Instant Gnocchi [vegan]

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It was somewhere in that indistinct and malleable stretch of the early nineties before the internet became accessible, let alone entrenched, and before every minute was documented – somewhere in that time, I sat down brimming with cheerful anticipation for the latest episode of Full House only to be confronted with a hideous replacement show – Mountain Dew on The Edge – a show whose title is opaque to the point of meaninglessness and yet is somehow entirely and nakedly threatening to be about sports. (To my disgust, it really was about sports.) It was on that sombre day I learned that TV shows have seasons that end, and they don’t just spit out new episodes forever, and you can’t rely on anything or anyone in this cold world but yourself, kid. It was somewhere in that same era that I once again faced disappointment when I turned on the television expecting a brand new episode of a particular sitcom and was met, instead, with a clip show, that budget-saving device TV shows lean on occasionally by cobbling together an episode from previously filmed segments – and I had no media literacy or access to Wikipedia or the TV Tropes website to understand what was happening or why I felt so let down. Who can you trust, if not your TV in the nineties?

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Today’s recipe is, I apologetically acknowledge, something of a clip show, taking components familiar to long-term readers of both this blog and my Patreon – although hopefully it’s a clip show in the mildly superior vein of The Simpsons “All Singing, All Dancing” episode which had the grace to grant us the timeless Paint Your Wagon parody before getting into the replays. Just as Homer takes comfort in the presence of Lee Marvin – “he’s always drunk and violent!” – we can take comfort in knowing my recipes are always good, even if you’ve seen them before. And I’m currently in week three (I think?) of a Level 4 lockdown without any promised end date in sight, so I hope you can allow me a short rest on these comfortable laurels.

I wouldn’t be repeating this recipe, first seen here in 2017, if it wasn’t for good reason – this gnocchi is literally instant, using mashed potato flakes instead of peeled, boiled, and mashed potatoes. Whether you’re in lockdown, or you’re depressed, or you don’t have actual potatoes, or the thought of peeling potatoes and waiting for water to boil and then waiting for said potatoes to cook till tender makes you want to sob – whatever’s going on, this gnocchi can be yours in fifteen minutes from start to finish, even quicker if you’re feeling sprightly. (If this sounds like a glib recommendation, please know that I have made this gnocchi in every last one of these states and am speaking from experience.) This recipe is even faster than it was the first time around since I’ve dispensed with the time-consuming fork-rolling step – no great sacrifice and it makes the gnocchi look like tiny little pillows, a benignly pleasing notion.

Obviously – and perhaps this is what I should be really apologetic for – this is not the traditional Italian way of making gnocchi, and I imagine it’s not just the Italians who would get het up at putting instant mashed potato flakes front and centre of a recipe. But these instant mashed potato flakes are singularly useful to have around – they’re cheap, they last forever, they really are instant, and they’re a lifesaver square meal during times when you don’t know how your next actual square meal is going to fit into your bank account. They also make truly delicious gnocchi – light, puffy, golden-crisp and genuinely quite elegant – a dish that feels like a treat at any time, but especially in the middle of lockdown.

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Instant Gnocchi

This gnocchi is not traditional – taking a huge shortcut with instant potato flakes – but it is very fast and very delicious, and that counts for something. Recipe, proudly, by myself.

  • 3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 3/4 cup just-boiled water
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cups flour, and perhaps a little more
  • olive oil, for frying

1: Mix the mashed potato flakes, water, and salt together in a bowl – which will turn the flakes, suddenly, into something resembling mashed potato – then stir in the flour, switching to your hands (a little carefully, since it’ll still be hot from the boiling water) to briefly knead/push it into a ball of soft, pliant dough. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour, if it’s too floury, add more water.

2: Using your hands, roll portions of the dough into long snakes, and cut off pieces at 1-inch intervals, continuing with all the remaining dough till you have a pile of 1-inch pieces of dough, looking like tiny pillows. Obviously, you don’t have to measure with a ruler here. Just cut the stuff up.

3: You can cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water at this point – for a couple of minutes until they start floating on the surface – but what I prefer is to just tumble them into a hot frying pan with a couple spoonfuls of olive oil, place a lid on for a minute or so to sort of steam-fry them, and then remove the lid and turn them over so they get brown and crisp. I realise my lengthy description makes it look like this is the harder method; it’s much easier and, I think, significantly more delicious.

Serves two, modestly, or one, very generously.

Notes:

To make the also-fairly-instant sauce that goes with the gnocchi in the photos – which is adapted from a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s in her Forever Summer book – take a whole lemon, slice off the ends, the zest and most of the pith, chop the remaining flesh into pieces and throw it into a food processor along with some of the zest (flicking out any seeds that you see with the tip of your knife) and a very large bunch of parsley, process this into a lemony-green gunge, then add a pinch of sugar, a tablespoon of mushroom soy sauce, and at least three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and process again. Pour over your cooked gnocchi. If you have the energy and means, a few finely chopped garlic cloves and a piece of bread roughly chopped into large crumbs fried in olive oil is an excellent topping for all this.

Also feel free to refer to my original version of this recipe, which is served with a fantastically good mixture of fried Brussels sprouts, rosemary and pine nuts and which – as you can see by the similar-but-different quantities in the recipe – will hopefully reassure you that this gnocchi method is very forgiving and hard to get wrong. So many times I’ve made this I accidentally add the flour in with the mashed potato and boiling water and it still turns out quite edible.

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music lately:

Take Me To The Other Side by Spacemen 3. Psychedelic and messy and delicious.

Here Comes The Hotstepper by Ini Kamoze. The way this used to fill the dancefloor with reliability at the school disco, a time that feels as distant and improbable as when I last occupied a dancefloor as an adult, to be honest.

Biology by Girls Aloud – this song is always on my mind anyway but after band member Sarah Harding died at age 39 on September 5 it’s been on my mind, well, even harder. Say what you will about Girls Aloud but when they were good they were incredible – their only peers of that jewel-tone cocktail dress era in terms of boundary-pushing yet utterly manufactured pop were the Sugababes (with producer Xenomania in the middle of that Venn diagram). Biology asks, what if a song was all choruses, featured adequate dancing, and was the best thing you’ve ever heard? (And my heart is about as heavy as it can get with the loss of actor Michael K Williams today; no more bad news like this, I beg.)

Losing My Mind, from Sondheim’s musical Follies, performed here by the late Marin Mazzie – oh, since we’re already crying – “you said you loved me – or were you just being kind?”

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Chilli Corn Macaroni [vegan]

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I’m not sure there’s a pasta shape in the world where the mere mention of its name immediately evokes and suggests its partner ingredient the way macaroni does with cheese. Yes, there’s spaghetti and its frequent dance partner bolognese. But spaghetti has broad-spectrum versatility, it’s culinarily non-monogamous, whereas – other than perhaps those spooky mid-century salads – what else would you do with macaroni but serve it as mac and cheese?

I say this to point out that while my recipe for Chilli Corn Macaroni isn’t supposed to be a vegan mac and cheese dupe, it still relies on the muscle memory of your taste buds to recognise the similar vibe – bright yellow, crunchy topping, creamy sauce, comfort food. In my earlier days of being vegan, I was more dedicated to coming up with sauces that could emulate and replace the macaroni cheese I’d grown up with, but the longer I stick with it the more I find myself making recipes that owe something to the blueprint but aren’t trying so hard, which – I think – makes them all the more interesting and delicious. I’m talking specifically about my Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese or the Triple Pickle Macaroni that I made for my birthday last year; and now I’m adding this Chilli Corn Macaroni to the canon.

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And yes, you could make this sauce for linguine or bucatini or something more elegant but it fits best with the homely and unassuming macaroni elbow (or other small shape if that’s all you have) and till the day comes where a decent and affordable vegan cheese appears on New Zealand supermarket shelves – not crayon-waxy, not stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth gluey, but proper and sharp and able to melt into bubbling pools of golden promise – till that day comes, I’ll stick with these recipes.

That being said – would this taste amazing with non-vegan cheese melted on top? Probably! I’m not going to haunt your descendants from beyond the grave if you decide to do it.

Fortunately for the rest of us, this macaroni tastes excellent as is. The corn is pureed into sunshine-coloured velvet and becomes wonderfully buttery and sweet – if yellow had a flavour, this would surely be it. This sauce owes something to the Corn Butter Risotto recipe that I made a few years ago, but it’s significantly simpler to make – though nothing’s stopping you from straining this sauce through a sieve as well I imagine no one has the energy for that right now. While this is comfort food, it’s not entirely coddling you – the hit of chilli ties it all together, which is hardly a surprise when chilli and corn pair so well in numerous other established recipes. The garlic crumbs on top are my usual way of providing added texture and flavour in these circumstances, and rather than thinking of them as a cheese substitute, they are delicious, and indeed, necessary in their own right. In case this sounds like too much effort, rest assured that you don’t have to wash the blender or the pan between making the crumbs and the sauce – beyond that I can’t help you, but I certainly won’t judge you.

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Chilli Corn Macaroni

As long as you have some kind of blender this couldn’t be easier – or more comforting – just creamy, buttery pasta evocative of mac’n’cheese without actually trying to be it, blanketed in crunchy garlic crumbs. Recipe by myself.

  • 200g macaroni elbows
  • 2 pieces of bread (any kind is fine, although I’d lean towards white bread)
  • 2 fat garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 x 400g can of whole corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (I used mushroom soy sauce)
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha or chilli sauce of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional)
  • a splash of pickle brine (optional, but very good)
  • salt and white pepper, to taste

1: First, bring a pan of water to the boil, generously salt it, then tip in the macaroni elbows and cook them for about twelve minutes or until tender.

2: While this is going on, toast the two slices of bread in the toaster – just to dry them out a little – then tear them into chunks and place in a blender or food processor with the garlic cloves and thyme leaves, and pulse till they form breadcrumbs. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry these garlicky breadcrumbs till golden and a little crunchy – bearing in mind that they’ll crunch up more upon sitting – then remove them to a bowl and set aside. This makes a decent quantity of breadcrumbs, perhaps more than you really need, but naturally, I’ve allowed extra for you to swipe while making everything else.

3: In the same blender – no need to wash – puree the drained corn kernels along with the mustard, soy sauce, nutmeg, and sriracha along with about 1/2 a cup of water (I just eyeball the quantity from the tap into the empty tin of corn, swirl it around, and pour it in). A high-speed blender works best here to really puree the corn into velvety mush, a regular food processor may struggle to achieve the right texture, or at least, you’ll be blending it for a lot longer. Also, it goes without saying (but I’m saying it just in case) that you can add more or less chilli to suit your taste.

4: Heat the same pan that you cooked the breadcrumbs in – again, no need to clean it – and spatula the corn mixture into the hot pan, along with the cornmeal and pickle brine if you’re using them. The cornmeal helps to thicken it but it’s quite fine without; if you don’t have any just add a small splash of starchy pasta cooking water, the pickle brine is pretty self-explanatory flavour-wise but you could always use a little red wine vinegar instead. Stir over a high heat, letting this bright yellow mixture bubble away and thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, and then – since the pasta should be cooked by this point – take off the heat and stir in the drained macaroni. Divide between two bowls and top each bowl with a generous quantity of garlic breadcrumbs.

Serves 2. You could get away with putting 300g of macaroni in this, but add a little extra pasta cooking water to the sauce as you stir it. Any more pasta than that and I’d add an extra can of corn (and instead of doubling the seasoning, you could consider instead throwing a vegan chicken stock cube into the blender with the second can of corn.)

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music lately:

Can You Get To That by Funkadelic. If the colour yellow had a sound it would be this song!

Evel Knievel by Lilys, it’s a big crunchy distorted beeping stop-start mess of a song but it’s just the kind of thing I want to listen to. For something more straightforwardly pleasant I recommend the delightfully effervescent Ginger – the opening song to Evel Knievel‘s closer on their 1994 album A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns.

Candy Store from the off-Broadway musical Heathers (based on the film, Heathers) performed by Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alice Lee and Elle McLemore; I listened to this cast recording and thought it was fine but then I couldn’t get this song out of my head so here we are – between that glam-rock stomp of a drum beat and the stunning harmonies it’s just very, very catchy! There’s also this one small part of the song Big Fun from the same musical which is forcibly lodged in my head and I can’t get it out, but to prevent you being similarly afflicted I won’t tell you which part.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese

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A lot to unpack here – despite the title of this recipe there is demonstrably neither macaroni nor cheese involved, and as for the wayward cross-cultural Thai-Italian fusion, perhaps the less said the better. But this is a food blog, so unfortunately for us all, I legally have to say more.

That being said – because we’re sliding headfirst into Christmas and because I am significantly sucrose-dizzy from eating large amounts of the mixture while making my Christmas Cake and Raspberry Rainbow Slab before settling down to write this – I will keep to the point: this is perhaps the best mac’n’cheese I’ve ever made. I’ve had numerous stabs at making THE vegan mac’n’cheese and they’ve all been great – usually involving cashews and pureed roasted carrots and nutritional yeast – and they’re still excellent recipes which I’m happy to call my own! This specific recipe just happens to be at the charming crossroads of tasting fantastic, while involving barely any effort (and not a single blender.)

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This is a recipe I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time – based simply on some stove-side musing, while using Thai yellow curry paste in its intended form. It occurred to me, while tasting the curry sauce I was stirring and simultaneously stealing small spoonfuls of the curry paste from the jar to eat – that its savoury, salty fulsomeness might be surprisingly wonderful and slightly cheese sauce-adjacent draped over pasta.

I figured this concept might also require what we in the business call a soft-launch – by which I mean, I made it just for me and my brother on a night when my parents were out. It was all I had hoped for and more: the pasta and creamy roux provided a smooth tranquil background to the mellow heat and heady mix of spices in the curry paste, somehow – corroborated by my brother – quite bewitchingly cheese sauce-like – and yet also its own unique creation. What I’m trying to say is, this definitely tastes like yellow curry paste and pasta, and that is a very good thing, and yet it doesn’t taste incongruous. It’s so good, even though its main ingredients weren’t originally intended to be bedfellows – just so good! Besides, 2020 has made strange bedfellows of us all, and this mac’n’cheese is precisely the sort of comforting and easy tuck you want at this destabilisingly intense and hyper-emotional time of year – or indeed – any time.

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Thai Yellow Curry Mac’nCheese

So simple, so delicious, maybe the best vegan mac’ncheese I’ve ever made? A recipe by myself. 

  • 200g macaroni or small pasta shape of your choice (I only had casarecce for some reason hence the photos)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons refined (flavourless) coconut oil (plus extra for the breadcrumbs)
  • 2-3 heaped tablespoons Thai yellow curry paste
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup soy milk

1: Bring a pan of water to the boil, add plenty of salt, and cook the pasta until it’s, you know, cooked.

2: Meanwhile, toast the breadcrumbs in an extra tablespoon or so of coconut oil in a saucepan over a medium heat until they are lightly golden brown. Transfer them to a dish and cover to keep warm until required.

3: In the same pan, melt the coconut oil and stir in the curry paste, heating it through for a minute or so. Add the flour and stir for another minute or so, by which point it should be a very thick, orange-coloured doughy roux.

4: Add the soymilk, a little at a time, stirring it into the roux the entire time to prevent lumps – it may help to switch to a whisk at this point – and continue stirring constantly over a medium heat until the sauce is thick and, well, saucy. Add about a quarter cup of the pasta water to the sauce and continue stirring. Once it looks thick enough to coat, pleasingly, the pasta, remove it from the heat. If it gets too thick, however, just stir in some more milk or pasta cooking water. Stir in the nutmeg, and then taste to see if it needs any more seasoning – you may, quite justifiably, wish to add more curry paste, which I encourage you to do.

5: Drain the pasta, stir it into the sauce, and sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs over the surface.

Serves 2 as a main.

Notes:
  • I know you’re going to use whatever oil you have in the cupboard and that is absolutely fine but I’ve only tried this with refined coconut oil and its particular buttery flavour is quite specific!! However I’m sure unrefined coconut oil or olive oil would be great instead if that’s what you’ve got.
  • All the Thai yellow curry paste I’ve found has been vegan, but definitely check the ingredients just in case.
  • You may be tempted to skip the nutmeg, to which I say: no. Don’t.

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music lately:

LA WEED, by Allison Stone from her latest album of the same name. A long-awaited new release from Stone brings the year to a close in a slightly more bearable way – I love the title track and just everything from this album, it sort of sounds like Elastica if they were slowed down and then sped up again but only slightly?

Supervixens, by AR Kane, I know I talked about this song last week but the truth is I just have not stopped listening to it! And nor should you! Can you honestly tell me that whatever else you’re doing right now is more important than this?

Lonely Train by Judy Henske. Equally at home in folk as she was doing torch songs, this is more the former and showcases her jaw-dropping rich howl of a voice as it surges over an urgent, steam-powered guitar rhythm.

Next time: 2021, baby.

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. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis for as little as one or two dollars. Merry Christmas!

Spaghetti with Horseradish Butter [Vegan]

I took some time out from blogging over the past fortnight because it didn’t sit right with me to do normal updates as though an enormous uprising wasn’t happening in America in response to police brutality, murder, and systemic oppression of Black people. That uprising is so enormous – so powerful – that there was nothing else worth knowing about. Frankly, I didn’t want to hear my own voice. I’ve been donating to bail funds, signing petitions and doing a lot of reading, and – in order of their usefulness – I encourage anyone and everyone to do the same and to reflect hard if reflection is needed, and if you want any recommendations or thoughts just ask me! There are parallels between the failures of America and the failures of our own police force in New Zealand and the specificity of the Black Lives Matter cause to America doesn’t mean we’re removed from its impact. This is not a definitive statement on what’s going on or what the best response is – but just as much as I needed to shut up for a while, now I need to not, you know?


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This recipe for spaghetti with horseradish butter was domiciled in my brain for a long time – actual months – before I had the opportunity to make it. Despite being mostly at home during the various levels of lockdown I was never quite alone, and this was a recipe I knew I had to make alone – in case it was terrible, so no one else would be marred by the experience – or in case it was incredible, so I could selfishly yet serenely enjoy its abundance all to myself. Happily, it was the latter. Quite incredible.

Horseradish belongs to a particularly brusque family which includes wasabi, mustard, cabbage, broccoli and radishes, so even if you’ve never tried it this should give you some clue as to its flavour – clean, grassy, and more sinus-exfoliating than Buckley’s Canadiol expectorant, if consumed in large quantities. There’s a delicacy to horseradish though, a sort of gauzy pepperiness which cuts through richness in an elegant way, thus making it perfect for this simple buttery pasta. That being said, this sauce would be equally delicious made with wasabi or mustard instead.

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The butter is quickly made in a blender – based on this recipe I blogged about last year – and it’s fulsome and creamy and, well, buttery, or at least as close as my tastebuds can recall butter to be from the times before I was vegan. Any sharpness from the horseradish is mellowed out by the flood of richness from the coconut oil, but then any overwhelming richness from said oil is tempered with just enough harshness from the horseradish.

The quantity of butter this recipe makes could absolutely be sufficient for two people’s worth of spaghetti – perhaps even three – although I wouldn’t want to make that call personally. Much as I love it, I understand horseradish can be a somewhat divisive flavour – so perhaps it’s for the greater good if you make this just for yourself, too.

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Spaghetti with Horseradish Butter

A recipe by myself.

  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon vinegar (I used malt, cider or red wine would be good too)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon grated horseradish, from a jar
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g spaghetti or dried pasta of your choice
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, for garnish

1: Either in a high-speed blender or using a stick blender in a small bowl, blitz the almond milk, ground almonds, vinegar and horseradish. You can also add a pinch of turmeric for colour if you like. It might feel a bit ineffectual blending such a small quantity of liquid but it will come together when you add the oil.

2: Add the oil and salt and blend thoroughly for about thirty seconds or until the mixture is thick and smoothly pureed. If you are using a stick blender, drizzle it in slowly as you’re blending, but if you’re using an actual blender just chuck it all in. Taste to see if it needs more salt, and refrigerate while you make the pasta.

3: Bring a large pan of water to the boil (or: boil the kettle and then tip that into your pan, which is much faster) and salt generously. Once the water is boiling, tip in the pasta and cook for ten to twelve minutes or until tender.

4: Drain the pasta, retaining about 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Stir in as much of the horseradish butter as you like – I used the whole lot – along with a little of the cooking water, the starchiness of which will cohere with the butter to form a delicate sauce.

5: Serve, sprinkled with the parsley. Serves 1.

Notes: You can use refined or unrefined coconut oil successfully here – unrefined will give a slight coconut flavour, but I guess we’re used to that by now. You could try making this with a different plant milk but almond’s neutral (dare I say nonexistent) flavour works best here – if that’s not available I would go for rice milk instead.

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music lately:

Efuge Efuge, by Stelios Kazantzidis. As they say in the youtube comments, The Wire season two brought me here, and this song is so enigmatic – especially that mournful yet body-motivating chorus.

Germ Free Adolescents by X Ray Spex. Ugh I love this song, the way Poly Styrene’s voice cracks and then soars, it’s so grim yet so uplifting, like a – I don’t know, all I can think of is watching an albatross fly over the setting sun but then it swoops down and kicks you in the face and then flies off again and you’re like, “you know what, that belligerent albatross probably had their reasons,” because it’s so beautiful.

King of the World, by Billy Porter from the off-Broadway musical Songs for a New World. Porter was part of the original cast but due to a contractual conflict he didn’t appear on the cast recording – fortunately he recorded a version of this glorious song for his 2005 live album At the Corner of Broadway and Soul. Even in audio form you can feel his acting – but the singing! In that final chorus! When he inverts the melody and throws it towards the sky! Like a non-belligerent albatross!

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. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Triple Pickle Macaroni

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A birthday in lockdown is no great hardship compared to the breadth of suffering and distress worldwide resulting from COVID-19. I also can’t pretend to be winsomely diffident, it took some getting used to – but it was only a very small adversity. There were many positives: I received a lot of love online – and truly, there’s no greater gift than online displays of affection. Would I rather have an elaborate present, or a nice instagram story about how much someone loves me? That’s so unchallenging a question it’s practically rhetorical. (But the answer is the latter, in case I wasn’t clear.) I also got to make dinner for my family, and since making dinner is a pastime I anticipate with irrational vigilance, it was like another gift to me.

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On the menu was pesto seitan, a salad with the final precious avocado for the foreseeable future, and something I call Triple Pickle Macaroni, since, well, that’s what it is. Like all good recipes this idea appeared in my head all at once, fully formed, and all I had to do was make it. I was going to call it a Mac and Cheese because it’s certainly evocative of that wonderful dish, but there’s no actual cheese involved and something in the sheer inelegance of the title Triple Pickle Macaroni cheered me hugely. Now, no matter how defined the image of a recipe is in your mind, the tangible result doesn’t always match up. Fortunately for me, my family, my birthday, and ultimately you: it was so delicious.

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The pickled elements I refer to are sauerkraut, gherkins and pickled apples, each of which tangle into the creamy sauce and provide tangy, biting contrast. With all the sharp-sweet-saltiness going on it almost tastes like there is cheese involved, and in fact – well, I’m only human – I concede it would probably taste particularly great with actual cheese added. Naturally, referring here to vegan cheese – if you can find one which doesn’t go unsettlingly waxy when melted then feel free to plough ahead and stir it in. Should you eat cheese made out of dairy I’m not going to hold it against you if you put it in this recipe, nor would I assume you’d care what I think about this decision, but you know I’m obliged to mention our terrible expensive vegan cheese first. Should you have no cheese of any sort to hand, fear not: the Triple Pickle Macaroni is wonderful on its own. Rich, robustly hearty, tasting of lurid kitschy yesteryear and the punctilious present all at once, dense enough to make you sleepy but strewn with enough vinegary bursts of texture to wake you back up again.

In my last blog post I talked about the overwhelming, impenetrable irritability that has grown like a haunted forest around my brain in lockdown. If I may be frank, after some reflection I’m not entirely convinced it’s me being disagreeable – I think people really are just becoming more annoying. I am, however, doing my best to remain sanguine. Turning 34 was not at all what I thought it would be, but it was, all told, a rather happy little birthday, and I’m immensely grateful to everyone who helped make it so.

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Triple Pickle Macaroni

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 500g package macaroni elbows
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite or half a stock cube
  • 2 cups oat milk or whatever you have
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup sauerkraut
  • 1/4 cup chopped gherkins (or as they’re sometimes simply known: pickles)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickled apples
  • salt and pepper to taste, plus a little paprika to sprinkle over

Note: I don’t assume you have pickled apples to hand – you can use pretty much anything else you think would work, whether it’s pickled onions, beans, zucchini, whatever. Or just more sauerkraut and gherkins.

1: Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water for about eleven minutes or until it’s tender.

2: Meanwhile, stir the coconut oil, olive oil, flour and Marmite together in another pan over a medium heat, continuing to stir for about five minutes or until it’s somewhat thickened. Slowly add the oat milk, continuing to stir the whole time. Let it simmer away over a low heat, stirring often. It should be fairly thick and saucy but still plausibly able to coat a whole lot of pasta at this point, add more milk if it gets too thick. 

3: Stir in the nutmeg, nutritional yeast, and all the pickled ingredients. I’ve suggested 1/4 cup of each as a starting point but you can absolutely add more, indeed, I encourage it.

4: By this point your pasta should be cooked. Drain the macaroni, reserving about 1/2 a cup of the cooking water, which you then add to the simmering sauce. Taste the sauce to see if it needs more of anything, then stir through the drained macaroni. Serve sprinkled with a dusting of paprika.

This makes a LOT, and will serve four people very generously with plenty of leftovers, and probably up to eight people as a side. 

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music lately:

I Want You To Love Me, by Fiona Apple. The only thing better than public displays of love on my birthday is Fiona Apple releasing a brand new album. This is the first song on Fetch The Bolt Cutters and it arrives with a clatter of piano keys and Apple’s throaty voice and her lyrics which have the emotional effect of being suddenly kicked behind the knees: Whenever you want to begin, begin/We don’t have to go back to where we’ve been/I am the woman who wants you to win/and I’ve been waiting, waiting for you to love me.

Simon Zealotes, from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, covered by Ledisi. Very specifically, I’ve been listening to the stretch between 2:12 and 3:09 over and over where she sounds especially incredible, and I strongly encourage you to do the same, I wish the whole song consisted of this bit.

Cheree, by Suicide, I love this song so much, it’s kinda creepy and yet makes it feel like the world is full of possibilities all waiting for you to discover them, which is, you must admit, a rare combination to pull off.

Next time: the pesto seitan was also super delicious and I finally am truly at one with seitan, so I might post that recipe.

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. And if dovetailing is something you’re keen on, then there’s truly no better time than at this close proximity to my birthday.

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.)

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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.