In moments of quiet contemplation, I have a reccuring dream where I’ve found myself in a situation, like a TV-style challenge, and someone says ‘Caroline – here’s a half-empty fridge, a pan and twenty minutes. Get to work’. That challenge is lockdown and it’s happening now. Where we would once go out for Chinese, we’re now staring into the abyss of leftovers, wondering how to make 2-week old vegetables and a scrap of meat appetising. Results so far are hit and miss but there is one no-fail option and that’s pasta.
Facing down this make or break challenge, I will look for green vegetables – things like beans, brocolli, courgette or spinach. They cook quickly and absorb flavour. This comes from other long-lasting fridge friends, like chopped ham, chorizo or anchovies. Vegetarians; go for olives, sundried tomatoes or capers. For cooking, I rely on garlic, chilli flakes and nutmeg for a flavour boost along with a good olive oil. And to finish, everyone has a packet of rocket kicking about. Parsley or chives are also perfect to toss through when everything is still in the pan, perfectly wilting the greens ever so slightly.
A basic pasta like spaghetti, linguine or fusilli works best here and gluten free pasta is absolutely fine. I eat a lot of gluten free pasta and find that the quality is so good now days that you don’t need to worry about much except over-cooking it, because it will break it apart sometimes, which sadly seems to happen when I bake it too. (Does this stop me making my bake-in-the-oven spaghetti bolognaise? I think not).
You can take liberties as mentioned above, but to make the pasta in the picture, use the following recipe. Serves 2.
- Broccoli – half a head, cut into florets.
- Stems of the brocolli, cut into small slices
- Ham – 3 pieces, sliced into ribbons
- Rocket – 2 handfuls
- Garlic – one clove
- Chilli flakes – 1/3 teaspoon
- Nutmeg – a good grating
- White wine – a good glug
- Olive oil
- Pasta – a handful per person if you are using fusilli, or use my pasta measuring technique for long, thin varieties.
Bring a pot of water to the boil. Once it’s boiling, sprinkle in some salt and drop your brocolli pieces into the water. Cook for a couple of minutes, until they are just soft. Don’t overcook them here as they will finish cooking in the pan. Remove the brocolli, retaining the water, then add the pasta.
In a pan, heat some olive oil along with a clove of garlic. Cook the garlic in the oil until it is coloured and the oil has absorbed the flavour of the garlic. Be careful not to burn it. Remove the garlic clove and discard it. Turn the heat up on the pan to medium – hot. Into the oil, pour a splash of white wine and let it bubble for a couple of seconds. The pan should be hot enough that you hear the wine sizzle a little. Then add the par-boiled brocolli and the chilli flakes. Allow the brocolli to absorb all the flavours of the oil, then add the chopped ham. Grate over some nutmeg and add salt and pepper. When it comes to nutmeg, you need enough to taste it but it can easily overpower everything else – be liberal but also a little careful. Not helpful instructions, apologies.
Add the cooked pasta to the pan and stir so everything is coated. Turn the off the heat and add the rocket. Stir this through and pour a nice glug of olive oil on top too for extra flavour, then grate over the parmesan cheese. It’s all done in around 15 minutes and the flavours of the chilli and nutmeg combined with the olive oil make for a delightful combination.