Social Life and a Quick Lunch

 

This blog has been much neglected in recent weeks.  Sometimes life simply doesn’t offer up the moments of calm needed to sit down and concentrate on writing.  For one thing, I’ve been totally absorbed in the political upheaval this country has been undergoing since the EU referendum result was announced on 24 June; and then we’ve also been busy (!) catching up with old friends at a couple of wonderful events.  First was Henley Royal Regatta two weeks ago; we try to attend most years.  My husband and I are both from that part of the world and I used to watch him row there when we first met.  In recent years our son W has been a competitor and it’s been wonderful to go along and support his crew.  We usually meet up with old friends and make a day of it and this year was no different.  The weather was absolutely awful: windy, cool and pouring with rain much of the time.  Only in Britain would you choose to put on a summer dress and spend the day in a field by the river in such atrocious conditions!  Hope the photos above give you a flavour.  There was respite to be found, of course, in the Pimms tent first and later in the lunch marquee.  We sat in the grandstand after lunch to watch some of the races and then at last, at ten past seven in the evening, it was time to watch our son’s race.  It had stopped raining by then and the sky had brightened slightly.  I broadcast the latter part of the race on Periscope but, luckily for you, I haven’t yet set up my blog to play videos so you can’t watch it and hear me screaming as his crew overtook their opponents and won.

The weekend after that we met up with the same friends at mutual friends’ daughter’s 21st birthday party, which was amazing.  We danced the night away, literally.  When dawn broke at about 4.30am we decided it was time for bed but our hosts kept going until 7.30.

So, back to cooking.  Unusually for me on a weekday, I cooked lunch on a Wednesday recently.

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It was Jamie Oliver’s spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, balsamic and basil and brilliantly quick and easy to make.  I needed to use up the tomatoes in a jar I’d opened a few weeks earlier.  It says to consume them within 7 days of opening but I rarely achieve this and don’t think I’ve poisoned anyone yet.

Anyway, here is what you do:

Jamie Oliver’s Spaghetti with Red Onions, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Balsamic Vinegar and Basil

Ingredients

(serves 4)

  • 450g dried spaghetti
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped or sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 handfuls of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 3 tbsps balsamic vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 handfuls of basil, torn
  • Parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated, to serve

Method

  • Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente
  • While doing this, slowly fry the onion in a couple of lugs (Jamie’s word) for a few minutes (in the simmering oven if you like) until soft and tender
  • Stir in the tomatoes and balsamic and throw in your drained pasta
  • Season and toss together with the basil
  • Serve with the grated cheese

I adore fresh basil and at this time of year I keep a pot of it, bought from the supermarket, on my kitchen window sill and it does very well, as long as I keep it watered.

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Pizza

On Sunday we went out to lunch to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 91st birthday.  It was such a treat to go out instead of cooking the usual roast, it almost felt like it was my birthday too!  A happy time was had by all, even though Granny didn’t, for various reasons, have any of her eight grandsons there.  But she had her three children (my husband and his two sisters) and the spouses of two of them.  We all remarked that we didn’t think we’d had a meal together sans offspring since before they were born.

Lunch was at one of our favourite Bristol restaurants, Bosco Pizzeria.  The pizzas there are cooked in a wood fire oven – the best way, no question – and give Neapolitan and Florentine pizzas a run for their money.  IMG_0703

I am a home cook who doesn’t try to emulate restaurant cooking.  At restaurants I tend to choose dishes I probably wouldn’t attempt to make at home.  I doubt any domestic kitchens could reproduce pizzas like the wood-fired ones, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth having a go and, unlike the ultra-salty supermarket version, a homemade pizza makes for a reasonably nutritious meal.  I mean, what is unhealthy about bread, tomatoes and mozzarella?  When the boys were young I used to follow a Jamie Oliver recipe for the dough which makes about 8 pizzas, just enough to feed them and any friends who came home from school with them.

After much trial and error in the Aga, we’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to cook pizza and achieve a crisp base, is by cooking it on the floor of the roasting oven (for about 8-10 minutes). IMG_0702 We’ve had a couple of “pizza nights” when youngest son made the dough (he loves kneading!), I made the tomato sauce (by simmering “chair de tomate” with some crushed garlic, a little sugar and seasoning) and we each chose our favourite toppings.  When third son G was present on one occasion, his role was that of tough-but-fair critic.  My husband’s job was to get the pizza in and out of the oven without damaging it and he’s become very adept at it.  He loves flourishing the baker’s paddle I bought from the Aga Cookshop and I told him not to worry, I wouldn’t mention the one that landed face down on the floor.