Detail of Dionysus and Ariadne seated in a vineyard. From a vase depicting the god and his retinue in the Museum of Modern Art, Toledo, Spain
An Email from friends in Cyprus arrived this morning as I sat looking out of the window where I write. It described an evening at a local restaurant I remember so well, having spent many happy dinner hours there: my wife and me on our own; with two or four or more friends or as part of a larger gathering. In two decades we never had a bad meal there. The food, the message said, is as good as ever. I would not expect anything else from the lady chef-proprietor, Ariadne. Mary and I have fond memories of our 25 year friendship with this charming lady, and our perennial enjoyment of her cooking.
I haven’t tasted Ariadne’s food for two years but is clearly as good as ever. Mostly it is a high quality conventional Mezze, but seasonally she may add something special. One of my favourites of these was, is, her stuffed Courgette Flowers, which she used to do for us on request, when the flowers were available. It is not easy to do because it is essential to bring them to the table immediately they are done. This said, they can be made at home.
Just picked – courgette flowers. These are female flowers (the courgettes grow at the base of the flower) The males simply bloom on the end of a long, thin stalk Both may be used for cooking, stuffed with cheese, a mixture of chopped pre-cooked vegetables such as mushrooms, or minced meat.
RECIPE – Stuffed Courgette Flowers
Ingredients for six (as part of a selection of dishes)
12 Good-sized courgette flowers Oil for deep-frying (a light olive oil or Sunflower)
For the filling
100g Ricotta cheese (Cypriot cooks use Anari with success).
Two rounded tablespoons grated Parmesan, hard goat’s cheese or other well-flavoured hard cheese
Ingredients for the batter
100g plain flour 40g corn-flour ½ teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon sea salt 200–225ml ice-cold sparkling mineral water to finish Flaky sea salt Fresh herbs of choice (e.g. sage, or thyme, or parsley or a mix) Nasturtiums or other edible flowers (optional)
1. For the filling, beat the ricotta until soft and smooth, then stir in the grated hard cheese, herbs and some salt and pepper.
2. Carefully scoop the filling into the courgette flowers: you should get between two and four teaspoons in each one, depending on size. Twist the petals gently to enclose the mixture.
3. Just before you’re ready to cook, prepare the batter. Sift the flour, corn-flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Begin whisking in the water, until you have a batter the thickness of single cream. Be careful not to over-mix and don’t worry if there are a few lumps.
4. Meanwhile, heat about a 6cm depth of oil in a deep-fat fryer or deep, heavy saucepan (to come no more than a third of the way up the pan), till a cube of bread dropped in turns golden brown in about one minute.
5. Dip one stuffed courgette flower into the batter and immediately lower into the hot oil. Repeat with a couple more.
6. Do not have more than 3 or 4 in the pan at the same time.
7. Cook for 1–2 minutes, until puffed up, crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
8. Set aside and keep warm, while you cook all the flowers..
9. Serve as soon as possible, sprinkled with a little flaky sea salt. If I have just four or six people to serve I bring them to the table in relays. As we always eat near the cooker this ensures fresh, hot flowers for all.
DOWN MEMORY LANE – at ARIADNE’S IN 2001
The American magazine, “Wine Spectator”, arguably the most influential wine publication in the world, described the Guigal family as “the best winemakers on the planet” Indeed, I think their rich, fruity Rh?ne valley wines are indeed truly splendid.
Most astutely, when he was building his wine importing and retailing enterprise (La Maison du Vin) Victor Papadopoulos flew to France and signed a contract to purvey their wines in Cyprus. Not long afterwards, Guigal père, mère et fils (father, mother and son) came for a holiday-cum-business visit to Cyprus. As part of a Cyprus food and wine itinerary, Victor arranged lunch at Ariadne’s. In the picture above: Madame Bernadette Guigal, Marcel Guigal, Mary Skinner, Victor Papadopoulos and Phillippe Guigal, enjoy lunch there. (I was there, too, taking pictures for my weekly wine and food page, as well as enjoying the meal)
Above left: a very special bottle of Guigal’s flagship wine, with its dedication to Mary and me, presented to us when the family came to lunch with us in Vouni Village. Just 4000 bottles produced each year and then selling for Cy£150.00 Right: the fine Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape, for that special dinner.
After a tasting of Guigal’s wines, I wrote:
“There are fruit-led wines. There are tannin-led wines. And there are oak-led wines. Many achieve balance of these characteristics. None more so than the red wines of E. Guigal, which are regularly marked in the mid to high 90’s in international tastings, with the magic 100 points (“perfection”) achieved on a number of occasions”. Having tasted Guigal over the years since writing this I have no reason to change my opinion.