It’s the middle of May. In London the sun makes a rare appearance and then disappears off again behind thick white cloud to be replaced by soft spring rain. Man disappears as well, off to the sunnier climes of East Africa for six weeks, leaving Dog disorientated and searching the house for the missing part of his pack. Dog is not the only one a bit lost. After forty years of planning meals for a full house of four children and four (successive) partners, I am not used to cooking for one, never mind eating on my own.
At home division of duties tends to be traditional, as I am no longer working full time. I cook, Man washes up. That is, except when we go camping and he cooks brilliant one pot dishes on a tiny camping stove, (his quail and vegetables in red wine is unsurpassable). I am challenged by the washing up!
In the early evening of my first Man-less day, I am inquisitioned on Skype, by himself in Dar es Salaam. “What are you having for supper?” he enquires, whilst eating his chicken and broccoli stir fry. My response, “Oh, there’s cheese and apples in the fridge,” doesn’t go down very well. Weeks of cheese and apples loom. I need to do something about this.
I text Daughter No.2 , whose husband travels a great deal, to ask what she does. A very long message is batted back quickly explaining,” for quick meals during the week, stir fries, fish cakes and meatballs with courgette spaghetti, or salmon and green veg of some kind and the occasional carbohydrate, quinoa, noodles or couscous. Proper meals that take longer are cooked at the weekend.”
On the one hand I am delighted that not only my daughter has a very balanced diet, but that she also knows what couscous and quinoa are. On the other hand, I feel strangely humiliated. Daughter No. 2, has obviously cracked the ‘Eating Solo’ experience. I am going to have to try harder.
For inspiration, I watch ‘Eat Pray Love’, one of my favourite feel-good films, in which Julia Roberts learns about the joy of eating. My favourite scene is Roberts sitting on the floor of her room in a ‘distressed’ demi-palazzo in Rome. Mozart playing in the background, she dreamily eats from a plate of asparagus and Italian charcuterie, taking time to savour each bite. This won’t work for me. Dog would be down there with me, on the rug, wanting to share my food. And however wonderful Dalston is, it is not Rome and freshly sliced charcuterie is not easy to come by.
The next day I take the train down to the New Forest with an old school friend whose husband died a number of years ago. “What do you do?” I ask. She tells me that she sets the table, lights candles, puts a wine glass out and cooks a proper meal and enjoys every bite of it. Hmmm…
I start thinking… what does Man not like eating and I do? Then it comes to me, something I haven’t made since I had all three daughters sitting round the kitchen table – Four Cheese Macaroni. A wonderful bubbly cheesy dish we all enjoyed.
I serve it with a side of spicy rocket and watercress salad and a glass of….well, champagne of course, to celebrate my new found skill, ‘The Art of Eating Solo’.
Four Cheese Macaroni – for 2/3 persons. Preparation Time 30 mins
100 grams macaroni
20 grams butter, slightly salted
20 grams plain white flour (sieved)
350 ml milk – warmed(microwave is fine)
60 grams Mozzarella, chopped up small
60 grams Gorganzola Piccante, chopped small
60 grams Ossau Iraty, cheese chopped small (or any medium hard cheese)
30 grams Parmesan, grated
1 tbs horseradish sauce
½ small onion, chopped finely
4 Piccolo (cherry) tomatoes
Salt and ground white pepper.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the macaroni into a pan of boiling, salted water and cook until just tender (approx. 10 mins). Drain well.
Whilst the macaroni is cooking make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a thick pan on a low heat and add the chopped onion. Sweat, stirring until the onion is softened but not browned, approx. 3-4 mins. Then add the sieved flour slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon all the time. Cook for a few minutes but don’t allow to colour. Remove the pan from heat, beat in the warm milk gradually, using a whisk or a wooden spoon. When it is all incorporated, put it back on the heat, bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then lower the heat and cook at a very gentle simmer for 5 mins.
Add the horseradish and the cheese with the exception of Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in the drained macaroni, slowly. You want to end up with a cheese sauce in which floats macaroni and not macaroni covered in sauce, so it is up to your discretion how much of the pasta you add.
Turn into a buttered ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the grated Parmesan. Pop four tomatoes on the top of the mixture and sprinkle with a little paprika.
Bake near the top of the oven for about 20mins or until the top is crisp and golden. This of course will feed you for two meals, but it re-heats well. If you are ‘blessed’ with a guest, use the leftovers as a side with herby sausages.
What do you eat when you are on your own, and where do you eat it? Sitting at the dinner table, with candles and flowers, your choice of music playing in the background and an adoring Spaniel sitting at your feet, eyes raised in expectation? Whatever you do make it special and don’t forget pudding!