Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fast food at home

Nutrionist Kathryn Elliott has recently written on her fabulous blog, Limes and Lycopene, about the preponderance of quick, easy, instant recipes in magazines and the like all aimed at the cook with no time.

Kathryn is wondering about these recipes, raising the expectations of cooks, when the truth is that cooking good food takes time.

I’m a bit sceptical about a lot of them too, but for different reasons. A lot of recipes straightjacket dishes into short cooking times, just so they can be labelled “quick”, I suspect. Recipes like 20-minute bolognese sauces, or stew recipes that have cooking time of less than an hour. They do exist!

In my experience, such dishes need longer, slower cooking and don’t lend themselves to the fad for fast. For example, there is no substitute, I find, for an onion cooked slowly over medium-low heat to extract it’s sweetness. This takes about 5-10 minutes. You cannot hurry this process and expect to have the best results. Time and again, though, I’ll find recipes that ask you to start by frying an onion for a stew for a minute. I know the dish just won’t taste good, so the recipe goes in the mental rubbish bin. If you are a novice cook, though, you’ll follow the recipe and wonder why the result isn’t what you’d hoped. What has been achieved in the mania for haste? We need to have recipes out there that encourage people to cook for themselves, not set them up for failure.

Fast cooking options are an important part of my repertoire. Like so many mums, I’m often not home until 6 o’clock, having worked all day and then ferried kids to and from sports training. These are my options for having dinner on the table in less than an hour:
Get the kids or Action Mana to barbecue something, while I knock up a salad. With a bit of organisation, I often round out the meal with a leftover lentil, bean or potato salad made for a previous meal.
Stir frying, although to my mind the prep required to stir fry properly makes it a line-ball proposition with regard to speed.
Third option is a frittata, filled with whatever veg is in the fridge. I speed the prep up by cooking the veg in the microwave, instead of sautéing it in the frypan . A great way to eat our way through all the eggs our girls give us.

Sometimes time is super-short and the priority is to fill stomachs. On those occasions, I turn to pasta. I knock up one of the sauces below in the time the pasta takes to cook. All of these recipe ideas below are handy when the call of the take-away or two-minute noodle is getting hard to ignore.


This is so easy it can barely be regarded as cooking.
Put your pasta on to boil.

GENTLY soften 2 garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. You can add a chopped chilli if that’s your thing.

Stir through cooked, drained pasta.


One step up on level of difficulty from the above

Put your pasta on to boil.
Gently fry 2 chopped garlic cloves in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over low-medium heat until soft. DO NOT BURN THE GARLIC.
Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and stir into the garlicky oil.
Warm ½ cup of milk, (I do it in the microwave) and stir into the sauce.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir sauce through drained pasta - you are done. Add parmesan cheese to taste.


A delicious summer recipe, sort of a warm pasta salad. Great leftovers for lunch the next day.

Put your pasta on to boil.

Dice some tomatoes (about 1 medium per person), and mix with a chopped garlic clove, a tablespoon or so of chopped basil or parsley, salt and pepper and a slurp of olive oil in a bowl.

Stir through drained pasta.


A traditional favourite. Adored by everyone in my family

Put your pasta on to boil.

Gently fry some bacon, as much as you like, in some olive oil. When it’s crisp, add a chopped garlic clove and fry for on minute, then take it off the heat.
Meanwhile beat 3-4 eggs with a couple of tablespoons of cream and a handful of parmesan cheese. I also stir in some chopped parsley for colour. Add a little salt and pepper, but be careful, the bacon and parmesan will have a fair amount of salt there already.

Drain the cooked pasta. Stir through the bacon and garlic, then tip in the egg mixture, stirring all the while. Add a little more parmesan if you like and serve.

These pasta recipes are great because they are meant to be fast, and they don’t make any compromises on taste to fit into an imposed short time-frame. They are the kind of easy, fast recipes everyone should have at their fingertips.

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