One of the most annoying things about being an off-grid eater is how hard it is to be lazy. Gone are the days when calling for a curry, or Pizza Man on those days that, as supper time approaches, it turns out that one really can’t be fagged. So even on the days (many) when I have zero desire to cook, I generally have to – whether I like it or not. As a result, I am always extra excited to find ways to rustle up a meal in minutes and this happy little surprise coincided with watching the last-but-one Bake Off last week when I was home alone. I do find that having only myself to please always unleashes the spirit of experimentation.
I was going to cook my shop-spiralised courgetti (now that IS what I call lazy) by frying it as usual. I tend to do things like this (by which I mean disrespecting the courgetti with oil, instead of steaming it) because even though I’ve been forced down a much healthier road than I’d ideally travel, food-wise, I’m always looking for loop holes, and opportunities for a bit of indulgence, like a bit of deviant frying. But on this particular night I was feeling sad about the lack of noodle soup in my life, which led to a brainwave. I chopped up some tomatoes with garlic and roasted them with olive oil at 170 degrees for about 40 minutes, to make a sort of tomato confit.
When they were cooked, I cooked the courgetti in a generous slosh of chicken stock in my wok frying pan. About four minutes later I’d made what I decided to call Faux Pho. I added the tomatoes and some grated cheddar and sat eating, with no-one to hear me slurp, what felt for all the world like a comforting bowl of noodle soup. But the best thing about it was that it took only minutes to make. Who needs pizza, man?
I’m treating Sunday nights with kid gloves at the moment; something about the transition to Monday isn’t sitting easily. But luckily I know what the antidote is: extreme cosiness, and the right food. Last night we had my current signature dish (by which I mean I’m cooking it two or three times a week due to not being able to remember what else to cook or eat, mainly because this is so good). I’m calling it, ‘Roasted ratatouille’, but it’s not mine at all: I nicked off Em, who got it from Rachel Roddy. I then bought Rachel Roddy’s book, Five Quarters, purely on the strength of how delicious the ratatouille is. The book is gorgeous, but I can’t find the ratatouille anywhere in it, so this is a handed-down, word-of-mouth version of the original (which has potatoes in, by the way. And I’d have ’em too if I could – but don’t in any way feel the lack of them). Anyway, props to R. Roddy for the idea. The first time I cooked it I questioned the 90 minute cooking time (are there any nutrition left in those veg? Possibly not…) and also the amount of oil. But I went with it and By Gum it’s seriously good; the veg sort of caramelise and come together with sweet intensity. Last night we had it with roast chicken. But the other day I just had a big bowl of it with grated cheese (if I could have been fagged, a zesty salad would have been a good aside). But however way you have it, it’s got hygge written all over it and it seriously took the edge off our Sunday evening. See? Food helps!
2-3 red onions
8 large tomatoes
few cloves of garlic thickly chopped
100 ml olive oil
Heat the oven to 190 degrees. Cut the courgettes into discs slightly thicker than a pound coin. Peel the onions, cut in half and then cut each half into four quarters. Core the tomatoes and chop into quarters with the garlic. Put into a baking tray (I prefer to use glass because I think it cooks more nicely in a way I cannot explain scientifically) and gently toss in the oil. Salt and pepper and then pour the water into one corner of the tray (rather than all over the vegetables) so it resides at the bottom. Check and gently turn every 20 minutes or so. After 90 minutes it should all have cooked down and resemble a sort of caramelised tray bake, at which point it is ready. Hurrah!
There are some unexpected silver linings about living in the land of the (grain) free. And one of those linings is sprouts.
I know what you’re thinking. Sprouts are yuck; the worst thing on the Christmas lunch plate and a once-a-year horror.
But seriously people, if you think you hate sprouts I urge, nay, implore you to think again.
Sure, boiled, overcooked sprouts are foul. And, true, when you cook sprouts you have to apologise the smell away to anyone who steps over your threshold for the next 24 hours. But just open the window and don’t get hung up on that. When I discovered the roasted sprout, cooked with a bit of garlic, served with a sprinkle of parmesan and dipped in home-made mayo, well it’s fair to say that things, in a modest way, started looking up.
I’d actually forgotten about the joy of sprouts until about a month ago. Then, suddenly, they started appearing in shops again and it was another reason to embrace autumn. If you buy a ready prepared bag you barely need to do anything to them except maybe cut them in half, depending on their size, roughly chop some garlic, put both in a bowl with a slick of oil, stir and season then transfer it a roasting tin and roast away at 180 for 30-40 minutes, depending on size. Grate on some parmesan and get dipping and they are delicious on their own or on the side.
There’s no telling some people though. Every time I get some sprouts out to cook, Tom still says, “Wow you really do love sprouts, don’t you?”
Well yes I really, really do – so, sue me!