As a (mostly) vegetarian who tries to source as much of his food from the UK as possible, this time of the year offers rather slim pickings.  This was, of course, true for our ancestors as Ruth Goodman et al have made clear over recent years – though they (the ancestors) didn’t have the option of buying strawberries flown in from countries as yet undiscovered by Europeans.

Fruit is more-or-less limited to cooking apples, with an occasional and very welcome sighting of forced rhubarb arriving from candle-lit sheds in the shadow of the M62.  For vegetables, you can find brassicas though I refuse to eat sprouts and find cabbage too insipid in both flavour and colour to buy (oddly, as a child I also rejected cabbage but then for its excess of undesirable flavour).  Kale is available and has both taste and colour, but has become rather fashionable of late – and I do try and avoid soi-disant super-foods (or foods as I call them) as a matter of principle (obviously, any food clad only in lycra and sporting a cape would be an exception – especially if it were also airborne).  This only really leaves root vegetables as a local option in a normal year.  This year, being far from normal, I can still obtain locally grown peppers, courgettes and aubergines as they have yet to face a real frost – which makes for a rare treat (or is this a taste of climatic things to come?).

Generally, in this country the root vegetable is considered (at best) as a side dish and  often good only to feed to animals – though admittedly, even I have yet to try a mangel wurzel in my home cooking (not that I’m not tempted, I just don’t know where to source one).  I have made some use of carrots, parsnips and even celeriac over recent years, though usually only in modest amounts – but it is only recently that I have perfected the luxurious dish for which I believe they were born (grown?  bred?).  This is my take on a winter ratatouille – inspired by 10 Greek Street followed up by significant web research and a lot of experimentation in my underground bunker.

Please tell us this wonder recipe, I hear you cry (or was that just the voices in my head, as per usual?).  Well, as you asked so nicely, and it’s been a while since the last recipe published on GofaDM, here goes:

Take selection  of root vegetables (I used carrots, parsnips, celeriac and swede) and slice or dice them into smallish chunks.  My experience is that the swede should be in the smallest chunks – or it can remain stubbornly hard after cooking.  Coat in oil and roast for a while – at least 30 minutes and perhaps a little more (yesterday they had nearer 50) – at a high temperature (I used 200°C).  Once your root vegetables have roasted, roughly chop a clove (or two) of garlic and an onion (I used a red one) and gently fry in oil (I used rapeseed) for a few minutes to soften.  Then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, the roasted vegetables and seasoning to the pan and cook through for a few minutes to let all the flavours suffuse.  Meanwhile, grill some slices of a rinded goat’s cheese (I’ve been using Kidderton Ash).  Serve the ratatouille garnished with the grilled cheese and prepare your taste buds for the time of their lives!  Well, I really like it, frankly it almost makes winter worthwhile on its own.

It is also a dish made of pretty cheap ingredients – which must be a boon in these austere times.  It reminds me of advice I was given by the redoubtable Katherine Whitehorn when I started university (in a book you understand, she was not my personal advisor when I was a student – if only).  She wrote then that if meat was 70p/lb it was cheap while if vegetables were 70p/lb they were expensive: so eat more vegetables (I paraphrase).  Whilst the prices (and units) may have changed somewhat since the mid-80s, I think the advice is still essentially sound.

Trust Twitter (sometimes)

It is very easy to wonder about the point of Twitter: particularly if you have the misfortune to read my occasional productions (or are awaiting the next chapter of my Twitter novel).  It is often seen as the haunt of trolls and a good place to find idiotic young people for the police to arrest in a blaze of publicity (and poppies).

It offers me an outlet for my shorter pieces of written stupidity and provides the occasional chuckle at the witticisms or pictures tweeted by the select(ish) few that I follow.  However, it can also offer real world utility to the user (well, this user anyway).

As has been established, it introduced me to 10 Greek Street which I visited yesterday evening.  I was in town for work, but manage to tack on some pleasure after my duties to “the man” were complete.  It was a particularly good visit in a number of ways:

  • Most practically, I learned a whole new way to prepare curly kale or cavolo nero to avoid introducing excessive stalk into the final dish.  It was a technique I would never have thought of for myself (I might even tell you what the trick is one day, but only after I’ve tested it myself – it looked easy, but that may have been down to the skill of the chefs).
  • The starter also gave me some ideas for something different to do with the squashes that are in season at the moment – and included that 10GS favourite, burrata.
  • The meal was accompanied by a particularly lovely (and reasonably priced) glass (OK, two) of red wine: a Costières de Nîmes.
  • Finally, such is my trust in the food there that I tried a main course that I would never have risked elsewhere (even at home).  I made the right choice!  The onion tart was absolutely sublime – containing halved onions so sweet and delicious I would never have imagined it possible.  It also avoided generating the adverse side-effects which onion-ingestion can engendered in your author.  A fact much appreciate by the later theatre audience and those sharing my train home.

The same chap who introduced me to the delights of Greek Street had also made reference to Albam Clothing – who, all too rarely in this day and age, sell clothing and related items which are manufactured in the UK.  Yesterday, I finally made my way to one of the London shops and left with a smart Aiguille rucksack made in the Lake District, so it should be able to keep my stuff dry even given the rather moist climate which now seems to dominate South Cambs (very much a new lake district in the making).  I also acquired a navy cardigan (the colour rather than the armed service), well I am middle-aged: what did you think I wore?

Before this orgy of food and shopping, I made time for some art.  I decided to check out some of the gear my membership of the Art Fund had helped to secure for the nation.  Can’t say I was wildly impressed by the Titian’s – his heads seem too small for their bodies – but that is probably my fault rather than his.  Still, I did see some very interesting stuff at the National Gallery and could feel that the odd square millimetre (or more likely, micron) of it was, in some way, mine!

Before that I went to a gallery in an area of London never previously graced by my presence – the area between Dalston and Haggeston.  I had previously though this was some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland – and was pleasantly surprised to find that areas were really rather beautiful.  It also led to my first trip on the London Overground – which spent most of its time underground, but then again my immediately preceding journey on the Underground mostly took place above ground – much swankier than the East London line it replaced and hugely extended.

My destination played host to an exhibition I had discovered through Twitter – though I can no longer remember who brought it to my attention.  The exhibition was entitled Horrorgami and was a set of 13 kirigami works – each an iconic building from a horror film – in a light box.  Kirigami is like origami – it is made by folding paper, but you are allowed to cut the paper.  I have no particular interest in horror films, but the “models” were incredible and very beautiful and must require the most incredible planning and cutting and folding precision.  I am now wondering where I could fit one at home: I have narrowed it down to shortlist of four works, but it will need to be installed near a mains supply.  I would thoroughly recommend going to the exhibition – but you’ll have to hurry as tomorrow is the final day!

My final event of the day was unrelated to Twitter, but was vaguely trust-related.  I went to see a play which was very highly rated in reviews when it was on at the Royal Court earlier in the year, but tickets were impossible to come by.  Yesterday, it started a short run in the West End and I managed to snag a ticket for the first night (though at rather higher cost than it would have been at the Royal Court).  The play, Constellations, was very good – and pleasingly brief and interval free (so, home to bed at a reasonable time) – funny, sad and thought provoking.  No real scenery but an amazing set comprised of light globes and balloons and very clever lighting design to capture jumps between the many-worlds involved.

Sometimes, I feel my life is pretty good – but then again, I am a pretty cheap date: my ambitions and desires can generally be met on a pretty modest budget.