Yes, yes. I know. The first time I saw this recipe header, my eyes skipped straight to the next page, too: lentils? and cabbage? I can think of far nicer things to put in my mouth, thanks, like for starters this lamb, beer and black bean chilli right across the page. It turns out, though, that this harsh judgement was grossly unfounded. Far from being the boring health-fest that I’d imagined – you know, the kind of thing that people on the cabbage soup diet might eat as a treat, if they were feeling really naughty – this has become one of my favourite weekday, easy-to-knock-together meals. Instincts, you have failed me. (Yes, again).
After dismissing the recipe as fit only for masochists, I happened to pick up the same recipe book a bit later on in the month (like, three-days-before-payday later), and suddenly – in the way these things do – the whole idea seemed much more appealing. Something to use up that manky half head of cabbage in the fridge? Plus a 57p tin of lentils, and that half a lemon that’s been knocking around for longer than I’m prepared to publicly admit? Fantastic! And oh, what I’d been missing.
My garden is mostly escapee herbs: mint grows through the gravel path by the front door, I have to fight through huge clouds of oregano to hang the washing out, and lemon balm has colonised the remainder of the poor excuse for a lawn. I think I have found horseradish, as well, colonising the scrappy bit by the hydrangea, but I’m trying quite hard not to think about that – where would my wildflower meadow go then, I ask you? Certainly not at the end of the garden, where a solitary clump of chives vies for land with whatever those yellow buttercuppy flowers are (well, my horticultural knowledge does only extend so far).
Of course, this is all very pleasing in summer, when we can waft sunnily past the herbs and pretend we are somewhere on a Mediterranean hillside, but half-dead craggy broken stems poking through the front path do not look quite so picturesque in March. Certainly not in the snow. Nor the sleet, nor even the never-ending grey that some thoughtless weather god has seen fit to grace my corner of England with for the last hundred years (yes, literally).
However! It must be spring – the oregano is struggling back to life, underneath the manky bits I still haven’t quite got round to chopping back (I am pretending that they are ‘ladybird hotels’. This seems to be working so far – either that, or John is resigned to my idleness), which means, of course, that it is time to eat peppers! and aubergines! and tomatoes! again. No?
This might be a potato-heavy week, everyone. Firstly, I have to tell you about my favourite thing to do with potatoes, and then tomorrow I’m having my second favourite potato thing (at which point it will promptly become my first favourite – I can be very fickle), which I also feel strongly that you should know about. I would apologise, but I happen to really like potatoes, and I refuse to believe that the whole world doesn’t share my views. (This also applies to many other things, not just potatoes, but that’s by the by.) After all, what reasonable person could walk past a plate of potato skins roasted to a crisp and loaded with cheese and bacon and not take just a tiny one? The same sort of a person that passes the gratin dauphinoise dish around the table without taking a spoonful, that’s who: frankly, very suspicious.
I do intend to make
myself you a cake in between, though, partly so that you don’t desert me in favour of less starch-laden climes, and also partly because I have been thinking about very little else for over a week now, which says very little in favour of my time management skills. In my defence, I did spend most of Saturday miles up a hill in the mist chopping down hawthorn, and then the rest of the time since then pulling inch-long thorns out of places that should perhaps have been better protected from them. That is my excuse.
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?
I had a spectacular recipe fail last night – the kind where you skim through a recipe, thinking about how delicious your dinner is going to be (after all, what could go wrong with the combination of lamb dhansak and shortcrust pastry?) and completely fail to notice that making it will require your undivided attention for several hours.
In this case, it was necessary to chop a mountain of ingredients (including butternut squash, the most unwieldy of all the vegetables), brown the meat, simmer for an hour and three quarters, leave to cool, then encase in pastry and bake. Easily acheivable on a weeknight, no? We had cheese on toast for dinner last night, at 9.30pm, while a pot of delicious-smelling curry simmered away on the hob in the next room, fifteen minutes into its 105-minute-marathon.