By Judith Stafford
I never ever do chain letters. I’m still haunted by sinister tales from schooldays about how, if you succumbed to one, three weeks later you’d be suffocated under a mountain of hate mail, traumatised for life and your whole family would have to go into witness protection.
But I did partake of one such email recently. Well, only because it was concerning food, which is really the only focus these days. It started off by wanging on about the spirit of the war and sharing recipes in times of hardship.
Personally, I don’t understand why all these attention seekers on Instagram are cobbling together “meals” from a three year old tin of pilchards and a packet of Bisto, when there’s plenty of perfectly good food in the shops. Why moan on about not being able to get flour? Just go and buy a baguette.
Anyway, the chain letter got me at a vulnerable moment – though all moments feel vulnerable these days – and I signed up. After all, we’re finding ourselves doing all manner of things we wouldn’t normally do aren’t we?
- Nurturing jars of mouldy slime in our knicker drawer – otherwise known as sourdough starters.
- Flailing about in front of the television swathed in Lycra, slavishly obeying a total stranger called Joe Wicks.
- Making face masks out of old bras.
- Googling how to look good on Zoom.
- Hoovering more.
So the crux of this chain letter was, that if I contributed a jaunty “go to” recipe, two weeks later I would be inundated with hundreds of other fabulous, inventive instructions for wholesome lockdown lunches. Then I could collate them into a book entitled “Covid Cuisine”, make a fortune and bugger off to Mustique, pretending it was all a horrid dream, like Boris did.
So I followed the instructions – wrote my recipe, sent it to the first person on the list, moved the second person up to be the first person, put my name as the third person, swapped the first person for the fourth person, sent it all to 20 other people, made up a name for the fifth person and swapped them all round again.
No I didn’t understand it either.
I soon started getting messages back though.
“I hate cooking.”
“I never do chain letters based on a schooldays trauma.”
That kind of thing.
But then recipes did start pinging in.
I say recipes….if you count mashing an avocado with a clove of garlic on a bit of toast (and YES it was bloody sourdough) ….. or faggots and pickled cabbage (vomit emoji called for).
Thus far it’s been a huge disappointment.
But then, maybe our standards are just too high. The once unpronounceable “yottamottolenghi” just rolls off the tongue nowadays, in a casual conversation about your Wednesday night’s tea. You can’t load a trolley without sumac, za’atar and pomegranate molasses. We are making our own pasta with one hand tied behind our backs, whistling La Traviata. We grind our own garam masala, churn our own beetroot sorbet, spin our own salted caramel.
We watch Masterchef. We collect glossy cook books just for the photos. We stalk sexy, tattooed chefs on the internet.
Oh – is that just me?
So what the hell was I thinking? I really don’t need a recipe for a soggy carrot slice. And don’t even get me started on banana bread. If I see one more variation on banana bread! Is banana bread sponsoring Corona Virus or something?
Now, it’s coming up to 9.00am so I must dash. I’ve got a busy day ahead. Joe Wicks is starting and if I’m late I’ll get lines. Then I’ve only got 10 hours until dinner and that avocado won’t mash itself.
PS: In case you’re wondering….and who could blame you….my recipe contribution was for a delicious Aubergine Parmigiana. Here it is. Send it to 59 people, swap all their names 3 times, print it out, pulp the paper and use it as a sourdough starter.
Slice a couple of aubergines lengthways into 1cm slices. Brush with olive oil. Bake in a hot oven for about 20 mins or until brownish & tender.
Meanwhile make a tomato sauce. Sweat some chopped onions/spring onions/leeks.
Add chopped garlic then, a tin of tomatoes, past-their-best squashy ones or a jar of passata. Stir in a squish of tomato purée, a dash of Worcester Sauce, a sprinkle of sugar, a dusting of cayenne, a glug of wine – whatever is to your taste.
Layer the aubergines and tomato sauce in an oven dish with plenty of seasoning and any herbs you like.
Cover the top with grated or crumbled leftover cheese – cheddar, Parmesan, feta, mozzarella, Camembert – or all of them!
Bake for another 45 minutes or so until the cheesy crust is oozing and golden.
Serve sizzling, with bread to mop up the juices or as an accompaniment to lamb or fish. Also tasty served at room temperature with salads. Any leftovers can be frozen, then chopped up and used as a pasta sauce.
By Judith Stafford
Judith’s book is available on Amazon here.