The fragrance of Amalfi lemons and the vibrant colours of India were in my mind as I spent a day at the BBC Good Food Show as a guest of Travelsphere. The company have been running escorted tours for over 50 years, to give you an authentic travel experience without the hassle that goes with organising your own trip. At the Travel with Taste event I chatted to their ambassador, TV and radio presenter Penny Smith, who recently travelled with Travelsphere to the Amalfi coast and to India and heard about her experiences first hand.
As I arrived at the BBC Good Food Show, the Travelsphere team were busy talking to visitors at the show about the 150 escorted holidays to 60 different countries that they offer. On a Travelsphere holiday you’ll discover a world of experiences, with accommodation that’s handpicked for its local character and plenty of tasty discoveries, from vineyards, to tapas bars, to street-food markets.
I took the opportunity to look around the BBC Good Food Show which was running at the NEC Birmingham alongside the BBC Gardeners World Live, with lots of stands showcasing different food products. Many were offering tastings (you could tell by spotting the crowd) and I tasted my way through regional cheeses, tonic waters, soy sauce and more.
The highlight however was the food demonstrations in The Big Kitchen theatre, sponsored by Travelsphere and featuring TV chefs such as Mary Berry, Michel Roux, The Hairy Bikers, Raymond Blanc and Penny Smith who was presenting a Taste of Italy with Marcus Bean.
Lunch in the BBC Good Food Restaurant
Before attending the afternoon’s Taste of Italy session in The Big Kitchen Theatre with Penny and Marcus, it was time for lunch in the BBC Good Food Restaurant. The menu looked enticing, with summer inspired dishes and recipes from some of the chefs appearing at the show.
For my starter I ordered hot smoked salmon with charred asparagus, then a fish pie filled with smoked haddock, king prawns and salmon, finishing with a delicious lemon and verbena tart with fresh raspberries. As I was sitting next to Penny Smith, I was able to hear her stories from the Amalfi coast of making her own limoncello and the historic lemon tart that Marcus Bean would be creating during their cookery demonstration in The Big Kitchen.
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Hearing about the Amalfi Coast Tour with Travelshere
The Amalfi coast is known for picturesque pastel houses and villages clinging to the rocky coastline, overlooking the sea and small boats in the harbour. The Travelsphere Amalfi Coast escorted tour to Italy that Penny joined starts in Naples and takes in the resorts of Amalfi, Ravello, Sorento, Positano and the island of Capri. There was a chance to taste some wine in the Amalfi hills and visit the Roman town of Pompeii that was frozen in time when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD and covered the villas and town in ash.
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Penny told me how she was surprised to find that all the roads up and down the steep coastline were so wiggly, but even in late October when she went the weather was fantastic.
Food was certainly a highlight of her trip “You can’t really go to Italy without experiencing all the foodie stuff and I think it’s almost rude not to go to a market!” Penny told me. ” The Amalfi coast is all about the lemons, everything comes with lemons in it or a lemon to squeeze on it.”
With all this talk of lemons we were certainly looking forward to seeing the Amalfi lemon tart that chef Marcus Bean would be demonstrating after lunch.
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Another highlight of the food on the Amalfi coast, according to Penny was the pizza;
“I’m not normally a massive pizza fan but there was something staggeringly gorgeous about the Italian pizza, whether it’s the flour they use or the fresh tomatoes, topped with peppery rocket and creamy, oozing burrata. It wasn’t fancy, but thin and not too hard, with a drizzle of olive oil. It’s slightly ruined me for pizzas anywhere else.”
Our Big Kitchen cookery session with Penny Smith and Marcus Bean
The talk of lemons and Italian food continued at the Big Kitchen cookery demonstration that we watched after lunch with Penny Smith and Marcus Bean. They had managed to bring back some real Amalfi lemons to use in the lemon tart for Marcus’s recipe that he teaches at his Brompton Cookery School. As I watched Penny smelling those lemons and making the tart, my mouth was watering and I was transported to the lemon groves and Mediterranean sunshine of the Amalfi coast.
The lemons also featured in the langoustine and lemon risotto that Penny and Marcus cooked live on stage, and you can find the recipe below if you’d like to try this at home.
Recipe for Langoustine and Lemon Risotto
As cooked by Penny Smith and Marcus Bean for Travelsphere
700ml shellfish stock | 100g unsalted butter | 1 tbsp olive oil | 1 med onion finely chopped | 2 garlic cloves finely chopped | 200 ml Italian white wine |300g Arborio rice
Pour the stock into a pan and bring to a simmer. In a separate pan melt half the butter and oil and gently cook the onion and garlic until soft for 3-5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat in oil then add the wine to the pan, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the hot stock ladle by ladle, stirring to allow it to absorb. When cooked the rice should still have a little bite on the outside and be soft in the centre.
15-20 langoustine tails | 75ml double cream | zest and juice of 1 lemon | 25g grated Parmesan | handful chopped basil | handful chopped dill | handful chopped chives
Season the langoustine tails with salt and pepper and add to the risotto, stir in the remaining butter, cream, lemon zest and juice and cook for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan and herbs, season to taste and serve.
Meeting the Hairy Bikers
The Hairy Bikers were also cooking in the Big Kitchen and at their entertaining session the smell of frying garlic wafted across the audience, making us all feel hungry. I was intrigued by their lemon and blueberry cake, which they cooked in the microwave in a china mug – an ingenious answer to those occasions when you are craving a sweet desert and want to whisk up something quickly.
Afterwards we met Dave and Si for a signing of their latest cookery book, The Hairy Dieters Make it Easy, including some very tempting and easy to make recipes that I’ve been trying out.
Travelsphere’s Beyond the Golden Triangle India Tour
During the BBC Good Food Show, Penny also told me about the Travelsphere “Beyond the Golden Triangle” escorted tours to India as she had joined one in May. The tour covers some of the highlights of Dehli, Agra and the Taj Mahal but includes some less visited places too. At Ranthambore National Park you may be lucky enough to see a tiger and the tour also includes the Pink City of Jaipur and the ancient walled city of Fatehpur Sikri. A highlight of the trip is the dinner and traditional dance performance at 200-year-old Talabgaon Castle, where guests also spend the night.
On Penny’s trip to India there had been around 23 guests, enough to fill a coach but with plenty of space and spare seats. They also travelled by train and on one occasion by rickshaw through the streets of Old Dehli, which was one of the highlights;
“It was something that I’d have never done on my own, but I couldn’t stop laughing as our lovely rickshaw cyclist took us through these tiny streets with people on motorbikes and Ox carts coming the other way, weaving our way around piles of mangoes and underneath tangles of electricity wires that looked like a really bad knitting job.”
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The India trip also included a visit to a school that Travelsphere had supported through funding a water tank. Their guide advised not to give the children pens or sweets directly, as they wanted to encourage their education through supporting the school rather than a culture of begging. As Penny said of the experience; ” You feel you’re not just there as a disinterested outsider and that you have contributed by being there.”
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The food in India was another highlight according to Penny;
“The food was brilliant, I’d start every day with Sambar (spicy lentil) soup for breakfast, followed by some curried cauliflower and a little paper dosa. I will never be able to order a matar paneer over here again because in India it’s a whole different ballgame – I ate vegetarian and loved the lassis and the occasional Kingfisher beer”
The itinerary was quite full-on and Penny slept soundly each night as they had packed in so much;
“ It was the sort of holiday where you come back and think – my goodness how much have I done? It’s not for someone who wants to sit by a pool and drink a cocktail on holiday, it’s for someone who wants to go and see and be immersed. It felt like every time we blinked, there was another experience.”
About Travelsphere Holidays
I had a wonderful day at the BBC Good Food Show and if you’d like to discover more about Travelsphere Holidays, they will also be at the BBC Good Food Shows at Glasgow in October 2018 and Birmingham NEC in November 2018.
This article is sponsored by Travelsphere who invited me to spend the day with them at the BBC Good Food Show