Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A is for...

... Artichokes and Aioli, followed by Antelope with wild mushroom sauce, Pommes Anna and Asparagus, with an Apple, Almond and Apricot Tart for pudding.

Starter

I love globe artichokes served whole, but had always had them with the chokes removed before having dinner at my friend, Amy's. She served them choke in, but still beautifully trimmed, so they looked like elegant waterlilies. It's really no hassle for guests to DIY the choke disposal. In fact, in my experience, people tend to relish the hands-on destruction of such a beautiful dish, but it might be prudent to stick some finger bowls on the table for afterwards. I'd never pretend that making aioli or any other flavoured mayonnaise for that matter, is a fun or relaxing business. It's laborious and boring, whatever the whippet-armed celebrity chefs tell you. However, the end results are worth the effort and, believe me, if they weren't, I really wouldn't bother - even if the making of it does do wonders for my bingo wings. Serve with a crisp, chilled Alsatian Reisling.

Main

I went for Antelope not only for the "A" factor, but also because it's a South African game meat and, as the World Cup is on, I thought it would be a fun way to keep the football interesting, even though England's out of the running. I've never eaten antelope before, but assumed it would taste similar to venison. I was right. I chose Springbok steaks from Gamston Wood Farm, who have a stall at Borough Market on Fridays and Saturdays. The meat is subtly gamey and incredibly lean, so it's best served medium rare. Like venison, if it's too rare, it can be chewy, but too well done and it becomes tough and dry. The antelope was delicious and succulent and the buttery Pommes Anna and wild mushroom sauce complimented its flavour beautifully.

Although we have sadly come to the end of the British asparagus season, I managed to get two of the very last bunches at Borough Market the other day, which pleased me no end, as it's one of my very favourite A's. The season's over now, but don't despair too much, this menu will work just as well with spring greens or spinach, or, if, like me, you're a stickler to the alphabet, an avocado salad might be a nice alteration. Serve with an Artadi Rioja.

Pudding

Apricots are perfect at this time of year and their tanginess worked perfectly alongside the vanilla-y creme patissiere and almond pastry in the tart. I wasn't initially sure whether adding the apples would be an "A" too far, but I was inspired by Apricots a l'ancienne in Larousse Gastronomique which pairs apples with apricots on sponge cake. Sweet apple puree, softly scented with rum, turned out to be a delightful treat beneath the pastry cream and the toasted almonds on top added an extra depth of flavour and a pleasing contrast of texture. You could go further if you like and serve the tart with Amaretto cream. I decided against it as Amaretto is one of the few alcoholic bevarages whose flavour I find truly offensive. It's like swigging fake almond extract straight from the bottle. If that's precisely what you like about this foul drink, stir a couple of spoon's worth into whipped, sweetened cream as an accompaniment to your tart, all washed down with a glass of Amontillado sherry or Aszu - a Hungarian pudding wine.

All in all, the letter "A" proved to be a success. The recipes will be up in the next few days for you to try at home, should the fancy take you.

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