Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pepys' cheese on toast

One of the loveliest foodie images of all time is that of Samuel Pepys burying his cheese when the Great Fire of London started.

I'm sure he did his bit helping to evacuate the women and children or whatever, but I just love the idea that his hunk of Parmesan was of such profound importance to him that he was damned if he'd allow it to melt away in some nasty fire.

Truly a man of high principle and considered priority!

Anchovy-fried Crostini with Parmesan shavings
Nobody really knows why Parmesan was so significant in Pepys' day, just that it was. Experts have theorised that Parmesan may have been used as a generic seasoning in place of salt, and added to meals to make them taste, well, nicer.

Our Sammy wouldn't have been sprinkling it on Spag Bol or Risotto which were still centuries away from London's menus, but clearly it was one of the most valuable and treasured imports at the time (some say more expensive than gold).

You can imagine the men of the late Renaissance tucking into big hunks of meat with some gently melting Parmesan on top, giving the flavour an umami boost. I'd hazard that they also whacked a bit in when making soups and stews.

Improved import channels with Parma mean that it's not so expensive these days and possibly not worth burying in the event of fire, but it's remarkable how Parmesan has stood the test of time.

We're still finding new things to sprinkle it on to make them taste even better - and here's a brand new recipe that does just that.

Anchovy-fried crostini

This is an extremely rich, buttery recipe that works best as a canape or amuse bouche.

Ingredients - makes 8:

Fresh baguette, cut into eight slices, about a quarter of an inch thick
French butter, loads (use unsalted if you don't want it too salty)
Anchovy fillets, 8-10, chopped and drained
Watch them fish dissolve...

Parmesan shavings


Gently melt some, but not all of the butter on a low heat in a frying pan and, when it's melted, add the anchovy bits.

These should dissolve within a couple of minutes, and you'll have a purpley sludge in the pan.

Turn up the heat slightly and add the slices of bread, ensuring they all get coated with the anchovies. When the pan looks like drying out, add some more butter and continue to fry the bread. A couple of minutes on each side should do it.

You'll know it's done when the bread is starting to feel crispy, but not rigid. It will crisp up further when you take it out of the pan.

A few Parmesan shavings on top and you're ready to serve it immediately.

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