Saturday, February 20

Philip vs the Chefs 1: Nigel

In which I try to replicate some glorious dishes from famous kitchen folk.

Up first, a recipe from Nigel Slater, from The Kitchen Diaries. The book itself is a gorgeous object, especially the endpapers. Go get yourself a copy if you don’t have one already. This recipe is a bit perverse, because it combines ingredients that I’d never considered putting together. I’d had prosciutto e melone, but before reading this I would never have mixed melon and mozzarella, nor lemon juice and mozzarella, nor olive oil and melon. Put it all together, though, and it’s extraordinary.

His version:

My version:

side by side (why not? I took the picture, but yes, it is a bit redundant):

It was a hot summer day when I made this and I was sweating by the time I finished slicing up the melon and tearing up the mozzarella. I was so excited I had to stop and get my camera and when I took the first bite I couldn’t believe how fantastically good it was. I totally burst it against my palate fine.

If you want to do it yourself, get a ripe (verging on the overripe) cantaloup; some prosciutto crudo; a ball of mozzarella (di bufala, if possible); juice from an unwaxed, handpicked, organically grown lemon complete with stem and leaves; olive oil that has been pressed between the toes of a virgin, extracted only on the first and third Thursdays of alternate months except during a new moon, vernal equinox, or postal strike; Lake Retba salt; and a pinch o’ parsley. Mix it all together and serve on a bed of wild greens.

Saturday, February 13

Ode to Vera and Tomatoes

A couple of years ago my partner Lisa's grandma, Elvira, showed us her method of preparing a batch of passata/tomato sauce to last throughout most of the year. I thought i'd share this with you, my fellow 'sporkers, as it was an inspirational experience and having plenty of prepared passata to hand is truly convenient and the results delicious.

Elvira is quite an amazing woman. Born in southern Italy, she moved to Wells, Somerset just after the WWII when her husband decided he wanted to stay in the area after being interred in a POW camp in the city. Many others did the same and the place is like a Goodfellas outtake at times (without the violence, of course). Despite having lived in England for most of her life, her Italian accent is still impenetrable at times. She is typically Italian working class and like many typical working class Italian ladies of a certain age, life revolves around food and it's preparation.
Almost in her '90s, she still has the energy to tend a large vegetable garden (beans, sprouting brocolli, rocket, fennel, lettuce, courgettes, carrots, herbs etc), a greenhouse (tomatoes, peppers, basil) and also to make things like her own salami, sauces and pickles. On occasional Sundays when most of the family comes over for lunch, she will either create a huge lasagne (often featuring double figures of mozzarella balls), a mountain of meatballs, an avalanche of penne and pork chops or something similarly as vast. I'm in awe of her work rate and her desire to feed. Nothing makes her happier than a person consuming enough food almost to the point of collapse.

Anyway, enough waffle. Let's move to the main sauce event. You'll need a sieve machine (a bit like a meat mincer that clamps to a table) and i'm not sure if you can get them here but i'm sure, if not, they can be got online.

Buy/harvest a couple of crates of tomatoes (Italian tomatoes if poss. but any smallish ones if not). This will make 30 to 40 medium sized jars.
Put jars in boiling water to sterilise. Boil for an hour and a half. Leave in water overnight to cool.

Put tomatoes in boiling water for a short time to soften slightly and to let skins come off easily in the mincer. Take out, leave to drain.
Put tomatoes through the mincer (put waste and skins through again). Add salt.
Put a bunch of basil into each of the jars, then add the passata. Tightly screw on jar lids.

Then the jars need to be bain-maried. Put jars in large saucepans, upright or on their sides, padding them with tea towells/cloths to stop them rattling around. Cover completely with water. Put saucepan lid on and bring water to the boil and continue to boil for at least 1/2 an hour.
Switch off heat and leave to cool. Take out when cool and store, ready for use, in a cupboard or garage.

Saturday, February 6

Literary Grubs #1 - Bloom's Breakfast

“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
            Kidneys were in his mind as he moved about the kitchen softly, righting her breakfast things on the humpy tray.”
(Calypso from “Ulysses”, James Joyce, 1922)

There is joy in the mundane. The grit nuggets of the just woken eyes. The huff of night-old farts. The dozy, distant clink of teaspoons, mugs. The whistle of the kettle. The cuffing of a partner’s footpads over the carpet.

I had always felt that this – the simple sensuality of the bread and butter – this, above any creed, is what shapes lives, gives meaning.

When I first read Ulysses it was pottering, gobbling, pocketing, guzzling, mucky, naughty, fallible Leopold Bloom with whom I identified. I still do, and in particular I enjoy the celebration of everyday processes, the fuzzy filtering into the day ahead, and the smutty, workaday meatiness of Bloom’s morning routine in the Calypso episode.

Here is his breakfast which I cooked this morning:


"He halted before Dlugacz's window, staring at the hanks of sausages, polonies, black and white ... The shiny links packed with forcemeat fed his gaze and he breathed in tranquilly the lukewarm breath of cooked spicy pig's blood."


"A kidney oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish: the last."


"He let the bloodsmeared paper fall to her and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce. Pepper. He sprinkled it through his fingers, ringwise, from the chipped eggcup."


"He prodded a fork into the kidney and slapped it over..."


"Pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from a side of the pan. By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back. Only a little burned. He tossed it off the pan on to a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it."


"Cup of tea now. He sat down, cut and buttered a slice of the loaf. He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat. Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat. Done to a turn. A mouthful of tea. Then he cut away dies of bread, sopped one in the gravy and put it in his mouth."