THREE LITTLE WORDS: SAY THEM TO ME
Those three little words. Three lovely little words. What woman doesn’t love to, crave to, hear those three little words. What woman can resist? I love you? No, not the three words I was thinking of no matter how sweet they sound when the right person whispers it in my ear. No, the three little words I love to hear are “quick, easy meal”. Ah, the sound of those three little words makes me smile, makes me sigh, sends shivers up and down my spine, my knees go all wobbly and I get goosebumps all over my body.
I am a baker at heart. Good or bad, successful or flop, I can spend all day in the kitchen measuring and stirring, kneading and folding, rolling and melting. How I love to bake, whether bread or cake, cookies or pudding. I love the feel of dough in between my fingers, soft and sensuous. I love to watch thick, rich batter fall in luxurious ribbons as I lift up my beaters or the way egg whites turn into meringue as I whip in sugar, my finger leaving a deep trail through the glossy mass as I touch it to check the texture. I love the way the house fills with the aroma of chocolate or cinnamon, the heady scent of fresh bread, the divine scent of coffee or vanilla.
But regular mealtimes are a horror to me. There are times when I am really in the mood to chop vegetables, slice meat, stir soups, to create tagines, spending an afternoon turning out a lovely dish that will be spooned or ladled over rice or couscous, reheated the next day even thicker and richer than before, a meal to fill one’s tummy and warm one’s heart. But when I try to grasp the concept of placing two meals a day, lunch and dinner, on the table in front of three hungry men, dishing up something that will satisfy, sate and sooth, a healthy, nutritious, balanced meal, I freak out! Okay, so JP assures me that he doesn’t mind eating cheese and bread with a banana, but every day, twice a day? No. At some point he’ll start making snide remarks: “I’m starving and can’t wait; I mean I only had a measly salad for lunch.” Or “A banana for dinner every night? I can’t go on!” But I never understood how people think up something good, something different to cook and place on the table every day.
So when most people think of quick, easy meals, they think pasta or salad. Pasta and salad, salad and pasta, been there, done that about a gazillion times. Or chop up chicken tenders and toss them in a frying pan. Or hamburgers on the grill. Ok, see my point? No matter how quick and simple, and quick and simple is my mantra, I still want to achieve the WOW effect, I still want to dazzle, I want to sparkle and shine. I would much rather hear sighs of pleasure than groans of disgust or yawns of boredom. I hate to hear “That again? No thanks!” or “Ooh, that’s disgusting, why are you making that again?” Eyeballs rolling, shoulders shrugged? No thanks! Hands clapping, “Ooohs and Ahhhs!” and Mmmms. That’s for me!
So here is one quick, easy meal that dazzles:
GNOCCHI ALLA ROMANA served with Insalata Caprese
2 ½ cups (600 ml) milk
4 oz (about ¾ cup/100 g) semolina for polenta
1 egg, lightly beaten
3.5 oz (90 – 100 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of nutmeg
1 Tbs (15 g) unsalted butter
Bring the milk just to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Gradually sprinkle the semolina over the hot milk, whisking constantly. Turn the heat to low and allow the polenta mixture to simmer gently for 3 or 4 minutes, whisking constantly. It should thicken but remain fairly creamy.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in about 2/3 of the grated cheese, the nutmeg and the salt and pepper. Slowly pour in the beaten egg, whisking all the while, until well-blended and smooth.
Working quickly, spread the mixture out as evenly as possible in a lightly oiled shallow pan to a thickness of about 1/3-inch. Allow to cool completely.
Preheat the grill of your oven.
Cut the gnocchi into 2 ½-inch (6 cm) circles and arrange them in a baking dish (I lay them out in lines, overlapping them).
Dot with butter (if your butter is soft, you can spread a dab on each gnocchi). Sprinkle the remaining grated Parmesan all over the gnocchi and stick under the grill until the cheese is bubbly and browned.
Serve with a Mozzarella/Tomato Salad using only the ripest, most flavorful tomatoes and good quality Buffalo mozzarella. Give a good grind of black pepper, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and peppery olive oil.