The weather forecast had promised a day of cloudy skies and showers today. We got a stiff wind blowing in off the sea, unbroken blue skies and clear golden sunshine, which for some strange reason encouraged me to spend my day off listening to my Very Best of Steely Dan double cd, when I wasn’t on a fifteen mile bike ride and clearing away small piles of post-winter debris from the garden. There’s little to beat a good cycle alongside the estuary, with the salty gusts sweeping across from the bay and the sun in your eyes. There wasn’t today anyway, so I made the most of it. Summer draws closer. So with thighs a-throb and splinters of dead wood stinging a tender patch of skin between the roots of thumb and forefinger, I set to to make a pleasant dinner for me and my little Squaw Juanita to enjoy when she got back from her monthly visit to her ma and step-pa. They had been discussing the future, and had decided that they were going to be buried together when the time comes, leaving my father-in-law alone in his double grave which the mother-in-law purchased on his death thirty five years ago. Unless Juanita’s brother can be persuaded to take her place in the double, seeing as he’s a bit of a skinflint and he’ll probably see it as a good way to save a bit of cash. She came home quite fraught.
This is why I don’t go on these family visits. It’s far easier to visit my folks. I just wander down the hill to the old church graveyard and stand by my brother’s grave wherein we lifted a few turves and sprinkled my parents’ ashes in after their respective cremations, and absorb the ineffable calmness of the place. Ivy, box trees, and spring bulbs poking through the grass. Low Spring sunshine dappling through the branches of the overhanging trees and dead Winter twigs crackling under the feet. It’s a tonic for the soul.
So, I’d decided on a pasta type thing for dinner. Mainly because I’ve had a fair amount of fish lately. I sliced a couple of chicken breasts thinly across the grain and set them to rest in a dish with extra virgin olive oil and a crushed clove of the garlic and a couple of dozen twists of black pepper, then set a pan of conchiglie to boil. While that was cooking I finely chopped and softened in more oil an onion and another crushed clove of garlic along with a generous pinch of crushed dried chilli flakes, followed by a glass of malbec which I reduced for five minutes. The pasta was cooked so I left it cooling under a trickle of cold water. We’re not on a meter yet, so old habits persist. Then I sauteed the chicken bits in a HOT PAN with a splash of yet more olive oil. The HOT PAN is vital, as it seals the juice in the chicken and imparts a lovely golden hue, after which it can be rested on a plate. Which I did. Meanwhile, I added a carton of chopped tomatoes to the onion pan and simmered it a while along with a handful of fresh basil leaves. I also made a pint of thinnish bechamel into which I stirred a couple of ounces of strong cheddar. Now for the construction!
You mix the tomato sauce into the pasta and stir in the cooked chicken and a tub of drained mozzarella balls and use it to fill the base of a good sized baking dish, then sprinkle a bag of grated mozzarella (which you found in the back of the freezer on Sunday when you were looking for the bag of mussels you knew you’d put there a couple of weeks ago) over it. Then you gently spread the cheese sauce over it, followed by a whole large mozzarella ball which you shred over the surface by hand. Cover the whole surface with ground black pepper and dried chilli flakes, basil and oregano. Don’t put it in the oven yet, but let it stand for an hour or so before baking it for half an hour. Eat it happy, and listen to good music. Your taste buds will thank you.
Blimey. Squdookle. So recent yet it seems so long ago. Thank you, Joss.