‘Sometimes I read a book with pleasure but detest the author”– Jonathan Swift

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s life spanned the final years of the sixteenth century and the dawning of the seventeenth. A vainglorious, amour propre painter and very much the prideful poster-boy of his day, Caravaggio was dead by the age of 39. He had a notoriously short fuse, often preferring brawls to conversations. Violent, abusive and unpredictable, he stabbed an opponent to death following an ill-tempered game of tennis, unwittingly setting an earlier sporting custom that later came to be channeled, albeit less terminally, by the young John McEnroe.

Wanted for assault and murder he fled from Rome, first to Naples then finally to Malta, constantly trying to ‘paint’ his way out of trouble under the protection of his wealthy Catholic sponsors, although as a result of his capricious behaviour, he regularly had his painting contracts revoked.

But when they saw the light of day, what sublime works they proved to be. In one of his most demanding commissions, David with the head of Goliath (1609) undertaken just prior to his death, the victor carries a sword with the abbreviated inscription humilitas occidit superbiam – humility kills pride.

Not sure as to whether humility was altogether commonplace within the post-renaissance Catholicism that dominated western Europe, so when such sentiment emanates from the brush of our bellicose Caravaggio, the irony doesn’t escape me.

But then great art, great poetry, great music, and even great craftsmanship (cooking, on occasions) are rarely created by celestial beings.

Speaking of creative beings, celestial or otherwise, when introducing chef-restaurateur Gordon Ramsey (who, as his own fame has grown also appears to have had his neighbourly disposition surgically removed), I’m not what you would call an unqualified devotee.

With front-of-house and kitchen bullying cut with language that would make a Naples matelot blush and a temper bordering on the operatic, his intimidating behavior and minatory career would land any other principal in front of an employment tribunal.

Nevertheless in spite of similarly capricious behaviour to our roving painter, Gordon always manages to get his contracts renewed.

With less and less connection to real life or lucid domestic cooking, he has nevertheless become a seemingly beatific figure across the globe. In my experience, vainglorious (amour propre) cooks rarely set a practical example to the home cook, and although I have a preference for those who provide simple, exciting food without the attendant gladiatorial behaviour and Hollywood yearnings, I have to concede that Ramsey’s restaurant cooking is regarded by many (including that well-known tyre manufacturer Michelin) as faultless. And whenever the showbiz requirement for his browbeaten kitchen brigade can be put to one side, a few of his more muted recipes can offer accessibility to the home cook.

“Plain old cooks (as opposed to so-called geniuses in fancy restaurants) tend to be friendly. After all, without one cook giving another cook a tip or two, human life might have died out a long time ago” – Laurie Colvin, Home Cooking (1988).

Here is a recipe whose flavours transcend histrionics, fully staffed kitchens and unrealistic budgets, clearly plagiarised from an earlier Eastern cuisine it nevertheless  serves as a perennial favourite with my daughter Charlotte.

Grilled Pineapple with Lime, Chilli and Rosemary Syrup

Sunday Times Magazine (2008) Gordon Ramsey

300g caster sugar
500ml water
1-2 limes, thinly sliced
1 large red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced
2 sprigs of rosemary, snapped into small pieces
1 small, ripe pineapple
Vanilla ice cream to serve

Put sugar into a medium saucepan with water and place over low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Increase heat and boil the syrup for 5 minutes
Add lime slices, chilli and rosemary, return to the boil and let bubble for a further 5 minutes
Prepare the pineapple by cutting off the base and top.
Slice away the skin and prise out any ‘eyes’
Cut into 6 even slices
Heat the griddle pan and add pineapple slices, pressing them gently on the grooves
After 2 minutes turn each slice 45 degrees to create a criss-cross pattern
Turn slices over and repeat on the other side
Remove from the pan and place in a wide dish
Pour syrup and all aromatics over the pineapple
Cool and chill for 4 hours
Serve with ice cream

Wine thoughts

With the acidity of pineapple, the citrus cut of lime and the heat of the chilli, this dessert would poleaxe most wines I know. Fortunately at least one hero springs to mind; an exemplary Late-harvest Riesling.

Although the grape variety is increasingly (and successfully) grown in some parts of the New World – Riesling’s customary stronghold is in Germany.

Demanding winters offer the icewine and late-harvested (vendange tardive) all the honeyed sugars of ripe grapes in tandem with a vibrant tension between the sweetness (matching the sugar content of this, dish blow by blow) and a scintillating, racy acidity that floods and cleanses the palate.

A limpid, complex intermingling of flavours with a harmonious lemon/lime finish, all the while retaining a heady bouquet of ginger, lychees and roses.

If you can’t lay your hands on a passing pineapple, make sure your dessert course at least provides you with a glass of Riesling once in a while. I won’t tell Gordon, lest he kicks off again.