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eat the cup 2014, part five :: i wanna eat like common people

i have a very complicated relationship with uruguayan striker luis suarez. he doesn't know anything about it, of course, but there have been years of conflicted emotion, frustrated thumping of furniture, raised voices and trust issues between us. it goes back to the 2010 world cup, when suarez got himself red-carded and ruined the best game in the entire tournament in order to prevent ghana from scoring, thus ensuring his team won. it was a terrible, unsportsmanlike thing to do, all the worse because it worked.

then, of course, there was his time in the premier league, when he exhibited a diva-like attitude towards his liverpool teammates while consistently failing to live up to his much-discussed potential. to top that off, he was suspended for spewing racist taunts at another player and, when he returned and faced the same team again, refused to shake the outstretched hand of the man he'd abused at the beginning of the match. i hated luis suarez.

then a friend of mine tweeted this ad that he appeared in :



i was at a bus stop when i saw this and probably scared the people around me when i cracked up laughing out of nowhere. there is something very winning about a man with a big ego who can still laugh at himself.

then, all of a sudden, he seemed to calm himself down. maybe it was his steely-eyed new manager, brendan rogers. maybe it was the realities of life as a father. maybe it was that he was getting sick of being suspended all the time. he marched himself onto the field and showed that he absolutely deserved his hype. but besides that, he also became much more of a team guy. he passed the ball. he set up other people for shots. he was deferential to his team captain. he even joined in an online campaign to stop racism. although he still didn't admit to his own wrongdoing in that regard, it's reassuring to know that the man realises that such behaviour is unacceptable.

with all that, it was really difficult not to like luis suarez.

so when i heard that suarez had recovered from knee surgery sufficiently to play against england in the second match of the world cup this year, i was uneasy. was it going to be the new suarez, or the one from the last world cup who was not above some really dirty tricks?

as it turned out, suarez didn't need any dirty tricks. england didn't play badly, but he still managed to defeat them more or less single-handedly, outwitting several people from his own team, who know his game better than anyone and proving that he is, without a doubt, the real deal. to top it off, he became emotional to the point of tears after his second goal, which was touching. then he went over and hugged his premier league team captain steven gerrard, because even though it was possibly the greatest day of his life, he didn't want his friends to feel badly.

so for this latest instalment of "eat the cup", i wanted to show my appreciation for uruguay and their star player, because despite his rocky road to this point, i couldn't hate him even as he eliminated my team from the tournament. [note :: i'm still bitter against a certain portuguese player for eliminating england back in 2006.]

as a different sort of approach, since the victory was such a one-man effort, i thought of preparing a meal of luis suarez' favourite foods.

or maybe not
cooking uruguayan food, i discovered, is more difficult than you might think. well, the actual preparation of it isn't difficult at all, it's just that uruguay is influenced so much by other cultures- european and south american- that it's difficult to pinpoint something that makes it distinct. in fact, many of the most popular dishes are typically italian- pastas and pizza. argentinian-style barbeque and yerba maté are common as well, but it's hard to put your finger on what's particular to uruguay.

the problem may be deeper than we thought
then i found out that one thing that is apparently common in uruguay is the eating of gnocchi towards the end of the month, when the lower classes would typically find themselves short on cash. gnocchi have always been cheap and, of course, hearty, which makes them a wise choice for a family looking to stretch its budget.

but in keeping with the theme of eat the cup thus far, i didn't just want to have a dish from one country. and besides, the tournament has seen one big winner who i've thus far failed to honour.

le hint, le hint
i don't know how, but i swear that every tournament, france manages to do something to make me love them a little. i never start off cheering for them, but then i see them in action and there is just something that wins me over. i can even be against them and by the end of the same match, i'm cheering them along, with no idea how i got from a to b. they're putting thoughts in my brain, i believe.

along the theme of foods for the poor, i thought of one of the items most associated with french cuisine: escargots. yes, snails are basically garden slugs with shells. yes, they feel kind of gushy and horrifying when you touch them. but they're so tasty that you are able to put those thoughts out of your mind. no wonder the monied classes co-opted these succulent little buggers.

escargots don't have a tonne of flavour on their own. they're kind of like bland organ meat in both taste and texture, which is why they are typically prepared with other ingredients, notably butter and garlic. that's another way in which they are undeniably french: they're a food that can stand up to the amount of garlic generally used in french cuisine. and there is nothing at all wrong with that.

dom even wore a shirt in suarez' honour
so for my "common people" dish, i used:

about 400g fresh gnocchi
2 tins of escargots [get the french ones if possible, without any added salt. you can add salt yourself]
2-3 tbsps butter
1 shot of brandy [you can substitute another strong brown liquor if you'd like]
1 cup heavy cream [if you'd like to do a lighter version, combine half a cup of regular milk with half a cup of low-fat yogurt]
2 shallots
4-5 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
medium sized bunch of italian flat-leaf parsley

boil water in a large pot and cook the gnocchi. check on it periodically to make sure it isn't becoming too soft. if it seems done before the sauce, turn off the heat, drain it rinse it lightly with cold water [make sure to strain all the water out!!!!!!!] and return it to the pot.

in a deep, wide pan [i used a frying pan. there are no rules.], melt the butter over low-medium heat. add the shallots and garlic and cook until the shallots are very soft. keep the heat on the low side or else the garlic will burn, which is gross. if the garlic burns accidentally, start over. this isn't a dish where the garlic flavour is going to be masked by anything else.

add the snails and continue to cook a few minutes longer. then add the brandy. let it cook until reduced by about half, always keeping an eye out to make sure the garlic isn't burning. once again, err on the side of low heat. add the cream [or milk and yogurt] and stir to incorporate. if the cream starts to separate, remove the pan from the heat temporarily, keep stirring and return to the burner at a lower heat. allow everything to reduce by a third to half. don't worry if the sauce doesn't look thick enough. we're about to take care of that.

if you haven't had to drain and rinse the gnocchi thus far, do so. then add the sauce to the gnocchi. you can do this over low heat, or over a burner that's just been turned off. stir everything together for a few minutes. the gnocchi will start to absorb some of the liquid and the extra starch will thicken what isn't absorbed.

during this process, you can chop about half the parsley and mix it in. reserve the remainder to use as a garnish.

when the sauce and pasta are well mixed, you're ready to serve. top with parsley and freshly ground pepper.

this is an exceptionally hearty meal, so you don't need servings as large as you would from regular pasta, or else you won't have room for...

man candy of the match

ok, this one is wicked obvious, but sometimes a person is so obviously beautiful that you just can't ignore them. let's all take a moment to appreciate the beauty of french striker olivier giroud:

here he is being stylish and french-y
here he is showing off his famously floppy haircut
here he is being goofy, which is always sexy
here he is being mostly naked, which is also sexy
here he is saying that he sees no difference between hetero- and homosexuals, so EQUAL OPPORTUNITY OGLING!!
here he is hoisting diminutive teammate mathieu valbuena on his back, which most people agree has been the most adorable moment of the world cup so far
and here he is looking all come-hither in bed...
only the unmentionable portuguese captain has graced as many lists of "hottest players at the world cup", but come on... chiseled features, big blue eyes, the combination of french stylishness with a propensity for taking his clothes off [something which got him in a spot of trouble with the media and his wife earlier in the year], his sweet habit of pulling funny faces and boyishly carousing with his team... these are the essentials of man candy-ness. allez, les bleus indeed. but afterward, venez chez moi.

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