Robyn on the horn, via KEXP
Food isn’t just important for growing healthy teeth, bones, skin, and hair. Where would the Robyn Hitchcock songbook be without food? I’ll tell you where: in the slender-volume, shallow-shelved monograph store, filed under “S” for “short,” that’s where. Every Hitchcock record feeds on food. Whether Robyn’s singing about the demonic scrambled egg in “The Devils Coachman,” the cat hoist with her own petard in “Eaten by Her Own Dinner,” or the meat in “Meat,” you can be sure he’s fattened his farm-to-table verses and choruses on a steady diet of chow.
That is to say: Because Hitchcock knows from eats, readers who observe a strict food diet will want to try this, his all-purpose meal. Ten years ago, Hitchcock gave his recipe for Food Pie to Cooking with Rock Stars, most of whose other guests were too “indie”—in the newfangled genre sense, of course, not the old-fashioned means of production sense—for my taste. From my point of view, these were Emerils of the recording studio, who salted their soggy dishes with tears and larded them with feelings. By contrast, Robyn’s notes leapt off the platter, clean, fresh and flavorful as salade niçoise.
In the words of the Poet, “If food be the food of music, play on.” Do yourself a flavor and have a heaping helping of Food Pie.
Take a deep breath and clear your cooking area. Choose what kind of music or silence you want to listen to. Brian Eno’s Music For Fungus would be great. Range up your ingredients so you can access them when the moment comes and not be rummaging through the cupboard in a shower of weevils while your kitchen ignites. My Food Pie features:
Olive Oil – Onions – garlic – potatoes – lentils – a bay leaf or two – vegetable stock/yeast extract – parmesan cheese – peppers – celery (very optional) – peas (if you got time) – tomatoes – fresh button mushrooms (optional) – eggplant – broccoli and beyond. Wash everything unless you like guest bugs in your pie.
If you can enjoy turnips, parsnips and swedes, that trio of low-life root vegetables, then add them to the mix.
If you are a fishaterian, include tuna and anchovies.
Drop the needle on your LP of choice, take another deep breath and start.
Take a bulb of fresh garlic and chop three or four cloves from it, finely. Mix those choppings in with one onion that you slice into atoms.
Heat up a saucepan with a little olive oil in it and tip in the garlic and onions.
Wash some lentils and keep them brooding nearby. Similarly wash a few potatoes (all quantities depend on how many you’re cooking for, dude) and quarter them to speed their boiling, which is what you do to them next. They are headed for mashville.
After initial heat, let the garlic and onions soften in the olive oil. Try not to burn them savagely.
Add the bay leaf, a teaspoon of Marmite or other yeast extract, and heat up some vegetable stock. Now is the time for anchovies. Then add the vegetable parade of your taste: mushrooms, tomato, eggplant and so on, all chopped but not beyond recognition.
Food Pie works best if the ingredients can still be distinguished when it’s served up, rather than being cooked into an unrecognizeable slop. Your digestive system does that for you later.
On another hob, cook the lentils.
Flip the disc. Side 2 of Music For Fungus is just dandy. If you are adding tuna, open the tin now and keep it away from the cat. Wave some celery at the cat to confuse it, and then give it a little tuna on a fork in another room if you feel guilty about confusing it. Add the rest to the lentils.
Prod the potatoes with a fork – pretend they are the souls of the damned, and you are God. Or the Devil. Whoever it is that wields the fork, anyhow. You get the same justice from both of them, which is why so many subscribers are moving to Buddha. Why should people suffer more than they have already? And why should potatoes be overcooked? Once they are yielding to the soft plunge of your fork, drain away the water (it makes good stock for soup or gravy) and leave the potatoes off the boil (i.e, don’t put the saucepan back on the hot hob).
Turn on the oven, by whatever means necessary. Not as hot as the Devil might like it.
By now you should have a brew of vegetables crackling in an aromatic frenzy before you. If you can multi-task, add butter or milk to the cooling potatoes and mash them. It is possible to out-source some of the vegetables – peas, or broccoli, for example – and boil them at the last minute in another pan, so you can serve them outside of the Pie.
Now tip the pans of vegetables, lentils, and possibly fish into a sarcophagus-shaped dish known to the 20th century as a casserole. Level them out and pave them over with mashed potato. Grate parmesan over the potato, and insert the casserole into the Devil-lite oven.
By now side 2 is over, and you will need silence to concentrate on serving up the pie with ketchup, horseradish, mustard and other agents. Bake the pie till the wind starts howling and the demons thrash against the oven door; wait above all for the moon to swim with her wan face against the cobwebbed window. And check that the cheese is melting nicely into the browning potato before you serve the pie. Keep plenty of water and juice on hand: this is a savoury dish.
Robyn Hitchcock is currently touring the US with the Psychedelic Furs. Below, he discusses Food Pie in the first part of his appearance on Cooking with Rock Stars, filmed at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge, Massachusetts in March 2007.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Robyn Hitchcock remembers Brian Eno’s 1967 art school ‘happenings’