One of the joys of having guests is being able to cook big amounts of big food. It’s the culinary equivalent of flexing your muscles and, let’s face it, showing off just a little bit. Then there’s the flip side, where you spend ages wondering exactly what to cook, and how long it’ll take and ‘Oh, God, have I got a baking tin big enough to do that?’ The simple answer was no, I didn’t. But I went ahead and cooked it anyway.
Last weekend we had visitors for the weekend so that we could all partake in two of Oxford’s finest traditions: bikes and beer houses. Before a carefully planned cycling oub crawl could take place, however, we needed substantial feeding the night before, so I decided that I was going to create ‘something with polenta’. I’ve never actually been a fan of polenta and try and avoid it all costs. However, I didn’t want to do pasta, didn’t fancy couscous and wanted something we could mix it up meaty-veggie fashion. So I alighted on polenta. After having carefully planned my meal to include roast sausages, polenta tomato bake and griddled aubergines, I set off to the Co-op on my lunch break. I’m not sure what convinced me that the local Co-op would have such exotic items as aubergine and ready-made polenta, but I was equally surprised when they didn’t have either. Nevermind, Dr Katie would come to my rescue (and this being the first of many rescues of the week) and get me some from her local Waitrose. Horror was faced later when not even Lovely Waitrose had polenta (well, they did, but it was £5 for 500g … milled with diamond donkey hooves, no doubt)! Don’t worry! Not so local Tescos stepped up and provided the ready-made stuff for 75p. Lovely.
Sausages are such a great invention. The good news in our house is that we can cook them separately and have a lovely meal at the end of it. TOH’s sausages, if they can be called that, have to be non-meat, non-soya, non-fun variety found in the freezer section. Mine have to be as high a pork content as health and safety will allow. Anyway, meaty ones were roasted with some onions for an hour or so, until lovely and sticky, veggie ones were plonked on a baking sheet for the required time. Not much you can really do with reformed mashed potato, which is basically what they are.
The polenta bake was a sort of parmeggiana affectatiom, with a layer of tomatoes (tinned and fresh), layer of wilted spinach and then the polenta layered on top, covered in soft goat’s cheese. The original plan was to have a layer of aubergine in there too, but as briefly mentioned before, there was a bit of a goldilocks situation going on with the baking tins, except there was none that turned out to be juuuust right, so the aubergines were removed, washed of tomato juice, and then griddled as an afterthought.
It was nice to be able to create something big and hearty, because that never really works when there’s only the two of you. That there is a sort of open invite for people to drop round and have a feed when they’re passing – gives me a chance to flex my culinary muscles!