What’s a gourmet to do when they’ve had a busy day and it’s 7 p.m. and you’ve only just found time to think of supper? Look in the fridge and see what’s on offer …
I’ve joined the commuter train rush on odd days over the past year, travelling to north London to work in the office of one of the publishers I work for as a freelance book editor. Going out early, negotiating buses, trains and the Tube – by the time I was close to home in the evening it was tempting to pick up a ready-made meal from one of the local supermarkets. They sound so inviting; they taste so disappointing. And anyway, cooking is a way of unwinding, a pleasure, and if you’re hungry, it’s easy to cook up something quickly … quicker than some of those ready-made meals that can take nearly an hour to cook in the oven! (I don’t do microwaves; I don’t even own one.)
So … what was on offer? A bag of baby spinach, a glut of tomatoes – I bought lots from M&S because their nice tasty Claret tomatoes were on offer … before I noticed the tomato plant I bought in the farmers’ market last month was suddenly sprouting handfuls of ripe tomatoes. I had to have pasta: I’d picked my son and daughter-in-law up from Gatwick earlier … nearly three weeks in Italy (Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice …), full of talk of the amazing food and wine they’d had. Who wanted Indian or even my recently favourite Greek tonight! (Italian is my real passion; even a Greek friend said before I went to Kardamyli, ‘You’re going to Greece??!! Why not Italy?)
A small vine of the Claret tomatoes and a few of my home-grown ones went into a small terracotta dish, were smothered in some olive oil, salt and black pepper freshly ground over the top – and into the oven (180 C Fan) for about half and hour. Once they were ready (slightly bursting but not burnt) I let them stand for a while as the pasta (about 100g for one portion – I like De Cecco) cooked in a big pan of bubbling salted boiling water (it’s really important to boil pasta in lots of water so it has room to move and doesn’t congeal into a sticky mess). I finely chopped quarter of a large onion and gently fried in some olive oil in my Jamie Oliver stir fry pan – now I know this isn’t a stir fry, but this pan is my Desert Island pan … I use it for almost everything. Then I threw in a handful of pine nuts – they need to be roasted in a pan to bring out the full flavour – and after a couple of minutes added a couple of large handfuls of the baby spinach. The spinach wilts almost immediately – turn it a few times but don’t actually ‘cook’ it and instead keep it slightly raw and still bright green. Turn off the heat, add the roasted tomatoes and their juices (removing any vine branches!) and the pasta. At this point I added some freshly chopped herbs from my garden – parsley, basil, rosemary and thyme. Gently turn to combine together then turn into a nice bowl and grate some Parmesan over the top … and enjoy! The flavours are wonderful. The depth and intensity of the roasted tomatoes come through, there’s the slightly mineral taste of the spinach and the sweet bite of the pine nuts. Gourmet ecstasy!