Chill out with a good meal

2010-12-21 00:00

ONE of my resolutions for next year, like this year and last, will be to try to do less. It’s all too easy to end up sprinting through your days trying to cram in one Necessary Activity after the other.

So getting Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals to review was like receiving an early Christmas present and it’s been enjoyed and used extensively. The book is everything Oliver’s fans have come to expect from him: fresh, uncomplicated and wide-ranging in its influences with an interesting, slightly edgy combination of flavours. Each of its 50 meals is a mini-feast with at least three complementary components working to produce an experience that really is greater than the sum of its parts. Top this with design that’s a near-perfect balance of clarity and verve, and you have a cookbook that’s my pick of the season’s offerings.

One small quibble is that the title is a bit misleading in that the meals in this book do not take 30 minutes to make. They might after you’ve done them a few times and are thoroughly versed with what’s required, but my average for the ones I’ve tried is about an hour — at least — of intensive preparation.

Oliver approaches each meal like a military operation, with emphasis on preparation before hitting the clock and a detailed guide for each meal of how to multitask like a pro. I’ve no doubt practice will make these meals realistic everyday propositions but in our house we’re more likely to enjoy an edited version with the full menu saved for special occasions.

Where Oliver’s book is a rev-up, reading Marita van der Vyver’s new book, Summer Food in Provence, should preferably be done in a shady hammock on a warm afternoon, for this is the feeling it evokes. Van der Vyver, a South African novelist who now lives in France, writes about how her family carries a special table outside from its winter roost in the attic so that they can enjoy the first asparagus of spring under their plane tree. The table is only taken back inside when winter approaches.

The content of her book continues in a similar vein — sumptuously photographed — and is all about food that gets eaten around their table. While acknowledging that few families have the time or money to make complicated food on a daily basis, Van der Vyver concentrates on appreciating and making the most of what the season has to offer. Because the emphasis is on summer produce, the meals tend to focus on fruit and vegetables.

Where Oliver’s book is driven by the recipes, this is a reader’s book with some favourite recipes thrown in. Van der Vyver brings a writerly touch to her ruminations about food, life in France and the joy of cooking and eating the French way. Even if you end up cooking nothing from it — which is unlikely — time spent with this book will be a welcome respite from life’s busyness.

 

• Jamie’s 30-minute meals by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin. Summer Food in Provence by Marita van der Vyver is published by Tafelberg

 

THIS is part of one of the meals from Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals. He serves it with a chicory salad — I substituted lettuce and rocket for the salad for a sharp, slightly bitter taste to counteract the blander macaroni — and a pudding of stewed fruit and crème fraiche. Serves six.

 

INGREDIENTS

8 rashers of pancetta/bacon

1 large head of cauliflower

500 g dried macaroni

250 g mature cheddar cheese

4 thick slices of country bread (like ciabatta)

A few sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 cloves of garlic

1 x 250 g tub of crème fraiche

Parmesan cheese, to serve

 

METHOD

Lay the pancetta in a roasting tray (approximately 30 x 25 cm, or large enough to bake the pasta in) and put on the top shelf of the oven.

Get rid of any tatty outer leaves from the cauliflower, then trim off the tough base of the stalk and quarter the head. Put in a large saucepan, core down, with the pasta, on a high heat. Cover with boiling water, filling and reboiling the kettle if necessary. Season with a good pinch of salt, drizzle over a little olive oil, then stir and cook according to packet instructions, with the lid askew.

Grate the cheddar in the food processor and tip into a bowl. Fit the standard blade attachment, then get your pancetta out of the oven and blitz in the processor with the bread, rosemary leaves and a good drizzle of olive oil until you have a coarse breadcrumb consistency.

Put a colander over a large bowl to catch the pasta water, then drain the pasta and cauliflower. Tip into the roasting tray you cooked your pancetta in, and put over a low heat. Add 400 ml (or just under a pint) of the reserved pasta water from the bowl. Crush in the two unpeeled cloves of garlic and mix in the crème fraiche and grated cheddar, gently breaking up the cauliflower with tongs or a potato masher.

Have a taste and correct the seasoning. It should be nice and loose; if not, add another splash of the pasta water.

Spread out evenly and scatter over the breadcrumbs. Put on the top shelf of the oven for about eight minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

When the cauliflower macaroni is golden and bubbling, take it to the table and shave over some parmesan.

 

 

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