'This expression, which began as a translation of a term used by the French essayist Michel de Montaigne in 1580, alludes to gambling by candlelight, which involved the expense of illumination. If the winnings were not sufficient, they did not warrant the expense. Used figuratively, it was a proverb within a century.'So it's an old one but still applicable today, 9th March 2009, though the activity wasn't gaming and our household can, even now, run to a few watts of candle power.
My supper was being cooked for me - always a treat - and under normal circumstances means I can finish the crossword or watch for pictures in the flickering flames of the fire...glass of wine and salty pretzel to hand. Bliss.
'Ravioli di coda di manzo' was on the menu - taken from Giorgio Locatelli's weighty tome 'Made in Italy'. Are you familiar with Mr Locatelli? - He has a restaurant and had a TV programme a few years ago. I don't recall much of the cooking on this but do recall a lean, effusive Italian with a mane of long dark hair which was flicked a little too often over the food. Call me old fashioned but hair and food I do like kept separate.
Anyway: 'Ravioli di coda di manzo.' Alarm bells should have started ringing a little earlier - who in their right mind wants to cook and process oxtail, make pasta and then stuff resultant oxtail paste into pasta to be served with the broth-like sauce of the cooking liquor? (I know who, though I did volunteer to make the pasta which I suppose might be construed as encouragement so I must shoulder part of the blame.) It's a job for restaurants with their hierarchy of chefs and potwashers.
It's hard to relax when after about 4 hours of preparation things start to hot up. My chef cries for 'More pans! More bowls!' 'But there are no more darling,' I reply 'You have used them all.'
And indeed every pan in the house, including one which rarely sees the light of day, have been pressed into use. A mountain of bowls, colanders, spoons, knives and sieves are piled in the sink and most surfaces have acquired a thin film of orange-tinged fat. I feel loathe to interfere but this greasy disorder makes me a little twitchy. I fill the dishwasher, roll up my sleeves and draw a bowl of hot detergenty water to deal with everything else. In the background I hear that even the food processor has been pressed into use thus ensuring that yet another square metre of kitchen will need a Good Wipe Down.
Fortunately it didn't take long at all to restore order. Rolling out the pasta - a satisfying job - took moments and neat spoonfuls of the oxtail mix could be laid out on one strip before being covered with another and cut out to form sweet little round cushions.
The sweet little round cushions were duly cooked and placed in their bath of broth to be served with plain green beans. They were delicious.
The process has taken a little short of 5½ hours and an inordinate amount of time, expense and effort. Was it worth it? Was the game worth the candle?