I wish there were a verb to define the act of cooking as an enjoyable and absorbing activity as opposed to one that is all about putting some food on the table in as little time as possible. The latter has been my lot for much of the last few months and whilst it has served the family’s nutritional survival needs most adequately, it cannot be said to have accrued any satisfaction for yours truly. It doesn’t feel like ‘cooking’, you see, it feels much more like ‘skivvying’. It is an irony unacknolwedged that ‘cooking-for-delight’ should take a lot more time and concentration, not to mention energy, than does mere ‘cooking-to-eat’ and yet deliver oodles more pleasure and satisfaction. There must be some universal law of nutritional thermodynamics that is able to explain away this conundrum but none comes to mind. All I know is that if I do not ‘cook-for-delight’ for too long a time, I not only slacken my cooking skills, I also become somewhat irritable. So … who knows … perhaps for people such as me, cooking is a form of zen, a kind of meditative practice.
Such were my thoughts as I ambled about Grottaferrata market the other day and bought some fish and vegetables at random, indulging my desire to go in for a spot of much awaited ‘cooking-for-delight’.
Anchovies, king prawns (from Malta), samphire and venus clams (vongole). Proper summertime local tomatoes, onions from Tropea, courgettes and oranges … At home, I had some emperor rice (riso venere) in the store cupboard. I also had lemons, dried oregano, salted capers and yummy olive oil.
My sister Jackie who is visiting with her family came to cook with me, and it was just so gratifying to be able to chat and cook without any sense of rush or stress to spoil things. We proceeded to peel and de-vein the king prawns.
We made a quick bisque with the prawn shells. I removed the shells after about 20 minutes and here is Jackie pouring in the emperor rice into the bisque to which we had added a good pinch of salt. I stuck a toothpick inside each prawn, to keep them from curling while cooking. Olive oil, garlic, parsely and a little bit of chilli. Heat … Add the king prawns and sauté for a few minutes. Sprinkle some salt. Set aside. This is a ring cake tin, used in Italy to make “ciambellone” cake. Jackie rubbed butter all around the inside. We drained the rice once it was cooked (see the instructions on the packet – about 25 minutes I seem to remember … I wasn’t really paying attention, to be honest, Jackie and I were deep in conversation and every now and then we grabbed a spoon and tasted the rice to ascertain its ‘done-ness’). We patted it down with a wooden spoon. Jackie had suggested a potato masher but I couldn’t find mine just then and we made do with the wooden spoon.
In the meantime, Jackie had diced the courgettes and we sautéed them in the same saucepan as the king prawns.
I got hold of the largest round plate I possess. I placed the plate on top of the cake tin, and then flipped it over. Quite a feat and no mess on the floor. Hurrah!
And here is the ring of rice, supported by a mattress of courgettes. Out came the prawns to adorn …
I had also cleaned the anchovies and fried them in parsely-filled batter, presenting them with just a sprinkle of salt (no lemon). Last, there was a potato and tomato salad, with rings of Tropea onion, capers, olives, seasoned with evoo and white wine vinegar (not balsamic) and a scattering of dried oregano.
Here we are … about to start the meal … with spaghetti alle vongole. The clatter of plates as the food is dished out and/or passed around, the sound of a loved one washing their hands just before sitting at the table, the popping of a cork out of a wine bottle, cold water in a jug already on the table. “Come on everyone, it’s ready!”, the clarion call that everyone will heed in their own good time. And then, as if on magical cue, everyone DOES sit down and tuck in. And mastication begins and atavistic nasal voices of Mmmms expressing pleasure ensue.I am reminded of Billie Holiday’s “Ooo what a little moonlight can do”. That’s what cooking for delight can and does do ….