We’ve been married for 13 years – lucky for us. Rather than go for a blow-out restaurant meal, we celebrated with a dinner of produce fresh from our garden – lucky again.
Crisp and peppery scarlet radishes with our pre-dinner drinks.
Roasted freshly-picked asparagus scattered with shards of Spanish goats’ cheese as a starter.
And a piece of Jimmy Denny’s lamb (see Mrs Portly passim) with a mustard crust, served with roasted veg and the first fresh mint sauce of the season for the main course. All washed down with a rather good Fleurie. No room for pud after all that.
The goat’s cheese, by the way, was delicious. A multiple award-winner from Quesos de Cati in Valencia which we bought in the market in Palafrugell on our recent visit to Catalunya. It’s excellent, with a similar texture to aged parmesan and a subtle, complex flavour, nutty and slightly sweet.
Even my husband, who usually rejects goats’ cheese on the basis that “it tastes like billy goat” likes this one. Worth seeking out if you have a Spanish deli anywhere near you. The cheese, that is, not my husband.
Making the mint sauce to go with the lamb made me think about how many medieval hangovers (so to speak) there are in British cooking.
Bread sauce – which aficionados will know accompanies chicken and turkey – is a mixture of white breadcrumbs and milk, flavoured with onion, nutmeg, cloves, salt and pepper.
If you let it get cold you can virtually cut it with a knife. I fed it to some Dutch friends once and they were quietly appalled. I love it but maybe it’s one of those things you have to grow up with, like Marmite.
But it’s very much a descendant of those sauces and pottages our medieval ancestors used to spike with exotic spices.
And mint sauce – finely chopped mint, vinegar and sugar – sounds terribly un-English when you think about it. The Greeks and Romans used mint and medieval monks employed it in cooking and medicine. And of course it’s widely used today in north Africa.
Are there any food historians out there who know when mint was first grown as a herb in Britain? Is mint sauce as British as our Sunday roast or does it have its roots in Roman or Arabic cuisine? Someone out there must know … come on, stir the pot!