Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Bram sandwich and Sunday gravy

Well, I've got a lot to catch up from the weekend so here goes...

The longest day of the week in the life of a Sunday sports hack, particularly a desk jockey like myself. This is when all thoughts of culinary matters disappear and it's down to the serious matter of the day job. But sustenance is still important, and at lunchtime we make use of the House of Lard (a very convenient takeaway in the heart of Cardiff which provides us with baguettes, sandwiches and hot meals).
The trouble is that people tend to get hungry early on a Saturday morning and if the Robot is in charge of food orders then there is no time to slack. The Robot is our picture editor. His analytical brain is stored with useless facts. He can tell you, for instance, the life span of an Antipodean lesser-striped Hornrimmed lizard in seconds - and often does in conference, even though everyone else is discussing the merits of that day's stories.
To feed his circuitry board, the Robot needs to take on massive amounts of what we humans call food. And he must have it immediately or he is liable to slump across desk, totally immobilised and useless for the rest of the day.
If, like this week, the Robot is hungry at 11.30 in the morning, EVERYONE has until 11.31 to get their order in. Thus I end up with a "breakfast" chilli, chips and rice (or what the Welsh quaintly term arfandarf) . I'm hungry again by 5pm. That, unfortunately, is the busiest time of the day with the sports desk suddenly flooded with the afternoons sports stories. There is no time to waste on nipping around to the local chippie or butty bar.
By nine my stomach is rumbling like crazy and it is then I notice a neatly folded silver wrap on the table. Ah, he's doing drugs to keep him going, you may think. But this is far worse for your health - it's Bram's packed lunch.
God bless him, Bram is one of those guys you cannot do without. He knows everything there is to know about the building, the way the newspapers work and is friends with everyone from the toilet cleaners to the MD's secretary (some would suggest over friendly in the latter case).
What he isn't particularly admired for are his eating habits. He has been known to take about six hours to complete a steak and kidney pie and chips, returning to said meal throughout the day, long after it has passed its sell-by date. When office cleaners came in the other week they detected a strange smell from under his desk, only to discover a bread roll with a sell-by date from the last century (at least, we THINK it was a bread roll).
Recently he took to a new diet. I've been scouring Nigel Slater's various books and even read up on that wierdo American woman responsible for the programme You Are What You Eat. I've yet to find anyone, bar Bram, who resembles canned tuna, cold baked beans, raw carrot, chicken legs, lettuce and tomatoes. He ate this for about a month to try and lose some of his excessive beer gut, boasting that "it keeps me regular". But since I caught him sneaking a steak and kidney pie, he has finally admitted: "I'll never eat bloody tuna again".
Most people who know Bram would never dare sample one of his sandwiches, but I am so hungry I am about to start eating my own fingers. So I give in to temptation and he furnishes me with a ham, tomato and cucumber sandwich. And it's nice! Fresh bread, tasty ham, crispy salad.
Then again, I'm feeling pretty delirious at the time. It might well have been like that sandwich Tom Cruise mistakenly picks out of the fridge when having an eye transplant in Minority Report. Green and crawling. Still, I'm here to tell the tale, so: thanks Bram.

It's a bank holiday so I aint going nowhere. I don't want to go out and have fun, meet people, listen to some over-rated pop bands on some scrap of land littered with Kentucky boxes while paying for over-expensive, tasteless budweiser or camp in some over-populated part of west Wales or even spend an hour and a half watching the car overheat in a traffic jam. I want to stay in and watch a bit of footie, maybe a film and chill. Oh yes, and cook.
It seems, in fact, an ideal time for Sunday gravy. I'm not talking about the bisto stuff you put on your roast and veggies traditionally, but the gravy to which the Italians subscribe, a thick, tomatoey morasse that you can use with all kinds of pastas and is brilliant in lasagne.
The gravy, in fact, that Ray Liotta is trying to make while running from the FBI, hiding from a law enforcement helicopter, trying to ditch some hot firearms, organising a coke deal and looking after his disabled brother at the climax of "Goodfellas". Fortunately, I have no such distractions.
This gravy is also utilised in the zitti that those female elements of the Soprano family refer to often.
Anyway, make a big pot full and you can be living off it for a week.
Here's what you need:
Olive oil
Pork spare ribs or just plain chops
Veal (not easy to find these days)
Italian sausage (from a delicatessen or market)
4 garlic cloves
tomato puree
3 of those large cans of tomatoes
salt and pepper
6 basil leaves

First you heat the oil then fry the chops in it for 10-15 minutes until cooked and reasonably brown
Remove them and put on a plate. Then fry up the veal in the same way and then the sausages in the same way. You now have a big plate of cooked meat.
remove some of the oil into a non-stick frying pan or saucepan.
Add the whole garlic to the original oil and cook till golden then discard.
Fry up the puree for a minute.
Then add all the tomatoes. You can puree them first in a processor but I prefer to leave them as they are. Add water, salt and pepper, basil leaves and then return all the meat to the pan.
Bring to a simmer. You must wait now for two hours, but there is still plenty to do to make the Italian meatballs!

For the meatballs
1lb beef
half cup breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
tsp finely minced garlic
very finely grated parmigian cheese
2 tsp chopped, flat leaf parsley
Mix it all up but not the oil.
Wet hands and roll into balls the size of a marble. If you fancy some bigger ones you can make two or three.
cook in the oil.
When browned add to the gravy.
After two hours the gravy should be ready.
Heat up some pasta (I used spaghetti)
Rinse and return to the pan then add some of the gravy and whatever you would like. I had a chop and three meatballs. Mix in some parmigian.
Top with Parmigian and some chilli flakes.
Sit down in front of a film like Syriana, and understand so little of it first time around that you have to watch it twice.
Tomorrow we maka da lasagne which the remaining tomato sauce, tiny meatballs and italian sausage. That's if the FBI don't come calling.

Extra things; More parmigian, some mozzarella and some ricotta.
I don't like those "no need to pre-cook" lasagne sheets. On this occasion I try to pre-cook them first and have a hell of a time trying to separate them.
For the lasagne you just layer up like so...
layer of gravy
layer of lasagne
cover with ricotta
layer of little meatballs and slices of Italian sausage with Mozzarella, and add some squares of mozzarella in the gaps
layer with tomato sauce and grated parmigian.
Repeat as necessary.
Top layer should be lasagne, followed by gravy, then covered in Parmigian.
Cook in oven on about 350 degrees (I used gas mark 3)
Leave in for over an hour.
When it is bubbling turn up heat to get the top browner.
Keep checking until it looks good to you.
Take out and allow to settle for 15 minutes so it sets.
Cut up and eat. I had it with some baked beans. Nice.
And there is about three quarters of it left in the fridge now.
A lot of hard work, but worth it.

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