January 30, 2007
Cooking sessions come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the meandering all-day session involving hours spent pouring over dusty old French cookbooks, leisurely trips to favourite delis, markets, butchers. A careful following of arcane recipes; an exact weighing and measuring of ingredients; a studied attention to achieving a perfect balance of flavours, colours and textures. The Goldberg Variations tinkling quietly in the background.
This kind of session climaxes, sometimes a day or two later, in the Grand Unveiling of the meal itself before a select audience of admirers. For the hopeful chef this occasion brings either glory or shame, depending on whether the stuff that was meant to rise has risen, and the stuff that was meant to set has set, etc etc
At the other end of the scale is the cursory school-night session. Home from work, turn on the oven, bung in an onion – while it roasts have a shower, a shave and a [game of scrabble ed. Maths Chick]. Swill it all down with a beer, a slab of cheese, a dollop of pickle on the side. Nigel Slater is the patron saint of this kind of slapdash cooking sesh, suited to the hectic lifestyles of ambitious estate agents and PR reps.
Sometimes the mood of a cooking session can change from stately to hectic in mid-stream. Last night Wi-Fi Tom came round for a whiskey, a chinwag and a bit of grub. I started cooking a couple of hours before he was due, with the aim of preparing a soothing Jerusalem artichoke soup and an omelette. Nothing fancy-pants. All calm and collected.
Perhaps putting The Ramones Anthology on the stereo was what did it. A punkish abandon started to prevail. With the opening riff from ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, the steam rising out of the pans took on a hellish appearance. As ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ reached the second chorus, the tomato sauce started spitting fiercely, the work surface descended into a chaotic mess of knives, gadgets and discarded packaging. By the time ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ kicked in the kitchen had become a seething mosh-pit. Frenzied chopping and uncontrolled dicing ensued. New diabolical combinations were improvised. Loud flavours started bullying their softly-spoken colleagues. The lunatic vegetables had taken over the asylum.
And who was the ring-leader? The Jerusalem Artichoke of course, the most anarchic of vegetables. They really don’t belong in polite company. Gnarled and bulbous, they look like an alcoholic’s nose or a horribly disfigured testicle. Maths chick thinks they’re the devil’s own vegetable and refuses to even so much as sniff them. Me, I love them for their bad attitude and uncouth appearance.
I like them in a soup made of half potatoes and half artichokes, sweated off with onions, celery, bacon and garlic, and simmered in stock and milk. I also make a variation of baked beans with them by simmering them until soft in an oniony tomato sauce, along with a tin of haricot beans and some chunks of bacon. Apparently they make a good gratin, if you boil them, dot them with butter, sprinkle with parmesan and bung them under the grill. Or you could attach them to your eye-lids with a safety pin and hang out with the cyber-dogs down at Camden Lock.