I blame the Rosetta Stone. Early for a meeting near the British Museum, I took a detour to revisit the ancient artefact. It’s inscribed with the same words three times over: first in hieroglyphs, then Demotic, and finally in Ancient Greek. It’s both beautiful as a carved object and revolutionary as a decoder of hieroglyphic script – I was glad I’d dropped by to say hello. But back outside I tripped over a raised edge on the pavement and landed like a WWF wrestler, earning myself one sprained wrist, a twisted elbow, and a knee which is now imprinted with the marks of the slab on which it landed. I’m a limping hieroglyph, a human print. I can read my knee.
Back at home I tried to exercise my wonky limbs by taking a walk. And I spotted another kind of print: a giant shadow-print cast by the newly restored windmill near my house.
I love the whole inky, visceral, messiness of printing – the sturdy engineering of presses combined with all the cutting, scraping, burnishing, ink-mixing and hearty roller-ing. My Victorian printing press was manufactured at the same time that Charles Dickens was publishing Bleak House and Charlotte Brontë was releasing Villette (my favourite of all her novels).
It’s a relief press, which means that the images or letters from which it prints are raised above the surface; they’re inked-up with a roller and the paper is then pressed onto them. But an etching or intaglio print is produced the opposite way: lines are scratched into the plate and ink is squished into the crevices. Dampened paper is then squeezed onto it with great force, picking up the ink from inside the etched lines. To put it simply and theoretically, the raised veins of these sage leaves would produce a relief print
while, in theory, the Rosetta Stone or this pebble from Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge would produce an intaglio print. (Along with an arrest for criminal damage).
I’ve just made a series of drypoint etchings for an exhibition in the USA. While rolling the etching press over the plates and squishing the ink into the dampened paper I started thinking about how I could print food. Or at least how I could make something delicious to eat whilst imprinting the flavours of something else onto it. And I thought of this:
MEMORIES OF TOMATO (WITH POACHED COD AND SAFFRON YOGHURT) – Serves 4
Don’t be fooled by its modesty. Pale and shy though it looks, it has the most intense and magical flavour
For the imprinted tomato memory
- 2.2kg flavourful and perfumed tomatoes, roughly chopped (don’t bother using anything else because they won’t pass on their memory)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 bird’s eye chilli with the seeds removed
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- I large handful of coriander leaves
- 5 small lovage leaves (no more than that because they’re staggeringly strong)
- Large pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
For the poached cod
- 4 pieces of cod loin
- Glass of white wine
- Half a lemon, sliced
- 6 bay leaves
- Handful of thyme
- Black pepper
For the saffron yoghurt
- 4 large tablespoons of thick Greek yoghurt
- Pinch of saffron
- 1 garlic clove
- Juice of half a lemon
Start 24 hours in advance, by whizzing up all the ingredients for the tomato memory. Put in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then, line a bowl with a large, clean tea-towel or muslin cloth, tip in the whizzed up tomato mixture, then gather the cloth into a knot. With string, tie the cloth bundle to one of the racks in your fridge (mine has glass shelves, but there’s a bottle rack half way up which does the trick.) and allow the liquid to drip into the bowl for around twelve hours or so. Don’t squash the bundle because it will make the memory cloudy. The liquid that’s produced will be startlingly delicious in flavour, with each ingredient imprinted indelibly onto the liquid. Save the tomato pulp and I’ll explain what to do with it in a moment.
To make the yoghurt, add a tablespoon of boiling water to the saffron and allow it to infuse. Grate the garlic finely and add to the yoghurt, along with a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Tip the infused saffron, along with the water, into the yoghurt and stir. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and become ever yellower in colour.
Sprinkle a little salt on the cod and put it back in the fridge. (This will help firm it up for the poaching process.) After half an hour, wipe the moisture and most of the salt from the cod and place it in a shallow dish into which you’ve added the wine and aromatics. Top up with water so that the fish is completely covered, weighing it down with slices of lemon. Poach at 180 degrees for 8 minutes and remove from the oven. Gently heat the tomato memory but don’t boil it. Place the fish in bowls, ladle on the tomato liquid, add a dollop of saffron yoghurt and some more coriander. Eat it and then start to think about what to do with the tomato pulp…..
THE TOMATO MEMORY’S MEMORY (AKA TOMOTO RISOTTO) – Serves 4
- The tomato pulp from the memory
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 300g Arborio rice
- Dash of Balsamic vinegar
- Pinch of sugar
- About 1litre of vegetable stock, brought to a simmer
- Herbs to garnish
Using a wide, heavy pan, add the olive oil and then sauté the raw tomato and chilli pulp mixture for around ten minutes to slightly caramelise it. Push the tomato mixture to the side of the pan and add the rice with a touch more olive oil. Stir it so that it’s completely coated and then add the white wine. Evaporate the alcohol and then combine the rice with the tomato mixture. After that, keep adding the hot stock until the rice is the right consistency for a risotto. It can take twenty to thirty minutes to get it just right. That’s it – a tomato memory’s memory. Eat while resting your limbs, wonky or otherwise, and reading Villette.