The way to tell the changing of the seasons in not through temperature or weather but by watching the light. It changed this week. The sun has crept down from its high perch and now sits lower in the sky, creating long shadows in early evening. I was as an exhibition opening at Grand Union on Friday and the shards of 6pm sunlight lit up the artwork like spotlights.

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Autumn sun at Grand Union on Friday evening

I spent Monday evening re-planting those slug-eaten seedlings, the sun warming my back. Birds were singing as if it were spring and I swear I heard a toad. That brief idyll has now been replaced by more usual autumn weather: mist, cloud and a chill. I don’t mind the cold, for hopefully it will keep the leek rust at bay – and sort out the slugs.

Speaking of slugs: I’ve forked out for a tub of organic wool pellets from the garden centre, in what is probably a futile attempt to keep my plants protected without having to resort to the particularly grim murder afforded by slug pellets. Turns out that wool pellets smell of my childhood – in other words, they smell of FARM. The idea is that they swell up and make it difficult for Mr Slug to get around. Progress report soon.

I’m still picking sunflowers, cosmos, calendula and dahlias, plus the tomatoes keep coming. Also some red chillies now, so hot that they burn the fingers when I touch them. But the new star of the allotment are the autumn raspberries, a few punnets a week, soft and luscious.

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Monday’s pickings

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Ripe luscious raspberries

I’m bored of eating soft fruit on its own so doubtless most of this fruit will end up in the freezer. But I do think that raspberries are a great foil to creamy rich desserts. I had mascarpone in the fridge, and I’ve been wanting to try Rick Stein’s recipe for tiramisu. I’ve seen recipes that put raspberries IN a tiramisu, which I can’t quite bring myself to do, but on the side is fine.

First, make a sponge. I know you can use sponge fingers, but I don’t keep them in the house, and anyway how hard is it to make a whisked sponge? Whisk up egg yolks and sugar, fold in a smidgeon of flour and stiff egg whites, then bake for 15 minutes. Sorted.

Light whisked sponge

Next comes the mascarpone cream. I was interested in this recipe because of the whisked egg-whites which I surmised would make it really light, like a mousse. Turns out that this is the proper way to make tiramisu and I’ve just been doing it wrong for years. You whisk up egg yolks and icing sugar until really thick and creamy, then mix in the mascarpone. Fold in stiffly whisked egg whites and vanilla and voila, one creamy mass of deliciousness.

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Eggy sugary mascarpone-y filling

Last thing to get right is the coffee. I didn’t get this right. I’m starting to think that all recipes for tiramisu need to double their coffee allowance; I had enough to soak the sponge but there wasn’t that hit of coffee flavour (I’ve upped the coffee ratio in the recipe below). Either way, use the best espresso you can. I made my own but if you don’t have a machine, you could always go down to your local coffee shop and get a take-away double espresso. Slug a good measure of booze in – marsala is traditional but I used armagnac. No sugar here, just coffee and booze.

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The espresso maker is your friend

Then we layer it all together. You can put it in individual glasses, which is very pretty, but our household is too greedy for that so I made a big one. Slice the sponge to fit your dish, briefly soak it in coffee, place in the dish, dollop the cream on top, and repeat. Leave to chill for several hours so that the cream firms up and the flavours mingle, then finish with a shaving of 70% chocolate or cocoa.

Tiramisu. Serve it up on its own or with a tumble of autumn raspberries.

Tiramisu, translated as ‘pick me up’, is a cliche but what a good cliche. Serve up with raspberries for a hit of sharpness against the cream. Don’t keep it for dessert either, it’s a great breakfast!


Serves 4. Adapted from here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/rick_steins_tiramisu_18785

For the sponge

3 eggs, separated

75g caster sugar

75g plain flour sifted with 1/2 tsp baking powder

For the cream

3 eggs, separated

3 tbsp icing sugar

250g mascarpone

1 tsp vanilla extract

To finish

400ml strong espresso

6 tbsp armagnac or marsala or whatever booze takes your fancy

grated dark chocolate (the 70% stuff) or cocoa, to finish

Pre-heat the oven to 180c and line a swiss-roll tin. Make the sponge: whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy – the ribbon stage, about 5 minutes with an electric whisk. Loosen the mixture with a little egg white, then alternatively fold in the flour and remaining egg white until you have a smooth and light batter. Keep as much air in as possible. Spoon into the tin and bake for about 20 minutes until risen and just cooked. Cool.

Make the cream: whisk the egg whites until stiff. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until smooth, pale and creamy. Add the mascarpone and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add a spoonful of whites to loosen, then fold in the remaining whites. I think it’s best to use a really big metal spoon to do this. Keep the mixture very light. Pop into the fridge until you’re ready to finish the tiramisu.

Make up your espresso then add the booze and leave to cool to room temperature.

Find your serving dish or glasses and cut the sponge into circles or fingers so they will fit snugly. Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee and line the base of your dish. Dollop some mascarpone cream on top, then repeat. Keep going until the mixture’s all gone, finishing with a layer of cream. Chill until firm – at least 6 hours. You can cover with clingfilm and leave for longer if desired. Sprinkle with chocolate or sifted cocoa before serving.


Arrivederci Amalfi part one: Food

We escaped! After spending most of the last 6 weeks running around, vaguely crazed, sorting work projects, Matt and I hopped over to Italy for a week. The reason was my birthday (am now 35); the official activity was walking the Amalfi coastline (which we did and I have a purple toe to prove it). But really, it was all about the food. And the growing of the food.

I’ve been to Italy a number of times and never really understood the fuss about Cucina Italia. I now know where I’ve been going wrong: I have never before stayed on a farm. If you want real cooking, get a country person to do it.

I say a farm: we actually stayed in the agriturismo Luna D’Agerola in the little village of San Lazzaro, which is kind of like a souped-up B&B, except  that rules dictate that they have to grow their own produce. It turns out that in Amalfi, everyone grows their own produce. Despite clinging to vertiginous cliff sides, each house is surrounded by rows upon rows of tomato, corn, courgette, beans, vines and, of course, lemons. With produce this generous, good food is guaranteed.

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A little photo opportunity in Ravello

We start the day with breakfast cake. Each morning, Giovanna offered up an enormous platter of goodness, filled with the lightest of sponges or, if we were lucky, little palm-sized pastries filled with custard or pear.

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Breakfast cake. The lightest of sponge is topped with wafer thin apple, with a few raisins thrown into the mix

After walking up a mountain in the heat, a little refreshment is needed. It’s Italy, so this means gelato.


Overpriced Amalfi gelato

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Cassata gelato, studded with candied fruits and pistachio

Another option was granita, which was on offer in pretty much every bar and cafe. This one was made with those gorgeous Amalfi lemons but there was also coffee, melon, peach, apricot, strawberry, orange… You could even get it in your cocktail if you so chose.

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Refreshing lemon granita, made with those amazing Amalfi lemons

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Lunchtime bellini anyone?

And then the pastries. The Italians do ALOT with pastry, far more than I ever realised. We tried sturdy cannoli, filled with ricotta and custard, washed down with the obligatory aperol spritz. (Nb I am certain an Italian would find this combination outrageous.)

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Mid-afternoon aperol spritz and cannoli

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Exquisite pastry stuffed with lemon scented frangipane

And for dinner. Every meal at the agriturismo began with the primo (a plate of pasta  with tomato or pesto) followed by the secondo (meat or fish with a side of beautifully dressed grilled vegetables). The veggies-on-the-side option was there to please the English, I think, as usually they would be offered as a separate course. To finish, more cake or fruit. But occasionally we went off piste:

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Arancini, rice balls stuffed with specs of salami and gooey cheese

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Pizza perfecto: No tomato, just cheese, fennel-scented sausage and cima di rapa

Next door to Giovanna and Guiseppe’s agriturismo is one run by Pasquale, Guiseppe’s brother. Obviously they too produce enormous quantities of their own food. In the cellar, home-made salami and pancetta hang amongst jars of passata, laid down year on year to see the family over the winter months.


Perfect passata store at the agriturismo


Four generations of sons have worked on the vines. Their mural adorns the cellar where the wines are stored.

There, we were treated to a meal that will forever be known as Feast Night. After nibbling that salami there came a platter of antipasti, all home-made or home-grown, with the sweetest whispers of ham and garlicky grilled vegetables. Plus pizza fritta, little rounds of dough deep-fried then topped with passata and parmesan.


Antipasti spread at the agriturismo. With the exception of the mozzarella (which will have come from just down the road), everything here is homegrown or homemade.

Next, plates of grilled chicken and pork alongside mounds of mash stuffed with mozzarella. Watermelon to refresh the palate, then the thickest, richest tiramisu one could ask for. It was washed down with bottles of their own white and red wine (the red served chilled) then shots of limoncello and blackberry liquor.


The thickest, punchiest tiramisu

A birthday can not pass without a cake. This tiramisu gateau will do *I suppose*.

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Fa la la! It’s my birthday! Cake to feed 20.

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The sponge is soaked in coffee, filled with coffee cream and topped with more cream.

All this amazing food is possible because of the age-old agricultural habits in this part of Campagnia. More about that in the next post.

Luna D’Agerola: www.lunadagerola.it/english.htm