Tag Archives: anchovy

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.

Lamb, anchovies and hunger

You have to be yourself. But you have to know who you are.
~ Sonia Rykiel

Sometimes, hunger leads you to the kitchen. If the dairy/supermarket/fast food restaurant doesn’t claim you first. You know what I mean about mad hunger? – the kind that causes temporary blindness and acute clumsiness in your haste to cram something… anything… into your mouth. Into your tummy. So you can think again. By the time you sink gratefully into your plushy couch, you have butter smeared across your favourite top and egg clinging to your hair, but you don’t care. You are in love with life, with domesticity, and with the world.

Sometimes, your loved ones lead you to the kitchen. You know what I mean again, no? When you love, you want to make something with your hands and feed the objects of your affection – whether they be friends, family or lovers. Cakes; seafood dishes; wine-drizzled medleys; chocolate surprises – all of that.

All sorts of things lead us to the kitchen. Insomnia. Happiness. Curiosity. Boredom. Excitement. Most of the time, it’s hunger or hunger + something else which propel us, inevitably, into the kitchen. To create, to love, to eat.

Of late, I don’t know what has led me to the kitchen. I’ve been out a lot, and in the times I’ve been home, I feel like I’ve wandered around in a daze a lot. I guess I’ve had a few Long Days – at the end of which I’ve come home with a tired brain, ready to fall into bed. I’ve showered mindlessly, cooked thoughtlessly, and it was only yesterday when a poached egg slipped and fell on the kitchen mat that I began to awake from my cloudy reverie.

This evening, while I was walking home nursing a headache, whatever it was really snapped – it’s hard to explain. It was like a brisk shower of hail fell upon my head – and I realised with a start that I wasn’t hungry at all. And that I hadn’t been properly, happily hungry in a while. (By this, I mean I haven’t recently felt that kind of hunger that leads to happy creating/self-nourishing/joyous dinner parties rather than the dull signal to the brain to eat or sighing at having to cook).

So I came home, sat on the floor and caught up on emails and all the other things you find to do online, a little puzzled by my uncharacteristic unhungry-ness.

A phrase (from an ad on the side, I think?) slipped past my eyes – “lamb and anchovies”.

Yuck, I thought. Then, restless, I shut my laptop, went downstairs, opened the fridge, flung open the pantry door. And I saw… a pack of diced lamb and – when I pushed a few things out of the way – a forsaken (but still healthy) jar of anchovies!

So I took out the forsaken (but still healthy) jar of anchovies, the pack of diced lamb, a bottle of leftover red, half a bag of spinach, and some rosemary. I fished around in the pantry – a lemon. Two cloves of garlic. Muscovado. Salt, pepper, chilli flakes. A random bag of almonds. Angel hair pasta.

I took out a knife, not really expecting much. But, you know, as my fingers touched everything and my nose was surprised by how nice everything smelled, it felt like a missing piece of my heart came back and slid right back in where it belonged. And I was properly hungry again by 8pm.

This was a spontaneous dish, so I didn’t record measurements – but I have attempted to be as accurate as possible below.

    Lamb, lemon and anchovy pasta
    2 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped
    2 tsp anchovy oil
    4 anchovy strips, chopped (I used bottled anchovies)
    1 tsp muscovado sugar
    chilli flakes
    ~ 130g diced lamb
    1/4 lemon – zest and juice
    1 sprig rosemary, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
    Handful of spinach, washed and chopped
    Handful of raw almonds
    Angel hair pasta (or spaghetti)
    Method to my madness:
    Place the lamb in a small bowl. Add in the chopped garlic, lemon zest, sugar, chilli flakes, rosemary, anchovy oil, anchovy bits and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with your hands, massaging the anchovy bits into the lamb, and set aside. (You will want to wash your hands well at this stage!)
    Roughly chop the almonds. Throw them into a skillet; briefly dry fry on medium high heat till they are fragrant. Take them out and set aside.
    Replace the skillet on the stove, add a tablespoon of butter, watch it melt and swirl it around – then add the lamb and pour in a dribble of red wine (I probably used about 1/4 cup tonight). Inhale. Let it cook for a minute or two, then stir occasionally so the lamb doesn’t burn. Add in more wine or water if it gets too dry.
    When the lamb is cooked, pour it all into a clean bowl – then add the spinach to the skillet and cook for approximately two minutes till they are just wilted (you can use a separate skillet if you prefer). Simultaneously, fill a saucepan with water (I boiled the water in a kettle and poured it into the saucepan to save time), throw in some salt and let it comes to a rolling boil before adding the angel hair pasta in. Allow to cook for two minutes, then drain it and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to separate the strands.
    Ladle the angel hair on to a plate, then add the spinach, the lamb and chopped almonds on top. Squeeze the wedge of lemon over the plate. Sit and eat.

Lamb and anchovies, together – you may be pleasantly surprised.

What is your Inspiration Dish?

PS. On that giveaway! – a sincere thank you to everyone who entered, and congratulations to Becs from Lovely Wee Days for winning this :-)