Tuscany comes to Devon (again) for the 8th Exeter Festival of South
West Food and Drink
Tuscany comes to Devon
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
Andrea makes fresh pasta, ably assisted by young
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.
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 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.
Jim Dart diplomatically declares the cook-off result a draw
A huge thanks to all who worked so hard to make this
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
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
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
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
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
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
Falciani’s Bottega della Pasta Fresca
The Globe Hotel