Friday 18 January 2013

Tunisian Octopus

Discovery of this dish was, for me, an unintended consequence of buying Octopus rather than Squid in the supermarket, about a month ago. The Technical Dept took the opportunity to make some comment to the effect that I should wear my glasses more often - the sort of unnecessary remark which should not be dignified by being noticed - but in fact I put it down rather to the 'Stepford Wives' effect that takes hold whenever I enter any supermarket anywhere: the brain closes down, I glaze over, and I go into autopilot.
Anyway...Octopus. I contemplated ploughing on with the intended menu, and pretending that Squid and Octopus are interchangeable, although I know they aren't (generally) and that I risked a much tougher end-result than intended, and then resorted instead for inspiration to Alan Davidson's 'Mediterranean Seafood'. (Actually, I don't know why I say 'resorted', since it is a splendid volume...I suppose because I have a misplaced tendency to regard it as a reference book rather than a book for general browsing.) And I came across this recipe, which is quite simply delicious. And so easy, it barely warrants being called a 'recipe'.
I serve it on a bed of rocket, which cuts the richness and spiciness of the sauce, but I imagine it would do just as well as a pasta sauce, or else stirred (at the end) into a plain risotto bianco.

Sufficient for two generous servings.
Ingredients: 1 Octopus, about 1 kg in weight, and thoroughly cleaned and prepared; 1 onion; Olive Oil; Seasoning; 1 tbs Tomato Purée; 1 tsp Chili Powder (or harissa); 2 tsps ground Cumin.

1. In a couple of tablespoons of oil, gently sauté the finely chopped Onion for a minute or so.

2. Chop the body and tentacles of the Octopus into half-inch peces, then add to the pan, along with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring, until they begin to take colour.

3. Mix the tomato purée and chili powder with a cup of water, and add this to the pan. Continue to cook, stirring from time to time for ten minutes. Then, add enough water to cover, bring to the boil, and then reduce to a low simmer, cover the pan, and leave simmering for an hour and a quarter.

4. Add to the pan the ground cumin, and continue to simmer for a further 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve immediately, in your preferred form, or else leave to serve later, after having reheated over a low heat for about ten minutes.


Sunday 13 January 2013

It's hard work...

...being a tourist. When you put your mind to it, I mean, rather than merely drifting in a daze round somewhere that isn't entirely familiar. And I suppose that was part of the reason why neither of us had been 'tourists' in Paris for such a long time - although, after a certain point, any place becomes sufficiently familiar that it no longer seems relevant to be 'doing' the headline things, and instead you focus on the everyday stuff, like eating and drinking and shopping and laundry and seeing friends and going to the cinema. Technical Dept largely finished being a tourist in Paris sometime in the early seventies, and I suppose my last burst of it was around 1981 (Malmaison, Les Invalides, and the Rodin Museum...) And, as a result, there were some gaps to be filled. Effectively, we had an 'I've never seen Star Wars' week (which, by the way, I haven't ...but that's a different matter entirely), and spent much of the time filling in long-empty gaps.

Tuesday was spent at Père Lachaise, which was quite wonderful. Under a leaden January sky, we  wandered for hours along the rambling paths, and struck out from time to time across the peaks and valleys of the hinterland of the cemetery, beneath a skyline dominated by the stark profiles of crumbling mausoleums. Elizabeth Demidoff's massive tomb was memorable, as was the avenue of  the tombs of the Maréchals de France; Hèloise and Abelard, in their mock-gothic splendour; Piaf (and the youthful greek who shared her grave....was he her husband or her son?); Modigliani (and why did his mistress die on the day immediately after he did?); Gertrude Stein (why is her grave covered in old metro tickets?); what was the 'Dixmuthe' disaster?; who was Countess Harriet della Gherardesca, and why did she end up here in solitary splendour? (della Gherardesca is a old Pisan family, hence our interest). Endessly fascinating. It was only after about five hours, and the incipient onset of hypothermia that we were forced to seek the warmth of the metro, where we gradually thawed out during the length of the journey back to Reamur-Sebastopol.
The Egyptian Galleries in the Louvre took up much of Wednesday, after we'd also 'done' the exhibition there of the late Raphael (which was frankly a bit ho-hum - an awful lot of 'studio of' rather than the man himself, and a number of items where the attributions looked distinctly iffy), and the excavations of the fourteenth century walls of the original Louvre, which had been built by Charles V. Mesmerising. Although it pains me to admit it, the Louvre, these days, has the BM knocked absolutely into a cocked hat - and especially so since Neil Magregor has turned the latter into a form of theme park, apparently aimed at eight year olds.
On Thursday, we 'did' Versailles. It's been on  my list ever since I turned up there, only to find it closed, sometime around 1980, and the TD's last visit had been in 1972, so it was overdue for a re-run. When I say we 'did' the place, I mean we really did it: King's Apartments; Queen's Apartments; State Apartments; Dauphin (and Dauphine)'s Apartments; the Gardens; Grand Trianon; Petit Trianon; and all the bits in between. Splendid overheard in Marie Antoinette's bedroom, where she-australian was reading out to he-australian from an information placard:
She: "on the night of October 6th 1789, the Queen fled through the concealed door to the left of the bed, and took refuge in the King's Apartments..."
He: "Oh." Pause. "Who was she fleeing from?"
She (carefully reading verbatim from the placard): "The rioting crowd". 
He (displaying polite interest, but with a vague idea that Marie Antoinette was the name of the hairdressers in  Wollombooga Springs): "Oh." (Exit, to State Dining Room)
Overall, the Chateau was impressive (if not actually oppressive), the Trianons were charming, some of the garden treatment was intriguing, and the astronomical price of the macaroons in the café at the Petit Trianon was enough to inspire another round of revolution, and certainly an interesting play on "Let them eat cake!"

And on Friday, we actually did a non-Star-Wars thing, and went instead to the Musée Nissim de Camondo, in rue Monceau. A time-capsule house, and of its kind a perfect gem. The kitchen, as historic kitchens often are, was completely mouth-watering.

And talking of mouth-watering, we were perfectly situated, at the southern end of rue Montorgueil, within fifty metres of a fishmonger, two butchers, three boulangeries, half a dozen wine merchants, three small general stores, and (had we wanted to use them) a couple of dozen restaurants, brasseries, and bars. Being on the fourth floor, without a lift, had its moments - especially when carrying half a dozen bottles of mineral water, and two bags of provisions - but the apartment was comfortable, had an excellent kitchen, and was blissfully quiet. And friends who arrived for dinner had the additional benefit of a full work out by the time they reached our floor (eighty stairs exactly - I counted!).

Tonight's Dinner:

Haddock Mousse, with a lemon butter sauce.
Boudins Blancs Truffés (thanks to the butcher in rue Montorgueil); Turnip Gratin.
Apple & Almond Tart.