This is the story (mostly visual!) of a workshop held in Orange in February 2019 with Tessa Kiros, Emiko Davies, Luisa Brimble and myself. Of how 25 women came together for two days at the Old Convent in Borenore and talked (and talked) and danced and picked figs and shared supper under huge old elm trees and talked about cooking and taking photos and how to find our place in this funny online world.
Here are just a few photos and recipes from those two days.
Like so so many, I have been cooking from Tessa Kiros’ books since beginning my own family and Mum gave me a copy of Apples for Jam. I have made her fishcakes, her chicken escalopes with tomatoes and capers, her honey rosemary cake and her hazelnut chocolate balls over and over again. And the generous, descriptive and encouraging way she writes her recipes held my hand through those crazy early years of motherhood. So, like the rest of our co-hort that weekend I was a touch emotional to be meeting the beautiful Tessa Kiros. And our two days together have taken my love for this talented lady to a new level! She was grace and humour and professionalism and sweetness all rolled into one.
To be quite honest I was nervous about putting my book (I only have the one copy in my hands until late March) together with Emiko and Tessa’s, they are both so beautiful. But there it is nonetheless and I felt very proud in the end to be in such good company! We also had my friend and excellent local photographer Pip Farquarhson on hand to help and take snaps throughout the weekend, some of which are posted below.
And speaking of my book being in good company…these brownies were pretty fab too. Made by Josie Chapman, the cook at and owner of our workshop venue the Old Convent in Borenore.
200 g good chocolate
250 g butter
2 cups very loosely packed brown sugar
200 g almond meal
120 g chopped 4 jays hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 160C and line a tray with at least 4cm sides with parchment paper. Combine the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan and melt, stirring often, so they come together into a smooth sauce. Remove from heat and let cool.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale. Pour in the chocolate and butter mixture and stir to combine, add the hazelnuts and stir again.
Transfer to your baking tray and place in the oven for 35 minutes (possibly 40, but check), it should be a little soft and fudgey in the centre.
We kicked with a session on photography by the one and only Luisa Brimble (looking rather evangelical here don’t you think!), composition and light being the key themes. Luisa gave us lots to think about and some excellent tips on shooting manual and where to find inspiration to take your photography to the next level. Then before we knew it, lunch was served and we were back in the convent for an afternoon of cooking and pasta making with Emiko Davies.
Photo above by Pip Farquharson.
This was Emiko’s second visit to the Old Convent, and she brought the same goodness this year, plus a brand new baby, her lovely and super super helpful husband Marco and new book, Tortellini at Midnight which is full of the kinds of food I want to eat every day; big, tasty, generous Italian dishes full of love and stories.
We made pasta, stuffed peaches, took many many photos and before we knew it, aperitif hour had rolled again. And remember I mentioned Marco before? Well, he’s also a sommelier and makes a mean Aperol Spritz, which he did in the garden before dinner, and they were perfection.
Dinner was a simple but extra tasty affair of polpette from Emiko’s book, made by Josie and served under the elm trees in the Convent garden. For the full story of these delicious meatballs, please visit Emiko’s blog. They are also in her new book (did I mention it’s a stunner and we all need it in our kitchens?).
Polpette di Nonna Anna
Nonna Anna’s meatballs
1 kg mince meat (a mixture of beef and pork is preferable)
100 grams grated parmesan
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
black pepper, to taste
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
80 grams rigatino or pancetta, finely sliced
700 ml tomato passata
700 ml water
Combine the minced meat, eggs, parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix very well – hands are always best – until you have a firm, well-amalgamated mixture. Shape into balls a little larger than golf balls. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a casserole pot. Sear the polpette in batches until they are just browned evenly on the outside, 2 minutes each batch, then remove to a plate – you don’t need to cook them through, you just want them to colour. Turn heat down to low and gently fry the onion slices with a pinch of salt until tender and translucent. Anna would have removed the onion with a slotted spoon and discard it at this point. I leave it in and add the the pancetta, letting it cook until the fat has rendered and become slightly crisp. You can remove them if you like, too, and keep for another purpose or keep them in. I do the latter.
Add the tomato puree, fill the empty bottle with water and add that too. Season with salt and pepper and bring the sauce to a simmer. Return the polpette back to the pot and let the sauce simmer gently for 1 hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. If you find the sauce is becoming too thick too quickly, you can add a little water at a time. You want a thick, well-seasoned and abundant sauce. You can serve the polpette, coated in a little of the sauce, as a main dish, keeping the rest of the tomato sauce for another day or another course, dressing some spaghetti or bucatini
Josie’s baked praline figs
These amazing figs were the perfect finish to our supper in the garden.
Score the top of the figs with a cross. Add a nob of butter into each fig and sprinkle with a little brown sugar (you won’t need much as figs are so sweet anyway). Pop in a hot oven (210C) for 20 mins or until they look like the pic above, soft, beginning to caramelise and sitting in a puddle of their own sweet juices. Right before serving, sprinkle with praline (heat sugar over medium until it melts into a dark toffee, pour this onto a baking pan lined with paper and sprinkle with pistachios or hazelnuts. Let set then crush up into small pieces). Serve with natural yogurt sprinkled with more of the praline. Or ice cream or cream or whatever you fancy!
After dinner, we ducked up the road to Norland Fig Orchard to pick a few more and soak up that golden light of dusk. Heaven.
Day two of our workshop kicked off with Tessa cooking up a feast, managing to make Bahn mi (complete with homemade baguettes), apple tart and coconut coffee in one hour. As well as spellbinding us with stories and her general Tessa-ness. Then she had us up dancing. Tessa cooked from her most recent book (of 10) Provence to Pondicherry.
Tessa’s Tarte Aux Pommes
In Tessa’s words; ‘I love this tart just warm, on its own, or you could serve it with thick cream’
Makes 1 x 26cm tart
For the flaky pastry
125g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
125g plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1 pinch of salt
2 tbsp chilled water
30g (2 tbsp) butter, melted and still warm
3 not too big (about 550g) apples (Granny Smith are good)
About 60g sugar
3 tbsp Calvados
To make the pastry, put the butter, flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water and mix it in until the pastry comes roughly together.
Roll out on a floured surface to a neat rectangle of about 20cmx30cm. Fold one third over from the short end to cover fat middle third, then fold the remaining third to cover that, as you would fold a letter. Now fold the block of pastry in half, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about 30 mins. Roll out again to 20cmx30cm rectangle and repeat the folds once more. It is now ready to use or can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days, or frozen.
Preheat oven to 200C.
Brush some of the melted butter over the base and sides of a 26cm pie or springform tin and sprinkle with flour. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to circle a few centimetres larger than the tin diameter. Using your rolling pin to assist, lift the pastry into the tin, easing the sides down and pressing them gently against the sides of the tin. Neaten the edges of the pastry; the sides should be no more than 2cm high.
Peel, halve and core the apples. Slice the halves into 2mm half moons and orange over the pastry elegantly in concentric circles, starting from the outside and overlapping the slices, working tightly in circles toward the middle. If necessary, flatten the slices out with your palms and fill any spaces with leftover apple slices.
Gently brush the surface all over with the warm melted butter, taking care not to drag any of the apples away from their spot. Scatter the sugar evenly on the top. Bake (with a tray underneath if using a springform tin) for about 35 minutes, until golden and caramelised in some places. Remove from the oven and splash the Calvados here and there over the top. Bake for a further 10 minutes or so, until burnished on the edges and glossy looking. Remove and gently loosen any sugary edges that may have stuck to the sides, using a knife.
Serve the tart warm, in slices. The pastry is fragile so take care when cutting and lifting the slices.
The three photos above are by Pip Farquharson.
The last session of the day/workshop was a bit of a panel discussion and Q&A with us four co-hosts and the gang. Then we wrapped up with a coconut coffee each before heading our separate ways.
Iced Coconut Coffee
We finished our workshop with a little glass each of these coffees and they were a big hit – the coffee shot was welcome, the sweetness gave us all an afternoon boost and the coconut cream was rather exotic and wonderful. Thank you Tessa for sharing this recipe. It can be found, among many more, in her latest book Provence to Pondichery.
Makes 2 large coffees
1 1/2 cups crushed ice
200ml coconut cream
6 tbsp coconut milk
100mls cold strong filtered Vietnamese coffee (we used cold drip coffee)
Put the ice, coconut cream and condensed milk into a sturdy jug and blend using a hand-held blender until smooth. Put the jug into the freezer until the mixture is frozen bot not completely set like ice cream. Turning once or twice with a fork.
Shake the coffee well in a sealed bottle then divide between 2 quite wide glasses. Gently spoon the coconut mixture over the coffee so it doesn’t mix in. Serve at once with a long spoon and straw.