Recipies from La Rectoria de Sant Miquel

While building work proceeds at La Rectoria, a crust still has to be earned and bread put on the table.  Visits are mainly confined to weekends and what with family commitments the start and end of the week seem to melt and merge together.  Not complaining, but this fairly frenetic timetable leaves little time for me to keep my hand in, in the kitchen.  Thus the Christmas break provided time and an opportunity for playing chef.

One dish I put together was an iced parfait.  Let’s call it ‘Parfait de mores de la Vall d’Hosteles amb el meu licor de mores’ – Bramble parfait infused with homemade bramble brandy.

The recipe:

300g brambles

125g sugar

300g ml double cream

50 ml bramble brandy

Pâte à bombe  mix – 150g sugar, 100ml water and 5 egg yolks

2 egg whites

 Place the brambles in a pan with 25g of sugar and cook over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved and the brambles are soft.  Set aside to cool. 

For the pâte à bombe, put 150g of sugar into a pan along with 100ml of water and heat gently until dissolved.  Then increase the heat and place a sugar thermometer in the pan.  Now whisk 5 egg yolks in a bowl until pale, thick and creamy.  When the syrup reaches 120°c  add this to the egg yolks in a slow steady stream whilst continuing to beat them rapidly until the mixture is thick and cream coloured.   Then fold the cool brambles and juices into the bombe mix. 

In another bowl whisk the egg whites until lightly stiff. To this add the remaining 100g of sugar and whisk until firm and glossy.  At this stage add a few drops of vinegar and then fold the meringue mix into the bombe mixture. 

If two bowls were not enough, take a third and whip the cream until it begins to thicken and fold this gently into the bombe and meringue mix.  Pour the finished mix into a 1 litre mould and freeze. 

I served the parfait along with some lightly poached brambles, strawberry coulis and an almond and poppy seed tuile.  Wait until we harvest some brambles this coming autumn and you will be able to sample this dish during your stay with us at La Rectoria.  Bon profit.

It’s a cool Sunday morning, slightly overcast and damp.  We had a great british start to the day, light rain and drizzle but it was perfect for the run we’ve just completed.  The 26th Marxa de Blanc i Blava, organized by the Cardedeu penya (supporters club) of Espanyol, or Paraquitos as they are affectionately called.  Thus, I’m feeling a little sore and tired.

It was billed as a run, you had the choice of doing 8 or 16kms.  We opted for the former.  I had imagined a pleasant jaunt along country lanes and around Cardedeu.  The reality was more akin to one of those army cross country affairs you’ve probably seen on TV….along muddy woodland pathes and very nobbly  farm tracks, the main hazards being the occasional steep track or doddering participants completing the course on foot.  I guess in hind sight it was more akin to a ‘Dads Army’ training course.  About 1km from the end two chalked signals on the road indicated ‘llarg’ or ‘curt’, by that point the choice was obvious –short- and I was at the finish a few minutes later.  The tangible rewards were a very fine botifarra (sausage) baguette, water, soft drink or wine and Espanyol hand towel and assorted other goodies.  Very civilized. 

Yesterday included yet another audience at a bathroom showroom.  Having pretty well tied down which loo seats we would like, our attention turned to bathroom sinks.  A relatively simple task one would think, after all what is the function of a sink –  to wash face and hands, clean teeth, shave.  A sink might have other uses when on holiday – to cool beers etc, wash smalls and other items of clothing.  Any other suggestions are most welcome.  Given we have seven guest bedrooms and public loo, plus the facilities in our quarters, that kind of ups the anti a little.  Only two of the bathrooms have exactly the same dimensions.  Some accompany rooms that we wish to make that little bit more special and a couple have the added complication that their shape makes the choice of finishes somewhat complicated.  Again we were pouring over catalogues, me following Catalan by gist etc.  Italian, Spanish, German and whatever makes they were.  Round, rectangular, deep, shallow, coloured or white.  Things that looked like they had come from the set of ‘Star Trek’ and other downright  way out architectural styles and creations.  After some angst we have come up with a short list of contenders, generally two choices for each room based on style and price to chew over and then that leaves the taps to select.  Showers, their doors and shower heads and the general finishes are the next wee hurdle but those are for another week.  One step at a time.

An hour or so later, arriving at La Rectoria we were met by a welcoming party of sorts, our neighbour, Jordi , Pere, Carme, Lluisa and her dog from down the road.  They constitute what I guess I can call the committee of the Aplec de Sant Miquel which is scheduled to take place next Sunday 3rd of October.  Two hundred neighbours and people from Sant Feliu de Pallerols will converge on La Rectoria for this annual gathering, blessing,  arros and dance to mark El Dia de Sant Miquel.  The committee’s concern was that wet weather would put paid to the outdoor celebrations.   Anyhow, I left them to gather the final picking of this year’s bramble harvest.  They fell off on touching and some were the size of grapes.

Inside the house continued good progress is being made with the roof.  The race is on to finish this part as soon as possible, making the house water tight prior to any substantial autumn rains.  Fifty per cent of the rajolas (internal tiles) have been fixed in place on the final section of the roof to be restored and I guess this will completed in the next week.   Meanwhile three of the iron frames that are to be fitted in each and every window have arrived.  Dark grey and imposing looking, oozing strength and rigidity these will give a bold finish to the windows of the house.  The one sitting proudly in the dining room looked more like some kind of sculpture.

Our visit finished with a hasty gathering of what has been a bountiful harvest of Quince from our two trees.  I would  guess about 10kg.  Too much solely for the obvious transformation to Quince Cheese (Codonyat), so other recipes will be uncovered in due course.

As I write this, yesterday’s haul of brambles has been turned into four jars of sticky sweet bramble jam.

700g brambles

700g warmed sugar

Juice of one lemon

Two tablespoons of water

Place the brambles, lemon juice and water in a pan and warm gently for about 10 minutes, shaking occasionally until the berries are soft.  Meanwhile, warm the sugar in the oven then add to the softened berries.  Continue to cook slowly until the sugar is dissolved, then turn up the heat and boil rapidly for about 8 minutes or until the temperature reaches 104°c .   Remove the pan from the heat and test for the ‘setting point’.  Place a spoonful of the jam on a chilled saucer and leave for a minute.  Then run a flattened finger through the jam; if the jam crinkles  and wrinkles and remains parted the setting point has been achieved.  If not put back on the heat for a further five minutes and then repeat the test again.  When ready pour carefully into warm sterilized jars, cover with waxed paper and seal the lids tightly.  Enjoy!

As sure as next week brings the autumn equinox there has been a marked change in the weather.  A week ago we enjoyed a beautiful Sunday morning on the beach.  A gentle swell of the surf barely creating waves as it met the beach, water warmed by the summer’s sun and comfortable temperatures for sitting out lobster like, reading, smoking or whatever your beach pleasure vice entails.  Today and 10°c cooler, with grey cloud laiden skies that followed a most tempestuous storm last night.  The streets of Cardedeu filled with the downpour and were soon like rushing rivellettes.  Autumn is here. 

Removal of the roof is all but complete and the squad who sandblast and treat the wooden beams and joists are back on site, leaving their trademark layer of black silicon – something akin to walking on the volcanic beaches of the Canary Islands or the moon I guess.  Whilst all that has been going on on the top floor, the door to bedroom two on the main floor has been created – knocking through the wall from the main hallway and defined from above by a steel reinforcing beam.  Below this in the basement, work has started on pointing the bear stone walls which will remain thus  – bear stone – throughout our ‘home’.  When finished our home will have concrete floors , stone walls with the exception of the new dividing walls and white vaulted ceilings. 

Since the excavation of the basement and the demolition of some walls commenced in February the resultant material has been deposited in piles in the garden adjacent to the house.  Separated into three lots, large stones, mixed ‘ruins’ of soil, broken tiles, stone and other inert material and finally soil.  All of this was accounted for in the tender process and it has been dealt with in an orderly manner so far.  The Aplec de Sant Miquel is three weeks away and for the last few years 200 neighbours and residents of Sant Feliu de Pallerols have come to enjoy a simple church service followed by an arros and sardanas , the catalan folk dance.  All this has until now happened largely in our garden and a spectacle it is too.  But before it can take place this year the above stated mountains of debris have to be disposed of. 

We have been in discussion with the local council since June regarding this matter.  The council are also planning to improve visitor access to the church of Sant Miquel de Pineda, adjacent to the house, upgrading the road and providing parking space about 100m from the house.  Great, anything that brings attention and people to the house is most welcome by us.  Thus, we have been talking to the council about disposing of the ‘ruins’ in the proposed car park area, thereby providing the foundations.  We would get rid of the soil and stone and the council would have made a start to their car park.    We should get that done in the next couple of weeks in time for the Aplec. 

Culinary news this week.  Figs have been to the forefront again.  Two more ‘pickings’ have been undertaken.   The first were;  given to our neighbours, eaten as a luscious salad and the remainder transformed into fig and red pepper chutney.

 Fig and red pepper chutney 

Figs 1kg

One large red pepper

One large white onion

Sugar 200g

White wine vinegar 200ml

Pimenton picante 1 teaspoon

Whole coriander seeds c.15 

Finely chop the figs, julienne the onion and pepper and place in a pan with the other ingredients, bring to the boil and cook until all of the free liquid has evaporated.  Place in sterilized jars and leave for at least 2 months prior to using. 

We have tried a little of the aforesaid chutney and it would appear to go well with cold meat and cheese.  I guess it might be a winner with pâte as well.  ‘Will keep you posted. 

Some of the second ‘picking’ of the figs are now sitting gently in my tum as I write this, having just consumed Sunday lunch.  They were served up as ‘roast figs with cinnamon and red wine syrup sabayon’.

Roast figs with cinnamon and red wine syrup sabayon’  – for 3 

12 ripe figs

5 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

25 ml red wine syrup 

Cut the figs in half, lay on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 10 minutes at 180°c, until bubbling and throbbingly hot. 

Meanwhile place the egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon and syrup in a bowl set over a pan of gently boiling water and whisk to form a sabayon.  The whisked yolks will balloon up  and will be ready when the whipped mass forms a ribbon like trail when the whisk is removed. 

When the figs are roasted, I gratinate them either with a gas torch or under the grill.  Place eight halves on a plate, spoon over two to three very generous tablespoons of sabayon and gratinate and serve.  So sweet and velvety. 

Finally, last night we had dinner with friends, us bringing the pud.  This took the form of ‘hot chocolate soufflé with macerated cherries’. 

Hot chocolate soufflé with macerated cherries – for 4 

300g Pastry Cream

30g soft butter

150g caster sugar

65g unsweetened cocoa powder

8 egg whites

Icing sugar to dust soufflés

Beforehand make the pastry cream – this can be made a day in advance.

100ml half fat milk

150ml double cream

15g plain flour

10g corn flour

40g caster sugar

3 egg yolks 

To make the pastry cream, place the cream and milk in a pan with a dessert spoon of sugar and heat until it starts to bubble.  Meanwhile, place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk and then gradually mix in the flour and cornflour.  Pour one third of the hot milk/cream mix into the whipped egg yolks, mix and then add back to the pan on the heat.  Continue to whip for a few minutes until it starts to thicken.  Pour out into a flattish container and cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming.  Leave to cool until needed.  

For the soufflé, brush the insides of the ramekins with softened butter and taking about 40g of sugar add this to one of the ramekins and move it so all of the sides are coated with sugar.  Place any remaining sugar in the next ramekin and repeat this process until all four are coated with sugar.  Place 4 or 5 macerated cherries in the bottom of each ramekin. 

To make the soufflé firstly warm the pastry cream, this can be done by placing it in the microwave for about 10 seconds.  DO NOT over heat or it will split!  When warm place in a large bowl and mix in the cocoa powder.  In another large bowl whisk the egg whites until they start to stiffen and  to this add the remaining 110g of sugar and beat until you get semi stiff peaks.  Take a large spoonful of the egg whites and mix this into the chocolate pastry cream, then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites.  Divide the mixture between the ramekins leveling the tops with a knife and cleaning the edges of the ramekins.  Place on a hot baking tray and place in an oven at 190°c until risen – about 8 minutes.  

Remove carefully and quickly, dust with icing sugar and serve immediately before they collapse.  Speed is of the essence.  Although on this occasion I didn’t serve these with ice cream, that would be an ideal combination – vanilla, raspberry, cherry etc. 

I think after all of that another run is in order tomorrow morning!  Oh, and the lemonchello we made the other week is a winner.