Food in Lockdown
If you’re anything like me, food has become a bit of an obsession over the last few months. Lockdown has been an interesting experience – there have been ups and downs aplenty, with new friends made and new hobbies started (and often neglected) but all with the shadow of the virus hanging over us – and obviously some people have been directly affected by illness and loss. My heartfelt condolences to you.
Here in the UK we’ve had a long bout of hot weather which has made some of the restrictions of lockdown both easier (for those with access to outside space) yet harder (for those without…) but I think it’s fair to say that for all of us, the weather has contributed to what’s on our plates at the moment. I wouldn’t say I’ve been very creative in the salad department but I’ve certainly been enjoying lots of pasta!
I know I’ve said this before but often the simpler the dish the less confusing I find it, taste-wise. So rather than chucking in all sorts of ingredients as I used to, the old saying “less is more” is my mantra of the moment. And with all this staying at home malarkey – no access to cafes and restaurants! – it’s the simpler dishes that have been my go-to meals.
I never really understood the allure of fresh pasta until I tried making it myself. I did it! Really!! If you can spare the time and need a bit of exercise it’s really worth a go – perhaps best not if you’re feeding a large family (unless you have a fancy rolling machine) but if there’s just one or two of you, roll up your sleeves and get ready for an upper arm work out – you’ll be working off those calories before you’ve even eaten them!
You’ll need 100g of flour and an egg per person. Mix together then get kneading… It’ll take about 20 minutes or so which should give you a nice smooth paste to roll into a ball, wrap in cling film and stick in the fridge for an hour. (It’s at this point I like to sit down with a G&T…)
Now the fun starts. If you don’t have a rolling pin you can use a wine bottle – pre-drunk, of course. And you really need to use those arms! I find it helps to split the dough in two before rolling. The main thing is to get it as thin as possible before cutting it into strips; pasta expands in water so narrow strips are best. I found this out from experience – my first attempt was a little flabby, to say the least, as you can see from the photo… You can keep some of the strips and let them dry for using another day. (I haven’t managed that though – too much work!)
Pop the strips into a pan of lightly salted boiling water – they’ll only need a few minutes so keep an eye on them – and once done, gently stir in some olive oil then add grated parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper. Simply delicious.
Some other options for toppings that I’ve tried recently:
- Chopped garlic, halved cherry tomatoes and pesto (I usually have a jar lurking in the fridge). Or oil if there’s no pesto around.
- Diced courgette, chopped cherry tomatoes, olives and spinach. I stir in the spinach after the other veg are cooked through.
- My top tip would be to crumble a little goats cheese on top or stir it through the hot pasta for extra salty yumminess. Or use a strong Italian cheese to grate over the top.
- And for extra piquancy, add a few black olives or capers.*
Packet pasta works just as well with simple sauces, or even some fresh pasta from your local deli if you have one. But there’s something so tactile and tangible about making it yourself, it’s like a completely different sensory experience! And raises food prep to a whole other level…
In the course of proofing reading this article, Duncan Boak (founder and chair of Fifth Sense) shard his top tip.
“Capers are indeed fantastic – combine with anchovies, olives and sundried tomatoes for an umami pasta sauce sensation. Melt the anchovies in olive oil before adding garlic and any other ingredients. They lose any fishiness and just add a salty umami richness to the sauce.”