Invisible Pickles

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I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been quite hot lately. Hot enough that it is actively unpleasant to spend much or any time cooking, which is unfortunate if you happen to do so for a living. These are days for methodically tidying the walk-in fridge, for bathing the salad more carefully than ever, or in extreme circumstances for staging a rodent infestation so your kitchen gets closed down and you can go to the park, or, once you’ve realised that it’s too hot there too, home. The problem is that you still have to make dinner. Cooking in the sense of heating things up was obviously out of the question, but I almost gave up on the idea of preparing food entirely and went to that Italian place down the road, with the windows wide open to the street and a good selection of wines by the glass; I would have done, if I hadn’t already been shopping, and bought

YELLOW CHERRIES, CUCUMBER, GOAT’S CHEESE + DILL

which I can’t, given the heat, really be bothered to expand into what is conventionally called a recipe. The goat’s cheese was a crumbly one very similar to feta and the cucumbers were the English crooked type which also, it should be said, pickle extremely well; having chopped them fairly haphazardly and added them to the stoned cherries, I seasoned them with enough coarse salt and good apple vinegar to almost constitute a pickle, along with a long slug of surprisingly expensive olive oil and some picked dill, gently turning the lot and then crumbling over the aforementioned crumbly cheese.

I suppose that is a recipe, if you squint, but I prefer to see it as merely one possible consequence of a too-hot day; I could instead have made a watermelon salad, eaten a Mr Whippy, or fallen in and out of a tumultuous love.

encounters in history

A certain chef burnt some pine nuts the other day, as occasionally happens when the one timer you have in the kitchen is temperamental at best. Not wanting to waste them, I put the nuts in a jug and covered them with water with the intention of making a pine nut milk – I’ve been experimenting with making nut sorbets. The jug went on a shelf and I went home, forgetting to put it in the fridge before I did so, and when I came into work the next day, I found that the contents had begun to ferment; I did what anyone would do in the circumstances – left it to see what happened.

The folklore of food is full of happy accidents. The Chinese, for example, have an improbable tale of a swineherd who, setting his hut ablaze, accidentally discovered roast pork and crackling; this story runs counter to the popular belief that folklore is the repository of ancient truths by being clearly false in every particular. Our view of the origins of cooking is murky at best, but we can, I think, safely say that houses do not pre-date cooking and that the keeping of pigs did not come before their eating. Other stories are perhaps a little more probable, especially when they deal with fermentation, the slow works of enzyme, bacterium and yeast.

Most foodstuffs, after all, have a certain inbuilt tendency or what we might call an intent to ferment, a process which is after all only one leg of the journey towards rot; ripe grapes, for example, crushed under their own weight, will begin to bubble and change in a matter of hours. The story of cheese being discovered when milk was carried inside a pouch made of rennet-rich stomach is distinctly probable, at least next to the tale of the swineherd; rennet intends to coagulate milk, it is what that enzyme is for. Still, we can draw a distinction between simply leaving things to themselves and leaving them to see what happens. Piles of cabbage will rot, but if you salt them and leave them to see what happens, you get sauerkraut.

When I tasted the bubbling pine nut water and found it had a distinct umami, reminiscent of soy sauce, the obvious thing to do was to blitz it, add 2% of its weight in salt, and put it in a jar; I had, now, some idea of what the result might be, but I was still just leaving it to see what happened, which is often what I do in the kitchen. There are, really, two ways of going about cooking. You can start with a clear idea, gleaned perhaps from a recipe, a memory, or simply your imagination, of what you want your food to look and taste like, in which case you may well have to go shopping; on the other hand, you can see what you have, combine it in some way, and see what happens. As the process continues and your food begins to take shape, you might seem to act with a little more purpose, but really you are just doing what your ingredients want you to do.

I never intended to become a maker of non-pork charcuterie, for example; I certainly don’t do so from a dislike of pork. It’s just, you see, that someone sold me a couple of sheep; at the time I wasn’t aware of the Scandinavian tradition of cured ovine meats, so I just decided to salt up the legs, and see what happened. That I now have four legs of hogget ham hanging in the breeze and two more boned legs of mutton salting quietly in the dark is something of a shock, when I stop and think about it. Come to mention it, I never really intended to become a chef, and the fact that I am one, an apparently adult one living in Suffolk, and not, for example, an academic, an astronaut, an archaeologist or an Ostrogoth, is still a source of surprise and delight to me.

Sharing Plates


However much people bang on about medical improbabilities, long journeys by donkey or by camel, an overstretched hospitality industry, symbolic vegetation or even just the steady movement of the earth around the sun, everybody knows that the real meaning of Christmas is the food – or rather, the feeding of it. The recent examples of (largely Turkish) restaurants opening their doors to the homeless and the lonely show that we know no-one should have to eat alone on Christmas Day, even those who have no particular reason to celebrate it; this is because we know that no-one should have to eat alone ever, unless they want to. Personally, I quite like eating by myself, especially at lunchtime – though not on Christmas Day.

No, the food is there to be fed, and feeding – that is to say sharing – is, whether done begrudgingly, lovingly, thoughtlessly as a natural right, or even at all, is a political act. The recent review of Donald Trump’s dreadful restaurant was hilarious, of course, and clearly well-deserved, but the reason it resonates is that someone who doesn’t give a damn about feeding people non-terrible food, and for whom hospitality is merely another opportunity for conspicuous consumption, is obviously unfit to run a country. If he’s going to operate a restaurant simply to extend his brand and to make money, why wouldn’t he operate his government in the same way?

I’ve never been sure if the remark of Lenin pictured above is intended to imply that government should be open to all, even a lowly cook, that the mechanisms of government should be so well-designed that even a cook could step in and run them, or that the particular multitasking-forward-planning-hard-working-selflessly-food-sharing skillset of the cook or chef makes them ideal for the job; if the latter, as I have always chosen to assume, then he must have meant ‘run’ in a bureaucratic, backroom, Mycroft Holmes sort of a way; no-one would want even the most talented and generous of cooks as the face of government. For that you want a maitre d’, or perhaps a world-weary barman. Imagine Trump as a maitre d’, throwing a tantrum when you didn’t order his ‘favourite’ special, ‘accidentally’ spilling wine over your date so he can wipe down her breasts. Imagine David Cameron as a maitre d’! He’d upsell you Champagne and then teabag your soup for a laugh. If Theresa May’s grim rictus greeted you at a restaurant door, you’d back out and settle in at the pub across the road, where it’s warmer, they keep the ale well, and they cook food with the intention to feed.

[fungi pun]

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I’ve been learning about mushrooms. Everyone tells you to go picking with an expert, and only eat anything they personally examine; I don’t, unfortunately, have such a tame expert, so I’ve been relying on several books and websites, as well as the online hive mind. There is, it turns out, a keen community of mycologists eager to help out a beginner; hopefully they know what they’re talking about. I was looking forward to roaming the countryside with my battered (second-hand) copy of Food For Free, looking back and forth between description and specimen, but unfortunately the book’s previous owner had the same idea, and ripped out the relevant colour plate. Instead I pick a few and attempt to identify them when I get home, which means the place is littered with possibly-toxic fungus.

People often ask me if I worry about poisoning someone with one of my various ferments and cured items; honestly, I don’t. I fussed a bit about botulism the first time I made salumi, but since I had used both salt and the legal maximum of saltpetre, I needn’t really have worried. The key with ferments is to create an environment where harmful bacteria will not thrive, and then to leave the others to it; a sort of intelligent design, if you like, with the microbiome of each jar guided by your invisible hand. Mushroom hunting, on the other hand, requires constant and informed decision making, with the possible price of a mistake being a prolonged and quite unpleasant death.

Most toxic mushrooms (or fungus, rather) will just make you slightly ill, and possibly hallucinate (these are features that some people seek deliberately, of course), with, it seems, not universal effects. If you look through a mushroom guide, you’ll see that many are ‘reported by some people’ to be toxic; there are so many possible influences on our stomachs, not least the psychosomatic contribution of paranoia, that I suppose it’s hard to be sure. A lot of fungus are tiny or not very nice, anyway, so there’s little point in risking sickness. The noble exceptions, of course, are the aptly-named Death Cap and Destroying Angel mushrooms (the latter of which [SPOILER ALERT] plays a starring role in John Lanchester’s excellent debut novel), which look and probably taste like delicious white mushrooms but are in fact viciously, horribly poisonous, turning your organs against each other and shutting down the entire mechanism which keeps you alive; stay away from white mushrooms unless you know what you are about.

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It seems an unfortunate part of the British disconnect with our food culture is the lack of general interest in (and therefore confident knowledge of) wild fungus. In Italy, wooded France or Eastern Europe, for example, mushroom hunting is a popular and respectable pastime; such delicacies as the cep are there for the taking, so why not? We have them here, too, of course, called Penny Buns and just as lovely – alongside various poisonous cousins. Some, luckily, are much easier to identify, even for a beginner. The Shaggy Inkcap, for example, has an inky cap and is distinguishable from the (rarer) Common Inkcap by being shaggy; it looks rather like an old-fashioned lawyer’s wig, hence its other name Lawyer’s Wig. I found some this morning, on a little verge by the road, where they were just starting to deliquesce and stain the fingers, but still whole and edible. I took them home and sautéed them with just some salt – I had no garlic – and ate them on slightly stale sourdough toast, and they were very good, the more so because I picked them with my knowledge and my hands.

Meagre Bread

Our common food is no longer our daily bread, apparently; I’m not sure whether we should be alarmed by this. It depends who they’re polling, I suppose. Personally, I eat bread all the time. I eat it when I should, nibbling on the impeccable bread selection which precedes the stately procession of the tasting menu at The Sportsman; I eat it when I shouldn’t, using a stale end to transfer the last smears of carbonara sauce into an already full stomach. When I need food, I eat bread. Nothing calms the stomach like a cheese-and-cucumber sandwich from the petrol station shop. Now it seems this puts me in a minority. As I said, though, it depends who they’re polling.

It could be pernicious clean-eaters eschewing bread for its gluten; it could be people getting all their carbs from elsewhere, from porridges and pastas and potatoes; it could even be those so in love with bread they buy one impeccable loaf a week, and save it for their Sunday. Good bread – real bread, or as it used to be called, ‘bread’ – is expensive, as it should be. Good ingredients are expensive, good labour is expensive, time is expensive. If good food is out of the reach of many, then there are many other things which should be changed, rather than degrading the staff (and indeed the stuff) of life to the point where it barely nourishes. Nearly half of everything baked in the UK is thrown away, for example, a shocking waste which would be considered a crime in other cultures.

Bread in Islam is considered a symbolic food, a synecdochic representation of all nourishment as it comes from God, as it is also, I suppose, in Christianity (our daily bread being hopefully not just bread); they tend to take this more seriously, though. Walk old streets in Morocco and you will see stray khobz stuffed between buildings and in cracks in walls, saved from the street and awaiting charitable redistribution; like the feet of angels, it can not touch the base earth. More prosaically, Istanbul, for all its problems, feeds its populace from subsidised and strictly regulated bakeries, as London used to do. Buy bread from anywhere in the city and it will match in price and quality. The responsibility of government to ensure the poor do not starve has been steadily shrugged off in the so-called developed world.

Even with good flour, bread doesn’t cost that much to make, if you make it yourself, but it is hard, and it takes a long time, which is why we’ve always got bakers to do it, a strange group of people who scuttle about at all hours, covered in flour and little bits of dough. I like making bread, but I lack the skill and the patience to do it every day. I certainly can’t make as much as I like to eat, at least when it comes to sourdough. This sort-of focaccia is a good alternative when I want something fresh-baked, though. The initial rise is so accelerated it seems you’re watching it in time-lapse, and it tastes good, too.

CHICKPEA BREAD

1 tin of chickpeas

1 tsp honey

160g cold water

1 packet dry yeast / 15g fresh

260g strong white flour

14g salt

15g extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp caraway or cumin seeds

 

Empty the tin of chickpeas into a saucepan and bring to a boil, then blitz smooth with the honey and cold water. Let it cool to blood temperature, then blitz in the yeast. Tip the whole mush into a bowl.

Pour the flour over in a layer, then sprinkle over the salt, drizzle over the oil, and, I don’t know, throw in the spices. Leave in a warm place. In about 20 minutes it should have risen significantly; there will be deep cracks in the flour layer with chickpea porridge bursting through.

Beat everything together with a wooden spoon, and use this same implement to knead it – it’s too sticky to do by hand. Just use the spoon to drag up one side of the mix and fold it back down into the middle, a few times until it starts to resist and feel alive. Put the dough in a greased skillet or baking tray to prove for an hour. Heat the oven as high as it’ll go.

When the hour is up, bake the loaf for half an hour, turning and perhaps drizzling with more oil halfway through; it won’t rise a huge amount in the oven, but it will be soft and springy and golden, and, of course, sound hollow when you tap the bottom. Let it cool for 5 minutes before tucking in, for appearance’s sake.

Just a Snicket

“Toasted cheese”, moans Ben Gunn, marooned in a lonely paradise; of all the trappings of his lost past, it is this that he craves the most. I, too, have been a stranger in strange lands, and I have always longed for cheddar cheese. Ubiquitous across Britain, synonymous, in fact, with the very idea of British cheese (imagine ordering a cheese-and-pickle sandwich and getting crumbly Wensleydale or aggressive Stilton), a decent or even semi-decent cheddar is almost impossible to find elsewhere. The stuff that some Americans call cheddar would be a joke, if it were funny; as it is, it is horrifying. I spent a year in upstate New York, and though, I think, every single sandwich I ate had cheese in it, not one cheese sandwich did I see. My (vegetarian) father tried to order one once, at a gas station deli somewhere in the Adirondacks, and was met with polite confusion. “Mayo, cheese, yes – what filling would you like?” Your American cheese lacks both the structure and the physical presence to carry a sandwich by itself – with the exception, of course, of the grilled cheese.

The grilled cheese is grilled in the sense that it is cooked directly on a solid flat-top grill, possibly alongside eggs over-easy, fat pancakes and little sliders; that is to say, it is fried. In its platonic form, before the current sourdough-and-raw-cheese reinvention, it consists of cheap sliced white sandwiched around cheap American cheese, the outside buttered or even mayonnaissed and fried or ‘grilled’ until golden brown. The stated ingredients perfectly match the treatment given them; sliced white (I will not call it bread) is of a uniform density which allows for both maximal surface crispness and minimal escapage of the cheese within, which, being so heavily processed, easily melts in the time taken to cook the sandwich. Sourdough is obviously a vast improvement in terms of flavour, but its irregular size and numerous holes present a new set of challenges to the sandwicheer; best, in most cases, to wrap the whole thing in foil and fry within. As for the cheese, I find the hard calcified click of a good cheddar wasted here, unless you happen to have some gratable odds and ends lying around. A classic melting cheese, something like a raclette or ogleshield, seems most appropriate; it is like a reminder of what American cheese could have been.

Personally, I prefer cold cheese; cold cheddar cheese, in malted brown bread. I resist the idea that every sandwich should be toasted – and no-one would argue that all cheese should be fondued. The joy of fresh mountain cheeses, crumbly, soft and sharp, lies partly in their coldness. Like a cucumber, there is something refreshing about their existence, so clean and white. These are also the easiest sorts of cheeses to make at home, which is nice; just sour and salt some milk and drain off the whey – no culture or clamp required. These are ancient things, particular to animal and soil and air; they are born fresh every day, in country, in village and in farm. It would be instructive and, of course, delicious, to do a comparative study of cheese terroir, ranging across all of Anatolia, Greece, Sardinia, Spain, to see the different flavours wrung out of dry slopes and distant seas.

Who could possibly say which is better, a ball of mozzarella cold out of its brine or melted across a scarce few millimetres of dough – the way the former tears into strings, the way the latter pools and glistens? I would rather eat a whole burrata with my hands. In a good pizzeria, I like my dough almost bare, just a few razor-shavings of garlic across the sweet tomato sauce. As the bread gets worse, the toppings pile higher – which isn’t to say I would turn my nose up at pepperoni, hot peppers, olives or even mushrooms, though I draw the line at sweetcorn; that way lies pineapple. To be honest, I have never encountered a pizza or indeed any form of melted-cheese-on-bread that I have truly, viscerally disliked. Even that sliced white grilled cheese, though barely providing sustenance, has a beauty of its own. Nothing else sits so well next to a cup of cream of tomato soup. Still, for all the joy of cheese-on-toast, of Welsh or Italian rarebit, of saganaki and fondue, if you put me on a desert island it is a good strong cheddar, cold from the fridge, that I would cry for in the depths of the night – so long, of course, as there were pickled onions.

Cold Comfort

I’m currently reading Elizabeth David’s Harvest Of The Cold Months, her final and possibly greatest book. Resting on neither recipes nor personal anecdote, those twin crutches of the food writer, it is rather an extensively researched and meticulously detailed social history of both ice and what David rather Enid Blytonly calls ‘ices’, that is, the various and surprisingly ancient attempts by humanity to store up the best of winter’s cold against the dog days to come. It is an odd book, suffused, despite its easy academic tone, with a certain melancholy, an acknowledgement of the mad futility of the ice trade, the dangerous crossings and mountain paths, the expensive landscaping and building of lakes to provide ice and cold, half-buried houses to store it in – and all for what? Cold wine and elaborate desserts for the tables of Nero, the Medicis, the Sun King, the Empire – all for sherbet.

It’s easy, I suppose, to scoff at the decadents of Florence and beyond, with palates so rarefied they require fresh snow to cool their wine; easy, because in the heat of today’s early summer I could get ice from the ice machine, and put it in my drink, if I had needed to; I didn’t, because my drink was in the fridge. What it may lack in terroir, our ice makes up in convenience. Even more conveniently, you don’t even need it to make ice-cream, let alone the quantities of saltpetre which used to be a necessity; ice-cream-makers, with their freezable bucket and simple paddle-and-motor, must stand alongside John Lanchester’s tinned tomatoes (if not the outmoded CD) as one of the unqualified benefits of modern civilisation. Of course, you still have to make a custard, chill it, realise you have forgotten to freeze the bucket, do that, and wait overnight, but once you have done that you have ice-cream in twenty minutes flat – and what ice-cream! If you have always thought ice-cream could do with more booze, you can make that happen – if you have forever longed for Marmite sorbet, then you could, I am sure, try that too. Or you could make this, because it’s delicious.

RYE & BROWN SUGAR ICE-CREAM

750ml full fat milk

200g rye flakes

6 egg yolks (obviously you make almond biscuits with the whites)

150g dark muscovado sugar

about 25oml double cream

 

Put the flakes in something and pour the milk over them. Leave in the fridge overnight or a little longer. Strain out the soggy flakes, squeezing some milk out but not so hard you get bits of rye. Discard this beige mush.

Beat the yolks and sugar with a pinch of salt. If you have a freestanding mixer, you’ll want to use it for this, because it takes a long time. The mixture should go much paler and at least double in volume. Meanwhile, bring the milk up to boiling point.

If you’ve timed this right, you can pour the just-scalded milk straight over the still-moving egg mixture, and whisk until well incorporated; if not, make sure you don’t let the milk boil over. Either way, return the lot to the pan, and heat very gently, stirring constantly, until it reaches the right thickness. Two guides to this are that it coats the back of a wooden spoon and that it falls in a steady stream from said spoon when lifted out of the pan; really, though, you just get a feel for it. Don’t, whatever happens, let it boil and scramble.

Now, chill overnight or at least until fairly cold, then churn in your ice-cream-maker. Ta-da!

 

 

 

Rolo Pilaf

There is more to seasonality than the comings and goings of fickle vegetation. Alongside the inexorable march of the sun, our own petty customs and habits might seem small and insignificant, but they can have just as great an effect on the patterns of our diets. Some things, while not seasonal as such, are tied by temperature or texture to the weather outside – ice cream and granita, mashed potato and gravy – while others stake a place in one of our various religious calendars, which may be more or less related to the movements of the heavens.

 

Ramadan and its associate Eids are tied to the Islamic lunar calendar, for example; the daily cycle of fast and feast might take place in scorching heat or in autumn rains, which doesn’t seem to effect the consumption of harira and those little date things. Christian festivities, on the other hand, align suspiciously closely to pagan celebrations and thus to the seasons; at any rate, although they are marked at the same time each year, the food is not fantastically seasonal. You could eat a goose any damn time you choose, I suppose, and brassicas seem to grow at any time and any place; when we get to Mars, I suspect we will find that a small pernicious cabbage has go there first.

 

At any rate, this dish, traditionally consumed on the feast of St Valentine – after using most of the packet in cooking, the cook would offer her loved one “the last rolo” – has become, in recent decades, thoroughly associated with Easter, or rather, Yeaster, the Sunday after Holy Week. In the middle ages, Yeaster Sunday would start with a great slaughter of all the tame rabbits bought as Easter gifts, which were then cooked inside a brioche of tremendous proportions. Gradually, the practice died out, and households would instead hold a great feast of all the unconsumed chocolate in the pantry. It is this practice that has given us the chocolate mousse, the chocolate eclair, hare and chocolate ragu, chocolate mole, toad-in-the-hole, and Badger Surprise (the inspiration for the better known, and less surprising, Kinder). Whenever eaten, this dish is in itself a remarkable remnant of the fusion fad of Victorian Britain, which gave us kedgeree, ketchup and kumquat. A real taste of history.

 

ROLO PILAF

serves 4

CHOCOLATE STOCK – CHOCK

2kg chicken necks or coxcombs

4 onions, halved and then peeled

carrots and so on

at least 6 easter eggs in their wrapping

Place all the chock ingredients in a saucepan, cover with water, place the saucepan full of ingredients and water on a lit or otherwise operative hob, and leave for 6 hours. Strain.

ROLO PILAF

2 onions, fine dice

2 carrots, fine dice

2 sticks of celery, fine dice

12 cloves of garlic, minced

400g basmati rice (Tilda is best)

100g wild spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces

1l of chock (see above)

200g salted caramel spread (Bon Maman do a good one)

1 packet of rolos, the last removed, the rest julienned

lard

Melt some lard in a wide-bottomed pan, and cook the onion, carrot and celery until nicely softened and starting to colour. Wipe the garlic around the rim of the pan. When the edges start to sizzle, stir in the rice, counterclockwise, until each grain is vaguely translucent and fully coated in lard. Stir in the broken spaghetti (standard tree will do if you can’t find wild). Add the chock, bring to a boil, and let it bubble away until you can see holes start to appear. Put on a lid, turn the heat down and leave for 5 minutes. The rice should be cooked through and dry. Check for seasoning, remembering the salted caramel spread will be salty, then ripple it through and turn into a bowl. Pour the rice into another bowl, garnish with the julienned rolos, and let sit for 8 minutes before serving immediately. With a green crisp salad and a bottle of chocolate stout, this is a complete meal.

Speak Softly

One of my favourite phrases in modern food writing is, appropriately, found in probably my favourite cookbook, Fergus Henderson’s Nose To Tail. In a recipe for a kind of stewed sauerkraut, he asks the cabbage be cut with a “good big knife” – an excellent three words, suggesting that the goodness of the knife is inextricable from its bigness; which, of course, it is. Sharpness he doesn’t feel the need to mention – that’s there in ‘good’. It’s easy to think of big knives as the protuding egos of (often male) chefs, or, more charitably, as something desirable in a professional but unnecessary in an amateur situation; this is true, perhaps, in a way – but only in a way.

 

The thing about a large knife is it doesn’t just let you do things faster, although it does do that – slicing an onion, to take the most obvious example. There are also things which a good big knife allows you to do much better. Slicing that cabbage, for example, especially if you have a particularly large white, or one of those flat wide ones meant for stuffing, slicing it good and thin, is very difficult without a knife at least eight or ten inches long, with a wide blade to keep your knuckles from hitting the board. Chopping herbs well and finely, in sufficient quantity to be useful as a flavourant rather than just a garnish, is something that can only be done with a large knife – or a mezzaluna, I suppose, but if you’re going to buy one of them you may as well just buy a knife.

 

You know all this, I’m sure. Everybody, or at least everybody with an interest in cooking, which, presumably, you do, knows this; but the point is that acquiring a knife and the skill to use it is not just a technical achievement – it allows you to cook different things, and to cook them differently. It broadens your mental palate (palette?). The whole wok-driven side of Chinese cuisine, as Bee Wilson persuasively argues in Consider The Fork, rests on the knife skills required to chop things into tiny, uniform pieces, using one of those gigantic cleavers; if you’ve ever seen Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, you’ll realise the control and strength required.

 

Or, I’ll repeat, herbs – you can’t use herbs as they should be used, as great fistfuls of bright, green freshness, without a good knife. Don’t use those ridiculous 30g packs from the supermarket, either. Get a large bunch of parsley from a greengrocer, a market stall, or your Local Ethnic Food Emporium, pick the leaves off, put the stalks aside for flavouring stock, sauce, soup, pulses, or pickles; get your good big knife, and make this.

 

GREEN SAUCE

1 large bunch of parsley, picked

4 cloves of garlic

a pinch of capers

8 cornichons or one gherkin

4 tinned anchovies, or 1 tbsp garum

a splash of red wine vinegar

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and pepper

Finely chop the parsley. Some mashing is acceptable and even desirable, so this is a good recipe to practice chopping on. Go over and over the herb with your knife, until it is very fine. Put in a bowl. Finely chop the garlic, sprinkle over some salt, and then crush to a paste with the side of your blade; this is very satisfying.

Add the garlic and the capers to the bowl; chop the cornichons, fairly roughly if you like, and the anchovies, if you’re using them, and put everything in the bowl. The amount of oil you add depends on how saucy you want your sauce; I often keep it quite dry, capable of standing up by itself, for topping fried or grilled things. If you’re stirring it into soup or ragout, you might want it a bit sloppier. It’s your sauce.

A Pie For The Ages

Who would remember Arnold Bennett today if not for the celebrated omelette? His books, now, are only read by those in search of the inspiration for his rich, voluptuous breakfast dish; foolish, since he had nothing to do with its creation. A similar situation prevails with Dame Nelly Melba, except that no-one eats her peaches either, while melba toast, it is popularly thought, is named for Melbourne, despite the clear resemblance the thin, curved slices bear to the Sydney Opera House.

 

We do not choose our posterity; I doubt poor old Arnold would be glad to know that he is remembered chiefly for a pungent mainstay of the middlebrow brunch menu – although it is perhaps preferable to being remembered chiefly for not being Alan. Prince Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi of Monaco, on the other hand, thoroughly deserves his monument, which takes the form of a pigeon as richly overstuffed as the prince’s name.

 

I took, of course, all this into account in the creation of a birthday dish for my brother – not that I think he will be remembered solely for this somewhat humble pie; who knows, though, what changes the inexorable march of time will wring? Perhaps, a hundred years from now, the tables of upmarket pubs and downmarket hotels alike will groan under the weight of Venison Pie James Eagle, named for that connoisseur of pastry products and local boozes.

 

VENISON PIE JAMES EAGLE

A pie for 4

FILLING

The alcohols mentioned form an important part of the rich history this pie carries with it, and should not be substituted under any circumstances; if you must, note that Whitstable Bay is a light, golden ale, and Brecon Botanicals a highly spiced, strong gin.

2 large onions, finely diced

2 carrots, finely diced

2 sticks of celery, finely diced

100g smoked bacon lardons

400g stewing venison

a shot of Brecon Botanicals gin

half a bottle of Whitstable Bay Organic Ale

125g black pudding, sliced

salt, pepper, oil

 

Set the vegetables and bacon to sweat in a stewpan or casserole with, of course, a splash of oil and a good pinch of salt. You are looking for near-total collapse.

Meanwhile, brown the venison in a very hot pan, a few pieces at a time, setting them aside as you go. Deglaze the pan with gin, and pour the juices over the meat.

When the vegetables look good, add the meat and juices to the pot, stir well, and pour over the beer. The meat should be just about covered – add more beer if not. Season freely but soberly, bring to a putter, and leave to cook for an hour or two or more – until the meat is totally giving.

Set aside to cool, fry the black pudding until crispy, then set that aside too, draining on kitchen paper if it’s a particularly greasy example.

PASTRY

220g plain flour

a pinch of salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

50g melted butter

1 large egg + 1 to glaze

50ml boiling water

 

Stir together flour, salt, pepper, butter and egg until thoroughly mixed, then, still mixing, add the water. Mix and then knead until you have a soft dough, pliable and pleasant to handle. Leave to rest for ten minutes or so, but don’t let it get cold.

Roll out two-thirds to fit your buttered pie dish, press this in, and add half the filling, then half the black pudding, etc. Roll out a lid, brush the edges of the base with egg, and stick the lid on. Roll and crimp the overhang according to your whim. Brush the top with egg, cut two slits for steam, and put into a hottish oven (220°C?) for about half an hour until a dark golden brown.

The traditional accompaniments are cabbage sprouts and claret.