So, it’s been a while. I’d like to blame the weather. Maybe work. But I think it all comes down to wintertime hibernation. I mean, there have been storms. (FYI: the best way to spot the English woman in Glasgow is to look for the one wearing a non-waterproof wool coat and charging into gale-force winds and torrential rain with a mini folding umbrella). And I’ve had work to do – after all, bills come with alarming regularity whether you’re in the mood for earning money or not. But mainly my flat was cosy, if not wholly warm (having all the windows ripped out and replaced in mid-December was hardly a barrel of laughs), and I was somewhat shocked by finding myself in a new country where I didn’t know anyone and where I still hadn’t quite got an ear for the local accent.
So I stayed inside. We invested in a fleecy electric blanket and covered the sofa in it; quite possibly the best decision ever made by hibernating humanoids. I ordered more and more cookbooks (I couldn’t be stopped, although a valiant attempt was made) and cuddled up with them on said toasty sofa and took them with me on my forays into the kitchen, which, incidentally is my favourite room in the new flat. Think: high ceilings, tons of room, and a counter perfect for sitting on in what I have come to call my “kitchen gremlin” moments. And I watched a lot of TV. J went off to classes, braving the storms, and shouldering the responsibility of being out in the world for us both. But not before he brought me coffee in bed. It’s not been a bad few months. Nope, not at all.
But all hibernations must come to an end. And thus it was that I found myself in the aforementioned non-waterproof coat and thinking that a flimsy foldable umbrella was a good call for a stormy outing. Comical now, but at the time I cursed Zeus, Thor and any other deity I could think of – out loud, I might add, because in a storm you can’t hear what the person next to you is saying, let alone what the crazy girl being blown down the street is muttering.
And so it was that I got wet. I lost the feeling in my toes. My umbrella broke. But I was out in the world again; it was worth it. I found a new cheese shop (and in my friend-deprived state almost gave the cheesemonger my number) and discovered Prima Donna, a magically buttery, rich, almost baked-goods-like cheese; I hold it very important to know where to get good cheese. And I found places for great coffee. And live music. And places to buy bags of spices and big, bountiful bunches of herbs. And I found a great margarita (or three). I even found my favourite Chinese crispy chilli, which I’d been craving ever since I finished off my last jar in London back in September. And more than that, I found so very many more places that I can’t wait to go back and explore. It’s pretty awesome here.
You’ll notice that, much like my hibernation period in which I got to grips with my new life, my back-in-the-world period has had much, if not all, to do with food. Finding it, cooking it, reading about it; it’s all good. And, happily, with the first visitors to our new flat, I’ve had lots of people to cook for and a happy gathering of new culinary guinea pigs at my table. There’s nothing quite like a warm kitchen full of people on dark wintry evenings, laughing and drinking as supper gently bubbles away in the background. I’m a happy kitchen gremlin.
A Warm Wintry Supper: Bruschetta and Slow-cooked Sausage Ragu
The sausage ragu is adapted from the estimable River Cafe Cookbook and the bruschetta is part of my ongoing saga to capture the finger-licking essence of the dish from Sapori D’italia, a fantastic little Italian restaurant near me in the Southside.
Toast or grill slices of sourdough. Butter liberally while hot and rub with garlic (slice a clove in half and rub the toast with the cut side). Top this with generous spoonfuls of your tomato mixture: finely diced tomatoes, finely diced shallot (a half or a whole one – it’s up to you, but don’t overdo it), sliced or ripped basil leaves, a generous pinch of salt and grinds of pepper, extra virgin olive oil and a small splash of either balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze (NB: it’s worth getting the glaze not only because it’s sweet and sticky and delicious, but because it’s great as a final flourish – as you will soon see). You can also add chopped black olives, if you’re a fan, but I’m keeping it simple, à la the version from Sapori d’Italia (one day I will summon the courage to ask them how they make it so good – seriously, it’s amazing, the noises people make when they eat it are hilarious… myself included). Then grate over some parmesan and finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze and serve – with plenty of napkins!
Slow-cooked sausage ragu
A fantastic wintertime dish, this cooks on the stove for a few hours, filling the house with a rich, mouthwatering scent, keeping your kitchen toasty, and requiring not much more from you than the occasional stir.
Good quality pork sausages (a pack of 8 will suffice)
2 small red onions or 1 large yellow onion or 3-4 shallots, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, diced
2 bay leaves
Pinch of dried chilli flakes (or 2 small dried chillis, crumbled)
1/3 bottle red wine (saving 2/3 for the chef)
2 x cans of plum or chopped tomatoes
Your choice of pasta. Penne, rigatoni, or fusilli would work great in this dish – essentially, you want something with lots of places for the delicious sauce to get stuck! Last time I made this with fusilli giganti, which meant we had gloriously big bites to savour. Use your best judgement with quantities, says I, because having leftovers is part of the fun of cooking. I go by eye, but if you need a measure, opt for around 100g dried pasta per person, with a little bit extra for good measure.
And, of course, olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan.
This will serve 4 greedy people (aka my dinner party) or 6 people with more ordinary appetites.
- Heat a good splash of olive oil in a wide pan. Liberate the sausage meat from the casings (slicing it along its length will do the trick) and add to the pan – breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go. Cook this gently for about 10 mins; you’ll know when to move on when the sausage juices have evaporated and the fat starts to run.
- Add your chopped onion, garlic, bay leaves and chilli and cook it all together for half an hour.
- Add the wine (topping up your own glass in the process) and heat until evaporated, then add your two cans of tomatoes. NB: plum tomatoes are great here, but don’t worry about using chopped.
- This then cooks for 45 mins to an hour, with you occasionally stirring it, in between drinking, chatting and nibbling on bruschette. During this time it will get thick and luscious.
- Around the 40 minute mark, get a big pan of salted water going and add your dried pasta. Cook according to packet instructions.
- I like to serve this with big glasses of a bold red and a green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. And then just put the parmesan on the table for people to grate onto their own dishes – life is all about generosity… of cheese.