Cooking in the Age of a Pandemic

The pandemic is teaching us many things, and for me highlighting what’s really important in my life. My family of course are by far and away the most important thing. But food is important to me too; it always has been and I’m sure will go on being so. Yet what’s highlighted now is my privilege, living the life I do in London; having enough money to just pop out to the local shops because I fancy an avocado or some blueberries; or to buy ingredients for a moussaka because I have a sudden whim to eat Greek style; buying lovely bread from artisans bakeries.

And now things are different.

I’ve never ordered food online. Partly it’s because living alone it’s easy to shop almost day by day and buy food for what I fancy eating that night. I also enjoy the process of looking at the food available, thinking what I might be able to make with it, picking out the best-looking items. Thus when it suddenly came home to me about 10 days ago that the pandemic was going to have a much greater effect on our lives than I’d imagined only a month ago, I thought I’d better go online. The result was that I did manage to place an order – but the first delivery wasn’t until almost 4 weeks’ time.

I’ve been kept going with many things by the wonderful Corto Italian Deli as I wrote about the other day. What’s available is limited (it’s a small Italian deli after all) but the other night Romina brought fresh eggs (hard to come by now), fresh tomatoes and courgettes; a large slice of fresh focaccia, and other things. Meanwhile, my stocks of other items are running low or gone. And now we’re pretty much in lockdown, I’m not going out. In theory I could go to the supermarket still, but in practice I prefer to now stay in the safety of my home and make do as best I can with what I’ve got.

I’ve heard of other small local shops now running delivery services, so I could ring round and perhaps get hold of some more things. I’m sure at some stage I’ll ask the local fishmonger for some fresh fish. But for the moment I’m using what’s here – in my fridge, my freezer and store cupboards. Oh … and my garden! I don’t grow fruit and vegetables but I do grow herbs and I was delighted when I stepped out into a sunny garden the other day to spy one of my large pots of herbs overflowing with flat-leaf parsley. There’s mint, chives, thyme and fennel; basil in a pot inside on a sunny kitchen windowsill.

It’s an interesting twist to cook according to what I have available rather than what I could go out to buy. Instead of starting in my head with what I’d like to cook, I’m looking at what I have and wondering what delicious food I can make with it.

I’m also wasting less. And I’m being less greedy. Instead of, ‘Oh I might as well throw the whole lot in’, it’s become, ‘Is there enough for two portions?’

What I have plenty of – because I always do! – is pasta and risotto rice. I had half a large courgette that really needed using (no throwing away now!). I always keep frozen peas in the freezer. And there were those herbs. Spring was here and it was time for a spring risotto.

I’m not giving a recipe as such (but you could look at this one), but I made it in the basic way: gently frying a shallot in some olive oil, adding the courgette diced quite small with the chopped stems of a large bunch of parsley, and cooking for a couple of minutes or so; tipping in half a cup of risotto rice and stirring it round to coat the rice with the oil. You could add a splash of white wine here. Now start adding hot stock or water. I didn’t have stock and no one will ever convince me that any kind of stock cube is okay; there’s always an aftertaste. So I’m happy with water and all the flavours from the ingredients.

Once I’d slowly added more liquid, stirring as I went, but the risotto wasn’t quite ready, I added a handful of peas (pre-soaked briefly in boiling water and drained) and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. When the rice is al dente and the liquid absorbed, plop a large lump of butter on top and grate over a little Parmesan. Put a lid on and leave for a couple of minutes. Then stir round to make the risotto creamy – this is the important mantecato stage.

Spoon the risotto into a shallow bowl. Grate over a little more Parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil. And garnish with a little more chopped parsley.

Delicious. And so fresh tasting, yet comforting too with the soft embrace of the warm rice. A perfect supper!

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

20 thoughts on “Cooking in the Age of a Pandemic

  1. With the lockdown here in Spain, it’s difficult here as well. I can’t even go to the supermarket with my partner, because the rule is”one person per car”. Not to mention the fact that people keep on hoarding here πŸ™ But this will pass. Risotto looks magnificent, by the way, and you have just given me inspiration! Stay safe!

  2. I certainly am wasting less and being less greedy. Also eating between meals, which I don’t do hugely, is now down to 2 biscuits in the morning and 1 piece of chocolate in the evening!

  3. These are indeed crazy times. And what has been over-purchased has affected me as well. I can’t find eggs, flour, or butter. So strange. Or maybe it isn’t. I have no other pandemic with which to compare! I’m so glad you have a special connection with your wonderful Italian deli. Stay safe.

  4. It seems we are all trying to make the best with what we have. We haven’t been out of our home for a week and my next food replenishment will be bought on line. I’m just happy that this time of the year my pantry was stocked, it is only the fresh produce that I’ll miss.

      1. Risotto is so versatile and of course the Italians rarely add more than one or two things: frozen peas + mint; tomato risotto. Take care, Karen.

  5. This is great and a shared sentiment – sometimes you just. need some comfort food for that little boost in these weird and strange times. Thanks for sharing!

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