Monday, 30 May 2011

More lemons – and a bit of football

It was a blustery Sunday in London, somehow combining a cool wind with a sort of heavy and oppressive atmosphere.

It is also becoming a Sunday habit to pop back up Broadway Market for a few bits and pieces – not least from the London Farmers’ Market that sets up shop at London Fields Primary School.

It’s small, but there are some stalls that make it worth a visit – not least that of Bury Lane Farm, where I’ve been able to pick up asparagus that was only harvested the night before. And yesterday they also had what I was desperately looking for – fresh oregano.

These Sunday jaunts have also revealed that Percy Ingle the baker is open on a Sunday – although for some reason or other, it never has wholemeal loaves after Saturday.

Pottering back, I pick up my habitual can of V (fizz with caffeine etc – but no artificial sweeteners!) and, unless it’s raining, wander into the park behind our flats to sit on a bench, sip my drink and smoke a fag.

Which allows the opportunity to vicariously partake of a very English Sunday ritual: football in the park.

They’re a pretty organised bunch who play behind us each weekend – no jumpers for goalposts here, but ones that are extracted from bags and erected for a match, together with a marked-out pitch.

The skill level is better than you’d perhaps expect and it’s all good humoured.

Yesterday, unsurprisingly, as they set up and warmed up, the talk was of Saturday night’s match.

It’s an old saying that football is the working man’s ballet, but perhaps there has never been quite an exhibition of why as came at Wembley, from Barcelona in the Champions’ League Final.

I hadn’t really been planning to watch, but turned on just 10 minutes into the game. Thank goodness I did, because what followed was sublime: Messi and co are simply on a different planet.

Some months after the 1998 World Cup, the winners, France, came to play a friendly against England at Wembley. These were the days when I was a sports hackette and I readily grabbed the opportunity.

On a chilly February night, the French fielded a side with just two changes from the team that had won in Paris the previous summer.

It was, if memory serves, 0-0 at the break and concluded 2-0 – both goals scored by Nicolas Anelka, who hadn’t played in the final. What stands out in my mind, though, was not the score but the quality of football on display.

And I suspect that, like many others there, long before the final whistle, I had ceased to care that England were losing (the score flattered them), but had become absorbed by the quality of what I was seeing.

The Other Half – not notoriously a big football fan – joined me to watch part of Saturday’s match and marvel at what Barça were doing.

As a Manchester City fan, with the Citizens having qualified for this competition next season, it was a salutary reminder of the step up in class that any progress will require. Big gulp time. But that’s what moving forward means. And it’s a hang of a lot better than relegation.

But for the moment, let’s put that aside and concentrate again on the weekend’s food.

That oregano was wanted for a reason. With The Other Half traveling to Yorkshire and back for Rugby League yesterday, I had a choice: do I make myself something for dinner this evening and then either make him the same or something else later; do I wait until late so that we can eat together or do I find some other way around this.

The solution – entirely in keeping with my current culinary directions – involved lemons. And oregano.

In other words, a kleftiko.

So let me explain, according to a recipe from Rick Stein in his Mediterranean book.

Take a shoulder of lamb and have the butcher chop it into three pieces.

Pop these in a large casserole, with some peeled potatoes, a head of garlic (papery skin removed and then chopped in half on the horizontal), the juice of two lemons, a few bay leaves and generous amounts of dried and fresh oregano.

Pour around 200ml of water in.

Cover with foil and then pop in an oven that’s preheated to 190˚C.

Leave for three hours.

Well, that’s how I did it the first time, a year or so ago.

But it needs to be cooked longer if you really want the meat falling off the bone. That’s barely enough.

Looking online at recipes, it’s interesting the variety of times, from a staggeringly short 1 hour, 20 minutes on the Waitrose site, to around four on a recipe from the programme Galley Slaves.

This intrigues me. Mine ended up having around five hours – and another hour tonight to fully reheat the remainder. But I wonder if recipe writers are scared to give a dish that long for some reason?

Perhaps we’re so out of the habit of long, slow cooking, and so used to microwaves speeding everything up, that we’re shocked by really long times and think them impractical or even too costly in terms of the fuel bills?

Which is a shame, because this kleftiko has been considerably better than my first effort. And the big, simple but gutsy flavours are a real pleasure – be generous with the herbs!

The Other Half, who in the days before we met visited Greek restaurants with friends a few times, says that he’s sure that something like chickpeas were also included in the dish, but no recipe I’ve seen thus far has anything other than the ingredients above (well, apart from one that adds cinnamon).

For tonight, though, I did new potatoes and peas on the side, instead of adding more of the former to the main dish.

So, if you’re making kleftiko, try to give it a really long, slow cook. The rewards are obvious when you tuck in.

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