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