Yes it’s a cooking column and don't try and tell yourselves you don't like cooking columns because I know you love them. Must do as every New Zealand magazine I pick up, or when I switch on our TV, we have a cooking feature. Look I know this is not the easy way out like ‘What shall we do this week? Oh, I know – let’s do cooking then we can download anything we want from the internet and it’s cheap and even better, it’s easy, no effort needed’. I do not, repeat, do not want you to think that.
Now I don't want to give the impression that I am an expert on everything. Cooking, perhaps not. Expert? Probably more of an adviser, full of helpful hints like ‘Are you sure that has not been in the oven too long’ or ‘Shall I turn this down now?’. Things like that. Helpful hints - "Perhaps little more salt don't you think…?’
Sometimes I feel my help is not entirely appreciated. Madame Speaker, who rules the house with an iron mace (well, stiff wooden mixing spoon anyway) will call a point of order and will ask me to leave, or as she sometimes quaintly puts it, ‘OUT!’ - sometimes accompanied by a wet tea towel sailing through the air in my direction.
Nevertheless I do feel my help is needed more than ever in these dire times because we have a glut of tomatoes. This year we decided to grow tomatoes in compost bags. And they grew. Prodigiously. Everybody else down our street also decided to grow tomatoes and grew them prodigiously. Giant ones, little cherry ones. Italian ones and beefcake ones - bowls of them. I thought this is it! My moment of triumph, my glory time. My skills are needed, no longer the washer-upper, the taker-outer-of-the-rubbish person, because I went to Italian cooking lessons at Masterton College no less. Impressed? Yes, I know you’re taken aback. Masterton College. In the Wairarapa. And what’s more with lessons given by a proper Italian lady with an accent and everything.
Now I will admit my first attempt was making salsa pizzaiola at home. (You would know this as tomato sauce not having been to Masterton College). The intention was to pour over some Budget-branded spaghetti and it took me about four hours. And ye,s I know you can go down to the local supermarket and buy a jar for a couple of dollars but there is nothing like a proper sauce made at home by someone who has been instructed by a lady with an Italian accent and it wouldn't have take so long if the oven door hadn't fallen off. And no, it wasn't my fault, and anyway I sang as I prepared the sauce like our teacher told us to. Sing or hum Italian songs to give an aura of the Italian hills around Lake Perry Como so I mixed it to the tune of Spanish Eyes which is the same thing really and it was the only foreign song I could remember the words to, (only the first line actually) - but back to the future.
All decent chefs have a knife. It must be a special knife made in Japan and must cost a few hundred Wasabi. They chop vegetables up with blinding speed as we are all shown on television when chefs want to show off. It’s just as easy to use those slicing and grating machines you can buy in kitchen shops but you don't get on the telly using those.
I have a special chef’s knife which I bought in K-Mart for $2. Like famous Chefs, I let no one else use it. Madame Speaker says no one else would want to use it as it has just a plastic handle and blade and is designed for cutting lettuce which is fine by me as that’s all I usually get to do.
Where was I? Oh that’s right, a glut of tomatoes. Which is not as bad as a glut of zucchini - or courgettes as they are sometimes called when we have people around.
Courgettes is quite a nice word to describe as an accompaniment to the meal you may be serving. Their main attribute is they are easy to grow, their disadvantage is they are horrible to eat which rather defeats the purpose. They look like a marrow and are completely tasteless. You can bake them, fry them, mash'em but it’s no good. My daughter in the early years of her marriage, struggling along to feed her family on a patch of barren ground in the middle of Victoria AU had some success with a particular bumper crop by making then into fritters. Zucchini fritters she told her patient family. After a some complaints she then baked them into cakes. These are Courgette cakes she told the hungry husband and children. I know you are tired of Zucchini so these are made from Courgettes. Things went downhill from then. Thistle and grass salad was the last straw, though I don't think even she got down to straw though if she had thought of it who knows?
So tomatoes, what to do with piles of them. Get a big pot, stew them up, purée them and turn the whole lot into soup, that’s my advice and by the end of our Italian cooking class in Masterton no less, that was the opinion of all of us. Well I never said it was going to be a very sophisticated cooking column did I? Oh well, back to the kitchen sink.