Grayshott Hall health farm, near Liphook on the borders of Hampshire and Surrey, is a comfortable place. One can do what one likes. It is not compulsory to be slapped, steamed or irrigated; one may simply rest, recuperate and sleep. And the food is good, particularly cold meats, fish and salads from the daily buffet in the main dining room. It feels like a proper dining room - real napkins, sweet people who wait, and a lovely view of the grounds. The only quirks are the missing wine list and the fact that fellow guests seem under-dressed - the latter observation making it quite clear why the room is also as warm as toast - wholemeal toast, naturally.
On that occasion, I had also given up smoking (not for long, I'm pleased to say) and the pounds stuck to me like lead. So, although I came away with a spring in my step, I still couldn't get into my Issey black drainpipe trousers. I have been back since, however, and managed to shift 10lb and fug up my bedroom.
What I do remember, though, from both visits, was the joy of eating a generous quantity of garnet-red grapefruits every morning. They were really so very good that I asked for some at every meal. I had never really been a huge fan of grapefruit before this, but since having had these juicy fruits immaculately segmented each morning, I have never looked back. I mean, I knew how to do it, being a highly skilled and pernickety chef, don't you know, but slicing and making neat segments out of a pink citrus fruit was certainly not the job for Hoppy when slaving away at Bibendum. He did main courses and shouted a bit...
I seriously considered writing an article for this paper when I was last at Grayshott Hall, on the tricky subject of cooking interesting food while on a calorie-controlled diet. But I just could not do it. I mean, I might have run away, what with all the runny-creamy-buttery-deep-fried-mashed- potato-gin-and-tonic dreamy orgasms that flitted through my head, each and every day.
But grapefruits, just now, big, red and bulbous, all the way from Florida, with their perfectly shaped juicy wedges, have had me reminiscing over my visits to Grayshott Hall. After all, this is not the time of year to be anally retentive over seasonal produce (usually my naturally intended brief); one just wants not to eat very much at all after the festive feasting. There is no reason, however, that unseasonal cookery should not be interesting, or tasty, or even thrilling. The following three citrus-based recipes revolve around a theme that is sharp, sweet and fragrant. In essence, an elegant finish to a simple lunch or dinner.
Mandarin granita, serves 4
For those of you have had enough of tangerines, satsumas and clementines at Christmas, this wonderfully refreshing granita can also be made with the new crop of blood oranges that will be arriving soon in the shops. For those of you who have not made or eaten granita before, it is, in essence, a coarse sorbet or water ice. Italian in origin (meaning "granular"), the most famous of all granitas is the one made from strong espresso coffee. And the most delicious of those that I have ever eaten is one served at Tre Scalini, on the Piazza Navona in Rome.
500ml tangerine, satsuma or clementine juice, strained
125-150ml caster sugar, depending upon the sweetness of the fruit
juice of 1 small lemon
Before you even start to make the granita, make sure you chill a shallow metal tray in the freezer.
Put the three ingredients together in a bowl and whisk together to dissolve the sugar. Carefully pour into the tray in the freezer, and leave there for about 20 minutes and then have a look. What you are looking for is ice crystals forming around the edge of the tray (completely opposite to ice-cream or sorbets as, here, the ice crystals are the essential charm of the thing). Once the crystals have formed about 2 or 3 inches from the edge, towards the middle of the tray, gently lift them with a fork into the not-so-frozen middle part. Return to the freezer. Have another look in another 20 minutes and repeat the forking. Continue this procedure until all the mixture has formed crystals; this process may take up to 2 hours. Once fully crystalised, tip into a suitable, lidded plastic container and store in the freezer until ready to use. The granita should keep its texture for a few days, but soon after that, it will start to firm up into a block. However, it is simple to start again by just melting the fruit juice and going through the motions once more. To serve the granita, pile into tall, chilled glasses and top with a spoonful of creme fraiche or whipped cream, flavoured with a little mandarin liqueur or Cointreau, if you like.
Red grapefruit and blood orange jelly with champagne, serves 8
4 red grapefruits
5 blood oranges
225ml plain orange juice (strained through a fine sieve)
5 leaves gelatine
Cut the skin from both grapefruits and oranges right down through past the pith, using a sharp serrated knife. The best way to do this - after cutting off a slice from the top and bottom - is to stand the fruits on their ends, cutting downwards in a curved motion, following the line of the cut fruit once it has been exposed by the knife. Continue, rotating the fruit, until all the skin has been removed. Put the leaves of gelatine into a bowl of cold water to soak until spongy.
Now, taking the fruit in one hand, slice between and against the membranes, so allowing a segment to fall out, discarding pips as you go along. Collect both grapefruit and orange segments in a bowl, juice and all. Once finished, strain off excess juice into a small pan and put in the gelatine leaves. Warm over a low heat to melt the gelatine and strain once more into a measuring jug. Top up with the plain orange juice to reach 250ml, and then slowly add the champagne to reach the 500ml mark. Stir well, but carefully, as the champagne will froth.
Line a terrine mould with clingfilm and pile in the fruit segments. Pour over the champagne and orange juice and gently move the fruit around with a fork to aid even distribution of solids and liquid. Put in the fridge to set for one hour and then cover the surface with clingfilm, allowing it to make contact with the surface of the jelly. Leave in the fridge for at least another 4 hours, or, preferably, overnight. To serve, dip the mould into a bath of hot water for a few seconds, then carefully invert on to a chilled serving dish. Slice carefully, using a serrated knife that has been dipped into hot water.
Lemon and lime syllabub, serves 4
Syllabub is one of the very nicest of traditional English desserts. It should be light and almost frothy, insubstantial and tart, with the merest hint of spirit and wine in the background. To add some further interest to the previous jelly recipe, you might like to serve it with some of this syllabub, having previously halved the recipe.
Note: make sure there is no pith on the zest of the lemon and limes.
zest and juice of 2 limes
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
150ml sweet white wine (sweet Alsatian would be particularly good)
2 rounded tbsp caster sugar
112 tbsp Cognac
275ml very cold double cream
Put the zest and juices into a small stainless-steel or enamelled pan, together with the wine, sugar and Cognac. Bring up to a simmer and
cook for 3-4 minutes, very gently.
Cover and leave to infuse for an
hour or so. Strain into another similar pan (or rinse out the old one) and
heat once more, simmering, to reduce the syrup by one third. Leave to completely cool in the fridge.
Pour the cream into a chilled bowl and stir in the citrus syrup. Using an electric hand-beater, whisk the mixture on a slow speed until loosely thick and just holding its own shape. Pile into chilled glasses and chill once more in the fridge for 30 minutes. Serve with dainty sweet biscuits
Grayshott Hall, Headley Road, Grayshott, Surrey, (01428 604331)
Readers of this column for the issue for 3 January may have been bewildered by the use of a black-and-white image to illustrate the fact that carpaccio was so-named after Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian Renaissance painter famed for his use of brilliant reds and whites. The fault lies with gremlins in the production process.Reuse content