Friday 25 December 2009

Paula Wolfert the choice for this year's Christmas menus. It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that I've just re-discovered her, since her 'Cooking of South West France' has never gone long unused...but I've just got hold of second-hand copies of her 'Mediterranean Cooking' and 'World of Food', both of which are excellent. The former is like coming across an old friend, since I'd forgotten that we had a copy of the book in Greece about twenty five years ago, but it got 'stored' in a steamer trunk during the move from one house to another, at one point, and never again saw the light of day. For all I know, it's still in Alex Koundouris' outhouse, in Syros...along with some pictures (of which I was quite fond, I remember) and a large blue glass platter that had come from Christina Karamanlis. Ah, well...

Wolfert is an extremely good resource. Not herself an instinctive creator of new dishes, she is - or certainly was, at any rate - excellent at hunting out good things from other people. In her writing, she comes across as perhaps slightly humourless, but for all that is pretty thorough in her approach. I suppose my only criticism of the recipes would be her tendency to take them verbatim from her source and not subject them to a common-sense filter - for instance, she will happily have you go through the laborious process of making pats of thyme butter, only for them to be added subsequently to something else in a hot pan; which of course means it was a complete waste of time to have combined the butter and herbs into pats in the first place, since they can just be added separately to the pan and will have exactly the same result. Oh, and there was another recipe where she talked about stirring some ingredients together with a wooden spoon until thoroughly amalgamated 'always stirring in the same direction'. Hmmm. Perhaps not. That sort of instruction IMHO falls into the category of whistling while you stir in order to ward off the evil spirits.

Bearing in mind the one caveat always to subject them to a 'does-this-make-sense' filter, the recipes in general are first class. Already, in the past few days, we've had an excellent tourte of guinea fowl and artichokes, an apple clafouti in blackened cabbage leaves, fettucine with anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs, Wolfert's version of chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, and risotto with dry sherry and parmesan. And Christmas is yet young!

Tonight's Dinner:

Sformatino of Roquefort & Walnuts

Duck, Boned and roast with Bitter Orange under the skin; Courgettes, sautéed with Thyme.

Christmas Pudding; Brandy Butter.