Monday, December 10, 2012

Spaghetti with roasted lemon & garlic sauce

You know those crazy mornings? The ones so chaotic and rushed, that instead of pausing for a second to pour a glass of water and swallow your magnesium supplement, you stash the pill in your bra and hope you won’t forget about it?

Mornings like this are also the ones I’m most likely to be caught staring at someone’s crotch on the train. I’ll be innocently lost in a daydream, or wondering if I’ve got enough oregano for a dish that evening, and when I return to reality I realise my gaze has settled slap bang on the woman across from me’s expansive bosom, or a man’s pants seat.

Time sort of slows down as I realise what’s happened, and without thinking I instinctively (and unwisely) look up to see whether anyone has noticed — and usually everyone has, including the gaze-ee. There’s a moment when accusing eyes say to me, ‘I know what you were doing, you perv, and you know that I know.’

In my mind, I’m shouting, ‘No! It’s not what it looks like! I was thinking about spaghetti!’

This is all communicated Kabuki-style, like in those old Western films where the camera pans right up close to the gunslinger’s eyes.

Invariably I am defeated and misunderstood, and emerge from the train vowing never to let my mind — or eyes — wander again.

So I’m afraid you owe it to me to make this spaghetti with roasted lemon & garlic sauce, after all I’ve been through. Just this morning I came to after reliving each gloriously slurpy mouthful from the night before — with my eyes firmly glued to the crotch of the Colin Farrell lookalike next to me. I may have been drooling slightly.

My eyes rose up to meet his (cue rapid zoom-in and eyebrow flailing):

Him: I know what you were doing.

Me: I’m so sorry — I have a problem. It’s not my fault!

Him: It’s okay, I get that a lot. Besides, I was just staring at your boobs and wondering why you have three nipples.

Me: Uh... It’s a magnesium supplement. 

Him: …

Me: …

Him: Freak.

So you see, dear reader, you owe me.

Spaghetti with roasted lemon & garlic sauce
[Serves 2]
This sauce is stupidly simple, but it hinges on the kind of lemons you use: the glossy, thick-skinned one’s from the grocer won’t do — you need those puckered, easy peeling ones that look like deflated soccer balls. They’re much sweeter and the peel becomes much softer when cooked.

3 lemons
2 whole bulbs garlic
1 cup olive oil
Handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
250g spaghetti
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C. Chop off the tops of the garlic bulbs (this’ll make it easier to squeeze out the garlic once cooked) and wrap in tinfoil. Wrap each lemon in tinfoil as well and roast both the garlic bulbs and the lemons for about 40 minutes or until meltingly soft. Open the parcels and allow to cool slightly.
2. Chop the lemons in half and scrape away the insides (they’ll come away easily). Chop the peel and transfer to a bowl. Squeeze the roasted garlic out into the bowl (it should be lovely and squishy), and add the olive oil and plenty of sea salt (about a tablespoon). Wizz into a sauce with a handheld blender.
3. In the mean time, cook the spaghetti until al dente, then drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.
4. Return the spaghetti to the pot with the lemon-garlic sauce, the basil and the parmesan. Stir to coat, adding enough of the reserved cooking water to get it really slick and slurpy.
5. Transfer to bowls and serve with extra Parmesan.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mushroom, goats cheese & egg salad

I have discovered mushrooms, people.

I know that's a bit like saying I've discovered 'The Internet' ... or Downton Abbey.

But allow me to explain.

Last week I decided to buy some of those monstrously large mushrooms — you know, the ones that look like they could jump up at any moment a suction themselves to your face (now that I think of it, that's actually quite close to reality).

This was unusual for me, because I've never really understood mushrooms. Every cook has an affinity with certain ingredients, while, for some reason, it is difficult to establish a repoire with others.

Mushrooms and me ... in the past, there's been nothing but awkward silence and the odd polite cough when left alone in a room together. 

So I can't really explain why, as I passed the giant 'shrooms on the shelf at Woolies (careful not to make eye contact, lest we be forced to acknowledge and greet one another), a vision of the fungi  with a glorious golden crust of thyme, goats cheese and a light sprinkling of Pecorino popped into my head. I honestly can't say. But I made it, and it was every bit as good as my imagination led me to believe (which was uncharacteristically honest of it).

And then, this weekend, the Grateful Guinea Pig and I sampled the Pinot Noir tasting menu at Haute Cabriere, which was unadulterated, toe-scrunching bliss for anyone whose heart beats faster for Pinot.
It started with chicken liver parfait and ended with a trio of desserts so rich and creamy they nearly had to scrape me off the walls.

Suffice to say, I felt like something light, healthy and nourishing on Sunday (the weather was beautifully moody: hot, with dark clouds roiling over the mountain) ...

... and again my thoughts turned to mushrooms. The result was this rather delightful dish: boiled eggs; roasted giant mushrooms, sliced; chopped parsley; crumbled goats cheese (feta would also do nicely); lemon juice; olive oil; sea salt and ground black pepper. Would have put some avo and maybe some pine nuts in if I'd had any.

The dish shared a table with some stuffed, baked peppers, crusty bread and a vat of rosé.

Let's just say, mushrooms and I will be seeing a lot more of each other.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What dreams may come

Ever have weird dreams? You know, the kind that make it easy to believe the government is pumping hallucinogenics into our water supply?

I had one of those last night.

I was at DVD Nouveau in Newlands, down the road from my house. If you’ve never been, it’s a ‘boutique’ DVD store, with chandeliers and upholstered furniture that gives them permission to overcharge. They do let you keep DVDs for two days though. I don’t think I could live without DVD Nouveau.

But I digress.

The dream: I was at DVD Nouveau at night and it was quite dark inside — the shelves were dimly lit, which gave the space a distorted feel, like a fisheye lens, so I had to practically press my nose against the DVDs to see what was what.

Then the lights go up, and my husband is sitting on a chair in the middle of the store — except he’s not my real-life husband, he’s an Italian man in chef’s whites who looks a bit like Al Pacino in Scarface (oh how I wish this had been a sex dream).

I am standing facing him, holding a large, cascading bunch of spinach leaves. I am utterly in awe of spinach in that moment, wondering how the perfection of its corrugated texture, the potency of its pigment (I did NOT just write that, yea gods) had escaped my notice before now.

I express these feelings to my Al Pacino-esqe husband, stroking the leaves lovingly, and he mumbles noncommittally.

Now a small table for two appears, discreetly set to one side, and on it is a platter piled high with steaming, spinach-laced spaghetti, and as I look closer I see it is dotted with cooked snails. In real life this would be gross. In my dream, it’s the pinnacle of haute cuisine.

I lift a snail to my mouth, and…

Much like a David Lynch film, the dream now changes tack completely.

The table and Al disappear, the lights dim again, and I am wandering around trying to select a DVD — except this time I’m wearing a belt over a jersey dress, and I am feeling quite anxious about this fashion decision (seriously). Other customers are milling about, and the staff — film students who look like extras in a Lady Gaga video — are busying themselves behind the counter. But I KNOW they are ALL looking at me secretly and wondering what on EARTH convinced me that wearing THAT BELT was a good idea.

And then I woke up by sort of karate-chopping out of bed. (Gave my real-life husband a fright, I can tell you.)

Dreams are a total fucking mystery, but there are clues as to how my subconscious put this one together. (Places everyone!)

Exhibit A: Not too long ago I watched a David Lynch movie called Inland Empire. It was so surreal and chaotic I could literally feel my brains being sucked out through my eyeballs. If you want to drive someone completely, irretrievably insane (so you can have them committed and collect the insurance — you know), I recommend strapping them to a chair and making them watch Inland Empire on a loop, Clockwork Orange-style.

Exhibit B: I made the following spinach pasta dish for dinner last night, and it was the most facepalmingly delicious thing I have eaten in quite some time. It is more than the sum of its parts, and completely explains my somnambulant spinach fetish.

I’m afraid I have no explanation for Al Pacino's presence, though. Do I need one?

Pasta with spinach and blue cheese
Serves 4

There are just a couple of fine points here: Don't drain the pasta too thoroughly; the water that clings to it and the leaves of the spinach is needed to thin the cheese and butter and create a real sauce. If the mixture seems too thick when you return it to the pan, add a little of the pasta-cooking water or a couple of tablespoons of milk. Finally, in a dish like this any blue cheese will work well, but great cheese will have a real impact.

Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound spinach
1 pound spaghetti, linguine, or other pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 pound Roquefort, gorgonzola or other good blue cheese, crumbled

1. Set large pot of water to boil, and add salt. Remove largest, thickest stems from spinach; roughly chop leaves and remaining stems. Wash thoroughly. 
2. When water comes to boil, add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until nearly tender. When just about done, add spinach. Stir. As soon as spinach wilts completely — less than 30 seconds — drain quickly. 
3. Immediately return pasta and spinach to pot, with butter and cheese, over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cheese and butter melt, all water is absorbed, and pasta is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Source: The New York Times

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Clarissa’s kedgeree

Isn’t it nice when people offer to lend you their cookbooks?

Really? I don’t think so. In fact, I can’t stand it.

‘Oh, you’ll love this. Take it with you! There’s a pork ragu in there I know you’ll go berserk for.’

I accept the proffered tome with a brittle smile and the usual pleasantries (‘No, I couldn’t. Are you sure? Oh well, If you insist...’)  — all the while thinking, ‘Oh. Great.’

You see, it’s not that the cookbooks people try to lend me are no good — well, not usually. It’s that they’re too good. I get too attached, you see. It causes me very real psychological trauma to have to return them. Particularly — and this is almost always the case — if they are out of print, or otherwise tricky to get hold of.

Usually I have a fairly firm grip on my financially crippling cookbook addiction; I know to avoid certain bookstores or websites when I’m not flush. I give myself over to a new cookbook only when I have the means to purchase it. But when someone lends me a book willy nilly, out if the blue, I am without my armour. (Not to be confused with my armoire, which is also very handy in a scuffle.)

At first, I’ll just leave the book somewhere I won’t have to look at it — under the bed, say — with the intention of returning it to the owner, unread, accompanied by a glowing review: ‘It changed my life. Really, I’ll never cook stroganoff any other way.’

But my curiosity always gets the better of me. It whispers to my subconscious, telling its silken lies: ‘Just a quick skim — no strings attached. You don’t have to commit. We can just go our separate ways tomorrow. I’ll still respect you in the morning...’


I never learn. I always do it, thinking, ‘Just a quick skim...’ And there’s always that one recipe, isn’t there? You know, The One. With Your Name On It. It seems it was created Just For You.  And that’s it. Down the rabbit hole I go — hook, line and sinker.

That’s how the Guinea Pig finds me: in bed, clutching the book, white-knuckled, eyes glazed, slack-jawed and quite unconcerned about the thin stream of drool making its way down my chin.

On that note, I’d like to introduce you to my latest obsession: Clarissa’s Comfort Food. It was lent to me by a very dear friend, handed over with the words: ‘Do try the kedgeree — you won’t be sorry.’ And what do you know? I wasn’t.

This dish has the kind of ingredient combination I can’t turn away from: eggs, lentils, rice, salmon, a bit of spice, friend onions, coriander, toasted almonds... I feel a bit of a bore to admit I’m mad about anything to do with legumes, but it’s true. I get far more excited about a bowl of dressed up lentils and brown rice than I do about roast lamb. If that says anything about me, I haven’t the faintest idea what it could be.

You may remember the author, Clarissa Dickson Wright, from that show ‘Two Fat Ladies’. She was one of them, and by God, if this book doesn’t prove that you should take cooking advice from a fat cook over a skinny chef any day, then nothing does. I am dying to try her onion, aniseed and tomato soup, and something called ‘Fuzdah’s eggs’ (involving boiled eggs, coconut milk, mango and spices — sounds weird but the recipe had me salivating) — she’s got some quite out-of-the-ordinary ones, as well as a host of gorgeously rich traditionals like cottage pie, fish pie, cheese soufflé, fish cakes (made with store-bought gnocchi, thank you), salads, stews and pies.

I’d never heard of kedgeree before, which isn’t saying especially much as I’m not that knowledgeable about food, but what a delightful discovery it was. Apparently it’s very British, and usually made with haddock, though Clarissa does it with salmon when no one’s looking.

When the time came to return the book to my friend, I found my hand would not let go, and there was a spot of polite yanking before it was restored to its owner. So I had to go out and procure my own copy... As if there was ever going to be any other outcome.

All I can say is, do try the kedgeree. You won’t be sorry.

Clarissa's kedgeree
Serves 8

1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cardamom seeds
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 dried red chilli
4 tbsp ghee or clarified butter [I just used butter]
1 onion, ½ chopped, ½ slivered
500g long-grain rice
500g brown lentils
500g cooked salmon, flaked
4 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and cut into quarters
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp slivered almonds
Coriander, to garnish

1. Pound the spices and chilli together. Put them in a saucepan with 1.2 litres water and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and keep the water.
2. In a large saucepan, melt the ghee or butter and fry the chopped onion until coloured. Add the rice and lentils and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. Add the strained spice water and the salt and simmer until all the moisture has been absorbed and all is cooked and tender. Stir in the cooked fish carefully, along with the hard-boiled eggs.
3. Heat the oil in a separate pan and fry the onion slivers until brown and crisp, then drain well on kitchen paper. Sauté the almonds quickly in the same pan.
4. Turn the kedgeree onto a serving dish and scatter the onions and almonds on top. Garnish with coriander.

[To bulk out the recipe you can add cauliflower or potatoes.]