Thursday 25 January 2007

Cocktail Monkeys and Wasabi.....

The weather has been lousy practically the whole time since we got here - thirty six hours of almost incessant rain and thunderstorms. And, believe me, the thunderstorms in this part of the World are impressive! Yesterday morning I found myself battling the elements to help Antonella's mother retrieve a box of small purple artichokes - the tender little ones that you slice thinly and fry to form the base for a frittata - which the wind had picked up and strewn all over the market square. At least by this morning things had calmed down enough for a more usual conversation, and we chewed the cud about the fact that La Mescita, the restaurant in front of which her market stall is located, has bitten the dust. Finally. The business had started promisingly, maybe six years or so ago, and I can particularly recall delicious Lardo di Colonnata there, as well as first being introduced to the Uccelliera wines and grappa from their bar. Then, they began to get grand ideas. Which was fine, as long as it was limited to expanding into the next property, and uncovering a rather fine Tuscan column in the process.......but it all began to go pear-shaped when the grand ideas seeped also into the cooking. The cook - a weasely-looking fellow, with close-cropped hair and earrings - began to dream of the sophistication of a Milanese clientele, and ever more exotic combinations began to appear on the menu. Unfortunately, his aspiration got significantly ahead of his abilities. For me, the final straw was when I found placed in front of me one evening a large square plate on which had been arranged some raw Tuna, a generous daub of Wasabi, some completely irrelevant garnish, and a squat tumbler of Campari and Orange, from the rim of which dangled a day-glo plastic monkey. Unwisely, I'd assumed the campari described on the menu was to form part of an interesting sauce for the fish. We never went back.
It was clear from a distance that times were troubled when a notice appeared on the door last summer stating that credit cards were no longer accepted - it's the standard bell-wether of creditors pressing too closely when an italian restaurant starts to run to cash!

Further to yesterday's confession that I couldn't remember where I'd originally found the recipe for Squid with Peas and Tomatoes, over dinner it was argued that I must have got it from Alessandro Molinari Pradelli's 'Cucina Italiana'. Which seems entirely likely. The conversation went downhill from there, and became very confusing once we began to focus on whether I'd used Totani (I had - it's what you use in these parts) or Seppie, which is what Pradelli calls for, but which are in fact a kind of cuttlefish. What was agreed was that above all Calamari should not be used, either the Italian or the Greek variety - recourse was had to Alan Davidson to check the point, and a lot of improbable latin tags started to be thrown about. Sometimes I suspect that the second bottle is best avoided.......

Final note on Boyajian: the helpful people at their Customer Service department in New York finally responded to my plea, and told me that chapter and verse on stockists in the UK can be got from either WG White in Wembley, or from The Oil Merchant.

Today's Menu:

Flamiches, cooked in Pomiane's way. Over the years I've used both Julia Child's and Anne Willan's versions of this. Pomiane's is by far the simplest and the best. See below for the recipe.

Pork chops, of Cinta Senese. Served with Carrots cooked in Marsala.

Crepes Suzettes. This is January, after all!

No comments: