Okay, I admit it. Growing up, I was a disaster in the kitchen. Let’s be honest: I was rarely ever in the kitchen, unless it was to get processed food or put something in the microwave. I was bad.
But I didn’t stay that way. In my late teens, cooking became a real novelty to me. But that was a problem, too: it was a novelty. I would find archaic French recipes which took two days to prepare – and which I had neither the ability nor the tools to execute. Then, there was my canning phase (I once made an amazing blueberry apple butter; but I was giving it away in bathtubs, and still couldn’t find the end of it. I never wanted to see a blueberry again). When everyone in my high school cooking class chose easy, modest recipes for the big test, I decided to bake a calzone – with homemade dough, of course. It came out okay (somehow), but really – what was I trying to prove?
All I accomplished was to exhaust myself, and to decide that cooking is too hard. Eventually, I swore off cooking altogether, and gave in again: to the deceitful, alluring call of frozen pizzas and canned soups.
Fast forward: Me, of all people, falls in love with a chef – and ends up working with him in a kitchen. (Doesn’t life just have a great sense of humour?)
I learned so much from the experience, but mostly – I learned about myself. I learned to re-train my brain to simplify the mental process of preparing food. I learned my palette – which ingredients appealed so strongly to me, that even including a small amount in a dish would excite me. (You’ll see what a few of those are below.) I learned that food was beautiful, and simple, and obvious; and I learned how much better it tasted when you made it yourself, plated it properly, and felt proud of it.
The recipes below aren’t mine. They are a few of my favourites that look gorgeous, taste amazing, and incorporate some of my most-craved components (pomegranate, balsamic vinegar, rich soft cheese). They might not all be strictly Mediterranean, but they have a definite Med flair. They take from 15 to 40 minutes, so you can choose them as they suit you. I’ve reworked the recipes to simplify them or suggest possible substitutes – I don’t speak cookbook, so it’s more helpful for me to translate into realistic terms. (Speaking of cookbook, two of these bloggers have published cookbooks that are 4.5 – 5 star bestsellers that you should probably own. I’ll link them here, and again at the end. They are beautiful, and they’re all on sale.)
When you take interest in your meals and love the way they look, it can transform your relationship with food – I am living proof.
Takes 30 minutes – vegetarian
Basic ingredients: roasting veggie (beets, peppers, tomatoes…) // olive oil // thyme // pasta // butter // mushrooms // garlic (if you like it) // balsamic vinegar // honey // crushed red pepper or cayenne // crumbled goats cheese // topping of choice (pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, raspberries, cranberries…)
Preheat your oven to 425 f / 220 c. // Original recipe uses beets, but this works just as well with bell peppers or tomatoes. Chop your chosen veggie into medium-large pieces, toss them in a little olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper, and bake for 20-30 minutes – until they’re soft. // While your veggie of choice cooks, make your pasta. (You know how to make pasta.) // Put a big spoon of butter and a good drizzle of olive oil into a skillet on high. Cook some sliced mushrooms (whichever are your favourites, I love portobellas) until they begin looking done, then add some minced garlic (if you like it). Cook just long enough to soften the garlic, then put the mushrooms aside. // Pour a healthy amount of balsamic vinegar (this will be your sauce base), a few spoonfuls of honey, and some crushed red pepper (or even a sprinkle of cayenne) into your skillet. Let it bubble softly for 5-10 minutes, until it’s thick and a little sticky. // Mix your sticky sauce with your mushrooms and pasta. If it’s not saucy enough, add water to thin it. Serve it with your roasted vegetable, and add crumbled goats cheese. Pomegranate seeds are a pretty touch, but you can also experiment with using crunchy pine nuts, raspberries, or dried cranberries.