Sometimes, I like simple.
Those meals that are just thrown together with little effort and less thought, the ones that somehow transcend their parts and become something quite wonderful because of either the sheer quality of their ingredients or the application of a transformative cooking process.
This is one such dish – a deep, rich and brilliantly straightforward Asian dish, the sort of dish that everybody should have on standby for those lazy days when nothing much happens.
There are two stages.
A long marinade, and a long, slow cook.
I think I eat too much meat.
I’ve been trying to cut down recently, have a couple of days a week without any meat, and to eat more fish and seafood instead of just, well, red meat, that sort of thing.
My efforts have been moderately successful so far, but I’m hitting a definite limit in my repertoire of vegetarian meals. I’m becoming a little tired of this roasted , good as it is.
The truth is, I’m not terribly good at vegetarian food.
I like to eat vegetarian food, of course, but I’m not very good at making substantial vegetarian meals. It isn’t through want of trying, and I’ve picked up some excellent ideas and dishes from some recently, but there’s always space for more inspiration, no?
And what is the point of the humble cookbook if not to inspire?
Some are better than others. Some work, some don’t.
Here’s one that does.
Bread is important.
It’s the most fundamental of foods, loaded with symbolism, heavy with tradition, commanding its own rituals and reverence.
Often, you can take one look at the bread that a restaurant serves and work out precisely how good or bad your meal will be. If a kitchen cares not for the bread it serves, it may as well give up, because the game is lost.
I noticed this straight away at Saturne. It was hard not to. We had a table right next to a little bread station, a small alcove to house a thick chopping board, a knife, and a hulking pain de campagne, a great beast of a loaf, cracked and dark in crust, purposeful and elegant in crumb.
A waiter approached the loaf in the manner of a priest approaching an altar, taking the knife and turning the bread towards her. She paused for a long moment as if in prayer, knife balanced above crust, before tearing into the loaf in skillful, practiced sweeps, flipping the bread this way and that to produce substantial slices, to be loaded into linen lined baskets and delivered to tables with haste.
I could stop this here.
This is all you need to know about Saturne. That reverence, that care.
It’s a story for the ages. More…
One of my favourite cook books from last year was Sumayya Usmani’s brilliant Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, an intoxicating collection of Pakistani food.
I’ve cooked from it ever since, and my copy is stuffed with bookmarks to remind me what to do next.
Usmani’s new book, Mountain Berries and Desert Spice is its equal, showcasing the sweeter side of Pakistani cuisine.
Yes, I’m a fan, but not an immediate one.
Now, a full disclosure. I’m not a big dessert person. I often sit that course out entirely, and if I’m forced, there’s always cheese, or maybe whatever’s available without too much cream on it (in it, as an ingredient, is fine. On it is not). I’ll bake the odd cake now and then, and biscuits too, and I’ve been known to do the occasional sweet loaf, but dessert just isn’t my thing.
So, how am I going to square that with a real admiration for Mountain Berries and Desert Spice?