My husband is studying writing (take a moment and have a look at his blog: www.bookofpete.com). I’m very happy about this because he is proving to be really quite good at it and is producing numerous highly readable fragments of fantastic stories that leave me wanting more, like some kind of literary degustation menu. In addition, there are new ideas and books coming into the house, which is the best part of living with a student. So I was very interested when he informed me that Anthony Bourdain’s The Nasty Bits was on the current reading list. I’m a late comer to Anthony Bourdain and to be honest it took me a while to warm to him and see past the whole annoying New York shtick thing. The thaw started when I saw his insightful and genuinely moving No Reservations episode in Laos. Then came Tokyo, and somewhere between the Kendo and the fresh killed, pink cooked yakitori chicken porn I had melted completely. No surprises there. So now it’s official – I have a bit of a crush on Anthony B.
Which brings me to his Nasty Bits, which is now right up there with other favourite essay collections by viciously clever men such as David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Martin Amis’ The Moronic Inferno. Among numerous hilarious, angry and insightful essays there is one so far that really touched a nerve: “Are you a Crip or a Blood?”. Bourdain’s Crips and Bloods are actually drawn from yet another novel (excuse me while this post is sucked up into a sphincter of post-modernist referentialism), Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park. Crips are insane, driven seekers of the culinary ‘other’ who will go to considerable lengths to obtain the newest, the best, the most exotic of ingredients. The Bloods are the purists, the locavores. I’m mostly a Blood – it’s just that I was born in the wrong country.
I love to immerse myself in the immediate and local because it is real and meaningful, but quietly my inner Crip is yearning for bizarre ingredients I don’t quite understand from Asian wet-markets. Problematically for my inner locavore the food I really love, my soul food, the food that I am (no false modesty here) absolutely completely smoking hot at cooking, is all Asian. Problematically for my inner locavore I find most of the so-called great cuisines that would suit readily available produce (say, French and Italian) to be comparatively unsubtle and largely over-rated. Problematically for my inner locavore I live on just about the southern most tip of the Australian mainland, remote and hemmed in by raging oceans and cool-temperate rain forests.
And so I too have returned to study. My Crip is learning to find expression within these limitations without resorting to that appalling bastardisation which is “fusion food”. It is planning to build a hothouse and grow turmeric and galangal, imagining spots to plant the lemongrass and kaffir lime, cooking with native sand crabs. Meanwhile, my Blood is learning to produce good food with local, seasonal ingredients that I enjoy eating and challenging itself with the weekly mixed box delivery from Birregurra Organics. I’m far more interested in what the Crip is doing, but right now I have to admit that it’s the Blood that’s keeping the family in food. Let’s just say I’m work-shopping some pieces right now: this recipe for honey-roast pumpkin lasagna is one of them.
Honey-roast pumpkin lasagna
- 1 whole butternut pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into approx 3cm cubes
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 generous tablespoon of honey
- a few fresh sage leaves
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 500g firm ricotta
- About 3/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
- 1 lightly beaten egg
- Fresh or dry lasagna sheets. If using the dry sheets, soak them in water for a a few minutes before use
- 1/2 cup walnuts
Place the pumpkin on a large piece of foil and toss with the garlic cloves (peeled or unpeeled), olive oil, salt and pepper and sage. Drizzle with honey and wrap in foil. Roast at about 200C for 15 mins and then open up the foil and roast for another 10 minutes until tender. Meanwhile mix the ricotta, the egg and half a cup of the Parmesan. When the pumpkin is cooked, mash, blend or puree it until smooth. Take a small baking tin or dish – shallow and long is better than short and deep and lightly grease it with olive oil. Add a layer of sheets, half the pumpkin, a third of the ricotta and then another layer of pasta. Repeat. Cover the top layer of pasta with the remaining ricotta mix and sprinkle the surface with the roughly chopped walnuts and the remaining Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and cook for about 45 minutes, taking the foil off for the last 20 minutes. If you’ve used dry pasta, it won’t be ready until it’s tender enough to slip a knife through.