Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

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Not once in my thirteen years of writing hungryandfrozen.com has a recipe featured anchovies. I wasn’t against anchovies – I also clearly wasn’t going out of my way to court their flavour. Being vegan now would suggest that stance is unlikely to change, but then I re-read a Nigella Lawson cookbook, as smooth and eroded from my fingerprints as a statue of Mary in a particularly tourist-friendly French cathedral, and suddenly I was consumed with trying to capture the flavour of anchovies – minus the anchovies. You might shrewdly ask, where was this fervour over the last thirteen years? The thing is, I’ve already had my first Nigella-fuelled attempts at an anchovy phase back in 2006, just before I started my blog. It wasn’t successful – I don’t think I’d amassed the life experience needed to truly enjoy anchovies – and it had since lain dormant, waiting for the trigger: the fact that I really can’t eat them anymore, and so of course, strangely want them. Limitation being the mother of invention – and Nigella being the mother of the mother of my invention, which I guess would make me the mother of my own limitation, and my limitation a servant of two masters, and this paragraph complete nonsense – I made this spaghetti.

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As they say when they’re quoting The Wire, all the pieces matter – the olives give briny density, the nori sheets strongly suggest the ocean, the pine nuts are gently rich, the parsley is strident and a little astringent, and the prunes add darkly subtle balancing sweetness without any actual, you know, pruniness. I know prunes are deeply un-alluring but I insist that you humour me here! I’ve previously paired them with olives in my tapenade recipe – frankly I think they’re an ideal match for each other’s intensity. The chilli flakes were a reckless, “more is more” addition, but their heat grounds the sauce, stopping the flavour from skidding too wildly off-course.

The flavour of this sauce is A Lot, and it looks completely hideous – like hearty mud – but once you’ve made peace with both these factors, deliciousness awaits you. Because, A Lot of flavour is great! And the ugliness of the pasta can be carefully hidden under parsley and extra pine nuts, as you see in the photos. It would take someone more recently familiar with those tiny fish than I to assess for sure if this captures the flavour of anchovies, but it’s definitely got a vibe, you know? This is pasta that has known the sea.

Given that this was inspired by her numerous anchovy-pasta recipes I probably should’ve given it a Nigella-esque high kick of a name, but I find it more helpful for all involved to simply list the main star ingredients. (Pointedly, minus the prunes, since I don’t want to alienate people before they’ve even begun.) That style works for Nigella – no-one needs to read me calling something “Sprightly Spaghetti.”

(To be fair, it really is sprightly.)

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Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (70g)
  • 3/4 cup black olives, pitted
  • 1/2 cup parsley (more or less – just grab a handful)
  • 2 x 10cm nori sheets, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves or to taste
  • 2 prunes
  • chilli flakes, to taste
  • 100g spaghetti or pasta of your choice

1: Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over a medium heat till they’re lightly browned. Reserve a tablespoon or so for sprinkling over at the end, if you like, along with a little of the parsley.

2: Blend the pine nuts, olives, parsley, nori sheets, olive oil, prunes, and chilli flakes either using a stick blender in a small bowl (which is what I did) or in a small food processor, until it forms a thick paste. You will probably need to scrape down the sides once or twice. Taste to see if you think it needs more chilli, nori, etc.

3: Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil (or, more efficiently, boil the jug and then pour that into the pan along with your salt) and cook the spaghetti for ten to twelve minutes, or however long it takes for them to be done.

4: This is a good opportunity to steal some of the pasta cooking water to stir into the olive paste to make it more saucy, if you like – around quarter of a cup should do it. The starch from the pasta makes the cooking water particularly great for this purpose, as opposed to plain tap water which will just make it watery.

5: Drain the pasta, stir through as much of the olive sauce as you like, and sprinkle over more parsley, chilli flakes, and the reserved pine nuts to serve.

Serves 1 generously, and the sauce would easily stretch to two people, just double the pasta obviously. If you don’t have a blending implement, you could chop all the sauce ingredients as finely as possible and mix them together – it will be a lot more textured as opposed to saucy, but this isn’t a bad thing!

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music lately:

All Through The Night, Cyndi Lauper – one of the most beautiful pop songs. My introduction to this was via a 2002 Idina Menzel concert bootleg at Ars Nova (if you know, you know!) but Lauper’s original is glorious, with those delicious twinkly keys and that reckless, triumphant, anything-is-possible chorus.

Suddenly Seymour by Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, from Little Shop of Horrors. There is no one else on earth who should sing this but Ellen Greene – the way she goes from that feather-squeak speaking voice to a blood-freezing full belt is astonishing. I love the way the verses rush over each other in the middle section, I love the Kermit (as in, the Frog) earnestness of Moranis’ voice, and – Ellen Greene’s belting! So exhilarating.

Also, if you like the way I write about music and also like dogs, I made a playlist called 25 Great Songs For Dog Lovers and wrote a bit about each song for Tenderly, and you should definitely both read and listen to it.

Next time: I cooked some pulled jackfruit into which I may have put way too much chilli. I’ve been nervously avoiding returning to it to taste-test, but if it actually is good you’ll be the first to know.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

vegan penne alla vodka

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The subject of vodka raises ire within me, frankly I turn into a real killjoy when I talk about it. Then I feel bad and overcompensate, which extrapolates into me just yelling “It’s STUPID! And that’s VALID!” while people rapidly vacate the room. I say this with a former bartender’s hubris, and the absolute humility of someone who – on this very blog! – once sincerely referred to a vodka soda as a “sneeringly dry drink.” In my defence, 2009 was a simpler time and being exposed to fewer ideas meant you could garner unearned braggadocio alarmingly easily.

My issue with vodka? Its purpose is to not exist; a vodka soda might as well just be a soda. There is nothing else it can possibly taste like. If you sincerely want to make your juice alcoholic without the burden of experiencing flavour then that’s fine, go right ahead and add vodka, but I don’t understand the appeal of prestige brands – there is bad vodka, there is competent vodka, and beyond that, there’s not a lot to discern them. My one exception is Zubrowka, but that’s because the bison grass flavouring makes it delicious and actually recognisable, as opposed to the base spirit itself.

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However. Where I begrudgingly – no, blatantly! – acknowledge this otherwise dullard spirit coming into its own, is in the Italian-American dish, Penne Alla Vodka. Everything about this recipe is pleasing: its drawly, Appenine-via-the-Baltics title, the simple joy of tomato sauce spliced with cream, and, yes, the vodka, which provides sinewy, vigorous richness. Pouring vodka into your pasta might suggest novelty, but a splash of white wine in a hot pan will improve any sauce, so switch out a far higher ABV in the form of vodka and you’re rewarded with even more intensity.

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My version is vegan, so there’s obviously no cream involved. The richness instead comes from coconut yoghurt – the sort that’s so thick you can genuinely stand your spoon up in it – and a little pasta cooking water. Unlike Penne Alla Vodka, which first emerged – unsurprisingly – in the 1970s, the notion of using the starchy water from your pasta as an emulsifier dates back to the Roman Empire. Don’t leave it out, it somehow thins and silkily thickens the sauce simultaneously. The yoghurt lends tangy luxury, and yeah, you can taste the coconut to a certain extent, but coconut becomes your zero point when you’re vegan for a while. And anyway, its unique mellow sweetness works beautifully with the acidic tomatoes.

More than just the same old pasta with tomatoes you think you know, Penne Alla Vodka has a dishevelled sexiness to it, a dish you could make for someone you’re trying to impress while also doing your best to appear artless and nonchalant. And if you don’t have the titular vodka in your liquor annexe? You can always use instead that most gratifying of flavoured vodkas – gin.

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Vegan Penne Alla Vodka

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried penne pasta
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 spring onion
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 tablespoons unflavoured coconut yoghurt
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to fry and serve
  • chopped parsley, to serve

1: Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water. This should take around twelve minutes, give or take.

2: Halve the tomatoes, cut off the green stalky part, and scoop out the seeds. It doesn’t matter if some are left, and you can just eat them if you’re aghast at the wastefulness, I did. Roughly chop the remaining tomato flesh. Finely chop the spring onion and garlic cloves.

3: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion, garlic and tomato – all together at once – over a medium heat till the tomato has broken down a little. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a small pinch of sugar. If you’re using crushed garlic from a jar, leave the sugar out.

4: Add the vodka and let the sauce bubble away on medium for another minute, stirring constantly.

5: Once your pasta is nearly tender and cooked, scoop out two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and mix it into the coconut yoghurt. Stir this into the tomato sauce, and turn up the heat a little to get it bubbling. Stir until the sauce has thickened, then remove from the heat.

6: Fold the cooked, drained pasta into the sauce. Drizzle with more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle over chopped parsley.

Serves 1. If you want to make this for two I’d double the pasta but you can probably just add half the ingredients – like, another two tomatoes and another tablespoon of vodka.

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music lately:

Brand New Love by Sebadoh. Oh, what a song! You think it’s going to be fast and then it’s slow, you think it’s going to be slow and then it’s GINORMOUS. And I will never ever get over how 53 seconds in it sounds exactly like the Defying Gravity coda, like, Stephen Schwartz should be paying them royalties (seriously, please indulge me, the coda starts at 4:28 in Defying Gravity. It’s also, incidentally, my ringtone, and receiving phone calls makes me anxious, which has now made my relationship with this song super weird, although I guess my relationship with it was demonstrably already kind of weird for a grown woman.)

Wimp, by The Zeros, the A-side to their better-known 1976 song Don’t Push Me Around. It’s a great track, but I prefer Wimp’s sludgy, Stooges-y, fulsome brattiness.

Next time: As you can see from the photo above – a small sample! – we are overrun with tomatoes, so they will probably feature.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

ten spoons of spinach, the soul and the spillage

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Many is the fridge with a load-bearing bag of spinach in it quietly withering, but the weird thing with those bags of spinach is that no matter how many handfuls you pull out, the remaining spinach exhales and expands and fills the blank space left in the bag. So while this pesto recipe is a good use for said spinach, it’s not the greatest use, because despite two packed cups full of leaves going into it from said bag, I couldn’t seem to make a dent in the contents thereof. But it is a use. Pesto is one of the most straightforwardly delicious foodstuffs on the planet, I could easily wade into a bowl full of it every morning with gladness in my heart; adding a ton of spinach to it is a decent way of bulking it out without compromising on its flavour.

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As with the Drunken Noodles of my last blog post, this pesto was something I made for Kate and myself while I stayed at her house during a visit to Wellington. Here I used it to coat some gnocchi which was a wonderful combination – the tender and pillowy pasta against the granular, bright green taste of the sauce. The spartan flavour of the spinach somehow dissolves into the basil, giving you an abundance of pesto with a mellow, nutty richness from the tahini, pine nuts and olive oil.

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The secret ingredient is a large pinch of MSG, which I procured a bag of for about $2 and which was absolutely the star of the piece, giving the pesto an almost pop-rocks zing and genuine mouthwatering quality. I’ve been licking my finger and sticking it into the bag of MSG ever since just to feel that delicious head rush of the suggestion of flavour. You might be labouring under the misapprehension that MSG is bad for you, in fact it’s entirely harmless and makes everything taste heightened and delicious – normally I would have poured buckets of salt into the pesto to bring it to life, but with the 3D-glasses effect of the MSG I didn’t have to add any at all, presumably that’s a slightly healthier way to proceed or something.

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Spinach Pesto

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cups (tightly packed) spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1/2 teaspoon MSG, or to taste (optional but ideal)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt, to taste

Toast the pine nuts in a pan over a medium heat for about five minutes or until they’re lightly browned. Remove from the pan to a bowl, or straight into the food processor, and let them cool slightly.

Blend the pine nuts along with all the remaining ingredients in a food processor, scraping down the sides occasionally with a spatula, until it forms a uniform puree. Taste to see if it needs any more of anything – oil, MSG, garlic – and then stir into cooked pasta or do whatever you like with it.

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(The “g” in MSG stands for “Ghost The Dog.”)

If like me, you have been obsessed with pesto since forever, may I suggest some other recipes of mine like this dramatically extravagant three-nut pesto or this recipe for green beans in green sauce.

title from: All Alone by Gorillaz, this has a kind of first person shooter video game quality to it that I like.

music lately:

Let’s Get Hurt by Teengenerate. My friend put me onto this early 90s Japanese punk band, and I love them. This song is crunchier than sand in your teeth and twice as truculent.

I Have Walked This Body by Jenny Hval and Susanna, it’s kind of droning and fuzzy and piercing and slow-moving and full of dread and wonderful.

Also: This mashup of Britney Spears’ Toxic and Deftones’ Change (In The House of Flies) is genuinely quite magical.

Next time: MSG in everything! Also, my Wellington excesses have made me come down with some kind of sore throat/blocked nose ailment so possibly looking at a week of broth or something equally palliative. 

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

you’re all mixed up like pasta primavera

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This post is like a companion to last week’s recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Almond Butter Skordalia, or perhaps an answer to the question, “so I got lots of asparagus, now what?” Spaghetti with Stuff In It is one of my very favourite foods and if I were even more permissive and self-indulgent than I already am that’s probably all this blog would comprise of; it’s certainly a great way to enjoy the new season’s asparagus. As with the previous asparagus recipe it was still pouring with rain when I made this distinctively spring-like pasta but the sheer buoyancy of flavour made it feel like the sun was momentarily shining.

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This recipe is incredibly easy, with only one strict proviso, that the pasta goes in the boiling water at the same time as the vegetables go into the oven so that they can emerge, perfectly cooked, simultaneously, but even if you muck that up and something ends up having to sit around for a bit it’ll still be fine. Zucchini and asparagus are very friendly together, both with a certain rich green flavour, and roasting them makes them soft and caramelised and stickily delicious, with the olive oil, a little wine, and a few drops of the pasta cooking water providing a brief sauce to entangle them all in. (Also: here in New Zealand we tend to refer to zucchini as courgettes in the French/English fashion but I prefer their Italian/American name. Theirs is more sprightly and sexy, ours sounds damply microwaved.)

You can do a zillion different things to make this your own: green beans would be very fine roasted instead of or as well as; you could stir in baby spinach or something else leafy, you could add thyme, basil, or flat leaf parsley as well as or instead of the mint, you could augment or replace the almonds with something else altogether. This could be made with something like fusilli and served cold as a pasta salad, you could add chilli or capers or sliced preserved lemons. Honestly, I wish I did – the reason the recipe is like this is simply because this is what I had: a few leftover asparagus spears, some mint in the garden. I wasn’t even planning to photograph it because it was so barely-considered, just a thrown-together meal – but I’m glad I did, because it is very, very delicious, both decadent and light, artless but elegant.

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Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus, Zucchini, Mint and Almonds

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

  • 100g spaghetti or long pasta of your choice
  • 6 or so asparagus spears
  • 2 medium zucchini (courgettes)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • a splash of white wine (optional – if not a squeeze of lemon juice) 
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • handful of fresh mint leaves
  • salt and pepper

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cook the pasta in lots of boiling, salted water for about twelve minutes or until tender. As always, I boil the kettle first then pour this into the pan rather than heating the water in the pan because it’s faster but feel free to ignore this suggestion!

While the water is boiling, trim the ends off the asparagus, and slice them into thirds lengthwise. Trim the zucchini and slice lengthwise into sticks roughly the same size as the asparagus. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves. Place the asparagus, zucchini and garlic into a small roasting dish and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle over plenty of salt and pepper and roast for around ten minutes.

At this point, give the vegetables a bit of a stir, sprinkle over the almonds and return to the oven for another couple of minutes, to let the almonds brown lightly.

Remove the dish from the oven, pour in the white wine if using and extra olive oil, and then use tongs to transfer the cooked pasta into the roasting dish. Moving the pasta like this rather than draining it allows some of the pasta cooking water to transfer into the roasting dish as well, the starchiness of which helps everything cohere. Sprinkle over most of the mint and use the tongs to lift and stir everything together, then transfer to a plate and sprinkle over the remaining mint, and more olive oil, salt, and pepper if you want it.

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Speaking of delicious, here is a round up of pieces I’ve written for Tenderly recently! I’ve derived so much joy from contributing to this publication since it launched in July, not least because it’s literally wild to be able to support myself through my writing. To be fair I’m still living at home with my parents but – if I hadn’t moved back in with them I wouldn’t have had the time and energy and clarity of mind to pursue an opportunity like this and to actually deliver content without having a mental meltdown at the thought of self-directed task based activities – like a snake eating its own tail on a rollercoaster, it’s hard to know what went up, down or around first, but it’s definitely happening and I am one happy snake.

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Speaking of “speaking of delicious”, if you, too, are into Spaghetti With Stuff In It as a genre, you might also want to consider other recipes of mine like Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce; Lemon “Parmesan” Spaghetti; and, as a true companion to this spring-y recipe for my northern hemisphere readers, Autumn Spaghetti (Spaghetti with Roasted Butternut, Parsnip and Broccoli; Maple Nutmeg Black Pepper Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds; Garlicky Crumbs and Fried Sage.) (Easier to make than it is to say out loud, I assure you.)

title from: What Goes Around by Beastie Boys, a sunnily traipsing track from 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, an album that was largely passed over when it was released but eventually was recognised as an important and influential classic, something I can’t wait to relate to.

music lately:

Alley Oop by The Hollywood Argyles, this is a novelty song from 1960 and the lyrics are indeed stupid as hell but it has the cadence of a really good song, with that tick-tock bass and slightly honky tonk piano and Gary Paxton’s insolent vocals, weirdly sexy despite the purposefully silly lyrics.

In My Room, The Walker Brothers. This song is stunning, from its Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor-biting opening chords to Scott Walker’s intense, soaring voice and that pure sixties shag-carpeted beat. Perfectly deployed in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, it’s as much synopsis as it is soundtrack.

Next time: time for something sweet, I think.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and want to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. A mere dollar or two per month will not only extremely help make hungryandfrozen.com possible, it also gets you exclusive content created just for you. Exclusively.

I make spaghetti with tomato sauce because that’s all I can make

Vegan tomato spaghetti

Every now and then I get jolted by the fact that 90% of the recipes in my cookbook (yes, my cookbook, Hungry and Frozen: The Cookbook, 2013, Penguin, a highly underground cult item by which I mean it was aggressively discontinued less than a year later) were only tested once, which was entirely due to financial reasons (I didn’t anticipate the responsibility of paying for ingredients and resources for testing 150+ recipes falling to me) coupled with a certain clinging need to make it seem as though everything was fine and this is definitely what I expected from the process, and nothing to do with my lack of dedication to recipes that are proven to work.

Indeed, if looking up the word “science” on Wikipedia, ctrl-F searching for the word “test” and then immediately closing the tab without reading any of its content is anything to go by, making something once isn’t even technically testing it, you’re just, you know….making it once. I’m fortunate in that I can usually trust my oddly innate recipe-creating abilities but I nevertheless keep a place in my brain solely dedicated to housing the fear that someone will email me all like “I made that cake in your book and it wouldn’t rise and the centre was all gluey and undercooked and the flavour had little to recommend it and my wife cited it as grounds for our subsequent divorce proceedings which were fast-tracked with shoddy paperwork and little emotional closure.

Vegan tomato spaghetti

But this recipe, this recipe I made three times and am thus immensely satisfied that it’s neither fluke nor failure – no seasoning with plausible deniability here, confidence is my condiments. Yes, I’m genuinely embarrassed at myself for writing that out, and yes, no, I’m not deleting it.

The reason I made it so many times was the reason for its existence in the first place: it’s a very, very cheap recipe, a real something-from-nothing, flying by the seat of your pants that are currently being worn by the rabbit you pulled out of a hat type thing. The sum is greater than the whole of your pants: a mere onion, a lone tomato, a charmless can of tomato puree, the most off-brand dried spaghetti the supermarket can procure, it all comes together under the heat of the oven to evoke the taste of hours of toil and multitudes of ingredients. It somehow suggests the flavour of tomatoes that have been plucked in most reverent silence in the holiest of Roma’s hills while also hinting at the thickly-sauced comforting promise of canned spaghetti, I’m talking old school canned spaghetti that exists in my memory and not anymore on the supermarket shelf because I know they’ve changed the recipe to make the sauce cheap and watery and the noodles structurally unsound but in the early nineties when, you have to bear in mind, there were only like four different things that had been invented to eat, canned spaghetti was genuinely ultimate and tasted of abundance.

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The key thing here is that you roast the absolute living daylights out of the ingredients. That’s all there is to it. Without that level of heat the tomato puree will taste like expired iron tablets and the onion will be bitter, but under the oven’s blaze it all melts and bubbles and gets sticky and crunchy and charred around the edges, hence the word caramelised in the title since that’s precisely what you’re aiming to do.

It’s incredibly delicious, which is the other reason I’ve returned to it repeatedly, just so immensely full-throatedly rich and intensively tomato-ish and hearty and messy and somehow really buttery and it’s even amazing cold – but then I always did favour the spaghetti unheated, straight from the can – so your opinion of this habit may colour the value that you place on that last opinion.

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Now generally I like to give many options and segues of other ingredients you could include but honestly this is perfect as it is, and because there’s so little going on each ingredient is proportionately crucial. The only leeway I would offer is that if you can’t get hold of a whole tomato for whatever reason it’s not the end of the world, but it really does add texture and body and I assure you, even the most anemic-looking middle-of-winter tomato can be transformed by this recipe. The canned tomato puree must ideally be puree – not canned chopped tomatoes, not passata, not paste – for it alone hits that absolute sweet spot of thick texture and liquid sauciness. If you’re considering reducing the olive oil, first of all, grow up, and second of all, if anything, add more. The olive oil is central to the caramelisation and the richness and the texture and the flavour. While I’m being a fusspot I really feel like this sauce lends itself directly to actions like dramatically twirling pasta round your fork and then dramatically lifting the fork higher than your head before dropping the pasta into your open mouth getting sauce on your chin and laughing heartily yet attractively like a free-spirited character in an arthouse film or a prestige drama about a family of tension and tradition in equal measure and you can really only get that with spaghetti but if all you’ve got to hand is penne it’ll be like, literally fine.

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Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce

A recipe by myself. (It’s much simpler than the length of the recipe makes it look, I’m just explain-y.)

  • 1 onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 tin tomato puree
  • 100g dried spaghetti or other long pasta of your choice
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil, but allow for more
  • salt and pepper
  • very optional but nice: herbs (eg thyme, basil) and chopped almonds to garnish

Set your oven to 220C/430F. Peel and thinly slice the onion into half-moons, and roughly chop the tomato. Get a small roasting dish – for example, the sort that you might bake brownies or a slice in but also would make yourself a small quantity of roast vegetables, you know, those standard smallish rectangular tins – and place the onions and tomato on one side/half of the roasting dish and tip the can of puree onto the other half. Drizzle everything liberally with the olive oil – like a full four tablespoons is entirely ideal here – and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Don’t stir it yet.

Roast it for about thirty minutes, stirring one or two times during this time only once the onions and the tomato have collapsed and got a little browned/crisp around the edges. If it looks like it needs more – and it well might – return it to the oven for another ten to twenty minutes, but continue to keep an eye on it as there’s a fine line between crispy and straight up burnt. With this in mind I usually start the roasting dish on the top shelf and move it to the bottom shelf towards then end.

While all this is happening bring a large pan of salted water to the boil (which I always do by boiling the jug first and then pouring that into the pan rather than heating up the water on the stove top, it’s much faster) and cook the spaghetti until it’s tender – twelve minutes or so should do it.

When you’re satisfied with the done-ness of both the sauce and the spaghetti, remove the roasting dish from the oven and use a pair of tongs to transfer the spaghetti from its pan into the roasting dish, and to mix it all together. You could drain the spaghetti in a sieve or a colander and then dump it into the roasting dish but using tongs helps retain a little of the cooking water on the spaghetti strands which in turn helps the sauce to cohere better.

Spatula everything onto a plate, scraping as much of the sauce and any crunchy almost-burnt bits as you can from the roasting dish (I sprinkle a tablespoon or so more pasta cooking water into the dish and swirl it round to pick up every last bit of sauce) and then garnish, if you like, with fresh thyme or basil (or both!) and chopped almonds, and perhaps, one last drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 1, although I think you could quite comfortably get away with making this serve two by using 200g pasta but keeping everything else the same.

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I asked Ghost what he thought about pasta and first he was just like “PASTA” over and over again but then he was all, “as August de LaCroix said in 1842, ‘the flâneur is to le badaud what the gourmet is to the glutton,”‘ and “the badaud was later defined as “curious, astonished by everything he sees, he believes everything he hears, and he shows his contentment or his surprise by his open, gaping mouth.”‘ And I was like “Ghost, that’s exactly what I would’ve said, in that order!” (As you can see from the photo, Ghost and I are often of one mind. One…at best.)

As always, thank you to my important Patreon patrons for supporting my writing. If you have made it through this genuine nonsense and you’re like, this gal’s really going places and I want to ride those coat-tails to the top then you too, should become a patron! A mere handful of your dollars per month directly influences my ability to write and live and I might be able to create a cookbook with recipes tested more than once. You receive exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or recipes or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is. Signing up is easy and my gratitude is real.

title from: Brimstone and Fire, by Cyndi Lauper. Is this one of her best songs? Honestly, I think no. But it is fine, and she does talk about spaghetti in an alarmingly relevant way.

music lately:

Falling, by Xiu Xiu, from a commissioned series they did of covers of music from Twin Peaks. This is atmospheric and foreboding, with powerful momentum dripping in slow motion like honey from a spoon, I love it. (This album was described as one of their most listenable and you know you’re really on a level when using material by David Lynch makes you more accessible.)

The Sweetest Girl, by Scritti Politti, I just adore this song, all woozy and dreamy and sinister and lovely and highly amenable to listening to on a loop about twelve times before it even registers that the song hasn’t ended yet.

Next time: If you absolutely cannot tell I had a terrible night’s sleep before writing this and perhaps it’s that lack of sleep talking but I might be ready to try making ice cream again, actually.

feeling like a bowl of spaghetti, not knowing what to give

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Look I’m telling you right now that this doesn’t taste exactly like parmesan but it evokes a certain mood that if you’re generous and tilt your head to one side and you haven’t eaten actual parmesan in like nine months so your doltish tastebuds don’t know any better, is generally very pleasing. As you can tell by the equally generous “”””” around the word parmesan in the recipe’s title, like I’ve climbed up a small step-ladder before launching into exaggerated air-quotes. I am just a firm believer in being honest with you and making sure that you have all the information you could possibly need and indeed all that you absolutely don’t need as well before you consider embarking upon this recipe!

It’s also extremely and sincerely delicious. I’d had this recipe shuffling about my brain for a week prior but could never seem to square up actual convivial times to cook food (eg 2pm, 6pm) with when I was actually ravenously hungry (always around 11.48pm or 1.20am for no good reason at all!) This detail is, I grant you, extremely not interesting, but I needed to get it off my chest because it was literally just a whole week of me being like “I’m satisfied with a small bowl of cereal for lunch” and then hitting the hay at midnight suddenly unable to think about anything other than this pasta and it was highly frustrating! In all honesty there was some self-discipline involved in me making it at last; one afternoon I’d walked back to Newtown from my friend’s house in Brooklyn – one suburb over – following the maps app, which sounds straightforward but may I remind you how simple tasks like this cause my brain to warp like an old cassette tape and I rapidly got very lost, or at least it felt like it, I was in truth a mere handful of metres away from recognisable land when I fell into this predicament, and there’s no real way to convey the fear I felt and before you ask yes, I was looking at the map app and yes, for some reason it was now refusing to tell me where I was, possibly for haunting-related reasons, and no, it wasn’t Google maps, and yes, going off-brand is possibly to blame for the misinformation, and no, I didn’t realise that the app that came with my phone wasn’t Google maps already, and yes, it took an hour and twenty minutes to do a walk that was, according to the off-brand maps app, supposed to be thirty two minutes, and after enduring that I really just wanted to lie down but I was like Laura, you’ve got to get this recipe idea out of your head and onto a plate and to the people, and so that’s what I did and now you too can finally relax because I’ve finished telling this necessary yet wholly pointless preamble.

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So the sweet and nutty ground almonds have this wonderfully soft-yet-granular texture which truly emulates that of finely grated parmesan clinging to each al dente strand of the spaghetti as you twirl it round your fork like it’s a curly telephone cord winding around your fingertips; the fresh lemon cuts through everything with its golden shine but also echoes the acidic nature of that absent cheese; nutritional yeast is, I shruggingly concede, an obvious ingredient, bringing its crowd-pleasingly cheese-mimeographing savouriness. Don’t hold back on the olive oil, as it makes everything buttery and rich, and the splash of pasta cooking water may sound unusual but, bringing with it the starches that have leeched out of the spaghetti itself, it helps emulsify the sauce and make it surprisingly creamy. You know, considering it’s just mildly floury water.

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I hate to be firm with, well, anyone really, but I really want to insist upon the importance of the thyme’s presence – you can use bottled lemon juice instead of fresh stuff, you could still have a good time if you don’t have nutritional yeast, absolutely use regular olive oil if that’s what you’ve got but the fresh thyme gives you everything: pugnaciously herbal savouriness…resiny richness…a far-off murmur of citrus…gentle sweetness…thyme flavour.

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Lemon “””Parmesan””” Spaghetti

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried spaghetti
  • 2 -3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • grated zest of a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or as much as you can get out of it)
  • 1/3 cup ground almonds
  • 2 heaped tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard (any is fine, I used Dijon)
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • a pinch of ground pepper
  • a pinch of garlic powder (optional, but worth it)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Bring a large pan of water to the boil – it feels obvious to be explaining this to you but it always goes a lot faster if you boil the jug first and then pour that into a pan and bring that to the boil rather than just waiting for the pan of water to boil itself. Once it’s at a rolling boil tip in a generous pinch of salt (it’s hard to oversalt pasta water so don’t be scared) and cook the spaghetti for ten to twelve minutes or until it’s, you know, cooked.

Meanwhile, mix the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, ground almonds, nutritional yeast, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme leaves together in a bowl along with about a tablespoon of the cooking liquid from the pasta. The second time I made this I used bottled lemon juice and found that some extra olive oil counteracted the slight bitterness of the juice, I also just like a lot of olive oil. As with all recipes, taste to see what you think it needs more of. 

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it thoroughly and mix it into the lemon-almond sauce. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and sprinkle over some extra thyme leaves because why not, and then serve.

Makes enough for one.

P1180735(Ghost’s face, when I’m really firmly like “𝘩𝘦𝘺 buddyY, this pasta is for big boys only, not for small good boys, is that okay with you ??? ? ? ? big idiot boys only. . . .not gȏod flṻffy smâll boys. . . 𝕤𝕠𝕣𝕣𝕪 bëbé. . . but in this world- oh he’s göne.” )

Pasta is my favourite and this is my favourite kind of pasta – simple, elegant, a small amount of sauce quietly shadowing it but not overshadowing it. It’s perfect as it is, but it could, however, also hold its own while holding up something else on top – perhaps some sleekly roasted eggplant slices or a customarily meatball-shaped thing.

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Speaking of words like favourite and perfect, look at this stunner tattoo I got done with my perfect favourites Kim and Kate for my birthday by Jade at Sumi Tattoo, by which I mean, we all have matching tattoos now! It represents the Three of Wands tarot card which we all kept being unconsciously drawn to over the years and the collective interpretations of which read like a bullet-list of our journey together so far and it’s really pretty and we’re each like a supportive side of the triangle! I love stuff that’s symbolic and literal at the same time!

PS: As per and as always, thank you to my Patreon patrons for supporting me and my writing, you are each and every one of you seen and appreciated. Should you wish to join this perspicacious cadre of patrons yourself, then you may sign up here. A couple of dollars or more per month directly influences my ability to write more and gets you exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is or a recipe for the best vegan scones.

title from: Casper, a sweet and woozy song by Daniel Johnston.

music lately:

Comfortably Numb, specifically from Roger Waters’ hilariously overblown 1990 concert performance of The Wall held on land where the literal Berlin Wall itself had fallen eight months prior, like a snake eating its own tail while frantically yelling “this is GREAT!” to anyone who will listen. When Pink Floyd cleft themselves in twain in the 80s you were left with the excellent, if occasionally ponderously dour songwriting of Roger Waters in one camp and the lovely singing voice, strong melodies but very bad lyrics, (and, I suspect, slightly sunnier disposition) of David Gilmore in the other. So what’s a scamp like Waters to do when faced with the concept of putting on an all-star concert version of the album that was the bombastic undoing of his very band: why, he went all star. And so we have Van Morrison AND The Band in the David Gilmore vocals, and where Gilmore was icy, Van Morrison is like a heat pump warmly gusting towards you with The Band’s country-flavoured harmonies over that gloriously soaring chorus somehow creating the absolute sense that, despite this song actually being about swiftly-creeping dread, you are both safe and loved. To really drive this home they, in an uncharacteristically commercial bone-throwing exercise, give us another repeat of the delicious chorus at the end after Snowy White’s long and crunchy guitar solo. You bet Levon’s Helm’s trucker cap that I’ve listened to this pompous magnificence like twelve times this morning alone.

Sailin’ On, by Bad Brains, for a far more economical yet no less effective use of guitar solo. I love how scuffed up this track sounds and its headrush speed and the oddly adorable “ooooh” vocals that start in verse two, or are they saying “mmmm,” it’s hard to tell against all that noise, but still: oddly adorable.

Next time: I had some smashing cupcakes when I went to my book group today and because I’m highly suggestible I now have a singular urge to make cupcakes; it’s certainly been a while.

autumn leaves drift by like angels

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Bad things are always happening and we absorb them into our perception of reality without even realising it. Yesterday you were X, today you are X+N(N=new bad thing) and next week you might be X+N+N+N or you might get away with not being this at all, for now. On Friday March 15 a white supremacist terrorist attack happened in Christchurch, where 50 Muslim people who were praying at mosques were murdered by a man with a gun, and now this is the new reality and I can’t remember what it was like to not know this.

This blog post is not going to be about this or about how it’s affected me – that’s not what anyone needs! – but I need to acknowledge that it happened and that it’s added an extra layer on top of us all, like a coating of poison-laced buttercream on an old, stale cake. I will say: everything feels kind of urgent and pointless at the same time, however I am focussing on direct, concrete actions that I can take, because I want to be contributing positively in whatever ways possible. I believe strongly that this is the most important thing that those of us who aren’t part of the Muslim community can do: actual, concrete things. If you don’t have money, it could be time, energy and mental effort. Volunteering, supporting, writing letters to politicians to endorse new gun control measures and to the media to condemn those they employ who contribute to white supremacist ideology. Have uncomfortable conversations, challenge your racist uncle, don’t pretend you can’t see weird posts from your long-ignored acquaintances or workmates on Facebook. Read Muslim writers’ articles and stories. Acknowledge your rising anxiety and be kind to yourself, but examine where you stand in proximity to this tragedy. There’s a good article on The Spinoff that links to where you can contribute money for the victims and their families and places you can volunteer. I want New Zealand as a whole to scrutinise itself, to do better and do more for the Muslim community and in turn for all those who need it. That’s what I have to say.

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This week’s recipe is full of elements that I find comforting but I would like to establish real quick that I’m not equating it with what’s happened in a greater context, this is just what I happened to cook for Kate and Jason for dinner the other night. It’s not like, self-care pasta or anything! Let’s not do that.

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I’m kind of obsessed with roasted butternut squash (indeed, see my recent recipe for sticky roast balsamic sumac butternut and cashews), I love its mellow sweetness and how when you roast it the edges are all crisp and crunchy and the insides are all soft and oily and I really love how it’s about a thousand times easier to slice up than regular pumpkin and cooks quicker too. Parsnips have a similar vibe, only even more mellow and creamy, and together they taste like a welcome payoff for the fast-retreating summer. (Summer actually ended like a month ago but global warming has blurred the edges of that framework and anyway I live in a city with a climate that seems to consider itself cavalierly above the concept of seasons.)

Nutmeg has this soft woodsy scent that merges beautifully with the fresh-cedar-cabinet vibes of the toasted walnuts and then when you add the warmth of black pepper and the smoky sweetness of maple syrup it’s that feeling of winding a long scarf around your neck and over your chin several times and then pulling a beanie low down over your forehead so basically only your nose is visible to the biting cold; but in food form. The garlicky crumbs are a cheap way of adding opulence and richness and the sage – as woody as nutmeg and almost eucalyptus-y – adds to the overall depth of flavour.

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Autumn Spaghetti (Spaghetti with roasted butternut, parsnip and broccoli, maple nutmeg black pepper walnuts and pumpkin seeds, garlicky crumbs, and fried sage.)

A recipe by myself

  • olive oil, plenty, and just regular, not extra virgin
  • 400g dried spaghetti
  • 1/2 a large butternut squash
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 1/2 a head of broccoli
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • a good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (or a pinch of dried, ground nutmeg from a package)
  • 2 soft white bread rolls (or similar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or one finely chopped garlic clove or a teaspoon of garlic from a jar)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato relish
  • 2 teaspoons mustard – Dijon, English, or wholegrain
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • lots of salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons or so freshly chopped chives, to serve

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a good-sized roasting dish and put it in the oven to heat up while you prepare the vegetables.

Carefully slice the skin from the butternut and cut the flesh into cubes of roughly 1-2cm, then do the same with the parsnips. No need to peel them though. Carefully tip both of these into the hot roasting dish, spread them out into one single layer, and roast for around twenty minutes. Chop the broccoli up into small pieces – stem and all – and add it to the roasting dish, then return it to the oven for another ten minutes. Pour over more olive oil if it looks like it needs it.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil (I always boil the kettle first and then pour that in, it’s a lot faster), add plenty of salt, and then cook the spaghetti for as long as the package instructions require (around ten to twelve minutes usually does it.) Drain, and stir through the tomato relish and mustard.

While the pasta is cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds and walnuts over a low heat in a frying pan, keeping a close eye on them to make sure they don’t scorch. Transfer them to a bowl and stir in the maple syrup, the nutmeg, and plenty of salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Tear the bread rolls into small pieces and crumbs. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan, and tip in the breadcrumbs. Stir over a medium heat till they’re golden brown and crisp. Stir in the garlic powder, then tip the crumbs into a bowl and set aside.

Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the same pan and fry the sage leaves till they’re very dark, then remove them from the pan and set aside on a chopping board or something. This will only take a few seconds per leaf, I recommend using a pair of tongs to get the leaves out.

Pile the spaghetti onto three plates, then spoon over the roasted vegetables, followed by the garlic crumbs, then the toasted maple walnuts and pumpkin seeds, then crumble over the sage leaves, then finally sprinkle over the chives. Drizzle a little extra olive oil over it if you like, then serve. If the garlic crumbs have got too cold they can quickly be reheated in the pan before you tip them over.

Serves 3 although could maybe stretch to four, just up the quantities a little.

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every good boy deserves pasta

I’m back in Wellington for a couple of weeks which means I’m back staying with the eternally kind and generous Kate and Jason; I cooked this for us for dinner and then – having not taken any photos of it but being quite pleased with myself – made it again the next day for lunch just for me, and made some adjustments to improve it, and that’s the recipe that I’ve written up today. (“oh” – Kate and Jason reading this, probably. Sorry, Kate and Jason, that you got the first draft.) As with all my recipes I encourage you to work with what you have to hand. If you don’t have sage or chives, plenty of freshly chopped (not fried) parsley would be good, fresh thyme leaves also are delicious and evocative of autumn. You could try hazelnuts or almonds instead of walnuts, cauliflower instead of broccoli, and use penne or some other short pasta instead of spaghetti. If you’re using short pasta, you could also let it get to room temperature and serve it as a salad – in which case perhaps consider stirring through some rocket and slices of crisp pear. And honestly, if you’re not avoiding dairy for whatever reason, I freely and slightly gloomily concede that any iteration of this recipe would probably be amazing with some parmesan shaved over.

I’ve been out of work for about a month now and even though I’m still kind of buffeting about on the wind like a balloon, with no fixed abode and no real deadlines to tie myself to; I nevertheless feel like the amount of space in my brain available to being creative has grown tangibly and as a result so has the creative work that I’ve done. Every day that passes seems to make things ever more sharper-focussed which is honestly an amazing feeling. I spent a lot of last year with the low-level hum of panic in my ears about my lack of direction, now I have SO much direction and it’s such a relief. I don’t have any advice on how to make that direction appear any faster than it has, if I did, I wouldn’t have spent so much time panicking, but I suspect…panicking does not help? Do I advise you to stop panicking? I mean sure, and while you’re at it why not turn back the incoming tide by like, kicking it lightly.

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(I was all, Blankets! Candles! Books! Pasta! Autumn! And Ghost was all, “I agree!”)

title from: Park Song, by Laura Nyro. Her voice is so beautifully melancholic, it’s the sound of grey clouds making it dark at 4pm but not so dark that you can turn a light on so you just sit there in the semi-gloom getting increasingly existential.

music lately:

30 Century Man, by the recently-late Scott Walker, it opens with those guitar chords that I can’t describe in a technical sense but where you just immediately know this song’s going to be sad but uplifting and feel like you’ve heard it before and like you’ve never heard it before all at the same time and like it should play over the one happy scene in an unhappy arthouse film where people stare out of windows a whole lot (for example, So Long Marianne by Leonard Cohen and Alone Again Or by Love also have these guitar chords, you know what I mean?)

Poe, by The Shirts. I like that it’s kind of punky and proggy at the same time, by which I guess I mean that it’s punky but goes for over five minutes. Notable for the presence of a young Annie Golden!

Zadok the Priest, by Handel. I’ll be honest with you, this is a good song and all but I’m really here for the first minute and fifty seconds of it which goes SO HARD, with the teetering anticipatory climb of its building chords which, when it finally drops, gives us the choir singing with this incredible anxious urgency of sound. After that it starts to sound more straightforwardly celebratory, all “rejoice, rejoice” but for that first stretch it’s brilliantly tense and exciting.

Next time: I will aim to cook Kate and Jason dinner that’s not a first draft.

PS: If you would like to support what I do and receive exclusive content (such as a review of every book and movie that I consumed in January or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is) then I encourage you to sign up to my Patreon.