It was probably my mum who said to me that the cooking you do when you look in the cupboard, look in the fridge and wing it, that’s the real cooking. Not the flamboyant ‘here you go darling, now THAT’S how you cook a steak’, or the slightly panicky recipe following of a newbie baker. Real cooking is behind the day to day dinners of someone who knocks up a respectable meal from half a can of baked beans, some limp parsley and frozen prawns. My mum probably said this because it is, invariably, mums who are the dons of this kind of cooking.
I learned the rudiments of cooking watching my mum get the dinner ready. Granted, the attention I paid to dinner’s production was based less in a desire to chef, and more in impatient greed. A weeknight family dinner isn’t about flash cooking or following an obscure recipe, it’s about feeding people quickly, cheaply and reliably. Being able to cook isn’t just about following a recipe to the T, it’s about having an instinctive understanding of what will pair well from a perhaps uninspiring larder. What helps is enjoying food. If you love eating, cooking and all that goes with dinner, you will be interested enough in making something taste nice to be able to produce something out of nothing.
Now, that’s not to say that a lot of these muddled creations aren’t forgettable or downright disgusting. Sometimes you just get it wrong. It takes something really quite revolting for me not to eat it if I’m hungry though. Which is why I eat BBQ chicken wings from Tops Pizza when they come with the meal deal.
Occasionally you hit on something fantastic; that makes you wonder why on earth you never made it before and makes you swagger around the kitchen safe in the knowledge there will never be a better cook than you. Sometimes the incredible occurs suddenly after you’ve done a bit of tweaking to a fairly predictable set of ingredients. Mushroom, bacon and cream. Of course it’s good. Add it to pasta and you’ve got edible comfort. Concentrate the mushroom flavour with some dried porcini; add a splash of white wine and shit loads of chopped dill and you’ve got something worth shouting about.
This is an example of a weekday dinner becoming something to show-off with. The dill exaggerates the earthy, savory taste of the mushrooms. The white wine gives the cream a slightly perfumed sharpness without clashing with the comforting richness of the dairy. You would probably be enormous if you ate this all the time as its damn fattening, but with July pretending it October, who cares.
Mushroom and Dill Pasta for 2-3 people
Enough pasta for two people – I usually use tagliatelle, but this time I fancied conchiglie
100 g of smoked pancetta, roughly chopped, or 5 slices smoked bacon, chopped.
50 g dried porcini mushrooms (I’ve used dried Portobello before and its been fine)
250 g mushrooms, sliced
2-3 crushed garlic cloves
Half teaspoon crushed chili flakes
150 ml double cream
100 ml dry white wine
Juice half a lemon
Handful grated parmesan
Bunch of dill, sprigs removed and finely chopped
1) Soak the porcini mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of boiling water for about 15 minutes or until soft, them remove, squeeze out the excess water and roughly chop. (You can keep the mushroom water for something else.)
2) Set a pan of boiling, salted water to boiling and add the pasta. Cook to instructions and set aside. Reserve pasta water.
3) Meanwhile, set another pan over a high heat; add a tablespoon of olive oil and nob of butter. Add the chopped pancetta/bacon and fry for about 6 minutes till the fat looks crispy and slightly golden.
4) Add the sliced mushrooms and the porcini mushroom, stirring well. Add more butter if necessary, but remember the mushrooms soak up all the oil only to release it again after a few minutes so be patient.
5) When the mushrooms have browned, turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic and chili flakes, fry off for about 30 secs.
6) Turn the heat back to high and add the splash of white wine to the pan and using your spoon/spatula scrape up any of the sticky burnt bits on the bottom of the pan whilst the wine is boiling and evaporating away.
7) Add the double cream and give a good stir. I love how the white cream turns a lovely muddy brown. Season generously with salt and pepper.
8) Add the chopped dill (reserve about a tablespoon). Add the pasta and stir thoroughly. If it looks a bit dry, add a splash of the pasta cooking water.
9) Add the handful of grated parmesan, stir. Add the squeeze of lemon, stir. Sprinkle on the last tablespoon of dill and serve. Get fat.