How’s your Easter week-end going? Chances are it’s been more relaxing than mine, I hope. If you’d like to find out, here’s a test: if you close your eyes, can you see bindweed roots? I can. I would have dreamt about them too, if I wasn’t so exhausted from all the digging (seriously, who knew digging was so hard? and why didn’t they tell me? I was woefully underprepared!)and the raking, too. I had no idea I had muscles in those places, but apparently I do, and they are making their presence felt.
On the plus side: I have a new haircut which will allow me to wear lots of eyeliner while pretending I’m Mary Quant (I flatter myself not at all), the sun is out (!), and I have a near-perfect butterzopf stashed in the freezer ready to finish off its baking in time for tomorrow’s breakfast. Perhaps life is not so hard after all.
Butterzopf is one of those things that I ate all the time (quite literally – when you see the ingredients, you’ll realise what a marvel it is that I fitted on the plane back home) while I lived in Switzerland, and miss terribly now I’m back in England – along with dried mango, and M-Budget chocolate. While I am fairly sure I don’t stand the faintest chance of either finding a) mangoes ripe enough to dry and b) some sun in which to dry them, or of setting up as a chocolatier in the utility room, making some bread – that should be a doddle, right? Right?
I suspect a conspiracy. I say this because it seems the whole world has been out to hide from me just how staggeringly easy it is to make gnocchi out of a squash: the entire internet seems to be full of recipes designed specifically to put prospective gnocchi-ers off of making the stuff. An example – several have you roast a squash, then re-cook the – already roasted – squash in a saucepan (stirring constantly, of course) before measuring out exactly one cup of the resultant goo and – get this – reserving the rest for another use. Because of course, I like to have puréed squash around the house, just in case. What? you don’t? Meanwhile, you are simultaneously cooking One Potato, which you had the forethought to weigh in the supermarket to make sure it was the correct size, and the frankly Herculean list of tasks continues regardless until you have used All The Pans, or collapsed from exhaustion, or both.
On an entirely (ahem) unconnected note, it has been pointed out to me that sometimes, in the kitchen, I am not at my most reasonable. I enjoy tasks that other – more sane – people actively try to avoid: chopping mountains of vegetables, or grinding spices by hand, for example. I was caught julienning a whole celeriac by hand, not so long ago. I do, however, object to recipes which insist on lots of labour-intensive steps and a mountain of washing-up when there is a much, much easier way of making something equally delicious: need drier squash? Chop it into smaller pieces, and roast it at a lower heat for a bit longer. You’ve got the knife and chopping board dirty already, and turned the oven on anyway, and actually all of our time is much better spent making sure there’s a bottle of wine in the fridge, no?
The food police have taken over in my office at the moment, and my guess is that yours isn’t much different: it’s January, and therefore nice food is Not Allowed. I am plotting the revolution as we speak. Come join me behind the barricades – there will be banana cake (with chocolate bits in! oh, the decadence), and these pies, and of course anything that you fancy bringing along. Be careful which friends you bring, though: no-one will be allowed to gaze covetously at any mid-morning snack while they tuck forlornly into their third Ryvita of the day – these people will be unceremoniously evicted from the brotherhood.
It perhaps does not reflect very well on me as a person that I am entirely intentionally bringing in pies for lunch, while what seems like the whole of the rest of the office munches their way through salad after salad. I could be worse, however – I suspect there are those among us who are actively pursuing the make-everyone-else-fat-so-I-look-thinner school of January dieting, otherwise known as bringing in all the spare Christmas chocolate biscuits for everyone else to eat.
What nobody except you and I needs to know, though, is that these are secretly very healthy pies – you see all those vegetables? Easily enough to cancel out the butter in the pastry, by my reckoning (although I do have a record of not really subjecting these hypotheses to proper scientific analysis. Please don’t do so on my behalf, though – ignorance is bliss, after all). In all seriousness, these are packed with good things: squash, spinach, lentils, chickpeas – the lamb is almost a secondary concern. They include more vegetables than meat, and more pulses than either – perfect for a January weekday lunch. If you want to up the filling-to-pastry ratio, just make the pies bigger, or make pasties instead, or serve this for dinner with rice and pickles. It’s delicious either way.
I have lots to share with you at the minute – there’s some recipes, and also the benefits of wearing legwarmers to work – but my train was delayed on the way home, and I have spring rolls to eat and an episode of the Bake Off urgently requiring my attention, so instead of writing up one of the recipes that I have already cooked for your reading pleasure, I made a whole new one to tell you about. Illogical? Me? Surely not.
Actually, I might also tell you about the legwarmers now. Mine are a particularly fetching pair of rainbow-striped ones that I bought millennia ago, in my teens, but you can wear whichever style you like (kind, aren’t I?). Underneath trousers would be my recommendation, though, unless your workplace’s dress code is a lot more relaxed than mine.
Snow! It’s quite an event, here in England – put aside any hopes you had of a) travelling anywhere or b) having a conversation with anyone that isn’t about precipitation, and rush to the supermarket for essentials (bread! milk! loo roll! Quick! the thaw isn’t due until Monday!) before heading out with wellies and sledges to career precipitously down a hill towards what would be a busy A-road if normal service was not temporarily suspended.
Or, if – like me – the absolute last thing you want to do is go outside when it’s minus several and the vengeful weather gods are throwing tiny bits of ice down the back of your neck, you could stay in and make this chilli. For very little effort, you could have the best kind of winter food simmering away on the cooker for a few hours, wafting tempting smells through the flat. This leaves you free to huddle under blankets watching Jonathan Creek and laughing at all of the expensively- but inappropriately-dressed women getting out of shopping-laden 4x4s and shouting expert instructions on how best to ascend an entirely frozen 1:8 slope to their husbands (this happens more often than you might think, in Bath).
I know the ingredient list looks a bit long, but odds are you’ve most of it knocking around the house anyway (tinned tomatoes? beans? cumin? And don’t pretend you weren’t more concerned about stocking up with beers than with milk on that last emergency run to Tesco, because I won’t believe you).
The other day, a colleague followed me part-way down the corridor at work in order to compliment me on my shoes. I was, of course, flattered (particularly because they are very old, and slightly odd), but after very little time I found myself entirely at a loss as to how one is expected to continue a conversation about shoes. This is fairly shocking, especially given that I can have long and involved discussions about the best way to prepare courgettes. Only with appropriately vetted people, mind, don’t worry – I’m not that person.
When pressed for a definitive answer, I tend to plump for long, tagliatelle-esque ribbons. Although I wouldn’t dream of roasting anything other than ¼-inch-thick rounds, ribbons are far more fun to twiddle round a fork, and cook in no time at all. I suppose you could use a mandolin if you were the sort of highly organised person to have such a thing, but as we have managed to move into the only flat with a kitchen smaller than the one we left, I use a vegetable peeler.
Once you have ribboned all of the courgettes you currently own for the sheer pleasure of seeing if you can get all the strips to line back up into a courgette shape (no? just me?), by far the best thing you can do with them is turn them into either garlicky-courgettes-with-gruyere pasta, or these little balls of deliciousness. Strictly speaking they are a starter, but I have eaten them for dinner – on their own, off the baking tray, on those evenings where you have just enough time to strip 3 courgettes, mix up a big bowl of stuff and shape and bake your dinner before running out of the door. Cheese on toast would probably be the most time efficient option in these circumstances, but I do like a challenge.