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The Country Kitchen: Making Light (Lunches) of Lockdown

One of my favourite lines from a Gerry Cinnamon song is “it’s thirteen degrees and there’s folk in the streets in the scud”. Admittedly, he wrote that about his hometown, Glasgow, but I feel a number of parallels can be drawn between there and Carlisle. It’s a truth, universally acknowledged, that as soon as the weather begins to become at all amiable, the world and his dog flock to their gardens, shorts and vests on, for a much needed sunbathe, barbeque or cold one with the boys. The only difference being that, here in Cumbria, this threshold temperature is lower at a brisk fourteen or fifteen degrees. While I am sad that ‘the boys’ now constitutes the family, and I won’t be having a tinny of Thatchers Gold in University Parks anytime soon, the nice weather is making lighter work of lockdown. If I’m going to be revising metabolic regulation, at least let me do it while catching a tan.

This week, having managed the task of manoeuvring the outdoor dining set from its confines of the garage to the garden patio, I’m sharing lunchtime recipes to transform your garden or balcony into an al fresco eating experience.

Simple Mediterranean Pasta

To me, there is something about eating pasta for lunch that feels pretty powerful. Perhaps, this is because compared to my usual toastie, a pasta dish is a hell of a lot more sophisticated- or at least it sounds as if it should be. It’s also the sort of lunch to fuel you up should you need it; maybe after doing that 5K you’ve decided you actually enjoy running, or, after the horrifying realisation that virtual trinity is going ahead you’ve decided you need a little extra ‘brain food’ to make it through collections.

This pasta is partly inspired by holidays in the mediterranean – the only time I would ever usually eat pasta for lunch. While the lack of ingredients is, in truth, due the fridge being barren, and going out-out to the supermarket is still a couple of days away, I’m passing it off as simplicity. Pasta doesn’t need a barrage of sauces or flavours- a few, done well, are all that’s required for an especially tasty lunch.

Start of by getting your pasta on the boil. Any pasta will do, but linguine, tagliatelle, or spaghetti (aka ribbon-like pastas) were the ones in mind. The key to this recipe is oil, so get a generous amount in a frying pan, using olive if possible. While scouring the cupboards for anything of use, I found a half-full (or half-empty depending on my mood) jar of sundried tomatoes, a handful of mushrooms left over from last night’s tea and a couple of cloves of garlic. These were roughly chopped and thrown in the pan to fry and swim in the oil at medium heat. Now, I intended to use fresh chilli alongside the rest of the ingredients, but as I did not have any, I adapted and used chilli oil instead. Some cherry tomatoes would have also made a great addition to the pasta and could be used in place of mushrooms.

If you have an already open bottle of white wine, or are looking for any excuse to open another, adding a splash to the tomato-y oil would do wonders. Once the pasta is ‘to the tooth’, drain it and add this to your frying pan. Give it a quick mix up and serve immediately. Luckily, one thing I can always guarantee will be in the fridge is parmesan. This was grated liberally (obviously) over the top along with a handful of chives cut from the garden.

If I closed my eyes while eating this on the patio in the sun, with or without a cheeky glass of wine at ‘what-time-do-you-call-this’ o’clock, I could almost believe I was on holiday in the Italian Riviera. But alas, a chilly wind blows over me as if to say, “this is Cumbria, Anna.” 

Springtime Tart

My springtime tart made the perfect Easter Sunday lunch. It even managed to cure my brother’s hangover from his evening at the “Pub” with the lads (‘The Zoom and Crown’ or ‘The Royal Houseparty’ are two names I have in mind). While a bit more work than a sarnie, it lasts a lot longer and would not need to be restricted to lunch at all. Buying pre-made shortcrust pastry is a time and effort saving alternative.

I used a 24cm wide, very deep tin which was necessary for this not-so-light lunch. If you don’t have a dish big enough, or aren’t trying to feed the 5,000, scaling down the recipe (while keeping the ratios the same) is definitely a good shout. The pastry is 250g wholegrain or spelt flour and 125g of cold butter rubbed together or blitzed in a food processor to give a breadcrumb texture. This is seasoned with fennel seeds, 50g of mixed seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower, a touch of cumin and salt. Use an egg and a tablespoon of milk to combine before rolling it out and chilling in the freezer once pressed into the greased tin. The pastry case is baked blind for ten minutes in an oven at 190⁰C before the baking beans are removed and it is subject to another ten to fifteen minutes in the oven.

In the meantime, prep the filling. This is another case of whatever you’ve got goes. When buying the ingredients, I was hoping to use broccoli and hot smoked trout for my main springtime flavours. But, after a shopping trip of varying success, I was only able to get steamed salmon and spring greens. Working with this, I sweat two white onions and half a chopped leek in a pan until soft before adding around 200g of torn spring greens and a bunch of sliced spring onions, allowing to soften slightly on a medium heat. Once the pastry case is ready, take it out of the oven and fill it with alternating layers of the veg mixtureand two fillets worth of flaked salmon. Muddle 250g of milk, 250g of crème fraiche and five eggs and season with salt and pepper before pouring this over the filling and placing the tart back in the oven at a lower 160⁰C for an hour or so until set.

Eat it warm, or cold, and taste the advance of summer.

Put-With-Anything Potato Salad

With warmer weather on the way, it might be time for our barbeque to make an appearance. This year, he can stand proud, no longer feeling insecure about his small size as there is no chance of entertaining. If you are thinking about having a barbeque, this ten-minute potato salad makes the perfect side to your burgers and can be made while waiting for the coals to heat up. If you’re not convinced it is barbeque season yet (or don’t quite get the hype) this little salad is equally at home with quiche or pretty much anything.

Simply, throw a load of potatoes onto boil- you don’t even need to take the skins off. I’ve never quite understood the difference between baby potatoes and salad potatoes, if there is one. I usually just pick the little ones or, if all else fails, chop big ones smaller. It really doesn’t matter. Boil them until just soft, drain and leave to cool. The dressing is 50g of crème fraiche mixed with a tablespoon each of white wine vinegar and lemon juice. Season with a hefty amount of black pepper and add half a bunch of spring onions, finely chopped. Once cooled, mix it all together. I used this amount of dressing to cover around 500g of potatoes. 

This staple of a summer salad will hopefully see you through the next season.