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I am not sure if today’s dish can be called a hot dish or not. It is best when served as warm as possible but there is no way in which it can be piping hot. To many diners this is an offence, for which I apologise.
There are times when I sympathise with the hot-food brigade. Although Alastair Little tells a story about the time the late Egon Ronay sent back his soup on the grounds that it was too hot, I am not in favour of lukewarm soup. I am far more likely to complain of food being too cold, regarding this as a greater disservice to its taste. Even so, I am still occasionally perplexed by the British obsession with hot food. Some even demand that their roast beef is very hot, even when, by definition, a rare and well-rested piece of beef can never be more than warm. It may not be piping hot, but it is nevertheless extremely palatable, especially when served on a hotplate with a little light but hot gravy alongside.
I remember, many years ago in Turkey, watching two men enjoying their supper at an outdoor café in Ankara. It was a quite substantial meal of kebabs, a rice dish and a couple of salads. I think it took them at least two hours to consume it. Most of the time was spent in animated conversation, the fork in use more to jab the air as a form of punctuation to the discourse than as an eating implement. It was occasionally set down while a cigarette was lit, and then extinguished. Eating then resumed. It was not that the food was disrespected or not enjoyed: quite the contrary, the men seemed to want to extend the pleasure. My point is that it was enjoyed at room temperature and this may be a more civilised approach than bolting one’s food “while it’s hot”.
This spaghetti dish is a holiday special. It assumes that you have mouths to feed, access to good tomatoes, a gas ring, a large saucepan and minimal desire to spend time in the kitchen. It is a very lazy dish, incredibly simple to make, and can be enjoyed at leisure. I made the dish in the morning and had a taste. Then we photographed it and left it on the kitchen table, covered by a cloth, and forgot about it. Twelve hours later my stepson came back from the pub with a couple of friends and it was devoured in seconds.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Spaghetti with raw tomatoes
A dish as simple as this requires the best ingredients – sweet ripe tomatoes and the best kind of artisan spaghetti, with a rough, sandy texture on the tubes. Serves 4-6.
1 clove garlic
750g cherry tomatoes (datterini if possible)
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp fennel seeds
75g green olives
A handful of fresh mint leaves
● Rub a large earthenware or similar bowl with the cut clove of garlic. Halve or quarter the tomatoes (depending on size) and place them in the bowl. Season them well with sea salt and the chilli flakes. Toss the fennel seeds in a dry frying pan on a high heat for a minute, until they start to give off a toasty aroma, before grinding them lightly with pestle and mortar. Add them to the tomatoes and toss them through. Stone the olives (or leave them whole if you prefer and are feeling especially lazy) and add to the mix. Finally, wash the mint leaves and chop them very coarsely before adding.
● Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a small handful of coarse salt, bring back to the boil and add the spaghetti. Stir with tongs or similar implement to separate the strands, and cook at a gentle boil for 8-9 minutes or as directed on the packet. (These recommendations are generally very accurate and to be trusted.) The pasta should still be firm to the bite but have lost the core of starch in the middle.
● Lift the spaghetti out of the water and add immediately to the tomato mixture. Mix very well, adding two tablespoons of good olive oil and a little of the cooking water if necessary to produce a good slippery texture to the pasta. Serve.
Rowley’s drinking choice
Holiday drinking is required here, and nothing so fine that it could be damaged by tomato. Aromatic whites, rosés and simple lusty reds all apply.