Monday, 31 May 2010

A Taste of Sardinia

When I attended one of the highly recommended cookery courses at Su Sazzagoni, it was much more than an delicious introduction to Sardinia's unique cuisine. It was a complete, sensory immersion in the island's traditions, geography, history and wine. This included a very enjoyable lunch that almost rivalled my memorable dinner at the restaurant.

I, and the other would-be chefs sat down to a flavoursome, meaty (vegetarian alternatives were available) starter of salami with fennel and parma ham. As we sipped on Vermentino, a very good dry white from the island, our host, the lovely owner, Elena, told us that even the grapes grown in Sardinia are completely different from those found in the rest of Italy. It was explained to us that Sardinian cuisine uses lots of simple, seasonal and fresh ingredients and very little chilli or butter.

We moved over to the kitchen where the twinkly eyed, smiling chef showed us how to make light, buttery gnocchi. Fans of mashed potato – I imagine that is just about everybody – can use some of the same tricks. There was a certain amount of adapting from local recipes necessary to take account of the availability of ingredients, and the chef suggested we use Maris Piper potatoes, even though they use red potatoes in Sardinia. The potatoes should be boiled whole in their skins (which means they absorb less water), before removing the skins when still hot and then sieving.

We went on to cook, and eat, a flavousome seafood fregola (often described as a Sardinian couscous, but actually rather more like a risotto), and malloreddus alla campidanese (a spicy sausage pasta), all the while assisted by the friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgable staff.

This resulted in some other useful tips:
  • Cook mussels and clams in oil – not water – in order to preserve their flavour.
  • After cooking seafood in a pan, soak up the flavours using white wine and use the liquid in your risotto.
  • If you make fresh tomato sauce with basil and don't add anything else (such as pine nuts), it will keep for much longer.
When I was at Su Sazzagoni, a couple who had come for lunch were pouring over a map of the island with Elena the owner. Having tasted something of Sardinian food, they were eager to visit the island. I felt the same way. D. H. Lawrence wrote that Sardinia is 'lost between Europe and Africa and belonging to nowhere'. Yet although the island is actually closer to North Africa than to Italy, Sardinia does not seem to suffer from any lack of sense of identity.


Monday, 10 May 2010

The Mayor of Mesquite Chooses East London

Susan Holecheck, Mayor of Mesquite, visited London for the World Travel Market:

'I knew my trip only afforded one day for relaxation activities and I wonder how best to “feel” London. Well, the answer came with a visit to the Columbia Road flower market. I started out for the market around 9 a.m. A faint mist had started, but coming from a city in the United States where it only rains 3 inches a year, I found the moisture not intrusive, but rather welcoming. The cold penetrated my very existence and seemed to be daunting. But within minutes my body was more consumed by the sights and smells from the fabulous array of flowers and plants. The floral colors seemed brighter, the petals on the flowers more perfect, the green of the plants luminous. I wish I could have purchased all the bundles. Then there were the smiles on the vendors’ faces as they called out for purchase of their wares. I listened to the people as they spoke, I smelled the delicious aroma of a neighboring coffee shop, I saw retailers exhibiting their fashions. I was in London! The memory of those few hours walking the streets of the flower market is indelible. I would suggest that if you ever have an opportunity – let Columbia Road treat your senses.'