Okay, so this is not the first time I might have mentioned various so-called “Food trends” on this page. You can call me names if you want – poke me with a stick, set my beard on fire (okay I don’t have a beard but if I did you’d be welcome to spend a morning with it, some lighter-fluid and a box of matches), but it’s my party and I’ll make snide comments about trends if I want to.
Anyway – the idea of “rustic” food is huge at the moment: bread, stews, salads, cuts of meat – it all basically means that things are torn rather than chopped, and if they are chopped it’s always ‘roughly’ (as in: ‘Heathcliffe took Jemima roughly in the barn’), presentation is uncomplicated and …well this is probably the important bit, the flavours are always simple and ‘robust’.
Oh yes, and don’t forget the oceans of wine that goes along with it. I’m not kidding: oceans.
What it actually all means is that restaurants are trying to make their food look and taste like what you’d expect from your mom’s kitchen, which if you think about it is one of those ‘art imitating life’ situations that mostly just makes me want to jump up and down like a madman on street corners (I really don’t know why). I guess ultimately it’s a huge win for the Italians, who’ve always been advocates for less complex dishes, simply done, where the main emphasis is letting the (usually very few) ingredients speak loudly for themselves. This is something that makes an enormous amount of sense really, and when it’s expressed like that you wonder how we ever deviated down the blind alley of Nouvelle Cuisine and plate decorations that make a full replica sailing ship out of half a lemon and enough rocket to comfortably feed a goat (yes Coachman’s Inn I’m looking at you) for so long.
I blame the French. And Marco Pierre-White. And the teletubbies – just because.
So needless to say, I’m a big fan of rustic – mainly because it allows me to be a bit more casual in the kitchen than I normally would be, and also I get to drink a lot more when I’m really meant to be cooking. Plus, this is one of those dishes that’s really quick to make. The night I made this for the blog, the whole thing was done from start to finish in under 25 minutes
¾ of a pack of smoked bacon
1 tin of cherry tomatoes
a good handful of rocket
a hard Italian cheese (either pecorino or parmesan – but no pre-grated stuff – I’m serious, I’ll find you)
three slices of slightly stale bread (if you can get a nice country-style loafall the better, but it’s not a life-or-death thing)
1 dried chilli (chopped)
salt and pepper
Pasta (I’d go for a simple spaghetti or fettucine – but whatever you want really)
What to do
Chop the onion very finely, and then to appease the rustic gods, slice the bacon up roughly. In a large thick pot, heat a tablespoon of butter with some olive oil, and then add the onions to soften and brown. Add a teaspoon of oreganum, the chopped dried chilli and also a teaspoon of paprika. Once it’s all browning nicely, add the bacon and give it a good stir. When the bacon has started to crisp add the tin of tomatoes and turn the heat down to a medium. Add a tablespoon of sugar, put on the lid and leave it for about 15 – 20 minutes, stirring to loosen every now and again.
Now, roughly (remember this is barns and haystacks here) chop up the bread, tear the rocket into pieces, and using a potato-peeler shave off a medium handfuls-worth of the cheese. Heat some olive oil in a pan until smoking hot and add the bread and fry until golden brown and crisp, then combine the rocket, cheese shavings and fried bread in a bowl. Grind a fair bit of black pepper over it and set aside.
Boil enough pasta for four and then once drained, and add it to the sauce-pot. Make sure it’s all combined and then top with the fresh rocket, cheese and bread combination. Bring the steaming pot to the table and let everyone serve it as they will. Drink lots and make sure to tell at least two dirty jokes and a story about how once you streaked at a senior citizens bowls match.