WOKE up Sunday morning, yawned, looked out the window. Glorious day. Not a cloud in the sky, head didn’t hurt. Didn’t need an organically-brewed Fair Trade beer for breakfast, never mind one more for dessert. Perfect, just perfect. A perfect day for killing some sacred cows.
At the risk of annoying the Food Police and having them send the Gourmet Gendarmes around to have me locked up, there are so many taboos, so many righteous foodies telling us how to eat what, and when, and the stultifyingly repetitive mantra of only the freshest, freshest, freshest (coffee bean, basil leaf, tomato, guava, quivering quail, poor little fluffy wabbit) ingredient that I sometimes sink into the depths of culinary despair at the mere thought of trying to get through the day without causing gastronomical offence.
So forgive me for my tasteless trespasses, for I have sinned. I have (look, just sit down, OK, this is going to make gruesome reading) … I have eaten tomatoes from a tin. There. I’ve said it. It was tough. For some moments, I felt sure I was not going to be able to do it. But once I had the tin opener in my hands, inserted the sharp bit and slowly turned, it all flooded back to me. I could do this. My hands remembered, and opening a tin is like riding a bike. Your body remembers.
But it’s like a drug, this tin thing. You turn a corner, go to a dark place you never wanted to go back to, and it takes you, it grabs you and it won’t let you go. Soon, you’re opening tins of tuna (not fresh from the fish!), tins of soup (with free preservatives and sundry chemicals) and, that darkest of all Unholy Grails, the dreaded baked beans. Yes, I hear your choked gasp, the spittle caught unawares in your throat just when it was expectorating to freedom. Baked beans. OMG.
Baked beans on toast! Aha. Got you there, didn’t I? Had you lulled into a coma of despair and despondency, then I sneaked in those two magic words, and you could smell it, you could taste it, couldn’t you? Baked beans. On toast. Hot and oozing tomatoey temptation, the sauce sinking into the butter, the butter dissipating into the hot toast. I know, I know, you just have to have some. Off you go.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are going to consider another great taboo.
I know, I know, you’ve hardly had time to assimilate the idea of using tinned ripe Italian tomatoes packed with flavour instead of growing your own for three months and then pulping them yourself. And there, on the second kitchen shelf from the top in the corner, is the squat, shiny machine you insisted on having for Christmas three years ago and which you swore to yourself and to all your foodie friends was the new best thing in your life, which you were going to use at least twice a week. And look, your secret’s safe with me. I know you’ve only used it now and then. Just like me. We’re human, we’re fallible and, yes, we hardly ever use our pasta machines.
We use pasta in a packet. And it’s OK. And, really, let’s get past this silly pretension that it is just not good enough to buy packet pasta. Here’s the truth: it’s not so much how you make your pasta, it’s how you cook it. If you know what you’re doing in the big bubbling pot, your shop-bought quality pasta is going to be magnificent.
And pasta doesn’t have to be the entire meal in itself. Pasta, in a smaller portion, and still tossed in its sauce or simply buttered or doused in olive oil, makes a great accompaniment to meat cooked the Italian way.
Which is how I served it the other day. I bought some veal shin and decided to make osso buco, or my variation of it. I did not follow a recipe, so this is an interpretation.
Douse each piece of veal shin lightly in flour that you’ve seasoned with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides in olive oil on a moderate heat. Set aside. Saute sliced onion and chopped garlic gently until soft. Deglaze with a glass of white wine, add a dreaded tin of Italian chopped tomatoes, a glass of passata or other tomato puree, a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, a few sprigs of fresh oregano, and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the chunks of veal shin, make sure they’re all dunked in the sauce, cover and simmer gently for three hours. I did mine in the tajine on the stove top, but any casserole in the oven will do.
To serve, make some fettucine, from a packet. When al dente, remove the osso buco to your plates, then toss the drained fettuccine in the same sauce and serve alongside. Sprinkle gremolata over the top – chopped parsley, grated garlic and grated orange or lemon zest, combined.
And no, the garlic, parsley and zest can’t come out of a tin, Daisy.
First published in Weekend Argus winter 2011