One of the best things about being back in Europe is that I am close to quite possibly my favorite city in the world…London! And with the Eurostar, it’s so damned easy to get here – and not crazy expensive, if you are able to plan far enough in advance to take advantage of the cheaper fares.
I’m in London this week, staying with my really good friend Bethan. It’s been a lovely trip – spending time with an old girlfriend is always special but also getting the opportunity to be here with her family (she has 3 kids – Oscar, a boisterous 6 yrs, Marnie, a freshly turned 5 yr old, and Honor…a little minx at 2.5 years) is fabulous. Yesterday we were lucky to be able to get out a deux.
So we took a bus to London Bridge and walked forever along the brilliant Southbank (which was not much of anything when I lived in London back in the early 90’s), ending up at the Tracey Emin ‘Love is What You Want’ show at the Hayward Gallery.
Fantastic show – seeing all of the pieces together made me appreciate her. I always thought she was just going for the controversy factor, but actually I am now starting to get her and her art. She has had a seriously screwed up life…and her art certainly reflects that! This exhibition is not for the feeble of heart. While we were there, I saw a group of two middle aged and one older women (I suspect the older woman was their granny). I think the final straw was when they came around the corner and saw, amongst others, the c*** word in neon…granny was quite taken aback, and they couldn’t get out of there fast enough (kudos to them though, they had made it through at least 5 rooms of quite explicit art before making their dash!) Not sure what those women were thinking…maybe they just stumbled upon the exhibition having had no exposure to TE before. I bet they went and immediately had a cup of tea to restore their nerves!
Then to top off our outing, Bethan and I went to a restaurant that I have been wanting to go to for a long time, Ottolenghi. My mouth is still watering at the smoked lamb cutlets with burnt miso aubergine and jalapeno sauce. OMG…so damned good…that lamb is the BEST that I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something for a kiwi!) In fact, everything we ate was excellent (I think the waitress was looking at us weirdly by the time we left as we were so enthusiastic about everything). Bethan has one of their cookbooks, which I read cover-to-cover while there, and now I have an order with Amazon winging its way to me as I write this (together with a few other cookbooks that I just have to have). More posts and recipes to follow!
Tonight, I am cooking dinner for Bethan and Rob, while they are at parent-teacher interviews. I’m using an old favourite, from the tomb of a cookbook, The Silver Spoon. This recipe (see below) is created by Lidia Bastianich, whose son, Joe, is the biz partner of Mario Batali (and Iron Chef and one of my favourite guys on TV in North America). They know their Italian food (one of my earlier posts contained one of her recipes for braised swiss chard and cannellini beans)! I love this recipe as it’s super-simple but very tasty. If you can’t get Sweet Italian sausages, like me in Paris where finding anything non-French is always a challenge (“Non, we don’t have that – it’s not French” is something we hear quite often at our local market), then just use the best quality pork sausages that you can find.
Zite with Sausage, Onions and Fennel (Serves 6)
1 tbsp sea salt
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (without fennel seeds)
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and halved lengthwise
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, halved and sliced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp chile flakes
½ cup tomato paste
500g zite (or I use penne)
Fronds from the top of the fennel
1 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Bring a large pan of water with the salt to boiling point. Meanwhile, remove the sausage from its casing and break the meat up with your fingers. Slice the fennel halves lengthwise in 1/4” thick slices. Separate the slivers of fennel if they are attached at the base and cut into 2-inch long batons (I’m not too fussy re this part!)
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the sausage meat and cook, stirring and breaking it up with a wooden spoon, for about 1-1½ minutes until it is sizzling and beginning to brown.
Push sausage to one side, add the onion slices and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes until they are sizzling and wilting, then stir them in with the meat.
Push the mixture to one side, add the fennel batons and cook for about 1 minute until wilted, then stir into the sausage and onion mixture.
Sprinkle in half the salt and push to one side again.
Add the chile flakes and toast for 30 seconds, then stir them in.
Move the mixture to the sides of the pan, add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes until it is sizzling and caramelizing, then stir it into the sausage mixture.
Ladle 3 cups of the salted, boiling water into the skillet, stir well and bring the liquid to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 6 minutes until the fennel is soft but not mushy.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until almost al dente. Check the sauce which should not be too thick – if necessary, stir in additional boiling pasta water.
When the sauce is done, adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Drain the pasta briefly and add to the simmering sauce. Toss, and add more pasta cooking water if the sauce seems too thick. Sprinkle with the fennel fronds and cook, tossing constantly, for 2 minutes until the pasta is perfectly al dente and coated with the sauce.
Remove from heat, sprinkle the grated cheese and toss to combine. Serve.