ricotta

by Sabine 

A very hot July in Rome. We had arrived a week earlier, the entire tenth year chaperoned by our trendy young art teacher (who brought along his flamboyant wife) and the much older but immensely shy physics instructor. We messed up from day one, making fun of the sweating tour guide, playing hide and seek behind the ancient columns of the forum, sharing a smoke with the Swiss guard before dashing his hopes of a date, sneaking out of the hotel after midnight and getting into barroom fights. The year was 1975, we were 17 years young. 

I had persuaded my parents to let me stay for a few days longer with a tall tale about being with friends, meeting someone’s parents, while instead, I chatted up the most exciting looking hippies on Piazza Navona and together we walked the narrow streets of Trastevere, hitchhiked to Fregene, slept behind the bushes of the Villa Massimo.

On the morning of my departure, I strolled onto a small market square. I was down to my very last Lira, just enough to buy a small muslin bag of this strange white curd-like stuff, soft and dripping, and a handful of odd shaped tomatoes. The seller took pity on me scraping together my last coins and gave me a large chunk of warm bread and a bag of garlicky olives for free. 

I remember eating this slowly, a treasure, licking my fingers all the way on the night train crossing the Alps into Munich

Croatian supermarket treats

by Lydia

I had come to Croatia alone and, due to a bus mix up, had been on the move for almost 48 hours. I’d found my hostel in Split and almost teasingly kept myself away from the beach, returning to the hostel at least three times to pick up things I had forgotten, a hairbrush, more coins, another book. I went to a chain supermarket marvelling at the cheap deli prices. I purchased a tub of sardines, some cherry tomatoes, fresh bread and after deliberating – a couple of cans of beer. I had just turned twenty five and for some reason drinking by myself still felt like the utmost of luxuries. I sat down on the beach and piled the oily whitebait onto the bread and tipped it into my mouth, then bit into the tomato, the ripe flesh bursting on my face. The saltiness of the fish, the wheat of the bread and the sharp tang of the tomato set against the hot sand and crash of the sea. I’ll never forget it.

Schmaltz

by Matt Mahon

An incomplete list of fats.

The fat that rises to the top of chicken stock, after you’ve skimmed the scum. If no one’s watching, leave it there and drop all the vegetables through it so they bob around coated to a high gloss. If someone objects, the fat is removed from the stock but is snuck back into the soup in the kneidl mixture.

The connective tissue and fat in a shoulder of lamb, rendered to the point that the meat can be pulled from the bone with tongs. My father always says, “The meat can be pulled from the bone with tongs!”

That same lamb fat in the bottom of the tray the next day. If the lamb was rubbed with spices, the congealed fat is grainy and fluorescent yellow, and the gravy is bitter. The hard sheets of fat can be lifted out nearly whole to be thrown away, but there’s always a remainder. Mix in washing up liquid and emulsify it so it doesn’t clog the drain.

The grainy fat in cold lamb sliced the next day, a fat which coats the roof of your mouth like a cheap pastry.

Jellified chicken fat, schmaltz, revealed as you lift the cold chicken carcass out of the pot the next day. Best if still studded with the roast carrots and fennel. Put it in a sandwich with the chicken, roast vegetables and with mayonnaise. The first foie gras was a by-product of the schmaltz industry, as Ashkenazi Jews who didn’t have access to vegetable oils began force-feeding geese to produce more cooking fat.

Other jellified fats: pork pies with enough jelly (hard to find) and piccalilli, beef tongue sliced with gherkins.

Rendered fat, and fat mixed with meat. I’ve inherited a preference for streaky bacon over back. The fat in belly pork. Çöp shish. Crispy fat down the length of tandoori rib chops and pirzola.

Lardo, sliced thin on thin toast and grilled clear, with creamy goat’s cheese added afterwards. I can’t cut it finely enough by hand, and Continental Stores has closed down.

The fat on pork chops. These were not often enjoyed in our house. We didn’t keep kosher, but unadulterated pork was sometimes a step too far. Pork chops were out, but in a nod to the Irish side, boiled bacon ribs were fine (most of the fat to be left behind on the bone), and always eaten with floury potatoes and greens covered in butter.

Butter. Butter in everything. Every recipe begins: fry onions in butter with a bay leaf and salt.

Miso Memory

by Hannah Gregory

We would go to the small mall on the corner. First up to the third floor, from the basement carpark to the video rental, then down to the second floor for the restaurant. At the video rental I chose things like Beethoven (I & II), Turner & Hooch, and the Macauley Culkin ones. The chat between them about whether or not she liked or had seen a certain movie or series was more interesting to me than choosing a film for myself, so I earwigged while browsing the video boxes, to their chat which was grown-up, without being dull, maybe even cool. I listened, to find out. Later I would watch the movies in the darkened front room, and was given a dessert pot of Mövenpick or a Häagen Dazs ice on a stick; just me and the two dogs – jet-lagged, alone, and, for now, just fine.

The furnishings of the restaurant were soft pinkish red with dark wood and papery screens dividing the dining booths around the edges of the room. I knew what I wanted right away – I suppose because someone had suggested I have it before – tempura udon soup, with prawns, or maybe just veg: sweet potato slices in crisp shells, lotus root, and something stalky and green; the prawns’ tails fanning out of their coats which fell off into the broth as I ate. Particulates of soybean paste sitting cloudy in the dashi stock, and sharp bright scallions scattered over the top, as I fished for the disintegrating batter with a deep soup spoon.

Digging down into the bowl the fat chewy noodles would stir, slippery noodles that you were allowed to slurp. I learnt this in a different noodle bar where the chefs behind the counter stretched and cut long lengths of elastic dough. I was wondering about the noisy eaters all around me, and he told me that slurping was, in fact, a technique developed to suck up the dripping noodles fast without burning the sides of your mouth. With chopsticks I was already proficient because she had bought me a training pair with rings to put your thumb and two fingers through on my first visit, somehow incredulous that this six year old was not already agile.

The miso with udon was the first I’d tasted and the only one I would know for some time – back in Nottingham in the nineties there weren’t any Japanese restaurants. When I returned to the grey concrete of my school playground during lunch break, I would crave the comforting warmth and saltiness of the broth, and the sweet bite of the prawns – that, or the feeling of being away, alone, and just fine.

 

Paris, parsley and pasta

by Sophie

I was in Paris when I received a text from my mum saying my dad was in hospital, again. As an alcoholic these hospital trips were no rarity for my father but the frequency and unsurprising nature of them did not reduce my anxiety. Repeatedly having seizures (in a Tescos car park, in the newsagents around the corner from my house, at home alone and falling down the stairs, breaking his leg and cracking his head open) were the cause but nothing would stop him drinking. When it was announced he might have pneumonia I had a quick google and found myself in a state of panic. 

Distance added to my worry. I normally live about 2 hours away but i wasn’t going home for a few more days and couldn’t afford another flight. I lay in bed waiting for my friend next to me to wake up and once she did spent my day thinking about what we would have for dinner. I find that food is the only remedy when I feel low, I spend hours watching ‘River Cottage,’ and browsing recipe books, but here I had none of my  usual comforts. 

The aim of the trip to Paris was to eat well so when I requested to make dinner my friend eyed me suspiciously. She is normally in charge of the cooking and is very good at it, she’d made steak with garlic greens the night before and it was a tough act to follow. We visited the local Monoprix and after walking around and eyeing up the fish counter, smelling the herbs in the vegetable section and thinking ‘carbs will help me here’ I decided what to make. Tagliatelli with prawns, chorizo, garlic and parsley. Quite a simple dish but it was the best meal I’ve ever made, my friend even quipped ‘I didn’t know you could cook’. I don’t think I will ever be able to make or eat the meal again but I always keep it in mind. 

That’s quite a kick

by Anonymous

A family holiday in Slovenia when I was about 16 was my first time trying something wasabi flavoured, it was a large bag of wasabi flavoured crisps which I ate entirely on my own, revelling in the spicy kick they had. That night at dinner I thought the soup we were having tasted a bit strange, it didn’t seem to have any flavour. It tasted cold even though I knew it was hot. It took me another course to realise that I’d managed to damage my tastebuds and couldn’t taste a thing. It was 2 days before I was able to taste anything again. Since then I’ve not stopped picking anything wasabi whenever I’m given the chance.

bleu du vercors-sassenage and vedett

by Alex

It’s summer and we are both back in the town we grew up in. Not for long, for both us, but we don’t know that yet. I have finished my masters degree in librarianship and I’m commuting every day into Manchester, working on an cataloguing project: 19th century, private library. I learn a bit of latin, and feel uncultured and povvo compared to the rest of the staff and members of the institution. It’s shit money. I’m not eating a ton. The 40 minute train ride back into Yorkshire in the early evening is hot and stuffy each day and I spend most of it listening hard to music and biting back tears, because my world spun on it’s axis a few months before.

Anyway: it’s summer and we are both back in the town we grew up in. I was leaving town, years before, when we really paid attention to one another. Pretty soon we were glued to one another’s sides, total companions, quietly cheerful. Drinking a lot, arguing some, dancing some. He makes me feel fucking funny. We smoke, watch a lot of films, travel some, have no money. Lovely! I read books and listen to weird italo disco. He runs and listens to weird gabber tracks. It’s nice!

But yes, it’s summer and we are both back in the town we grew up in. I’m getting off the train and know he’s waiting. The air is cooler outside the city and we walk through the park, along the canal up to the fox and goose. It’s a member run, ramshackle old pub. They change the beers on a frequent-ish rotation. It is not trendy. There’s mildew on the walls, but you can sit on the roof and smoke and drink and look out at the dark satanic mills that our town is made up of. He just got back from Nantes, to see our friend Simon. I was supposed to go, too, but we are broken up now.

I always have a bottled beer, a lindeboom or tyskie or vedett. It’s so cheap. He drinks, as he always has, doubly faster than me. I have a vedett, and he pulls out some bleu du vercors-sassenage all wrapped in clingfilm, and a cheese knife. A fuckin cheese knife! I find these moments (there are many) so maddening because I am used to a tinny in the garden, a meat and two veg tea. Dinner is at lunchtime, tea is dinner. 5.30pm. I’m used to it because I know him. It feels comfortable. But I’ve been used to a chippy tea on a friday for longer so it’s still uncomfortable, a little embarrassing, a little jarring. Anyway we aren’t together but still tied together, not quite ready to be nothing to one another. He’s dating someone. We talk about it, our voices spiky. The cheese is delicious. I keep ripping off bits of it. The sun’s going down. We kiss, he walks me to the bus stop. I’m going to London next month.

Caravan marshmallows

by Stevie Mackenzie-Smith

Between the ages of 7 and 14, I lived half the week with my Dad in his caravan in the corner of a field he rented on a fruit farm. The farm produced apples, like coxes and russets which were small and funny looking and much too sharp to eat. But there were raspberries too, lining our corner of the field so I’d pick them straight from the bushes, and Malcolm the farmer who didn’t mind late payments, also didn’t seem to mind about the raspberries.

Our caravan was big and long with three bedrooms, and my Dad gutted the whole thing of it’s fitted plastic and sawed away at planks to lay wooden floors and make shelves instead. He pulled out the toilet – because having a waste tank just sitting there stagnant is disgusting, he said – and replaced it with a bath, which felt quite luxurious. Instead of a door, we pinned a fabric curtain and sometimes twisted it back so we could hold forth with each other, one in the kitchen and the other supine in hot water. With no toilet, we’d pee outside on the grass, or walk to the cold, spider-infested toilet at the top of the field for anything else.

My favourite thing about living at the caravan was the bonfire where we’d burn these great bits of chopped up tree and enter that hot-cheeked primal trance that takes hold when you gaze at flames. My Dad taught me to build a fire, and approach it with confidence, to get my face in close and blow a licking flame into action. “If you respect the fire,” my Dad said, “the fire will respect you.”

In the summer months, my Dad made a makeshift shower by the fire, so we could take these wonderfully smokey washes standing under a ladder with a water tank on top, with the owl up in the big tree cooing occasionally.

A fire meant one thing: marshmallows. Bought from the Spar down the road, there always seemed to be a packet on the go. Either folded, saved for later on top of the microwave, or in my lap by the fire. Of course I’d honed my marshmallow-toasting very precisely.

There was a lot riding on the stick – you had to choose one long enough so as not to burn the hairs on your hand, but up to the task of carrying valuable molten cargo without snapping.

You thread two marshmallows onto the stick. The white ones are best – slightly less sickly than the pink ones, and then you aim them just beside a glowing ember. No flames! That risks the marshmallows igniting dramatically. No, just wait it out by an ember, turning the stick like a spit, watching the sweet lumps start to bronze and bubble.

The bronzing is what you’re waiting for. That means the inside is melting and it’s ready. Take it from the fire, studiously blow the edges (marshmallow burns are awful) and then nibble the top layer of mallow. I hope you know what that tastes like, because it is bliss. Smoked, puffed up gelatinous sugary bliss! Savour that, but briefly because there’s more work to be done – each marshmallow has two or three layers worth of toasting, and there’s only so long before bed.

I’d sit there, silently turning, blowing, testing, biting, in a contented trance. My Dad would drink a can of beer or play his guitar or potter about, shifting wood. It’s good to know how to make something, exactly as you want it.