Just How Pink Can You Get?

It’s easier to see how bril­liant Charles Dick­ens is by read­ing a lesser rival. Just as it’s sim­pler to appre­ci­ate home by going away, silence by listen­ing to Sir Paul McCart­ney and freshly caught fish by eat­ing tinned tuna. For that reason here are some pink/crimson/red things eaten and enjoyed in my house in the past couple of days. All of them were delight­ful, but none comes close in start­ling pink­ness to what I have in store for you in a moment.

Maybe the beet­root gave the game away. I’ve just made sear­ingly pink beetroot-cured gravad­lax which takes the pinko­meter into new zones on the dial. As the Mayor of Lon­don Boris John­son might have said, ‘pink-omania is about to go zoink.’

BEETROOT CURED GRAVADLAX

There are vari­ous com­bin­a­tions of ingredi­ents that work well, but this is how I like it best:

  • 600 — 700g sal­mon fillet
  • 300g raw beet­root, peeled and roughly grated
  • 100g sea salt flakes
  • 90g sugar
  • A few turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated horseradish — about 40g
  • 1 bunch of dill, chopped
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 50ml gin

You can leave the skin on, or remove it. It’s really up to you. Com­bine all the ingredi­ents in a bowl and mix well. Tip half the beet­root mix­ture onto an oval plate just a little bit big­ger than the fish and then place the sal­mon on top, mak­ing sure the under­side is com­pletely covered. A plastic con­tainer would also work, although you may find it dif­fi­cult to remove the pink stains later! Use the remain­ing beet­root mix­ture to cover the top of the fish. Cover the whole lot with a double layer of cling film and place weights on the top — I use another plate with a few tins stacked on it. Put the fish in the fridge and after 24 hours it will be ready. Wash off all the cur­ing ingredi­ents, pat the fish dry and then slice and eat. I like to serve it with a little thick nat­ural yoghurt into which I’ve grated some more fresh horseradish, along with some salt and pepper.

It will keep in the fridge, covered, for around a week.

The Art of Fugue Soup

If osso bucco is a com­plex sym­phony, baked alaska is a frivol­ous oper­etta and a jam dough­nut is a song by Cliff Richard, then a bowl of fine soup is a fugue. The best soup unites ingredi­ents that act beau­ti­fully together; sep­ar­ate but always enhan­cing and echo­ing each other, just like a fugue.

As I write this, I’m listen­ing to Bach’s The Art of Fugue. It’s a piece of music I can listen to end­lessly and often do. My fugue soup is the per­fect accom­pani­ment — and very sat­is­fy­ingly it’s not just fugal but frugal.

The only essen­tial thing about this soup is that it should be cooked so lightly as to keep its bright green hue — khaki veget­able soup is more requiem than fugue. But you can vary the ingredi­ents depend­ing on the sea­son. That way your soup will be both dif­fer­ent and the same, as is a fugue.

FUGUE SOUP

Serves 4

  • 2 litres veget­able stock
  • 200g pod­ded or frozen petit pois
  • 200g broad beans
  • 2 medium cour­gettes, cut into small dice
  • 200g fine asparagus
  • 1 clove gar­lic, finely sliced
  • 4 spring onions or scal­lions, chopped finely
  • Hand­ful herb flowers such as thyme or chive
  • Hand­ful chopped chives
  • Hand­ful torn basil
  • 2 table­spoons olive oil
  • Season­ing

Bring the stock to a sim­mer. Add the broad beans and blanch for 4 minutes. Remove with a slot­ted spoon and put aside in a bowl. When cool, peel off the leath­ery skins and dis­card. With the stock still at a sim­mer, add the asparagus and one of the diced cour­gettes to the liquid and blanch for 3 minutes. Remove these veget­ables too and put aside. Add the peas. Blanch for no more than 1 minute if they’re frozen and 3 minutes if they’re fresh, before remov­ing and once again put­ting to one side. Reserve the stock.

In a small fry­ing pan, gently heat the chopped spring onions and gar­lic in the olive oil. Allow to soften but not to brown. Add the second diced cour­gette to the fry­ing pan and allow it to soften too. Tip the onions, gar­lic and cour­gette mix­ture into the stock and cook gently for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add half the blanched peas and heat for a fur­ther minute. The cour­gettes and peas should still be bright green — it’s cru­cial not to over­cook the soup and thereby allow shades of com­bat trousers to enter the spec­trum. Pro­cess with a stick blender in the pan until smooth. Just before serving, tip in all the remain­ing blanched veget­ables that you put to one side at the start. Sea­son to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls in which you have placed some shred­ded fresh basil leaves. Top with a hand­ful of chopped chives and some herb flowers.

Eat while listen­ing to my favour­ite per­form­ance of The Art of Fugue, by the Rus­sian pian­ist Rustem Hayroud­inoff. It’s the ver­sion chosen by nov­el­ist Vikram Seth for the CD that he com­piled to accom­pany his exquis­ite musical novel An Equal Music. So in true fugal coun­ter­point, you can eat fugue soup, while listen­ing to the The Art of Fugue and read­ing about The Art of Fugue at the same time. What could pos­sibly be more fugal?

Review: Polpo by Russell Norman

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Polpo by Rus­sell Norman

Pho­to­graphed by Jenny Zarins

Pub­lished by Blooms­bury, July 2012

Price £25.00

Polpo’s food, in its res­taur­ants and in this book, is so stripped back as to be almost inde­cent. Eat at Polpo and you will be served Venetian-style cichèti, or small snacks and plates of food, with simple china, no linen and very little cut­lery. Even the lux­ury that Lon­don­ers have come to expect of being able to book a table, has been sliced away in Rus­sell Norman’s mania for sim­pli­city. Polpo’s first cook­ery book includes all the clas­sic recipes that smit­ten cus­tom­ers love and expect: Anchovy & Chick­pea Crostini; Fritto Misto; Panzanella.

Pan­zan­ella pho­to­graphed by Jenny Zarins

Amongst the hun­dreds of cook­ery books in my col­lec­tion, just about every style, cat­egory, method and region of food is covered. Or that’s what I thought. But with the arrival of Polpo, I real­ised that I’d been lack­ing some­thing… a post­mod­ern cook­ery book.

If you’ve been read­ing Eggs On The Roof for a while, you’ll know I have a weak­ness for the post­mod­ern. Post­mod­ern­ism plus food would, you’d think, be an abso­lute win­ner as far as I’m con­cerned. And you’d be right. But how does Polpo show off its post­mod­ern status? The answer is, on its spine. Rus­sell Nor­man has taken his pas­sion for reduc­tion to new post­mod­ern heights and stripped away the book’s outer spine too, to reveal its decon­struc­ted, stitched and glued interior.

Show-off post­mod­ern­ism for its own sake is tedi­ous. It wrecks its ori­ginal inten­tions and becomes merely tedi­ous pos­tur­ing. But this is where Nor­man and his pub­lish­ers have been so clever. The sub­vers­ive act of strip­ping away the book’s spine makes this the very first cook­ery book I’ve ever owned that sits entirely flat on the table when it’s opened. And that makes it a joy to use.

Pho­to­grapher: Jenny Zarins

The recipes are as spare and simple as the ideo­logy behind them. Typ­ic­ally, as a former Eng­lish teacher, Rus­sell Nor­man turns to lit­er­at­ure to encap­su­late that ethos. “We have a rule that a dish is ready to be put on the menu only when we have taken out as many ingredi­ents as pos­sible. As Ant­oine de Saint-Exupéry said: ‘Per­fec­tion is achieved not when there is noth­ing to add, but when there is noth­ing left to take away.’”

I rev­elled in recipes with only three or four ingredi­ents, in com­bin­a­tions that require no cook­ing, in fresh ingredi­ents that seem to have gone on a blind date, intro­duced them­selves to each other on the plate and found per­fect har­mony. This is simple cook­ing at its best: Grissini, Pickled Radic­chio & Salami; Rocket & Wal­nut Pesto Crostini; Pizz­etta Bianca; Pros­ciutto & But­ter­nut Squash With Ricotta Salata.

Broad Bean, Mint & Ricotta Bruschette pho­to­graphed by Jenny Zarins

Warm Octopus Salad pho­to­graphed by Jenny Zarins

So is this book, are these recipes, too simple to merit all the fuss? Abso­lutely not. To bor­row another phrase from Ant­oine de Saint-Exupéry, as the fox tells Le Petit Prince, ‘It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so import­ant.’ It’s the time that Rus­sell Nor­man and head chef Tom Oldroyd have devoted to their pas­sion for remov­ing things that makes the remov­ing of those things so important.