Category Archives: Pasta

Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals

On my birthday last month, I drove purposefully to Sabato. One has to be strong (as I learned) to shop there with self-control! On this particular day, full from brunch with friends, I thought I might manage …

When I got there I was greeted with a smiling face, pleasantly-stocked shelves, a table with various oils and vinegars to taste. I took my time, dipping cubes of bread into oils and vinegars, gazing at cheese and chocolate. It was difficult to maintain my resolve to pick up just dinner ingredients and a treat or two. In the end, I left a little guiltily with a brown paper bag filled to the brim with goodies.

After all of that, I didn’t enjoy our dinner that night that much, though J complimented me very kindly on it.

But this dish, made a few nights later with one citrusy Sabato purchase, won both of us over.

    Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals 
    Ingredients:
    Olive oil
    Pasta spirals
    Fresh heirloom tomatoes – halved
    Garlic cloves, minced (we used 3 for 2 of us)
    Shoulder bacon, roughly diced (we used 100g)
    Sundried tomatoes, chopped
    Handful mushrooms, sliced
    Chilli flakes
    Ormond Rich Cream or white wine (optional)
    Mandarino* oil by Marina Colonna
    Salt
    Pepper
    Method:
    Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Salt it generously, then add in pasta spirals**. Ensure that the pasta is well covered with water. Cook till al dente, stirring every so often to prevent the pasta from sticking.
    While the pasta is cooking, place a skillet over moderately high heat and add in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is warm, fry the tomato halves until they smell sweet and begin to collapse, then remove and set aside.
    Add in a little more oil if the skillet is too dry. Throw in the chilli flakes, minced garlic and sun-dried tomatoes – sauté. Once you can smell the garlic, deglaze with a splash of Ormond Rich Cream (you can also use any white wine or water) and cook for a minute or two till it evaporates. If you add in too much liquid at this point, just take some of it out with a spoon and set aside.
    Add in the bacon, fry till they turn a rich pink and brown in bits. Add in the mushrooms. Add in excess liquid from above if any – or add another splash of cooking wine / water, as well as a tablespoon of water from the pasta pot. Stir and lower the heat. Add the cooked tomatoes back in.
    When the pasta is ready, drain it, shake off excess water and stir it into the ‘sauce’.
    Now for the finishing touch*. Drizzle on the Mandarino, and serve immediately. Add freshly ground salt and pepper as you wish.
    * In lieu of using Mandarino, perhaps you could leave it out / experiment with another infused oil, or perhaps with adding a pinch of sugar, some chopped preserved lemon or a squeeze of fresh orange juice?
    ** Depending on the cooking time of the pasta, you may wish to adjust the order of cooking so the pasta and bacon ‘sauce’ are ready at the same time.
    Measurements are not exact as I cooked this rather spontaneously (i.e. without measuring things) – this post is intended to serve as a guide / inspiration rather than a definite ‘how-to’. :-)
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Caramelised onions, rapid ragù and a diary you should buy

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.
~ Anne Lamott

Today has been one fantastic day.

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For a while now, I have felt a soul and body sensation somewhat akin to constant choking. There have been many moments where my mind kept saying “dooooon’t wooooorrryyy” or “sloooooow down!” while my body and heart fluttered with anxiety and insomnia.

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I really, really don’t want to see another night-to-day transition happen outside the window while the rest of New Zealand (except fellow insomniacs or night-shift workers) get to play in Dreamland.

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I guess the year’s been a little crazy. It’s been unspeakably wonderful in a thousand different ways, and it’s also driven me completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for seven months, and I’ve been in 12 cities in three countries this year. That’s not much for people on an OE or for people who love ongoing plan-less spontaneity, but I’m not either of those things.

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Right, first world problems.

Got it.

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They’re still a little tough :-o

(The First World Problem Lady Whines)

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Recently, in the midst of a dark passage of stress and insomnia, I came to a very important realisation. That now is the BEST time to learn contentment, resilience, calm and all those quality things.

Today, I woke up, peered into the mirror and said, “I like your life. I don’t want ANY OTHER.” After I said it, I was surprised to realise that I really meant it. I really wouldn’t want to be anyone else. I’m really happy being me, with my personality, strengths, flaws, relationships, circumstances and all.

And then a few really, really good things happened. I’m still smiling as I type this.

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One of those things is that I *finally* got my hands on a Kiwi Diary! My friend Cathy told me about them a few years ago, and for some reason they stayed elusive… until today! At Commonsense Organics they sat on the counter like they had been waiting for me all along (okay, slight exaggeration, but only a slight one)!

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It’s every bit as beautiful, compact and spacious as I wanted my 2013 diary to be. Don’t you want one too?

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Another good thing that happened today was that I felt in the mood to Cook Properly. Dinner was started and finished in an hour and turned out nicely, and my lovely flatmate Jono helped me to eat it AND booted me out of the kitchen afterwards to tackle the dishes :-)

Here’s the approximate recipe, if you’d like it. As always, I recommend cooking by sight, smell, taste and instinct.

    Pappardelle with rapid ragù and caramelised onions
    Ingredients:
    Caramelised onions:
    Olive oil
    2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
    pinch of cinnamon
    1 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    The rest of the dish:
    225g dried pappardelle (packet said 2 servings)
    1 tbsp butter
    3 cloves garlic
    450g mince
    1 sprig rosemary*
    1 sprig thyme*
    1 carrot, peeled and diced
    1 zucchini, diced
    400g canned diced tomatoes
    3 tbsp tomato paste or passata
    1/2 cup red wine
    Salt
    Black pepper
    3/4 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    Method:
    Over medium-high heat, glaze the bottom of a skillet with approximately 3 tbsp of olive oil. Once it’s warm, fling open the windows and throw in the onions. Cook for 15-20 minutes, adjusting the heat as required and stirring occasionally to avoid it burning. It should be smelling pretty great and turning slowly golden-brown. Add in a pinch of cinnamon, breathe in deeply. Stir well. After 5 minutes, add in the sugar and balsamic vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes till it’s all rich, brown and soft. Pour them into a bowl.
    Turn the heat up again. Reusing the skillet, melt the butter, then add in the garlic and mince. Stir well, and add in the herbs. When the mince is partially cooked, add in the carrot and zucchini, and cook till the mince is just cooked. Then pour in the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste, lower the heat and let it all simmer for around 20-30 minutes. More time won’t kill it – just make sure it’s simmering and not splattering. At some point, stir in half of the caramelised onions (refrigerate the rest for another meal!), sugar and salt and pepper to taste.
    10 minutes before the sauce is due to be ready, bring water in a deep saucepan to a rolling boil. Throw in some salt, then add in the pappardelle and cook according to packet instructions or till al dente.
    Dish it up – pappardelle on plate. Ragù on top. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3 servings.

* I just used these because they were leftovers I had in the freezer – feel free to substitute with fresh / dried herbs you have on hand.

Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables

She turned to the sunlight
   And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
   “Winter is dead.”
~ A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

One of the pleasures of living in Wellington: walking down to Harbourside Market on any Sunday morning and leaving with a bounty of goodness for a reasonable price. I also like the fact that the vegetables are likely to stay fresh for almost twice as long as their supermarket equivalents!

Last Sunday, I exchanged $9 for a bag of garlic, a bag of lemons, an aubergine, capsicums, zucchinis, and a generous selection of big and little tomatoes… I was a happy woman.

I cooked this mostly by sight, taste and feel, and the oven door opened and shut more than I usually allow for in one session of cooking, but hey – dinner got done, nicely, and that is what matters.

    Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables
    Ingredients:
    1 cup orzo
    ½ onion
    1 aubergine / eggplant (use your favourite vegetables – pumpkin could work well too?)
    1 zucchini
    1 capsicum
    6 or more small tomatoes
    4 sprigs asparagus
    1 tbsp demerara / brown sugar
    1 lemon
    Olive oil
    1 tbsp butter
    Salt
    Pepper
    Ground chilli
    Paprika
    Dried mint (or torn fresh mint, if you have it)
    Fresh herbs of your choice (optional)
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a flat baking tray with aluminium foil or baking paper, and lightly grease it.
    Peel and dice the onion, and set aside. Zest half a lemon, and set aside. Cut off the ends of the aubergine, then slice it into rings approximately 1cm thick, and halve those rings. If you have time, sprinkle them with salt and leave them to sweat for about 30 minutes – this will tenderise the flesh, reduce any bitterness and make it less likely to absorb too much cooking oil later (I admit I skipped this step on this occasion, as we were hungry). Vertically slice the zucchini into 4 strips. Cut the capsicum into 6 pieces. Place these vegetables with the tomatoes into a bowl, add in some olive oil and toss to coat well.
    Arrange the aubergine, zucchini and capsicum pieces in a single layer on the baking tray, and place in the oven (on the centre rack, if possible) for 10 minutes. Then remove the tray, flip the aubergine slices and bake for a further 10 minutes. Once the aubergine pieces look nicely golden, remove them from the oven and place on a dish. Flip the zucchini and capsicum slices, add in the tomatoes, and replace the tray in the oven. After 10 minutes, take out the zucchini and capsicum. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C and leave the tomatoes to bake to perfection.
    All of this may sound terribly confusing, but it basically comes down to this: when the vegetables tell me they are ready with golden faces, I take them out. Also, tomatoes don’t mind staying in the oven for longer if you lower the heat before too long.
    Meanwhile, place some water in a deep saucepan and bring to the boil. Shake in some salt and the orzo, and cook according to packet instructions. Remove the orzo when it is about a minute from being completely cooked (after approximately 7 minutes of cooking), and drain off the liquid.
    Over medium-high heat, heat the butter (or use olive oil if you prefer), add in half a teaspoon of chilli and paprika each, and a pinch of dried mint – rubbing the mint between your fingers as you go. When you can smell the onion and it begins to turn translucent, break the asparagus sprigs into thirds and add them in. Sauté the lot for 2-3 minutes. Throw in the drained orzo and lemon zest, add in a dribble of water, allow it to be absorbed before adding in a little more (kinda like how you cook risotto), and cook this way until the orzo is cooked through. Stir in the demerara sugar.
    Pour the orzo and vegetables into a large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze in the juice of a lemon. Add in chopped fresh herbs, if using. Toss the lot until well combined. Rescue the tomatoes from the oven, which should now be looking juicy and ripe to burst. Arrange them like jewels on an orzo crown. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3-4 servings.

Harbourside Market – Corner of Cable Street & Barnett Street beside Te Papa, Wellington – Phone: 04 495 7895

Prawns with Orzo, Tomato, Spinach and Feta

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.
~ Federico Fellini

One of the nicest emails you can get whilst travelling and missing your kitchen is an invitation to sample recipes from a (then) soon to be released cookbook. Especially one with such yummy-sounding dishes as “Warm Salad of Lamb, Asparagus, Spring Onions and Pomegranate Seeds with Lentil and Black Olives” and “Rolled Baklava with Orange Syrup and Greek Yoghurt”… I had a hard time deciding what to ask for!

Ultimately, I decided to request for the recipe for the “Prawns with Orzo, Tomato, Spinach and Feta” (original recipe included below) since I like every ingredient in that title and had never cooked orzo before.

It was a pleasure to cook this dish, simple yet good-looking, fresh and full of wonderful smells. I used a deep wok and modified the recipe slightly to suit what we had in our pantry (less spinach than the recipe specified, and herbs from a tube as opposed to fresh) – and used more prawns as I couldn’t find larger ones at the supermarket. Though I am sure it would have tasted even better had I followed the recipe properly, I also like that the recipe is pretty versatile and forgiving!

We had it with a squeeze of balsamic glaze, both pretty on the plate and complementary to the dish (I recommend it). Three of us ate our fill last night and we had plenty left over, which incidentally made for a delicious lunch for me today!

    Ingredients:
    16-20 large prawns, peeled
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    1 1⁄2 cups orzo
    2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
    3 shallots, finely chopped
    9 spring onions, thickly sliced
    1⁄2 cup chicken stock
    5 large tomatoes, roughly chopped 1 cup passata
    200g crumbled feta cheese
    6 cups baby spinach leaves
    Small handful of torn fresh herbs such as dill, mint and parsley
    Extra virgin olive oil
    Method:
    Season prawns with salt and pepper.
    Cook orzo until done, toss in one tablespoon of oil and reserve.
    In a large heavy skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add garlic and shallots and sauté for a minute. Add the spring onions and prawns, sear quickly, then remove prawns to reserved orzo. Add chicken stock, tomatoes and passata. Continue to reduce the liquid until mixture has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
    Return the orzo and prawns, half the feta, and the spinach back into the tomato sauce and toss to combine. As soon as the spinach has wilted, scatter over the remaining feta, fresh herbs and glaze with olive oil.

Thank you, publicity team at The Second Black Dog Cottage Cookbook, for the chance to sample this winning recipe :-)

For more information on The Second Black Dog Cottage Cookbook, visit Phantom House Books or their Facebook page.

Mettez-vous en vacances!

Go where your best prayers take you.
~ Frederick Buechner

My mirror monologue moment this morning took me by surprise. I was calmly brushing my teeth and contemplating cooking eggs for breakfast when an unexpected voice spoke (cheekily, I might add): “How about fried brains for breakfast?”.

I paused.

I was alone in the bathroom, as far as I could tell. Did I really hear what I thought I did? It had certainly been loud. Who had spoken? I thought fleetingly of this [see 3:08]. Cheeky, indeed.

I know this post sounds a little kooky…

“You are soooo weird,” you may be thinking. Frankly, I wanted to say that to myself this morning too. Except that I didn’t really want THREE monologues running in my head at the same time, that is WAY too many internal personalities to handle at 7 in the morning.

So I didn’t say anything. I just considered the comment… and I knew that kooky-self-talk or not, whoever had spoken was right.

Fried brains never did make the world a better place, and since I have them now, that has to change.

It’s funny how the world tries to grab our attention and tell us something sometimes, through books/films/people and all, and how we then try so hard to ignore it all and try to keep on keeping on… [with what? Who? Why?]… like a hamster on roller skates. Pointless recipe for disaster.

“Look after yourself”, people kept saying. “Mettez-vous en vacances!” [put yourself on vacation!] – a line from Patricia Wells’s book seemed to yell at me last night. Paul randomly sent me this excellent link. I received this in my inbox yesterday. Probably the worst (or best) of the lot was this evil virus infection which bowled me over and knocked me out for a good few days.

So I’m not going to fight it anymore.

I’m going to sleep like a normal human being. I’ll get up early and fill the morning air with the likes of this (somehow I feel relaxed listening to her sing), and I’m going to live, and not worry. I’m going to be an explorer again, not another human in Auckland queuing for bad coffee or complaining about the summer we never had (“get over it”, I want to tell some people). I’m going to put love before deadlines and lists. I’ll stop for a sunset. I’ll be spontaneous again.

I’ll put myself on vacation.

And while I’m attempting to write a FOOD BLOG, here’s what I had for dinner last night:

Meticulous and orderly it was not, but delicious – oh yes it was. This was me forgoing a trip to the supermarket, in favour of throwing opening the fridge and pantry and cooking with no rules except a vague aim of having fun in the kitchen. And it was good. Big fire, too much garlic, chopped tomato, dash of chilli flakes, splash of red wine, handful of chopped cashew nuts, squeeze of lemon juice, fresh baby spinach leaves… poured onto a bed of angel hair and crowned with a poached egg.

Till next time. Remember. Sometimes, you just have to mettez-vous en vacances!

On sharing

My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with.
~ Oprah Winfrey

Dishes in the middle for everyone, that was what I knew growing up. My grandma and mom both often cooked this way (unless we were having pasta or similar). We’d all have our own plates of rice and bowls of soup, but everything else – meat, vegetables, fish, etc – would be placed on large plates in the centre of the dining table so we could help ourselves.

For some reason, I possess none of my Gran’s gift for cooking family meals – but what I do hope to learn from her are things like these: cooking with love; feeding friends/family good food; prioritising eating and talking together. Sharing.

Sharing is pretty cool. You know, the kind of uncalculative, spontaneous sharing that we probably used to excel at in kindergarten. It seems that the true, honest art of sharing is slowly being lost in this individualistic, “I need me-time I need space” kinda world we live in. I get like that too, but recent days have been so full of generosity and great times and I am reminded of how good it is to do it together, you know? I really want sharing to become written into my blood.

On that note, are you ready to read a long post? I’ve been writing mini posts in my head for a few days now so this is an ambitious attempt at posting them ALL in one post…

Last week, R and I went to the bubbly Liz’s place for dinner – we used to work together and it was great to catch up again! Liz whipped up this YUMMY bacon, mushroom and spinach Donna Hay-inspired risotto in the oven (up till that evening, I had never known you could make risotto in the oven) – so warm and savoury and filling. We ate this with glasses of singing Gerwutztraminer while their lively cat darted around the room (jealous, I bet) – and had bowls of gourmet ice cream afterwards.

Friday: R taught me how to whip up Spring in a bowlspirals with prosciutto, asparagus and baby spinach leaves with red pesto and parmesan. I learned a few things that evening:

1. To bend the asparagus till it reaches its natural breaking point, then snap it and discard the bottom part.
2. To use baby spinach leaves (I always thought people always used cooking spinach for warm dishes – but he popped these fresh leaves into a bowl with steaming hot pasta which then wilted the baby spinach beautifully).
3. To use red pesto. How is it that I have not previously spotted this jar of goodness in the supermarket?
To recap: cook pasta in salted boiling water. Snap asparagus. Blanch or pan-fry asparagus. Tear prosciutto with your fingers, add this and raw baby spinach leaves into a bowl. Drain cooked pasta and asparagus when they are ready, pour them into the bowl – stir and let the heat wilt the leaves. Stir in red pesto. Serve with parmesan.

I think I’ll be making this again – so easy and so good!

On the subject of thoughtful and talented friends, K gave me kiwifruit and white chocolate muffins, and G gave me cheesecake today… (which served as a most decadent lunch!) So spoiled am I.

Ottolenghi’s Cookbook is bursting with food for sharing. A few weeks ago, G shared her lunch with me at work, so I thought it’d be fun to pack lunch for three of us – and of course Ottolenghi’s book sprung to mind. My eyes fell on a recipe for roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey (recipe re-posted here). I made a few adjustments (chicken thighs as opposed to a whole chicken, orange blossom water as opposed to rosewater, etc) – it was sweet, gently spiced and reminded me of Morocco… I served it with some green beans with tomato and feta (fried them this time).

I was very careful with the orange blossom water and I am now no longer (as) afraid of it. ;-)

Saturday was a Brazilian day – complete with “Reflections of a Blender” (think: a taxidermist who is also a murderess; a talking blender; philosophy; craziness + general fantastic-ness in Portuguese), a loud Brazilian festa; and this gem of a place… Casa da Sogra (which translates as house of the mother-in-law, I think).

When we walked in, I felt like I’d chanced upon a grand secret that everyone else already knew. Small this place may be, but it lacks nothing else. It was 2.30pm, and the place was packed – I tuned in and realised there was almost as much Portuguese being spoken as there was English (so cool)! We joined two friendly Brazilian ladies, started chatting and I couldn’t help ordering what Priscilla was eating – pastel.

According to her, these are as good as the ones in Brazil. I haven’t been to Brazil yet, but I can believe it. For $3 each, these golden pillows are crispy deep fried pastries filled with yummy things. I can’t do it justice with my words, but suffice to say – if you’re in Auckland, you need to go here… even if there’s no seating room when you get there – stand and eat, it’ll all make good sense once you do it.

This is the pizza flavoured one…

We also ordered a few acai berry shakes (rather potent, in a good way) and a spicy lamb pita. Tasty and generous, and better with friends to share everything with. Eating food native to a different culture and chatting with people from different countries while sitting right at home is probably the closest one can get to teleportation (which I would love to do if I could)!

I’m sleepy, so I’m going to start wrapping up my blog post now.

I end with two other places I wanted to share, which I unfortunately did not take photographs at but are worth writing about, photos or not:

Faro – I went here with Brad who was up for a visit and learned a magical combination from the smiling waitress that attended us – leaf + radish + pickled onion + kimchi + a soy bean paste which I cannot remember the name of + perfectly grilled beef. Ask their staff how to eat your food – it could make your eating experience even better. I love that they serve delicious food, don’t close so early, and have a clean and lovely place with thoughtful staff and extraction fans at each table to ensure you don’t smell like food when you leave.

And lucky last – we had the pleasure of meeting the man behind Giapo a few days ago. With its catchy branding, huge array of fantastic flavours, friendly staff and grinning customers – Giapo is hard to miss if you are in Auckland. What’s even harder to miss, if you get to meet Gianpaolo Grazioli yourself, is his insatiable passion for life, honesty that made me smile, creative nature, wealth of knowledge and unmistakeable courage. Hearing him talk was inspirational… as was the ice cream.

The ice cream is all made from excellent ingredients – and there are all sorts of crazy and scrumptious flavours – ALL sorts. Even whisky and blue cheese (this admittedly took my breath away, and I haven’t decided whether in a good way or not). Pumpkin, riesling, amaretti, organic fruit… it is all there.

My favourites were their: (1) antipasti (sounds strange, but it’s crazy delicious); (2) dark chocolate and smoked salmon (base note similarities make for compatibility; who would have thought?); (3) lemon sorbet (think: sweet little girl kissing your cheek), (4) green tea (flecked with chocolate bits, the best word I can use to describe it is a Mandarin word which I don’t know how to put into English right now… but it’s deep, and calm, and sweet in a true, non-sugary way).

It’s so different when people do what they love. Their faces light up and they have this energy and joy about them that is unmistakeable and so super.

Time for bed. All the best to my brave friends who have embarked on the mammoth adventure known as NanoWrimo! Good night!

Casa da Sogra – 12 Remuera Road, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 520 0250

Faro – 5 Lorne Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 379 4040

Giapo – 279 Queen Street, Auckland

Cooking for one (spirals with fennel and anchovies)

Right food, right place, right time. It is my belief… that this is the best recipe of all.
~ Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries

Recently, Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini wrote about cooking for one. Her post, and a serendipitous accident that happened in my skillet, prompted me to write this post.

Clotilde identifies a few ways that one might approach a Solo Meal Night, which I think of as:

    1. the “Cool, I get a night off – I’m just going to eat toast, or anything that requires minimal or no cooking/washing up” approach
    2. the “Ah! I finally get to cook what I want now that my husband/wife is AWAY! I’m going to have truffles, lobster, and all the great things he/she hates but I love” approach
    3. the “I’m going to have exactly what I feel like, and it’ll be delicious” approach

It’s interesting, isn’t it? This thing of eating alone? People seem divided about it. This activity doesn’t seem to be widely advocated. I mean, there are lovely books like Judith Jones’s “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” and Suzanne Pirret’s “The pleasure is all mine – selfish food for modern life” which remind you that there are people in the world who do cook and eat alone, and do it well and with enjoyment… but most of the time, the reality is closer to what Suzanne says:

“The images in most cookbooks and cooking shows nowadays help perpetuate the feeling that eating alone – especially eating well alone – is not really an option. The requisite denouement for almost all cooking shows includes a fantastically happy group of friends and family, heads thrown back in laughter with the mandatory Mmmmmms, Oohs, and Ahhhhhs, as they feast on the perfect spread – all in blissful, panoramic Technicolor. Your only hope is to be a part of that life one day… But until then, it’s anti-depressants and beans on toast for your sorry ass.”

Okay, I think her line on anti-depressants and beans on toast is a little extreme – but I’m not shaking my head at what she wrote either. It’s true, cooking for one isn’t often glamourised.

On some level, I think that’s a good thing.

I mean, I love and need time alone, but I do believe that even the most introverted introverts weren’t made to hide in a cave and eat by themselves for ever. Love and connection and cooking/eating together are to souls and minds what sunlight and water are to plants.

On the other hand though, you glean other treasures from cooking/eating alone too.

This year is the first year in a few years that I remember cooking and eating on my own so much, despite eating out a fair bit and cooking with others occasionally too. It’s been tough at times, therapeutic at others. Now that it’s no longer as unsettling for me, I notice different things more – my thoughts; the gradual darkening of the sky outside the window; the taste of food; selfishness; generosity; the mind-clearing powers of a clean kitchen.

In the last few years, I mostly cooked for flatmates, friends, boyfriends (they cooked for me too). I can’t really remember, off-hand, many solo cooking and eating nights. I DO remember the shopping lists. Meal planning. Bulk shopping. Catering to others’ tastes. The desire to make something delicious to feed the people I loved. Generous servings. The need for meat to be present when boys were eating at my table.

I think the cooking shows and books featuring eight beaming people around a food-laden table used to make more sense to me. I scarcely worried about food rotting in the fridge/pantry. I was fortunate to be able to go grocery shopping with a car most of the time.

So, when I moved to Auckland earlier this year, there were times when just the thought of going to the supermarket would evoke tears. I missed certain people. I missed the person I was when those people were with me. I got stressed about having to make time to walk there and back. I sighed about not knowing what the heck to make. I thought about recipes but let the thoughts go immediately because I didn’t want to eat the same thing every day for two weeks.

Yet, at other times, I was pretty happy about the situation I found myself in. I relished the thought that I could eat just veges if I wished, or poached eggs on toast every day for a week. I could spend four hours cooking, or order a pizza, and no one would mind. I could make a pavlova castle for dinner. The possibilities were endless.

As it is, I didn’t (and still don’t) follow a pattern. Mostly, I seem to keep a supply of eggs, garlic, herbs and spices, baking ingredients, dried pasta and parmesan cheese at home, and buy vegetables/meat/fresh produce every 2-3 days. I don’t really like frozen-anything as a rule, unless it’s dessert or soup for emergencies.

Sometimes I catch up with friends at cafes/restaurants/bars. Sometimes I cook two servings of a dish, and bring half of it to work the next day for lunch. Sometimes I eat instant noodles (yes, horrendous. I do it). Sometimes I eat more than I need to, like when I’m cold or sad or both. Sometimes I walk to the market on impulse just to get something fresh, then walk home and spend hours fussing over something elaborate. Sometimes I cook with the same ingredient for a week because I need to use it up. There are no rules.

On the accident I mentioned early in this post. The other evening, I was too tired/lazy to go to the supermarket, so I actually planned to just skip dinner and go to bed. But THEN I opened the fridge and spied the fennel I had bought over the weekend and forgotten about! And it was still green! Being tired, I just chopped and tossed mindlessly, not expecting much… so you can imagine I was pretty delighted when it turned out to be a pretty darn good toss-up!

I’m still very happy about it.

This is the approximate recipe:

    Heat some water in a saucepan. When it comes to a rolling boil, throw in some salt and pasta (I used large spirals) and cook according to packet instructions.
    While the water boils/pasta cooks, smash and chop 1-2 cloves of garlic, chop up 3 sundried tomatoes and dice 1/2 a fennel bulb. Zest half a lemon. Take out 5 anchovies (I used these).
    Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a pan. Add in the garlic and fennel and sauté for five minutes, then add in a heaped tablespoon of butter, the lemon zest, sundried tomatoes and anchovies. Shake in some dried basil (rub it between your fingers as you go; if using fresh basil, tear with your fingers and add in right at the end) and some chilli flakes. Continue to sauté.
    Rescue and plate the pasta (stir in a drizzle of olive oil if your pasta is sticking together). Pour the fennel and anchovy sauce over it, then add black pepper and parmesan to taste. Eat immediately.
    Yields one serving.