I’ve eaten more than my share of pizza in my life – both the good (and if you’re ever in my corner of London, I urge you to check out Le Cochonnet) and the bad. If I’m honest, the bad pizza probably outweighs the good and that is a fact that makes me really quite sad.
Pizza has become somewhat of an indulgence in our lives – the lazy option when we can’t be bothered to cook or feel devoid of any inspiration. It requires no thought. Thanks to the internet, a fairly average pizza is just a couple of clicks away.
And when I say fairly average, what I mean is pretty darn unhealthy. It’s become a treat, something ‘naughty’ (a word I can’t abide when it comes to food but which I am as guilty as anyone of using, at least subconsciously) that we use as a reward after a good day or a crutch after a bad day. As vices go, it’s not the worst but it’s probably not very good for me either physically or mentally.
I saw a tweet the other day from a food magazine asking whether people were comfort eaters or healthy eaters in January. But why does that have to be a choice? As a society, we tend to spend far too much time moralising about food and turning every bite into an ethical decision. We give food the power to make us feel guilt or shame and, along the way, lose the simple pleasure of eating. By categorising food as ‘comforting’ or ‘healthy’ or ‘good’ or bad’ we abrogate our responsibility and make it all too easy to blame someone else for our choices.
What I want to do this year, apart from eat a lot of delicious pizza obviously, is to change my attitude. To stop giving food any power over me and to be accountable for my own decisions. You only get a finite number of meals in your life; I don’t want to waste any of mine.
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium leeks, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- A handful of fresh rosemary, roughly chopped.
- 100g (4 oz) mozzarella
- Pizza dough, for 1 pizza (I used half of this recipe with 50:50 white and wholegrain spelt flour)
- Make your favourite pizza crust. While it is rising, you can prepare the toppings and preheat the oven to 220C/425F.
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the potatoes and boil for about 15 minutes until tender.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan, add the garlic and leeks and fry for 10 minutes or so over a medium-low heat until soft.
- When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and allow them to cool before slicing into rounds.
- When the pizza dough is risen, stretch it out into a vaguely circular shape. Drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and scatter with rosemary (keeping it under all the other topping stops it burning and becoming bitter). Top with the leeks, followed by slices of potato and, finally, cover liberally with cheese.
- Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the crust is cooked and the potatoes are golden.
There are all sorts of meals.
There are those meals that mean nothing and that are forgotten as soon as the last mouthful is chugged down. All too many of my lunches are like that at the moment, frantic bites of sandwich or forkfuls of salad in between emails and conference calls.
Then there are those meals where the food makes a negligible contribution. I cannot remember a single thing that my boyfriend and I ate on our first date; I can’t even tell you what kind of food the restaurant served. I’m sure this is something to do with the large number of mojitos that I do remember but I like to think it’s just because we were talking so much that the food seemed somewhat incidental.
There are those meals which I can still taste. The dish of radishes, homemade fromage blanc and ancient grains that we ate at Commonwealth in San Francisco in the summer. The sharpness of the radishes and the creamy tartness of the cheese will linger long in my memory.
There are meals that are memorable for all the wrong reasons; storming out of a restaurant after a fight over lunch with my ex-boyfriend, throwing £20 (more than the cost of my lunch – I remember thinking that was a very important point) on the table as I ran out the door. Or the Valentine’s meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant that gave my boyfriend food poisoning.
Then there are those meals which are perfect in their simplicity and, in that moment, are all that you could possibly want.
This dish is inspired by one such meal, again in San Francisco in the summer. We arrived in San Francisco at about 7pm on a Thursday night after a long and slow two days in the car (and one night in a terrible hotel that we couldn’t wait to escape). We were tired and stiff and grumpy and, above all, hungry. A quick google led me to an Italian restaurant, close to our hotel. I can’t lie – proximity was one of the main reasons for the choice.
Although I tend to be drawn to lighter pasta dishes, on that night I became transfixed by the idea of the carbonara tortellini – little parcels of pasta stuffed with ricotta and sauteed in a sauce of pancetta, onion, red pepper flakes and cream. As soon as I saw the dish on the menu, I knew that it was exactly what I was craving. And it was perfect in every way.
In the weeks after, I found my mind wondering back to that dish. It was only natural that I would try to recreate it as soon as I got home. The real trick is to cook the onions low and slow; they should be sweet and sticky with no astringent crunch to them. The mellowness of the onions is balanced with the saltiness of the bacon (although the earthiness of mushrooms would also work nicely) and everything is bound together with a splash of white wine and a generous pour of cream. I served it with homemade orecchiette but any kind of pasta will do including, as the restaurant served it, a filled pasta like tortellini or cappelletti.
I wouldn’t advise eating something like this every night but, personally, I can’t think of many better ways to restore some equilibrium to my life.
Inspired by a dish at Fino, San Francsico
Yield: Serves 4
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 rashers of bacon, chopped
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- A glug (about half a glass) of white wine
- 300ml (1 1/4 cups) double/heavy cream
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 quantity of orecchiette or 300g (12oz) pasta
- Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon and fry until thoroughly cooked. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside, leaving behind any fat etc.
- Add more oil if necessary and heat over a medium heat until the oil is sizzling. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a minute or so before reducing the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the onion is grey and translucent (ideally you don’t want it to ever get brown).
- When the onion and garlic are cooked, add the bacon back into the pan and turn the heat back up to high.
- When everything is nice and hot, throw in your wine and allow it to bubble away until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Finally, add the cream and any salt and pepper and allow to simmer over a low heat, stirring from time to time, while you cook the pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water.
- Drain the pasta, add it into the pan with the sauce and mix thoroughly before plating. Serve with plenty of fresh parmesan.
As is probably evident from this blog, we eat a fair amount of pasta (and we would eat more if I had my way) but I will fully admit that it is not something that I often make from scratch.
Partly this is because I have a slight obsession with collecting pasta of different sizes and shape and colour (please tell me I am not the only one who does this) but also just because throwing some dried pasta into a pan of boiling water is quick and easy and delicious.