We've all created dishes by accident, haven't we? Or is it just me? I came home from work one evening last week, tired, cold, unwilling to cook and equally reluctant to shell out for a take-away meal that I could knock up - had I been so inclined - for half the price at home. This seems to be happening more and more often, lately. Must be the time of year, weather conditions - nothing to do with advancing years and hormones going on vacation. However, with a little imagination and the basics I usually manage to create something at least edible if not downright inspirational!
For this acquired talent I have to thank an imaginative cook who taught me how to take a sideways slant on all things culinary. Years ago, when I was first married, broke and pregnant (sacked from my job for being with child! Is it too late to sue? My son is 28!) I had an Italian friend who was working in England as an au-pair. Neither of us had any money. My then husband was spending a lot of time away from home and being fed wherever he was. I, on the other hand, fended for myself - there are aspects of this time in my life that you don't need to know apart from one small detail - pride would not allow me to confess that I was hard up and hungry!
On one particularly depressing day Juli came round for a cuppa at lunch-time and decided that it was time we ate. I told her that there was very little food in the house but she snorted derisively and said that there must be something, surely! There was. A packet of pasta, onions, half a savoy cabbage, two stale eggs, three rashers of very streaky bacon, garlic and olive oil. 'I can make food good enough for your Queen,' she said. 'Give me kitchen.'
I gave her 'kitchen' and she produced a banquet - or so it seemed. Juli chopped everything, fried it in olive oil and mixed it with the pasta. We ate our fill and there was enough left over for my lunch the next day. That's when I began to experiment with the barest of ingredients until I achieved a reputation for making 'something out of nothing.'
These days, of course, things are not nearly so dire but since I have been living on my own again I've found myself reverting to type, as it were. I perform the, usually male, action of opening the 'fridge door and peering absent-mindedly inside to see what might grab me by the throat and then combine various components until it tastes OK.
Last week's effort was one of my better ones. I found some Philadelphia cream cheese in the fridge, half a jar of long forgotten sun-dried tomatoes and an inch square of gruyere - God alone knows what I thought I was saving that for. Any road up, the Philly, spread on a fair sized lump of ciabatta bread, topped with the tomatoes, a few basil leaves - which are always, but always growing on my window-sill - and the grated gruyere was shoved under a hot grill until the gruyere melted. Washed down with a mug of tinned mushroom soup - tarted up with black pepper and a few ailing mushrooms, found lurking in the salad drawer - made a satisfying and tasty emergency meal.
Thinking about it, I seem to repeat this 'won't cook, you can't make me cook' scenario at fairly regular intervals. Pasta sauces are a favourite creation. It's amazing how innovative you can be when you are seriously busy working for a living. With just a few ingredients from the store cupboard I have fed four people within twelve minutes - the time it took for a pound of dried pasta to get to the al dente stage.
First shove the pasta into boiling water, then make this.
My friends were very impressed with this one. They barely had time to remove their coats, have a quick visit to the bathroom and open the wine before the meal was served in front of them. And if you're thinking 'Spam?! What is this woman dreaming of?' Let me tell you that when you're very hungry Spam tastes like the very best fillet steak. All right, a slight exaggeration, maybe, but it IS good. Try it.
Then there was this little gem, concocted for a quasi vegetarian guest who only ate fish or chicken. Yes, I know. Vegetarian she isn't, really, but I humour my friends if I like them well enough - and this sauce was completed so quickly that it was ready before the pasta.
And . If you're poorly and can't be bothered to contrive but need nourishment to keep you going, try opening a can of tomato soup and adding a beaten egg. Microwave until gloopy. Eat with toast. Doesn't make you feel any better but stops the falling over from hunger syndrome.