I really started to want to cook all the time – I mean all – i.e. not let anyone else near the kitchen even – after I watched the first episodes of Keith Floyd‘s first television series. The opening series in 1984 was Floyd on Fish, but the ones that really hooked me (ouch!) was Floyd on Food in 1986 and then Floyd on France which aired in 1987. I think it is generally accepted that he was not a brilliant cook but he was so enthusiastic about food, and good at debunking myths about cooking, that I was smitten. It was all about taste and flavour, less about getting measurements spot on. And he did it all with a glass of wine to hand. Often times, some of his recipes would not work out, which was part of the attraction too. He made cooking seem so much fun and it made me want to go out and buy different ingredients, try different dishes and simply get in the kitchen and do it. I had grown up watching the rather curious and slightly scary Fanny Craddock, possibly one of the first television cooks. Then there was the very dippy and slightly irritating Graham Kerr, whose series The Galloping Gourmet ran from 1969 until 1971. Delia Smith had a series called Family Fare which ran from 1973 to 1975 but though I like some of her books she did nothing for my passion for food on the telly. She just seemed very dull in comparison to Keith Floyd. He was light years away from these folk. He made you feel that you didn’t have to be an expert, you just had to like food! He frequently also used wine in his recipes which was also, naturally, appealing to me! From Floyd on I never really allowed anyone else to do the cooking! He also in some way reminded me of my late brother who was equally eccentric in a lovable way.
Floyd also wanted to show how to prepare dishes that had been bastardised by fast food shops or had been ruined by companies serving frozen versions that turned people lazy. In his 1994 book, Floyd on Italy, he wanted to reacquaint us with real Italian food, not the food being served up in supermarkets as purportedly Italian. I am sure he must have inspired Jamie Oliver as he carries on the mantle of a chef who wants to open our eyes to the real food from countries such as Italy. Floyd says in his introduction, entitled, Et tu Pasta; ‘ What is Italian food? Spaghetti bolognese, lasagne with coleslaw and deep pan pizzas filled with assorted culinary garbage? No. A thousand times no. On the subject of pizzas by the by, in Britain at least they have gone the way of the noble quiche, which before it got ‘wine-barred’ and abused was an exquisite dish until, as the late Elizabeth David lamented, it became a culinary dustbin. Whereas thinly rolled dough spread with chopped tomato and chopped anchovies with cheese and zapped in a wood-fired oven is heaven- you just don’t need prawns and artichoke hearts, mushrooms and chicken tikka pieces in a pastry shell and even if you do, you can’t call it pizza.‘ And he continues in a similar vein regarding spaghetti bolognese which, as he says, is not a dish served anywhere in Italy and certainly not in Bologna! His writing like his programmes just oozed finesse and style and hooked me every time I watched or read. Here he is describing what Italian food really is. It’s poetry. ‘ A basket of fresh broad beans in their shells ripped open and dipped into salt and crunched. Fine thin slivers of Parma ham cut from the bone, toasted slices of ciabatta drenched in olive oil and rubbed with garlic, a mountain of vibrant red radishes, big green nutty olives as sweet as young hazelnuts. And big glasses of red wine. Then a groaning board of squid and clams and prawns and mussels and octopus, lightly cooked and served cold soused in olive oil and lime or lemon juice (not a drop of balsamic vinegar in sight). Then a steaming bowl of yellow egg yoked soft tagliatelle with melted butter, crisp slivers of aged Parmigiano and grated lemon zest. You suck it into your mouth. You smile. You drink. You talk. You laugh. You eat. They clear the plates , but not the glasses, and bring more wine. They bring lightly grilled lamb chops with oregano and a wedge of lemon….then plate of grilled peppers and aubergines. Followed by a soft, succulent wedge of Gorgonzola. And then you can choose an iceberg of ice creams. With a glass of Strega and a tiny cup of strong black coffee. That is Italian food’
How can anyone not be smitten by such writing? I get hungry just typing those words! I just want to be back in Rome sitting in my favourite bar in the Campo di Fiori watching the world go by and wondering where I am going to eat tonight. What he writes about pizzas takes me back to memories of the first so called pizza restaurant to appear in Manchester, Pizzaland, which later morphed into Pizza Hut. In those days my mate Andy and I popped in now and then as they served a lunch time special of half a pizza with coleslaw, and, wait for it, a baked jacket potato – which you were supposed to split and put butter on. Pizza and baked potatoes?? The spuds were invariably caked in baked mud – perhaps they were organic ahead of their time ! – Andy often asked the waitress if the soil was an extra, and if so, could we not have it next time. She never got it. Pizza Hut, like Dominos takeaway, have done their best to ruin the pizza. Stuffed crusts? Just bizarre – disgusting and unnecessary.
Go now to Piazza Navona and eat one of the many pizzas on offer there; thin stone baked bases with buffalo mozzarella, bresaola, piles of fresh rocket and huge slices of Parmesan. As Dexy’s Midnight Runners sang on Jacky Wilson Says –
I’m in Heaven !