Can you cook seven different things?

At the moment I am looking for work on the super yachts. It is a massively competitive industry and so along with the basic qualifications I have had to get for safety reasons, I have also been maximising any other skills I have to make myself look really useful, and therefore employable. One thing I hope to achieve is landing a job that allows me to cook for people. Be it crew or guests, food is the most important thing in my opinion. The guests are going to enjoy their holiday a lot more if the food is exciting and varied, while the meals the crew are eating are what keep them going the long hours expected of them. And, with only one person in the kitchen in many cases, that person needs to have a good repertoire of recipes to keep things exciting, and healthy, especially if there are long stretches between time ashore. So when someone asked me, can you cook seven different meals each week, it made me think, well can I?

Of course I can, I thought. I then started to think about all the things I can cook and realised my habits tend to fluctuate between certain styles. At the moment, I find myself cooking lots of different types of pasta, however before I came to Italy I used to avoid eating pasta more than once a week. So what did I used to cook that I have stopped cooking since coming here? I like to write things down (obviously…) and as a result I have a Moleskine recipe notebook in which all my favourite recipes are noted down, and looking through this I have re-discovered some things that just six months ago I couldn’t get enough of. One of these recipes is dhal. A lentil curry which is actually one of my father’s favourite curries (however much his Pakistani mother-in-law hates cooking what is considered ‘poor’ food for him when he visits). Dhal varies from place to place and tends to depend on what spices one has to hand at the time. The following recipe is a fairly simple one, and isn’t a particularly traditional one by all accounts, however it is delicious and is a really cheap comfort food that I was fond of on dark, cold evenings in the UK.

Dhal

Onion, garlic, chilli, turmeric, cumin, fresh coriander, lentils and spinach.

Put lentils in a pan with enough water to cover them and bring to the boil. Add turmeric and a pinch of salt then reduce the heat. Cook the lentils until soft and porridgey. Take the lentils off the heat and add a handful of spinach leaves, pop a lid on and allow the heat to wilt the spinach. Dry toast the cumin seeds and chilli then add a little oil and the chopped onions and garlic. Sweat the onions until soft and transparent, don’t allow them to colour. This process can be aided with a little splash of water in the pan – a trick I learnt from the father of the children I look after here in Italy. Stir the onions into the lentils and spinach, leave for a few minutes covered over for the flavours to mingle, dress with chopped coriander and then serve with some hot naan bread. This is a fairly healthy meal and caters to vegetarian/vegan/gluten free/lactose free (you get the point) diets as well and so is a good one to have in one’s collection.

Another meal I haven’t eaten in a while is fish and chips. Again, not the traditional battered fish and soggy chips you might find in Plymouth on the sea front in the rain but rather a delicious fillet of smoked haddock, lightly coated in seasoned flour and fried in butter served with home-made skinny chips and a thick, creamy sage sauce. Sage works incredibly well with smoked fish and the sauce is simply cream heated with fresh, chopped sage and lots of black pepper and then left to thicken as it cools. Reheat just before serving and then pour over the top of the fish, avoiding the chips so they don’t end up too soggy. Not so healthy but extremely tasty and an excellent answer to fish Friday.

Or how about stronganoff, delicious with punchy, dried porcini mushrooms which smell amazing.

Another is griddled pork, certainly one of my favourites, served with a salsa made from sliced, preserved peppers, balsamic vinegar, half a tsp of basil pesto and olive oil, seasoned with lots of black pepper and a pinch of rock salt.

I love fish so another way I have it is baked in tinfoil with a little white wine and then served over quinoa and fresh tomato salad; a recipe adapted from one of Jamie Oliver’s recipe books.

Spiced aubergine has been a firm favourite in the past, and deserves a come back thinking about it as there are the most amazing aubergines for sale in the market at the moment! This is made with tomato, red onion, aubergine and lots of cumin and chilli. Fry the red onion and seeded, chopped tomatoes until they look a bit stewy (good technical term there…), in another pan fry the cubed aubergine until its got a nice bit of colour, then add it to the tomato mix. Dry fry the chilli and cumin then stir that into the mix too. Loosen the sauce a little with some red wine and a splash of balsamic vinegar then serve with rice, chickpeas, cous cous or quinoa.

And finally, for number seven a pasta dish I can’t resist. A recipe taken from the River Cottage Veg book (aka the best cook book of all time). Mushroom and kale lasagna made with goats cheese and tons of parmesan. It is divine, go eat it, right now!!

So how many things can you cook? And if its not at least seven, go and read a cook book and try something new!

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