Avocado, anchovy and Parmesan salad

I’ve borrowed this recipe (slightly adapted) from Mark Hix, whose column in The Independent magazine is one of my favourite things about Saturdays. I’ve loved his column from the start but I still miss Simon Hopkinson’s weekly words. I had a huge thrill when he (Simon) walked past me in Chiswick’s Waitrose, not long after it opened.  Annoyingly, I was already in the queue for the check-out so I couldn’t trail him to inspect his food-shopping habits. I haven’t spotted Mark Hix out and about anywhere but I have been within a couple of yards of Gordon Ramsay (cheering him along during a marathon a few London marathons ago; he looked at me in astonishment when I, astonishing myself, heard myself shouting “Go, Gordon. Go!”).

Mark recommends Pecorino romano; Parmesan is in second place on his list. As I’m addicted to cheese (and recently gave it up, as a daily diet) I thought I’d be more at risk of eating the whole chunk of Pecorino and that I might just nibble at the Parmesan, exercising what passes for self-control with me.  Plus my fantastic deli (Mortimer & Bennett) sells Parmesan already wrapped in bits so I could choose a small bit and feel very smug. I set off – another lovely day, blossom everywhere, students relaxing on the green, no smoke tracks in the sky, a bit more volcano dust on my car (apparently it fell in Chiswick over the weekend) and came a cropper. No Pecorino romano.

You see my problem? I set off for Parmesan and my will power doesn’t even last the four minute walk. “But we do have Pecorino Sardo,” said the French girl behind the counter (whose name, I’m ashamed to say, I still don’t know). “What’s the difference?” I asked, as I noticed that Pecorino is a ewe’s milk cheese and so not as bad for me as cow’s milk Parmesan. I discovered that romano is the  hardest of the Pecorinos; sardo comes next followed by Toscano and Siciliano, the softest and milkiest.  “Perhaps I could have a taste,” I heard myself say, increasing my calorie intake before deciding on the one that was recommended first. And then a remarkable thing happened. The wire cutter slipped, the slice was smaller than I’d asked for, I was offered a bigger piece – and I said no thank you.

Lunch

Half an avocado (ripe, obviously)

Three or four slivers of anchovy in olive oil (I buy them in jars)

25g Parmesan (or Pecorino romano, if you have willpower)

Walnut oil

An oatcake

  1. Run a knife through the avocado flesh from side to side in strips, cutting down to but not through the skin. Carefully scoop out the slices with a teaspoon. Scrape any remaining flesh from the peel and eat (no one’s looking). My mother told me that her mother called this “cook’s perks”. It applies to the oysters of a chicken (or turkey), too. Arrange the avocado pieces on a plate.
  2. Chop the anchovy fillets into chunks and dot them over the avocado.
  3. Flake the Parmesan (I used a veg peeler) and scatter it over the avocado and anchovy.
  4. Drizzle with walnut oil (enough to moisten it, not create a slick).
  5. The oatcake adds a bit of bulk and slow energy-releasing carbs for afternoon energy.

Can you spot the avocado underneath the cheese?

It was divine – a satisfyingly flavourful mix of sweet, salt, cream, crunch, subtle, strong all in balance. The dreaminess of the avocado came through the powerpacked anchovy; the dry crunch of the Pecorino added contrasting texture (crisply salty romano would be even better); the oil gave it a nuance of nuttiness. It didn’t need the oatcake.

And there’s still some Pecorino in the fridge. For the moment.

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