"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be." Douglas Adams
The eternal question - what to cook for dinner? Not today mind you. Today it is very, very hot - just under 40 degrees is promised, and it's already well into the high 30s, so for dinner I shall be throwing random things gleaned from the fridge, into a wok, stirring them around for a few minutes and serving - with a cool bottle of wine. Inside. Eatable but not wow!
No it's tomorrow I'm worrying about because it should be a day of legumes according to my weekly resolution schedule. I have satisfied my other weekly dinner aims - only legumes remain. And because legumes in the form of lentils - sort of winter food to me - and beans whether dried or fresh just didn't appeal, I settled on peas as my chosen legume. This was my starting point and my aim - to find something interesting to do with them, but my wandering mind has led me elsewhere along the way. Lots of elsewhere in fact. So what's new about that?
Because peas are vegetables I then decided to try and kill two birds with one stone and tackle a cookbook I bought a while back. In fact I think I have mentioned it before but not in its entirety. This is it - Mr. Wilkinson's Vegetables. It was a bargain throw out at QBD in Doncaster. It was written way back in 2012, so I guess that is why it might have been a bargain book. I couldn't resist the cover and I did know that Matt Wilkinson was a well-known Aussie chef. And I now see that the cover is particularly appropriate to my search for an interesting pea recipe.
Also after the title page the first thing you come to is this statement:
"Thank you so much for picking up this book and reading it. I have many cookbooks and not one person has thanked me for buying, reading or using them - so thank you. I hope that as you read it, you will be inspired by the same love of good food that inspires me every day." Matt Wilkinson
Now how can you not be endeared to somebody who writes such a thing. Because it is indeed a very true statement. There are always lots of thanks to everyone from the writer's partner in life down to the lowest minion in the publisher's office, but never a thank you to you who bought it. The person who provides the income.
Matt Wilkinson is a Yorkshire man who has now settled in Melbourne with which he fell in love. He is most famous for Pope Joan a café he opened in Brunswick and which became one of those places to go. COVID closed it down and eventually moved it to the city, but Wilkinson himself has left and is now the Creative Director for Montalto - a beautiful winery down on the Mornington Peninsula. Not the chef - he has, at least temporarily, abandoned that as a full-time occupation, although he may well design the menu I guess, and maybe even oversee the kitchen - let alone hire and fire.
And the mention of Montalto stimulated my brain cells into remembering a gift from one or both of our children - I cannot remember which now, of a luxury picnic on the Montalto estate.
It was a wonderful gift. You walk to your allotted picnic spot - they have a few - and there you find a laid table - a picnic hamper of supplies and an esky of drinks and food that needs chilling. You eat; you drink; you lie for a while on the provided rug; relaxing in the shade or the sun, according to your preference; wander amongst the sculptures that dot the grounds and then go home. Somebody else cleans it all up for you. I think I wrote about it, but then again maybe not, because I see from the date on the photos below that this all happened way back in 2004 when I was a young 60 something. And I did not start writing my blog until 2016.
Am I the only person, I wonder, who sets out thinking of one thing and then finds themselves drowning, as it were, in nostalgia. One of those perfect moments in one's life. For I can remember nothing bad about this occasion at all. I imagine that Matt Wilkinson will be expanding on this idea, as his role now covers everything the winery does.
But back to his book. It's not exclusively about vegetables as it is one of those books that is arranged alphabetically by ingredient, with the ingredient starring in the recipes which might be vegetarian - and honestly most of them are - but also might not be. There are a lot of salads too. Maybe I should make this a year of salads, because I'm not generally a salad fan - not as a meal that is. I do like a green salad after my main dish and have one almost every day.
The book also has a lot of information about how to grow the vegetable in question with each section beginning with a rundown on the gardening aspects. In the case of the beans and peas chapter, he also gives a brief rundown of all the different kinds that exist around the world, with a particular focus on fava beans which he finds easier to grow, and how to deal with earwigs. The recipes are intermittently interesting but the illustrations - line drawings by 'Stacey' who should be given a major credit somewhere prominent and photographs from Jacqui Melville are gorgeous. Buy it if you come across it somewhere.
The last thing I will say about this beautiful book is that there are actually not usually more than three or four recipes in each section - and there are only 24 sections - just his favourite vegetables are covered. I suppose a lot of the book's space is taken up with these whimsical double-page spreads at the beginning of each section, and the full page photograph of the dish in question, opposite its description.
Back to those peas. After all, this was really what it was all about - finding a tempting recipe featuring peas.
So what did I choose? Pea and mascarpone plin with sage and butter sauce. I had been thinking of pasta as it happens so this seemed to be the answer. And it is, but not quite. Let me explain a little bit more and wander around again as well.
Plin? Have you ever heard of plin? Well I hadn't so of course I was off on the trail of plin, which it seems is a speciality of Piedmont, and indeed of the area called Monferrato which is around the towns of Alba and Asti.
And before I get on to the subject of plin - here is another nostalgic memory - of a stay in a B&B whose name I cannot remember, in the district of Monferrato. The photos below show the two things that struck us about our two night stay there - the beauty of this relatively undiscovered corner of Italy and the real hospitality of the lovely owners of the place. This was best illustrated by the evening we went out to dinner, where David developed a feeling of extreme nausea - I still have no idea why. When we returned and I explained in my not very good Italian - they spoke no English and just a little French - they insisted on feeding him some home-made grappa which immediately - to his amazement made him feel better, and so we spent the rest of the evening chatting with them - mostly about - of all things superannuation! I still don't know how on earth we managed. And the lovely lady of the house, whose brother owned the restaurant next door (not the one where David took ill), provided a wonderful breakfast only part of which you see behind us in the photograph. There was another table loaded with utterly delectable things.
But I don't think it included plin. When I investigated I found that plin which means 'pinch' in the Piedmontese dialect are a kind of agnolotti which itself is a kind of ravioli - and Matt Wilkinson's definitely look like ravioli. Stuffed pasta anyway.
There are few things about the real deal that are unique - the vast number of egg yolks used in making the pasta, the fact that they are small and the fact that they are very rough and ready. The pasta is folded over the filling and pinched together. Not neatly cut with a serrated cutter like Mike Wilkinson's. Jamie Oliver has a version of the pasta dough that he calls Royal Pasta - it includes 12 egg yolks and semolina as well as proper pasta flour. What would you do with all those egg whites? Suffice to say that I won't be making this kind of dough tomorrow.
"Traditionally the parcels were stuffed with leftover spit roasted meats and vegetables and seasoned with herbs native the northern regions of Italy .. As far as the sauce goes this is really down to personal preference ... The dough is rolled very thinly, so that the pouches are almost transparent, ensuring the delicate flavours of the filling shine through ..." Pasta Evangelists
"To form each agnolotto, you pinch two sheets of pasta together, or “fare il plin,” to create the small pouches." Eataly
That sauce they talk about was also often the leftover juices from the roast. Below are some more traditional versions that I found online - including one from Jamie Oliver although I cannot find his recipe online. All except Jamie's version which he calls Roasted meat agnolotti are called Agnolotti del plin. In some ways he is the most authentic because of the sauce and the filling - and that dough, The others are from Valeria Necchio on the Great Italian Chefs website which has a beef & cabbage filling and a cheese and butter sauce; Food and Wine which has a chicken, pork, spinach and cabbage filling; Pasta Evangelists and Eataly. As you can see there is a fair degree of variation in size and shape, but they all had in common the very rich pasta and the name.
That last recipe I found - from Eataly - I later discovered was referenced in Matt Wilkinson's introduction to his recipe. This is where he was introduced to the 'mighty plin' when he went there for a conference. For Eataly is a renowned Italian food organisation.
"On January 27, 2007, Oscar Farinetti opened the first Eataly in Torino, Italy, with the idea that it would be much more than a store. He wanted to create a school, a market, a table to gather around: a place to learn about food and, through food, about life." Eataly
There are now many of these places around the world - about 40 I believe. The pictures below are of the original which is housed in an old Fiat factory. It's vast. So if you are ever in Turin pay it a visit.
Well I wandered around in my memory, around the internet and around a couple of recipe books - and incidentally of my major Italian recipe books Jamie's Italy was the only one that mentioned this Piedmontese speciality. But I have arrived 'where I intended to be', which is with a plan for dinner tomorrow.
Matt Wilkinson gave me the idea, but I won't actually be using his recipe. Well not exactly anyway. That pastry is too, too extravagant with the egg yolks. So when I found Easy peasy pea and mascarpone ravioli with sage burnt butter from delicious. I decided that this was the version for me. Because they say you can really cheat and use wonton wrappers. They do give a pasta dough recipe though which is much like the pasta I make usually anyway - it uses far fewer and whole eggs, rather than multiple egg yolks. But maybe I should try the wonton wrapper thing for a change. We'll see. The filling is virtually the same although Matt Wilkinson uses chives and delicious. goes for mint instead. So now that I think about it, really the only thing about the Matt Wilkinson recipe which is tricky is the pasta dough - the rest is virtually the same as the delicious. recipe. So perhaps I will stick to his recipe anyway - back to my beginning.
"And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time." T.S. Eliot
Well on Thursday I made Elizabeth David's Poulet à l'estragon (Tarragon chicken). Mine looked nothing like this gloriously crispy looking chicken in the photograph in At Elizabethe David's Table. Mine was very pale and anaemic looking, because she said to cook it in a casserole with the lid on. Well things don't brown like that, and so I actually took the lid off after an hour or so and attempted to get it to brown. Too late I fear. The taste was - well - delicate is kind, bland is possibly more accurate. David said it was 'just chicken'. It was moist though and the leftovers made perfect Chicken Caesar salad.
And my second postscript? Yes Wendy you are right there is no meat in Marmite, and not because of mad cow disease. In fact there was never meat in Marmite, but I definitely firmly had it in my head that it did. I have no idea why.