Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Get into the garden

Sarah Raven in The Guardian Online
...In the nineteenth century the invention of the refrigerated ship meant that meat could be brought fresh from anywhere in the world. With the endless land available in the Americas and beyond, meat became cheap [in Britain]. The development of factory farming and the efficient networks of the global economy have meant that daily meat has become a reality for everyone. Meat and potatoes have come to dominate our cooking culture, but that is such a sad and reduced place to arrive at, almost fetishistic it seems to me, as if a meal is no good unless it contains a slab of steak or chicken.

It doesn't need to be like that, wasn't in this country before 1850 and isn't like that in most parts of the world. My new garden cookbook is about returning to an older habit, where meat was a regular, delicious, but occasional visitor to the plate. Vegetables can take their place, not as a stand in, or supporting part, but as centre stage, where they belong.

Mediterranean cooking cultures are a wonderful source of inspiration for this way of eating. Traditionally, the relatively high cost of meat in a non-factory dominated environment gives a natural sense of meat's true value. In France and even more in Italy and Spain, you eat meat or fish on high days and holidays, but not for every meal. Allied to that is a far more intimate connection, family by family, to growing things and looking after and slaughtering animals themselves. Meat was and is precious and respected, and so on most days, households inherit, devise, cook and eat delicious things made with grains, vegetables, salads, herbs and fruit.

As a child, we often went on holiday to Asolo in the Veneto, a honey-coloured hill town in the foothills of the Dolomites, with orchards and farmland running up to its medieval walls. All the produce of garden and field were on sale in the market square and under the shady stone arcades that line the streets. Asolo introduced me to the whole Mediterranean philosophy of food, where most small towns would have one butcher, but a bi-weekly market stuffed to the gunnels with beautiful and delicious veg and fruit. Day after day, under the shopping and cooking guidance of the cook in the house where we stayed, we would eat artichokes, salads, wild greens, chicory, sometimes with bread, sometimes with pasta, sometimes with rice, but rarely with meat. That's been a great inspiration for many of my recipes.

Here on the Guardian food blog for the next three weeks, I'll be posting 21 recipes which come out of this non-meat-dominated culture, some of my favourites from my Garden Cookbook.
Click here for first recipe, to post a comment, or to bookmark for remaining 20 recipes

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