Anissa: Time for a guest post by the great Charles Perry. This time it is about an edible virgin, or to be more precise her breasts. Don’t worry, I am not being prurient and there is nothing obscene about these breasts. As Charles explains, Mediterraneans and Arabs have this habit of calling sweets after charming female attributes. Another example is z’nud el-sitt (lady’s wrists, which are slender rolls made by rolling filo pastry around qashtah, the Arab equivalent of clotted cream). The rolls are then fried and dipped in syrup. Quite delicious as are the medieval virgin’s breasts. By the way, Charles is sorry about the picture not being perfect but I am sure you don’t mind. His entry is, as always, fascinating.
When my friend Roberta who I stay with when I am in the Bay Area suggested we go for a doughnut, I wasn’t sure at first. The only ‘doughnuts’ I love are the catalan xuxos which I had every morning at Bar Pinotxo in the Boqueria when I was in Barcelona testing recipes for my Fifth Quarter. That was until I went on the scales and saw that my weight had shot right up. No more xuxos for me after that. Not until St John’s opened their bakery in Druid Street. Even then, I only had the one doughnut to try. Great but fattening all the same. Still, when Roberta says something is good I listen and one morning, we went to Doughnut Dolly. Boy am I glad we did! The doughnuts (filled with cream, chocolate or jam) were exceptional. In fact, they are inspired by St John’s. Hannah Hoffman, the owner, had heard about them from a friend who’d been to London and she decided to try making similar ones.
Sicily is the land of sweets. In the old days, the nuns made them in convents. A few still do but nowadays you need to go to pasticcerie or regular bars to sample the amazing range although not all will be good. Two days ago we had a very poor gelato but we struck it lucky this morning when Mary took me to eat the best cannoli ever in the most unlikely place, an ugly hamlet called Dattilo that is home to a few hundred people. I don’t know if the place is mafia land but I am sure that any gangsters there will do the same as the Godfather character and leave the gun for Euro Bar’s cannoli! From there, we went up to Erice, to Maria Grammatico who had made the heart that Mary gave me for my birthday — Mary wrote all about her and her sweets in the brilliant Bitter Almonds. I was hoping to buy a heart but Maria had been travelling, so, we made do with an incredibly delicious Genovese (top picture) plus a whole selection of marzipan sweets for me to take home!
I had been wanting to meet Najaf Daryabandari ever since a London friend had told me about the fascinating lunch he’d had with him in Tehran. Najaf is a distinguished academic who has translated many classics and also written a two-volume tome on Iranian cuisine. My friend had lost his contact details but fortunately Nasrine, my Iranian friend knew him and it wasn’t hard to set up a meeting with him except that by the time I got to Tehran, Najaf was in the middle stages of dementia. He was still able to explain about his book and Iranian cuisine but his mind would wander every few minutes and he would fall silent for quite some time that by the end of my visit, I knew there was no chance I could cook with him. Still, I loved meeting him and his charming son Sohrab and like all Iranians, their hospitality was delightful. Amongst the many things they offered us with tea were these amazing cardamom-flavoured hard candy called abnabat. Nabat means sugar and ab water and the name literally means sugar water. They can also be made with saffron which must be very luxurious or other flavourings. And of course, I immediately rushed to Tavoz to buy a bag which lasted a very short time. You can buy them online and I am sure you can also find them in London, perhaps even at Persepolis in Peckham, or other Persian shops!