Saturday, 12 September 2015

A rare foodie post - make the most of it

I have recently heard that research shows that eating green tomatoes helps retain muscle tissue in older people. I think I have heard that about 25 years too late to make any difference to my bulging biceps, though. This post is going to be, I have decided, all about food.

Up until about three weeks ago, my cooking (I do all the cooking around here) had become blandish because I had seen it as a boring chore, but then I met Victor - a young Spanish chef working in a French restaurant nearby.

I had been friends with the French head waiter there (he is the one shouting out "Mercy bucket!" whilst collecting for the Nepal disaster at the beginning of the Video-Mapping project) for a long time, and one night he took pity on me and gave me his doggy-bag from the restaurant, which I took home and heated up for me and H.I.

It was simple and delicious, just pasta with a bit of chicken with the minimum - or maximum - of seasoning. Then I met him, and he listed the ingredients. He treated the pasta dish as he treated paella - no stock whatsoever! He has cooked enough paella in Spain to feed a crowd of 300 people, he told me, in one pan and also without stock. The biggest challenge was to get all the mixed things to cook at the right speed, and that speed varied according to their position in the giant pan. The whole dish was cooked in about 12 minutes, and if the ingredients were left over the multiple flames for longer than a very brief period of time, the whole thing would have been ruined and 300 people would have gone hungry.

We are just about to go to Italy which, like Spain, depends on simplicity and the best available ingredients to produce good food. France covers everything in complicated sauces, but Spain and Italy are much more quietly confident in the kitchen.

On the rare occasions that H.I. has cooked her erstwhile signature dish in the past - a Moroccan thing involving white fish, tahini and preserved lemons - she has always overdone the preserved lemons and what should have been a wonderful meal was spoilt for me by the gagging reflex of that much citrus. I would beg her not to overdo the lemon, but since she can more or less eat them whole without turning into a Chinese bulldog, she ignored me.

I also get a gagging reflex with too many tomatoes of any kind on the same plate. I was given a tip by a celebrated cook on how to stop this reflex, and that was to add a little pinch of sugar - not so much as would be detectable by a jaded gob, but that's all it takes. H.I. is ideologically opposed to the addition of sugar in any savoury dish, and only approves of the minimum possible in any sweet ones, so I make sure she is not looking when I covertly stick a pinch into the cooked tomatoes. I sometimes think that she would rather see me gag than go against her deeply held principles. You just cannot make a decent chilli con carne without a pinch of sugar, in any event.

So as a result of the inspiration given by Victor, the last three things I have cooked have been stupidly easy and inexplicably tasty. Pasta with some bottled porcini sauce mixed in at the last moment. Little strips of fillet with salt, pepper and nothing else. Last night it was the left overs of the pasta, small cauliflowers covered in a cream and cheese sauce with a bit of truffle oil and Dijon mustard - also at the last moment. Ok, the last sauce was a bit more complicated, but that didn't stop it from being stupidly simple and easy to make.

I was once invited to a reciprocal dinner by a young man who had hardly cooked anything more complicated than beans on toast since he left home.

When I arrived, the place was saturated with the stench of something very strange and so complicated that it was impossible to guess what it might be. I saw a large pot on the hob, and when I asked him what was inside, he said he didn't quite know, but he had begun with the intention of making a sort of stew. It was utterly inedible, and I asked him quite bluntly what had gone into it. My natural politeness had been destroyed by a very deep blood-sugar low.

The initial ingredients had started out as almost acceptable, but when he tasted it half-way through the process, he decided it was lacking something.

Not knowing what it was lacking, he had tipped a bit of every single edible thing he had in the house - one by one - until he had run out of ingredients. I am not joking - he really did chuck in everything, including a tin of baked beans. It was indescribably awful, but he managed to eat all of his while I watched.

The above photo was from an article entitled, 'The Swedish chef actually speaks Norwegian'. Something else I have learned recently.


  1. You've obviously come a long way since your rolled Nasturtium leaves with a delicate Marmite filling.

    1. You haven't forgotten the experience, then. I have driven it from my mind. These days I might use Nutella instead of Marmite.

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  3. By the time I met you, you had moved on to Gentleman's Relish.

    1. That's double the amount. I am salt-conscious now, so Patum Peperium is almost out of bounds - like too much tomato.

    2. Ah, you have halved my comment intake I see.

  4. Goodness me I am impressed! Have you learned both Norwegian and Swedish, then? I love Italy and the food you ger there! Buon apetite!

    1. Shawn taught me everything I know about Muppet Scandinavian.

      For instance:

      Swedish: 'Herdy Gerdy Herdy Gerdy."

      Norge: "Hurdy Gurdy Hurdy Gurdie."

      That's it.