Tradition and practicality tend to dictate that recipes serve four or six, and that spending time and thought on creating something delicious in the kitchen is a performance one only goes through when entertaining. Self-care is a buzzword at the moment, and this book celebrates solo cooking as a therapeutic act. There’s a lot to be said for cooking for one. You choose the playlist, no one will eye up how much chilli you add to the pot and you don’t have to share a single delicious bite. Signe Johansen’s beautiful cookbook Solo:The Joy of Cooking for One helps readers rediscover the therapeutic effects of cooking a meal just for you. Perhaps you rarely get the time time and space to eat alone, or do so regularly and find it a chore. If you feel like you don’t have time to prepare a really tasty meal for yourself, or if it seems like a waste, than you may need this book most of all. Here Signe suggests three tasty recipes that are easy and quick to throw together, with economical ingredients and rich flavours.
Spicy, garlicky, lemony, herby sardines on toast
"Some people find the idea of tinned oily fish a little off-putting, as if a tin of sardines is no better than glorified cat food and should be avoided. With respect, I disagree. Sardines, mackerel and anchovies are essential staples in any decent cook’s cupboard, and I’ve lost count of the times one of them has come to the rescue when I’ve been too tired to cook anything elaborate. Buy the best tinned fish you can afford – supermarket own-brand ones are usually great, and for a treat the range from Spanish brand Ortiz is exceptional," Signe writes.
1. Toast the bread until crispy and golden. Rub the cut sides of the garlic clove vigorously all over the crusty bread while it’s still warm.
2. I like to drizzle a little of the oil from the sardine tin over the bread but if you prefer, just use plain olive oil (or butter) instead.
3. Arrange the tomato slices over the bread, followed by the sardine fillets and herbs and squeeze the lemon juice on the herbs. Scatter with the lemon zest and eat while warm.
– If you’re ravenous with hunger then the flesh of a small avocado on the garlicky toast is a welcome addition.
– Add some leftover roasted lemony vegetables from page 72 to the sandwich if you wish.
– Other herbs to try include marjoram, chives, thyme, rosemary or basil, but basil can be a bit of a bully (depending on how robust a flavour the leaves have), so I prefer the oregano/parsley combo.
Mussels, fennel and wine
"One of the most economical types of seafood you can eat, mussels are sometimes a forgotten source of joy for solo cooks. More’s the pity as they’re plentiful and nutritious. Although this is a fast dish to cook, be aware that mussels require a little attention beforehand," Signe says.
1. Tap any mussels with open shells. If they remain open after a few minutes, discard them.
2. To remove the ‘beard’ that pokes out of the shell, hold the mussel and yank the beard out in the direction of the mussel’s hinge. Place the mussels in a bowl of cold water for an hour or so.
3. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over a low-medium heat, add the fennel and fry for 5 minutes, then add the shallot.
4. Fry for 1 minute, then add the garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the bay leaf and wine.
5. Crank up the heat, bring the wine to a simmer and add a crack of pepper. Finally, add the mussels and cover.
6. Cook over a medium-high heat until the mussels steam open: small ones will only need a couple of minutes, larger ones 3–4 minutes.
7. Transfer the mussels to a bowl and whisk the butter into the pan to emulsify the sauce.
8. Add the lemon zest and juice, taste the sauce and season it accordingly – the mussels will release quite a lot of salinity, so you may not need to add salt.
9. Discard any closed mussels and serve in a shallow bowl with the sauce, scattered with the fennel fronds, along with whatever bread you fancy.
– Substitute the wine for dry sherry.
– Add a heaped dessert spoonful of crème fraîche or double cream to the sauce once you’ve removed the mussels from the pan.
– Add saffron, chilli or harissa for an extra kick.
– Add chopped parsley, thyme or basil, just before serving.
"This Croque Madame eschews a traditional béchamel sauce topping for the simple reason that, given the choice between taking time to cook delicious, creamy spinach and a boring, bland sauce, spinach wins every time. I’ve cheated by using crème fraîche, but you can leave it out and add a little mustard and nutmeg to the cheese as a final flourish before grilling," Signe says.
For the creamy spinach:
1. Start by making the creamy spinach. Put the spinach leaves in a small saucepan to wilt over a low heat, then place in a sieve and drain away all the excess liquid, pressing it with a spoon.
2. Heat the butter in the same saucepan over a medium heat until foaming, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, or until it becomes translucent and turns lightly golden. Stir in the crème fraîche, then season with a grating or two of nutmeg. Fold in the drained spinach, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in a frying pan or skillet over a high heat until foaming. Add the unbuttered slice of bread to the pan and smear the creamy spinach over it, then add about half of the grated cheese. Top with the buttered slice of bread (butter-side up), then, when the first slice is golden brown and crisp on the bottom, turn the whole thing over carefully and repeat the frying on the other side.
4. Preheat the grill to medium, place the Croque Madame on a baking sheet or in a roasting dish, top with more cheese, the crème fraîche and mustard and grill until bubbling and slightly caramelised.
5.Fry the egg in some butter in a small skillet or frying pan, place it on the Croque Madame and eat immediately.
Add a slice of good-quality ham or smoked salmon with the spinach for extra flavour and protein.
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