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Until the night is over, as Mr Cohen put it.

I may have mentioned this before but Peter Cook’s standard response to people who said, I’m writing a novel, was, Neither am I. Well I am. I have. Two already and a third on the way. But I’m also writing a novella, which I’m over half way through, so I thought I’d share it with you in weekly instalments.

This is called
The Travelling Lady’s Cookbook
or
A Grand Tour in Twenty Recipes

I
A Risotto

As the evening sun began to graze the top of the island, catching the Sultan’s turret in a noose of light, Epifanea Tredwell stretched a lazy arm towards her wine glass, which was balanced precariously on the balcony parapet. She paused in mid-swoop, to savour the picture of the sun’s rays, which gave a honeyed glint to the straw-coloured nectar. Not for long. Thirst defeated aesthetic appreciation. She brought the slender glass to her lips and half-drained it in a single gulp.
xxx“Food,” she thought. She took in the view across the bay to the far side of the sunken volcano, the sun hanging level with the hilltop fortress; taking the half-empty glass with her, she went into the small but perfectly-stocked kitchen.
xxxOnions? Or garlic?
xxxThis risotto she usually threw together at home with ingredients always to hand in cupboard, fridge and freezer. Dried herbs and stock cubes, pancetta pieces, and frozen broad beans. But today the local market supplied fresh what her local, misnamed ‘super’ market only sold in packets. This thought reminded her that the newly-shelled broad beans were still on the balcony, by her lounger. She retrieved them, along with the colander of empty pods, and started to cut up the pancetta. What favour this local ham had. How small the extra effort in cutting it into cubetti, slightly larger than the tiny pieces she got from a packet at home. ‘Handy packs’, indeed. She’d never realised how bland they could be, compared to the ‘real’ thing.
xxxGarlic? Or onions?
xxxMany Italian cooks will insist, with a passion and even a threatening cleaver, that no dish should contain both. Others, especially Italian-Americans, will use them together in almost every savoury dish. ‘Going native’, even though not quite in Italy, Eppy went with onions. The more placid option, she told herself. The small red bulb she finely chopped, then softened slightly in a healthy splash of olive oil. She turned up the heat a little and added the cubes of cured meat, warming them through and even crisping them slightly, before she turned the heat back down and added the rice.
xxxLovely rice.
xxxRisotto rice. Arborio. Or was it carnoroli? The jar said only risotto. An expert could tell. Blindfold. Probably by smell alone from the next room. And other, less famous types. And the quality too. These grains longer than those at home. She seemed to remember that longer grains meant finer rice. Or did they? Who cares? Have a drink.
xxxShe shook the grains into the pan, measuring probably too many, by eye alone, and stirred them gently to coat each one with a thin film of the oil. After another sip from the large wine glass, she emptied the rest into the pan, the heat turned higher and prepared to add …
xxxOh shit! The stock. Her nagging feeling had been right; she had forgotten something. She turned down the heat under the rice, turned the neighbouring ring on full and half-filled the kettle with water, rushed to the cupboard and found with great relief a box of chicken stock cubes.
xxxThe wine by now reduced and absorbed, Eppy splashed a little cool water on the rice to buy some time. The stock crumbled into the kettle water in a small pan, she quickly stirred it and added beans to boil and slightly soften, sighed with relief and poured more wine into her empty glass.
xxxFor this relief, much thanks, her silent toast.  Gia mas, she said out loud in Greek, and ladled some of the stock into the pan. And remembered a small clear plastic box beside the stock cubes in the cupboard.
xxxI’m just wild about saffron, she sang, and saffron’s wild about me.
xxxMore expensive than gold; but the host said anything in the kitchen could be used. And it’s far cheaper here than back home. Must get some to take home and maybe replenish the host’s supply. This thought calmed her conscience as she opened the costly box. Mustn’t take too much. Not just the price: too much of a good thing makes for a bitter taste.
xxxLike love? She smiled and put a pinch of the vermilion stamens into the pan, adding a ladle of stock on top. Some beans came with it. A larger pinch of fresh-cut oregano and a gentle stir took enough effort to warrant another leisurely drink of wine, before the slowly-swelling rice called for another dose of stock and beans. The secret of a good risotto is to add the liquid a little at a time, all the while stirring frequently but gently.
xxxA bit like life, she thought, but wasn’t sure the idea worked.

Missing you already

xxxPilau, paella, jambalaya … most non-sticky rice dishes, you keep the stirring to a minimum; it breaks the coating and lets the starches out. But the starches in risotto rice need to be released, the make the dish rich and creamy.

Yes, me too

xxxShe sent a picture of her wine glass on the balcony in its sunset setting.  It made her answer less convincing.
xxxCucumber, tomato and plump black olives made a quick and easy between-stirs side salad, seasoned, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and splashed with white wine vinegar. The lightest dressing seemed more than enough, for salad and body alike.

Bikini bottoms and loose robe if you must know

xxxShe sent a stirring selfie with wooden spoon in her free hand.  She replied to his next request.

Dream on
Not even undressed salad lol

xxxLove this cheese grater. Another thing she mustn’t pop in her luggage when she left. It made quick rotary work of grating a lump of the excellent parmesan.

xxxShe tasted the rice. Nicely swollen, not too soft. A little salt and a generous grind of black pepper. And half the cheese and a knob of butter to melt in before turning out onto the plate and taking a photo to send home.

Heartless bitch
And me w takeout pizza missing yr cooking

OK don’t show me yr tits but spare me the food porn

xxxShe smiled but didn’t reply. Instead she cut a piece of the baguette, topped up the wine glass, and arranged the salad bowl and risotto with them on a tray. The sun was down now, leaving a pale glow on the far horizon; she sat happy on the candlelit balcony and ate, watching the twinkling lights of the town below and the boats out in the bay …

 

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