Friday 20 November 2009

I ain't yellow, I ain't mellow

I've always hated mellow. Even the sound of the word. It's so wet, stoned, passionless. What use is mellow? "This is your Captain speaking, if there are any mellow passengers on board could they please make themselves known to the cabin crew immediately". I don't think so.
But age distorts so many things and the black dog currently nibbling at my shoulder is the terrifying realisation that I'm mellowing. Take this one time Christmas stocking filler.

Written as a series of letters to a daughter just off to university. Snippets of a family's history intertwined with recipes and signed off 'Mummy'. Excruciating. Everything about this book got me ranting and raging. It seemed the embodiment of conceited middle class smugness writ large. Even the title was embarrassing. So it sat in a darkened cupboard for years, in case anyone thought I'd bought it.

I can't remember when exactly, but gradually, bit by bit, I started dipping in. A pasta recipe here, a risotto recipe there. I still couldn't go the 'letters' but it quickly dawned on me that the food was good. Many books claim to reveal family recipes handed down through generations, most are either lying or their family's food must have been a bit shit. This book was the real deal.

It's the subtlety of the tastes that really impresses. Little techniques that impart so much flavour. Combinations that compliment and never overwhelm. Do not be fooled by the apparent simplicity. One of my favourites is 'Poussin with an Orvieto style stuffing'. I eat it once a week. This is all you need. Plus some rosemary.

First bash two unpeeled garlic cloves with a heavy knife. Let them gently fry while chopping the roasting potatoes and fennel bulb.

Pop them into the pan once the garlic is golden. Fry for 10/15 minutes till they colour a bit. I always find they stick, so just before finishing add a little water and scrape up the tasty brown stuff.

Fish out the garlic and add a tablespoon of chopped olives, the dry 'stone in' ones are best, salt and pepper. Stuff the birds, pop in a sprig of rosemary season and rub with a little olive oil.

Into the preheated oven, 220c for 25 minutes. Remove, baste, pour in a glass of white wine and add any left over stuffing to the roasting pan too. Then put everything back in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes. It's divine.

White wine probably suits this dish best, I guess something from Orvieto would make sense. But I fancied red wine.

£7.99 from Sainsbury's. Made utilising a technique developed in Beaujolais to extract all the nice things from the grape and less of the difficult stuff.

It's now used to great effect in the Languedoc when some of the rougher grapes need, err, mellowing. Oh hell, why fight it? I may even try reading those letters.

'Dear Francesca' by Mary Contini
Ebury Press. First published 2002.
If you see it, buy it.
Or just visit her family's original 'Valvona & Crolla', 19 Elm Row, Edinburgh EH7 4AA
Pricey, but by some way the best Italian deli in Scotland.

The poussins came from Sainsbury's: £4.50 for 2.


  1. To paraphrase Jim Royle:
    " You? Mellow?...My arse!"

  2. The poussins look great. The book looks great, too. I'm intrigued by Risotto al Pomodoro...

    the book reminds me of the Amiel film, Queen of Hearts, from the 1980s...

    thanks for the add to the blogroll! Looking forward to dispatches from Scotland...

    and, btw, agreed re. "mellow"!

  3. You're most welcome Jeremy and the Risotto al Pomodoro is worth being intrigued by.
    Essentially it's a classic risotto recipe with the addition of pancetta. Then when you'd normally add a glass of white wine, instead, you add a 400g tin of tomatoes that have been pushed through a sieve (liquidise them first). After that it's the hot stock routine.
    Mrs Contini suggests adding fontina cheese at the end for added 'comfort'. Either way, it's delicious and a lovely colour.