Never have I felt the juxtaposition of town and country more acutely than a recent weekend dash to New York and back for a dear family member’s wedding. Saying goodbye to straw bales on the school run and green fields (plus two small girls) to be greeted by cabs honking, neon lights flashing and the whoosh of urban living was a far more epic contrast from our every day life than I could ever have imagined. The city that never sleeps is an onslaught to the senses – more akin to a huge smack in the face with a giant wet fish (think: real life Billy Bass singing Elvis). Even after a decade in London, I remained bowled over by the immense skyscrapers, expanses of glass and hum of the metropolis. Staggering. Feeling like a lost country bumpkin on the streets of NYC, I’d almost completely forgotten what excites most people about urban living. I was more doddery old Miss Marple than Jenny from the Block, I’m afraid. I’m still marvelling at the 6 page breakfast menu – an unbelievable number of ways of cooking eggs!
Returning to our tiny hamlet which doesn’t even boast 1 cab let alone a whole string of yellow ones, it seems that in our absence, autumn finally decided to make an appearance. Autumn is my favourite time of year – apples, blackberries, Harvest, the scent of log fires, darkening afternoons…. I know that the darkening afternoons won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, dear Reader, but for me they spell a cosiness which our cottage was made for. After our marathon school run in the early evening, the girls and I have the perfect excuse to enjoy the fireside and curl up together (with Monty usually sprawled all over us giving us his spaniel loving) before tea, bath and bed. Somehow even walks are better in the autumn too – the pop pops of the guns can be heard on Saturdays and Sundays from all around and leaves are casually strewn across the paths, just waiting for two small girls and a crazy spaniel to bounce right through them and kick them into the air. Anyone who had been on our walk this morning up into the woods and along the deserted farm track would have been in no doubt that autumn is all those things that Keats tells us it is: mists and mellow fruitfulness, the last oozings hours by hours. Countryside – you are truly at your best in the months leading up to Christmas. Never mind, the fact that it is the only time of year when ruddy rosy cheeks and ‘orange’ hair (as Poppy describes our jointly tinged locks) blend rather than clash with every colour in sight!
The apple press is up and running and the girls are now addicted to freshly pressed apple juice. Thank goodness, Mr and Mrs Worthington next door are terribly sweet and have given us free rein of their orchard. There is nothing quite like pressing your own juice – simply delicious. It has made me more than a little determined to plant up some fruit trees of our own. Jerry and I are pretty keen to get started on the cider making too – Jerry’s homebrewed ale has all been drunk so it’s time to get the vin ballon working again and say our prayers that we don’t have any exploding homebrew vessels! Can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend to be honest. I might even pick some sloes for steeping in gin too.
With the shooting season in full swing, game has been firmly back on the menu too (thanks to a fantastic local supplier, Blackmoor Game, who have everything from pigeon to venison, all sourced from handpicked estates in the UK. They rear their own pheasants too). Until I master the art of shooting for the pot, at least Jerry, Primrose, Poppy and I can look forward to some autumnal gamey feasts that aren’t scraggy, shot ridden specimens! I was tickled pink to find rabbit too – I love its lean, delicate game flavour which goes perfectly with almost any ingredient you throw at it. If you are a game first timer, then rabbit really is the best to start cooking with.
Here’s a little something from Margot’s kitchen this week to get in the autumn mood: Rabbit wrapped in Parma ham with lentils
2 rabbit legs
6 slices of parma ham
4 sage leaves
apple balsamic vinegar
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
200g puy or green lentils
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 rashes of smoked bacon, cut into lardons
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp. anchovy sauce
knob of butter
squeeze of lemon juice
Start off by adding the chopped onion, garlic, carrot, celery and bacon to a large heavy bottomed pan with a little olive oil and fry until the vegetables soften and the bacon has started to crisp up a little. Add the lentils and mix through, frying gently before adding the chicken stock and placing in a low oven at 100-150 degrees Centigrade for the next hour to hour and a half. The lentils are ready when they are soft but not mushy. Check on the pan regularly to make sure that the lentils have not dried out – the liquid will reduce but you do not want the lentils to lose all their moisture.
Prepare the rabbit by making a small incision into the fleshy part to make a small pocket. Add a piece of mozzarella to the pocket, season the rabbit legs with salt and pepper and then wrapped in parma ham. Tuck in a sage leave underneath the final layer of parma ham. Roughly speaking use 3 slices of ham on each leg with a sage leaf on each and wrap the ham around the leg fairly tightly so that the mozzarella remains inside the pocket.
Heat a large saucepan (one that can be placed into the oven), adding a generous knob of butter, small drizzle of olive oil and leftover sage leaves. When the butter has started to foam and the sage is beginning to spit a little, place the rabbit legs into the pan, top side down. Fry until the top of the rabbit begins to take colour before turning and repeating on the bottom side of the rabbit. This should take 3-5 minutes. Turn once more, drizzle a tiny amount of apple balsamic vinegar over the top of the legs and place the pan into a hot oven at 200 degrees Centigrade to finish roasting the rabbit. Rabbit can easily be ruined by overcooking so do not roast in the oven for more than another 15-20 minutes at the most. Check regularly to avoid over cooking – when the rabbit is ready, the meat should feel tender to the touch and the juices should run clear when pierced with a fork or skewer. Take the rabbit from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so whilst you turn your attention back to the lentils.
Remove the lentils from the oven and add a tiny knob of butter, the anchovy sauce plus a squeeze of lemon juice – stir through and check if any extra seasoning is needed. Serve with crusty bread, the juices from the rabbit pan poured over and a large glass of something red and Italian.
I promise you – this is autumn on a plate. Just don’t tell Poppy that her Mummy’s been cooking rabbit. She’s rather keen on those dear little fluffy tailed bunnies, dear Reader…….
(Just in case you missed a couple of other recipes of mine this week, head over to Garden Trading for a steaming bowl of mussels. Looking for the ideal little something to go with an afternoon cuppa? Try my Pear and Ginger Marmalade cake over on Countrywives).