Cookbook Challenge: Rick Stein’s Long Weekends
Any home cook will know that dishes you make in memory of a holiday never taste the same as their originals. As the Italian TV chef Gennaro Contaldo remarked in an interview I did with him earlier this year, drinking in London the limoncello that you bought in the Amalfi Coast is not as delicious “because there isn’t a moment. So you need to have it cold, close your eyes, and remember where you were. And that little thing will bring back the excitement.”
I like the romance of Contaldo’s idea, and, indeed, if the flavours are even remotely similar, it’s often the combination of those plus that blissful moment of escapism that you get from taking the time to make a thing you first ate under a veranda overlooking a glistening blue sea, that can take you back there for a moment.
In his latest cookbook, Long Weekends: Over 100 New Recipes from my Travels around Europe, TV chef and food writer Rick Stein wants us to hop on a plane to Europe and go in search of dinner – and then scoot back and recreate at home.
Although it was published back in September 2016, to me it seems more relevant now, when swarms of us look apprehensively at the year spreading out ahead and decide to organise a holiday.
There’s nothing quite as exciting, he writes persuasively, “as the prospect of flying off somewhere for the weekend. A quick flight to Bordeaux, maybe, with the thought of some aged ribs of beef cooked over vine prunings, and all those lovely Bordelais wines in elegant and straight-sided bottles… it’s extra special if you can get Friday afternoon off. From London, Cardiff, Belfast or Edinburgh, you could get on a plane and that night be sitting in a bar in Cadiz, ordering a Cruzcampo beer and a serving of chicharrones.”
The intention of Long Weekends, he says, is first to encourage us to go to Bordeaux, Berlin, Reykjavik, Vienna, Bologna, Copenhagen, and so on (usefully he has included his own city guides at the back), but “it’s also about the pleasures of cooking at the weekend at home… I bought back ten recipes from each of the cities and have worked them into a series of chapters based on how I like to cook at the weekend.”
He’s right. Delays-aside, not only is it really only a few hours of faffing around on trains, planes and airport buses before you’re in some distant territory trying to figure out how to navigate to the nearest watering hole; but once you’ve spent a weekend chugging on a Berlin brew, trying out the “many variations of the soft, deep yellow, homemade egg pasta Bologna is so famous for,” or a plate of peeled prawns fried in olive oil, butter, chilli and coriander in Lisbon, you often do come home wanting to relive it in some way.
Hot travel destinations for 2017 – in pictures
Reading through the Cornish chef’s memories of Palermo “a crumbling balcony here, weeds growing out of the joins in the fluted stone columns of an elaborate portico there,” I paused to imagine that I was there too, tramping around with my friend Rosie during a hot summer in 2008. And reading about the shallots stuffed with lamb and pinenuts that he ate twice from a restaurant called To Elliniko (The Hellenic) in Thessaloniki, I wanted some for myself.
The recipes themselves are irritatingly not divided by city – I felt after the introduction that I wanted to turn to Vienna or Cadiz and pick through its dishes – but by the way we cook, so Friday nights, Saturday brunch, and so on. Nevertheless, you can travel through them as you please – each has a little introduction and particular memory of Stein’s and since he does not allocate cooking times, you are forced to actually read through the recipe. Of the four I tried, none was painful to master – he really want us to enjoy the process of cooking, and not just hurry through it – and perhaps I’ve got carried away by a feeling of a new year of possibilities, but cooking from this book felt like delicious escapism.
Rick Stein’s Long Weekend is out now (£25, BBC Books)
What Victoria cooked
Warm Potato Salad with Tuna (Cadiz)
An easy assembly but I’ve no idea how such a basic tuna and potato salad (made using the suggested tinned tuna steak) could possibly transport you to Cadiz. Granted, Stein says it’s dependent on the quality of every ingredient, and I used UK supermarket versions rather than the ‘thickest, bitterest, green olive oil and the nuttiest sherry vinegar, and a topping of locally tinned melva tuna,’ but this was very average indeed.
Halibut soup, cream, apple and dill (Reykjavik)
A soothing, creamy soup that you imagine you’ve had before but probably won’t have like this. The Icelandic inclusion of homemade dill oil-covered apple pieces, and raisins, is unique, and really good. I’d make this again (I did it with cod, as there was no halibut) – although I’d add more fish stock next time, to balance out the cream and butter.
Viennese Gulasch with Spatzle (Vienna)
A gorgeous, rich, peppery stew that reminds me of a similar dish I ate on holiday in the Austrian mountains a few years ago. Stein says he learnt in Vienna “that [gulasch] is a simple dish… it should be just good shin of beef, lots of onions, sweet Hungarian paprika and caraway seeds.” In fact I used shop-bought sweet and smoked paprika and it still worked OK. The faff here is not in making the stew, which is a simple, slow-cooked, warming affair, but the spätzle. Like an Austrian pasta, creating it involves making then resting a batter, mincing and then boiling the pieces, and frying them in butter and pepper. It’s absolutely worth it – the buttery pepperiness of the pasta with the weight of the meat on top is superb – but if making these for any more than two people I would avoid the fiddly colander technique and squeeze the batter through a potato masher instead – then bulk boil a pile a little in advance to fry up at the last minute.
Apfelkuchen German Apple Cake (Berlin)
I made a quick sponge cake mix of sugar, butter, eggs, flour and milk, laid lemon-soaked apple pieces on top, sprinkled the whole lot with cinnamon and demerara sugar and baked for 45 minutes. Mine – my first cake in many years – luckily came out incredibly light, and moist, and made the kitchen smell amazing. Next time I’d put apple all the way through, not just on top.
Follow Victoria on Twitter @vicstewart
Source: EU Fish stock news