Last Saturday we cooked a Tuscan feast at Petersham to help Italian food expert Lori de Mori and her photographer husband Jason Lowe celebrate the publication of their lovely book, Beaneaters and Bread Soup (Quadrille Publishing, £20).
I met Lori quite recently, as she lives in Tuscany, but Jason I know well – he worked with me on my first book, and in foodie circles he is something of a legend, having done the photography for an unbelievable number of great recipe books.
Lori's emotive writing places you right there in that Tuscan landscape of rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves. More than anything, the region's food is simple and flavourful, characterised by its very distinct peppery olive oil, chewy unsalted peasant-style breads, and the use of beans, seasonal vegetables and meat such as hare and wild boar. This book is called Beaneaters because the main meal of the day is often no more than bread and beans, known as la carne dei poveri – poor man's meat.
It was a real challenge to pare back my food. For the bruschetta di cavolo nero, for example, I had to force myself not to make it more complicated than it needed to be.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Zuppa di ceci
400g /13oz dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight
2 litres/31/2 pints of cold water
2tbsp tomato purée
A generous drizzle of olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs rosemary
500g/1lb Swiss chard,cut into strips
Sea salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, to serve
2 red chillies, chopped with their seeds, to serve
Drain the chickpeas and place in a large pot. Add the cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about two hours or until the chickpeas are tender. Then remove half of the chickpeas and purée in a blender and return to the pot. Stir in the tomato purée.
In a separate pan, warm the olive oil over a very low heat then add the pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring every now and then until the vegetables are soft. Add this vegetable mixture to the pot of chickpeas, along with the chard and season generously with salt and pepper. Simmer for a further 30 minutes. To serve, ladle into bowls and offer the chillies and olive oil separately. '
This is a simple, deeply flavourful seafood stew. At the meal, we used red mullet, clams and monkfish, but you can use whichever fish you prefer.
For the stew
2.5kg/5lb of assorted fish. We used monkfish, red mullet, clams and mussels
6tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 dried red chillies
200ml/7fl oz dry red wine
800g/26oz good-quality tinned tomatoes, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
For the stock
11/2litres/21/2pints of water
1 yellow onion
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery, chopped
A handful of flat-leaf parsley
Clean the clams and mussels. Scale, clean and fillet the fish, cutting the monkfish into two-inch pieces and the red mullet into two fillets.
To make the stock, pour the water into a stock pot and add the fish bones, vegetables and parsley. Bring to the boil, then lower immediately and simmer for 30 minutes and pass through a sieve.
To make the stew, heat the olive oil in a large cooking pot and add the onion, parsley, garlic and chillies. Sweat over a gentle heat until soft and transparent. Pour in the wine and let it bubble and spit a little, than add the tomatoes and a ladle of the stock. Turn up the heat and allow the base of the stew to boil vigorously to intensify the flavour; cook for about 15 minutes. Check for seasoning. Next, add the monkfish, red mullet, clams and mussels. Cook until the fish is firm and the mussels and clams open.
Check and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Ladle into bowls and serve.
Panna cotta simply means cooked cream. This is a simple, very good dessert, light in feel but actually quite indulgent. In her book, Lori serves it with a sauce made of berries. Last Saturday I served it with blood oranges, a drizzle of Tuscan honey and a little finely chopped dried chilli.
2tbsp cold water
2tsp powdered gelatine
500ml/17fl oz double cream
150ml/5fl oz milk
100g/31/2oz caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
Place two tablespoons of cold water in a bowl, sprinkle in the gelatine and leave to stand for 10 minutes to soften. Combine the cream, milk, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Don't allow the cream to boil. Take off the heat and whisk in the gelatine, making sure it is fully dissolved. Pour the cooked cream into six ramekins. Cover and chill in the fridge overnight.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer on where to find the tastiest Tuscan treats...
We sourced many of the ingredients for the feast from Savoria ( www.savoria.co.uk, tel: 0870 242 1823, ). Cured meats for the antipasti included: Cinta Sinese; Salame Toscano Grosso in budello naturale; Bocconcini al Tartufo and Lardo Toscano all made by the Tuscan artisans Salumeria Toscana.
We served Melata di Abete – honeydew honey from fir trees – with pecorino. This is the last honey of the summer and comes from bees gathering sugary nectar from the bark of the white and red firs in the Appenine mountains.
Our selection of artisan cheeses included: Pecorino Maremmano stagionato; Pecorino Fresco Canestrato; Marzolino Rosso; and Pecorino di Pienza al tartufo.
Les Caves de Pyrene provided two classic Tuscan wines to accompany the menu: a 2003 Chianti Classico Rodano, and a 2001 Chianti Classico Riserva Caparsa (tel: 01483 538 820, www.lescaves.co.uk)