A few nights ago I was drifting off to sleep at the pleasingly/pathetically early time of 9:15, when my phone buzzed. Normally I’d flip my phone over grumpily and go back to some much needed REM, but this message caught my attention. My friend was making pasta, and my friend was in distress. His dilemma: whenever he popped the lid of the Lloyd Grossman of his choice and sat down for dinner, he was served a side of passive-aggressive food snobbery from his two other housemates.
“Do you know the salt content of the pasta sauce you’re eating?”
“You know for the same price you could buy the ingredients and make that yourself?
“Do you know what you’re putting in your body?”
Now, the obvious response to me would be 1) no, I don’t, it’s 9:15 and I don’t care to know, but thank you for what I assume is a concern for my health b) yes, I am aware that the contents of what this pasta sauce claims to be are, in fact, real foods, and that they could be recreated in my own kitchen c) I am putting pasta and sauce into my body.
But, as I’m sure you would agree, it probably becomes grating having to justify your decision to not whip up a fresh pasta alla genovese after work on a Thursday when you’ve spent all day in an office with the most relentless air-con unit known to man, you’re yet to shower, you just realised you washed your sheets and haven’t made the bed and you haven’t done a food shop since Sunday.
Friend in question is a perfect example of this; he’s juggling his first full time job, whilst studying for a journalism diploma in his spare time (what spare time?), alongside figuring out living in the vast metropolis of London, having come from rural Somerset. Last week he told us he fell down the escalator at Bank and upon asking how, he replied “we don’t have escalators in Somerset” (whether he was joking or not we don’t know, but I nevertheless found this hilarious. I imagine him endlessly tumbling down the ascending escalator, thus moving neither up or down and so being consigned to forever falling, taking every other commuter with him and causing them, therefore, to join in a sea of people falling neither up nor down for the rest of eternity, like purgatory on the tube).
But my point is, making bloody carbonara (an authentic one, of course; I’m sure his supercilious flatmates would have it no other way) probably isn’t high on his priority list. The fact that there are 440 escalators on the London tube system for him to tackle, probably is.
I did a post about two years ago about pasta sauce, urging you to ditch the jars and little pots of pre-made stuff and make up your own – I can now acknowledge that I was a uni student who had three hours of lectures a week, I lived a walk away from my nearest veg shop, and I really like cooking. Now, only one of those three conditions remain, and I can see that I probably sounded like a bit of a twat. Though I try and cook everything from scratch, when I’ve had a whole day of work and haven’t had time to think about a food shop (this always happens on a Thursday for some reason), the Waterloo M&S regularly saves the day, normally in the form of their broccoli cheese bake and pre-prepared microwave veg with parsley butter (I strongly recommend the broccoli cheese bake; if you top with more breadcrumbs and cheese you can legitimately claim you made it).
Celebrity cooks like Jamie and Nigella are always telling us how easy it is to create a meal in 15 minutes with 5 ingredients for a family of 5 on a budget of £50 a week etc. (always multiples of 5), but we should’t feel ashamed when we don’t have the energy to pick up their newest bestseller and leg it down to the nearest Coop before it shuts. I bet Nigella secretly loves a Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference lasagne for four every now and then. And then again for one of her famous ‘midnight snacks’/’scoffing a whole leftover pork belly under the light of the fridge with a look at the camera that says “naughty me”‘.
Below I have a couple of recipes that aren’t really recipes – they’re more ideas for meals that you can make out of a quick dash into the shops before you catch the train home. You can sub pretty much anything for similar things you already have (salmon could be chicken, asparagus could be green beans or broccoli, creme fraiche could be yoghurt or sour cream). Or you can ignore these ideas and go buy yourself a pizza and garlic bread, I’m not judging.
Kind of a Bubble and Squeak Cake with Fried Egg and Greens (makes about 5)
A small baking potato
1 celariac (could sub for parsnip, carrots, another potato, swede)
1 spring onion (or a small yellow/red onion), finely chopped
Handful of flour (I used spelt because I had some – use any flour you have to hand)
Any herb you want/have (I used chives and sage), finely chopped
Wedge of cheddar (again, or any other cheese you want/have), grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil, to fry
Eggs (one egg for however many you are serving)
Greens, to serve
- Boil the kettle and chop your root veg/potato of choice into large cubes. Place in a saucepan with the water and a pinch of salt, and boil until tender (potato takes longer than celeriac so put the potato on 5 minutes before you add the celeriac). Drain and mash.
- Add the onion, cheese, herbs, salt and pepper, and flour. Mix well until combined.
- Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. While the pan heats, pour some more flour onto a plate. Take a scoop of the potato/celariac mix and roll/pat into a ball. Place on the floured plate and press into a burger shape. Flip to coat the other side in flour, before placing in the hot pan. Repeat with the remaining mix.
- Fry for around 5 minutes on each side, or until both sides are golden brown (handle quite carefully, you don’t want them to fall apart). Whilst frying, prep whatever greens you have in whatever manner you please.
- plate up the patties and crack the eggs into the frying pan, frying on medium until done to your liking. Serve the egg on top of the patty, with greens on the side.
The quantities of this are vague because you don’t need quantities! If the pesto is too stiff, add more oil/herbs. If too runny, add more nuts/cheese. You can buy huge bags of mixed nuts from the world foods section of Sainsbury’s for dirt cheap; do this instead of small bags of individual nuts.
Handful of mixed nuts (I think my mix had cashews, almonds, brazil nuts and walnuts)
Bunch of basil, or whatever soft herbs need using up
Handful parmesan, grated
1 leftover broccoli stalk, chopped into chunks
Squeeze of lemon juice
Olive oil, as much as is needed to loosen the pesto
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the oven to 200C. Throw your nuts onto a baking tray and place in the oven. They should take a few minutes to brown and toast – keep an eye on them.
- While the nuts toast, boil the kettle and put the broccoli stalks into a bowl. Add boiling water to the bowl and leave for a few minutes, before draining and adding the stalks to a blender with the parmesan, lemon juice and basil.
- Add the toasted nuts and a drizzle of oil to begin with. Blend until broken down, adding more oil until to the consistency you want (I usually have mine quite stiff as I loosen it with pasta water later). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add to pastas with a tbsp pasta water, dollop onto salmon before wrapping in foil and baking, smear on toast before topping with eggs.
Salmon with Beetroot Creme Fraiche (makes enough beetroot creme fraiche for two)
1 Salmon fillet, skin on
1 large vacuum packed cooked beetroot, roughly chopped
3 tbsp creme fraiche or yoghurt
Herb of your choice (I used dill, you could use parsley or chives
Squeeze of lemon juice
Handful of jersey royals (however many you want to eat, I’m not prescribing a quantity)
Greens (I had green beans)
- To make the beetroot creme fraiche, add the beetroot, creme fraiche, dill, and lemon juice to a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste.
- Put your jersey royals onto boil.
- Heat olive oil in a frying pan on high. Add your salmon, skin side down, to the pan and turn down to medium/high, along with the green beans (unless you’d prefer to boil/steam them). Don’t touch it. Cook for around 6 minutes or until the bottom is crispy, before flipping and cooking for a minutes or two on the other side.
- Serve with the jersey royals, green beans and a dollop of the beetroot creme fraiche.