In December of 1980, I ate my very first merguez on a Christmas market in Baden-Baden. I still remember it strangely well, for some reasons I can still recall that very unusual taste, although it looked almost like a German Bratwurst, it tasted nothing like it. First of all, it’s lamb, and then are Arabian spices in it that in these years weren’t too common; actually, if Baden-Baden wasn’t so close to the French border and hadn’t been such a worldly place since the 1800s due to its casino, merguez wouldn’t have been on a German Christmas market menu, trust you me, no chance, none whatsoever. Today, however, you get them everywhere. Even at Aldi, Germany’s cheapest of supermarkets. Times do change, and sometimes even for the better. And so does my routine: instead of the hummus I usually serve merguez with, I had them with homemade ratatouille today. Really good a combination.
It just so happened that some days ago, when temperatures were still a little higher, I felt like pasta for lunch but didn’t have much time to prepare a complicated sauce, you know that kind of Bolognese that needs a day or two to develop all of its aroma or that sauce that Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls starts cooking days in advance and that therefore needs a very special occasion. This day’s lunch, however, was no special occasion at all, nor had it been a special day, I was just hungry and so I improvised and made a cold sauce from freshly cubed tomatoes, olive oil from Sicily, and lots of basil. It looked so yummy though that I thought I should immediately post it on Instagram. Now, that freshly invented sauce of mine needed a name. As it consisted of the two main ingredients of Insalata Caprese, apart from the third one, namely mozzarella, I named my dish Spaghetti Caprese. Of course, shortly after I had posted my lunch, some guy on Instagram would correct me and tell me that Italians called it Spaghetti alla Litigata. Quite humiliating, don’t you think? One is so proud of one’s pasta, done on a whim, just like that, from the hip and ever so yummy, and then one is outed as a Non-Italian!
When I felt like having some French goat cream cheese yesterday, I realized for the first time in my life how very white it is. I mean, it’s really white. Almost whiter than white. And that’s where it got tricky. When I put that ever so white cube on my white plate, plain white as white plates go, my eyes went blank, they had suddenly stopped transmitting any information, as if they were kind of snow-blinded. I would have needed sunglasses if hadn’t been already dark, we’re talking a late-night snack here… Anyway, I exchanged plates immediately and not only did I choose a very vivid pattern, hand-painted using a lot of turquoise ink, I also looked out for the red cheese cutlery I once bought in France. The morale of the story? It’s the boy scout’s motto: always be prepared.
In all this European, air-conditionless heat, who wants to cook? On the other hand, who wants to eat nothing but salads and sandwiches? Obviously, we are confronted with a dilemma, the worst of dilemmata (notice the correct Ancient Greek plural) I might add, as proper eating is quite crucial to the survival of mankind, don’t you think? Anyway, crucial or not, I can offer not just a solution but the solution: an omelette. It’s easily done, very quick and dirty, it can be seasoned according to personal taste, I myself like to throw in some tomatoe slices and add some garlic for some Mediterranean appeal, and it’s very light and agreeable no matter how high the temperatures go. I know, I should have told you this much sooner, but the next heatwave is already on its way, believe you me.
Some weeks ago, before that outburst of infernal heat, we longed for something spicy, something hot, and something that would really satisfy us—we were really very hungry that day some weeks ago. Some green asparagus with graped parmigiano just wouldn’t do the job. And so we remembered a very rich meal that was very popular in Germany in the 1970s, Gefüllte Paprikaschoten, which translates to Filled Peppers. We always thought of this dish as typically Hungarian a recipe, its origin seemed quite clear to us, as in these days everything served with peppers or even just remotely seasoned with paprika was considered Hungarian, and as Hungarians are very fiery people this meal should actually be a very fiery one. Germans, however, tend to prepare it very, very mild. Overly mild. I’ve said it before, and I say it again, Germans don’t like spices. Therefore, the grounded paprika for the sauce comes from Switzerland, I imported vast amounts of it, not from some posh fine delicatessen, but from a very ordinary supermarket, from Coop, from their cheapest range, Qualité & Prix, and is wonderfully hot. Just perfect. The Swiss love fine dining, and therefore you get the best spices there. Actually, I should call this dish Swiss Hunger Treatment…
When you are supposed to put rosemary on a cake, you know it’s going to be different from your usual hazelnut extravaganza. Truth be told, this fine herb was the only exceptional ingredient of this recipe, all the rest, puff pastry, plums, sugar, cinnamon, and quince jelly, sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? But once you’ve put the plums casually on the puff pastry and sprinkled the rosemary on it, your eyes won’t believe it’s not butter, sorry, they won’t believe it’s not pizza. Only when it’s out of the oven and into your mouth, its case is closed. It’s cake. No doubt. A very yummy, very Mediterranian cake. If you want to challenge your eyes, do try this at home!
For family dinners, I’m always in charge of dessert. Today, it’s going to be raspberries with cream. It’s easily prepared, I open the fridge for the cream and the freezer for the raspberries, and I’m done. And then, all while sipping Chardonnay, I witness the rest of the meal being prepared, artichokes are being cooked, a vinaigrette is being composed, lots of French mustard and Italian olive oil form a beautiful entente cordiale, parsley from the garden is being “haché-menu”-ed, ever so fresh chanterelles are being cut, not from the garden but from the grocer, the table is being set, by whom actually, my father, I suppose, gee, that Chardonnay is really drinkable, and all of a sudden, I’m the last one missing at the table, I better join them, hey, they’re are having red wine, okay, fine with me, bon appétit.