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 )

Orlando Gough

Well.

 

Saint Delia says that Masterchef is a nonsense because most of us can’t cook an omelette. And a new saint, Saint Felicity, says that that’s nonsense, as we’re not necessarily interested in cooking omelettes, or soufflés, or baking cakes;

what we want to cook is exotic stuff like Chicken Jalfrezi.

Who knows? Judging by the ranks of ready meals at the supermarket, Saint Delia has a point. Judging by the fact that the word ‘jalfrezi’ is now in the English Dictionary – raising the mouth-watering possibility of using it in Scrabble – Saint Felicity has a point; though she rather bizarrely followed up by devoting her next column to a recipe for Victoria Sponge cake.

Omelettes, soufflés, cakes, chickens…… Somehow it’s all about eggs.

It’s a moment to celebrate the egg

as glue

as the inspiration for Humpty Dumpty

as a crucial ingredient in the pick-me-up egg nog

as the indispensible component of a cooked breakfast

as an instant meal: scrambled, boiled, fried, poached, omelette

and by extension, if you have more time, frittata, tortilla, eggah, kuku

 

as a way of elevating something to the status of a meal – for example:

asparagus by itself, not a meal………asparagus with poached egg, a meal

 

as the central component of eggy-peggy language (for anyone outside

the society, it’s a secret language created by putting the syllable ‘egg’ after

every consonant – so for example ‘Felicity’ becomes ‘Feggeleggiceggiteggy’)

 

as a symbol of rebirth – hence Easter eggs, and hence the Easter Day sport of

egg-rolling in the village of South Stoke just outside Bath. You hard-boil your

egg, and decorate the shell (this year’s eggs included Boris Johnson and the Pope).

The eggs are rolled down the steep main street of the village. First to the bottom

is the winner. It’s very messy – the eggs roll under cars and into the gutter, and

the shells begin to come off. The competition is fierce and disturbing, and the

smell is even fiercer and more disturbing….

 

the yolk as a basis for emulsification with oil (what genius discovered that?):

mayonnaise, sauce tartare, sauce rémoulade, sauce verte, not to mention

hollandaise sauce, Béarnaise sauce, sauce Maltaise, sauce moutarde….. magic!

 

the yolk as a partner in liaisons with milk and cream, a basis for custards,

mousses, ice creams…..and as a means of thickening broths and soups

 

the yolk as a binding agent in egg tempura, and therefore a component of

some great masterpieces of Early Renaissance art

 

the white as a rising agent: soufflés, cakes, meringues, choux pastry,

gougère, Yorkshire pudding,….. and as a means of clarifying broths

 

the shell as an example of a perfectly designed container

 

as something not get on your face

as the perfect protest missile

and so on.

 

Try this Pipérade –

it’s a standard Basque dish, but you don’t find it served very often here in Britain.

Chop two medium onions; cut open, de-seed, and slice three small red peppers. Fry them gently together in olive oil for ten minutes. Add four chopped garlic cloves and six chopped tomatoes, and cook gently for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut three thick slices of white bread into cubes. Make croûtons by frying them in hot olive oil till golden. Beat eight eggs, season with salt and pepper, and add to the vegetable mixture, stirring all the time, as if you’re making scrambled eggs. Mix in the croutons, and strew with chopped parsley.

This dish is remarkably similar to the Tunisian Chakchouka, and the Turkish Menemen. Though in the Basque country it’s served with fried slices of Bayonne ham, which is hardly likely in Tunisia or Turkey.

Experiment with different herbs – mint, basil, coriander….

Good with green peppers instead of red.

Serves four.

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 ( 22.10.13 )

Orlando Gough

A few years ago we went with our friends the Seatons on a deeply compromised holiday to a lovely part of south-west Ireland, the Beara Peninsula. The Guinness was good, the countryside luscious, the fiddle-playing frisky – Ireland is, after all, Ireland; but there were drawbacks. Swimming was out of the question as the sea was teeming with jellyfish; we pottered about in a knackered old rowing boat, anxious about the admittedly remote possibility of capsizing. Going for walks was a nightmare, as we were attacked by tics; pulling them out afterwards was companionable but intensely painful, the potential consequences of missing just one of the little beasts alarming. Sitting outside in the evenings was out of the question, since, despite having the use of an ingenious anti-mosquito machine, we were bitten black and blue by the damn things. The natural world was not going to take our holiday-making lying down. We wouldn’t have been particularly surprised if it had rained frogs. 

The jellyfish were, of course, spectacularly beautiful. In a world where most objects are opaque, there is something fascinating about a partially transparent object – a soap bubble, a birdcage, an aquarium, a crane, the London Eye. The structure is on display, and one can appreciate the complexity of it. At the same time, the world behind looks almost to be an intrinsic part of the object, so there is a certain mystery. Staring at one of these gorgeous, disturbing creatures beneath our boat, it was impossible not to wonder: does it have a brain? does it have control of its motion? what’s it for??…


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by TOAST ( 01.10.13 )

Orlando Gough.

We’ve just been to the Edinburgh Festival for a few days, mainly to see our son Milo’s unmissable groundbreaking hilarious genre-bending etc. etc. play Morag and Keats. (Actually it was hilarious.)

We also saw the unmissable groundbreaking etc. etc. adaptation by Jack Thorne of Alexander Masters’ book Stuart: A Life Backwards. Masters is a middle-class bleeding-heart leftie who is working for a homeless charity when he meets Stuart Shorter, a chaotic, violent, flirtatious, brilliant, disabled working-class homeless man (a stunning performance by Fraser Ayres). Alex decides to write Stuart’s biography. The play is, amongst other things, a wonderful dissection of class, and in particular of middle-class guilt. I squirmed in my seat with recognition, as I’ve worked on several pieces with the company Streetwise Opera who make operas with homeless people; five minutes before the start of my very first rehearsal with the company, I found myself up against a wall with Rob, an alarming ex-squaddie, shouting at me ‘If you do this fucking piece I’m going to fucking kill you.’

At one moment Stuart says ‘I wanted to have a fish breakfast this morning’ and Alexander says ‘You mean kedgeree?’ and Stuart says ‘What the fuck is kedgeree?’ The word kedgeree becomes a weapon in the ongoing class war between them. At the end of the play, Stuart furious with Alexander, delivers the worst insult he can think of. ‘You…..kedgeree cunt’ he shouts.

What the fuck is kedgeree? Allegedly it’s derived from the Indian dish khichri, a mixture of lentils and rice cooked with spices…


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by TOAST ( 27.08.13 )

Orlando Gough.

A wild pig lives for up to 25 years.

A domestic pig lives for 10-15 years.

A pig slaughtered for its meat lives for about 6 months.

One Pig

The excellent dj and composer Matthew Herbert made a piece recently which consisted entirely of the sounds of a pig, raised for slaughter, which he had recorded intermittently throughout its short life. These sounds were transformed and played by a band of musicians who triggered the sounds from various instruments, including the Sty Harp. This beautiful machine, invented by Yann Seznec, looks actually more like a boxing ring than a sty, with posts at four corners, and a pair of horizontal wires forming the perimeter. The sounds are triggered by pulling on the wires, the speed and direction of the pull affecting the pitch and timbre of the sound. It’s made out of customised Gametraks, a failed pro-motion controller which became obsolete about ten minutes after it was invented in 2003…


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by TOAST ( 01.08.13 )

Orlando Gough.

The highlight of our one and only trip to India was a hilarious, surreal, heart-warming visit to Fort Begu, a sprawling Gormenghast of a fort in the very south of Rajasthan, covered with peacocks, pigeons and pigeon poo. It had been partially restored by the Maharana, Rawat Sawai Hari Singh (M.Sc. Agron., ex-Minister, Rajasthan) and his son Ajay, to make a hotel. We were the only guests, and we were the epicentre of their epic hospitality. They showed us everything, told us everything, asked us everything. It was breathless – and breath-taking.

A memorably bizarre moment: we are in a huge unrestored wing of the fort, with a banyan tree growing through the walls; the Maharana orders up a bucket of water and a mug, chucks water casually at a plaster wall, and reveals some eye-wateringly frisky wall paintings. Religion and sex – there doesn’t seem to be much distinction round here. Another: we have ordered tea in our room, first thing in the morning. The two servants, Suresh and Deja (probably the most handsome man in the universe), tap on the door and bring it in. Two servants, one pot of tea. Wow. They are followed by the Maharana himself, who starts fiddling with the remote control for the air con, muttering ‘ Sixteen degrees, it’s got to be sixteen degrees, like England’. Another: as we are leaving, a protracted negotiation between the Maharana and Ajay about what kind of envelope the final bill should be put into. (They eventually settle on the fully crested version – very flattering.)

The Maharana has a gag of which he is understandably proud: ‘You conquered us with gunpowder; we conquered you with curry powder.’ On the face of it, this is unarguable…


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by TOAST ( 14.05.13 )

Orlando Gough. 

OMG, it’s all going horribly wrong, we’re eating all the wrong stuff, and the Obesity Czar is banging on the door, demanding to see a detailed inventory of everything we’ve eaten in the last three months. We’re living a good two years less than those cunning health-conscious Japanese with their sophisticated restaurants that won’t accept foreigners.

We’re eating too much horse, and we’re not doing enough foraging. We’re bingeing on TV cookery programmes, and then we’re buying packs of Findus frozen lasagne. We’re ricocheting between dieting and cup cakes. There’s the Fast Diet, invented by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson. There’s the alarming Milf Diet (1/3 pint of milf a day), and the Cambridge Diet, a diet of Aristotle and Beowulf. Some of these diets involve weird pouches of stuff you add water to. It’s like being an astronaut. (Actually, maybe if you’re an astronaut you don’t add water, because the water will just fly away……not sure about this…)…


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by TOAST ( 26.03.13 )

Orlando Gough.

Once upon a time it was mackerel and herring, then it was mackerel not herring, then herring was reprieved and it was mackerel and herring again, and now, shock horror, it’s herring not mackerel. A poke on the nose (or rather, a slap round the face with a wet fish) for those smug buggers, like Hugh F-W and Yotam – and me actually – who thought they’d got it every which way with mackerel – delicious, healthy, sustainable. Now it’s just delicious and healthy. As usual it’s all about greed – Iceland and the Faroe Islands unilaterally upping their quotas, which turns out, curiously, to be legal because they’re not part of the EU Common Fisheries Policy…


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by TOAST ( 18.02.13 )

Orlando Gough. 

1.

Shortly before Christmas we went to the ghastly Excel Stadium in South London to see Adrenaline, a horse show directed by my exuberant and uncompromisingly French friend Roland Bréand. My wife Jo and I are horse agnostics, but we went with her sister Lucy who is a brilliant horsewoman. Roland gave us ‘VIP’ tickets, which meant that we had the right to arrive early, sit in a tacky enclosure in the airport-like foyer, and have a free glass of Cava and some of the most disgusting food I’ve ever tasted, food which must originally have been cooked several years before, the kind of food where you find yourself calculating the probability of ending up alive after eating it. Bits of solid material (meat?) served with jam, mushy fish with mushy chips and mushy peas… The other ‘VIP’s looked entirely content with all this horrible stuff. Considering that they had paid an eye-watering £145 each for their tickets, this showed remarkable forbearance on their part. I thought we were supposed to be a nation of whingers…


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by TOAST ( 21.01.13 )
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