It’s been an anxious few weeks and we’ve got several more to go it seems. Social plans and holidays may have been cancelled but, at least, there’s the next meal to look forward to. In times of crisis, food takes on a new significance.
Cooking is an absorbing, practical distraction from the madness and uncertainty of the world and the results speak for themselves. For many it’s been a time to experiment with recipes and develop new skills like bread baking, as well as find satisfying ways of using up store-cupboard ingredients that have been lurking a little too long.
With a few staples in the larder, it’s possible to rustle up a tasty nutritious meal – even if fresh produce is limited. Simmer tinned tomatoes down to a thick sauce for pasta and top with some grated parmesan. If you have them, a slick of olive oil and a few basil leaves takes it up a notch. Tinned sardines in tomato sauce (or with added tomatoes) also do a similar job. Warm them through with a splash of orange juice (or juice and zest from a fresh orange), a pinch of chilli flakes or shake of tabasco and stir through spaghetti. Chopped parsley or better still gremolata: breadcrumbs (I keep a bag in the freezer whizzed from stale bread) fried with garlic and herbs and a great way of perking up a casserole.
While you’re out walking you might spot some wild garlic which is a great way of boosting flavour and makes a delicious pesto. A sauce made with this and some left-over roast chicken is another tasty easy to throw together pasta dish. You can also blitz wild garlic with some olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays for a flavour-packed addition to dishes. Hadley Woods is a good place to look for it and the smell gives it away.
If you’ve got any mozzarella cheese, tortilla wraps are ideal for instant pizzas (and take up little space in the freezer). Instead of passata (which can go off quickly once open), try tomato purée slackened with water for smearing on the base. We top the pizzas with ham, salami, anchovies, capers, artichokes – whatever we fancy – and then take it in turns baking them in a really hot oven.
Like many people, we’ve been dabbling with bread baking. We’ve resurrected our sourdough starter which hadn’t been used since moving to Barnet in 2013 when Victoria Bakery saved us the effort for several years. Now that they’ve sadly closed, it’s a good time to renew these skills. With flour in shorty supply but, thankfully armed with some in-date yeast (scored in our “corner” shop), we’ve been using this handy recipe from Sainsbury’s for Easy Plain Flour Loaf. The main difference is adding a small amount of sugar to the yeast and kneading the dough for about 20 minutes, but the results are impressive. What’s more, the teen will happily eat it (whereas the sourdough is currently for adult consumption only).
We’d love to hear your tips and I’m sure we’ll be back with more ideas as the weeks go by. Bon appétit and here’s to your very good health!