The Obscurer

Month: March, 2010

On A Plate: Italy

Talking of which (not that I was) here is the latest tip from my irregular cookery series. And that tip is…use passata.
Once upon a time I decided to make a pasta Bolognese for tea – I’m a big fan of using cavatappi myself, having bored with spaghetti a while ago – but all of a sudden I realised we were without a ready-made pasta sauce in the cupboard. We’d often rely on a jar of something like Loyd Grossman’s Primavera or a Sacla Cherry Tomato and Basil sauce for ease of thing; many are nice although none are perfect, the main problem being that the kids baulk at the sight of any “lumps”, such as a miniscule sliver of onion or a tiny cube of tomato, and so we’d have to meticulously pick those bits out prior to serving. Such concerns are irrelevant, though, if you don’t have a jar in; so what to do? Fortunately, way at the back of the cupboard, sat a carton of passata that I’ll have bought in with the intention of making something a bit more adventurous sometime (I’ve got a great recipe for puttanesca somewhere). That’ll have to do, I thought, because I’d my heart set on Bolognese and red wine by now and I couldn’t be bothered popping out to the shops.

Passata on it’s own I knew would be pretty dull – it’s just sieved tomatoes at the end of the day – so first I fried a bit of garlic, dried basil and dried oregano in a little bit of olive oil; then I added the passata and stirred well. I warmed it through a bit, then gave it a little taste. It was still a tad bland, so I added a bit of salt. Tasting it again the flavour had certainly pepped up but now I thought it a little bitter, so I chucked is a sprinkling of sugar. That did the trick, and soon I was left with a simple pasta sauce as nice as any I’d tasted before.

The first and most obvious advantage I noticed in making your own sauce is that there are no bits in to annoy the kids – or to annoy me when having to pick them out – so long as you don’t stupidly add them in the first place. But I also realised that this must be pretty much all that pasta sauce manufacturers are doing; taking passata and adding stuff to it. The beauty of adding that stuff yourself, of course, is that now, rather than shopping around and trying to find a pasta sauce that is just to your liking, it is just as easy to buy passata and then customise your sauce however you like depending on your situation or mood; so, just garlic, oregano and basil if we’re eating with the kids, but, say, onions, capers and chillies too if it’s just me and the wife. And it is, of course, far cheaper to do yourself what you’d otherwise be paying Sig. Dolmio to do for you. So, now you know what to do, take this rotten old tree and make it bear fruit.

But a warning; this knowledge is dangerous. There is a lucrative pasta sauce industry out there, charging up to £2 for little more than 35p passata with bits. That’s quite a mark-up, their profit margins must be enormous, but can this last? I doubt it. It can’t be long before word spreads and it becomes common knowledge that what had looked at first glance to be the manufacturers “adding value” now seems to be little more than “adding oregano”. I fear we have an enormous, inflated and overheated “pomodoro bubble” here which is about to pop, splashing tomato sauce all over the tiling and hob. So I’m entrusting you to use this new information wisely and cautiously. Sell your shares in Ragu for sure, but allow this information to simmer out gradually, so there is just a gradual decline in the sales of those inefficient and overpriced pasta sauces rather than a sudden crash, giving the manufacturers enough time to find another way to rip us off. The last thing I want to see is a penniless and dejected Loyd Grossman, his pasta sauce business in tatters, begging to be let back on MasterChef; but as a contestant, imploring one and all that the only thing he’s ever wanted to do is to work in a kitchen.


Street Life

It could be said that criticising the media is like shooting fish in a barrel. True, and therefore it is the ideal sport to engage in when you want to dash off a quick blog post. So here it is.

Google Street View is a “service to burglars”

announces the Daily Telegraph. It concerns the fact that 95% of Britain’s roads are now covered by the Google Street View service, knowledge that immediately made me check whether our house is now featured; and I’m delighted to say that it is. But how can Street View be a burglar’s aid, I wondered? Burglary surely is an activity requiring the burglar to be in close proximity to your house at the time, typically after “casing” it from a number of different angles while standing immediately adjacent to your property. How can a 2D picture taken of your house an indeterminate time ago be of any assistance? Time to read further into the report.

Google Street View, which has now been expanded to cover more than 95 per cent of Britain’s roads, is being seen as a “service for burglars”, according to new research.

Hmm. I see what you did there. The words “service to burglars” in the headline were placed between speechmarks, so you think you can get away with it, but I’m not sure you can. I don’t think that the fact that research suggests that Street View “is being seen” as a service to burglars can justify a headline saying the Street View “is a” service to burglars, do you? And what of the evidence gleaned from this “research”?

The report, which was carried out by a discount website,, found that two-thirds of the people polled thought that Google Street View images were ‘intrusive’.

The company interviewed 1,317 people – 57 per cent of which described the street mapping service an ‘intrusion’ while 24 per cent said that they believed it was simply ‘a service for burglars’.

Right. So this isn’t so much “research” as “market research”; or rather, it’s a survey. Now, let’s put aside the fact that unless they asked two separate questions on whether the interviewees found Street View both “intrusive” and an “intrusion” (and I doubt it) then the Telegraph thinks it’s reasonable to equate “57 per cent” with “two-thirds”. Instead let’s focus on the statistic – if that doesn’t debase the term – that informs the headline: the fact that 24% believe Street View is “simply ‘a service for burglars’.” In other words, the only thing that even attempts to justify the statement in the headline is the fact that just under a quarter of the people surveyed agree with a statement as put to them by the survey team. Presumably, then, any question that a researcher deems to ask, and which anyone feels they can agree with, can be portrayed in a Telegraph headline as a fact that researchers have unearthed. Amazing.

But perhaps I’m being unkind? Perhaps there is something, somewhere in this sad article that can support the assertion that Google Street View is a service for burglars? What do the police have to say on the matter?

Thames Valley Police told The Telegraph there was no evidence to suggest that the service caused an increase in burglaries.

Well what would they know? I’d rather go with the opinions of a quarter of the people who were asked to agree or disagree with a statement when they were stopped in a shopping precinct as they were racing to the butty shop in their lunch hour and no they couldn’t really stop but will it be quick oh alright then. Any day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you our best-selling quality daily.

Update: The Telegraph has now updated its headline to a more anodyne “Google Street View: survey raises privacy concerns”, which is more accurate, especially seeing as the survey literally did raise those concerns by asking the questions in the first place. The rest of the article remains intact, to the best of my knowledge.