Arcimboldo’s Summer

Arcimboldo’s Summer
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) was the master of these pre-surrealist paintings of figures formed of grouped objects (not always food).

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Meal of the Week: Gran Duro Ciabatta, Mozzarella and Tomato

This splendid ciabatta, made with golden durum wheat, comes with a recipe on the label. More of a serving suggestion than a recipe — very simple, and very familiar. Indeed, an old favourite. But I hadn't had it for a while, so it was with my mouth watering that I warmed the bread for 10 minutes in a hot oven, then sliced it in half down the middle and spilt one half lengthwise.

I then layered the cut quarter loaf with sliced tomatoes (using the other quarter loaf as a surface for slicing the tomatoes, to catch the juice) and slices of mozzarella and ground some black pepper over it. Then I added torn basil leaves and repeated the whole process until the quarter loaf was stacked high.

Then I poured olive oil on it ('drizzle' is the official word, but this was a generous drizzle) and stuck the other quarter loaf back on top to make a big fat sandwich. Then I devoured it.

It was outstandingly delicious. The olive oil I used was a top Spanish number called Picualia Aove 1. It's a classy oil and one of my favourites. There is a hint of agreeable, aromatic rankness to it which at first suggested fresh garlic to me. But it's more accurately compared (as it is in the company's literature) to truffles.

This oil has a strong character of its own and next time I might try a blander, simpler oil which instead of asserting itself merely brings out the flavour of the other ingredients.I can hardly wait to attempt this experiment (I still have half the loaf, remember?). And I can only begin to imagine what it would be like with real buffalo mozzarella instead of the cheap stuff I used...

But in the meantime, this is the meal of the week.

(PS: Tried the blander oil but Picualia made for a noticeably superior sandwich.) 

(PPS: Bought another loaf and tried it with buffalo mozzarella — Laverstoke Farms Buffalo Mozzarella — and it was superb. Which it should be, considering it cost three times as much as my usual mozzarella; but only because it was on special. Normally it's five times as much.) 

(Image credit: the pack shot of the bread is from Waitrose, which is indeed where I bought it. The Picualia olive oil bottle is from the Evoo Gourmet website.)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Aura Chilean Olive Oil

I'm always keenly interested in olive oil, so when I had a chance to try a posh-looking specimen of a Chilean extra virgin oil from Tesco, I was keen. Aura Limited Edition (I'm a sucker for that) Estate Bottled (ditto) is a blend of Arbosana and Picual olives. It was also on special, about a third off its full price at Tesco's (as I write this it's still on discount there for a couple of days), so that was the clincher.

Disappointing to report, then, that at a Supper Club blind tasting of extra virgin olive oils (dipped with pieces of bread) the Aura didn't stand out. I decided not to buy it again. In fact, I decided to get rid of the rest of it in cooking. So I used it in the legendary Jim Harrison Pizza Sauce.

But the results were so fabulous that I actually went out and bought another bottle. There was something about the synergy of the oil with this recipe which was devastatingly delicious. Well worth a try.

(Image credit: The bottle shot is taken from Aura's own rather groovy FaceBook page.)

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Testin' Heston 2: Ham Hocks

As Part 2 of my great Christmas Heston Experiment I sampled his Mini Ham Hock and Piccallili Terrine Slices. 

(Ham hocks were until recently a cheap and unfashionable cut of meat. Suddenly they're trendy.) And these Mini Slices were very nice. As much as I enjoy his more spicy and exotic creations, I do prefer Heston to be straightforward. 

These slices don't require any cooking or other preparation — I immediately and decisively disregarded the suggestion to serve them with piccallili mayonnaise and micro herbs, whatever the hell those are — and simply dished them up on pieces of decent quality bread with some salading, maybe a sliced tomato and either ordinary Hellmann's mayo or a drizzle of olive oil. Tasty, wholesome and simple.

This confirms my impressions in an earlier post. Heston is at his best when providing simple food from straightforward ingredients of high quality. 

I still feel sorry for the pigs, though.

(Image credit: The picture is from Ocado, Waitrose's online sales site.)

Monday, 6 January 2014

Supper Club Christmas Panettone Tasting

The Supper Club meets most Thursdays at my house in London. The founder members are myself, Naomi Moore and John Tygier. Other early attenders include Chuck Cartmel and Keith Temple

For this year's Grand Christmas Supper Club all these worthies were present, plus special guests Ben Aaronovitch and John's son Sam Tygier.

To mark the time of year we indulged in a special panettone comparison. This was a 'blind tasting' — a slightly alarming term that means that no one (except me) knew which panettone was which before we'd finished tasting them all.

My shortlist of panettones was taken from this excellent review at Italy Travel & Life where they tasted a total of seven.

The three contenders I selected (I didn't think we could stuff down more than three) were Sainsbury's Drunken Panettone (so called because it is drenched in sweet wine), the Arden & Amici Classi Panettone from Waitrose and the Favorina Panettone from Lidl.

The results? The Drunken Panettone and Arden & Amici tied for first place, with my personal preference being for the Drunk. The Favorina was somewhat drier and had less fruit than the others, but still tasted very agreeable. 

And when you consider the Favorina cost £4 per kilo versus over £10.50 per kilo for Arden & Amici, and over £13 per kilo for the Drunken one, then it becomes a serious contender.

Well done Lidl. And since it's the season of goodwill I'll even forgive you for your mis-labelled prawns. For now.

(Image credits: the main picture, of the wreckage after the meal, is courtesy of my brother Chuck. The individual panettone pack shots come from the aforementioned Italy Travel & Life panettone review.)