In season: strawberries

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With Wimbledon on the horizon, we’ve got punnets of glistening strawberries on the mind. We challenged our Head Chef Stewart Turner to create a recipe to make the most of the season’s bounty

Nothing shouts summer in Britain more than the arrival of strawberry season. Although now available all year, imported fruit just doesn’t cut it, mainly because to cope with transportation they are picked before they are properly ripe. Strawberries don’t ripen after being picked, which means that their flavour and texture are impaired. My advice is to get your fill during the British season to enjoy this cracking fruit at its fragrant, juicy and flavourful best.

This year we are in for a real treat: the unusually cold spring means the fruit took longer to ripen, making the strawberries much bigger, sweeter and juicier than usual, and the recent hot spells have led to a bumper crop. With that in mind, I’ve put together a couple of recipes that combine strawberries and my favourite summer herb, basil. They pair well and, with the addition of balsamic and black pepper, can make a cracking savoury dish. They also work surprisingly well in my version of strawberries and cream.

Heritage tomato and strawberry salad with baked ricottaServes 4

Heritage tomatoes are sweeter and lack a genetic mutation that gives tomatoes a uniform red colour, at the cost of the fruit’s taste – thus they come in many colours and shapes.

  • Selection of heritage tomatoes – ideally different colours
  • 12 plump strawberries
  • 100g ricotta
  • ½ red chilli
  • 2 plum tomatoes – peeled, deseeded and diced
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Basil leaves – torn
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive crumb (dry pitted olives in the oven at 80°C for about 12 hours, then chop finely)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the ricotta in a baking dish and season well. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until nice and golden. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the diced chilli and set aside to cool.

Slice the tomatoes and half of the strawberries into various shapes, wedges or slices. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and set aside.

Dice the remaining strawberries and mix with the diced plum tomatoes, torn basil leaves, a drizzle of balsamic and a good glug of olive oil. Season to taste.

Arrange the sliced tomatoes and strawberries on plates and crumble the baked ricotta over the top/ Drizzle the diced mix over the top and finish with the olive crumb.

 

Strawberries and creamServes 6
  • 200ml of milk
  • 600ml of double cream
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 85g of caster sugar
  • 3 ½ gelatine leaves
  • 400g strawberries
  • 8 basil leaves – finely sliced
  • 1tsp elderflower cordial
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh elderflowers and fritters – optional (see below)

Start by soaking the gelatine in cold water. Split the vanilla pods and scrape out the seeds. Add the pods and seeds to a saucepan with the milk, cream and sugar. Bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for five minutes, then squeeze out the soaked gelatine and add to the mixture.

Pass the mix into a clean bowl, discarding the used vanilla pods. Chill over ice until nearly set, then pour into a dish. Set in the fridge for at least four hours, or preferably overnight.

Hull and quarter the strawberries. Place in a bowl and dress with the balsamic and cordial. Mix in the basil and some freshly ground black pepper. Leave to macerate for about 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, beat back the set cream and spoon a nice quenelle onto serving plates. Place the dressed strawberries alongside, then finish with some basil cress, elderflower leaves and elderflower fritters.

Elderflower fritters

  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 egg white – whipped to soft peaks
  • 30ml vegetable oil
  • 175ml sparkling mineral water
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 16 elderflowers – washed
  • Vegetable oil – for deep frying
  • Icing sugar – for dusting

Sift the flour and whisk in the oil and water. Beat to a thick paste, then stir in a tablespoon of sugar. Set aside for 30 minutes. Just before frying, fold in the whipped egg white.

Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer or large heavy-based pan. Dip the elderflowers in the batter, then drop in the hot oil, a few at a time, and fry until golden. Dust the elderflower fritters with icing sugar and serve.

Category: Food & Wine

Breaking the mould: Birichino

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Pickers at dawn in Birichino's Antle vineyard

Pickers at dawn in Birichino’s Antle vineyard

As we focus on all-things American, Sophie Thorpe catches up with John Locke, one half of Birichino, to talk about old vines and “drinking” wines

I’ve never heard anyone talk about vineyards the way John Locke does. There is a note of true affection that speaks of his absolute passion for the sites he works with. His joy as he flicks through picture after picture of stunning gnarly vines in typically Californian scenery is unparalleled; his commentary hopping from the exact slant of the slope and soil types, to a tangential anecdote, to harvest dates and the character of the resulting wines. The glee isn’t dissimilar to that of child showing off their most treasured toys.

John is one half of the impish duo behind Birichino (pronounced “biri-kino”, the Italian term literally translates as “mischievous”). He and his partner in crime, Alex Krause, met at Bonny Doon – where John worked in the cellar for many years, and Alex still works as Director of Export Sales. Knowing a little about Bonny Doon, their “training ground”, and the winery owned and founded by Randall Grahm – a long-haired, thoroughly hippy and terrifyingly intelligent philosophy grad – goes a long way to understanding the spirit behind their label. Randall is an endlessly inventive, talented winemaker whose many cuvées often wittily (sometimes mockingly) play on the ways of the Old World.

But Birichino is no lame pretender to the Bonny Doon throne – it is a wholly separate, if equally fun, offering. They focus more on vineyards rather than “wines” – working with an ever-larger handful of desirably antique sites scattered around northern California, almost all of which are vinified individually. These deliciously old, low-yielding vineyards date as far back as the 19th century – and are all still on their own rootstocks, a rarity in the modern phylloxera-ridden world (this deathly louse is lethal to vitis vinifera – and is the reason why most of the world’s vines are grafted onto other rootstocks).

They created the label 10 years ago when Randall decided to stop making the Bonny Doon Malvasia Bianca. With the vineyard up for grabs, and Alex’s love of the wine, he snapped up the fruit and roped John in. From there, the project grew, with the pair seizing contracts for special sites that they stumbled across. “There’s something about old vines that change your mind about your potential interest in something,” John tells me, considering how the unconventional, almost natural-leaning duo wound up making that most conservative of wines – a Californian Zinfandel. “I think now if someone comes to us and says, ‘I’ve got his 90-year-old vineyard of…’; we say ‘Ok, we’ll take it.’”

It’s their approach in the cellar that – for me – makes their wines so special. While Birichino works with extraordinary raw material, it is their ability to do so little with it that sets them apart – a feat that doesn’t simply mean they kick-back and watch the ferments bubble. “To make wine like this, a lot of it is the cellar crew – how topped and clean the barrels are, the temperature of the cellar, and all those little things, make a big difference. Low sulphur levels during élevage can make a wine susceptible to lots of bad things, if care’s not taken,” John says. But he’s clear to point out they aren’t “natural”, an ethos with which he has qualms, to say the least; you can’t just “let the wine do what it wants to do,” he tells me. “I mean, I don’t think necessarily a vine’s ambitions and priorities correlate to a wine drinker’s.” And, of course, some vintages they need to intervene more than others.

Each and every bottle of Birichino I’ve tasted offers enticing aromatics, a lightness of touch on the palate and a totally serious, non-demeaning “quaffability”. These are the sorts of wines that it is all-too-tempting to describe as “almost Old World” in style; a description that the pair themselves avoid at all costs, for it’s no pale imitation of Burgundy and beyond that they’re creating. There is a distinct, Californian approachability and charm, a laid-back fruit-forward style and a delicate density about them – they manage to be elegant not wan.

“We do not make ‘tasty’ wines; we make ‘drinking’ wines” John explains, describing the Birichino style. “If you have 50 wines in a big tasting, they’re probably not that showy – they’re not super big and rich, but they’re not meant to be. ‘Drinking’ wines do not induce fatigue in the glass.” Having settled down with John for a 9am tasting of the range, having shivered my way through the morning fog in Santa Cruz – not that many hours after we finished dinner – it’s safe to say that Birichino’s bottles easily meet this criterion.

Birichino so effortlessly represents what makes California so exciting right now: a new generation of truly enthused winemakers, making the most of the state’s incredible viticultural heritage, and flexing their low-intervention skills to produce wines that it’s hard not to fall totally head over heels for.

Find out more, and browse the Birichino range, on bbr.com

Category: California

Five reds that fall on the right side of “light”

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Photograph: Joe Woodhouse

With summer’s arrival, we look for fresher styles of red – but “light” needn’t mean simple or boring: here Wine Advisor Paul Keating suggests five lighter reds that offer serious pleasure

When I was first considering this piece, the word “quaffable” popped up once too often. Forgive me if I come across as something of an ignoramus, but to me the word “quaffable” suggests a wine (or other alcoholic beverage) that does not require too much thought. This seems an insult to the person who has spent time and effort making it; so, while one could sip any of the wines below with abandon, they are equally worthy of contemplation.

The logical go-to-grape in terms of light reds would be Pinot Noir. This variety so often amazes me with its range of styles, its poise and delicacy – and, on the odd occasion, its unexpected power. I was sorely tempted to review six Burgundies and be done with it, but it seemed unjust to the many other wonderful, intriguing wines that are so easily suited to the warmer weather.

2016 Dolcetto d’Alba, Cascina Luisin, Piedmont, Italy

Dolcetto is a wonderful grape variety. It is grown commonly in Piedmont, often on poorer sites by producers who need a wine that can go to market quickly and give them a fast and reliable revenue stream while their more prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco wines are slowly ageing in the cellar. For us, though, it offers a delicious entry-level expression of Piedmont: Cascina Luisin’s Dolecetto delivers an abundance of juicy, dark-cherry character, counterbalanced by the cherry-pit bitterness and mineral note found in so many of the region’s wines. Try pairing with the food of the region; game-heavy dishes, especially. If you fancy something a little less labour-intensive, I had this with a pizza.

2014 Ronan by Clinet, Bordeaux

While you might not normally turn to Bordeaux for “light” reds, this Merlot is silky and supple enough to sip solo. Produced in a new state-of-the-art winery built by Ch. Clinet in Pomerol, this wine is designed to offer an expression of the character and style of the prestigious producer at a fraction of the price. With grapes and land in Pomerol itself highly prized, Clinet instead turns to more affordable appellations such as Lussac-St Emilion and the Côtes de Castillon for their fruit. I was impressed by this wine’s approachability and silky fruit-led character. It hints at all the character you expect from a wine from Clinet; round and plummy fruit character complemented by typical pencil shavings and wood-smoke character. A good value pairing for a Sunday roast.

2013 Moulin-à-Vent, Vieilles Vignes, Thibault Liger-Belair, Beaujolais

A feature about light red wines would not be complete without a good glug of Beaujolais. For so long overlooked as cheap, overtly fruity and simple, “serious” Beaujolais is finally coming into its own. This is helped by the fact that reputable winemakers from Burgundy are moving south to help Gamay reach its full potential – as is exactly the case with Thibault Liger-Belair and his Moulin-à-Vent. This appellation is often regarded as the most grown-up of the Beaujolais Crus, with the wines often having more concentration and structure when compared to the likes of Fleurie, Morgon and co. Berry fruit dominates the nose, with typical kirsch aromas. A hint of smokiness and burnt match provides evidence of a more reductive winemaking style. This wine lends itself to picnics – particularly good with charcuterie and pâté.

2015 Berry Bros. & Rudd Nuits St-Georges, Benjamin Leroux, Burgundy

When I am looking for a wine that is ready to drink now and is good value for money, I rarely look beyond our Own Selection range. The wines here are meticulously sourced and designed to offer an excellent, typical style of their region. Produced and bottled for us by Benjamin Leroux, this wine epitomises Benjamin’s style of pure fruit character – even more evident in a year as excellent as 2015. Here he delivers a wine with intense and concentrated red fruit characters, and a hint of the leafy, earthy tones that suggest this wine has more than enough staying power.

2015 Viña Koyle, Don Cande Cinsault, Itata Valley, Chile

Cinsault is a grape some may be familiar with in the south of France, as a blending partner in the bigger Southern Rhône wines and those from the Languedoc. It adds a softness, as well as a perfume to wines that may otherwise be overbearing. It is for this reason that it is now being frequently used in varietal wines. The wine is named after the owner, Don Cande, of the vineyard from which Viña Koyle source the grapes for this wine. The resulting wine offers poised, delicate and precise fruit, and there are lovely, fresh pine-needle and mineral characters that keep it light and exciting. Try it with charcuterie, or with a meatier sort of fish such as tuna. (NB This wine is only available in our London and Warehouse Shops, priced at £17.50.)

Browse our full summer range on bbr.com

Category: Food & Wine

On the table: Bright

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The dining room at Bright. Photograph: Andy Leitch for Eater London

As the team behind P Franco open up their first proper restaurant, Bright, Sophie Thorpe settles in for a long lunch – finding food that is both fun and finessed

The scene at Bright on a Saturday lunchtime tells you a lot about the restaurant. A group of young parents have put the prams to one side, set up iPads for the kids and laid out their vertical tasting of Overnoy – possibly the cult name of the Jura, whose un-sulphured low-intervention wines have gone from off-beat trendy to uber-collectible. The tone (and table) was set.

It’s not surprising that this establishment is already a mecca for the natural wine cohort. Bright is the new restaurant from the team behind Noble Fine Liquor and P. Franco – an east London hotspot which has become known for the quality of guest chefs taking a turn on its induction hobs to create neat, inventive menus that partner its shelves of natural wine.

You may have a sense of déjà-vu arriving at Bright. It is perched at the foot of Netil House in London Fields – a spot which, until early March, was occupied by Michelin-starred Ellory (who in turn have de-camped to Shoreditch, opening a new restaurant, Leroy… and so the merry-go-round goes on).

Some might have seen it as a challenge stepping into Ellory’s long and award-winning shadow, but not so for Chef William Gleave (who became legendary after his P. Franco takeover in 2015-16) and is heading up the kitchen. Bright is shining unashamedly, well, brightly; with – just over a month into service – a signature snack already Insta-famous (the katsu sando – tender fried chicken sandwiched between deliciously, dirtily white sliced bread, served with a dollop of curry-spiked mustard: phwoar).

And that cheeky little snack is the opening gambit for an onslaught of superb dishes. Cured pork loin was deliciously melting and surprisingly delicate; pizza fritta (essentially a savoury doughnut slathered with tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan) was a revelation; while al dente spaghetti slid gloriously in amongst its sweet lobster and tomato coating. Sweet grilled onions were cut with rosemary vinegar and the lush lactic acid of creamy sheep’s ricotta. A whole glorious John Dory was cooked to perfection – its potent aïoli a spoon-able joy.

The wine list is Europe-focused, an homage to the boutique, natural producer – with a hefty swathe of organic and biodynamic names. Terribly à la mode, yes, but also delicious, with plenty of bottles from around the £25/30 mark, right up to the top end. Mark-ups seem almost outrageously reasonable – so much so that we started with a bottle of Jérôme Prevost’s Champagne Les Béguines. This low-dosage, utterly rich, powerful yet elegant wine evolved with time in the glass, offering citrus brightness, biscuit richness and spicy minerality, the perfect pairing for a mismatch of dishes from the compact menu.

I came away from a leisurely four-hour lunch feeling delightfully content. This is wonderfully happy food – truly tasty plates that spoke to my cravings, dishes that are just a little bit clever, without being effortfully over-complicated. It’s food that lifts the spirits – and if it doesn’t work, you’ll certainly find a bottle that will.

What we drank:

  • Champagne Jérôme Prevost, La Closerie, Les Béguines, Extra Brut
  • 2016 Folle Blanche, Luneau-Papin, Pays Nantais, Loire

Bright, 1 Westgate Street, London E8 3RL

Category: Food & Wine