Category Archives: Pasta

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.
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Fuss-free fettuccine

    Fuss-free fettuccine
    Ingredients:
    1 bowl cooked fettuccine, cooked until al dente
    1/4 lemon
    Flakes of parmesan cheese
    Dribble of olive oil
    A pat of butter (optional)
    Dried basil (optional)
    1 egg (optional)
    Black pepper
    Salt
    Method:
    Over a bowl of warm fettuccine, dribble a swirl of olive oil, add in the butter if using, and give it a quick toss.
    Add in the parmesan flakes. Squeeze the lemon wedge over the pasta, rub some dried basil between your fingers over it, season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss again.
    Gently poach an egg just the way you like it (I like mine with a firm white and runny yolk, though I am no expert egg-poacher so I just have to eat what I come up with) and place it on top of the pasta.
    Serve immediately. Instant gratification in a bowl.

Penne con la zucca

People ask me: “Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way the others do?”… the easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.
~ M. F. K. Fisher

Penne con la zucca. I love it. Everything about it. Its name, for one – “zucca” (Italian) sounds so classy and exciting – everything its English equivalent, “pumpkin”, is not. I don’t know about you, but the only time I’ve thought the word “pumpkin” sounded remotely exciting was when I was a kid reading “Cinderella” – and even then, it only got to be her coach for a few precious hours.

I discovered this magic recipe for penne con la zucca through the equally magic Google today, while looking for ways to dress up my pumpkin wedge for lunch. I hadn’t read even half of François-Xavier’s post before I ran into the kitchen with my laptop…

The rain coursed down the kitchen window like a slow tear running down a woman’s cheeks as I wiped my wet eyes (from working with a potent onion) and chopped the pumpkin into clumsy matchsticks.

It was very easy to cook, even easier to eat… the epitome of comfort. I like it best when food makes you at once alert and entirely caught offguard… this did exactly that for me.

Think warm, soft and caramelised pumpkin strips; sweet, lightly browned onion; wintry cinnamon and nutmeg; melting parmesan flecks; fresh black pepper and pasta al dente. It reminded me of a monkey’s wedding. Abstract, I know :-)

I modified the recipe a little, omitting the cream, adding garlic and cinnamon, and I loved it. I have no doubt the original version of this recipe is delicious too! This dish took around 30 minutes to cook, including preparation time.

On his blog, François-Xavier says that penne con la zucca is one of his “10 best pasta recipes”… I think it may just become one of my favourites too.

Happy Easter, everyone!

    Ingredients:
    Penne pasta, or any short, tubular, dry pasta – 1 serving
    1 tbsp butter, or 2 tbsp olive oil
    1 large onion
    2 cloves garlic
    350g fresh pumpkin (approximately)
    Parmesan cheese (I used grated)
    Nutmeg (fresh if possible, I used packet)
    Cinnamon
    Black pepper
    Method:
    Peel and cut the onion in half, then slice thinly. Smash, peel and mince the garlic cloves. Set aside.
    Peel the pumpkin and remove the soft flesh and seeds in the middle. Chop into thin matchsticks.
    Heat the butter in a skillet, add the onion and sauté over medium-high heat until the onion is soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the chopped pumpkin, and mix.
    Lower the temperature to medium-low and cook for approximately 20 minutes until the onions and pumpkin are well soft. Adjust the heat as necessary. When it is nearly cooked, add in the cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Mix and leave aside.
    In a very large pot, throw in some salt and pour in some water – bring the water to a rolling boil, then add in the penne and cook for a minute or two less than the cooking time stated on the box or packet.
    Drain the pasta, replace it in the hot saucepan and add in the pumpkin sauce. Mix well – the heat from the saucepan and sauce will finish ‘cooking’ the pasta. Add in the parmesan and extra seasoning if needed. Serve immediately.
    Yields one serving.

Dinner party

Well let’s face it, who on earth besides antique dealers and gay couples actually still give dinner parties?
~ Nigel Slater

Nigel, I adore every piece of writing I’ve read by you save one (see above) – on this front, I hope you stay wrong for a long time to come!

May I be so bold as to say that everyone should host at least one dinner party in their lifetime? It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated… all you need to do is gather friends, cook something and share your food. There’s just some kind of magic about taking the time to cook for others and filling your home (or your friend’s home in my case this time ;-) with cooking smells and friends/friends-of-friends…

We hosted a dinner party for 10 on Saturday night, at Kath’s place. Between Kath’s efficiency and preparedness and my groggy state of existence after a rather busy week, we launched our informal dinner club!

Most people knew just Kath or myself, and it really didn’t matter. Midway through the evening, it seemed that we didn’t need the background music; everyone was chatting, laughing… and Katherine and I looked on from the kitchen feeling pretty good indeed!

We had gone shopping in the rain on Saturday morning, at La Cigale and at a supermarket, before meeting up again in the afternoon to prepare dinner for our guests.

Before dinner, we served slices of fresh French batard from the market, dukkah from Zarbo, fresh tomatoes and Kath’s homemade basil & balsamic pesto. Guests contributed a very generous amount of wine too.

Dinner was chicken, ricotta and spinach cannelloni swathed in a bubbling sauce of tomato puree, spices, and a light sprinkling of grated cheese – and an impromptu green salad with olives, capsicum and whatever else we could find. I had never attempted to make cannelloni before, and it was an exercise in patience stuffing those tiny tubes! All worthwhile in the end :-)

Dessert was Bosc pears poached in spicy syrah, cinnamon, star anise, lemon juice and sugar, served in ramekins with a melting scoop of maple walnut ice cream… and the requisite tea and coffee.

Altogether a great evening, I hope we hold our next dinner soon!

Perspective

I cannot go any further without mentioning my favourite biscuit of all time, now sadly, tragically, extinct. The oaty, crumbly, demerara notes of the long-forgotten Abbey Crunch will remain forever on my lips. I loved the biscuit as much as anything I have ever eaten, and often, in moments of solitude, I still think about its warm, buttery, sugary self.
~ Nigel Slater

Perspective.

That’s been my word these two months.

I’ve been thinking about it at work, sitting at my desk several stories above the traffic whizzing by below; standing in the lift feeling my head float a little from zooming up and down so many floors; sitting in meetings with coffee listening to others speak (thinking to myself that I have so much to learn yet).

I’ve been thinking about it since the earthquake, of course, like the rest of New Zealand – on one hand unable to empathise in full, on the other knowing exactly what it feels like to have relief and joy leap to your throat when you see your friend from Christchurch standing in one piece post-quake in the airport (Ian, yes, in all seriousness thank you for staying alive)… and to love a country with pride (thank you, my adopted land)!

I thought about it when I got two handwritten letters in the post from two sweet friends of mine; letters have a wonderful way of combining the elements of friendship, reality, dreams and sweetness.

… and loads of other things these two months. New acquaintances, chance happenings, a black tie event, a summer jazz festival, unwanted attention, a book on “optimal experience”, dancing, a conversation in Mandarin, discussions over dinner, light-headedness from red wine, happiness from venison pie, reading the news, shopping for bedsheets, etc etc etc… have all been lessons in perspective.

I realise that everything in life is rather important, but at the end of it all, I don’t need a lot of it. I like the good things: my job, having a salary, good food, spicy syrah, laughing beneath moonlight. I feel the bad things: some days I feel like the universe conspires against me, I wake up displaced, I go to bed sad or missing my ex. But really… when it comes down to it…

It’s funny……

But in a lot of things… it doesn’t matter. Joys and sorrows are present for all. All I really need is people to love – whether they love me back or not – and the ability to make light of every single situation; the strength to pursue people and things in order of their importance, without using them to fulfil my expectations/needs and without holding bitterness in my heart if they should depart. Oh, and constant learning – about people, Google Analytics, South African culture, anything I can possible enlarge my world with. These are really the best things. Right up there with a fresh slice of tarte aux pommes and a steaming mug of chocolat chaud in Paris in Winter…

Anyway. I so meant to write a post about the challenges of cooking for one with an electric stove… but I guess the above musing post kind of wrote itself. It’s late and I should get to bed.

Tonight’s dinner was prawns with sweet peppers from La Cigale, cayenne pepper, dried basil and lemon juice served atop a bed of angel hair :-) I’ve enjoyed the last few days of eating out at the likes of Iguacu, Rosehip, Sri Mahkota… but it was nice too to come home and just experiment with the ol’ electric stove. Must admit I miss having people to cook for, Moore Wilsons and the wonderness that was my old kitchen in Wellington though!! In other news, I shall REALLY have to be more strict with my budget again henceforth… maybe a series of “how to cook with less $” is in order?

Pasta spirals with leek, mushrooms, and buffalo mozzarella

If only we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time.
~ Edith Wharton

Hi. Cooking inspiration levels have been low, as you may have picked up from the lack of cooking posts on this blog – but a crack of sunshine rained down on me at my first walk to the supermarket here. I came home and made something that was not scrambled eggs or yoghurt in a bowl! Also, I bought my first ever tub of buffalo mozzarella and I fear there may be a repeat of this incident in the not-so-distant future :-O

Tonight’s dinner was simple, but nice nevertheless – and I do feel better than I did yesterday… cooking must do for me what shopping does for some people! I now look forward to hosting a dinner party or something sometime soon…

Anyway, my eyes are hurting from a long day of staring at the screen at work… so bye and hope you are all having a great Monday there!

PS. My friend Rosie has started a yummy blog! Yay! Go check it out

    Pasta spirals with leek, mushrooms, and buffalo mozzarella
    Ingredients:
    Olive oil
    2 cloves garlic
    100ml white wine
    1 leek
    2 flat mushrooms
    1/2 lemon
    1 tsp sugar
    Dried basil
    Chilli flakes
    Buffalo mozzarella – however much you want, sliced into circles
    Tri-colour pasta spirals, or pasta of your choice
    Salt
    Method:
    Heat a saucepan of water over medium-high heat, and add in a few teaspoons of salt. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then add in enough pasta for you.
    Meanwhile, smash, peel and chop the garlic cloves. Separate the leaves from the stem of the leek, discard the leaves and slice the stem into rings. Clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth and slice them. Zest the lemon half and retain the lemon for use later.
    Dribble some olive oil in a small skillet, set it over medium-low heat and swirl the pan around to spread the oil around the base. When the oil is sufficiently warmed, add in the garlic – watch it sizzle. Once you can smell the garlic, add in the leek rings and white wine and saute for 2 minutes. Add in the mushrooms, a spoonful of sugar, a shake of chilli flakes and the lemon zest, and continue to fry – adjust the heat if necessary. Add in a pinch of dried basil, rubbing it between your fingers as you go. When the vegetables are cooked and the wine has nearly evaporated, squeeze in the lemon juice and turn off the heat. You can add in the buffalo mozzarella at this point, though I chose to decorate my plate with it instead!
    When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and put it on a plate. Add the vegetables and buffalo mozzarella (if you haven’t yet added it into the pan), and serve immediately. Great with a shivering glass of white wine!
    Yields one serving.

Fruits of the sea

….shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle. Indeed of the whole realm of Nature the sea is in many ways the most harmful to the stomach, with its great variety of dishes and tasty fish.
~ Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79)