I briefly joined Fiat 500 Twitter last weekend, hiring one of the little Italian nuggets to drive down to Tillingham, East Sussex, a delicate haven to natural wine and winter squash.
This might be a cultural juxtaposition unto itself given Fiat 500s are snobbishly associated with prosecco-based brunches and poorly cooked risotto, and Tillingham appears every bit a countryside bolthole for people from Islington rather than Guildford, but whatever the societal flora and fauna, it is a charming place.
Tillingham is a beautiful vineyard just outside Rye, set in 70 acres of rolling hills and woodlands along the Tillingham River. The farm dates back to the 13th century, and livestock roam among the fruit trees and arable land. This is regenerative agriculture – a progressive approach that blends modern science with ancient agriculture. It is deemed the most likely way to continue to rear animals to eat sustainably.
Today, alongside organic farming and biodynamic viticulture, Tillingham is a place to dine and stay, with a candlelit restaurant on the first floor of a renovated barn, with views stretching out towards the fields. Our sommelier – and, later, tour guide – Jake, deserves a namecheck here for his excellent service, and the food, hyper-seasonal as you might expect, is good. It is enjoyable indeed to do a wine flight before shuffling downstairs, past the bar, to a second bar housing the rooms. Cosiness is key.
The chef at Tillingham is Brendan Eades. He makes use of the farm’s produce and if food miles are a bugbear of yours, it is probably where to go. Rye scallops and local herbs pair so brilliantly with the natural wines of the vineyard. Here is a recipe of his using cavolo nero, chilli and fennel seeds, an Italian-style dish suited to late winter.
BRAISED CAVOLO NERO, CHILLI & FENNEL SEEDS
SERVES TWO (AS A SIDE DISH, OR AS A MAIN WITH PASTA)
500g cavolo nero
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
Extra virgin olive oil
Lemon juice to taste
Start by bringing a pan with salted water to the boil and cook your greens for 2-3 minutes until soft and tender.
Strain and cool under cold water, then gently squeeze and chop the cavolo
nero roughly and keep to one side.
Peel and slice the garlic as thin as possible then place into the pan with olive oil to cover, and place on a low heat in a wide-bottom pan.
While the garlic is in the pan, toast the fennel seeds and coarsely grind them in a pestle and mortar. Once the garlic starts to turn translucent, add the fennel seeds, chilli flakes and salt then toast for a further two minutes before
adding the cavolo nero and 100ml of water. Place a lid on top of the pan and
allow the greens to simmer slowly until they start to stick to the bottom of the pan. Finally, add the lemon juice before serving and they’re ready to go.
I like to add these simple greens to pasta if I’m in a hurry, or serve as a side
to a pork chop with anchovies and sage or roasted squash.