Saturday 12 April 2008

Global Warming?

A week ago, I was sitting in Pisa, french-windows wide open, the sun streaming in from a garden filled with birdsong, blossom, and the button-sharp freshness of new leaves opening on the Pomegranate and the Persimmon trees. The first roses of the year were already visible on the pergola, and the water-lilies were starting to carpet the surface of the pond with a new growth of lily pads. Winter was definitely packed up and put away.....

So why is it that I'm now keeping close to a blazing fire, having spent the day watching - in relative disbelief - a succession of hailstorms, thunder, lightning and what the Met Office would presumably describe mellifluously as 'sunny periods'. And there was I under the mistaken impression that climate change was supposed to herald the arrival of olive groves in Leicestershire and a citrus harvest in the Wirral! Not a bit of it, it would seem....
The M
oscow Times carried a piece on Wednesday which noted that this winter - the coldest for 26 years - has seen the increase of Arctic ice-cover of a million square kilometres over and above the amount this time a year ago (it's an increase of something like 7%, I think.....not sure precisely) and further remarked acerbically that the fact had gone largely unreported - presumably on the basis that it was inconsistent with the accepted global-warming narrative? If today's temperature is anything to go by, then I'm firmly in the as-yet-to-be-convinced category.....

The Brancolis were here for dinner last night (Crab Tart; Pork wrapped in Pancetta; and Lemon & Gin Syllabub, with Almond Biscuits) , amongst other things relating details of a recent Veal tasting they'd attended at The Ambassadors in Exmouth Market. In addition to the comparative tastings of Dutch and English Veal - English sweetbreads got a very positive thumbs-up - was a presentation by a Yorkshire producer of Veal, with interesting stories to tell. Have you ever considered that vast quantities of calves are produced and disposed of merely as a means of keeping the milk-producing cows lactating? Perhaps rather dimly, I never had.....It is kind of obvious, but somehow not something that we tend to be focused on. Because....well.....cows eat grass and milk....don't they? Everybody knows that. Well, yes. But their systems also require the other thing to happen as well..........from which lots off unwanted calves are the by-product, the vast bulk of which are then despatched, at best to be turned into offal, and at worst merely to be disposed of. I wonder if all those milk-drinking vegetarians from the lofty heights of their moral high ground ever give that fact a moment's consideration? Somehow, I doubt it....

Tonight's Dinner:

Salade tiède of Lambs Lettuce, with sautéed Chicken Livers & Garlic

Braised Salmon, in a Walnut Cream sauce; roast Celery.

Deep-fried pancake baskets, filled with Raspberries & Cream

Thursday 10 April 2008

Recipe: Pasta cooked in the style of Risotto

Apparently, this method for cooking pasta came from the chef at the Hotel Tre Vasselle near Perugia – an establishment of some culinary renown in years gone by. We stayed there once for the weekend, as part of attending the International Chocolate Festival in Perugia sometime in the late nineties. Sadly, by that stage, The Tre Vasselle had sold out to the package tour market, and was already coasting along on the basis of its former reputation Sic Gloria Transit.

The method for pasta, though, remains uncompromised in any way. Pasta – a short tubular form is best for this, as it gets knocked around quite a bit in the process of stirring – is cooked in chicken stock, and then finished off with cream and a thick, coating sauce. Not only are more flavours absorbed along the way than with the traditional cooking method, but this way of doing it has the additional benefit of speed – rather than having to bring to boiling point a large pan of water, you merely have to heat a small saucepan of stock, and in the time that would normally be taken to heat the water, you actually have a dish finished to completion.

This particular recipe uses brandy and a mushroom sauce; I’m sure vermouth or something similar could be substituted for the brandy – you just want something with a slight ‘kick’ - as could any sauce that has a good thick coating consistency be used in place of the mushrooms.

For four.

Ingredients: Pennette (or similar pasta) for four people; 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil; a quarter cup of Brandy; 1 pint of Chicken Stock; a quarter cup of Cream; 250g mushrooms (either standard cultivated white-caps or something more exotic like Chanterelles or Trompetes de Mort – whatever you prefer); 2 cloves of Garlic; 30g Butter; Seasoning; 2 tablespoons of chopped Parsley.


1. Chop the mushrooms thinly. Melt the Butter in frying pan, and sauté the minced Garlic for a minute, before adding the sliced Mushrooms. Sauté over medium heat for five minutes, until the mushrooms have thrown off all their liquid, which has then been cooked away. Stir in the chopped Parsley and add Salt and Pepper to taste. Set aside.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat the Oil, then add the pasta, and stir it, to coat it in the hot Oil, for a minute. Add the Brandy, and stir vigorously.

3. In classic risotto style, add stock, a ladleful at a time, and add more as it is absorbed by the pasta. Maintain the heat under the pan just sufficiently to keep the stock bubbling slightly, and add more as required. Stir very regularly throughout the process – you will feel the pasta softening against the wooden spoon, as it cooks, as you do so. After about fifteen minutes it will be cooked practically to al dente (test it by biting into a piece).

4. Add the Cream, and stir for a further minute or two, just until the Cream has reduced to a good thick consistency, then stir in the Mushroom sauce. Test for seasoning and adjust if necessary.


Wednesday 9 April 2008

An Englishman Abroad....

As any regular reader of these jottings will know, Moscow is NOT my favourite city in the World. The inhabitants are notable chiefly for their sour disposition, which is reflected in the grimy and depressed spirit of the place. For the most part, the architecture is a cross between the least salubrious kind of Housing Project and a spuriously cheerful and intellectually bereft building style, not unlike a series of Travel Lodge Motels, for instance….or 'Toys R Us'….. or Burger Kings ......
I say ‘for the most part’ since, periodically, this depressing sprawl is punctuated by the soaring towers of some Stalinist palace or other, which can’t help but inspire feelings of awe – until, of course, you recall the nature of the regime that was responsible for them in the first instance……

I got here yesterday, after a white-knuckle ride of a journey from Rome, which had even the cabin crew lurching around in the aisle and looking distinctly uncomfortable. On the bright side, though, the immigration process – which I’d been dreading, from previous experience – passed incredibly smoothly. Russians, it appears, have discovered queuing since I was last here…. Mirabile dictu!

My driver – a chubby fellow called Alexey, with a complexion reminiscent of pizza topping and teeth that were resolutely nicotine-yellow – proudly pointed out the delights of the building work going on at Sheremetyevo airport, as he tried ineffectually to get his car to start. Like most taxis in Moscow, it stank like the inside of a very old, very stale, never-cleaned ashtray, and nothing about the grubby surfaces within the car inspired confidence. Certainly, it seemed advisable to have as little physical contact with any of them as could be managed. As I sat there, becoming increasingly resigned to the idea of several hours stranded in this defunct vehicle, slowly asphyxiating from the stench, and in full view of a bright scarlet building-block development (see above) that was part of the new terminal building, Alexey’s guttural grunts of encouragement to the engine appeared to work, and as it spluttered into life the car radio came on, playing a disco version of ‘Ave Maria’.
I hoped it wasn’t a sign………


And it wasn’t, really. Nothing of religious significance occurred during the drive into the centre of town, as the disco version of Ave Maria gave way to a disco version of Boheme - Mimi’s tiny hand getting funkily frozen against a background of heavily syncopated pan pipes – and Alexey insisted on pointing out to me every item of interest along the way, from the IKEA car park, to the Central Station, to the fact that traffic in the opposite direction was stopped and backed up for miles. Which he appeared to find deeply entertaining, and I found I was rapidly developing a headache.

Only finally dispelled by a couple of glasses of really very good Chilean Malbec, which washed down the rump steak and pommes frites that were what I ended up having for supper, having eventually entirely surrendered any hope of finding something that was the slightest Russian in style. I’d asked for suggestions at the reception desk in the hotel, but everything they came up with reeked of leopard-print velour and diamante, and looked more like a circus-cum-bordello than any ethnic Russian eatery. Nikita’s in Ifield Road was more the sort of thing that I had in mind – but it seemed that Ifield Road was probably where I’d have to go to get it. Instead, where I found myself was so similar to a sports bar I’d once discovered in Portland, Oregon that at one point I even had to concentrate to remember exactly where I was.

I know, I know......I gripe about Moscow being what it is, and then gripe about it when it's pretending to be something else. What to say? Not always easily pleased.

It was a long day……and there are four more to go……With a combination of Ave Maria and Malbec, I might just about survive.