Judging from the response to my previous post, the one regarding snails, a post I actually wrote many years ago, I could not fail to appreciate that snails entice only a very small portion of society. Chacun à son gout and all that and I will not take up a zealous quest to reform people’s gustatory orientation. That said, I like to be inclusive so, dear Reader, even though this post is dedicated to those who do indeed enjoy a platter of snails, the recipe for the sauce lends itself to enhancing other dishes too, a good steak for instance. My inclusive bent does not extend to vegans I realise because it includes butter but the market now abounds with vegan butters and I am sure they would make an adequate substitute. The sauce would probably be delicious melting over boiled potatoes or adding zing to the humblest (and hence cheapest) of fishes. A spoonful here and there would up the ante in any stew be it carnivore, vegetarian or vegan. And an added bonus is that one can freeze it, hip hip hurrah.
I am inclined to think that the sauce is very ‘old school’ and rooted in French cuisine, made up as it is of butter aplenty, parsley and garlic. I remember by mother making something almost identical to accompany a fillet mignon and she told me she had picked up the recipe in Sweden, in the 1950s, where it was most likely served in elegant restaurants at a time when posh nosh meant French cuisine coursing through the courses.
By accident of birth, I am a half-aunt to a niece who is actually six months older than I am (my Swedish father was her grandfather, that’s the connexion, making her father my half brother). Her name is Ulrika and she says I’m her favourite aunt, which is of course true since no other aunt is alive to vie with me for her affections. And I must say that, as nieces go, she is a gem and comes and visits at least once a year. She and I share a dread of cold climes and a passionate love for warm weather and swimming in the sea. As a proper Swede (I am only half Swedish), she is able to bathe in temperatures that Nordics consider ‘normal’ whereas I can only deal with waters that are fit for sissies like me. My name is Jo and people who love me have come to call the correct swimming temperature as “Jo proof”.
Well may you mock but this disinclination of mine for the cold prevents me from falling in love with most of the coastline of Sardinia, for instance. The waters and beaches of Sardinia are world famous for their pristine and sometimes wild beauty (the Aga Khan who built up the exclusive resorts in the early 1960s wasn’t just a pretty face you know) but you can keep most of them: too cold, too cold, too cold. I tried swimming in the Atlantic waters of Portugal once and got as far as my big toe. Same thing of a July in California somewhere. Stunning beach, unfriendly cold water. It was then that it was brought home to me just why the Mediterranean became so popular with the aristos and the very wealthy of yore …. it wasn’t only the picturesqueness of Southern France or Capri, nor the breathtaking views of natural beauty to take in: it was the warm waters too! The British Isles have beaches that their subjects can be immodestly proud of but, unless there is a heat wave such as the one in 1976 which saw me swimming in Bournemouth, they are a natatory disincentive for the likes of me.
I am aware that I am babbling on like a brook going hither and thither in my meanderings but, stay with me, there is a reason. Which is: just like the optimum temperature for an enjoyable swim, a dinner should be composed of an optimum array of dishes to suit all those partaking of the meal. The pleasure principle. Eating for pleasure and not just for sustenance. In 2008, Geoff Andrews published a book called “The Slow Food Story: Politics and Pleasure”. Please allow me to quote Amazon’s review.
“The Slow Food movement was established in Italy as a response to the dominance of fast food chains, supermarkets, and large-scale agribusiness. Defending “the universal right to pleasure,” it promotes food production and consumption based on “good, clean, and fair” local products. In twenty years Slow Food has grown into an international organisation with more than 80,000 members in over 100 countries. With roots in the 1960s and 1970s counter-culture, Slow Food’s distinctive politics link gastronomic pleasure and environmental responsibility. The movement crosses the left-right divide to embrace both the conservative desire to preserve traditional rural communities and an alternative “virtuous” idea of globalisation. In the first in-depth study of the fascinating politics of Slow Food, Geoff Andrews shows that the alternative future it offers can be extended to all aspects of modern life. The Slow Food Story is an extensive critique of the fast-moving, work-obsessed contemporary capitalist culture.”
Whatever your political or spiritual views, you can’t deny that most of us live in a rush. It took Covid lockdown to slow us down. The narrative I want to underscore is that life is too short and that we, those of us who are lucky enough to afford good (simple even) food on the table, should reconsider the pleasure of dining as one of life’s paramount activities. In the last decades, in my experience at least, it seems to me that people worry about WHAT to eat, afraid of putting on weight, afraid of eating foods that are deemed unhealthy these days, afraid of not fitting in with the latest politically correct nourishment directives, to the point that meals become a source of anxiety instead of pleasure. Two syndromes to prove my point: orthorexia and citophobia. It does not surprise me that the Slow Movement originated in Italy where eating can easily be considered a national past-time; yet even in this country anxiety over food and eating is doing its damage. Thank goodness for people like us, no?
Ulrika’s partner is Juan and despite his Spanish name he too is Swedish. Unlike Ulrika and me, he can weather and even enjoy any temperature storm and is totally at ease camping in the woods in Sweden during the Winter (!), sleeping in special hammocks. Ulrika and I just raise our eyes heavenwards in shivering disbelief and disapproval but there you go … it takes all sorts to make the world go round. Ulrika loathes and abhors snails whereas Juan is rather partial to them. I espied some farmed snails at the covered market in Frascati just days before their arrival last Summer and lovingly bought some for Juan, picturing his smiling face on being told the news. Ulrika’s disgust knew enough bounds to look the other way as we seated ourselves to the dinner table to enjoy the snails cooked Juan’s way but I made sure that she too had something delicious to eat. The meal had to be Ulrika-proof as well as Juan-friendly.
250g of butter, a big bunch of parsley, as many or as few cloves of garlic as you prefer, pinch of salt. Plenty of bread to mop up any sauce on the plate.
WHAT TO DO
Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until creamy smooth. Spoon the mixture over the previously cleaned, boiled, cooled down snails (see previous blog for all this) and place in a hot oven for a few minutes – basically the time it takes for the butter to melt and coat and season the snails.
You can spoon the mixture onto some parchment paper and roll it into a log shape. Place in freezer and, when required, remove from freezer until still very firm. Slice rounds off to put over a hot steak or potatoes or put to any other culinary use you prefer.
Juan was very veeeery happy with his snails!