Negneg Farm with a plate of amazing penne, arugula and sausage

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I have often written here that the island’s pork is one of the most superior in both texture and taste and I am sharing with you today my lunch of a simple but most delicious plate of pasta with arugula and local sausage that is made with coriander seeds, garlic and flat leaf parsley. If you do not live on the island use a continental type sausage or merguez and you will find the recipe at the end of this post.

And one day last week we drove to an isolated farm situated in the remote hills past the Tower of ‘Allis’ beyond the chapel of Santa Maria and up to an area known as that of ‘God and his Mother’ until we finally reached Negeg Farm where I met Leli, now 74, and his two sons George and Marco. I basked in the glow of their Mediterranean welcome. For many generations the family have dedicated their lives to tending sows and their litter.

And sadly the Negnegs now face a daily struggle for survival, barely making ends meet mainly because consumers are buying imported pork that is mass-produced and cheaper. But unknown to most it is not necessarily more economical.

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How can you compare mass-produced meat to that of an animal bred conscientiously in humane conditions? Dr Oliver Frendo, a veterinary surgeon who manages the Co-Operative of Pig Breeders on the island accompanied me. He explained that mass-produced meat is sometimes plumped up with with saline of up to 40% of its weight.

The pigs at Negneg Farm live in extraordinarily clean and spacious pens with no evidence of faeces or filth. The pig smell noticeable when I arrived faded away within 10 minutes and I was no longer aware of it. The pigs’ food is flavored with vanilla and the Negnegs have taken measures to keep disease away. Leli keeps his pigs in separate pens according to their age and sex. The new borns are kept warm in comfort.

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There is constant round-the-clock supervision and preventative medicine is practised. Leli tells me that the breeding cycle is continuous all through the year. Contrary to my expectations, these pigs have clear skin, with no open wounds as I had seen on a TV documentary of a farm in a country very far away from here.

The consumer needs to know the source of the pork they buy . They can choose local or perhaps they may prefer to buy imported pork. It is all about freedom of choice and consumers have the right to make their own choices.

I was saddened to leave Negeg Farm that day seeing Leli and his boys organising their weekly trip to the slaughterhouse, with a drop in their quota down by 50% over the last few years…..

And for penne with arugula and pork sausage, you will need :

Penne, allow 75 to 120g per portion depending on appetites, i use Barilla
Continental Sausages, allow 1 per person, skin removed chopped up
Cherry tomatoes, allow 5 to 8 per person, cut into quarters
Arugula, according to your preference, I used about 10 leaves per person, torn up not chopped
Whole dried chilis, allow 1 per 2 portions, cut up
Dried Oregano, allow 1/4 teaspoon for 2 portions
Dried flaked garlic, allow two flakes per portion, chopped up
1 spoon light single cream per two portions
6 spoons white or rose wine per two portions
Maldon Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
Drizzle of olive oil
Freshly grated Grana Padano

Cook the pasta in plenty salted water, and follow the cooking time instructions on your pack.
In a saucepan, heat up a touch of olive oil and cook the sauce eat on gentle heat until browned together with the garlic flakes.
Add the chili, oregano and cook further.
Add the wine, cook and reduce.
Add the single light cream, just a touch, the dish should not appear creamy and cook further.
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Drain the pasta.
Add the sauce and mix with the pasta.
Add the cherry tomatoes and arugula
Plate the pasta and top with a fresh light grating of Gran Padano.
Serve immediately.

And last week’s paper

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Bee pollen again, this time on a decadent chocolate tart

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I first heard of Willie Harcourt Cooze on a Channel 4 documentary a few years ago. Willie gave up all all he had to pursue his dream and he went to South America with the hope of creating the purest cacao in the world.

As soon as the documentary finished, the unusually shaped cylinders of pure cacao hit the shelves and they were completely gone in hours. We had to wait in suspense for the restock of Cuban, Venezuelan Black and Rio Caribe. And the day they finally arrived i drove back home fast, as I could not wait to taste it. Greed is the excitement caused by the anticipation and I am greedy.

My tart today is seriously decadent. A wonderful chocolate crust brushed with local warm thyme honey encases a filling of ground hazlenuts, pure ground almonds and Cuban Cacoa from Baracoa. This is cooled down and brushed with a ganache of chocolate then topped with a scatter of bee pollen that looks like gold specs on the dark chocolate, bright yellow gold dust. Bee pollen is not produced here and it is imported to the island from other Mediterranean countries. The taste of this tart is as dramatic as the visual impact…

You will need a 12 inch tart dish

Heat oven to 170 degrees

Baking time about 30 to 35 minutes. Prep Time 30 minutes

Ingredients for Sweet Chocolate Pastry
300g Flour
50g Cocoa powder
100g Sugar
100 g Butter
5g Baking Powder
3 drops Vanilla Extract
70 g Water

Sieve flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the softened butter cut up into small pieces and rub in until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the vanilla extract. Mix the sugar with water until it has dissolved and mix into the dry ingredients until they bind evenly. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in a cool place for at least 15 minutes.

Ingredients for Chocolate Nut Filling

150 g Pure Ground Almonds
150 g Pure Ground Hazlenuts
200g Sugar
150 g Sweet crumbs from left over cakes crumbled up like breadcrumbs
4 eggs
150 g cream or evaporated milk
100g cocoa powder
2 tablespoons Thyme honey
6 large tablespoons Grated Chocolate, I used Cuban chocolate from Baracoa
4 drops Vanilla Extract
Tip of a teaspoon instant coffee

To finish : 150 g Dark Chocolate, 15 g cream and bee pollen to scatter

In a large bowl mix the ground almonds and hazlenuts, sugar and sweet crumbs. Add sieved cocoa powder, grated chocolate, vanilla, instant coffee and mix well. Finally add the well beaten eggs, evaporated milk or cream and mix with wooden spoon until the mixture is even. Test for a dropping consistency and if necessary add another egg.

Grease the tart dish. Open the rested pastry with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. Line the dish. Trim the pastry neatly and dock it with a fork. Spread the warm honey on the bottom of the pastry and then fill with the ground nut and chocolate mix. Take a spoon and dip in hot water and run over the surface of the filling to achieve a tidy finish. Bake in a hot oven at 170 degrees for 30- 35 minutes. When baked cool on a wire rack.

To finish off, melt 150g of Dark Chocolate and spread it on the tart. You can either use a palate knife but I like to brush it on with a large pastry brush in several layers. Decorate as desired. i have sprinkled bee pollen on mine and it looks beautiful. Store in an airtight tin. This tart will keep very well in an airtight container and in fact the flavour will improve.

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A Mediterranean garden salad with black pudding, bacon and nasturtium flowers …

Today’s paper

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I love this salad as it looks like a contemporary painting… feasting my eyes on the colors, the freshness of the arugula, sage, broad beans from the garden today, literally just a few minutes before making, taking pictures, eating and talking about it here.

And of course we also have from the garden today the beautful edible nasturtium flowers that I start to use a lot now as they come into season from around this time of the year until mid-summer. They come in purple too but today i have used the orange and yellow petals that give a delicate hint of a flowery flavor. It is like looking and eating art and I am not being big-headed and do not refer to my work as a piece of art but this is nature’s work of art, eaten as it is meant to be with no additives and without the need of any artificial coloring. Even if you try to enhance a dish artificially, this result will be impossible to achieve.

I so appreciate the sun here that touches all this glorious produce nearly every day of the year and the pure soil without fertilization that comes from within the soul of the Mediterranean to nurture every mouthful that we enjoy and expect here. This dish touches my five senses, made possible by being in the right place at the right time with the right conditions whatever it is that may have brought us here. Today’s food is a memory that will stay with me forever. This is what i call living

And for two portions you will need:

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Extra virgin olive oil for dressing
Two slices black pudding, I use the locally produced variety
Sea Salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
one tomato, thinly sliced
1 baked potato, skin on, to be served warm with the salad
Arugula, as much as you fancy
Bacon, we used collar, thinly sliced, cooked in a heavy non stick pan until it curls up and the edges slightly caramelize
1 well done hard boiled egg, cut into 4 segments
Broad Beans, we removed the outler leathery pod and left thr exterior skin but this needs to be removed if the beans are not very fresh
4 fresh sage leaves, cooked in the pan after the bacon in the natural oils of the residue and cooked until they crisp up but not brown

Heat a non stick pan and cook the black pudding on low heat until they are quite crisy in the outside and soft on the inside, we like our black pudding cut in thick slices. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

Add the bacon into the frying pan and saute for a few minutes on moderate heat until it curls up and crisps slightly.

Arrange the arugula and sliced tomatoes on a serving plate and then arrange the bacon pieces neatly.

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Pour the wine vinegar into the pan, turn up the heat and scrape the sediment in the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze until almost all the vinegar has been boiled off. Remove from heat, strain and add the honey and stir. Whisk in a few spoons of olive oil.

Slice the warm baked potato and arrange on the salad plate. Break the black pudding up into pieces and scatter over the salad. Add the eggs segments. Top with broad beans. Pour the salad dressing all over. Add some more broad beans, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the nasturtium petals and the crispy sage leaves. Drizzle some plain olive oil. Serve.

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Osso Bucco in Brodo

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As the weather gets warmer each day, I like to make soups before it is too hot to enjoy them. The traditional vegetable broth is delicious and I am told that one of the most important ingredients not to miss is plenty of celery and it is a dark green variety with thinner stems than what I have been used to. The fresh locally grown vegetables are a joy to cook with.

I am using Osso Bucco steaks which give the soup a wonderful flavor. There is nothing more delectable than eating the marrow out of the hole in the bone with the broth ….

For two portions will need:

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2 Osso Bucco Steaks
1 turnip, peel and chopped
2 zucchini chopped
2 carrots
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 spoons tomato paste
Plenty of celery, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 liters water
Sea Salt, freshly ground pepper

Clean, peel and cut the vegetables into cubes
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Put them in a pot of cold water
Add the salt and tomato purée
Place the steaks on top (always start with the meat in cold water)
When it boils, turn down the head and simmer for an hour and a half
.Turn off the heat and leave to rest of 5 minutes before serving. We love eating ours with local sourdough bread.

 

 

Memories of an Easter Sunday and the left overs …

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At the end of today, when all the family gatherings and festivities are over, when Easter comes to an end and we are organizing our food leftovers, we will remain with precious memories to treasure and a great part of them will focus on the food we have shared during this celebration…. and how very true it is that life is not how you live it but how you remember it (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

The memories will live with us forever but what about the food left overs ?

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With the left-over lamb, I make a lamb and vegetable casserole which is delicious and will make a good weekday meal for Monday. I chop the lamb into cubes, remove all the bones and fat. I take this opportunity to use up all the vegetables I may have in the fridge and chop them up together with any left-over vegetables from today’s roast and I mix everything together. I then wash some potatoes well, slice them up very thinly with the skin still on. I also prepare a couple of stock cubes dissolved in water. Then I use a casserole dish and oil it by wiping some kitchen towel with a dab of olive oil all over it. I alternate a layer or chopped vegetables, a layer of lamb and a layer of potatoes and I repeat this until I have used everything up ending up with a layer of overlapping potatoes. I pour the stock into the casserole to keep the moistness but do not overdo it. I cook it in a moderate oven at 160 C covered for one hour and leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving. You can also add raw sliced onions over your vegetable layer and any fresh hers or parsley that you may have. This is a delicious, wholesome meal with no wastage ….

If you are vegetarian, you and need to leave the meat out, cook the vegetables in the same way. I have also tried this with tofu instead of lamb and the result was very good.

I keep looking at Ann Marie’s colorful Easter cookies and I appreciate so much the work that goes into hand made food as I know how time consuming it is, and from my personal experience I feel that many who are not sweet makers have no idea that it requires a lot of time, talent and skill to produce such beautiful work.

And these Easter cookies will remain with me forever as a memory of today as will my current life here on an island that not only happens to be in the heart of the Mediterranean but i believe it is the very soul of the Mediterranean. I wish you all a wonderful Easter !

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Easter Baking with Brian Emmett and our readers
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Easter in the heart of the Mediterranean and my Figolli
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A sweet for lent, eggless and fat free, kwarizemal

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Figolli
As popular as Easter eggs….

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Natalie’s figolla feast !

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My hot cross buns

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Annie’s figolla

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Figolli by Josianne

My favorite Easter lunch… Leg of Lamb and Roast Potatoes with Bee Pollen, fennel and mint

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I am sharing the recipes for my favorite Easter meal to be repeated again at lunch time tomorrow. As much as I like variety and experimentation with new ingredients, I seem to stick to the same meals for family occasions and I guess it is all about familiarity and wanting to eat your favorite things during the holidays.

I love bee pollen scattered on roast potatoes with mint and fennel. You will need:

Potatoes, washed with skin on
Olive oil
Maldon Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bee Pollen
Fennel bulb
Fennell Seed
Fresh mint
Honey

Preheat oven to 180C.

Cut the fennel bulb and potatoes into thin slices. Wipe the bottom of the fish with some over oil. Then cover the bottom with a layer of chopped fresh Fennel and overlap a few layers of thin potato slices neatly on top.
When the dish is all covered with the potatoes, drizzle with a touch of olive oil. Do not overdo it. Very lightly drizzle honey all over the potatoes, but again do not overdo it. You do not want sweet potatoes. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle with crushed fennel seeds and some chopped fresh mint. Cook in the oven for about 45 minutes depending on how crusty you like your potatoes. When you take out of the oven, leave to rest for 5 minutes and then sprinkle some fresh been pollen and garnish with some fresh mint leaves.

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And for the Roast Leg of Lamb you will need

A leg of lamb, we are big eaters so one medium leg usually serves 4
2 lemons, zest grated and lemons squeezed
Olive Oil, enough to coat the lamb sparingly
1 small tub yoghurt
4 Garlic cloves, whole
A mix of fresh and dry herbs of your choice, I am using fresh thyme and rosemary and dry oregano
Sweet Smoked Paprika
1 onion
Freshly ground pepper and Maldon Salt

Mix the lemon juice and zest with the yoghurt, olive oil some finely chopped garlic and a mix of finely chopped fresh and dried herbs of your choice. Add a spoon of sweet smoked paprika. Place the lamb on a large piece of foil and rub the marinade all over. Roughly chop up the onions and spread all over the lamb. Season and if available roughly cut up sprigs of fresh rosemary and put over the lamb. Wrap the leg in foil and leave in fridge overnight.

I am at the moment marinating my lamb, it is mid-afternoon here and the meat will soak in all the juices and flavors overnight in the fridge and it will taste heavenly tomorrow, moist meat oozing with goodness. I will cook mine in a slow oven at 150 C covered for 4 hours and then uncovered for the last 30 minutes at 180C. The result is tender, moist delicious lamb that will literally melt in your mouth. I will garnish with thyme and lemon ….

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Then for the best part of the feast comes a gift from one of my readers Annie and this is her fabulous cake. It is a cake made of chocolate and ganache and carved into a bag shape, covered in edible sugarpaste, all made by hand and this includes the flowers and chocolates in the bag. I amazed to see such talent. Thank you Annie, you are a big sweetheart and I am so touched !

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And from an island blessed with all the good things in life, I leave you with a view from my window and wish you a very Happy Easter!

Tunisian Tea, Hot Cross Buns and the Prime Minister tweets …

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I had a very enjoyable lunch this week hosted by Her Excellency Ambassador Souad Gueblaoui at the Tunisian Embassy ending with the most delicious cup of mint and pinenut tea. The Ambassador shared the recipe with enthusiasm. We are also looking forward to running another feature on Tunisian cuisine in a few weeks. The Tunisian kitchen has Mediterranean roots with many similar ingredients found locally and the recipes have proved to be very popular with our readers.

I made the tea at home today and used honey as a sweetener. The tea has no added milk and it is garnished with pinenuts. In Tunisia it is known to help with digestion and you will need:

2 tea bags of your choice
500ml hot water
5 teaspoons honey
A handful of fresh mint leaves
10 pine nuts

Steep the tea bags in boiling water for 5 minutes.
Filter the infusion to remove the tea bags.
Add the honey and bring to the boil over medium heat.
Turn off the heat. Add the mint leaves and cover.
Leave for another 5 minutes. Remove mint leaves heat again and adjust sweetness according to your preference.
Pour into small glasses and drop the lightly toasted pine nuts in.
You can have Tunisian mint tea warm or hot or make it less sweet if you wish.

I found the crunch of the pinenuts enjoyable with the contrast of the mint tea.

And Good Friday on the island is celebrated with processions in nearly every village with Easter being a more popular feast than Christmas here. This afternoon I made hot cross buns and I always use the same recipe, tried and tested every year from Delia Smith‘s Complete Cookery Course. You cannot go wrong with it.

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You will need:

50g caster sugar, plus 1 level teaspoon
1 level tablespoon dried yeast
450g plain flour
1 level teaspoon salt
1 rounded teaspoon mixed spice
75g currants
50g cut mixed peel
55ml warmed milk
1 egg, beaten
50g butter, melted
For the glaze:
2 level tablespoons granulated sugar

Stir a teaspoon of caster sugar into 150 ml hand-hot water, then sprinkle in the dried yeast and leave it is frothy.
Sift the flour, salt and mixed spice into a mixing bowl and add the remaining 50g sugar, the currants and mixed peel. Make a well in the centre, pour in the yeast mixture plus 40 ml of milk, the beaten egg and melted butter.
Mix it to a dough, starting with a wooden spoon and finishing with your hands.
Transfer the dough on to a clean surface and knead it until it feels smooth and elastic, around 5 minutes.
Pop it back into the bowl, cover and leave it in a warm place to rise. It will take about an hour to double its size.
Turn it out and knead it again back down to its original size.
Divide the mixture into 12 round portions, arrange them on the greased baking sheet, and make a deep cross on each one with a sharp knife. Leave them to rise once more, for about 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 220°C
To make the crosses, form a paste with 50 g flour and 2 tablespoons water, then roll this out and cut into 5 mm strips. When the buns have risen, brush the strips with water to make them stick and place them on top of the buns along the indentations you made earlier. Then place the baking sheet on a high shelf in the oven and bake them for about 15 minutes.
While they are cooking, make the glaze by slowly melting together the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a pan over a gentle heat until all the sugar grains have dissolved and you have a clear syrup.
As soon as the buns come out of the oven, brush them immediately with the glaze while they are still warm.

In this weeks’s Easter issue, we featured American Celebrity Chef Brian Emmett baking the island’s traditional Lenten cookies with his daughter Julia and it was awesome to have this tweeted by the Prime Minister yesterday on Twitter! Brian is certainly delighted and we are both looking forward to making many wonderful things to be enjoyed on both sides of the Atlantic as part of our American Mediterranean feature series.

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And on Good Friday from the heart of the Mediterranean, we wish you a serene and peaceful day….

Pastini !

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I asked Renato to provide me with his recipe for Pastini. He is always willing to share his vast knowledge of local sweets and pastries and I am surprised as this is such an easy recipe with very few ingredients.

Citrus, almonds, a moist soft texture with a fine crispy crust….. They are so easy to make and although I have piped them, you can also make them without using a piping bag and simply roll them in some ground almonds.

This recipe yields 35 to 40 Pastini.
Preheat oven to 160 C

You will need:

250g ground almonds
250g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3 drops good vanilla extract
2 egg whites
40 g glacé cherries

I have also added the grated zest of half an orange in mine as I love the flavor of local oranges.
You will also need a piping bag with a star nozzle but this is optional.

In a large bowl mix the ground almonds, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla. Gradually add the egg whites one by one until you achieve a dropping consistency. If necessary add another egg white.

If you are using a piping bag, prepare it with a star nozzle. Line a baking tray with baking paper and pipe the Pastini onto the baking sheet

If you are not using a piping bag, dust your hands with ground almonds and using a small cookie scoop roll into balls and place onto the baking sheet.

Cut the cherries into quarters and decorate each Pastina with a cherry.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Leave to cool on baking tray.

Quick weekday meal …. Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Pinenuts

20140414-071353.jpgI am making an old favourite  with fresh pumpkin. I do not add any butter, cream or oil and the soup gets its texture and creaminess from a sweet potato It is healthy and delicious and I like to garnish it with lightly toasted pine nuts.

You will need :

1 kg Pumpkin
1 Onion
q sweet potato peeled
1 clove garlic (optional)
Pinch of cumin
A teaspoon of toasted pine per portion to garnish
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper

Peel and chop the vegetables roughly. Place in a large pot and immerse in water, just enough to cover the vegetables. keep topping the water as it cooks. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat and let it cook for 40 minutes. Test the potatoes to make sure they are soft and fully cooked. Turn off heat. When it is a bit cooler, blitz everything with a hand blender or liquidizer until it is very smooth and satiny. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with toasted pine nuts to serve.

pumpkins

 

Strawberry season arrives and we make jam !

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There is a quaint strawberry village in the north of the island where fat luscious strawberries are harvested from April and last through the summer. This island is truly blessed with all that is good in life. We can indulge in a feast of freshly picked local strawberries every single day from now until the end of the summer. And as I listen to a church choir signing Ave Maria outside in the street, I make my first batch of strawberry jam.

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Preserving fruit, capturing all that goodness in a jar, gives me a warm secure feeling.

You will need :

1 kg strawberries
1 kg sugar
25 g pectin
juice of 3 lemons

This recipe yields 12 jars of 150g each.

We picked the strawberries this morning and I think it makes a big difference to the flavor when the jam is made on the same day.

Wash the strawberries thoroughly, hull them and cut them in half. Remove any bruising and spots and do not use over ripe strawberries.

Place them in a large pot with the lemon juice and bring to a boil on moderate heat. Stir in the sugar and pectin and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring the strawberries to a boil until it reaches setting point.

I used the saucer method for testing the setting point. Place a saucer in the freezer and test the jam by putting a few drops on the cold plate. If the jam wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it has reach setting point. If it is still runny, return to heat, boil and retest. The best color is achieved when the jam is not over heated for a long period of time and this gives you a bright red color, as strawberries are meant to be.

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Now you will need to sterilize the jars. Rinse them in clean warm water and allow them to drip dry and place upside down on an rack in the oven at 140C for half an hour.

Pour the jam into the jars preferably through a funnel. I wear latex gloves to prevent contamination. I poured the jam into warm jars while it was still warm.

If you are going to store the jam, I suggest placing a disc of waxed baking paper onto the jam before covering with a lid.

You will need to store the jam in a cool dark place.

The result is packed with flavor, pure compact strawberries in this tiny jar. You can taste the goodness. Even a spread on a plain slice of toast becomes an indulgent treat.

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A bright day, a beautiful choir outside my window and the summer is here to stay in the heart of the Mediterranean !