The reality of shopping local…

…or The day Crystal Palace ran out of flat leaf parsley.

Any food pundit worth their hand drawn Maldon sea salt will bang on about shopping local these days, local this, local that, have your fishmonger do this, any good butcher will do that. But just how practical is it on a day to day basis? Are there even any local shops left? What follows is how shopping local can so easily turn into something resembling the final drugs run-around scene from Goodfellas. Tell me if your life is anything like this…?

It’s a Monday evening and I get in the door at 6:50pm from work having left work at 6:10pm, (that’s a better commute that most Londoners I’ll wager) There’s some leftovers in the fridge but tonight I really fancy linguini with clams. Mmmm.

Now the way I make linguini with clams there’s only a eight ingredients. Clams, linguini, handful of cherry tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, white wine, bit of lemon zest and juice. I’ve got the tomatoes, onion, garlic and lemon, and I thought I had some parsley, but can’t find it. So I need clams, parsley, some more linguini (I didn’t really have enough for a nice large portion) and some white wine. I also want to go for a quick run round the park because as any fitness pundit worth their hand washed jock strap will tell you, regular exercise is good for you.

I live in Crystal Palace, South East London. It’s the Hampstead of the south apparently (shudder). It’s no Ludlow, but we’ve have a nice balance of local shops that I try to support as well as one medium sized supermarket that I also frequent.

So, first off, I need the clams. Being vaguely exotic (ie not sausage) the local Sainsbury’s doesn’t sell them – obviously. But no drama, there’s Chave do Douro, a Portuguese café shop about a mile up Church road that does. It’s nearly 7pm now, I could get my running gear on and jog up there, buy the clams and pasta, and then pop in to the offy on the way back for the wine.

But what if I run up there and they’re closed? No clams, no dish. Sod it, clams are the most important thing, I’ll drive up there and get them. Bad and lazy and don’t tell the Mayor, but needs must. So up I race, park up, they’re still open so I nip in and bag me a bag of frozen white Vietnamese white clams that looked like this, they don’t sell linguini though. There’s an off license near there, but the selection is poor and the cost rather high. Besides, it’s now 7:15 and I’m in a hurry to get back to the flat, get changed and go for a run.

I figure I can get the linguini and parsley from either Sergio’s, CP’s independent deli which is open late, or the Budgens, or at a push the Sainsbury’s. The wine I can pick up from Thresher on the way back home too. I take a small ruck sack with me on my jog round CP’s park and by the time I finish it’s 7:45, and bloody Sergio’s is closed! Ah well, I’ll go to Budgens I think, but alas no fresh parsley only gunk in tubes and six types of spaghetti, which I think is a poor choice compared to the fat tasty ribbon that is linguini. In a vain last effort I head into the Indian food and wine shop, which might just might have some parsley, but they just have dying corriander.

All local options exhusted I’m left with Sainsbury’s, to which I forlornly walk. And guess what? No parsley. Sighing with defeat I opt for curly and bag me a bottle of Pino Grigio and some linguini. It’s now 8pm and I’ve been in six different shops, still when I get home I find the flat leaf at the back of the fridge!

Are your evenings anything like that? I really try and support local businesses in CP as they’re the heart of the town. But it’s hard balancing it around everything else, and I get home in a fairly reasonable time. If I were getting home after 8pm my only option would be Sainsbury’s, Budgen’s or Costcutter. And there’s not a lot of fresh choice in the later.

I think a lot of businesses could benefit from slightly later opening hours, or even a late night once a week. Thursday used to be the traditional late night shopping day. In the big cities and the districts that surround them there’s more of a late night culture. We’re eating later, because we’re commuting more and working longer. Perhaps we’re very slowly (and maybe this is because it’s summer) moving towards a continental attitude? Even the Haywood Gallery is open till 10pm. Shops that open 9-6 are excluding customers who work, and because they work they often have high cash levels and low ‘doing’ thresholds, which is why they’ll probably either east rubbish, eat out or get a takeaway.

Anyway, here’s my recipe for Linguini with clams.

i love clams - 7

Get your ingredients ready. Wash toms, parsley and lemon and boil the kettle for the pasta water – this saves time. Finely chop the onion and garlic. Get your clams out of the bag and rinse as well.

fry onion, garlic in glug of oil and small knob of butter. I just squash flat the cherry toms and squeeze out most of the seeds, they’ll mush down during cooking anyway, but if you want you can cut them in half and scoop out the seas with a tea spoon (bit more effort mind) Add them to the pan.

i love clams - 6

It’s worth talking a little about pans here. You want something that will hold all the clams and that has a lid, so a shallow frying pan might not be the best. I’ve a deep sided sauté pan which is great for this job.

i love clams - 5

Open the wine (slurp) and chop your parsley into as near as a chiffonade as you can be bothered to do. Zest the lemon then halve it.

Pasta on. Should take about 10 mins to cook, plus 30 seconds to cool. I’m a right arse about how I like my pasta done. This is a good guide on how to cook it properly.

By now the onion and garlic should have cooked. Lob in the clams in one quick go. Let them sizzle a second or two with the lid off to boil off any of the washing water, then add a good glug – say a large glass – of the white wine and a squeeze of the lemon halves and put the lid on. Leave for 5 or 6 minutes, then shake the pan (with the lid still on)

i love clams - 4

Drain pasta. Put the clams in the large pan the pasta was cooked in as it’s bigger, add a little of the pasta to the now empty frying pan to ensure you collect every last drop of clamey goodness, before putting all the linguini in the large pan with the clams and moving around with tongs to ensure it’s all mixed up.

i love clams - 2

Serve and eat.

i love clams - 1

Most (Mainly US) recipes call for removing the clam meat from the shells, or using cans of clams. I should think they’ll be even harder to find than fresh-frozen ones. personally I love sucking the shells clean!

Enjoy!

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
August 2007
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