We all need some dishes in our repertoire that are, quite simply, child’s play—dishes with no shopping list, no recipe, that can almost be thrown together with your eyes closed. In this new series, Jenny Chandler gives directions and cooking tips for fabulous seasonal meals that a 10-year-old could throw together.
Cookbooks are all very well, I have hundreds of them and love them too, but more often than not I’ll be cooking from a ‘head recipe’. Imi, my daughter, often asks where the recipes come from, how I choose what to prepare, or even begin to know what to do. That’s the idea behind my new monthly series: to provide a go-to collection of super-simple dishes that I hope will become regulars in your kitchen. They’re the recipes I’d like Imi to master and eventually leave home with, that I can imagine my busy friends throwing together after work, or that my mother (who has rather lost interest in cooking after decades of feeding a family) could put together with a minimum of effort.
Spaghetti with garlic and chilli (and courgettini, if you’re in the mood)
Pasta is such a winner, cooked in minutes flat, soaking up all the flavours of a zippy sauce. In my mind quite the simplest and most sublime of sauces, that will knock any of those processed “quick” sauces out of the park, has to be the Napoli classic, ‘aglio, olio e peperoncino’ (garlic, oil and chilli)
I usually allow about 80g of dried spaghetti per person, cooking it in plenty of salted water, in my largest pan and draining it when it still has a little ‘al dente’ bite.
The sauce can be prepared while you cook the spaghetti. Finely slice a clove of garlic per serving and heat it through in your very best extra virgin olive oil (be generous, the oil is the sauce—I allow about 2 tbsp oil per head). Once you’re engulfed in the amazing wafts of garlic, you can add as many dried chilli flakes as you like—the dish is meant to have some fire. Remove the pan from the heat when the garlic has turned a pale gold, rather than a bitter brown, and you’re done.
Right now, courgettes are still in season and make a wonderful addition to the sauce, especially if you can get around to spiralising them. I was sceptical about the courgettini craze, but I’m a true convert now. You can buy very basic little spiralisers, almost like an oversized pencil sharpener (or you could just cut into fine ribbons with a knife). Toss the courgettini in the garlic and chilli oil, no cooking required (the hot pasta will do the trick), just before stirring into the spaghetti. Add salt to taste and some chopped fresh parsley if you like.
This forms the base of a myriad of other sauces too (with or without the courgettes). You could try adding any of the following: grated lemon zest, sun dried tomatoes, tinned tuna, a few salted anchovies, a handful of toasted pine kernels, fried chunky breadcrumbs, a couple of spoonfuls of capers, a few chopped olives, grated parmesan or pecorino.
Amaretti stuffed plums
I always keep some amaretti biscuits in my cupboard. They’re wonderful dipped into coffee or added to crumbles, trifles or chocolate mousse and make a superb stuffing for fruit.
The idea is to crush the biscuits (you can thump them with the end of a rolling pin) to rough crumbs and then stir in some melted butter. Ten biscuits with 25g of butter will be enough for about a dozen plums.
Halve and stone the plums and lay them, cut-side up, in a baking tin lined with greaseproof paper. Spoon a little pile of the amaretti butter onto each plum and then bake in a hot oven (about 200C) for around 15 mins. You may want to add a sprinkling of light brown sugar if you have a sweet tooth or the fruit is particularly tart. You can serve these warm or cold depending on the weather, with a dollop of mascarpone or whipped cream.
I love to make the most of summer stone fruit as the season comes to a close and this combination works brilliantly with apricots, peaches and nectarines as well as the plums. During the winter you can stuff apples with the mixture and bake them until just soft and cooked through.