More than anything else, my cooking is produce-driven. At Petersham, we compose our menus daily once the fresh produce arrives and we know what is at its best. Beautiful ingredients will take a dish to new heights.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Kohlrabi, apple and crab salad
Clean, slightly peppery tasting kohlrabi is an underrated vegetable that works beautifully with a good, crisp apple.
1 Cox's apple
200g/7oz freshly picked white-crab meat
A handful of curly parsley, stalks removed, leaves finely chopped
30ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing
1 egg yolk
1tsp Dijon mustard
1tbsp cider vinegar
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1tbsp double cream
2-3 perfectly ripe tomatoes, sliced
Peel the kohlrabi and slice as finely as possible. Core and slice the apple into fine discs, leaving the skin on. Place the kohlrabi and apple in a bowl, add the crab meat, chopped parsley and extra-virgin olive oil, and season with a little salt and pepper. Toss together lightly with your fingers, then set aside while you make the dressing.
Place the egg yolk in a blender or small food processor and add the honey, mustard, cider vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Whiz to combine, then, with the motor running, very slowly drizzle in the olive oil through the feeder tube. When it is all incorporated, add the cream, turn off the motor and pour into a bowl.
Layer the salad and tomato slices attractively on individual plates, spoon over a little of the dressing and serve right away. Hand the remaining dressing around separately in a jug.
Wafer-thin slices of porcini with aged Parmesan and crème fraîche
Cheese holds a sense of romance for me. It is so much a product of its terrain, flora, fauna and clime. Certain cheeses have a natural affinity with heat but most taste best – as here – in their natural state.
200g/7oz porcini mushrooms
120g/4oz aged Parmesan
The juice of half a lemon
65ml/21/2oz mild-tasting, good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4tbsp crème fraîche
A handful of curly parsley, leaves only, very finely chopped
Wipe the mushrooms carefully and gently with a soft clean cloth; don't wash them or the water will soak in and drown their flavour. Using a small sharp knife, trim the bases, then cut into wafer-thin slices.
Slice the Parmesan very finely (to ensure that it does not overpower the delicate flavour of the mushrooms, the slices need to be paper-thin).
Toss the sliced porcini and Parmesan together very gently, squeeze over the lemon juice and drizzle with a little of the oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper – these flavours are too delicate for enthusiastic seasoning. The salad is a whisper of flavours, no more.
Arrange on individual plates, with a spoonful of crème fraîche in the centre. Drizzle over the rest of the olive oil and sprinkle with chopped parsley to serve.
Chicken with figs and honey
Honey in savoury dishes can be delicious, but it must be counterbalanced with a certain amount of acidity to redress the balance, hence the wine vinegar here.
1 organic free-range chicken, about 1.6kg/3lb, jointed into 6-8 pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp mild-tasting olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
125ml/4fl oz white wine or verjuice
150ml/5fl oz good-quality chicken stock
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp mild-tasting honey, such as acacia
10 ripe figs
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Trim off the excess fat from the chicken, then season generously with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then brown the chicken pieces in batches, skin-side down, for about eight minutes, turning to colour them evenly all over. Remove the chicken to a flameproof casserole dish with a slotted spoon. Pour off most of the fat from the frying pan, then add the onion and cook over a low heat for five minutes to soften.
Add the onion to the casserole dish with the thyme and bay leaf. Pour over the wine and chicken stock. Place the casserole, uncovered, on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for about 30 minutes until the meat is tender but not quite falling from the bone. The skin should now be golden and the liquid reduced by about half.
Place the casserole over a low heat on the hob. Mix the wine vinegar and honey and pour in. Tear each fig into four and add to the casserole. Bring to a boil; allow to bubble until the liquor has reduced to a syrupy consistency – it should be glossy and taste both sweet and sour. Serve on warm plates, with a salad and some bread.
Chocolate desserts should be rich, but not too sweet – here there is just enough lemon zest and orange syrup to keep it light.
600ml/1 pint whole milk
The grated zest of 2 oranges
The grated zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways
8 organic free-range eggs
125g/4oz caster sugar
120g/4oz plain flour
5tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
80g/3oz good dark chocolate, chopped
80ml/3fl oz limoncello
20 savoiardi (sponge finger biscuits)
For the candied oranges
250g/8oz caster sugar
250ml/8fl oz water
First prepare the candied oranges. Slice into fine rounds and blanch in a pan of boiling water for a minute or so. Drain and refresh in cold water. Repeat this process twice. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a small heavy-based pan over a medium heat, then bring to the boil. Add the oranges, turn down the heat slightly and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the syrup is viscous. Take off the heat and set aside to cool.
Now pour the milk into a heavy-based pan and add the orange and lemon zest. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add to the pan, with the empty pod. Heat to a simmer, then immediately remove and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes.
Whisk the eggs, sugar and flour in a large bowl until the mixture is pale and thick. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking as you do so. Pour back into the pan and whisk over a low heat until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon and no longer tastes floury. Immediately pour into two bowls, dividing equally, and discarding the vanilla pod. Add the cocoa powder and chocolate to one bowl and stir until the powder is evenly distributed and the chocolate has melted. Set the bowls of vanilla and chocolate custards aside to cool.
Drain the oranges, reserving the syrup, and chop into small pieces, then stir the limoncello into the syrup. Take a tablespoon of the syrup and stir it into the vanilla custard. Split the savoiardi in half lengthways and sprinkle with the remaining orange syrup. Arrange a layer of the soaked savoiardi over the bottom of a pretty serving bowl. Top with a layer of vanilla custard, then a scattering of chopped orange. Add another layer of savoiardi, followed by chocolate custard, then orange. Continue in this way until you've used all the ingredients, finishing with a few spoonfuls each of the vanilla and chocolate custards. Swirl together to create a marbled effect, then refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer shares her tips on how to find the very best ingredients...
Be discerning Buy from experts in their field who really know about the products they are selling: local butchers, bakers, fishmongers, specialist food shops, markets and box schemes. Very few staff in supermarkets will ever be able to tell you about the goods they sell.
Don't rely on packaging for information
Many farmers and producers now have their own websites and are an invaluable source of information.
Be curious Seek out products of local distinction. These days, British regional tourism authorities and food groups are a good starting point for information. Cornwall, for example, has one of the best food reference resources in the UK in Taste Cornwall, a biannual glossy filled with features and producer contacts ( www.insidecornwall.co.uk). For a list of regional food groups nationwide, visit www.britishagriculturemarketing.co.uk/meet_the_farmer/regional_food_groups.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627Reuse content