Life in the Loire on lock-down. 30th April. Day forty seven.

Another day another sourdough loaf. Much happier with the result this morning. It looks lighter and rose better. The proof is always in the eating of course.

Today’s bread was an easy sourdough using ‘Elly’s Everyday’ method which involves mixing the ingredients the night before (rather as you would with a no-knead bread) and then briefly shaping and leaving for a second proving the following morning. It’s certainly much less time consuming and the result seems good.

And there is more studying to do in my quest for the perfect loaf. Late yesterday afternoon, I received a new book ‘The Sourdough School’. Another birthday present from Rosie which was a lovely surprise. Who knew this craze of baking bread would become one of our obsessions during lockdown.

Nigel has gone to the market to buy cheese. We’ve not had any for a few days now and it’s something we’ve both really missed. We eat it often but in small quantities. Most days in fact. But we are picky when it comes to cheese. Cheeses from the ‘fromager’ are in a completely different league to those you find in the supermarket. That’s not to say you can’t find decent cheese in the supermarket. You can – but not as good as from the specialists.

Much of that is down to the ageing process. A fromager is a specialist who knows his or her cheeses, how they ripen, how long they will last, when they’re tasting their best.

I have to say that the choice has been much more limited since we went into lockdown. Production of soft cheeses has dropped dramatically as small producers have lost their restaurant business and it seems the general public has a preference for hard cheeses at the moment. Perhaps it’s because they last longer than the soft, washed rind ones (our favourites as it happens. Sod’s law). Can’t wait to see what he comes home with.

Lunch was a typical English sandwich today. Pork and chutney for me, pork and piccalilli for Nigel.

Both chutney and piccalilli can trace their roots back to India during the colonial era. Piccalilli is a pickle made up of chopped vegetables (notably cauliflower, baby onions, gherkins but other veg can be used) with spices (turmeric being the main one). In the past it was also known as Indian Pickle or Chow Chow and was probably introduced to England in the mid eighteenth century. The first known record of the name Piccalilli was when a Mrs Raffald gave her recipe for making ‘Indian Pickle’ or Piccalillo in 1772 and the recipe has barely changed since. Although more exotic versions were made at the time, Mrs Raffald’s version became the universally accepted pickle of choice for making at home as it used up the glut of vegetables from the garden.

Chutney is a rather different condiment. The name comes from the Hindi word ‘chatni’ and is typically made from fresh fruit and spices (apple, pear or mango) cooked with spices, vinegar, raisins and sugar for a couple of hours. This is the British style that evolved over time. Chutneys in India include a wide range of styles including tomatoes, yoghurt, mint, herbs, roasted lentils or peanuts. Indian pickles use mustard oil as a pickling agent whereas in Britain we added vinegar to create western style chutneys using orchard fruits.

My afternoon was spent writing and sending out my monthly newsletters. It’s something I enjoy. It’s creative and makes me feel connected.

Within 5 minutes of hitting send, messages of encouragement came pinging in my email box. Friends, former guests and supporters of our business happy to receive our news and sending their own. That was rather lovely.

Early evening Louisa came round with the wines we’ve chosen for our new business idea. We’ve selected 4 of her and Fred’s wines that we’ll ship to the US, UK or locally. Along with the wines there’ll be tasting notes, a recipe to accompany each wine and two on-line Zoom tastings with us both. We’re really excited about this new project and can’t wait to get it underway.

How do you fancy it? Order a case of wine (4 wines, 3 of each) and arrange a virtual dinner party with your friends (they order a case too!). Everyone cooks the same menu, everyone drinks the same wines and we can all join in on a Zoom tasting together. That could be fun.

We’ve decided on the recipes, Louisa is going to so some paintings for the recipe cards, I’m going to do the tasting notes and provide lots of information about the appellations, wine styles, grape varieties and food and wine pairing.

We tasted a couple of wines together too, (maintaining our social distance of course) and realised how much we are missing ‘real’ social contact at the moment. It was a moment of business but pleasure, hope and innovation.

Nigel cooked this evening. A real winner. I jokingly said that it looked like he’d put the entire garden on the plate but it was so fresh, so delicious, so simple, so tasty. You have to try this for yourself. Half way between a roasted pepper and tomato bruschetta and a panzanella with tons of herbs. And it’s vegan.

Roasted pepper and tomato sort of bruschetta with garden herbs and rocket

You need a thick slice of good bread per person (we can do that no problem!) and then based upon 2 people, you need to:

Roast a couple of big peppers until charred, cool and remove the skins and seeds. Nigel used one yellow and one red for colour.

Make a spicy tomato salsa. He chopped 6 cherry tomatoes and added a clove of grated garlic, half a red chilli finely chopped (by the way you can keep them in the freezer in a jar and just remove one as and when you need one), a splash of olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, sea salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl make up a little salad. Nigel used 50% rocket and then made up the other 50% with fresh herbs from the garden. In went some chives and chive flowers (left long), mint (whole leaves), dill and chervil. You could use any herbs you have but chives and mint are preferable. Different coloured basils in mid-summer would be lovely too.

Griddle the bread for about a minute and a half each side until charred, then rub each slice with a clove of garlic. Put a nice thick layer of the spicy salsa on each slice and then top with the roasted peppers (use half the yellow and half the red on each one).

Dress the herb and roquette salad with a little good quality olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and then place a generous amount on top of the peppers.

Plate up and drizzle over a little more dressing/olive oil to serve.

It’s fairly light in weight as a dish so would work well as a light lunch or if you have something else before or after. We enjoyed some cheese (hooray) afterwards.

Arnaud Lambert’s luscious Montée des Roches 2017, Saumur Champigny Cabernet Franc just slipped down a treat with that.