Besides tending the garden, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading in recent weeks, including chef autobiographies as well as the usual cookery books. One of the autobiographies I thoroughly enjoyed and found difficult to put down was White Slave. In this book, Marco Pierre White describes a party where everyone is hungry but the host’s cupboards are bare. He volunteers to cook and in the kitchen he finds some onions, pasta, tomato puree, garlic and bacon, and serves up an amazing pasta dish inspired by the way his mother used to make it.
I remember a similar evening when I was a student – no party, but the same empty cupboard scenario. Back in the early nineties, my weekly food budget was about £10. In my shopping basket there would usually be a carton of milk, some rashers of bacon, a piece of meat, onions, carrots, potatoes and either some cheese or eggs, but never both. At the end of one particular week, I’d eaten all the interesting stuff and was left with an onion, a tiny piece of cheese and a limp carrot. One of my housemates rose to the challenge of cooking me dinner using those seemingly limited ingredients, together with whatever we could find in our store cupboards.
Using my leftovers she cooked the tastiest dinner I’d had all week. Carrot salad with a dressing to start, followed by a grilled pasta bake. I’ve tried to recreate the pasta dish here.
200g dried pasta
1 tbsp olive oil, plus another tablespoon
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
6 tbsp tomato puree
4 tbsp grated cheese (whatever is to hand)
Cook the pasta as per the instructions on the packet. Heat a frying pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the tomato puree and another tablespoon of olive oil. Continue cooking until the pasta is ready.
Preheat the grill on a high setting. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the frying pan. Season. Add a tablespoon or two of the cooking water to loosen the sauce. Put the pasta in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the cheese on top. Place under the grill for 5 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown.