Never known a courgette glut like it. Our raised beds are Zucchini Centrale this summer. One upside of a current disinclination to travel? There have been no transitions into the dreaded marrow. What the hell can you do with those? Answers in crayon on a hessian sack, please.

Soup has been one way to depopulate the veg rack. The Ethicurean Cookbook’s Roasted Courgette and Cobnut Soup is an old favourite even if the hazelnut’s folksy Kentish cousin is still a month or two away from ripening. As they will in that Mendip restaurant’s walled garden, which I so love. As I write I’m happy to substitute pistachios to sprinkle over the labneh I’ve been straining for 36 hours (soup recipe below).

Serendipity rules as the courgettes pile up. Italy’s a good way to go. Marcella Hazan, Giorgio Locatelli, the late Antonio Carluccio and our English Italophiles  Jacob Kenedy, Alastair Little, Rachel Roddy, all offer ways of making the green watery cylinders they call zucchini up their game.

The heftier examples really require baking, so I profitably consult the unsung Queen of La Cucina, Anna del Conte (Milan-born, resident in England since 1949, now 96).

Amaretti biscuits and ricotta are the stuffing for this Mantuan masterpiece

From her Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes: The Best of (1989) I pick Zucchini Ripiene alla Mantovano, which stuffs them with ricotta and amaretti in the method particular to Mantua (recipe below). It makes use of my store cupboard stash of amaretti biscuits, close to their use-by-date. They add a beguiling almondiness, as they do to another slightly sweet speciality of that Lombard city, pumpkin tortellini.

All this sustainable kitchen prep of my glut, though, lacks a little glamour. What the Romans call Il Fascino. The glory of growing your own courgettes is the access to their trumpet-like yellow flowers. All over Italy in season you can buy bags of them at markets. Not so in Britain. I once spotted an overpriced wilting trio of them at a farmer’s market in Marylebone. It reminded me of northern traders flogging a small bag of wild garlic for a couple of quid when nearby woods reeked of the forageable stuff. Zucchini flowers – you really have to grow your own.

Leslie Forbes’ two Seventies volumes matched her illustrations with her own hand-written travelogue

What to do with them? Not too many choices. Best to take the advice of a forgotten food writer, whose two most beautiful tomes – hand written, self illustrated, product of hands-on research – remain a fixture on the shelf of my all-time favourite cookbooks.

Leslie Forbes died in 2016 at the age of 63. By then the Canadian, originally an artist (she illustrated Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence), was most celebrated for the best-seller Bombay Ice and other literary thrillers. I couldn’t get on with them; my heart remained with A Table in Tuscany (1985) and A Table in Provence (1987). Seek them out second hand on Abe Books or the like

My original copies showing their age, well-thumbed and stained with tomato coulis and olive oil

Both have recipes for courgette flowers… or more evocatively Fiori di Zucca or Fleurs des Courgettes. I’m not one for deep-frying the stuffed flowers, so I’ll pass on the zucchini fritters San Gimignano style, ‘au naturel’ or ham-stuffed, from the Tuscan book; instead try this Provencal treatment, which Leslie sourced from the Gleize family of Chateau Arnoux. I I substitute water for the chicken stock, use canned San Marzano tomatoes and am still waiting on my second batch of chervil to come through, so omitted.


400g can San Marzano tomatoes

grated zest one lemon (no white pith)

3-4 basil leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp chervil, finely chopped

pinch of powered corlander

1 garlic clove, peeled & crushed

100 ml olive oil

salt and pepper


3 medium courgettes, finely chopped

6 tbsp olive oil

6 fresh basil leaves, in thin strips

6 fresh mint leaves, chopped

handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 small garlic cloves, peeled & finely chopped

salt and pepper

generous handful fine stale breadcrumbs

1 egg, beaten

250ml water

18 large courgette flowers (picked just before you need to use them if possible)


Prepare sauce at least 12 hours before: crush tomatoes with a fork, and beat in the lemon zest, herbs, coriander, garlic & olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper. Do not refrigerate. 

To make the stuffing, cook the courgettes in 2 tbsp of olive oil. When softened, remove from heat and mix with basil, mint, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Allow to cool and add the breadcrumbs and beaten egg. 

Remove pistils from flowers, then put a spoonful of the stuffing into each flower, tuck in the ends & lay the flowers side by side in an oven proof dish. Pour over the water remaining olive oil, cover with foil & bake for 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 350°F/180°C/gas 4. To serve, spoon a little tomato coulis onto each plate and place three flowers on top.


4 medium courgettes, each about 15cm

sea salt

30g unsalted butter

1 shallot, very finely chopped

2tsp olive oil

2tsp fresh thyme

3 dry amaretti, finely crumbled 

150 g fresh ricotta, drained

1 free range egg

50g grated parmesan

pinch grated nutmeg

freshly ground black pepper

dried breadcrumbs


Wash the courgettes throughly and half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the flesh, without puncturing the skin: the aim is to get hollow, boat-shaped courgette halves. Salt them lightly and turn them upside down on a wooden board: the salt will draw out unwanted moisture and the courgette will be all the tastier for that. After half an hour, pat them dry. Keep the courgette pulp separate.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F.

Melt half the butter with half the oil, add the shallot, salt it to stop it browning and fry it gently, with the lid on. When it is soft, raise the heat, add the chopped thyme and the courgette flesh, diced. Stir and then cook until fairly dry.  Mix together the ricotta, the parmesan (minus one tablespoon), the egg, amaretti and the cooked courgette pulp. Add nutmeg and black pepper.

Smear the bottom of an oven dish, preferably metal, with the remaining oil and tuck in a single layer of courgette shells. Stuff each shell with the filling, sprinkle with dried breadcrumbs, mixed with parmesan, and dot with the remaining butter and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil.

Bake until a light golden crust has formed, checking after the first 40 minutes. Eat warm or at room temperature.

The Ethicurean’s walled garden base at Wrington near Chew Magna is a remarkable foodie mecca


Like the nature writer Richard Mabey, folk singer/nightingale devotee Sam Lee, Robert ‘Lost Words’ Macfarlane, there are some national treasures that speak for the real England and its glories. A world away from the nasty jingoism festering and now erupting in the wake of Brexit. 

Whenever I get angry about this rampant intolerance and the way our Cabinet of Fools have handled the pandemic I return to the ultimate therapy – growing my own and cooking.

I am not alone in making that essential plot to table connection. A whole new generation of professional chef/growers is in the vanguard of championing our food heritage. In my own North these include Sam Buckley of Where The Light Gets In, Joseph Otway of Higher Ground/Cinderwood Market Garden and Alisdair Brooke-Taylor of the Moorcock at Norland.

And down in the Mendip Hills outside Bristol The Victorian Barley Wood Walled Garden provides inspirational, seasonal produce for the on-site Ethicurean, winner of Best Ethical Restaurant in the 2011 Observer Food Monthly Awards. We loved eating there, with accompanying tumblers of their home-made vermouth. Like Simon Baker, chef patron of the stalwart Gimbals Restaurant (like the Moorcock in my home territory of the Calder Valley), I am a huge fan of their The Ethicurean Cookbook (Ebury Press, £25). Highly recommended.

The Ethicurean stuff their courgette flowers with ewe’s curd and cobnuts, accompanying them with a wild fennel sorbet. They make the most of our native cobnuts, nearly extinct 30 years ago but making a comeback in likeminded restaurants. They feature in my final recipe, taken from The Ethicurean Cookbook. In season you can buy cobnuts mail order from Kent. My obliging Calderdale greengrocer Valley Veg have a supply on request.

That exquisite Ethicurean courgette soup with labneh, toasted cobnuts and English mustard dressing


1kg small firm courgettes, sliced into 2cm pieces

rapeseed oil

500g onions finely sliced

250g carrots finely sliced

250g celery finely sliced

1tsp salt plus more for final seasoning

40g fresh cobnuts, chopped, thenlightly toasted

For the labneh:

500g Greek yoghurt

½tsp salt

1tbsp chopped marjoram

1tbsp chopped oregano

For the dressing:

85ml rapeseed oil

50ml cider vinegar

1tsp English mustard

½tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground turmeric

1tsp chopped mint


Make the labneh a day in advance. Line a sieve with muslin and put the yoghurt in it, stirring in salt. Wrap into a bundle over a deep bowl to drain overnight. Next day discard the liquid. To make the dressing blend all the ingredients together.

Heat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6. Toss the courgettes with a little rapeseed oil, then spread on a roasting tin. Roast in oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a film of rapeseed oil in a large saucepan and add onions carrots and celery; sweat for 10-15 minutes until tender. Stir so the veg doesn’t colour. Add roasted courgettes and sweat for 5 minutes longer. Add water to barely cover and bring to a simmer. Add salt and after five minutes blitz in a blender (in batches if necessary). If too thick for you, pas through a fine sieve to create a more velvety mouthfeel. Now season to taste, reheat gently and serve in bowls topped with a tablespoon of labneh, a scattering of chopped cobnuts and a drizzle of mustard dressing.

Admission: I’ve got a thing about angels. From binge-watching Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire to a treasured print of Marc Chagall’s Jacob’s Dream with its striking Seraphim enmeshed in the battle between good and evil… I’m smitten. Maybe less so with Robbie Williams and his angelic vision.

Still one chunk of Angel’s lyrics strikes a heavenly chord: “I sit and wait/Does an angel contemplate my fate/And do they know/The places where we go/When we’re grey and old?”

The answer, in this grizzled food lover’s case, is back to the Angel at Hetton. Our Own Private Angelo, in another age, when it staked a claim to being the nation’s first ‘gastropub’. Well ahead of The Eagle in Farringdon, one much-touted contender.

The surrounding Dales countryside looks little changed from the Nineties when this was a regular foray but, pulling off road, we notice all the roseate creepers have been purged from the inn frontage and the signage is now a discreet ‘Angel’ and a Michelin star insignia.

We park next to a silver Jaguar F-Type convertible, which may signal the presence of pop royalty for lunch. Or his Satanic Majesty. We never find out. It’s the weather that has us dazzled. If memory serves, it rained incessantly in Yorkshire between September 1996 and April 1999. Today, July 19, 2021 offers the dry heat of Provence in high summer and the Hetton village limestone is all honeyed Luberon in the glare.

The Angel interior, reassuringly well-ventilated, is cool and grey. Like me, only with better manners. Yet it does not feel stuffy. Staff are young but properly drilled. This means a Kir Royale (for birthday girl whose treat this is) and a water bowl (for Captain Smidge, the panting chihuahua) are swiftly brought. It’s touch and go which of the pair will have the prime share of a lamb main in this dog-friendly establishment. 

Restaurant and bar area are both being used for meals, a la carte or tasting menu, to  maximise covers while spacing out tables. It’s done well. The attention to detail will carry over into the food. We are here because Michael Wignall is here. 

Wignall is one of the star chefs that have contributed recipes to Lancashire Diamond, celebrating 60 Years of Wellocks

A chef not given to self-publicity but among the profession a legend. Not so much for his one-time consultancy role with Hotel Football when Gary Neville gave this Preston-born United fan the opportunity to create Nev’s Noodles and a black-pudding sausage roll (both splendid but maybe the punters weren’t ready for umami and the like). 

The rest of his career path, though, reads like a road map of New British Cuisine with two star tenures at The Latymer and Gidleigh Park. We last tasted his fastidious food, with a hint of Japanese influence, when he guested at Northcote’s 2016 Obsessions festival.

Two years later the Angel became the first restaurant of his own, the ambitious transformation made possible by a partnership with friends James and Josephine Wellock, top end catering produce suppliers.

We watched all this from afar as the pandemic narrowed all our dining out opportunities but noted the swift recognition of a Michelin star and a meteoric rise in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list. Until this mellowest of Mondays it remained on a bucket list as I persuaded myself the joys of labour intensive home cooking could more than compensate for a proper restaurant experience.

Which brings us – as some seriously cute amuse bouches reach the table, prompting explorative sniffs from The Captain on his cushion – to why we first patronised this off the beaten track drovers inn that dates back to the 15th century (though the oak beams and other ‘original’ features are 17th).

It’s all down to Moneybags. No, not the kind that helps fund Jaguars. As far inland as you can get in our realm and fish specials were the lure. Owner Dennis Watkins would chalk catches of the day up on a blackboard but the one constant was a little filo parcel in a pool of lobster reduction. The full name, ‘Little Moneybag of Seafood’.

The barn complex across the road houses some of the Angel’s en suite accommodation

Simple pleasure that it sounds now, yet it became a kind of signature dish of the Watkins dynasty that began in 1983 and turned The Angel into an unexpected foodie destination. The family kept going when Dennis died in 2004, just after an expansion into a former barn had created bedrooms and a ‘wine cave’. A decade ago its reputation was still high enough to merit a visit from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the original series of The Trip.

Chefs came and went. One former private chef to Donna Karan with a back story in the Turks and Caicos introduced his own silver hake satay and other innovations but when Moneybags orders dipped the writing was on the wall.

A bottle of Chinon, lightly chilled Cabernet Franc, is now at my elbow, alongside a freshly baked sourdough loaf with parsley and lovage butter. I’m driving the birthday girl home so I just get to sniff and have two very modest glasses. There was never a chance of staying over. Across the land the places you’d love to stay at are fully booked up until well into the autumn. It doesn’t stop me dreaming of a siesta, dinner and a next day Wignall breakfast followed by a dog walk over Rylstone Edge before the heat gets too intense. One day.

Never go back? Sometimes it’s good to. Hetton in high summer has just offered a slice of heaven.


There is a £75 tasting menu We chose three courses from the a la carte, which came with inevitable extras, including an intense pre-main mini chicken in ramen broth, a perfect little sourdough ‘pain’ with parsley and lovage butter plus dreamy petits fours. It cost £70 each.

Arctic Char

Pleasingly fatty, troutlike tranche in rich shrimp butter, cut through by gooseberry; kohlrabi and razor clam adding texture. 


A fan of lightly marinated raw Scottish scallop is given the freshest of treatments. Frozen buttermilk, peas and cucumber are natural allies. A slash of charcoal and a scattering of Ocscietra caviar on th buttermilk is the masterstroke.


A triumph of sourcing and restraint on the plate. Cumbrian loin and belly, blobs of celeriac puree, barbecued gem lettuce and leek with an earthy undertow from hen of the wood.


So a Norfolk quail, ethically reared by the same enterprising East Anglian farm that supplied the Norfolk poussin on the menu at Michelin soulmate Northcote. The quail is the base for an elaborate combo of breast with bitter dandelion, a leg paired with a veal sweetbread, miso/sunflower oil on the side. Artichoke dice and winter truffle all contribute to a very special dish.


The obvious birthday treat across the table, featuring a steamed sponge and cherries, alongside an Orelys bronze chocolate base topped by sugar snaps, frozen estate dairy milk and more cherries. I had no chance to explore further since it was devoured so swiftly.


Aerated parfaits I can do without, even flavoured with my favourite, verbena. Otherwise there was much to admire in the yoking together of strawberries and their distant wild cousins, pineberries with olive oil and yogurt.

The Angel at Hetton, near Skipton BD23 6LT. 01756 730263. Mon, Fri, Sat and Sun lunch 12pm-2pm, dinner 6.30pm-8.30pm; Thu dinner 6.30pm-8.30pm. Closed Tue and Wed. Under the new regime there are now 15 en-suite rooms – on the first floor, in a neighbouring cottage and across the road in the Fell View Barn, which once housed the ‘wine cave’. Two dog-friendly rooms are available, with doggy bed and bowls provided, while dogs are allowed to join their owner for meals in the normal bar area. 


Devonshire Arms Brasserie, Bolton Abbey

Two decades ago the peripatetic Wignall was chef at the Devonshire Arms’ showcase restaurant, the decidedly formal Burlington. In complete contrast is the venerable hotel’s second dining spot, a riot of candy-striped upholstery and ‘bold’ artworks on white-washed walls. The plan had been to lunch on the pop-up terrace next to the helipad but the weather wasn’t Hettonesque, so the perpetually sunny Brasserie it was. It shares the commitment of the Burlington to fine raw materials, Try the torched house cured salmon with beetroot, pickle and horseradish, followed by lamb rump with lentils, tomato mint, Yorkshire fettle, green olives, spring greens and pan jus. 3 courses £35, 2 courses £28.

The Fleece at Addingham

Just a couple of miles down the road from Bolton Abbey and Wharfedale has become Airedale. Cars thunder into Ilkley along the A65 bypass, leaving Addingham village relatively serene. Its best pub has twice come back from the dead after being gutted by an arson attack in 2015, then shut after Joycelyn Neve’s Seafood Pub Co, which expensively restored it, went into administration. New owners rescued half of the chain and she’s back at the helm, with supplies from her father Chris’s Fleetwood seafood business. So go for the Fleece’s fish specials or a sharing plate of fruits de mer. We pushed out the boat and splashed out £69 on two full lobsters as rain swept the terrace. We were happily under cover. Atypical’s the word for that sun-dappled day in Hetton.

Exciting openings have not been plentiful of late. Now we have one. Such is the allure of the re-born Black Friar, reopening on Tuesday, July 27, not even the stormy weather heading our way can zap the al fresco vibe generated by its glorious garden. The short hot summer was at its peak when we got our sneak preview. The rest of the world will inevitably follow.

Hurtling along Trinity Way, you’d be hard pressed to twig the large terrace behind its palisade; ditto the glass-fronted restaurant annexe seamlessly attached to the Victorian sandstone and brick pub, restored to the tune of £1.4m.

Black Friar – Salford heritage among the new build

For two decades, after a devastating fire, it stood desolate on the corner with Blackfriars Street. Not quite an eyesore – if you were a fan of Boddingtons Bitter. As the reputation of the ‘Cream of Manchester’ turned sour under successive corporate owners the prominent two bees logo decked out in yellow and black on the end of the building was a lachrymose reminder of the straw-coloured, fragrantly hoppy nectar the beer once was. 

This may be apocryphal but I’m told Boddies cask was so popular in the Seventies the Black Friar stocked no keg beer or lager. That was an old school Salford boozer; in its latest incarnation it reflects a new apartment block generation colonising the former industrial wasteland. Food-oriented, most definitely. Developers Salboy originally intended it to be a vehicle for star chef Aiden Byrne, but he pulled out as the pandemic struck; in his place is another ex-20 Stories talent, Ben Chaplin.

Still it plugs its pub credentials, honouring the brewery that once belched malt fumes over Strangeways by offering the keg Boddies at £4.50 a pint. A bland brand, it’s brewed by Inbev in Samlesbury; I’d veer towards the excellent wine list instead. 

The trad pub sign also name checks Boddingtons. It features a jolly friar, given a shaggy dog back story on the website (and a chance to proclaim the pub’s Resurrection, thankfully without appropriating the Stone Roses). 

I’d hoped the fashion for this kind of naff narrative self-validation had passed, but hey it’s just a quibble. Let us praise. The Black Friar is a holy exceptional addition to the Manchester/Salford food and drink scene. The first Salford gastropub proper since the demise of Robert Owen Brown’s remarkable Mark Addy.

What immediately impressed on that embryonic lunchtime visit was the quality of service  mustered from a young crew by exuberant Lebanese general manager Remi Khodr. From the immediate water bowl for our chihuahua, Captain Smidge, to the limoncello proffered when our puddings were slightly delayed the experience was a delight.

Probably because Smidge was with us we were seated at a garden table. No hardship but the restaurant proper looked the stylish business. An open kitchen, an abundance of greenery, black and white tiles, marble table tops, all filled with light. 

.A section of the garden – Boddingtons Corner – can be hired for private events, as can the panelled, drawing room-like Sanctuary on the pub’s first floor.

Totally gratuitous image of the Blackfriar. Few pub interiors can match its art nouveau magnificence

As many original features as possible have been retained but alas the shell was vandalised during the lost years. Compare and contrast its namesake in London, the Blackfriar, a masterpiece of art nouveau don by the Thames, built on the site of a real priory. It did serve Boddingtons in its heyday; food has never been a priority.

Under head chef Chaplin it definitely is here. There is to be an upmarket ‘pub food’ menu but we got to sample the ‘restaurant’ offering. Eventually there’ll be a chef’s table on the Black Friar’s second floor. You can see the ambition in what’s on offer already. I have never encountered such an elaborate, deconstructed tiramisu. No wonder it took time to emerge. A honeycomb and gold leaf wow. Equally satisfying was a 72 per cent Valrhona chocolate fondant with peanut butter ice cream across the table.

A starter of juniper-cured ‘au point’ Creedy carver duck was stunning, served with sweet roast cherries and a pickled kohlrabi salad. My Cornish boudin, in contrast struck a drab note, despite the best efforts of basil jelly and some interesting smoked dehydrated watermelon. Little roundels of seafood sausage betrayed hardly a hint of crab.

Main prices are heading premium-wards. £28 for roast Cumbrian rack of lamb, but all the Mediterranean elements of the dish were in harmony – glazed baby aubergine, kalamata olive and confit tomato jus. Smidge loved his substantial tithe.

Perhaps there was too much going on in our other main, a couple of quid more. Wallowing in a polite ‘bouillabaisse’ with a scattering of mussels was a dense seared monkfish fillet. Giving it a flouncy 20 Stories feel was a small flotilla of nasturtium leaves. A mound of squid ink rouille was excessive and would have been unbalancing if I hadn’t shoved half to the side. No matter, this is food worth making the trek for. 

Would I treat it as a pub to drop in for a pint? Doubt it. That’s what The Eagle around the corner is for. And yet… that garden. That first kiss of ‘freedom’. I know how Adam felt. Before the Fall, that eternal lockdown.

The Black Friar, Blackfriars Road, Salford M3 7DH. 0161 667 9555.

Wine dark sea. I’ve always loved that enigmatic go-to phrase of Homer. Hard to pin down its exact meaning until one sunset stroll along the vast esplanade of Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki. Nikis Avenue and its continuation doesn’t bother with fencing off the Thermaic Gulf. One stumble and you could plunge into Poseidon’s salty realm.

Sunset over the Thermaic Gulf viewed from our Thessaloniki hotel room

The home of the Gods, Mount Olympus, is a distant silhouette to the south west; the wine of the Gods undoubtedly springs from Naoussa, 75 mountainous miles north. Thessaloniki gave us so much but the taste for Xinomavro may be the most lasting legacy. Along with the view from our seafront hotel, but more of that later.

Xinomavro (pronounced ksee-NOH-mavro) is a red grape found all over Northern and Central Greece. Traditionally it’s challenging, tannic with high acidity, often compared with Italy’s Barolo grape, Nebbiolo. We were recommended it to accompany a herby lamb stew in Thessaloniki’s hip former Jewish quarter, Valaoritou.

We were immediately smitten, but that introduction didn’t yell Barolo. Back in Manchester, we unearthed a bottle that did – a Markowitis Xinomavro from 1999 on the list at the wonderful erst, Ancoats. That substantial bottle age delivered an enticing scent of violets and truffles. It tasted waxy, slightly nutty, the tannins having smoothed out without compromising the essential acidity. Very like a mature Barolo or Barbaresco. The wine is no longer available at erst but another seasoned vintage can be found at Wine & Wallop, Knutsford.

Since then I’ve deluged myself with various Xinomavros from Naoussa and the three other appellations across Macedonia. Earlier this year The Wine Society offered a toothsome special introductory case of six for a while and still offer a varied selection. I’d recommend as an introduction two contrasting bottles from the doyen of Xinomavro winemakers, Apostolos Thymiopoulos. His Jeune Vignes 2019 (£11.50) is all accessible bright red fruit and herbs, while from older grapes the Xinomavro Naoussa 2018 (£14.50) is more structured but with delicious ripeness. Almost a feel of Pinot Noir in there.

Note: you have to make a one-off modest payment to join the Society for life (membership numbers and sales have swelled dramatically during lockdowns). If you’d just like to try the 2018 without committing it’s available too at Majestic Wine.

There’s also an accessible £9.50 introduction in M&S’s new ‘Found’ range, where Thymiopoulos has blended 70% Xin with 30% Mandalaria grapes from distant Santorini.

If Xinomvavro is still under the radar with the wine-buying public – still too much in thrall to the mixed blessings of Malbec – it’s certainly a wine trade favourite. The great Tim Atkin MW raves about it in his blogs and in the engagingly maverick Noble Rot: Wines From Another Galaxy (Quadrille, £30) co-authors Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew pin its appeal down perfectly: “To think of it just as a Barolo-alike is to do it a disservice. Notes of dried herbs, tomato and olive unfurl with age, which contemporary vignerons balance by emphasising the primary fruit characters and taming its jagged tannins.”

There is a chance modern techniques could subdue the wildness of the grape. Over-oaking i happening. That’s not the case with the best example from Thymiopoulos, his award-winning Rapsani Terra Petra 2018 (Wine Society, £22), where sweetly fruited Xinomavro is blended with indigenous Krassato and Stavroto to add extra richness. It comes from a warmer climate, long-neglected vineyard on the slopes of Olympus. Told you it was the wine of the Gods.

These are real icons melding Greek Orthodox religiosity and the tourist buck


Let’s now banish the Gods and return to Greece’s culinary capital and its liveliest city. It has ancient roots and by the late 19th century was perhaps the most multicultural city in Europe with an Ottoman heritage co-existing with Greek Orthodox, the large Jewish population a catalyst for its prosperity. An essential guide to Thessaloniki’s turbulent history is Salonica City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower (Harper pb £14.99).

Yet today’s city, with a population of 800,000, is shaped by the 20th Century – or to be more specific one particular day, August 18, 2014. Over several hours the Great Fire wiped out that rich past, destroying 9.500 houses and leaving 70,000 homeless. So the city centre you see today with its elegant French style boulevards is the result of the rebuild. 

Expect no concessions to visitor squeamishness on city market stalls

A few significant remnants survive – the old city walls high above in the old town, alongside the tranquil Vladaton Monastery, the atmospheric churches of St Demetrios and Aghia Sofia, the Byzantine Thermal Baths – but essentially it is a city to stroll around and relish the essence of modern Greekness, the bars, markets and old-fashioned shops. It’s all a bit cluttered.

The Jewish Museum in Agiou MIna Street traces the rich culture of the community, which was wiped out when 60,000 were deported to the camps by the Nazis . Valaoritou, once home to the fabric shops of working class Jews, is the coolest place to be after dark as clubs and bars slowly restore its disused buildings.

The esplanade, which passes the White Tower, a 15th-century curiosity that is famous throughout Greece, is a spacious boon to cyclists and pedestrians. New public sculptures, including the much-photographed Umbrellas opposite Anthokomiki Park, are witty and attractive. Almost every month there’s a different festival – food, music, jazz, films, wine. There are book fairs and an LGBT Pride parade in June. The Greek word most associated with Thessaloniki is “xalara” which means “laid-back” or “cool” and you really feel it as you begin to explore.  

The White Tower is visible from seafront rooms at Daios Luxury Living

We had the perfect base, Daios Luxury Living, at Nikis 59, along from the White Tower. Our fifth floor room with balcony looked down onto the seafront with exhilarating views over the Gulf, with epic sunsets and then a glorious pale moon. It was so tempting to stay put with a glass of Assyrtiko (my favourite Greek white, but that’s another story) but beer called!

At the nearby Hoppy Pub owner George Alexakis, perhaps Greece’s foremost craft beer fanatic, holds court, discussing the merits of Magic Rock and the ascendancy of Cloudwater. He and fellow pioneers even brew their own beer; the Flamingo Road Trip IPA was delicious.

On his recommendation we ate at a new, acclaimed Cretan restaurant called Charoupi. The name means ‘carob’, that chocolate-like pod some see as a superfood and is certainly a symbol for Crete. Charoupi’s menu reflects the rustic food of the island (bone-in rabbit stew, goat cheeses), but it was a carob-driven dish that astonished – a pie made not with white flour, but with carob flour and topped with black and white sesame seeds and carob honey. Alas, not a Xinomavro on the wine list.

Getting there:

It’s a two hour flight with from Manchester. We combined Thessaloniki with staying as guest of the highly recommended Eagle Villas resort two hours south in Halkidiki, near the gateway to Mount Athos. We could see the Holy Mountain, mantled in cloud far down the coastline. Iconic is an over-used term (and obviously real icons are everywhere here) but apt for the sealed-off realm of 20 Orthodox monasteries, clustering in its shadow. 

For a thousand years the barriers have been up. Present yourself for one of the strictly controlled three-day permits at the basement border post in the nearest town, Orianopoulis, and you might well fail to convince them of your suitability. It’s simpler for a woman. You’re absolutely forbidden entry into this 300 sq km male-only dominion, home to some 2,000 monks and stunning treasures.

We enjoyed a vicarious peek at the clifftop monastic fastnesses from a catamaran we hired, picnicking on board, surrounded by a school of playful dolphins. Feeling gloriously heathen.

There are some images that are hard to sweep from your mind. You know the sort of stuff – hypocritical politicos caught by CCTV in a ‘steamy clinch’. Etched in my cranium is that ogre of monstrous appetites, Robert Maxwell, in his eyrie at the old Daily Mirror HQ in Holborn opening a desk drawer during a meeting and scooping a hairy fistful of caviar into his maw.

That might put anyone off this ultra-expensive delicacy for life. On the hack’s salary he was paying me I was never going to develop the habit. But when the opportunity comes along to reacquaint oneself with the unique experience of high end sturgeon roe it’s hard to say ‘whoa there’.

The three Petrossian caviars we got to try

I barely know my Beluga from my Ossetra but I know what I like. In truth my palate isn’t attuned to the nuances that separate the trio of caviars sent to me by iconic brand Petrossian but I’m getting there. The three 50g tins before me range in price from £100 for the Alverta® Royal Caviar through £120 for the Alverta® Tsar Impérial™ Caviar to £130 for the Ossetra Tsar Impérial™

Before I even dare broach them I have to do some research, which I can share with you as fellow caviar virgins. If you are already an aficionado (not just a show-off glutton like the aforementioned Cap’n Bob) look away now.

Prehistoric survivor – Acipenser Gueldenstaedti

Ossetra, also called Oscietra or ‘Russian sturgeon’, hails from the shores of the Caspian Sea bordering Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. It’s in those dark waters, muddied by the interminable internecine conflicts of the region, that we should start.

The star of the show is the bottom-feeding sturgeon – scientific name Acipenser Gueldenstaedti – which was around way before the dinosaurs and hasn’t had much of a makeover since. Traditionally it was an absolute lottery for sturgeon to produce offspring. Even the smallest of them are over six years old when they first spawn. Beluga and Kaluga, the larger varieties, only reach maturity in their twenties.

Sturgeon were also picky about where to lay their eggs – inevitably in tthe same area where they themselves were hatched. It was all quite an endurance test. En route they lived off their own fat, swimming upriver against the tide, until they found a rocky stretch to find a mate and spawn. Yet unlike salmon they don’t perish at the end of the process, which has kept them from extinction.

Overfishing and poaching definitely pushed the sturgeon toward the brink, though until it became illegal to fish for this species in that region. After years of studies and research, Petrossian was the first player on the market to offer farmed Ossetra in 2007.

A scattering of caviar, smoked salmon and a buckwheat blini is quite a combo

I must admit it was my favourite of the trio, whether on its own or with blinis (our own fresh buckwheat treats, not the bought-in disappointments), soured cream and slices of Petrossian’s Coupe du Tsar®  80 day smoked salmon tenderloin.

The dark amber-hued Ossetra was briny and sensual with a persistent aftertaste, for me pipping its creamier, iodised rival, the almost black Alverta® Tsar Impérial™. The other Alverta was less distinctive. Both the product of the Acipenser transmontanus white sturgeon, which can top four metres long in its natural habitat of North American rivers. Nowadays the fish is farmed for it eggs in California and Italy.

They sure love it in the ‘Golden State’ where the great chef patron of The French Laundry, Thomas Keller has just launched a new pop-up bar pairing – what else? – caviar and Champagne in the Napa Valley wine town of Yountville.

Fresh out of Krug, I opened sharing bottles of beer with photographer compadre Joby Catto. He brought along ‘Spirit of Nature’, a mixed fermentation yuzu fruited sour and

The Wild Beer Co’s Ninkasi Saison. The latter, containing 10 per cent apple juice, fruity hops and wild yeast, made an excellent fist of counterfeiting the appropriate Champagne. 

No bias here but the best match came from my Elderflower and Gooseberry Sour 2020. Tart and funky, it made a perfect marriage of convenience with the briny caviar.

Black gold comes at a mega premium price

Is it all worth it?

A pre-pandemic survey of the UK’s two and three Michelin starred restaurants discovered that over 70 per cent featured caviar on its menus. This is all the milder, farmed stuff, more sustainable than the wild product from the Caspian and Black Seas, international trade in which has been banned since 2006. That had to be done since harmful fishing practices put native sturgeon on the endangered list.

Still there are some issues in harvesting the roe (ie eggs) from sturgeon in the farms. These are discussed in a balanced way in this 2019 Guardian article.

Without the farms, caviar, an iconic luxury item, would not now exist. A new generation of chefs are seeking alternative roes but as with Champagne versus other bubbles the cachet is not the same. 

From the watershed moment when it was transformed from peasant fodder – a meat substitute during fasts – into a coveted status symbol of the Tsars and ultimately the affluent across the globe there has been no turning back for caviar.

As I nibble the final glistening ‘black gold’ off a silver spoon I relish an oligarchal sense of conspicuous consumption, but ultimately I prefer the salmon on my blini.

To buy Petrossian caviar, smoked salmon and other top of the range products visit this link.

Many thanks to Joby Catto for the beer and some excellent images.

Spring 2018 and I’m besotted. The venue a rough and ready moorland pub high above Sowerby Bridge. Not an obvious honeytrap for a tryst and there was precious little flesh on the bones of the object of my desire. A deep-fried herring skeleton on the debut menu was a mission statement for the reinvention of the Moorcock Inn at Norland.

That challenging herring bone that kickstarted the Moorcock experience

Penning the first UK review of Alisdair Brooke-Taylor’s daring fresh take on the UK gastropub I wrote: “North Sea herring season is upon us. All those Dutch and Flemish trenchermen salivating at the prospect of fatty raw fish soused in vinegar or brine. A Yorkshireman’s penchant for pickles stops at onions; herring bone to him is tweed or twill.”

Not real bones, constituting the second course in a £35 tasting menu. One that started weird and became ever more wonderful. They resembled a seahorse or a fossil shape in ammonite. Three winters (and herring seasons) have passed and this take on a Japanese omakase snack has never reappeared.

Mangalitza chop and wild greens – so very Moorcock

The rare breed Hungarian Mangalitza pork that provided the 11 week dry-aged chops that followed has remained on the radar, though. It contributes to the house-cured charcuterie sharing board that is a star attraction in the post-lockdown food offering. Some component have been two years in the making.

This outstanding home cured charcuterie plate is my favourite contemporary snack

It is made up of pork rillettes, hot smoked rare breed ham, Gloucester Old Spot coppa, chicken liver parfait, jellied pork terrine, smoked prunes and toast. All for just £18 a platter. Inevitably you add on a £4.50 portion of their own wholemeal sourdough and cultured butter – like the extensive employment of a huge wood-fired barbecue, a constant since day one (main image).

You can purchase the Moorcock sourdough and cultured butter to take home

Pandemic caution means that tasting menus are shelved for the moment; attention focuses on the daily shifting boards that constitute the bar menu.

There is a walk-in capacity, mind, as Alisdair and drinks-savvy partner Aimee Tufford continue to encourage the pubby (and dog-friendly) side of their now acclaimed foodie destination. I celebrated a recent birthday there with a pint of cask Vocation Bread and Butter Ale from fellow local heroes Vocation and then drank a series of Belgian beers, culminating in an old favourite, Westmalle Tripel (in the proper glass).

Alongside natural wines, the couple are devotees of Belgium’s astonishing beer culture after cutting their culinary teeth at the Michelin-starred In de Wulf restaurant, close to the border with Northern France.

In this unlikely spot legendary chef Kobe Desramualts, with Alisdair as his right hand man, had created a very special place. Just before it closed in 2016 influential website Opinionated About Dining named it third best restaurant in Europe after L’Arpège in Paris and the Basque Country’s Azurmendi.

The kitchen garden in its early day being hewn from the surrounding moorland

Norland may seem an equally unlikely spot but over three years it has developed a similar ‘forage and ferment, cure and preserve’ ethos, utilising their own two acre organic kitchen garden and the surrounding moorlands, which yield mushrooms and wild herbs aplenty.

Alastair’s kipper ties – coming upon a batch of herring smoking merrily away

The garden has evolved spectacularly and the other centrepiece of the Moorcock, the expansive outdoor barbecue is used to increasing effect for cooking with fire or smoking. Lots of chefs – Tomas Parry at Brat notably – have bragging rights here but few do it as well as Alistair and his small team.

The chef’s talents don’t stop here. The various lockdowns gave Alistair the opportunity to hone his talent for ceramics, making glazes with the ash from the burnt charcoal. Now he’s not just providing for the restaurant. From ramen bowls to platters and jugs these have pride of place in an upstairs shop (open during pub hours) that offers gift packs of foodie goodies and, naturally, classic Belgian beers.

This ceramic plate complements this leek, potato and smoked poulet egg pie, topped with Baron Bigod and a radish salad

Lauded in the early days by national critics such as the Observer’s Jay Rayner and  Marina O’Loughlin of the Sunday Times, the Moorcock became a hot ticket. Twisting the metaphor hot tickets get cooler as as fickle critical attention shifts to newer ventures.

The extra pressure of Covid must have been immense. Potter’s kiln aside, Alasdair and Aimee tackled it with a defiant playfulness. I recall their take on a Chinese menu, featuring th likes of their in-house XO sauce and the kind of wild Yorkshire greens you don’t usually find in a black bean stir-fry.

Ever resourceful, the Moorcock turned into a community grocer during lockdown

More straightforwardly they diversified into quality foodie groceries – from Yorkshire asparagus to mixed bags of Cornish sea vegetables to over-wintered jars of their own produce. I recall with fondness Aimee’s rather lovely house Negroni made from a ‘Campari’ she crafted from rosehip, hogweed and clementine, mixed with rose petal wine and Yorkshire gin. It all helped to keep them afloat.

Crucially they kept their core staff together. Sustainable, ethical, pleasurable. What’s not to fall in love with all over again?

Moorcock Inn, Moor Bottom Lane, Norland Moor, Sowerby Bridge HX6 3RP. 01422 832103. Thanks to Joby Catto for the main barbecue picture and other image help.

It was numbing last year when the Manchester Food and Drink Festival was postponed. Man and boy (well almost) I had served my dues as one of its Awards judges and, sitting in at some of its more random events, had oodles of foodie fun over the years.

This September (from the 16th to the 27th) MFDF is back to its fully functioning best and, pandemic backlash permitting, should champion the further resurgence of Manchester’s dynamic culinary scene against the lockdown odds.

I regularly edited the print brochure but that task is now confined to history. The 24th Festival sees for the first time the entire programme of what’s happening and when will be available via a brand new MFDF app. Users will be able to browse the full festival programme, reserve a table at the Festival Hub and vote in the MFDF awards too.

The app can be downloaded in the apple and android app stores by searching ‘Mcr Food and Drink Festival’. 

The jovial Hub before the days of social distancing hastened the postponement of MFDF in 2020

That Festival Hub was switched to Cathedral Gardens from Albert Square when the major renovation of the Town Hall kicked in. Once again it will host a programme of events happening in partnership with the city’s restaurants, bars, cafes and chefs running throughout the Festival.

Some tables will be available to book over the two long weekends, but there will also be plenty of opportunities for walk-ins as large areas will not require reservations.

Even on Monday and Tuesday when it is not open to the public, the Hub will be hosting special Festival events and pop-ups.

Tom Kerridge’s ‘pub’ will be taking over the Festival Hub for a day

What are the top events on offer?

Mon Sep 20: The Bull & Bear Takeover – Tom Kerridge’s restaurant operation at the Stock Exchange Hotel monopolises the Hub for one night only to create a special street  food meets pub grub feast with a live music soundtrack.

Wed Sep 20: Manchester’s Biggest Chippy Tea – Some of the city’s best loved restaurants, chefs, chip shops and food traders, including The Hip Hop Chip Shop, Street Urchin and Lord of the Pies are coming together to create a mammoth chippy tea feast in homage to one of the region’s best-loved meals.

Thu Sep 23: Schlosstoberfest – It may not be quite October but Albert’s Schloss will be getting in the mood with Schlosstoberfest at the Hub. Expect an Oktoberfest Takeover bringing brats, pretzels and lederhosen. Free to attend and no need to book at the MFDF street kitchen they will be serving up Bavarian food and programming a lively night of Schloss-style entertainment.

Bratwurst Albert’s Schloss style can be spectacular

Thur-Sun Sep 16-19: MFDF Street Kitchen Takeovers – MFDF has its own street food kitchen trailer on site at the Hub which where guests will include Evuna, Jackie Kearney and Tast Catala.

Fri-Sun Sep 24-26: Eat Well Kitchen – Eat Well Mcr is the inspiring social enterprise born out of the COVID-19 crisis. Founded by food and drink star Mary-Ellen McTague, Kathleen O’Connor and Gemma Saunders, it provide meals made by chefs and hospitality professionals to people sidelined by poverty. Each day their kitchen at the Hub will feature a different restaurant partner from the Eat Well Collective with all profits going to Eat Well Mcr, including a £1 voluntary donation added to orders. 

Thu-Sun Sep 16-19 and Thu-Sun Sep 23-26: The Just Eat Street Food Chalets – MFDF sponsors Just Eat will be bringing some of their Manchester restaurant partners to the Just Eat Street Food Chalets. They include Peck and Yard,, La Bandera, Vertigo Plant-Based Eatery and JJ Vish and Chips.

There will be an abundance of global street food to tempt Festival-goers

PLUS, an array of street food vendors will be at the Hub over the two long weekends and an MFDF Artisan Food Market will operate from Thu 16 to Sun 19 and Thu 23 to Sun 26. Drinkers are well catered for with a variety of bars on site, while on Fri 17 and Sat 18 Halle St Peters in Ancoats hosts the ever popular MFDF Wine & Fizz Festival.

Participating retailers including Decent Drop, Prestwich’s Grape to Grain, Le Social Wine,  Cork of the North and UKiYO Republic showcasing their wonderful range of Japanese sake. As well as tasting the wines, guests can buy from those on site too and take some very special bottles home. £12.50. Book here

The MFDF Awards 2021 will be presented at a Gala Dinner at the Ticket All at Escape to Freight Island on Monday, September 27. Award nominations are now open. New categories this year include one which demonstrates the regional breadth of the festival – ‘Best Foodie Neighbourhood’.

For full details of the UK’s best regional celebration of food and drink, including its extensive programme of free music, visit the Festival website.  

Last October at home prepping up my Northcote Autumn Gourmet Box I wore the apron that was the legacy of a 2014 Cookery School experience there (I buggered up the Beef Wellington, as I recall). I’ve a soft spot for the place, love the Obsessions festival every January that has brought a global smorgasbord of chefs to this corner of the Ribble Valley and go back further with them than1996 when they won the Michelin star they’ve held ever since.

It’s 38 years since Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft were given the chance to turn this Victorian pile into a fine dining mecca with rooms. In the Nineties when Ribble Valley Restaurants were suddenly ‘rock n’ roll’ you were either Haworth or Heathcote (Paul), like being Beatles or Rolling Stones. Well, almost.

Lisa Goodwin-Allen worked her way up to exec chef through the Northcote ranks

Now part of the Stafford Collection luxury portfolio (not a bad thing) Northcote is definitely on the top of its game despite all the constrictions of a pandemic. All helped by the high profile of exec chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen who took on the Great British Menu mantle of her mentor Nigel.

He is doing his own thing these days and, as I write, is about to bring back from the dead The Three Fishes, the groundbreaking regional produce-inspired gastropub he created a few miles up the road at Mitton. Sold on with the rest of the Ribble Valleys Inn Group, it shut in 2019.

Remaining under the new regime, sidekick Craig (ebullient front of house/wine guru) is,  welcoming us this sunlit Thursday lunchtime to sample Lisa’s £95 five-course Spring Gourmet Menu. For lunch you must book it specially. In the evening, as Northcote cuts its cloth to accommodate the current challenges, it’s available either of two sittings, as we await the reintroduction of a la carte.

The revamped terrace gives Northcote fresh options – and it’s a perfect spot for a wedding shot

Encouraging is the buzz a wedding party on the spanking new outdoor terrace. Along with a full house of folk, most of whose own nuptial are decades back, we are consigned to the dining room, which shares the same rural vistas. Hard to credit the busy A59 is only 200 metres away.

The matching wine flight is £53.80. I’m often wary of ceding choice but this is pretty solid, notably two whites – the Abstraction #1 Muscadet Sur Lie from Guerin (with Orkney Scallop) and Redoma Branco from Nierpoort in Portugal’s Douro Valley (Wild Turbot) – and a perfumed Bruno Sourdais Chinon red from the Loire.

Poussin the boat out! Lisa treats the bird to a garlic and allium makeover

The latter was the perfect match for my favourite dish, a Norfolk Poussin. Also known as coquelets, poussins are the baby chickens much cherished by the French. They rarely weigh in above 500g and are perfect for quick grilling. 

My first encounter came courtesy of enterprising online butcher Farmeson and in my home kitchen I followed a recipe from Wild Honey’s Anthony Demetre. This involved spatchcocking – removing the backbone from tail to neck so the bird can be opened out flat – and an overload of garlic and herbs. 

Lisa treats it differently. Garlic featured again, one white blob and a swirl of on-trend black garlic, its long caramelisation imparting a subtle liquorice tone. Hen of the woods mushroom and a baby allium poached in ponzu ramped up the succulence. 

The trim breast and a cute little croquette of leg meat may have lacked the splayed splendour of my effort but they were  delicious testimony to canny UK sourcing. Norfolk poussins are corn-fed and reared ethically for their short lives in Fakenham as an alterntib from importing from France. 

Lisa’s previous course of Wild Turbot feels very spoonable, foamy GBM. It’s another little marvel incorporating clam, cucumber, sea lettuce and dill in a saline-inclusive broth.

Like the whole menu, it sings of the season. I love the sorrel granita that adds a lemony counterpoint to Yorkshire Asparagus (green, from Sand Hutton I’m presuming) and basil gel but also the combo of Isle of White heritage tomato textures that lifts a perfectly seared Orkney scallop.

Amalfi lemon inspired dessert completed a satisfying meal, but could we resist the petits fours?

Admirable restraint, matched to accomplished technique, culminates in a masterly pud celebrating the Amalfi lemon and Limoncello. It’s a work of art that almost convinces me tangy powders and meringue splinters are for me. Still a pretty Michelin-friendly plateful. Which bring us back to the admirable Michelin substitute delivered to us in October 2020 as an alternative to the forbidden delights of restaurant dining.

It was easily the best menu kit we encountered during lockdown. But this recent Northcote visit was proof that nothing can replace the real thing. Especially where washing up by someone else is concerned.

Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE. 01254 240555. For information on a variety of gourmet breaks visit the website but be warned, plan ahead. They’re full up well into the autumn.

There’s a fascinating interview with Lisa Goodwin-Allen in trade magazine Supper, where she discusses the challenges that have sprung from the pandemic and lockdowns. She also sing the praises of the Norfolk Poussin! Read it here.

I noticed recently Mana was advertising for a ‘Chef of Fermentation’. That’s quite a specific job title in a hospitality marketplace that’s struggling to find sous chefs and KPs. But when you’re on a mission to net that second Michelin star it’s best to stay true to your culinary direction and gut feelings (sic). 

Garum will certainly be on the kitchen to-do list for the new recruit. It entered the conversation early on in my first visit to the Ancoats Manchester game-changer. I’d already been impressed by dishes such as smoked yakitori eel, glazed with roasted yeast and blueberry vinegar, and Dungeness crab baked in hay celeriac and masa.

Underneath that shell the oyster dish that leant on chicken garum

Chef patron Simon Martin had talked us through both. Next up was a raw oyster tucked taco style into a cabbage leaf with fudge miso, chicken fat, English wasabi, pine salt and chicken garum. In mid-explanation he was surprised by my knowledge of garum’s back story – the fermented fish sauce used as a condiment in the cuisines of Ancient Greece and Rome, not a million miles away from Thai fish sauce Nom Pla..

Simon had adapted garum to incorporate chicken. At his culinary alma mater, Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, they offer a whole palette of garums. Look at this beauty: rose and shrimp garum with a suitably rose-tinted description of what is essentially a whack of umami-rich funk. 

Rose shrimp garum symbolises Noma’s innovative take on ancient traditions

“We take shrimps, water and salt, with fresh roses and blend it. It is naturally fermented by the enzymes inside the shrimps. During the foraging season last year, the fresh roses were added and they have been fermenting together ever since. The garum is quite intense by itself but the roses bring balance to it with its floral notes and sweetness.”

There’s a whole chapter on garum in The Norma Guide To Fermentation (Artisan, £30) by Redzepi and David Zibler, the man he entrusted to run the restaurant’s Fermentation Lab. Another member of the team convinced them to diverge from fish as the base. Hence, chicken, bee pollen and grasshoppers. All made is temperature controlled cylinders, leaving nothing to chance in this stinkiest of production processes.

That would probably be heresy to John Niland, chef owner of St Peter in Sydney, Australia. His ethos, laid out in his cookbook/manifesto, The Whole Fish, is to use all of the creature. Like Nose to Tail meat cooking, the object is not to waste the 60 per cent or so of  a round fish that is routinely discarded in a western restaurant. Again one of the team (so democratic this new wave in the kitchen) came up with a sustainable garum.

“To produce the garum, start by adding 50 per cent of water to the total amount of heads, bones and scraps you have from small fish, such as sardine, mackerel, anchovies or trevally, then to this total quantity add 20 per cent of fine salt. Mix together, transfer to a mason (kilner) jar, seal and place in a circulator bath set to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Leave for seven days in the dark, stirring once daily. Make sure that the gall bladder is removed as it will make the finished sauce extremely bitter. This recipe is versatile and can be adapted to produce scallop, prawn (shrimp) or cuttlefish garums.”

In Niland’s follow-up book, Take One Fish: The new school of scale-to-tail eating (Hardie Grant, £26, to be published August 5) he goes one challenging step further with a recipe for custard tart, made with a sardine garum caramel made using the head, bones and scraps of sardines.

Imperial Rome was an enthusiastic consumer of garum (or liquamen)

Leaving aside today’s state of the art equipment, it is a method the Ancients would have recognised. Garum was a fermented fish sauce used as a condiment in the cuisines of ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium. Liquamen was a similar preparation, and at times the two were synonymous. It enjoyed its greatest popularity in the Roman world.

Pliny the Elder derives the Latin word garum from the Greek γαρός (garos), maybe a type of fish, and states that it was crafted e from fish intestines, with salt, creating a liquor, the garum, and a sediment named (h)allec or allex. A concentrated garum evaporated down to a thick paste with salt crystals was called muria – packed with protein, amino acids, minerals and B vitamins, so not far off today’s soy sauce.

After the liquid was ladled off of the top of the mixture, the remains of the fish, called allec, was used by the poorest classes to flavour their farinata or porridge. 

The finished product—the nobile garum of Martial’s epigram—was apparently mild and subtle in flavor. The best garum fetched extraordinarily high prices, and salt could be substituted for a simpler dish. Garum appears in many recipes featured in the Roman cookbook Apicius. For example, Apicius (8.6.2–3) gives a recipe for lamb stew, calling for the meat to be cooked with onion and coriander, pepper, lovage, cumin, liquamen, oil, and wine, then thickened with flour.

The traditional way of creating Colatura d’alici from salt and anchovies

And so to Colatura d’alici. I hastened to purchase a vial of this intense stuff (it translates fetchingly as anchovy drippings) after one of my favourite chefs, Jeremy Lee of Soho’s legendary Quo Vadis recommended it in Observer Food Monthly.

He  wrote: “Alici is the essence of anchovy and it’s a very precious condiment. It comes in a very small bottle, like a bottle of perfume. It’s not cheap, but it’s relatively easy to get, and a little goes a long way. It’s never gone off – well, not that it lasts long enough to find out. I get it from Andy Harris at the Vinegar Shed (£26.50) and use it sparingly. It’s an elegant variation on using Worcestershire sauce in something, but it’s not so overwhelming. There’s a softness to it that’s amazing, it adds a roundness. You just need a few drops.

“It’s extraordinary in braised lamb and hogget dishes – lamb and anchovy is such a fabulous combination. Pork too. I add the alici to porchetta tonnato as a final flourish, much as you would add a squeeze of lemon juice. I find the combination of alici and lemon juice incredible in all sorts of dishes. It’s an extraordinary ingredient and one I cherish.”

Colatura d’alici works well as a simple dressing for spaghetti

Like traditionally made Southeast Asian-style fish sauce, but with a much longer ageing process, colatura is concocted with just anchovies and sea salt. For colatura anchovy fillets and salt are layered in wooden barrels (chestnut is good) and then set them aside in a temperature-controlled environment to ferment for up to three years. The liquid exuded ages into colatura, which is surprisingly unfishy. Still a health warning – this is mega pungent. But worth it.

What do the composer of the William Tell Overture and a Liverpool charcutier trained in South West France have in common? A love of Cotechino. No, not the name of some cynical Juventus centre back but the most amazing poaching sausage I’ve left it far too long to discover.

Bel Canto maestro Gioachino Rossini was forever ordering this speciality of Modena in his native Italy, along with its culinary cousin, the sausage-stuffed pig’s trotter called Zampone. Both winter seasonal delicacies are based on the uncompromisingly porkiest bits – real nose to tail stuff. Modena, not short of World Heritage recognition for its buildings, was also assigned Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Cotechino Modena in 1999.

I ordered my debut Cotechino nearer home from North by Sud-Ouest Charcuterie, its bits sourced from free range rare breed pigs on the Wirral. It arrived as part of a £40 ‘Large Selection Box’ showcasing the pork-curing talents of one Andrew Holding.

Also in the pack, weighing in at over a kilo, were sliced selections of coppa (cured pork collar), cured pork loin and goula, the jowl bacon called guanciale in Italy; the spreading sausage nduja, two whole saucisses sec, lardons of Ventrêche (which formed a bacony base for a Coq au Vin) and whole, chunky, grey Cotechino bulging out of its natural casing.

If Andrew follows the traditional recipe, it is made from high fat content meat from cheek, neck, shoulder, fatback, and lots of pork rind, seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and coriander. Made fresh in Modena, it would traditionally take hours to poach in simmering water until the rind softened to give the characteristic melting texture. The essence of Slow Food. 

My take on Cotechino with mustard and lentils

Here, pre-prepared and vacuum packed, it took just 20 minutes to warm through. 

These days most North Italians would do the same. They would also serve it, as I did, with lentils and mostarda di Cremona. For my Cotechino e Lenticchie I used the French Le Puy variety because they are incomparable; the mostarda, a mustardy candied fruit preserve, came (via Alexander’s Mediterranean Pantry on Todmorden Market) from its Cremona heartland, 90 minutes north west of Modena.

Mostarda di Cremona – if you’re making your own handle with care

Lockdown had me creating many pickle and relishes from scratch but life really is too short (again). I was put off mostarda making by my mentor in most things hardcore Italian, Jacob Kenedy, chef patron of Soho’s Bocca di Lupo. In his Bocca Cookbook (Bloomsbury, £30) he writes: “The day you are satisfied that the fruit is candied and the syrup thick enough, procure some essential oil of mustard. This may not be easy to find and should be handled like TNT. Rubber gloves must be worn, wear some glasses too and the bottle shouldn’t be sniffed directly. This may sound over-cautious – but it is a dangerous and irritant substance before dilution in the mostarda.

Andrew Holding has imported European charcuterie skills to Liverpool

Jacob, London-born and Cambridge educated so hardly a peasant, also crafts his Cotechino from scratch. Caveats here include the necessity of sourcing skin-on pig’s cheeks. Worth it because “lots of glands and gnarly bits in the jowl give an incredible roundness of flavour”. Pigskin is tough, used for making shoes, so Jacob advises it might be worth asking your already obliging butcher to mince meat and skin together through a 4.5mm plate. When the spiced mince  mixture is finally encased there’s a lot of sausage hanging to be done.

Better to buy one from North by Sud-Ouest or alternatively from Coombeshead Farm a restaurant with rooms featured in the recent Rick Stein’s Cornwall BBC series.

Best of all, when travel restrictions are lifted, head for the Emilia Romagna region at New Year, where they put into practice the old maxim ‘del maiale non si butta via niente’ (pigs are used till the last bit), with cotechino and zampone the centrepiece of celebrations. The lentil accompaniment to the former is believed to bring luck in the year ahead. If the mustard oil hasn’t blasted you first!