So… last year you did that spring clean in your kitchen and finally ditched the pasta machine that’s been gathering dust in the back of the cupboard. Probably patted yourself on the back then for decluttering… but this year, it’s a different story. You now realise that it’s the missing piece on your road to winning lockdown bingo. The insta-famous banana bread and choc-chip cookies have been made, the sourdough starter is alive, and you’ve participated in more Zoom quizzes than you ever thought possible… but how to tick off ‘make you own pasta’ without that sodding machine?! You will no doubt have a rolling bin or empty wine bottle which will absolutely do the job but requires a bit of hard graft and extra time… so that’s definitely an option, but I’ve got an even better one for you.
Forget about the thinly rolled sheets to be cut into fettuccine or folded in ravioli or tortellini. Stick with something altogether less faff but equally satisfying. Friends, I am going to suggest you make cavatelli. This small rustic shell-like pasta shape is made from semolina flour which is another bonus if you find yourself rationing wheat flour. I managed to easily source it in the international foods section of my Sainsbury’s or you can order it online, doesn’t appear to be in short supply. And the final reason why I think cavatelli (or are they actually called gnochetti… no amount of googling has given me a definitive answer) is worth your time, is that it actually doesn’t take that much time – from flour to finish in around an hour!
After my first attempt at making kimchi, there very almost wasn’t a second attempt. Not because the end result wasn’t tasty, or because it was particularly hard to make… it was the smell. I thought I was adequately prepared for that funky fermentation whiff when I opened it for the first time, but I was not. And neither was a certain someone… from memory, he actually left the flat, for no other reason. So as you can imagine, once that batch was finished, it took me a while longer to work up the courage and olfactory fortitude to try again…
The second, third, fourth… I’ve lost count now… times that I’ve made kimchi since then, it’s turned out a lot less messy both in the mixing and the smell factor. Which is an absolute relief because we love the stuff and have taken to eating it any which way we can. The distinct sourness and gentle blend of sweetness and spice makes it a perfect accompaniment for more than you might realise. Of course it’s an absolute necessity in Korean dishes such as kimchi-jjigae (kimchi stew which you can add pork and/or tofu to), kimchi buchimgae (pancakes), or as a side to a bibimbap. But… it’s also absolutely delightful in a crispy chicken burger or a grilled cheese toastie. That, my friends, is why you need to start making your own with this easy kimchi recipe…
A friend recently asked if I had any recommendations for yakitori spots in Tokyo… I mean, how long is a piece of string? Alongside sushi and ramen (which he also asked about and I think is even more of a minefield), yakitori is probably one of the most recognisable Japanese foods. ‘Yakitori’ which translates to ‘grilled chicken’ might just be meat on a stick, but in Japan where everything has a certain ceremony to it, this is meticulously prepared meat on a stick. Every piece of bite-sized chicken, which could be anything from breast, liver or even skin, is carefully selected and threaded onto a skewer before being seasoned with either shio (salt) or a tare made from a base of soy sauce and other flavourings.
During our time in Japan, we chewed through a lot of yakitori. You’ll find some yakitori on most izakaya menus as they pair so perfectly with a cold beer, but we did also visit a few yakitori-ya where they were even more extensive and creative in their use of the whole bird. As offal lovers, we were in heaven… livers and hearts were particular favourites. I think the best way to do a yakitori meal is to park yourself up at the bar, order a beer and get a steady stream of sticks until you’re full. Either let the chef choose (omakase) or get a mixed plate (moriwase) and then repeat the ones you particularly enjoyed!
The first time I made this courgette loaf cake, I happened to be at home working my way through a particularly nasty piece of project planning and budget forecasting. All those spreadsheets evidently made me hungry because about two hours in, at around 10am, I found myself sticking my head in the fridge hoping for some inspiration or at the very least, something to nibble on. I spotted a lonely courgette in the veg bin, half packet of feta, half a chorizo ring, and thought I definitely had the makings of something delicious there. So I turned to trusty google for ‘savoury courgette cake’ recipes… and came up with… not much that didn’t require a trip to the Sainsbury’s Local and could be done in a matter of minutes in between emails and spreadsheets.
So I changed tact and went in search of a generic savoury or cheese loaf/bread recipe, with the plan to just add my fridge forage treasures to it and hope for the best. Which leads us to where we are now. I have made this courgette loaf cake several times now with various tweaks; some worked wonders, one really tanked, but I think I’ve finally got the right balance. As long as you use self-raising flour, and make an effort to draw out the excess water from the courgettes, this recipe should serve you well as a base to which you can add your own twists. A lightly toasted slice with a slather of butter makes for a hearty breakfast, or add a bit of bacon, sliced tomatoes and a fried egg for a quick and filling lunch. Or just do what a certain someone does and nibble on a bit with a dollop of pickle when you need a snack throughout the day…
I have recently mused that in a past life, I was born a Spaniard because whenever I set foot in Spain, I immediately feel at ease. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a guest, but the country and people have always seemed welcoming and friendly. I think I could quickly acclimatise to a life of late starts and late nights, indulging in all the hearty and flavoursome Spanish cuisine, and sipping on their well-rounded wines with every meal. The more we see and eat of the country, the more we want to stay longer.
We’ll always have our snappy weekend jaunts, but we’re also embracing a slower, more leisurely way of travel. Our last Spanish adventure was a ten day affair through Andalusia; it gave us enough time to see all the sights but also just to sit back, relax and do nothing but just be present in whatever Spanish scene we were in. I loved that trip so much, I’m already eyeing up a slow amble through another part of the country… This time, it’s Catalonia after being inspired by Inntravel’s Homage to Catalonia tour.
Last week, I got a spiralizer. I am well aware that they were all the rage last year, but I sort of dismissed them along with the so-called clean eating gurus who were flogging them. I didn’t buy into their crazy rhetoric that such a thing as courgetti could replace such a thing as spaghetti, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to buy the gadget! Yeah, the name works but the taste, texture and overall enjoyment? No thanks. I’m an inclusive eater, no one food group gets cut out in favour of another in my diet… we’re all one happy (mostly) balanced family in my tummy. However in the name of research, I’ve decided to give the courgetti or the zoodles a go, but only alongside rather than instead of their carb friends!
The good thing about jumping on a trend so late is that lots of people have already outlined the pros and cons of each of the main types of spiralizer. The one that’s like a giant pencil sharpener is as silly as it sounds and should be avoided at all costs, but the horizontal and vertical ones (depending on which way the vegetable goes through the slicing process) are much of a muchness. I’ve got a horizontal one which seems to be the most common; it was even the version of choice by two well-known spiralizing sister… mines exactly like theirs minus the branding and the huge mark up!
Is that how the song goes? Because at the tail end of the year, I always find myself a little more cautious with my cash – aside from the usual dinners out and weekend getaways, there are also a raft of birthdays to celebrate, Christmas dinners to attend, and presents to buy for both occasions! However some might well argue that in reality, every season is one to spend, and the tail end of everypay cycle is when we start feeling the pinch…
You can cut back on a lot when things are tight, but in my opinion, eating well should not be one of them… I’m not an advocate of choosing certain diets or cutting particular foods out, I’m all about the balance which makes me a sucker for a bargain and a little obsessed with supermarkets. We love experimenting with cheaper cuts of meat (lamb’s hearts are delicious, don’t you know) or turning basic ingredients into flavoursome and comforting meals… more for less, you might say if you work in the public sector!