Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pistachio and pepper paté

I may cook certain dishes quite often, but seldom in the same way. I devise new ones, or alter familiar recipes to either simplify or improve them. When this happens, and I am pleased, the recipe, alterations, or perhaps timings, get written down on any old piece of paper that’s handy. This one for a paté I made and took to a party in Bruges was good but a bit bland. So it was re-made from reading my original rough and barely legible notes and here altered and recorded properly.


You will need:

Whole grain or granary bread (three slices)

Pistachio nut kernels (3 tablespoons)

Green peppercorns (1 teaspoon)

White wine and Calvados (or another spirit – containing aniseed if you like it)

Pepper and salt

Parsley, chives and mint (any or all)

Minced pork (300 grams and a bit fatty)


Cut off the crusts from three slices of whole grain or granary bread and, with the fingers. Work them into breadcrumbs in a large bowl.

Pour off any surplus liquid left from the 24 hour plus marinating of the pistachio kernels and peppercorns in white wine. Liquid will be absorbed, so add more to keep them covered.

Add the drained kernels and peppercorns, salt and plenty of milled black pepper to the breadcrumbs.

Chop up fresh herbs, like parsley, or chives, or mint, or all.

Having buttered your paté dish with a large lump, cut the remainder into the smallest possible pieces and add these.

Now put in the 300 grams of minced pork and, with the fingers (like making the breadcrumbs) work it all together for an even blend. The mixture will be slightly tacky.

Finally, using a wooden spoon, stir in a beaten egg to which you have added a good slosh of Calvados.

Put all this into the buttered paté dish (my favourite takes the form of a green duck with yellow beak, bought in the 1950s in Rouen with duck paté inside).

Put the lidded paté dish in a baking tray and surround it with boiling water to about half way up the pot (a bain-marie), and give it 1½ hours in a medium oven, taking the lid off for the last 15 minutes or so to dry out the upper surface. Check during the cooking that the water has not evaporated, topping up with boiling water if necessary.

Allow the paté to cool before eating it with crusty bread.

Note: Omitting the peppercorns and Calvados will make a mild paté, more to the taste, possibly, of children.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bolivian Begonia

Readers of this blog will know that it is not a gossip blog, but one about art, travel, cooking and nature.

A plant, to me, is as important in the scheme of things as a person. It is just because we can think that makes us believe we are more important than plants, trees or animals. We are not.

And when we come to the end of our lives the process and end result is much the same as anything else coming to the end of its time on earth.

This is a blog about a plant.

I think it must have been when my wife, Margreet, was recovering from an operation to her foot that she was presented with a Bolivian begonia (B. boliviensis “Firecrackerto be exact) as a get-well present from her Embassy.

It was a truly magnificent plant of long, arching, well-branched stems, festooned with bright orange, pendant flowers.

Our newly acquired treasure, now thriving in a blue glazed pot, had pride of place, holding sway over all other colourful flowers in the centre of a peninsular of other pots in the centre of our flagstone-paved London garden.

I was not sure which kind of begonia it happened to be – fibrous rooted or corm (tuberous).

In late autumn at the onset of its first winter with us, a large corm became visible as its few fleshy stems withered and then finally fell away from the corm base.

I read that begonia corms should be dried up then and packed away in sand for the winter – which I did.

The display throughout the following year was just as spectacular, after having had the pleasure of seeing small shoots springing out of the dried and dead-looking tuber.

For last winter I decided to dispense with the previous year’s storing procedure and left it in its pot, but well insulated from the frost in bubblewrap. It was a disastrous decision. Beneath its insulation, the corm, damp and unseen, rotted away. It had to go to the compost heap, along with its soil, which was thickly matted with fine roots.

So I searched and found a nursery that would supply me with a replacement. I paid for it by post and awaited its arrival with happy anticipation.

When the cardboard box arrived from the nursery, the exterior dimensions were smaller by far than the whole of my original corm.

On prising open the cardboard I found only shredded paper as packing – but no Bolivian begonia.

About to contact the nursery in question, my fingers touched something very small among the packing. It was my new corm – so minute in size in its cellophane tube that I had very nearly thrown it away into the recycling bin with its wrapping.

Looking pathetically small, it has now been planted in the old pot with fresh, composty soil.

How many years, I wonder, will I have to wait and cosset this tiny stem with its few drooping leaves before, once again, I have a plant to fill my summer garden with colour?

I know that gardeners need patience. I will certainly need some for the begonia.