Both/And not Either/Or… Black Olive Chocolate Truffles

This week­end a bril­liant new exhib­i­tion opened at the Vic­toria and Albert Museum in Lon­don — Post­mod­ern­ism: Style and Sub­ver­sion 1970–1990. I’ve writ­ten before about the chal­lenges of teach­ing Eng­lish lit­er­at­ure under­gradu­ates about post­mod­ern­ism. Ask them what it is and they’re more likely to say what it isn’t. The V and A’s entran­cing exhib­i­tion makes it all clear.

The post­mod­ern archi­tect Robert Ven­turi, designer of the Sains­bury wing at London’s National Gal­lery, clev­erly cap­tured his concept of post­mod­ern­ism, describ­ing it as ‘both, and’ rather than bor­ing old ‘either, or’. As far as I’m con­cerned, that’s a notion to glory in. Instead of choos­ing one or the other, you com­bine both.

The per­fect post­mod­ern edible ver­sion of ‘both, and’ has to be black olive and chocol­ate truffles. I’ve just been invited by Olives from Spain to watch the Span­ish chef Omar Allib­hoy cook tapas dishes with olives. Omar trained with Fer­ran Adria at elBulli, so is most def­in­itely a ‘both, and’ kind of cook. I par­tic­u­larly loved his flash fried sea bass with sherry, gar­lic, sweet red pep­pers, black olives and caper ber­ries. But the post­mod­ern stars of the even­ing were his black olive and chocol­ate truffles. Build­ing on the idea that salt enhances car­a­mel, he figured that the salty fla­vour of olives could only make chocol­ate bet­ter. Here is his recipe, which I found made around 35 truffles:

BLACK OLIVE CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

  • 150g pit­ted black olives
  • 150g double cream
  • 220g best qual­ity chocol­ate — 70% cocoa solids
  • 40 grams but­ter, cut into small pieces
  • Finely grated zest of one orange
  • Cocoa powder for dusting

Pro­cess the drained black olives to a rough paste. Heat the double cream over a low heat and just before it reaches boil­ing point, remove from the heat. Break up the chocol­ate and add to the cream. When the chocol­ate has melted, add the black olives, but­ter and zest and stir to com­bine thor­oughly. Place the bowl in the fridge for around 6 or 7 hours. When the mix­ture is firm, scoop out small quant­it­ies with a dessert spoon and roll in your hands to make truffles. Roll the truffles in a bowl of cocoa powder.

The fin­ished truffles are creamy, del­ic­ately salty and rather deli­cious. But in case you’re think­ing that a black olive chocol­ate truffle is a step too far — and that’s cer­tainly the view of my chil­dren who refused point-blank to try them — think of them this way. The olives not only make the truffles cheaper to make, they also make them health­ier to eat. Now if that isn’t the per­fect embod­i­ment of ‘both, and’, I don’t know what is. And if the French chocolatier-patissier Pierre Herme can make macar­ons fla­voured with foie gras as well as a grapefruit and was­abi ver­sion, how can any­one recoil in panic from olives and chocolate?

Review: The Good Table by Valentine Warner

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Pub­lished 12th Septem­ber (Mitchell Beazley, £20.00)

Pho­to­graphs: Jonathan Lovekin

Toma­toes with Dijon mus­tard and cream on toast

In the dreary sea of food writ­ing cliche, where toma­toes ‘smell of sun­shine’, chocol­ate is ‘scrummy’ and cakes are ‘moist’, Valentine Warner is a perky, plucky life­boat. I want to eat what he’s cooked but more than that, I want to read what he’s writ­ten. How could you not love a man who describes razor clams as look­ing ‘like Cuban cigars in an elastic band, pale feet lolling out like the tongues of tired horses.’ Or a cook who claims that if his pickled onion, steak and ale pud­ding were a per­son it would be ‘the local thick-wristed, silent giant who whops crick­ets balls from the vil­lage green to king­dom come.’

Apply­ing the test in reverse, if Valentine Warner was trans­formed into a recipe, he’d be his ‘Dor­set Break­fast’ — sub­stan­tial, sur­pris­ing, full of good cheer and eccent­ric­ally Eng­lish. His writ­ing is the per­fect comic side-kick to his ser­i­ous food, although it has to be said that at times he reaches for a meta­phor bey­ond my grasp. I struggled with his descrip­tion of a steak that tastes of ‘bull sweat’ and was utterly baffled by his instruc­tion that potato for gnoc­chi should be grated on ‘the set­ting you would do children’s Ched­dar on.’ But when the food and the prose are as good as Valentine Warner’s, I really don’t care.

I can’t think of another con­tem­por­ary food writer who would dare include a delib­er­ately ined­ible recipe for burnt toast, boiled egg and black tea, con­clud­ing with the instruc­tion that you should ‘put everything on a tray, take it to the invalid and remove, uneaten, 1 hour later.’ But read­ing that recipe gave me as much pleas­ure as devour­ing his instruc­tions for more sybar­itic pleas­ures such as ‘cod with mus­sels and cel­ery’ and ‘ceps and apples in puff pastry.’

There’s a gen­er­os­ity of spirit to this book, a lack of pom­pos­ity and a huge joie de vivre. He exhorts us to ‘cook with love, shop like a European and don’t ignore the knobbly veg. Scrape the mould off the chut­ney, don’t for­get to hon­our the things at the back of the fridge; and above all remem­ber that this book, is, in a sense, no longer mine but rather yours.’ As if com­edy, fine prose and divine food aren’t enough — he’s giv­ing us demo­cratic rights to boot! As a mani­festo for life, The Good Table gets my vote.

Remembered But Not Witnessed… Pan-Roasted Chicken With Pears, Hazelnuts And Apple Brandy

If I was to choose a flower that per­fectly evokes the past, I would pick the mocked and reviled dah­lia. It’s so ridicu­lously, frothily retro and has been out of fash­ion for so long. And yet dog­gedly and resi­li­ently it’s hung on in the shad­ows, wait­ing for its chance to creep back onto the stage. This year I’ve grown dah­lias for the first time — if truth be told, they pretty much grew them­selves, actu­ally. And look how beau­ti­ful they are — like mini­ature wed­ding hats from the 1950s.

In Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-nominated novel The Sense of an End­ing, we’re warned that ‘what you end up remem­ber­ing isn’t always the same as what you have wit­nessed.’ I thought of that phrase when buy­ing a birth­day card for a friend, to go with the dah­lias. I found one in an antiques shop in Oxford; clipped to its front is an old black and white pho­to­graph that must have been taken eighty years ago. I’d like to think the pic­ture was taken on the couple’s hon­ey­moon, but since I neither remem­ber not wit­nessed, it’s impossible to be sure. And yet there they are, trapped on a card, with a frag­ment of rib­bon, some shreds of ini­tialled tape and a large black but­ton; a whole new present tense cre­ated out of their past. I hope they’d be pleased.

I thought again of the past in cre­at­ing this recipe. It’s a re-imagining of the dish I always chose as a child from the menu of a small candle-lit bis­tro on the south coast of Eng­land. I have no idea how they made it, but I thought it was the height of soph­ist­ic­a­tion. This is what I remem­ber, even if it’s not what I wit­nessed. But, like the card, I’ve made a new present tense out of the past.

Pan-Roasted Chicken With Pears, Hazel­nuts and Apple Brandy

Serves 4

  • 4 chicken breasts, skin on
  • 1 table­spoon olive oil
  • 2 ripe, firm pears such as Comice, cored, peeled, quartered and cut into slices 1–2 mm thick
  • 1 knob butter
  • 1/4 cup Cal­va­dos — brandy will do if you can’t find Calvados
  • 100 g blanched hazel­nuts, toasted until light brown in a dry fry­ing pan and then crushed
  • 200 g creme fraiche
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • salt and black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Heat the olive oil in a fry­ing pan until very hot and start­ing to smoke. Place the chicken breasts, skin-side down in the pan and leave for 4 minutes without mov­ing them at all — don’t be temp­ted to turn them over. Remove the chicken to an oven-proof dish and, still skin-side down, place in the pre­heated oven for 9 to 10 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the oven and rest the chicken, before sli­cing each piece into 4. Reserve the unwashed fry­ing pan for the sauce.

Return the unwashed fry­ing pan to the heat and once hot again, add the brandy. Stir to deglaze the pan and to let the alco­hol evap­or­ate. After three minutes, add the knob of but­ter and once it has melted, add the sliced pears. Bubble in the pan for 5 minutes until very slightly brown at the edges. Add the crushed hazel­nuts and stir gently for a fur­ther 3 minutes. Add the creme fraiche, stir in, and then add the white wine, plus plenty of salt and black pep­per. Cook for a fur­ther 5 minutes or until the pears are soft. Check the season­ing and then spoon the sauce around the chicken. Serve with mashed pota­toes and cavolo nero cabbage.

I served the chicken-I-remember-but-may-not-have-witnessed, on the clock plates given to me thirty years ago by a great friend called Brian. He died a long time ago, but I love using his plates — the per­fect way to think of the past while watch­ing the long hand of the clock tick around the rim.

Triumphs Of Gluttony And A Melody In Major: Plum Creams With Almonds And Amaretti

Scorn­ing the table of drinks, glit­ter­ing with crys­tal and sil­ver on the right, he moved left towards that of the sweet­meats. Huge sor­rel babas, Mont Blancs snowy with whipped cream, cakes speckled with white almonds and green pista­chio nuts, hil­locks of chocolate-covered pastry… a melody in major of crys­tal­lised cher­ries, acid notes of yel­low pine­apple, and green pista­chio paste of those cakes called ‘Tri­umphs of Gluttony’.

The Leo­pard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

How could any­one res­ist a cake named ‘tri­umph of glut­tony’ or a heap of cher­ries described as a ‘melody in major’? It was with thoughts of both tri­umph and melody that I whipped up my Plum Cream with Almonds and Amar­etti. I’m still har­vest­ing plums from the broken branches of my cracked and decim­ated plum tree and this tri­umphant melody uses up a whole 600g of them.

Grilling the plums first intens­i­fies their fla­vour as if by magic. The amar­etti bis­cuits add a per­fect bitter-sweetness to the whole con­fec­tion, while being a fit­ting trib­ute to Lampedusa’s Italian her­it­age. Plum Creams deserve a place on Lampedusa’s table, along with the hil­locks of chocol­ate pastry, even if it’s only in the back row.

Plum creams with almonds and amar­etti biscuits

Serves 4–6 depend­ing on your level of gluttony

    • 600g plums
    • 100g vanilla sugar
    • 250g mas­car­pone
    • 100g creme fraiche
    • Hand­ful split almonds, toasted in a dry fry­ing pan until golden
    • 1 amar­etti bis­cuit per serving

Split the plums in half, remov­ing the stones. Place cut side up in a grill pan and sprinkle with the sugar. Toast for five minutes under a mod­er­ate grill until bub­bling. Turn off the heat and leave in the oven for a fur­ther five minutes until slightly golden brown around the edges. Cool a little and then puree in a blender. Drip through a sieve into a bowl to remove any skin. Allow the puree to cool.

Once cool, mix the puree into the mas­car­pone. Use an elec­tric mixer if you’re in a hurry. Stir in the creme fraiche. At this stage you may think it’s not quite sweet enough, but the amar­etti bis­cuits bring more than enough extra sweet­ness to the party. Crumble an amar­etti over each serving, along with a sprink­ling of toasted almonds. Chill in the fridge for an hour or so.

Postcard From France

Mes Chers Amis 

As a child, fam­ily hol­i­days were so rare as to be an endangered spe­cies. We had pre­cisely two — one in Wales and the other in France. The French hol­i­day near Albi was a rev­el­a­tion. I dis­covered Fran­coise Sagan, Toulouse Lautrec, gren­ad­ine, espadrilles, file paper with grids instead of lines, flat peaches, Sartre’s Roads to Free­dom tri­logy and auber­gines. Apart from the nov­els of Sagan, an embar­rass­ing teen­age aber­ra­tion, I love them all still. 

I’m in France with two of my old­est friends and our com­bined total of eight chil­dren. Sartre and Lautrec have been sadly thin on the ground, but we’re doing won­ders for the local peach and auber­gine crop. The recipe I’ve cooked three times already is this one, a feast I first ate on that French hol­i­day all those years ago. 

A bientot

Charlie