How our lives and perspective have changed in the past few weeks, as Covid-19 continues to barrel around the globe. Everything has been turned upside down. Suddenly we realise how vulnerable we are, day-to-day life as we know it can no longer be taken for granted. For many, the realisation of how deskilled we have allowed ourselves to become is a wake-up call — we take for granted that others will provide for our basic needs.
Limiting our social interaction and staying at home can be boring for sure but is probably the surest way to delay and beat this virus and speed up the journey to ‘normal life’ again. Meanwhile, let’s just use this time to catch up on lots of projects that we haven’t been able to reach in our busy lives. As far as possible self-isolate at home, you might want to binge watch all those films and TV shows or cook some of those new dishes you’ve been wanting to try. Let’s not fight the containment measures, there is no point in whinging. Let’s just keep calm, stay safe, follow the advice from reputable sources and avoid public places, especially crowded indoor venues.
When one finds oneself in voluntary isolation, who will fix the heating, a burst pipe, the washing machine or dryer, the cooker?
Many of us are no longer ‘handy’, here’s where DIY skills really come in to their own. If you haven’t already put contingency plans into operation, it’s time for a Plan B, and where better than the kitchen? A slow cooker is a brilliant bit of equipment. A separate electric or gas hob depending on what you already have is another fantastic standby at any time, even during power cuts or breakdowns. Don’t forget the barbecue, another fantastically versatile bit of equipment that will see you through. I can turn out irresistible pizzas and flat breads on my covered barbecue as well as succulent roasts and grills.
In the current situation, those who can’t cook are feeling extra vulnerable. If Deliveroo stops delivering and the ready meals are scarce or unavailable, what then?
It’s back to basic ingredients and what to do. If you haven’t already done so, stock up your cupboard or larder with nourishing wholesome non-perishable ingredients.
Next find a cookbook with basic recipes and if you haven’t already got it, buy some basic kitchen kit — see Hot Tips.
Serves 6 - 8
For the Pizza Dough
Sprinkle the grated Mozzarella with extra virgin olive oil. This hugely enhances the flavour of ordinary mozzarella.
Heat a Weber style Barbeque to medium hot.
Roll the pizza dough into a 30cm (12-16 inch) rectangle, about 5mm (¼ inch) thick.
Lay the rectangle of dough on the hot rack. Cover and cook for 4 – 5 mins until nicely cooked and marked on the underside. Flip over. Spread an even layer of warm tomato fondue on the cooked surface. Sprinkle with chopped annual marjoram and a few slices of pepperoni (optional). Sprinkle generously with a mix of grated mozzarella and Parmesan. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and some cracked pepper, drizzle with olive oil. Cover the barbeque and continue to cook for 5 – 6 minutes or until the topping is bubbling and the pizza base is fully cooked.
Transfer to a chopping board, sprinkle with fresh basil leaves, drizzle with a little more olive oil, cut into squares and serve immediately.
To make the Garden Café Pizza Dough
The beauty of this recipe is that it is so quick and easy, using this fast acting yeast does away with the first rising. By the time your tomato sauce is bubbling in the oven your pizza base will be ready for its topping. (Makes 8 x 25cm 10inch pizzas.)In a large wide mixing bowl sieve the flour and add in the salt, sugar, rub in the butter and fast acting yeast, mix all the ingredients thoroughly.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the oil and most of the lukewarm water. Mix to a loose dough. You can add more water or flour if needed.
Turn the dough on to a lightly floured work top, cover and leave to relax for about five minutes.
Then knead the dough for about ten minutes or until smooth and springy (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough).
Leave the dough to relax again for about ten minutes. Shape and measure into eight equal balls of dough each weighing approximately 150g (5oz). Lightly brush the balls of dough with olive oil.
If you have time, put the oiled balls of dough into a plastic bag and chill. The dough is easier to handle when cold but it can be used immediately.
On a well floured work surface, roll each ball in to about 25cm (10inch) disk.
I find it convenient to pop a few rolled out uncooked pizza bases into the freezer. You can take one out, put the topping on and slide it straight into the oven. What could be easier.
This dough also makes delicious white yeast bread which we shape into rolls, loaves and plaits.
This is one of my ‘go-to’ recipes to feed a group of hungry friends.
You can replace the chicken with chorizo, cooked sausages, leftover lamb, game, cooked fish or shellfish if you wish — monkfish works particularly well. Just think of the tomato fondue as a base for many good things.
For a bean stew add a can or two of cannellini or haricot beans and a couple of tablespoons of chopped rosemary.
First make the tomato fondue. Heat the oil in a large stainless-steel sauté pan or casserole over a gentle heat. Add the sliced onions, chopped chillies, ground cumin and garlic, and stir well to coat everything in the oil. Cover the pan with a lid and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft, but not coloured. It is vital that the onions are completely soft before you add the tomatoes.
Slice the peeled fresh tomatoes and add to the pan with their juices (if you are using tinned tomatoes, you can tip them straight in). Season with salt, pepper and sugar; tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity. Cover and cook for a further 10–20 minutes until the tomato softens, uncovering for the last 5 minutes or so to reduce the sauce a little. Fresh tomatoes need a shorter cooking time than tinned ones to preserve their lively fresh flavour. Depending on how you plan to use your fondue, you might want to reduce it a bit further.
For the Spicy Tomato Fondue with Chicken and Potato
Add the cooked chicken and potatoes, bring to the boil and bubble away for 4–5 minutes. Season to taste and scatter with parsley or coriander.
Serve with a salad of organic green leaves.
Note: To Peel Fresh Tomatoes - Scald the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds, then pour off the water and slip off the skins.
Everyone loves this bread, the amaranth seeds give it an additional crunch. A modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.
Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves
Preheat oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins. Sprinkle some amaranth or pumpkin seeds on the top if using.
Bake for 60 minutes approximately, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).
Wild Food of the Week: Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine Hirsuta), sometimes called Pepper or Wintercress. This delicious member of the mustard family is particularly good at present and there’s lots of it around. It grows in little basal rosettes in both soil and gravel and is particularly good added to salads, sandwiches and starters. As with all the family, the top leaf is the biggest and the leaves get smaller as they go down along. Loaded with vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, beta carotene, antioxidants and sulfur-containing compounds that boost immunity — so go foraging as soon as you can.