23 January, 2007

butcher's holiday

You know the expression, "busman's holiday," where the poor bus driver spends his vacation driving his family somewhere? Well, I got the Selfridges Food Hall version over the weekend. I was feeling peckish, and frankly wishing to repeat my spicy shrimp recipe from the night before, and maybe do it even spicier, when my enthusiasm was completely dampened by the notion that I might have to pay 26 pounds a kilo for the privilege. I'm sorry, $50 for one at-home dinner was quite literally too much to swallow. Plan B? Well, there was a special on leg of lamb, and that sounded quite tasty as well, only even on sale, the leg came to... 26 pounds. Urk! Couldn't do it. Finally I told the butcher I was on a budget and what did he recommend? "I have a very frugal husband," I explained, "and he won't enjoy his dinner if he sees these price tags." He shook his head and said,"In my opinion, husbands don't appreciate economy when it comes to the dinner plate, but if you think it will lead to domestic harmony, you give it a try. How about a nice pork roast, on the bone, with the crackling scored, like, to make it nice and crispy?" "Oh, that sounds perfect," I decided, and with a price tag of just over 6 pounds I was happy. "You're making me hungry, describing the crackling," I told the butcher, "and I'm going to put him on a bed of onions, garlic and rosemary, and drizzle him with olive oil. Doesn't that sound good?"

"I have to be honest with you, madam, I don't eat meat. Almost never, that is. Can't bear the stuff. Give me a choice, and I'll take lasagne every time."


As I carried on shopping, the idea began to take hold, and by the time I got home I was ready to put away my pork roast and get on with lasagne, which choice was met with loud cheers from my ailing child, who thought it would slide down nicely past a sore throat. And in deference to my vegetarian butcher, I left out the meat, but a nice layer of sauteed beef mince or sausage tucked between pasta sheets would go down a treat, as they say in my adopted land.

Vegetarian Lasagne
(serves 8 easily)

15 lasagne sheets
3 tbsps olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
3 soup-size cans chopped tomatoes
3 tbsps Italian seasoning
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup grated pecorino or parmesan

Pour your olive oil into a heavy saucepan and saute and onion and garlic till soft, then throw in the seasoning and tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a big stockpot of water to the boil, with salt added. Cook your lasagne sheets until tender, and drain off the water. Now, in a well-nonstick-sprayed 9 x 13 dish, place a layer of pasta sheets, then spread out one cup of ricotta, cover with half the tomato sauce, and repeat the whole thing. Finally top it all with the mozzarella. I can't stress enough how unhappy I would be if you went out and bought a horrid plastic package of the stuff called "shredded mozzarella." Two things: it bears no resemblance to either the taste or texture of real mozzarella, which comes in a nice ball suspended in milky liquid. Secondly, have you ever thought of where it got shredded? How many unclean surfaces might all the sides of those little shreds have touched? No. Buy two nice balls of real mozzarella, and although it will cost you a couple of pounds or dollars more, it's delicious, healthy and clean. Then you just push it along your box grater with a plate underneath, and when it gets too squishy to grate anymore, you just tear it apart with your fingers. Lecture over. Now top with the pecorino, and pop in a 400 degree oven for an hour.

This dish is so easy peasy, and it cooks itself for the hour before dinner, so you can sit on your child's bathroom floor while she takes a restorative bath, and read aloud one of the nicest books ever written about a child moving to London, "Blow Out the Moon" by Libby Koponen. She must be an extremely nice person, and clever as well, to have written a book that so spells awkward, intelligent childhood, and that appeals to child and parent alike. Avery has been given at least four copies, and they have made other little girls very happy as well. It's Libby's own life story, and how she attained adulthood with such a comprehensive memory of her experiences here, I cannot imagine. And she maintains a web site with many more details of her experiences, and stories of writing the book. She and Avery have actually corresponded by email! That sort of an effort would make one life worth having been lived. What a joy. Plus it's illustrated with real photographs from her childhood, as well as facsimiles of her actual homework, and letters from friends. Wonderful, except that the chapter I was reading as my lasagne bubbled got me very teary-eyed, with its depiction of a truly magnificent headmistress. My love for our own Mrs D is never very far from my mind, and I wonder how much she knows about her influence on the little gulls that pass through her school. I try to tell her every so often, but I think a person with the larger-than-life personality of a Mrs D has a hard time coming down to earth to really hear praise.

Well, I dried my eyes and we had our dinner, along with a nice salad for which I made a spicy dressing laden with red chillies and mustard. I have to laugh and tell you: this week's Hello! magazine features a recipe purported to be by Cherie Blair (can't imagine she spends much time bundled in an apron, but maybe I'm just a cynic). It's "Sprouts Supreme," with a creamy dressing that I will try tonight, and let you know. I am slightly taken aback by the instruction to boil them for 15 minutes, which I think is a literal recipe for disaster. It would leave all the flavor in the water, and just a horrid taste of cabbage in its wake, that method would. I shall steam mine for 3 minutes. It reminds me of one of our first English culinary experiences (although I think it was more a matter of a really bad cook, not an English person per se), with lovely hosts who shall remain nameless. The wife put a saucepan of cauliflower in water on the stove, turned up the heat, and suggested a nice walk around the lake before dinner! Eeek. I think there was a sad fillet of salmon that was sacrificed as well.

Speaking of recipes, let me direct you to an excellent foodie website, as nervous as I am that you will stop reading mine. I love everything she says about food. Enjoy!

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