John & Sally McKenna

An up-to-the-minute selection of news and reviews which will tell you everything you need to know about who and what is happening in contemporary Irish food.

1_The Megabytes Awards for 2006
http://www.bestofbridgestone.com/mb/dc6/aw.html 

2_The Megabytes Talents for 2007
http://www.bestofbridgestone.com/mb/dc6/ta.html 

3_Ten New Things to Taste in 2007
http://www.bestofbridgestone.com/mb/dc6/tt.html 

4_The 2007 Bridgestone 100 Best Guides and Website http://www.bestofbridgestone.com/mb/dc6/bg.html