There is something understandably squeamish about being confronted with a plate of raw.
The very act of facing something raw somehow makes us feel awfully close to the animal from whence the beast came, almost cannibalistic, so primitive. Eating raw is the last bastion of civilized eating, the last wall to break down.
Blood oozing from crude slabs of beef before being tamed; fish eyeing you accusingly or, quite possibly worse, staring uncomfortably off into the distance as if unsure of just where to look, eyes glazed over in boredom, glance averted. Biding its time, waiting for the knife. The empty, soulless eyes of that rabbit, pink skin stretched taut over bones, cleaver poised in midair.
Viscous, slovenly squid splattered across the fishmonger’s stall, slithering along the stainless steel of the sink, squelching between fingers, slipping out of one’s grasp.
Violent, barbaric, heathen.
Man created fire for heat. And to cook. Raw.
Uncooked. Unrefined. Painfully open, painfully, unnaturally exposed. Crude. Uncultivated. Rough. Vulgar. Tempers, language, atmosphere. A wound.
In one’s natural state.
Raw onions. Tears.
Raw tomatoes. Blushingly sweet.
Raw humor. Hands pressed over mouths, mirthful chuckles escaping between fingers, cheeks flaming red.
Raw deal. Ouch, never again.
Raw fruit. Peaches bronzed by the sun, nectarines kissed to red, cherries the intensity of blood and apricots blushing the color of bridesmaids’ gowns. Raw.
Oysters, at first glance, are nasty little creatures, slimy, sluggish, glistening in a menacing, sloppy way. Gray outlined in dirty black, bits of grime or shell stuck inelegantly perchance, the color of the brackish depths from which they come, reminiscent of some creature from the Black Lagoon making its appearance in the dusky haze. Poked with the tines of a fork, the brute shrinks its ruffled skirt, recoils in astonishment. Alive. Scrape it noisily from the shell, the beast clinging energetically by its stump of a foot, yank it up and it hangs limply, drapes itself unappetizingly over the sides of the utensil. Aim the fork towards your mouth…don’t think…catch the briny scent of ocean, so many memories of a childhood spent on the beach come flooding back. Place the oyster in your mouth, on your tongue, quickly all at once, lips pulling it off from the fork. Swallow quickly and think of England. Nutty, buttery, sharp. A hint of something peppery, something sweet. A sip of chilled, spicy Muscadet, a bite of dense country loaf (a whiff of yeasty tang) slathered with salty butter. And we are ready to start all over again.
As speechless as she found herself, she managed to spit out a terrified “No, no, I can’t eat raw meat!” We had fallen in love with carpaccio during our long stay in Italy: thin, moist slices of beef covered with slender wedges of tender, violet artichokes and slivers of nutty Parmesan cheese, drizzled with peppery olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. A true delicacy. And, yes, eaten raw. Needless to say, not only did my American friend not partake of the carpaccio, I don’t even think she joined us at the table while we were dining.
An English friend visits and we invite her out to dine. Thick cubes of freshly hand-cut raw beef, buttery soft and smooth, smothered in a creamy sauce, tangy with mustard and capers, the bite of diced onion and the heat of Tabasco adding to the excitement of this traditional French bistro fare. As my husband and I place our order, she hesitates, a slight bit afraid, but intrigued all the same. Her eyes slide from the menu and take in the dining room as if looking for an answer to her unspoken question. One finger silently taps her bottom lip nervously then glides down the list of dishes offered. Finally she orders the same, the steak tartare, and snaps shut the menu, a wan smile hovering on her lips. When it arrives, accompanied, of course, by sizzling, golden fried potato wedges dusted with fleur de sel and minced herbs, and a cool, tart salad, she pokes a slice of beef with the tines of her fork and scrutinizes it as she takes a deep breath. She scoops up a chunk of the raw meat from the glistening tartare onto her fork, studies it for a while and then bravely slides it into her mouth.
Emotions raw, bitter like death, biting, like standing naked in the snow. A heart unclothed, the tears spill and I weep.
A scorching blaze does not protect from the rawness of the weather. Severe, cruel, tearing at the flesh of our exposed cheeks, chafed and raw.
My fingers slide over the raw wood, rough, inelegant wood. Harsh against my skin, now rubbed raw from the contact, yet I continue to stroke the surface as one would finger a lucky fetish. I push harder against the wood, as raw as bark, a sort of punishment, wanting to feel.
Jokes, one after the other spattering like gunfire, base laughter, filthy jokes, raw language, crude and nasty meant to embarrass.
I watched the images flash across the screen, raw home movies, scratchy footage. There he was, jumping, dashing across the beach, across the screen, as naked as the day he was born, in the raw.
I have always been dazzled by the smell, the unexpected fragrance, if ever so imperceptible, of raw foods. Butter, eggplant sliced lengthwise baring the creamy white flesh, a crisp, chilled cucumber emitting waves of coolness and pale green. A jarful of eggs, cracked, spilling out into glass through cupped hands, slightly splayed fingers. A wedge of raw pumpkin or squash, hefty, weighty, imposing. A rugged, gnarly, rustic exterior protecting a delicate, sweet meat the color of Halloween, the color of glowing embers, the color of the sky as the sun sinks into the horizon. A sliver of red pepper. Seemingly no scent at all in their rawness. Yet (breath deeply) it is there.
ILVA'S MACEDONIA WITH STONE FRUITS AND LIMONCELLO
Macedonia, or fruit salad, is often found on Italian lunch or dinner tables all summer long. It is a simple and refreshing way to end a meal and the choice of fruits seems unlimited when you walk through a market. I love to make fruit salads with stone fruits because the flavours are different yet complimentary. Stone fruits go so well with spirits like Limoncello, a lemon liqueur from the Amalfi Coast, famous for the best lemons in Italy as well as for its beautiful views.
4 tbsp Limoncello
8-10 tbsp honey, preferably aciacia honey but any runny honey goes
Cut the fruits into small pieces and put them into a bowl. Mix limoncello and honey and pour it over the fruit, add some shredded mint leaves, stir and leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes before serving