Santini’s Last Meal.
By: Joe [Two Spoons] Nardelli
Cookery writing doesn’t appeal to everyone. For instance, I’m sure more men would read cookery books if the writers were prepared to change their style a bit and go for stronger story lines and better characterisation!
‘Out on the dark streets in the black, dangerous alleys of the night, the big city went its pitiless and indifferent way. Life or death – it was all the same to the city at night. Santini stood in the window and looked down. Soon a dark figure would cross the street below and begin to climb the stairs to his apartment. Time was running out for him, he had to make his move now or it would be too late. One way or another it had to be settled. Santini went to the table, on it lay ‘The Philip Marlowe Private Detective’s Cookbook’. He picked it up and flicked it open. It was loaded….’
Some people say that the real art of cooking is to be somewhere else while it is happening and arrive when it’s done, but in good time to have a drink first. However, as in all things, there are exceptions. As Shakespeare nearly said, ‘some men are born to cook, others choose to cook, and some have cooking thrust upon them.’ He wasn’t wrong. Those born to cook become chefs, those who choose to cook buy cookery books and get on with it, but those who have cooking thrust upon them are alone in the dangerous and violent world of the kitchen. This article is for you, men, alone and facing an oven without benefit of a recipe book, with nothing to rely on but a frying pan that will probably jam or misfire. Here’s looking at you kid! I have been there. In fact, I’m still there. I am the living evidence that you can not only survive, you can succeed.
The rules are simple....
Don’t cook if you don’t have to. If God had meant all meals to be cooked in a kitchen he wouldn’t have created the take-a-way.
Be adventurous. If you have to cook it is better to fail gloriously than perish over a soggy shepherd’s pie.
Make sure the drink is good and plentiful, some of the most memorable meals ever eaten have left the plates half full but the bottles empty.
Don’t, DO NOT, under any circumstances let anybody see the kitchen, before, during or after the meal.
That must remain your own awful secret.
So when does push come to shove and you have to cook? Now I am not talking about a quick re-heating for breakfast of last night’s take-away found in the fridge. Nor the making of sandwiches. I’m not talking the lite-bite or the smoke-laden fry-up. I’m talking real meal.
Well, one time, which comes to all men sooner or later, is the time to show you can not only cut it in the kitchen, you can enjoy it and do it well. It’s reverse macho time. So don’t fight it win it. This meal is the one you appear to do at the drop of a hat. It’s the, ‘Look, why don’t I cook you dinner tomorrow’ meal where you cut the ground out from under your own hunk image and show your soft side.
And this is how you do it:
Serves 2 (if you’re cooking this meal for more than 2 get out of this article!)
You will need:
a kitchen, an oven, a biggish frying pan, kitchen roll, more kitchen roll, a work surface, a big sharp knife, more kitchen roll, a telephone and a friend who can cook and who will be in when you are getting the meal ready. You will also need the telephone number of a really fast pizza delivery service in case you need to ‘phone for back-up.
Before you begin to cook: Lay the table, open the cheap wine (this is for you to drink to keep your nerve while cooking not for use in the meal), open the good wine you will have with the meal…anyway you get the idea. Get everything ready that you can. Oh, and get something to put the meal into to bring it to the table, a nice bowl or something.
Ingredients: 1lb minced lamb, 2 peppers (choose for nice colours, they all taste much the same cooked) a tumblerful of wine (I leave the size of the tumbler and the colour of the wine up to you but don’t be a cheapskate and choose Lambrusco) a handful of raisins (fill your fist and don’t pick up the ones that fall on the work surface) onions (if you really like onions 2, if not 1, if you hate onions use leeks, if you hate leeks use whatever the hell you like) 1 medium sized cheap can of chopped tomatoes. A packet of roasted peanuts! (actually you can use any nuts you like but don’t overdo it. This is lamb with nuts not nuts with lamb) You can also add a bit (and I mean a bit, a medium spoonful) of any of the following ; tomato sauce, brown sauce or chilli sauce or sand (to create a sea-side picnic effect).
Chop the onions up, not too small it’s hard work and takes too long. Put them somewhere but don’t lose them. Take the top and bottom off each pepper. Be ruthless, its only money you’re throwing away, cut them in half and get rid of everything that is not the right colour. Chop the peppers into biggish squares. Put them somewhere else.
You should now have ready; the mince, chopped onions, chopped peppers, a tumbler of wine, raisins, nuts and whatever sauce you’re going to use. Put the tomatoes in a pan and start to warm them up, enough heat to make them hot but not boiling. If you really want to be good, warm the bowl you’ll be serving the meal in.
Put the frying pan on the ring and put something in it. You can use Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil if you like, you can even check the motoring section of Car Magazine and choose a modern engine oil. They’re so good now you must be able to cook with them! Use what you like, I recommend the cheapest oil you can get, you’ll never tell the difference. However, be sure to cover the bottom of the pan. Get the oil hot, but not smoking, firemen can be very coarse and spoil a romantic meal for two. Put the onions in the frying pan, if they spit, spit back, but use the sink. Give them five minutes but keep moving them around or you get a choice of burnt or raw. Add the lamb, move it around and break it up as much as you can. Give it a hard time for a good five plus minutes (don’t be tempted to hurry but if it finishes up half cooked say you meant it because its the only way to taste really good quality lamb, also have the doctor’s telephone number handy). Now add the hot tomatoes, the raisins, the wine and any sauce you want, and stir it all up until it begins to bubble. Phone your friend or the pizza place NOW if things are going pear shaped, remember you might really have to eat this!
OK, steady, don’t panic. Have some wine, I am and I’m only writing!
Is it hot in here or is that my imagination? Anyway, turn the heat down a bit so the whole lot gently bubbles, gently is the word but it must bubble. Keep moving it about. If you can see through the steam and still dare to look it should begin to be less liquidy, it should begin to thicken. It will need about fifteen minutes depending on the heat you’re using. Don’t let it go too dry. OK it must have had about half an hour so switch off the heat, add the nuts, stir about for a bit to distribute them and pour it all into your serving bowl. You’re ready to go.
It can be served with a salad (buy one ready made) or bread (buy something exotic don’t just shove half a sliced white loaf on the table). It can be served with other things, but you wouldn’t want to know so don’t ask.
Well, that’s it. Take it in and look nonchalant.
An old family recipe your dad taught you, Sweet Lamb with nuts. Sure, all the men in your family can cook, but with them its an art, only done for very special people on very special occasions and…well, if you don’t both die or get hospitalised I would call that a success, wouldn’t you?