Food For A Perfect Day…

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Such a perfect day [I’m glad I spent it with food]
Virgil Evetts

 Last Friday was my annual salami day. This is a private culinary conceit I observe every year. I take the day off work [I get a perverse pleasure out of requesting annual leave for ‘Salami Day’] and have the house to myself.  It’s meaty, messy chaos, with blood, garlic, paprika and fat splattered far and wide. My best beloved, the queen of clean would drop a litter of kittens if she saw the kitchen in this state. It acquires a sort of abattoir chic. Suffice to say I had a great morning alone with 10 kilos of pork and my Kitchenaid

The sausages hang-around for about 8 weeks in my garage, slowing shrinking into tight little fingers of garlicky, fennely, porky bliss.

 So with the salami-to-be hanging, and a quick sun-nap later, my mind strayed to dinner.  Maybe it was the kneading of all that raw, hormone-rich pork, maybe it was the fragrant spring air or maybe it was just gluttony, but I was overtaken by the snap crackle and pop of seasonal ambition and quickly mapped out this Spring themed dinner.


Boiled prawns and Japanese mayo


Asparagus risotto with wine moat


Home-made fresh ricotta with strawberry coulis

 Naturally this would be lubricated throughout with plenty of a cold, crisp wine and maybe capped off and/or preceded with a grappa or two.

 The Entrée

What is it about crustaceans and fat? They’re just a pre-ordained hook-up, don’t you think?  crayfish and garlic butter, potted [in butter] shrimps, prawns and [fatty] bacon, tempura soft shelled crab…

 I was pondering this very thought while my best beloved and I worked our way though a large plate of freshly boiled tiger prawns served with nothing more than a bowl of that mind-blowingly good Japanese mayonnaise. The firm texture and pure flavour of the prawns, unaffected by any of the usual abuse I hurl at them, and the creamy, fatty perfection that is Japanese mayo.  This has got to be just about the best commercial mayonnaise available [and this is something I normally get all judgemental about people buying]. I wouldn’t know where to begin improving on this stuff, and I like to think I can knock-off a pretty decent mayo when the mood takes me.

We washed this lot down with icy cold Cava, the cheap but nice Spanish bubbly.  By the way, boil the prawns, briefly, in well salted [as-in none of your namby-pamby salt modesty thank you very much] water.  Mayo from Japan, prawns from Thailand and wine from Spain. Oh dear…think of the food miles (actually don’t; it’s a nonsense science, and not worth sweating over).

 The Main

Asparagus.  As the season progresses we roll out all manner of treatments for this most noble [except for the whole pee thing] of vegetables; but our first taste of the season is always in the form of risotto.

 In the past I’ve been a serious risotto puritan; I was full of swagger and pomposity about the best rice, the best stock, the need for constant stirring. Well, as history has shown, puritanism is hard work and doesn’t exactly make one popular in the playground.  So I’ve learned to be a little less precious and to break a few rules. The greatest risotto sacrilege I commit [and this is a big one; they deport you for less in Northern Italy e.g. coming from Southern Italy] is to use basmati rice in all summer risotti.

 The reason for this is two fold – it produces a less stodgy risotto than any of those over-hyped Italian short grains, and I’m far more likely to have it in the pantry in the event of risotto emergencies, which are strangely common in my odd little life.

Call me a freak, but I think asparagus risotto should taste like asparagus, so why make it with chicken stock, which unsurprisingly tastes pretty avian? In my books [and I have a lot of them] vegetable stock is the only way to go here. Ideally, make your own with a bit of this and a bit of that from the garden and/or the fridge [but no celery leaves; too bitter].

Throw the sparrows-grass trimmings [is it just my mum who calls it that?] into the almost-finished stock and simmer for about 10-15. Any longer and the flavour gets lost in all that murky greenness.

 Apart from those few scandalous mods, I make my risotto in the usual fashion. I’ll spare you the tedium of an actual recipe here as a number of very good renditions can be found on this site.  I do however like to finish my risotti with a final flourish borrowed from the inimitable Elizabeth David. I pour about ¼ cup of white wine, preferably sauvignon blanc, over the plated risotto.  Initially I had my doubts about this carry-on, but after one mouthful I was totally sold. The wine accentuates all those herbaceous spring flavours and the acidity cuts smartly through the fat.

 Very young sauvignon blanc is the only wine to drink with this dish and spring is the only time to drink it.  It might be the most widely [and arguably over-] planted wine grape in New Zealand, but for most of the year I’m not a big fan. It can be such a one track wine. But give it to me freshly bottled and I’m more than partial.  For its first 6 months or so SB is full of young, green flavours; it’s super crisp and overflowing with gooseberry zing.  Spring in a bottle.  Sadly the annual arrival of SB on our shelves [around September] passes without so much as a bleep of hype. If the French can have their wretched Beaujolais day, in honour of the god-awful Beaujolais nouveau, why can’t we have Sauvignon day? At least SB starts off well.  Fancy starting a petition, anyone?


This dish has its origins in a disastrous attempt at making paneer, the tofu-esque curd cheese popular in Indian vegetarian cooking. Instead of a nice lump of squeaky-firm paneer, I ended up with a whey-weeping dollop of ricotta-like mush. After the usual raging and sulking that follows all my best kitchen screw-ups, I discovered that this abortive mess actually tasted rather good. Nice texture too.

 A tweak or two later and this has become one of our favourite desserts. It tastes purely and sweetly of milk.  The texture is velveteen-fine, cool and moist with a slightly acid whey.

We like it served chilled with a berry coulis.  It’s got a sparseness to it that shouldn’t really work, but trust me; it’s a beautiful thing.

In these day of soaring dairy prices  this isn’t the cheapest dessert you could lay-on for the Joneses, but it makes up for it in simplicity of execution and startling sophistication. In other words, it’s a doddle to make and goes down a treat.

 Here’s what you do; in a saucepan heat about 1 litre of full cream milk per person. Remove from heat just before boiling and add about ¼ cup lemon juice per litre of milk. The milk should curdle.  Stir and allow to cool. Pour into a sieve and allow to drain completely. This may take a couple of hours. Discard the whey.  You should end up with a nice, soft round of ‘ricotta’ that can be carefully inverted onto a plate.  Serve chilled with a berry coulis  and a mint leaf if you must.

 Now just tell me those aren’t the makings of a perfect day.

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3 thoughts on “Food For A Perfect Day…

  1. Hey Virgil,
    You have inspired me with your asparagus risotto…i have been reading your blog posts with much chuckles and interest.