While I’ve long discovered my undeniable passion for writing, cooking, on the other hand, as you might already know, was an unexpected love that I only discovered slightly more than a mere year ago.
It was a fervor that took me completely by surprise, one that has changed me in more ways than one, and a new-found hobby that has dominated my time and made quite a few raise their eyebrows.
My sister, Valerie, who’s been a wonderful food taster and my amazing companion the past few weeks, sometimes looks at me incredulously as I tell her excitedly about cooking and writing. She finds it amazing that I’ve become overwhelmed with this incomprehensible desire to cook when just a few years ago I wouldn’t even have touched the kitchen with a two-meter stick.
If I can be honest with you, let me tell you that when I first started falling in love with cooking, I was a little taken aback.
I’d started learning cooking just so that I wouldn’t have to starve the day Juan and I moved out on our own. It was a pure survival tactic, one which I’d decided on for the mere objective of staying alive.
So as I start getting more and more comfortable in the kitchen, like you do with a new friend that you’re just starting to know but already like a lot, I find myself with a completely new perspective staring in my face. I no longer see the kitchen as a strange and frightening territory; instead, it now feels like a nice corner of the house that I look forward to spending time in; a space which inspires creativity and generates fresh ideas.
I’ve wondered so many times how I got hooked by cooking; or how I stumbled across something so random that I didn’t know what hit me until I was completely and hopelessly in love with it. And as I ponder and question and ask myself “Why cooking?” I think I know the answer.
The secret lies in the pleasure and beauty of creating, of making something out of nothing, from building a dish from scratch, and having your breath taken away when you see the final outcome.
In the same way writing and painting have a hold on me, cooking and the kitchen have found its way into the depths of my heart.
The very act of taking simple ingredients together – and making amazingly rich flourless peanut butter cookies; or throwing fruits of the season with a bit of batter on a pre-made store-bought pie crust to bake a blueberry crostata; or the simple stirring of fresh ingredients with some salt, vinegar and olive oil to get this chicken quinoa salad – that’s what keeps me going at it.
Even if there are days that I take home the weariness of a long work week, or have a heavy heart because of personal issues, it always seems that bringing my tired soul to the kitchen, a now familiar and much-loved space, allows me to shift my focus from what I cannot change to the very dish I am creating at the moment.
You know, like kneading bread dough and watching the yeast work its magic as the dough doubles in size, and eventually pulling fresh ciabatta bread out of the warm oven; or passing pasta dough through the machine and seeing the noodles being formed; or even something as easy and uncomplicated as combining different colors and textures in a single bowl.
The other day, while dreaming up of a different recipe for dinner, I decided to make a salad that was as colorful as the rainbow and nourishing and filling at the very same time.
It was the first time I made a pasta salad (I usually prefer my pasta warm), but this is the sort of meal that would be both a pleasure to the eyes and substantial yet light all at once.
There isn’t much science or research involved in this dish; but it is the creation of something pleasantly filling and pretty, that forms the basis of this meal.
You start by removing kernels from a few ears of corn, then blanching them in boiling water until they turn a bright and happy sunshine yellow.
That finished, roughly chop up a couple of bright green squashes or zucchinis into small cubes, and then gently cook them in a little oil over low heat. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in generously salted water, and slice those blushing red cherry tomatoes into neat little halves.
In the midst of a cold grey winter, the ingredients brought dashes of bright, brilliant tones that lightens up any mood.
Placed side by side, they were candy for the eyes.
Mixed all together, with a dash of salt and pepper, and some good olive oil, it was a substantial, vegetarian meal, one that left you feeling satisfied without the overkill.
It’s obviously the sort of salad that you could definitely eat on a hot summer afternoon, or a cool Spring evening, or even on a cozy, auburn Autumn night.
None of the ingredients are fancy; but brought together in the right amounts, they were a beautiful delight.
I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as Val & I did!
COLORFUL VEGETABLE PASTA SALAD
(Makes 2 large portions or 4 small portions)
1) 500g of short dried pasta (I used Fusilli pasta)
2) 250g of cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
3) 2 small squashes (or 2 small zucchinis)
4) Kernels from 3 small ears of corn
5) 1 cup of shredded spinach leaves
6) 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
7) Salt & pepper to taste
1) Remove the kernels of corn, rinse them well and then blanch them in boiling water until they turn from a pale yellow to bright sunshine yellow
2) Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes
3) Cut squashes or zucchinis into small cubes
4) In a pan, stir-fry cubed squashes/zucchinis in a little oil over low heat until cooked, but still firm (about 5 minutes)
5) Cook dried pasta as instructed on packet in generously-salted water, until it reaches the texture you like
6) Combine cooked pasta, halved cherry tomatoes, cooked squash cubes, shredded spinach leaves and cooked corn kernels in a large bowl
7) Condiment with salt and pepper, and drizzle over olive oil
8) Mix together and serve
Remove the kernels of corn, rinse them well and then blanch them in boiling water until they turn from a pale yellow to bright sunshine yellow: