Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cooking for one is harder than it looks

Asparagus risotto, classic tomato spaghetti and aglio, olio e peperoncino all simple recipes that are really quick and tasty – whether for one or six.

Cooking for one is harder than it looks

I picked up Emperor D a couple of days ago after his flight landed back in Switzerland from spending several weeks back in Australia. I myself was abroad for work for three of the seven weeks he was away, but the remaining four weeks left me plenty of time to observe that cooking for one person is not as easy as I thought it would be.

That last statement might sound a little strange, so let me explain. I moved out of home at 20 with Emperor D and we’ve lived together ever since. I’ve never lived on my own or even in a share house, so I’ve never had to cook for just myself. So after Emperor D left, I had to work out what on earth I would cook just for me. It wasn’t that simple; for a start, I don’t have a microwave here, so I couldn’t really cook in bulk to freeze and reheat later.

I’m ashamed to admit that the nights when I just couldn’t be bothered I would resort to sticking fish fingers and chips in the oven. Yes, truly shameful from the Empress. Other nights I would grill some chicken or a shishkebab to have with salad. But more often than not I’d resort to pasta or risotto.

Leek and asparagus risotto - this time minus the leek
Not long before I left Australia, you might remember I made a fantastic porcini mushroom risotto, which I wrote about. I hadn’t made risotto since then, so I decided to try an asparagus risotto, using some fantastic fresh asparagus. The recipe I used was a leek and asparagus risotto that I’d made many times back home, but this time I forgot the leeks, so just used onions instead.

I’ve discovered a couple of culinary challenges in Switzerland, mostly with finding ingredients either at all or of equal quality to what I’m used to back home. A good example of this is liquid stock. Good quality, ready-to-use liquid stock – like the Campbells Real stock in a tetra pack I get back home – just doesn’t seem to exist in Switzerland; or if it does, I’m yet to find it. Here it’s all cubes – which I hate using – or the closest thing I’ve seen to liquid, a congealed gel-like stock that still needs dissolving in water. Usually in winter I make my own stock for all the soups I make, but it’s summer here and I otherwise won’t get the use out of it.

But no matter – this risotto was just for me, and while not the standout of my last attempt at risotto, was perfectly fine. The rice was nice and al dente, the asparagus crisp without being undercooked. The good thing about risotto – and pasta – is that you can control how much of it you make.

Which is why I made a lot of spaghetti while Emperor D was away. When I was having a lazy night but couldn’t bear the thought of fish fingers again, I would put some spaghetti on the boil and simply stir through some good quality pesto from a jar. Or I’d make some simple sauces, like aglio, olio e peperoncino (that’s garlic, olive oil and chilli), or Jamie Oliver’s classic tomato spaghetti.

Aglio, olio e peperoncino is an Italian classic which, when done well, is spectacular. It’s so simple, but it’s the simplicity of the ingredients that make it great. Hot pasta, mixed through with gently fried garlic and chilli in oil, sprinkled with fresh parsley is a delight to eat. Plus it's so easy to make with ingredients most people already have in their pantries.

Jamie Oliver's classic tomato spaghetti
Jamie Oliver’s classic tomato spaghetti is another recipe that can be made using just the ingredients from the pantry. In the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta, it’s quick and easy to fry garlic and chilli, and throw in some tinned diced tomatoes and fresh basil, gently simmer for a few minutes and toss with al dente spaghetti for something so tasty. And don’t forget the cheese on top either – for me, it has to be pecorino.

So while I adapted these recipes to cook just for me, they’re easy enough to cook for as many or as little people as you need. In the meantime, I’m glad that Emperor D is back so I can cook for two again.

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