The summer, such a lovely warm summer, seems a long time ago as I sit looking out of the window at torrential rain and listening to the thunder. But it is only five weeks since I met my old friend Mark on a sunny evening in King’s Cross and we walked to Moro, so that I could show off the best of London to this Englishman long ago transplanted to New York. I always find it unnerving taking a real or adopted North American to restaurants in London; after all you can eat anything at any time in many American cities, it is often brilliant and inventive (though not always), and, much as my beloved city has improved massively in food terms in the ten years that I have been here, it still has many many weak spots, not least in the area of service. Which is why, on this occasion, I chose Moro, one of my three or four absolute favourite restaurants in London because it (like Polpo, the River Café and The Providores) hits every one of my holy trinity: impeccable service, creative food, affordable yet wonderful wine.
And, yes, it was deliberate that I put service first on that list because I find more and more that, although I can forgive slightly less brilliant food and accept that the wine may not be perfect (I usually blame myself for not knowing enough), I cannot cannot forgive bad service and always feel any kind of unexplained delay, lackadaisicalness or graceless responses to valid criticism taint everything else. I have been to Moro about five or six times and it has never failed me. It has also never failed any of the friends to whom I have recommended it, a fact which always makes me happy.
On my last trip I can’t remember what I ate, not in detail. I think I remember that Mark had never had a manzanilla, I remember that a former colleague of mine was celebrating her birthday there with her friends and I remember that it was still warm and light when we left (sigh). But most of the meal was a happy blur. Except for one thing: the caramelised marrow that came with my main course (wood pigeon, maybe?). Marrow is a bit of an undesirable vegetable; it’s bland, huge and relatively uninspiring. When I was a student my best friend taught me a fabulous way of stuffing it with corned beef, tomato sauce and cheese but I can’t remember the last time I made that. So I was astonished by this sweet, soft marrow and asked the waiter how it had been cooked. Apparently it had just been softened in butter with salt and pepper and, as soon as I spotted my first marrow of the autumn, I bought one, the smallest I could find (which still left me wondering with trepidation how many days I would have to eat it for…) and set about recreating that flavour. I don’t think I quite captured it, or captured the feeling of sitting with Mark, catching up, on a summer’s evening, but this comes pretty close for me. Cheap, easy and delicious, it turns the most unlovely of vegetables into one of the most memorable.
Serves: will depend on the size of monster you buy and the proportions in this are very vague because only you know how much you can/want to eat
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
finely ground sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Slice off a chunk of the marrow, (the amount will depend on how many you are cooking for), and remove the stalk end (and, no, don’t peel it).
2. Halve lengthways, then remove the seeds, leaving a central furrow through the middle of the marrow.
3. Now slice thinly across the marrow to create semi-circles.
4. In a lidded chef’s pan, saucepan or casserole, soften a lump of butter over a gentle-medium heat until just foaming.
5. Add the slices of marrow to the pan, season and then cook gently for about 15-20 minutes (the timing will depend on the size of your pan, the heat, how much you are cooking, the thickness of your slices) until golden and caramelised on both sides and tender. I find that if it colours quickly, but isn’t quite tender enough, then covering it for some of the cooking time helps.
That’s it; you’re welcome.