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
We all have those days when we gaze into the fridge and feel no inspiration whatsoever. It’s the moment for a fall-back dish that you can put together with pretty much whatever you have to hand. I’d never be without eggs: a boiled egg with a pinch of celery salt and some good toast is often perfect, an omelette stuffed with a few scrappy bits of cheese can fit the bill, or I’ll even throw together a Spanish-style tortilla made with a portion of chips from the local fish and chippie, if I’m really feeling lazy.
Perhaps my favourite way with eggs is shakshuka (loosely translated from the Arabic as ‘mix up’). The beauty of this dish is that it really can be a hotchpotch of whatever you have in the cupboard, the only constants being the spiced tomato sauce and the eggs poached within. Recipes for this classic are legion across north Africa, Turkey and the Levant, with hundreds of variations, so don’t get bogged down with any hard and fast rules.
It’s best to serve this at the table directly from the pan you’ve cooked it in—a cast iron skillet is perfect, but any frying pan will do.
When making shakshuka for two, you can kick off by frying a diced onion and chopped bell pepper together in plenty of olive oil (a green pepper will give a slightly bitter result, while the red is sweeter). Once the vegetables have softened, after about 10 mins, throw in 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp sweet paprika, salt, pepper and a crushed clove of garlic. Wait for the garlic’s aroma to waft up from the pan and then tip in a tin of chopped tomatoes (or use fresh tomatoes should you have plenty).
Bubble everything for another 10 mins, allowing the flavours to wed and then form wells for 4 eggs. Break the eggs carefully into the holes, dot them with a bit of butter and then cover with a lid and cook over a low flame for about 5-8 mins, until the whites are just set. A perfect supper served with good bread, I usually plump for sourdough or pita, and even better with a blob of yoghurt too.
Once mastered, this dish offers endless possibilities. Try frying off a diced aubergine before adding the onion and peppers to the pan, or toss in cooked artichoke hearts, chunks of boiled potato or cooked chickpeas at the same time as the tomatoes. You can pep up the sauce with a spoonful of harissa, chilli flakes, a hint of cinnamon, or maybe sweeten it with honey. How about stirring in courgette, broad beans or runner beans just before adding the eggs? Sprinkle with herbs such as parsley, coriander, mint or chives. Even olives, capers and the odd anchovy have made it into my shakshuka on occasions.
Dark chocolate toasts
My second, sweet suggestion is an idea picked up in a Barcelona tapas bar. There’s nothing to it really, other than sourcing the best ingredients. I’d eaten chunks of dark chocolate crammed into fresh baguette as an exchange student in France, but this Catalan combination took the experience to a whole new level; quite simply a piece of toast with barely-melted chocolate, extra virgin olive oil and salt. For dainty servings you can use a slender baguette, but you may decide to go for larger slices of bread since this is so moreish.
Place a square of dark chocolate—the best you can stretch to—on the toast and warm it through in a hot oven for 2 mins. The idea is to soften the chocolate, rather than completely melt it. Sprinkle the toastie with a few flakes of sea salt, a dash of the extra virgin oil and a dusting of cocoa before diving in while the chocolate is still warm. Divine—the quickest showstopper pudding ever.