Fri 22 Feb 2013
Editor’s note: Today’s post is written by my husband Cormac, better known to you blog readers as Mountaineering Man. For my birthday a couple weeks back, he offered to cook me a homemade meal, which was a bit of a surprise; though he has become really good at making baked fish, roasted potatoes and the like he’s never made an entire meal using recipes. Here is his story.
WHAT do you cook the girl who’s eaten everything?
At least that’s what Clare told me she’d happily have for her birthday meal.
It was a significant birthday so this was going to be a significant meal. So the amount of planning and prep was going to be – you guessed it – significant.
This is the point where I would usually admit my shortcomings, go for the simplest thing possible and pray that enough butter (the chef’s ace in the hole) would carry me through.
Not this time.
Then it struck me. When Clare’s folks visited last year we had spent a night at home sipping wine and watching Two Greedy Italians – the wonderful foodalogue produced by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo.
The episode that night featured ‘Poor Man’s Food’ and one dish stood out in my memory – a chicken liver and truffle pasta cooked in the evening sun on a Piedmontese terrazza.
Food chosen, the next task began- Finding the ingredients. After sourcing the recipe on the show’s webpage I realised this was no Tesco jaunt.
In fact, I hadn’t cooked with most of the ingredients before. I don’t think I’d ever even seen a chicken liver.
My journalist’s day job, editing to rapidly-encroaching deadlines while juggling lawyers and a million and one other things, can be stressful.
But there’s stress and then there’s blind, flailing panic about where to find a decent bottle of Marsala wine in Dublin city centre at an hour’s notice.
In weather the (sub)polar opposite of a summer in Piedmont I made it to Little Italy, a great little Italian store in Smithfield. Twenty enjoyable minutes later I emerged, bag crammed with pasta, porcini, truffle oil, a very nice Chianti Classico and – per fortuna! – the elusive wine liqueur itself.
I arrived home with less than an hour to spare before Clare arrived hungry, tired and expecting, well, something.
One thing I quickly learned was that – like the sun drenched terrace – the bucolic soft-tones of Carluccio’s cooking aren’t too easy to replicate against time, on a first outing, in an apartment kitchen.
My left hand weighed, my right chopped, any hopes of keeping my shirt clean disappeared in minutes. An hour of straining (the porcini, my nerves), simmering (the pasta, my anger over a snafu with the eggs) and tossing (the salad, caution to the wind) got me there.
Mercifully I had the foresight to lay the table beforehand (and fecklessly spend a chunk of my precious time handwriting a slightly-legible menu).
My fallback was gift of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. I reckoned If Clare couldn’t eat a nice meal at least she could look at pics of one.
So, with candles lit, my wife emerged, and I held my breath. I think she was surprised – and in a good way. So was I.
We ate, drank and ate a little more. The food was – if I say so – good, the company better, of course.
To seal the deal I whipped out a bar of Fondente all‘Albana, a last minute chocolate addition to my basket in the food store hours earlier. We wrapped the night nibbling and sipping. Una grand notte – as they say in Alba…
Postscript – three days later I was gob smacked when my efforts, tweeted by Clare, got a nod from Gennaro Contaldo himself, no less. Which has racheted up the pressure for the next one!
I used two recipes from the Two Greedy Italians’ webpage
The bresaola salad recipe is here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/bresaola_salad_04379
The chicken liver pasta here:
Both recipes serve four – I broadly divided by two. I dropped the truffle slices and used a decent truffle oil instead. The near-impossibility of sourcing unsalted butter meant I went opted for the regular stuff.