To ease myself back into blogging, I thought I’d start with a quick round-up of recent discoveries in and out of the kitchen:
• Lina Stores, one of the survivors of Soho’s Italian renaissance, has gotten a refit. The mid-century marble and pistachio-green tiles are still intact, but the overall effect has shifted from pile-them-high to a more curated selection of fresh and packaged food products. Day-to-day operations now appear to be run by the children of one of the original owners, and changes include a tiny stand-up coffee bar, Twitter and, somewhat curiously, branded aprons and espresso cups. The hand-filled pasta remains superlative and well-priced, and the service is now far sunnier, with the daughter offering half a dozen suggestions of different sauces for the ravioli.
• I’ve bought a copy of Joan Nathan’s recent book about Jewish cooking in France. Her aim is less to create a canon of recognisably French-Jewish recipes than to record the culinary traditions and practices of Jews living in France today. The recipes fall into four categories: North African, a product of the emigration of several hundred thousand Jews from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in the 1950s and 1960s; Alsatian, reflecting the pre-war majority of Ashkenazi Jews, many from Germanic countries; historic dishes from France’s small, post-Inquisition community in the country’s southwest, or of the onetime Papal Jews in and around Avignon; and popular French dishes made distinctly Jewish largely by the absence of pork and shellfish, or the mixing of meat and milk. The recipes are, on the whole, highly useable and appealing, but what makes this book distinct are the stories about how French-Jewish identity is reflected in, and understood through, food.
• As an East Coaster, my Mexican food credibility is likely limited, but the corn tortillas made by Cool Chili Company seem in every way authentic: sweet, earthy and perfectly pliable when heated. They’ve nearly made it into the weekly repertoire, with mackerel grilled or citrus-cured (the latter was particularly delicious with the juice of a Seville orange) or with shredded roast chicken. For the chicken, a winter-friendly grilled tomato salsa dirties the food processor but is very good indeed.
• Over the last few months, I’ve been drinking a lot more German Riesling. I was reminded of its existence when reading the memoirs of the wine writer Hugh Johnson, who claims it’s the best white wine grape in the world. He may well be right.