The big cheese

A child­hood spent pulling pints in an Old­ham pub while Granny and her sis­ter baked food for the pun­ters gave me a re­cur­ring han­ker­ing for a proper cheese and onion pie, favourite juke­box hits and a glass of old-fash­ioned bit­ter

The Guardian - Cook - - A Kitchen In Rome - Rachel Roddy

By the age of eight, I could pull a pint of bit­ter. I needed to stand on a chair and use all my weight, al­most dan­gling from the pump to pull it down and re­lease the am­ber liq­uid into the dim­pled pint pot. Granny or Un­cle Colin would be be­hind me, telling me to go steady and watch the head, catch­ing the pump as it lurched back, putting a hand un­der the glass just in case. I was bet­ter at drop­ping lemon quar­ters in an inch of gin, its fierce ju­niper scent mak­ing my nose twitch. I was bet­ter still at im­pal­ing cher­ries on tooth­picks for Baby­cham, or my own tame snow­ball, which I would drink at the bar with my brother, wreathed in cig­a­rette smoke, legs swing­ing from the high stool in time to songs we didn’t re­ally un­der­stand: “If you want my body, and you think I’m sexy, come on su­gar let me know...”

A good slice of my child­hood was spent at my granny’s pub, The Gar­den­ers Arms: a large, red-brick Robin­son’s pub at the bot­tom of Durham street in Old­ham, in Greater Manch­ester. For years it had been a trou­bled lo­cal, but then Alice came along. She was quite a woman, Alice Jones. At first glance she seemed del­i­cate, dainty even, but she wasn’t. She was strong and hard­work­ing, with a ca­pac­ity to clean, the likes of which I have never seen since. I re­mem­ber her both in her house­coat buff­ing the brass ta­bles and flush­ing out the pipes – good bit­ter comes from a clean cel­lar and clean pipes – then, later, when reg­u­lars had taken their place, com­ing down the stairs ready for the night.

“You look a mil­lion dol­lars Al,” my grandpa Gerry would say, Bob Seger curl­ing out of the juke box in agree­ment: “She was look­ing so right, in her di­a­monds and frills...”

By the time we three grand­kids ar­rived in the 1970s, you were safe in The Gar­den­ers Arms, the con­vivial heart of that part of town. Alice had started serv­ing food, her sis­ter May at the stove. May was even smaller and tougher than Alice: I re­mem­ber her fry­ing, shout­ing at my un­cle Frank or crack­ing her 30-a-day laugh. May’s spe­cialty was “steak Cana­dian” – a strip of steak, flash fried with onions stuffed in large white rolls called oven-bot­tom cakes. There were also ba­con or tongue sand­wiches; and pies: meat and potato or cheese and onion – both served with peas. On Sun­day, once the pub had closed after the lunch ser­vice and the last cus­tomers swayed away, bot­tles clink­ing in their pock­ets, we would push the brass ta­bles to­gether and lay for our Sun­day lunch, a roast and all the trim­mings on the side, a tan­gle of fam­ily re­la­tions, and as many coins as we wanted for the juke­box.

Later, when she left the pub, Alice still made pie and peas. It’s her voice, spe­cific and firm, I hear when I make pas­try: “You want cold hands. Run them un­der the cold tap, then work quickly, rub­bing un­til it looks like bread­crumbs. And use iced wa­ter.”

I miss her voice, with its soft Manch­ester lilt. It is the same one I hear and love in Si­mon Hop­kin­son’s writ­ing: his sto­ries and recipes from his Lan­cashire mum, fa­mil­iar, and there­fore com­fort­ing. His recipes are full of com­mon sense and good taste, un­beat­able. To­day’s is his recipe.

Cheese and onion pie is just that: cheese and onion – noth­ing more, noth­ing less. It is a straight­for­ward, smash­ing pie, a soft fill­ing en­cased in short, crum­bling pas­try, mean­ing you need to chase the last few crumbs amount the plate with a fin­ger tip. The cheese should be Lan­cashire: its fluffy tex­ture, creamy flavour and the fact that it melts, but doesn’t pull into strings, make it ideal. It is near im­pos­si­ble to find Lan­cashire cheese in Rome, so I made do with a mix of young pecorino and ca­cio­cav­allo, which worked well enough.

Cheese and onion pie cries out for a dab of English mus­tard or pic­calilli. I

The cheese should be Lan­cashire: its fluffy, creamy and it melts but doesn’t pull into strings Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome and the au­thor of Five Quar­ters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Salt­yard) and win­ner of the An­dré Si­mon food book award @rache­leats. Recipe from Si­mon Hop­kin­son’s book,The Good Cook – out now.

had nei­ther. I am not sure what Aun­tie May would have said about the frillyedged tin I used or the pink radic­chio I served it with – plenty, I imag­ine. I wished for a pint of Rob­bies bit­ter with my slice, and to be trans­ported to The Gar­den­ers Arms, with ev­ery­one there; to put an­other coin in the juke­box baby, “cum on feel the noize, girls grab the boys, we get wild wild wild...”

Si­mon Hop­kin­son’s cheese and onion pie Serves 4-6

60g cold but­ter, diced 60g cold lard, diced 250g self-rais­ing flour 2–3 tbsp iced wa­ter 3 medium onions, sliced into half moons 25g but­ter 250-300g Lan­cashire cheese, grated (or ched­dar or young pecorino ro­mano) Salt and pep­per Milk, for seal­ing and glaz­ing

1 Rub the fat into the flour with your fin­ger­tips, or pulse in a food pro­ces­sor, un­til the mix re­sem­bles bread­crumbs. Add a pinch of salt and just enough iced wa­ter – grad­u­ally – to make a ball of dough. Wrap the dough in cling­film and chill for at least 30 min­utes.

2 Melt the but­ter, add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook gently, stir­ring, for a few min­utes then add a small glass of wa­ter and con­tinue cook­ing for 15 min­utes, or un­til the wa­ter has evap­o­rated and the onion is very soft. Take off the heat and al­low to cool.

3 Set the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Roll out ⅔ of the pas­try. Lay it into a 20cm wide x 4cm deep tin, so it over­hangs slightly. Prick the base with a fork. Spread half the onion over the base, add some black pep­per, then top with half the cheese. Re­peat. Paint the edges with milk. Roll the re­main­ing dough into a cir­cle a bit larger than the tin, lay it over the fill­ing and then press firmly into the edges. Trim the ex­cess. Make three short slashes in the top.

4 Sit the pie on a pre­heated bak­ing sheet. Cook for 40-50 min­utes, or un­til golden and cheese is bub­bling gently through the slashes. Let the pie to sit for 30 min­utes be­fore turn­ing it out.

Cook’s tip The pas­try can be made in ad­vance, kept in the fridge, or even the freezer. I of­ten dou­ble the quan­tity and freeze half of the pas­try for an­other pie.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.