So, it’s Christmas again, and that means it’s time to bake something fittingly seasonal and rich.
This year, that’s panforte di Sienna, an Italian dessert loosely resembling a cake that’s packed with fruit and nuts.
Panforte originated in Sienna in the 12th century, and is supposed to contain seventeen ingredients, to reflect the number of districts in the city, but license may be taken.
And it’s license that I’ll take, but around a fairly solid core. There must be nuts, and there must be fruit. Panforte must be rich … honey, sugar, cocoa … and it must be spicy. Mine only totals about a dozen ingredients.
It’s easy and quick to put together, and keeps very well in the fridge – up to a month. It’s best eaten in thin slivers with coffee or red wine.
A panforte will last a long time.
“So, when you want to order, just write what you want on these cards – this one for drinks and this one for food, and clip them on here, OK?”, said the waiter, pointing upwards to a huge wooden clothes peg dangling from a wire above the table.
It’s a big peg, a very big peg, and a very big gimmick.
We rooted through bags and coats for a pen because there was nothing to write with on the table, despite the whole card/peg/order gimmick, and filled everything in. I had to clip the card into place because Jenny was too short to reach the dangling peg.
The waiter came over and plucked our order down and stood next to the table for ages, transcribing everything off the card into a tablet, and then he read it all back to us, by which time we were both thinking that it might just be more efficient to maybe come over and say something like “can I take your order, please?”, at which point we’d just tell him what we wanted, and he could punch it into the iPad there and then.
Everybody gets that system, right?
But there’s a reason for all this. Chinese restaurants are very formulaic. Fish tank? Gold everywhere? Brusque service? Menu longer than the average novel? Truck-loads of MSG on everything?
None of that at Mans Market.
Cooking Indian food can be something of a trial.
Lists of ingredients a mile long, complicated techniques, extended cooking times …
It’s always worth the effort, always worth the satisfaction of sitting down to a rogan josh that’s been simmering away for a couple of hours, the spices blending together with unfathomable complexity.
But sometimes, that list of ingredients is just too long. Sometimes, there’s a need for something simpler, something easier.
This is it … a North Indian dish of almost mundane ubiquity, one that uses barely any of the huge range of spices normally associated with Asian food.
This is a chicken dish, built on the familiar base of onion, garlic and ginger, a sauce of yoghurt layered over, and finished with cayenne pepper.
It’s direct and straightforward, relying on nothing more than that ginger and garlic base, rounded out with a swift punch of chilli.
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There are a lot of broadly Middle Eastern cookery books around at the moment.
In the last few months, I’ve cooked from Ottolenghi’s peerless Jerusalem, and Levant by Anissa Helou, and now Joudie Kalla’s excellent Palestine on a Plate.
All of these books share a common sense of identity, of place, and of history. The Middle East is a region with problems, to understate enormously, but it’s also a region with a rich and heartfelt culture stretching back thousands of years, and the food of the area acts like a seam running through the years, connecting generations.
No matter what happens, no matter how unexpected the twists, the turns, no matter what direction events may take, there will always be these recipes, these ingredients, handed down and cooked over centuries.
Kalla’s book carries the sub-title ‘memories from my mother’s kitchen‘, which highlights the importance of tradition in the Middle East in general, and in Palestine in particular, of family tradition and continuity.
There was a time, not many years ago, when it looked like Bradford would be keeping the massive hole left there after the frenzied demolition of the bottom part of town. The plan was to build a new shopping centre, but the financial crash put paid to that. The space was left as rubble for years, and then part of it became a rather forlorn and depressing temporary park.
It was a bleak time, the vast wasteland symbolising an existential emptiness that many felt the city held at its core.
But the shiny new shopping centre was built, and it brought with it a lot of associated development, a lot of new names and faces, and things started to look … possible.
Bradford has a long way to go – the opposite end of town is suffering enormously from the gravitational pull of The Broadway, but the impact that this new space has had on the city has been enormous.
So, here we are, right across from the spot that the old Wimpy bar used to be back in the day, sat in a posh burger bar, an outpost of Americana in a windy northern high street, shadowed by the gothic majesty of Lockwood & Mawson’s Victorian Wool Exchange, flanked by a sleek new shopping centre, and backing onto yet another demolition site that will ultimately become a cinema. It all feels right, and fits together well.
And what a burger bar.