Tag Archives: english

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)
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
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.
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?
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
HURLEY. Toaster’s broken.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.

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!



On Friday, I spent the morning cooking a full English to a TV crew from a French channel (more on that soon!) and it got me thinking about Englishness and things… What is “English”?

Listening to the radio while cooking later in the day, I caught a young student who was wondering about “What constitutes English culture” and he clearly did not know… He even claimed “English” culture did not exist anymore. As a French woman living in London, I feel there is a strong national identity surrounding me. But how would I define it? So I wondered… and pondered…
…And listed a few things that are Truly English :
A full fry-up early morning in a greasy-spoon caf’
Bunting and cream teas, especially served at a village fete – or a Royal Wedding!
Tolerance and sympathy (preferably given with a cup of tea again)
The Monty Python
The red pillar box above
The class system – And being proud of it, whether you’re working class or upper stock
Public schools (that are anything BUT public)
Contradictions in terms (see above)
Feeling free to add new words to the vocabulary – and not being hung for these neologisms
A kind of stubborn bravery against adversity (as in the Blitz, The IRA Terror years…)
Absurd and charming eccentrics…

I was in John Lewis earlier this week (very English, that) and encountered a man who was putting up with tremendous care and patience little standing labels on multicoloured boxes.
-Could you please, Sir, tell me where I can find bedding and things? I ask.
-Sorry Madam: I am a customer! Says he with a short self-excusing giggle and he still progresses with straightening the small wobbly labels, in his steadfastly manner.
“Very English, I though: A polite refusal of service.”
He could just as well have been a true OCD afflicted customer, of course. Who knows?!..

So back to what constitutes proper “Englishness”… In her funny and well observed book “Watching the English”, Kate Fox tries to give a pretty complete answer in 400 or so pages! My radio caller could have done well to read her but I myself have the answer in three little letters:

“Tea-making, writes Ms Fox, is the perfect displacement activity: whenever the English feel awkward or uncomfortable in a social situation (that is, almost all of the time), they make tea. It’s a universal rule: when in doubt, put the kettle on.”

Trying to explain the components of the full English breakfast to the TV crew yesterday, I felt I never quite got to convey properly the delicate nuances and the paramount importance of tea-making in the English culture. Tea is what fortifies and bonds the nation, before you even mention the Queen. Republicans and anti-monarchists – if they exist- would agree with that: Tea is the essence of Englishness. Being of equal importance to a Chelsea supporter, a financier or a builder, it is the drink that suits every possible social occasion and every possible setting. It is “le mot juste” whenever a word is needed and even more apt when none are required. In “The silence of Colonel Bramble”, André Maurois, describes the return from the Front of two new recruits clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress and the Colonel first and only order is to “fix those boys a good cup of tea”!

The English like their tea either the colour and taste of cement with plenty of milk and sugar or a light golden brew with neither. It is the drink of choice with a full English breakfast or with an afternoon tea – two meals the English have mastered to perfection.
These are my own two favorite mealtimes, which is lucky because I live here!

On Sundays, my British husband proudly cooks up the traditional spread best loved by the children: fried eggs, black pudding,  Cumberland sausages, baked beans, roasted mushrooms, eggy bread and bacon rashers… The list is endless and frequently changing depending on our imagination or degree of hunger.

But whatever is prepared is always served with plenty of strong tea and lots of warm … baguette- this is certainly my influence, I confess. All in a spirit of “Entente Cordiale”, bien sur.

So where do you get the best fry-up in London? Obviously, in a “greasy spoon caf’, of which only a few remain around Spitalfields or Bermondsey markets essentially… I have one current favourite and this is where I took my French TV crew to sample a full fry-up: A quaint little number in Hammersmith, Plum cafe on Crisp rd, one of the best places to sample the best meal in Britain with the day’s newspaper.

PS: The pillar-box picture is from a sweet little blog called “Little devil’s adventures”, with thanks.

English garden pea soup with mint


Credit to Sophie Dahl for the frightfully British and always divine recipes of her book “Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights “. I borrowed this one because it is an English classic- if fact, you can’t get more English than this fresh peas and mint combination!

Sophie Dahl’s Pea soup

Ingredients list:
Olive oil
Spring onions 3
Freshly shelled peas 500 g
Vegetable stock 1 litre
Mint, a good handful
Salt and pepper
Crème fraîche

The Delicious Miss Dahl makes her with “frozen peas” but why use frozen when pea is the one green vegetable this country seems to produce in abundance?!
I used child labour to get these freshly shelled ones but it was worth it. Shelling beans or peas “en famille” is such a relaxing and mind-cleansing activity… why deprive yourself when they are in season?!

In a medium size pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and sauté the chopped spring onion for a few minutes. Add the peas and coat them in oil, stirring. Add the stock and mint and cook on low heat for about 10-15 minutes. Season to taste. Add some dried mint if you have some- as I did. Transfer to a blender and whiz –Here I use a traditional “Moulin a legumes” in stainless steel instead so the soft skins of the peas are sieved out but if the peas are very small and tender, the blender is probably fine.

Serve warm or cool, depending on the weather, with a whirl of crème fraiche.
Everybody lapped it up and it is now a family favourite!

Elderflower cordial with lemon and lime


 Having spent a sunny week-end in the English countryside, I came back with the picture of a young dear running across my path as I jogged (wonderful!) and a posy of creamy elderflower umbrellas. I set to work as soon as I got home and here is the recipe- you’ll have to wait 48h for the final word on it but it’s worth writing it all down now! The season is short for those fragranced blooms…
Ingredients list:
1 kg of sugar
1 litre of water
10 to 15 heads of fresh elderflowers
2 lemons plus zest
1 lime
2 teaspoons of citric acid
Pick the flowers, trying to avoid putting in too many of the small stems and reserve in a bowl. Boil the sugar in the water for a few minutes, making sure all the sugar is dissolved. Pour the boiling syrup over the flowers and then the mix back into the pan for a simmer of a few minutes again.
Zest and slice the lemons and lime and put them into the bowl where you now pour back the cooling syrup. Add the citric acid – available at most chemists. My local one stocked it, god bless her!
Leave to steep at least 48hours covered in the kitchen. Later strain it first into a sieve then through a cheese cloth or fine sieve and bottle in clean glass bottles until ready to use.
This drink is sharp and refreshing and encapsulates for me all the pleasures of an English summer in the country – walks in the woods and wild encounters with Bambi included!

Buttermilk scones


Ingredients list:
  • Self-raising flour 200 g
  • 2 small spoonful of baking powder (4 if using non-enriched flour)
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 spoonful of bicarbonate of soda
  • Butter 50g
  • Sugar 40g
  • Buttermilk or fermented milk 150 ml
This one of my most cherished recipes because I searched for it for many years!
Scones are the simplest but also the most coveted and celebrated of English cakes and for years I had been baking them in Paris for my friends and looking for the definitive recipe… Until my future mother-in-law baked me the lightest and yummiest scones, years later in Surrey, and kindly let me have this version of the most English of English cakes.
I recently baked a tray of them for tea with my girlfriends at Christmas and I post this for Caroline who asked me to do so!
Start by mixing all the ingredients but the milk and work through them with the tip of your fingers until they form a light powder.
Add the buttermilk or milk and knead lightly with a wooden spoon. It must be moist but not too sticky. Roll out on a floured marble surface and make a thick slab then cut it with a round cutter in as many shapes as you want.
Each scone must be nice and thick: about 1 inch or 2 centimetres.
Put them on an oven tray dusted with flour and put in a hot oven (200 degree Celsius) for 10mn or until nicely raised and brown.
Serve warm with clotted cream and strawberry jam – I used mascarpone instead of the golden clotted cream when in France.
Serve with a cup of hot tea and enjoy!