I didn’t observe one of my small rituals this year, to finish any book I am reading before the new year.
I am glad I didn’t rush through Delizia by John Dickie. It was a good culinary history, with the right balance of amusing historical detours which kept me interested even during the time periods that I don’t find particularly interesting (18th century to late 19th is just ever so dull in so many countries). I’m not terribly interested in Italian history, and as a result I have a sketchy understanding of it, so this book happily illuminated some of my knowledge gaps. It also made for a good time telling my Italian BFF about the myriad French influences in Italian cooking.
Delizia also primed my palate for The Food of Love by Anthony Capella. While the plot was predictable (ripped from Cyrano de Bergerac after all) the descriptions of cooking were delightful. It was nice to read a light romance that was not chick lit, although I didn’t connect with the characters very well. Bruno, the hero, was likeable enough but I didn’t fall in love with him, which was too bad. I didn’t even really care enough to try and picture him as Gigi Buffon, although I may do so if I ever re-read. Aside from the descriptions of dishes, the most interesting parts of the book were the kitchen scenes in the haute-cuisine restaurant.
Unfortunately, none of it inspired me to any great culinary heights, rather after all I craved a very American spaghetti (and the last of some leftover linguine) with meat sauce. At the very least, I know more than to ‘go native’ and call it spaghetti bolognese.
Simple meat sauce for spaghetti.
500g mince beef
2 cans chopped tomato
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic
1 fresh red chili (or dried flaked to taste)
1 large onion
2 bay leaves
optional (and sneaky): fish sauce.
Brown mince, drain, put aside. Dice onion, carrot, garlic, chili. Using a pot large enough for all your liquid, saute onion in some olive oil on medium-low heat until yellow and soft. Add in more oil if necessary, chili and garlic, carrots and dried herbs. I use a bit of thyme and slightly more oregano, but to taste. Add in 2 tbsp tomato paste, stir until everything is coated & the paste is cooking a bit. Mix in mince thoroughly then tip in a cup…or so..of red wine* and let cook down for a few minutes. Add canned tomatoes, rinsing cans with a little water, and more tomato paste if it seems too thin. Stir in bay leaves, don’t just stick them on the top.
Sugar and salt to taste, about a tsp of sugar if it tastes bitter to you. Fish sauce can also be added at this point if you want to round the sauce out a bit. It can also be snuck in later for that umami taste, but if you’re like me and have a partner who complains that his food tastes “like seagull” after he’s seen you cooking with it, make sure that you give enough time for the fishy flavour to cook down and mute.
Let simmer covered for a half-hour/45 minutes so that it cooks down. Taste frequently and adjust seasonings as you like.
*Red wine: I’ll use whatever is in the house; but I’m broke and here in the UK I only buy supermarket South African wine, so be aware. We used a surprisingly tasty ASDA Extra Special Pinotage. My rule for cooking with wine is, if I’m making a large dish of something like stew or pasta sauce where it will cook down quite well, I measure the amount of wine based on how much of the rest of the bottle I will drink, and whether it needs finishing immediately. The thoroughly modern male does not like wine, so I’m on my own with the waste-not want-nots. I had a 6 am train, and was, as usual, miserable about it, and it was the last day of Christmas holidays, so I used a third of the bottle.