The most important words between people are often exchanged over the table. Food is currency. Food is glue. Food is the stuff that brokers and builds friendships and relationships of any hue; and if they need celebrating – or even healing – food can do that too. Which is why it must be good – no, it must be better than good; food should be delicious.
In days gone by I took great pleasure in crafting the family feast. When the children were little, we would rather eat earlier with them, than later without them, such was the store that their Father and I set by the family table. They ate what we ate and they grew up healthy and wise. With a bit of luck, the wealthy bit will follow.
Over time, I have developed a culinary shorthand, a mental Rolodex of nifty solutions that can be applied to just about any eating eccentricity and any set of circumstances.
Today, for instance, finding my beautiful Mother in most crotchety mood, I turned to my kind of fast food for help. And how easy it was to transform her frown into a beaming smile, in less than fifteen minutes flat.
What to do? Bring some olive oil and butter to sizzling heat and throw in a mix of finely sliced mushrooms, chopped sage, crushed garlic, salt & pepper. Add a soupcon of red wine and reduce the heat. While this little lot fizzles merrily, boil up a handful of fresh ravioli (any kind) and a moment later, when it’s bobbing at the top of the pan, drain, and plate-up with the mushroom confection (this is a dish I first ate at La Capannina in Soho and enjoyed it so much I ordered and ate it again. At the same sitting.)
Bad mood? What bad mood?
An informal approach also means that my “no-wheat-no-meat-no-dairy” friends are a doddle to deal with because the pick’n’mix meal comes into its own; this relies on one substantial base and a table of treats.
Take the Niçoise version; green beans steamed to crunchy consistency, with olive oil, grated garlic (maybe some ginger too), seasoning, more-than-warm baby potatoes, squishy boiled eggs, fresh herbs and whatever else tickles your fancy.
This is the centerpiece, around which are placed bowls of delicious chopped up things, like anchovies, grilled chicken, pancetta, clams, parmesan, asparagus, feta, artichoke hearts, walnuts or toasted pine nuts, croutons and … well, there are no rules. A bespoke course for all, guaranteed success and – bliss! – you could have prepared it all the day before.
Also under L for Lazy, are boiled new potatoes drizzled with truffle oil (a few drops go a very long way), linguine olio e aglio with chilli (chop and throw); pan-fried anything topped with fresh green pesto.
Cous-cous? Chop into it whatever you want, from chorizo and spring onions for the meat-brigade, to baby plum tomatoes, vongole and fresh chilli for the other lot; moisten with a drop or few of vino and sizzle over a high heat. Ecco!
I can no longer be bothered to spend hours in the kitchen. And no longer need to. The G-Plan Diet relies on nothing more than lashings of good olive oil and garlic, a staple of fresh stuff and a handful of instant things. It is joyful to make … and all in the same time as a micro-meal takes to go “ping”.
Just add family, friends and wine.
© Giovanna Forte