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?
I made this pie yesterday.
It was a simple, lazy Saturday afternoon, and we had some friends round who we see far too little of. Everybody drank coffee and talked and sat in the sun, and the kids played, and I holed up in the kitchen, listened to John Coltrane and made a pie.
And it was a very, very fine pie, a bold and beautiful collision of meat, potato and pastry, spiked with rich sun-dried tomatoes and the sharp sting of chilli.
So, this is just sausage and potato in a pastry crust.
Very simple, very effective.
Start with the pastry. You’ll have your own tried and tested method of making shortcrust pastry, so use that. If not, 160g of plain flour, 120g of butter, and a good pinch of salt, pulsed together in a food processor until at the infamous ‘looks like breadcrumbs’ stage, then brought together with a scant 50ml of cold water should do it. More…
A few years’ ago, there was a public health campaign warning of the dangers of heart disease. It featured a middle-aged everyman who’d let himself go, a couch potato who drank too much. At one point, Everyman shovelled the contents of an Indian takeaway container onto a plate.
The message was clear – drink too much, smoke, don’t exercise, and eat badly, and you’re right in the heart disease firing line.
I remember being surprised by the choice of an Indian meal as the emblematic Evil Takeaway food.
Asian food isn’t that unhealthy, is it?
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