I'm back. We had a terrific ball at the Battersea Decorative Antiques Fair and Josephine the Pig has found a new home. Sold to a nursery in one of the more salubrious parts of London, you'll be glad to hear. After all the hard work and anxiety, it's always a relief when your stand passes that designer litmus test, you shift enough stock to make a decent profit and new friends sign up for that golden newsletter subscription list.
But back to things gastronomique. Every now and again a book turns up that I rate. I mean I really rate. Please step forward Nina St Tropez. Nina Parker is a London-based chef who ran Bocca Di Lupo's Gelupo. Now as someone whose Desert Island Discs' luxury thing would be genuine Italian Ice Cream (plus a large American 'fridge) this looked promising. The blurb on the back of the book says:
"Classic. Simple. Delicious. This is the food of the South of France. With over 100 recipes inspired by the old-world glamour and elegance of St Tropez, Nina takes us on a journey to discover the culinary secrets of the town."
Mrs Aitch was the one who first alerted me to the book. She'd read about it on that Voguette's wunder website, A Little Bird. Initially, It looked terribly girly. Nothing wrong with this of course, but there are quite a few of these books currently on the market; you know the thing: numerous lifestyle photographs, pretty girls in Cornish-Wared, retro kitchens; hip parties featuring chiselled, good looking people you have a sneaking suspicion might have been hired from a modeling agency; scented candles territory. And quite often with these sort of books, the recipes don't work.
Well I tell you something- Nina's recipes most certainly work, and not only that, they're extraordinarily delicious. We spent August in Cornwall, at a rather wonderful late 50's house in St Mawes, which my parents rent on a regular basis. It has the most marvellous position, right on the water, with it's own private beach and a sub-tropical garden to die for. Reminds me enormously of that house in Bonjour Tristesse. That slightly dubious B move with silver-foxed, aging roué David Niven wafting around on the terrace in a silk dressing grown, Dry Martini in hand. So what could be more suitable to cook from than Nina St Tropez?
We tried out several recipes. More than once. My current numéro un favourite is her take on Fennel, Carrot and Nutmeg Gratin aka Gratin de Fenouil et Carotte à la Muscade. Mein Gott, this is divine, the nectar of the gods:
Fennel bulbs, Spanish onions and carrots are sliced and placed into a mixing bowl. Crushed garlic, lots of grated nutmeg and fresh thyme leaves are added along with a decent slug of olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. Everything is then well-tossed until the vegetables are well coated.
You then take a baking dish and make a layer of fennel and onions at the bottom. A new layer of sliced carrot is placed on top, and the whole thing is finished off with a final layer of fennel and onions. The dish is placed in a hot oven for just over an hour or so. The vegetables will caramelise and get slightly crunchy and charred, but that is all to the good. A mixture of milk and cream is then poured on top and the dish is sprinkled with sourdough breadcrumbs. The gratin is cooked for a further 15 minutes or so, until the top is crunchy and brown.
It's a terrific (and slightly unusual) combination, the nutmeg, carrot and fennel. Works brilliantly. This is currently in my top ten dishes and I am addicted to it. Well done Miss Parker. Your book is a most definite buy.