Monday, 20 May 2013

Remember to love your local market

Radishes, Paris style.
With The Other Half away for the weekend, following his beloved Castleford Tigers to Perpignan for their league game against the Catalan Dragons – an act of great personal sacrifice on his part – the opportunity presented itself for personal culinary indulgence.

And with a few days to eat nothing but exactly what I want, a Friday evening visit to Borough Market was the perfect way to get the weekend up and running.

This itself seemed apt, coming as it did just days into Love Your Local Market Fortnight: a time to promote real food and real producers; food that looks and tastes like proper food, and is sold by people, often, who produce it themselves, and certainly care about it.

Given The Other Half's tastes, the menus for such a weekend are easy: seafood and offal. Although not together. Obviously.

It started, on Friday evening, with scallops, pan fried briefly, with canellini beans, chili and lamb's lettuce. River Café Two Easy is the bible for these weekends.

Other purchases included asparagus, plum tomatoes, Jersey Royals and the first English strawberries of the year.

Borough was busy with, as ever, a combination of tourists and bright young things enjoying the start of the weekend.

The market prides itself – and rightly so – on being twinned with the legendary La Boqueria in Barcelona. The tragedy is that the London prices mitigate against everyone being able to use it. In that wonderful market off La Rambla, you'll see little old ladies carefully picking out produce. Not here, sadly.

Where good food in many parts of the Continent is available to all and considered a birthright, there is much more of a class divide in the UK, as with so much else.

Much the same can be said of Broadway Market, although not to quite the same extent: I know that I'm not the only local who shops there, although first thing on a Saturday morning, I'm always convinced that half the 'hipsters' sitting outside cafes with coffee have come straight from Hoxton nightspots with nary an encounter with sleep.

And on Saturday morning, it was straight to Matthew to see what offal he had, with a lovely piece of lamb's liver, thinly sliced, going into the bag.

Next up, fish.

Unfortunately, Vicki had nothing that I wanted, so Fin & Founder had to do the business. I bought a Dover sole and a squid.

"Shall I fillet it?" said the young man of the sole. I demurred. He seemed surprised and offered to at least trim the fins. I demurred again. He almost begged to be allowed to rinse it. I allowed him to do so.

My refusal to let him do anything with the squid appeared even more shocking. "It can make a mess," he offered rather lamely.

"Oh not if you do it properly," I returned, adding that I enjoy doing it - and that it's easy. I left with squid and sole intact in the face of someone who appeared to have the love of knife work that would have delighted a mohel.
Selection vegetables in Barcelona.

I understand that this is part and parcel of the Fin and Founder routine; that it's their way of 'adding value' (and thus helping justify their prices).

And of course there's also an expectation that many customers will lack the skills to prep fish.
Requiring no cutting at all, I also bought a handful of the season's first samphire.

Back at Mark's Ash Green Organics, which is increasingly becoming my go-to greengrocer, fine beans, a courgette, oranges and rhubarb were added to the mix.

The simplicity of approach continued with Saturday lunch. Jerseys were scraped and boiled, to be served with briefly boiled asparagus (four minutes – they were quite thick), and four slices of the liver, pan fried in a very little olive oil.

A 'gravy' was made by melting a teaspoon of redcurrant jelly into the meat juices while it briefly rested.

The only other things required are salt, pepper and good butter.

For evening, it was back to River Café and a recipe I'd tried before.

Take your squid, clean it and thinly slice.

Then take a courgette and cut it into matchsticks.
Octopus in Venice.

Previously, I'd made the mistake of grating the squash far too finely and it all but disappeared. This time, I just used a razor-sharp paring knife and cut it up that way. Salt these for about 15 minutes, then rinse and dry.

This is a very, very quick cook, so it's best to be a bit cheffy and prep all the ingredients first.

Thinly slice as much chili as takes your fancy. Thinly slice a clove of garlic. Juice and zest some lemon.

Get a pan good and hot, add a generous splash of olive oil and, when it's really hot, pop in the squid.

Stir briefly and then add the chili and a grind or two of black pepper.

Stir again, give it all a couple of minutes, then add the courgette and the garlic. Let it cook through – it doesn't take long – and add the lemon. Stir once, twice – and it's ready to serve.

The original recipe serves this with spaghetti, but I opted instead for some good, fresh baguette. It needs little or no added salt.

And it is a feast.

Sunday went a bit off piste in terms of plans, so I saved the sole for Monday and managed, incredibly, to do the best filleting job I've ever managed (it was quite large) and then grill the fillets and serve them with Jerseys and asparagus and fine beans to welcome home The Other Half.

Good food should be a birthright for all of us. And good markets, where you can get good, seasonal produce, should be available for everyone.

Fortunately, many places do still have them – and they're not the rather 'posh' ones like Borough or even Broadway.
Tomatoes in Collioure – I dream of them.

So make sure you love your own local market – you know it's worth it.

And now a tiny 'fession.

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned tourists at Borough. Well, I like to photograph markets too – both at home and abroad.

Markets are wonderful places. So instead of a couple of shots of liver or scallops on a plate, I decided to illustrate this piece with a very few, varied shots.

I hope you enjoy.

And perhaps more to the point – enjoy your own local markets.

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