The Samovar

Visit to Pierre Gagnaire
November 24, 2010, 8:13 pm
Filed under: Consumption, Food | Tags:

Some pictures from my lunch at Pierre Gagnaire with Alastair.

We start with our menu and aperitifs, a selection of fruit juices: grape and ginger, lemon and apple.

Our first selection of amuses bouches:

  • Potato and seaweed
  • Almond and ginger biscuit
  • Anchovy ‘salad’
  • Tuna and blackberry macaron
  • Black bread stick with olive oil and thyme

Our second selection of amuses bouches:

  • Beef carpaccio with salmon eggs
  • Cheese stick with wasabi
  • Bacon, cheese and hazelnut

Our starters:

  • “Palourde Belle-Ile” – clam on a bed of octopus salsa
  • “Merlan brillant recouvert d’un crumble vert; moelle de boeuf, pop corn” – whiting with a green herb crumble, beef bone marrow and pop corn
  • “Royale iodée au jabugo” – mussels wrapped in jabugo ham with iodized custard
  • “Soupe de pied et oreilles de cochon, roquette et lentilles” – soup of foot and ear of pig with rocket and lentils
  • “Sablé de figue sèche au Moscato d’Asti, raisin liqueur” – dried fig biscuit with booze

Our fish course:

  • “Effeuillée de lieu jaune de ligne déposée sur une marinière de coques agrémentée de poireaux, d’énokis et de haddock” – line caught pollack on chlorophyll jelly on clams, leeks, enoki and haddock

Meat course:

  • “Grenouilles et quasi de veau façon Poulette, gâteau de foie blond; laitue farcie d’ail noir. Chouquette de parmesan, salade d’automne” – Frog and veal fillet cooked “like chicken”, yellow liver cake, lettuce stuffed with black garlic, puff pastry of parmesan, autumnal salad

First dessert:

  • Fig compôte with caramel ice cream and sugar tuille

Second set of desserts (not shown):

  • Ginger biscuit with marinated orange pieces
  • Poached pear with pear ice cream and hazelnuts

Third set of desserts:

  • Something with apple, spiced tuille and bits
  • Chocolate tower filled with tiramisu, pistachio cream, vanilla cream, and spoon of posh nutella

Petits fours:

  • White truffle bon bon
  • White chocolate and orange
  • Fruity sort of thing
  • Spongey thing
  • Chocolate and caramel
  • Red fruit pastille

And we finished with chocolate, coffee and a tisane for me.

Total price: 130 euros each. Worth every penny.

Alastair in the restaurant:

Me outside:

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My first thanksgiving
November 29, 2008, 9:38 pm
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I gave thanks for the puissance of the colonialists who conquered the natives, thus allowing me to be enjoying this fine ritual eating of a turkey. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well with the Americans I was eating with.

It was very exciting for me to have a thanksgiving dinner because I’d never had one before and it was like getting to have an early christmas dinner. So off we went to find the ingredients for a traditional thanksgiving, which is not an easy task in Paris and involved trips to La Grande Epicerie and Rue Mouffetard. The turkey itself was the most difficult bit, seeing as it’s not a particular favourite of the Parisians. We did find some eventually, but I knew when I saw the 4.5kg beasts that there was no way they would fit in my tiny Paris apartment style oven, so I tentatively asked si on peut prendre une demie-dinde and much to my surprise, yes we could! And here it is, in my tiny weeny little oven.


And later on, cooked:


We also had homemade cranberry sauce:


And stuffing:


There was also mashed potatoes, and spiced, caramelised sweet potatoes, which you can see being made here:


There was also pumpkin pie and carrot cake for pudding (no picture for some reason I forgot). Man, did we eat waaay too much. I wouldn’t have eaten anything at all the next except that I brought the remainder of the pudding in to work so that people in my office could have some, but as hardly anybody came in to work that day for some reason, I ended up eating most of the carrot cake myself.


Verdict: English christmas dinner is better, but this was pretty good too.

Pinchy: the story of a gumbo
November 9, 2008, 3:31 am
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So I had promised a friend that I would make her a gumbo since about a year ago, and now she’s leaving Paris in a week or so, so it seemed like if I was going to do this gumbo it had better be this weekend. After a year of build up this was going to have to be some pretty awesome gumbo. So I wrote my ideal list of ingredients from the most luxury gumbo recipe in my creole cook book, thinking I’d head to the shops and see which bits I could find:

  • crab
  • oysters
  • prawns
  • chicken
  • beef
  • bacon
  • cooked ham
  • ham bone
  • green peppers
  • onion
  • scallions
  • tomatoes
  • celery
  • parsley
  • thyme
  • (other things I already had: bay leaves, cayenne pepper, filé powder which someone had brought over from the US for me specifically for this gumbo, salt, pepper)

It was a little late in the day, too late to start trying to find a good fishmonger and anyway most of them are closed at that time, so I just went to the big supermarket near me. Well what do you know but this supermarket was selling live crabs and lobsters (and at not a bad price really, €5 for a crab, €12 for a lobster). So I picked up most of the ingredients above, leaving out the ham and substituting mussels for oysters because they were only selling oysters in boxes of 24 which would have been fine for the gumbo but the thought of shucking 24 oysters was not fine.

Well, I’ve never bought and cooked a live, scuttling animal before. Mussels don’t count – they’re alive but they don’t scuttle. Crabs scuttle. At the supermarket, they just pop the little guy into a bag and you take him off, meanwhile he’s trying to claw his way out and just generally acting agitated. I don’t think the girl at the checkout had ever seen anyone buying one of these before and was a little upset about having to pick up the bag. On my way home I decided to name him Pinchy after the lobster in the Simpsons. This was probably a mistake because I knew I was going to be pouring boiling water over him and boiling him to death soon. Here’s Pinchy preparing for his fate.


Turns out that having boiling water poured on them is quite agitating for a crab. Hopefully I won’t be having nasty dreams about the next moment. Twenty minutes later, here’s Pinchy again.


Well anyway, that’s really the exciting part of the story over. Then we got to cracking Pinchy open and teasing out his fat and flesh, etc. But boy, was he a damn tasty crab. Assuming the bad dreams don’t kick in, I think I’ll be buying some more of his kind, and maybe a lobster or two too. I won’t detail the long and rather laborious (approximately 4 hour) cooking process. Suffice it to say many things were chopped, complicated stocks were produced by boiling up various animals, carcasses, heads, etc.

End result: pretty damn good shit. I think I can improve on this gumbo, but I don’t see myself making it often. It’s pretty expensive and very time consuming. Plus, I ended up using pretty much every pot and pan in my apartment twice over. Fortunately, I had helpers to do the washing up.

Some more pics.

I actually ended up using quails rather than chicken because a whole chicken was too much and the little baby chicken was €8 compared to these two quails at €3. And they even came with their little heads still on. Making gumbo is not for the light hearted.


The mussels.


And the final product. Well, it doesn’t look that great but with gumbo it’s the taste that counts, not the appearance.


And here’s a bonus item, last week’s pumpkin:


More bourgeois food
November 5, 2008, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: , , , , , ,

You’ve probably heard all you could possibly want about Obama, so here’s some bourgeois Parisian food I ate while Alastair was visiting me last weekend instead.

Let’s start with these macarons from Gerard Mulot.


We have from top left to bottom left in clockwise order; chocolate and coriander seed, passion fruit and basil leaf, orange and ginger, green tea, chestnut, and hazelnut. GM’s macarons are fantastic, but they’re nothing compared to the true master of the macaron, Pierre Hermé. Sadly no macaron pictures from PH, but here are some of the fantastic cakes on offer (click to get a closer view):


This time, I had the tarte citron aux citrons which was a perfect lemon tart but nothing beyond the ordinary, and Alastair had the tarte au caramel which really was something beyond the ordinary, much more like a salted butter caramel (and a very salty one at that) than the usual creme caramel (which I’m not a fan of at all). We also managed to find time to have dinner at Alain Senderens:


Sadly the pictures from inside didn’t come out very well (you can see the slightly bizarre orange lighting scheme), but here’s me doing a minimal job of pretending not to be scruffy. (I’ve done my best to correct for the lighting but it’s not perfect so the colour may seem a little odd.)


We both went for the tasting menu, which featured an amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with mussels; a starter tout cèpe of cep (porcini) mushrooms cooked in many different ways with an oeuf mollet (like a poached egg); a fish course of an open ravioli of lobster with vanilla foam and shoots of tétragone (I don’t know what it is); a meat course of duck with various beetroot things and wasabi; a pre-dessert of pineapple and coriander jelly; and a dessert Fine Dacquoise au poivre de Séchouan,
marmelade au citron confit, glace au gingembre
(meringue with szechuan pepper, marmelade of confit lemon and ginger icecream). Of these, the mushroom starter and lobster were amazing (although Alastair is not a great fan of mushrooms so he doesn’t share my opinion there), and the rest were just very good, with the exception of the pudding which I was not a fan of at all. Meringue doesn’t do it for me and the flavours were overdone. All in all, an excellent meal but you’d be better off going to L’Astrance for lunch, cheaper and better.

Anyway, we weren’t quite done after all that so we nipped in to Angelina’s to try their famous hot chocolate. Well, it was pretty good, much better than the normal powder+milk combo you get, but really, mine is better. Angelina’s may have been making it for over a hundred years, but they put too much sugar in and it’s too touristy there.


Bof! I suppose I should stop enjoying myself here and get some work done now…

October 26, 2008, 12:18 am
Filed under: Consumption, Food | Tags: , , , ,

My latest culinary adventure in Paris was a visit to a restaurant trois étoilés (with three Michelin stars). I found out that the restaurant L’Astrance has a lunch menu at a mere €70 (which for 3* cooking is a very reasonable price). The next problem was getting a table. L’Astrance only has space for 25 people and around 8 tables, so booking several months in advance is a must. The restaurant has a very unusual way of doing things, almost unheard of for a 3* restaurant: le menu surprise. You have no idea what you’ll be getting before it arrives in front of you. From what I’d read, I was told that they decided each day afresh what to make based on what was good at the market. That sounded improbable but it was always possible they had a set list of possible things they could make from which they chose afresh each day. After the meal I asked about this and they said the menu changes every month or so, so although there might be some day to day variation, it’s mostly going to be the same in any given month.

Anyway, the meal was absolutely fantastic and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone coming to Paris.

Here’s what we had (I don’t remember everything precisely):

  • Amuses bouches: sablé au beurre with thyme leaf, cognac infused grape, fresh walnut – this was just a little something to nibble while you looked at the menu (a wholly pointless exercise given that it doesn’t say what you’re going to get)
  • Palate cleanser: cauliflower mousse, mustard yoghurt, soy sauce foam – wow! this sounds kind of weird but it works incredibly well, somewhat like the grain mustard ice cream with red cabbage gazpacho they serve at Fat Duck
  • Starter: scallops coated in lemon zest with autumn vegetables and three sauces, lemon vinaigrette, peanut, and curry – another incredible dish. Next time I cook scallops they’re getting lemon zest on the outside.
  • Fish: red mullet (rouget) with autumn vegetables and peanuts, and a side dish of mussels with some sort of sauce – the fish was excellent, but for me it was the mussels that really shone here, I wish I could remember the name of the sauce they were with because it was amazing. Creamy, with some sort of fish stock base, and little bits of what may have been tomatoes or peppers or some such.
  • Meat: roast suckling pig with crunchy skin, vegetables “like at home” (err… no) – the only slightly disappointing thing. It was perfectly cooked and very tasty, but not terribly exciting.
  • Puddings – all four of these theatrically came at the same time with a suggestion to eat it in the following order:
    • Lemongrass and verveine (lemon verbena) mousse – a sort of palate cleanser bursting with flavour. Delicious, but slightly disconcertingly reminiscent of toothpaste!
    • Something with honey ice cream – I can’t really remember what this was now, damnit. Was pretty tasty though. I’m a big fan of honey ice cream.
    • Cylinder with various things including grapefruit and mango, and some sort of coulis with it – this one really blows your mind. You have this odd little white cylinder which when you crack it open has all these incredibly strong, tart fruit flavours which really zing!
    • Apple clafoutis with apple pieces and apple foam – for me, this was my favourite of the four puddings. Often I’m a bit dubious about apples because they’re almost always such poor quality, but here they were perfect, flavoursome and perfectly cooked, with the clafoutis just the right level of moist.
  • Petits fours: egg shells filled with egg yolk enriched milk with jasmine to drink, chestnut madeleines, various fruits – the fruits were a little odd, especially as they included tomatoes that were just unripe, but the chestnut madeleines were delicious and the egg shells were extraordinary. It may sound a little odd, but what was essentially cold jasmine infused custard or creme anglaise is a winner.

For reference, in case anyone is thinking of going, the choice of menus and prices when we went was as follows:

  • (Lunch) Dejeuner (70 euros, or 110 with selection of wines for each course) “3 courses” (actually somewhere between 5 and 10 courses depending which ones you count from above)
  • (Lunch) Automne (110 euros or more for wines) “5 courses”
  • (Lunch/Dinner) Astrance (190 euros or more for wines) “7 courses”

Girolles with hazelnut oil at Le Chiberta
September 7, 2008, 10:46 am
Filed under: Cooking, Food | Tags: , , , , ,

Last night I had dinner at Le Chiberta just off the Champs Elysées (in Paris). Had a fantastic meal – probably my nicest in Paris so far although I have a couple of rather tasty places lined up to go to before I leave. My only criticism is that it’s a little expensive and you can probably eat as well for less at other places. Some online reviews said the place had a slightly cold atmosphere, but I didn’t find that at all (although I think I was the only man there not wearing a shirt and jacket, bof!).

But what I wanted to talk about was the exceptionally clever pairings of tastes in the food because even if you’re living a long way from Paris you could try these out. For my starter, I had a sort of salad of girolles mushrooms, thin slices of artichoke, some sort of very fatty cured ham (I don’t remember the name) and hazelnut oil. An unbelievably subtle and refined set of flavours. The hazelnut oil and girolles together was an experience akin to eating truffles (and much cheaper!). I plan to do some experimenting with hazelnut oil, I think it has a lot of potential. Let me know if you have some interesting ideas or if you’ve tried some recipes with these in.

The other starter was a velouté (velvety textured light purée/soup) of green peas with a little blob of almond mousse, along with whole green peas on a slice of toasted almond bread.

My main course was lamb with a sort of ratatouille terrine (amazing) and tapenade. Delicious, but a bit more classic.

The other main course was chicken (poached and grilled, maybe sous-vide) with a gravy lightly infused with lemongrass. Surprisingly delicious combination. In our meal, the chicken was the probably rather difficult to get hold of volaille de Challans which has a very strong flavour unlike most chicken you buy in the shops (certainly stronger than any chicken I’ve ever bought), and maybe the dish wouldn’t work so well with a blander, ordinary chicken. Still though, definitely worth trying out.

My pudding was plums prepared three ways, with mirabelles, quetsches and Reine Claude plums (greengages in England).

Let me know how it went if you try out any of those ideas, particularly the hazelnut oil.

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Meilleur munching

So, a while ago Edward the Bonobo suggested that I should spend less time on politics, and more time on food, so this entry is devoted to the delights of eating in Paris.

Let’s start with my local cake shop (well, local to where I work, not where I live), La Boulange cinquieme. After trying most of the pâtisseries near where I work, this one won out for me, for their fantastic tarte aux framboises. If you happen to find yourself in the latin quarter of Paris (the 5th arondissement), I can recommend a visit (although there’s somewhere else you should go too – more on that below). You’ll find it near the southern end of rue Gay-Lussac (but watch it, it’s not open at the weekend). Here are a couple of pics of some the large cakes I bought for my dad’s birthday party, although I’m afraid the picture quality is not very good because they were taken on my phone, first the tarte aux framboises (they do little individual ones too):


And the Opéra (a sort of chocolatey coffee wafery affair):


I bought four cakes from this shop for my dad’s party, including a clafoutis (a sort of baked custard and fruit tart) and a tarte aux noix (walnut and caramel tart). I was actually quite lucky to get them, because normally for the large tarts you need to order in advance (something I didn’t know at the time). It was quite fun going into the shop and saying “Bonsoir, je voudrai quelques tartes entiers, s’il vous plait“, “Oui Monsieur, lesquelles?“, “Er… les toutes“, “Les toutes?!”, “Oui, les toutes“, “Tres bien Monsieur“. It’s not often you get to go into a shop and buy up their whole stock of something. And I’ve had very friendly service there ever since then. (Please excuse my almost certainly wrong French above.)

The other cake shop you should visit if you are south of the river in Paris is Pierre Hermé about half way up rue Bonaparte north of the Jardin du Luxembourg. The French take their pastry very seriously, and this is reflected in the fact that Hermé was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 2007. I went for his most famous cake, the Ispahan. The photo below is from his website because my camera phone photo doesn’t do it justice. I had the small, individual version of this tart, which consists of a rose macaron like biscuit, with raspberries, lychee and a rose petal cream. Wow! If you love cake and you don’t mind the expense (it was about €6-7 for an individual portion), it’s definitely worth the trip.


While I was there, I also couldn’t resist getting one of the famous macarons (a tiny little sandwich of two almond meringues with various different fillings). His flavours are very unusual. Normally you get things like raspberry, chocolate, coffee and so forth. I went for his olive oil and vanilla macaron and I can tell you it was amazing. I shall be back to try some of the others, although I’m not sure about the foie gras and chocolate one.

Next stop, chocolate. A friend advised me about a chocolatier called Patrick Roger which he claimed was the best in France. So, while I was doing christmas shopping, I thought I’d pop in and get some presents there. He wasn’t wrong, eating chocolate from this place is a seriously different experience to eating chocolate from anywhere else I’ve been been. Or in the words of my mum after she’d eaten some – what is the point of eating ordinary chocolate ever again after something like that?


While I was there, I noticed that the shop sign had something which seemed rather boastful. It said Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best [chocolate] maker in France). Well, it turns out that this is an award given every three years to the best places in various categories (food ones are the ones I’m interested in, but they also do many other things). So now I’m on the lookout for more MOF shops (the MOF website is unfortunately totally hopeless and can’t be used to find out where they are). I found the MOF fromagerie at the north end of the rue Monge near where I work, and bought some cheese there, but to be honest I’m not a huge fan of smelly, mouldy French cheese so this wasn’t such a revelatory experience as the chocolate.

Last but not least, restaurants. I haven’t had such good luck in restaurants in Paris as I had hoped, so nowhere stands out particularly. If you want an excellent and inexpensive place in the 13th arondissement (where I live), I can highly recommend l’Ourcine on rue Broca. They do a set three course meal for €30, which was fantastic both times I went. If you want something a bit posher than that, but you don’t want to go to the sky high trois étoiles places, you might like Au Trou Gascon in the 12th arondissement (just north of the river to the east). I had the five course dîner Gourmand which is very good value at €50, and consisted of:

  • Gambas, royale de foie gras, émulsion de chataîgnes (prawns, foie gras mousse, chestnuts)
  • Noix de St Jacques, endives fondantes (scallops with endives)
  • Filet de biche, semoule de brocoli, fumet cacao (fillet of venison, some sort of brocoli thing, smoked in cocoa?)
  • Faisselle pastorale, miel citronné, huile d’olive et pignons (faisselle is a soft white cheese, here served with honey, olive oil and pine kernels)
  • Glace chocolat noir « minute » servie devant vous, éclats de marron, meringue vanillée (very dark chocolate ice cream with chestnuts and vanilla meringue)

Other than the cheese, which as I’ve said I’m not a big fan of, it was all delicious. I wouldn’t have minded a more interesting pudding that chocolate ice cream and meringue, but it was a good one.

OK, that’s all for now. Expect a report if I get round to visiting somewhere like the restaurant Hélène Darroze (the only Michelin three star restaurant in Paris run by a female chef). The lunch menu seems just about possible for a special occasion, at €70.

Thai curry
November 4, 2007, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Consumption, Cooking, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today I finally got round to visiting Paris’ chinatown. It has taken me an inexcusably long time given that it’s only about 10 minutes walk from me, but my excuse is I’ve been busy. Didn’t take any photos, but here’s one from


Anyway, the good news is that this means I can now very easily buy the somewhat difficult to find ingredients for making a good Thai curry (recipe below).  I’m coming to the conclusion that one of the best ways to buy prawns is raw and frozen, in large boxes from Chinese supermarkets (at a very low price). Whenever I’ve done this in the past, they’ve invariably been really good quality, and today was no exception. Frozen prawns have a bad reputation, but perhaps that’s based on prawns frozen after being cooked, or ones that have been frozen, defrosted at the supermarket and sold to you looking as if they were fresh?

The recipe

This is how I make it, any thoughts?

  • Thai curry paste – you can make your own, but I never quite feel it’s worth the effort when there are quite decent ones available. I really should have a go some day though, it’s not that difficult. For the one I use, about 1 large teaspoon per person seems about right.
  • Coconut milk, about 200 ml per person (half a tin).
  • Garlic, chopped.
  • Some vegetables. I used mini-aubergines (I find the Thai green aubergines a little bitter for my tastes) and red pepper.
  • Some meat or fish (optional). I used prawns today. If using meat, chop it into bitesize pieces.
  • Fish sauce, to taste.
  • Lime leaves, finely chopped. These can be a killer to get hold of. Your best bet is in the frozen foods section of a Chinese supermarket. I used to live near a Thai supermarket that had them fresh, but apparently it’s no longer legal to import them unfrozen into the EU. I use about 2 leaves per person.
  • Thai basil, ripped or roughly chopped. The name is a bit confusing, as what one shop calls Thai basil another may call holy basil and a third may call sweet basil. The one I mean has an aniseedy smell to it. About 10-20 leaves per person.
  • Groundnut oil

Heat some groundnut oil in a wok or saucepan until the oil is hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and stir until it begins to colour. Put in the curry paste, and cook it, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the coconut milk and bring it to a boil. If you’re using meat or fish other than prawns (which only take a couple of minutes to cook), add them now. Add the fish sauce and a little water depending on how thick you want the sauce. It’s actually quite nice to put quite a lot of water in and turn the Thai curry into more of a soup, and eat it the Thai way (with a bowl of rice which you pick up with your spoon and dip into the soup). Add the vegetables and or prawns in an order which means they’ll be cooked by the time your rice is cooked. It only take about 6-7 minutes for chicken or about 2-3 minutes for prawns. Finally, a minute before the end, put in the lime leaves and basil.

Make sure not to attempt to eat with chopsticks (a common faux pas in Thai restaurants is to ask for chopsticks).

September 15, 2007, 12:15 am
Filed under: Consumption, Cooking, Food, Recipes

I made this tonight (sea bass with chanterelles, trompettes de mort and a brunoise of ratatouille). Fantastic. Also looks an interesting blog for a foodie who has just moved to Paris…

Courgette risotto
July 14, 2007, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Consumption, Cooking, Food, Recipes

I asked for suggestions on courgette risotto a while ago, and tonight I finally got round to making it – delicious!


In the end, I stuck to the basic plan I already made, cut off the skins, put the flesh in the risotto early so that it partially dissolves, and cook the chopped skins separately. I cooked the skins until they were quite brown although I didn’t bother to get out my griddle pan in the end. I also toasted some pinenuts, and put in some chopped herbs (oregano and parsley) and a tiny squeeze of lemon. I served it with some homemade pesto.


I think there are a few things I would do differently if I was doing it again, so here is my recommended recipe (not quite how I did it):

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 2 courgettes, skins taken off and roughly chopped, flesh finely chopped (I only roughly chopped it, and I think it would have been better done fine)
  • Handful of pinenuts, toasted
  • Herbs, chopped (some combination of parsley, oregano, marjoram, basil, mint probably)
  • Lemon juice to taste (probably about 1/3 of a lemon’s worth)
  • Pesto (optional, it was quite nice but fine without)
  • Onion, risotto rice, parmesan, stock, wine, butter, oil, salt, pepper

Soften onions in olive oil, add risotto rice and toast for a minute or so. Pour in some wine or dry vermouth and boil until dry. Put in the finely chopped courgette flesh, some stock and half the herbs. Cook as a normal risotto.

Meanwhile, saute the courgette skins in butter on a high heat so they soften a bit (but not mushy) and brown. Add the lemon juice and herbs to this. Toast the pinenuts.

When the risotto is ready, stir in the pinenuts, parmesan, butter, salt and pepper and test for seasoning. Finally, lightly fold in the skins, herbs and lemon mixture.

Serve with the pesto on the side.