The muffled drumbeat of rain on the awning has not been heard for some time, but there it was, like an unexpected knock on the door that momentarily causes the smile to drain from the face. Being English we have an inbuilt stoicism that manifests itself even as the first pitter sounds, and long before it can be succeeded by its fellow patter. The fixed grin and braced shoulders proved to be unnecessary as it was just Mother Nature playing “knock-down Ginger”. We, however, now swathed in white linen, appeared like Klansmen on holiday having torn the laundry from the washing line in a bid to save it from a soaking. The sun took up its traditional position in the sky and holiday makers throughout the province had to apologise to their children for the amount of fuck speak about fucking France and French fucking weather. So, I was able to get back to my ruminations on the pine nut.
The success of the recent tart with onions, pine nuts and raisins had moved the jar of pine nuts to the front row of the store cupboard. This elevation has been a long time coming. Seemingly for aeons, they had languished behind the little used z’atar and next to the ignored juniper berries. All good men, but there had been no call for them: a familiar phrase, heard most often when trying to purchase either of those items. I now have a taste for pine nuts. That may change quite soon as I have a habit of overdoing a favourite ingredient in the same way that makes you want to kill someone who keeps playing, over and over again, a favourite track from the likes of Coldplay. ( I quite like Coldplay but I’ve been told that they’re deeply uncool and I shouldn’t so I’ve used them as an example of something really crap: a bouc emissaire as Stephen Fry would have it).
The simple dish in the picture above is cous cous with pine nuts, raisins, flat parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. There are also some shards of preserved lemon mixed in amongst the other ingredients to add some sharp saltiness. This is a good light lunch to enjoy whilst scanning cookery books for thoughts and ideas. Books and my cooking go together like pictures and my writing: it seems that you can’t have one without the other or I prefer not to have one without the other. ” Moro” is the first book by Sam and Sam Clark, owners of the eponymous restaurant which, apart from the St.John, has all the qualities that I look for in my ideal conception of a restaurant. The book is full of Spanish and Moroccan recipes found in their travels, especially in Moorish Andalucia. Wanting to use pine nuts in a dish for supper, and not wanting to go shopping, I was looking for a dish for which I had the ingredients in my store cupboard or which could be adapted to them. I found what I was looking for under “s” for “saffron”, some way away from “p” for “pine nuts” which do not feature in the recipe at all. The recipe for Saffron Rice, a Muslim wedding dish, sounded wonderfully luxurious. On looking into the serried ranks of bottles, boxes, tubes and plastic bags of my store cupboard I was comforted by the knowledge that I only lacked 50% of the ingredients for Saffron Rice, including the saffron. It was irresistible, so I adapted . Here is the real recipe from the book “Moro” and I’ll tell you my modifications afterwards:
I found that I had no cinnamon stick, pistachios, barberries or saffron threads. I thought that I had cinnamon sticks, but I must have used them up with winter cooking, and I thought I had saffron threads, but I must have used them too. I did have a little glass phial of some powder purporting to be saffron, which I used, but the earthy taste that I was waiting for was not there, so it was probably some turmeric or the like. I replaced the pistachios with pine nuts and the barberries ( what are they?) with raisins. This dish is so simple and delicious that it completely blew us away. Soaking the rice in salted water for 3 hours before cooking the dish was a new concept for me, and one that I shall employ much more often. The caramelised onions add an extra savoury sweetness that makes this dish unforgettable.