I was going to write a beautiful, illustrated post on making curd cheese today. Alas, O my readers, I can do nothing of the sort, because the cheese, which I have made successfully at least twice before, was a dire failure and refused to curdle at all.
So you will have to put up with my musings on the oddities of Roman flavourings. Brief musings, I might add, because I’ve been shopping and cooking since about 11 this morning, and am rather flattened as a result.
I’ve made a lot of things today that I’ve never made before – poppy seed biscuits, which are actually more like a wholemeal pastry ball filled with nuts and seeds and honey; honey biscuits, which are little pastries shallow-fried in olive oil and then dipped in bubbling hot honey; goat’s milk sauce, which is a lot like a basic bread sauce, only made with goat’s milk; cheese and honey wafers; sesame wafers; pear ‘jelly’, though it’s more like a puree…
The sweets, I’m finding, are dry, not very sweet and can verge on the bitter with all those nuts and seeds in them. They feel very middle eastern, only without the sugar syrup. Actually, I cheated with the poppy seed biscuits, because they clearly needed more honey, and also looked completely unappetising, so I drizzled some on top during cooking. Most of them are supposed to be served with a fruit puree or sweet wine – the pear and wine ‘jelly’ will do for the former, and I think the rose honey I made last night will also be a good thing to dip them in. It’s a real pity that it’s too late in the season for quinces, because a quince purée would really have been perfect.
The honey biscuits are strange – partly because fried biscuits are new to me (though not uncommon in Italian, Greek and Middle-eastern cooking), and it’s a little odd cooking like that, but mostly because they principally taste of honey – until you bite into the middle of them and they taste of black pepper and grapes. As for the cheese and honey wafers, they don’t know whether they are sweet or savoury. I actually don’t like them very much – they straddle that line a bit too closely for my taste, which is saying a lot, because I generally like sweet-salty foods. Andrew likes them, however, so this is clearly a personal taste thing and they are worth putting out for the curiosity if nothing else.
I do like the goat’s milk sauce – much more than I expected to, in fact. I could eat the whole bowlful, with sufficient crudités to dip into it. And I’m excited about the vine leaves stuffed with smoked mackerel and feta, not that I’ve started work on them yet – I’ve never had mackerel before and while I can’t help feeling privately that it smells an awful lot like really expensive catfood (a viewpoint shared, I might add, by at least two other members of this household, and possibly three, since Andrew is not partial to fish), I’m very curious to find out what it tastes like.
I think it’s all shaping up nicely. I was lucky today – the middle eastern shop had an excellent range of dried fruit and nuts for my use, and while the greengrocer wasn’t so good, the supermarket had really fresh, luscious bunches of celery and baby carrots and radish, and even some good fennel – so I have some properly Roman vegetables for dipping. I have a friend making bread, and another making a leek tart, since half the play is set in Wales, which you wouldn’t know from the menu. (But my jonquils are just about to bloom, so if they are out tomorrow, I’ll have a properly Welsh centerpiece for the table, at least)
I am resisting the urge to add to my menu. I’m tempted to get more cheese, to replace the failed curd cheese, but since the menu currently includes cheesy biscuits, pickled cheese, a garlic dip that contains cheese, the aforementioned vine leaves and the goat’s milk sauce, it’s possible that I don’t, actually, need more cheese in this feast. (Though among all this food there is no butter at all – only barbarians cook with butter! – and only one and a half eggs. Lots of olive oil, though.)
And I’m obviously going to have to make curd cheese again soon, to work out what I got wrong this time. But since I can barely keep my eyes open, I think it’s probably time I went to bed – I have a lot of cooking to do in the morning!