Sunday, 11 March 2012

An Italian job

The weekend began in conventional style: wakened early by a combination of my internal alarm clock, the light outside and the cats, I made coffee and hauled out various recipe books.

Elizabeth David's Italian Food had me reading of ricci (sea urchins) that taste of "the sea, iodine and salt" and should be eaten by scooping out the coral flesh with bread, but "within sight and sound of the sea, preferably after a long swim, and washed down with plenty of cold, local white wine".

You can almost smell and taste them and, if you shut your eyes, the picture that forms in your mind's eye is so tangible that it's almost possible to feel the salty air in the soft down on your flesh.

But this is Hackney; it is early March and the early morning was grey - grey with a vengeance.

At least concentrating on the matter of food helps lift the spirits.

The Other Half had defrosted the freezer, so it was clearly time to start making things to fill it up again.

Since he was off to the other side of London for a rugby league match in the early afternoon, and I needed bag carrying help, we headed up to Broadway Market together nice and early.

With Mrs D's evocative writings in mind, I was about to go all Italian.

Saturday evening was easy: roast chicken, done à la River Cafe Easy Two and which I've mentioned more than once. Three and a half hours and the best roast chicken I've ever produced – every time.

Yesterday, it was served with baby new potatoes that were boiled and then finished off in the oven, for the final half hour of cooking the bird, in olive oil and with fleur de sel and a spring of rosemary.

And then there was some cavallo nero, the Italian kale, which I'd not cooked before.

It was remarkably easy. As per the same book, you cut the cores out of each leaf, and then cook them for five minutes in boiling, salted water. Then refresh and drain. When you're nearing readiness, smash up some fennel seeds and dried chili, and slice some garlic, popping all that into a pan with olive oil and allowing it to cook before adding the leaves for a minute at the end.

Voila! Or whatever they say in Italy. The job was a good un.

In the afternoon, I'd concentrated on making nice things from a vast (and heavy) bag of lemons, plus a 300g bag of frozen, organic raspberries.

The latter went into a very easy sorbet.

The lemons - organic, unwaxed and from Sicily, which place seems to be cropping up more and more in my imagination at present - were unbelievably fragrant.

Zesting and juicing as though my life depended on it, I turned 15 into a sorbet, as per Felicity Cloake's Guardian piece here, while several others were added to a luxurious custard made with organic, unpasturised milk from a Jersey herd, plus unctuous double cream from another Jersey herd, and then popped into the freezer to form a gelato, a form of ice cream.

I haven't the space for an ice cream maker, but you really can manage without, as the four boxes now in the freezer will attest.

And the taste of the gelato in particular attests to something else - the merits of using the very best ingredients you can get your hands on.

The evening concluded with a double dose of Sicily: art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon and chef Giorgio Locatelli continuing their cultural and culinary tour of the island. And then Montalbano, another episode of the Sicilian police procedural based on Andrea Camilleri's novels.

A fitting end to a very Italian start to the weekend.

And all after our little part of Hackney even managed to throw up a crime this week that would hardly have been out of place in Montelbano's Mafia-ridden world.

Looking out of the kitchen window as I prepped those Sicilian lemons, I could see across the road, past a block of flats and then to the Regent's Canal. On the far bank crime scene tape was visible, along with police officers.

There, earlier in the week, the torso of former soap actor Gemma McCluskie had been found floating. Her brother is currently in custody.

It was a striking concatenation of events and ideas, flavours and smells, light and darkness.

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