Orlando Gough

Percy Bysshe Shelley,
along with
Finnegan’s Wake,
the Arabic language,
yoga, etc.,

is on the long list of things I probably ought to be attending to, instead of the things I am attending to, like

a rasher of bacon,
my emails, etc.

So I was almost completely unfamiliar with Shelley’s work until my friend Melanie, wonderful singer and life-long vegetarian, with whom I’m working on a theatre piece about food, sent me a link to his brilliant, tub-thumping essay of 1813, A Vindication of Natural Diet. It was originally written as one of the notes to the epic poem Queen Mab, but it was eventually published independently as a pamphlet.

Queen Mab, despite its frisky title, is a tough read, all nine cantos of it. Shelley intended Queen Mab only for private publication, but it was pirated and published on the black market, becoming popular with working class political reformers, an inspiration for Chartism.It’s ostensibly a fairy tale, about the fairy Queen Mab (exquisitely described by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet). But it’s really an opportunity for Shelley to imagine a stupendously unlikely utopia –now I come to think of it, it’s in the nature of utopias to be stupendously unlikely – in which humanity and nature are reconciled. This reconciliation includes the adoption of what was then called the Pythagorean System, or the Vegetable Regimen (the word ‘vegetarianism’ wasn’t invented until 1847):

‘And man, once fleeting o’er the transient scene
Swift as an unremembered vision, stands
Immortal upon earth: no longer now
He stays the lamb that looks him in the face,
And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
Which still avenging nature’s broken law,
Kindled all putrid humours in his frame,
All evil passions, and all vain belief,
Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind,
The germs of misery, death, disease and crime.’

A Vindication of Natural Diet is essentially an expansion of this idea. In 1811, Shelley’s friend John Frank Newton published The Return to Nature: A Defence of the Vegetable Regimen. Shelley and his wife Harriet took up a ‘vegetable regimen’ in March 1812, and he started writing A Vindication of Natural Diet later that year. The first part of the essay is mostly a rehash of Newton’s arguments, starting with a pair of examples from mythology: the first iffy – Adam and Eve bring misery and mortality on themselves and their descendants by adopting an unnatural diet (but it was an apple!); the second more promising – Prometheus steals fire from heaven, and as a punishment his liver is continuously eaten by a vulture (ouch). He has enabled cooking, and cooking enables us to be carnivores, despite our anatomical unsuitability: ‘It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation, that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion; and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust.’ And this unnatural diet has made him ‘a sickly, suffering creature.’

What comes next is pure Shelley. The argument extends to the moral and political realms: ‘There is no disease, bodily or mental, which adoption of vegetable diet…has not infallibly mitigated….Debility is gradually converted into strength, disease into healthfulness; madness in all its hideous variety, from the ravings of the fettered maniac, to the unaccountable irrationalities of ill temper, that make a hell of domestic life, into a calm and considerate evenness of temper, that alone might offer a certain pledge of future moral reformation of society. On a natural system of diet, old age would be our last and our only malady; the term of our existence would be protracted*; we should enjoy life, and no longer preclude others from the enjoyment of it….The monopolising eater of animal flesh would no longer destroy his constitution by devouring an acre at a meal…The quantity of nutritious vegetable matter, consumed in fattening the carcase of an ox would afford ten times the sustenance…if gathered directly from the bosom of the earth.’

What if we grew all our necessities? ‘We should require no spices from India; no wines from Portugal, Spain, France or Madeira; none of those multitudinous articles of luxury, for which every corner of the globe is rifled, and which are the causes of so much individual rivalship, such calamitous and sanguinary national disputes.’ No blood! No wars! ‘Let it ever be remembered, that it is the direct influence of commerce to make the interval between the richest and the poorest man wider and more unconquerable.’ (When did he write this? Yesterday?) But with this great reform, ‘commerce, with all its vice, selfishness and corruption, would gradually decline…and the excessive complication of political relations would be so far simplified, that every individual might feel and understand why he loved his country, and took a personal interest in its welfare.’

Yes, of course it’s over the top. The use of fire for culinary purposes has hardly been an unmitigated disaster (Saffron Risotto! Cheese Soufflé!); in fact there are many vegetables and grains that would be indigestible without cooking – potatoes, rice, lentils….. And it’s going to take rather more than vegetarianism to create a political utopia. On the other hand, in a world where commerce rules and states are routinely bullied by corporations, it’s definitely an argument worth making. Amazing that he was making it 200 years ago.

*The essay ends with a glorious appendix of long-lived vegetarians:
Old Parr 152
Mary Patten 136
A shepherd in Hungary 126
Patrick O’Neale 113…
Aurungzebe 100…
James the Hermit 104…
Rombald 120.
As a cricket fanatic I can’t help reading this as an amazing batting achievement by a very strong side.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.

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by TOAST ( 08.01.15 )


Orlando Gough

My wife Jo, who is a knitwear designer, had the privilege of selling a jumper to Saint Mary Berry earlier this year, and the great woman promised to wear it on The Great British Bake Off, so naturally we had to watch every single minute of every single episode with intense care in the hope of spotting it. But she never wore it, probably because the temperature in the marquee during the competition never seemed to go below 30°C, which was of course part of the cause of Baked Alaskagate.

Like most people I was charmed by the competition, but my overriding feeling was of relief that I wasn’t a contestant. OK, yes, better than being roasted alive on Come Dine With Me. But… It’s not that I’m not competitive. Tennis yes, pool just about, Monopoly if I have to, but cooking – surely not. One of the joys of cooking is that it’s not competitive. And cooking against the clock, ugh. I can’t think of anything worse than having two minutes to attach an over-ambitious sculptured icing folly to a cake that’s still hot, and watching it melt down the sides like a Salvador Dali painting. And then there’s the ghastly imperative for complexity, a curious kind of obsessive over-elaboration that was the legacy of Middle Europe in the early part of the 20th century, was then championed by the Cordon Bleu Tendency in the 50s, and seemed to be in terminal decline by the end of the 60s as people discovered the perfect simplicity of Mediterranean cookery. Personally I don’t even like iced cakes.

Of course there’s the desire for personal betterment (which, by the way, I gather, is the actual meaning of the word ‘jihad’, it’s just got rather twisted), that drives people to do marathons and pay money to be insulted by Hanif Kurieshi, and of course there’s nothing wrong with trying to better oneself, but not in front of Paul Hollywood surely. I was continually surprised by the contestants’ intense humility when confronted by his withering critiques. I was fully expecting (translation: was desperate) to see someone take revenge with a slightly sub-standard Sachertorte.

So, in response, some easy baking recipes.

It’s worth saying that whereas in most aspects of cooking there is a large amount of leeway, in baking accuracy is more important: quantities, method (for example, beating egg whites), oven temperatures, baking times. So it’s worth following the recipes with some care, and being prepared to adjust the timings to suit your oven.

Granolaan update on the recipe in my book.

90ml water
90ml sunflower oil
135ml honey
Generous tsp ground cinnamon
Scant tsp salt
340g jumbo oats
80g whole skin-on almonds + a few hazelnuts
90g sunflower seeds
90g pumpkin seeds
70g raisins
8 dried apricots, sliced thinly

Heat the oven to 160°C.

Put in the water, oil, honey, cinnamon and salt in a small saucepan and heat it till the sugar dissolves. Measure out the oats, almonds and seeds into the largest possible baking tray. Mix in the syrup thoroughly. Spread out the mixture evenly.
Bake for 35 minutes altogether. Half way through, take the granola out of the oven, break up any lumps and mix it around. At the end, turn off the oven, prop the door slightly ajar, and leave for 15 minutes.

When the granola comes out of the oven, thoroughly mix it again, adding the raisins and dried apricots.

Cheese Soufflé (serves four)

A soufflé easy? Oh really? Try it!

40g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
300ml hot milk
100g grated Cheddar
70g grated Parmesan
Pinch cayenne pepper
A scraping of grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
A little extra grated Cheddar

Heat the oven to 200°C.

The soufflé dish should hold about a litre. Thin china works better than thick.

Make a cheese sauce: melt the butter over a gentle heat, and cook the flour in it for a couple of minutes without letting it colour. Gradually add the milk, stirring continuously, and simmer for about five minutes until the sauce is smooth and thick. Add the cheese, the cayenne, the nutmeg and the salt and pepper, and stir well.

Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks into the sauce, and let the mixture cool to lukewarm. Add a pinch of salt to the whites and beat with a balloon whisk until they stand up in soft peaks that hold their shape. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the whisked whites into the cheese mixture to loosen it up, and then, using a rubber spatula, very lightly fold in the rest of the whites.

Butter a soufflé dish and sprinkle in a little grated cheddar. Pour in the mixture. Make a deep groove in the surface about 2cm from the rim – the idea being to make the soufflé rise like a cottage loaf. Bake for 25 minutes, or if you’re feeling brave, slightly less. The middle should be slightly runny.

Try using Gruyère instead of Cheddar.

Walnut Brownies

It used to be that in London you were never more than two metres from a rat. Now you’re never more than two metres from a chocolate brownie – which is a mild improvement. Try this alternative.

125g butter, melted
225g soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla essence
200g self-raising flour
100g chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 180°C.

Mix the melted butter, sugar, egg, salt and vanilla essence. Add the flour and walnuts, and mix well.

Butter a tart tin (approximately 20cm x 20cm) and spread out the mixture into it. Bake for 20 minutes. The inside should still be slightly runny. Cut into squares and leave to cool.

It’s true to say that cooking any of these recipes on Bake Off would ensure a severe Hollywooding and an early exit on grounds of lack of ambition, but let’s leave them to their Mohnstrudels and get on with our lives.

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by TOAST ( 07.11.14 )
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by TOAST ( 08.10.14 )

Falafel_Ken Anderson

Orlando Gough

Gaza. O, O, O, O.

I’m working on the production of a piece called The Shouting Fence that I wrote with the composer Richard Chew in 1999. It was inspired by a photograph of a woman in a burqa standing on a hillside shouting through a megaphone. The setting was the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. The village was, and still is, after an endless series of border changes brought about originally by the Six Days War, divided by 50 metres of no man’s land. The inhabitants would come on Fridays to either side of the fence to – how can one describe it? – converse. Our response to this curious, touching, disturbing ritual was an antiphonal choral piece in which two choirs sing across a divide – only 20 metres, cowardly – with the audience in the middle.

In one section of the piece, two women sing, through megaphones, the passage from the Song of Solomon which begins: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm… One woman sings in Hebrew, one in Arabic. It’s impossible not to be struck by the similarity of the two languages. In Hebrew (excuse the iffy transliteration): Sime ni kahotam al libecha, sime ni kahotam al zroecha… In Arabic: Ij’alni kakhatim ‘alaqalbika, ij’alni kakhatim ‘a la sa ‘idika… Of course, it’s not surprising – they’re both Semitic languages, and have the same roots. The word anti-Semitic, habitually used as a synonym for anti-Jewish, or even anti-Israeli, actually means anti-more-or-less-everyone-in-the-Middle-East. Confusing.

What about Semitic food? The signature Semitic dish is falafel, claimed as the national dish of Israel, Egypt and Palestine. The Palestinians accuse the Israelis of having appropriated it; like almost every other point of contention in the area, the origins are murky. Actually, it’s close to becoming the national dish of the world (do I mean the international dish of the world?), amazingly threatening the ubiquitous pizza. MacDonalds have unveiled their MacFalafel. National dish of vegetarians. National dish of the festival world. Consequently, there’s a lot of iffy falafel on offer. Here’s a good recipe, which my wife Jo makes, courtesy of Sam’n’Sam, the Wizards of Moro:

Serves four

Soak 250g chickpeas overnight. Drain them. Put half of them in a saucepan with plenty of water, bring to the boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender. Using a food processor, grind up the uncooked chickpeas, then the cooked ones. Put them all in a bowl with several chopped cloves of garlic, plenty of chopped parsley and coriander, 1tsp ground cumin, 1tsp ground coriander, a grated onion, 50g plain flour and a beaten egg. Mix well, and season with salt and pepper. Shape into small balls and fry in plenty of sunflower oil. Very good with pickled beetroot as well as the usual flatbread and tahini sauce or hummus. Falafel and hummus – chickpeas and chickpeas – slightly tautologous combination.

It would be a mistake to overstate the similarity between Jewish and Arabic cuisine. But consider also the excellent dish mujadarra (megadarra/mejadra/mudardara etc etc). It’s eaten in many parts of the Arab world, and it’s particularly popular with the Palestinians, but the great cookery writer Claudia Roden’s Syrian Jewish aunt Régine used to serve it, and it’s very similar to several Sephardic Jewish dishes involving rice and caramelised onions.

Serves four

First make caramelised onions. Take three onions, cut them in half and then slice as thinly as you possibly can. Heat 200ml sunflower oil in a frying pan, and fry the onions in batches until they are golden brown and crisp. Meanwhile, cook 200g brown or green lentils in plenty of boiling water for 10 minutes, so that they have begun to soften but still have some bite. Drain. Heat a few tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan, add 1 tbsp coriander seeds, 2 tsp cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds. Add the lentils, 200g basmati rice, 1 tsp ground allspice, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 300ml vegetable stock or water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, slip a tea towel under the lid, and leave for 10 minutes. Mix in half the onions anspicesd put on a serving dish, with the rest of the onions on top. Claudia Roden’s aunt ‘used to present it regularly to guests with the comment: “Excuse the food of the poor!” – to which the unanimous reply always was: “Keep your food of kings and give us megadarra every day!’’’ Serve with a bowl of yoghurt and a relish of finely chopped tomatoes, cucumber, carromujadarrat, mint and parsley, mixed with lemon juice. Very good with burghul instead of rice.

I look forward to MacMujadarra. Actually, that’s a lie, I don’t look forward to MacMujaddara at all.

Meanwhile, the fear and the fury and the recrimination and the revenge go on. A fragile ceasefire is in place in Gaza. But you’d have to be the world’s greatest optimist to believe that it will last.

The Shouting Fence will be performed at the Culture Factory in Limerick on October 17-20.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.

Photo: Ken Anderson.


Orlando Gough

Last week I went to stay in Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast, which our friend Robin, with whom I was staying, describes as a Radio 4 gated community. With its bleak beach, quirky medieval town hall, Martello tower, Benjamin Britten obsession, and award-winning fish and chips, it embodies a certain kind of utopia, although the presence of Sizewell A and B (and soon C) up the road is a reminder of the real world. I was particularly delighted to be able to potter down to the shore where from several rather beautiful black wooden sheds it is possible to buy locally caught fish. I walked in on a discussion about how long to keep skate before they are ready to eat. Fish too fresh to eat! Whoa!

I was working on a piece, The World Encompassed, that I wrote a few years ago for the viol consort Fretwork. The regular members of this brilliant group are two redoubtable English men called Richard and two equally redoubtable Japanese women, not called Richard. The piece is about Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world. He sets out from Plymouth late in 1577 with a crew of 164 men, including four viol players, on five tiny ships. The intention is not in fact to circumnavigate the world but to wreak as much havoc as possible on the Spanish Main. This is partly a political move and partly a personal revenge for a setback at the Caribbean port of Nombre de Dios a few years before. He is fuelled by a fierce Protestant piety, obsessed with cleansing South America of the ‘poisonous infection of Popery’. It is said of him that ‘he steals by day and prays at night’. His attitude to the local people he encounters is much more benevolent, if patronising. ‘Neither is any thing more lamentable than that so goodly a people, and so lively creatures of God, should be ignorant of the true and living God’. The expedition returns almost three years after it sets out, with just 58 men and one ship, the Golden Hind, but with enough Spanish loot and East India spices to pay off Queen Elizabeth’s debts and have enough left over to start the Levant company, which becomes the East India Company. This is surely the start of the British Empire, with its familiar mixture of muscular Christianity, thuggery, benevolence, and entrepreneurship.

However much one might disapprove of the piracy, one has to admit that the bravery and stoicism are astonishing. Emerging from the Straights of Magellan into the Pacific, they are caught in a 52-day storm in which two of the ships are wrecked, and another disappears. Almost immediately they are chasing after, and being chased by, the Spaniards; and then they get horribly lost and find themselves stranded half way up the coast of North America. And it’s a constant battle to find food, and, more importantly, fresh water. A crucial stop-off in the Cape Verde Islands, where they find an abundance of figs, grapes, coconuts and plantains, allows them to make the 60-day journey across the Atlantic to Brazil. There are, of course, fish, including ‘one, as strange as any; to wit, the flying fish, a fish of the bigness and proportion of a reasonable or middle sort of pilchard. By the help of his fins, when he is chased by the bonito or great mackerel, he lifteth up himself above the water, and flieth a pretty height, sometimes lighting into our boat as we sail along’. In the Straights of Magellan, they moor up on an island where ‘we found great store of strange birds which could not fly at all, nor yet run so fast, as that they could escape us with their lives. Such was the infinite resort of these birds to these islands, that in the space of one day we killed no less than three thousand’. That’s a lot of penguin meat.

Having walked in on the skate seminar, I inevitably bought some, and the next day we cooked it au beurre noir. Lovely, if rather predictable. How else to cook it?

The Koreans eat fermented skate. I can see this could be useful on a circumnavigation of the world, but I’m too cowardly to try it. Alternatively, try this Japanese-inspired dish:

For two people, grate a knob of ginger, and slice a small red chilli finely. Put into a wok with 1/2 litre fish stock or dashi, and bring to the boil. Put in two skate wings (or, better, two halves of one large wing) and poach for about six minutes, depending on the thickness of the wings. After a couple of minutes, add some sugar snaps. When the fish is ready, drain off the stock. Mix a ladleful of stock with a dessertspoonful of white miso paste and add it back into the wok. Sprinkle over some chopped coriander leaves and the juice of half a lime.

PS. The Japanese use flying fish for making sushi.

Next week: 10 best penguin recipes.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.

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by TOAST ( 08.08.14 )

Orlando Gough

The other day in the Grauniad, under the headline DON’T KNOCK FAST FOOD (I confess to having immediately thought: I shall knock fast food if I want), was an article by the journalist Kathryn Hughes. Fast food is an interesting subject, with its inevitable class war connotations – chavs eating junk food while the fragrant middle classes pickle their own herrings; but her argument was strange: the middle classes, for example Mrs Beaton, originally promoted slow cooking as a way of encouraging attributes – patience mainly – which would make them good entrepreneurs. And now people who eat fast food are similarly upholding the capitalist system, so they’re doing an equally useful job. Er… what? (And what a bizarre argument to find in the Grauniad of all newspapers.) According to Hughes, a large section of the population doesn’t even have the wherewithal to cook slow food (really?); they’re more likely to have a microwave oven than an Aga (well, yes).

For a time we lived in the village of Southwick, just outside Brighton. It had originally been next to the sea, but a large part had been bulldozed in the 50s to make way for a spanking new road which was never built. So it had a strange lopsided feeling, despite being arranged around a charming green where our dog Nell once won Best Bitch. We rented a beautiful Georgian rectory from local self-made man and Harley Davidson fanatic Dennis Clark, owner of several lucrative care homes.

The Old Rectory, tick, with an Aga, tick.

My relationship with this cast iron behemoth was – to borrow a phrase from Gandhi describing his relationship with the British government in India – not a happy one. Cooking on it was as easy as navigating using a sextant. It was good, as you might expect, for extremely slow cooking and extremely fast cooking, but anything between those extremes, i.e. almost everything, was fantastically difficult – unnecessarily difficult given the invention of that splendid gadget the cooker. Baking a cake or cooking a soufflé involved a complex process of oven swapping, inserting and removing plates which might or might not have been sprinkled with water etc. To an Aga afficionado this is all doubtless a piece of cake, but I never got the hang of it, partly due to the fact that it’s impossible to smell anything that’s cooking in an Aga oven, so it’s correspondingly easy to incinerate it. Consequently the hot oven was like an ancient blacksmith’s forge, caked in unidentifiable carbon-rich slurry.

In the winter the Aga admittedly warmed the house, lovely; in summer the kitchen was like the engine room of a ship. Before cooking one needed to throw the windows open and strip to the waist. But the main problem was that the damn thing kept breaking down. In principle the solution was to ring up a specialist company in Horsham or somewhere, but their call-out fee was about £10,000, so Dennis, who was both thrifty and a handyman, would come round and futz around for several hours with screwdrivers and thermostats. And the Aga would either work or not work. If it did work there was then a frustrating fallow period of several weeks (or maybe it was a few hours?) while it heated up again.

For Dennis these sessions were surprisingly fruitful – they gave him a chance to infiltrate his house and check that we were treating it properly. Actually we treated it much better than he did. He once tried to dig up the beautiful floor of the back passage because he needed some bricks, and we more or less had to lie down in the passage, like protesters on the site of a proposed motorway, to stop him desecrating his own house.

After the Aga had broken down for the nth time and Dennis had put in the mth new thermostat, unsuccessfully, he lent us a microwave oven as a substitute. This was surely a category error, like lending a hockey stick to someone whose cricket bat has broken, or a hamster to someone whose dog has died. We completely failed to come to terms with this mysterious machine. We obligingly went out and bought a Marks and Spencer take-away Chinese meal, but made a complete balls-up of heating it up. I think we were afraid of a mini-Hiroshima, so the food never made it to more than a couple of degrees above room temperature. It tasted absolutely dismal, and we were probably lucky it didn’t poison us. As enthusiastic cooks this was a staggering level of failure, on the scale of a research scientist not being able to change a plug. We didn’t use the microwave again, and gratefully returned to the warm embrace of the Aga when it was finally mended.

Since then I’ve discovered that there are many beautiful uses of a microwave oven:

- for heating milk
- for cooking vegetables without compromising their nutritional value
- for fusing together the broken crepe soles of shoes (have to be careful with the temperature here I’d imagine)
- for exploding eggs (I think our friend Boyd was trying to cook the egg)
- for storing cheese (my father-in-law, who like us never got the hang of his microwave, used it as a larder – odd, since a microwave has no ventilation, and, you could argue, is basically the opposite of a larder)
- as a percussion instrument – it works as a complete drum kit, and the bell is useful too.

Meanwhile we have moved house, and use a completely standard cooker. I’m extremely happy with it. And continue to knock fast food without compunction.

Pictured: Salt baked veg, cooked in an Aga

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal.


Orlando Gough

Centenary fever! We’re facing a fusillade of First World War commemoration. And there are four years to go… Meanwhile, next month sees the centenary of an admittedly rather more minor fiasco – a series of 12 performances at the London Coliseum by the Italian Futurists Luigi Russolo and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

Marinetti published the Futurist Manifesto in 1909 – an intentionally provocative mixture of anarchism, fascism, disdain for the past, misogyny and glorification of machines. ‘Art can be nothing but violence, cruelty and injustice… We will destroy the museums, the libraries, every type of academy… We will glorify war – the world’s only hygiene – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women.’ Eek.

Soon after they celebrated with a backwards banquet in Trieste:
Sweet Memories on Ice
Marmalade of Defunct Glories
Mummified Roast with Professorial Liver
Archeological Salad
Goulash of The Past
Explosive Peas with a Sauce of History
Dead Sea Fish
Clotted Blood Soup
Entrée of Demolition

According to the Futurists, existing Italian music was ‘mediocre, rickety, vulgar’. They wanted to introduce experimental sounds inspired by machinery. Luigi Russolo invented The Art of Noises – music made by intonarumori, acoustic noise generators, including The Gurgler, the Crackler, the Hummer, the Burster, the Whistler, the Rumbler. The first concert, in April 1914 in Milan, apparently caused a riot. This was followed by 12 performances at the Coliseum in June 1914, bizarrely as part of a variety evening which also included a routine by Vesta Tilley, the singing recruiting sergeant. Marinetti and Russolo’s contribution was a single work, in four parts, or ‘noise-spirals’. Audience and critics were profoundly underwhelmed. ‘The first of the ‘noise-spirals’ performed, The Awakening of a Great City… resembled the sounds heard in the rigging of a Channel-steamer during a bad crossing…’ Ironically, for a project called The Art of Noises, the main problem seemed to be that the music was almost inaudible.

Marinetti formed the Futurist Party in 1918. In 1919 it merged with the Fascist party; Marinetti helped to write the Fascist Manifesto, and became more and more reactionary, increasingly seduced by the politics of Mussolini.

In 1930 he produced, in collaboration with Luigi Colombo, a Manifesto of Futurist Cooking, and in 1932 The Futurist Cookbook, part Fascist propaganda, part excellent common sense, part exuberant provocation, part nonsense. It contains a ferocious broadside against pasta. Pasta, according to Marinetti, causes lassititude, pessimism and lack of passion. Spaghetti is not proper food for Italian soldiers. This predictably caused a furore. The Mayor of Naples weighed in: ‘The angels in Paradise eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro.’ Marinetti replied: ‘This confirms my suspicions about the monotony of Paradise.’ In fact it was nationalist propaganda designed to appeal to Mussolini; imports of wheat were on the rise, and Il Duce was looking to substitute it with a home-grown staple –
rice. Rice was ‘more virile, more patriotic, more suitable for fighters and heroes’.

A nasty nationalist thread, in fact, runs through the book. Marinetti wants Italians to stop eating foreign food, and he gives a glossary of specifically Italian culinary terms to replace insidious foreign ones, for example ‘polibibita’ instead of ‘cocktail’, ‘quisibeve’ for ‘bar’.

But then there’s a rather wonderful schtick about the future of food. Food must mainly appeal to the eye and the imagination; in fact some food should not be eaten, but only experienced with eyes and nose. (Shades of Satyricon…) Food should arrive rapidly and contain many flavours, but each course should consist of only a few mouthfuls. Remind you of anything? Nutrition is crucial. He rails against not only pasta but processed grains, the overcooking of vegetables, over-reliance on meat. Traditional kitchen equipment should be replaced by scientific equipment: ozonisers, ultraviolet ray lamps to activate vitamins, electrolysers to decompose ingredients into new forms, colloidal mills, autoclaves, dialysers, vacuum stills to cook food without destroying vitamins. Prophetic!

The actual recipes are quirky, but tend to be subversions of traditional recipes rather than genuinely visionary inventions: mortadella with nougat, pineapples with sardines, risotto with cape gooseberries, Italian Breasts in the Sunshine (almond paste topped with a strawberry, sprinkled with pepper). The most avant-garde recipe is for Chickenfiat: the taste of technology world is achieved by tucking a handful of ball bearings into the chicken’s shoulder. Elizabeth David, who approves of Marinetti’s common sense but is deeply suspicious of his politics, quotes several recipes in her Italian Cooking, including this one for Dolce Mafarka, a frisky but hardly radical rice pudding:

60g ground coffee
600ml milk
Sugar to taste
100g rice
The peel of a lemon
40ml orange-flower water
2 eggs

Cook the coffee in the milk, and sugar it to your taste; strain it, then pour in the rice and cook it (in a steamer) al dente. Remove from the fire; when it is cold grate into it the lemon peel, and stir in the orange-flower water and the eggs, mixing well. Pour into a mould and put it on ice. Serve with fresh biscuits.


Marinetti’s ideas prefigured many later developments, and it’s tempting to claim that they were influential. There’s a thread from the Art of Noises through Varese and Cage to Stockhausen and electronic music. But one from La Cucina Futurista to Michel Guérard and Heston? It’s difficult to detect. The ‘destructive gesture of freedom-bringers’? ‘Scorn for women’? Well, those ideas seem to have made it through.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.

Pictured, a detail from Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Free Words, between 1914 and 1916


Orlando Gough

Whoa! Seven a day! And I’m not talking about Shane Warne. The new 5-2 diet: 5 portions of vegetables and 2 of fruit. It’s a tough one. Like most middle-class people I feel instinctively that my diet is fairly healthy (despite what is surely an addiction to plain chocolate Kit-Kats – must remember to check into the Priory, I’m sure they can sort me out), but I can’t claim to achieve seven a day more often than once in a blue moon. These are good times for vegetarians. We always suspected they might be morally right; then they turned out to be ecologically right; now they’re nutritionally right. How much righter can you be? At the same time fruit is taking a bit of a hammering; fruit juice, in particular, is the turkey twizzler of the moment, about to be hounded out of town (until the day that some bright spark discovers that it prevents Alzheimers, hangovers etc.).

This seven a day decree is a challenge – but not as much of a challenge as it must be in Chukotka, the far north-eastern region of Russia. Sarah Wheeler, in her wonderful book The Magnetic North, writes of a visit to Anadyr, the capital. In 1995, in one of the most profitable privatizations of a decade of profitable privatizations, Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky bought the national conglomerate Sibneft. Abramovich registered his companies in Chukotka to take advantage of the generous tax laws. He was a fairy godfather for Anadyr, investing in buses and street lighting. In 2000 he was elected governor with a convincing 99% of the vote. Upset by the lack of decent restaurants, and being a fan of Bavarian food, he built a restaurant and flew in a Bavarian chef. Wheeler goes to eat in the restaurant, which features home-brewed beer and a live oompah band. She orders sauerkraut “with a Russian twist, the twist being an absence of cabbage”. A bit like playing cricket without a bat. Scurvy is still a problem in rural Chukotka.

What to do?

Last week I stayed at Klosterhagen, a delightful small hotel in Bergen, Norway. It’s in a square full of exquisite colourful 19th century houses, most of them built of wood. The hotel is on the site of an old convent. My room was in the eaves. It was the first hotel room I’ve stayed in which is roughly the same size as its bathroom. The overhead velux window didn’t want to stay open, so I propped it open with the remote control for the TV. When I woke in the morning there had been a ferocious rainstorm and the whole of the bottom half of the bed was soaked. The remote control, amazingly, still worked. The breakfast was the best breakfast I have ever had, as well as being the most nutritious. Absolutely everything is home-made: granola, yoghurt, bread, smoked salmon, cured trout, spiced trout, soused herring, tomato herring, semi-dried tomatoes, roasted beetroot with balsamic vinegar, pickled vegetables… My friend Olivia, with whom I’m working on a choral project in Bergen, came down to breakfast, and said, right let’s get to work. We tried everything, including a weird goat’s cheese which is shit-coloured all the way through, served with honeycomb – hardcore but delicious. Wafer-thin crispbread made entirely with seeds – lovely. Fresh orange juice. Fresh fruit. A cold breakfast in a cold climate – curious. But seven a day was suddenly a doddle. We were pretty much done and dusted by 10am.

I came back thinking this was surely the solution: the mighty nutritional breakfast. But of course there are two problems. One is cultural – in Blighty most of us are only slowly moving away from Sugar Puffs and toast (I’ve got as far as granola and toast, i.e. not very far); and the other is practical – the Klosterhagen breakfast is dependent on an army of people working their socks off. Are we going to start doing this for ourselves? Probably not.

But if you do fancy going Norwegian for breakfast, try this:

Take about 1kg of herring fillets, and soak them in white wine vinegar overnight. Drain them well. Make a mixture of 200g sea salt, 100g caster sugar, a few bay leaves, 10g each of peppercorns and allspice berries, slightly crushed. Pack the herrings between layers of this mixture. Put a plate on top to keep them submerged in the brine that forms. Keep them in a cool, dry place. They’ll be ready after a week, and will keep for several.

When you’re ready to go Norwegian, remove some of the fillets, and soak them in a half-and-half mixture of water and milk. Taste them after a couple of hours. (The soaking time will, obviously, depend on how long they’ve been in the brine.) Drain them and slice them up.

Mix them with some rings of fennel bulb, sliced as thinly as possible, some chopped parsley and a mustardy vinaigrette.

(There are many other excellent ways to use salted herrings. Jane Grigson is particularly good on the subject in her Fish Cookery.)

And this:

Take the leaves and stalks off a couple of bunches of beetroot. Put them in an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with olive oil, and add some fresh thyme and a few whole cloves of garlic. Season. Cover loosely with foil and bake for an insanely long time, two hours or more, in a 180C oven. Remove the beetroot, and cut them into chunks. Put in a dish and sprinkle over some balsamic vinegar and a little extra olive oil. Allow to cool.

Neither of these dishes are exactly instantaneous, but they might revolutionise your life – er, well, let’s not overstate it, they might make a minor difference.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.

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by TOAST ( 25.04.14 )

Orlando Gough. 

This autumn we took a holiday in Lefkada, one of the Ionian Islands. It was a blue holiday – in a good way – dominated by the sea and the seductive surrounding islands (Kephalonia, Ithaca, Megannisi, Skorpios) which loomed in a thousand shades of blue, blue-green, turquoise and grey-blue, constantly changing with the weather and the time of day. 

Skorpios was particularly intriguing – it used to be the holiday home of the Onassis family, and was where Jackie Onassis was famously photographed nude bathing by a Greek paparazzo. Oh, the ordeals of the rich and famous. The family recently sold it, possibly illegally, to a Russian oligarch’s daughter. It looks like the lair of a James Bond villain, with a yacht the size of a large house in the harbour. We lingered offshore in a considerably smaller yacht, partly because we were fascinated, in a Daily Mail-ish kind of way, but mainly because there was no bloody wind – and were seen off by a couple of goons in a speedboat.

With the help of, or, to be more accurate, with absolutely no help from a charming guide book from the 1950s which was devoid of facts but full of the purest poetry, we made a trip to Englouvi, the highest village on the island, famous for lentils, which are grown on the plateau above. ‘The landscape begins to change,’ says the guidebook; ‘on the one hand vineyards and colourful fields, stone huts so expertly made they might be ‘built by a hand divine’, and on the other, the craters of the moon and strange geological formations… The fields of lentils and the persevering growers working in them keep us company for a short while yet…’ We kept company with the persevering growers, and admired the strange geological formations, before visiting a very excitingly abandoned radar station with a spectacular view over the entire island and the mainland. It was like the lair of a James Bond villain several years after he’s been dispatched by the great man. Knackered and overgrown, it was dominated by several satellite dishes on a giant metal grid that could be climbed by someone with the sang-froid of, say, James Bond. We vowed to come back at night with a picnic, but never did.

At the highest point of the plateau (so I suppose it wasn’t strictly a plateau) was an exquisite miniscule monastery. Inside there was a tiny dome painted blue. It was like a James Turrell artwork, making absolutely apparent the idea of trying to come as close as possible to heaven. Outside a young couple, tourists, snogged, smoked and took scenic photos of each other.

The lentil fields themselves were nondescript, consisting of bedraggled rows of shrubs – wrong time of year. We went into the village and bought a kilo of lentils for a slightly eye-watering €12. Back at our house we discovered that they were mixed with a large amount of grit and tiny stones. We set to winnowing. My son Daniel and I were spectacularly bad at it, making the mistake of winnowing negatively (removing the grit from the lentils). We had to be taken off the job, slightly grumpy, and were replaced by a crack team of positive winnowers, who completed the work in about the time that Handel, had he been around, could have written The Messiah. Or Demis Roussos could have shaved his beard. It was a reminder that, much as we might complain about modern methods of agriculture and food preparation, we have got our lives back. The lentils were excellent, rather in the style of the Castelluccio lentils from Umbria, also, curiously enough, grown on a plateau.

The next day, in the delightful Lefkada Town, we found exactly the same lentils in a supermarket, with all the grit taken out, for €5 per kilo. The persevering lentil farmers of Englouvi had taken us for a ride, though it must be admitted that we were the classic marks – keen middle-class holiday-makers in the relentless pursuit of the Holy Grail of Authenticity. Which can only be a good thing for the ailing Greek economy.

The plfs, says the guidebook, cook the lentils in huge cauldrons, and serve them with salt sardines and olives. Sounds good.

Try this method of cooking them (serves 6):

250g lentils (Puy, Castelluccio, Englouvi)

a small bulb of garlic, cut in half horizontally

1 onion, minced

2 mild green chillies, deseeded, finely chopped

grated zest and juice of 3 limes

4 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped mint

Winnow the lentils for several weeks – unless you’ve bought them from Waitrose, in which case immediately…

Put the lentils and the garlic in a saucepan with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil, and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes until the lentils are al dente. The timing is critical, so keep testing. The window between grit and mush is quite short. Discard the garlic and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Good cold.


We’ve published a book of Orlando’s recipes full of similar tales. For more about Orlando Gough Recipe Journal click here.


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by TOAST ( 17.01.14 )

Orlando Gough

Put the kettle on
Put the kettle on
It is the British answer
to Armageddon

Never mind the taxes rise
Never mind the trains are late
One thing you can be sure of
and that’s the kettle, mate.

What ever happened to tea? Once it was a central pillar of our national identity. Probably because for a long time it was a central pillar of our national economy. Tea – opium – silver: a brilliant trade triangle masterminded by the East India Company, using methods that seem, in retrospect, amazingly modern; for example, the off-loading of the dangerous and ethically suspect part of the trade – the delivery of the opium to the Chinese – to intermediaries, enabling the Honourable Company itself to remain apparently squeaky clean. The opium, essentially, buys the tea, which is shipped back to Blighty where it becomes a symbol of a decent kind of Britishness, upright, hard-working, true. A brilliant sleight of hand.

It’s not whether you lose
It’s not whether you win
It’s whether or not
You’ve plugged the kettle in.

May the kettle ever hiss
May the kettle ever steam
It is the engine
that drives our nation’s dream.

Then, gradually, insidiously, tea turned into coffee (while in parallel, almost, the empire collapsed, and cricket turned into football). How can it have happened? It seems to have been part of the Europeanisation of Britain ushered in by Elizabeth David and Terence Conran in the 50s and 60s – French food and wine, Italian furniture, Greek holidays. It was more particularly a Mediterraneanisation, an attempt to deny our climate and live a more carefree outdoor social life (hence those heaters that attempt heat the outside world, a crime against ecology, not to say common sense). And an important aspect of that was the coffee house, with its chairs and tables on the street. Relaxed, sociable. What could be nicer?

Now that innovation has come to bite us. Starbucks, Caffé Nero, Pret a Manger, Eat, Costa etc etc are almost the only businesses left on the high street. Shopping turns into sociability, perhaps. But can you have the sociability without the shopping? I’d like to think you can actually. The high street as a place to meet, and talk, and see stuff together, and do stuff together – it’s a lovely proposition, though one that needs a bit of work.

It’s astonishing that we can drink so much coffee – and eye-wateringly expensive coffee, at that. The standard of the coffee has definitely improved, particularly with the advent of those clever Australian people, with their flat whites, and their enthusiastic obsession with provenance and water temperature. (I went into a delightful independent coffee house recently, and drank a delicious cup of coffee, but had to leave prematurely while the barrista was telling the nth person exactly where the beans came from, how he was planning to make the coffee, and what it was going to taste like: ‘…washed Yirg….updosed….pulled longer….clean and light, creamy body and mouthfeel, strawberries on the nose…’ – a mixture of porn novel and wine-tasting manual.) But what about our health? Are we getting over-caffeinnated? Are we drowning in frothed milk?

And this is where tea might be stealing back into the picture. A suspicion that tea might be better for us, particularly green teas and rooibush teas and herbal teas. (Are those horror stories about herbal teas just rumours, or is there some truth in them?) As we run more half-marathons and spend more time in the gym, are we going to return to the old decent morally upright tradition of tea-drinking?

Long live the kettle
that rules over us
May it be limescale free
and may it never rust

Sing it from the beaches
Sing it from the housetops
The sun may set on empire
but the kettle never stops.

PS The poem is by the great John Agard, who has also written a wonderful poem about coffee – or rather a poem about heaven and coffee – which affirms the coffee dishonourable, tea honourable principle:

You’ll be greeted
by a nice cup of coffee
when you get to heaven
and strains of angelic harmony.
But wouldn’t you be devastated
if they only serve decaffeinated
while from the percolators of hell
your soul was assaulted
by Satan’s fresh espresso smell?

PPS Now, not only has the empire collapsed, tea turned into coffee and cricket into football, but the weather’s changing. Is nothing sacred?

We’ve published a book of Orlando’s recipes full of similar tales. For more about Orlando Gough Recipe Journal click here.

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by TOAST ( 19.12.13 )
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