Monday, 26 January 2015
I would like to cook a meal for you. I want to make a meal from scratch. I will cook you Pasta Marinara as a main. With a leafy green salad as a side.
Entree....hmmm! Deep fried sardines.
The dessert: Halva and Kheer.
And a nice wine or two.
The meal is for Saturday evening.
I begin preparing it in the morning. I go to Queen Victoria Markets early and buy the wine. I'm after a Yarra Valley red....Shiraz if I can get it or a nice deep Merlot of the 2005 vintage. Then a Moscato, light, white, sweet, and slightly bubbly.
I visit the delicatessen hall and buy Greek Fetta, Italian olives and a crusty Ciabatta. Fresh pasta is bought. Spaghetti or Fettuccini preferably or a nice Penne. I take my time searching for the right olive oil. I want only local oils and I want them as virginal as I can. No less than Extra Virgin will do, and absolutely from this years crop. It is the colour of new grass, a limpid, emerald green. I can smell the orchard on the bottle and when I sample the oil my mouth fills with the taste of fresh olives. Delicious in its own right on the fresh, crusty, chewy bread.
Then to the seafood. Sardines with nice bright eyes. Five or six of the largest and freshest that I can buy. A marinara mix with scallops and squid. I buy a dozen oysters to add to the marinara. Plump, lush oysters with the strong taste of the ocean in them.
Now it is back to the delicatessen...I've forgotten to buy the freshly made unsalted butter. I buy three hundred grams of this wonderful stuff. Pale yellow and prone to a very low melting point. Semolina and raisins are bought for the dessert, a hundred…no make that two hundred grams of the semolina and four hundred of the raisins (wonderful, fruity explosions of flavour to nibble on after the meal). Iranian Saffron and organic milk from the Yarra Valley with the cream bobbing gently on the surface as well. I indulge and buy three litres of this wonder, which is far more than I need for you.
Now to the green grocers. Organic tomatoes, onions, lettuce, garlic and chilli...of course! I visit another stall and buy organic Pecan nuts in their shell.
You are worthy of nothing less than the freshest and finest that I can find.
I go home.
The Moscato goes into my fridge to be chilled. The Shiraz onto the kitchen bench.
I begin peeling and finely slicing the garlic, three cloves...make that four. I love my garlic. I am enveloped in its smell. Next comes the onion, a single large brown onion. My eyes water as I slice it.
Oil is added and the wok heated. After a minute or two the garlic, and onion are added, I hear them sizzle as they enter the oil and left to sweat under a low heat as I finely shred the chilli. Not a lot of chilli....I don't know yet how much you want and besides it would be a shame to despoil a meal like this with overpowering chilli. I settle on a single small chilli, there is enough bite to notice, but not enough to overpower any other ingredient. I have not wasted a drop of the olive oil on frying the garlic, onion and now chilli. I have used a Canola oil instead.
I remove the oysters from their half shells. There is the temptation to eat them immediately. They, in their own way, sit there like fat, happy babies. Temptation passes. I can feel myself almost physically tearing myself away from it. Wasn't it Oscar Wilde who wrote in The Importance of Being Ernest "I can resist everything except temptation?" The oysters and the marinara join the onion, garlic and chilli. I have left the exhaust fans over my stove off. The wonderful aroma of frying onions and garlic fills my house. Then the ocean smell of the marinara joins it. The heat under the wok is set on low. I add the pasta sauce. I bring the sauce to the boil. I stir slowly, lovingly. I want the oysters still full, juicy and wonderful for when you eat them.
I let the sauce simmer for about twenty-five minutes. Then I decant it to a large bowl. I put a plate over the bowl to seal in the heat and flavours. For the next six hours the marinara will be left to develop its taste.
The wine is tempting. But I settle for a nice strong, sweet chai.
The ingredients for the salad are keeping the Moscato company.
I take my time reading last Tuesdays Epicure from The Age newspaper.
A large pot is required for the Halva. I add the three hundred grams of unsalted butter and melt it over a low heat. A cup of fine semolina is added when the butter is liquid gold at the bottom of the pot. I am stirring with a wooden spoon. I can smell the butter. Moments like this are enough to convince anyone that the supermarket owners are giving us second rate food at first rate prices. I can’t quite smell grass, but I can smell the fat in the butter. Making Halva properly is like making love. It is best done slowly and with great care. I stir the semolina like I’m caressing a lover. Slowly, gently, taking the time to touch every last piece.
I combine half the raisins with half a cup of sugar and put them with a litre of water into a pot to boil. The sugar is stirred well and dissolves into the water. I shell the Pecans.
Intermittently I return to caressing the semolina. I caress it with the spoon until at about the half way point in cooking I add the Pecans. After half an hour of gently loving the semolina it is a golden brown. The syrup has boiled, been turned low and been left for the raisins to soak up. It is simmering with slow bubbles splashing. I turn off the flame under the syrup. With oven mittens I lift it up and pour it into the semolina.
There is a fierce moment of hissing as the hot syrup mixes with the butter in the semolina. I stir quickly. The semolina soaks up the syrup and thickens rapidly. I stir until the semolina is thick and clinging to the spoon. It comes away from the side of the pot. I cover it and leave it on a low flame for ten minutes. Then the flame is turned off and the Halva is left for another ten minutes. I spill the Halva into a low baking tray and gently spread with a spatula. It is then allowed to cool on the dining table. The Halva smells of decadence. In a world where indulgence is increasingly frowned on, the aroma of the butter is the smell of another world. It is rich, and tempting and unabashedly sensual. It is an olfactory kiss from a patient and well known lover.
Dishes are washed. Another chai is drunk.
In the large pot I pour two of the three litres of the milk. I cannot help myself. I pour a glass and drink. I can taste. I can taste…summer days, and long waving grass. I can almost hear laughing children in this milk, but I mustn’t get carried away. Cream caresses my tongue and my palate. I let the milk linger in my mouth as I explore the summer days and wander through the waving grass. This milk is alive with subtleties and hidden surprises. This milk is simply alive. It is the polar opposite of the milk in supermarkets. Almost regretfully I swallow. I begin to heat the milk. I stir gently.
The saffron is sitting in its jar on my kitchen bench and looks for all the world like strands of fire.
I measure out the Basmati rice. At three-quarters of a cup I stop. The rice is like plump little balls of snow. The sugar is also measured and this is a full cup.
The milk is almost at a simmer. The cream has melted into blobs of sunshine. I add the rice and begin stirring. I turn the flame low. There is a love song on my CD player and I sing along. It’s a possibly sappy song with Celine Dion and Luciano Pavarotti singing just how much they love and hate each other.
There is no hurry in what I am doing. I stir in a manner that is almost lazy. I want to keep the rice whole. The object is to cook it, not destroy it. The rice plumps under the gentle guidance of my spoon as I stir. The milk thickens. It is time to add the saffron. A large pinch is added and the milk catches fire as a result. The deep sienna of the saffron enters the milk gently and turns it the colour of a long summer sunset. The aroma of the saffron is subtle. Not quite flowers, not quite sunset, not quite….heaven. Little wonder that the saffron is easily the most expensive of my purchases today, gram for gram it is many hundreds of times more expensive than anything else I chose for you. It is worth many times more than I paid, or at least the look on your face when you taste it will be.
The Kheer cooks slowly and time passes with the intoxication of the aroma of the slowly simmering milk, the saffron and the gentle earthiness of the rice. When the Basmati is plump with milk, soft and gentle to the touch I remove the flame and stir through the sugar. I spoon some into small bowls and let the Kheer cool in the fridge. A skin will form and be the colour of ancient sunrises. The Kheer itself is the colour of a lightly polished bronze.
Having completely forgotten the sardines I now remove them from their bag. The fish are whole. I gut, and scale them and wash the cavity. Then with a very sharp paring knife I remove the heads and butterfly them. I remove the spine and cut almost to the tail. I then dry them with a paper towel. A tempura batter awaits them. They return to the fridge under some plastic wrap.
At long last the meal is almost cooked. The salad waits for you. I will cook the pasta when you arrive. Oh, I forgot, it’s Penne.
The appointed hour arrives.
I hear your gentle knock on the door.
I open it to find you looking stressed. A stressed guest is not what is needed for tonight. I must remedy this immediately and tell you so.
I know exactly how to cure this stress.
I pour and offer you a glass of the Moscato. As you sip it, I make preparations.
A blanket is laid on the lounge room carpet. Beeswax candles are lit. Albinoni’s Adagio is put on the CD player. I combine almond and sandlewood oils. And turn out the lights.
I ask you to disrobe. Naked you lay upon the blanket. I warm the oil with my hands and drizzle it down your spine. I set to work rubbing my fingers into your neck muscles. The earthy smell of the sandlewood and the light honey of the candle envelops you. The violins of the adagio soothe you. My fingers find knots of stress and untie them. I work my way down your back and onto your legs. Once again I am in no hurry. Where am I to go? I am already at my destination. You occasionally sip your Moscato, the fruit of the wine dances on your palate. All too soon I’m massaging the soles of your feet.
Your roll onto your back and I commence my journey back up your body. You are beautiful, you know this, don’t you?
I work my way up your thighs and onto your abdomen. I rub the oil into your skin. I gently caress your breasts, a light touch that is almost not there. You are completely relaxed now. I look into your eyes. I lean and kiss you. A gentle, lingering kiss. The kiss is an offer. You accept and begin wandering your hands over my body. Never breaking eye contact I keep kissing you.
Every last vestige of stress is found and removed in the next hour. I find your pleasure spots and explore them with my lips, tongue, hands and the other organ. As your breathing slowly subsides you realise that you are hungry. I dress you in a simple silk bathrobe.
The lights in the house are turned back on and I refill your wine.
You sit and watch as I make the tempura batter. You lean and the bathrobe falls open as I surround the batter with ice cubes and heat the oil. The batter is ice cold and the oil almost smoking hot. I dust the sardines with flour, batter them and fry them in almost a continuous motion. Hot fresh sardines for my dinner guest. We eat at the kitchen bench.
We kiss gently. Why hurry when there is nowhere to go?
I rip apart the lettuce leaves, crumble the Fetta and scatter the olives as the water for the pasta comes to a boil. As it roils, I slice the tomatoes and mix the salad. A drizzle of the olive oil is its sole dressing.
I add the penne to the roiling water and then slice the ciabatta. You take a slice of the bread, dip it in the oil and take an almost scandalous bite. The oil glistens on your lips. I kiss it from them, taking my time and not missing the least hint of oil. There must be oil on your shoulder because I linger there kissing and nibbling gently whilst inhaling the scent of you. Oil on your eyes as I gently kiss them.
The almost forgotten penne is cooked. I mix it with the marinara and the heat of the penne warms the entire dish. I open the Shiraz. We share a glass. The penne is pregnant with flavour. The oysters are as full and as luscious as the woman before me. The sauce is as full bodied as the wine. The garlic and chilli subtle. The aroma is delightful. I take the time to drink and consume you with my eyes.
Don’t eat too much my lovely. The salad has every tomato, every lettuce leaf and the onion speaking with a voice of its own. The olive oil whispers of rolling hills and long summer days. There is no need for condiments when the food is this good.
You mop splashes of sauce with your ciabatta and then eat it in a way that would make Nigella Lawson seem like a staid and frumpy old nun.
I relieve the fridge of its burden of Kheer. It has set perfectly. I find and slice some of the Halva into neat squares. They are put on a plate.
You eat the Kheer with a worrying messiness. I have to, at your request, keep kissing drops of the rice pudding from your mouth, your neck, your shoulders, your breasts and once with a determined enthusiasm between your ……
The Halva and the dishes are left for tomorrow. With a glass of the Moscato we repair to the lunge room and the music and rug.
In my arms you chat and sip and listen to the music. Slowly the chatting dies and I notice that your eyes are heavy. With a gentle kiss I take away the glass. I pull the blanket up around us. Slipping my arms around you, I gently whisper in your ear what a wonderful lover you are. Your breathing is slow and deep. Snuggling in close, I too slip away into sleep.