Simon Mayo Radio 2

No-frills food chat from a thoroughly decent bloke.

Lawrence Dallaglio's interview on Simon Mayo Drivetime (16 May, 5pm) - promoting his book of Italian home cooking recipes - was a masterclass in straightforward, decent blokeness. Dallaglio's signature dish is a no-frills spag bol ("Not many people would say they don't like that. Other than vegetarians, clearly"). He had few shockers up his sleeve ("Sunday roast is typically English") and sympathises with those who fear the unknown ("Balsamic vinegar is something quite exciting").

Why a cookery book? asked Simon. "We have to eat," reasoned Lawrence. "We spend a lot of time eating." Beyond a frozen pea risotto ("Fresh peas would be even better"), he was puzzlingly hard to draw out on actual dishes and recipes - he did mention minestrone soup - but was funny when recalling Berlusconi once phoning him and inviting him to play for Milan. "Berlusconi," says Mayo slyly, enjoying the word, as though it were flavoured with salt and onion. "Whatever happened to him?"

“God knows," says Lawrence, fast and deadpan. "Throws the odd party, apparently."

The first in a new series of the brilliant Ramblings (21 May, 6.05am, Radio 2) - Clare Balding with a microphone stuck on her fleece accompanying walkers - was recorded in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, among a dozen local people fond of its native Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath, long buried there. Balding is exceptionally good at plainly describing a scene: "We're just sheltering slightly by the beech trees on our left, and looking through them we can just see bluebells shining brightly." Or "There's a great contrast through all of these trunks to up on the wide expanses here, where all I can feel is sky." It sounds obvious, but it's a rare skill.

For a while everyone walked, buffeted by mad winds, stopping to observe some hairy wood ants ("They're probably looking for stuff") or to wait if someone fell over ("ooh - ow"). While most chattered in the background, others spoke intimately about Hughes and Plath, sadly, amazedly, kindly, giving the half-hour the feel of a long walk. He knows/The day has passed/For reunion with ancestors . . . /As the fragments/Of the broken circle of the hill/Drift apart. ("I don't really think it was the place for a beautiful American in her twenties.") l

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Hands up who knows how to fix our schools

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The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis