I’VE just discovered Somerset!
Sounds like a bit of a random statement but even though I’ve been there on a fleeting visit before, I didn’t really register its multitude of charms — The Mendip Hills, Gardens at Stourhead, Albert’s Tower, Hauser and Wirth, Glastonbury Tor and Abbey, Dunster Castle, Jane Austen Centre, Wells Cathedral, Quantock Hills, Chalice Well, Bishops Lydeard Mill, Rural Life Museum and all the galleries.
My brother Rory O’Connell and I had been invited to do a pop-up dinner at Roth Bar and Grill at Hauser and Wirth just outside the village of Bruton. This complex has been painstakingly restored from an advanced state of dereliction by Iwan and Manuela Wirth. They are widely held to be the number one couple in the modern art world.
While we were there, a Don McCullin photographic exhibition was drawing people from far and wide. His powerful black and white photos from warzones in Africa, Vietnam and Biafra, and England in the 1950s were profound.
More than one person emerged from the exhibition with tears pouring down their cheeks and Daphne Wright’s stallion sculpture quite simply awe inspiring. But we’d come to cook dinner with Steve Horrell and his team at the Roth Bar and Grill. Rory’s delicious starter of fresh orange segments, cucumber dice, myrtle berries and marigold paprika leaves with a lemon verbena granita on top, really wowed the guests.
Main course was roast pork with crackling and spiced aubergines — a worthy celebration of a free-range sandy black pig from the estate. Yoghurt and cardamom cream with pomegranate seeds and rosewater blossom made a perfect ending followed by a surprise piece of Ballymaloe fudge served with freshly roasted and brewed coffee. The walls of the restaurant are hung with pictures from top contemporary artists from around the world.
The bar was created by Bjorn, Oddur and Einar Roth from Switzerland. Carcasses of beef, lamb, pork and pheasant hang in the dry aging salt house that is lined with 500 hand cut Himalayan salt bricks.
Steve’s food at the Roth Bar and Grill is simply delicious. We had fresh, simple, seasonal dishes. A terrine of pork and pheasant was served with medlar jelly and organic leaves from Charles Dowding’s garden in the nearby village of Alhampton.
Charles is the grower who has championed the no-dig method of vegetable growing. I went along to visit his garden and was so impressed that I’ve invited him to come and teach a class at the school in 2016, so watch this space. www.charlesdowding.co.uk
Somerset is also cheddar cheese country. I’d visited Keens and Montgomery Cheddar on a previous trip so this time we were shown around the Westcombe Cheddar dairy in Evercreech by Richard Calver. They’ve been making cheddar on this farm since the 1980s, and now with his son Tom makes Caerphilly and are trialling a Comté type cheese.
He’s also provided space close to the dairy for some exciting young craft brewers to make a range of barrel aged beers close to the dairy, The Wild Beer Company.
The village of Bruton itself with its charming narrow cobbled streets has a variety of little shops, café and restaurants, far more lively than so many rural towns and villages nowadays.
This revival according to the locals is largely due to Hauser and Wirth which entices people from London and beyond to view the worldclass exhibitions and enjoy the food from the estate farm and gardens.
At The Chapel, on the main street also gets rave reviews. We loved a Taleggio pizza with field mushrooms and thyme leaves from their woodburning oven and the croissants and pan au chocolat were delicious. We never did manage to eat at Matt’s, a tiny restaurant where chef Oliver Matt cooks and serves himself — it was booked out until Christmas.
I’m looking forward to going back for a family Saturday at Hauser and Wirth early in the New Year.
Roth Bar and Grill Doughnuts
250ml (9 fl oz) milk
50g (2 oz) sugar
500g (18 oz) strong white bread flour
40g (1¾) oz butter
15g fresh yeast
Sugar and little cinnamon powder for sugaring
Warm the milk and sugar in a pan until tepid. Mix the flour, butter, yeast and eggs in a mixing bowl with a dough mixer. Add the yeast to the milk and sugar mix, then pour the milk mix into the flour mix.
Beat on a low speed for five minutes followed by five minutes on high speed. Place the dough in a bowl covered with clingfilm to prove. Take out the bowl, cut into 15g portions and roll in to balls. Place on a lightly oiled tray with clingfilm over the top.
Leave to prove again until they double in size.
Deep fry at 180C until golden brown – turn over half way through. It is best to do only a few at a time. Remove and drain onto kitchen paper.
Sugar the balls — they are now ready to serve.
Roth Bar and Grill Roasted Squash and Pearled Spelt Salad
1 Butternut squash
2 cloves of garlic
A small bunch of hard herbs – thyme, rosemary and marjoram
Spices - dried chilli, coriander seeds, fennel seeds
Pomice oil, olive oil and red wine vinegar
Parsley — chopped
Salt and pepper
Peel and deseed the squash. Cut into long chunky wedges. Take a level teaspoon of each spice and ground in a pestle and mortar. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Pick and roughly chop the hard herbs.
In a bowl, sprinkle half the herbs, half the garlic, half the spices, salt and pepper and a good glug of pomice oil over the butternut squash. Get your hands dirty — ensure the squash is covered in the oil, herbs and spices.
Remove the squash and put on a tray – retain the bowl of oil.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, squeeze out the seeds and toss them in the oil bowl with the rest of the herbs and spices and salt and pepper. Put in a small separate roasting tray.
Put the squash in the oven on 220C/425F gas mark 8 for 15 minutes. Shake and turn frequently until golden brown then remove from the oven and leave to cool. Roast the tomatoes in their own tray at 220C/425F gas mark 8 for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Put the spelt into a pan of salted cold water. Bring up to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain off the spelt, while still warm add a good glug of olive oil, red wine vinegar, chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.
Mix the squash, tomatoes and spelt together in a clean bowl. Gently combine all ingredients using your hands.
Taste to check the seasoning and adjust to taste.
Serve with grilled meat or fish or by itself for a light lunch.
Serve with game, pork or coarse patés or goat cheese
Makes 6-8 jars depending on size
2 lbs (900 g) medlars
2 lbs (900 g) Bramley or crab apples
Piece of cinnamon stick
2 star anise, optional
2 strips of lemon
Cut the fruit into quarters, put into a stainless steel saucepan. Cover with water, bring to the boil and cover until soft. Pour into a jelly bag and leave to drip overnight.
Don’t squeeze the jelly through the bag or the juice will be cloudy. Next day measure the juice and allow 450g (1 lb) of sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) juice.
Heat the sugar and add to the hot juice. Add the spices and boil until setting point is reached. Pour into hot sterilised jars and cover immediately.
Pork and Pheasant Terrine with Medlar Jelly
Every charcuterie in France proudly sells its own version of pâté de campagne. They vary enormously in content and makeup — some are made with rabbit, game and even sweetbreads.
A certain proportion of fat is essential, otherwise the terrine will be dry and dull. It is meant to be rough textured so the mixture should not be too finely minced.
8 ozs (225g) fresh pheasant or chicken livers or a mixture of both
2 tbsp brandy
½ tsp ground white pepper (yes, put it all in!)
8 ozs (225g) very thinly sliced, rindless streaky rashers (you may need more if they are not very thinly sliced) or better still, barding fat.
½ oz (15g) butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 lb (450g) streaky pork, minced
8 ozs (225g) pheasant, minced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
¼-½ tsp ground allspice (pimento or Jamaican pepper)
A good pinch of ground cloves
1 tbsp freshly chopped annual marjoram
2 small eggs, beaten
2 ozs (50g) shelled pistachios
Salt, freshly ground pepper, and nutmeg
6-8 ozs (170-225g) piece of cooked ham, cut in thick strips
Sprig of thyme
8 ozs (225g) flour
5-6 fl oz (150-175 ml) approximately water
Medlar jelly (see recipe opposite)
Cornichons; French breakfast radishes and a little salad of organic leaves and fresh herbs
3 pint (1.7l) capacity terrine or casserole with tight-fitting lid
Wash the livers, separate the lobes and remove any trace of green. Marinade in the brandy and ½ teaspoon of ground white pepper for 2 hours. Line a terrine or casserole with very thinly sliced bacon or barding fat, keeping a few slices for the top.
Sweat the onion gently in the butter until soft but not coloured. In a bowl mix the sweated onion with the pork, pheasant, garlic, allspice, ground cloves, chopped marjoram, beaten eggs and the brandy from the chicken livers.
Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and lots of grated nutmeg. Mix very thoroughly. Fry a little piece and taste for seasoning. It should taste quite spicy and highly seasoned. Add the pistachios and beat until the mixture holds together.
Spread a third of the farce in the lined terrine, add a layer of half the ham strips interspersed with half the chicken livers, then cover with another third of the pork mixture. Add the remaining ham and livers and cover with the last third.
Lay the reserved barding fat or bacon slices on top, trimming the edges if necessary. Set the bay leaf and sprig of thyme on top of the bacon or barding fat and cover with the lid. Seal the lid with luting paste (see below) or else use a sheet of tinfoil under the lid.
Cook in a bain-marie in a heated oven, 180C/350F/regulo4, for 1¾—2 hours or until a skewer inserted for half a minute into the mixture is hot to the touch when taken out.
If you are still in doubt remove the lid and check: the pate should also have shrunk in from the sides of the terrine and the juices should be clear.
Cool until tepid, remove the luting paste or tinfoil and lid and press the terrine with a board and a 2 lb (900g) weight until cold. This helps to compact the layers so that it will cut more easily.
Keep for two to three days before serving to allow the terrine to mature. It can be frozen for up to two months.
To serve: Unmould the terrine, cut into thick slices as needed and serve with medlar jelly, a good green salad and a glass of red wine. Cornichons and crispy radishes are delicious as an accompaniment.
For the luting paste
Mix the flour and water into a dough firm enough to handle, roll into a rope and use to seal the lid on to the casserole to prevent the steam from escaping during cooking.
As anyone who is coeliac, or who cooks for someone who has gluten intolerance, will testify, it can be challenging to produce really delicious, balanced meals.
Finally, help is to hand in the form of this intensive half-day course.
On Saturday, January 23, you’ll learn about a whole range of tasty and easy-to-prepare dishes including gluten-free sweet and savoury pastry, crackling salmon with coriander pesto and gluten free raspberry muffins.
Cooking for coeliacs should not be a chore.
Advice on alternative ingredients and lots of baking tips will help take the mystery out of successful gluten-free cooking.
Now is the time to order seeds for a herb and vegetable garden.
The seed catalogue 2016 from The Organic Centre in Co Leitrim is chock-a-block with a wide variety of salad leaves, edible flowers, herbs, vegetables; order from www.theorganiccentre.ie or Tel: 071-9854338 for a copy and get growing.
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