One thing I have always failed to understand is how a person can not care about food. Thanks to Britain’s blind enthusiasm towards international cuisine, the average high street contains enough foreign delicacies to make a 16th century dignitary weep. And yet, some people just don’t give a damn. I frequently have this argument with my mother – a woman hellbent on surviving on dry ryvitas and clementines.
When I moved in to my glorified closet in Kensington, I was convinced that this would be my culinary awakening. But despite wanting to prove something about food to the world (and to my mother), my passion for cooking was squashed every night I that had to hunch over a camping stove and suppress my craving for garlic bread. And before you clamber onto your moral pedestal, I invite you to see my tomato stained walls and irreparably damaged stove top that bore the grunt of my increasingly desperate attempts to make something good. Like a strange and specific artist’s block, I’d lost my inspiration, and then just like that all bets were off.
Below is a comprehensive list of the ‘meals’ I ate on a regular basis during this time:
- An entire tub of hummus and microwaved pitta bread
- Just marshmallows
- Two day old takeout pizza that I got on a ‘buy one get one free’ collection deal with the view of having enough food for two days
- Partially cooked instant noodles
- Pickles from the jar
- Cereal eaten straight from the box
- Just peanut butter
- An entire tub of hummus substitute that I bought instead of hummus on a whim and later regretted
In the regretful evenings that followed, I would sit on my window ledge and drink cheap wine, looking out on to the high street of West Kensington wondering what the hell went wrong. I’ll be honest, it was also the fact that my shower spat lukewarm water at me and my flat had an infestation of ants, but not even having garlic bread to cheer me up at the end of it really hit me hard.
In a stupor, I went to see my mum. Despite her offense to flavour, she has an exhaustively stocked pantry and a beautiful kitchen garden, and I ended up cooking her a ‘thank-you-for-letting-me-drink-all-of-your-expensive-wine’ meal. I scoured the garden with her wicker basket, picked the herbs, patiently sweated the mirepoix on the lowest heat, and waiting by the oven for seven hours while it sighed into existence.
In short, I cared. And as we sat around the table, I glowed. And as I moved into my new apartment and cooked my first roast dinner in 6 months, I started over.
Recipe for the Ham and White Bean Stew that made me fall back in love with cooking
- A joint of gammon
- A tin of white beans
- A mirepoix (chopped onions, celery, and carrots)
- Fresh thyme and rosemary
- White wine
- Some potatoes (if you want), peeled
Wash the gammon for a few minutes to get rid of the extra salt. Gently sweat the mirepoix in a deep saucepan until everything is soft. Slosh in a hefty glass of wine and let cook down. Add the beans, whole garlic cloves, whole stems of thyme and rosemary, and some black pepper for luck. Add the whole gammon joint to the pot and cover with water. Add the potatoes now if you are doing so. Cover and cook in an oven at 100 for several hours. Serve with crusty bread, large bowls, and spoons.
My review: Make this on a weekend when you need to feel at home again. Eat it with the people that make you smile with a bottle of wine and no plans for tomorrow.