The thing about home cooking is that sometimes one has to cook in other people’s homes.
My mother is quite catastrophic on this account and maintains that it’s better for a blind person to cook in his/her own kitchen than for another person blessed with 20/20 vision to cook in somebody else’s. I suppose what she means is that you know where everything is in your own kitchen, you know what utensils and pots and pans and knives and sieves etc. you have and how to reach them.
Also, people have a very personal approach to the practical art of cookery and not everyone thinks of kitchen gadgets and commodities as ‘toys’, the way I do. I love my kitchen ‘toys’, they are such a lot of fun and it’s a case of the more, the merrier as far as I’m concerned. I really can’t understand why certain people raise a disapproving eyebrow when I buy yet another mixing bowl or large whisk – if you want to know, I think my husband is quite lucky that my penchant for toys doesn’t veer towards the shiny, mineral rock variety of toy.
Considering I started out with a very bare set of ‘toys’ and didn’t buy a proper cook’s knife, for instance, until I was well into my forties, I do understand that it’s not the kitchen props that make a cook a good cook (I used to resort to scissors to cut meat and herbs and it was just fine) but, all the same, now that my toy collection has expanded I have to say that certain items in the kitchen really do make all the difference in simplifying life and aiding the cook to do a good job. I can’t live without an immersion blender for instance or proper frying pans (I love copper and cast iron ones), I adore my cheap plastic mandoline bought at the market, and as for knives … even the little ones have to be good and sharp and plentiful.
Anyway, today I wanted to invite a group of girlfriends whom I hadn’t seen since October and we miraculously managed to be all free to meet for lunch – except that one of these friends has two school-going children and so it just made sense for me-the-mountain to go to Mohammed’s to cook at her place (for those who do not know, secondary school in Italy is a morning-only affair and so kids of this age get to eat their lunch at home). She pleaded with me not to go overboard with the menu and I left her to worry about bread, salad and pudding.
V’s kitchen is really nice and I like cooking there .. I did bring my non-stick frying pan all the same because I was going to make a large frittata that requires flipping … and you can’t flip a frittata that sticks to the bottom of a pan ! I also brought along a large round serving dish to accommodate it (if you leave the frittata in the hot pan, it will overcook and go all rubbery). And the menu was really quite simple, because I had work to do before going there and didn’t have time for a lot of food shopping. It was really really cold here this morning, apparently minus 3°C and so the first thing that came to mind was : soup. Soup for starters … then a frittata with fried potatoes and mozzarella (for her vegetarian daughter) and pan fried sausages and artichokes for us. V. made the most delicious salad with apples and celery and sesame seeds in a yogurt dressing, and another one with oranges and olives. It was such a treat for me to have a rare, these days, leisurely lunch with nice friends and I didn’t leave until nearly 4 o’clock feeling very happy.
The soup I made today is actually not a soup as such (OMG what’s with the alliteration) .. it is called “pasta e ceci” and is a thick-consistency, soupy dish made out of pasta shells and chickpeas/garbanzo. It is very popular and eaten pretty much all over Italy. I think of it as the ‘save the day soup’ because, if you have an immersion blender, it truly is an amazingly QUICK dish to prepare. There is, I know, a classic way to make it but because I was in a real hurry one day and was prompted to find a short cut, I chanced upon the idea of cooking it ‘risotto style’ – and guess what? It worked!
The following photos are not of the paste-e-ceci I cooked today …they hark back to about two weeks ago, when I knew I was going to be on the road for a good 6 hours and it was a very cold day too. I didn’t want to overeat because that would make me sleepy … and at the same time I did want something that was satisfying enough to see me through without feeling faint. I put anchovy fillets in the dish but apart from those (which are optional), it is a vegetarian and vegan dish too and the combination of durum wheat from the pasta and the chickpeas make for complete proteins.
Ingredients for 2 very hungry people and 3 ordinarily hungry people:
2 jars of cooked chickpeas, some garlic, anchovy fillets, olive oil, tomato paste (use 1 fresh tomato if you haven’t got a tube of tomato paste), pasta shells or broken spaghetti or any other leftover pasta.
Cooking time: approximately 15 minutes !!!
Here are the ingredients and some kitchen toys …
Put the kettle on … just like those old black-and-white film scenes when heavily pregnant women were about to give birth … put the kettle on, we need hot water.
here are the chickpeas after they have been drained of their water … put them in a glass or metal bowl and let them sit for a bit. Meanwhile …
Pour some olive oil into a saucepan (… enough to cover the whole diameter of the pan) …
Turn the heat on … add a clove of garlic, an anchovy fillet and some tomato paste ….
Give it a good stir …
Add the dry pasta, in this case broken up spaghetti. As a rule of thumb, think of 40-50g of pasta per person.
Now pour in the boiling hot water, enough to cover the pasta and more …
Cook everything for about 2-3 minutes, then use a ladle to spoon out some chickpeas into a bowl, together with some of the cooking liquid.
Use the immersion blender to process the chickpeas and the soup’s liquid ….
Pour this back into the saucepan … and cook until the pasta is ready! It’s as easy as that ! Add some salt and pepper to your liking … I added a sprig of rosemary too.
Simple. Easy to make. Quick to make. Easy to digest. Complete proteins. Nourishing for all ages … What more do you want !
P.S. Pasta e ceci is made with fresh pasta too, traditionally with a pasta called “maltagliati” which means “roughly cut” … i.e. pasta that is just cut up quickly and not in a pernickety or fiddly way …
P.P.S. Here is a photo of my friend V. playing a stand-up harpsichord at the end of our lunch today … the Gavotte of Bach’s Partita no. 6 if you want to know. It was getting on for 4 p.m. and I really had to go and she said, “Tarry a while and listen to this” … and off she went dragging me into music-land with her. I felt so blessed. Life can be truly wonderful bringing gifts you would never have thought of !