22 March, 2007

what to cook when in a spot of bother

Say you're in a mood. You have something on your mind you don't want to think about, something you can't help, can't control, can't stop from affecting the people around you that you love. Say, per mirabile, you also like messing about with food. I have you covered.

Get your long-suffering husband to pick up a baguette for you, the only fresh thing you won't have to hand when you get home. Then stand in the hail and snow and freezing rain watching your child go round and round on a pony and think up crostini ideas. What are crostini, you ask? Ah, let me entertain you.

Crostini are, quite simply, crusty slices of bread (in my case the baguette brought home by my long-suffering husband) drizzled with olive oil and toasted on a cookie sheet, then set aside. Now comes the fun. Gather up all the tasty bits and pieces in your fridge. No, don't tell me there aren't any. You've got fresh mozzarella, I bet (if not, add it to the husband grocery list). And a jar of tapenade from your adorable friend Becky who often gives you comestibles just to see if you can figure out what to do with them. If you don't have tapenade, you can chop up some olives. Then somewhere in your pantry you've got a jar of anchovies. Scoop out five or six in their olive oil and put them in a tiny saucepan with some butter, over low heat, and with a potato masher mash them up and simmer.

Then how about that dish of pesto you made and didn't do anything with, except slather it on a chicken sandwich? Get that too. Goat's cheese? Leftover roasted peppers? Marinated artichoke hearts? Sure, you bet. And for a truly scrumptious added touch, if you have a little glass of sage leaves, standing in water by the side of your sink and languishing slightly, pull off the leaves and put them in a skillet with some melted butter, on low heat, until they're crispy. That's heavenly.

Now, line up your little toast slices. Start piling things on. You could also add some tiny tomatoes cut in half, open sides up. Just add anything to anything. By the time you've finished assembling them all, a sort of zen calm has come over you (trust me, it has). At that point you make:

Totally Lazy Creamy Tomato Sauce
(serves four)

1/2 stick butter
3 tbsps olive oil
1 large can or two soup-size cans peeled plum tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
salt and pepper

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Whizz the tomatoes and garlic together in your Magimix and add to saucepan. Simmer low while you finish your crostini, then boil water for pasta. We used a sort of snail-shape whose name I cannot remember. Whisk in ricotta and salt and pepper. Drain pasta, add to sauce, and simmer while you put your crostini in a medium oven for 8 minutes, or until the mozzarella is melted, then arrange them on a plate. If you happen to have a ripe avocado, you could add a little slice and a squirt of lemon juice, to any of your crostini.

Provide plenty of grated pecorino, parmesan, mozzarella or a combination of all three (I did end up having all three sitting around) to scatter on top of the pasta.

There. Easy, cheap, comforting. And with the added bonus of cosy prep and assembly which helps you feel in control of life. (Hint: you're really not. In control of life, I mean. But tonight's dinner: you're all over it.)

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