Saturday, 9 March 2013

For P.G. Wodehouse (1881 - 1975),

"The first thing that met the eye on entering was Anatole. This wizard of the cooking-stove is a tubby little man with a moustache of the outsize or soup-strainer type, and you can generally take a line through it as to the state of his emotions. When all is well, it turns up at the ends like a sergeant-major's. When the soul is bruised, it droops."
 -- Right Ho, Jeeves

I sometimes have debates in my head about which country I want to visit most.

I'm reasonably well-travelled already; not through any volition of my own, I should add. I am lucky enough to have parents who love to travel, and for awhile, those delightful laws against unsupervised minors meant I got to go with them. Even since I've been an adult, they've been soft-hearted enough to take me places. My shameless piggy-backing has gotten me to Australia, California, Hawaii, multiple Pacific Islands, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and probably other places that I'm forgetting.

But, aside from a short corporate training stint in Denmark, I've never made it to Europe. This gives me much torment. Like any important decision, the choice of where to travel must hinge on food. But I just can't judge the tasty, simple pleasures of Italian food against the types of fiddly but accomplished cuisines cooked by Wodehouse's temperamental French chef character, Anatole. And so now, my inner Italian mamma must fight it out with my inner Anatole to determine which destination takes priority when I finally have that elusive combination of a salary and holiday time.

Corner Italian mamma: tomatoes, garlic, bruschetta, tiramisu, pizza, pasta, plenty of red wine.

Italia wins! No, wait, we'd better give the other side a chance.
Corner Anatole: macarons, chocolates, coq au vin, ratatouille, cheeses, plenty of red wine. (OK, it might be a draw on that last point.)

The French market at La Cigale in Parnell is my undoing.
In my head, my inner Italian mamma brandishes a salami-sword against Anatole's baguette; they dance around one another, lunging and retreating in turn. Then - whoa! Anatole whips out his bag of frangipane and pipes slippery almond muck into mamma's path! But mamma retorts with a series of antipasti ninja stars. Hee-ya! Sundried tomato. Blam! Prosciutto projectile. It takes the full length of the Spanish referee's churros to restrain them.

In the end, I find it's best to make peace between my inner Francophile and Italophile, before one of them cheeses my hippocampus. And so, we reach a compromise. I will, to quote Gilmore Girls, do as the Americans do: "unapologetically bastardize other countries' cultures in a gross quest for moral and military supremacy" by inserting an Italian salad into a French sandwich. Bring on the imperialistic lunch!

Croque Caprese

Serves 2

1/3C classic bechamel sauce
4 slices thick white bread (I like sourdough for this)
1C mixed heirloom tomatoes
1/3C shredded buffalo mozzarella
Basil leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
2 eggs (optional)


Divide the bechamel between the slices of bread and spread it out evenly. Pile the tomatoes onto two of the bread slices. If your tomatoes are larger, shred them roughly. Top with basil leaves and mozzarella. Close the sandwiches with the other two slices of bread.

Spray a large frypan with oil and heat on medium. Add the sandwiches (carefully) and toast on both sides  - about 3 mins per side.

To turn this into a croque caprese madame, add a fried egg on top of each sandwich.

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