Sunday, 22 July 2012

Thought Processing Food

One of the reasons I still slightly despair of the Man occasionally is that he doesn't have the 'what have we got in the fridge' skill.  He has no concept of what is likely to be in the cupboards at any one time, and what this means.  If I leave a fridge 'full of vegetables' as he puts it, he will go out and buy ready-made pasta and sauce.  Which means that by the time I get back, some of the veg is past its best.

I haven't been crafting much recently; there's a frock I adapted from a pattern which needs finishing, but I've run out of cream cotton.  So I thought I'd fill the airwaves with a train-of-thought recipe, so that you can see what whipping something up looks like.  It's half inspiration and half being prepared.

What Have I Got In The Fridge?
A couple of days ago, when I went shopping, I got a butternut squash and one of Waitrose's large bags of individually-wrapped chicken breasts.  These bags of chook would be a true lifesaver if there were any room in the communal freezer; as it is, I had three breasts left.  That sorted the meaty angle, as I had known it would when I got them.

There was only the large bulb part of the squash left.  A couple of days ago, I had chopped the top off, peeled and cubed the tubular section, steamed the cubes in the microwave for 10minutes and then chucked them in the oven with some rosemary to get a bit roasty and interesting.  At the same time, I peeled and de-seeded the main bottom section of the squash and clingfilmed it.  I had expected to need the whole thing at that meal, but now I had a big hollow thing I had to stuff it.

Luckily I also had a few sprigs of rosemary and a few cloves of elephant garlic left over as well.  Elephant garlic is, I have decided, a useless thing.  It takes forever - I mean forever - to roast through, and when it is cooked it tastes so much milder than real garlic.  It had been a present from the Mother-Out-Law, who meant well; and then another one turned up when I wasn't looking.  It might make a decent centrepiece if cut across the middle of the bulb, doused in pepper, sea salt and olive oil; but right now the few leftover roast cloves were chopped and went in the food processor with two torn ends of brown bread from last week's sandwich loaf, and the rosemary.

The bulb of squash I halved, rubbed with 2tsp of olive oil and set to roasting cut-side down for about half an hour.  Meanwhile I processed the bread, and got out the third of a bulb of fennel I had found in the fridge.

Fennel is a wonderful thing.  Like white wine and lemon it is equally happy with chicken or fish, and comes with a free bunch of green 'garnish' if you're feeling posh but don't have any dill.  Chopped, with a finely chopped red onion and a smidge of olive oil in the pan, it caremelises beautifully.  The smell of softening fennel-and-onion in olive oil will always remind me of Saturday pasta nights with my father.  It is the smell of an Italian curryhouse, if such a thing were to exist - hot, fragrant, exotic.  The Man dislikes its liqorice taste usually but a little wouldn't kill him.  Mixed with the crumbs it would beef up the filling for the squash.

Half a courgette found snuggling up to a spot of broccoli made the green for the meal.  My art teacher used to walk past people's plates in the canteen putting cucumber on their plates 'to balance their palette'.  You should almost always have something green going on.  Tha's vitamins that is.

Also in the fridge was half a bottle of ready-to-use tomato passata, which makes for a very bland pasta sauce and an excellent inspirational base.  Three teapoons of harissa paste and the juice one one lemon made it fit to cook large chunks of chicken in.  The squash halves, turned hollow-side up and filled with filling, roasted another fifteen minutes while the chicken warmed through and we were ready to go.

So there you have it.  The secret to last-minute relatively luxurious suppers is: buying portions of meat in bulk; always having vegetables and seasonings to hand; red onions; flavourings in jars of the sort which never go off (harissa, chilli paste, curry paste, capers, anchovies, mustard) and olive oil or butter, which in small quantities make everything better.


  1. Celery top leaves make great flavouring too, especially twinned with mushrooms

  2. It's knowing things like that that make for a good cook :)