Saturday, January 15, 2011
On Cooking With Your Dead Grandmother
Within minutes, Rosa had two pans going. One contained roundels of already-cooked potato stolen from the next day’s roast, which were stewing slowly in olive oil. The other was sizzling sliced onions, on a much higher heat. She beat half a dozen eggs and slid the bowl to one side. She’d have tortilla in fifteen minutes.
More onions, finely chopped this time, went into a big pan and as soon as they were soft she covered them with ladlefuls of Doris’s chicken stock. As she started to portion the chickens, she paused. Something else was needed here. She pictured her grandmother Mercedes in their kitchen back home and spoke out loud:
‘Abuelita. I’m stuck in this terrible English kitchen with no chorizo, no tocino, no judias blancas, no garbanzos, no… garbanzos… garbanzos…’ She’d seen a few tins of chick-peas somewhere that Gladys occasionally used to make her own hummus.. ‘OK, that’s one. I need more ideas. Come on Abuelita. Help me!’
‘Stop thinking about what you want, girl. See what you’ve got. And then use that.’
Rosa rushed into the walk-in fridge and lunged around, looking for ingredients and inspiration at the same time. Nothing resonated with her culinary experience, until she landed on the trays of tourist fare. Of course. She grabbed some plaice fillets and two slices of the gammon bacon. Back at the chopping board, she skinned the fishes, trimmed and diced the bacon. She’d make them as sweet as merluza and chorizo. She even remembered to throw the pieces of bacon-rind into her stew.
By the time Doris returned, Rosa was flying, although she was still talking to herself intermittently. Doris found this disconcerting, until it was explained to her, whereupon she offered to stand in for Mercedes, for the sake of both their sanities. She put her pinnie on and offered to help.
Rosa piled garlic into the simmering stew-pot and thrust a couple of red peppers on to an open flame to burn off the skins. In went the saffron, bay leaves and paprika, and finally the chicken portions. Lid on, she left it to simmer away gently.
The stewed potatoes and brown onions were amalgamated in one pan and on went the eggs, to bubble and colour. As soon as the egg mixture pulled away from the sides of the pan, she rammed it under the grill to brown the top, and then turned it over on to a plate. Doris sliced it up and out went the first dish with a basket of crusty bread.
Rosa flash-fried the pieces of plaice and bacon with fresh red chilli and garlic. Placing them on some lettuce leaves, she dressed them with olive oil and lemon and a sprinkling of parsley, while Doris set about heating up the chick-peas.
“What are we doing with these?”
“Warm salad. Erm… fresh tomatoes, chopped, garlic, parsley and spring onion, French-style dressing with mustard… There’s still something missing… I know…”
She opened a jar of German Bockwurst, split the chubby sausages in two lengthways, and made a few slashes across the tops. Into one of the vacant frying pans and they were done in a few minutes. Village sausage, she called it, topping off the chick-pea salad. Out went the next two dishes. Rosa cleaned up her peppers and put them in the stew with the spinach and pine-nuts. Doris took the whole pot out and placed it centre-table with a ladle, before they’d even started on the middle course.