Monday, 30 November 2009

Keeping The Faith

"You have never tried pie and mash?! Then, my girl you have never lived!"

And so these were my thoughts after making arrangements with Carla of Can Be Bribed With Food for a WMPC swop. I've been preaching about the goodness and greatness of P&M for many years now to anyone who would care to listen. In my opinion, this age old East End speciality is truly manna from heaven, a gift from the cockney gods to the people of London taaan. I grew up on it and I'll eat it once a week if I can. It is fantastic. And this was a perfect opportunity to add another number to the flock.

In order to describe this unsung wonder of the culinary world, just think of a pie that is mainly constituted of minced meat from an unspecified source. Don't bother asking about its provenance because nobody knows, which adds a certain mystique. The pie will be often constructed with pastry that is pale, soggy and flaccid. Unless it's been burnt, then the crust will shatter over your jumper and carbon will stain your tongue. You don't normally get anything in between. If you are lucky enough to get gravy, it will be pretty watery and tasteless. The mash though is often wonderfully woolly and dense. The responsibility of it's creation is usually down to an old lady called Doris who works in the back of the shop, pouring industrial sized boxes of Smash into cavernous vats. She gets paid tuppance an hour and has to shakily scale very tall ladders but she loves her job. The green liquor is the by-product of a thousand eels that have been boiled in water until their flesh turns to mush. The eels, bones and all, are removed and chopped parsley and flour are thrown in and the stock is reduced until it forms a gluey sauce which is poured all over. Once placed at the table, it is then to be smothered with malt vinegar and white pepper. This is your basic plate of pie and mash.

Having just described this beautiful meal in such a manner, I am of course doing it a supreme disservice. But I had a problem you see. All of a sudden, my credibility was at stake. Given all my shouting from the roof tops, I suddenly became worried that Carla wouldn't enjoy it and overzealously started to deconstruct my beloved P&M. OK I went overboard with the paragraph above but given it's simplicity, would Carla understand my passion for the stuff? I was also mindful of the fact that she had lived by Lake Garda in Italy (via Panama) for the majority of her life. After organising our meeting, I got an inkling that she would also be introducing something from her childhood and believing that Carla's Italian food heritage was far richer than mine, I started to panic. It was really strange but in my head, I really was beginning to run it down. How could my boys own staple compare to anything that Carla would have eaten as a little girl casa posteriore*? Talk about sleepless nights. However, I should have kept the faith because as far as I am aware, Carla thoroughly enjoyed her first visit to Clarkes of Exmouth Market. She did comment that the liquor didn't really taste of anything to which I responded "that's what the vinegar is for!". The only minor snag was the fact that Carla seemed to have trouble keeping hold of her cutlery. I was worried that I was going to leave the cafe with a fork embedded in my forehead at one point, such was her gesticulating during conversation but it was all in keeping with her Latin spirit.

Despite the danger of flying objects, it was great having a chat with Carla over lunch, which of course is part and parcel of the WMPC project and I was thrilled to hear stories of her growing up. By the sounds of it, she was quite the handful in her yoof. Like the time she went shopping with her Daddy and upon seeing a dolly demanded to have it on the spot. Upon having her request denied, there was much stamping and screaming until her Dad picked her up, plonked her in the car and drove home with Carla creating all the way. Once home, he picked her back up, calmly walked into the house and into the bathroom, plonked her under the shower and turned the cold tap on. Apparently a lesson was soon learned. Given that I have two little 'uns that are slowing evolving tempestuous personalities of their own, this was valuable information. Soon it was time to go back to our offices but not before Carla gave me the run down on the food she had made me. Which was Italian Sausages on a bed of Puy Lentils and Pink Peppercorns to be served with bread and dollop of homemade Salsa Verde (from a nice large jar of the stuff) . For dessert she had made me a crostata, an Italian baked tart that's normally reserved for birthdays. I felt honoured and was very impressed with the careful instructions she gave me for heating up and serving the salsa verde. "Make sure you take it out of the fridge at least 20 minutes before you want to eat so it gets to room temperature". I could tell that Carla was obviously passionate about her food and dare I say it, slightly nervous that I would enjoy it although I doubt that she put herself through the mill like I did.

So later that evening in the office, following Carla's word to the tee, I drizzled some of the olive oil that covered her salsa over the lentils and with the sausages, heated it through in the microwave. And oh ye, it was good. Very good. Just hovering my nose over this rustic looking dish as I trotted over to my desk got me salivating to the point of distraction. Not my distraction mind, my work mate',s who pointed out that I had dribbled on my shirt. The sausages which came from Le Marche, central Italy had a wonderful warm spiciness with possibly a hint of nutmeg and were quite coarse in texture. There were also quite salty but as Carla had gone easy on the seasoning, everything balanced out evenly. The lentils had a nice subtle flavour of red wine vinegar with the peppercorns creating lovely fragrant pops of heat as I chewed my way through. The bread was soft and fresh, fantastic for mopping up but the real star was the salsa verde. I do like a good SV and I've made it a few times myself to serve up with fish and chicken but I can honestly say that this was far better than any of my previous efforts. It really punched through with a strong zest or tang rather and complemented the sausages perfectly. I found myself smearing it over the remaining bread after like an ravenous giggling hyena and had to show some restraint as I knew that Mrs FU would like to try it too. So with a heavy heart I placed the jar in my bag (it lasted one more day). The crostata with it's pretty criss-cross finished off my meal just right. The pastry was light and flaky with the apricot jam filing adding a sweet, fruity touch.

Thanks Carla, I shall be putting in my order for some more Salsa Verde soon, it really was the "business"

*This translation for “back home” came from Babelfish and is therefore, entirely unreliable.

Italian Sausages on a Bed of Puy Lentils with Salsa Verde

Apricot Crostata


  1. I'm so happy you enjoyed it - I'd spent the previous week worrying about the sausages being cooked properly, the salsa verde not being too vinegary, the pastry not breaking under the weight of the jam... You get the picture!

    Btw, Clarkes has a new regular, heavy on the vinegar and careful with the cutlery.

  2. YUM!
    I've never had pie and mash, not proper job pie and mash with liquor and all that.

  3. Pie and Mash....mmmmmm you know how I feel about that. But Italian sausage and Puy lentils, lovely - almost the Italian equivalent of Pie+Mash. Good work Carla and Dan.

  4. Love it. Great post. Have you ever been to Manze's?

  5. "Casa posteriore" sounds like it means "bum house"

    *Beavis and Butthead snigger*

  6. Lovely stuff. Very good looking sausages and lentils. I love the image of Doris tottering around on a massive ladder.

  7. some of us still haven't had P&M......