Monday, 11 July 2011

You say tomato, I say risotto

It might seem somewhat perverse, after my regaling you all with tales of The Great Train Croissant Scandal, to claim that, in reality, it was actually a bit of foodie weekend.

But such is the strangeness of life. It started on Friday night, with a very different version of that dish that regular readers will know I love – a risotto.

Having finally got around to ordering a copy of the shamefully out-of-print Risotto! Risotto! by Valentina Harris, I found myself fascinated to read of versions of this essentially simple dish, the like of which I’d never imagined.

One such example was a tomato and basil one.

Now as it happened, I’d found some decent-looking (and smelling) tomatoes the previous weekend – a beautifully varied selection, which instantly brought to mind Collioure.

The original recipe called for pine nuts to be toasted in a little oil at the base of the risotto, but The Other Half grimaced at this, so I adjusted for the sake of a quiet life.

First, take your tomatoes and skin, halve and deseed them. I always lie them on some kitchen paper for a while after that to drain properly. Chop roughly. Pop into a pan with a drop of olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic and some shredded basil, and gently cook down. Taste and season.

Since we’d done away with the pine nuts base, I chopped shallots and some garlic and sweated that in olive oil. Add the risotto rice and let that absorb the remaining oil.

Add a slug of white wine. Enjoy the aroma. Let the rice absorb that. Then, a ladle at a time, start adding vegetable stock (a chopped onion, carrot, some celery and some garlic, water, bay and thyme, simmered for 20-30 minutes).

About half way through – so after around 10 minutes – add the tomatoes. Carry on adding stock and stirring for around 10 minutes more.

Serve with more basil.

Not bad at all – really fresh and light. I was really chuffed with that.

The next day, as you already know, saw me traveling north to Leeds for business. But after a lengthy meeting, we adjourned to a restaurant in the city called Sous Le Nez.

There, gazing at the menu while the service created an almost painfully slow orbit around us, yet rarely coming close enough to have attention grabbed, the idea of a 'foie gras crème brûlée' attracted table-wide attention.

Never being one to fight shy of such challenges, I decided that that was going to inform anything else I ate that night.

It was exceptional. A very light foie gras mousse, with a lightly caramelised top, served with elderflowers & red wine jelly and melba toast.

It was a definite food orgasm moment.

Me being me, I opted for a second starter for my next course. In this case, ballottine of pigeon breast with apricots, wrapped in Bayonne ham and with an orange and beetroot salad.

Nice – albeit possibly a bit dry. Though the pigeon breast itself was beautifully cooked.

I served myself a few vegetables from our table’s selection, but these were a let down – another kitchen that doesn’t understand that al denté is not a synonym for ‘raw’.

The restaurant has an extensive wine list, and we had very light and pleasant Sancerre rosé, plus one of our group also suggested an Albarino, which is a white wine from Galicia that he’s familiar with. Very pleasant it was too, with a quite different flavour.

Dessert was simple for me – vanilla and white chocolate ice cream. Which was perfectly pleasant and nicely presented, but nothing to write home about.

So while not a perfect meal, one with some very enjoyable moments.

And the memory of that foie gras crème brûlée will stay with me for some time.

The next morning, I made sure I ate enough at the hotel for breakfast so that I could comfortably ignore the filled croissants on the train journey home, concentrating instead on filling myself with bitter coffee, while blubbing over The Sound of Music (not an easy film to watch on public transport, since I desperately want to join in).

Once back in town, with The Other Half not due to return until late evening, I nipped up to the tiny market in the nearby London Fields Primary School playground, and found a couple of bits including, joy of joys, some wonderful Bath Soft Cheese.

A small piece of cod fillet was sourced at Fin & Founder on Broadway Market and that was that.

I salted the cod for around half an hour, rinsed and poached it, ready to be served with a large dollop of homemade aioli.

Complicated food can be good. But food doesn’t have to be complicated in order to be good.

And then, after a week of seeing the sulphurous workings of News International revealed ever more clearly, I sat and watched The Sound of Music all over again, bathing in Julie dust to make the badness go away.

And that, as my boss said a day later, merely confirmed to her that I am actually a gay man in disguise.

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