I couldn’t do the Atkins Diet (or, as it’s being rehashed for a new era, the Caveman Diet). I’d be miserable in a day, and off it in two. There’s one simple reason for that. I love my carbs too much.
I shouldn’t need to extol the virtues of the humble spud. I’m going to, because it’s droolworthy. Why would you deny yourself a big fat baker, crisp of skin and fluffy of flesh, cheeks bulging with butter, a handful of cheese oozing over its flanks? Soft, pillowy mash, just the right consistency to drag a forkful of plump sausage through. Once you’ve grown your own, nothing matches the flavour of a fresh dug and steamed new potato, mixed with spring onion, beetroot and a simple vinaigrette to make the best warm potato salad you’ll ever eat.
Dauphinoise. Rosti. Goose-fat roasties. Bird’s Eye Potato Waffles.
You think you can manage without those? Hooray for you. Would you like one of my chips?
Yeah. Thought so.
My new favourite way with spuds is to chop a few into inch-thick cubes, toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper and a robust herb or two (thyme, rosemary, that sort of thing, or go nuts with dried herbs de provence) and roast them for 45 minutes. If I feel especially expansive, then some pancetta mixed in at the start make the dish a bit special (in which case, cut back on the oil, obvs). I call them cubetti. TLC calls them tater tots. We’re both right. As a bed for a pile of saucy meatballs, they can’t be beat.
Caveman Diet? Feh. Why on earth would you turn your back on the staff of life, the humble loaf? You can’t make a bacon sandwich with a couple of cabbage leaves. Some restaurants will serve you a burger wrapped in lettuce instead of the bun. That’s as unnatural as the American habit of serving the meat in a glazed doughnut. You think I’m kidding. I wish I was kidding. I’m not kidding.
The smell of a fresh loaf coming out of the oven is one of the most heavenly olfactory experiences there is. I’ll often base the weekend’s meals around it.
Case in point. I baked a foccaccia on Saturday. From a packet mix, yes, granted, but one of the good Wright’s packs, dressed up with fresh rosemary and a leeetle more sea salt on top than was entirely necessary. Warm from the oven, it was the perfect accompaniment for a slow-cooked chili beef and bean stew. Sunday lunch was a wedge of the loaf, piled high with good Wiltshire ham and a mix of issu iraty and Leerdammer cheese and toasted. Another wedge, warmed back through in foil, got our Sunday teatime plate of puttanesca nice and clean. It took about ten minutes of active work to put together, and added massively to the simple joy of the weekend.
Eating well is all about balance, and diets are all about upsetting that balance. To me, bread and potatoes are the tentpole of cuisine, and kicking it away is not going to end well. I’ll quite happily eat steak and salad all the time – but let’s have a bowl of skinny chips or some garlic bread to mop up the juices, please.