Why did you eat that last meal?
Hunger, boredom, routine?
I’ll bet your response is often linked to one of the above.
But since I met my wife (and made my own first tentative ventures into the kitchen) another answer has occurred to me.
I eat to travel somewhere else, or to be someone else, somewhere else. Most often I find myself opting for Italian, because cucina povera is one of our favourite cuisines and we love being in that country.
The sunshine of recent weeks in Ireland reminds me of visits we made to Italy last year. But the sun, even chased with Chianti, is not enough to transport me back there.
Enter cooking. A way to return, even for us infrequent fryers.
I figured the only way to get us to Italy while remaining in Dublin was to produce a meal as Italian as I could manage. Simple would help too.
One question then – what dish?
. . . . .
Chicken liver has been a poor man’s food for as long as poor men have eaten. Even in overpriced Ireland half a kilogram of livers will only cost you about €3.
One of my favourite chefs, Antonio Carluccio, has a recipe from the Piedmont region of northern Italy which, executed correctly, will put you in the foothills of the Alps in 30 minutes.
The dish is tajarin con fegatini, thin pasta ribbons in a chicken liver sauce, popular in the town of Alba. The specifics are here.
As a kitchen novice I seek out dishes that combine a maximum of authentic taste with a minimum of technical ability.
Luckily it doesn’t take a great degree of culinary skill to make tajarin, which are tagliolini – a variation on tagliatelle.
After making the pasta it’s simply a matter of getting down and dirty with the chicken livers. I’ve read that people are put off by the slimy texture and, er, unique, aroma of the offal.
My only problem with these organs is that they’re so small (or my technique’s so unrefined) that cleaning can reduce them to mush. Last weekend’s batch came from some mighty birds, though, and held their consistency nicely.
They cook in 4 minutes, in a pan with butter-browned onions and – another Italian taste ticket – porcini mushrooms. Add tomato puree and 50ml (a shot, for those who prefer to drink it) of Marsala. The latter balances out the nasal earthiness of the liver.
A couple of teaspoons of truffle oil finishes the sauce, which is mixed with the tajarin and garnished with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
. . . . .
The aroma hits you first. Chicken liver, porcini, truffle. Then the taste, earthy, mineral, moist. We had left our Dublin dinner-table and were sitting down to eat, halfway across Europe, in a hillside courtyard in Alba.
It was proof that food is the quickest, more authentic way to travel, if don’t want to leave your apartment. Check it out.
The wine was a Sangiovese though. You can’t get every local detail right. We’ll just have to go there for that.