Tuscany comes to Devon (again) for the 8th Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink

Exeter Festival - Tuscany comes to Devon

Tuscany comes to Devon

Exeter, Devon, 29th April to 1st May 2011 This year’s Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink was probably the best ever. Coinciding with the Royal Wedding on the Friday, the atmosphere was amazing as the crowds came in to watch this special event on a large outdoor screen set up in Northernhay Gardens, and afterwards to enjoy a feast of West Country food and drink. In fact, over all the three days of the Festival, there was a real buzz, and the crowds who came to enjoy and appreciate the edible bounty on our southwest doorstep were greater than ever, with numbers well up on previous years.

Once again, we were involved in the Darts Farm ‘Food is Fun’ tee-pees in conjunction with Slow Food Devon. Though the Tuscan contingent that came over was somewhat smaller than in previous years, it was still a dynamic, energetic and fun presence. Andrea Falciani, the artisan pastamaker from near Pisa, was over especially for the Festival together with his parents, while Antonella, Giuseppe, Thomas, Stefano and Silva offered a ‘taste of Tuscany’ by making large vats of delicious pappa al pomodoro and panzanella, with genuine unsalted Tuscan bread and fragrant Tuscan extra virgin olive oil to hand out as tastings. Valentina helped to make wonderful pizzas cooked in the wood-fired oven.

Andrea Falciani, Bottega della Pasta Fresca

Andrea makes fresh pasta, ably assisted by young Thomas

Three young Tuscans, Matteo, Samuele and Fabio, came over to join Bella and her Youth Food Movement friends. Bella had met Matteo at last year’s Terra Madre gathering of world food communities in Turin, Italy, and she had invited them to come over to experience the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink. Two of the young Tuscans, involved with an important sustainability project in Africa, had never been to England before and it was the first time in Devon for all three of them.

Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink

Fabio, Samuele and Matteo with Bella

Matteo, Samuele and Fabio joined in wholeheartedly over the three days: they cooked ceaselessly around the wood oven (pizza, pasta with Gerald David sausages, pollo alle cacciatore) as well as did a cooking demonstration in the AGA cookery theatre (carne cruda and risotto agli asparagi). In the evenings they enjoyed the After Dark Festival, while Bella introduced them to unique Exeter charms of Timepiece.

On the Sunday, they competed in the Tuscany-Devon ‘cook-off’ against Bella, Polly and Sophie ably assisted by James, head chef at Topsham’s The Globe. Fresh, seasonal local ingredients were supplied by Darts Farm, and the cook-off was overseen in wonderful, warm and friendly style by the inimitable Sally Sedgman assisted by Jim Dart. Michael Caines was on hand to watch and to taste the results.

The girls gave the Tuscan lads a spirited challenge, preparing local pan-fried grey mullet with a cauliflower purée and traditional rhubarb crumble with a crunchy toasted granola topping. Matteo, Samuele and Fabio, assisted by pastamaker Andrea Falciani and little assistant Thomas, made fresh pasta with Exmouth mussels, followed by pan-roasted local cod in a saffron sauce.

Michael Caines tastes the Tuscany-Devon young chefs cook-off

Michael Caines tastes the girls' dishes - he was definitely impressed!

Michael said that he enjoyed all the dishes and thought that both teams had done an excellent job at showcasing the best of Devon produce and ingredients. Afterwards, a straw poll conducted Ready, Steady, Cook style, with Devon and Tuscan flags to hold up, was diplomatically declared a draw by Jim Dart.

Darts Farm Food is Fun cook-off

Jim Dart diplomatically declares the cook-off result a draw

A huge thanks to all who worked so hard to make this year’s Festival such as success: Michael Caines and all on the Exeter Festival Board; Michael’s amazing PA Lisa Partridge; Jim, Mike, Rachel, Helen and all at Darts Farm for making the tee-pees such a vibrant and fun place to be; Freddie Dudbridge of Slow Food Devon; Liz, James and Sprout from The Globe, and lots of other foodie friends.

During their stay, the young Tuscans were generously accommodated at Topsham’s Globe Hotel (thanks again, Liz!). We took them by boat to Turf for a pint of Otter ale and enjoyed some lovely dinners in our garden. One night, they insisted on cooking for us the dish of asparagus risotto that they had made at the Festival. The asparagus was picked that morning and came from Darts Farm. A sublimely simple – and simply delicious – way to make use of the wonderful Devon asparagus that is just perfect at this brief moment of the year.

Risotto agli asparagi
Serves 4 as a starter

risotto agli asparagi

Asparagus risotto cooked for us by the Tuscan ragazzi

For the cooking broth
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 leek, washed and sliced
Asparagus trimmings
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
300g carnaroli rice
2 glasses dry white wine
Broth (as above)
1 large bunch of freshly picked local asparagus (the asparagus at Darts Farm is picked fresh daily and is sensational)
Tuscan extra virgin olive oil
Large knob of Devon butter
Plenty of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the simple vegetable broth. Gently sauté the chopped vegetables in extra virgin olive oil, then add about a litre of water and bring to a simmer. Skim off any grey scum that rises to the surface and leave to simmer for about an hour. Season to taste.

Prepare the asparagus. Cut off any tough ends of the stalks and add to the vegetable broth pot. Cut the asparagus into short segments, reserving the tips.
In a large saucepan, heat up some extra virgin olive oil and add the carnaroli rice, stirring it to coat all the grains with oil and to get the rice up to temperature. Add the finely chopped onion and garlic and sauté for a further five minutes. Add two glasses of dry white wine, bring to the bubble and allow to reduce almost completely. Begin adding the vegetable stock a ladle at a time, stirring all the while. After 13-14 minutes, begin tasting the rice. As it begins to soften and lose its chalkiness, add the asparagus segments. Continue adding the cooking broth until the rice is almost fully cooked but still 'al dente'.

At this point, remove from the heat and beat in the butter and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Risotto, explained the young Tuscans, should be 'all' onda' - wavelike - which means that the consistency is such that that when you shake the pan, the surface of the rice ripples like a wave. In fact, this means that the risotto is more liquid than you may be used to, though in fact by the time it is served, the extra moisture will be absorbed by the rice.

Just before serving, poach the reserved asparagus tips in the cooking broth for no more than a minute, then serve the risotto on plates or bowls and garlish with the asparagus tips. Serve with additional parmigiano reggiano.

Recommended wine: Cascina Fontana Gavi 2009 - the intense minerality of the wine goes beautifully with the minerality of the asparagus. Available from Vino.


Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink

Terra Madre

Darts Farm

Michael Caines

Sally Sedgman

Andrea Falciani’s Bottega della Pasta Fresca

The Globe Hotel


|Home| |QP New Media| |Kim's Gallery|

email marc@quaypress.com

Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 1997-2011