Creativity in the Kitchen – it’s much better than Pedantry…

I have a bag of alleged Jersey Royals. I say alleged because, whatever they are, they have neither the shape, texture, nor taste of the Jersey Royals of, say, just a decade ago. Either JRs have been hybridised to produce a more prolific crop or what we are being sold, as with Maris Piper** is something entirely different.

**Maris Piper have one quality in which they surpass most other spuds – they make superb, crisp, golden, chips. But, if you buy a bag of Maris Piper, only about a third of the contents will pass the chip test. The rest will be so wet, and high in sugars, they’ll burn before they crisp. We’re paying for a premium spud and getting cheap, watery, crap – just as we are, I believe, with Jerseys.

Anyway, I boiled a few JRs for lunch the other day, and they were a profound disappointment, so today, rather than give in to the temptation to bin them, I’m going to make soup – a sort of hot and liquid Russian Salad, flavoured with that bane of Elizabeth David, fresh rosemary.

If you don’t like rosemary – I love the stuff as long as it’s fresh (or in my case, doused in olive oil, put in a plastic bag, rolled into a tight sausage, and frozen, when it keeps in perfect condition for months – I hack off lumps as needed, let it soften and then chop it finely) – then feel free to use something else. Sage is good. Loathed by ED too, so definitely worth a try! Or marjoram if you want something less assertive.

And that got me thinking, again, about Julian Barnes and his book, The Pedant in the Kitchen. The further I get into Barnes’ book the greater the feeling that he owes me 99p!

It’s not so much pedantry – hell, I’m a pedant – it’s just miserable, objectionable, pickiness for its own sake – a pathetic and dismal attempt to display his own presumed superiority. The book is without merit, and reading it is a soul-sucking experience.

He claims to have well over 100 cookbooks, which is more than me, but has benefited from them far less, and uses maybe one recipe from each where I use none. OK, each to their own, but I simply cannot understand a mind that has access to such a wealth of information, but is still terrified of the very idea of devising its own recipes, and which has never gone beyond just following someone else’s.

It’s really not hard. I have – and this isn’t me boasting, it’s just a fact – over 100 vegetarian recipes, and all of them my own. God knows what the total would be if I added in all the meat and fish recipes (the only reason I know how many veggie recipes there are is because they’re the ones I’ve written up).

And yes, I do know how lucky I am that cooking appears to be hard-wired and, as a result, mostly effortless**, while some people struggle to make, say, an omelette turn out the same twice in succession. And no, that’s not a virtue (you know who you are!).

**By which, DWP Snoops, I mean easy intellectually. Physically it’s extremely demanding and, all too often, beyond me. And that’s why I live on soups and stews – maximum results for the effort.

And today there’ll be a new recipe added to the list.

On Monday I’d planned to make a Russian Salad, but it never happened. I had a bad day, in way too much pain, the nurses were later than usual, and I couldn’t be bothered – I just boiled a handful of fake Jersey Royals and ate them for lunch.

This morning, though, writing the ingredients list for this new recipe it dawned on me that it was, in essence, a soup version of a Russian Salad. With a couple of additions.

And, hey, Mr. Barnes, I’ve created a recipe. Omitted the mayo, added stock (and a few other bits), got something new and different. See how easy it is? Here’s a tip – whine less, think more.

Ingredients:-

500g Jersey Royals, boiled and cut into roughly 1cm dice – spuds are irregular so don’t try to be too precise, it won’t happen (I left the skins on – your call). Whether all 500g will go in depends on the size of your pot – mine is my regular 3-litre casserole. Any that won’t fit are the cook’s treat – season and dust with Harissa – wonderful!

4 small/medium Echalion Shallots, finely chopped

2 small Cooking Onions, ditto

3 medium Carrots, cut into small dice, roughly ½ cm. As with the spuds, trying for precision is futile

Swede, the same amount, ditto

300g Frozen Peas. I used Birds Eye garden peas; petit pois are good, too

80g Frozen Spinach, finely chopped (weighed when thawed and squeezed dry – it’s about 6 or 8 frozen lumps)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh or frozen Rosemary

Good knob of Butter, preferably clarified

3 Kallo organic veg stock cubes

Marigold Bouillon Powder, as below, to taste

½ teaspoon Celery salt

Maldon Sea Salt and Schwartz fine black pepper

If using frozen Rosemary in olive oil, allow it to thaw in a sieve, drain off the oil and add to the butter. If using unclarified butter add a splash of olive oil anyway, it’ll help prevent burning.

Method:-

Same as always but, as I said in the last post, not everyone will know what that is, so here goes.

Melt the butter along with the oil, if using, and sweat off the alliums over a low heat (Mr. Barnes, the reason your butter burns is very simple – it’s nothing to do with time, it’s just too damned hot and you probably didn’t clarify it or add oil!), until soft but not coloured, then add the rosemary, the carrot and swede, the spinach, plus the Kallo cubes, a quarter teaspoon of black pepper and the celery salt.

Pour over enough boiling water to just cover, stir well to dissolve the stock cubes, cover, return to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until carrots and swede are almost soft, then add the peas, increase heat to a gentle boil until the peas are cooked, by which time the carrot and swede should be too, then add the diced potatoes.

Add more boiling water to within about an inch and a half of the top, stir, and leave for the spuds to heat through, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.

While still hot, though, if you want the liquid a little thicker, stir in 2 tablespoons of Smash.

When cool enough, check and adjust the seasoning; you can also add some Marigold if you feel it needs a boost (add more water if it turns out too salty), and when cold refrigerate overnight, as always, to allow the disparate flavours to snuggle up in the dark.

If you’re lucky enough to have genuine Jersey Royals, it will undoubtedly taste better than mine. And it can, of course, be made with any well-flavoured, waxy potato (floury spuds will disintegrate)

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