Tag Archives: pasta

Slowdown

28 Oct

One of the few pleasures of unemployment is always having time. Time to read. Time to go for very long walks, dallying in front of shop windows, meandering down untrodden paths. And if you’re me, time to cook a Bolognese sauce that takes over four hours, start to finish.

Now, I can see some of you furrowing your brows, with a fairly distant memory poking up its head. Yes, I’ve already got a recipe for spag bol in this blog. A mighty fine one it is, too. But I was feeling the urge to make something long and labour-intensive, and I had a copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking languishing on my shelf.  And why not try the be-all and end-all recipe for something which is a standard in any cook’s repertoire?

And so I went off on a long walk, down the market, along the canal, through Victoria Park. I dawdled on the park’s paths, inhaling the autumn aromas of earth and smoke, watched the magpies and wood pigeons dig in the ground. When I got to south Hackney, I bought mince from the Ginger Pig, wine from Bottle Apostle, carrots and onion from the greengrocer, proper Italian tinned tomatoes from the posh deli.

When I got home, I put on some opera and set about my vegetables. Twenty minutes later (yes, I’m slow, but how quickly can you chop three sticks of celery and four carrots into small pieces?), they and the mince fried in the pan, then simmered with white wine, milk, and a little nutmeg . The tomatoes joined them shortly afterwards, and they all settled down for their three-hour simmer. I added water every 30 minutes to keep everything buoyant.  

And the result? It was good, and I imagine it’ll be even better after a day or two in the fridge. But was it worth all the effort? I’m not sure. It’s possible I’m so used to lashings of herbs and garlic in my food that I can’t appreciate something more subtle. But I also think that if I ever take three hours over pasta sauce again, I’ll use a cut of beef that benefits more from slower cooking, like shin.  The mince on its own doesn’t give enough depth – there’s a reason I put beef stock into my faster recipe.  I’d also cut the vegetables smaller than I did, as even after three hours of cooking they remained a little al dente.

But despite my mixed feelings, I did learn some new tricks for my own recipe. I preferred the white wine in the sauce over the red I’d used before, and simmering the meat and vegetables in milk first did a lot to balance the acidity from the tomatoes and wine.

So it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Though these days, I have so much time that a mildly successful cooking project seems a valid way to spend it.

P.S. I just had the leftovers for lunch today, and it tasted so much better. So if you’re going to make this, I would suggest brewing it up a day or two ahead.

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Seasonal Process

7 Aug

A step-by-step guide to make a plateful of summer:

1. After you’ve eaten breakfast, thinly slice some garlic and chop some basil into ribbons, and put them in a very big bowl with a hearty slug of good olive oil.

2. Go to work. Or, if you’re me, go to your nearest café/bakery and write more of this blog, then wander around random neighborhoods of London searching for more material for said blog and generally passing the time.

3. Return home after work/moseying. Your kitchen will smell like at Italian grandmother’s been cooking while you were out. After taking a deep whiff, chop up from two to four of the ripest, squidgiest tomatoes you can find and mix them with the garlic, basil, and oil.

4. Do whatever it is you do post-work; go the gym, run out to the supermarket, or watch the festival of minor sports currently appearing on most television channels.

5. When you’re good and hungry, boil some salted water and add a small fistful of spaghetti (not whole wheat – I normally love the chewy, nutty stuff, but it doesn’t work for this dish.)

6. While the spaghetti is cooking, cut a ball of mozzarella into cubes the size of your top thumb joint. When that’s done, run back and watch another five minutes of athletics.

7. Drain the pasta, then pour it on top of the tomato-garlic-basil mixture. Scatter the cheese over the spaghetti. Toss the spaghetti and cheese together first, then bring the tomatoes up from the bottom of the bowl.

8. Serve. Eat with lots of appreciative groaning. When you’ve finished with the pasta, pick up your plate and slurp the rest of the tomato-garlic dressing like a ten-year old drinking cereal milk.

9. Repeat for all of August and a chunk of September.

(Serves 2. For the less personalized version of this recipe, visit The Wednesday Chef.)

Bridging the Hungry Gap

27 Mar

Springtime, and the living is easy. As easy as it gets in London, anyway. The sun is shining, the mercury’s in the very high teens (mid-to-high sixties for my American compadres), and my coat and boots are shoved deep in my closet for their long summer sleep. I’m even writing this on my sunny terrace whilst barefoot. To say that it doesn’t get much better can’t encompass the sense of intense wellbeing that currently permeates both this city and me. But one thing niggles at my contentment: the hungry gap.

For those of you blessed with produce aisles bearing strong resemblance to the Garden of Eden, and who therefore are blissfully unaware of this phenomenon, the hungry gap is the period of time (generally March and April) when British fields are entirely unfruitful. The last of the root vegetables and brassicas have straggled in, and the tender, pale green joys that are asparagus, peas, and broad beans won’t appear for a while yet.

So whilst every other indicator screams for us to cast away our woolly garments and frolic in the daffodils under a gently warming sun, the farmer’s market bogs us down with more heavy, wintery food. Don’t get me wrong, my love for humble stew is nearly boundless. But after six months of dietary hibernation, I want to dive into an enormous bowl of salad like Daffy Duck wants to dive into a mound of treasure, screaming, “I’m rich! I’m wealthy! I’m comfortably well off! WOOHOO!”

At first thought a warm orzo salad with beetroot and feta doesn’t merit quite the same enthusiasm as a mound of gold coins and gems, but look at the jewel-like colours on this baby:

No, your eyes do not deceive you; that pasta is SCARLET. You perform this magic cooking the orzo in the same water in which you boil the beets. The beets won’t have the same caramelly flavour they get from roasting, but I think that’s a worthwhile sacrifice to get the pasta to turn spectacular colours.

Overall, the result is a well-balanced mix of flavours: earthy-sweet beetroot, salty feta, savoury pinenuts, onion and garlic, bitter greens. Its feet are firmly planted in winter, but its lightness makes it perfect for a warm, lazy March day.

Check out the recipe, originally by The Parsley Thief, on Food52.

Lazy Day Pasta

15 Mar

But there are days when I am some combination of deathly tired, morbidly lazy, or very hungry. Those are the times when I look in the refrigerator once every minute, sigh, and shut the door. When working and waiting for an hour for a meal has all the appeal of a brisk hike in the Sahara. For moments like this, I have spaghetti alla puttanesca.

Lazy day deliciousness.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca has 3 things going for it:

1. It goes from zero to table in 20 minutes flat. The only prep required is chopping garlic and anchovies, plus opening some containers.

2. Said containers keep very well in your fridge and cupboard. If you’ve done it right, you should be able to make this dish without leaving your house.

3. It is a flavour-packed, lip-smacking bowl of deliciousness.

I lived on puttanesca in my last year of undergrad, and it’s still one of my favourite dishes of all time. Unfortunately, I rarely make it now, blessed as I am with a partner who thinks that anchovies, olives, or any combination thereof are the devil’s work. It’s become a rather sneaky pleasure, eaten at home alone while watching dumb romantic comedies.

This recipe reflects my abiding love of all things salty and pickled, but you can adjust the quantities of all the sauce ingredients (except the tomatoes) to your taste if you’re not quite as keen. It makes enough sauce for two people; so if you’re dining à deux, just double the amount of pasta.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca


Makes one big, saucy bowlful

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 50g/2oz tin anchovies, drained and chopped
0.5 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 400g tin/14oz can chopped/diced tomatoes
10-12 Kalamata olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers
freshly ground pepper
100g/3.5oz dried whole wheat spaghetti

Warm the olive oil, garlic, anchovies, chili, and oregano in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Start stirring when the oil begins to sizzle. When the anchovies have mostly dissolved and the garlic is turning golden, add the tomatoes, olives, capers and pepper. Bring the sauce up to a simmer, then leave to bubble while you cook the pasta.

Bring a pot of salted water up to the boil, then add the spaghetti. Cook according to the package instructions – I find mine take about 10 minutes to reach the right texture. When it’s done, drain briefly, then add to the sauce.

Serve up in a bowl, without Parmesan (the anchovies provide all the umami this needs).