I work for a company now owned by an American private equity firm. For those who aren’t familiar with companies like this, they are essentially a giant pot of money, buying and selling businesses in order to increase the size of the pot. They will often buy a business which is labouring, perhaps because the management have been unable to direct the business quickly enough in a changing market, and often because that market is less forgiving of large labour forces. They will then aggressively correct the proportions of the company, seek to swing its direction from decline back to growth, and sell it at a healthy profit. Economically sound, but not particularly pleasant, as inevitably significant numbers of people find themselves actively seeking employment as a result.
My company was bought by its current owners from one of the world’s largest companies, who decided that our marketplace was no longer one they wanted to play in. Being part of a huge company like that is a bit like being in a large family; there is comfort in knowing that if you make a mistake, mum, dad and perhaps some older, more successful siblings are there to bail you out. So when you leave home and get a job and maybe a house of your own, life suddenly becomes much less comfortable. Yes, you have more freedom and flexibility; but equally there is much less slack in the system, and you have to make do with fewer mod cons than you were probably used to. The analogy normally breaks down at this point as few parents will ever truly cut their offspring out of their lives completely; but in this case, the major conglomerate we left still own a big part of the business, and are, like parents, still there if we need them (this theory is yet to be tested by the way!).
Although we did lose many of those mod cons, the most important ones are retained simply because they are really necessary rather than just nice to have. One of the benefits we’ve managed to keep so far has been the ability to have regular health checks with our occupational health nurse; a 45 minute break from work to have a pleasant chat punctuated by various measurements and admonitions about your eating habits. I had one such yesterday; I am happy to report that I am far healthier than I actually feel, with my only tutting moments coming when my sleep patterns were assessed (apparently the fast lane of the motorway is not an appropriate place to catch up on a few winks). I have lost nearly a stone since my last checkup 18 months ago; my cholesterol was too low to measure accurately; my blood pressure and BMI are normal, my drinking habits not of concern (but then I am not an alcoholic) and my vision perfect. I virtually skipped out of the sick bay.
One thing which did prompt some discussion was the section on my preparatory questionnaire where I owned up to how often I was eating different sorts of food. For obvious reasons my meat intake is pretty low, but in compensating for this I am eating rather too much cheese. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the breadth of my cheese taste has expanded markedly in the last couple of years, since my wife returned to vegetarianism. I didn’t have a great start in life with cheese; for most of my first 18 years, the most exciting I had was mild cheddar and occasional red Leicester. So strong cheeses like Stilton and most goats cheeses I have had to spend many years working up to. But even now it’s not regular that I’ll actually have a chunk of cheese, on crackers or even in a sandwich; most of my cheese usage is in my cooking, adding richness, salt content and fat in a role normally played by meat. Every risotto I make is packed with at least Parmesan (and often additional cheeses such as Blacksticks Blue or ricotta); pesto (and therefore Parmesan again) is a weekly feature or our menu; our pasta dishes often contain cheese sauces; we have tortillas with roasted peppers, rocket and grilled halloumi; even one of our curries contains the squeaky Indian cheese, paneer.
Although I don’t regularly eat cheese just as it is, I am becoming more and more prone to opting for a cheese board instead of dessert when eating out, and I do like to have occasional cheese binges at home. I like to have a selection of differing cheeses if I do this; a nice ripe Brie, a nutty hard Comte, a smelly soft Port Salut, a good mature Cheddar, something spicy like Y Fenni, and a strong creamy blue cheese like a Stitchelton (essentially Stilton but it can’t be so called apparently because it’s unpasteurised).
So on average I’m eating cheese almost every day. Surely not healthy, you might feel justified in venturing; but I’m a perfect physical specimen, according to a bona fide health professional, so I’m sticking with it.
Spinach & ricotta Cannelloni (serves 2)
Two different cheeses in this. Bit of a faff to be honest and we don’t make it very often, but if you can get the seasoning right it’s delicious.
- 6 mini lasagne sheets (or two large), soak if using dried pasta
- 250g ricotta
- 500g young leaf spinach
- 50g pine nuts, toasted
- salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 100g Parmesan, grated
- 2 tablespoons of plain flour
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- a cup of milk
Make a white sauce with the flour, butter and milk.
Blanch the spinach in boiling water for 2 minutes (probably need to do in two batches). Squeeze out as much liquid as humanly possible and place in a bowl with the ricotta, pine nuts and seasoning to taste. Mix thoroughly. Lay out the pasta and deposit a suitably-sized dollop of the ricotta mix on each, wrapping the pasta around the dollop to form a tube.
Place pasta tubes onto a lightly greased baking tin and pour over the white sauce. Top with the parmesan and put in the oven at 200C for about 20 minutes, until there’s a nice browning of the cheese.