A few days ago a gift arrived at my door. It had travelled from the US and through time as well. I was holding in my hand a small bottle of home produced garum. I opened it and was hit in the face by a strong, strong smell. Fishy? Not quite. The manufacturer is Laura Kelley, the talented author and researcher; the recipe source is Roman. Garum is a mysterious historical relict. Fish, in this case mackerel, is piled with salt and left to mature at room temperature for a few weeks, then distilled to an almost clear liquor (read Laura’s post for much more information). Fish sauces are alive and kicking in the Far East, but they are not common any more in the Mediterranean. In Roman times, however, this great-grandfather of nuoc mam was a prized and popular ingredient. Why did we stop using it? It is a mystery. In Italy colatura di alici is still produced with a similar process, but it certainly is no common ingredient.
Do you ever fantasize about what type of house you’d want to live in if you had access to an unlimited amount of money? Something that you would like to have, if you could and would afford a totally unreasonable luxury? I do, of course; and after careful considerations I have come up with two dreams.
One is a swimming pool – boring, I know, but I just love swimming. I need to sort out the details. I would want a house by the sea, a very warm and calm sea. However an indoors swimming pool makes sense at night or in winter: I’d want some limited winter in my dream world. Or actually, it may well be that my house is close to a very scenic ocean, which produces the most soothing background noise, but makes swimming in the sea a bit tricky. And I can’t rule out the possibility that I am going to learn how to surf and I’d want to live close to a good surf beach – again, not so great for swimming. Anyway. I still need to sort out the details, but swimming pool is totally unreasonable dream number one.
Number two is a pizza oven.
I have always wanted to have one. There is no substitute for a proper pizza oven to have a great pizza, and there is nothing like a great pizza. It is hands down the thing I miss the most of Italy. Such oven belongs to the ‘unreasonable luxury’ world. It is not as expensive as a swimming pool, but running one regularly is a luxury. Those beasts are huge, for one thing, and they need to be heated for hours, so they are just not really compatible with the scales of an average household. I even have a friend who owns one, and we used it once for a party. It was great fun and some hard work. But there are only that many times when I get to invite fifty people. And still, to make really good pizza, you need that proper oven.
So when Heather from Clay Ovens asked me if I would be interested to share with you a few tips on how to build your own stone pizza oven, I could not say no, literally. I had to know more. The Clay Oven Company is a family run business based in London, and they build ovens professionally. They build much more than pizza ovens, actually: I did not realize before how many interesting recipes you can prepare once you have the basic facility of a very hot oven set up and running. Here are the tips they have kindly agreed to share with us. I, for one, can’t wait to try them all.
I have quite a name for being easily disappointed by desserts. It has happened to me more than once to have a wonderful dinner in some restaurant, only to be let down, and quite badly, when it comes to the dessert department. Too sweet, too fat, not really fresh, just plain boring: wasted calories, really. I recently had a nice dinner in a place where they prepare dishes with tens of vegetables, each cooked to perfection with its own technique. Intrigued by such precision, and curious about the (inevitable) ‘Michelin-star trained chef’, we ordered pudding. They brought us a treacle tart so chewy that it is still hanging from the work of my dentist, tasting only of sugar, covered by an ice cream ball sized scoop of clotted cream, and a stale vanilla sable’; all probably worth the calories I normally consume in a day. When I decide to indulge, I want to get bangs for my calorie investment. I want flavours and textures so exciting I cannot stop eating.
This is one of those desserts worth each and every of the calories it contains, and there is quite a lot of them. Many of the cakes in this group have been inspired by this book of recipes from Laduree: it is, after all, one of the most famous patisseries in the whole world for good reasons. On the other hand, again, the recipe on the book was not quite right: not such a bad thing, if you think that I had to make the recipe twice just to confirm that my changes were working. Ah, the hard life of a dedicated food blogger. This is the version of the recipe I’m going to make from now on, hopefully many times.