More than a week has passed since I first came to London and in a few days I’ll be back in my mansard over my family kitchen overlooking the woods and fields, waiting for the wheat to turn pale green to announce that the spring has finally arrived.
You may wonder what I have been up to in this first week… if your answer is mostly eating, you are very close to the truth! Being it Indian, English, Turkish or Italian, being it home-made, eaten sitting in a restaurant or standing up waiting for the best Beigel ever tasted or even perched on a rock by the sea, we ate and celebrated the power of food, the best way to communicate, to get to know each other and become friend.
In this never ending feast of abundance, imagination and creativity, there was a sandwich, a very simple one but generous in flavour, that is worth sharing with you. Let’s say it’s an excuse to bring you with me to Beachy Head, but believe me that the sandwich has more than a reason to be celebrated.
Beachy Head, an hour’s drive south of London, is a place that leaves you speechless. Breathtaking is not only the view of the cliffs on a gray winter day, so bright white that it hurts your eyes when kissed by the sun. Breathtaking is also the steep climb back from the lighthouse, against the wind and with a large bag weighed down with camera, gloves, hat, scarf and other bare necessities.
You can tell who is trained and who is not. I am not, but definitely Beachy Head is worth of being short of breath and being almost lifted up by the gale that swept away the clouds and any existential doubts…
But let’s get back to that sandwich, eaten sitting on a white rock looking out to the sea with a thermos full of hot Earl Grey next to us. In these moments, essence wins over anything else: two slices of fresh store-bought organic bread made with caramelized onions, Tuscan salted cured pork shoulder and home-made butter.
To purists it may seem quite an unusual combination, but it reminds me so much of the Tuscan bread, butter and anchovies, the easiest holidays appetizer or one of the most typical afternoon snacks from my childhood.
The salty anchovies – and in this case a few knife cut slices of tasty Tuscan cured pork shoulder or ham – are balanced by the creamy butter, that smooths the edges and softens the flavours. If you have high quality ingredients, there’s really no need to over complicate.
It is just an idea, but try to follow me. You are cutting the fresh bread on a wooden board lit by a slanted sunbeam entering through the kitchen window. The bread is a freshly baked sourdough loaf and the knife makes that tempting sound as it plunges into the crust, that for a while resists then breaks into a crackle, yielding to the softness of the well-leavened bread.
Then there is a small glass dish with the home-made butter, that tastes just like cream and is made only with fresh double cream and a few flakes of Maldon salt. The butter surrenders to the bread slices and creates a melting contrast to the tasty slices of Tuscan pork shoulder, marbled with fat.
You are bringing to the beach all these memories and sensations, wrapped in a paper towel along with the sandwich: there is the crackling sound of the crusty bread, that ray of sunshine that came across the window, the cured Tuscan pork shoulder I brought from home, the silky butter made by a friend and the person who taught you how to make that sandwich. Try it, read inside the sandwich your own story and memories, then tell me if it is just a sandwich or not!