Two days in bed with a bad cold and my brain went to mush. The extremely nice flatmate brought me tisanes and yoghurt and pretended to understand my French. (“No, he wasn’t telling the truth, he was telling candles. Wait, what?”) Eventually she judged me well enough for a short walk into the outside world. We went to the canal, as always, over the cobbles. The sky wasn’t quite blue, a typical Paris grey with a bright edge to it.
A very few cherry blossoms decorated some bare black branches. Slim daffodils surrounded the trees down the avenue. “It’s the first of March! Pinch and a punch!” I demonstrated, twice, to teach her the English phrase. We squeezed into the busy Ten Belles for cappuccinos with foam hearts, and a cookie. Bought a bag of fresh-ground Belleville Brulerie coffee for home, to go in our matching Moka pots. (Tasting notes: chocolate and forest fruits.) Then we walked and talked and walked some more.
Once home again, to celebrate my new ability to stand upright, I made a batch of the best cookies in the world. (Though Ten Belles’ version was pretty damn good: thin, crisp and chocolaty.) The recipe that uses nearly 600g dark chocolate, enough to fill a chopping board and spill over the edges.
Three things I have learned since I first wrote about them: 1) to soften the butter, sandwich it between grease-proof paper and beat it with a rolling pin, v. satisfying; 2) to stop brown sugar from drying into a hard clump, peel a lemon with a vegetable peeler and stick a strip or two in the bag; 3) my oven will only bake 4 cookies at once (restraint) but I am not immune to eating frozen, raw cookie dough (total absence of self-discipline). Now there are thirty-something cookie balls in the freezer for me and the chocolate-obsessed flatmate, with
control-freak cooking instructions posted on the door.
For the perfect spring supper then: start with an afternoon of fresh air. Take frequent gulps. Then go home to a warm apartment. Have a friend or two come over with a fresh baguette and some Tomme de Savoie cheese. Slice a crisp apple. Alternate bites of bread, cheese and apple. Throw together a slapdash version of Ottolenghi’s pea and yoghurt pasta, miraculously made of items in cupboard and freezer. Boil some water, salt it. Have your friend or flatmate chop some almonds while you blend frozen peas, yoghurt, olive oil and garlic. Toast the almonds with more olive oil and chili flakes. Cook spaghetti. (Keep sneaking bread, cheese, apple.)
Toss everything together: pasta, peas, yoghurt sauce, mint, spicy oil and nuts and serve with some mâche (“lamb’s lettuce,” a nutty soft salad leaf) and a squeeze of lemon. Grate any cheese you haven’t eaten on top. Preheat the oven while you eat and admire the bright green meal. It has all the comfort of winter carbohydrates without the heft, a creamy sauce that isn’t rich, and a serving of spring-y vegetables without tasting smugly virtuous. The flavours were so clear and well-rounded that the cheese was almost superfluous. (I wouldn’t even add bacon, which normally improves everything.) It is the kind of vegetarian food where you forget there is a meat alternative, the reason Ottolenghi was such a success in his New Vegetarian column.
When you have scraped your plates, bake a ball of cookie dough each for exactly 17 minutes. By which time, your appetite will be just about piqued again. And a warm cookie on a paper napkin will be the right way to finish the meal. (Really it is a disc of melted chocolate with a thin cookie shell as a disguise.)
Be happy you can taste fresh air and pasta and cookies again, and look forward to the day when you can have exactly the same supper but outside, legs dangling over the canal.
Ottolenghi’s pea and yoghurt pasta
makes enough for 2 hungry people or very 3 polite ones
The original version calls for fresh garlic, pinenuts, basil and feta, none of which I had in the house. Orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) collects the sauce better, but spaghetti is no less delicious. The beauty of this recipe is that it adapts well to whatever you have in your cupboards or freezer. I suggest freezing a bunch of mint for later use, for though it doesn’t look as pretty when defrosted it is useful in a hunger-emergency.
250g frozen peas (divided into 50g/200g)
250g plain natural yoghurt
2 tsp garlic-ginger paste
75ml olive oil (divided into 45ml/30ml)
30g whole almonds
scant 1 tsp chili flakes
250g spaghetti, or favourite pasta
handful mint leaves, roughly torn
salt and pepper
50g-100g mild cheese, grated (Tomme de Savoie)
half a lemon
(optional: several handfuls mâche, or lamb’s lettuce)
Put a large saucepan of water on to boil. (Or boil kettle, faster.) Blend 50g peas with yoghurt, garlic paste and 45ml olive oil until smooth. Tip into large serving bowl. Generously salt boiling water and add pasta. Heat remaining 30ml olive oil with chili flakes in a small frying pan. Roughly chop almonds and toast in the oil until golden-brown. Remove from heat. When pasta is nearly ready, add remaining frozen peas for a minute or two. Drain well. Toss half of pasta in sauce to coat well, then mix in the rest as well as the mint. Salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle chili-oil and almonds over the top. Serve with grated cheese and a squeeze of lemon, a handful of mâche on the side of each plate.