Cheese on toast à la Harold Pinter

This brilliant title is not mine! But belongs to a delightful recipe book by Mark Crick :  “Kafka’s Soup”, Granta.com

The author is a photographer and writer who came to write a recipe book because he loved cooking but never read a recipe up to the end. He thought he would though if this recipe happened to be written by some of his favourite writers! So he has pastiched their style and themes in the most hilarious and erudite recipe book that could ever grace your kitchen shelves. I was lucky to be invited to a reading during which he proved so funny, personable and genuine that I urge anybody who loves style and literature games to rush and buy his books!

I made this easy and tasty recipe for the kids lunch and they absolutely swear by it now… Me, I love his tongue in cheek take on two British classics – Hence the unusually long post.

cooking the books

Ingredients list:

  • 1 loaf of ciabatta
  • 1 aubergine
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Pesto
  • 200g mozzarella
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
(recipe by Mark Crick in the style of Pinter)
ACT I
A kitchen, cluttered. A fluorescent tube is flickering, trying to light. Beneath a window is a sink, piled with dirty dishes. The bin is overflowing with rubbish; nearby, empty bottles are standing. There is a small kitchen table; newspapers and unopened letters
obscure the surface. At the table are two chairs. There is the sound of a key in a door, muffled voices. The door bangs shut; instantly HURLEY, a young man dressed in a leather jacket, and CLACK, an older man, tramp-like in appearance, enter stage left.

HURLEY. Come in, make yourself at home.
(CLACK enters and looks around)
Bloody light. I’ve been meaning to get a new tube.
(HURLEY reaches up and taps the light with his finger until
it stops flickering.) I’ll make you something to eat.
CLACK. I haven’t eaten all day. I can’t remember the last time I had a proper
meal. I mean a proper sit-down meal, something hot.
HURLEY. (Looking in the fridge) Do you want to use the
phone? Call your daughter?
CLACK. What, at this time? I’ll call her tomorrow. She won’t
want to come up here tonight, she starts early in the
morning.
HURLEY. I can’t offer you much. I haven’t done a proper
shop for ages. How about cheese on toast?
CLACK. What sort of cheese?
HURLEY. Mozzarella.
CLACK. Mozza what?
HURLEY. Mozzarella. It’s Italian.
CLACK. Not for me. I’ll have a slice of toast though.
Pause
HURLEY. I must wash this grill sometime.
(He is holding a grill pan covered with dried cooked cheese.
He cuts a ciabatta in half, lengthways. Similarly, he finely
slices an aubergine and puts the pieces into a frying pan
where some oil is heating.)
CLACK. Not a bad little place you got here. All yours is it?
Pause
This must be worth a few bob. How long you been here?
HURLEY. I don’t know . . . about three years.
CLACK. Made a few bob on it, have you?
(HURLEY puts the ciabatta under the grill to warm)
That’s a big slice of toast.
HURLEY. It’s ciabatta.
CLACK. Cia what?
HURLEY. Ciabatta. It’s Italian bread.
CLACK. You Italian are you?
HURLEY. Everybody eats it these days: ciabatta, focaccia,
schiacciata, panini.
CLACK. Can’t you just put me a couple of slices in the
toaster?
HURLEY. Toaster’s broken.
Pause
I’d like to have a little Italian eatery one day. Nothing
fancy, mind. Simple snacks: panini on ciabatta, focaccia,
bruschetta; pasta lunches, spaghetti, penne, rigatoni; the
basic sauces, pesto, Bolognese, arrabiata. Classic mains:
carpaccio of tuna drizzled with truffle oil, pan-fried fillet
of beef on a bed of wilted spinach in its own jus. You
want a cup of tea with it?
CLACK. Now you’re talking. A nice cup of tea.
HURLEY. You ever been to Italy? I knew a bloke there once,
bit like you. That was years ago. He’s probably dead
by now.
(He removes the aubergine from the pan, the flesh has
soaked up the oil and is a golden colour with dark stripes left
by the ridges of the frying pan. The ciabatta has now
warmed and he spreads a thin layer of pesto onto the cut
side). Where’s your daughter live then?
CLACK. My what?
HURLEY. Your daughter. The one who was meant to pick
you up at the station.
CLACK. Oh, her.
Pause
She lives in Catford.
HURLEY. Catford? I used to go to the dogs there. I remember
one night I was doing well, nearly all winners I’d picked,
till I put the lot on the last race. I did a forecast, two and
four. I don’t know why, I nearly always did two and four
about. But that night I didn’t. Only came in four and
two. I lost the lot. You a gambler?
CLACK. What, and throw my money away like that? Not me.
(Pause as he looks down at his lap)
You haven’t got a safety pin have you?
(HURLEY lays the slices of aubergine on top of the ciabatta
and pesto and begins to slice the mozzarella.)
HURLEY. You can give her a call in the morning. I’ll make
you a bed up.
CLACK. She works in the morning. I told you.
HURLEY. You like olive oil?
(He lays the mozzarella over the aubergine, drizzles olive oil
on top, and finally adds a sprinkle of chopped oregano,
before placing the ciabatta under a hot grill.)
CLACK. I don’t want none of that foreign muck.
HURLEY. Olive oil? It’s good for you.
CLACK. It’s for cleaning your ears out, ain’t it?
HURLEY. (Drops a tea bag into the overflowing bin) Here you
are, a cup of tea for you.
CLACK. (Gives a sigh of contentment) You can’t beat a nice cup
of tea.
(He sips at the tea and pulls a face)
You got any sugar?
HURLEY. Over there, on the table. I don’t use it much.
(The sugar has hardened. CLACK chips at it with a
teaspoon until he has sweetened his tea enough. He checks it
occasionally throughout the process. The sound of sizzling
comes from the grill. HURLEY waits until the mozzarella
has turned brown and golden in places.)
HURLEY. Here you are. It’s ready.
(HURLEY cuts the two lengths of ciabatta into pieces.)
You’ll try some, won’t you?
CLACK. Not for me. That’s no good to a man like me.
(HURLEY puts the plate of ciabatta onto the table.)
Don’t look bad though, I’ll give that to you. It’s . . .
Pause
Well presented. That’s what it is, well presented.
HURLEY. I would have done a salad garnish, or a few fresh
basil leaves if I’d had them.
CLACK. Don’t look bad at all.
Pause
I’ll just have a taste.
(He takes a piece and bites into it. The mozzarella sticks to
his beard in long threads. His face brightens in surprise.)
CLACK. That ain’t bad, that ain’t. I reckon you might make
a go of that caff yet.
He reaches for a second piece. HURLEY is already eating.
The two men sit in silence, occasionally sipping at their tea.
The fluorescent tube begins to flicker again, but this time
HURLEY ignores it. Lights slowly fade.
Curtain

cheese on ciabatta

Reading note: Each recipe is a small, contained, perfect work of humour and lightness, erudition and emotion.
M. Crick endorses the voice of others with a faithfulness and brilliance that reminds me that painters of all times have always learnt by copying masters. His pastiches are not only clever “exercises of style” but original and often illuminating personal work. They’ll be by my bedside for a while!
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One response to “Cheese on toast à la Harold Pinter

  1. Pingback: Best of British- mes recettes favorites en VF | travels around my kitchen

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