Tag Archives: cheap eats

Skint Lunch Club: 81 Renshaw Street

Soup and a Sandwich

Streaky Bacon, Cream Cheese & Spring Onion sandwich and a large bowl of Sweet Potato and Chickpea soup.

Hands up who’s skint. Well, that makes two of us. I looked at my bank account last week and let out a wail that could probably be heard across Merseyside. To add insult to injury, January looks to be the month where everything I own suddenly decides to break or run out. Eyeliner, jeans, PC hard drives, you name it. It’s like one long Monday where your bank manager has you on speed dial and you can’t afford to drown your sorrows in overpriced cocktails.

However, like the brave little soldier I am, I refuse to allow my straightened circumstances to stop me indulging in the odd lunch out every now and then. Thankfully, I’m lucky enough to work in an area of Liverpool where I’m spoilt for inexpensive lunch options, one of these being the recently opened 81 Renshaw Street.

81 Renshaw Street is an ‘arts cafe’, which opened with relatively little fanfare a few months ago. It’s the kind of unassuming little place you could easily walk past if you didn’t already know it was there. Like so many recent Liverpool openings, it’s decorated in ‘shabby chic’ (Christ I hate that term), so there are lots of old cabinets full of vintage crockery, rickety-looking tables, large squishy sofas and a gas fire that I’m sure my Nana June owned back in 1989. Where in other places this kind of ‘I’ve just accidentally wandered into a jumble sale’ style looks contrived, here it works – although this may just be because you can tell it’s there with no sense of irony whatsoever.

I had the soup and a sandwich, which consisted of a Streaky Bacon, Cream Cheese & Spring Onion sandwich and a large bowl of Sweet Potato and Chickpea soup. The sandwich itself was fairly utilitarian – two slices of crunchy streaky bacon and a large smear of spring-onion-studded cream cheese on a crunchy ciabatta roll – yet salty, creamy, crunchy and delicious. Plus, it wasn’t filled with any of the limp lettuce and watery tomato slices that can so easily ruin a perfectly good sarnie.

The real star of the show, though, was the Sweet Potato & Chickpea Soup. It’s always good when you see a simple dish done right, and this was as warm and welcoming as a bear hug. Hearty, slightly sweet and heady with toasty cumin, here was a soup that actually tasted of something, a delightful change from the bland fibrous mulch I’ve often had served up to me in other places. As a testament to how good it was, I overheard a woman at one of the other tables asking her waitress for the recipe, which she duly scribbled down. You don’t get that at Subway.

Flourless Clementine Cake

Flourless Clementine Cake

But woman cannot live on soup alone, so I decided to buy a slice of Flourless Clementine Cake for the road. Packed full of almonds and sour-sweet clementine peel, this was a squidgy slice of tasty complexity, and a cake that I will definitely be attempting to recreate in my kitchen sometime in the next few weeks. While I was there, I also had a sample of their Banana Bread in my mouth and didn’t instantly spit it out and cross myself. As regular readers will know, I deem bananas to be the devil’s own fruit, so the fact I managed to eat something containing them without wanting to wash my mouth out immediately with antiseptic is definite progress.

With its ramshackle charm, minimal web presence and really good homemade food, there’s a refreshing lack of pretence to 81 Renshaw Street. While its food is never going to win any awards for originality, it will win plaudits for being simple, tasty and full of heart. Plus, you can eat like a queen and get change from a tenner. And, in these times of economic hardship, you can’t really say fairer than that.

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Christina vs. Food: A few things I ate in New York

A giant mouth image that I saw at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

A giant mouth image that I saw at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Since my return from New York a fortnight ago friends, family members and colleagues have all asked me what fun-filled activities I participated in while I was there.  While I’ve been trying desperately to appear cultured by telling them how I wandered around the Guggenheim, MoMA and most of Manhattan, the fact is that the main activity I indulged in during my time in New York was eating. I ate everything I could get my hands on. Indeed, I gobbled down snacks like a mega-breasted Pac-Man – only stopping for the occasional pint or to plan where Mr. McMc and I going for dinner. There’s a part of me which feels as though I should be slightly ashamed of my gluttonous impulses, but I was in one of the world’s culinary capitals, it was my birthday, and hey – it would have been rude not to.

Momofuku Milk Bar

The day after my rather epic birthday meal at Momofuku Noodle Bar, we decided to pay a visit to Momofuku Milk Bar in Midtown for a slice of lunchtime Crack Pie. We were served our food by possibly the cutest Barista I’ve ever seen in my life, and we giggled about the sheer awfulness of having to wake up for work at 7am on cold Winter’s days as she served me my food. It was love at first sight, so much so that I didn’t even mind when she forgot to hand me half of my order.

Momufuku Crack Pie

A slice of crack pie

As for the Crack Pie? Well, believe the hype. It might not look like much, but this stuff is fully deserving of its reputation of being culinary crack. Tasting of toast, butterscotch and everything that’s right with the world, it’s a perfect symphony of sugar and butter wrapped up in a sweet pastry case. Its creator, Christina Tosi (one of my baking heroes) says that this is the kind of dessert that should be eaten “with your favourite someone” which is exactly what I did. Mr. McMc and I shared a slice in Central Park while watching schoolchildren chase squirrels and washed it down with some of Momofuku Milk Bar’s signature Cereal Milk (which tastes like a Crunchy Nut milkshake). Romance, a scenic view and tasty pastry products. What girl could ask for more?

Beurre and Sel cookies

Another great sweet treat I tried were cookies from Beurre and Sel, a cookie emporium situated in the amazing Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. If you read Serious Eats, you’ll probably have heard of Beurre and Sel, it being the store set up by legendary baker Dorie Greenspan and her son. I’m a huge fan of Dorie’s recipes – she specialises in simple, delicious food that can be made from practically anything – so I knew these were going to be good. We bought two cookies – a World Peace Cookie and a Vanilla Sablé. When a cookie describes itself as being so delicious that it could ensure World Peace and Happiness you know you’re in for something good, and it didn’t disappoint. Rich and packed full of chocolate, it was firm and crumbly to the bite, a small piece of deliciousness. However, both Mr. McMc and I preferred the Vanilla Sablé – a sandy shortbread which was exquisite in its simplicity. It tasted of butter, sugar and vanilla and was the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. It is a cookie that I can see myself attempting to replicate in my own kitchen very soon.

Russ & Daughters

Chocolate Babka and Black and White cookie

I was determined to visit Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side during my time in New York. This legendary deli serves up some of the best bagels, lox (a salted smoked salmon) and ridiculously rich cream cheese you could ever wish to consume. We bought some for a lazy Sunday breakfast and ate them in bed while listening to the football scores on BBC World Service. I also noticed that they served two iconic New York baked products – Chocolate Babka and Black & White cookies. Being a bit of a Seinfeld fan,  couldn’t help thinking of the episode where Jerry and Elaine visit a bakery to pick up some cake for a dinner party  (Elaine tries – and fails – to buy two different flavours of Babka, and Jerry gets sick after eating a dodgy cookie.)  Thankfully for us, when we ate them, we had a significantly better experience than the protagonists of Seinfeld. The Black & White Cookie didn’t exactly like “racial harmony in cookie form,” but it was thick, fluffy and cake-like and covered in sweet frosting. The Chocolate Babka was undeniably the better of the two though – a gorgeous, squidgy slab of yeasted dough enrobed with dark chocolate goo that unraveled into delicious flaky ribbons when cut into slices.

Giant sandwiches

Believe it or not, I did manage to eat some snacks which weren’t comprised of butter and sugar during my time in New York. After wandering around the Lincoln Centre on the Upper West Side, we decided to pop into Épicerie Boulud for a sandwich. Although my Banh Mi was more expensive than it really needed to be (and I found myself paying $8 (!!) for a pint of lager) it was definitely delicious – a thick slab of liver pate wrapped around lovely thin slices of pork and garnished with pickled carrot and radish. Although the baguette wasn’t made from rice flour in the traditional manner, it was still satisfyingly crackly without scraping the roof of my mouth off.

Knish

One of the best things I ate in New York, however, was also one of the simplest. It was a Knish, bought from a friendly street vendor near Central Park. A Knish is a little dough pocket which is filled with potatoes, onions and meat and deep fried. I was given a quick education on how to eat mine by a cop who was taking a break from directing traffic by eating numerous hot dogs in quick succession. You should cover your Knish with onions, mustard and tomato sauce, and eat it in the fresh air while drinking in the noises of the city bustling around you. It may not have looked like much, but my Knish was a warm slab of carb-filled comfort; a perfect example of New York street food at its finest.

Not everything I ate in New York was amazing, mind you. I had a terrible meal at a restaurant called Macondo which featured frozen empanadas, over attentive staff and being short-changed by $10. And the less said about Pabst Blue Ribbon, the better (seriously hipsters, why do you drink this stuff? It tastes like barely malted water). But I liked the fact that you didn’t have to spend lots of money to eat like royalty. And for me, that’s what a holiday should be all about.

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The time I went to Berlin and ate everything (Part Three: Kreuzberg and a tale of two doners)

Donorlicious!

Situated in the Western half of Berlin, where it used to abut the Wall, Kreuzberg is the city’s hub for all things hipster. It swarms with attractive people on bicycles, interesting eateries and is home to a vast number of boutiques selling organic cotton t-shirts (many of which I spent an alarming amount of money in). It reminded me of Manchester’s Northern Quarter – a place full of tall, dark buildings, laid-back vibes and excellent dive bars.

I fell in love with Kreuzberg from the first moment I wandered into it. It was a sunny August afternoon – the kind where the heat rises in waves off the pavement and your feet throb and feel heavy. I had an ice cold Club Mate in one hand and my husband’s slightly sweaty palm in the other. When we arrived there, we were both absolutely starving. We had spent the morning wandering up to the top of the Reichstag, darting around groups of tourists and trying to spot all of the landmarks pointed out to me by my audio tour guide (and failing miserably – my geography remains notoriously awful). I had also drunk a significant amount of beer, which meant that my stomach was craving doner kebabs like a Z-list celebrity craves attention. Therefore, when we found a handy grill house, it seemed only right to settle down there for a late lunch.

Doner is the official fast food choice of Berlin and Kreuzberg (the centre of the city’s Turkish community) is its spiritual home, with a grill house on practically every corner. It was here that I learned an important lesson. When ordering a doner kebab in Berlin, all you need to do is mutter “ein doner bitte” and hand your money over. Do not, as I did, point at a giant plates of falafel and kebab meat on a menu overhead and gleefully proclaim, “I’ll have those please!” Well, not unless you’ve got a spare stomach handy.

A giant plate of Falafel

A giant plate of Falafel

Leaning tower of doner meat

Mr McMc’s leaning tower of doner meat

As it is, this was a serious case of our eyes being bigger than our bellies. Our food was delicious – the balls of falafel were soft, warm and fluffy with a nubby texture from bits of chickpea and sesame seed. The accompanying bread wrapped itself around them like a doughy lover, with globs of thick Turkish yoghurt helping to add a bit of a sour edge to the carbfest. Mr McMc’s leaning tower of doner meat was equally delicious – soft with slightly crunchy edges and wonderfully filthy. We managed to eat most of it, but had to bid a quick retreat to our apartment afterwards so we could snooze most of it off.

I finally got my longed-for doner on our final day there at Maroush – a small Lebanese place that bustled with hungry Berliners. It’s not exactly a restaurant as such, more a place where you sit and watch the world go by while eating some truly sublime sandwiches.

Doner and Chips

Doner and Chips

This possibly the best kebab I’ve ever eaten and a world away from the sweaty specimens you get served up in Bootle. A large, fresh pita bread is stuffed full of meat and chips (that’s right – chips. Why don’t people do that in this country? GET IT SORTED, KEBABIERS OF THE UK) and sealed before being grilled over charcoal. It is then doused with an array of yoghurt & garlic-based sauces and handed over to you.

The final product is truly blissful. Each bite is filled with smoky lamb, crunchy red cabbage and a good proportion of chips. And I can’t not mention their Baklava. For just one Euro, you got a hefty slab of honeyed heaven – the perfect bite (or ten) of sweetness to end a meal Extra kudos is due to the staff for the Turkish version of “O Tannenbaum” that was playing when I went in to order.

I didn’t just eat doners during my visit to Kreuzberg (although I was exceedingly tempted to). We enjoyed a wonderful meal at a Persian restaurant called ’Safran’, helpfully positioned directly across the road from the bar where we did most of that evening’s drinking. Meal options come in small, medium and large portions and, yet again, I let alcohol dictate my choices, leading us to order an obscene amount of food.

A platter of Persian stews at Safran

A platter of Persian stews at Safran

A Vegetarian platter at Safran

A Vegetarian platter at Safran

Persian food is big on stews, grilled meats and delicately scented rices, and we stuffed ourselves silly on great heaps of mashed aubergines with yoghurt, rice pilafs flavoured with tart Iranian limes and broad beans, dips made of goats’ cheese, pomegranate molasses and ground walnuts and a vast amount of lamb. I also managed to try a beef stew that came topped with a handful of chips – apparently, this is the traditional Persian way to serve it, rather than a ploy for luring us in. Chips with everything appeared to be a bit of a theme during our trip.

When we finally headed back to Liverpool, I had gained four pounds in weight, along
with a suntan and a taste for Aperol Spritz. Berlin was one of most fascinating and brilliant cities I’ve ever visited – full of amazing culture and wonderful cuisine. I’m already planning my next visit, if only so I get my chops around more of those chip-filled kebabs.

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The time I went to Berlin and ate everything (Part Two: Adventures in West Berlin)

A food stall I saw in ‘Zoo’ which sold Bratwurst Pizza. I didn’t eat this,.

And so on to West Berlin. Despite the two halves of the city being unified with the fall of the wall in 1989, there’s still something disparate about the Eastern and Western halves of the city. The formerly Communist part of Berlin has embraced Capitalism with open arms, as can be seen in the glittering edifices of Potsdamer Platz, which looks like something out of ‘Blade Runner’. Meanwhile, the formerly modern-looking buildings on the Western side look slightly tired and dated, as though they’re heaving out a long sigh at how things have turned out over the course of the past 23 years.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area known as ‘Zoo’, the beating consumerist heart of West Berlin. Before coming to the city, I knew only three things about it – one, that it contained a Zoo full of polar bears, penguins and other cute and fluffy animal delights, two, that it was the setting for seminal early 80s film ‘Christiane F’ (well worth a viewing if you like films featuring super hot teenage heroin addicts, scenes of vintage Berlin, and footage from a Thin White Duke-era David Bowie concert. He sings ‘Heroes’ in German! It’s exactly as amazing as you think it’s going to be!) and three, it was a great place to go if you fancied a Currywurst.

 

Currywurst

I always fancy a Currywurst – especially when it’s as good as the specimens you get from Curry 36. This was an unassuming little stall situated outside Zoo U-Bahn station, which had a giant queue of tourists, students and hungry office workers snaking around it. For five Euros, you can get two fat, smoky sausages and a large portion of hot, crispy fries – all smothered in curry ketchup and mayonnaise. We accompanied these with bottles of achingly cold Becks, and all patrons get a free lungful of ozone fumes from numerous German cars – as Curry 36 is a stall, there’s no seating area meaning you eat standing up. It’s totally worth the discomfort.

However, woman cannot live on Currywurst alone. After a few beers in the food hall at KaDeWe (the largest department store in Europe, which contains some of the most splendid specimens of sausage I’ve ever seen) Mr. McMc and I decided that we’d treat ourselves to a traditional slap-up German meal in a traditional slap-up German restaurant. Which led us to Marjellchen.

How to describe Marjellchen? Well, imagine going for dinner in your Grandmother’s house. Your Grandmother who is fond of kitsch ornaments, whose walls are covered in old photographs of actors you’ve never heard of, who enjoys playing wonky (and continually skipping) records of warbly chanteuses. Oh yes, and this hypothetical Granny from a part of Germany that no longer exists.

Marjellchen specialises in serving up the food from the Ehemalige Deutsche Ostgebiete, the lost areas of Germany: East and West Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania. This is hauntological cuisine, all served up in a strange time warp of a restaurant (when we walked in, we were treated to the sight of a diner simultaneously wearing a monocle and smoking a pipe). And it was absolutely amazing.

A fillet of smoked eel, accompanied by bread and butter.

To my eternal discredit, I probably filled up too much on my starter – a fillet of smoked eel, accompanied by bread and butter. This was my first experience of eel and it was a revelation. The flesh was firm and meaty, emitting just the right amount of smoke in its flavour. However, the real highlight was the accompanying basket of bread. It was full to bursting with fresh, pleasingly chewy slices of rye, some of which were studded with ever-so-slightly-sweet pumpkin seeds.

Masurian Jugged Game of stag and wild-boar, with bacon and forest mushrooms, besides potato dumplings, stewed cabbage and cranberries

My main was the rather clunkily translated Masurian Jugged Game of stag and wild-boar, with bacon and forest mushrooms, besides potato dumplings, stewed cabbage and cranberries. This was seriously old-school food – the kind of thing you’d serve up to a hunter who’d spent all day tracking deer through a wintry forest. The stew itself was rich, warming and tangy – the kind of dish that my father would describe as ‘sticking to your ribs’. However, the true highlights were the little potato dumplings that came as a side. I’d had potato dumplings before when I visited Prague last year so I had some idea of what to expect. However, these were wolfing great carb bombs comprised of buttery mashed potato and not much else. I loved them, but I could only eat one before admitting defeat. “Did you not like them?” said the owner when she cleared my plate, and I was forced to show her my distended belly to prove that that I’d eaten so much, I was carrying a full-term food baby.

It’s difficult to do credit to Marjellchen in words, as there is so much uniquely brilliant about the place – the clientele; the wine, which comes in little glass jugs which you pour into your glass; the fact that every dish – even the desserts – appears to be designed for people who exist solely on a diet of meat and potatoes. Essentially, if you’re ever in Berlin and fancy dining on the kind of food that the Kaiser would have eaten, you should definitely pay it a visit.

Next time, I’ll talk about Kreuzberg – land of hipsters, donor kebabs and some of the best baklava I’ve eaten in my life.

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The time I went to Berlin and ate everything (Part One)

Berlin tea towel

Berlin was always one of those places that I wanted to visit, but never managed to go to. It wasn’t for want of trying though. My 20s are littered with diary entries detailed with elaborate plans, Easyjet timetables and thwarted ambition. Turns out that shit boyfriends + epic skintness tend to equal being forced to stay at home crying and drinking cheap whisky in your pants. But the urge was still there, gnawing away at me, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to arise.

That opportunity came in the form of my honeymoon. If there’s one thing that getting married has taught me, it’s that the best part is the holiday you get to go on once the whole shebang is over and done with. I didn’t want to go anywhere transatlantic as I intended to go to New York for my (upcoming) 30th birthday, and I couldn’t really think of anything more boring than sitting on a beach in the middle of the Mediterranean for a week. And so it was that on the Sunday preceeding our wedding, me, Mr. McMc, and our two-day-hangovers boarded a cheap flight to the land of Currywurst, Kebabs and Techno. It had taken me longer than I would have liked, but I was finally going to Berlin.

MITTE/PRENZLAUER BERG

The flat we had rented was situated in Mitte, on the edge of Prenzlauer Berg – an area filled with bars, restaurants and ridiculously attractive people on bikes. On our first night, we went for a wander around our local area and stumbled upon Babel, a Lebanese restaurant. We were hot, tired and hungry, and decided to order a shared vegetarian platter and two donor kebabs. “Trust me, you won’t need the kebabs”, said the guy behind the counter. Being possessed of a mighty stomach, I was sceptical. Right up until the food arrived.

This thing was immense, overflowing with delicious goodies including huge blobs of delicately spiced dips, crunchy bourekas and freshly made stuffed vine leaves. It also came with two giant slabs of warm bread that we used as cutlery, scooping up hunks of deep fried halloumi with gusto. Deep fried halloumi has now become one of my all-time favourite deep fried food products, especially when it’s washed down with gulps of ice cold Becks.

Dessert comprised of a flaky pastry treat which was stuffed with something similar to Chinese red bean paste and covered with sesame seeds. It was delicious, the perfect morsel of sweetness to round off the meal. Our entire meal (with booze) came to roughly fifteen euros – not bad considering we’d both eaten a week’s worth of saturated fat in one sitting.

Prior to going to Berlin, I asked my friends on Twitter which restaurants we should check out during out stay and one name kept cropping up repeatedly- White Trash Fast Fooda rockabilly palace full of ne’er do wells, pop-up pirates and the best junk food in the city. It even had its own tattoo parlour in the basement.

I’ll admit, when I first arrived, I was slightly disappointed. The waiting staff were surly and the food looked like your average Burger-Palace fare. It felt like we’d just wandered into a hipster bierkeller rather than a den of iniquity. Thankfully, things improved once we were led into the bowels of the place. Each of the walls were decorated with trinkets and bizarre ephemera; from fish tanks full of scorpions to animal skulls. They also served some of the largest Aperol Spritz’s I’d ever feasted upon, made all the better for being served with an embellishment of three fat, briney olives on a cocktail stick.

Thai Chicken Wings at White Trash Fast Food

My beef brisket sandwich with onion rings. Sheer filth on a plate.

Mr McMc’s Bacon Cheeseburger

While it wasn’t the best meal I had during my stay in Berlin, it was certainly very very good, and delightfully trashy. Our Thai Chicken Wings were addictive – sweet, sticky and smoky, they were devoured in record time. However, the main star of the show was my Pulled Beef Brisket with Onion Rings. This was a monster of a sandwich, overflowing with piles of meltingly soft beef topped with barbeque sauce, a melted Kraft cheese slice and jalapenos. The only word that I can use here to truly describe this mighty sandwich was that it was filth. Sheer, overwhelming, finger-licking filth on a brioche bun, accompanied by paper thin onion rings which shattered at the first bite.  Mr. McMc’s Bacon Cheeseburger was equally as good – a great wodge of high quality meat, topped with a slab of bacon and which had big fat fries on the side.  The whole meal was so dirty, we almost felt compelled to have a post-coital cigarette after eating it.

The TV Tower in Alexanderplatz

Being two of those quasi-intellectual types, we also managed to fit in a bit of sightseeing around the Mitte/Prenzlauer Berg district. I loved walking up towards Alexanderplatz on a warm August night – wandering through Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz with its bars and boutiques, weaving around cyclists (whatever you do, do not walk in the cycle lanes), and gazing up at the giant TV tower which looms over the skyline like a giant beaming beacon of Communism.  Alexanderplatz was also where I discovered Club Mate. Club Mate is a fizzy drink made from yerba mate tea. When you first hear about it, it sounds a bit disgusting, but it’s actually quite tasty and incredibly refreshing (especially when it’s had a cheeky shot of vodka added to it).  It reminded me of a carbonated version of the sweet tea you find in the Southern states of the USA. I spent a fair bit of my time in Berlin chugging this stuff – mainly when waiting for the U-Bahn in the giant overheated food court which is Alexanderplatz station.

The World Clock in Alexanderplatz

Due to the fact that I’ve already written a thousand words, I’m going to split my Berlin experiences into three separate parts. Next time, I’ll talk about my adventures in West Berlin – which include currywurst, drinking beer in Europe’s largest food hall and dining on East Silesian food in a restaurant that looked like a German gran’s living room…

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A Simple Tomato Sauce

I am notoriously terrible with money. Always have been, and (probably) always will be. Back when I was a student, I practically had a hotline to my bank manager who would often tut at me when I asked to extend my overdraft.  Somehow there was always too much month left at the end of my money – and who wants to spending their last tenner on sensible things like food when it could be used to go out dancing ?

In my younger days, I’d regularly go shopping with the loose change that I found down the back of my sofa. Indeed, back in 2003, I spent most of the Summer surviving on a diet of 15p ramen noodles which were pimped up with a bit of soy sauce, the bagels my housemate would bring home from the café she worked in at the time, packs of dried spaghetti and tins of tomatoes. As a result, I still can’t look at a pack of instant noodles without shuddering. However, there is a lot to be said for being thrifty. Mainly because it makes you inventive. And hey, what is cooking without a bit of invention?

I remember my Bubbie telling me about Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce back when I was eighteen and preparing to leave home and move to big bad London. Although she’s not so well known in this country, Marcella Hazan is a bit of a phenomenon in the USA, and is deemed to be largely responsible for introducing the American public with many of the cooking methods that so many of us take for granted nowadays. She’s also been credited with starting the craze for balsamic vinegar – rather a poisoned chalice when you think of all the times you’ve been to an Italian restaurant and found your food smothered in the stuff. (If you’d like to find out more about this very inspiring woman, be sure to check out Steamy Kitchen’s excellent post detailing her meeting with Marcella, and her very suave wine writer husband, Victor).

Hazan’s methods emphasise the benefits of simplicity. All of her recipes are a celebration of how you only need a few store cupboard ingredients to create something satisfying. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you should always use the best ingredients that you can afford. And hey – is anyone really going to notice if you make one of her recipes out of some wilted basil you find at the back of your fridge, or some overripe tomatoes you find being sold for 5p in Sainsbury’s  at the end of the day?

This recipe is so easy to make, it feels almost shameful to write it down – it being more a combination of common sense and knowing what works together rather than any mastery of tastes and textures. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, you’ll need to skin them first by popping them into a bowl of very hot water for ten seconds before leaving them to cool off in a bowl of iced water for another five seconds. Then, the skins should easily slip off the flesh. Once you’ve done this, chop your tomatoes finely, making sure to remove any seeds which you feel might get stuck between your teeth at an inopportune moment. (Of course, if you’re using tinned tomatoes you can skip this bit altogether). Next, place your tomatoes in a medium sized saucepan with a whole onion and five tablespoons of butter (I used Lurpak Sea Salt Butter which is officially my new favourite ingredient. No, I’m not being paid to say that, Yes, I am open to all offers), and simmer the whole lot together for about 45 minutes, until the drops of fat from the butter start to float on the surface. Then, you can take the onion out (I like eating it with a knob of butter and some salt and pepper, because I’m strange like that) and stir the sauce through some cooked pasta.

I like to adulterate the sauce slightly with some fresh basil and a teaspoon of oregano, but, to tell you the truth, it’s just perfect as it is. Comforting, delicious and ever so slightly creamy (that’ll be the butter), you can feast like a king, safe in the knowledge that no one need ever know that you only spent a quid on ingredients. If my student self was reading this, I know she’d approve.

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