My Foodie Facts
At The Foodie Bugle we are always on foodie fact finding missions, asking favourite writers, authors, cooks and gourmets to tell us what and where they love to eat, who have been their sources of inspiration, how they buy and cook good food frugally, and which hints and tips they can pass on to both food buyers and sellers during these challenging times. What did their parents teach them about food and what culinary legacy would they wish to leave to their children?
We have asked country lover, author, editor and journalist Clive Aslet to give us his foodie facts, leaving no stone unturned.
My foodie facts by Clive Aslet
We’re greatly blessed in that there’s a market in our street, Tachbrook Street, in Pimlico, London. There are some old stalls, including a brilliant greengrocer and fishmonger, but also some new ones which appear on Fridays and Saturdays. The market is a bit of magnet for other food shops, such as the wonderful and indispensable Rippon’s Cheese (www.ripponcheese.com) and the excellent Gastronomica (www.gastronomica.co.uk), a refugee from Borough Market, where the costs have gone up, being prime among them.
We also have a house in Ramsgate where Waitrose is just down the hill. There is a bit of a food culture down there now, with one restaurant, Eddie Gilbert (www.eddiegilberts.com), doubling as a fishmonger and you can buy fish from the harbour too.
When I am at home with the family, or friends come over for supper, I love Italian food, which is fairly simple to cook and, as long as you get the timing of the pasta right, pretty forgiving on an inexpert cook. Robust is generally my style – chucky oxtail stews and roasts of all kinds. Spaghetti alla carbonara and alla puattanesca are also firm favourites.
We have three boys so volume is appreciated. I adore fish but other elements of the family aren’t so keen. In Ramsgate, where we have a holiday home, we make bread, and sometimes we make marmalade and jam depending on the season. Being by the sea there is always plenty of fresh fish. I like to bicycle off to Pegwell Bay to gather some of the wild fennel that grows there. My wife is a much better cook than me but needs a break sometimes. I try to create convivial feasts, with copious quantities of wine so that any deficiencies in the cooking won’t be noticed.
When we go on holiday, I do like to go to Italy and have whatever is on the menu. I like everything, but I don’t like long menus. Sicily and Sardinia would be our favourites, as the cooking there incorporates big flavours, powerful wines and all those things that grow under a hot sun and aren’t quite the same in this country.
There are three cookery books that have had the most influence on my cooking:
“1000 Recipe Cookbook”, edited by Isabelle Barrett and Jane Harrop, 1976. My mother gave it to me when I left home and it is full of simple recipes that can’t really go wrong. It’s bespattered with the fallout from marmalade making, the spine has come off and it’s falling apart.
“La Pasta”, by Anna Del Conte, 1993. She unlocks the secrets of Italian cuisine. I have a debt of gratitude also to Alistair Little, a super chef before super chefs were invented, who was the first to bring the joys of Italy to London.
“The River Cottage Family Cookbook” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr. This has the recipe for bread that we use, and it has been such a joy to see the children using it, and starting on a food journey which I hope will last all their lives.
In this recession it is still very expensive to eat out but not at all expensive to eat well at home. While all fish has become more expensive, some of the less fashionable ones are still good value, if you can find them. Cheap cuts of meat can be pot roasted or slow cooked. In this country, people of my age grew up in an era when food was cheap and, as a nation, we tended to despise anything that wasn’t sirloin. France, by contrast, has always had to be more parsimonious and has therefore created marvels from modest ingredients.
If I were running a small family food business right now, I think I would specialise, and make sure my shop was a fun place to be. It’s pretty miserable in the recession so I think people welcome colourful, gregarious places where they can shop and meet people. Offer customers small tasters to sample and serve coffee as well.
If you are reading this article abroad on the world wide web, and are thinking of visiting Great Britain for the very first time, may I recommend that you don’t miss out on some of our great cooking specialities:
Game of all kinds – pheasant, partridge, wild duck, venison
Hot cross buns (although at the end of Lent, I’d suggest).
British puddings and cakes.
Steak and kidney pudding (with suet, rather than pastry). I like it – although perhaps not all foreigners would! The same goes for pork pies.
Marmalade and jam
Roast beef – go to the Rib Room of the Carlton Tower Hotel (www.jumeirah.com) if your credit card will allow you.
I grew up at a time when food in Britain was served pretty plain but we always had Sunday lunch – it’s important to eat together. I always enjoyed my mother’s cooking. I suppose it passed on an idea of food as a sacrament of love.
I hope my children always enjoy food – eating it, making it, sharing it, and also the conversation and good cheer that is to be had around the table. Food will, I’m afraid, get a lot more expensive in the course of their lifetimes, and also scarcer. So I hope they respect it, treasure it and can make the most of what they’ve got.
I hardly qualify as a gastronomic foodie because I don’t know very much about the finer points of the subject, but food is a joyous part of my life, and something, as they say in the grace, for which I am truly thankful.
E-mail address: [email protected]