Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Rum and French

25 September

Abandoning builders, teenagers and dog, this weekend I went to Paris where a heat wave was in progress. Didn't stop us eating or walking miles, however. On the first night we sat outside Le Voltaire near the Musee D'Orsay, gazing at the Seine as a perfect moon rose and slowly descended behind Ile de la Cite. Across the river  a lone light shone in the attics of the Louvre. Does someone live up there?  And how scary that must be at night, with Louis XIV, or even hoardes of  revolutionaries patrolling the corridors. Apparently a race used to take place each year  from one end of  the Louvre's upper floors  - all 1.5km of them - to the other. It became a much feted film.
Le Voltaire is old-fashioned Paris restaurant -  dark brown inside, low-lit with tiny booths, delicious food. A constant stream of chic Parisians arrived and departed as we ate a perfect souffle of turbot followed by tarte au prune  outside in the gloaming. The next night it was dinner in an
apartment high above the Quai D'Orsay. Walls lined with mirrors reflected the lights of the traffic roaring past below and floor to ceiling shelves were stuffed with Roman antiquities. Supper of  paella  was followed by a dusty bottle  unearthed from a cupboard.  See if you can guess what it is, said our host. It turned out to be a bottle of 1840 rum, left behind in a cellar that had been closed up during the war. It was head-reelingly strong, not to mention eye-watering if you stuck your nose in the glass.  After we had marvelled over the 1840, our host produced another bottle from the cupboard, this one ten years older. It was undrinkable. 'I have the whole case sitting in my office' the host's son told us. 'The smell is astonishing. By the end of the day I feel quite drunk...'

Arriving back to London several pounds heavier, I answer the door bell to a bloke who dumps a vast box of veg on the doorstep. 'Is it heavy?' I ask. 'Yes' he says, as he slopes off back to his van. Brawny builders have  knocked off for lunch which they take on the highest reaches of the scaffolding, balanced like crows on the top of a spindly tree, well out of ear-shot of the screeching householder.  I unpack my box in the doorway, therefore,  cursing and swearing and making frequent trips to the fridge. When I get to the bottom, a note tells me that 'this box has been delivered to you by our friendly and helpful couriers'. For anyone interested, it comes from 5 a day box Ltd ( and contains  (amongst other items) three different types and colours of cauliflowers, loads of squashes, spuds, kale, a ton of tomatoes, peppers and beetroot.

I turned one of the cauliflowers into a pasta dish with saffron and tomato cream sauce, discovered in  Leith's Vegetarian Bible (Bloomsbury) and adapted slightly to suit some missing ingredients

olive oil
one cauliflower, broken into florets
a couple of cloves of garlic, finley chopped
tomato paste
pinch of saffron strands, soaked in 2fl oz warm water
450g pasta, preferably small, or shell-shaped
5 tomatoes, roughly chopped
2tblsp cream
fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil  (roughly 3-4 tblsp) in a pan and cook the cauliflower florets over a medium heat for 5mins. Add the garlic (and some chili if you want a bit of spice) and cook for a further minute. Mix the tomato paste with a little water and stir it into the cauliflower. Cover and cook over a low heat for 15mins. Cook the pasta until al dente. Add the saffron and its liquid and the tomatoes to the  cauliflower, season, increase the heat slightly and continue to cook until the cauliflower is soft. Stir in the cream (a lack of cream, discovered at the last moment, meant I used coconut milk instead) and the parsley. Drain the pasta and stir into the sauce. Serve sprinkled over with parmesan.

plum awful...
Opening up a jar of the homemade plum jam (see previous post), I discover that I've actually made plum Turkish Delight. It's so hard the knife bends when you try to spread a bit on a piece of toast. I could cut it into squares, dust them with icing sugar and give it to someone for Christmas. 

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