They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but amidst all the column miles stretching around the dawn of the new decade, devoted to detox, retox, pretox, botox and all things raw and vegetal, what could I do but reach for Nigel Slater’s squeaky new book Tender in an effort to look interested. This book was a just-because present for the BSG late last year - well, more of a boomerang pressie actually - and
he’s I’m enjoying it very much. Before the Christmas festivities really kicked in, I admit that I hadn’t been screaming out for roots and leaves, but now that flurries of January guilt are upon us, well, this ode to vegetables makes so much sense, albeit still freezing outside. Once you are inside and past the leafy cover, even the font employed evokes the tendrils and shoots of spring.
And so it is, and straight to the cauliflower chapter: a pale and beguiling creature that seemed an appropriate focus in an arctic week that promises yet more of the white stuff. On New Year’s Day after a hedonistic banquet, bonfire and bash on the Cornish coast in a house plucked from an Agatha Christie novel, a motley crew of revolutionaries staggered along the cliff path on what can loosely be termed as a walk.
The goal was a cosy pub.
The cosy pub was shut.
Desperation and hysteria ensued.
Not to mention the impromptu fireworks.
In the latter throes of the stagger we’d found ourselves blinking in the midst of a frosty cauliflower field – there they stood, proud and tall, like ceremonial maces. This experience was a first for me, though rather disappointing: they smelt like old cabbages. Apparently (thanks, Nige,) these cranial lobes of white don’t do well with any weather extremes: these had rotted helplessly in the cold and were now gilded brown. There was to be no cauliflower cheese for us that night, but the seed was sown and when I got back home to Tender I had to investigate.
Mr. Slater, my food-prose pin-up, does indeed have a few beautiful words to say about these veggie brains, his recipes stretching beyond their lauded affinity with cheese. That said, I might just venture to the back of the fridge where the last heel of the stilton is languishing. Perhaps a salsa verde and some mild spices, he suggests, and I am reminded how deliciously this vegetable marries with a fragrant anchoiade – very much in keeping with that piece I read on the merits of oily fish...anchovies must count, surely? We also have a pot of Ras-el-Hanout in the cupboard that has been a success with everything we’ve tried sprinkling it on so far. Could we? I am sure we could, with some yoghurt…
Inspired by our fun-packed days in Cornwall, last night’s supper had to be fish. Moreover, it being that fearful first Monday back, supper had to be easy and cosy; a reward for getting through the day. Mackerel fillets, no-fuss and straight from the tin stirred through warm Puy lentils with peppers, tomatoes, parsley, olive oil and lemon hit the spot, and for our raw effort, a chicory, gem lettuce and avocado salad.
Angelic - apart from that last Christmas truffle. Or two.
Also worthy of a mention was our delicious lunch at the weekend at the Gurnard’s Head near St Ives, after a four-mile yomp between the south and north coasts of Cornwall (rather a satisfying result, as walks go, not to mention the views from the top.) A starter of crab linguine - I must remember to add tomatoes to my version - followed by a yielding, sticky roast belly of pork filled all the gaps necessary. This place and its staff are deserving of the highest praise – they fed the forty of us extremely well. Well worth the hike.