ABERGAVENNY is a sleepy little town in South Wales with four or five charity shops, a few fried chicken joints, several Indian and Chinese restaurants, the usual estate agents and fashion shops and of course a Tesco and Aldi.
I’d been looking forward to my visit but as I ambled up the Main Street on Friday evening, the market was just closing up for the day and somehow it all seemed pretty lacklustre.
I was over in Wales for the Abergavenny Food Festival, it was scheduled to kick off that evening with Xanthe Clay of the Daily Telegraph interviewing Tom Kerridge of the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, a pub with food so yummy that Michelin has just awarded it a second star.
It was a cracking good interview . Hundreds queued to nab early copies of his second book Tom’s Table My Favourite Everyday Recipes, which was released especially for the evening.
There’s a year-long waiting list to get a weekend table in the Hand and Flowers but you could also try Coast, his most recent pub with more great grub, just down the road. I haven’t managed to get there yet but it’s definitely on my list.
The Speakers Dinner was in the St Michael’s Centre, a rather lacklustre venue but Jane Baxter of The Wild Artichoke Catering Company cooked a magical multi-course dinner.
A plate of Welsh charcuterie, arancini with truffles, crab with artichokes, tandoori lamb with, melt in the mouth meringues with a blob of cream and candied rhubarb and homemade fig rolls.
Well, here’s the surprise, I was up early on Saturday morning, the sun shone and by 9.30 the whole of Abergavenny was totally transformed and throbbing with energy and excitement.
Hundreds of food stalls lined the streets and lanes; the beautiful market building was adorned with coloured ribbons and huge fantastical goats, sheep and pigs made by local women dangled from the high ceiling.
I did my cookery demo in the Priory and then dashed from one place to another signing books, doing a ‘rant’, trying to taste as many delicious things and attend as many events as possible.
I managed to get to Claire Ptak’s cookery demo and learned the secret of the best selling Blondies at Violet cakes in Hackney.
I also managed to catch Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully’s Masterclass where they shared secrets from their new book of recipes from Nopi restaurant in Warwick Street In London.
Over the years, Abergavenny has also been a place of pilgrimage for foodies for another reason, Franco Taurasi’s food at the Walnut Tree just outside the town drew people from far and wide.
I’d never been there and even though Franco has now retired, Shaun Hill is at the helm and cooking refreshingly simple flavourful food.
I was longing to go but it was of course booked out so I naughtily just turned up and they sweetly gave me a table, I had a truly delicious dinner with hare for the main course which Shaun tells me are very plentiful in his area of Wales.
On Sunday morning, I managed to meet the wasabi grower Tom Amery from Devon (www.thewasabicompany.co.uk) and taste some delicious Welsh cheeses.
I also linked up with the Trealy Farm charcuterie family and Hodmedod’s who grow a range of heirloom peas and beans in Norfolk and the guys from Halen Mon who make those beautiful pure salt crystals in Angelsea. They’ve added excellent black pepper to their range now also.
Coed Canalas was another find, an exceptionally good range of sticky, dark, bitter Seville orange marmalades, pure honeys, maple syrup and Sicilian olive oil.
I also bought a bottle of Ponzu now being imported from Japan by the Wasabi company and a bottle of superb argan oil.
Here are some of the good things I learned how to make over the weekend at the Abergavenny Food Festival. Look out for it next year; it’s a fantastic gig in an otherwise sleepy Welsh town.
Tomatoes with Wasabi, Mascarpone and Pine Nuts
1 tbsp wasabi paste
10g chives, finely chopped
10g tarragon, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced (20g)
2 banana shallots, thinly sliced widthways (100g)
2 tbsp Pedro Ximénez sherry vinegar (or another good-quality sweet sherry vinegar)
1 tbsp olive oil
1kg mixed tomatoes, cut into a mixture of slices and wedges, 1cm thick
20g pine nuts, toasted
5g mixed basil leaves (plain, purple and micro-basil) or just plain basil, to garnish
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
This is all about the tomatoes, so get as many different varieties as you can: red, green and yellow; baby plum, cherry and vine.
They also look great if they are not cut in uniform fashion: smaller tomatoes should be halved, while larger ones should be cut into wedges or sliced.
You can prepare all the elements for this in advance — the wasabi and herb-filled mascarpone, the pickled shallots, the chopped tomatoes, the toasted nuts. Just keep them separate and put the dish together just before serving.
This developed from a dish which Sarit Packer developed with Scully for the breakfast menu when Nopi first opened, when the wasabi mascarpone was served with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.
Yotam brought in the tomatoes and the dish was reborn and shifted on to the summer lunch menu.
It works well as part of a spread of salads or alongside some simply cooked fish or meat.
Place the mascarpone, wasabi, chives, tarragon and spring onion in a bowl with half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
Place the shallots in a separate bowl with the sweet vinegar, oil and half teaspoon of salt. Mix well and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
To serve: Divide the mascarpone between the plates and spread it out to form a thin layer. Place the tomatoes on top, followed by the pickled shallots.
Sprinkle with the pine nuts, then scatter over the basil leaves, tearing the larger ones as you go. Season with 1/3 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and serve.
From Nopi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
Lamb Cooked in Milk with Fennel
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbsp fennel seeds, ground
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1kg lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut in to large 5-6cm chunks (leg can also be used)
200ml double cream
1 tbsp chopped fennel tops, wild fennel or dill
Ground black pepper
Mix together the fennel, parsley and garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan until hot and brown half of the lamb.
Remove the lamb from the pan, turn down the heat and add the fennel, parsley and garlic. Cook gently without colouring.
Add the remaining lamb and brown in the fennel paste.
Return the rest of the lamb to the pan with juices and salt well.
Add a little of the milk using it to scrape any residue from around the pan.
Add the rest of the milk and cream and bring to a very gentle simmer.
Cover with a round of kitchen paper and leave just simmering for 1 to 1.5 hours until the meat is tender.
Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon and put to one side covered.
Reduce the pan juices on a high heat until slightly thickened and pass through a sieve
Return the lamb to the pan with the smooth sauce, season and sprinkle with chopped fennel/dill.
Taken from Riverford Book (Everyday and Sunday) Jane Baxter
Courgette and Manouri Fritters
Makes 12 fritters, to serve 4, or 24 smaller fritters, to serve 8 as a snack
3 medium courgettes, trimmed and coarsely grated (580g)
2 small shallots, finely chopped (50g)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
60g self-raising flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2½ tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp ground cardamom
150g manouri (or halloumi or feta), roughly broken into 1–2cm chunks
About 150ml sunflower oil, for frying
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
Lime and cardamom soured cream
200ml soured cream
5g coriander, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
Mix together all the ingredients for the soured cream sauce in a small bowl, along with a quarter teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Set aside in the fridge until ready to serve.
Place the grated courgettes in a colander and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon salt.
Set aside for 10 minutes, then squeeze them to remove most of the liquid — you want the courgettes to keep a little bit of moisture, so don’t squeeze them completely dry.
Transfer to a large bowl and add the shallots, garlic, lime zest, flour, eggs, ground coriander, cardamom and a grind of black pepper. Mix well to form a uniform batter, then fold in the manouri cheese gently so it doesn’t break up much.
Pour enough oil into a large frying pan so it rises 2mm to 3mm up the sides and place on a medium heat.
Once hot, add four heaped dessertspoons of mixture to the pan, spacing them well apart and flattening each fritter slightly with the flat side of a slotted spoon as they cook.
Cook for six minutes turning once halfway through, until golden and crisp on both sides.
Transfer to a kitchen paper-lined plate and keep somewhere warm while you continue with the remaining two batches.
Place three fritters on each plate and serve at once, with the sauce alongside or in a bowl on the side.
From Nopi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
Join blogger Lucy Pearce and some of our 12-week certificate students on October 17, for ‘Get Blogging’. Join her on a whistlestop tour of the food blogging world and see what’s hot, and what’s not, right now. You’ll see just how diverse food blogging is, and how to find your niche! www.cookingisfun.ie
On October 17, The Organic Centre in Co Leitrim is teaching a one- day course Growing in Polytunnels – An Introduction. Hans Wieland will talk about ground preparation, growing systems and crop rotation, soil fertility management, and how to erect a tunnel. www.theorganiccentre.ie
Spooky Kids in the Kitchen Over Halloween will be an action-packed day. There will be lots of fun and lots of Halloween favourites including yummy roast pumpkin to illustrate that pumpkin is not just for Jack O’Lanterns, a delicious soup and witches bread, spider web cupcakes, ghost meringues and lots more.
Children will spend a busy morning cooking in the kitchen before eating their home-cooked lunch. Then we’ll wrap up and head off outside to feed the hens, see the vegetables growing in the glasshouses and marvel at the magnificent pumpkins of every shape and size. Minimum age eight years. www.cookingisfun.ie
Don’t miss the Burren Food Fayre running from October 24-25 . Lots of walks, talks, cookery demonstrations, food workshops, meet the growers, sample their produce and lots more. www.burren.ie/events/burren-food-fayre/ Details will go online soon.
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