Scottish Wine&Dine

Scottish wine? Yes, like there are Scottish birds, so the title of my bird watchers book says. I.e. birds to be spotted in but not confined to Scotland. Depending on species and season one can come across them in Iceland, Senegal and, mind you, England too. And so Scottish wine: wine one can buy in supermarkets in Scotland. Tesco in my case.
The dining part I tried to keep as local as possible: venison, (British) chicken, and of course: bog myrtle.
Bog myrtle, also known as sweet gale or Scottish gale, is an aromatic shrub growing in boggy places in the North-West Highlands. It was used to keep fleas (in mattresses), moths (amongst the linen) and flies (in the kitchen) at bay (Chris Lowe, Torridon, the Nature of the Place, p. 183). It is also said that midges won’t bite you if you tuck some leaves behind your ears. Well, I can’t say I have seen that happening. But there is definately good use for it in the kitchen: under the skin of a chicken and in the venison stew (use it like bay leaf but the fresher the better, and as with bay leaf do take the leaves out before you serve the food). Bog myrtle provides a tasty, herbal flavour.

Crispy bog myrtle chicken
Just rinse the bog myrtle to get rid of little beetles or flies, though I seldom find them. Shake off the water and push leaves liberally under the skin of a ‘happy’ chicken. The leaves are small, so you will need a handful. Salt, pepper, a little paprika. That’s all. You could add some garlic under the skin as well, but why not go for the bog-myrtle-total experience? Roast the chicken until crisp and (being in the Nanny State I feel inclined to add this adverb) thoroughly done. A few green vegetables or a salad, a new potato, no more is needed.
What to drink with this savoury dish? A light red wine would do best (Pinot Noir, Gamay, Fer Servadou) but an aromatic white is also a good choice. I paired it quite satisfactorily with Tesco’s Finest Gavi, an Italian white from Piemonte.

Venison stew (serves 2)
There seems to be hardly a butcher left in the Highlands, except for the ‘bigger’ cities, but some small local supermarkets get a biweekly supply of venison (and maybe also of beef and lamb – I didn’t pay that much attention) by a big retailer from, in my local shop, Kyle of Lochalsh. Excellent meat, and happy by the supermarket’s initiative, though I do miss the butcher who cut the steakes from a huge leg before my eyes, pointing with his knife to the other side of the loch where the animal had roamed not long ago.
I still had some bog myrtle left, so I opted for the diced venison. Fry an onion till soft and transfer it to a plate. Add some more oil and/or butter and fry venison till brown. Add some salt, the onions, a sprig or three of bog myrtle, chopped garlic, a little red pepper (freshly chopped or flakes), two small fresh tomatoes and a drop of vinegar. Fry for one minute, than add a splash of red wine and some water. (Less is more here; the juices of the venison should give this dish its taste, not the wine or the tomatoes.) Let simmer for about two and a half hours at least. Serve with roasted parsnip and crushed potatoes. In the glass a good claret or a red Rioja, preferably one that is not all vanilla and dried plum. As we were out of those, we settled for a Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand: Oyster Bay 2014. A decent Pinot for just under 10 pounds, fruity, no New-World sweetness here if rather high in alcohol (14%). It did the job well enough.


Wine&Dine: Giovanna’s Gift

I sometimes remind myself, or Spouse does, that ‘Giovanna was a most original and gifted pasta cook’. I don’t know Giovanna, nor do I know anything about her apart from the scarce details Elizabeth David shared with her readers: that she was young and worked in a country restaurant in Tuscany in the 1970s (An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, p. 107 [Dutch edition]). And that she could make a mean spaghetti.
The combination of ingredients may seem a bit unusual, and the amounts rather odd (only a 100 gr of liver and no less than 200 gr of parmesan) but do stick to the recipe as much as you can. Giovanna is, after all, an original and gifted cook. (I must confess that I am not always that obedient, being more generous with some ingredients and less with others, and turning to bacon if per chance the fridge does not provide me with coppa. The result is still tasty, but not as good as it could have been.)

What to drink with it? In my opinion a light red wine would be best. A fruity Cabernet Franc, for example, that pairs a certain earthyness with freshness, as does this dish.

Dine: Spaghetti with chicken livers and lemon (serving 4)
Cook the pasta al dente. Sauté finely chopped chicken livers (100 gr) with 4-5 gloves of chopped garlic (better still: rub garlic with coarse salt into a paste), 100 gr coppa, and the grated peel of 1 lemon in olive oil for ca. 3 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Beat 1 egg and 4 egg yolks with 200 gr of grated parmesan or pecorino. Pour egg mixture into the pan with the livers (heat off) and mix thoroughly. Drain pasta and add to the mixture. Keep stirring and mixing till sauce and pasta are amalgamated.andides

Wine: Les Andides Saumur Champigny
Les Andides Saumur Champigny 2013, 12.5%vol, € 6 (sale price at Albert Heijn)
Fruity with earthy tones, soft tannins, easy. Good value for money. Cave de Saumur is part of the cooperative Alliance Loire, a big player in the region. The same wine may be found with other retailers under a different name. Serve slightly chilled.


Waste Not, Want Not

farmhousefareI have wanted to write about this wonderful recipe book since this summer, when I found it in the much-loved Scottish cottage spouse and I usually spend our holidays: Farmhouse Fare. Recipes from Country Housewives by Farmers Weekly, originally published in 1935, reprinted in 1976.

Before typing these lines, I wondered if, and as I supposed the answer would be yes, how in our difficult economic times housewives (male and female) are trying to make ends meet. But then my computer screen started to scream: ASK JAMIE, STUPID!

Yes, the row has reached the Dutch shores all right. For those not in the know: Jamie Oliver, famous British chef, has made some less sensible remarks about poor people, big tellies and bad eating habits while promoting his new book and TV series Save with Jamie. Shop smart. Cook clever. Waste Less. He has apologized and said that, though he doesn’t always say the right thing, he has the best intentions. Let’s believe him, even if it’s a pity the book is well above the means of those for whom it is intended (£26). (When is the last time you have done something for the poor? Or I, for that matter?)

In the 1930s country housewives made ends meet without much of a fuss. Everything was used: berries, drippings, the pulp left in a jelly bag, a sheep’s head, rooks (breast and legs only, the other parts being way too bitter). Farmhouse Fare provides numerous recipes for meat dishes (see, e.g., the chapter on Pig Curing and By-Products), preserves, cakes and other sweet bits, but no luxury here and no fancy ingredients. Sultanas, nutmeg, and ginger are the main flavourings. Maybe you consider cream a luxury. They sure didn’t. They almost drowned in dairy products. Puddings are always said to be ‘delicious with hot milk poured over it.’ Mind you, they even put milk in their tea.

Before revealing their drinks business, let me share with you one recipe by Miss H. Stuart of Wigtownshire, Scotland: Hatted Kit. Do not despair if you don’t happen to have a cow at hand.

‘Warm slightly over the fire two pints of buttermilk. Pour it into a dish and carry it to the side of a cow. Milk into it about 1 pint of milk, having previously put into the dish sufficient rennet for the whole.

After allowing it to stand for a while, lift the curd, place it on a sieve, and press the whey through until the curd is quite stiff. Season with sugar and nutmeg before serving. Whip some thick cream, season it also with a little grated nutmeg and sugar, and mix gently with the curd. This dish can quite well be made without milking the cow into it, although direct milking puts a better “hat” on the Kit.’

I rest my case. Let’s focus instead on some non-lactose drinks that are more in line with the theme of this blog. As nearby off licences were rare, the country housewives brew the booze themselves. Not from grapes but from, well, what not: agrimony, red clover, crab apple, elderflower, parsnip (‘an excellent imitation of champagne’) and the outside pieces of celery:

‘There is always a waste of the outside pieces of celery: here is a recipe which makes from them an excellent wine, and is also good for those who suffer from rheumatism. (…) leave for a year and bottle off when it will be ready for use.’

For some reason I didn’t pen down Mrs. Scarlett’s instructions but you need not worry. ‘Celery wine’ gives almost 6,000 hits. The tradition is still thriving, so it seems, though I bet whole celery stalks are used nowadays, not just the outside pieces.

Farmhouse Fare is for sale via Amazon, for £2.81 (that is inclusive of £2.80 UK delivery). Hope to receive mine soon.

(Previously posted on my blogspot site, September 2013)