Big Eating in Little…um, Parktown.

A table reserved for 20? No problem.

“Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” is what people started to say about … well, some Englishmen, after they’d gone out in the midday sun a lot and then bitten someone instead of sucking down tea and saying thing’s like ‘Good God, Bertie’s gone and jammed the walpole something bafters, eh what?”

So basically, as everyone who lives in a place that’s hot knows: don’t go out in it – because it’s uncomfortable and likely to make you a bit squiffy in the face and pants. Other Hot Places include: kitchens, and…well, because this story is about kitchens, that’s all I can really think of at the moment. So, yes. Kitchens. According to that logic you shouldn’t go in those either, something about staying out of them if you don’t like sweating. I am alas extraordinarily bad at both staying out of kitchens and listening to what other people say – which is why I host dinners for large amounts of people and then practically set myself on fire cooking for all of them. The most recent one being last weekend.

At this point I wish I had happy photographs of people laughing and having a good time, eating things and cracking open the 12th bottle of red wine in about 14 minutes, but alas I was too busy grappling with a minor grease fire (which always looks scarier than it actually is) and 2kgs of bad ostrich. Not bad ostrich like Nicholas Cage popping meth and caps in people’s asses in a Werner Hertzog movie, just ostrich that should never have been put in shrink-wrap and sold to me to feed to people. Bad Pick ‘n Pay Hyde Park. Bad.

The Day After.

Warning. Jono Trying To Make Some Sort Of Profound Statement Alert.

It feels like there’s a fair amount of negative feeling starting to build at the moment towards the supposedly over-saturation of ‘celebrity chef culture’ and foodie obsessives (present), organic this and the next thing, Come Dine With Me subcultures, Masterchef/Iron Chef/Top Chef, Gordon Ramsey shouting at people, and hero-worshipped ‘only spoken of in hushed tones’ super god restauranteurs (Ferran and Heston, sitting in a tree…). Well, I say bollocks to that. Because at the heart of all that crap – and yes, most of it is crap, but at the heart of it – is really just the simple notion that people are starting to get interested in being able to cook, both for themselves and, more importantly… for each other.  And surely that can’t be a bad thing?  At the end of the day it all boils down to more and more people having a reason to get mopes like us together with plates of things to eat so that we can talk about whatever happened to the guy who provided the voice for the original Kit in Knight Rider and/or psychic dolphins.  And that’s kinda what the “20-odd people in my house for dinner thing once every two months or so” thing is all about, and who cares about the occasional minor grease fire?

For my reward, I choose.... pasta!

Okay, so that’s done. Someone make a joke about people who shouldn’t be allowed to wear spandex.

Spicy lentils with mushrooms and mascarpone. 

It’s sometimes odd how a dish can live in your brain, whispering “I’m not quite ready yet”, and “Why haven’t you gone to gym this week?”

Okay, not the second one, but still. One of the very first completely original recipes I ever started to work on was this lentil thing, and I’ve never quite stopped tinkering with it – until now it seems.  After about five years of fiddling with it, I think it might actually be finished, which is I gave it to everyone who came to my house for the Big Eating dinner as a starter.

When I found my own island nation of superbeings, this will be on the flag.

Ingredients (for 4)

3 cups of brown lentils

1 red onion (chopped)

1 400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes

2 dried red chillis (finely chopped)

2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)

2 bay leaves

2 heaped tbspns of Curry Powder

100 mls of vegetable or meat stock

2 tspn brown sugar

200 mls of red wine

olive oil

1 generous handful of brown or portebellini mushrooms

1 handful of rosa tomatoes

a healthy splash of brandy

2 tbspns of black mustard seeds

A couple of tbpsns of Mascarpone cheese

fresh rocket

salt

pepper

What to do

Pour the lentils into a pot and cover generously with water and a pinch of salt. Bring it to the boil cover with a lid, and let them boil for about an hour, topping up with water from time to time if it looks like they’re drying out.

In a pan, heat a splash of olive oil, then add the chilli, garlic and onions.  Once they’ve softened and are starting to take on a bit of colour, add the tomatoes, stock, bay leaves, curry powder and sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and let it simmer until you’ve got a rich, red spicy sauce.

After the lentils have had their hour-long boiling session, stir in the sauce from the pan, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. After everything’s been stirred in, add the 200mls of red wine. You should have a somewhat soupy consistency about now. If it feels too thick, just add a bit of water, and don’t worry if it feels too runny, because you’re going to simmer it all down anyway. Let this all bubble away for another 45 minutes.

While this happening, slice up the mushrooms and tomatoes and bung them in a hot pan (you can use the same one you used to make the sauce – just give it a wipe with paper towel) with some olive oil, and once they’re starting to brown, add your brandy. Boil away most of the alcohol so that you’ve got lovely moist, browned up mushrooms and tomatoes left in the pan.

Toast the mustard seeds in a dry pot or pan and set aside.

So, after the lentils have had their extra 45 minutes, you’ll need to check the seasoning (add salt and pepper to taste at this point) and if the lentils have softened nicely. If they haven’t, just add a touch more liquid and let them carry on for a couple of minutes.

Scoop a ladle of lentils (this so should be the collective noun for lentils) into a bowl or onto a plate, add a dollop of mascarpone cheese and some of the brandy mushrooms and tomatoes, sprinkle with the mustard seeds and top with the fresh rocket.

Now, how about those psychic dolphins?

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