Things Are Going To Get Messy (But It Will Be Worth It)
“I don’t cook. I just can’t be bothered. It’s so much effort. And the cleaning.” If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that, I’d be buying a bloody Thermomix (quite high on my “Things To Buy When I’m Old and Rich” list, by the way). And look, I get it. I don’t love it either. Scrubbing a stovetop is not my idea of a thrilling time, and sticking your hand in the sink after the washing up to fish out the wet bits of food is, I think we can all agree, absolutely revolting. I don’t have any cleaning tips for you (I’m sure there are blogs for that… I’ve never looked) – but I can tell you why it’s worth it.
Confession time: I’m a very messy cook. A use-every-saucepan, fresh-spoon-every-time, oops-there-goes-the-flour kind of cook. Now, I won’t lie to you. I’m not a naturally tidy person in any area of my life – my bedroom regularly looks like I’ve just been ransacked, and my wardrobe looks like someone just opened the door, shoved everything in, and shut it again (…because that’s exactly what I do). But the messes I can create in the kitchen are the level above that. It’s almost an art form. I impress myself.
I watch people who have mastered the art of cleaning up as they go, who sit down smugly to eat knowing the dishes are already done, and honestly I think they must be wizards. I am just a lowly muggle and I don’t understand. I like to think it’s because cooking is the one time in life I find the elusive “flow” that people are always banging on about. I’m in the moment, and the only thing that really matters to me is the dish I’m making. And to be honest, when I’m done, if I have something that tastes delicious and turned out at least a little bit the way I intended it to, I don’t mind the teetering stack of dishes in the sink, or the floor that looks like the scene of a vegetable murder spree. Because isn’t that the way life goes?
Now hold on tight, because I’m about to get a little metaphorical. I’ll be quick, I promise. This is my philosophy: for all of the happy, shining, golden moments spent with people you love, doing something you love, in a place you love, life provides some completely rubbish moments. Like crying alone in an airport after saying goodbye, snot dripping off your chin because you forgot tissues. Or being locked out of your house, hungover, on a forty degree day. Or forgetting about the baked goods in the oven, resulting in a potential kitchen fire, and even more upsettingly, no baked goods. (In case you can’t tell, these things have all happened to me in the not-so-distant past).
And for every great meal, shared with friends, lovingly prepared with creativity and flair, there will be a kitchen full of dirty dishes. It’s part and parcel. So once your belly is full and your tastebuds have done their happy dance, stick on your best washing-up playlist (smash hits of the 90s, anyone?), grab a sponge and get up to your elbows in soap suds. ‘Cause just like the golden moments in life are worth the dull ones, the food is damn worth it.
Having said that… I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are five words you can say to me that will rocket you to the top of my People I Could Marry list, regardless of your gender (or current marital status):
“You cooked! I’ll wash up.”
And now… for a fun, messy recipe!
CAPRESE-STYLE SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI
I had a hankering for sweet potato gnocchi the other day, and every recipe I looked up kept referring to this “winter dish”, and 90% of them advised a burnt butter and sage sauce. This is all very well and delicious, but it’s the middle of spring where I am, and I wanted my dish to reflect that. I wanted colour, and freshness, and flavours that would complement and cut through the buttery sweetness of the pasta. Caprese salad (tomatoes, basil, buffalo mozzarella) is just about one of my favourite things in the world, and as a rule I only make food I like (there will never ever be coriander in any of my recipes. You have been warned). I added some balsamic-caramelised red onions for a touch of tang and flavour, and I was VERY pleased with the result. Ok, let’s trash the kitchen! I mean, let’s get cooking!
2 x large sweet potatoes
6 x cups flour (plus extra for sprinkling)
1 x egg
1 x large bunch fresh basil
1 – 2 x tubs cherry tomatoes
1 x tub/jar/packet buffalo mozzarella balls
1 x red onion
2 x cloves garlic (crushed)
- Cut the sweet potatoes in half and pop them face down on a baking tray (pop some baking paper underneath for easy cleaning later). Bake for about half an hour at 180ºc – you’ll know they’re done when you can stick a fork through them easily. Take them out to cool.
- Finely slice the onion. Heat some oil in a frying pan and pop the onion in, then add a nice big glug of balsamic vinegar (about 2 tbsp). Turn the heat down very low. You’re going to leave it here for a while, about 20 mins or so, just stirring occasionally. This is how you get the onion to release it’s sugar, and voilà, caramelisation!
- When the potatoes have cooled, slip them out of their skins and mash them in a bowl with the egg and some salt and pepper.
- Sift the flour in, starting with just four cups. Mix together until a dough forms. Keep adding flour until it’s slightly sticky to touch, but workable.
- Knead very lightly. Don’t overwork it! You don’t want rubbery gnocchi now, do you? I didn’t think so.
- Once you have a soft, slightly stretchy dough, separate it into four parts. Roll each of these into a sausage, like you used to do at primary school with the playdough. Don’t turn it into a rude shape like you used to, though, because that’s a waste of time and not very good for the dough.
- Chop your sausages into thumb-sized pieces. Unless you have a giant frying pan (if you, call me, I want to borrow it) you’ll probably have to cook it in batches.
- Heat a generous amount of olive oil on a medium heat. Add a 1/4 of the crushed garlic. If you’re feeling extra naughty, pop some butter in the pan as well. Pop the first batch of gnocchi in and fry gently, turning them all over after a couple of minutes. It’s pretty easy to tell when they’re done, but if you’re not sure, take one out and have a sneaky taste-test. Repeat for the other batches.
- Heap your cooked gnocchi into a big, pretty dish and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Add your cherry tomatoes (I recommend chopping them in half), your caramelised onion, buffalo mozzarella balls and big handfuls of torn fresh basil leaves.
- This dish is best eaten with a cold drink (we had rosé), with good friends, in the springtime sunshine. Although it would probably taste just as good on the couch in front of season 5 of House of Cards. Eat while it’s hot and worry about the washing up later!