Friday, May 06, 2005

...and the cupboard was bare!

For some people, every night is like Ready Steady Cook.

They have three or four random ingredients in the fridge/cupboard at any one time and their hands are forced to make do making a ramshackle meal from the mere melange. For others (like myself at present) the sheer joy of the anticipation of a planned meal means that unpredictability never factors in to food. However, there was a time (i.e when I was a student) when I would career around from university to a part time job then to my boyfriend’s flat and lastly to my place, barely stopping for breath. Not knowing where I was going to be day to day meant ‘no’ to planned meals and ‘yes’ to a cunningly stocked freezer and a cumbersome stash of dried goods in the kitchen cupboard (every time I opened its door it rained packets of linguine and jars of oregano). However, there were times when the cupboard was bare (well, in honesty, the fridge was).

Nonetheless, I have to say that some of my finest culinary moments have been found in the despair of the sparse food stock. One particular dish which I still hold dear in my repertoire was created when all I could glean from my boyfriend’s freezer was a small packet of cooked prawns and the only carbohydrate he had in his cupboard was a box of dried lasagne. At first glance, there seemed to be no raw ingredients that could form a sauce, but what I did muster was a jar of vivaciously hot chilli oil, meticulously handmade by my Italian friend’s generous mother. Out of these three things, (four including dried parsley, but I don’t count its presence as a culinary miracle) a star was born. I bestow it upon you now, slightly adapted for the planning cook – as is my license – but bear in mind that when pressed, you could really do this with just the main ingredients and do away with the wine if you have none to hand. I don’t really have to say that this also works excellently with some squid thrown in or whatever shellfish you care for most. As well as its fluidity in its ingredients, one of its most attractive aspects for me is its meal for oneness and its super speedy prep time. Oh, and in true Ready Steady I’ve Just Come Home from Work and I Don’t Really Want to Cook style, remember that handily pre-cooked tiger prawns and dried parsley do just fine in this too, as does any oil-gripping pasta shape.

Freeform chilli prawn lasagne

(Per person)

  • 3 dried egg lasagne sheets
  • 10 Medium sized Raw Tiger Prawns (or however many you want, really)
  • 4 tbsp Chilli Oil
  • 3 tbsp White wine
  • Generous sprinkling of chopped flat-leaf parsley

Put a plate or plates to warm in an oven. Boil and salt your pasta water making sure to add a little olive oil in, as lasagne sheets like to stick to each other. They take between 7-10 minutes and generally, since this is not the usual method for cooking them, there aren’t cooking times on the packet. You just need to stir the water every minute and gently lift a sheet with a wooden spoon to check its progress. When it drapes over your spoon, it’s done. Be careful not to leave it for too long however, as it will not drape so much as tear. Once your pasta is on, and about halfway cooked, heat up the chilli oil and once it’s really hot, add in half of your wine and let it reduce down. When the mixture in your frying pan is glossy and syrupy and the pasta is very nearly cooked, drop the prawns in the oil along with the rest of the wine and the chopped parsley and briefly fry them for a minute on each side, (be careful not to cook them for longer otherwise they will become hard and unyielding – the moment they turn from transparent grey to opaque coral, they should be cooked). The prawn juices, wine, chilli and parsley should amalgamate to form a lusciously green-flecked, spice-spiked jus. Once the prawns are done, remove the pan from the heat and then check your pasta. The moment the sheets are cooked, lift one out onto a warmed plate (fish slices are brilliant for this slippery job) and as quickly as possible, evenly spoon half your prawns onto it and drizzle over a little of the sauce. At similar speed lay the next sheet over it and repeat, reserving some of your chilli liquor for anointing the final top sheet with its amber glassiness. Speed is of the essence at this point as all the flapping around can make the finished dish a little tepid to the taste, but warmed plates certainly help remedy this.