Food: Taking stock of the market

British cheeses, Spanish sausages, organic fruit and vegetables: one market's answer to the threat from the superstores. Photographs by Dominick Tyler
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Arriving in Borough Market, by London Bridge, on one of its "open days" is like walking into a surprise party. Neal's Yard Dairy spills out into Park Street pumping out the fine aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Outside, olive oils are lined up to taste with baskets of breads and pastries. Inside, whole cheeses are stacked on trestle tables reading for sampling, with jars of chutney and organic apples casually strewn around.

Further inside the market, Turnips the wholesaler stays open for the day. On my last visit, it had a sizeable organic corner, with assorted lettuces, strings of garlic, squashes, runner beans and vine tomatoes. Next to it were boxes of wild mushrooms, bunches of baby beets with their leaves intact, turnips, carrots, leeks and fennel. A wooden box contained bushy bunches of rosemary, thyme, sage and tarragon. It was also the first time I have encountered chillies on the vine outside of a kitsch pot plant.

Two hundred yards away (there's a map for those with a poor sense of direction) is the Spanish wholesaler, Brindisa. While I am used to coming across the odd delicacy imported by Brindisa's Monica Lavery, this is a rare opportunity to see her entire range on display and opened up for tasting. I walked away with a sizeable chorizo, a vast chunk of Manchego cheese, some marinated black Aragon olives, Calasparra rice for making paella, and some gorgeously creamy Judion butter beans. A nearby baker, Konditor & Cook, offered trays of chocolate brownies, sticky date and walnut slices, buttery shortbread, cheese sables, and a scrumptious "torta di Santiago". This latter consists of a base of cinnamon shortbread, a layer of quince cheese and almond sponge with sherry. I was once hooked on something unmentionable called a paradise slice that came from a back- street bakery in Henley (not an area renowned for its good food) - torta di Santiago is somewhat better.

All this is a mere taste of what is to come if George Nicholson, chairman of the market's development committee, has his way. As well as the regular open days (the next is on 3 December), there are plans for a monthly farmers' market, and Nicholson is setting up links with the organic Soil Association, so that local growers and allotment owners can sell their wares.

Not far behind Nicholson is food writer Henrietta Green. She has organised a Food Lovers' Fair, with 55 hand-picked producers, as part of next week's Southwark Festival. And there will be a food lovers' cafe run by Fergus Henderson of Smithfield restaurant St John. "I wanted to do something that reflected the time of day," says Henderson.

His cooking kicks off with kedgeree, later there will be seed and Madeira cake and at lunch-time, various delights he's had up his sleeve for years. "I've always wanted to serve chitterlings [pig intestines] in a bun." For those that don't want offal, there will be a large pot of lentils simmering away for eating with pork knuckle or goat's curds, and barbecued marinated quails. I'll be back for breakfast and shopping.

Fergus Henderson's Lentils and Goat's Curd, serves 6

Neal's Yard Dairy sells a fresh unsalted goat's curd, which having been drained through muslin is crumbly and not unlike ricotta. Failing a supply of this, you could use any fresh and mild tasting goat's cheese in its place.

3 fennel bulbs

3 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled, halved and sliced

1 onion, peeled and chopped

3 leeks, trimmed and sliced

500g Puy lentils

1.7 litres water

6 thyme sprigs, tied with string

2 bay leaves

sea salt, black pepper

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

50g curly parsley, chopped

2 bunches or 150g watercress, roughly chopped

250g goat's curd

Cut off and discard the shoots from the fennel bulbs, also the outer sheath from each if it appears damaged or tough. Dice the remaining bulbs. Heat the olive oil in your largest saucepan and sweat the garlic, onion, leeks and fennel until they are glossy and relaxed. Add the lentils and sweat them for a minute or two, then pour in the water. Add the thyme and bay leaves, bring to a simmer and cook for 50 minutes, adding a little more water if they appear to dry out.

The lentils should be a coherent mass rather than separate peas. Season generously, and just before serving, stir in the extra virgin olive oil, the parsley and watercress. Serve with a spoon of goat's curd on top.

Fergus Henderson's Grilled Marinated Quail, serves 6

"A rather maligned bird, the quail. It quite enjoys a certain firmness in handling." Fergus recommends serving these with a "spirited aioli [garlic mayonnaise]". Ideally, these should be barbecued, which makes a nice autumnal end to the season, but they can be cooked on a ridged griddle or under a grill. They will, however, lack that quintessential "singed" flavour.

Marinade

I tbsp finely chopped thyme

1 tbsp finely chopped garlic

1 tbsp finely chopped red chilli (seeds removed)

200ml extra virgin olive oil

black pepper

sea salt

12 quails

Snip out the quail's backbones using scissors (please note: not breastbone), I ask my butcher to do this for me. Then press down with the palm of your hand to flatten the bird spatchcock-fashion. Combine the thyme, garlic and chilli with the oil and black pepper. Smear this over your quail in a large shallow container, cover and leave in the fridge overnight for "all to get to know each other". Just before throwing onto the barbecue or griddle, season with salt. Grill thoroughly on either side.

This is my own interpretation of a "spirited aioli", the rough-and- ready version.

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 large egg

150ml groundnut oil

150ml extra virgin olive oil

juice of half a lemon

sea salt

Place the garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse to finely chop them. Add the egg and continue to whizz, and then slowly trickle in the oils as though making a mayonnaise. Finally, add the lemon juice, season with salt and remove to a bowl.

Konditor & Cook's Torta di Santiago, serves 10

Gerhard Jenne of Konditor & Cook was given this recipe by Monica Lavery of Brindisa, who imports the quince cheese. Think of a Bakewell tart, then think Spanish and you're more or less there. You should be able to find quince cheese in a good deli or cheese shop, though you could use apricot jam, sieving it first.

Pastry

150g plain flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp caster sugar

100g lightly salted butter, chilled and diced

1 medium egg yolk

Filling

200g quince cheese

50g ground almonds

Topping

150g ground almonds

100g caster sugar

12 tsp ground cinnamon

12 tsp finely grated lemon zest

3 medium eggs

75g lightly salted butter, melted

75ml dry sherry

To serve

icing sugar for dusting

To make the pastry, combine the flour, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs and then bring it together with the egg yolk. It is easiest to do this in a food processor. Wrap it in film and chill for one hour. Blend the quince cheese and ground almonds for the filling to a paste in a bowl. In another bowl combine all the ingredients for the topping.

Heat the oven to 170C fan oven/180C or 350F electric oven/gas mark 4. Line a 20 x 30cm baking tray (or equivalent) with paper parchment. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and line the baking tray, trimming it to allow 1cm for shrinkage. Prick the pastry and bake it blind for 15 minutes. Spread the quince filling over the pastry in a thin layer, then smooth over the almond topping. Bake for a further 40 minutes in the oven. Remove and leave to cool. Cut into squares or triangles and dust with icing sugar using a tea strainer

Food Lovers' Fair at Borough Market, Southwark Street, London, SE1. Friday 6 November 11am-7pm; Saturday 7 November 10am-5pm; Sunday 8 November 10am-4pm. For further details, call 0171-403 7400.

Simon Hopkinson returns next week

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